Managing Minecraft In A School

minecraft-bannerNote: this is quite a lengthy and, at times, technical post about configuring and deploying Minecraft in a school when choosing not to use the new Microsoft Education Edition. The following is the structure of the blog if you want to jump to a particular point of interest:

  1. The Background Situation: existing Minecraft usage and identified problems.
  2. The Opportunity: what we felt we needed to deliver to run our own Minecraft server securely and easily.
  3. The Technical Setup:
    1. Server
    2. Mods
    3. Client Installation & Deployment
  4. Where To From Here:

Minecraft, the hugely popular game with students of all ages, is described as:

A game about placing blocks and going on adventures. Explore randomly generated worlds and build amazing things from the simplest of homes to the grandest of castles.

The Background Situation:

houseA number of our teachers have already integrated Minecraft into teaching units in the past, most notably Mr Wilj Dekkers with his creative writing units and Kiwiana-themed parks and Ms Donna Jones exploring a Centenary related project.

Despite this initial success there has always been some problems with administering Minecraft, particularly around easily and securely allowing student interaction and collaboration in these virtual worlds. To date, teachers have had to rely on students using the Minecraft Personal Edition meaning it was essentially single player mode only, removing the ability to collectively work on a project together. To promote greater student engagement and allow the key competencies to be fully utilized in learning through Minecraft, alternatives needed to be identified.

In late September 2014, Microsoft purchased Minecraft for $2.5billion which held out the possibility of a deeper integration into Office365 and Microsoft’s wider Education strategies. It took just under two years before Minecraft Education version was released, during which time an alternative Minecraft Edu was essentially shut down and absorbed into Microsoft’s new Education version. This was a shame as the Edu version was very good, allowing the use of numerous custom mods (modifications to improve/customise the game play) and it could be run on a hosted server, not just on the student’s personal device.

Surprisingly, the announced version of Minecraft Education in January 2016 ended up having some key functionality removed, arguably for the sake of simplicity:

  • There was no ability to host the game on a stand alone server – now it would be installed and hosted via the teacher’s laptop computer (this raised significant security concerns for us and ultimately was a show stopper).
  • There was no custom mod support whatsoever. Over time, it was the ability to modify and customise the game play that had contributed to the enduring appeal of Minecraft and without this, the default game play was less appealing.

The upside, however, was that licensing was incredibly easy to manage and, if you were prepared to overlook security concerns, deployment for a teacher in a basic network would also be simplified.

An example of students using Minecraft Pocket Edition in previous years

The Opportunity:

After the initial disappointment of realising we would not deploy Minecraft Education as soon it was released, Mr Wilj Dekkers engaged in a number of discussions with myself and Mr Joshua Harrison from the St Andrew’s College ICT Services Team to explore how we might progress forward with Minecraft. Very quickly, some key features were identified:

  • Teacher Control: teachers would need the ability to easily manage students within the game. Without this, the chances of students running amok and getting into mischief was very real. This would require third party mods to achieve and a strategic plan around how Digital Citizenship teaching could be included into the Minecraft worlds.
  • The Minecraft server needed to be hosted centrally so that it could be controlled by the ICT services team, whilst still allowing the delegation of in-game management to teachers and to those students identified as leaders who could be student administrators.
  • Teacher/Student administrators needed the ability to maintain / deploy approved mods and perform low level administration work e.g. restarting worlds, creating/deploying new worlds.
  • Finally, the issue of how to deploy a pre-configured client onto student BYOD devices in a quick and simple manner, without disrupting any existing installations of Minecraft they may have already installed.

The above list of requirements needed addressing if we were going to be able to  build a sustainable environment for integrating Minecraft into the eLearning strategies at the College. Joshua decided he would explore various options based on his prior knowledge administering various Minecraft servers in his own time and see if there could be some suitable solutions to use at St Andrew’s.

Technical Setup:

Server:

For the proof of concept, we decided to use an existing HP Compaq 6000 that was spare. The specifications of this machine were pretty light weight, having only a Core2 Duo CPU and 4GB of RAM. It remains to be seen if this will be sufficient and we anticipate needing to increase the resources of this machine as more users and worlds join.

After exploring various different versions of Minecraft, Joshua settled on 1.7.10 1.10.2 (this version is required to be compatible with Sponge. The earlier version was needed for supporting Bukkit which we are no longer using – see below). To support the deployment of these mods, two frameworks were necessary:

  1. Forge 
  2. Bukkit This has been replaced with Sponge due to a potential copyright issue; this has resulted in dropping KCauldron as well.

These are essentially APIs that allow other mods to run on the Minecraft server and normally a Minecraft administrator would use only one or the other of Forge or Bukkit. However, as will be seen, it was necessary to use both and to achieve this an additional third party tool called KCauldron was necessary to enable the use of different mods on the same platform to work nicely together. With the use of Sponge, there is no need for third party tools like KCauldron, as Sponge integrates directly into Forge.

Minecraft Server Dashboard

Minecraft Server Dashboard

Another important tool was MC Dashboard which allowed Joshua to use a graphical user interface (GUI) rather than a traditional command line interface (CLI) to administer the Minecraft server. This tool provides easy oversight into server resource usage, connected users and other important information.

Mods:

As mentioned earlier, it is really the mods that create the key appeal of Minecraft in schools, as it allows for customisation of the worlds and gameplay and, sadly, was something that Microsoft chose to remove from their Education edition. It’s easy to see why, however, because mods are also one of the trickier components and can easily lead to problems of version compatibility and contribute to a poor user experience. There are three key mods that Joshua has deployed for the StAC Minecraft server:

  1. Multiverse: Project Worlds: (Project Worlds replaces Multiverse due to the changes above relating to Bukkit – everything following remains the same) This is a key one as it allows us to run parallel worlds on the same server, whilst enabling teachers and/or students to jump between worlds at will. Put practically, a teacher could create a world for a collaborative social studies project where students need to work towards an assessment or project, whilst having a separate world for “free play” and experimentation. Without Multiverse, projects would need to be separated spatially within the same world which would inevitably lead to problems, such as having to walk a long way to go from one project to another – it all takes time!
  2. PermissionsEX: PermissionManager: (PermissionManager replaces PermissionsEX due to the changes above relating to Bukkit – everything following remains the same) This mod allows for differing levels of user permissions groups, and the following four were setup for school usage:
    1. Student – a basic user who can only do the default game play such as build/place etc
    2. Student Administrator – have slightly elevated controls such as the ability to move other student users around, freeze them and do other temporary modifications. These permissions are designed to support a Digital Citizenship component where students can be educated and entrusted to self-manage as much as possible within the game. The assigned permissions here were carefully selected by Joshua to prevent a student who had prior knowledge of how Minecraft administration works from being able to execute any command.
    3. Teacher – has access to most of the Minecraft server administration, can create new worlds, can kill off users, teleport users between worlds and other main administration functions.
    4. Administrator – aimed at superusers and, at this stage, reserved for ICT staff to support the server installation as necessary.
  3. ICY Admin: The Minecraft Macro/Keybind Mod (This was used to replace ICY Admin due to the version change of Minecraft) This is the key mod to bring the above together into a user-friendly GUI allowing for in-game administration from a graphical menu for the above user groups. The available menu options in ICY Admin The Minecraft Macro/Keybind Mod have been built from scratch by Joshua and are controlled by a config file on the Minecraft server itself. Users access the menu system during game play by hitting the tilde key (~) and this replaces the need to execute console / CLI commands within the game. This makes it significantly easier for new users to engage with the game and reduces the barrier-to-entry for teachers who may wish to administrate but know none of the commands.
    1. Some of the controls available via ICY Admin The Minecraft Macro/Keybind Mod include things such as “freeze” a user/all users in place (useful if you effectively want to pause the game for a break), teleportation of a single user / all users to a shared starting point or, for example, if you wanted them all to be in the same place to work on the same project. Additionally, environmental settings can be controlled in this way e.g. make it rain or snow, or set it to always be night time.
sponge-gui

The control interface for teachers and student-admins when using The Minecraft Macro/Keybind Mod (which replaced ICY Admin)

These three core mods are what allows the overall setup and administration and, through conversations with Mr Dekkers, are probably sufficient to enable most scenarios of how Minecraft might be used at this stage. Two in-game mods specifically requested by Mr Dekkers were IndustrialCraft and ComputerCraft both of which allow for significant learning opportunities. IndustrialCraft supports things like electricity generation and storage through batteries and transferring into different parts of the game, whilst ComputerCraft is essentially a full programming language accessible by computers in the game.

 

Client Installation & Deployment:

Windows installation batch script

Windows installation batch script

With the setup of the Minecraft server achieved, the final part of the solution was how to easily deploy this to the individual student BYOD laptops. St Andrew’s College has a choice within parameters for BYOD, meaning students can bring either a Windows 10 laptop or an Apple MacBook running OS X.

It was important that there was an easy, stress-free way for teachers and students to install this version of Minecraft onto laptops that did not necessarily need to involve the ICT Services helpdesk team at the College. Joshua was pretty confident he would be able to write some batch scripts for Windows and I suggested he check out OS X’s Automator  as a way of scripting installation for the MacBooks. Interestingly, he found that he was able to script the installation on MacBooks with Automator in about half the time it took to write a batch file for Windows.

The tasks in the Automator script to install onto a MacBook running OS X

The tasks in the Automator script to install onto a MacBook running OS X

The key to making this happen was Minecraft MultiMC, an open source launcher for Minecraft that allows users to run completely separate installations of Minecraft with ease, meaning that we could confidently encourage students to install this version without affecting any other installation of Minecraft they may already have on their laptop.

MultiMC Interface

MultiMC Interface

Essentially, a student is provided with a USB key that has an installer launcher that copies MultiMC and a Java installation into a new folder, whilst setting up short cuts in their Applications folder so they can run the game.

Interestingly, Joshua opted to not include a copy of the Minecraft client application itself within this installer file, instead relying on students having to enter their own Minecraft credentials (linked with their personal paid licensed copy) which would then trigger the download of the client application of Minecraft. This way, we are not distributing any commercial software illegally and the download only adds 1-2minutes to the overall installation process. The key benefit, however, was that MultiMC is already configured to point the installation to the College’s on-premise Minecraft server meaning there was no additional configuration required for students. Additionally, Joshua set this up to run on a non-standard port so that if other students were using Minecraft at school they could not accidentally connect to the school’s Minecraft server and become a nuisance.

All up, it takes less than 5 minutes for a student to install this version of Minecraft from a USB key provided by the teacher.

Where To From Here?

industrialcraft-windmill-and-furnaceI am always really happy when members of the ICT Services Team have an opportunity to use their prior experience or personal interests to contribute to the teaching and learning at the College in ways like this. It is one of the unique things about delivering ICT in schools compared to other environments and the ability to be involved in this way is enjoyed by the staff. Talking with Joshua he admitted to being a bit worried about how to deliver what needed to be a very simple solution that could be managed by students and teachers whilst still being secure and stable:

I had a huge sense of personal satisfaction with the finished solution because I was a bit worried about how I would be able to deliver all of this at the start, or even if it was possible. Ultimately, it was ICY Admin that made it all possible and this was something I found only through researching for this project. It’s nice to know that the hundreds of hours I’ve spent administering Minecraft servers in my own time have paid off and could be used in an educational context.

Mr Joshua Harrison

For me, it is pleasing to know that we have a secure, robust and extensible platform which teachers will be able to use relatively painlessly thanks to the efforts of Joshua in this area. It remains to be seen what interesting curriculum uses arise from this and I’ll certainly be posting a followup blog highlighting this.

Of course, as Microsoft continue to develop their Augmented Reality HoloLens solutions, then perhaps the future of Minecraft will be 3D as this video shows:

StAC Students Team Up To Form Souldrop

band

The four members of Souldrop

Recently I caught up with Finn Perring, Anna Bennetto and Grace Dephoff who are part of a wider group of students that make up the band Souldrop. Anna leads the vocals, Finn plays bass guitar and Fin Gilzean (St Thomas of Canterbury College) plays lead guitar whilst Elliot Millar (Burnside High School) is on the drums. Formed in April 2016, their first single Mill Bay was released in August with an accompanying music video shot and edited by Grace Dephoff and their 5 track EP will be available from the 9th September 2016.

UPDATE 25/9/16 The band’s self-titled EP is now available and embedded below via Spotify:

 

I was particularly interested in the technology the band used to record the track as well as edit the video, however to understand all of this it was important to learn of the various musical influences on the band.

  • Elliot is a jazz and big band drummer, representing Burnside High School in various musical competitions.
  • Fin learnt blues and classic rock guitar, mostly from his father
  • Anna has been performing for over ten years in musical theatre shows, as a jazz singer in various bands as well as one soul band.
  • Finn is a classically trained guitarist who plays Spanish flamenco guitar, but bass for Souldrop.

Recording & mastering the audio track:

Most of the audio track was recorded in the St Andrew’s College recording studio with the vocals, drums and bass all being laid down in this environment. The lead guitar parts, however, were recorded in Fin’s bedroom using Apple’s Garageband. Once finished, these guitar recordings were sent to the other Finn (Perring) to add to the other instruments and mix the recording in Apple’s Logic Pro X. To this end, the band never played the entire song together in the same room during the recording process, instead relying on the use of over-dubbing to achieve the best sound.

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From a non-musicians perspective, I found this a fascinating way to craft a complete song, through the selective and judicious extracting of various takes of the song and merging them all together in an order that produces the best quality song. Additionally, the song was a very collaborative effort with the idea of the song first coming in a formative stage to Finn Perring around two years ago, before drummer Elliot and lead singer Anna co-wrote the lyrics for the song.

Recording & editing the music video:

Grace Dephoff filmed all of the footage for the video in a single afternoon using a Canon 70D camera with the 16-24mm lens and a 50mm lens borrowed from Mr Dave Jensen who works in the TV studio at St Andrew’s College. There was a limited script for the recording of the music video, instead a desire to keep it as natural as possible for the band members. One of the most clever features of the music video is the fact it is in slow motion, whilst keeping the music and singing in real time.

filming

Grace Dephoff filming the band

This was achieved by having the band perform the song at 1.5x normal speed from speakers that they could hear to help them keep time, whilst Grace filmed at 50fps so that it could be later slowed down to 67% normal speed and still look smooth after this editing had taken place. The end effect makes it look like the band are in time to the song, even though they are in slow motion. Grace had learnt of this technique from a former guitar teacher she and the whole band were thrilled with the end result and how it looked.

To edit the hours of video footage, Grace used Apple’s Final Cut Pro, a tool she was largely self-taught in after graduating from using Apple iMovie for a number of years, including winning numerous prizes at the annual St Andrew’s College Film Fest. All up, she spent around 10 hours editing the footage and another 6 hours completing the colour grading in the video.

Distributing and Promoting the single:

The band are using a combination of word of mouth and social media to get exposure for the first single Mill Bay, combining messages on Facebook, Instagram and, of course, the YouTube channel itself. They have added a number of live performances as well, including lunchtime shows in the St Andrew’s College Quad, an assembly at Burnside High School and a performance at St Thomas of Canterbury College as well. There is a planned interview on 98RDU radio station as well on 14th September.

TunecoreLogoThe song has been released through TuneCore which is a digital media distribution company which automatically publishes the song to the main digital music platforms including Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Shazaam and the YouTube channel the band have created as well. Anna and Finn’s focus at this stage is getting the song out to as wide an audience as possible and any revenue that is generated from the track being played is a bonus. TuneCore will send the band monthly statistics around the performance of the song on the various platforms.

In terms of copyright and protecting the song, the band have chosen to use the Creative Commons licensing platform. They recognise that this license might not stop another band from being able to sample their work, but they will be required to acknowledge Souldrop as the source of the original content for the sample.

What’s Next?

The band are keen to keep gigging and playing as many live performances as possible to increase their exposure and improve as a unit. They are also thinking about recording another music video for one of the other tracks on the soon to be released EP.

My Thoughts

I have been super impressed with the members of the band that I have met so far, both in terms of their musical ability but also their technical skills to be able to produce such high quality recordings and videos. It is always pleasing to see that skills that have been taught and learnt at St Andrew’s College are finding a creative outlet in the areas of student’s own interests such as being part of a band.

team

The wider Souldrop crew including Anna Bennetto (back row, second from right), Finn Perring (back row, far right) and Grace Dephoff (from row, first on the left)

This song and video highlight how technology has enabled students to create high quality, professional looking videos and promote them digitally to an international audience. When I pointed this out to Finn, Anna and Grace their reaction was a mixture of pride and nonchalance in the work they had created, highlighting to me just how natural the use of this technology is to students these days. Importantly, they had thought about using Creative Commons to copyright their work demonstrating an inherent understanding of the value of their music and video.

Finally, there is opportunities for this work to be credited against various NCEA internal Achievement Standards in some subjects (mainly English/Music) which would be a serendipitous outcome of what is essentially a passion project for these students. This is, perhaps, one of the biggest outcomes and reasons to pause for thought from this. If schools were able to recognise the creative output of students in areas of their interests perhaps we would finally see the flexibility of NCEA that is often talked about, yet rarely achieved.

Fostering Lifelong (e)Learning in Staff

Earlier this year I profiled Ms Donna Jones from the English Department. One aspect of that profile was a mention of her embarking on a Postgraduate Certificate in Applied Practice (Digital and Collaborative Learning). She is the first staff member at the college to be enrolled in this qualification, so as she nears course completion, it is a perfect time to catch up with her regarding her progress.WIN_20160816_14_23_01_Pro

Collaboration with colleagues

One of the most pleasing aspects of the course for Donna has been the ability to collaborate with colleagues from a variety of different schools, and teachers of other year levels. These opportunities for collaboration are an important aspect of educational postgraduate study like this, as Donna describes:

‘It has given me a much clearer understanding of the big picture educational landscape across Canterbury. Engaging with teachers from all sectors has been both enlightening and inspiring.’

A second aspect of the course that Donna has particularly enjoyed is the hands-on time that is spent learning through technology. Donna has thoroughly enjoyed working with stop-motion, robotics, and AR. This increased awareness has manifest in a new-found interest in the potential of concepts such as gamification to help raise engagement and achievement in her English classes.

Finally, she has gained a greater understanding of the theories of leadership, particularly Transformational Leadership in 21st Century Learning.

Applying Learning in the Classroom

WIN_20160816_14_25_09_Pro

Students making stop motion

Whenever staff attend Professional Development courses, one measure of success of the applicability of that development, is the impact that the new learning has on classroom practice. One particularly pleasing aspect of Ms Jones’ participation in the course is the immediate applicability of her new learning.

She has already been able to develop different ways of assessing existing concepts. An example of this is the use of stop motion as a way of assessing understanding of theme within a novel study. She has recently done preliminary work to investigate the use of an ‘Escape Room’ with Year 9 students which complements her implementation of a cross-curriculum project solving real-world problems; used last year.

‘The course has been a reality check and reminder that if we as teachers don’t engage with 21st Century technology and integrate these into ou programmes, we are not providing students with the correct preparation for their future. The pace of change in classroom technology is both exciting and frightening.’

Online Voting For Student Leaders

The aim of this blog is always to share some of the things going on with technology at St Andrew’s College and, wherever possible, provide some ideas and inspirations for other schools as well. Some of these innovations take considerable planning and resources such as our work with PowerBI for Educational Analytics, whereas others like this post about online voting are relatively simple.

Recently, the College’s new Head of Senior College Mr John Ruge approached me about moving Prefect voting to an online system. Immediately, there were some questions around how to do his securely and fairly. Paramount in my thinking was ensuring:

  • Results were anonymous
  • Students and staff could only vote once
  • Restrictions could be placed on the number of potential Prefects one could vote for
  • Time limits could be enforced for when voting stopped.

A number of people recommended using something like Google Forms or Office365 Forms, both of which are excellent products when used for what they were designed for. The major limitation, however, was there is no way to ensure the voting would be both anonymous and limited to one vote per person. I decided to cast my net a little wider and utilise the excellent Techies For Schools NZ Google Group as well as the Australian MITIE Forum and see if I could crowdsource some alternatives. Some of these included:

It was the latter that caught my attention because it was suggested that using some of the more advanced features around emailing would achieve my main aims of anonymity and restrictions to one vote per person.

SurveyMonkey Setup For Prefect Voting:

We used a basic MS-Query to extract student and staff email addresses and first/last names from Synergetic, our Student Management System. We then loaded these into a CSV file with the first row indicating the header fields:

CSV

We needed to analyse votes from three different groups of people:

  • Secondary School Teaching Staff
  • Current Year 13 Prefects
  • Current Year 12 Students

Consequently, we decided to make three identical surveys, but have the different groups above loaded into separate CSV files. Upon setting these up in SurveyMonkey we needed to select “Send by Email” to ensure unique links generated for each voter, rather than a generic link that could be forwarded to people outside the intended voters, or used more than once by the same person:

Send by Email

Choosing “Send by Email” was a key part of achieving the defined aims of online voting.

When choosing “Send by Email” you are invited to submit users from a range of sources and we used the CSV file we had already generated:

Import CSV

You are then able to compose an HTML message to the voter that is sent by SurveyMonkey based off the information from the CSV:

Composition.png

Note the salutation: the use of variables [FirstName] and [LastName] will personalise each email based off the information from the CSV already loaded into SurveyMonkey

Numerous additional variables can be set, some of which we made use of because of our aims included:

  • Changes: Respondents can change their answers on any survey page until they complete the survey (alternatively you can allow no changes at all, right through to changes after it’s been submitted but before the cut off date
  • Anonymous Responses: exclude ALL respondent information (names, email addresses, IP addresses, and custom data) from your survey results (we chose this, but you can collect all of the above information if you wished)
  • Cutoff Date & Time: This was important to ensure timely voting:

Cutoff Date

The end result, when sent, provided a really smart looking HTML email that encouraged staff and students to vote for 2017 Prefect Leaders:

SME Vote Now

Note the personalised salutation, the HTML “Vote Now” button and the footer indicating the URL is unique to the recipient.

When votes are opened you can track in real time the number of votes completed, as well as email opens and partial votes, for example:

Vote Stats

One of the final tweaks I learnt through this process was how to limit or restrict the number of choices a voter could make from a multi-choice question. This was significant as voters were allowed to select up to twenty student names from the long list of candidates. There were some help instructions available, but the key areas to check were in the options of the multi-choice question:

Multi Choice Question

Note that:

  1. For this to work “Require an Answer to This Question” is ticked
  2. You choose “at most” for number of choices if you want voters to be able to select up to but not exceeding a number of candidates
  3. You can customise the error message if a voter chooses more than the allowed number of candidates when voting.

With voting completed, it was easy to export as a PDF the graphs showing the candidates with the most votes and allow the leadership team to analyse the data. Now that we know we can generate personalised, single-use and anonymous voting systems through SurveyMonkey I can anticipate we will use this in other areas as well.

eLearning Through The Lens Of Key Competencies

EdTech SummitIn the last week of Term 2 I had the opportunity to present at the NZ Tech Advance Education Technology Summit hosted at Massey University’s Albany Campus. Key topics and subjects discussed include:

  • Inquiry | Creativity | Collaboration – The role of technology in modern learning
  • Developing teacher understanding and encouraging implementation of collaborative and digital learning methods
  • Integrating and encouraging digital technology adoption in curriculum and classroom
  • The new narrative: IT training and computational thinking
  • Building technology into the curriculum – lessons, challenges and what we’ve learnt along the way
  • Collaboration at the forefront of today’s teaching environment

When preparing what I wanted to share at the 40 minute session I had been given, I decided on using the Key Competencies from the New Zealand Curriculum to explain why some examples of eLearning from four St Andrew’s College teachers had been successful. Additionally, I wanted to use authentic student voice to highlight this – fortunately, having been blogging on this site for over two years now there was plenty of examples I could draw on.

If you are interested in an independent view of my session then you can see this micro blogs from Nathaniel Louwrens here and this brief reflection from Andrew Corney here. You can download a full copy of my slides from the presentation from this link on dropbox.com.

The Key Competencies are at the heart of great teaching and learning in New Zealand and are the bedrock upon which effective eLearning can be built on.

Key Competencies

The Key Competencies from the NZ Curriculum

It’s worth reading over the entire descriptions of learners who demonstrate the 5 Key Competencies but some highlights I pulled out to share at the conference included:

  • Thinking: is about using creative, critical, and metacognitive processes to make sense of information, experiences, and ideas … Intellectual curiosity is at the heart of this competency … [Students] reflect on their own learning, draw on personal knowledge and intuitions, ask questions, and challenge the basis of assumptions and perceptions.
  • Using Language, Symbols and Texts:  Using language, symbols, and texts is about working with and making meaning of the codes in which knowledge is expressed  … Students who are competent users … can interpret and use words, number, images, … and technologies in a range of contexts … They confidently use ICT to access and provide information and to communicate with others
  • Managing Self: This competency is associated with self-motivation, a “can-do” attitude, and with students seeing themselves as capable learners … It is integral to self-assessment.
  • Relating To Others: Students who relate well to others are open to new learning and able to take different roles in different situations … By working effectively together, they can come up with new approaches, ideas, and ways of thinking.
  • Participating & Contributing: This competency is about being actively involved in communities … They may be local, national, or global. This competency includes a capacity … to make connections with others, and to create opportunities for others in the group.

I started the session off by highlighting the fact that often ICT is talked about in terms of risk. This can come from security breaches, budget blow-outs and ICT project cost overruns, not to mention distracted and off-task behaviour when using technology. I then posed the following questions:

Questions.png

I wanted to highlight how some of the best examples of effective eLearning from teachers at St Andrew’s College was firmly rooted in Key Competencies. I chose examples from the following four teachers:

Teachers

Combining OneNote & MineCraft To Create Pick-A-Path Stories:

This example is explained in more detail here and the basic Learning Outcomes are displayed below with the relevant Key Competencies included:

Learning outcomes from this unit:

  • to produce interactive pick-a-path adventure stories
    • KC: Using Languages, Symbols & Text
  • to work collaboratively online to produce an end product
    • KC: Relating To Others
  • to create stories to share online with a wider audience
    • KC: Participating & Contributing

As mentioned above, I wanted to use authentic student voice as much as possible so I included an abbreviated version of the following video so that the audience could hear students articulating their learning and the impact that technology had made:

An insightful quote from the student called Harry was:

The goal was not to just make something pretty in Minecraft, it was actually to improve the quality of your writing … after writing the story, the idea was to look back in Minecraft and see how you could improve the writing you had already completed.

SAMR DivingTo assist teachers at St Andrew’s College with integration of technology into their teaching and learning, we have adopted the SAMR taxonomy that you can see on the left.

This is a really useful way for teachers to conceptualise how technology might assist the learning outcomes for their students as well as provide them some aspirational goals for extended use of technology. Tom Adams, our eLearning Integrator, has recently written in detail about effective use of the SAMR model which is definitely worth reading if you are new to it. During the presentation, I introduced the audience to a relatively new product from Microsoft called Pulse. This enables the audience to provide real time feedback on a session as well as allowing the presenter to push out questions for quick polls. I asked the audience “What level of SAMR do you feel the Minecraft/OneNote example was operating at?” and below is their response:

Pulse SAMR

Using Microsoft Pulse for instant feedback from the audience

Inspiring Creative Writing Through Constructing Digital Worlds:

The next example I shared was again around creative writing, this time from the High School instead of a Year 6 class. The full reflection can be found here, however the high level overview of the task was as follows (with Key Competencies inserted):

Learning Tasks For This Unit:

  • Write a short story of ~600 words with a theme of “conflict”
    • KC: Using Languages, Symbols & Text
  • Students Must produce at least 4 “drafts”
    • KC: Thinking
  • Drafts must be shared with peers for feedback/feed-forward & act on appropriate advice
    • KC: Participating & Contributing

What was different about this activity is that students had to build their digital world before they started their writing and use it as a source of inspiration and planning, not just as a reflective tool for editing. Settings were constructed in Sketchup, Paint, Minecraft and the source engine of the game Counter-Strike. Here is a student Ralph talking about his world which I again shared with the conference audience:

Again, I find the language used by the student here informative, with some of his comments being:

  • I wanted readers to grasp that the bombs had come from the bank itself”
    • Clearly, the reader’s experience is at the forefront of his thinking when he is designing his digital world.
  • He blended his natural enjoyment of the game Counter Strike with his school work and learning – a win/win situation!
  • Ralph talks about adding a backstory to the real events of the London Bombings, demonstrating a wider awareness of global communities
  • “As I was designing the level I was constantly thinking of ways I could make the story more interesting.
    • This was not just technology for the sake of it – it was clearly shaping and informing his understanding of the creative writing task that was the key learning outcome here.
    • This was manifested through his drafting process where he removed a lot of the dialogue to improve the narrative flow and added more descriptive text such as the sound of the gunfire

This impressive learning came on the back of an earlier, easier task where the students in the class had leveraged an existing digital world (Google Earth) rather than having to create their own. Through the lens of the SAMR scale this makes perfect sense – the students build their knowledge and experience of digital toolsets in the lower levels of SAMR and once mastered they can progress to more difficult tasks. Here is a write up of the earlier task where students had to explain the significance of setting in a film, and this is a student talking about their comprehension.

Again, it’s important to pick up on the student’s language – the technology is integrally linked to the learning outcomes, it is not merely there for entertainment or distraction. By requiring students to record their personal reflections in this way, students are using a number of Key Competencies.

Communicate Musical Intention By Composing An Original Piece of Music Inspired By Art:

The final example I shared with the audience came from Level 3 Year 13 Music. On the first day of the conference I had been asked to be part of a Q&A Panel about integrating technology into schools and one question from the audience was essentially around what are real world examples of great technology usage in NCEA subjects. The heart of the question was around the challenge of adapting existing assessments to be technology rich and I answered it by a brief description of this example from Mr Duncan Ferguson our Head of Music.

  • Using AS.91419 (3.4)
    • KC: Using Languages, Symbols & Texts
  • Students are required to reflect on their composition and explain the connection with the art that inspired them
    • KC: Thinking
  • These are largely independent projects that the students need to work on themselves
    • KC: Managing Self

Here is the video of the student reflecting on their learning:

Flipping The Maths Classroom:

I wanted to allow some Q&A at the end of my session so I ran out of time to share this example from Mr Ben Hilliam, so I’ll briefly reference it here. In this example, the key learning outcomes included:

  • Year 9 Maths: solving Linear Equations
    • KC: Using Language, Symbols & Text
  • Students were required to watch the instructional videos and then attempt the practice questions
    • KC: Thinking
  • Students needed to regularly complete check lists indicating their progress
    • KC: Managing Self

Here is an example video made by Mr Hilliam:

What I most liked about this example is that students were not left on their own to just work through it, the teacher is still involved through the process, despite the availability of the instructional videos. The following screenshot is from a OneNote Class Notebook showing how the student has completed their progress reports and the teacher has provided feedback:

Work eg2

I used MS Pulse to ask the audience whether they personally felt that using a “flipped classroom” genuinely created more opportunities for differentiated and personalised learning during class time. Their response was overwhelmingly “yes!”

Flipping The Classroom

An alternative way to show poll results from MS Pulse

I concluded my session with the following thoughts:

Concluding Thoughts

I really enjoyed the opportunity to present at the NZ Tech Advance Education Technology Summit and was fortunate enough to receive some positive feedback from the session:

Digital Scavenger Hunt Celebrates Te Wiki O Te Reo Māori

Te Wiki O Te Reo MāoriThis week St Andrew’s College has joined in the national celebrations of Te Wiki O Te Reo Māori with a number of different activities. For the first time, we decided to run a Digital Scavenger Hunt that was aimed at getting ākonga (students) and kaiako (teachers) engaging in the celebrations in a fun way through using technology.

This was achieved using a Digital Scavenger Hunt, whereby students had to complete a number of tasks that accrued points based on the level of difficulty or effort required. The following poster was created using Canva and posted around the College and also on the news stream of our Moodle LMS

1 Point Challenges

Pikau

A handwoven harakeke pikau was 1st Prize

Initially, I was unsure of the best technology to get students to submit their photos and videos to a central location easily, and without needing a specific app or account. I tried to crowdsource some suggestions through my PLN (Professional Learning Network) on Twitter, with ideas of using Padlet, Cluster, Instagram and Google Drive all being suggested. I also thought about setting up an open course on our Moodle site that students could submit photos and videos for the competition through, however the reality is that it is still not super easy from a mobile phone to do this.

In the end, I settled on using the relatively new “File Request” feature that is available free with a Dropbox.com account. The beauty of this is that it significantly lowers the barrier of entry for students as:

  • They did not require a personal Dropbox account themselves
  • They didn’t need a specific app on their phone – it worked through a mobile browser on any platform (we tested on iOS, Windows and Android). We used a QR Code and shortened URL to make it easier to type on a phone – http://bit.ly/stac-mlw 
  • Any files they submitted were visible only to me as the Dropbox account – students could not see the entries of anyone else which was important.
  • Students entered their name and email address when submitting files, so all entries were easily identifiable and Dropbox emailed me as the account owner when a submission was made.

To assist students with how to submit their entries, I made an instructional video using ScreenFlow 6  and a nice new feature in version 6 is the ability to record the screen of your mobile phone. This allowed me to show what to do on the phone to upload photos and video, whilst simultaneously showing what it looked like on the Dropbox account as the files were submitted:

Video showing how to submit photos for the Digital Scavenger Hunt directly from your mobile phone

The competition proved most popular in our Preparatory School, with the majority of entries coming from Year 7 students. Here are a couple of example photos that were entered:

Future Ideas:

I had a chat with Mr Tom Adams, our eLearning Integrator, at the end of this competition and we both agreed that this is an idea that could be recycled easily for other purposes. Now that we know that Dropbox File Requests is an easy way to submit and receive files via mobile phones this could be used for other Digital Scavenger Hunts with a different theme.

One idea could be an orientation programme for new students, aimed to get them going around the campus to learn where different places/services are located. There are some specific apps aimed at doing this, such as Scavify, but building your own would probably not be too difficult either. In the end, this was a fun and relatively easy activity to build into our celebration of Te Reo Māori at St Andrew’s College.

Making Great Television to Reinforce Social Studies Learning

As blogged about in 2014, St Andrew’s College has been running the only professional television studio in a New Zealand school for almost 20 years. What is particularly exciting for me is the potential of other subjects to utilise this fantastic resource to allow students to conceptualise, and create video content.

Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to attend a PD day that featured Dr Rueben Puentedura, that developed my own understanding about the SAMR model and its application in unit planning. An important aspect of this learning is that, as part of the redefinition of a unit, technology is allowing students greater opportunities to create meaningful content. With our fully functioning studio, students at St Andrew’s College have the opportunity to produce high quality video content, that both reinforces their own understanding, and displays their learning for others. One such recent example has recently concluded in Year 10 Social Studies.

Mr Simon Williams - Head of Television and Film

Mr Simon Williams – Head of Television and Film

Decade Study – The Swinging 60’s

A Level 5 Curriculum Objective in Social Studies requires students to study how the ideas and actions of people in the past have had a significant impact on people’s lives. This year, students undertook a decade study of the 1960’s; including aspects such as historical events, music, and fashion. This was a very popular unit with students, but, as always, the challenge was making their learning authentic.

Mr Simon Williams, the head of Film and Television, was interested in this new unit of work, and offered to assist the teachers to create some video resources to complement their classroom learning. Because the majority of students access learning in the TV studio as part of the Performing Arts course at either Year 9 or 10, there was no need to spend time on the ‘how’ to create such material. This meant students already had the skills to produce an interview style television program, and they could focus on the content.

Mr Williams wanted the process to be smooth and clearly beneficial for the Social Studies staff members, so he assisted by writing a simple script, and organising several interviews with staff that have fond memories of the decade, as well as a television cameraman who cut his teeth in Vietnam in the 1960’s; Mr Wayne Williams.

Student Involvement

The students’ roles included filming, performing, presenting and editing the final production – to create a number of professional standard videos that were ultimately edited into a 35 minute television program.

Students with varying levels of experience were able to contribute to the production of such a programme as the interview format is very familiar and accessible for them. This fact emphasises the potential of the Television studio to help students of almost any subject area to enhance their learning by creating resources of various forms.

Putting Social Studies Learning into Action

The head of Social Studies at St Andrew’s College, Miss Kerry Larby, was enthused by the activity.

One of the key aspects of Social Studies is perspectives, so it was extremely beneficial for our students to hear the authentic experiences of staff members they interact with on a daily basis, but may not realise their past experiences. 

Miss Larby also noted that one of the focuses of the unit was helping students to discover the wealth of resources that exist within people, rather than relying on the easy, often web-based, option. Each student was encouraged to identify, and interview, somebody who had clear memories and experiences in the 1960’s and make use of this information to supplement their learning in class.

Collaboration for Mutual Benefit 

Students at St Andrew’s College are extremely fortunate to have access to the remarkable television studio. SetWidth204-TV-Studio2What was particularly pleasing about this activity was the cross curricular nature of the production; utilising students’ existing television creation and editing skills to show, and develop, their learning in Social Studies.

There is certainly scope for more subjects across the College to implement similar tasks, and I look forward to reporting on them on this blog in the future!

 

 

 

 

Promoting Digital Citizenship With John Parsons

john-parsonsLast week John Parsons from Simulate 2 Educate ran 45 minute sessions with students in each year level of Year 9-13 at St Andrew’s College, along with an after school Professional Development hour with teachers. The day finished with an evening parent session, that included a candid outline of the challenges facing students and parents when it comes to cyber security and technology usage.

John’s presentations were engaging and humorous and he succeeded in connecting with the students at all year levels, whilst delivering an unflinchingly real message of the risky behaviour happening online. Pleasingly, this was entirely absent of any elements of judgement because of their age; instead he highlighted the fact that hundreds of thousands of dollars are being lost annually by adults making poor decisions or being duped online.

Idle curiosity and social engineering are powerful factors that drive decision making and both are exploited through risky online behaviour. John highlighted this with two examples:

  1. If a student found a USB stick lying outside the gates of the school and they took it home, plugged it into the family computer and found a file on there named “click me.docx”. Curiosity might drive them to open that file which could lead to the installation of a keystroke logging app which would collect and send typed information allowing the original owner of the USB stick to receive confidential information such as online banking or Facebook usernames/passwords.
  2. If a Facebook user received a message saying “You should see the picture that David has shared of you online, click this link to view”. The hook here is basically everyone knows somebody called “David” so it has an element of potential truth and instead of seeing the image they are redirected to a squeeze page  which might solicit their first and last names, and either their cell phone number or email address. Worse still, it may include a download file/link to see the picture but all it really installs is a keystroke logger.

The reality for our students is that they are born into a super-connected world in a way that their parents never were. Typically, when adults think of privacy they generally mean or refer to someone else taking care of the security of information to prevent someone from accessing it inappropriately. John’s message to students was essentially that view of privacy is dead and now the responsibility is all around self-control where the individual needs to take complete ownership of the sharing of their personal details and manage this themselves.

Every single one of you in this room is going to be subjected to a Google search by a prospective employer … I know over 96 boys and girls who can not get part time jobs because of content that their friends have posted online about them.

John Parsons (Simluate 2 Educate)

For this reason, John said, a student’s real CV is their online, digital footprint. Therefore they need to control this as tightly as possible by not allowing people to capture and share photos that make you vulnerable. Interestingly, John shared three ways that individuals are profiled by businesses and these went beyond just being in a photo in a compromising way:

  1. The pictures that people upload – do they lack or demonstrate empathy? Employers and Universities will ask this question of prospective employees/students. In other words, what kind of person would upload and share a photo that embarrasses or exploits another person in a vulnerable situation
  2. How do people talk to each other and what kind of content are they sharing and promoting online? Does it lack or demonstrate empathy? This is a key message as it’s very easy to be a digital bystander who perhaps didn’t upload the original content, but by liking or commenting on it can make you complicit.
  3. The company you keep – what sort of behaviour is going on in photos you are tagged in and what sort of people are you following and communicating with in your social networks.

John Parsons used this video to highlight the risks and attitudes to sharing highly personal content online.

Practical Steps Students Can Take:

A number of keys were provided to enable students to make better decisions online:

  • Stop communicating online whenever you receive a request or comment that makes you feel uncomfortable. If you stop responding to any messages you are taking control of the situation.
  • Screenshot the communication / request that made you feel uncomfortable in the first place. By collecting evidence of this you are again taking control of the situation.
  • Print or store the screenshots in a secure folder or location that can be shared with a trusted adult such as parents who can help students in this situation.

Don’t let technology, or the people that use it, erode the values that your family have given to you – you’re too valuable to allow technology to do this

John Parsons (Simulate 2 Educate)

This message came through time and again throughout the presentation: that the students are unique and too valuable to allow themselves to be exploited online. John further dared the students to care – to not walk past people who are in need (whether this is physically in person or online). He encouraged them to ask a student if they are ok and how they’re feeling if they had observed unkind or unhelpful things online directed at that student. Finally, he urged them to not cheapen themselves but to instead nurture and protect their identity.

Reflections:

These messages from John are timely and need to be consistently delivered to students, staff and parents on a regular basis because of the real risks that can be associated with content shared online. Making poor decisions in this area is not confined to teenagers, as evidenced by some of these high profile examples:

Whilst students increasingly have a “post first, think it through later” mentality when it comes to sharing all elements of their lives, the potential impact on their well being and prospective employment and study is significant.

Ultimately, Digital Citizenship is everyones responsibility and by following the advice of John Parsons and exhibiting self-control in what they share, students are taking the first step towards valuing themselves and their reputation.

Guest Post: Mr Dekker’s Journey With OneNote & Minecraft

This is a repost of a blog on the official Microsoft Education blog where Mr Wilj Dekkers, a Year 6 teacher at St Andrew’s College and Microsoft Innovative Educator, recaps the journey of his classroom over the last two years with Microsoft OneNote and Minecraft.

OneNote is central to the pedagogy in my classroom and school. When you walk through the building you can witness the everyday use of the application from Year 4 to Year 8. You will see Active Boards where teachers annotate writing samples in the Content Library for students to use as a reference for their own learning. Students are huddled around their laptops debating which sources of information are most relevant to include in a shared notebook, and staff are reviewing meeting notes shared through a Professional Learning Group’s OneNote.

Preparatory School Inquiry Learning Model

Preparatory School Inquiry Learning Model

St. Andrew’s College uses a custom designed Inquiry Pathway—the core of which is built around helping students develop a collaborative approach to learning. The approach is question-driven, encouraging students to find the answers themselves, coming to their own conclusions. As a teacher, this is exciting; we plan and facilitate but cannot predict the final outcome.

Having planned an inquiry around national identity in the 21st century, I had posed a problem to my class: The Christchurch earthquakes of 2011 had left a long lasting scar on both the economy and identity of the city. Tourism was dwindling, with visitors flying in and quickly moving on to other parts of New Zealand’s South Island. I challenged my students to answer the question, “What does it mean to be a Kiwi in the 21st century?” and also find a way to bring tourists back to our city.

OneNote Minecraft 1

Students formed collaborative groups and created their own shared notebooks. They planned, questioned and researched their Kiwi icons. They interviewed parents and discussed how families from a variety of cultural backgrounds celebrated being “Kiwis” and what being a New Zealander meant to them. All of which was documented in each group’s shared OneNote Notebook.

Students began asking if they could book laptops to work together in our shared learning spaces outside the physical space of the room. They loved having the flexibility to be able to work together around a PC or laptop and then continue collaborating using OneNote at home, completely away from the physical space of the school, in the evenings. Students were so enthralled with the inquiry unit and ability to work together in real-time through OneNote. Parents even began commenting on how they had never seen their students so excited to return from school and get started on their homework.

Part of the inquiry was looking at how we could bring tourists back to Christchurch. This was where Minecraft was introduced to the class. Students brought in devices running the pocket edition and connected to shared realms via the school’s Wi-Fi. As well as working as a team to answer the big inquiry question, members of each group had individually focused on an aspect of Kiwi culture. I asked the students if they could build a theme park with Kiwiana-themed rides that incorporated elements from their inquiries.

Before long, the class was a buzzing hub of self-directed learning. Students were writing presentation speeches from their inquiry notebooks while Minecraft experts built bigger and better Kiwiana rides to showcase their learning. In the evenings, groups continued developing and improving their learning in preparation for the big day.

By the end of the third term of 2014, OneNote became a standard classroom tool. Having seen the benefits, families had started purchasing laptops for their students to use in our class. This again caused a chain reaction. Students with access to their own devices were using OneNote more, which in turn meant that more students began arriving with laptops.

This had to be managed carefully, since having a laptop in Year 6 is not required. I was wary of technology being used as a substitution tool and made sure that in my planning any use of OneNote or any other tools we were using was in ways that enhanced or allowed learning to take place in a way that could not be done without a device.

OneNote Minecraft 2

It was around this time that Sam McNeill, Director of ICT for the college, brought in six Surface Pro 3s to trial, and I was fortunate to be asked to use one in the prep school. Having always been a believer in the creative power of the pen, I was instantly won over by having the best of both worlds at my fingertips—a fully functional Windows tablet with a stylus that allowed me to write down ideas, thoughts and comments directly into my OneNote Notebooks. It did not take long for a few students to begin arriving with their own Surface tablets!

In the final term of the 2014 school year, we focused on our use of narrative; enhancing writing features and broadening our vocabulary. Using both OneNote and Minecraft seemed like a natural fit.

As a class, we read through “The Warlock of Firetop Mountain,” written by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone in 1982. This book was one of the first “single-player gamebooks” and was the first of what was to become a successful series of pick-a-path gamebooks called “Fighting Fantasy.”

OneNote Minecraft 3

The students loved it. We discussed modern game worlds, from Fable to World of Warcraft. How could we emulate those fantastic “Fighting Fantasy” stories using the technology at our disposal, and how could the technology enhance the quality of our writing? We wanted our readers to have the same sense of choice and adventure we had experienced reading “Warlock,” while being able to share our writing without needing to produce any form of print media.

“Minecraft brings out the creativity in me. I love remaking my story Minecraft and improving my writing.”
—Mila

Through the insertion of hyperlinks connecting pages, students found an easy way to provide choices for the reader, and as notebooks stored on Onedrive could be easily shared, the audience for their writing expanded quickly. Students were sharing and collaborating on their adventure stories by allowing editing rights to certain classmates deemed to have the relevant skillsets to be seen as official class editors.

The inclusion of Minecraft was thanks to Ms Tam Yuill-Proctor, a Year 10 English teacher in our college. Students in Tam’s creative writing class had used Minecraft and other 3-D authoring tools to create worlds for their stories.

“Using Minecraft made my imagination go wild with thoughts!”
—Kinda

Our Year 6 students took Tam’s idea and expanded upon it by using Minecraft to both plan and develop their writing, as well as to review and revise the content, descriptive phrases and vocabulary. As their Minecraft worlds grew, so did their stories, which were housed in OneNote. In some cases, we had 10-year-old boys who were not big fans of writing producing 5000-word interactive pick-a-path stories. We published a blog entry detailing the OneNote and Minecraft pick-a-path story.

“Minecraft was helpful because it made me notice all the little details in my narrative that were never in my original bubble plan.”
—Padric

By 2015, most teachers in the prep school had embraced OneNote. The superb OneNote Class Notebook app creator was now an important element of Office 365, and students were appreciating the structure of the Collaboration Space, Content Library and their own personal sections.

Teachers were appreciating the organizational simplicity of adding resources and lessons into the Content Library for students to use in their own sections. Within my Year 6 class, multiple students arrived at the beginning of the year armed with Surface Pro 3s.

OneNote sections became collaborative planning spaces for groups designing games and interactive narratives; students naturally made use of the Collaboration Space to form group sections for our prosthetic hand designs for the 3-D printer.

This was also the first year that I started using Minecraft in Math. The students in my group weren’t huge fans of math. I knew they were capable of so much more, but their personal attitude towards the subject was that it was hard; comments at the start of the year were mostly, “I’m not good at math.” My focus was to change their attitudes to that of a growth mindset where they say, “I’m not good at math, yet!” Continue reading

PowerBI Supports StAC’s Pastoral Care Programmes

PowerBI

For the last 12 months we have been actively exploring how Microsoft’s Business Intelligence product called PowerBI could be used at St Andrew’s College. I have blogged about our initial experimentations with this here and that post would be a useful piece of pre-reading to provide context to this post.

This week has seen the culmination of a huge amount of work over the last four months, with Tutors being given access to what is being called the Tutor Quadrant Report. Below is a screencast showing some of the features of this (with identifying details blanked out):

Demonstrating The Tutor Quadrant Report

Initial feedback from Tutors has been very positive as they recognise this new report presents a significant step forward in terms of:

  • Ease of access – using their existing school username/password to access the report on any device with a browser and anywhere (they are not restricted to being on the College campus).
  • The collation of disparate data presented in an easily comprehensible, highly visual format. Previously, to obtain information on attendance, NCEA results, discipline and Fortnightly Notes would have required dozens of clicks, different windows and reports, and even using different platforms (both Synergetic and Sharepoint).
  • Speed – the reports load very quickly in the browser.

It is satisfying to hear this type of feedback given the significant level of investment and effort that has been made in developing this platform from where we were 12 months ago.

AIS.pngFor some understanding of this journey from Crystal Reporting through to PowerBI, the following video is a quick version of a presentation Mr Dave Neilson and I gave at the Association of Independent Schools of New South Wales’ annual ICT Leadership Conference 2016 in Canberra in May. The theme of the conference was Supporting Digital School Improvement and you can download a copy of the slides from this presentation here.

The abbreviated presentation from AIS NSW ICT Leadership Conference 2016

Some of the key points from this presentation include:

  • There are multiple ways you can use Microsoft PowerBI, we have explored two methods of deployment:
    • Manually generating reports in the free PowerBI Desktop App and publishing and storing content in the Azure blob in the cloud (quick and easy, but limited security options)
    • Developing an on-premise data warehouse and using ETL processes to extract data from various sources before loading into a tabular data model and connecting to the cloud via SSAS Gateway Connector. This is also very secure when implemented with row level security.
  • PowerBi was preferred at St Andrew’s College for a number of reasons, including:
    • It’s scaleable – educational pricing for Pro licenses is affordable  (~$4/m per user) and easily managed within the Office365 Licensing Administration area
    • It is easy to access – teachers can use their existing school username/password so there is limited barriers to entry and it is accessible via a browser from any device.
  • Visualisations of data are excellent. The ability to transform what was previously stored in spreadsheets and rows and columns of data into easily comprehensible displays is critical. There is a range of default visualisations as well as third party generated ones.

Next Steps:

time to talk

Time to talk! The power of a visual to highlight a student trending in the wrong direction.

With the release of the Tutor Quadrant Report, planning is already underway for the development of further reports for both teaching staff as well as administrative staff. The migration to PowerBI of an existing Tableau report that our Director of Development used has been completed and this enables her to now access data refreshed daily and drill down using the self-service elements of PowerBI. Pleasingly, she has already identified a number of enhancements she would like to see – this is something we anticipated would occur once the end users started getting more meaningful access to the data.

Additionally, rebuilding a very detailed NCEA report similar to what we explored in the original proof of concept  will be important for academic staff to monitor progress as the year progresses. Ideally, we should see some accelerated development now that the backend infrastructure is in place.

Lastly, there is rapid development happening on the PowerBI platform all the time. One of the most exciting developments is the ability to embed reports into an existing website or portal and even apps, opening up a huge range of possibilities where we could securely share reports like those above with students and parents. For now, that is in the medium to long term planning, as we focus on rapidly deploying further PowerBI reports for the College staff.