Guest Post: Mr Wilj Dekkers Attends Microsoft Educator Exchange

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This post was written by Mr Wilj Dekkers who attended the Annual E2 Conference. He is the second St Andrew’s College teacher to be invited to this global conference, after Mr Ben Hilliam attended in 2015.

WDE

Mr Wilj Dekkers

Microsoft Education hold an annual event that celebrates the achievements of educators who combine pedagogy and technology in their classrooms and schools.  The event is held in a different global location each year, with 2016 seeing Microsoft Innovative Educator experts (MIE experts) converge on Budapest, Hungary.

I was fortunate to be selected as one of five New Zealand educators to attend this year.  The E2 educator conference ran during the week of March 7th and was based at the Corinthia Hotel in the heart of Budapest.

300 educators from across the globe were given opportunities to collaborate and share our experiences integrating technology within our schools in ways that enhance and move learning forward.

As with every conference, a series of keynotes and discussion panels provided all delegates with inspiration and thought provoking ideas.

Picture3Anthony Salcito, vice president of Worldwide Education at Microsoft, spoke to us about recent trends and the move towards 21st century skills in education.  His keynote reinforced that the world our children are growing up in will require new skill sets; that employers are looking for collaborative, critical problem solvers.  I was impressed that all the concepts discussed came from a pedagogical background and never placed technology above learning but made it an integral part of the lifelong learning process.  As Anthony said, “What we’re here to do is help every student on the planet achieve more.”

Two of the highlights of the morning keynotes were Stephen Reid and Jacqueline Russell.

Stephen runs a company called Immersive Minds and for the past 20 years has been using technology as a learning tool in classrooms.  Stephen works with students and teachers to create new learning environments though a mix of digital and real world tools, developing confidence in the learning process on both sides as well as competence in the use of technology to support pedagogy, classroom management and assessment.  Stephen presented how he uses Minecraft to help develop Key Competencies through History and Science.  I attended one of Stephen’s workshops and spent time speaking with him about my own use of Minecraft to enhance literacy and accepted his kind offer to help us at St Andrew’s with ideas we are developing using Minecraft as part of the school centenary.

Jacqueline presented a keynote focussed on the Surface Pro 4.  Before leaving for the conference, Jacqueline sat with her daughter and talked about where she was going and together, mother and daughter used the Surface and stylus to research, collate and create a digital scrapbook within MS OneNote.  This was an honest representation of the power and ease of this tool when placed in the hands of children.  This reflected my own views as detailed at the end of last year when Microsoft interviewed and filmed teacher’s perspectives of the Surface device being used as a learning tool.

Picture1The workshops this year were diverse with subjects such as flipping your classroom using OneNote, Surface and digital inking to engage students; Minecraft application throughout Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths (STEAM); building a world in Project Spark that reflected the collective understanding of the ideal learning environment; digital literacy and creative programming in the classroom.

One particular workshop was run by Nikkie Laing, a Microsoft Innovative Educator Fellow from Opaheke School in Auckland.  Nikkie’s workshop centred on the use of Office 365 SharePoint Sites.  In detail Nikkie shared how to minimize the time teachers spend collating and preparing resources and the time learners spend looking for materials and get on with learning.  Her presentation and workshop was so well structured and delivered that she won the prize of best presentation of the conference.  An overview of Nikkie’s workshop is below.

Office Mix

The conference also provided opportunities to showcase what each educator had been working on back in their own countries. I shared the use of Minecraft and OneNote to write detailed pick-a-path narratives. A large number of delegates were quite interested in what the children in Year 6 had achieved with Mike Tholfsen, the Product Manager for OneNote recognising what the children had worked on.  Mike was very interested in how OneNote was being used for learning at our school, being particularly excited by the inclusion of Minecraft in the writing process.  A journalist, Jordan Shapiro also came over, interested in what was happening at St Andrew’s. This has led to a mention in his article for Forbes magazine:

Another teacher tells me how he uses Minecraft to teach creative writing. “I used to tell them to write a story and they’d give me these blank stares. Now I ask them to act out a story in the Minecraft world first and then, together, we figure out how to articulate it in writing.” He describes how the virtual block world lets him walk his students back to specific locations so he can interrogate them about the details. “I encourage them to get more descriptive and specific; I tell them to imagine how things might smell, what the grass might feel like under their feet.”

Overall the experience has both reinforced my beliefs in the importance of integrating technology purposefully in learning and motivated me to expand upon my own pedagogical learning.  The people I met have continued to amaze me with their enthusiasm and creativity.  The New Zealand and Australian contingent have remained in contact post conference, having developed both a close network and long lasting friendship. We are already planning continued collaborative, cross Tasman learning opportunities for our students.

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.

OneNote Embraces Learning Management Systems

LTI-Blog-Composite-FIIn a recent announcement this week, Microsoft have revealed tighter integration between OneNote and a range of Learning Management Systems including Moodle, which St Andrew’s College uses. One of the key new features is automatic enrolment of students from a Moodle course into the Class NoteBook in OneNote which would streamline the setup for teachers.

I am really pleased to see this announcement because it highlights that Microsoft continue to see OneNote as complementing the function of Learning Management Systems in schools, rather than replacing them. I wrote a detailed blog post about how OneNote and Moodle work fantastically together as each platform has it’s relative strengths and weaknesses that are rounded out by the other.

Pleasingly, new features have been added to the web browser version of OneNote Online, allowing the direct recording of audio into a NoteBook through the browser along with the inserting of files directly into the page:

Recording audio directly into OneNote Online in a browser is a new feature of Microsoft

Recording audio directly into OneNote Online in a browser is a new feature of Microsoft

Lastly, a useful free app that Microsoft released last year called Office Lens now integrates directly into OneNote and and Office365, allowing students and teachers to take photos and save and share them within the school collaborative environment:

Whether collaborating on a project together in OneNote, or simply wanting to record an image or brainstorm and mindmap for future reference, the ability to take a photo and know that it can be retrieved later is invaluable.

It is really pleasing to see that these tools, that have become indispensable in education, have continued to receive regular updates and enhancements from Microsoft and I look forward to seeing how our teachers and students will maximise their value in (and out) of the classroom.

Office 2016 Arrives for Mac Users

maxresdefaultSt Andrew’s College is an Office365 school, making extensive use of the Microsoft OneNote application in particular and we are also compulsory BYOD from Year 9 (we still allow choice of Windows / Apple). Over the last two years we have seen increasing amounts of Apple laptops coming to school with the students and one of the frustrations has been the old Office 2011 available for Macs.

This has changed with Microsoft’s release of Office 2016 for Mac last week, announced on their blog here (see below for the release video) and for the first time it also includes OneNote (for a long time unavailable and then only released via the Mac App Store).

It is strongly encouraged that students remove Office 2011 before attempting the install of the new version – detailed instructions are available here to do this. A video showing the complete installation process of Office 2016 for Mac can be seen here:

The new Office 2016 is distinctively “Mac” in design and brings the feature set much closer to the Windows 2013 version (although, frustratingly, some of the best features of OneNote are not there still). Here’s hoping that updates will improve this so that both Windows and Apple users have comparable functionality.

Another feature that appears to be missing from the new Office 2016 Powerpoint is Office Mix – a fantastic plugin that allows teachers and students to easily record narrated screencasts.

Overall, it’s a big step forward for Mac users and one that I am confident many of our students will download to their BYOD devices since it remains free for our students at St Andrew’s College

Promotional Video for Office 2016 for Mac:

Mr Hilliam Attends Microsoft Educator Exchange E2 Conference

Ben at MSAt the start of this term, Mr Ben Hilliam, flew to Seattle in the United States as a guest of Microsoft to attend their Global Educator E2 Conference. His attendance was based on his earlier selection as a Microsoft Innovative Educator for 2015 and his outstanding use of MS technologies in his classroom, including flipping the classroom with OneNote and Office Mix and his trusty Surface Pro 3.

The conference ran between the 27th April and the 4th of May and was attended by 200 delegates from over 80 different countries with only five being selected from New Zealand to go. During the conference a number of inspirational Keynote messages were delivered that focused more on the possibilities of technology in the classroom than on immediate practical implementation for teachers.

The members of the Challenge Group Mr Hilliam worked with

The members of the Challenge Group Mr Hilliam worked with

Some of the “how” was covered in the breakout sessions which included workshops on specific programmes such as Office365, OneNote and Sway (a relatively new feature from Microsoft that is a web based visual presentation tool). Another activity was the Challenge Groups – Mr Hilliam was grouped with teachers from Sweden, Georgia, Korea and Columbia and they were tasked with creating a learning activity based around 21st century learning ideas. They then had to pitch this to a number of judges and present a schema for the learning.

Being the only native speaker of English in the group this was certainly a challenge and Mr Hilliam acknowledged the conference was likely to evolve over the coming years – 2015 being the inaugural event. I was interested in any observations he had gained in terms of how his teaching practice with technology, and indeed the wider staff at St Andrew’s College, compared to what was happening in other countries. He noted:

No one else there was flipping their classroom in maths in the way a number of our teachers are at St Andrew’s. There was a teacher of French Literature who was using OneNote similar to how Jac Yoder and the English Department are, in the sense that they were using audio recordings for feedback and directly annotating into the NoteBooks.

The conference delegates from New Zealand

The conference delegates from New Zealand

Whilst St Andrew’s College has embraced Office365 and the cloud based flexibility it offers via OneDrive, Mr Hilliam did not see many US based schools setup in this way. Some were still using local on-site Sharepoint servers for OneNote synchronisation, meaning students could not get updates when at home. To this end, he felt that the work by teachers at our College was quite close to the leading edge, a view reinforced by the parents feedback at the recent Year 10 parent/teacher interviews, where a number commented how widely OneNote was being used across the school:

The ubiquity of OneNote in our College makes it quite easy for our students to get a handle on how to use it. It’s largely just fallen into the “background” of their usage. Students have stopped thinking about how to use OneNote and instead it is simply a tool to help them with their learning.

Interestingly, this view was echoed by Mr Tom Adams, the College eLearning Integrator, who mentioned:

Students don’t think they’re doing any special using OneNote now – they just get on and do it.

He went further by suggesting that because the College has focused on only two main tools of Moodle and OneNote, students are not being bombarded by a wide range of different tools and platforms from teachers. This has allowed them to quickly grasp the fundamentals of each and use them efficiently in their school work.

One the highlights for Mr Hilliam at the conference was the chance to ask Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella a question:

Mr Hilliam ask Satya Nadella for advice for Kiwi kids interested in working in the ICT sector

I am really pleased to see our teachers getting recognised outside of St Andrew’s College for their great work authentically integrating technology into their teaching and learning. Moreover, to hear that the students are becoming increasingly familiar with this technology and starting to leverage it intuitively to support their progress is outstanding. I wrote in this earlier blog post, 

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.

It seems that we are progressing well along this path of embedding technology into the background of the learning and this is a fantastic tribute to the hard work of our teachers.

Exploring Film Settings Through Google Earth

An example tour created by Year 10 students

Last week I was invited into the Year 10 English class of Ms Tam Yuill Proctor to observe her students creating virtual tours within Google Earth of the key settings in the film Karate Kid they were studying. Creating these tours is something I’ve blogged about before, however this is one of the first times I’ve seen it being used in English to specifically map out the locations of a film or novel.

I sat down today with Ms Yuill Proctor to learn more about the process and find out what worked well and what could be improved on for next time.

SETUP & GOAL:

The goal of this exercise was very simple: for students to arrange themselves into groups of three, of which one student must have knowledge of how to use Google Earth (and ideally, how to create tours in them). Fortunately, many of these students had done a similar exercise in Religious Education the previous year and were able to draw on prior knowledge to help.

Once in their groups, they had to identify around ten scene locations from the film that they considered important. The criteria included:

  • Why the group thought the location was important within the context of the film
  • How the location is significant to the country itself

Once they had identified these locations, they were to record a guided tour through Google Earth, highlighting their rationale for their choice of locations and then share it with the class via the collaboration section of the class OneNote Notebook.

GROUP WORK & TIME FRAMES:

The students were only given 1.5 lessons to complete this task and it was interesting to observe the efficiencies that various groups gained through their approach to managing the task requirements.

Students researching and operating Google Earth

Students researching and operating Google Earth

One of these was finding a website called Movie Locations that listed off the key scenes from the film. This allowed them to immediately locate the scenes within Google Earth quite accurately and narrow down their selections. The groups also largely assigned different roles for the members, typically:

  1. A researcher
  2. A Google Earth “operator” for identifying the various locations and creating markers for the tour
  3. A script writer – who would narrate the voiceover with relevant information for each location.

Whilst many groups chose to all use their laptops at the same time, others preferred to gather around a single device and share their ideas more directly with each other. Due to the short time allowed for this activity, Ms Yuill Proctor was quite explicit in encouraging students to manage themselves when it came to sharing the workload and ensuring all tasks were completed (Key Competencies – Managing Self) Amongst the students it was decided that one would need to allocate some homework time to meet the deadline.

Students recording their tours in quieter spaces outside the classroom

SHARING THE TOURS:

One student setup a new section in the class collaboration area in OneNote and then each group created a sub-page where they shared their tour. This did create some problems as students had often found third party recording tools to make their tours in, resulting in some file formats that did not work on all devices.

Reflecting on this Ms Yuill Proctor and I agreed that having a student submit their work via a YouTube link or Office Mix recording would probably be best in future.

Despite these problems, it provided an opportunity for problem solving amongst the groups in terms of how best to record the tour, with many finding different solutions to this. Interestingly, the boys that are into gaming on their devices tended to be quicker at finding solutions in this area, again perhaps based on their prior knowledge they possessed.

The collaboration space in the MS OneNote Class Notebook - note each page on the right represents a group

The collaboration space in the MS OneNote Class Notebook – note each page on the right represents a group

REFLECTIONS:

Students working groups

Students working groups

The overall engagement levels from the students was very high – when I was in the classroom observing there was a quiet hum as students worked in groups to achieve the various tasks and there was no one clearly off task. Given it was quite a different way to explore film settings than they had previously been exposed to, students enthusiastically approached the work. Ms Yuill Proctor noted:

The students now have a visual picture of the settings and locations of the film – this is easier for them to remember than simply writing or typing the locations as a list in their NoteBooks.

However, she was quick to point out that she continually asks herself “do students need to be using technology for this particular task, or can they do it in a different way?” She is conscious that often our students in Years 9 and 10 are using their laptops for most lessons each day, and so will often use more practical activities (such as using scissors to cut out paper SOLO hexagons) .

Students using SOLO hexagons in class

The final step for the students is to individually choose a scene they feel is important and to write a paragraph on that location, linking it back to the overall themes of the film itself.

It’s remarkable that students were able to come up with these tours in under two lessons of class time and reflects their growing competencies with their devices (having used them in many classes throughout 2014). It also highlights how an engaging activity can hook students in and set them for strong involvement for the rest of the film study.

Technology Enables Efficiency in English Marking

 

For me it’s like the one stop shop … go to OneNote, open up their page, have they done it? Yes? No? Give them feedback. Sync it. Sorted!

Ms Coote describes her new workflow for marking student work

I sat down today and chatted with our English Head of Department, Ms Helaina Coote, about how using a Surface Pro 3 and Microsoft OneNote was impacting on her teaching and assessment practices for A.S. 91106 Form developed personal responses to independently read texts, supported by evidence.

The entire 15 minute conversation is in the video above (recorded using Office Mix on her Pro 3) but you can skip to a few relevant sections by using the hyperlinks below:

IMPACT ON WORKFLOWS:

This year, for the first time, Ms Coote is using Microsoft OneNote with all her English classes and this has been made easier with the introduction of the OneNote Class NoteBook, where each student has their own tab (section group in OneNote). The ability to easily receive, mark, and return feedback to students has been massive:

Whilst this has not changed the way I teach AS91106, it has completely transformed how I manage the assessment practices, allowing me to streamline the feedback I am giving to students.

With students in her senior English classes required to read, listen, watch and respond to up to six different texts across three different terms at school, historically this created a lot of paperwork to manage. In this sense the technology has impacted “massively” on the speed of getting work marked and back to students.

Handwritten feedback for students in OneNote via a Surface Pro 3

Handwritten feedback for students in OneNote via a Surface Pro 3

Previously, work was typically received via email, using Microsoft Word to insert comments or track changes, saving a copy locally, printing a copy for NZQA records and then emailing the revised copy back to the students with feedback.

“There was like triple handling”

Now, students must submit their drafts via OneNote, and after having received their feedback from Ms Coote, have two days to develop a resubmission. These changes must be colour coded so she can easily see the differences. I asked her if using a digital pen was in some ways a return to traditional ways of marking, and she commented:

The Surface Pro 3 and the digital pen allows you to blend the “old school”  with the “new.” I am still a teacher marking student submissions, but now I am using a digital pen and writing on an electronic submission. Furthermore, the feedback is literally real time – I do not even need to email it back to them.

STUDENT FEEDBACK:

As more and more electronic mediums are introduced into teaching, some senior students have pushed back on the increased visibility (and thus accountability), their teachers now have of their work. I specifically asked Ms Coote how her senior students were finding this method of submission and marking:

Student feedback has been overwhelmingly positive in terms of them receiving “written” feedback [via OneNote] … I’m able to do it much faster as well, so the pieces of paper don’t lie around on my desk for ages … it’s pretty immediate, as it’s a much more streamlined process.

Importantly, however:

Ultimately, the onus is on the student to make sure their work is in the OneNote NoteBook

Ms Coote asked a number of students for some feedback on how they are finding using OneNote for their classes and one student called Angus noted:

[Since the introduction of Class NoteBooks in OneNote] I have found it incredibly useful … I no longer have to lug around books or hand outs as it is all available on OneNote and all stored in one handy place. All my work and handouts are readily available whether I’m at home or at school its all there and backed up for when i need it. My teacher can now give me feedback on my work on OneNote using her Surface Pro 3 and and she can even hand write on it …  I can see it instantly and then make new adaptions to my work hassle free as the interface on OneNote is so easy to use.

SUMMARY:

It’s often tempting to focus on the way technology is impacting on the lives of our students and therefore I find it refreshing to hear teachers enthusiastically talking about how some of the routine aspects of teaching, such as marking, are being made easier through technology.

It is intriguing that in this example it really was the naturalness of “writing” the feedback (albeit digitally on a tablet), that appealed to both the teacher and students. I read an ICT report recently that suggested that by 2018 50% of portable “laptops” sold will be hybrids that have the ability to touch / write on them like the Surface Pro 3 that Ms Coote is using.

It is a timely reminder that many of the established practices of teaching often need only minor tweaks to achieve optimum efficiency, rather than massively overhauling them with major technological changes.