Learning with Moodle – “Anytime, Any Place, Anywhere”

moodle-logoRecently, Mr David Bevin (Head of Teaching and Learning) and I reflected on the implementation of Moodle at St Andrew’s College over the last  two years – something that I’ve blogged about previously here and here. This was part of a wider video recording session which included students from the Yr9 2014 cohort talking about their experiences bringing a laptop to class each day. During this recording, Rose Oakley (one of the Yr13 students who was helping behind the cameras) commented on how great she was finding using Moodle in class and also in her role as Head of Community Service. I suggested to Mr Bevin that we should include Rose in the conversation about Moodle on camera. Here is that recording:

The Community Service Page at St Andrew's College, maintained by Yr13 Student, Rose Oakley

The Community Service Page at St Andrew’s College, maintained by Yr13 Student, Rose Oakley

To the left is a copy of Rose’s page which you can visit by clicking here or on the image itself. I loved Rose’s use of the following phrase in relation to Moodle:

“Learning anytime, any place, anywhere”

This does encapsulate what we’re aiming to achieve with our Learning Management System and I am particularly pleased that we have been able to empower a limited set of students to create and manage their own pages on Moodle to promote student services at the College.

Moodle Statistics – Comparison of Feb/March 2013 and 2014:

I will blog next week about a recent survey undertaken of the students, staff and parents of the 2014 Yr9 Cohort to see how our 1:1 Programme is going so far, but for now I will touch on a couple of pleasing aspects related to Moodle usage. Our Google Analytics show an 8.5% increase in visitor numbers compared to this time last year:

An 8.5% increase in visitor numbers to Moodle in 2014 compared to 2013

An 8.5% increase in visitor numbers to Moodle in 2014 compared to 2013

What is interesting from these stats is the drop in total page views and average length of time spent during each visit. Whilst this could be interpreted in a few ways, one likely explanation is that students are becoming more efficient in using Moodle, therefore taking less time to navigate to the correct resource/activity and uploading assignments more quickly as well. With a 68% return on surveying Yr9 students about their use of computers at school this year, we were able to obtain a good snapshot of progress to date. This is the results on the question about Moodle usage in class and at home:

Responses from Yr9 students about their usage of Moodle in class and at home

Responses from Yr9 students about their usage of Moodle in class and at home

More evidence that Moodle is becoming a core tool and resource for teachers and students to use in the learning at St Andrew’s College.

Many thanks to Mr Simon Williams and Mr David Jensen and their student crew who performed the filming, mixing and editing of this video – they do a tremendous job for the College.

An Orwellian World of Surveillance and Digital Monitoring

Earlier this week I was invited to speak to a Yr13 English class that are currently studying the George Orwell classic dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty Four. It’s a novel high on big government surveillance and low on individual freedoms and so the teacher asked me to share a few thoughts on this and how this impacts on our daily lives from an ICT perspective.

I decided I’d start with this humorous clip from the 2010 film Four Lions, a film about some try hard jihadis who fear the “feds” are constantly watching them under surveillance, so consequently they go to extreme ends to defeat any tracking attempts from “big brother”

Whilst portrayed in a funny way, the reality is the tracking through cell phones and GPS satellites is very real; the police located sports presenter Tony Veitch after his attempted suicide a few years ago by tracking his cellphone and more recently, the efforts to locate missing Malaysian Airlines MH370 via satellite pings.

From this broad and high level introduction, I tried to personalise it and asked the students who had uploaded a photo to the internet (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, a Blog etc) within the last month – virtually every hand went up. I then asked them to clarify – who had uploaded a photo taken on a traditional camera, either a pocket camera or SLR – only 3-4 hands this time. Who had used a smart phone (virtually all which add GPS co-ordinates into the photo) – the vast majority of hands. With the platform set, I showed them this video clip:

What surprised me was that for many students they simply did not care if other people knew where they were taking photos, nor that they had the ability to track down their location. There was a disconnect between the perception of retaining a degree of anonymity with their online behaviour and profile, with the increasing ease that strangers or online companies like Facebook could build a digital footprint of them and start connecting that with a “real person.”

This led to a good discussion around Digital Citizenship and what measures were reasonable to undertake to keep safe online. Trying to personalise the experience further, we discussed what activities students undertook all the time at St Andrew’s College that contributed towards a digital footprint that could be tracked or analysed. Things such as the following all revealed their physical location at any time:

This last one proved particularly useful as I pulled up a real time map of the third floor of the Arts Block and it showed the students who had smart phones that had automatically associated with the wireless access point in the classroom:

The 3rd floor of the Arts Block showing devices connected wirelessly to the network

The 3rd floor of the Arts Block showing devices connected wirelessly to the network

Using this example, I also showed how easy it was to create a digital trail showing where a user had walked during the day, with their phone or laptop automatically associating with each wireless access point along the way. Here is a copy of the classrooms my work smartphone connected to as I went about my day on the campus.

The rooms my phone automatically connected to during the day.

The rooms my phone automatically connected to during the day.

Finally, to complete the “monitoring” picture of internet usage at St Andrew’s College we looked at the real time logs of our firewall reporting tools (Fortinet’s Fortianalyzer) and I showed them how many attempts by students were currently being blocked – the amount of Facebook requests elicited a laugh from the students present.

In the end, it was an eye opener for most of the students just how much of a digital footprint they create, even just during their time on campus here at St Andrew’s. What I tried to emphasis was their wider online presence and how this was creating a profile that companies like Google, Facebook and others will use in a variety of different ways.

There is, of course, a tradeoff. Many of the most useful and well liked tools we have come to rely on require “location aware” services and are provided either free or very cheaply, because advertising is supporting them. The question I left with each of the students was this: just how much of their privacy are they prepared to “give up” in return for the benefits and convenience of these internet based services.

Unlike Orwell’s world in Airstrip One where dissenting views or attempting to evade surveillance was seen as a thought crime, we still have a degree of choice in how much of a digital footprint we leave.

Here is a copy of the powerpoint I used, or embedded below:

Microsoft Release OneNote for Mac

OneNoteI’ve been in two minds about writing a blog about Microsoft’s recent release of OneNote for Mac. On the one hand, this has been the biggest request on our “wish list” for a long time, yet on the other it falls short of being comparable in functionality to the Windows equivalent.

I’ve blogged in the past about how teachers are doing great things with OneNote at St Andrew’s College and consequently my ICT support team and teachers alike were excited with the announcement that OneNote had arrived for Mac at long last.

Students can download a version from the Mac App Store here and the price is great too: free.

The issue from our standpoint is synchronisation. As a College we have made a big push to have all students and staff using the OneDrive for Business (formerly SkyDrive Pro) feature of Office365 – this allows sharing of documents easily (through real time searching of the College Active Directory) and allows stronger management from an ICT perspective.

The new Microsoft OneNote for Mac only allows synchronisation of notebooks with the OneDrive Consumer service – a great thing, but unfortunately lacks the tight integration into the rest of the Office365 suite on offer at St Andrew’s College.

We hold out hope that this synchronisation with OneDrive for Business will come in a future release and, in doing so, give our students (approximately 50% of them use a Mac) equal access to the fantastic product that is OneNote.

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Using Google Earth – An Exercise In Creativity


Overview of Google Earth Lessons in Moodle

Towards the end of 2013 our Head of Social Studies (Ms Kerry Larby) approached me to discuss an idea we had been chatting about for a while – using Google Earth in class for students to create and share their own tours. It was post-exams for the Yr9 students and there was a need for some engaging activities that still retained educational merit in the classes.

We sat down and thrashed around various ideas for what this mini-unit might look like and you can see the results of that here:

Google Earth Mini-Unit Planning Overview

Ms Larby converted this rough planning into an activity task sheet for the students, which was then uploaded to Moodle and the students introduced to this mini-unit during the ensuing lesson:

Google Earth Task Sheet For Students

Google Earth Marking Schedule Based on SOLO Rubric

What excited me about this activity was the tight integration into the key competencies in the NZ Curriculum, the elements of eLearning, along with the recognition we live in a global community that is getting smaller because of technology (for more of my thoughts on this, check this post from 2013).

In my view, technology should reinforce all the key ideas of literacy and numeracy, along with proofing your work, citing sources and producing “print quality” work. The fact that the medium being used might be electronic, still requires the teacher to be actively involved in helping students improve their work and deliver quality final copies.

Examples of Student Work:

These are a small sample of the work from the various Yr9 Social Studies classes.

Classic example of a student who can technically use the software quite well, but has overlooked key components of the task (in this case, inserting the notes/comments at each location as to why they chose that particular place in Google Earth as part of their tour).

A good tour, good comments at each location, but the need to go and proof read before publishing.

Another good tour, with a lot of detail at each location … possibly too good, with the suspicion the student has simply cut/paste the content from a website.

Sharing the Work:

When students had completed their work, they were required to share their tours with their classmates by uploading them into a forum on their class Moodle site. In true Participating & Contributing style, it was not enough for students to simply upload their work – they were also required to comment or ask questions about other student’s tours.

ImageThis allowed students to celebrate their work and enjoy the creativity of their peers. Some of the topics that students chose to create their tours about included:

  • Haunted Places
  • Top 10 Beaches In the World
  • Dream Holidays
  • Premiere League Football Stadiums
  • My 2019 OE Tour
  • Justin Bieber 2013 Tour Locations

Talking with Ms Larby, she described the students as

“fully engaged … they loved the activity and could see the relevance for other subjects as well”

As students start to bring laptops to class each lesson, the requirement to go to a computer lab to produce this type of work diminishes. Additionally, students’ fluency and competency in integrating technology such as Google Earth authentically into their learning increases. Whilst for some students the sheer novelty factor of an activity like this may have resulted in them focusing on the “how” rather than the “why”, the opportunity for the core learning skills, along with the key competencies, to be actively taught and practiced in activities such as these is very real.

Ultimately, this is what excites me about the possibilities inherent within eLearning – the ability to create engaging, ‘real-world’ activities, with the use of technology seamlessly integrated into the different components of the lesson. However, the core learning remains paramount and at the heart of the teacher’s planning and classroom activities.