Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Virtual lessons - some pre-conditions

This article in SchoolsWeek quoted me last Friday. I am happy that everything in the article represents what I said to Billy, but at the time of our conversation I didn't fully understand the context of what he was asking me - so having read the article and the green paper it refers to - I thought I'd post more.

For the sake of clarity, the green paper (page 27) refers to virtual centres of excellence pretty much in the context of selection and catering for the most-able. That was not the conversation I had - I was (and am, here) talking about online courses in a general sense.

I think for any group of schools to establish an effective provision for online courses that are comparable in quality to what they would deliver face to face, there are some pretty serious challenges to deal with - they aren't all absolute barriers, but all would need to be addressed in some way.

Accountability and structures

I'm using the term accountability in a very broad sense - what I mean is that all the institutions in the partnership for these online experiences need to be clear who is responsible, how it is going to be paid for and a whole plethora of details. I'm confident that within a Multi-Academy Trust that is a problem that can be solved, but not without thought.

Custom and practice

I think that it is more than just 'professional development' for staff. I think before online learning and blended learning can thrive there are certain behaviours that need to be commonplace.

When a teacher finishes a lesson or creates a resource, is the default to make it available to all the learners (and colleagues) that can use it? If people are not comfortable with this, and don't do it as a matter of routine, then I'm doubtful about how reliable delivery of an online course will be.

The thing I wanted to talk to Schoolsweek about was our programme of professional development for staff that is now rolling out - it is probably the most ambitious piece of CPD I've even been associated with (and I include within that the work I was involved in at SSAT). A core part of that is the ways staff share resources with each other and their classes as a default behaviour.

Incidentally, some tools are pretty hard work for that - and designed very much for the teacher making stuff and the children seeing it (and to share it is a high-cost extra product). Which leads me nicely onto

The right tools

If, when asked, someone leading on an online learning project can answer the question 'what tools will you use?' with a one word answer, they're probably in real trouble. I recently took a course online entirely delivered through Blackboard and even though I am highly motivated, was paying a lot of money (meaning dropping it was not an option) and was really interested in the content, it was a sterile, dull, monotonous experience.

This post from Dom Nourish really made me think (Dom usually does!) - it sets out a vision of online learning that is based on social networking and relationships rather than content, content and a little media. I think that until learners are using a personal learning network (or as I like to call it a managed Personal Learning Network because I'm not too enamoured with an all-comers model for a student toolkit) rather than a VLE of some description, making an engaging course that stretches the ability of students (rather than their patience) good online courses are problematic.

So, we need to solve these problems at scale....
  • students have access to a managed toolkit of different kinds of apps and resources that they have a measure of control over, and include a social element. We can manage their identity and be confident that everyone is who we think they are and can access what they should.
  • staff are happy to share resources with their classes online as a matter of routine (and they are capable users of the relevant parts of that toolkit of apps made available to students)
  • you can manage all the underlying plumbing about money, timetables and accountability.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Mistake In Identity

One of my favourite podcasts, Out of School, focused on a newly emerged problem with managed Apple ID and iTunesU. Fraser Speirs explains it in his blog in far better depth than I can but essentially what on face value sounds like a sensible idea ("only allow students with managed IDs to sign up for iTunes U at the same institution they belong to") completely torpedoes the existing practice of teachers that have their own Apple ID and a rich set of resources associated with that - and frankly don't want a second device just to use iTunes U through a restricted school ID.

Fraser's suggested solution - allowing a course created within the school domain to invite in external teacher accounts (i.e. let a teacher create a course with their school ID on the web but then invite their normal account in as co-teacher) would be a sensible one, but I wouldn't want to be waiting for Apple to implement that by the start of term...

So you can wait for Apple, change your plans and not use Managed Apple IDs for your school (accepting that if this is Apple's strategy you will progressively be giving up things over the years ahead) or drop iTunesU and move to Google Classroom (good luck announcing that at the first staff meeting of the year!).

Which rolls back to my general distrust of allowing anyone to have an undue influence on how you manage the online identity of your staff and students. If the future is moving to using an array of smaller, more focused apps rather than monolithic big institutional systems (and it is) then having your system beholden to unexpected policy changes of a third party is never going to be good news and you need to be careful where you place your trust.

As well as the example of Apple ID above, how about the fiasco that was Google Play for Education? Anyone at BETT in 2015 would have seen the fanfare of a new system that:

  • Solved the multi-user tablet problem (except it didn't for the very devices that Samsung had just released with great fanfare at that very show - happily we never invested money in them but we did waste several days with loan units).
  • Solved content delivery by marrying up Google ID to a managed store for Apps and Content. Except content was minimal (the eBook section in particular being monumentally embarrassing) and the service was.... pulled in mid-term (never, ever a sign of a committed partner to schools).
With this sort of churn in mind, although I'd happily recommend using systems like Office 365 or Google Apps (or both) I would never want my organisation's strategy for knowing who is who and who can do what to be tied to Google or Microsoft or indeed Apple.

We're making much greater use of iOS this year. We've held back historically partly because of the poor experience as a shared device, but where there is a 1:1 situation (e.g. as a teacher device) it answers so many questions so well, it's become the solution our staff want to use - but we're not looking at managed Apple IDs (thank goodness), rather device assigned apps  and have avoided iTunesU because we just don't deploy enough iOS stuff to make it effective (and so many of our users access material on their own devices which isn't iTunesU friendly). For us Google Classroom offers a good solution because it works on everything and because our own in-house ID system syncs with Google ID.

That means we aren't worried by the Managed Apple ID disaster/ fiasco (or indeed simply blip as hopefully it will be solved quickly by people at Apple who listen to Out of School).

Ian Addison blogged recently about the pain of setting up multiple accounts on multiple services for his school. His school are really fortunate to have an Ian - around the world there are many hardworking souls who cope with all this logging in and authentication business for classes and their colleagues. 

Remember the National Grid for Learning? Wouldn't it have been great if as an outcome of all that we'd had a trustworthy single sign on system for staff and students in education that became the standard against which everyone had to do single sign on if they wanted to actually sell products in education. It won't happen, there are too many people whose business model runs counter to it... but it's a thought.

I did a post a while back about how we as a network of schools do managed identity, I'd be really interested to hear from anyone who things they have found a good solution that gives them long term security, the agility to try new things without making life really complex and doesn't mean investing in some large and monolithic "answer to everything" system that will take years and implement and never work properly...

Friday, 29 July 2016

Stream Ate My Email Address - a word of concern

Update: It may in fact not be Stream's fault at all but rather a bizarre "combined effect" of also setting up a service with Apple (there are some disadvantages to the multi-cloud lifestyle)

So I'm getting all these emails at an .onmicrosoft.com address instead of my usual @dret.co.uk one - mildly annoying but everything seemed to be working - I just assumed it was something I'd done. I was also finding my email seemed to be auto-cc ing me into messages I sent, which I hate.

Finally had some time to look:

When I signed up for Stream it has somehow created a new entry in Office 365 for my user and taken the default email address with it.

Now I have people who will help me and no doubt sort it out - when we do I'll post it here, but it is a VERY bizarre and really annoying glitch. What worries me is that Stream had the authority to muck about with something as basic as my identity online!

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Stream; Report a Problem

I posted about how good I think Microsoft's second private video sharing service "Stream" is and having thought long and hard about the wisdom of forging ahead with further work to deploy Office 365 Video in our network of schools I can only think of one thing the product needs to be 'good enough' to just jump straight to using.

The idea:

Private sharing of video provides a great service - it allows users to create channels, publish video to other users in that community and build a social shell around that. Great for the classroom for teachers sharing work from groups, demonstrations - there's a whole category of material I would not want on the public web but do want to be able to share to specific groups of learners (and vice verse).

Stream offers a fair more organic and user-led approach which I think is much more likely to be adopted and not result in a centrally managed, sterile resource. But as it currently stands all my users can publish video. I've pondered on that - users are not anonymous and if a student wants to share a cat video with a group of friends....  that is not the end of the world - but what would be so simple to do, and would answer a lot of concerns is very simple - a "report a problem button."

Right there next to the 'Fav' button let's add another which says "I'm not happy with this video I think I'd like to report it" - and allow me as 365 admin to nominate a group of people to receive those alerts (ideally with the URL of the video and as much management information about who has viewed it etc as possible). We can then train people, deal with issues as they arise and keep the notion of a 'managed personal learning environment' where we recognise that it is adaptive learners not adaptive learning we're aiming for.

That then places the emphasis on the user community to have educated, sensible behaviour in a managed space, without the draconian limitations of who can publish video (because after all, if they want to share something very dodgy... well they can do that very easily in many places outside our control).

In the absence of...

That may already be on the roadmap. Either way I can't guarantee it will be available for September so we're left with the slightly odd situation of encouraging users to upload content to Office 365 Video knowing it is going to be end-of-life and not knowing how we will migrate that content over - so I really do hope Microsoft will have answer to that (I think they will).

As I said in an earlier post we are using Salamander to sync our MIS to our Active Directory, so every class in every academy will have Office 365 groups and Google Apps groups. For Office 365 Video we are setting up some initial quite coarse grained channels for individual sites (where all members of teachers @ academy name can publish and all people @ academy name can view).

As a starting point we know that will give us a good simple video-sharing service - but Stream is so much better, just not quite there yet.

Monday, 25 July 2016

What Adaptive Learning Isn't

One of my career lows was during the final interview for a head teachers job. This was in the era when "Personalised Learning" was A Thing, and every candidate had to do a 10 minute presentation to all staff about their approach (which must have been insanely enjoyable for the staff, but I'm sure they at least managed a wager on the outcome).

That final interview was not pretty. It had been a long two days if I'm honest, and it was a big interview panel (about 15 people in at least four ranks of seats, a bizarre setup that seemed designed to make everyone feel awkward).  Then the member of senior leadership that I had sensed didn't like me* the whole way through fired this left-field question about how I would personalise the curriculum for every one of the 200 students in each cohort at the school. In a sea of highly abstract leadership questions, here was something for the curriculum and technology geek in me to pounce on.

I made a basic error and answered the question I was asked (instead of the the question I should have been asked**) with thoughts on single year courses, modular courses, mixed age teaching to create curriculum flexibility for greater matching to the needs of groups of students and technology may have come in there at some point. There is a lot that can be done with structures and setup - just as there is a lot that can be done with MOOCs for eLearning (without meaning MOOCs *are* eLearning).

I probably sounded plausible, and the ideas would have created a more bespoke experience for each learner without huge cost, but I was making a basic mistake. Personalised education is not about creating one curriculum per student, any more than the travel industry was personalised by travel agents using technology to create incredibly bespoke packages for everyone: it was personalised by the disruptive force of people equipped to go do it themselves.

Personalising learning is about equipping each student to personalise their own learning experience and by creating the flexibility to allow that to happen (both are required - otherwise you get either frustrated learners or wasted resources). For me, when thinking about eLearning, that is about much more than just what happens in the classroom.

I went on to work at the SSAT with Professor David Hargreaves and got a much better understanding of the many ways schools can support personalisation - there is still a lot of good stuff on the web about this - for anyone interested I'd suggest this as a starting point (you can Bing! some of the original material if you so choose, but not from the SSAT anymore sadly).

Anyway, in Hack Education Weekly News this week I bumped into this piece about Agile Learning from George Siemens at eLearning Space. Siemens critiques much of the work in the field of adaptive learning as being over-focused on content - ensuring the learner accesses the right content in the right form.
Today’s adaptive software robs learners of the development of the key attributes needed for continual learning – metacognitive, goal setting, and self-regulation – because it makes those decisions on behalf of the learner.
Anyone following the SSAT personalising learning work would recognise that Siemens is raising the lack of development of some of the key things a learner needs for personalisation. Much adaptive learning technology is the opposite of co-construction - it is just 'doing it for the learner' using an algorithm, faster and cheaper.

Siemens argues that it is not about Adaptive Learning per se, rather about developing Agile Learners.

I agree so very, very strongly and will endeavour to be on-trend by talking about agile learning rather than personalised learning from now on. Wonder if there'll be a standards fund grant for it... ah nostalgia.

* I actually met the person in question years later at an SSAT event (on personalising learning bizarrely) and after a really interesting and positive discussion I dared to admit to them that I thought they'd disliked me from the start of the selection process only to be told that was completely untrue. Mind you, I'd have said that too in the same situation...

** Answering the question you think you should have been asked rather than the one you've been asked is probably not the best technique, but it has worked for me once when asked "our students don't bring pens and pencils to lessons, how would you resolve that" - telling them what I thought the real question was, and answering it gave me enough time to work out an answer to the first question!

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Stream versus Last Year's Views on Office 365 Video

On a blog I used to run about Chromebooks (that ended up being almost nothing to do with Chromebooks) I wrote a little bit, a year ago, about what I felt needed to happen to Microsoft Office 365 Video to make it better - very much in the spirit of 'wow, this is good but please...'

With the release of Stream I thought it would be good to revisit those points.

The name. Really. Azure Video. Microsoft Video. Video 365. 
Well - 365 Video never got a better name but Microsoft Stream certainly ticks the boxes.

Video thumbnails all take the first frame of the film. This is plain daft as most videos have either a plain colour or logo start. Either starting a fixed distance in to choose the thumbnail or (better) letting the owner decide which frame would be epic.
This was fixed in a later version of 365 Video and Stream has the feature to set the thumbnail right from the start.

Sharing... I can send someone a link but I have no embed code or code fragment to copy and paste. Means I have to grab a screenshot, embed that in a web page and link that to the video. Hmmm. If the focus is on finding video in Delve (I think it might be) or visiting the portal rather than picking up content elsewhere this is OK. I can live with it, but I'd rather live with it done right!
365 Video is gradually getting better and better at sharing and embedding (although I still haven't been able to use it to put out a video publicly which I thought was intended - that would mean we could have one video store, and for each video set permissions). Most of our use of 365 Video centres on people linking to a channel and just going to that as a web page. We haven't used the Yammer links much but we certainly will this year.

Stream seems to me to be much more designed for sharing publicly right from the off, so promising.

Sway. I love Sway. I truly wish it wasn't tied in with consumer Windows ID rather than 365 logins, and I would kind of like to be able to embed 365 videos in there in the same way I can embed YouTube ones.
Sway has all the marks of being made by a sub-team at Microsoft who don't seem to be that enthused with integrating with their own products - OK with me as I'm pretty agnostic, but I'd like to see an incentive for people who use Microsoft's web publishing product to store their video in Microsoft's video sharing product.

Having the default to not giving every single user the ability to make a new channel might be sensible. Maybe I'm a control freak.
Stream actually makes this worse, but it is only a beta. 365 Video we have now set to be more locked down.

Please let us do a little branding of some kind on the home screen. Not anything massive, just a few light touches.
365 Video still looks pretty terrible and doesn't allow me to brand it. I hope this gets addressed one day.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Microsoft Stream - a new approach to video for the school managed PLE

Adding data to an uploaded video

The pace of development of Office 365 is truly impressive. I work with both Google Apps for Education and Office 365 (see other posts for the how and the why of that) and in very broad terms I'd say we see ongoing incremental improvement in Google Apps (much related to adding a level of fit and finish you'd expect) compared to a pretty relentless programme of new releases from Microsoft.

Stream is new. You could summarise it as "an in-house YouTube" which neatly summarises what it does and the greatest problems it faces in one phrase. The space the Microsoft are exploring though is video sharing within a defined community, and that is an interesting one.

It seems to answer the same questions as Office 365 Video which we have already settled on as our primary video service for schools, but although still in beta Stream seems to offer that little bit extra - this is an attempt to set out what I think it needs to do (well), what it does and how it compares to Office 365 Video.

Our philosophy is that of the mPLE - an managed space where who people are and what they can do is managed, but where the tools and services made available to them is as flexible as possible. Video sharing is obviously one of those services teachers and students want.

Without a service the default behaviour from users is to either put a video file in Google Drive/ One Drive and share it that way (which works and gives control over access but doesn't give any overarching structure with things like channels etc) or to put it on Vimeo (not linked to our single sign on) or YouTube (which is the gold standard for these things but has so many issues to control and manage that it's not my first choice for this role).

A class channel in 365 Video - with who can upload and who can view managed centrally.

First the original. Less than a year old, Microsoft Office 365 Video. 365V handles all the videos we upload without issue, has a good mobile app which makes it suitable for classroom use (to record and upload clips from within the app), and lets an administrator create channels and set who can add to each channel and who can view it. As a bonus a channel can link to Yammer (which we use as our professional social network), so that new videos automatically feature in Yammer as they are released - so for professional development or for letting staff know about the availability of a new resource within their interest group it's ideal.

It isn't so good at sharing/ embedding video outside the organisation and it is build on Sharepoint, although it does try to hide it - this means occasionally it can lapse into some confusing user interface conventions that work if you're an IT admin but not for others.

For me though, the fundamental weakness of 365V is its strength. It is superb where IT admins build a structure and users then create and publish within it. It is not organic. It does not welcome the teacher who wants to create a channel for a class at short notice, or for the group of students who need to share material just within their group.

Stream is still rough at the edges (it is a preview) but fully functional and already has a level of 'finish' in how users interact with it that is more on the level of the best Microsoft web services (like Sway or Outlook online).

Unlike 365V it starts with the user as a publisher/ manager of their own content rather than as a contributor within a fixed structure.

In Stream the starting point is the user as publisher, managing *their* content
I can see myself wanting to ask "how do I stop xxx from doing yyy?" before making it universally available (and for all readers rolling their eyes at that... well if they walked a few miles in our shoes they might think the same), but right from the start this is something that a teacher can pick up and 'just use' - make their own channel, bring in their students (using the 365 groups we're syncing with our MIS using Salamander as described in the last post) and make stuff, without waiting for someone to build it for you.

In Stream, once uploaded you can add comments etc and publish to channels that you create (rather than have made for you)

Users can upload and publish video (it seems faster to transcode and prepare video than its 365 brother), decide who will be allowed to see it and generally get to work. There isn't a mobile app for Stream yet, but I expect it's on the way.

As well as being more 'swooshy' Stream has the kind of user-led approach that is likely to lead to far faster adoption and adaption in classrooms.

It may be that features from 365V move to Stream until they end up with something that does everything 365V did but with a way better look and feel and a dynamic approach for the user to do more 'grassroots' sharing. Combining Stream channels and 365V channels would be great (but if they don't it is going to get awfully confusing when a teacher ends up with two completely different video channels with the same names shared with the same users....). This is likely to be more powerful, more messy (in the overlaps) and result in a simpler story - 365 ends up with one video sharing service that is a "private YouTube for our schools."

Or it could just leave 365V to wither away (we will be using it but already I'm wondering about how we'd move content if required) and keep developing Stream over the next 12 months.

Either way, it is probably the most interesting new 365 venture of the year so far.


After a few more hours of reflection and a couple of conversations I'd add that I think I was being over-harsh on Stream above and I should perhaps be clear - I think this is potentially a very very big release for schools. Since Google Apps retired Google Video and went all in on YouTube there hasn't really been an 'in house' video story there unless you built it yourself in Sites, or used private G+ groups.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

M is for Identity: Managing the mPLE

In my last post about Managed Personal Learning Environments I argued that an mPLE has the agility and flexibility of the "Anything Goes" personal learning environment, but the security and structure of a VLE. Is that really possible? This time I want to explain that further and share the first stage of our multi-school setup and the next step which we're rolling out this summer.

The key element to being able to manage is identity management.

To safeguard the children who use our system we must be confident that we know who the people on our system are.  We have to maintain a directory of people that can use the system across 33 schools and ensure that it is kept up to date, and we have to maintain a structure of group membership so that you can address a resource to the right people without having to expend a lot of energy.

Single Sign On is important. It means people using the system don't go crazy from repeatedly having to put in user names and passwords everywhere, but it's more than a convenience - if you don't have single sign on you have an awkward mess that will frustrate people and leave holes in your safeguarding arrangements.

There is no one way of doing this - I'm just describing how we do it.

Active Directory might have a long history, but with the advent of Azure it's still highly relevant. Although it requires people with a definite skill set to manage it (I have happily managed Office 365 and Google Apps domains, but there are dim corners of AD I don't pretend to engage with - but I have colleagues that do). When you go to one of those desktop PCs and login, it's Active Directory that checks that there is an account with that name, grants access and determines what you're allowed to do on the network. We have a federated Active Directory across all of our sites, so that I can login anywhere (well that isn't the main reason, but it's a good by product) which breaks membership at each academy into units that can be managed locally.

So we know that if someone is in AD that someone in that academy has verified they are who they say they are and should be able to do what they are allowed to. It means teachers at Academy A can work with students at Academy B even if they have never met, because both are validated as real people with access rights on the system locally. We also know that those people have agreed to a set of conditions (an Acceptable Use Policy) and that anyone who doesn't follow those rules will be taken off the system [I'll blog in a future post about a way we're developing to automate renewing that agreement of the AUP].

So far, so very traditional. All this is really is a standard (medium sized) enterprise network being done in schools. We work closely with European Electronique to deliver. As an organisation we're very "cloud based" (I dislike that term and prefer to think of it as "web first" but we have registered and use http://dret.cloud so I guess the term has stuck).

Last year, as well as nearing completion of that all-schools enterprise network we offered two very important cloud services to our users - Office 365 and Google Apps for Education. Neither one, nor the other, because if you can use a combination of both, why would you limit yourself to one? As I'll explain in future posts, we often make two tools available that do the same job, but individual academies can engage more with one than the other - the beauty of using the web is the ones that best suit that school can be used.

The Office 365 link uses an Azure single sign on connector and it "just works." We had some fun setting up Yammer, which I'll touch on in the future, but Yammer is a semi-detached part of Office 365 in truth but other than that once we make an account in AD and assign an email address, within an hour it is ready to use in Office 365 (with one wrinkle I'll mention below).

It is seamless, but then you'd expect two Microsoft products to talk to each other wouldn't you? (I am smiling when I type that, but these two, whilst clearly from different planets in terms of design, mesh perfectly).

Our Office 365 is a multi-domain, single tenancy - so each site can have it's own domain name, but all exist in the same directory space. With 12000 users we're probably one of the bigger schools sites in the UK and I cannot recommend the core parts of 365 highly enough.

We use a product called GADS to do the same thing with Google Apps and again that just works. From the perspective of a Google Apps admin the only difference is that I never touch user accounts in Google Admin (because any changes I make will be overwritten within minutes) but in every other way it is business as usual - with a Chromebook, a Google App on an iPad or a Windows PC.

We did have some issues with some Google Apps (like G+) and apps on iOS that we suffered through for a while until we found that some parts of single sign on in GADS weren't set to the defaults - if anyone encounters that I'd be happy to explain it.

The result?

If you use an iPad, iPhone or Android device in our schools you just use any Microsoft or Google App you like and use the same login details and it works.

If you use a Mac or PC similarly it just works - in Windows the integration with 365 is pretty deep in places and you'd never know we were mixing in anything else.

Chromebooks love it. We use them in Kiosk mode and make our dret.cloud homepage the default. Within a couple of seconds of startup you're at a login screen.

The downsides? This year the biggest has been scale. Managing groups has grown into a full time concern - and it is no joke trying to use something like Google Classroom or OneNote Class Notebook if your class doesn't have a single up to date email address that you can be totally confident is right up to date. With 12000 users those groups just aren't.

Another issue is automating Office 365 license allocation. Making a user in 365 isn't enough, you need to attach licenses, even if they are free ones, to each account and right now that is a manual process (or a little powershelgl script if we're feeling adventurous).

Several tools exist to do the job of bringing some order to that.

Capita have just launched a product called SIMS ID that seems to do much of what I describe above but also pulls information from SIMS to update group membership. I don't know how well this would scale to a multi-school setup because SIMS does not really understand a multi-school world in the way I'd like.

Ruler Connect has a tight integration with SIMS too - pulling group membership from SIMS and writing it to Active Directory or Office 365. We really liked the product and the people and although we didn't select it can certainly suggest it is worth a good look.

In the end we've chosen another tool called Salamander. Salamander can sit in our data centre on a relatively low powered server and talk to each installation of SIMS overnight. When a member of staff or student is added it will pull the details through, add it to AD with the right group membership and license and if an account is taken out of SIMS it will suspend it. This level of automation will give us time to do the interesting stuff, reduce risk of errors creeping in and solve the problem of group membership. When I want to share a OneNote document with 11Tec1 at an academy, I'll be able to do so with the confidence that all the people currently in that group will access it - and the beauty of that is that every Google Apps and every 365 tool will be able to do so.

I hope that's been of interest - in many ways this is the least learning focused post in this series, but without the management in mPLE we have something that is not fit for purpose as a place online for children to work. When assembling our mPLE, the price of entry for a product is to be able to let users use their AD credentials to sign in... and between 365, Google ID and AD there are very few services that don't make the cut.

What I'd like to write about next are some of the tools and design decisions we're making in putting together an mPLE - some services have to be mandatory (e.g. email, although we have Gmail and Exchange Online, we need one to keep a single directory of addresses and to make compliance simple to manage) whilst others we can give choices and let the users decide, and others we need to buy in and do the integration work such as our upcoming eBook Library.

If you're interested in this stuff and would like to steer the series in any way, please do get in touch buy the usual methods.

Managed Personal Learning Environments: Clearing the decks

It's been a very quiet year on the blogging front for two reasons. Firstly as I've been working on the EdTech unit at Leicester University (which was the reason for starting this particular blog and I'm not going to start another one) I've not had masses of time to blog about specific things of wider relevance, and secondly because the things I was blogging about at Chromestead had frankly gone off the boil. My disappointment at the disaster that was Google Play for Education and somewhat bizarre "Androidisation" of ChromeOS means I don't have much that is constructive to say, so best policy is to shut up.

I think the time is right to blog a little now though. Partly that is because I think I have some things that are interesting to share that combine the reading I did for the EdTech course around online learning, and will be relevant to anyone planning longer term for their school or group of schools. Also though because of the sheer idiocy of some of the things people selling to me have said about the subject and their strategy. It seems bizarre but much of the old snake oil around VLEs and "learning platforms" has come full circle and is emerging wearing new hats (often from the same people) - and a desire to debunk is a great motive to write.

Back in April I wrote a surprisingly (to me) coherent piece about Managed Personal Learning Environments. In a nutshell I argued that the debate between those advocating PLEs as the new wave to sweep away the sclerotic and over-priced Virtual Learning Environments (or LMSs or MLEs or Learning Platforms) is one between two sides who are both wrong, and right at the same time.

VLEs are wrong because they can never meet a broad enough range of needs which are shifting rapidly, within a single platform, because they are out of date before you've even finished rolling them out, meaning you end up defending your investment rather than pushing it forward, because they put you as the educator at the mercy of the development roadmap of people you don't control and frankly because I have never, ever used one that I ever wanted to use a second time. On the plus though they give you a place to securely host your content and decide who can and can't use it and by and large they work as advertised.

PLEs are wrong because although they answer most of the problems with VLEs they don't do what VLE's do well. They don't allow you to control who can do what, and they don't allow you to manage what they can do with your content. If you think those things don't matter you probably aren't responsible for ensuring that the people who your learners are interacting with are the people they say they are, and you probably don't deal with buying and deploying material that you don't own.

I argued in the blog that what is needed is a mPLE - a lightweight management framework that is extensible and can work with as many of those PLE tools as you can make it. Embrace the agility and variety (and power) of those tools, provided you can authenticate who is who and what they can do (and when you can't do those things, draw a line there and stay inside it until the tools to advance become available).

What I want to do in this series of posts is set out my thinking about how we've built and are now extending an mPLE with various partners for our network of 30+ schools and 12,000 users.

The P-Bomb

So you're meeting someone who has a genuinely good online service. They've probably got the lead in a niche and a good number of schools on board and they want to grow. The demo is good, the product is solid and then they drop the P-bomb. "Guy, we see this developing into a platform." Just once I wish I could get up and walk out at that point. But it keeps happening (three times in key meetings to me this year so far).

If I were making and selling an online service to schools my logic would be:
  • OK we have made something that does one thing really well on the web.
  • Schools like it and we have a good brand.
  • We want to make more things and make more money.
  • Let's develop another service, that is not an outgrowth of the first one, but a stand on it's own feet one, maybe add some links between them for those that choose to buy both.
  • Let's sell that as an independent entity so we have two services to sell.
  • Maybe let's give Guy a discount if he buys both.
That way customers build their own platform using your services </rant>

The C-Bomb

OK I can't resist. The Androidisation of ChromeOS.

I want to buy these great lightweight, simple to manage, multi-user devices for our schools so that children can use the best web apps, but also so they could download Android Apps on them said no-one ever. Google please, ChromeOS is great. A tablet version with a rear facing camera that allowed a teacher to video work and screencast it in lessons would have been a killer product, but you gave us the Pixel C instead (because another tablet at a premium price would be great because nobody else is doing anything far better already in that space, said no-one ever). But a model for Chromes where every time a student opens a device and logs in a series of apps are downloaded so they can use an internet based device whilst not on the internet...

There are not many examples of an app I would like to download to use whilst offline that would be useful (offline). The few examples I can imagine (for example an offline text editor) could be baked into ChromeOS in the same way the Files App is.

I like the people I meet at Google and I think they are doing some great work (I also like people at other companies) so I won't write about Google Play for Education.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Course personas: more haste less speed

One piece of work I tackled early on in the Learning Design project was to develop Course Persona cards for two potential delegates.



There's nothing especially radical about the ideas presented there - but it was a really useful stage in taking me from my starting point (making an online version of a course I already run) to my current point (making a new course, using some of the older materials, but rethought).

A Revised Storyboard

Having looked at the comments and revisited some points about the learning design that didn't seem to mesh well as I put together the sample materials, I decided to redo the storyboard. Initially this consisted of taking down the big presentation board and adding some new post its, but it's becoming painfully clear that although an "analogue" approach works well in terms of me doing this in my spare time it wouldn't work outside that, and in any case it makes presenting the course to anyone not sitting across the desk from me a somewhat constrained experience for us both!

I've spent some time therefore putting the storyboard onto one of my favourite online tools - Realtimeboard - not only would this allow colleagues to collaborate on a design with me (synchronously or asynchronously), it also makes producing usable documents easy, and gave me the opportunity to reword and generally tighten everything up. Finally, with one eye on the need to write an assignment in the next few weeks I've introduced a referencing/ numbering scheme for elements of the storyboard that works as:
nAAnn or [courseID]nAAnn
Where the first n is the week number for the element.
AA is the type of element (to date this is TA for topic area, EA for example activity, FA for formative assessment and LO for learning objective, which I've chosen to match the course text, but I expect before using this approach in anger I'd want to have more, and more descriptive categories and sub-categories to make the job of breaking down areas and delegating their design simpler and clearer)
nn is a sequential number to identify each item.
So the first piece of formative assessment, happening in week 2 would either be 2FA01 or (if the course was EDX028) EDX0282FA01.

This is of course all very train-spotterish but in trying to match the theory as set out in the writing about 7Cs and the reality of co-ordinating people in different locations and institutions these things do matter, especially if a goal is reusability.

So I think I am now at 9Cs (I'd call this one C for co-ordinate or collate, my 8th C was consult to reflect the planning to incorporate a situative approach of master-apprentice interaction and learning by watching).

This is my latest version, you can also see the full storyboard on Realtimeboard.

Weeks 0 to 4, please click to see full sized.

Course learning objectives, please click to see full sized.

Weeks 5 to 8, please click to see full sized.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Learning Design: Review and Feedback

This is a summary of points raised reviewing the learning design set out in earlier posts:

  1. The online conferences are the main way instruction and feedback would occur in this course – probably the single deciding factor in the quality of the course but they are glossed over in the materials and planning shared. Something as detailed as a lesson plan should be created and shared with the students as part of their prep for the session. Agreed. I will work on a much more detailed "script" for the first sessions possibly using the e-tivity templates, although they lack the detail necessary.
  2. Welcome and introductions and a test of the conferencing technology should be brought forward a week.  Agreed. This will in effect be a 'week zero' - a preparation week. This will also create space for checking all delegates can access everything.
  3. Teachers are being expected to get into the online conference very quickly but it is likely it will be just two or three that do so – planning needs to show how that will be managed. I expect all delegates will find the group OK, I've had no experience of people failing to do that - however yes, there may be a period of silence as nobody posts anything - so more structure is needed - I will go back to the Salmon five stage model for ideas.
  4. The follow on activities need to be written out more clearly because although they will be explained anyone who misses the session or doesn’t understand has nothing to fall back on Agreed - this will be part of point 1 above - delegates that miss the live session will have access to written explanations in there.
  5. The course doesn’t allow for teachers to self-study and miss out the online conferences entirely – surely video and screencasts could allow people to do the course on demand?  That wasn't the initial brief - the idea is a blended approach that has set time limits to ensure there is a sense of pace and progression and a group dynamic. As an entirely self-access on-demand course it has value for people to dip in and take away resources, but it is a very different project. That said, it would be entirely possible to record the online seminars and make them available alongside the material in an on-demand version.
  6. Can a tutor led lesson observation and support be built in? As it stands someone could fail quite badly in their lesson and that might not be clear within the review of the course. For example they might say it went well and pick one example where the pupil did good work and the principal will think they’ve moved forward when in fact they haven’t – where is the rigour/ accountability. This is difficult to resource - perhaps some additional resource could be provided for the delegates to ask a colleague within their school to complete the pro-forma.
  7. We expect teachers to set out clear LO for each session, this course should match that. This will be covered in 1 above.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Evaluating Confidence Before, During and After the Course

To help with both the evaluation and design of the course, I've reviewed some alternatives in the LTDI Cookbook.  As what I want to do is review progression of attitudes, skills and knowledge, the confidence log seems to be a good match. To design the one below I've taken each learning objective in turn and broken it into two to four statements for the delegate to give themselves a four point confidence rating from 1 (not at all confident) to 4 (completely confident). This version is of course open and public, for the course a bespoke version could be created that required a login which as well as giving group data (which could be merged across many groups) also could give before and after data for any individual.

I'd present the data (for example as a before and after course analysis) by placing the distribution of responses for each question side by side for the week before the course, and the week after completion.

Week Three: Teaching to Code

As with previous posts, please click on the screenshots from Google Classroom to view them properly. The third week of the learning design sees delegates completing their programming challenge - in reality they have covered all the new programming skills they will need by this point. It also deepens the discussion of strategies and aims to engage the delegate in reflecting on how "if I were in the class I am preparing, which of these strategies would have helped me."

It is a more intensive week as there is more resource material shared, although most will only become useful in the following weeks.

Stage one is the invitation to the online conference. Compared with previous weeks this session can be more free-flowing and conversational. Delegates will be part way through programming their game and will primarily benefit from exploration of things that typically go wrong with Scratch programs (and how to resolve them) and recapping, whilst sharing their own program with the group and discussing the problems they have encountered.

In the 2-3 days after the conference delegates need to finish their Scratch programming and move on. Even if any fail to complete the task, the tutor will need to encourage them to reflect on what they have accomplished and engage with the relatively simply follow up was below.

This task provides the delegates with some resources to read and review, that will hopefully make far more sense now that they have discussed strategies to plan for lessons.

The Angry Birds example is a sample lesson based on code.org that illustrates the use of activities away from the computer. The Storyboard is a staple approach that will be familiar to the teachers from other subject areas and is equally useful here - although they will hopefully be able to share their own or create a better one themselves.  The Scratch Materials folder contains an example pupil workbook and all the materials needed to make cards that can be used for planning, for group activities and for displays.

To build on that, delegates are asked about the particular strategies they have selected, in particular as routines for every lesson.

Towards the end of the week we have a short activity asking delegates to start to consider how they could apply all of this in an area outside the "learning computing silo." This is an important first step in making clear that teaching to code is not a special case, that the skills and experience the teacher has all count here, and that ultimately programming can embed into all their other curriculum planning.

The end of week reflection is more demanding, now asking the delegate to engage in dialogic reflection, going beyond recounting what happened during the week, and considering what made the things that went well go well.

Week two Google Classroom Design

The second week of the course is all set for release in the week of the 14th November notionally - Launch Day + 7 days. As before, clicking on the screenshot opens it full time.

The week starts, as does every week, with the reminder/ invitation to join the 4pm to 5pm online seminar. The session will consist of:
  • A discussion and reflection on the previous week as Q&A
  • An introduction to programming in Scratch. Done as a live demo this takes about 20 minutes, however this will probably take longer when done as an online demo as many of the cues and signals that it is OK to push ahead aren't as easy to pick up when you're working over the web.
  • A short discussion of the practical problems of teaching programming, things that concern delegates, can go wrong, break flow and impede progress (and vitally, the capacity to evidence progress), and having given a couple of examples sharing a wiki produced by teachers of effective strategies.
  • A discussion of the week's work, by the end of which delegates will have made their first Scratch program and reflected on ways they may choose to organise lessons for coding.

After the workshop is a "reminder" assignment to spend some time building their own Scratch program and sharing it in the Yammer group.

The next day, a second reminder, this time to review the strategies document and again to use Yammer as a place to identify the one or two ideas that most resonate for them, and discuss them. As tutor the key role in this discussion is to ensure there isn't a "false consensus" of one idea being the only one and challenging and supporting where it is needed. Again, by the Thursday any delegates not posting may need a reminder email or follow up of some kind to make sure everything is OK.

The weekly review is again simple and descriptive in nature. Whether delegates get feedback within the blog or in response to their post in Yammer is immaterial.

Sunday, 29 May 2016


I found this article in wikispaces useful to help me better frame the purpose and structure of the reflective tasks in my learning design project.

For each task, in my storyboard, I marked it as having a particular level of reflection, to guide me when writing the materials to ensure that the questions, stimulus and framework for response would support an appropriate level  of response.

The levels are descriptive reflection, dialogic reflection and critical reflection.

Descriptive reflection invites the learner to describe what happened or is happening, with some reasons or justifications but which remains a description of or report on that event. In the context of my course design this would involve a question that asked the teacher about concrete past experiences and skills and expected them primarily to set out the facts. Reflecting on my first programming lesson I might describe what had happened and the outcomes in terms of the progress students made.

Dialogic Reflection invites the learner to take a step back from just describing the event to also consider reasons for why things might have happened and what their impact may have been on the  the event. Reflecting on my first programming lesson I might describe what had happened and the outcomes in terms of the progress students made and then the factors that had influenced the activity. For example I might want to describe how a large amount of time was lost in unpicking problems encountered by one or two students, meaning others didn't receive the guidance needed and possible reasons why those students got stuck and why that meant the rest of the class were left waiting.

Critical reflection asks the learner to take a more evaluative position, looking at what happened from different viewpoints to  help understand what happened and why. For example I might want to describe how different sub-groups of students had reacted to the start of the lesson and why, and how my response had been in place, or absent for that, and what might have been done to keep the different groups on track and making progress.

Designing Week One of the Course in Google Classroom

I've selected Google Classroom as the tool to build my course in for the simple (and excellent) reason that it's the one we're deploying as an organisation so it makes sense to use the real tools we'll use for the course (as opposed to making it in something else and it never being used). This blog post sets out the work to build week one of the course (which I'm setting for the week of 7th November 2016 simply to keep it in the 'far future' at the time of writing).

All the screenshots below are clickable to view full sized. Delegates will be welcomed to the course by following an invitation email link.

The first announcement, programmed to appear on the morning of day 1 of their course is the invitation to join the online conference for live discussion and instructions on how to join. The tool used, Appear.In, is one we use fairly often without any incident, but we can't assume all delegates will have prior experience.

During the web-conference we will introduce the course and the activities shown below for week 1, and demonstrate some activities in Code.org that we know to be simple, straightforward confidence building activities, where teachers can see the demo over screencast and then load the site and try them themselves.

As soon as the online conference ends we will send out email invitations to join the private course discussion forum. At this stage all we want to be sure of is that every delegate can log in, post something and respond to someone else, so as a tutor my main focus will be in following up on anyone that doesn't post in the group within 48 hours and ensuring that no post goes without comment (but by the same token, keeping in the background so that wherever possible the comments and responses are from the delegates themselves).

This task uses a simple online question to ask delegates to put the resource (what children need to learn about programming, in the language used in the national curriculum guidance) into plain English and in particular engage with the term debug, decompose and repetition. In the online conference and demo of code.org all three terms will have been a particular focus in the presentations. 

Where the delegate fails to respond, this will be an opportunity to reach out to them to ensure they are engaged with the course and discuss it either by email or telephone.

Where they respond well and demonstrate real understanding that will enable the tutor to publish the response to the Yammer group to share with other delegates for comment.

Where the response shows an ongoing dependency on using "defensive terminology" rather than clear explanation, direct feedback via email and an ongoing dialogue will help to explore that further.

This is a resource that the delegates will find useful later, that is best engaged with after a period of "play" with code.org.

As well as giving a stimulus to go back to code.org to look again (for anyone that engaged superficially only) it gives delegates some links they may later pick up and use in the planning activities.

At the same time as publishing the tutor will post in the Yammer group a thread to ask for opinions and suggestions about the links. 

This view shows how in Classroom assignments that are not released appear in a "queue" - by the end of the course this will be quite a substantial list of documents!

Approaching the end of week 1 this is the final assignment, scheduled for the Friday.

This assignment shares the course objectives with the delegates (again, they will have seen them when they first enrolled) and asks them to edit the document to create their own personal plan.

The tutor is able to view (and comment) on the objectives set by delegates.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Teaching to Code: Storyboard

This is the storyboard for my learning design.

Even if you enlarge full size the text is too blurry but fear not, it is all shown below.
The storyboard runs as follows:

Weeks 1 and 2, click to view
The main content in the first fortnight is understanding what children need to learn about coding within computing in the national curriculum, an overview of the major resources and tools available and learning to code with Scratch at a basic level - well enough to empathise with and understand what their students will experience and to gain in confidence and personal skill. The bright yellow sheets show the activities, the pale yellow the reflection and assessment (which relates back to the previous post).

Weeks 3, click to view full size

Week 3 develops that further but begins the process of reflecting on how as a teacher you may choose to set up lessons to ensure they can engage all students, retain a sense of progression and purpose and be manageable for 1 or at most 2 adults to support. Some approaches that might work well in other subjects may well (will) prove stifling and limiting if they hold students back from getting to grips with practical work, but being too open to everyone digging in exposes the teacher to unrealistic requirements to troubleshoot and assist.

Week 4
In week 4 the delegates apply that knowledge in designing their own three lesson sequence for their own classes working in pairs, so that they can ask each other questions around how realistic their planning is and ensure they have thought their approach through.

Learning Objectives

This is the learning objectives part of the Storyboard - these objectives though are starting points - in the first and last weeks delegates will be asked to review them and adapt them.

Week 5
In week five delegates respond to the feedback from their peers and from their tutor and make the final adjustments to their lesson plans. 

Week 6
In week six delegates deliver the first of their three lessons and afterwards share the outcomes from the lesson (in terms of student's work so that they can experience and moderate assessment judgements at an early stage) with colleagues that teach similar year-groups.

Week 7
In the seventh week the remaining two lessons are delivered, supported by the feedback and reflection on the progress their class had made and comparing it to similar groups in other academies. Where possible one of those lessons will allow a colleague to visit and informally observe and participate and for the delegate to also visit a colleague's lesson.

Week 8
Finally, in week 8 the delegates take from their lessons material to contribute a learning resource to the shared set of materials for primary teachers teaching computing. In this way they each immediately gain a number of practical ideas for future lessons and their ideas are made available to the network of teachers as a whole. Importantly this activity reinforces the message about how important a part of professional development contributing to the collective set of shared learning resources is. The second main activity is the final review by the delegate on how they have progressed and how they will continue to use their skills in teaching, perhaps applying ideas to other subjects in the future.

Assessment planning for Teaching to Code Learning Design

Following on from the previous post about the course map, this is more thought on assessment and reflection.

In Unit 1
Planning ahead – introduction:

  • Review of prior learning – reflection/ self-assessment (framed and prompted as Descriptive writing)
  • Agreeing the key features we will be looking for in their practice at the end

Unit 2
Learning to code and reflecting on that to prepare for later (framed and prompted as Descriptive reflection)

  • Blog post to reflect on their first complex program and how they learned to solve it
  • Peer assessment/ commentary and response to blog post.

Unit 3
Teaching Strategies for Computing

  • Blog post to reflect on the discussion/ workshop and ideas raised – ranking and justifying choices (framed and prompted as Dialogic reflection).
  • Peer assessment/ commentary and response to blog post.
  • Movenote from tutor posing key questions for the teacher to consider in their planning

Unit 4
Planning a three lesson sequence

  • Peer review/ commentary on planning documents
  • Movenote from tutor giving feedback on final draft
  • Movenote from teacher (student) reviewing what they have learned and comparing the strategies that have been used with the ones they will use themselves (framed and prompted as Dialogic reflection).

Unit 5
Evaluating that three lesson sequence

  • Blog post to reflect on the experience and response using examples of work to demonstrate match to criteria established in unit 1 – tutor feedback. (framed and prompted as Critical reflection)
  • Student feedback via evaluation survey
  • End of course self assessment

Create, critical review & reflection

Create an assessment plan for your module, incorporating good practice that you have read about in section 1. Firstly consider the learning outcomes of your course, then write in your blog answers to the following questions.

What must be assessed?

The assessment needs to be of the level of confidence/ preparedness of the teacher to use the skills of the course in their practice, and in the quality of the lessons themselves.

We would like to assess in these ways (e.g., through an exam, assignment, etc.):

  • Through agreement with the group at the start of the programme the key features we will be looking for in their practice at the end
  • Through the teacher’s planning for one or more lessons
  • Through examples of work produced by their class demonstrating learning/ progress
  • Through evaluation and feedback from pupils.
  • Through sharing critical questions and feedback between final draft stage of preparation and taking the materials into class.

We would rather not assess in these ways:

  • Through testing the ability (of the teacher) to write programs
  • Through formally observing a lesson

We will exploit technology for formative and summative assessment by (e.g., by setting up a multiple-choice exam on our VLE; by providing formative feedback on e-tivities):

  • Using peer review of planning, exercises and drafts within the group during the creation process
  • Using a simple form/ capture to gather pupil feedback

The work done during the course will contribute to formative and summative assessment in these ways:

  • Evidence of understanding of the content to be taught
  • Evidence of understanding of potential teaching strategies applicable to the material

Formative feedback will be offered by tutors and peers in these ways and using these technologies:

  • Through comments on blog posts (and replies to comments)
  • Through in-document comments and suggested edits in Google Docs
  • Through audio and video feedback on final drafts using Movenote

Peer-assessment will be built into your course as follows:

  • Through paired work on planning
  • Through all group response to blog posts

Use the REAP questions and 12 principles to assess your design and the JISC checklist


Do students actively engage with assessment criteria and standards? 
Yes – in the first unit we will ask the teachers on the course to agree the particular features they believe most important in assessing the impact of the course and their progress eg one teacher may be most focused on the ability of their class to solve specific problems in their scheme of work (which at present they lack confidence in delivering) whereas another will be more concerned with more generic transferable skills such as problem solving or independent learning promoted through the work on computing.

Are there formal/informal opportunities for self and peer assessment processes? 
Yes – formal ones.

What kind of feedback is provided - does it help students to self-assess, self-correct? 

  • Are there opportunities for dialogue around assessment tasks? 

Yes – at several points the students as a group and as individuals are responding to the task, how it will be assessed and their feedback.

  • Does feedback focus students on learning not just on their marks? 

There are no marks.

  • Is feedback attended to and acted upon by students? 

Yes – they are required to respond to peer feedback when at early stages and tutor feedback at late stages.

  • How is feedback used to inform and shape teaching? 

Student feedback in Unit 1 and 4 feedback to the course designer – the shape the objectives the group particularly want to reach and reviewing how well the strategies discussed are actually being used.