Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Gazing Into My Crystal Ball

Recently, an interesting question has been raised separately by two ICT co-ordinators. The question they both asked me was, "Will Hwb+ still be here in three years time?" Not being privy to the discussions that could be going on in Welsh Government, I was unable to give them a definitive answer. I certainly have my own opinions of the platform in question, one that is also regularly echoed by almost every ICT co-ordinator or head teacher I talk to. Let's just kindly say that this Microsoft Sharepoint based learning platform is probably not the most intuitive of systems for teachers to use. For example, digital leaders employed by the Welsh Government spent about three days training myself and colleagues on using it, and at the end of the three days I still didn't feel confident that I could insert a Youtube video into a page, or photo, without having to refer to a 140 page book. This was no reflection on the digital leaders who were delivering the training, it was in my opinion a problem with the complexity of the product. The training we had was the same as the training that school ICT co-ordinators from across Wales experienced. This in turn, I believe, affected schools view of Hwb. There was a confusion between the Hwb+ platform (created by Learning Possibilities) and the Hwb platform created by CDSM. In October I wrote about the confusion I was encountering when speaking to schools about this. I also believe that the Hwb 'brand' was tarnished by the Hwb+ training episode. Perhaps that brand is now slowly recovering? Going back to the initial question raised by the co-ordinators, I did ask what they had heard, and was told that they believed the Hwb+ contract wasn't going to be renewed. I did say that all I knew was that the LP and CDSM contracts were aligned and that in about three years both contracts would be looked at again for renewal and that I hadn't heard anything about what may or may not happen. Three years is still quite far away, and lots can change.

However, after reflecting upon their question, I'm going to gaze into my crystal ball, make a wild stab in the dark and come up with a prediction (or two). In three years time I believe the Hwb+ contract won't be renewed, but the Hwb element will be. It would make sense as CDSM who as I've said develop the Hwb platform, have a background in online learning platforms. That platform would then be more integral to the rest of the Hwb tools. However, an alternative prediction would be that Microsoft come up with a freely available and easy to use, classroom delivery solution of their own. This would need to be integrated with O365 through Hwb, in a similar way that Google Apps for Education has done with the excellent Google Classroom. This last solution could save the Welsh Government an awful lot of money. Who needs Mystic Meg? :-)

Thursday, 10 March 2016

3D Computer Modelling Apps

I've always had quite a soft spot for digital 3D computer modelling. In a previous post I talked about the work I used to do with schools in using the Bamzooki software. This Windows software allowed pupils to create 3D creatures or ‘zooks’ to their own designs and then battle them against other zooks or against a series of strength, speed or agility tests. When I was creating my new ICT scheme, I was particularly looking for a tablet app (iPad and Android) that would do a similar thing. I eventually came across Autodesk Tinkerplay which allows the user to create and pose the characters in a 3D environment, colour them, add texture to the parts and then place them in a scene. You can then take a picture of the scene which can be used as part of another project. The character you create can also be printed off on a 3D printer. I know that not many schools actually have a 3D printer but you could send the files off to be printed for you if you so wished (or ask your local friendly secondary school?)

Yesterday I noticed that the Tinkerplay app was inviting you to download a new app called ThingMaker, which I did. It looks like this app has been developed in partnership with Mattel the toy manufacturer. The app has a couple of new features including parts to make jewellery such as bracelets, necklaces, and rings. If you look at the ThingMaker video below then you will see they are also about to release their own 3D printer to go along with the app. It will be interesting to see how much that’s going to cost. I'm sure that in the future Mattel will be adding further parts to this app to encourage users to create more objects.

Have a look at the video I've made below demoing both apps. I think they’re really good at developing 3D modelling in the primary classroom. What do you think?

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

First Time for Everything

There's a first time for everything. Today I bought myself my first ever Windows laptop. Obviously I've been provided with them in my role in previous jobs, but I've never had to actually buy one myself. I basically wanted a relatively cheap laptop that I could use to get to grips with Windows 10, install any Windows software that schools might be using, and possibly install Open Office or LibreOffice for productivity stuff. So I've ended up with an Acer Aspire F15, charcoal black, 8Gb of RAM and 2 TB hard drive. It should do a job. However, while trying to purchase it, I was interrogated by the shop assistant. A barrage of questions with the obvious intention of getting me to buy add ons. "What are you using it for?" "You say you are using the cloud, what are you using?" But it was the question about what antivirus software I was going to use that finally got my back up. At this point I wanted to say, "Just give me the bloody laptop", but instead told him that this was one of the many reasons I particularly disliked Windows machines, that I'd be downloading free antivirus software, and that in fact I'd rarely be using this device. To me it was like buying a car and being told that seat belts are an optional extra! Perhaps I've just been lucky with my two Macbook Pros, but I've never had any virus / malware problem in over 10 years of using them. The only time I've ever experienced a computer virus was on an old, home Windows desktop. If Windows based machines seem to be more susceptible to virus / malware issues then build antivirus blockers into them, I don't see why I should pay extra. Give me a Chromebook or Macbook any day! Rant over :-)