Tag: educational technology (page 1 of 6)

Open Badges, Clay Shirky, and the tipping point.

The great thing about thinkers such as Clay Shirky is that they can put into pithy, concise quotations things that remain latent in our collective thinking. You know, things like:

We’ve reached an age where this stuff is technologically boring enough to be socially interesting.

I first used that quote in a post four years ago when I called for technology to be so commonplace and ubiquitous that it’s not considered a thing distinct from human interaction. Technology should be woven into the fabric of our identities not something set apart, alien and ‘other’.

Four years ago social networks weren’t woven into society the way they are now. Nowadays, of course, hashtags accompany the opening credits to television shows so that they can be discussed in a ‘channel’ on Twitter, it’s entirely normal to whip your mobile device when standing in a queue (instead of talking about the weather to a stranger), and you’d be shocked if brands didn’t encourage you to follow them on Facebook.

One way to explain this is through Clay Shirky’s lens: these things are now socially boring enough to be socially interesting. You can assume that almost the man or woman on the street knows what Facebook, Twitter and mobile devices are for without having to explain them first. That means we can talk about the next layer up- i.e. what we do with those tools.

Open Badges are still quite technologically interesting. There’s several aspects of them that the average person wouldn’t understand without having it explained. For example:

  • What metadata is
  • How an Open Badges consists of ‘baking’ metadata into an image
  • That anyone can host a badge backpack because it’s Open Source software
  • What is means that the various badge backpacks will be ‘federated’

Now, we could go about a mass education program and (relatively speaking) spend a lot of money helping people to learn about these things. But that’s not how things reach a tipping point. The way people become proficient with tools like social networks or Open Badges is because they scratch an itch (solve a problem) or because there’s a ‘hook’ interesting enough for them to be dragged, Alice in Wonderland-like into a deep rabbit-hole where they can find out more.

So in a UK context, Stephen Fry’s 2009 video interview where he explained his love of Twitter in layman’s terms meant that many people were provided a hook. In fact, this is how advertising and celebrity endorsement works: “I like Person X, and Person X likes Thing Y, so therefore I should find out more about Thing Y.” With Facebook, it was an itch to be scratched: when you’re excluded from a conversation because you’re not using a particular social network, then there’s a powerful incentive to join the tribe. Especially as the nominal cost of entry is ‘free’ and the difficulty level is ‘super easy’.

What we need with Open Badges, and which we’ll certainly have by early 2013, are compelling examples of how they can be used in education and other contexts. At the same time we’re working on ways to make ‘onboarding’ easier for issuers, displayers and endorsers. We’re also working on the UX and UI for badge earners. In other words, we’re ready for badges to be huge next year.

Watch this space. 🙂

Image CC BY Joi

Why a ‘mixed economy’ of digital devices is best for your educational institution.

lisa's scissors

Earlier today, on Twitter, I mentioned that the 64GB version of the BlackBerry Playbook is now at the scandalously low price of £129. They’re practically giving it away.

I mentioned that for some educational institutions that would be a really good fit, especially given that you can side-load Android apps. Eventually, I should imagine, you’ll be able to dispose of the BlackBerry OS altogether and juse go with Android for the entire system.

Bill Lord, a Primary school headteacher, replied that he was looking at a ‘mixed economy’ of devices for his educational institution, adding that he had three main reasons for this approach:

  1. Pupil needs
  2. Staff needs (confidence/competence)
  3. Vagaries of the market

I’m with Bill. To my mind, being an ‘iPad-only’ school makes no sense. It’s replicating the Microsoft vendor lock-in all over again. Since when was school about teaching young people how to use particular types of devices?

Instead, it’s better to look at the affordances of each device. That doesn’t mean how much it costs, but rather what it allows you to do. The BlackBerry Playbook at £129, for example, has front and rear-facing cameras and a high-definition screen. Sounds like an opportunity.

It’s OK to build learning activities around specific devices some of the time, but I wouldn’t want to be doing it all of the time. Why not focus on building and using things that are device-agnostic? Surely that’s a more sustainable option? Use the Web, for goodness’ sake!

Finally, if you’re reading this in the UK you should really stop by HotUKDeals every now and again. I’m on there at least three times a day – and not just to find cheaper stuff than usual. I also find it really enlightening in terms of what people are interested in but, more importantly, the comments people leave and the context they give. There’s some serious expertise there.

Image CC BY-NC reebob

How to implement technology successfully in your organisation.

Technology adoption

I spent some time in a local school this week talking to some members of staff about implementing educational technology. It made me realise that I haven’t talked nearly enough here about how to do that successfully. It’s simultaneously straightforward and painfully difficult.

Let me explain.

Technically, pretty much anything is possible. Short of thought-transfer and teleporting to the moon we live in a world with endless possibilities on the technical front. Whatever it is you want to do is probably possible.

Sucessfully implementing technology in your organization is therefore not a technology issue. Yes, it’s important to get right. But no, if you just focus on that your technology implementation will not work.

Here’s some advice for those seeking to introduce a new technology into their organisation.

1. Solve other people’s problems

This is the number one priority. If technology isn’t solving someone’s problem somewhere, somehow, then it’s superfluous. My experience is with educational institutions where I’d very much focus on solving teachers’ problems if you want any meaningful traction.

2. Get other people to evangelise for you

If you’re known as technically competent, then any success you have with technology is not necessarily seen as replicable by others. Get influencers on board. Embrace skeptics. Again, solve their problems.

3. Embrace constraints

You will always face constraints. These could be financial. They could be political, social, emotional or hierarchical. Whatever they are, if you can’t change them easily there’s no point whinging: you need to use the difficulty.

There might be a certain technology you’re being forced to use. So use it.

There might be some awkward members of staff or departments. So convert them or avoid them to begin with.

Strategise.

4. Have a strategy

This is blindingly obvious, but if you don’t have a strategy you can’t be strategic about your deployment of technology. “We want to introduce iPads to improve engagement” is not a strategy. It’s a hope. It’s a wish.

Strategies should be user-focused and have appropriate timescales. There’s a lot of talk around technology changing so fast that most strategies are meaningless.

Bull.

When technologies evolve rapidly, then strategies are more important than ever. They’re not perfect but use research such as the yearly (free!) NMC Horizon report to see which way the wind is blowing.

5. Turn on everything / default to open

You don’t know where innovation’s going to happen. In fact, it usually happens at the edges, at the places where you least expect it. That’s certainly been my experience.

So, when you’re deciding which features of a platform to turn on, first look at your strategy. If that doesn’t tell you what to do, turn the feature on. Let the users drive the innovation.

And, finally, default to openness. It’s what makes the world go around. Don’t hide behind e-safety. Don’t hide behind ignorance. Don’t hide behind what you think other people will think. You’ll be pleasantly surprised if you let go of the reins a little. 🙂

Image CC BY Veribatim

Examining conceptions of innovation in educational technology [INTERVIEW]

'Circular Tire Tracks'

A few weeks ago Lisa Phillips, a Masters student at the University of Oxford, asked for my help in scoping ‘rebellious approaches to educational technology’. I found the questions she asked so provocative and appealing I invited readers of this blog to complete her brief questionnaire.

Lisa followed up that questionnaire by interviewing me yesterday. With her permission, I recorded the conversation and have made it available below (it’s also here).

This study is an exploration of how innovation is defined within the educational technology field: what values and conceptions are ascribed to innovation, how and why programs and ideas get named as innovative, and whether or how we form a shared definition of innovation.

It’s quite long, but I’d love to hear any feedback!

(note that my views aren’t those of JISC, etc.)

Swimming Against the Tide: Tracking the Genesis of ‘Rebellious’ Approaches to Educational Technology.

Swimming against the tide

Lisa Phillips is a Masters student in the Learning & Technology programme at the University of Oxford Department of Education. She got in touch with me yesterday asking for some help.

Busy with the scoping part of her MSc, Lisa is looking for ‘rebellious’ approaches to educational technology – “approaches that challenge, subvert or transform educational norms.” She wants to understand how these approaches came about and what prompted/enabled individuals to think ‘outside the box’.

I’m really interested in this.

Instead of just give her my response and limited expertise, I thought I’d open it out to my readership. Here’s how you can help:

1. Read the following:

Many different groups, such as policy makers, educationalists, teachers, and the business sphere, generate ideas about how to incorporate technology into education. Yet, a critical look at the field would note that the majority of ideas in educational technology exist within a set “box” of education norms, replicating class-based, teacher-led, subject-specific delivery norms in the current education system. Therefore, approaches to integrating technology tend to reflect and reinforce the education structure that already exists. This dissertation will look at approaches to using educational technologies that have the potential to challenge, subvert or transform some aspects of school practice; what I choose to call, for the purposes of this study, “rebellious” approaches. An abstract is attached.

2. Answer the questions in the Google Form below.

[This survey is now closed – thanks to all those who helped!]

Thanks for your contribution! 🙂

Image CC BY-NC-SA Leonard John Matthews

Less shiny.

Dull

Dan Meyer, an inspirational teacher I’ve mentioned plenty of times before, has as his mantra “less helpful”. You can see it on his blog and watch him explain what he means in this TEDx presentation (see especially his stuff on Clever Hans).

I’ve decided my mantra is going to be less shiny. Just as Dan helped his students (he’s currently pursuing a full-time PhD) by being less helpful and not spoon-feeding them, so I’m going to help everyone I meet by being, and by promoting the concept of being, less shiny. That’s not to say that things can’t be exquisitely well-designed (I’m typing this on a MacBook Pro) but function needs to enter the equation on an least an equal footing with form.

At this point I’d like to drop into the mix that I bought two (original, 16GB wifi) iPads today – one for my wife and son, and one for me. Together they cost the same as the wifi + 3G model I was tempted by a few months ago. They’re less shiny – and less expensive – than they were yesterday. Why? The announcement of the iPad 2.

It’s not always a question of “We can afford it, so…” As I explained when divesting in 2009, there’s a difference between recognising the appropriate use of technology and being the equivalent of a dog chasing shiny cars. The iPad’s actually useful now: you can edit Google Docs (the holy grail for me). There’s established workflows, gestures and norms that surround it. I’d say there’s definitely a case for using them in a considered and focused way within educational environments.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that we should always hold off buying new products straight away: we should just know what to do with them. As Agnes Kukulska-Hulme pointed out when I interviewed her for the JISC Mobile & Wireless Technologies Review I undertook last year, sometimes a device comes out (in her case, e-book readers) that almost exactly solves the problem you’ve defined.

So what does it mean to use educational technology appropriately? I refer you back to The perils of shiny shiny educational technology and the trusty SAMR model. Pin it to your wall.

Image CC BY Patrick Hoesly

The perils of shiny shiny educational technology.

New, free and shiny technologies are like catnip to educators. An almost-tangible frisson of excitement cascades through Twitter, Facebook and subsequently staff rooms and TeachMeets in the hours, days and months following announcements of such products and services.

Puentadura' SAMR model

(click image for explanatory presentation)

But.

  1. Is there a business model behind the technology? (OSS counts!)
  2. Can it be used in a transformative way?

Style is not substance.

I’ve certainly been guilty of using things in the classroom mainly because they look good. And that’s fine, so long as you realise at which end of the hierarchy you’re working. Sometimes you need a bit of the shiny.

Johannes Ahrenfelt in Teaching: The Unthinking Profession nails it:

Teachers want ‘stuff’ they can take away and use tomorrow. While I always show how the theory works in practice, it never seems to have the same impact as CPD with titles like ’10 engaging starters’ or ’7 great discussion tools’… The ‘quick fix’ is just that and somewhere down the line a proper solution needs to be found.

If I had to go back and re-teach 2003-10 again, I’d do so taking into account the sage advice of “more haste, less speed”. It’s the considered and sustainable use of technologies that make a difference.

This post isn’t a dig at teachers; it’s a broadside at senior leaders. They, after all, create the parameters within which teachers operate. If you’re pressured into using technology at the level of substitution it’s effectively akin to using a pen instead of a pencil. Something to merely mention in passing, not something to write home about.

Considered use and reflection upon the use of educational technology can be found. Start at edjournal.co.uk and start asking of each new edtech tool you come across: so what?

Edtech companies: inspiring or conspiring?

As I attend an increasing number of conferences, I’m becoming more and more aware of differences in approach taken by educational technology-related companies. Broadly-speaking, they can be represented on a continuum from ‘conspiring’ to ‘inspiring’ (place each on the left or the right depending on your political preferences).

To my mind, there’s three ways in which an edtech company can be inspiring:

  1. Develop a product or way of learning that changes the parameters of the debate
  2. Model effective practices with a demonstrable commitment to pedagogy
  3. Solve a genuine learning problem

The first type can usually only be done by someone as large as Google, someone with the money, time and resources to either invent or mainstream something that changes conversations about learning and teaching.

I’ve already written about how I believe BrainPOP! to be an example of the second type; their product, whilst great, isn’t as important as their approach to how they do business.

The third type, solving a genuine learning problem (not a pseudo-problem or manufactured crisis) is important. Let me attempt to explain the subtle difference between conspiring and inspiring:

  • If you’re providing a way to make examinations faster and cheaper without adding any value to the process, then you’re conspiring.
  • If your business model is predicated upon an ‘average teacher’ or lecturer who is hostile to technology, then you’re conspiring.
  • If you uncritically apply the latest fad, buzzword or way of describing your product to what you’re offering, then you’re conspiring.

Involving yourself and your company in the above means conspiring to rob students of authentic and valuable educational experiences. You’re conspiring, at the end of the day, to enrich yourself and your colleagues at the expense of learners.

How, then, can edtech companies, inspire?

  • By making more intuitive something (educationally-valuable) that was previously difficult, awkward or tricky.
  • By helping engage learners through pedagogically-sound processes and not just shiny toys and impressive graphics.
  • By treating teachers as professionals who care about educational experiences without castigating them for not necessarily jumping on the latest bandwagon.

The Inspiring/Conspiring continuum, then, is my new method of judging edtech companies. I’ve seen some of both at the conference I’m currently attending, and I’ll be avoiding BETT 2011 (based on past experience) due to too much of a focus at the wrong end of the continuum.

As I explained to Gavin Cooney, CEO of Learnosity, after BETT 2008 I was fairly convinced that their offering, a method of recording students for language learning, was in the ‘conspiring’ camp. I couldn’t see how they were adding value. Now that I’ve actually seen what they do, I’m more convinced to place them in the other camp. It can be subtle, as it’s often one of emphasis, but anything that allows learners of a compulsory foreign language to enjoy what they’re doing, pseudocontext to be avoided through real-world learning, and teachers to have access to intuitive technology, is OK by me. 🙂

The freeze-thaw method of technology integration.

This post springs from 3 things:

  • My experiences as Director of E-Learning
  • Discussions I’ve had with James Michie and Nick Dennis about #edjournal
  • A conversation I’ve just had with colleague Steve Bailey about ‘cloud’ apps from a records management perspective

The further down the rabbit-hole I go, the more reports I read, and as I talk to increasing numbers of educational technology leaders, I’m realising how problematic my actions as a standard classroom teacher actually were. Why? Well as a ‘maverick’ my actions on a small scale could potentially have undermined the larger-scale roll-out of technology in that institution. I acted in a somewhat cavalier manner to legal issues and could potentially have affected cultural acceptance of educational technology writ large.

I’m going to propose a 10-stage ‘freeze-thaw model’ of technology integration. It goes something like this:

  1. Draw up a list of minimum specifications.
  2. Explore the app/service/solution that has most traction.
  3. Talk to people who can do ‘due diligence’ regarding the legal side of things (especially terms & conditions, service level agreements)
  4. Do some small-scale testing with a pilot group.
  5. Agree upon how the technology is going to be used.
  6. ‘Freeze’ it – i.e. no more new features for a given amount of time (e.g. a term or academic year)
  7. Discuss new features and have pilot groups.
  8. ‘Thaw’ it – let people play about with a sandbox and go through due diligence again.
  9. ‘Re-freeze’ – i.e. add features and then freeze for a given amount of time.
  10. Repeat.

I’m aware that this goes against almost everything I’ve done before. For example, at the Academy I just opened up all of the tools available with Google Apps Education Edition to see what people did with them. I was pleasantly surprised. But, leaving after a year I didn’t have to deal with the data security, workflow or sustainability aspects of this.

Any type of project that is successful is sustainable in some way. I see the freeze-thaw model as a way of encouraging responsible experimentation. 🙂

Image CC BY jenny downing

A useful way to categorise educational technologies.

On p.189 of Lankshear & Knobel’s New Literacies: Everyday Practices & Classroom Learning (2006) they cite the work of Naismith, et al. who suggest plotting commonly-used educational technologies onto two axes: static-portable and shared-personal. What they neglect to include is a graphic, which would have made a lot more sense.

Let me help them:

Educational technology classified

Interestingly, schools seem to be fine with technology that fits into the bottom-left space, but not with the top-right. Why? :-s

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