Friday, 1 December 2017

Rolling Out Google - Rolling In Hwb+

This week we finally got confirmation from the Welsh Government of the Google for Education implementation into Hwb, the end of the Learning Possibilities Hwb+ virtual learning platform and further investment in school broadband. Kirsty Williams, cabinet secretary for education, is quoted as saying:
"We want our teachers to have access to the best digital tools and resources and the best quality superfast broadband. We have listened to the feedback we’ve been receiving from schools and I’m very pleased that, as a result of their feedback, we will be rolling out Google for Education in 2018. This will give our teachers a much wider range of digital tools and resources and will lead to greater collaboration and communication within the classroom."
No date for the implementation was mentioned, only that teachers will "soon have more choice about the digital tools they use". As I outlined in my post at the end of October, it looks like G Suite for Education will probably be brought in April 2018, albeit without GMail. This caveat causing much comment among colleagues and slight concerns for the functionality of the G Suite platform within Hwb (see comments at end of the October post). I still can't imagine existing G Suite for Edu schools moving their data for Hwb to manage, for several reasons. However, for those schools who are currently using Hwb O365 with their pupils I predict there will be a big move towards the use of G Suite, especially when they see how easy it is to use Google Classroom. This brings me neatly onto Hwb+.

As some of you are aware, I've been blogging about Hwb+ for some time now. It's been pretty clear for at least the last two years that its days were numbered. Hwb / Hwb+ were launched with much fanfare in December 2012 with it being heralded as transforming the way schools "communicate with learners and their parents, through their own Hwb+ individual learning platforms." At the time, education minister, Leighton Andrews, spoke of a "world class system" and Hwb+ being described as a secure area which only schools and colleges(?) can access. However, the hype certainly didn't live up to the experience in schools. Eight digital leaders were employed by the Hwb team to support its roll out across Wales. I have a lot of time for these men and women and each deserve a medal the size of dinner plates because their their job was difficult to say the least. It was their role to deliver training to key members staff from each school in Wales, typically the ICT coordinator and head teacher. If my memory serves me well, this was carried out over about four days. I don't think it would be too unfair to say that the majority of ICT coordinators leaving the training never went near Hwb+ again. Not because of the training, but because of the tool itself. I attended the training and left with a 120 page book on how to use the platform. A book that I would have to refer to to carry out the simplest of tasks, e.g. insert a video, upload a photograph. I like to think of myself as fairly computer savvy, but I struggled. This certainly wasn't a platform that was intuitive. In my opinion the 'Hwb brand' was severely tarnished after the round of training and has taken some time to recover. Some could argue that the contracting of CDSM to redevelop the Hwb platform and with the introduction of new tools, might have rescued the project for the Welsh Government, if not breathed some life back into it. About 18 months ago the digital leaders contracts finished, removing what expertise there was in showing schools how to effectively manage and use Hwb+. Local and regional consortia seemed to refocus onto Just2Easy, Microsoft O365 and a variety of other new tools, with little input on Hwb+. Tools such as Hwb Classes were being introduced and then in June this year the announcement of Hwb+ workshops to "explore the current use of the Hwb+ learning platform" and wanting to "hear your views". All building to the announcement this week on the non-renewal of the Hwb+ contract when it runs out in August 2018. I don't think there'll be too many tears from schools in Wales at its demise. 

A final note on this saga - the cost. I've been scouring the web to find some reference to the cost to the Welsh Government of procuring this platform, but with no luck. However, looking at the figures available on this Welsh Government website, up until June of this year just over £8million has been paid out to Learning Possibilities. By next August I estimate this figure will be around the £9million. Maths was never my strong point, but that's what the spreadsheets seem to indicate. As far as I can tell that doesn't include the costs of the digital leaders who supported the project which would probably add another £1million to this figure. I'm sure some people will be looking closely at whether Hwb+ was value for money. 

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Statutory DCF?

Once or twice during my recent visits to schools, confusion has arisen over whether the Digital Competence Framework is a statutory document or not. I've always explained that unlike the literacy and numeracy frameworks, it is not. I've posted below something on this from the National Digital Learning Council minutes from June 22nd 2017.

Jane Peffers - Welsh Government lead for the DCF was presenting to the NDLC on the Digital Competence Framework:
4.5 The potential for the DCF to be made statutory was raised. At this time, this is considered unlikely and it is hoped that encouraging its use, rather than prescribing it, will support and encourage a more significant change in culture, for teachers to adapt to the new ways of working.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Hwb / G Suite for Education Announcement

Last Monday, Chris Owen (head of digital learning unit, Welsh Government) announced at a Google Leadership Symposium in Cardiff, that G Suite for Education will be included in the Hwb platform possibly from April 2018. For those schools in the room this was great news, many feeling finally vindicated that their Google approach to developing cloud student learning was finally being recognised by the Welsh Government. Up until this announcement, several local authorities and regional consortia had made it quite clear to schools in their areas that they didn't want them using G Suite for Education, that basically Hwb was the only show in town and Google "wasn't safe".

Chris Owen - Google Leadership Symposium, Cardiff

As you might have picked up from my previous posts, that's fine as long as what is being provided through Hwb are the best set of digital tools and resources that are available. In some instances this has arguably not been the case. Hwb+ being the prime example of an 'online classroom' that certainly didn't live up to the expectations of the majority of teachers across Wales and most probably the expectations of the Welsh Government themselves. I would argue too, that the version of Microsoft Office 365 provided through Hwb, quite possibly hasn't provided the sort of collaborative opportunities that was hoped. My own experience and also that of others, is that it feels 'clunky' to use, prone to glitches and I still think that the browser based tools (Word, PowerPoint, etc) are an after thought. I'm sure Microsoft would rather you used a locally installed version of Office! Microsoft Teams has just been introduced as a way of pulling teacher and student communication and collaboration together but in my opinion it's a bit late coming into the game and again initial impressions are that it's a bit 'clunky'. Google Classroom on the other hand, has been a game changer in the schools using G Suite. Chris Owen particularly highlighted this tool and interestingly Google Sites during his announcement.

So what did Chris Owen announce?

- G Suite for Education would be included in the Hwb work stream and that they are looking for a possible April 2018 launch.
- The version of G Suite for Education available through Hwb, would not include GMail.
- Schools that are currently using G Suite for Education could have their data transferred into the Hwb domain. These schools would then sign into Hwb to gain access to G Suite and all other tools and resources (except GMail).
- The G Suite 'Admin Panel' would still be available to those schools who wanted it. Some features would not be available but much of the control would still be there, including the ability to add users and control passwords.
- Hwb are working with Google to get the core set of apps translated into Welsh.

I think I've covered the main points, apologies to Chris Owen if I've missed something. I'm still waiting to see an official announcement via the Dysg newsletter. After having a week to mull this over and I'm sure I'll be coming back to it, here are my initial thoughts.

- For schools already actively using the Hwb platform, I think this is really good news. You will now have access to Google Classroom and associated cloud tools like Docs, Sheets and Slides. This should really help you in addressing many aspects of the Digital Competence Framework.
- If you are an existing user of G Suite for Education would you really hand over control to Hwb? My feeling is that schools would be reluctant. I spoke to three schools at the symposium and all said that the announcement made no difference to them. They would carry on as they have been and would not be 'handing over the keys'. Schools would lose GMail in particular which is an integral part of communication for them. The Welsh Government want all schools within Hwb to be using Outlook mail through O365, because it has been through thorough 'certifications'??
- This issue around O365 Outlook and no GMail would have to be carefully explained to schools, local authorities and regional consortia or they could be again giving the impression that Google is "not safe" for schools to use.
- As well as existing schools losing GMail, I would be concerned that some of the functionality would be lost in handing over control to Hwb. For instance, will I still be able to set up my own groups allowing me to easily share documents to all of my teachers or SLT? Something that you currently are unable to do through O365 within Hwb. Ease of use and functionality is one of the reasons schools like using G Suite over the Hwb O365 tools. I really hope this isn't lost during the integration into Hwb.
- If, as Chris Owen mentioned, schools can set up users within the Admin Panel, does that mean the new user has access to the whole of Hwb? That would seem strange as currently the platform is mainly only available to those who work in schools (teachers / support staff), pupils and individuals from regional consortia and local authorities.
- Nothing mentioned about the possibility of single sign on to many other web platforms that schools may subscribe to, e.g. Giglets, 2 Simple's Purple Mash, Times Tables Rockstars, Reading Eggs to name but a few. Wouldn't this make life much easier for schools if they could login to one place and access all their online tools? Is this too difficult to set up?

So, in my opinion, a really positive move by the Welsh Government to include G Suite within Hwb. It's obviously still very early days but many will be watching events closely, with their fingers crossed and hoping that what is eventually delivered meets everyone's hopes.

Friday, 21 July 2017

DigComp Update

Back in June 2015 I wrote a post about the announcement from the then Welsh education minister, Huw Lewis, about the introduction of a new Digital Competence Framework (DCF) for schools in Wales. As many of you will know, that framework has since been written and is beginning to be implemented in schools across Wales. In the post, I provided a list to several digital literacy or competence frameworks already in place across many countries, highlighting to the digital pioneer schools who were writing the framework that they didn't have to start from nothing and that they didn't necessarily have to 'reinvent the wheel'. Therefore it was interesting to see this morning an update to one of the frameworks mentioned.

The European Digital Competence Framework for Citizens, also known as DigComp, was first published in 2013 and "consists of detailed descriptions of all competences that are necessary to be proficient in digital environments and describes them in terms of knowledge, skills, and attitudes." DigComp 2.1, published in May 2017, now focuses on expanding the initial three proficiency levels to a more fine-grained eight level description as well as providing examples of use for these eight levels. Note that this particular framework is not necessarily aimed at schools, but are competencies that are applicable for all people. Examples are highlighted for school and the workplace. The framework is split into these five competencies (I've also included the Digital Competence Framework strands and elements as a comparison):

Digital Competence Framework - Wales DigComp 2.1
Identity, image and reputation
Health and well-being
Digital rights, licensing and ownership
Online behaviour and cyberbullying
1.0 Information & Data Literacy:
1.1 Browsing, searching and filtering data, information and digital content
1.2 Evaluating data, information and digital content
1.3 Managing data, information and digital content
Interacting & Collaborating
Storing and sharing
2.0 Communication & Collaboration
2.1 Interacting through digital technologies
2.2 Sharing through digital technologies
2.3 Engaging in citizenship through digital technologies
2.4 Collaborating through digital technologies
2.5 Netiquette
2.6 Managing digital identity
Planning, sourcing and searching
Evaluating and improving
3.0 Digital Content Creation
3.1 Developing digital content
3.2 Integrating and re-elaborating digital content
3.3 Copyright and licenses
3.4 Programming
Data & Computational Thinking
Problem solving and modelling
Data and information literacy
4.0 Safety
4.1 Protecting devices
4.2 Protecting personal data and privacy
4.3 Protecting health and well-being
4.4 Protecting the environment
5.0 Problem Solving
5.1 Solving technical problems
5.2 Identifying needs and technical responses
5.3 Creatively using digital technology
5.4 Identifying digital competence gaps

A quick comparison highlights similarities between the two frameworks, especially around Interacting & Collaborating /Communication & Collaboration; Producing / Digital Content Creation. In fact, if you look at the variety of frameworks mentioned in that previous post, these are very common to all and not surprising that they were included in the DCF.

One thing I do particularly like about the DigComp framework is that the competence descriptors, similar to the Citizenship elements of the DCF, are spread out between the competencies. This in my opinion provides a better context for the learning of these increasingly important skills. Currently schools are being encouraged to use a range of resources from the South West Grid for Learning and Common Sense Media to support the Citizenship strand. As many people are saying (including myself), "You don't even need to use a computer to teach the Citizenship strand." This is because these lesson plans from Common Sense Media, very much have a PSE approach in their class delivery. However, as I go on to explain to schools, what is the point of learning about this strand if you're not going to then model what you've learned in context? For example, '3.3 Copyright and licenses' relate closely to the 'Digital rights, licensing and ownership' element of the DCF. However, the DigComp framework places this within the '3.0 Digital Content Creation' competence, arguably the natural place to learn about ownership and digital rights. Likewise 'Online behaviour and cyberbullying' and 'Identity, image and reputation' from the DCF could be developed through the 'Interacting and Collaborating' strand of the DCF. Here, while using a variety of communication and collaboration tools, pupils can look at how they are managing their identity, netiquette and engaging in citizenship through digital technologies. In my opinion it would be more helpful to teachers to have placed those Citizenship elements into the other strands. DCF could then look something like this:

Interacting & Collaborating
Online behaviour and cyberbullying
Identity, image and reputation
Storing and sharing

Planning, sourcing and searching
Digital rights, licensing and ownership
Evaluating and improving

Data & Computational Thinking
Problem solving and modelling
Data and information literacy

Mmm....not too sure where 'Health and well-being' would go.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Digital Competence / Computer Science - Refreshing Views

It was interesting to read this on the BBC news website a couple of weeks ago, 'Computing in schools - alarm bells over England's classes.' At the heart of the report is that experts are concerned that since the introduction of the computing curriculum in England, there has only been a modest rise in students taking the new computer science GCSE. By 2020, the British Computer Society warns that the number studying for a computing qualification could halve. The other major concern is that only 20% of the entrants were girls, down from around 40% taking the previous ICT qualification. There were those at the time who were concerned with the change in focus of the curriculum and talked of, 'throwing the baby out with the bathwater'.  As Drew Buddie says in the BBC article, he felt that ICT was unfairly maligned and was far more creative than its critics assumed, and that "it is clear that many 14-to-17-year-old students, particularly girls, are not attracted to such a specific and narrow course." To be fair, digital literacy and ICT elements are still in the English curriculum but all the emphasis appears to have gone into the coding aspect. This was pretty apparent during my recent visit to the Computing at Schools conference in Birmingham, where the overwhelming majority of keynotes and workshops were focused on coding, with little input on the other aspects of the computing curriculum.

"Learning Computer Science is surprisingly hard." - CAS Conference, Birmingham 2017.
I've written a some of posts over the last couple of years mentioning my concerns with the pressure that I could see coming from different quarters (including the BBC) for the introduction to coding. I have no problem with its introduction but wanted a sensible balance between it and digital literacy (see The Balance Between Coding and Digital Literacy and Restoring The Balance). Yesterday I listened to a presentation by a teacher who was involved with the development of the DCF (digital competence framework) and who is one of the digital pioneers working on the new curriculum. It was refreshing to hear him express similar views to myself. He talked about the importance of DCF for all our students, that being digital competent was an essential part of all our lives. He explained to attendees that coding is not mentioned in the DCF (although Computational Thinking is) and that computer science will be part of the new Science and Technology area of learning and experience. I precis what he said somewhat, but basically being digitally competent is essential for all our young people, whereas computer science only appeals to a small number of students who then hopefully go on to become coders. If his views are similar to the rest of the digital pioneers, hopefully we will have the right balance in Wales.

Friday, 7 July 2017

NDLC Minutes Provide Glimpse of Hwb+ 'Future'

Update to my last post Hwb+-Another Nail in the Coffin? As I've said previously, I do like to read through the agenda and minutes of the National Digital Learning Council meetings. These are freely available to the public on the Hwb website. Below you will find a section from the minutes dated 4th April, 2017:

5.7 The Hwb+ / provisioning contract with Learning Possibilities ends on 31 August 2018 and there is no contract extension option. Officials are already exploring exit strategy arrangements to ensure continuity of service specifically around the provisioning service which underpins the user authentication for all Hwb services.

5.8 CO (Chris Owen, Welsh Government) outlined the current thinking around the next phase of the provisioning, authentication and user management for LiDW users. NDLC members stressed the importance of ensuring the replacement service offered high-availability levels as this is such a pivotal element of the programme. CO confirmed that this was fully understood and already part of the planning.

5.9 The other aspect of the contract with Learning Possibilities is the delivery of Hwb+, the individual school’s learning platform. Statistics indicate that there are low numbers of schools in Wales demonstrating embedded use of Hwb+ (e.g. 30 learners logging in once a day).

5.10 It was agreed that a sub-group of NDLC members would be established to explore options for engaging with stakeholders over their use of the Hwb+ platform. This information would be used to inform the next steps and to present options to the Cabinet Secretary for Education.

5.11 Any change in provision needs to be carefully managed and the Welsh Government will work closely with schools to minimise any disruption at the end of the current Learning Possibilities contract.

5.12 NDLC members queried whether a learning platform was required as blending the centrally offered services such as Hwb, J2e and Office 365 now potentially provides a range of suitable options. This will be considered as part of the engagement with stakeholders.

5.13 A draft stakeholder survey which would seek to find out what worked well and what didn’t work so well with Hwb+ is one option to engage.

What have we learned from these minutes?
- No contract extension option for Hwb+ or their provisioning tool and officials are exploring exit strategy options. *The provisioning tool is the software (owned by Learning Possibilities) that sits in each local authority and creates the user accounts from schools SIMS data.*
- The NDLC noted how pivotal that provisioning tool is to the success of the programme. Any change needs to be 'carefully managed' to minimise disruption at the end of the Learning Possibilities contract. *This provisioning tool is in my opinion, certainly core to the success of the programme. I mentioned in a comment exchange on my last post that I felt the real success of the programme had been to get all users accounts set up for staff and pupils across Wales. If WG are not careful, any disruption to that 'continuity of service' could/will damage Hwb's reputation.*
- A low number of schools using Hwb+. *As I've said, it's a platform that certainly hasn't been at the top of my 'top 10 learning platforms', but it's been interesting to observe the way support to schools in its use, appears to have been withdrawn over the last couple of years. It's been a slow death.*
- Survey to seek what worked well and what didn't work so well. *We now know that a survey is one option and the regional workshops are another.*

Friday, 30 June 2017

Hwb+ - Another Nail in the Coffin?

This post on the Hwb News page caught my eye this afternoon. In early July, the Welsh Government (WG) are running four Hwb+ Workshops to "explore the current use of the Hwb+ learning platform" and wanting to "hear your views" before planning the next steps in the LiDW programme. If you've read some of my previous posts about Hwb+ you'll know I've never been its biggest fan and in 'Gazing Into My Crystal Ball', suggested that maybe the contract for Hwb+ wouldn't be renewed. Dare I propose that the only reason these workshops are being held by the WG is that they already have a very good idea what the feedback from schools will be like - overwhelmingly negative. Therefore it appears that these events are an opportunity to gather further evidence of why the contract with Learning Possibilities for Hwb+ shouldn't be renewed in August 2018. I'd be extremely surprised, in fact astonished, if a different outcome arose from these events and from the national Hwb+ stakeholder online survey. This is another nail in the coffin for Hwb+. There was the loss of the Hwb Digital Leaders who initially supported schools in its national implementation; the ability to create classes and assignments within the Hwb platform and a perceived lack of regional consortia encouragement to schools to use Hwb+, focusing their efforts on other Hwb tools, therefore starving it of support. All of which, in my opinion, has helped to contribute to it probable demise. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next couple of months.
BTW, I can't seem to remember a similar set of LiDW workshops being run for the other tools available in Hwb - Office 365, J2e, Encyclopedia Britannica ;-)

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Hwb J2launch and OneDrive Files?

In my recent meetings with primary schools, inevitably our discussions will turn to the evidencing and marking of pupils work. More pupil work is now being completed online through tools such as Office 365 and J2e (via the Hwb platform), along with G Suite for Education and 2Simple's Purple Mash. Therefore how does a teacher easily find and mark work when it's being held in two or more different places? Especially if you factor in that pupil's work could also be held on the school network and on individual iPads. It's all a bit 'messy' to say the least. Recently I've been looking at j2launch which is part of the Just2easy set of tools and freely available to all schools in Wales via the Hwb platform. J2launch is a Content Management System (CMS) within J2e. Work created online using the many J2e tools is automatically stored here along with any other file type you'd like to upload. Files can be searched for and organised using folders. All done, in my opinion, very easily.

Teacher view of pupil files in j2launch. Uploaded PDFs and a J2e5 resource

It was simple to upload a video file created on my iPad and some Comic Life PDFs. Once in j2launch, teachers can assess pupil work against the literacy and numeracy framework and the digital competence framework statements. Teachers are also able to, among other features, engage the pupil in a learning conversation and create a QR code to share the work with others. All very impressive. However I do have a gripe. I would love to be able to see my pupils files stored in OneDrive in j2launch. I would then have Office365 files (Word, PowerPoint, Excel Online), J2e files and any other uploaded files all in one place, with the ability to assess, feedback and share pupil work. If my understanding is correct, a school that had bought J2e would have the ability to single sign on with their Office365 or G Suite for Education account. OneDrive and Google Drive files will then appear in j2launch allowing for marking, etc as described above. However, that option doesn't seem to be possible with the version available to schools through Hwb. That's a pity. I think teachers (and pupils) in Wales would find it really helpful if this version offered that solution. It would make the assessment and feedback of pupil's digital work, created on different platforms, so much easier.