Thursday, 29 January 2009

@BETT: Retrofitting for Electronic Whiteboard-like Performance

Mimio had a large presence at BETT. The Mimio system uses a device which is attached to a top edge of any board and, after some zeroing processes, the board can be used interactively.
The size of the board does not matter (they had a huge one as in the photo).
A very useful original and retrofit solution.

@BETT: Large Interactive lcd and plasma screens

There were several vendors showing their large interactive lcd and plasma screens. All worked using an infra-red detection frame around the outside of the screen. They were strapped on to the apparatus itself or appeared to be part of it. 
Plasma screens are glass covered and so these were more in evidence. One vendor had an lcd screen (with its plastic front) which had another surface made of glass in front. This was not as easy to see from the side as the plasma screens without any separate surface.
These screens, particularly in the larger version, were expensive. I talked to the Head of a school who explained the project that they had had on this in Cumbria using these in the Early Years. The school did not have one per classroom but used this with children since the system was very easy to interact with.
Perhaps not quite there yet (in terms of price and ease of use) so my earlier appeal for manufacturers to get on with solving this problem still applies.

@BETT: Interacting with the electronic whiteboard (and large flat panel lcds?)

Piloting an electronic whiteboard generally means driving it from the front. These tablets allow the teacher to move around and also to hand over the whiteboard to a student.
Most were blank tablets and it took a little practice to operate the stylus appropriately.
What interested me was that it worked with large flat panel lcds and plasmas!

@BETT: student wireless response systems

Often coupled with digital whiteboard systems, student wireless response systems were also much in evidence at BETT. All but one of the ones I saw being used allowed multiple responses and not just two.
It is an interesting approach to try. It certainly could enhance certain lessons and, providing that it not every lesson is used in this way, would be involving and motivating. The demonstrations that I saw were a little laboured and not very slick, with the exhibition visitors not rushing to participate in this way!

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

When is it ever enough - how many of these little megabits do we need?

Our 4 Mbps connection is saturated for much of the day. We had 2 Mbps last school year and doubled after that was saturated. But how much is enough? Should we ration and/or educate users that internet connection is like any other resource - you need to just open the tap enough to get the stream of water to drink from and remember to turn the tap off afterwards....
The State Education Technology Directors Association (SETDA) issued their recommendation (vision?) for the Class of 2020 Action Plan for Education with reference to broadband speed :

Key recommendations include:
In a technology-rich learning environment for the next 2-3 years, SETDA recommends:
  • An external Internet connection to the Internet Service Provider of 10 Mbps per 1,000 students/staff
  • Internal wide area network connections from the district to each school between schools of at least 100 Mbps per 1,000 students/staff
In a technology-rich learning environment for the next 5-7 years, SETDA recommends:
  • An external Internet connection to the Internet Service Provider of 100 Mbps per 1,000 students/staff
  • Internal wide area network connections from the district to each school between schools of at least 1 Gbps per 1,000 students/staff

A wireless campus

Achieving effective wireless coverage throughout a school is difficult.
We started by providing area coverage using Linksys wireless access points. These APs (rabbit's ears they became known as) then were put into many classrooms to try to increase coverage and improve performance.
They were not satisfactory. It was difficult to pin-point the reason but we think that they were resetting themselves to default settings whenever a power-outage occurred (and we get these now and again).
Our Sysman has developed and had installed another solution which seems to be working much more satisfactorily.
We use 16 Altitude 300 Wireless Ports by Extreme .These are located strategically around the campus so as to provide optimum coverage.
Additionally, the wireless ports are managed by a central switch which manages all traffic, improves performance and provides a central point for configuration/management.
Our Sysman says "that the Altitude Wireless Ports are enterprise solutions and so have much more capacity than the Linksys system we used before. The Altitude APs can handle up to 250 users per AP, and they communicate with the central switch all the time sharing traffic amongst the APs".
Each central switch has the capacity for 16 APs. We are going to place another switch and another 16 APs to improve service further.
We have around 800 connections simultaneously between 8am and 1pm, saturating our 4 megabits per second dedicated connection. Now that is another problem....

Sunday, 25 January 2009

The Emergence of Ultramobiles in Education

The ISTE webinar on ultramobiles was interesting.
In terms of the webinar itself, the sound dropped out a couple of times (we had had problems all day at school with our broadband) but it was generally easy to follow. It was on an Adobe platform with PPP slides and a voice commentary.
Alice Owen and Sam Farsaii had good advice and gave a very useful view of their experience so far.
They shared their "wish list" which would provide a very good starting point for any school considering the one to one approach:
10" screen
Not a miniature keyboard
3 USB slots
4 in 1 card slot
VGA out
Carts that fit

The list of possible ultramobiles was interesting. These were the ones they considered (I have shown the latest models, not perhaps the ones they considered at the time):
XO from the One Laptop per Child project 

Intel Classmate PC Clamshell and Tablet (this one is the convertible)

Dell Inspiron Mini 9

The Asus was what they settled on. 

Friday, 23 January 2009

@BETT: VLEs and Learning Platforms 2

What are the benefits of Learning Platforms (LPs)?

What are the benefits of a learning platform?

An effective learning platform that is embedded in the working practices of the school can offer a wide range of benefits to teachers, pupils, parents and at the same time support management and administration.

Practical benefits to teachers

An effective learning platform will enable teachers to:

  • create and share teaching materials which can be accessed online, printed out or used with an interactive whiteboard
  • put their resources online page by page, lesson plan by lesson plan, so colleagues can access them both in school and from home
  • access a wide variety of learning materials that they can customise for the exact needs of their pupils
  • access lesson plans from colleagues to support supply cover
  • assess, monitor and track individual and group progress
  • receive submissions of work from pupils in one area that is easy to manage
  • manage their timetables, diary, email and discussions within personal desktop space
  • increase their ICT competence and confidence.

Practical benefits to pupils

An effective learning platform will enable pupils to:

  • access learning materials created by their teachers and others, outside lesson time and from locations such as the library and home
  • store work and notes online for use in assignments, homework and revision, outside normal school hours
  • work at their own pace and with a wider choice of learning styles, through a more personalised curriculum
  • create an online portfolio, including digital photos and videos of performance as well as text
  • improve their ICT skills and online management of materials
  • submit homework and assignments for marking and assessment
  • communicate by email and participate in live discussions and forums with other students and teachers.

Practical benefits to parents

An effective learning platform will enable parents and carers to:

  • play a greater part in children's learning, where they have access to the learning platform from home
  • support children in any learning which takes place outside school
  • access their child's personal home page to keep track of their work and the curriculum
  • view reports, attendance data and scores in assessment activities
  • communicate effectively with teachers, school administrators and others supporting their child’s learning
  • engage with wider school issues through online communication tools
  • become active partners with the school.

Practical benefits for administration and management

An effective learning platform will:

  • provide up-to-date management information on attendance and attainment
  • track the progress of individuals and groups of children
  • collate summative and formative assessments
  • reduce the administrative burden on teachers by using transferable data
  • enable communication within school and beyond, on a one-to-one, one-to-many, or many-to-many basis
  • increase communication with parents.
But how realistic are many items on the list? Will it (should it) really provide these benefits?
A thought occured to me. Having ONE closed VLE or LP system, seems to be attractive. Security and child protection issues solved. But what are the costs? Surely Web 2.0 is about exactly the opposite.
Could it be that one closed system makes effective one other thing? The monetization of software, online textooks and the rest?

@BETT: VLEs and Learning Platforms 1

There has been a huge surge of interest in Virtual Learning Environments and Learning Platforms.
Firstly, what are they?
Wikipedia puts it nicely: 

"A virtual learning environment (VLE) is a software system designed to support teaching and learning in an educational setting, as distinct from a Managed Learning Environment (MLE) where the focus is on management. A VLE will normally work over the Internet and provide a collection of tools such as those for assessment (particularly of types that can be marked automatically, such as multiple choice), communication, uploading of content, return of students' work, peer assessment, administration of student groups, collecting and organizing student grades, questionnaires, tracking tools, etc. New features in these systems include wikisblogsRSS and 3D virtual learning spaces.

While originally created for distance education, VLEs are now most often used to supplement traditional face to face classroom activities, commonly known as Blended Learning."

There is some confusion over terms. In the US it is more usual to refer to this as a Content Management System (CMS) whilst in the UK both VLE and Managed Learning Environment (MLS) are used.

According to Wikipedia, Learning Platform is the generic term coined by Becta:
"Becta, in the UK, have coined the term learning platform to cover both MLE and VLE as used in the schools sector. 'The term learning platform describes a broad range of ICT systems used to deliver and support learning. Through a learning platform, hardware, software and supporting services are brought together to enable more effective ways of working within and outside the classroom. At the heart of any learning platform is the concept of a personalized online learning space for the pupil. This space should offer teachers and pupils access to stored work, e-learning resources, communication and collaboration with peers, and the facility to track progress."

What has spurred this interest in the UK? Legislation.
Here is the extract from the Becta website:

"By Spring 2008 the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) expects your learners to have access to a personal online learning space. In England the local authority has been given the responsibility (and the funding) for ensuring that this initial part of a learning platform is made available to your school.

A personal online learning space forms part of a wider set of technologies called a learning platform. It supports learning by providing access to:

  • tools - for monitoring and assessing, communication and collaboration, eg email, forums wikis, blogs, and for creating, developing and managing digital content
  • an individual area for each learner (and member of staff) where they can store their work and personalise its layout to meet their needs
  • safe and secure, anytime/anywhere access to learning resources.

By March 2010 all schools are expected to be using a learning platform which integrates with a management information system. This will simplify the delivery of your regular data returns with your local authority, as well as enabling seamless student transition, saving time and effort. "

Thursday, 22 January 2009

@BETT: Digital Projection

Short-throw and Ultra-short-throw digital projecters featured heavilly at BETT.
You would expact that, given that the exhibitors were projecting on stands where space is at a premium.  However, there is another reason.
The UK's Health and Safety Executive have issued advice on the use of whiteboards.
Here is what they are suggesting:


Employers should establish work procedures for teachers/lecturers and pupils/students and give instruction on their adoption so that:

  • Staring directly into the projector beam is avoided at all times.
  • Standing in the beam, whilst facing the projector, is minimised. Users, especially pupils and students, should try to keep their backs to the beam as much as possible. 

    In this regard, the use of a stick or laser pointer to avoid the need for the user to enter the projector beam is recommended.
  • Pupils and students are adequately supervised when they are asked to point out something on the screen.

Employers should also try to ensure that projectors are located so that they are not in a presenter's line-of-sight when they stand in front of the screen to address an audience; this ensures that, when presenters look at the audience, they do not also have to stare directly at the projector lamp. The best way to achieve this is by ceiling-mounting rather than floor or table-mounting the projector.

In order to minimise the lamp power needed to project a visible presentation, employers should use room blinds to reduce ambient light levels.

Recent technological developments in projector and interactive whiteboard design have allowed inherently safer "ultra-short throw" devices to be brought to market. These employ sophisticated optics to enable the projector to be mounted above the display screen and so close to it that it becomes impossible for a user to directly expose their eyes to the beam.  Employers who use these designs therefore do not need to follow the foregoing work procedure guidance because residual eye exposure risks are wholly removed by this type of equipment's design and construction.  Given that safe work procedures may sometimes be disregarded by users, HSE considers that the improved inherent safety of "ultra-short throw" devices is sufficient reason for employers and organisations to actively consider them as an option when they purchase new or replacement equipment.

The model much in evidence was the Hitachi Ultra-short-throw

Here is what they are suggesting:

The short-throw and mounted versions have the shadow problem, as you can see here.

Friday, 16 January 2009

@BETT: overall impression

BETT is huge. It is the "world's largest educational technology event". The exhibition halls at Olympia, London, are taken over by a mass of trade stands and thousands of visitors.
It was impressive to see the number of people involved in providing ICT "solutions" for education. It was also quite difficult to tell, just by reading the stand posters, what exactly was being sold. Obviously this was clear for the well known names, but the products of a vast majority of stands were only identifiable by asking - was this the object?
Stand expertise varied. Some exhibitors had able and experienced users of the product. Others had demonstrators who knew just enough to do that and no more. On the whole, you could get your questions answered - in some cases, even by talking to the programmer of the software.
Different styles of presenting products and services were evident. Many had a presentation section with the inevitable electronic whiteboard (with ultra-short throw projectors), some with a lean-bar to perch against whilst standing and others with modern block or bench seating. I suspect many a visitor was just resting weary legs! But it was a marathon over 4 days.
The larger presentation areas had a busy schedule of presentations covering all aspects, with buildings for the future being a popular theme.
What were the major exhibition themes? VLEs and software, electronic whiteboards and ancillary devices (including voting systems), mini-laptops, National Curriculum assessment tracking systems and other assessment software, digital signage, ICT "solutions",  ICT "solutions" and more  ICT "solutions".

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

What uses can VLEs be put to in blended learning environments?

What uses can Virtual Learning Environments be put to when blended with traditional courses?

VLEs can complement and supplement amended traditional courses in the following ways:
VLEs Allow students to
Recap on what has been taught and supposedly learned;
Delve further into a topic of interest;
Review with others so as to improve learning and performance in tests;
Have teacher develop and have materials available on the VLE for own use in class;
Discuss particular topics in a closed forum, guided by a teacher or student facilitator;
Scribe of the day approaches to notes.
Catch up on missed lessons or coursework.
Collaborate on and publish work online.
Take a machine marked test to be used formatively by the student.

Additionally, by producing VLE courses which students take in their own time, they experience self-directed learning by the type of learning or training medium which they will experience at university and at work.

What else is there?

VLEs off to a slow start - OFSTED

Virtual Learning Environments are not widely used in UK schools, according to the latest OFSTED survey. The survey covered over 40 different institutions and found that no institution was using it comprehensively.

In most places surveyed by Ofsted, the use of such VLEs was "not widespread" and where it was in place it was often the result of the enthusiasm of individual teachers.

It has been our experience too. Teacher enthusiasts have made good use of our Moodle but have not managed to inspire others in their department to do the same.

Original article: