I was recently asked to be a guest on the Be Smart On Air podcast by Niilo Alhovaara. Niilo is a fan of The Google Educast and was keen to catch up to talk about podcasting, technology in education, and the good old days of the internet.
I thoughts I’d cross post the recording here, because, well, that’s just what the Internet does.
I was asked via email recently about Chromebooks and whether I thought they were a good choice for schools. Here is my email response, posted here for anyone that might be interested in reading it…
I’ll start by suggesting that any resistance you get on Chromebooks from tech and IT staff will be made for reasons that have nothing to do with pedagogy. I think you could argue that by almost any relevant measure Chromebooks are CLEARLY a better choice for schools. (which is why they are now the number 1 device in US schools)
They are easier to deploy and manage, more secure, more robust, and less expensive. They do everything that a student would need them to do. They integrate directly with Google Apps for Education and are easily shared between students in ways that other devices are not. They boot fast (under 7 seconds), save work automatically, are completely immune to viruses, and are fast to use. ChromeOS does not slow down over time like other operating systems, and to completely wipe and reset a Chromebook to a fresh configuration takes about 40 seconds. They can be easily managed via the GAFE console, where you can enforce policies and restrictions if needed, install apps, and monitor usage.It’s true that Chromebooks are less expensive, with quality machines available for only around $300 to $500. But price should NOT be the deciding factor here. The fact that they are cheaper is a great benefit, but it’s not the reason you should consider them. You should consider them because they are arguably better for school use.
I am using my own Chromebook to respond to this email, and in fact my primary computer is now a Chromebook. I think ChromeOS is the best option for my own use (and I have access to Macs and PCs if I want them). ChromeOS is not a cheap compromise of an operating system… it is an excellent, fast, stable operating system that rivals major OSes in terms of functionality and usability. Anyone who tells you otherwise simply has never spent any time with ChromeOS to make an informed decision.
If you are a Google Apps for Education school, Chromebooks make enormous sense.
Some people compare Chromebooks to Windows by listing their features and looking at what Chromebooks supposedly don’t have that Windows does. They are missing the point. The advantage of Chromebooks is that they are NOT Windows. Again, anyone who attempts to make a decision about Chromebooks by comparing them to Windows is completely missing the point of what Chromebooks are all about.
In terms of managing Chromebooks in a school domain they are TRIVIALLY easy to manage. Because they are managed via a web interface and can be placed into OUs (organisational units) they can have different policies and settings easily applied remotely. Managing 5000 Chromebooks literally requires no more effort than managing 1 Chromebook. That is NOT true of Windows or Mac. New Chromebooks are added to your domain with a simple keystroke, and then all settings, including wifi details and all apps, are automatically configured. I used to manage a large Windows network in a school and I speak from some experience. Chromebooks are astonishingly simple to manage!
You will hear all sorts of conflicting opinions about Chromebooks, mostly from people who have never actually used them. Many IT people are not keen on them (why would they be? Chromebooks are so simple to deploy and manage they threaten their jobs!) Many school leaders are ignorant about them because they often simply don’t know any better (and have usually been taking their advice from the IT people; see previous point) In short, when it comes to Chromebooks there are a lot of ill-informed people out there.
You’ll see from the responses you got in the original thread where you asked about Chromebooks that there is a great deal of enthusiasm and positive attitudes from many people who use them. Seriously, once you go to Chromebooks in a school you’d NEVER go back to the old ways of traditional PCs.
They do require rethinking the way you approach your computing tasks. Chromebooks are different. Not worse, not less capable, not more limited. Just different. And perfectly suited for schools.
Imagine you could visit any place in the world. Where would you go? What would you like to see? What would you hope to experience?
Imagine you are learning about India. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to visit the Taj Mahal and explore its wonders? What if your geography class is learning about coral reefs and could go diving in the Maldives or Hanauma Bay or the Great Barrier Reef to see what it’s like there. What would it be like to visit the South Pole, or Niagara Falls or the Palace of Versailles? There are so many amazing things to see and learn about in our world.
While we would love to take our students on excursions to learn about the things they can’t experience at school, there are obviously many places that are simply too far away, too expensive, too dangerous or too impractical to visit.
Meet Expeditions. Expeditions is a new tool in development from Google that uses the StreetView technology found in Google Maps to take students on virtual field trips to all sorts of exotic and interesting places, all without leaving the classroom. Using a simple and inexpensive viewer made of cardboard, paired with a smartphone and the free Expeditions app, teachers are able to share immersive 3-dimensional, 360-degree panoramic imagery with their students to let them experience some of the incredible places that a school bus simply cannot take them.
Although Expeditions is still in the beta testing stage, students from PLC Sydney were recently invited to take part in a special sneak preview of the technology. Two members of Google’s Australian Expeditions team visited us this week and spent a day sharing some of these amazing virtual field trips with our girls. Guided by the teachers, students in Years 3, 4, 6 and 11 were taken to the top of Mount Fuji in Japan, to Amundsen’s Hut in Antarctica, climbing El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, and feeding sharks off the coast of Miami, to name just a few. The excitement, engagement and enthusiasm of the girls was very obvious. Their reaction as they first looked through the cardboard viewer was one of utter amazement. As they excitedly looked around – up, down, behind them – taking in the full panoramic experience of the location they were virtually visiting, it quickly became apparent just how much impact this technology could have in education. As one of our teachers observed, the girls got to visit and learn about places that they would not have been able to actually go to in person. And as one of our students noted, it makes you realise just how many places there are in the world to learn about.
Looking at the world through a virtual viewer is obviously no replacement for the real thing, but it’s certainly a great option for immersively taking students to places that they may not otherwise get to experience for real, all without leaving the classroom. As a tool for learning, as a starting point for discussion, as a means of provoking conversation and questions, Expeditions is astonishing in its simplicity.
The intent of the Expeditions team is to develop a tool that not only offers an incredibly immersive educational experience, but can be used in schools at minimal cost. Many students already own a smartphone, so by adding a free app and a viewer costing just a few dollars the potential for exploring the world virtually becomes a very real option for schools everywhere.
PLC Sydney was very pleased to have been able to be part of the Google Expeditions Pioneer Program and to be able to offer feedback on its future direction. For more information about Expeditions you can visit https://www.google.com/edu/expeditions/
I’ve been doing some work recently with a school that’s using iPads with their kids, and was asked to give a talk on the topic “The place of iPads in teaching and learning”. This post is just a bit of thinking out loud about that question.
Let me start by saying that I think the iPad is an amazing piece of technology. I dispute the common claim about iPads just being “consumption devices”. That’s a load of nonsense. Used wisely, iPads open up incredible opportunities for creativity. This point was driven home during my recent 365 project, The Daily Create, where I made a creative “thing” every day during 2014. Although this project wasn’t specifically based on using an iPad, the truth is that at least 80% of what I came up with over the course of the year was made on an iPad. Whether it was photo editing, making graphics, editing movies, composing music, building animations and 3D objects, or even just writing, the iPad was a perfectly credible tool for creation. And of course the actual management of the Daily Create project via a blog was mostly also all done on the iPad. So I know that the iPad can help people do amazing things.
Of course, that’s not to say it’s not also a great consumption device. For reading eBooks, watching videos, listening to podcasts or music, browsing the web, playing games and so on, the iPad is a convenient, intuitive easy-to-use device that, for the most part, “just works”.
So yes, I like the iPad. But just because you can do certain things on a device does not necessarily mean it’s the best device to be doing them on. So the iPad, as a tool, needs to be kept in that perspective. While it’s capable of most things, it’s great at some and not so good at others.
For example, I’m typing this post on a Chromebook. Why not an iPad? Well, as much as I like iPads, I prefer the writing and editing experience on a device with a real keyboard. I like the extra screen area, the ergonomics of sitting it comfortably on my lap, and having a physical non-modal keyboard. Could I type a piece of writing like this on an iPad? Sure I could (and have), but if given a choice I prefer to pick the tool that works best for me for that given task.
This is one of the reasons my school has gone down the path of having a combination of both iPads and Chromebooks. There are times when one is simply a better option than the other. They both have such unique strengths, and to exclusively choose one over the other tends to just highlights the weaknesses of each. That said, if you only have a choice of one or the other, either will be perfectly fine.
So back to the original question… “what is the place of iPads in teaching and learning?” It’s a loaded question really, because it begs the bigger question, “what is the place of technology in general in teaching and learning”. And to take it a step further, I think you should probably be asking the much bigger question “what is the point of teaching and learning anyway?” Thinking about the place that a particular technology might have in the teaching and learning process first requires you to think about what you’re trying to achieve in the first place.
Figuring out the place of iPads in teaching and learning should be pretty obvious once you know what you want teaching and learning to look like to start with. If you’re clear on the big idea of why, then seeing how is easy. You simply ask yourself whether this technology is helping you get closer to your goal or not. If it is, it has a place. It it doesn’t, then maybe not.
The school that asked me this question seems to have a pretty clear educational direction for what they are trying to achieve, and how they believe the teaching and learning process should look.
For a start, they want their learning to be transdisciplinary. The transdisciplinary model for teaching and learning is highly inquiry based and values collaboration, teamwork, curiosity and interconnectedness. It’s more than just thinking about a topic from different perspectives (that’s multidisciplinary) or by thinking about a topic by combining different subjects together like maths and science (that’s interdisciplinary). The idea of making the learning transdisciplinary involves bringing together multiple subject areas in such a way that the learning transcends the curriculum and becomes more than just the sum of its parts. If you’re a PYP school this should all sound quite familiar as it forms the foundation of that program. By taking a transdisciplinary approach the aim is to bring a more authentic, open-ended, personalised, contextual learning experience to each student.
Threaded through this core model for learning is a highly inquiry-based approach, a strong belief in differentiation according to student needs, flexible learning paths, and a fundamental goal for students to build their own learning through a Constructivist approach.
Would an iPad help support that kind of learning? Yeah, I think it would.
Steve Jobs once described computers as a “bicycle for the mind”, a metaphor borrowed from a study on locomotive efficiency in animals. Apparently for humans, walking is incredibly inefficient. Other animals can travel much further with far less energy. Steve observed how humbling it was for humans to be placed so far down the efficiency scale compared to other animals. However, he observed, if you allow a human to use a bicycle they become the animal with the most efficient form of locomotion of all. The larger point is that the right tool can make a big difference to what we are capable of.
Being given an opportunity to learn on your own terms, in ways that make sense to you, about things that interest you the most, forms the foundation of great learning. But without an effective tool to help, you’ll be like a human without a bicycle. You’ll probably get there, but it will take so much more work than it should.
So all of that pondering just leads me to my main idea, that giving a student an iPad (or any other piece of technology that helps them think more efficiently) can be a powerful thing. I think we intuitively know that, but it sometimes helps to step back and think about why we know it. And I think the “bicycle for the mind” idea is a pretty decent metaphor for why technology in the classroom can help support the kind of learning that we want. It can helps reduce the friction in curiosity, wonder, creativity and inquiry, and makes that process more efficient.
On the most basic level, having a device in the hands of a student that places them one click away of the sum of all human knowledge is in itself a pretty amazing advantage. (and one that no generation before them has ever had, by the way). We talk a lot about these devices helping students “connect, collaborate and communicate” so the simple idea of just being able to “look stuff up on the Internet” may not sound very impressive. But even though this might not be the wow factor that makes these devices “revolutionary and magical”, it’s still a pretty useful thing! To be able to look up a word, find a definition, peruse a map, verify a fact, ask a question or see a picture of something – instantly – is amazing. Don’t underestimate the power of that!
If you’re running a classroom based on an inquiry model, the iPad truly can act as that “bicycle for the mind” machine that helps a curious kid instantly connect to any fact or statistic they need to keep inquiring. iPads are transdisciplinary in the sense that they don’t silo information into arbitrary subjects. A query is a query. Curiosity does not have to limit itself to whether something is “science” or “maths” or “art”. Picking up an iPad and asking “OK Google, what type of lettuce is used in a Caesar salad?” and finding out that it is Romaine lettuce, and then wondering why it was named Caesar salad, or where it was invented, or whether it’s less fattening than a regular salad, or how you make a crouton, or the million and one other questions that might spring to mind as your questions cascade from one to the next… that’s just one small reason why technology makes sense in an inquiry based classroom.
Of course it’s much more than that though. You can wonder something, learn about it, and respond to it by making something with that information. It can be the tool by which a student can respond to their own curiosity. An iPad is amazing because it is a not one thing. It’s a notebook, a camera, a recording studio, a stopwatch, an atlas, a sketchbook, an editing suite, a music synthesizer, an artroom. It lets you compose, create and explore ideas. It’s screen instantly changes to become whatever tool you need it to be. There is really nothing else like it in that respect.
Using an iPad you can publish a short story, compose a soundtrack or produce a film clip. You can build a 3D model of a house, record a timelapse of a science experiment, or add augmented reality to a poster. There are literally millions of apps in the App Store so whatever you might want to do, you can almost guarantee “there’s an app for that”.
Finally the iPad is an incredible tool for communicating and collaborating, from having access to email, to messaging, to videoconferencing, to cloud computing. The world truly can be your oyster. You can collaborate with amazing cloud-based tools that let students form crosscultural, transdisciplinary teams to work on projects that are authentic, meaningful and real.
Of course, in reality none of this is terribly new. In 1971, Seymour Papert and Cynthia Solomon published a paper titled “20 Things to do with a Computer” in which their key assertion was that computers are capable of doing so much more if we allow them to be used creatively, and that the real reason to introduce computers into schools is to empower students. If a computer (or an iPad) is not being used to give agency to student learning then we have missed the whole point of having them.
Introducing computers (or iPads) into classrooms is not about better forms of testing students or NAPLAN preparation or math drills. It’s not about data management, not about saving money, not about impressing parents and not about keeping up with the school down the road. It’s about giving students agency and independence to take control of their own learning. And with that simple goal usually comes a whole lot of change. Sometimes quite painful change, but change that has to happen.
Adding technology to a classroom without reimagining how that classroom works, and rethinking what your students can do because of that technology, is a waste of time and money. Providing technology to students gives them an opportunity to do not just the same old things they’ve always done, except now with a shiny new tool… No. we now have an incredible opportunity to do entirely new things that were never possible before, using an amazing array of digital tools designed to create, and reinventing the way the way we think about teaching and learning.
Giving students iPads and not making fundamental shifts in how we teach and learn would be like giving them that bicycle for their minds, but then expecting them to push it and walk along beside it.If they are to get the true potential from that bicycle you need to let them get on it, get the wind in their face and ride the damn thing.
Some of you might have seen that I’ve been working on a daily blogging project this year called My Daily Create. You can visit it at www.mydailycreate.com (or click the link in the menu bar above). The basic idea is that I’m attempting to create something every day of the year during 2014. It could be music, a video, a drawing, a photo or a poem. It could be something practical and usable, or something retinal and frivolous. It doesn’t matter what it is, I just plan to make something each day. So far it’s going pretty well and I haven’t missed a single day yet.
Earlier this week I presented a keynote at the EduTECH conference in Brisbane on the topic of creativity at the invitation of the organisers. I find creativity an interesting topic to talk about, but it’s usually one of those things that’s easy to talk about in general terms but much harder to talk about specifically. I felt even more challenged by it because several of the other speakers were also talking about creativity, including Sir Ken Robinson, who, as I’m sure most readers of this blog will know, is considered somewhat of a guru on the topic of creativity in education.
I do find that the general message of what most people say when talking about creativity in education boils down to “It’s important, you should do it”, with very little actual guidance on HOW to make it happen and I tend to think we probably need a little more information than that.
So the plan for my keynote was to be a bit more practical and specific about creativity and so I decided to share some of what I’ve learned from doing my daily create each day in the form of lessons I’ve learned about the creative process and how they might be used with students.
For the people who asked for a copy of the presentation, here are the slides (I’ve had to remove the video content as it was just too big a file with them included)
Despite a shaky start due to some dodgy AV, I was pretty happy with the way the keynote went. The talk was basically presented in three parts…
Exploring Creativity – showing examples of the sorts of creative projects I’ve been coming up with during the first 155 days of My Daily Create.
Learning from Creativity – sharing some of the lessons (or meta ideas) about creativity that I’ve found from forcing myself to make something every day.
Applying Creativity – showing a few examples of how some of my daily creates have turned into activities and tasks that I’ve been doing with my kids in the classroom.
The lessons that I offered about creativity were these…
Create is a Verb – you have to actually DO stuff in order to be creative, not just think about it or talk about it. Actually DO it. Seriously. It’s amazing how many people wish they were more creative and overlook this simple fact.
Wonder. A Lot – Most creativity springs from being curious about things. Wondering “what would happen if…” or “why do we do it like that?” are often the starting points for coming up with new creative ideas.
Curiosity + Action = Creativity – When you combine the wonder with the action, things happen. Take action on your ideas, no matter how silly or fleeting they might be. Anyone can have a good idea, but the people who take action on their ideas are the ones we deem creative.
Make time to Play – Yes, making stuff takes time. So if making stuff is important to you, then make time for it. Make time, not find time. None of us can find time, we each get only 24 hours in a day so you already have all the time you’re getting. It’s a matter of clearing space in your day to make time for creative acts.
Wander off the Path – Something that becomes incredibly obvious when you force yourself to make things every day is that you almost always make something different or unexpected to what you thought you might make. Be led by your curiosity, your mistakes and your hunches. If you go somewhere you didn’t anticipate, just keep going. Don’t try to undo your mistakes, just turn them into the end result,.
Your Ideas are not Original – Hardly anybody ever has original ideas. Everything is a remix of things we’ve seen and heard elsewhere, just repackaged and remixed in our own way. So copy ideas shamelessly. But remember that while copying one idea is plagiarism, copying lots of ideas and combining them all together in new ways is where real creativity comes from.
So Share – If you use other people’s ideas (and you do!) then don’t be precious about letting other people use yours. Share generously and give away your stuff freely. Don’t be an idea hoarder. You’re just a conduit for ideas, so pass them on to others.
Creating = Learning – You learn when you create (and isn’t that the goal in education?) You might learn the things you expected to learn, but more often you will probably learn things you didn’t expect to learn. Be open to ideas, follow them, be inquisitive, be generous, and you really cannot help but learn through being creative.
The “big idea” I wanted to communicate was that creativity is a process, an active thing you do, and should do it regularly. Borrow and share, be open and curious, and you WILL come up with creative ideas. Some people claim they aren’t creative, but there is no such thing as a non creative person, just a person who has chosen not to see the world creatively.
Finally, I showed some simple examples of how my daily create has spilled over into my teaching and helped me bring these ideas into my classroom.
I finished the talk by getting the audience to help make Daily Create number 155, chanting the phrase “Creativity is daily deliberate act”.
The response I got afterwards from people was really nice. Quite a few people came up to say they got a lot out of the talk, and Twitter had lots of positive feedback too. It’s really nice when that happens. When you give a keynote it’s always hard to know what you could possibly say that might be of any value to the audience, especially when so many other speakers seem to know so much more about it, and speak so much more eloquently. But all I can really do is speak from my heart and mind, sharing my own personal experiences, so I’m glad it resonated with others and they found it useful.
I had the chance to take one of our Year 6 classes this morning while their teacher was away. This class is part of our BYOD iPad program where every student brings their own iPad. Borrowing the Slam idea from the Google Summits, I got them to do an App Slam. Every student was given an opportunity to voluntarily participate, and they had 2 minutes to share an app, game, tool, tip, etc with the rest of the class. I said it could be anything at all, just something that they enjoyed using and would like to share with the class.
I was amazed at just how eager they were to do this, and they were figuratively falling over themselves to add their name to the list of presenters. As they each did their slam (which of course they had to end by shouting the word Slam!) I added their name and the thing they demoed to a Google Form. After the last student presented I simply published the form, gave them the short URL to access it and let them vote for their 5 favourite slams.
It was a lot of fun and a great way to let them share what they are learning with their iPads.
I particularly liked the fact that, of all the apps and games and things they shared, I was only previously aware of two of them. Part of the magic of having a BYOD approach to our use of iPads is that the kids are discovering apps and things that I would probably not. It’s pretty clear that the students feel far more in control of their own learning when they are the owners of the technology.
I also found it interesting that, when we allowed our kids to bring their own choice of iPad, they brought in a diverse range of iPad configurations. Some were using older iPad 2s and 3s, some had newer iPad Airs, some chose to use iPad minis. Everyone seemed to have a different kind of case, with lots of different styles and colours and types. Some had chosen to use bluetooth keyboards because they wanted to, others were perfectly happy with the standard on-screen keyboard. The thing is, had our school decided what type of iPads, cases and accessories they should be using and dictated the size and configurations they should be, then a significant number of our “customers” would have ended up using something other than what they actually wanted to be using. If we take a one-size-fits-all approach to giving technology to kids, we run the risk of making choices that disappoint our end users.
Is BYOD the best approach? I don’t know but I thought this next fact was food for thought… I was talking to a teacher yesterday from another nearby school that also went 1:1 iPad, except they took a non BYOD approach. Their iPads were school provided, highly locked down, kids could not install their own apps, and they were being used for little more than digital textbook readers. In their first year of operation they had $14,000 in damages!
In contrast, we’ve had virtually no damages at all. It turns out that students look after their stuff when they own it. What a concept.
While not every student might want to write their own software, understanding the big ideas of coding is a skill that all students would benefit from, even the very young ones. Understanding the key ideas of computational thinking – identifying patterns, thinking algorithmically, manipulating data, solving real problems, etc – is an important step in helping our students build mastery over their world.
This presentation aims to take you on a guided tour through some of the resources available to your students to help them learn the principles of creating code. It starts by looking at a range of desktop and mobile apps suitable for teaching very young students to program, right through to tools and websites that can help your older students learn to hack code, and much more.
If you do actually try any of this stuff out, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.