Locked Out

Our Education department has recently been plagued by slower than normal internet connections. This is obviously frustrating for everyone and results in mud-slinging and blame being directed toward the IT department. There is pressure from many directions for an instant solution.

Unfortunately our IT department (which has a strong alignment with Microsoft to the exclusion of every other platform) has applied a ridiculous ‘fix’ to the problem – they have completely blocked all iOS updates, all Mac OS updates and the Mac App Store, and seriously throttled app updates for iOS and Android tablets/phones. We have thousands of these devices deployed in our schools as educators are embracing mobile learning yet now our students can no longer update their devices and apps or even download new apps. I am very confused as to how this can be seen to be an effective solution to a problem.

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Chandrachoodan Gopalakrishnan

We are an Education department – students are our core business. The IT people exist to enable education. Surely it is for teachers to decide on useful technology for use in their classrooms, not for technicians with no knowledge of pedagogy to drive access to technology.

Education vs ‘The IT Department’

Blocked websites, filtered networks, devices with limited functionality are the bane of educators. We seem to be locked in constant battle with IT departments. In a world awash with information, connections and collaboration, school IT environments are often built around control and limited access. Teachers find great online resources at home only to discover that the site is blocked in their school because it mentions the word ‘game’ or because a filtering program has decided that the site is unsuitable for education.

It begs the question. Who is driving technology in education? Surely the technology should be enabling teaching and learning practices. Too often it seems that education comes in a distant second to the IT guy. Teachers are frequently being told to re-think their approach to technology because of ridiculous controls and limitations being put in place by the IT department. (I’ve even been to a school where they were proudly showing their iPad management software that allowed them to disable the cameras on the devices so that students would not be distracted!)

Road Closed

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Dictated software environments by people without any knowledge of current education practices are all too common. Our IT department recently told me that our Standard Operating Environment had everything a teacher needs. (Apparently teachers only need Microsoft Office, Picasa and some burning software.) In the same conversation I was told to stop encouraging teachers to use online tools and resources as that would take up too much bandwidth. They went on to say that schools are not doing their job with technology because students in senior secondary still can’t use Excel properly.  Hello IT people, office suites are not the be all and end all of technology. Nor can using Excel be seen as an important life skill.

I believe much of this comes about by the general belief that everyone knows what is best for schools and education. This is not limited to technology. One needs only look at the politicians making important decisions about education when their only knowledge of school was gained by the few years they spent as a student. (I’ve been to see a doctor on a number of occasions but I don’t see myself as an expert on medicine.)

It’s time for technology in education to be driven by educators. It’s also time for school leaders to force the move beyond the control model to one of technology as an enabler for education. Technology is not evil. It will not stop children from learning. Stop blocking internet sites and start educating. My four year old son uses the internet. Sometimes he comes across things that are not appropriate. We don’t take the internet away, we spend time helping him learn how to avoid inappropriate content and to develop safe online behaviours.

Technology should be there to enhance education. Education should not be hindered by lack of technology or dictatorial controls that take away the functionality of the technology.

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Beyond Apps

We hear a lot about iPads and Apps in educational discussions. Plenty of people are more than willing to share their opinions about which app is best for school, or why we should use a specific app, but there is very little focus on workflows and combining a number of apps to achieve a desired outcome. I actually believe this is the most important part of the conversation about using iPads (or any other tablets, smartphones or computing devices).

This is all about moving away from the ‘one size fits all’ model of education that many teachers cling to as a the proverbial life raft. iPads are no different from any other tools and devices – Teachers can dictate specific apps and workflows OR they can assist students to develop a range of workflows and combinations of apps to achieve numerous and varied results. I certainly prefer the second option. (I still don’t understand how teachers can cope with marking 27 iterations of the same thing.) Surely it is more exciting for teachers to have a variety of products to assess, let alone the impact on students who can have the flexibility to express their thinking and learning in a format that works for them at the time.

30.3 _ choose love? [EXPLORED]

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Workflows should be part of the ‘teaching’ that goes with using iPads. Students should not have ‘lessons’ about how to use an app. Technology is not separate from subject or curriculum areas. It is one of the amazing array of tools and resources that teachers do (or should) have at their disposal.

In writing this post, I have been considering some of the workflows and app combos that I have used or witnessed others using. Even the simple process of creating a product and sharing it with your teacher has a minimum of 2 steps in the workflow (and that’s without planning!)

Consider this scenario… A student intends to make a short video to demonstrate their understanding of a topic.

A simple workflow would include planning, storyboarding, filming, production and distribution. In this instance, a sample workflow could include Popplet Lite for planning the event, Strip Designer for creating an annotated storyboard, filming relevant material using the Camera app, producing the movie in iMovie and then sharing the finished product by email or YouTube.

This is just one example of a workflow for this task. It could easily be achieved in a number of ways with a different collection of apps to achieve the desired outcome. In the end, it is about leveraging the potential of the apps you have available on your device. This is especially necessary in schools where iPads are shared devices. You don’t need to download hundreds of apps. A small collection of apps with developed workflows will be more powerful in the hands of students than devices loaded with hundreds of apps to choose from.

It’s time to move beyond apps and focus on workflows that enable quality teaching and learning.

New Experiences

I went fishing today.

It’s something of a milestone achievement in the eyes of my close friends and family! Fair skin and tropical sunlight are not compatible so I usually avoid outdoor pursuits that last longer than a couple of hours. But sometimes a friendship is cause to leave one’s comfort zone.

So I did just that… and I’m still alive to tell the story.

I was a novice today. This was my fourth experience of fishing in my life – and my first involved scooping fish out of shallow water with my hands! Fortunately I had an effective teacher…

My teacher showed me, guided me, laughed with me and led me. I received regular feedback. My learning journey was a narrative, made relevant through shared and sharing experiences. Learning was experiential – improved due to feedback. Multiple assessment standards were discussed. Questions were encouraged and answered. My teacher was passionate.

I enjoyed myself. I learned new things

… and I caught a fish

Not quite a fish

iPads are Personal

One of the great features of iPads and iPod Touches is that they are designed specifically to be personal devices. Having direct access to email, calendars and various cloud services such as Dropbox & Evernote enhances productivity and gives users constant connection to their information and services. This is the true power and benefit of these devices. I use my iPad every day and, coupled with my iPhone, I am more connected than ever.

Since the release of iPads, more and more schools are rushing out to by ‘sets’ of iPads for sharing or even lab-style setups. This rush to by devices seems to be driven by a misguided belief that technology drives curriculum change. Whilst this has always been an issue as school leaders try to gain an edge over neighbouring schools, the iPad revolution has made this issue more pronounced. Why else would schools buy communal sets of personal learning devices?

Pedagogy needs to be the force behind the purchase of technology. The technology will then be an enabler of the pedagogy. With this rush of schools to buy iPads, support agencies and consultants are being inundated with requests for support – “We’ve got iPads but we don’t know what to do with them.” “How do we use them to teach?” And my favourite question so far – “Who is going to buy the apps for us?” Was any planning involved prior to spending all of this money?

We are now faced with a glut of new devices in schools without any thought into how they will support pedagogy. Furthermore, too many classrooms are trying to bend the iPad to their will – no change to pedagogy but criticism that the device is not an efficient word processor and that powerpoint slide shows are a bit harder to make.

Schools who have purchased iPads as shared devices are faced with a number of challenges including having communal iTunes accounts, payment for apps, sharing of student work. Fortunately there are some solutions to these issues. You can synch multiple devices to a single iTunes account. The technical (and legal) limit, according to the copyright of the Apps, is 5 devices per account. Although this not currently enforced and schools are using this loophole to synch significantly more than 5 devices to single accounts. Rumour has it that this will not be possible after the release of iOS 5.

Another useful (and free) product is the iPhone Configuration Utility which is available for download from Apple. This lets you push network settings etc. to multiple mobile devices. There are other Mobile Device Management (MDM) solutions on the market. Casper Studio is one such solution.

However the reality remains – iPads are personal devices. If schools want shared devices, go back to laptops. Find a model that meets the pedagogical needs of your teachers. Pedagogy must drive technology use.