Showing posts with label ICT. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ICT. Show all posts

Monday, March 1, 2021

ICT Products for schools

ICT vendors have cottoned onto Voluntary contributions.  Government schools can charge up to $235 per year in voluntary charges.  This is an easy target for IT vendors as it is something that parents will pay for and a low number of students use it compared to the number that it is paid for.

The usual sales pitch goes like this:

Free trial - with no obligation.  There is a hidden cost as implementation has a cost in training, set up experimentation and teaching to students.

Teachers use trial, some parents use trial.  

Price is given for the whole school (knowing that a small proportion will use the tool).  Thus the price sounds small, but on a usage basis can be upward of $50 per student, subsidised by parents that are not using it.  In many cases senior school is included in the per capita price, but very little is offered to that student group (and they are excluded from voluntary contributions) making it something covered by the school.  

It is also a sop to parents that want OLNA support, but with very little evidence of success assisting disengaged students that need the support but won't use ICT.

Removing it after the trial causes conflict with teachers that are invested in it.  

I'm not saying it is not effective for some - it is just that the cost is hidden in an average charge for all students including a vast majority not using them.

Evidence such as Hattie's meta analysis does not support ICT solutions either as effective.

Students forced to use it quickly dislike it as it is often poorly targeted practice work.  I'd like to think home time is for finishing work not completed in class, intervention work targeted by the teacher, revision and study, together with extra curricular activities.  There is no space for poorly targeted practice.

Trying to pay for a targeted solution (eg only for the kids that need and will use it) results in vendors jacking up the price, often 200% the cost of the whole school solution, verifying to some degree the deceptive business model (paying for something with parent monies that are not appropriate for the students the product is bought for.)

Mathspace and Mathsonline use this approach and Mangahigh may use this approach but I have not been in contact with them for some time (I did like their adaptive tests but am still waiting to see a good, reliable, valid adaptive test written to complement the classroom syllabus).  Mathletics used a similar marketing approach to Mathspace and Mathsonline, but has a smaller footprint in high school and may not insist on schoolwide deployment with dwindling market share.

The worst thing is when effectiveness is not evaluated - when it is just a marketing sop to parents to show the school is ICT ready.  As an IT person, it is crazy to see this amount of money being thrown around like confetti.  After all, the cost of delivery is nil after the product is designed and the development is not rocket science.  It's a market crying for a no cost, syllabus based solution.

Maybe if I get annoyed enough I'll sit and write one.  The technology is now freely available, it just needs to be put in a market ready format. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Consuming ICT

Learning via ICT is an odd fish in education.  Often seen as a panacea and the enabler for a transformation in education, it has consistently failed to live up to expectations.  Blogs, LMS, tablets, interactive boards, apps, graphics calculators, CAS calculators, Connect, Teams, youtube, screencasts, Wiki's and the list goes on!

I've had the pleasure of working with a wide range of students and tailoring ICT to the needs of students over the years.

My latest epiphany is that students do not learn from ICT when directed to it.  They are consumers of ICT, they use it when they need it - they seek information and use it on demand.  This is how they see ICT in the same way they use social media.

This is very different to what we do as teachers, as our jobs are so often as motivators and as "teachers of information in a sequence" that has no connection to immediate student perceived needs (we create the demand for the consumption through delivery of the syllabus!).

Sitting in front of a screen in of itself is typically not motivating and students resist doing it.

Getting information that you require is to satisfy a demand and is easier to negotiate with students (eg. the need is being better able to pass a test they would fail otherwise).  

If we can make information available that they need, when they need it (and acknowledge it is not at  the start of a topic before a need is generated - eg an extension of Voygotski's zone of proximal development and the idea behind "just in time intervention"), then they will consume it.  They may not learn the main idea well using ICT but it may fill gaps in their learning with ICT.

My most recent iteration experimenting with this was with a low ability class doing Trigonometry.  Rather than working through the process online (and generating resources and a sequence to do this which takes some time to do properly), I did the revision exercise online which quickly went through each step and then indicated to students to ask me about the bit they did not understand.

We then did the process again in class (after they had an opportunity to watch the screencast).  Low an behold they then asked questions about specific elements of the process.  The demand was generated and the reason for consumption was clear to students. It was also sent to parents such that they could be involved in learning (at a point where the majority of teaching was done and they could act on the individual problems of their child - another distinct benefit).

Voila - consumed ICT!

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Scratch and the Maths challenge

My daughters do a maths challenge each week at their primary school.  I didn't pay much attention to it until my youngest was worried that she wasn't improving.  My usual criticism of these weekly quizzes is nothing is done with the information and students keep getting the same questions wrong.  In many cases, the reasons why they are getting questions wrong is never investigated.

So I had a look at the challenge and it focused on addition, subtraction and times tables.

I wrote a little application in scratch to help develop some basic numeracy and help identify where issues were occurring. I added in extra steps to assist where we found issues and practice was needed (with instant feedback).

It covers:
a) learning multiples
b) adding/subtracting to and beyond 10
c) tables (using commutative property and division)

You should be able to see it below.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Connect and ICT in schools

Creation of ICT is fraught with problems.  When government seeks to create applications they tend to be ill focused and narrow in their application.  In education ICT has continuously failed to live up to expectations.  IMHO the risk in application development is best left with private enterprise in commercial solutions and the government should take a "best practice" approach, being reasonably ruthless in what they ask for when spending each dollar.

Connect is the next generation of the education department portal, seeking to bring data together for use by students and teachers.  It is a mixed bag of applications seeking to replicate what is already done by commercial and department applications that for the most part are freely available.   I hate to think of the amount of money spent on it.

I think the reason for not using public money is multifold.

1.  Replication of software that already exists freely is illogical
2.  A created solution will lag features available in larger communities where scale can be applied
3.  A small solution does not have access to the required depth of developers and designers
4.  Small projects tend to be lead by programmers and technical capabilities rather than by need of users
5.  Early adopters get burned.  Established applications proven to scale to millions are less likely to fail.
6.  Infrastructure is expensive in closed systems and rarely scales well

The Connect solution is experiencing issues that we viewed today at a presentation promoting its use.

1.  Connect infrastructure is already struggling.  Other solutions use commercial clouds and leverage their infrastructure.  Users of connect are already being asked to restrict their storage or are required to use external servers (such as YouTube).  This is an issue similar to the current email problem where a small storage limit precludes teachers using email as a silo for information.  It seems counterintuitive to say we need a managed private closed solution if we are locating resources (and sending students) to public locations.  We watched Connect struggle under load when trying to log teachers into the system, something that would quickly derail a class if used.  Timeouts were frequent.  Given that this was run in a closed system (within a school) controlled by the department on a day when students were not present does not bode well for the design of the solution.

2.  Connect allows communication directly between students and monitors this through sending multiple emails to teachers.  This is problematic as it creates spam in teachers email and creates a significant monitoring overhead (something overcome by the approach of other solutions).

3. The interface is suboptimal and has not evolved from 90's thinking (even in the presentation style).  The Connect interface is generations behind solutions such as schoology and edmodo (which is expected as Connect is drawing on a much smaller user base of 100 users vs millions of users).  Connect needs to move beyond thinking of itself as a portal and think about being a user's experience (eg. an SLN).  Students do not need to see "Connect" advertising on the landing page, they need to see what they need to know.  If a landing page serves little purpose, put something on it that has purpose, preferably in colours linked to the school (as belonging is a key component in driving usage).  If Connect is seeking to be another SLN and use this to drive usage, then this needs to be the "centre" of thinking, not being a content aggregator.

4.  It does not do anything better than what already exists and appears to seek to copy or relocate features of existing applications (cynically I would suggest to bloat functionality).  There is not a single feature that I could see that was a significant benefit over other already existing solutions (other than they had been aggregated in one place moving administration overhead to teachers).  Many features were being oversold (single login, presentation, RTP integration, notice board functionality, submission of work online, access to the ill organised and predominantly useless resource bank, password changes) and features that are lost were undersold (familiar interfaces, access to wider communities, access across school sectors, marking student work online (a feature that is very unlikely to be implemented but that already exists freely in full workflow form), quizzes, online testing, polling, usage statistics, integration with other learning communities, tablet app integration).  Little of the actual student benefit (social interaction, making work available 24/7, increase in information flow, connectivity to the classroom, collaborative peer support, BYOD device support) or the requirements of successful implementation was discussed (high levels of teacher interaction, high levels of organisation/preparation, ICT support requirements within the school, deadlines for implementation, staged rollouts, student education).

5. Proposed usage is not timely and demonstrates a lack of understanding of student usage. If a student is stuck at home they can call a friend, facebook them, email them, re-read notes, ask a parent, ask a tutor or wait until class the following day.  What they are unlikely to do is log into a portal, navigate to a community, hope that someone sees the message and then wait for a reply.  The response time is too slow for this type of approach.

6. Something is good if it is readily adopted and seen as useful.  I sat and listened to an early adopter claiming that Connect was a good solution.  Once we dug a little further, his actual student adoption with Connect was inconsequential yet he claimed he had great success with equivalent commercial applications (then why change?).  It made me laugh as it reminded me of the letter I received from the department saying I was a frequent user of OTLS (complete BS) and thus was chosen to use Connect.  Saying something definite does not make it true.  What the presenter was really saying was that the commercial solutions was better but if we had to use Connect it was ok and the interface was not unusable like OTLS.  We need to use Connect as it overcomes legal issues relating to student data.  To this I would say a) success is only success if usage can be shown and that compromising by using connect when better solutions exist because of closed system requirements (that cannot remain closed due to infrastructure requirements and costs) is poor reasoning. If we allow the open internet in schools (and we do - check any library at lunch) with only limited filtering,  a commercial solution is viable.

7. Parent involvement is overstated.  If I said to a parent, I will have grades emailed to you they might say great and read the email when I push it to them at a regular interval.  If I say, here is a portal, log in (requiring finding a password) if you wish to check how your student is doing, it is unlikely to be used often (what was my password again?). There is not enough information here for parents to review to make regular use viable.  The same can be said for homework review - this would take a cultural change that is unlikely in the near future.

8.  It is promising more than it is delivering.  It promised better access to SAIS (not available), access to RTP (not available), ability to store resources (but is limited in storage), access to classes (but not all classes were accessible on the day), email attachments to students directly (not available).  The "tell us your wants" and we'll make it happen statement is scarily present implying that direction for the application is poorly defined and lacking direction (flexibility in development screams scope creep and cost blowout in public sector application development).

Many of these reasons disappear once we pass through stages of early adoption.  I just question whether the need for another portal or SLN exists.  I have often been wrong before, but I believe that better solutions only occur if we challenge what is being done.  The challenge for Connect is to become an indispensable tool. It still has some way to go.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

iPad journey

My iPad journey has hit a snag.  I designed a model that sends the iPads home and it's pretty much a foregone conclusion that I won't be allowed to do it.

This means something that was meant to complement classroom activities has become something that dominates preparation time.

Let me explain...

In a 1-1 model, students are responsible for the iPads, tracking usage is relatively simple.  In a classroom model, teachers are responsible.  This means keeping them in locked stores, being aware of which student has and had each iPad at all times, being able to liaise with ICT when misuse happens and identify which student (in which class) had the iPad.  If multiple teachers are involved this rapidly becomes untrackable as are issues with moving between rooms around the school (30 iPads are heavy).

In a 1-1 model, students take iPads out of their bags and put them back in - no real impact.  In a classroom model, taking them from the store, issuing them to students and counting them back in at the end of the lesson is time consuming.  5-10 minutes is 10-20% of learning time.

In a 1-1 model, students are trained to do the same thing every lesson with the iPads, they become just another tool like pen and paper.  In a classroom model,  there is a novelty factor, they fiddle with them, it's harder to train them into desired behaviours (like putting them at the top of their desks when doing written work).  Furthermore, each iPad is now being used over multiple year groups with a range of students, increasing the demands for identifying suitable materials than if it was focussed on one student at a particular skill level.  There is little point designing ebooks to put on iPads if they are going to remain in cupboards rather than used in conjunction with homework.  In a classroom model, levels of students have to be catered for if the iPads are to be used effectively.  In a take home model, the iPad can be used more effectively as an intervention tool (where the student does not miss teaching whilst catching up).

Incidental usage
In a 1-1 model, incidental usage is possible.  In a classroom model,  because there is an overhead to allocating the iPads, incidental usage is not as likely - I'm not taking them out for 5 minutes of use, whereas I might let a student that has an iPad do tables practice if they have completed their work if there is one on the corner of their desk..

In a 1-1 model, students are responsible for charging iPads, uploading apps and fixing small issues, along with ICT staff.  In a classroom model, teachers are responsible for identifying issues, finding solutions and liasing with ICT staff.  This should not be underestimated, as anyone that is in charge of a computer lab will recognise.

Retention of work
In a 1-1 model, the work is on the iPad and can be worked on over a number of lessons. In a classroom model, classwork has to be stored on resources linked to students rather than the device and this resource needs to be accessed from multiple devices.  Although this is normally the preferred model, iPads are not well suited to this and workarounds need to be found.  Any type of user authentication will slow down classes as authentication issues reduce available teaching time.

Behavioural incentive
In a 1-1 model, loss of the device is a real behavioural incentive. In a classroom model, it's only lost until the end of a class, a minor inconvenience.

I like using the iPads as mini whiteboards, doing quizzes on topics and giving students instant feedback to how they are doing, having lessons focussed on core numeracy.  We can now video students attempting problems and use it for diagnostics of a range of tasks.. I get all that.. but ultimately...

Conclusion: Poorly suited to classroom mode use in high school
Most apps at the moment are rote learning practice based - something that is poorly suited to learning environments and better suited to play (in extension or after school classes) or at home - they are important, just not in a highschool classroom with the overhead suggested.  Unless the student is able to use the device without impact on a learning programme it has the potential to be a distraction from the main game - learning.  Unlike in primary (with the same students in a class), I can't see how I can get utilisation to a level where buying iPads is viable for students within learning area budgets for use in classrooms (IWBs, texts and exercise books are more cost effective in 95% of cases).

If you take into account that applications need to be found to use on the iPads and classes designed for their use, put these issues on top and my enthusiasm wanes rapidly.  I am not saying that these issues cannot be overcome (and I have solutions for each issue), I question whether they are worth overcoming.  The outcome at the moment is that rather than complementing classroom use, they are fast become an impact tool only, one that I'm not sure is worth the investment of time, cost and effort within a classroom compared to other techniques.

I'm sure I'm not making each point as clearly as I could but they are a basis for discussion.  I'm also a little negative as I did a lot of work to ready the programme for take home use (with enthusiasm generated by students and parents) and now have to rethink it, something that I can't do now - it will have to wait until later in the year.

Monday, March 4, 2013

IPads and the classroom

I hate ICT when used without purpose.

Some of my favourite misuses of technology:

  • Social Networking
  • Research assignments
  • Interactives
  • Online learning modules
  • Portals
  • Blogs & Wikis
If someone comes to you and says we should be doing this, immediately ask why.  I wouldn't give a teacher a sledgehammer hoping that they will find something to do with it.  That's what is happening all too often with ICT.  You can do great things with these tools, but they need to be appropriate for the task.

Rather, start with a problem that inhibits learning.  If ICT is the optimum solution for solving the problem - then use it.

I have a problem in one of our streams.  Student work rate is low in the top class and self image is at risk in the focus class.  There is no personal excitement in learning new concepts and little drive observed.  The gap between the top and bottom class is quite large and there are issues with core numeracy skills in both groups.

I had 30 IPads at my disposal, so i designed a solution to bring both classes together (50 kids) and bring some excitement back to the group.  I could have done it without the iPads but it saved me some work and was a motivational factor for the kids.  I was lucky to have four teachers available to help on the day so student ratios (even though there were a lot of kids) were low.

Problem: Low motivation and low student output.
Solution: Use the iPads as motivation for completing a large amount of work to illustrate what can be done by students.  Schedule high and low performing students together.
Method: Six worksheets on core numeracy (tables and basic number facts) were placed at the side of the room.  All students were given the first sheet (25 questions).  The next sheet was given on completion of the previous sheet.  Students were given an iPad on completion of the last sheet.  Students in the focus stream only had to complete 4 sheets in the timeframe.  A math game (KingofMaths) was placed on the iPads($30 total cost) and high scores were recorded on the board (with the top stream students given a 10000 point handicap).
Outcome: Crazy, off the chart fun.  Completely controlled chaos.  Each student completed over 100 questions in the hour with little difficulty.  The few disengaged students were identified for further work, other students were taking the incomplete sheets home to do them later.  There was a sense of fun in the room and students were able to see what they could do when they tried.  

It hasn't solved the problem (that takes time) but has given students a new way of looking at what they can do.  Next week I have some puzzles to do to challenge their thinking, not just their computation speed, using a similar model.  Given that the whole thing too about 30 minutes of preparation and was a first attempt,  I think we can improve with more efforts.  I would not do this every lesson, but once a week I can see how we can attack the type of topics used in NAPLAN and improve our results further.   Teachers in the room responded that they thought it was awesome and something completely different to what we normally do.  Hopefully it will stimulate ideas for driving teaching pedagogy further.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Changes in resourcing math classrooms

Over the last five years there has been a change in resourcing mathematics.  Once the domain of the textbook and worksheet, increasingly mathematics is becoming a dynamic and thought provoking class engaging students in a range of activities that go beyond the chalk and talk lesson.


iPads are becoming a go to tool for mathematics classes.  The symbolic data entry problem can be overcome (unlike with laptops) enabling a range of activities.  Tools like Socrative allow formative testing to occur and can help drive students through the learning process.  Organisational issues such as lugging texts, diaries, bringing pens can be reduced to "have you charged your iPad today".  Active lessons requiring spreadsheets and graphs can now be done at the desk, rather than at the computing lab.  Social learning, such as generating texts based on mutual learning of students or sharing of video tutorials between students,  is now possible with increasingly ubiquitous internet access.


iBooks are exciting.  Now with access to math tools, it is easy to generate an iBook/ebook.  Hop into iBooks Author, type up your material for a lesson, issue it to kids. ... but now the process continues ... learn what works in your social context, edit the iBook and re-issue it next year.  Get the kids to comment on how good it is and make relevant changes.  Share the iBook so that others can use your starting point.

Social Learning Networks

Social learning networks take teaching to a new level.  By extending the reach of teachers beyond the classroom, teachers are able to broaden their subject base beyond four hours per week.  Students are able to see what problems other students are having and help out, or get help on a "just in time" basis.


Interactive whiteboards are an easy to implement supplement to teaching.  Remember the days of rubbing off notes three minutes are writing them.  Not being able to go back and revisit notes and remind students that you had already covered a topic.  Not being able to save notes and store them for students to later look at solutions for problems they have not completed.  Being able to display video easily without having to set up projectors or TV's.


Before screencasting I would get frustrated re-teaching the same idea as students became ready for it, based around a need for differentiation in the classroom and being able to present ideas as students were ready for them - scafffolding at the right time.  Now I can generate a series of screencasts and link them together with apps like edmodo (for embedding it within a series of lessons) or prezi (to show how a subject links together).  They also force me to think how I reached an idea and how to better present it.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

iBooks Author

Last time I looked at iBooks Author it was a big load of useless.  No equation editor and only worked on an iPad.  It couldn't be used for making a math textbook by a teacher in any reasonable length of time.

The last update has changed things a little.  It's still mainly of use on an iPad.  Text and images can be exported to pdf, but the interactive components are lost.   The equation editor is still missing, but iBooks Author now accepts latex and MathML so there are readily available applications that can format math text and then the symbolic logic can be quickly imported.

I wrote an iBook/ebook today that covers index laws up to a year 10 level.  It was 15 pages and was written in a day including interactive quizzes.  Given a bit more time, I'll add screencasts, Australian Curriculum links and CAS calculator usage for each section and upload it to iTunes.  I doubt I'll sell many, but it's a great point for distributing to my iPad year 8 class next year.  I know now that my flipped year 8 classes are possible.

It's a better solution than Prezi, which was my fallback if I couldn't get iBooks to work.

Update (25/11): Well my first ebook has been submitted to iTunes.  Let's see what happens next.

Update (25/11): To charge for an iBook you need to have a US tax account.  How the hell do I get one of those?

Update (27/11): Still waiting for iTunes approval to publish the free textbook.

Update (5/12): Published. yay! Find it here.

Update (31/12): Someone downloaded it! From Spain!

iBooks Author

I don't know if anyone noticed but the October 23, 2012 update of iBooks Author included a latex/mathml editor.

Good News!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Screencasts and Prezi

During the year I have created a whole heap of screencasts for my students.  I put them on edmodo and it has become an important part of my teaching method.

I have wanted a way to organise them so that students can easily find the one that they want as scrolling back through the year is not very practical..  One of the science teachers at the school showed me prezi and I thought it might be useful as a graphic organiser.

If the loading process wasn't so prone to failure, I'd say it was a great product.  It's come a long way since I last used it, but ready for mission critical work I'd say not.  It's a frustrating tool to say the least.

A couple of things I learned during my prezi journey.

1. Be prepared to reload the edit page 10-15 times before the prezi loads successfully in edit mode.
2. Keep the prezi size down and don't overuse the zoom function (make things too small or too big)
3. It only works with IOS 5 on an iPad (and to update to IOS 5 requires a rebuild of the iPad resulting in data loss when the restore fails due to antivirus being overzealous.. grr..)
4. The save to file function in prezi is a lifesaver.  Any time that you want to display a prezi in front of people (eg in front of a class), save it to a file - don't rely on it online, it will fail on you every time - even if it worked perfectly when you tested it two minutes before.
5. Get your login validated as an education user.  It's worth the extra functionality.

Anyhow.. the important bit. It's nearing christmas so I thought I'd share my prezi of screencasts created during 2012 for 3AB MAT and 3AB MAS.

Be prepared to reload the page up to 10 times before the prezi loads successfully (it may repeatedly error - don't worry there's probably nothing wrong).  It's annoying but worth the wait to see how we could present information in the future.

Please remember that each screencast was created in about 5 minutes each in response to student questions - they are not meant to be a comprehensive examination of each topic.  In many cases they are not sequential with the Saddler text.  They are only meant to supplement class teaching (and are a part of my reflecting on my own teaching practices).

I know at least one of the screencasts in particular is full of mistakes (I must have been asleep that day!).  A great part of the screencasts is when students find errors or query against their understanding - it's a real indication they are watching for context rather than just accepting everything in front of them and a part of why I believe they have been successful.

The sound volume is low because I'm doing these when the little ones are asleep at night.  If anyone is interested in how to do a screencast (it's stupidly easy), reply below and I'll write a little tutorial.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Engaging parents through Edmodo

Edmodo is a product that I have used a lot this year.  With continuing use of ICT I have noticed that the effects are often not what is expected.

The most recent effect is the re-engagement of parents in education. Parents have felt disengaged from education due to (I think) the closed door nature of classes.  Parents have expressed that they are afraid to teach their students as they do not know the correct way to present mathematics.  Often they can complete a problem but have difficulty with using the correct working.

Now, having marked a few teachers work, this is no real surprise as teachers use a wide variety of techniques to solve problems.  A method ok in year 8 is a big no no in year 9.  Balancing method in year nine is where I most often put my head in my hands as students often have no real connection made to BIMDAS(order of operations), nor to where a new line of working (formal algebraic notation) should be used.

Edmodo, by presenting board work online (such that parents can access it), is starting the process of re-engaging parents in high school education.  They can see what homework is set, what teaching method has been used and what the mark was on a test - such that they can help  a student revise/relearn/correct any practices that are not up to scratch.

It has also relieved pressure on teachers as comments like "You haven't taught my child that", or "I didn't know my student was doing poorly" are now not as potent - the information has been available all along.  It gives parents back a role in the teaching process as the primary carers (at least for the other 14 hours of the day) - something that has been lacking in recent years, especially where parental knowledge is not sufficiently great to understand the difficulty of engaging and teaching students.

Is it a pathway to parents again understanding that teaching is a real skill and that for the most part teachers are doing a reasonable job?

The counter side is that it will expose dodgy teaching techniques and (through increased scrutiny and transparency) open teachers to criticism.  The lack of use (as stated before in a previous post) may also expose a teacher at risk, as posting information online is often the first thing to go when available time is poor.