#CEM16 Guest Post – Connecting Educators Through TeachMeets

This post was written for the Christchurch Connected Educators blog as part of Connected Educators Month of October 2016. You can read the original post here. A similar post was written for #CEM15 about Mystery Skype which you can read here.

Earlier this year I had the privilege of attending my first ever TeachMeet and it just so happened to be in Melbourne at Ivanhoe Grammar School.  If you’re unsure of what a TeachMeet actually is, you can find more at the website http://www.teachmeet.co.nz but in short:

A TeachMeet is an organised but informal meeting (in the style of an unconference) for teachers to share good practice, practical innovations and personal insights in teaching with technology.

Participants volunteer (via the TeachMeet website) to demonstrate good practice they’ve delivered over the past year, or discuss a product that enhances classroom practice.

Source: Wikipedia

connect

Encouraging connecting at TeachMeet

With the themes of this year’s Christchurch Educators Month being “connect, innovate and collaborate” I felt that a summary blog on how TeachMeet Christchurch has gone would be appropriate.

I recognised that teachers are very busy people and wanted to keep the commitment levels to TeachMeet pretty low – a once per term meeting that ran for no more than 90mins and in true keeping with the spirit of TeachMeets, each presentation could be no longer than 7 minutes. To facilitate the launch I arranged to host first two sessions at St Andrew’s College where I was confident I could drum up some speakers and also a crowd of listeners and then used an open Google Doc for people to register. You can see the topics and attendees for TeachMeet 0.1 and TeachMeet 0.2.

I was delighted with the turnout for these events and the quality of the presentations from the speakers. Many shared something from a technology / eLearning perspective however the format allows for any educational topic to be shared. Importantly, and in keeping with the theme of connecting, the events were split in half to allow a time for networking with other teachers over a coffee.

wde

Mr Wilj Dekkers from St Andrew’s College presenting at TeachMeet 0.1

As always at events like this, there was good sharing on Twitter of what was being presented via the hashtag #TMChch and you can see a twitter recap for TeachMeet 0.1 and TeachMeet 0.2

teachmeet-montage

A montage of photos from an earlier TeachMeet in 2016

I am pleased that Jeremy Cumming (former teacher at Catholic Cathedral College and now working for the Catholic Education Office) asked to pick up the organisation and hosting of TeachMeet 0.3 that will run on 17th November and be hosted at Villa Maria College. This represents a natural progression and maturing of TeachMeet by sharing the hosting and co-ordinating responsibilities amongst teachers and schools which will naturally shape the themes and focus of each session. Ultimately, this is key for the ongoing success of TeachMeet – to be sustainable there needs to be collective responsibilities and a desire amongst teachers to want to connect with each other and share best practice from their classroom, things they are experimenting with, or research they are undertaking in post-graduate studies.

When teachers maintain a mind-set of being lifelong learners then I believe a natural outworking of this is wanting to connect at various sessions like TeachMeet and others that are routinely organised by the teaching community in wider Canterbury.

If you have never been to a TeachMeet before, can I encourage you to consider signing up at www.teachmeet.co.nz for TeachMeet 0.3 which will be the last for 2016, but hopefully just one in a long line of many more where teachers can remain connected

#CEM15 Guest Post – Explore The World With Mystery Skype

MysterySkypeThis post was written for the Christchurch Connected Educators blog as part of Connected Educators Month of October 2015. You can read the original post here.

Mystery Skype is a fun activity being played by classrooms all over the world and presents a fantastic opportunity for students to become “global citizens” as they meet other students from around the country and globe. On their website, it is described as:

Mystery Skype is an educational game, invented by teachers, played by two classrooms on Skype. The aim of the game is to guess the location of the other classroom by asking each other questions.

SkypeThe St Andrew’s College Preparatory School has completed many Mystery Skype sessions now, ranging from students in Year 3 through to Year 8 and the students always thoroughly enjoy the challenge of guessing the location of the other classroom. So far we have played with schools in:

Given the time zone of New Zealand, there are many parts of the world where it is virtually impossible to connect (although check out this Skype we did with the Viking Museum in York, where students came before breakfast to connect)

The Mystery Skype to Russia was one of the more exciting and challenging Skypes, as the class was very small and every student appeared to have a different nationality. It turned out that it was an International School set up by Shell Oil and all of the students had parents involved in the oil industry. Here is a video of our Mystery Skype (If you’re interested in recording your Skype calls, check out this affordable plugin):

It’s interesting seeing how different teachers have prepared their students to play Mystery Skype – the American schools often have very formalised “jobs” where some students are researchers, others are questioners, whilst others hold up signs confirming if a question was answered correctly or not. Ultimately, it’s up to each teacher how they choose to play, but preparing students to think about how to ask effective closed questions is critical since answers can only be “yes” or “no”.

The temptation for students to zoom in and ask very detailed questions is almost overwhelming. For example, given the amount of American and Australian television we have in New Zealand our students can guess the accent of the students very quickly, but they tend to then ask very narrow questions such as “Are you in Los Angeles?” or “Are you in Sydney?” Teaching the effective use of atlases is really helpful and can then lead to more useful questions such as:

  • Are you landlocked?
  • Are you north of the equator?
  • Are you on the West Coast?

One of the real privileges I have had helping classes with Mystery Skype is the sharing of Māori culture with other schools that may never have seen any aspects of it before. The students in our Preparatory School jump at the opportunity to sing waiata and perform the College haka and invariably the students overseas love it:

Mr Craig Kemp, the teacher at the school in Singapore and an ex-pat Kiwi, tweeted the view from his classroom:

CONCLUSION:

Mystery Skype is a fun way to connect with classes all over the world and I would really encourage you to give it a go. It is easy to find other classes thanks to the Mystery Skype website and our experience has been the other teachers are thrilled to find classes in New Zealand because they are often “so far away.” Once a connection is made, it is fun to then re-connect and ask questions of the other class for curriculum related topics e.g. if you’re studying weather patterns or transport, why not Skype that class in the US and find out their experiences or views on these things? Finally, Mystery Skyping is contagious – once classes find out their friends in different classes have done it, they start asking their own teacher to get involved. Have fun!

Freemium: Students Can Be The Winners On The Day

freemium

This post was written as part of the Connected Educators Month 2014 and was first published on the Christchurch Connected Educators blog.

In my role as Director of ICT at St Andrew’s College I get to see lots of great products in the ICT sector, both the latest hardware (such as new tablets aimed at education) and software (cloud based productivity suites are the in thing currently for schools). I also get to step back from the coal face from time to time and observe some of the bigger trends happening in ICT & Education and there are two obvious ones:

  1. BYOD – Bring Your Own Device. More and more schools are exploring how they can allow (or in some cases require) students to bring a laptop/tablet/smartphone to school and use it as a tool for their education. There are literally tens of thousands of blogs about this, so I’m not going to write about that today.
  2. Freemium – Defined as “a business model, especially on the Internet, whereby basic services are provided free of charge while more advanced features must be paid for” This is a growing trend in education and, as the blog title suggests, students will be the ultimate winners from this.

The concept of Freemium is probably best known as starting within the Apple App Store and it has spread rapidly from there. Developers, keen for you to try out their apps, give away a limited feature set, be that the first few levels of a game for example, and if you love it, you pay the full price for the app.

How Is This Impacting Schools?

Major players in ICT have long recognised that exposing students to their products early on increases the chances of them continuing to use their products when they leave school. Earlier this year I attended a conference where Francis Valintine from The Mindlab by Unitec named five companies that are likely to dominate education in the near future. These were (in no particular order):

  • Apple
  • Facebook
  • Microsoft
  • Amazon
  • Google

office-logo_v3Many New Zealand schools are already availing themselves of the Ministry of Education negotiated contract with Microsoft allowing for very affordable access to Office365 and associated products. Other schools have gone for the free option of Google Apps For Education (GAFE). Both products are excellent, and allow schools to deliver Enterprise quality email, cloud collaboration services, online storage and backup options and a huge range of additional features from third party developers that plug in to these core products. It has massively reduced the workload for school ICT technicians; for example not having to run a local mail server and spam filter for students and staff.

Google-Apps-for-EducationBen Kepes, writing for Forbes.com, described the Google/Apple/Microsoft rush for education as a “war” – they are certainly battling for the hearts and minds of students, hoping that their loyalty to a product will continue on into tertiary study and, ultimately, the workplace. Indeed, I’ve even come across ICT technicians from different schools exclaiming incredulously “What? You’ve gone with [product x]?? I can’t believe it when [product y] gives you 10x that storage space for free!!”

And so it goes on …

Should We Be Concerned?

The answer to that question is not a clear cut yes or no – it’s more like a “maybe.” With more and more companies offering free or heavily discounted products to schools, we should in theory be seeing increased choice around what tools are used for the best educational outcomes. Paradoxically, however, the opposite is happening as each major vendor creates an ecosystem where their products play nicest together. As these ecosystems grow ever more encompassing there becomes less compelling reasons for schools to explore great products outside of those provided within the ecosystem.

To highlight just how much focus these vendors are pushing a widening product set, many traditional software only companies are now releasing hardware products to complete their ecosystem:

  • Microsoft: with a long history of operating systems and office suites, they are now offering hardware like the Surface Pro 3 tablet
  • Google: started out as a search engine and then developed a mobile operating system called Android and then ChromeOS for running on laptops. They have now released their own ChromeBook called Pixel
  • Apple: already a hardware and software company, they needed a cloud based productivity suite to complete their ecosystem and introduced iCloud

Ultimately, schools have to make a choice which ecosystem they enter and straddling two at once becomes challenging. Towards the end of Term 3 I organised some of our staff at St Andrew’s College to present to senior leaders from a range of schools throughout New Zealand on how we are using Microsoft OneNote in Maths and English. Afterwards, a number of the guests from other schools asked how they too could implement OneNote in their schools, only to realise they were a GAFE school and didn’t have the Microsoft licensing to affordably do this.

Therein lies the problem.

It’s not that Office365 is better than Google Apps for Education – both are tremendous products and as schools, we should all be incredibly grateful we have access to these. It’s more that in being spoilt for choice for free or heavily subsidised product offerings, it’s not always easy to explore the best products across multiple ecosystems.

Conclusion:

I wrote in a recent blog post that great integration of technology in a classroom should see it fade into the background:

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.

moodleSchools are in an incredible position that they’ve never really experienced before where major players in ICT are literally giving away their products to them or using a freemium model for base services. On top of that, there is the Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) community offerings such as the very popular learning management system (LMS) called Moodle.

At a time of such rich pickings, our focus should not be solely on [product x] or [product y], but squarely on the teaching and learning practices that authentically integrate whatever the chosen technology is into the lesson.

When this occurs, the students will indeed be winners on the day.