Author: Bruce

Is Android really as free as Google like to make it sound?

I just saw an article on TechCrunch that pointed to a (seeingly well-rehearsed) Keynote delivered by Vic Gundotra, VP at Google, that argued why Android is going to be so important for the mobile world. He sold it well, I have to admit, but it got me thinking a little more about how most of use the Internet and connected devices, and what sort of implications his ‘ideal future’ may have for us.

I find it interesting that he talks about the device that would lead to a 1984 type situation. I think he misses something vital – that the device is ultimately only a gateway to the world as we know it now. There’s something to keep in mind here – Apple may (with the iPhone ecosystem) dictate what we can and can’t do with our mobile devices in terms of the Apps we can install and the functionality we can tap into as developers, and yes, you could argue this is draconian, particularly given the App store approval processes and other thing.

However, when you access the Internet, what do you and millions of others probably do when you’re looking for something? I’d say most people hit Google. And what determines the results that appear when you search the Internet? The Google search algorithm. So, ultimately, who has the power to dictate what information you are most likely to see when you use the Internet? Google. And with that information, and the information you give them through services such as Gmail and everything else Google build and encourage people to use, they can tweak that algorithm to present you with what they want you to see.

Android on every phone may make the device and applications you can use on it “free and open”, but it also gives them even more information about you and how you use the Internet. And, in this world, information is power. Just think – if we all had Android on our phones, and we all used Google to search the Internet, imagine the power the men at the top of Google would have over you. What if they decided that ‘not being evil’ wasn’t any fun anymore?


Creating, Consuming and Knowing

I’m active in a number of forums online (Blogging is probably my lightest online presence) and I follow educational debates very closely. One that occurs in just about every forum in the online and physical world is the argument about students creating their own knowledge through projects and activities, and the critical importance of a constructivist approach to education in the world right now. I agree with the view that our kids (and indeed everyone else) need to construct their own knowledge, and that teachers should be providing students with all of the assistance and skills they need to be able to do this, but there are a couple of things I think a lot of educators forget about when they go on and on about the need for students to be creating ‘something’ to demonstrate their learning.

Assessing what students have learned is fraught with difficulty – they may not necessarily want to demonstrate what they know for social or personal reasons, they may be required to use a medium that doesn’t necessarily work for them (yes I’m looking at you standardised testing), or it might simply be that on the day we formally assess them they’re off their game. To help overcome this difficulty, we can use formative assessment strategies and can give the kids greater flexibility over how and what they present. So far I don’t think anything I’ve said is too controversial, and if you’re an educator I’d like to think that so far you’re nodding your head in agreement with me.

Here comes the kicker – how well do you differentiate between the creation of knowledge and the creation of things?

The iPad was met with a very mixed response when it was introduced – some people think its fantastic, others say it doesn’t have all the features they want but that it has potential, and others think its just a downright stupid idea. Without a doubt though, the greatest criticism I hear of it is that its emphasis on the consumption of information means it is not a relevant device for the world our students live in. Those who hold this view point to other portable devices and say how much more superior they are because they allow students to create things, whether they be multimedia-rich projects or simple word processing documents. Without getting into a debate about whether or not the iPad can ever be a creation device (I think it has that potential), if you are one of those people that holds this view, I want you to read through the scenarios I present below and reconsider your view. In both scenarios, pretend you are a student.

Scenario 1: Consumption, Consumption, Consumption

Imagine yourself walking into a library that has been redesigned from the ground up. It’s full of all of the latest novels, magazines, journals, and it’s got multiple TV screens and computers that deliver streaming media, news and commentary 24/7. It has a podcast library that allows you to download directly from it to any device, as well as open access to any online subscription service you can think of. You can turn on your own iPad, Acer netbook, Android mobile or Ubuntu notebook – all of them connect instantly to a wireless network that is secured but has no blocking filters in place, allowing you to interact with the world around you in a multitude of ways, including access to your social networks and chat services. You spend 8 hours in that environment, investigating things you’re interested in and learning about things you didn’t even know existed, simply by following links and catching interesting tidbits of information from the variety of stimulus material around you.

Question: Have you learned anything? Has that experienced allowed you to construct new knowledge?

Scenario 2: Creation, Creation, Creation

You get home from school and sit down to work on an assessment task. The task requires you to demonstrate what you have learned in class by posting to a blog, constructing an ePortfolio of your classwork, contributing to a class wiki and creating a 2 minute podcast episode that highlights what you have learned. You sit down and spend 8 hours working on this task, and create products that you’re fairly happy with.

Question: Have you learned anything? Has that experienced allowed you to construct new knowledge?


My guess is that in both cases, you’ve answered the question the same way – yes, you’ve learned something and you’ve had the opportunity to construct some new knowledge or understanding from the experience. I’m not going to argue about that – I agree that in both cases the student has been given real opportunities to engage with and develop their own idea of what knowledge is.

What I’m curious about is which experience has been most useful for the student in terms of learning new things and developing an informed opinion about what (s)he learned as a result of each experience.

I think it would be fair to say that if students are consuming information that comes from a variety of sources and provides alternative perspectives and views, that the consumption of that array of information allows them to truly construct knowledge. If, however, we simply sat them down and got them to simply make things from what they know already (e.g. make a podcast, now make a blog, now make a website, now write a computer program, now create a movie…), I would argue that the experiences of that student would be much less rewarding and the knowledge they create is much more narrow.

It’s easy to hold up the creation of “stuff” as being the ultimate goal of education – if kids are making stuff, they are obviously learning something – but I also think it’s important that educators do NOT underestimate the value of consuming stuff too. The creation of knowledge does not have to result in a tangible product being produced – if that was the case, there’d be a lot of people out there who wasted a LOT of time over the years. Equally, the creation of stuff does not necessarily demonstrate the creation of knowledge.

ITSC: This is NOT Amazing

I attended the Sydney ITSC Conference (hosted by Apple) recently and Chris Betcher delivered the Keynote address on the topic “This is NOT Amazing”. It struck a real chord with me and I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment – it’s something that has bugged me ever since I began my teaching career.

I mentioned this idea at a recent guest lecture I gave at the University of Canberra, and promised the students that I’d direct them to more information when it came to hand. So, to keep my promise to those students, I’ve posted links to the relevant posts from Chris, as well as an audio grab from his lecture.

I missed his introduction, but the guts of the lecture is still there. He’s also indicated he’ll post a version of it up himself after he delivers the final keynote at the last ITSC on May 23, so a better quality version will be available at his site around then.

This is NOT Amazing

Chris’ Blog post – (he also makes a recent post on his blog – – where he reflects on the ITSC conferences and the way they operate).

In Chris’ Keynote, he refers to his daughter and her Virtual Busking project. If you’re interested in checking out more info about that, you’ll find it here –

cLc in the DET

As I mentioned in a previous post, the ACT DET has recently announced the adoption of the cLc by Uniservity as its new Virtual Learning Environment. Over the last couple of days I’ve had the opportunity to really begin exploring how it operates, and here are my intial thoughts.

1. It has a lot of useful features

Now it’s probably true of every modern learning environment that many things Web 2.0 have been included – things like Wiki and Blog services, podcasting and RSS etc. The cLc has a quite extensive set of services built-in, and the editors allow a reasonable amount of flexibility to insert other stuff that isn’t built into the system. You can embed videos from YouTube and do all the usual stuff, but it doesn’t have every feature I would have liked. One of the obvious ones missing for me is an RSS aggregator/feed reader that can be attached to users and classes – given how much easier it is to have relevant content fed to you now, it’s a big hole that I would like to see filled in future versions.

2. The Interface needs work

I’ve spoken with the vendor and he’s acknowledged that the interface does have an “old school” feel about it – given it’s evolved from around 8 years ago that’s no real surprise. The good news though is that in September, Uniservity are releasing cLc Life – an update to the environment that will have a dramatic impact on how the user interface works. I’m going to reserve my criticisms of this aspect of the system until after Life is released and I’ve had a chance to use it, but until that happens, I feel that the complexities involved in using some elements will be a bit of a deterrent to teachers.

3. It will integrate nicely with our student management system

Setting up any online learning environment involves the tedious process of populating it with users and grouping them into classes (or whatever unit you want to use). Thankfully, this will be alleviated when the cLc launches in the production phase – the system will integrate nicely with Maze (our admin system) so that class lists are automatically populated with data, and the ability to do things like send one-click emails to groups of parents based on the school email records will make communicating much easier than it is now (gone will be the days we have to manage our own mailing lists). There are a few more minor challenges we need to address here, but they are related more so to the processes involved in keeping info up to date rather than the cLc itself.

4. It’s going to require a cultural shift

There are a number of ways that the cLc could be leveraged to deliver online learning experiences for our students, but its going to be important that our school works out a strategy that is going to work for our community. The ability to share resources across multiple classes should help alleviate workload concerns if staff work smarter, and ultimately allow more time spent planning as a collective which will be much more efficient than everyone planning things on their own. But this is going to require staff to embrace the change, and that’s an issue that we’d face regardless of the environment being adopted.

Am I as excited as I’d hoped I’d be when I first heard about it? No. Am I of the opinion it is going to have benefits to our students? It definitely has that potential, but ultimately that rests not with the cLc itself, but with the ability for our teachers to rise to the challenge and rethink the way they approach the use of an online learning environment to support their teaching.

Another example where it’s not about the technology, but it is about the pedagogy.

What’s in an App? Apps for Student Computers

On Twitter the other night a few people were asking about applications we use on computers or to achieve various things. It got me thinking – what do we have installed on our computers at school and what uses do these apps serve? I thought it might be useful for other teachers to see and hear about the apps we use at school, so here’s a summary and brief description of each of them. I’ve only listed the Apps we run on our Macs – we run all of these Apps on Windows as well, but the Windows computers don’t get overhauled as regularly because its a lot more effort and I’m reluctant to spend the time updating our WinXP image when we’ll be rolling Win7 out shortly.

(Open-Source / Free)

The ubiquitous audio editor. We find very few students actually use it on the Macs (they tend to prefer GarageBand), but having it available cross-platform means they can work on projects in all of the labs regardless of OS choice. Great for recording and manipulating audio in various ways.

(Open-Source / Free)

A cross-platform, open-source 3D modeling and animation suite. There is a wealth of information online about how to use it, complete with tutorials in PDF, Video and HTML formats for students to follow. For most students, there’s nothing 3DS Max or Maya can do that Blender can’t. Perhaps some of your senior students require the advanced features of the proprietary packages, but it’s hard to justify a huge $ spend for one class when there’s a limited amount of  $ in the budget.

Camino / Firefox
(Open-Source / Free)

Firefox is one of the most popular browsers around and we install it on all of our Windows systems. The Firefox implementation on the Mac, however, is a bit tedious – it doesn’t integrate nicely with the OS preferences which can be problematic with some network configurations. Thankfully, the Camino project simply takes the Mozilla (Firefox) Browser engine and wraps it around a native OSX Application that uses the system configuration – so you get the firefox experience with the OSX configuration. You can’t extend it with plug-ins the same way, but the majority of users at school tend not to extend the functionality through plug-ins anyway.

(Open-Source / Free)

Interesting app that allows students to explore Space. You can see the Earth and the position of other celestial bodies relative to it at any time of the day (I opened it up now and sure enough, Australia is in the dark), and can get information about how far away various planets, stars, suns etc are. A bit specific in terms of where it could be used, but it’s open-source and relatively small, so the cost of installing it is negligible. Some kids just enjoy playing with it in their spare time, and that’s a positive thing.

(Open-Source / Free)

A movie production suite – built in storyboarding, script writing and planning tools that would be familiar to any media or film teacher. Definitely worth a look if you do any movie production stuff with your classes.


One of the very few applications we pay for, ComicLife is a must for any classroom and any year level. Easily create comics using photos and the built in tools. Plasq have also created ComicMagic (available on OS X only) and it looks even better, but we’re yet to decide whether we want to go there yet.

(Limited Use Shareware)

A simple program for stitching images together into panoramic shots. The algorithm it uses to determine where photos should be placed does an excellent job, and it even has the feature built into it to create QuickTime VR movies (where you can create 360 degree images that you can pan and rotate around). The unlicensed version watermarks the images you create, so it’s worth considering paying for the license to get rid of the Watermark. We’ve chosen not to at this stage, but it’s relatively cheap and under consideration.


A geometry package that accepts both graphical and algebraic input. Great for any graphing and geometry exercises you would use in Mathematics and related subjects. Cross platform and easy to use.

(Free / Open-Source)

The Gimp is an Open-Source bitmap image editor – like PhotoShop but without the price tag. The interface is similar (although there are differences) and there are some powerful features from PhotoShop that are lacking, but like Blender above, for the majority of students every feature they need is there. Our digital photography and imaging units use Gimp and after a period of adjustment for those kids used to PhotoShop, they find they can do everything they need for their class in the package. It can be extended using various plug-ins too.

Google Chrome

Google’s browser is new to the browser wars, but students and staff like it so we figured we’d let them use it. Good performance on both OSes, and integrates with system settings on the Mac (unlike Firefox – see above). Having a number of web browsers on the computer is beneficial for student who publish information on websites – it allows them to see how their page displays on different browsers and/or platforms.

Google Earth

Google’s all-in-one mapping and geography tool – every school should have this installed on their computers. No excuses.

Google SketchUp

The free version of Google SketchUp is a very easy to use and provides powerful tools for creating 3D images and models. More like a 3D CADD package than a Modelling and Animation Package (like Blender), it is very useful in Tech Drawing and Technology classes for having kids plan and prepare their jobs. Kids can even drop their models into Google Earth and, with the installation of an Augmented Reality plug-in, can use webcams (such as the iMac’s built-in iSight) to “hold” their models in their hands and rotate them to see them from various perspectives.

(Free / Open-Source)

A powerful video ripping/conversion tool – great for converting videos into formats for use on mobile devices, or for extracting videos from DVDs. I know we’ve used it many times to extract school performances from DVDs that have been made in the past when a version has been needed for use on the network.

(Free / Open-Source)

Inkscape -> Illustrator what Gimp -> Photoshop. A vector-graphics program that complements the Gimp nicely in digital imaging and design classes.

MS Office
(Licensed – no cost to the school)

We wouldn’t be running Office 2007 if it wasn’t paid for by the ACT DET – before the recent contract with Microsoft we were migrating to OpenOffice due to the costs associated with licensing on a school-basis. The new agreement means the school has licenses on every machine for Office 2007 (2008 for Mac). Install Ribbon Hero to turn learning Office into a fun activity. Our package also includes Visio, which is great for diagrams and charts.


Developed by MIT, Scratch is a graphically-driven programming interface. Used in IT classes in Years 6-8, it’s a simple yet effective introduction to computer programming, scripting and object-oriented concepts. It removes the difficulties associated with learning a programming syntax or language, but provides students with the tools they need to make both simple and complex games and stories using structured and logical approaches.


Explore the skies above earth from anywhere in the world – a great way to show kids how different the night sky can look depending on where and when you are. Pick any moment in time and see what the sky looked (or will look) like. You also have the option to overlay constellations to help the kids understand how they’re named, as well as various other features to explore the sky.


Used in our IT classes, TextWrangler is a text editor with advanced features like syntax highlighting and FTP capabilities. Great for programming and web development classes where kids are using multiple languages and syntax.

(Free / Open-Source)

The all-in-one video player solves the issues we have with multiple codecs in videos developed by students and brought into school. If you ever end up in a situation where your computer just will not play a video file, it’s a safe bet that installing VLC will allow you to view it. It’s also required for HandBrake (see above) to work some of its magic.

(Free / Open-Source)

A cross-platform mind-mapping application that includes various mind-mapping layouts such as organisational charts, fishbone diagrams and other brainstorming maps. There are packages out there that are a bit more powerful, but the cost attached to those packages doesn’t necessarily justify the benefits associated with the extra feature set. We find that XMind provides our students with a useful tool for mind-mapping and brainstorming activities, and its simple to use and easy to learn.

Naturally we have the iLife Suite installed on all of the Macs too (iPhoto, iTunes, iMovie, GarageBand, iWeb) and students use all of these apps for most of their multimedia work. We find that classes that want to do things like podcasting and movie making tend to favour the Macs anyway, so we haven’t invested too much effort attempting to find applications for Windows that achieve the same purpose. PhotoStory and Windows MovieMaker have been installed on the Windows systems, but are rarely used.

You’ll also notice that we’ve cut down our licensing costs significantly by relying on open-source products. This has the added bonus of creating an environment where kids don’t “learn the application”, but rather learn how to create or learn with it. Too many schools install the well-known apps without thinking about how alternatives can not only save them money, but give them a tool to educate kids such that they develop a greater understanding of user interfaces and application design.

This leaves much more money in the budget for buying hardware and peripherals, so we’ve got plenty of headsets, digital cameras and video cameras for our students to really take advantage of the tools we provide for them.

A New Virtual Learning Environment

Today I received the news that my school has been selected as one of 8 in the ACT to pilot the new Virtual Learning Environment being adopted by the ACT DET. It’s called connected Learning communities (cLc) and is published by Uniservity. I know very little about it but from all accounts it’s going to be a big improvement on the existing product we use now.

It’s got me thinking – are these internally managed VLEs a solution that we should be investing time and money into? Part of the pilot program will require me to help staff at the school learn the environment and then integrate it into their practice – this is going to be time consuming and add to an already heavy workload. Would there be more benefit in selecting environments / tools teachers area already familiar with (like facebook, twitter, wordpress, edmodo, flickr etc) and simply deliver our students their educational experiences this way? It would save a heap on PD, and the fact that teachers already know many of the technologies should mean they’ll be able to come up with interesting ways to use them without prompting and hand-holding from other staff.

Of course, the big issues with such an approach are those relating to privacy and security of information. We can’t have our students publishing information about themselves willy-nilly online (even if that information is only used by the provider of the tool for account registration purposes) for legal and social/safety reasons – I understand this. We’re in a situation now where mistakes aren’t allowed – the legal and personal ramifications for such an event are too destructive. If we continue to see technology evolve at the rate it has been, I don’t think the legal system will ever be able to keep up with the changes.

So, instead we provide safe “sandpits” for the kids to work in. I really am looking forward to a bigger sandpit with more toys (and toys that are actually going to work well) – I just hope that we all keep in mind that the world outside of that sandpit is a very different place, and we need to make sure that when the kids leave it they know that their sandcastles aren’t going to be anywhere near as safe on the beach as they were in the sandpit. There was no water, animals or nasty outsiders to knock them down.

Joining the Wave…

So it’s been ages since I’ve blogged (at least here – I’m a little more active on Twitter, but even then it’s been slow of late), but figured I’d throw a few comments out about my first impressions of Google Wave.

In a nutshell, it seems to me as if Wave is Google’s version of what email should have been, had the web been the web it is now when email was invented. It allows you to collaborate either synchronously or asynchronously with any number of people – I guess it’s a sort of social networking meets chat meets email meets blogging kind of space. I think it’s got real potential for changing the way we communicate, but before we get too excited about it, consider what we do now and how it might change the way we use other apps.

For example, replace Twitter followers with people in a Wave, and you’ve got the ability to not only micro blog (without the character limit), but also convert your micro blogs into conversation threads – something Twitter doesn’t really do well (though there are a number of Twitter apps that help with that).

I’ll wait until I’ve got a few more colleagues and friends using Wave before I make my judgement, but overall I think it’s the kind of thing I could grow to like using. I’ve always used email for communication – even now at work due to so many other techs being blocked (I can’t use Wave at work!) – so the ability to take the advantages of real-time communication and sharing and combine it with something that for most people should feel as simple as email is a real bonus.

Engaging boys with literacy

Recently I completed an assessment task for my Masters of Education with a colleague of mine that focussed on how you could use technology to engage reluctant boys in the reading process. I’m really happy with how it turned out, and have published the task as a wiki in my wikispaces account (the wiki was the required format for the task).

I’d be interested to hear from others, and have others contribute to the wiki so that it continues to grow and reflect activities that parents (particularly fathers) can use to help give their sons a bit of a kick along. Until the wiki is marked I’m going to keep it protected (so at this stage you won’t be able to edit any of the content), but as soon as it’s been graded I’ll be relaxing the security a bit, and would love to have as many teachers as possible contributing.

Microsoft Innovative Schools Asia Pacific Forum 2009

It’s been a while since I’ve made a blog entry, and there’s no real reason why it’s been so long. I guess teaching and life has been a little busy lately, but I can’t attend something like #misc09 and not add my thoughts to the already cluttered blogosphere…

The focus the last few days has been on future directions, planning, and the need for having a true vision about where we’re going. The fact that pedagogy hasn’t evolved to use ICT effectively in most cases is something that can only be addressed through an understanding of where you want to get to, and a commitment from staff to work towards that vision. The way that will impact on curriculum shouldn’t be determined by what that curriculum happens to be – effective use of ICT should align with any curriculum model that you’re working under.

I’m looking forward to getting back to school and thinking about how I’m going to change the curriculum for our year 6 students – get staff working together and using ICT in new ways to ensure that both the pedagogy and the classroom evolve to show the rest of our staff just how effective it can be. It’s really quite exciting!

One Space To Rule Them All…

Ahh… a part of me has been wanting to write a title like that for so long… If only I had the Ring of Power…

I’ve been thinking more and more about the direction being taken in some jurisdictions at the moment in regards to solving the problems we all have with technology integration in schools, in particular on the moves toward a Virtual Learning Environment. I understand that what they’re looking for is a single framework that will allow staff, students and parents of schools to access classwork, deliver and participate in lessons, collaborate, share and generally connect with one another in an easy to use space. This is a desirable goal, but I wonder about the approach companies that are going to tender for this might take to such a problem. Schools are very different beasts to the corporate sector, and unlike businesses that generally work in well defined industries, sectors or divisions, the way teachers work can be so vastly different that trying to come up with an all-in-one solution that works for everyone is going to be pretty much impossible, IMHO.

So many of our schools have IT departments or sections that end up being managed by a non-educational authority or personnel, and unless these people are willing to actually delve into the deep, dark, unfathomable depths of IT use in schools, most of the time the solutions and ideas they throw about are sound in the corporate world, but come up against a heap of difficulties in the education sector. Universities tend to get away with it a bit more – their clientele area a little older, expected to be “responsible adults” and their teaching methods somewhat more traditional as a general rule – but schools don’t.

So can a VLE-type solution cope with all this? Well, in my mind there’s only one way such a solution would work – make sure what you’re providing is not restricted to specific technologies (make sure it uses open standards, for example), and ensure that accessibility and ease of use are of utmost importance. Allow teachers to change the way things operate – if they have the skills, why not add functionality to it that can then be made available to others? If they don’t have the technical know-how but they do have the ideas, hook them up with someone that could make it a realist. With technology moving so quickly all the time, it doesn’t make sense to lock yourself into a specific arrangement now that leaves you at the mercy of the developers. Social networking is a big deal (though some would argue it’s almost saturated already), but who knows how that is going to evolve in the next 3 years?

What the VLE should be is a system that exists solely to link other things together. It doesn’t have its own blogging system, or its own social networking tools. Nor does it have its own specific implementation of video-conferencing, or online classroom delivery. All of these tools are already out there – all it needs to do is draw all of these things together so that teachers and students who don’t know what is out there have easy access to the tools they need to come to grips with the connected world around them.

I mean, the biggest and best VLE in the world already exists – it’s called the Internet. It does, however, suffer from one very significant problem (that is only going to get worse), and that is that its size and lack of order can make it a scary place. This is the problem that VLEs need to overcome – they need to be the sieve that helps us filter out the useful from the useless, the factual from the fictional. That in itself would be a lesson worth its weight in gold. And that’s a lot of gold.