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:

NCZER Infographic.png

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:

NZCER.png

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:

NZCER involvement.jpg

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:

PowerBI 2.jpg

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.

PowerBI – Major Licensing Changes

powerbi-getting-startedPowerBI is a fantastic visualisation and reporting tool that I’ve written about extensively on this blog already, as well as having created numerous screencasts and blogs in an educational context from my time at St Andrew’s College.

Last week, Microsoft announced some major changes to the licensing of PowerBI which will come into effect on June 1st 2017 with some potential ramifications for schools that are currently exploring the functionality in the free version. If you’re unfamiliar with the product in general, then PowerBI.com is the best place to start for an overview, and the key changes from the announcement on 3rd of May can be found on this blog post from PowerBI.com.

My take on these changes is as follows:

  • PowerBI Free = still available, you can download the free PowerBI Desktop app here, and you can still publish reports/dashboards to PowerBI.com in the cloud but you can no longer share these with other users in the free version (this will require a Pro license – see below). Perhaps a better way of looking at this would be “PowerBI Personal” – i.e. for your own data explorations and visualizations in situations where you have no intention to share or collaborate with others. The update is there is some increased functionality around frequency of data refresh rates using the Data Gateway, along with increased volumes of data.
  • PowerBI Pro = Very similar to what was previously being delivered with this paid for license (academic pricing is generally available in most countries) but it appears this is increasingly becoming the “default” license if you’re wanting to share or collaborate on reports, or have your data automatically refreshing using the Personal Data Gateways from a wider range of data sources. The best link to understand what constitutes content requiring a PowerBI Pro license can be found here and I would encourage you to check this out. From my quick scan, the features which have moved out of the “free” and into the “Pro” license appear to be:
    • Data from a dataset that connects to on-premises data using the Power BI Gateway – Personal or the On-premises Data Gateway, and for which a scheduled refresh is set.
    • A dashboard or report that’s installed from an app or an organizational content pack.
    • Export to CSV/Excel
    • Peer to Peer dashboard sharing
  • PowerBI Premium = The newest feature, all details can be seen here, this is intended for large scale deployment of dashboards and reports across your organisation, including the ability to share content with users who are not necessarily licensed in the traditional way as an individual user. It has a higher financial entry point, with a fixed monthly cost and I don’t see much application at a K-12 level (outside of a school investing in sharing PowerBI reporting with parents too). However this could be a game changer at HighEd / Tertiary institutions that are wanting to enable their entire staff and students to make better data-driven decision making.
    • Importantly, it appears that the embedding of dashboards into web apps and web pages is now a feature reserved for Premium usage, so this will have consequences for third party developers / ISVs wanting to use PowerBI as the reporting engine in their software.
PowerBI Dashboard.png

Example K-12 Education dashboard made in PowerBI

It is going to take a bit for for me to fully understand how these changes will ultimately affect schools. For those that have invested in PowerBI Pro licenses for staff/students, not much will change I suspect and it will be business as usual. For those schools that have been experimenting with PowerBI and the free licenses I think the major implications are likely to be:

  • No ability to share content that has been refreshed automatically using the Personal Data Gateway, or has come from any sort of database / web source.
  • Restricted to sharing content that has been manually populated into PowerBI.com from limited data sources such as either PowerBI Desktop, Excel or CSV.

Given most schools want to move towards a “set and forget” approach when it comes to data configuration, it would appear that using PowerBI Pro licenses is the way forward for most schools.

For an external view of these changes have a read of this interesting summary from Matt Allington in Australia where he highlights five different user scenarios and identifies how the changes benefit them. He picks up on the value add for large organisations and the ability to deploy easily across users, splitting users between content creators (who will still need a PowerBI Pro license) and consumers (who will be covered by organisational PowerBI Premium consumption licenses).

 

Digital Inking – Improves Teaching & Learning

Inking.PNG

I have visited a number of schools recently and demonstrated many of the natural hand gestures for editing and Ink Replay available in Office365 and the response is always very positive from teachers and students alike.

I have recently found the above infographic showing independent research from Sharon Oviatt, an expert in human centered and multi-modal interfaces and use of pen inputs on computers. I find that the numbers in the infographic resonate with teachers that I’ve been working with who are using Digital Inking to prepare student work, provide feedback and mark assessment.

When I was still at St Andrew’s College I recorded an interview with the Head of English and she explained how she marks English assignments using her Surface Pro 3 and digital ink:

DigitalPenUsageThere are many and varied compelling reasons to try Digital Inking and with a wider range of devices now supporting this, from entry level OEM offerings through to the newly announced Surface Laptop,  there is bound to be a device that meets your budget and requirements.

If you are interested in further research and information from Sharon Oviatt on the “power of the pen” then I encourage you to check out this blog from the Microsoft In Education team where it goes into more depth about the impact of computer interfaces on learning.

You can read the full blog post here.

ANZAC Reflections – We Will Remember

WW1 Memorials in Cranmer Square, Christchurch

WW1 Memorials in Cranmer Square, Christchurch in the lead up to Anzac Day 2017

It’s not often I write about things other than technology and education on this blog, however one of my other great passions is, in fact, history. I was privileged to teach history for four years at Linwood College and Catholic Cathedral College when I first started teaching after leaving my first career in the ICT sector.

When I moved to St Andrew’s College in 2012, my job as the Director of ICT was full time, precluding me from continuing to actively teach history, however I was fortunate to be given a number of opportunities to speak at the weekly Chapel services the College held. It was at two of these that I researched former students and staff members and their roles in World War 2 and then shared their stories with students. I recount all of this because tomorrow, April 25th, is ANZAC Day in New Zealand and for those unacquainted with this, this public holiday commemorates the war time services of the Australia, New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who first served together during the ill fated Gallipoli Campaign in World War 1.

Barry Martin

Laying a virtual poppy for Barry Martin at the Auckland War Memorial Museum Online Cenotaph

I was thrilled, therefore, to learn that at the ANZAC Memorial Service that will be hosted at the new St Andrew’s College Centennial Chapel tomorrow, a video will be shown of the College’s World War 2 Memorial Tour of Europe that happened in January. During this trip, each student was required to research about an Old Collegian and then a wreath and College thistle was placed at the grave site. You can see the video showing this tour here:

Keen observers will have heard two names mentioned:

  • James Samuel Cartwright – a former teacher who was killed days after the D-Day landings when his destroyer, HMS Boadicea, was torpedoed and sunk in the English Channel
  • Barry Martin – a student of the Preparatory College who was a navigator in Stirling Bombers and was shot down and killed over occupied Europe (his plane crashed near Rotterdam).

These names were two of the men that I had researched whilst at St Andrew’s College and shared their stories at Chapel services. At the time, I wrote a blog post showing off the considerable technology that went into researching and presenting these stories, including a Skype video call with the 92year old surviving sister of James Samuel Cartwright.

It seems appropriate at this time of ANZAC commemorations to revisit these presentations and, through the retelling of their stores, we will not forget the ultimate sacrifice these men made.

James Samuel Cartwright:

Barry Martin:

Technology is certainly enabling new generations to learn more about their forefathers’ service in both The Great War and World War 2 and it seems the fascination with new stories from this period are not diminishing. I read with interest this story in the press today, this story in the press today,  bringing a degree of closure to a 93 year old Kiwi who piloted Lancaster bombers during the WW2.  A great resource for New Zealander’s looking to find out more about relatives that have served (as far back as the Boer War), is the Auckland Museum’s Online Cenotaph:

Online Cenotaph

The Online Cenotaph allows visitors to search up known information on former soldiers, contribute additional information if they have it, as well as lay a “virtual poppy” on the cenotaph.

For those interested, I have read the following history books over the last few months – they may be of interest to you as you pause and reflect this ANZAC Day:

Guest Post: Surprises When Using Office 365 In Class

Today’s post comes from Mr Ben Hilliam, Head of Junior Maths at St Andrew’s College in Christchurch, New Zealand. In this post he outlines how he is teaching basic programming concepts using Microsoft Excel and also the increasing versatility of Microsoft OneNote through the use of embedded applets that can show and execute Python coding.

You can read the original post from Ben here – please do check out his other posts as well. I particularly like Ben’s finishing comment when it comes to describing OneNote:

OneNote is more than a piece of digital paper, it is quickly becoming the universal canvas of expression for learning.

Here’s the entirety of the post:

With a new year I have begun teaching some new topics. For the first time in my career, I am teaching Probability Simulations to year 10s. As usual, OneNote is my go to, where I drop all my resources so that my students can access the problems I set them. In this topic I have come across two surprises:

1. Microsoft Excel is still a very cool program
2. Microsoft OneNote allows for a huge range of student expression

1. Microsoft Excel is still a very cool program:

One task I set my year 10s was the following:

Sara has maths on four days each week. 
Her teacher checks the class’s homework on only one of those days. 
The day is chosen at random by the teacher. 
Students who have not done their homework for that day get a detention. 
Sara says she did her homework on 32 out of the 40 days on which she had maths last term. 
Describe a simulation (probability experiment) that Sara could use to predict the probability 
that: 
(1) she had not done her homework 
AND 
(2) the teacher checked. 
Assume that you have access to: coins, cards, spinners, dice and a random number 
generator on a calculator or computer. 
You must give sufficient detail in your description so that someone else could carry out 
the experiment. 
You must state what you will record and how you will calculate the probability. 

Most of my students used Excel to run this simulation. One problem that quickly made itself apparent was how do you get the teachers to randomly check on one day of the week only, becuase most students assigned random numbers of 1-4 on each day which meant the teacher could potentially check homework more than once in any given week.

This is where Excel comes to the fore, with its conditional formulae:

A “1” comes up when an even that we are interested in occurs while a “0” comes up for events that are irrelevant. Where two events occur at the same time they add to 2 which is then picked up. Here’s the formula that makes it work:

The point I’m trying to make here is that if you have a problem that requires programming, Excel can actually do it. With a few choice “if” statements and other formulae, my students were able to produce a simulation that correctly estimated the probability they were investigating. So they could be accurate in their thinking rather than smudge a “near enough” response.So don’t forget Excel, it’s awesome.

2. Microsoft OneNote allows for a huge range of student expressionLast year, I did some coding with my year 9s. Specifically we had a look at solving problems from Project Euler using Python. So when we started doing Simulations, some students naturally wanted to use Python to run their simulations. My question to them was “How will you show me the results of your simulation?” Their response: embed an HTML window in OneNote with their Python code running in an applet:


In the part I have circled in red, my student has imported an HTML window with her Python code and an applet that will run it. This meant I was able to see the output of their simulation and check it was consistent with what was expected and I could look through their code if there was a problem. Such a simple addition to OneNote has such wide consequences for how we use it.

OneNote is more than a piece of digital paper, it is quickly becoming the universal canvas of expression for learning.

Editing With Natural Hand Gestures & Digital Inking

Over the last couple of years I have had innumerable conversations with teachers who love the power of OneNote for editing student work quickly and easily, especially when combining the digital inking experience on a tablet such as a Surface Pro. Perhaps the best example of this was the recorded conversation I had with the Head of English at St Andrew’s College:

I’ve been really excited to see that a couple of new editing features have been added to Word, Excel and PowerPoint in Office 2016 and these are:

  • Ink Editor – easily markup / remove text using natural hand gestures with your pen
  • Ink Replay – if you’ve made significant comments on a Word, Excel or PowerPoint document sometimes it can be hard for your fellow editor to understand your train of thought. With Ink Replay, they can watch your edits all over again.

I’ve made a short video showing how this can be achieved:

Sticky Notes Powered By Cortana Intelligence Suite:

Another cool feature of Windows 10 is the Sticky Notes. In and of themselves, they operate very similarly to sticky notes on any other operating system. However, you can now give them a real power boost by linking to the Cortana Intelligence Suite to give you insights and do more.

To do this, you first need to enable the insights:

sticky-notes

To leverage the power of Cortana you need to Enable Insights

Once this is done you can see the power immediately as demonstrated here:

Putting to one side the very clever intelligence that lies beneath the surface to enable things like Ink Editor and smart Sticky Notes, the real benefits here is the saving of time. Editing a document with natural hand gestures and a digital pen remains the most efficient method for most people. Similarly, having your natural handwriting analysed for key words or phrases and reminders generated speeds up some of the more mundane tasks we all have to deal with in life.

If you’ve not given these a go, try them out now and feel free to leave a comment below on any neat ways you’ve used this technology.