Tag Archives: Technology

Online platforms for personalisation, analytics and immediate feedback #fliptm #TMACT

Last week I presented at the Gungahlin College Flipped TeachMeet on the topic of personalisation, feedback and analytics. The format of the TeachMeet was a bit different to the usual – presenters recorded their presentation via video and posted it online prior to the event, so the focus of the sessions was on discussion around the ideas. My video is embedded below and explains some of the tools I’m using to personalise learning, provide automated feedback to students and analyse data about student achievement to help identify where additional support is needed.

In the video I talk about a few platforms I’ve used extensively in class:

  • Grok Learning – Learn to program in Python, and get instant feedback every time you attempt a problem. For teachers, the dashboard really is an excellent tool that gives you an overview of student progress and helps you identify what topics students need extra support with.
  • Treehouse – This platform contains guided lessons and activities that help you learn a range of topics. For us our focus is on Web Design/Development, and it allows students to pick and choose individual paths to help them learn the skills and knowledge that is most suitable for where they’re at. Like Grok, feedback is given in browser so you can quickly see if you understand the material being presented.
  • Schoology – Our LMS provides us with automated quiz/test tools that give us a way of quizzing students and checking that they are grasping the material. Since students are provided with feedback on their progress, they can use this to identify their areas of strength and weakness and seek targeted assistance from teachers.
  • Oppia – A new open-source platform that allows users to create “explorations” that provide guided, personalised paths through the learning of material. Explorations can direct students to different activities depending on their answers to previous questions, which better targets the individual needs of each student.

There was a lot of enthusiasm on the night from teachers of many disciplines and school levels for Oppia in particular due to its flexibility, and I’m looking forward to working with some teachers at my school to see just how powerful it can be as a platform. I’m even thinking I’d be interested in contributing to the codebase as the group of us identify features we see as integral to it becoming a useful tool.

The K-12 Horizon Report 2013 lists learning analytics as a trend we’re likely to see having an impact in schools in the next 2-3 years, and its clear based on tools like Oppia and some of the third-party proprietary tools I’ve seen recently that data is becoming increasingly important in education circles. Being able to harness that data to better meet the needs of our students won’t put us out of a job – what it will do, though, is allow us to utilise our time better and focus on the things that are important to our students, rather than what might be important from our curriculum authorities.

Thoughts from the 2014 FutureSchools conference #FutureSKL

I’m currently sitting at the Gate Lounge 33 at Sydney Domestic Airport (well that’s where I was when I started writing the article, but it’s now the weekend and I’m at home finishing it up) after spending the last 2 days at the 2014 FutureSchools conference. If I was to sum up my thoughts in a few words, they’d probably be Good things are happening in schools, but there’s so much more to do.

As a general rule, the presentations were pretty good. I felt there were some that focussed a bit too much on the technology and/or the learning spaces themselves rather than the pedagogy that goes along with it, but some of that I believe comes back to not all of the presenters being “professional” presenters in a sense. My only criticism of the event overall would be that it was very much a “sit and listen” type of event – interaction with presenters was pretty low (with the exception of Eric Mazur who did a great job involving us in his presentation – see the section on Peer Instruction below), and that made the later sessions difficult to stay completely focused on. What we really needed were some opportunities to work with smaller groups of delegates to explore interesting ideas and talk about the details of what was being presented – much of it was big picture, and didn’t address some of the more pressing issues like how to bring staff along and/or break down preconceptions or negativity about change.

Learning Spaces: an enabler, not an answer

Presenters from a few different schools gave us some insight into the way they are using some of their learning spaces. Presenters from Brisbane Boys College, Scotch Oakburn College in Launceston, Stonefields School in Auckland, Mordialloc College in Victoria and Anglican Church Grammar School among others all demoed their learning spaces and talked about the ways they’re re-thinking how they’re used to keep kids engaged with school.

We’re very lucky at my school that, as a newly built school that is only a few years old, the learning spaces that have been set up throughout the building have a lot of variation and scope for being very flexible. What has tended to occur, though, is that each of the spaces in the building has become setup and used in a relatively static and permanent way – although there is scope for flexibility and dynamism, in many cases very little is done to change how each is space is used throughout the year. The result is that the methods used to teach in those spaces are very typical of what would be observed in regular classrooms – evidence that having flexible spaces alone is insufficient to change teaching.

That doesn’t really come as a surprise – technology works in much the same way. Replacing books with laptops doesn’t automatically create classrooms that aren’t teacher-driven (and in fact, I’ve seen many examples where the only difference is that students type notes from the board rather than writing them), nor does swapping out blackboards and chalk for IWBs. Like technology, learning spaces are an enabler – both provide us with new capabilities that wouldn’t have been available otherwise.

Think of it this way – if all students have at their disposal is books and pens, then every task they do will involve writing, drawing and/or conversation with content provided by the teacher. However, with technology, not only can they also do things like make movies, record their discussions and collaborate in real-time on the same documents, they can also access an unlimited amount of information to help consolidate their learning, and use a range of different resources that might be more appropriate for their learning styles (opting for a video or podcast series rather than text-heavy web sites or articles).

Many teachers are unfamiliar with the technology and unsure of how to use it to teach in new and interesting ways. The same can be said for learning spaces – if all you’ve ever known is rows of desks and a board at the front of the room, how then can you be expected to take advantage of the options provided by highly flexible learning spaces?

Interestingly, in the case of flexible learning spaces, many of the benefits they offer are only really available if they are coupled with technology. While we can configure learning spaces to provide students with areas for group discussion and collaboration, individual learning, large-group presentation of information and one-on-one support, if we’re relying on a single source of information or content delivery then the flexibility is of no value. To really take advantage of flexibility of space, we need to have lots of content options and activities that students can be engaged in that will allow them to learn and reflect in ways that make sense to them.

So how do we make better use of the spaces at our disposal? We need to invest a lot of time into teaching teachers how to teach in that environment. Notice I didn’t say “show teachers how to facilitate learning in that environment”? That was intentional. In many cases, students learn in spite of what their teachers do – the learning can often happen no matter what is going on. However, when teachers are effective teachers (i.e. they “teach” well, for a given interpretation of “teach”), then the learning that is possible for students is far greater than it would be otherwise.

My plan for this year is therefore twofold – by developing a strategic plan for the growth, use and implementation of technology for teaching and learning at the school, I’ll be seriously considering the role of professional development to not only address the technical and pedagogical needs of staff with respect to technology, but with respect to the learning spaces as well.

Changing Culture: Consultation, Community Involvement and Nurturing Innovation

What was really clear from early presentations where schools had successfully changed the culture was that in every case, without exception, students and the general community were involved in the process. Presenters made it very clear that a large part of what kept students interested in the school was the building of relationships with their teachers and school leaders, and that empowering them to drive aspects of the decision-making process was the easiest way to get buy in from the student body. We’re currently in the process of investigating a new timetable structure to cope with the increasing enrolment numbers at our school, and it gave me the idea – why don’t we have the students organise a community forum to collect ideas and present options about what this might look like? It is one of the things I’m going to suggest as part of our strategy over the next few months, and I’m hoping that other members of the leadership team will see the value in such a move. Does it mean that the student voice will be the only determinant of any change? No. But it will mean that their voices will be heard and can be considered as a part of the change process.

The other barrier to change that was discussed at length was the perception of what school should look like that came from parents – it was interesting to hear how principals who had only recently taken up their positions were contacted by families to find out if they were prepared to “stop the madness” that was going on in the school. As previous participants in the education process, many parents “know” what school is and are afraid of any departure from that picture. Successful schools that have managed to shift their pedagogical approaches away from teacher-centric, content-focused delivery practices to student-directed, teacher-guided, personalised learning unanimously had parents heavily involved in the transition. There was a significant investment in parent education; bringing teachers, students and parents together to openly share what it was each stakeholder group thought education should look like and what tools and environments would facilitate it. The greatest allies for schools in these conversations were the students themselves – it turns out that kids are much better at convincing their parents something is a good idea than the school is, and when all parties agree the transition is smoother and much quicker than it might otherwise be.

Stephen Harris, Principal of Northern Beaches Christian School, presented his “steps” for successful cultural change:

  1. Observe the situation, and involve everyone in the process;
  2. Have a clear vision about where you’re headed;
  3. Develop the vision with others – build it and it allow it to grow;
  4. Encourage ideas that support the vision through space and collaboration;
  5. Act on those ideas; and
  6. Evaluate progress regularly and adapt the vision based on what is working.

It’s a relatively simple idea, but for me I think the key is definitely defining the vision and having others buy-in to it – making it a shared vision so that everyone is working towards the same goal. I think of it a bit like a soccer team – everyone plays a very specific role, with  each working towards getting the ball in the opponent’s goal while not giving up their own. Without the goals at either end, we’d have a lot less structure and nothing concrete to work towards, and there’d also be no way of determining the success of any unplanned moments of brilliance that might come along.

Structures that encourage innovation

Another thread throughout many of the presentations was that innovation and change comes about only when supported by appropriate structures. Some of these are organisational, others physical. I’ve extracted the ones that struck a chord with me below.

Leadership Structures

A couple of schools talked about the way they’ve structured their leadership teams to both take advantage of the skills and expertise of their staff and to encourage creative thinking and innovation. NBCS and the Australian Science and Mathematics School both threw out the traditional, faculty-based organisational structure and instead have adopted more fluid and dynamic approaches that encourage experimentation and collaboration rather than reporting up and down the chain of command. This primarily achieves two things:

  • it eliminates the expectation of management that a hierarchical, top-to-bottom structure creates, encouraging every person in the organisation to take on leadership roles and innovate, and shifting the emphasis of senior members of the organisation towards visionary thinking and innovation; and
  • it breaks down the barriers that are naturally created by the independent business units common in hierarchies – typically in high schools, this is the faculty unit.

I love the idea that teachers should spend more time working with colleagues from other disciplines and sharing their thoughts more widely, and that leaders are given greater opportunity to define what the important aspects of their roles are.

What was really evident, however, was that for this approach to work, everyone must be invested in the vision and strategic direction of the school. There’s a significant amount of groundwork necessary to put that in place before you can just flip the organisation on its head.

Personal Learning Time

At our school, students are not timetabled on every class which provides them with their own Personal Learning Time. The idea is that by providing students with some flexible time they can use to focus on their study in a way that best suits them, and can seek out extra assistance from teachers and peers outside of regular class times. It’s a good idea, but it isn’t always utilised by students as well as it could be.

Many of the schools that presented talked about the way they have adopted “20% time” similar to organisations such as Google and 3M. The idea being that students can choose something to work on – absolutely anything, with no restrictions or limitations – and use 20% of the timetable at school to explore their interest. There is an expectation that they will present what they learn back to their teachers and peers, then move on to another topic or interest.

Across the board, the schools that have adopted it have said it is one of the most popular initiatives amongst the student body. It got me thinking – we’ve got that space in the timetable (which in our case works out to be about “16% time”), what if we could recognise anything a student did that sat outside of the regular curriculum during that time? I think there’s merit in the idea, and I also believe that there’s a good chance that the learning that takes place would flow on to better results in other subjects too. I’m going to investigate how we might be able to get that happening – providing some kind of framework for students to better utilise their non-timetabled school time, but still crediting them with some formal recognition of the learning that takes place. I’m sure it’s possible.

The Staffroom

I’ve never been a fan of staff rooms. Personally, I find that while they’re great for developing collegiality amongst the people that share a space, what they also tend to do is create separation between different staff rooms as a result of people not being challenged or exposed to alternative ideas on a regular basis. When there is little need to relocate yourself, busy days often mean you just don’t bother to do so. I’ve always made it my mission to try and get around to other staff rooms regularly so that staff know who I am and I get a chance to hear a bit about what they’re doing. I haven’t been as successful this year as I have previously (moving to a new school no doubt being a factor), but it’s something I’m working on.

To counter the negative effects of the staff room, some schools have begun the process of eliminating them altogether, or at the very least blurring the line between what defines a staff room “space”. Instead, staff are encouraged to work in locations that make the most sense at the time for their work – if it is collaborative planning, moving to a space with a round table and plenty of whiteboard space is going to be much more conducive than a standard staff room space might be. Equally, if what you’re working on requires uninterrupted attention, finding a private area where you can shut yourself away for a short period of time to finish something up is equally important.

I don’t believe that you can just get rid of the staff room altogether – I think there’s a need in any school environment for teachers to be able to separate themselves from the students at times, especially when you consider the many situations where privacy is important (for the students and the staff). But I do believe that you can minimise the amount of staff room space in a school. A large space or two with options for lots of people to work in different ways strikes me as the ideal – just like we want to create dynamic, fluid spaces for learning in different ways, so too should we be looking at these options for staff. Besides, there will always be the occasional empty space at various times of the day where classes aren’t happening, and that could be useful too.

The biggest blocker here would no doubt be staff themselves – many staff have become comfortable working in the current paradigm, and to change would be a fairly significant shift. We’re also used to many procedures in schools that tend to work on the assumption that teachers reside in staff rooms and that those places aren’t fluid – there’d be a lot of work that needs to be done to alter administrative processes and implement solutions that would allow us to operate in a different environment.

Information and technology

The Library

Without a doubt, one of the most contentious spaces when any suggestion for change is made is the library. I love books – I’ve got a decent sized collection of my own at home, but the reality is that when I go looking for information nowadays often books are not my first point of reference. There are some situations where books are absolutely fantastic – one of the most challenging things I find at the moment when teaching accounting is that while there is plenty of information online for techniques and processes that apply to accounting generally, finding information about things that are specifically Australian that are accessible to students can be really tough. There are books that do this well, and their value cannot be understated.

So when I suggest the following, don’t interpret it as me being a book-burner or anything – libraries need to change in a BIG way. We don’t need anywhere near the amount of books that is typical in a conventional, established library. We also don’t need the library to contain classrooms, labs of computers or tables set up only for individual study. The library has the potential to become an energising hub of information, research and thinking, but libraries with older designs don’t conjure up those images anymore.

I see libraries now as being much more multi-modal, and there are many librarians out there that completely understand it. Our TLs are regularly recording and sourcing video for students that they make available through our media servers, and this supplements our book collection. They do a great job and I value the TL role immensely.

However the spaces in libraries need to reflect this. More small study areas, lots of variety in the spaces available, collections of resources such as podcasts, videos, lectures and media from educational institutions across the world – that’s what is relevant to our students today. And, best of all, a lot of this material is actually free. The problem is the quantity and quality of what is out there, but that’s where the real value of the Teacher Librarian is – they know how to curate and catalogue amazing content.

To be able to do this effectively, TLs need the time and technology to support this move, and some input to help design library spaces that are attractive and inviting to students of all ages.


Communication is never the best it can be – it just isn’t possible. It’s a multi-faceted problem that gets so complex with new forms of communication that keeping up is a job in itself. But one of the things that always frustrates me is the amount of time spent on communicating administrative information when instead, what inspires learning and excites people is hearing about interesting developments in a range of areas.

We’ve got large screen TVs hooked up across the college that are capable of streaming all types of media from a content server. What exactly are they used for? Right now, RSS feeds of news, the school Twitter feeds and similar, but most of what goes up there is administrative – this event is coming up, don’t forget exam week etc. None of the content is designed to challenge thinking – it’s used to disseminate information.

That information shouldn’t dominate those screens. Sure, it’s important and it needs to be shared, but surely there are better ways to make use of significant amounts of display time. I’ve been thinking – what if the administrative announcements were up during certain times of the day, while during others the screens were showing streams of what was happening in the performing arts, or video of some interesting science experiments, or a major cosmological event, or a public lecture from a local university on a human rights issue? One of the ways I think we can better engage students with that kind of information is to make it easily accessible, and to give them a reason to go back and look at the screens on a regular basis. If all we’re doing is feeding them information they are getting from other sources (such as their smartphones), it’s an opportunity that’s going to waste.

I’m not completely sure of the capabilities of our systems, but I understand that the server and software is quite powerful. I’m going to incorporate better use of our existing systems into the strategic plan for technology.

The power of Peer Instruction

For me, the best session of the conference was the second day keynote presented by Eric Mazur from Harvard University. I mentioned it earlier because of all of the sessions that were held, it struck me as being the most interactive. While others attempted to involve us, the enthusiasm Eric generated as a result of the use of peer instruction in a restrictive lecture space was enlightening. What was surprising wasn’t that it worked – it’s something I’m sure all teachers have used before – but that it made me feel like a student that wanted to learn again. By the end of his lecture, I’m sure that every single person present was excited about thermal expansion in solids, or at least was hooked enough to need to know the answer to his question.

Mazur has delivered other lectures on this same topic in the past – his Confessions of a Converted Lecturer video is available on YouTube (this version is 80 minutes long, but there is also an 18 minute summary) – but ultimately, what he showed us was that students, when involved in each other’s learning, are able to teach others and convince them of a correct answer if they’re given the time to do so. Using real-time feedback and response systems, he was able to demonstrate how once a critical mass of students in a large group had understood the concept, he could have the group collectively find the correct answer to a problem very quickly. Even in a lecture, where the teacher remains at the front and direct access to them by the students isn’t possible, it is enough to have students speak with the people around them.

He’s known as the “Pioneer” of Peer Instruction and Flipped Learning, and he spoke about both of these topics in his presentation, but the clear contrast with his presentation compared to many others was that in his case, his focus was on the change in pedagogy that was necessary for student improvement. Not once did he discuss the flipped classroom beyond the idea that the video became the tool for delivery of content and the classroom experience the change to engage with the material through problems and practice – once that had ben established, all of his time was spent emphasising that the classroom environment and teacher actions had to change to ensure that opportunity was provided to the students.

I’ve taken a lot of what he modelled on board and I’m going to endeavour to do a lot more to provide my students with as many opportunities as possible to practice and share their learning experiences. I’m convinced that it needs to be a fundamental part of what learning should look like in all classrooms. That too will be a factor in the development of our technology plan.

Ultimately, a LOT to think about and share with the leadership team at school on my return. Was it a worthwhile two days – for me, absolutely. For the school? That’s dependent on the willingness of everyone to experiment a little and enact elements of what has been successful in other places. I think there’s a lot there that has the power to improve what we do.

Digital Technologies: Now a Subject in the Australian Curriculum

I was thrilled to see that the Australian Curriculum: Technologies has finally been made available online for all teachers to see and begin using in their schools. Sure, it is currently marked as “awaiting endorsement”, but that’s largely due to the Curriculum Review that has been instigated by our current federal minister Christopher Pyne. We’re now at a point where educators can get moving on implementation of the F-10 curriculum.

What excited me about the Digital Technologies curriculum in particular is the way that it has embraced the Digital Technologies as a way of thinking and a tool for creativity. The problem I’ve always had with the teaching of ICT in schools is that it has largely been seen as a tool that should be integrated to assist the teaching of other subjects – that’s fine, but that’s captured in the ICT General Capability in the Australian Curriculum and is very different to the study of ICT as a discipline, sometimes branded as Computer Science, Informatics, Computing or similar. Given the ubiquitous nature of ICT in our world today, it has always struck me as odd that we’ve relegated the understanding of ICT to being all about its use, rather than how it manages to achieve the “magic” that many people mistake it to be.

So finally we have some guidance for teachers, especially in the primary years, about what to teach to impress upon students the fundamental knowledge and skills required to be a developer of ICT solutions. This doesn’t mean we have to make students in Kindergarten write code in Java or anything – in fact, the Digital Technologies curriculum for Foundation to Year 2 instead focuses on pattern recognition and the classification of data in contexts that kids can understand. A significant amount of time was spent during the writing of the curriculum looking at how what students need to know to develop a strong conceptual understanding of the Digital Technologies could be integrated with what they are learning in other subjects. That’s important – it validates what teachers are currently doing to teach these ideas, or provides explicit advice to teachers about what they need to address when they design new lessons.

I accept that not everyone agrees with me – here’s a post from the Conversation written by an academic from the University of Newcastle – but on reading the article (which was forwarded to me by someone I know who has an interest in the DT curriculum), I felt the need to respond to some of the statements being made.

You can see my post in the comment thread at the link above, but I feel so passionate about what I had to say I felt the need to post it here, since I believe it stands on its own.

As an IT teacher who has the skills and knowledge to deliver this curriculum, I get a little bit frustrated about some of the ongoing concerns people keep expressing with the curriculum, largely because I feel like many of the criticisms are being made with underlying assumptions in place that need to be challenged.

The Digital Technologies curriculum does not insist that students become programmers – at least no more so that the English curriculum insists they become authors, the Mathematics curriculum insists they become mathematicians or the Science curriculum insists they become Scientists.

Many of the same arguments and/or questions about the relevance of some of the content included can be asked about other learning areas – such as the need for students to understand stem-and-leaf plots in Mathematics, or the structure of multi-cellular organisms. Look at all of the curriculum documents (and it is important we differentiate the curriculum from a syllabus – they are different things) and you’ll find that if it really came down to it, you could question the inclusion of many of the skills and/or understandings that the writers in each area have decided to focus on.

That aside, the other major consternation people have about it all is the time / crowded nature of the curriculum, however this all comes about because many commentators still insist on looking at the subjects as being independent of one another. We look at the Science curriculum and then, at school, we teach kids Science. We do the same with Maths, English… Why? How many times in the real world do we look at a problem and say “oh, that’s a problem that can only be solved by mathematics, I’m not going to consider any of my scientific or social understanding to come up with an answer”?

The curriculum has been written with the interdependence and relationships between the learning areas in mind – or at least that is my understanding. We talk about falling levels of literacy and numeracy, and then argue that this is a case for eliminating non-critical subjects from the learning of students? Surely the reason they are not engaging with school has to do with the fact that the way they are being taught isn’t working for them? It is possible to teach many numeracy and literacy concepts using much of what has been included in the Digital Technologies curriculum. Similarly, you can teach programming within the context of mathematics, algorithms as recipes in a kitchen, and data representation as an exploration of pattern recognition and language translation.

To simply look at the fact that programming has been included in the curriculum and then dismiss it due to the fact that not every kid needs to be a programmer completely fails to recognise the importance of logical reasoning and the methodical development of algorithmic solutions when faced with complex problems – a critical skill that can be developed through learning computational thinking. Not every student will end up being a mathematician, so why do they need to know about polynomials and parabolas?

And I also don’t think it is sufficient to argue that a lack of trained teachers is reason enough for the subject to be relegated to a position of less importance. The curriculum should be both aspirational and intended – it is up to schools, society and teacher-training programs to find reasons to encourage people with the skills and knowledge required to teach the curriculum to consider joining the profession. The same argument would not be applied to any other learning area – we would never say that not having enough English teachers would be reason enough to stop teaching English, would we?

The use of technology for the “thrill” of using it is fine – I’ve got no problem with people making use of the great technology available to better their lives etc. But accepting technology as “magic” is not acceptable in the longer-term if we want to continue to develop as a society. Would we be where we are today if we had simply accepted the idea that rain just happened and didn’t instead seek out a reason for it? We have the technology that we have today because people who found the passion and excitement to learn more about it did so through curiosity and interest.

We can make the Digital Technologies curriculum interesting for all students, just like we can for every other learning area. The first step in making that a reality is to stop artificially segregating the subjects and to emphasise the interdependence that exists across every discipline of knowledge. When designing a lesson or unit of work, what we need to do is look across multiple learning areas and find ways to engage students with lots of different interests – to connect what they are learning to their world.

Does this mean every child will like learning every aspect of the DT curriculum? No, just like not every child will enjoy Maths, Science or other subjects. But we can at least develop in them an appreciation of the value each discipline has, and the impact of each on their way of life now and in the future.

Oh – and on the last point re: not including Scratch (or anything else) in high school – the curriculum doesn’t do that. There is nothing that precludes the use of visual programming to teach concepts from any learning area. What has been expressly mentioned is that students learn about general purpose programming languages. These languages are different when compared to drag-and-drop type visual languages because they allow us to perform significantly more computation than is possible otherwise. They are important, but that doesn’t mean that other, more familiar platforms or languages can’t be used to address other aspects of the curriculum. I use a similar technique to explore recursion with my students, producing fantastic looking artwork using Context-Free grammars and exploring randomness as well (which is a nice way of visualising genetic mutation).

We need to stop looking at movement through the bands as discrete periods of learning – it is a continuum and the learning that takes place in earlier bands should be used as the foundation for learning in later ones.

I’d be very interested to hear the thoughts of other educators of all disciplines on this issue and those like it. Please join the conversation and post your comments below – this is one of those topics I’d love to see start a very interesting, ongoing dialogue.

#ACTvotes – but why does it take so long?

For those of you from outside of the ACT, you may not be aware that we’ve just had our ACT Election for our next term of government. The election coverage can be followed in a few places:

Of course, there are a myriad of other places for information too, but these tend to be the ones I use each time there is an election on I’m interested in following. This post hasn’t happened as a result of me wanting to talk about the results (although another minority government in the ACT isn’t anything new), but about the length of time it takes to get a result after each poll.

You see, the ACT has only one house of parliament (most States and the Federal government in Australia are bicameral and have a lower and upper house), and the Legislative Assembly is made up of 17 members spread across 3 electorates. As such, the election uses a quota-based system known as Hare-Clark, combined with a Robson Rotation for listing candidates on the ballot paper. As Antony points out on his blog and in the coverage on the ABC last night, the results can take a long time to finalise because:

  1. A single transferable vote method means that until all votes are distributed to lower preferences, candidates may not meet the required quota and therefore it cannot be determined who has won a seat;
  2. Robson rotation means there are a LOT of different ballot papers (since candidates are in a different order) so the scrutineering process takes longer since you cannot use the position of the preference on the ballot as an indication of who the vote is for; and
  3. Historically, the ACT always ends up with minority governments, so the cross bench needs time to negotiate with the major parties to determine who will be supported to form government.

It amazes me that we still rely on a manual count of votes to determine our winner given what computers are capable of today. Security is often raised as the reason why voting cannot occur over the Internet or via electronic means, and although the ACT has electronic voting facilities available, these are only installed in about 6 or so polling places and are used predominantly for pre-polling. So, although about 20% of the vote is entered electronically, the greater majority of votes are done by filling out ballot papers.

We’ll put the costs of printing and the environmental impact of the campaigns aside for the time being – I want to focus on the actual counting process. I’ve thought about this a lot, and one of the most frustrating things about the whole thing is that any voting system, including Hare-Clark, can be easily represented algorithmically. So, this would mean it would be trivial to write a computer program that could use the voting data to automatically determine the winner of the election in a small amount of time. In fact, one of the tasks I’m setting for some students involves writing a program to do just this, and I’m pretty confident that these Year 10 students with about a year of programming experience will be able to do just that. So, that clearly isn’t a deal breaker in terms of improving the efficiency of the process.

The biggest hurdle, then, would appear to be taking the votes themselves and converting them into an electronic format that could be used by the computer program to generate the result. If electronic voting and/or Internet voting are still a way off, then with the advances in OCR I can’t see why the paper ballots couldn’t be processed using a workflow like:

  1. Ballot papers are scanned into a computer;
  2. The OCR reads the vote to determine:
    1. The position of each candidate on the ballot paper; and
    2. The preference, if any, awarded to each candidate on that particular vote;
  3. The OCR-generated data is then displayed on a screen next to the scanned copy of the ballot paper, and is checked by 2 or more scrutineers for accuracy (this step currently takes place with paper ballots, but this approach could allow the workload to be distributed much more easily):
    1. If accurate, the scrutineers approve the result;
    2. If OCR has generated an error, the scrutineers manually correct the error, then approve the result;
  4. The accurate data is then formatted and stored in a database so that it can be read by the ccounting program/algorithm;
  5. At any stage, the votes that have been entered can be analysed using the algorithm, and this could generate not just first preference votes, but the final result of the Hare-Clark allocation based on the votes that have been collected.

Given the manual process still required to transfer the votes from paper form into an appropriate digital format, it would probably still take an evening to have all of the votes entered into the computer and processed. However, at any time during the evening, a full analysis of the outcome of the vote could be determined (based on a partial vote count) and this would make it easier for analysts like Antony Green to predict not just the parties that would win the seats, but the candidates as well. By 11pm that night, I dare say that everyone would know which candidates had achieved a quota, and by Monday morning negotiations could begin between the cross-benches and major parties with the result of the election known and confirmed.

It seems absurd to me that this kind of process isn’t already in place – not only does it make sense economically, but it’d also mean that our pollies could get on with running the place rather than being forced to wait for two weeks to determine what the composition of the parliament would actually look like.

I’d be interested to hear from people who have either been involved in the scrutineering or counting process, or from one of the analysts like Antony Green himself, to try to determine why we haven’t got a system like the one I’ve described in place already. Given it could be used for any voting system currently in use in Australia (since they all need to have defined algorithms that can easily be programmed into a computer), there has to be an incentive for the AEC to implement such a solution.

AppleTV in Educational Settings

Recently I’ve been experimenting with configuration and use of Apple TV in the classroom as a means of providing teachers and students with wireless projection capabilities for their supported iOS and Apple devices over AirPlay. This came to a head for me when I heard the announcement from Apple in late September that the version of iOS for Apple TV (v 5.1) included support for connecting the Apple TV to enterprise networks that use the WPA2 / Wireless Certificate / Radius methods for authentication. In the ACT, the public school system uses such a configuration, and until this recent update Apple TVs could not be connected to the wireless network.

So I investigated the process and found that is is actually a relatively simple one. The requirements are:

  • A 2nd or 3rd Generation Apple TV;
  • A Mac capable of running the latest version of Apple Configurator (available through the Mac App Store)
  • The certificate file for the wireless network to which you are connecting
  • A Micro USB cable (available from all good retailers, or perhaps as an inclusion with a mobile phone you have had over the past 5 years or so)

With those 5 things, the process became fairly simple to setup. The steps are all essentially laid out in the following three Apple Hot Topics from their support website:

  1. Apple TV: How to configure 802.1X Using a Profile – this can be used for setting up a profile for any iOS device, including iPads, iPods and iPhones so that the user doesn’t have to manually enter configuration details.
  2. Apple TV: How to configure a proxy using profile – again, can be done for any iOS device. You can even set these profiles up using iPhone Configuration Utility, but Apple Configurator may be required for Apple TV support (at least at the moment)
  3. Apple TV: How to install a configuration profile – This is the final step once you’ve built your profile, and ultimately is the way you prepare it for deployment.

There are a couple of gotchas that you ultimately need to be aware of when you do this, and a few steps involved specifically for connecting to the ETD network:

  1. The EDU network uses different settings to the STU network – this is in place at the moment but will, after the move to SchoolsNet, will no longer be in place, making things a bit easier. For this to work at our school, I needed to use STU (since students cannot connect their devices to EDU).
  2. The credentials for connecting to the STU network need to be present on the AD server for your student network – teacher credentials won’t work, so you need to have an account on your student server and use that one.
  3. Proxy settings for STU are required – make sure you use the same settings that are in place on your STU desktops and laptops (I won’t publish these settings here – if you’re a teacher in the ACT ETD, you’ll be able to look them up at school). You should be using the Automatic Proxy settings (not auto-detect).
  4. You will need to get a copy of your wireless certificate off the student server. You can export a copy of the certificate from your server so that you can put it on the Mac that will be running Apple Configurator.
  5. When transferring the profile to Apple TV, you MUST have the power cable plugged in – the HDMI cable isn’t necessary (I found that I couldn’t plug both HDMI and USB 2 in at the same time because the cables I had were a bit fat) but can remain plugged in.
  6. Finally, your STU wireless network needs to be able to support AirPlay – this requires multicast/Bonjour to be active. It is active on our network due to it being used for wireless printing for our Cafe App.

Other than that, it is a pretty painless procedure. Once the profile is installed as outlined in the third Hot Topic, all you need to do is double-tap the home button on your iOS device, tap on the AirPlay icon and select the device from the list of AirPlay devices on the network. If you’re using an AirPlay capable Mac, the AirPlay icon appears in your toolbar at the top of the screen when an AirPlay capable device is present.

There are a couple of settings you’ll want to turn on for your Apple TV:

  1. Consider setting an Airplay password if you want to restrict use of the Apple TV to a few people. This might be something you want to do, but it does limit the way you can have students use the device.
  2. If you want to allow anyone to connect via AirPlay, it is a good idea to turn on the setting that requires you to enter a 4 digit passcode to connect. This way, students or teachers need to be in the room to connect their device, and you won’t get students from the other side of the school throwing their display up without you knowing.

For the cost of a big screen TV that supports HDMI (< $1000) or a HDMI-capable projector (< $1200) and an Apple TV (about $100), you can have the capability in your classroom for anyone with a capable device to display their work to their peers. This gives the teacher the flexibility of demonstrating something from anywhere in the room, and for students to do the same. When you compare this setup to the cost of an Interactive Whiteboard (in the order of $4000-$7000), the potential for deploying this on a large scale is pretty significant if money is tight and doesn’t carry with it the restrictions of having to plug yourself in via cables in a specific place in the room.

I’d be interested to know what you think of this set up, and am happy to help you get yours up and running if it is something you’re interested in pursuing.

Way too long between drinks…

I spent a bit of time tonight looking back at the stuff I’ve done this year and realised that it has been way too long since I’ve given a rundown of my experiences with education or technology here on my blog. I’ve made some minor updates to my website, but no real post to capture what I’ve been doing. So, this post will just lay out some of what I’ve been up to this year, and it should start me on a more consistent and regular posting run from this point on (at least, that’s the intention…)

  1. Re-design the system for reporting at school so that we generate all of our course documents from a single database – the same one we use for reporting and assessment;
  2. Win a CS4HS Grant from Google to deliver some PD to teachers – in the ACT and in Bendigo, Victoria – on integrating Computer Science into the curriculum through mathematics, english, art and other subjects;
  3. Founding President of InTERACT (Information Technology in Education and Research ACT) – ACCE affiliated professional organisation for educators in the ACT;
  4. Roll out a dual-boot image for MacBooks to all teachers at school, allowing them to use either Mac OS or Windows as required for individual lessons or classes;
  5. Apply for and be appointed to the ACARA Advisory Group for the Australian Curriculum: Technologies for the writing phase, working to advise the writers on the content that will ultimately become the Australian Curriculum;
  6. Begin developing a course for iTunes U that allows students to learn programming on an iPad – still in development, but excited by the possibilities of using this (and iBooks Author) as a means of deploying content to iPads;
  7. Accept a position with the Inspire Centre for ICT Education at the University of Canberra / ACT Education and Training Directorate to develop the capacity of schools and teachers to utilise Apple Technologies effectively in the classroom;
  8. Complete online courses in Cryptography and Gamification through Coursera – a free, online educational platform supported by world class universities;
  9. Enrol in a class on Designing a New Learning Environment through Stanford University’s Venture Lab platform;
  10. Work closely with the organisers of the ACCE Conference on their ACCE Unplugged hangout sessions to get people excited and ready for the ACCE National Conference which took place in Perth in early October; and
  11. Set up Apple TV as a wireless projection solution for iOS and (new) MacBook devices for use in the classroom on HDMI capable projectors and TVs, with the intent to roll this out to many more classrooms in the future (the setup costs under $1000 per room, compared to $7000 for an IWB).

They’re the highlights at least – I’m sure there have been other things, but that alone has taken up large chunks of time this year. Now that I think about it, I really have been busy, so it’s no real surprise to see why the blog has been quiet of late.

Still, I’m making the commitment now and everyone who ends up reading this post will be my witness – I’ll post regularly, and use this as a way of keeping track of what I’ve achieved and where I’m going. I hope you’ll join me on the journey!

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.

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?


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.

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.