Research: Minecraft Supports Social & Emotional Learning For Students

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A selection of quotes from teachers that have been using Minecraft Education Edition with their students.

The team at Getting Smart have released a new post showing research into game based learning and how this can promote social and emotional development among students, in this instance, through Minecraft Education Edition.

Download The Full Report Here

The researchers pulled information from a number of listed sources:

  • A global online teacher survey
  • Several onsite observation and evaluation sessions of educators using Minecraft: Education Edition in classrooms
  • Existing SEL literature reviews
  • Phone interviews with experts in K–12 education
  • Informal data gathering via several popular social media channels such as
    Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn

The concept of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) was new to me, but the report does give a definition up front about what it is:

In the context of K–12 education, SEL is the process through which students acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

From my perspective, this is really interesting as I would previously have associated some of the attributes around gaming as isolationist and less focused on the “soft skills” in life such as those involved in collaboration, participating and contributing and emotional resilience and empathy. It’s fascinating to me that research is showing that some game based learning can actually support the development of these critical skills in students.

The report indicates that the benefits of actively teaching SEL to students can include:

  • Increasingly positive attitudes toward self, others and tasks including enhanced self-efficacy, confidence, persistence, empathy, connection and commitment to school, and a sense of purpose
  • More positive social behaviors and relationships with both peers and adults
  • A reduction in conduct problems and risk taking behavior
  • Decreased emotional distress
  • Better test scores, grades and attendance

Unsurprisingly, the report clearly states that unless SEL is implemented with clear, robust learning goals then it is likely to be ineffectual. This, of course, is true of most initiatives and serves as a reminder that the integration of technology into curriculum must always be well planned and thought through. Technology is a great servant of pedagogy, but when implemented poorly, can be a hindrance and distraction.

Comprehensive SEL goals include developmental benchmarks across five key social and emotional competency domains, encompassing: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making skills.

How Does Gaming Boost SEL In Education?

The report has some extensive quotes from various educators and again, I encourage you to read the original report here, as I will only be pulling a few of the quotes that really stuck out to me to include below.

In New Zealand’s Curriculum there are five “Key Competencies” and it’s interesting to see how these align with the SEL concept. One of those KC’s is “Relating To Others” and the quote below shows how Minecraft can support this:

Cultivating empathy through gaming isn’t a given; rather, it occurs as part of a guided experience.
“As educators, we have the opportunity to help students develop empathy through gaming and imagine how they’d like to be treated, talk through scenarios in gaming and in their personal lives, and discuss how they would do something differently (or have wanted to be treated differently), then practice those skills.”

Another of the Key Competencies is “Participating & Contributing” and this quote shows just how much inter-dependency and co-operating is required to succeed in Minecraft:

“It isn’t a secret that games are popular and engage students. They’re able to fail forward in a risk-free environment. When playing Minecraft, students must have a level of coordination and cooperation in order to accomplish shared objectives. They’re  negotiating with one another, strategizing about resources and next moves, and delegating responsibilities. It’s really quite remarkable to see.”

Research Findings:

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School Case Studies:

The report finishes with three case studies from schools of different ages:

  • International School Bellevue School District
    • Years 6-12
  • Bryant Montessori
    • Years Pre-school to Yr8
  • Renton Prep Christian School
    • Years 1-10

I am thrilled there continues to be significant research into the ongoing benefits of eLearning and effective and purposeful integration of technology into education. If you’ve not seen it, I suggest you check the NZCER Research into eLearning use in New Zealand primary schools that I posted about recently.

Video Case Study: Using Azure Machine Learning Studio In High Schools

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The above video is a great example of how schools can start to engage students with real world technologies such as Azure Machine Learning that are only going to grow in significance in the very near future.

The Azure Machine Learning Studio was used by the students at Seymour College in South Australia to build a model that predicted risks of breast cancer, with the results then being analyzed by the girls in Microsoft Excel.

This is a great example of supporting girls in STEM with contextualized learning, hopefully keeping them thinking about further study and careers in STEM which is very necessary to redress the gender imbalance in this sector.

There are some great introductory videos showing how easy it is to get Azure Machine Learning, including collaboration with other students, on the link below:

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Digital Technologies For Learning – What The Research Says

The New Zealand Council for Education Research (NZCER) has released a report on the role of Digital Technologies in the primary and intermediate years of schooling in New Zealand, drawing on data obtained from a survey of schools conducted in August/September 2016. This provides some really valuable insights into the situation in schools (for a direct link to the Key Findings click here), neatly summarized in the following infographic:

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Licensed under Creative Commons – see here for full report.

Having read the Key Findings from the report and the three blog posts from the report’s author Rachel Bolstad, here are a few things that stood out to me:

  • Teachers indicated that student use of technology was still focused around a few key things e.g. practicing skills (think Mathletics and skills repetition/speed work) researching (the ever present “google search”) or creating presentations in documents / slide shows
  • Other uses of technology were less common e.g. game based learning (Minecraft Education Edition is a good example of how to do this successfully), programming and genuine multi-media work.
  • Many teachers did indicate they wanted to harness technology to enable their students to collaborate with students/schools/others outside of their own school but were struggling to make this happen. It was unclear why this did not happen, but one way to forge these relationships is with activities like Mystery Skype, which can then lead to truly Global Citizens connected with fellow learners around the world.
  • Whilst most teachers thought Digital Technologies provided positive gains in the classroom, 10% (still quite high in my view) thought the negatives/frustrations outweighed the positives.
  • Principals identified the obvious challenges to deeper integration of Digital Technologies into the primary curriculum, including issues around equity of access, funding challenges and costs around professional development of teaching staff.
  • I was surprised that so few teachers have built their own online Professional Learning Network (PLN). This was quite prevalent in the previous school I worked in, and there seems to be a wide range of networks utilizing social media to connect teachers with teach other to share ideas, resources, best practice or just some much-needed encouragement!

Whilst the above came from the data surveying primary and intermediate aged schools, in her first blog post Rachel Bolstad did share data from the 2015 NZCER study of secondary schools with some interesting data showing how digital technologies were being used in secondary classrooms:

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Credit: Rachel Bolstad, blog post here

It’s a similar trend perhaps – many teachers saying they don’t use technology for a range of more innovative uses (game based learning, distance learning, coding etc) but would like to. The aspirations are there – identifying the blockers is the next step!

Back the 2016 Primary/Intermediate data on programming:

  • Only 19% of teachers said their students were using digital technologies for coding or programming (15% “sometimes”, 4% “often”).
  • A further 43% said they would like this to be happening in their classrooms.

In her third blog post, Bolstad identified a key point: a lot of the coding and makerspace programmes happening in school are, to all intents and purposes, extra-curricular ones, occurring at lunch times, after school and usually because an enthusiastic teacher (or parent!) is helping to drive it. This is an important point to acknowledge, as it highlights the fact that many schools still struggle to “find time” or integrate this into their core curriculum programmes. This will change, of course, with the NZ Government announcement about new Digital Curriculum Standards and subsequent investment to make this happen.

Another fascinating point to emerge from the research, perhaps lending some weight to the challenges of equity, were found in the answers to the questions around what sort of opportunities students had to access coding, gaming or makerspace activities in schools:

  • 41% of teachers said their students DID have access
  • 41% of teachers said their student did NOT have access
  • 17% were not sure…..
  • BUT in Decile 9-10 schools this was 49% said yes students did have access compared to just 26% in Decile 1-2 schools.

Overall, it seems that activities like coding and gaming still remain less common in schools and a marginal activity that majority of students do not participate in:

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Credit: Rachel Bolstad blog post here

It is fantastic to have this level of research and analysis based off recent survey data and I do encourage you to read the entire findings by clicking the link below:

NZCER Digital Technologies Survey

New To PowerBI: Daily Dashboard Email Updates Via Subscription

I’ve written a lot about PowerBI, both on this blog and in my previous role at St Andrew’s College and one of the things I love most about the product is the current speed of development. Significant new features are added monthly, often in response to user requests (hint, if you want to see a new feature submit it here) and today I saw announced a great new feature.

Daily Dashboard Email Subscriptions is a new feature allowing your PowerBI users to subscribe to a company or individual dashboard and receive daily email snapshots of this critical data.

PowerBI

An example email of a dashboard overview emailed daily to the recipient

For users that are used to Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) this feature could not come soon enough. It is super easy for your end users to sign up themselves for these daily emails, they simply go to the dashboard of their choice (or make a custom dashboard by pinning the visuals they want to track) and hit subscribe:

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Note: if your data does not change regularly, then will not be bombarded with daily emails that were identical to the previous day. The updates come via email only as regularly as your data refreshes but no more than once a day. Therefore, if you have non-critical data that only refreshes once a week, you will only receive an email once a week.

It looks like the PowerBI team isn’t stopping there when it comes to email subscriptions, with new features coming soon that include:

In an education context I can see this being super helpful for Executive and Enrollment Teams where they need to track time sensitive data e.g. how many beds remain in the boarding house? What is the gender split in Year 10? How many students have passed their internal assessment before the end of the year? Lots of possibilities exist for daily emails of key dashboards.

Accessibility Is At The HEART Of Microsoft & Office365

Update 23rd June:

Since writing this blog I see that the Microsoft Garage have also released a new product called MS Dictate which is a plugin for Outlook, Word and Powerpoint that allows you to dictate text using the same speech-to-text engine used by Cortana. You can download it for free here.

Recently I’ve been working with a partner that has a school for deaf and hearing impaired students as a customer. It’s been really interesting exploring how technology is used in environments like this, where the need for video communication to enable sign language is paramount.

As a result, I’ve been digging into the accessibility options within Microsoft’s Windows 10 and Office365 products and it has reinforced the observations I’ve noticed already since joining Microsoft at the start of the year: accessibility and inclusive design really is at the heart of all Microsoft products.

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Accessibility is a priority for Microsoft for three key reasons:

  1. We cannot realise our mission to empower every person and organisation to achieve more without accessibility
  2. Accessibility is our path to innovation
  3. Our public sector customers are required to procure accessible products

At every major internal Microsoft event I’ve attended this year there has been automatic transcription / captioning of speakers so that deaf or hearing impaired employees can follow along. 5% of the world population (around 360 million people) have some form of hearing difficulty, so the need to use technology to include them in business activities is very real.

However, hearing impediments is not the only area where accessibility in Windows 10 and Office365 is helping:

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As I’ve researched more about the various accessibility features I’ve come across some great customer testimonials and case studies about how Windows 10 and Office365 are making a big difference for them on a daily basis. Below is one about Ted Hart who works at Microsoft and was part of the team that improved Skype Translator for English captions/subtitles resulting in deaf people being able to take part in conversations normally:

The next case study is entitled The Power Of Visual Communication showing how Skype video allows students with disabilities to be able to communicate with each other, even when on work experience. The visual nature of Skype means they can use both sign language and also read body language:

Finally, Al Amal School for Deaf Students in the United Arab Emirates shares how the use of tools like Office Mix and video recording in OneNote is proving valuable with their students:

There are numerous blogs from Microsoft that focus on specifically on accessibility  and Microsoft has a dedicated Disability Help Desk that supports video calling with American Sign Language:

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Marlee Matlin, the only deaf performer to win an Academy Award for Best Actress, demonstrated how the help desk works:

Translator Tools:

Microsoft have leveraged a number of translator tools that use Machine Learning and the Intelligent Cloud to provide greater accessibility support for all users, particularly those that are hard of hearing:

  1. Skype Translator: not only does this do real-time translations between different languages it can be re-purposed to provide an effective transcription of an English to English conversation to support deaf participants.
  2. Microsoft Translator phone app: Similar in functionality to Skype Translator, this app for your phone allows you to do transcriptions and translations (over 60 languages) and you can do multi-person chats on the same device or with up to 100 participants by sharing a conversation code.
  3. Presentation Translator: A project from the Microsoft Garage, this looks to be a plugin for PowerPoint that will provide real-time captioning on the PowerPoint itself from the speech of the presenter. This is not available yet but is coming soon in a beta trial.
  4. Skype Broadcast: The premier Skype meeting tool (available in O365 E5 plans), this will provide real time transcription of the Skype meeting so all participants can follow along.

Other Tools:

Outside of the straight translation tools above, Microsoft are building accessibility into a range of other products that are available now to customers:

  1. Video Indexer: This was formerly know as Video Breakdown in the Azure Media Analytics Suite and is currently in free trial. This tool allows you to automatically transcribe speech in a video, OCR scan text contained within the video, provide facial recognition and then index and search across all this content. It’s incredibly powerful.
  2. Microsoft Stream: Announced only today from Microsoft as being Generally Available (GA), this is built right into Office365 subscriptions and is a video library tool that also offers speech-to-text, facial recognition and searchable indexes. With granular sharing permissions this is a powerful tool.
  3. Accessibility Checker: Build directly into Office365, this tool scans your documents and identifies ways you can make them more user friendly for all users, but specifically those that may fact accessibility challenges. There is no need for a third party plugin to achieve this – it’s baked in by default!
  4. Learning Tools / Immersive Reader: Hugely popular in education already, this started as an extra plugin for OneNote Desktop, before being built in directly and also supported in the Web/Online versions in a browser as well. This tool will read text back to the user, highlight adjectives/nouns/verbs and provide coloured overlays to assist dyslexic users.
  5. Office Accessibility Center: The one stop shop for Microsoft accessibility content and ideas.
  6. Surface Hub: When it comes to providing the best hardware / software combination for collaboration for deaf customers, I think the Hub the best choice given the fully integrated camera experience will provide the ability to use sign language to communicate easily and effectively with remote users. Two videos below show the ease of meetings in with Surface Hub:

It is not just Surface Hub that is helping deaf students, the Surface Pro was highlighted in a video showing how deaf students playing American Football used it to communicate and develop game strategy:

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Accessibility examples from Windows 10

As you can see, there is a huge amount of work being done to support all users to make Windows and Office365 a totally accessible product. One small thing I really like is the ability to replace audio cues with visual or text notifications in Windows, an invaluable addition to the user experience for a deaf person.

If you think I’ve missed something or have other suggestions feel free to drop a note in the comments below.

 

PowerBI Premium Is Here

powerbiLast month I blogged about the announcement of PowerBI Premium and the changes that were coming. This has sparked a renewed interest from schools and tertiary institutes as they understand the implications of these changes and how they can leverage them to their advantage.

Overnight, the PowerBI team published a couple of interesting blogs that are worth checking out:

If you’re not particularly familiar with PowerBI Premium then read the whitepaper here, but in essence it:

….enables the distribution of reports broadly across an enterprise and externally, without requiring recipients to be individually licensed. And since Power BI Premium consists of capacity in the Power BI service exclusively dedicated to an organization, the offering provides the flexibility to customize performance based on the needs of a team, department, or the organization itself.

Embedded PowerBI Reports:

An area that has probably generated the most questions to me is the ability to embed PowerBI reports into a web or mobile app. I’ve linked to guides showing how this can be done in earlier blog posts, but it is only with PowerBI Premium that fixed costs around this service have become available. It’s worth reading the PDF called “Embedded Analytics Capacity Planning PowerBI” in it’s entirety but a few things stand out to me:

  1. You need to continue to license users with PowerBI Pro if they are administrating, developing or publishing content within PowerBI for consumption by others. This is no change from the earlier announcement last month but is worth keeping in mind.
  2. Even when testing in development you need to have a PowerBI Premium SKU “Power BI Premium enables full testing of the solution with embed tokens that allow multi-user access to the embedded Power BI reports and dashboards.”
  3. PowerBI Premium has new embedded SKU for running it as a PaaS with varying levels of capacity, based on the anticipated number of pages rendered per hour
    1. A page render is counted any time Power BI visuals are loaded on a page. A page refresh counts as a page render, as does any other page interactivity, like slice and dice, filtering, etc. 

The report gives an example for how to calculate what sort of capacity a developer might need to think about when it comes to using Embedded PowerBI:

[A developer] knows that the SaaS App with embedded Power BI handles 100 users in the peak hour. It is assumed that these users will trigger a total of 250 page renders for that hour because each user will load a report and interact with it 2.5 times during the peak hour …. [the developer] should choose Power BI Premium EM1.

PowerBI Embedded Costs

Initial costing (in USD$) for commercial users. The first three rows are embedded SKU (PaaS only). Educational pricing will be lower than the above.

I’ve had a number of conversations with both educational software developers and larger schools that are interested in delivering embedded PowerBI reports in both web apps (parent portals or intranets in a typical school environment) and mobile apps, so the new EM1 SKU above does start to deliver a more affordable option.

Using Power Query in Excel 2016 To Ready CSV Files for Student Data Sync (SDS)

Student Data Sync, or SDS, is a core tool from Microsoft that helps schools prepare their student, teacher and class data ready for use in great platforms such as Teams for Education (formerly Microsoft Classroom) and Intune for Education.

In countries outside of the USA (where API exist), schools need to prepare six CSV files containing the relevant information from their Student Management System (SMS). Fortunately, Microsoft has provided some sample scripts and files (along with a toolkit to verify your data integrity) to help.

SDS

Student Data Sync is the starting point to creating a correlation or framework that connects your students, teachers and classes together in a meaningful way, allowing you to leverage cloud based tools more efficiently.

However, often the challenge lies in the format of the exported data from the school’s SMS. This is where Grant Saul, the Director of ICT from Westlake Boys High School has powerquerystepped in and provided a fantastic tutorial on how to use Power Query, a tool that comes in Excel 2016, to tidy up the format of your source data and prepare it for import with Student Data Sync.

In Grant’s example, he takes a standard export from Kamar (a very popular New Zealand SMS) and shows how it can be transformed using Power Query into the correct format for importing into SDS. You can read his original post here (and I encourage you to do so) whilst watching his screencast below:

The great feature of Power Query is it records each step in the data transformation, allowing you to easily replicate / replay the changes when the source data is refreshed, creating a super efficient method of managing your data.

For schools that want to use Microsoft SDS this is a very helpful guide.