Mimanifesto – Jaye’s weblog

Microsoft’s Anthony Salcito recently announced these two great new tools for Office 365.

Microsoft School Information Sync will connect current school management information systems systems with Office 365 and the Azure Active Directory service on which it is built.

This makes the Office and Azure platforms the gateway to seamless single sign-on for all the applications used within a school – and then allows tools such as the OneNote Class Notebook, Sites, and other education apps to integrate seamlessly with this information to populate them with students assigned to individual classes and teachers.

School Information Sync helps to automate the complex and manual processes of sharing school Student Information System (SIS) data with education apps and class websites. So the complex and manual processes of sharing school Student Information System (SIS) data with education apps and class websites can now be fully automated saving time and effort on the part of teachers and school administrators. You’re in control of teacher and student data, and sync once for all your learning applications. Teachers and students enjoy a single sign-on experience for their learning apps. Great news:-)

But the real juice for learning and teaching comes with the new Class Dashboard. Microsoft Class Dashboard is a new service for Office 365 for Education that provides an easy to use web site that works seamlessly with Microsoft Office 365.  Office 365 with Class Dashboard helps teachers and learners by enabling more productive classrooms, bringing together all the tools and content teachers are familiar with and love, and engaging learners with real productive learning and ultimately, driving greater achievement.

It provides basic assignment workflows, discussions, and collaboration around classroom materials including the OneNote Class Notebook. Class dashboard provides a central hub where teachers and learners can access all their learning materials, Class NoteBook, assignments and calendars. So both sides of the desk can now track exactly where they are and what is expected of them for any given lesson.

Microsoft Class Dashboard builds upon their leading productivity apps like OneNote, Word, OneDrive, PowerPoint, Office Mix and Sway  to help teachers and students alike get more out of their classroom experience.   It uses the familiar tools and content libraries teachers have created over years to help them get the most out of their investment in time spent building up these resources, and adds a completely new dimension by enabling sharing, and really new ways of using them that are collaborative, creative and really engaging to today’s learners.

You can read more about both these new tools in this blog post from Microsoft

This is a real game-changer from Microsoft. They’ve listened to feedback from Education users and acted to bring these great new tools to Office 365, which is fast becoming the go-to platform for schools, districts and national deployments looking for collaborative managed learning platforms to leverage the power of connectivity and creativity in all our classrooms to drive real lasting education transformation. And as they are cross-platform, you will still be able to use them from Apple and Android devices as well as Windows… But when will they be coming to Glow?

It’s no secret that I am a pretty big fan of Office 365 as a managed learning platform for education. After preferring Google Apps for a long time ( here’s my take on this), the change came about primarily because I’ve watched how responsive they’ve been over the past few years to concerns users have raised about features and functionality. The evolution of O365 from a business tool into a great product for education which is intuitive, cross platform and form-factor, and fun to use has been quite impressive for an original cynic like me (and as I said in my recent Learning Through Technology Conference keynote, its OK to change your mind). When you add in OneNote, Office Mix and Sway to the pot, you really have an awesome set of tools which more than just being individually great, all work together incredibly well. I really haven’t seen a similar investment from Google to be honest although I see colleagues doing great things with both platforms.

A good example of this Microsoft development trajectory for Office 365 is the way Yammer and Office Online are built to work together. Great for collaborative documents where discussion might be necessary before and during the work to be completed. However, Delve is the tool which is really exciting me at the moment. I think tools which predict and suggest are going to be pretty big in the future and the way Delve works with Office Graph to push relevant content, act as a search, and help with your own workflow is proving really useful to me personally. delve is being improved all the time. You can find out the latest by doing a Twitter search for Delve and checking out the latest news from the recent Microsoft Ignite event where some more really cute fixes were added to Delve functionality. You can read about some of these improvements in this article.

Here is another great article listing three developments which would make Office 365 even better…

This typifies the Microsoft approach to me. Continually tweaking and developing products to make them work better together as well as delivering new tools like Sway. The NewGen portals in O365 such as Office Video are a case in point. And as far as education is concerned I believe they are genuinely invested for the right reasons. Office Mix, the new PowerPoint 2013 add-on has massive potential to be a real game-changer for education, as have the OneNote Class and Staff notebooks.

I know its not been ‘cool’ to like Microsoft in the past – Google was always the ‘cool’ tech corp however, there is much more of an even playing field now, and for me, as a former Google fan, MS are now moving ahead of the pack.

Learning Through technology has quickly become one of my favourite education conferences due to the eclectic mix of speakers, panel discussions and the general vibe about the place. I’ve been asked to speak at the past three events and this year delivered the closing keynote on day one of the conference.

My presentation this year addressed what I consider to be the big Elephants in the Room when it comes to education technology. These are;

  • Device choice
  • Assessment
  • Teacher professional development
  • Government policy decision-making

I will publish the presentation on Slideshare soon, but its perhaps worth flagging up a couple of things arising from my presentation and the discussions which followed.

Of course, GLOW came up more than once. I’m no longer involved in the development process and so I made just two passing references to it during my speech but it reared its ugly head somewhat more forcibly during the following panel discussion. To my mind, we are collectively still looking at GLOW through rose-tinted spectacles. I think it’s time has come and gone, together with all other top-down imposed education technology decisions. The current situation with GLOW is a classic example of a ‘policy lever’ approach to decision making by a government increasingly desperate to pull some sort of iron out of the fire surrounding the national intranet which has staggered along since 2006 now and somehow refuses to do the decent thing and die – or fundamentally change (including the name).

Why a policy lever approach? Well it’s this. The current GLOW programme was the result of some very negative publicity back in 2010/11 when the previous GLOW board under civil servant Trudy Sharpe (and overall responsibility of the then head of the Scottish Government learning directorate, Sarah Smith) completely lost the plot over just how to go about replacing the first life-expired iteration following cabinet Secretary Micheal Russell’s now famous YouTube announcement that he had cancelled the GLOW Futures procurement project. The reaction to the negative publicity and the subsequent exposure of of Sharpe and her fellow GLOW board members as unable to manage the succession process was the formation of the excellence group, of which I was a member. We duly did as we were asked and scoped out a plan for a future GLOW that was workable and could have been built and implemented in the year following our report.

If this report had have been implemented as we were assured it would, then we might not be in the mess we are now with respect to GLOW and the continuing negative and polarising viewpoints held by much of the Scottish Education Community. Unfortunately, the dead hand of the Learning Directorate civil service applied the brakes and in my view completely mismanaged the progress of the re-worked GLOW over the coming months. They dragged their feet over every aspect of the work. In particular, the recruitment of a leading figure in Scottish Education technology was kyboshed by the months of inertia and it took ‘robust discussions’ involving myself and others with the civil servants and Mr Russell before the appointment of three secondees from education into the team to drive forward the project was sanctioned and actioned. I remember an ad-hoc conversation with Micheal in the SECC John Menzies back in 2013 at the Scottish Learning Festival where I had to make the point that this was a credibility and perception issue that needed to be dealt with.

In my conference presentation this week, I paid a belated tribute to Micheal Russell which nevertheless referenced the ongoing problem with the Learning Directorate. I said this:

I have to pay tribute to the previous education secretary, Michael Russell. More than almost anyone I’ve met in government anywhere, he really ‘gets’ the whole education technology thing. He was always prepared to listen to everybody, including those he didn’t agree with,and I think he’d say, if he was here, that he learned something from most of the folks he listened to. He really tried to push the learning with technology agenda centre stage, but ultimately he was perhaps less effective than he’d have liked. Quite frankly He was let down by inept and woeful career civil servants who were quite incapable of understanding just what is involved in the business of education.

I recall Ollie bray making much the same comment about the civil service back at the time of the excellence group report publication (you can read his comments here).  He said at the time…

the failure of Glow (in my opinion) has been down to poor leadership (at Scottish Government level), poor decision-making, blocking at a project management and board level, risk aversion, and ultimately the greed of a handful of people – who, quite frankly should be ashamed of themselves and their hobby which seems to have become the burning of taxpayers’ money.

I don’t see any evidence that this has changed. Glow is still suffering from an inertia which has pushed it well past its sell-by date in my view. Rebranding might have helped, but this was squashed during the ICTEx discussions despite what I certainly recall was a majority view that it should have been changed. I recently heard a viewpoint that a Scottish Digital Learning Account for every learner which gave access to ‘Glow’ services as well as other useful materials, tools and sites was the best way forward. I’d agree as it goes some way to removing the name which long ago became a toxic brand.

I’d have to inevitably question the value for money aspect of this continuing GLOW debacle. Office 365 is a great suite of tools and services (and there is also Google Apps of course) and maybe it would be more cost-effective for Scottish LA’s to sign agreements to roll this out to their schools independently of GLOW rather than continue to be a part of the GLOW agreement. Might this cost the country less overall and give a better return on investment, particularly with the development trajectory of the service being managed by one of the world’s leading cutting edge tech-corps?

The crucial point to all of this is that none of these measures since 2012 address the real issue of behavioural change. If we want to improve learning and teaching with technology we have to change classroom behaviours.This means a long-term strategy for supporting teachers in building their capacity to use technology in their everyday work, not just as an add-on but as an embedded feature of their normal practice. Without a behaviour change strategy and plan, every technology deployment will end up becoming an expensive and time-consuming disaster. We’ve seen this in the history of GLOW to date and its there in all the research and experience from around the world. Successful education systems are the ones around the world who invest in such a strategy and maintain it with sustainable funding and commitment.

This is the way forward if we are truly serious about twenty first century education. And it might just be the saviour of GLOW.

And as for Learning Through Technology 2016, it will be in my diary as soon as the dates are announced.

…and as they track you through the dark, they tell you that you’ve failed the test…

Some words from one of my favourite songs ( Living in the Plastic Age by the Buggles)

HowtoHandleBadReviewOnline-OnlineReputationFor me, these words sum up much of what currently passes for assessment at home and around the world. Technology use and the so-called e-learning paradigm which everybody loves to use (strange – did we call learning with books b-Learning?) has, or should have, sharpened our thinking on just what is assessment for and what good assessment practice looks like.  lets get something straight from the off though.. Don’t assume online assessment becomes somehow ’21st Century’ just by it being online. Tests and exams are used primarily in education to elicit compliance from learners.  They only really measure two things: Memory, and how good someone is at test-taking. This is why we use past-papers for drill and practice. The whole assessment agenda is currently driven by the education publishers because it serves their agenda. They have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Even the digitised text books and content are still static consumable content over which the learner has no control and which is designed to promulgate the existing assessment regimes, dressing them up with a so-called 21st century veneer.

And multiple choice tests are the worst kind of assessment because they don’t ever allow students to demonstrate what they can do with what they have discovered and learned. In fact, they are really just nothing more than attempts to trick students who actually know the material into giving a wrong answer. They don’t give the students the facility to explain their answers or even generate their own. Surely a teacher, sitting in on group activity and listening, commenting and prompting learners will have a much better idea of each learner’s progress and ability?

And yet we still ‘do’ assessment to learners instead of ‘with’ them. Summative always appears to trump formative as teachers cling to the twin comfort blanket of standardised assessment and the marks book (although to be fair, the system often demands this).

It might be informative to examine the literal meaning of the word assessment. translated, it means ‘to sit beside’. Surely a good teacher sitting beside the students on their journeys through learning is in a much better position to assess progress than the teacher who simply teaches to the whole class and relies on a test to give information on progress but is really completely in the dark about what has really taken place with each student’s individual learning?

This last one really is tracking you through the dark, as the song words I started this post with put so well..

Its a very overused phrase – Education Transformation. Of course, we see it everywhere spread across the web on education blogs, policy papers and social media. Transformation is a new addition to the long list which features on the buzzword bingo cards of every education conference attendee, but are we substituting overuse of the word for the real understanding of just what it means and why it is necessary; so very necessary for education systems across the world?

downloadI’ve been doing some work recently involving the Microsoft Education Transformation Framework, and this set of papers makes an attempt to both define and frame transformation in education the context of education as a multi-faceted player in the socio-economic fabric of society. It is certainly a better way of looking at the whole transformation paradigm than simply using the word to excuse scattering ever increasing amounts of technology around schools and other education institutions. Nelson Mandela had great faith in education as a means of uplifting and empowering a population disadvantaged by the negative social engineering and entrenched inequality which was the legacy left to South Africa by apartheid. Education can’t change society; only society can change society and this is a transactional process involving other factors such as health, welfare and the economy. One without the others will only lead to more disillusionment as an increasingly better educated population suffer from poor health and lack of employment opportunity..

But whilst we work to transform all the socio-economic structures in society, those of us involved in education do need to address the issue of making it fit for purpose so that a better educated populace can take the lead in driving forward change across the whole of society. And to do this, we do need to recognise the elephant in the room – the herd of elephants, in fact. One of the papers in the Microsoft Framework attempts to address the issue of education policy makers using a ‘quick fix’ approach to the challenges faced (disappointing final examination results would be a typical example). Such quick fixes are easy to communicate to an electorate making judgements about the effectiveness of their political appointees and the efficacy of their voting choices. The problem with this approach is that it is reactionary. The paper calls it a Policy Lever Approach, which involves ‘pulling’ a single policy lever, usually with some basis in research, in order to effect quick change which can then be justified by data gathering (usually exam or test scores). The problem with this is that if there is no underpinning of the policy lever with a long term behavioural change strategy then pulling the lever becomes unsustainable and it ultimately sinks further down as there is no solid base to support the force applied.

Think of it as a pulley with a weight at one end and a handle at the other end of the rope. Pulling the handle raises the weight but as soon as the handle is released, the weight falls to the ground again. It is unsustainable and any weight raise is short-lived. To raise the weight and keep it moving upwards without falling back, you’d need to employ a series of gears working together to effect long term change. This is analogous to long term behaviour change. In education, if we want to change learning and teaching we must change classroom behaviour and the Microsoft paper argues that this is challenging to communicate to a populus looking for the quick-fix. behaviour change policy is long term, and only achieves results after a period of time which is often outwith an electoral cycle. But this type of policy is the only one which will effect long-term lasting transformation in our schools.

So this policy lever vs behaviour change is the first of the Elephants in our herd. The others are assessment and teacher professional development. The British made a wonderful job of exporting summative assessment all over the world, and the legacy of this is probably what is causing the very real need for transformation the world over because any assessment system predicated not on skills but on content memory or absorption is certainly not equipping our young people with the wherewithal to survive in the 21st century. Our current examination system might be said to be a slave to the education publishers who have a vested interest in keeping the status quo. The change we need is one involving a shift from summative to formative assessment regimes, which won’t give exam league tables a quick boost overnight but will result in a better skilled learner able to take his or her place in society leading overall improvement in all areas of the socio-economic life of the country. Another policy lever (short term) vs behaviour change (longer term, but sustainable). Of course, this won’t happen until we really trust our teachers to make sound judgement as to the progress of our learners. They need to have the skills required to measure the learning journey rather than just the end point. Some learners have a relatively effortless journey from start to end points, whereas others really struggle to make the same journey. Surely it’s this struggle, this effort, and this progress which should count when it comes to measurement?

Thus, teacher professional development is the third Elephant in the room. There is plenty of research citing the link between time given over to professional development and learner achievement. Unfortunately, many education organisations, districts, provinces, schools or local authorities refuse to recognise this, some even placing moratoria on teachers being out of school to take PD activities, insisting that these take place at weekends or in the evenings after school – ironically the times when teachers will be at their most unreceptive and weary.This is short-term ‘policy lever’ type management and is short sighted because the usual reason cited is that taking teachers out of class will affect learning and teaching continuity. Frankly, this is nonsense. Investment in quality substitute teachers is a long term investment in raising attainment. The behaviour change policy.

So we can see the contrasts here. It all comes down to the tension between policy lever vs behaviour change strategy approaches whichever way you look at transformation in education. Deployment of technology in schools is a very good example. So often, we see the ‘spray and pray’ approach where tech is simply scattered around classrooms like confetti without long term planning and any semblance of a behaviour change strategy involving long term sustainable professional development. The act of deploying the technology is the policy lever (technology, of course, is the magic bullet which will improve education outcomes; more to the point, it will impress parents…the electorate. One device per vote if we are being perfectly cynical perhaps?) whereas teacher professional development during the working week is the longer term behaviour change strategy (but much more difficult to communicate to parents who otherwise will only see teachers being out of classrooms).

The Elephants in the classroom are there because policy makers who possess the courage to be long sighted and make decisions based on sustainability rather than political or administrative expediency are unfortunately rather thin on the ground. This can change, and indeed, must change. real transformation from the industrial to the knowledge economy can’t happen without education playing its role as a societal structure fit for purpose. At the moment, and all too often around the world, we see education systems limping along covered in sticking plasters rather than being completely refashioned and reimagined.

(Details of the Microsoft transformation framework, including links to downloadable copies of the ten papers can be found here ).

Image from fuelyourblogging.com

Image courtesy of fuelyourblogging.com

I came across a great blog post, courtesy of my twitter PLN this afternoon, which has really had me thinking. The writer, Jarlath O’Brien makes a passionate and convincing case for non inclusive education – specifically, special needs schools.

I try to avoid writing about this subject, as its very close to home. My son (now 21) is profoundly autistic and attended a fantastic special needs school from the age of three until he was ninteen. Of course, the local council in northern England hated this; the cost was more than ten times what their average spend per pupil was across the rest of the school cohort and the extra training and support the school staff needed probably ate into their ever more meagre CPD budget. I’m absolutely sure they’d rather he’d have been medicated and stuck in a ‘special needs base’ in a mainstream school with a box of crayons and a few trips out on the bus each week. But instead, there was a fantastic school where he had one-on-one attention in a class of four similar children with stimulating activities designed to increase his social and emotional skills, as well as his ability to make at least some sense of the world around him. He can’t talk, but has learned to communicate his needs after a fashion. He will need 24/7 care for the rest of his life (he can’t wash, feed or dress himself) but his life has been undoubtedly made better by attending the school that he did, rather than becoming a victim of ‘inclusion’ at his local state secondary school.

Of course, this does raise questions about the school system across the UK (and I include Scotland, where I last worked in school) in this. It is a very unequal system indeed, and this is getting worse due in no small part to the divisive and elistist policies of both the previous labour and current ConLib coalition. Scotland fares only slightly better in this, for whilst it does not suffer academies and selection, it does suffer from postcode selectivity in the same way that many parts of the rest of the UK do. If your parents can afford the fees, private education gets you out of the state sector with its many vaguaries. If not then there’s still hope by playing the property game. Buy or rent in a desireable area and you’re almost certain to get a better deal from the state sector. The rest are forced to accept what’s left. Despite the heroic efforts of my erstwhile colleageus in these schools, the daily battle against a lack of parental suport and involvement ( often due to issues like family breakdown, drugs, unemployment and sickness) and insufficient resources to deal with this socio-economic chaos often resulted in a quality of education which could not meet the needs of most of the kids attending. And into all this they had to fit in all the children with special needs who’d have been better off in schools specially run to suit their disabilities and challenges. Result; One size didn’t fit all.

Children are not ‘standard’. They don’t all develop at the same rate at the same age and in the same way. We’re only now discovering the physiopathologies behind many developmental conditions exhibited by children which would previously had them labelled as ‘slow’ ‘difficult’  ‘disruptive’ and ‘backward’. And yet the world over, education is falling prey to the so-called reformers who think that big data generated by standardised assessment can be useful in guiding school improvement. What a joke! You can’t measure progress by end-points alone, but only by the value added to the journey made by each child towards the end-point. The length and difficulty of those journeys varies tremendously from child to child, with some much more challenging and lengthier than others. Its the journey itself which is important rather than just the end point. This is why inclusion policies are probably doomed to failure in the main, because when you add them to an already unequal system, they just assume the added burdon of these inequalities in addition to those of the already disadvantaged children.

I worked in a learning community that had a special needs school attached to, but seperate from the high school. It was a very special space. I wish I’d spent more time in there to be honest, but my own emotions surrounding my own son made me wary of getting too involved. The children came and went from the high school throughout the day. They shared the canteen facilities and the Sports halls. They were accepted by the high school kids, but had their own space with their own teachers and support staff, and were probably all the better for this. Inclusion was on their terms in ways which they felt comfortable with I guess.

So when I read blog posts such as the one from Jarlath O’Brien, I’m glad that others are singing from the same song sheet as me. Special needs education closes the inequality gap for children with identified special needs, be they physical, emotional or developmental. let’s never forget that…

WP_20140928_027I guess I should post more on here than I do…maybe with other social media platforms taking up the lion’s share of time blogging suffers, but I do believe it’s a great way to expand a little on some of the social network posts and trending topics as well as to just to expand on the things which matter to you in the world around you.

This morning, I hWP_20140928_026eard a reading from St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. In the reading, the phrase, ‘Speak the truth in Love’ came out. I think perhaps this is an exhortation to speak the truth,however painful or controversial it may be, in a way which is respectful and non- judgemental or perhaps without intentionally causing hurt? I hope this is a good interpretation.

St Georges Cathedral in Cape Town was and is a place where this phrase has always appeared to be the modus operandi. All through the years of the struggle against apartheid this place and the people in it stood for civil rights, speaking the truth despite the oppression the state brought to bear in those times, often down the barrel of a gun aimed at the Church  and even inside it (as one speaker from the USA recently pointed out). The truth of the universal dignity and equality of the world’s people whatever their colour, creed or any other difference was what this place stood for throughout those dark days, and indeed, still stands for now.

And now, this place needs everybody’s help. A place which shone out to the world like a light in darkness,speaking an often unpalatable truth for many, is now asking for some help, just as it has itself spent so many years giving help and shelter to so many irrespective of their origins or differences. The roof needs urgent repairs and unless this happens soon, this building which has such a huge place in the history of the world-wide struggle for civil rights is in danger of lapsing dangerously into disrepair.

They are running a fundraising campaign, called Under One Roof supported by many people, some famous, some not, and many with a connection in some way to the Cathedral or the wider struggle for equality. You can buy a roof tile for only $10. Thats a donation of about £6 at current exchange rates. And be recognised as having played a part in a worldwide movement to save this historic and iconic building that now, after giving so much to the world, desperately needs our help.

Just £6. Even if you are not someone who believes, or has a faith,  am sure most if not all will feel a connection with the civil rights struggle of which this place played such a powerful part in. If the average readership of my usual posts on here all purchased just one tile, then several thousand pounds would be raised. And please ‘like’ them on Facebook as well where you can read messages of support from those who are supporting this campaign:-)

Please think about that.

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