Thursday, 24 May 2012

NT Education Department aquires C2C units from Qld Education Department

I've written previously in regards to the difficulties faced by Queensland teachers in implementing the Australian Curriculum, mainly due to the faults in the units of work written by Education Queensland, known as the C2C units.  Despite some earlier confusion and mixed messages, the Director-General of Education did finally confirm that the use of C2C units were not mandated, and that they were written as examples of how the Australian Curriculum could be taught.

It turns out that the Northern Territory government has recently aquired the rights to the C2C units, and has mandated all teachers in the territory to teach the C2C units, down to pre-written the lesson plans. 

Apart from the loss of professional choice and responsibility, some of the provided materials potentially breach existing copyright, and some of the science experiments may be dangerous to students and staff.  Forcing teachers to follow such a highly prescriptive curriculum is not just  insulting to teachers, but also highly regressive.

I can only encourage teachers in the Northern Territory to have serious discussions with their Principals and Regional Directors, and do their best to fight such a decision that will only result in lower standards of education and morale amongst students and staff.

Thursday, 17 May 2012


Read a couple of articles recently that showed technology use in education being pulled in two different directions.  I'm talking about the devices that we place in students hands here.  I really prefer not to get too worked up about which laptop/tablet/device is best for students, as it is really the use of the device, the pedagogy, that is key.  But these two articles came out on the same day, which tweaked my curiosity.

Faster Computers
More traditionally, this first article looks at the development of a new chipset for PCs and laptops, with much smaller transistor size.  Smaller transistors allow for a more complex CPU, as well as faster switching and information processing.  This one, the Ivy chipset is particularly exciting for a number of reasons.  I'm not sure why, but the article specifically refers to its use in education, but it will really improve processing speed in PCs in all sorts of industries.

Computing in the Cloud
The second article (here) to me is the really exciting one, and I think indicates the real future of computing for many schools - cloud computing.  Google is offering a much expanded Google Drive, as well as online productivity apps.  I use them a bit and find them more than adequate for most purposes.  Cloud computing, along with the NBN (either the Labor or Coalition model) offer some real benefits to schools in Australia.

Cloud computing means that a lot of the storage and processing of documents happens offsite, somewhere over the rainbow.  It almost makes the choice of technology redundant.  As along as you have quick enough accesss to the 'net, you can do your work.  You don't even need to use the same device each time (even your smart phone will do it).  For schools, it means no need to run and maintain their own servers, no backups, less technical support required.  Potentially large savings.

BYOD (Bring your own device)
And then the device - Hawker College in Canberra is doing what a lot of switched on businesses are doing - allowing students to provide their own device.  While Education Departments in Qld and NSW are tying down their networks tighter and tighter, the ACT is opening theirs up. Benefit for the school?  Lower costs for maintenance and technical support.  And for students, they can choose a device that matches their own needs and budgets.

For school administrations, Cloud computing and BYOD has to be the way to go.  The financial savings from reduced maintenance and technology can be put to much better use in the classroom, and the savings in time can allow them to focus on what really matters in the end - teaching and learning.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

A Flying Start with iPads! But who will cop the bills?

Far be it from me to criticise our government for spending money on technology in education!  Technology has been responsible for some of the most innovative changes in education, and we ain't seen nothing yet.  Within a generation, we'll see a change in schools that will make them almost unrecognisable compared to what we see now.  So, why do I have such an issue with Qld Labor's policy to give iPads to year 7 students over the next year or two? 

It is relatively easy for governments to spend money on technology in schools - it goes down well with most of the punters, and makes you look like a politician with an eye on the future, a bit of a thinker.  Unfortunately, it is also easy for govenrments to waste money on technology.  Technology by itself doesn't do anything for education, and the general public would be horrified to know of the number of laptops and computers sitting unused in classrooms, in cupboards, in bags, right across the state.

The Electronic Jellybean

There were plenty of stories from early days of computers in Queensland schools of teachers covering them with tablecloths and flowers to hide them from students, or using them as an 'electronic jellybean', a reward for good behaviour or hard work.  Very little impact on actual education.

Education Queensland has developed some really good programs over the years for making good use of computers in classrooms.  Most of it is based on two really simple principles - get the technology to teachers before the students, and give them time and training in best how to use them.  The department also regularly rewards high flyers who develop good, scalable ideas for the use of technology in education.

So, how does the Flying Start iPad rollout stack up?

Firstly, there is no indication that the teachers will be receiving iPads themselves.  Even if they do, it seems they will get them at the same time as the students.  Now, for some teachers, that's fine.  There will be some teachers that will run with them and do some very good work with them.  But there will many others that just won't know what to do with them.  And to be honest, between preparing lessons, marking, behaviour, talking to parents and colleagues, and actually teaching lessons, finding time to work out what to do with a class full of laptops will be right down the bottom of the list of priorities.

What about the finances?

$5.7million for 5000 iPads for 5000 students averages out to $1140 per iPad - how does that stack up to real costs?.
The policy specifices a WiFi only 32GB iPad (or equivalent).  A runout model iPad 2 at these specs currently costs about $649.  Sounds good so far. 
But the policy also calls for a warranty (Apple Protection Plan).  That's another $99 for 2 years.
Schools also need a way of charging a class set of iPads, Syncing, and uploading Apps. Apple sell a cart for that, for the sum of $2600.  You'd  need one per class, let's say one per 26 iPads, or an extra $100 per student iPad.
Even with a warranty, you want to protect the iPads from accidental damage, so there's another $50 for a case for each iPad.
Want an Office suite software package so students can actually create documents, spreadsheets, slideshows and so on? Add a few other simple Apps in, and you're easily talking $50 at a bare minimum.

So how much is left now?  The school would be lucky to have $200 per iPad left.  For a school with 100 year 7 students, that's $20,000 to fund a technician, teacher training, teacher iPads, network infrastructure, increased internet usage.  And unless the government is going to stump up the cash each year, that $20,000 would have to last the lifetime of the iPads, probably about 2 years before they become obsolete.

$10,000 a year?  You'd be lucky to get a technician 1 day a week.  And if you think iPads are pretty rugged and won't need much maintenance, sit outside a school at 3pm and watch how the kids treat their bags as they get on the school bus or take off on their bikes each day.  There will be breakages.

So who pays?

Schools will have a few choices.  The money to really run the iPad program and make it work can come out of existing school funds set aside for maintenance, painting, furniture and so on.  It could come from increased fees for parents of students receiving iPads.  Or, they could just run a half-baked program where there is no teacher training, no technician, and no increased internet bandwidth. 

What  next?
It's great that the government wants to spend money on education.  But if it wants the money to be effective, they need to slow down, give schools time to plan, and in this case, double the price tag to cover all the costs.  Do that, and they can step back and let schools do what they're best at.

Monday, 20 February 2012

C2Cs and through the looking glass

Curious.  That's how it felt as a teacher in a Queensland State School last year as the new Australian Curriculum came closer and closer.  Curious because, for one thing, the Australian Curriculum is Australian in name only.  So far, Queensland is the only State ready and willing to start teaching to the Australian Curriculum in 2012. 

When I say 'ready and willing', I mean of course the politicians and bureaucrats.  The people that actually have to teach the curriculum, that is, the teachers, were certainly not ready.

...and Curiouser.  The Education Department, on orders from the Director General, hired a crack team of top notch teachers and started creating sample work units, assessment items and so on, to assist the teachers in their work.  Great!  Good idea.  Except that it was never clear if the sample units were just examples, or were mandatory for all schools across the state.  So most of us just sat on our hands and waited.

Down the Rabbit Hole
The sample units came out a lot later than originally planned.  Some work for term 1 2012 was only released on the last day of term 4, in 2011.  Too late to really plan with your colleagues, organise equipment, and so on.  And definitely no clear idea of the year ahead.  And to be honest, the units of work were not exactly cutting edge material.  Only a few weeks in and a lot of teachers and schools have already started to shelve the C2Cs, or to start looking themselves at how the Australian Curriculum could be delivered best for their own students in their own schools - work that should have started a year ago.

Teachers across the world are working hard to integrate IT into schools, in ways that are engaging for students, and model real world use of IT.  Queensland has teachers the equal of any in the world in the use of IT, and EQ in general is ahead of the game there.  There are some fantastic models that we use in our classrooms that could have been used to collaboratively develop good quality units, for much less money, using expertise from across the state, from teachers currently in the classroom - not from an office somewhere in Brisbane, by people often with perhaps no understanding of the broad and diverse needs of our schools and students.  I'm hoping to share some these models and ideas, and I'm hoping others will here as well.

So feel free to add in your two bits.  Share ideas, share frustrations, and we'll see if we can survive until Christmas.