Networked Projectors Offer Easy Access

This post was originally published on the Interface Magazine Online website – you can read the original post here.

How often do you want to access the internet but can’t because your device is connected via Wi-Fi to the classroom projector? It’s one or the other … but not both. St Andrew’s College has worked with Epson to find a way to do things differently.

stAndrews_epson“Epson gave us some sample units, and we trialled some existing units in our preparatory school before we did a major upgrade,” said the College’s Director of ICT Sam McNeill, noting the units were in place for six months. “We wanted proof of the concept.”

By Term 4 last year, the College had rolled out 35-40 Epson EB-535W short-throw projectors.

“One of the key drivers for upgrading to networked projectors was our use of OneNote,” explained McNeill. “We’re gradually becoming a compulsory BYOD school and the majority of teachers now choose a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 or 4. Because we use OneNote, everything that goes up onto a projector screen also gets automatically saved for later in the students’ notebooks.”

Two underlying needs for a projector upgrade were also present, the first being teachers wanting not to be tethered to a projector by a VGA or HDMI cable. The second, more importantly, was St Andrew’s experiences with other technologies.

“We’ve played around with WiDi and Miracast devices, and had varied results.

“The Netgear Push2TV worked okay but still had interference issues because we had 30-40 devices in a classroom,” recalled McNeill. “The ScreenBeam dropped out from time to time, and had some security issues. Also, the pairing process between Miracast and a Windows 8.1 or 10 device was challenging for some teachers.”

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Epson’s EB-535W projectors are networked and have their own IP address which is displayed on the projector’s screen, and a signal is received from a teacher’s Surface Pro via the school’s wireless network. Rather than going from one device to another (point-to-point), this allows for a highly stable connection, not unlike live internet streaming.

St Andrew’s separates all projector traffic on to a separate VLAN (with a dedicated switch), meaning it was isolated and would never affect general school-wide Wi-Fi speeds. All installation of the projectors was done by the in-house ICT team.

Enticingly, Epson’s projectors did not require a network upgrade, they could be used on the existing wireless infrastructure.

“We wanted to be able to use them for the internet and project the teacher’s screens at the same time. What we like about the Epson is, you don’t have to fiddle around with the Windows configuration. It has its own standalone software (EasyMP), and it just works.

epson_EB-485Wi

Just one downside has come with the roll-out of Epson’s projectors.

“The trade-off in all of this is that video frame rate is reduced,” added McNeill. “If a teacher wants to play a movie, they’ll need to connect through HDMI for an optimal experience.”

St Andrew’s is using Epson’s advanced networking solutions with its projectors in various ways.

“We have the central management software, which allows us to see how the projectors are running, when bulbs blow, and see how teachers are connecting, all from our ICT office. We even have a scheduled off function, in case teachers forget to turn theirs off.”

Currently, the projector network is only accessible by teachers, not by students.

“It is possible, under moderator control from the teacher, but we haven’t had the teacher demand for it at this stage. Perhaps when they become more fluent and familiar with using wireless projectors, they’ll see the value in students’ BYOD devices projecting to it.”


St Andrew’s College is in Merivale, Christchurch. With a roll of 1,350, it’s a fully-independent, co-educational school for pre-school to Year 13 day and boarding students.

Collaborating With The Future Schools Expo

This week I was excited to receive correspondence from David Colville, from DataCom Australia. He was present at the 2016 Future Schools Expo in Sydney. His request was that a group of St Andrew’s College students could be made available to share ideas with small groups of students from Mount Sinai College, Sydney. These students had been taking part in one of four future challenges as part of the Maker’s Playground of this conference.

WIN_20160304_11_53_04_Pro

Collaborative Skype Session with Mount Sinai Hill College

The 4 Challenges:

  1. There was a tornado in Sydney last year. Some houses were destroyed. What sort of house could survive a tornado?
  2. We know that you learn better at school when you are happy, but some times you come to school sad because you might have had a fight with your brother or got told off by your Mum. How can we cheer students up when they get to school so they are ready to learn?
  3. We love Lego, but cleaning up the pieces and finding the right one can be difficult. Is there a way to sort Lego pieces out quickly and make packing up our lego kits more effective?
  4. We don’t have enough refs for our netball games. How can technology help our shortage of refs?

After a quick bit of organisation from preparatory school eLearning expert Wilj Dekkers, it was decided that our recently formed Year 8 Gifted and Talented group would be perfect for this opportunity. This group are working with Mrs Julie Rogers as part of the College’s GATE program.

The view from Sydney: Mt Sinai College students at Future Schools conference on a Skype call to St Andrew's College

The view from Sydney: Mt Sinai College students at Future Schools conference on a Skype call to St Andrew’s College

With only a few minutes preparation time afforded, it was great to see this small group of students independently agree to use the Collaboration Space on a OneNote Notebook, set up a dedicated area of this space so that they could collaborate on their ideas during the Skype Call, and then test the functionality of this space. This setup was all done independently of any teacher input and took only a few minutes.

The structure of the Skype conversation was simple. A small group of Mount Sinai students explained their solution to one of the problems described above, and the St Andrew’s students responded with their critiques, ideas and encouragements.

During the activity the students from both school were extremely engaged. They listened carefully to the input from all students and the questioning and reasoning on show was impressive. This activity was a really great example of students, in two different locations, displaying their collaborative and teamwork skills in an unfamiliar setting.

I liked the future problem solving Skype, because I enjoyed helping them with their problems to come up with better solutions. I also enjoyed discussing these problems with our group. We all put our solutions together to make the best one. Our group of year eights all had an input to help improve their solutions, because even if we didn’t want to say out loud, we had our OneNote to write our suggestions on, so our other group members could say it for us. – Maya, St Andrew’s College Year 8 Student

Here, at St Andrew’s College, we enjoying using Skype to connect with other Educators or Students across the globe. We have enjoyed a number of Mystery Skypes, have engaged with a children’s author, and brought experts into the classroom. We all look forward to the next opportunity to use Skype to help complement the other great learning that occurs in our classrooms!

Sprout – An Almost “Magical” Technology

This week I’m in Melbourne, Australia and yesterday I spent the day at HP’s Experience Centre seeing a range of products (more to come on this), however there was one technology that genuinely blew my mind with the wide range of possibilities for application within Education.

This technology was Sprout by HP.

To get an idea of what this looks like, check out this promo video:

In short, Sprout by HP is an all-in-one computer with a touch screen but also has a built in downwards facing projector above the screen that doubles as a 3D scanner and an interactive mat that functions as a second input device and soft keyboard. This combination of technology allows you to do some crazy things, such as:

  • Take a photo of any “real world” object by placing it on the mat and then immediately start interacting with it in the software and adding it to other artefacts you’re collecting
    • Example: you find a photo of a skirt you really like on the internet, but you want to see what it would look like if you made it in a fabric pattern you already have. Place the fabric on the mat, scan it, and then by drawing an outline over the skirt in the photo you can “punch out” the original skirt and insert the fabric pattern you just scanned.
  • Place a real object on the mat such as toy or wrist watch, scan it into the Sprout, and then start interacting with it in various ways by adding colour, textures and other filters.
    • Example: you could scan a real world object, make some basic modifications, and then output these to a 3D printer so you can effectively “clone” real objects
  • Create collages with a combination of both existing digital images you already have, but add in scanned physical items around you and then mark up with text
    • Example: in NCEA English students need to create static images (e.g. AS.90855 at Level 1) – using a Sprout they could truly combine all physical and digital artefacts and allow their creativity to take over.
StaticImage exemplar

An exemplar of a traditional Static Image for NCEA Level 1 English. A Sprout could revolutionise how these are created by combining both physical and digital artefacts

What was clear from the demonstration presented by Paul Burman from HP was that the Sprout is perhaps not the best tool for creating incredibly detailed and accurate finished products, but it is unparalleled in combining a range of features that would normally require exceptionally high skill levels in programmes such as Photoshop or AutoCAD.

For this reason, there is significant appeal for a device such as this in all year levels of schools, as I can see that students in our Preparatory School could easily apply their creativity to using this tool in effective ways. Likewise, Secondary School students in a range of curriculum areas could engage with this to very quickly create engaging conceptual designs using a range of media.

Below are some quickly taken videos from the presentation yesterday that illustrate a range of functions of the Sprout and, hopefully, how easy and relatively simply it is to quickly use. In the room watching was around 10 ICT Directors and Managers and all were riveted – most filming the presentation on their phones too – highlighting that this technology appears to bridge the traditional design / 3D print space and allow creativity to just flow:

Visualising a skirt re-designed with a physical fabric swatch

Scanning a physical object into a 3D model with Sprout by HP

Editing a photo from the web quickly with Sprout by HP

Robotics: From No-bots to Go-bots

This post was originally published on the Interface Magazine Online website – you can read the original post here.

Briony Marks

Miss Briony Marks

Last year was my first teaching robotics. We began a Robotic Club using EV3 Lego Mindstorms, which quickly found its legs and became firmly established across the Preparatory School. It was a fantastic learning experience; the children were enthralled, writes Briony Marks, St Andrew’s College, Christchurch.

We began with construction and attempting to understand the components. Identifying the sensors and motors was a key factor. Discussing wheel size and rotations formed part of our initial learning. With time, we began to program the Lego Block. Hanging to the instruction booklet like a life raft, the students and I navigated the early concepts.

Whole-school programme

Our confidence grew and, when asked to make a presentation to the PTA in Term 2 about the benefits of a widespread robotics programme, I was able to talk confidently about the phenomenal learning that had happened in our club. Our students were measuring in degrees, centimetres and metres; calculating turns; programming and sequencing and all within a couple of 40-minute sessions on a Friday lunchtime.

We were fortunate enough to receive another eight sets of the Education Edition EV3. This was to enable us to roll out robotics on a class scale (allowing one robot between two in our maximum classes of 26). The year saw a huge transition, from a small group of 15 experimental and brave Year 5 students to a school-wide project.

RoboCup Junior NZ

robotics1At the beginning of Term 3, we decided to enter the RoboCup Junior New Zealand competition (robocupjunior.org.nz). This was an ambitious plan with only five weeks to prepare. We selected five teams (from Years 5, 7 and 8) and with two full days blocked out and about two extra hours a week we went from unpacking and building to choreographing a piece of Robot Theatre.

The time frame was tight, with little opportunity for instruction in even the basics. However, the students managed to self and peer teach to eventually put together four very different theatre pieces. We were incredibly pleased with their hard work. From ‘Mazerunner’ to ‘The Hunger Games’, ‘Jurassic World’ to ‘Pink Panther’, students’ ideas and creativity came to life with MDF, plenty of paint, papier-mâché, some poorly mixed soundtracks and, of course, the robots!

Positive student feedback

Following RoboCup, I asked them to take an anonymous survey. I was delighted to read the overwhelmingly positive responses. As a general comment, the students enjoyed the independence, working creatively and intuitively to overcome problems, and saw the experience as enriching rather than disheartening. They listed their interpersonal skills with comments such as:

“I learnt to take turns at things and not always be the leader”

and

“You can save time if you work together as a team.”

My reflection and advice

Three weeks prior to RoboCup I attended a training day with the fantastic Sandy Garner at the University of Otago. Her easy-to-use booklet allowed me to grasp huge concepts of programming. This structure has driven the way I now introduce the robots to my classes. Her website Learning with robots (learningwithrobots.weebly.com) hosts a wealth of resources that will help focus your planning for establishing a robotics course.

The greatest challenge I found was trying to structure lessons that allowed for creativity and continued success to maintain student engagement.

Term 4 saw us expand Year 4s, who have been chomping at the bit all year long to get their hands on a robot! These young masterminds blew me away with their ability to problem solve (as I become a more confident teacher of robotics the children are encouraged to experiment more).

I’m incredibly proud of the reaction of the students and parents, and of myself for being able to understand and teach others to use the robots (mostly) with success. I hope that I’ve managed to inspire some future robot engineers, modelled a ‘growth mindset’ rather than a ‘fixed one’ … and also that I might have broken down some stereotypes about women and tech along the way!

Five-week sampler course, by Briony Marks

  1. Introducing routines below and allow students to discover how to go forward, backwards and turn
  • Where things are kept;
  • How to save your files to avoid confusion;
  • The basics of programming and downloading your code to your robot; and
  • Rules, such as ‘never run your program with the robot on a table!’
  1. The Arch Challenge – Students must navigate through a simple arch maze. They must not cross the lines and must perform a ‘trick’ at the top. This allows them to experiment with different turning styles and the sound and image function.
  2. Complete the Arch Challenge and start the Red Riding Hood challenge. This is from Sandy’s booklet, which shows a sweet challenge where students must navigate safely from Grandma’s house to Red Riding Hood’s garage. She must stop at the main road, check left and right and then navigate the maze to reverse safely into her garage without being eaten by the wolf!
  3. Complete Red Riding Hood
  4. Introduce the Ultrasonic Sensors and loops to create a program that lets the robot navigate the classroom without crashing.

 

Briony Marks teaches at St Andrew’s College in Christchurch. Learn more about her work at her blog missmarksblogs.wordpress.com

Inducting Students into a 1:1 Laptop Programme

As the new school year begins, the 1:1 laptop programme at St Andrew’s College continues to grow. As the year begins, all Year 8-11 students are required to bring a laptop to school each day. With the number of Senior College students voluntarily bringing laptops to school growing each year, we are ever closer to all students in the Secondary School having a laptop with them each lesson.

Staff feedback from the first two years of the 1:1 program raised some concerns around two main themes:

  • The first was about the amount of class time that some teachers felt could be wasted at the start of the year, getting all student’s computers successfully connected to school systems, and the class OneNote Notebook.
  • The second concern raised was around the the lack of familiarity of some students with their particular device.
Students working hard on the task

Students working hard on the induction task

In response to these concerns the decision was made to invest some time in the first few days of the 2016 school year to actively try and get Year 9 students more familiar with their own computers, and the systems that we use here at St Andrews College. In consultation with Middle School leadership, it was decided that students would have four periods to complete such a task – with the time being split over the first two days of the school year.

Creating the task

With over 200 Year 9 students the range of ability and engagement with computers was always going to be extremely varied. For this reason I decided to create an induction task that used a single platform, OneNote, as the base, with a range of other resources linked into it, such as instructional videos and surveys.

In an attempt to gain some preliminary information all students were asked to complete a short online survey. Of most interest to me was their responses to the following two questions.

Initial Survey

The results from these two questions particularly gave me the confidence that such a programme was incredibly important for our incoming Year 9 students. While approximately half of our Year 9 intake are from the Preparatory School, where we know they receive a thorough grounding in all things IT; the remainder of our intake arrive from a wider range of feeder schools; from across the city and beyond. A major aim, when writing this task was to ensure that all students gained a basic understanding of both their computers (keyboard shortcuts, power saving settings, and our systems such as printing, emailing and online storage.

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The basic premise was to write a task that was based in OneNote. To make the task more contextual, the ‘how to use your computer’ material was woven into a basic inquiry-based task that required each student to design their ultimate teenage space in the Christchurch city rebuild. Within the induction task each student was required to complete a wide range of tasks including:

  • Accessing their College email to gain access to the Onenote Notebook
  • Access a variety of video resources around computer care, computer use, and IT systems used at StAC, and complete tasks to reinforce this learning
  • Add preliminary ideas to the Collaboration Space in OneNote about a potential Youth Facility in Central Christchurch
  • Collate and analyse the best ideas from the Collaboration Space, in their own area of the Class Notebook
  • Add audio to their own area of the OneNote, critically analysing their best ideas
  • Learn how to print their work
  • Hand their work in using the Assignment activity on their classes Moodle Page

Upon completion of the task the feedback from the students was extremely positive. A number of individual students commented on the benefits they saw from completing the task:

This task was good because it helped me learn how to use my computer.

I liked how we could try some of the things by ourselves and the demonstrations from the videos.

 

student feedback two

Similarly,Year 9 Tutor staff, who were involved in supporting the students during their induction sessions, were also asked to provide feedback. It was particularly pleasing to see the high regard with which they held the assistance that they received from IT staff during the Staff feedback.

Moving forward

On reflection I am very happy with how this task went. As with doing anything for the first time, I will continue to reflect carefully on all aspects of the task and try and identify the improvements that can be made. Obviously providing adequate IT support over 13 classrooms and over 200 devices is an acknowledged difficulty, but I really hope that the teachers of Year 9 will notice an improvement in the confidence, and capabilities of their classes as the school year gets underway.

Making It Easier To Read & Write with OneNote Learning Tools

Few would argue against the fact that technology should support teachers and learners in the classroom to achieve better learning outcomes and comprehension. Sadly, too often the technology is shoe-horned into learning environments simply to “tick the box” that eLearning is happening. By creating a role of eLearning Integrator that is filled by Mr Tom Adams, St Andrew’s College has committed to supporting our teachers maximise the benefits of the technology available.

Therefore, it is very pleasing to see that Microsoft have recently released some tools for OneNote to further support the literacy of students by making it easier to read content and improve their writing. The Learning Tools For OneNote, a free download, provide a set of extended features that will help improve learning outcomes for all students.

It’s a game changer.

Mr B. Clark (Head of Learning Support)

From the website:

  • English language learners can increase their fluency.
  • Emerging readers can feel confident when reading material at a higher level.
  • Students with learning differences like dyslexia can decode text more easily.

Learning Tools

Watch the above Office Mix Video to see Learning Tools in action.

Features

New features in the OneNote Learning Tools

The downside of this new tool set is that it is currently only available for Windows clients of MS OneNote, leaving Apple Mac users and OneNote Online web clients out in the cold. Nevertheless, when Mr Adams talked with St Andrew’s Head of Learning Support about this new feature, he replied “It’s a game changer.”  

As a result of this positive endorsement, which was echoed by our Head of English Ms Tam Yuill Proctor, the ICT services team will be deploying the OneNote Learning Tools (download directly here) to all laptops/desktops managed by St Andrew’s whilst also encouraging students to install it on their BYOD devices.

I look forward to hearing from students and teachers alike how these new tools are supporting positive literacy outcomes.

Microsoft Video Showcases Innovative Educators

On the 23rd November 2015 Microsoft NZ arranged for a TV crew to film and interview a number of staff and students at St Andrew’s College. The focus of the day was showcasing how the Surface Pro 3 and OneNote were being used creatively within the College. The three teaching staff interviewed were Mr Wilj Dekkers (Year 6 class teacher in the Preparatory School), Ms Tam Yuill Proctor (Assistant Head of English) and Mr Ben Hilliam (Assistant Head of Maths).

These three were chosen as they have been using the Surface Pro 3 since our initial trial group was formed in late 2014 and also because they have recently been named as Microsoft Innovative Educators for 2016:

St Andrew’s College’s three Microsoft Innovative Educators for 2016 from left to right: Mr Ben Hillian, Ms Tam Yuill Proctor and Mr Wilj Dekkers

All three have featured on this blog before, with some of my favourite posts about their teaching being:

What impresses me about these teachers is how natural the integration of technology and eLearning strategies are. As I noted on the post about Mr Hilliam above:

Whilst the phrase “ubiquitousness of technology” is over used, this lesson did demonstrate that when used effectively, the technology is not at the forefront of the lesson. It was not gimmicky or flashy, instead it provided functional improvement to what was already a great lesson.

Certainly, the technology available to achieve this integration is available and well supported at St Andrew’s, something that Ms Yuill Proctor noted in a blog post published today:

At StAC I count myself very lucky to have the technology, infrastructure and guidance available to try new tools to enhance the learning programs and assist with day to day teaching.

Having access to the tools and support increases the confidence of teachers to try new things – sometimes this is simply at a “Substitution” level on the SAMR scale of technology integration – but often it goes deeper into Modification and Redefinition:

SAMR Diving

These three teachers, recognised externally by Microsoft for the innovative work they’re doing in their classrooms, along with our eLearning Integrator Mr Tom Adams, need to function as change agents and ambassadors within the College in 2016, sharing their pedagogy and encouraging colleagues to follow their lead.

In 2014 St Andrew’s introduced the 1:1 Computing Programme to Year 9 students, making it compulsory for all students in that year group to bring a laptop. We have now successfully concluded the second year of this and, in 2016, are rolling back this requirement to Year 8 students in our Preparatory School as well.

Both Mr Dekkers and Mr Adams have been heavily involved in planning the rationale and support for the Year 8 programme. The result of this is that close to 700 students in Years 8-11 will be required to bring a laptop to school each day: clearly the need for eLearning leaders such as those recognised above is critical to ensure staff and students can maximise the value of this technology.

I am really pleased that this video, and the recognition from Microsoft of these three teachers, reflects the huge amount of effort and planning that goes into teaching with technology at St Andrew’s College.

Footnote: One of the happy outcomes from the day Microsoft spent filming was the chance to interview Toby, a budding game developer in Mr Dekkers’ class. This led to a followup Skype interview that I blogged about here

Toby 3

Tech Evangelist Encourages Student App Development

Toby 3Today Mr Wilj Dekkers and Year 6 student Toby Skyped with Hannes Nel from Microsoft New Zealand about a game called “The Adventures of Mr Dot” that Toby had built in Scratch.

It was a great chat aimed to help Toby identify some next steps for his game development and when Hannes asked what his plans for it were, Toby’s answer was simple:

I want it to go on an app store so that it can make lots of money!

Toby’s game is called “The Adventures of Mr Dot” and is based on a traditional platform style game, revolving around moving a “dot” from one side of the screen to the other, progressing past increasingly difficult obstacles.

Toby demonstrates how to play “The Adventures of Mr Dot”

SuperMarioBros

Super Mario Bros screenshot that Hannes likened Toby’s game to.

Hannes, who has assisted in development of apps for Trademe and TVNZ, likened playing the game to the Super Mario Brothers games he played as a child.  He went on to explain to Toby that there are three different stores that his game could theoretically be published to:

  • The Windows Store
  • Apple’s App Store
  • Google’s Play Store

The challenge was going to be migrating the game from Scratch to a platform that could be published to these online app stores. Hannes made the suggestion that using Construct 2 would allow for this and that since most app developers were gaining success through publishing to apps for smart phones, Toby might want to think about allowing a touch interface to control “Mr Dot”.

Mr Dot

A screenshot taken from Toby’s Surface Pro 3 showing some of the coding he has done in Scratch to build his game.

Toby, who has spent significant time over the last month developing his game, was immediately up for the challenge and considering how he could convert the keyboard controls to a touch interface. Other students in the Year 6 class with Mr Dekkers have been informal “beta testers” playing many of the existing levels, finding it a fun and addictive game to play. Toby aims to write 100 levels for the game that would result in significant gameplay.

I’ll keep an eye on the development of this app and hopefully we can see it make it through to completion and publication on the various app stores.

Toby_gear

Microsoft kindly gifted Toby a backpack with some tech gifts to encourage him to keep up the programming (this did not include the Surface Pro 3 which is Toby’s personal device)

Bringing Experts into the Classroom

One of the main purposes of this blog is to raise awareness within the college of innovative pedagogy, with the overall aim of inspiring others. I was excited this week to spend a bit of time in a Year 6 Religious Education classroom, where I saw evidence of exactly that.

At the recent conference of the New Zealand Association of Religious Education Teachers and Chaplains, our Preparatory School Religious Education Teacher, Mrs Jillian Fenton, found herself reflecting on the possibilities of tapping into the expertise of others, and bringing that into her classroom. This reflection was in conjunction with the 2016 Religious Education curriculum review which was aiming to continue to make learning in this particular curriculum area as authentic as possible.

As part of this process Mrs Fenton also thought back to her Year 6 student’s end of term reflections from Term 3. Within these she noted that a number of children raised some very interesting questions that they wanted the opportunity to ask.

Accessing an Expert

Mrs Fenton had seen what was going on with Skype in the College, with Mystery Skypes, intra-college lessons, and asking an expert; and she really wanted her students to have the same opportunity. She approached Dr Jennifer McLeod, a Physics, Science and Religious Education teacher at John McGlashon College in Dunedin.

Both Year 6 classes were given the opportunity to connect with Dr McLeod and have their questions answered.  My observations of one of these session illustrated the extremely high levels of student engagement as they asked questions such as

“Does God’s power have a limit?”

 

“What proof is there of God’s existence?”

Mrs Fenton notes that “It was brilliant to give children the opportunity to ask those questions of someone they perceive as an expert.”

I thought it was great to see this example of a teacher thinking carefully about how she could use approachable technology to give her students such an engaging and authentic learning experience.

EPIC Adventure for Year 7 Students

The EPIC Centre the students visited

The EPIC Centre the students visited

Earlier this term a number of Year 7 students from St Andrew’s College were able to visit the EPIC facility in the central city, as part of a visit co-ordinated by Miss Briony Marks. EPIC stands for Enterprise Precinct Innovation Centre and is described on their website as:

EPIC connects New Zealand’s high-tech entrepreneurs with each other and their counterparts around the world

EPIC (Enterprise Precinct Innovation Centre) Christchurch serves as a bridge between innovation focussed companies of all sizes. Connecting business with investors, Governments and technology hubs around the world, whilst fostering a collaborative environment for Christchurch business and social communities to work together

The various inquiries that the students have participated in this year have shared a technology focus and so the opportunity to connect with the wider technology and innovation community was too good to pass up.

I asked whether the students who visited EPIC could write a few reflections for this blog and so they used Microsoft OneNote to brainstorm what they had seen. A number of similarities were identified between EPIC environment and that of St Andrew’s:

epic-brainstorm

Here are the reflections from the students:

Students arriving at EPIC

Students arriving at EPIC

On Thursday 5th November we took the bus and we went to EPIC. EPIC (Entrepreneurship Precinct Innovation Centre) is a large building in the centre of town, this building houses several different companies that work in high tech industries. When we got there we had a tour guide, Jalanda. We got taken to a little seating area to get talked to about the whole place of EPIC, the values and the ideas behind the building.

EPIC was set up because many tech businesses in Christchurch lost their buildings, hard drives and files because of the Earthquake. So they all were squished and cramped together in a small building close to the airport. This situation, although unfortunate, brought many of the companies together and soon after, they started collaborating and sharing their ideas with each other, to make their projects better. They all figured out that this was a better way to work, so 2 years ago they built EPIC, where more than 20 businesses now work. Even though now they have more space, the heads of the building have decided to build the toilets and kitchens in communal areas, so that people will bump into each other in the hallways and share ideas. Even Google was in on the idea and donated a coffee machine to the building because everybody needs a coffee break at one point during the day so you’ll meet new people who you may not work with directly.

Getting creative at EPIC

Getting creative at EPIC

We visited four different companies; they were called SLI Systems, Cerebral Fix, Red Seed and Meta Digital. All of the companies were downstairs except SLI Systems which is upstairs. All the companies are based on technology, and web or game designing and one had a green screen.

SLI Systems

These guys worked to get your website on the front page of Google. They worked with searches and helping people navigate your website easily.

SLI was the biggest company that we visited and it had a lot of work space. Each group of employees had their own office. The offices were really personalised and someone was even doing work whilst on a treadmill. SLI had a lot of fun; there was a competition where they got an old chair and they had to redesign it. The winning chair, a Darlek was in the corner of the office. We noticed that the people working there all had Nerf guns, they had Nerf wars and they planned raids against other companies.

SLI has offices in Japan, London, Australia and the USA. There are also heaps of people from different companies that work there. They had all their flags up on the wall and they celebrated all the different national holidays to make their staff feel welcomed. When we went they had just had a Halloween party. There was an iPad that was on a skateboard Segway that could move around the office. This was controlled by people in the offices abroad so that they could talk “face to face” via Skype.

Red Seed

RedSeed help people get better at their job. Red Seed are an online training provider, this means they run training for lots of big shops like the Warehouse. Their clients sign up to courses online and can learn on the go by watching videos at home or on their mobile phones. The bosses can see who has watched what.

The lady who set up the company used to go to different companies and help train the staff in sales and customer services, but this was not very efficient as staff changed over a lot. So she decided to try to record some of the videos online. This became really popular and is how Red Seed was born.

It was cool to see the green screen and see people teaching and learning outside of school.

Cerebral Fix

EPIC_3Cerebral Fix make video games and they were the coolest company! They are a video game designer for Disney and DreamWorks and have made games for lots of films. They make apps and other mini games as well as some larger ones. There were lots of people working there on Macs and Windows systems; they chose which they preferred or sometimes had to design for a certain platform (iPhones, Android etc).

Cerebral Fix were really interesting. It was great to see a game company for real and to talk about how long it takes to make a game. It was great to see the process involved in making a game, from ideas to the coding and testing. Sometimes they can get 95% through making a game and then it doesn’t work. They just have to start over and try again.

To get their ideas they play lots of games and talk about what they like and what they don’t like. They don’t just play video games; sometimes they play board games and use the ideas out of them to help design video games.

Meta Digital

EPIC_4Meta Digital were web-site designers. This was a very small company and office but they all seemed to work together and get it done. Each person had their job to do and they were able to speak and work together because of their smaller office. They had a maximum workload of 4 projects at one time, when we visited they were doing 3.

Clients would ask the people at Meta to design them a web-site. Meta have a “look” to their designs meaning they look similar, people would come to them because they like their look and then the designers talk to the clients and ask heaps of questions to make sure they get it right. Then once it’s been designed they start to program it and hope the clients like it!

EPIC and School

EPIC was quite like school because the building had lots of open corridors and places to work together. They shared their kitchens like we share our lunch space and the donut seating areas. This means that people get to chat in a less formal environment and you don’t just have to hang out in your office or classroom. These small businesses are a bit like all our different classes; they were all working together well. They could use their space to collaborate or shut themselves in to focus and work on their own. We bump into other people in different classes in the corridors and on the way to the toilets and get to know each other in the same way. Also, EPIC and School both have coffee machines for people to meet at. Teachers and parents have coffees in our café and the workers meet at the machines too.

Open break out spaces similar to what is available at St Andrew's College Preparatory School

Open break out spaces similar to what is available at St Andrew’s College Preparatory School

Working at EPIC

I would like to work at the EPIC building because they were very relaxed and it didn’t look stressed. The working environment was really fun. People had lots of Nerf gun wars, dress up days, design a chair and competitions to see whose eye was whose. It’s not very normal…. we think that they did these things to meet each other and have fun within the building. People concentrate better when they have fun and get break time to recharge. Meeting other people means having more ideas and getting to share your thoughts with others.

All these businesses needed creativity, all over the building there are artworks from Weta and video game landscapes. In the offices, employees brought in items from home that they loved (statues, toys, games, pictures and stuff like that). They had their personal things in their offices and dogs could come to work.  This made people feel at home and inspired to be creative. Without creativity work would be boring and they would make lame products, but if you are creative it means your work would be unique.