Saturday, 13 February 2016

Breaking the Internet


Yesterday I ran an inset day for staff at a primary school. The aim of the day was to introduce my cloud based ICT scheme of work. This normally involves firstly talking to staff about digital competence, as it's been written in a way that I believe will address the new digital competence areas. I then plan in an opportunity to log into the cloud platforms mentioned in the scheme and look at some of the available tools. In this particular school the focus was on Office 365 and J2E, both of which are available through the Hwb platform. First part of the morning ran smoothly until we all tried logging onto Hwb. Internet access ground virtually to a standstill. Pages were taking an age to load, if they loaded at all. So, here am I talking about moving much of the school's ICT curriculum to the cloud and about 28 people in an ICT suite bought the internet to a complete halt in the school. Very frustrating and disappointing. However, the staff were understanding, and amazingly patient with the difficulties we were experiencing. I must have struggled to demonstrate O365 for about 45 mins until I made the decision to bring that section to a premature end. Now just imagine that I was doing that with a class of pupils. How long would I have struggled until I stopped the lesson and did something else, 10 minutes? Poor internet access is still a problem in some schools I visit, especially the more rural ones. I'm anticipating that the new digital competence framework is going to strongly highlight on-line communication and collaboration, but how are schools in the same position as this one, going to be able to deliver aspects of it effectively? The staff in the school told me that this was what their internet access was like and today's problems were not unique. This really isn't fair for the them or the pupils in that school or others in a similar situation. In the afternoon they did 'double up' to share a computer with someone else and we were able to successfully access and use the J2E platform. But doubling up so that only about 15 users were accessing the internet should not be the answer, especially in a room that had enough computers for everyone.

I can see some challenges for schools when they introduce the framework from September, and underpinning it all I believe is the need for schools to have a reliable, robust and resilient infrastructure. If that's not in place then in my opinion it's going to be difficult for some schools to implement aspects of the framework effectively. Schools, local authorities and the Welsh Government really need to work together to find a solution for schools experiencing these internet issues. The Learning in Digital Wales (LiDW) grants from the Welsh Government was amongst other things, meant to address broadband and WiFi issues in schools. But as can be seen from my experience yesterday, it hasn't been very successful in all cases. Here's my list of some of the pinch points for schools that I think need addressing if the implementation of framework is going to be a success:

- Reliable, robust and resilient infrastructure (Internet, WiFi, network, devices)
- Enough digital technologies
- Appropriate digital technologies
- Staff digital competence to confidently deliver the framework

Anyone else out there in schools who find they regularly 'break the internet'?

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Developing Communication With Purple Mash 2Email

Spent some time today looking at a relatively new feature available in 2Simple's Purple Mash platform. 2Email is basically a safe place to teach young children how to use email. The interface comes in two 'flavours', one for the foundation phase (KS1) and the other for KS2. Each being tailored for those groups (see images below)

Foundation Phase Interface
KS2 Interface
Teachers can set class permissions on where emails can be sent - to others across the school, to teachers, or to their pupils in their class. Teachers can also 'approve' each email that a child may want to send. Therefore lots of control over how you want your class to use it. There is also a 'Report to teacher' option if a pupil receives an email that is inappropriate. This email is then deleted from the child's email and the teacher is alerted and can view it (and the email conversation) from their email account. A very neat feature.

If you don't want pupils emailing each other, there are the 2Respond Activities within 2Email. This allows the pupil to have an email exchange with a character. For example, an email exchange at KS2 with Zara who emails the pupil firstly asking for a list of labels that are needed for a classroom play area. The pupil replies and Zara then sends another email asking about the some rules for playing in this area.

2Respond Activity - Class Room
In the foundation phase an animated dog walks across the screen when an email is sent, and pops up at the bottom of the screen when an email is received. Pupils are also able to use the address book and send emails to various characters such as 'Dragon', 'Genie', 'Queen', 'Little Red Riding Hood' and 'Wolf'. Once an email has been sent they can then 'Switch to Practice User' and become that character and send a message back.
Some of the characters in the address book
In my opinion this tool is quite a nice way to practice using email functions. Everything is there for the pupils, address books, cc, subject line, the message body, forward, sent, favourites, draft and deleted box. You can even attach pictures or your Purple Mash files which the recipient can preview! With the new Digital Competence Framework on the horizon, it looks like it could be quite a valuable resource to those schools using Purple Mash and wanting to develop the communication and collaboration aspect but maybe are afraid to do this with younger pupils using other cloud technologies.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Digital Competence Framework Update - Competence Headings

Since September 2015, Digital Pioneer Schools from across Wales have been involved in the development of the new Digital Competence Framework. This framework will be available to all schools in Wales from September 2016. If you've read any of my previous posts on Digital Competence you would have seen that there has been much work done in this field already by many organisations around the world. Therefore we could take an informed guess as to aspects that would be covered in any newly developed framework. I made a stab at this sometime ago, coming up with:

Digital Citizenship / eSafety
Communication and Collaboration

Solving Problems and Thinking Critically
Creativity and Innovation

These are basically the 'strand' headings to my ICT scheme which many schools are now using. A colleague of mine has just pointed me in the direction of a presentation on the Welsh Government website that does show the headings that the Digital Pioneer Schools are now working to:

Using, Collecting, Collaborating
Data and Computational Thinking
Researching, Making and Creating

As it says on the presentation, these titles could eventually change, but I'm pleased that I was pretty close. The devil is now in the detail, and I really look forward to seeing how this is broken down year by year as in the literacy and numeracy frameworks.