Tag Archives: Education

Why Marketing Matters

The ABC published an article today stating that the education minister in the ACT has come out and said that public schools in the Territory need an overhaul due to a fall in enrolments vs our private schools. He talks about the need for public schools to develop partnerships with Universities and to specialise in specific areas to introduce diversity into their offerings and overcome their “sameness”. In a small jurisdiction like the ACT it would be quite viable to actually set up a system like he suggests (since travel between home and school is only ever going to be a relatively short distance – though that assumes public transport is sufficient, but we’ll deal with that another time), but that’s not where I’m going with this post today.

The other thing he says needs to happen is that public schools need to improve the way they market themselves to the community to entice them back from the private sector. Although I don’t believe it is as simple as that (particularly given the relatively high affluence of the ACT and the tendency that would create towards private school enrolments), he does have one thing right – public school do need to market themselves more effectively because if they don’t, community perception is enough to keep enrolments falling since money is not a deciding factor for a higher percentage of the population.

If you drive past the campuses of schools in the ACT, you notice one thing very quickly – the campuses of the well-known independent schools are large, sprawling areas with multiple sporting fields, many of the buildings seem to be new or renovated to some degree, the signage around the site is either modern and slick or old and “prestigious-looking”. Essentially, the schools create an external perception of either:

  1. A modern, dynamic place where money is spent to give the students the best environment they can learn in; or
  2. A school that has a proud tradition of success, much the same as the “sandstone” universities (like Sydney, Melbourne etc) are able to impress upon others.

Is this true? Well, if people perceive it to be the case, it becomes a self-fulfilling statement – the parents who want the best for their kids, support them and have the means to ensure every success for their child will send them to a school that they believe (from their impressions) will provide the best education. These kids will succeed because they are already destined to do so – regardless of whether or not they actually have a good educational experience or not.

Compare this to what you see when you go past a public school. With a few notable exceptions (and the BER injections from the federal government), many of the buildings are old, poorly maintained (I get my own swimming pool outside my office when there is a downpour) and the general perception of them when you go past is that the money they have to spend on their kids is much, much less than what the private schools have in their pockets. It’s partly true – without compulsory school fees it is difficult for a public school to increase their revenues beyond what they receive from the government – and given the funding is pretty tight, often funds for maintenance and improvement are better spent on improving the educational resources available for the students (that is, after all, what the core business of schools is, isn’t it?).

So the challenge for public schools is – how to overcome the perception that exists in the community that private schools are better for the reasons I referred to above? Given the ACT government seems set on making it even harder to do any successful marketing through additional funding (they won’t pay teachers properly or negotiate on improving working conditions either), it falls on the schools to start thinking about imaginative ways to positively influence the opinions of families in their areas. The move towards School Autonomy in the ACT (i.e. schools work out how they are going to spend their money rather than following strict budgets or formulas) may be an opening for this to occur, but it will need to be done properly – this is the bit that is far from guaranteed.

This is why marketing matters – in today’s world, it is often perception rather than actual quality or outcomes that will determine whether or not you achieve your goal (which, in this case, is increased enrolments). With more money, it is easier to market yourself in a positive light – you will always look better than your counterparts who are struggling along with their old resources and dated infrastructure. You can rely on quality results spreading through the community via word of mouth, but you can just as surely rely on any negative incident spreading quickly, counteracting any positives you may have built up over time. It is easy for all of the good, hard work to be undone by one mistake, and if you don’t look like you aren’t perceived to have a quality product, it can be especially hard to bounce-back from that kind of setback.

I have no idea how all of this will play out when (and if) something begins to happen, but I know one thing for sure – failure to invest adequately in education, whether it be through marketing, infrastructure improvements or teachers (via salaries, support or working conditions) will ensure that enrolments in public schools continue to fall while the cost of private tuition is not a make-or-break issue for families.

The iPad: What does technology offer to educators?

Update: I indicated during my presentation that I would add more information based on the questions I was asked at the end of the session. See the headings at the end of this post for more information regarding accessibility issues. Thanks to all who asked interesting questions at the event!

A quick search on the Internet for information about technology in education will give you a myriad of links to information published by educators, theorists, technologists and others who identify the many potential benefits technology could bring to all levels of education. A lot of it focuses on the personalisation of learning, greater access to knowledge (both in and outside of school), and increased interactions with others that helps to make learning more relevant and real to our students. There has also been extensive study done that highlights the importance of quality teaching in harnessing the benefits of technology – the notion that no matter how impressive the technology is, without a good teacher utilising it effectively the realisation of those benefits is hit-and-miss. With so much work going on in this area, it’s no surprise that there has been extensive debate surrounding the iPad and its suitability for use in the classroom.

I’ve been asked to present a brief session at the ACT All Colleges conference on the 1st of February to explore what technology has to offer educators, with a particular focus on the iPad. As an advocate of more personalised approaches to learning, with less reliance on centralised infrastructure and a mandated set of applications/tools that students must use, I was more than happy to provide some insight form my experience and knowledge around the topic. This blog post supports the workshop session I delivered, but in a nutshell the content of the presentation was around:

  • The pervasiveness of technology in our lives and the lives of our students – the world we live in is one where just about everything we do is influenced in some way by technology;
  • The increasing emphasis on mobile technology as a means of accessing information and communicating with others;
  • The lack of a significant investment in high-quality, reliable infrastructure in schools to support the lifestyle and habits many of our students are used to in their everyday lives (which becomes even more important when there are access issues at home);
  • The potential that personal devices that are not managed by the school could have on improving the learning opportunities for students; and
  • The power of the iPad as a mobile, personal device (as demonstrated through a series of useful apps and a brief overview of its technical capabilities).

I don’t intend to go into extensive detail about any of the above here, suffice to say that there is plenty of information about each of the topics I’ve state above scattered all over the Internet and published by reputable educational research organisations. What I will do, however, is provide a brief example of why the arguments made by many that the iPad is not useful in education because it is primarily a consumption device are misplaced.

1. The library of applications available is extensive (over 60,000 and counting). Not all of the Apps are designed to allow you to “create” things, but may do, and what you can create includes music, video, 3d models of houses, diagrams and graphs… just about anything you can think of.

2. The way many of the apps are designed encourages you to consume information in new ways – FlipBoard is one example of how presenting RSS feeds, your tweet streams and your facebook feed in a different format allows you to get more details from each snippet/post being made by your friends. Aweditorium is another example (this time around music) that encourages you to investigate/browse content you otherwise may not. The more you consume – particularly if that information is different to what you would normally interact with – provides you with more information from which you can construct your own knowledge and understanding of the world.

3. iPads are personal – they are not meant to be deployed as a “class set” or in place of a laptop trolley, and I don’t think there is any real benefit in managing them at the school level (such an approach de-personalises the device). That doesn’t mean they don’t fit in education, it just means that the model of schools providing the hardware for learning isn’t relevant when considering the power of mobile technologies. What is the point of a mobile device that you can’t use the way you want to?

The whole point of this post is to get you thinking about the approach you take towards technology in the classroom – to perhaps reconsider the outlook you might have on mobile phones and/or student-owned laptops/tablets in your classes. With so many powerful and interesting applications available, it seems a shame to be telling students what they can and can’t use to learn. Technology gives us, as educators, a real means to empower students to discover the best way they learn; to encourage experimentation and risk as acceptable techniques when learning something new.

For further information:

Managing iPads in the Classroom – Issues and potential solutions

Mobile Learning (Ulearning) – Blog posts from a strong advocate of mobile learning in Qld

The Open Book Scenarios – Exploring possible futures for teaching

iPad Trials in Victoria and NT

The list of Apps I demonstrated, referred to or had installed on the iPads during my presentation:


  • Underscore Notify
  • Things for iPad
  • Evernote
  • Instapaper
  • DropBox


  • Shakespeare in Bits
  • The Elements
  • Molecules
  • Solar Walk
  • Star Walk
  • Geo Walk HD
  • Beautiful Planet HD
  • Pulse
  • Shakespeare
  • Louvre Museum
  • 3D Cell Simulation and Stain Tool
  • Nature: The Human Genome at 10
  • Houzz
  • Melbourne Museum Please Touch
  • Zinio


  • Aweditorium
  • Flipboard
  • Magic Piano
  • CourseNotes
  • AskPhil(osophers)
  • ArtHD
  • TweetDeck


  • Ideate
  • Brushes
  • ASketch
  • SketchBook Pro
  • iBand
  • iDesign
  • Home 3D
  • ReelDirector
  • Or, in IT classes, you could have students write their own!


  • Inkling
  • Popplet
  • Maptini
  • Google Docs (use in Safari – no App required)
  • Whiteboard HD
  • Skype (and other IM tools)
  • Box.net
  • Fuze

Accessibility and the iPad

The iPad has a number of accessibility features built into iOS, making it reasonably friendly to users with special learning needs out of the box. That said, the accessibility of some apps will be dependent on the features included in the app by the developer, so I’d recommend exploring those apps that you’re considering to investigate the accessibility features and whether or not they suit your needs before shelling out for a paid version of the app.

Treetops.org.au has plenty of resources surrounding Apple products and their accessibility features.

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.

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.

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.

Educational developers?

I’ve been working on a web-based application recently that I intend to demonstrate to my bosses at school that would make life a whole lot easier for teachers, students and parents and at the same time provide even greater accountability to the community and the departmental office for what goes on in the classroom at a school. It’s the kind of thing that only an educator would understand the intricacies of, and it’s got me thinking – how much of a role do educators play in the development of the systems we use in schools today? And, if educators were involved when those systems were developed, how often are educators consulted or involved in the upgrade/update process?

We use an administration, budgeting and timetabling package in our schools and there are a myriad of things I don’t like about it. To be fair, there are a number of things it does well, too, and I wonder how many of the problems we do experience are related to infrastructure or configuration issues on our networks. However, all that said, I wonder sometimes if we are forced to bend, twist and re-shape what we do to fit within the framework provided by these applications, rather than them acting as tools to assist us in our tasks. I know there are a number of teachers in the schools I’ve been in that don’t want to go anywhere near the system, simply because it just isn’t easy for those who don’t understand it – the interface alone is enough to scare away the timid computer user!

So, when developing my application, I’ve kept a few things in the forefront of my mind:

  1. What I’m doing should HELP the teacher do what THEY want to do, not force them to work within a specific set of rules that forces them to change what they do;
  2. It should be easy to use and not require any specific software download; and
  3. There should be plenty of opportunities for collaboration on the software, and for feedback and comment to take place between those using it.

It’s still a little way off yet, but I hope that working on it between now and going back to school should be long enough to get a fairly robust demonstration of its capabilities finished.

Starting again…

So after a couple of false starts into the global blogging community, I’ve decided that my New Year’s Resolution for 2009 is to make a commitment to the blogosphere and become more engaged with educators in this space. It’s not that I’m not Web 2.0 savvy – far from it, I use just about every other Web 2.0 tool out there and read a number of other people’s blogs – I just don’t regularly post to my own!

I’m always exicted about the potential technology has and I’ve seen just how fantastic it can be with kids of all ages and abilities in my classroom and the classrooms of others, not to mention reading and hearing about the achievements and experiences of educators all over the world. There’s always plenty to blog about, and here’s hoping that over time, my thoughts and ideas will extend into the blogosphere like yours, and contribute to what I feel is very interesting discussion amongst connected educators.