Tag: education

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You visit your local supermarket on a typical Thursday evening. Some minutes later, high above, something winks down at you over a Bluetooth frequency. It’s embedded in the fluro lighting, and before you know it, that app you downloaded last year to find the beetroot aisle finds you. A notification blinks to life on your phone to tell you you haven’t yet visited the non-GMO section! And that prices are down down down!

An increasing deployment of iBeacons by retailers (also just called beacons or ‘motes’ in the non-Apple world), are the reason for this. And the next popup, and the next.

So what are they? Well, iBeacons are nothing more than an always-on broadcasting spot that calls out: “hey, here is my universally unique identifier!” to any Bluetooth 4.0-enabled device that may be listening. And if you have a recent iOS device with Bluetooth turned on and an app installed from the owner of that iBeacon? Boom, magic happens.

Well, for the retailer anyway.

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As mobile phones have become our must-carry gadget, and as location-aware smartphones have replaced our Nokia and MOTORAZR phones of yore, the extra data that our devices collect about us has become of interest to all kinds of organisations – just ask the NSA.

For retailers of course, information such as where we have and haven’t been in a store? That data may provide insights into which physical areas need sprucing up.

Or, knowing the contents of a shopping list you type into their app? That can help them look at data from a wide set of users to help keep certain products in stock.

Sound creepy? Well, this could actually be a good (or at least neutral thing) for consumers. Really, they are increasing their efficiency and ability to make money thanks to your activity. It’s a monetising of consumer behaviour on a whole new level, and if retailers are not careful, they’ll see a mass revolt. Shoppers will just turn off Bluetooth altogether in order to keep the pop-ups at bay.

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But there is another field where iBeacons are being deployed that serves as an example of this technology being used for good and not for gain. Savvy educators in schools that have already deployed digital devices have been evaluating the tech since late 2013, to see how it might serve to enhance student learning.

News of Paul Hamilton’s first ever use of iBeacons in a school hit the web earlier in 2014, and this triggered quite a wave of interest in the ed-tech world as well as in the general media.

Since then, there has been a gap in time as other schools and developers have been working hard to develop similar location-aware learning projects on a bigger scale. I myself am part way through developing an app to support professional development training of teachers with Crowdsify, but it takes time.

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However, the waiting period to see which schools will be next is over. A major project was announced last week involving a partnership between Australia’s largest independent school (Hailybury), a private school in the UK (Bryanston) and Specialist Apps. This agreement will see the already-used eLocker software used by these schools to support students use of iPads.

Combined with augmentation by iBeacons, this will give teachers a contextual trigger for curating learning content and experiences inside an already successful and familiar tool.

The tech behind this project was first publicly detailed at the recent EduTECH Australia conference in Brisbane which was attended by Reckoner. Geoff Elwood has more (including the objectives) in a detailed post on LinkedIn.

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Almost at the same time, we have another UK School who are launching their own project. Titled iClevedon, it leverages the work of a student developer to add iBeacon support for the schools digital handbook. In addition, location-specific triggers and notifications will make the very act of moving around the school an interactive experience.

Finally, they are also using their back-end file management system (Foldr) to allow the beacons to trigger access to content for students as they need it. You can view the iClevendon launch video and follow them on twitter for updates.

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The learnings from all of these projects are also contributing to a chart being created to map iBeacon use cases against the SAMR model of Dr Ruben Puentedura [PDF]. This model addresses constant technological change with a detailed framework of how technology can be implemented in ways that actually bring about productive change.

The chart under development will provide a big picture view of where everyone is starting from with using iBeacons for educational gain (eg. generally just substituting iBeacon use for a previous almost identical tool) and what is possible in the future in terms of aiming for deployments where iBeacons allow learning tasks to be totally redefined.

And who knows. One day, some of the students in these early deployments may just grow up to re-invent the ways in which technologies like iBeacons can be deployed…

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I walked into EduTECH 2014 at the Brisbane Convention Centre on Tuesday morning, lukewarm coffee in hand, and sidled up to the ticket registration bar. A flustered organiser was tapping away on a PC with a worried look on his face. He was making a clicking noise with his mouse. You know the one.

That rhythmic, slow, repetitive *click* that people make when they expected a thing to work and it hasn’t? Click. Click. Cliiiiiiick. He looked up at me with despairing eyes. “Ah… sorry mate, this ticket machine isn’t working, you’ll have to head over to that desk instead.”

Undeterred, I sidestepped over to another willing volunteer, who took my name and printed a press badge for me. She glanced at it, a little confused and said, “Oh, looks like it only printed half your badge. That’s weird. Oh well, here you go!”

I thanked her, looped the lanyard and half-badge over my head and wandered into the brightly-lit exhibition hall, toward the this-is-big sound, that thrum and pulse of a few thousand people all having conversations at once.

I stepped inside, took the below photo, and then joined the conference wifi to tweet it. It joined without a fuss, but then politely refused to connect to the actual internet for the next 2 days.

I used 4G instead.

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A couple of tech-related snafus were an apt introduction to EduTECH; a gathering where technology collides with education. Where Adam Spencer introduces a bunch of international-calibre, education rock-stars like Sugata Mitra, Sir Ken Robinson and Ewan McIntosh on a grand TED-esque stage.

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Photo: Adam Spencer – MC by Michael Coghlan, on Flickr

Where teachers share war stories about the changing world of teaching and learning in breakout rooms, on the crowded exhibition floor, or hovering over a paper plate of potato salad from the catering.

It’s also a place where eager polo-shirted technology vendors from across the world will show you their new products and how they can revolutionise your classroom, or university, your training centre. Where you can talk to hundreds of exhibitors about what hardware, software and services you need for the years to come.

And—much like any classroom I’ve ever been in—technology screws up too. Check-in counters don’t always work, the wifi sucks, projectors break, display units lock up or won’t load. It’s familiar, and entirely appropriate really, because this stuff happens constantly in education too. It’s one of the lessons you learn as a teacher, and it was also very much present here as a participant.

So, what did I get out of it? Well, after 2 days of talking to teachers, IT management staff, institute directors, vendor booth representatives, education startup entrepreneurs and more, I came away with a picture of technology in education that is somewhat in the midst of an personality crisis.

So a bit of background on me: I’m an ed-tech developer, and I’ve been going to ed-tech related conferences off and on since I started my career in education back in 2006. That was 9 years ago.

The technology being discussed may have changed, but the message really hasn’t. Teachers need to keep up with technology. Technology can change the classroom. Technology is a catalyst for cultural change. Kids are smarter than us about technology; the term digital natives is an oft-cited (and at this point, sometimes ridiculed) term.

I’ve heard these same messages over and over about tech, from a virtual cornucopia of different speakers, in a variety of different ways. I’ve also done a few talks on the subject myself.

Will the message ever really get through? Even more troubling; are we stating the obvious? Tech is changing the world? Uh doi.

Is this even a real point to get across in 2014?

I still don’t know. But we’ll damn sure give it a shot.

A Meeting Of Two Minds

The conference itself was separated into two halves. There was the main congress, where you could see the keynote speakers do their thing. These talks, generally 30-40 minutes in length, are always a good way to tap into the current education zeitgeist.

“Human Resources are much like natural resources. They’re just sitting there, buried, waiting to show themselves.”

– Sir Ken Robinson

Where’s it heading? What are people talking about, or issues that are on the forefront? More importantly; who some smart people you can follow on Twitter?

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Photo: Gathered for Ken by Michael Coughlan, on Flickr

These keynotes are always the bits that first-time conference goers gravitate toward, and for good reason. It’s inspiring stuff, and if you are a regular teacher this is where you’ll get some of the best value out of your ticket.

“What world are we preparing our students for? Are we preparing them for their future, or our past?”

– Ian Jukes

It’s also a good place to sit in the dark and just scroll through the endless backchannel tweets on the backchannel, the ever-flowing #edutech hashtag.

So, you’ve had your fill of the main congress. Want something more tailored for your area? You could also visit the congresses of various flavours to get informed about issues specific to your domain. Are you K-12? Higher education? VET sector? University? IT admin? Library manager? Workplace trainer? There’s something for you here.

Of course, there’s the other half; the exhibition hall. There are also a lot of vendors here, and not just strictly education companies either.

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Google is here of course, their booth resplendent in white, crowded-out by people watching a demo of Google Presentations, or the newly-introduced Google Classroom for Education.

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Microsoft is here, with a bunch of Surface Pro 3s all in a row, inviting people to come watch their Power BI and Office 365 for Education demos.

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Even the traditional big-box retailers like JB Hi-Fi were in attendance, spruiking BYOD (bring your own device)-oriented products as a service for schools.

Of course, I’m just scratching the surface. There’s infrastructure companies, wireless networking, data filtering, device manufacturers, software (web and apps), smartboard makers, textbook publishers, learning management system companies, library software, hosting companies, teleconferencing and furniture makers. To name just a few.

Here are a few phrases I heard from different vendors:

Your classroom devices should be powerful and fully-featured. Devices should also be simple and easy to use! Learner data should be local, private and completely under your control. Schools should be taking advantage of the cloud, saving money and leveraging scale! Your student services should be cutting-edge and keeping up with social trends. Student services should be only tried-and-tested and totally reliable at all times!

Not all of these things are total contradictions, but sometimes walking around the floor, it feels like contradiction is in the air.

People will naturally preface every conversation with: “Well, the learning is the most important part of course. We just want to help by selling you *insert extremely technical thing here* — it’s essential to the learning process.”

There’s also technological contradiction abounds. iPads here. Windows, Android, and ChromeOS there. Telepresence here, ebooks there. Internet filters here, freely available YouTube content there. Classrooms here, open learning spaces there.

Because I’m a device nerd, I felt this contradiction most strongly when I talked to people about devices and platforms. For example, the Google rep was very diplomatic when I asked why Samsung booth next door was all-Android, and they were all-ChromeOS. The answer: choice! We all love choice.

Ditto with the Microsoft rep on the question of iPads dominance in early education. “I gotta tell you, my 4 year old son just loves my Surface!” she said. “He plays with it all the time!”

I’m a jaded cynic, but sometimes I feel like the education market is a bit like a bratty teenage kid when it comes to tech. Prone to change, wants the impossible, quick to anger. It’s also the love-lorn teenage kid; constantly getting their hopes up (and then their heart broken) when tech doesn’t solve all their problems.

Of course, aside from all the traditional gadgetry, there’s also some really weird stuff too in the exhibition hall. Like talking mannequins…

Pool tables…

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Giant tablets…

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Daytona machines…

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And lots more. Oh, and at one point someone won a car? They seemed happy.

Why are we all here?

Coming to EduTECH drove me to understand more about the nature of big convention-centre style conferences. Who are they for? And purpose does something like EduTECH serve?

Well, I certainly saw inspirational talks about the fundamental nature of the state of education, and it made me think that EduTECH can be a powerful motivator for teachers. Something to keep them dreaming big and making small local changes toward educational excellence. It also helps them vent; to deal with the weight of institutional bureaucracy, or manage cultural change in their own organisations.

I saw exhibitors chatting with people on the floor, and that made me think that this is a show that’s there to make money for those vendors. Selling devices, selling apps, selling services. Selling, selling, selling. Long-term support and lucrative contracts have formed the backbone of many educational companies over the years — and their beginnings can happen from a few minutes’ chance meeting at a exhibition booth.

It’s something that educators don’t want to think too hard about, but money is a reality that keeps this whole ecosystem moving.

Don’t get me wrong either; I saw some really awesome stuff (from big companies and also indies) on the exhibition floor. Established products, and also promising beginnings that I hope can grow up to become something important.

Talking to Real People

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I also saw lots of networking, and sharing. This is The Most Important Thing for everyone with an attendee badge. When the details of the lofty proclamations, the vendor promises, the blog posts, the hashtags, they all fade from memory under the weight of everyday teaching. But I tell you, as a product of these situations; those valuable relationships will still be there when it’s all over.

I wondered about this as I wandered around the exhibition hall. As I sat inside the AARNet IGLEw watching fake stars drift overhead. As I ate multiple single-serve Mentos at a Mobile Device Deployment Strategy Roundtable. How many people who truly need the confidence boost in technology get a ticket to a conference like this?

I think this is the problem that struck me most: education wants a revolution, but at places like EduTECH they’re preaching to the converted. The Australian Bureau of Statistics says:

“Considering all in-school staff, in 2013 there was a total of 368,355.6 full-time equivalent (FTE) in-school staff in Australia, a rise of 1.5 percentage points on the 2012 figure.”

According to the EduTECH website, almost 5000 people attended the conference in 2014. Most of them are already on board with the message that tech can enhance and improve education.

Many organisations will send their star teacher, their IT support team, or the staff with an interest in technology. In fact, almost everyone I talked to already had some background in technology. If a large revolution hits education, the lessons that emanate from a place like EduTECH need to reach staff who are currently shitscared of tech. They’re the ones that need the network, the support, and that leg up into the world.

Tickets for EduTECH were $525 for an early bird, and around $595 for a standard price. While most teachers won’t pay this themselves (it’ll most likely be a part of a professional development budget), it is still a long way from being affordable for many staff. Even though they’re already seeing thousands come through their doors, I really hope there’s some way for an event like EduTECH to reach far more people.

Bottom line for attendees: if you’re in the sphere of education, you’ll get something useful out of EduTECH.


I stayed right ’till the end of the last day. I watched vendors pack up their wares, ready for the next big show. As I was watching people disassemble their booths, I pulled my phone from my pocket and tried the ever-dodgy conference wifi one last time on my phone. Ding. Full bars. Just in time to tell me about my bus, which was leaving in 5 minutes. I bolted around the corner and jumped on it just in time.

Sometimes technology and learning do work well together after all.

Apple PR:

Apple today announced updates to iTunes U, bringing educators and students great new tools to build and experience educational content on iPad. Beginning July 8, teachers using the free iTunes U app can create, edit and manage entire courses directly on iPad for the first time, and students will discover new ways to collaborate including the ability to start class discussions and ask questions right from their iPad.

An excellent update, and one that I’ve been waiting a long time for. Building an iTunes U course was one of those long-standing things teachers still required a PC or Mac to do, but not any more.

Of course, discussions within courses will be a very welcome improvement too. If you’re using iTunes U for course material hosting, then you may already have a separate online space for discussions. Now you won’t need that — the two things can now exist together.

If you want more info, Fraser Speirs talks about it on the latest episode of his podcast Out of School. Fascinating listening if you’re interested in the topic.

Matthew Panzarino at TechCrunch on the updates:

Both the enterprise and education programs now have support for Mobile Device Management hands-free configuration. This ‘zero touch’ setup has been a long-requested feature for many pros, as it eliminates the need to cable up every deployed device and install a profile via Apple’s Configurator utility.

There’s a whole bunch of changes that you can check out for yourself, but the one above alone will have a lot of IT Managers I know dancing in the street.

If organisations can truly do device enrollment in an MDM from the web browser without touching the devices at all, this is a major leap forward for both enterprise & education deployments.

Chris Duckett at ZDNet:

The governing body of the internet, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), has delegated the .monash top-level domain (TLD) to Victoria’s Monash University.

Monash Uni said the delegation only occurred after a lengthy application process and a review of the university’s technical, operational, and financial capabilities.

You know, I’m not convinced TLDs are going to be great. Let me give a hypothetical example to illustrate my caution — Monash runs a TV ad to boost applications. It ends with the tagline, “be sure to apply online at apply.monash.”

I think lots of people wouldn’t know what to do with that. Is it a web address? It doesn’t really feel like a website address. Is it a email address? A twitter account?

Sure, you can pop a ‘http://’ in front of it, or design the ad so there’s a graphic of someone typing it into a browser, but it’s not immediately self-evident like a .com, .net, or .edu.au is.

As Chris’ article goes on to say, the shift will occur gradually & no doubt there will be 301 redirects out the wazoo, but I can’t help but wonder that there’s going to a a lot of Monash support staff who’ll have this phone call:

“Yep, dot monash. No, not dot com dot au, dot monash. What do you mean what’s after monash? No, that’s the end bit. What did you write? Dubya dubya dubya monash dot com? What?

…just type monash dot edu dot au. Bloody hell.”

XO Tablet

My mate Jonathan Nalder over at OLPCNews:

Its not often one gets to brag about owning the only gadget in a whole country – but as the XO Tablet is only available from the USA, and the Australia arm of OLPC aren’t touching it, right now this is the case.

I hadn’t heard of the XO Tablet since I saw conceptual renders of it years ago, so I found this a really interesting write-up.

Looks like the hardware is acceptable (it’s cheaper than the iPad mini too), but the software & app ecosystem are a bit shaky.

Quick Maths+

Working in the education world, I’m always trying to find new iOS apps that can help students. I’m also pretty keen on Australian-made apps. That’s why I was happy to hear that local iOS developers Shiny Things were releasing a new beefed-up version of their iOS maths app, called Quick Maths+.

I reviewed the first version back in January, and I found it to be a great little maths app for a small subset of maths operations. Well, they’ve come back and really upped the ante for this version targeted at players 8+; including memory, fractions, order-of-operations, estimation and a whole bunch more.

The design of Shiny Things apps have always been incredibly polished & distinctive, and this app is no exception. They’ve taken the friendly UI concepts that they pioneered in the original and made them even more refined. Large, friendly icons hop encouragingly on the home screen. Menus swoop in with a little understated flourish. Sound effects are there, but not overdone or gaudy. The app is portrait-only which is just perfect for how it works; writing numbers on the screen.

They’ve also implemented a new rewards system, using stars to motivate students into improving their times. It’s not easy either; in response to feedback they’ve also cranked up the difficulty on the higher levels. It took me several runs through to get a 3-star rating on the Beginner-level Solve stage.

The design of Quick Maths+

Respectful Design

Actually, that’s really what I like most about Shiny Things aesthetic, and what compelled me to write this review. Can I lay down some real talk for a second? Most education apps in the App Store are incredibly ‘kiddy’ in their design & execution and I feel like they don’t treat their users with a respectful design. It really bugs me, and I see it everywhere. Clunky intro screens, over-simplified instructions, gross interfaces; if you’ve spent any time with education apps you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Kids put up with this stuff to get to the good parts of the apps they use, and very rarely are those apps self-aware enough to just get out of the way.

Here’s a real world analogue; you know those people who lean down and talk to kids like they’re idiots? They kind of get in a kid’s face and yell enthusiastically at them in a weird high-pitched voice? That’s how I see a lot of iOS education apps. They treat their users like dummies, because y’know, kids.

Thing is, kids aren’t idiots. In fact, most of the time they’re more savvy with devices than their educators. Everyone deserves a chance to use well-designed apps that treat you with respect, and it’s even more important in the education space.

I really am glad that Shiny Things goes out of the way to bring an incredibly polished design, UI and aesthetic to the education space. Much in the same way that I see Pocket Casts leading the charge in iOS 7 design, I see Shiny Things taking an unapologetic stand in demanding a higher quality of experience for children in learning. There’s no dumbing-down in this app and no removing the challenging elements. It really does what it advertises; improves your maths skills.

There are other small touches which teachers everywhere will appreciate too, and make it obvious they’ve thought about how this works in a classroom environment. There’s an internal profile system set up, so each player doesn’t mess with their other’s score and progression. There’s a very easily-accessible mute button (a godsend in the classroom).

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I’ll be honest; usually education apps that try to ‘teach’ instead of giving a teacher ‘tools to create’ often don’t grab me. It comes a recurring crutch for teachers that substitute apps for a textbook, or send their students off to the corner for ‘some time with the iPad’.

I think Quick Math+ is different because it tackles a fundamental reality in maths; practice and repetition improves your skills. It also doesn’t shy away from another reality; students need to learn how to write numbers, not just tap a number button. In both these respects it excels, while delivering a highly-polished and thoughtful experience.

Other education app developers? Hope you are paying attention, because Shiny Things are making you look bad right now.

Quick Maths+ is now available on the App Store from today for AU$1.99. It’s a universal app for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch.