Either it’s the case that everyone is talking about Educational Technology (EdTech) at the moment, or it is true that you ‘trap’ yourself in bubbles of your own interest. Whilst either could be true, from conversations that I’ve either had in the staffroom or online, there is a real trend towards talking about which apps/websites/other pieces of cool kit you can use in the classroom in enhance or benefit the learning that is taking place.
Most of my website here references and talks about how technology can be used in the classroom, some of the site itself was built whilst on an iPad and I probably did some of it after I’d checked my school email when I’d gotten home to spend today’s Powerpoint to a pupil who wasn’t in. Basically a lot of our teaching lives revolve around tech in different ways.
However, I don’t want to go into a comprehensive list of all the ways in which technology pervades our lives as teachers/education professionals and the pros and cons (e.g. interactive whiteboards) of each and every piece, I wanted this post to focus on the vested interests present in some of the EdTech that we are using. As part of this process I am going to be picking on some products in particular, the reason for this is due to the familiarity some of you may have with the product (even if it is in name only) and because of the more obvious vested interests that they may have within the sector.
To start with, if I’m going to be talking about vested interests, it is best to lay myself clear so that I’m not guilty of being hypocritical. I’m a teacher of Religious Education; I do use a range of EdTech in (and out of) my lessons and I’m normally quite swept along in the different trends within technology. However, I decided that I couldn’t just assume that EdTech was a force for good and that just because it was being done on a laptop, tablet or mobile phone that it was in some way better than any other method.
I decided to put the brakes on what I was doing, starting to question whether I was getting too carried away with what I was doing and decided to implement a Cartesian style skepticism of throwing out all the apples rather than trying to sift through to find the bad ones. So where do I start?
Well, I guess I start where everyone starts to find out everything, Google.
After wasting far to long trying to find exact figures on the number of searches for certain terms, I decided to make it a bit more basic (mainly for the sake of my own understanding, but I can pretend that it is for your sake as well) so I Googled some terms that I thought those wanting to find out more about it all might search. These are the number of results on the internet for the following terms (numbers correct as of 16th August 2016):
Educational Technology - About 43,400,000
Edtech - About 4,880,000
Technology in the classroom - About 207,000,000
Technology in education - About 1,390,000,000
iPads in education – About 10,300,000
iPads in the classroom – 703,000
So, basically there is a lot of information out there and this post itself will become lost amongst those numbers. I then turned to Google Trends, which gives you a nice graph to look it; I then had to switch on my mathematics brain (which is a very small sub-section of my actual brain). Google Trends shows you how popular a search term is in relation to its most popular time. So the most popular time for searching it becomes 100, if something receives 50, that means it is half as popular, 25 a quarter as popular and so on. This is useful to an extent, but doesn’t give you any idea of how many people are actually searching for the term. We could be talking about a peak number of ten, one hundred, one thousand or one million, that just isn’t clear, but at least the aforementioned graph is nice to look at.
So the main product that I’ll be talking about is Google Classroom, this is because they are the ‘big player’ in the field, though it should be noted that it also applies to products like Microsoft’s Office 365 that is pushed and targeted towards schools as well.
So what is Google Classroom? Well it’s a collection of Google’s products, such as Google Drive, Google Docs, Gmail and then some tools holding it all together. So overall it makes a really tidy package. It has some clear benefits, it allows for pupil collaboration and there are colloquial tales from Google press releases about how it allows for a reduction of teacher workload (which I guess is most immediately evident in the reduction of printing that needs to be done. There are also claims that it will save you money, but with some of the quick attempts at maths in my head it isn’t really clear how you would be able to get clear costings for either side to be able to get a reliable figure to compare.
Okay, maybe that last paragraph wasn’t as fair to Google Classroom as it should have been. I can see how it can feed into the soft skills that pupils need, it definitely opens avenues for collaboration and can also feed into the democratization of education. Allowing those who weren’t able to access it before to be able to have access to it. It also looks pretty sleek and it looks like there is a lot that you can get stuck into and do a lot more with than the package that Google initially bundle up.
So trying to be fair and partisan, there is some cool stuff to do with Google Classroom, but there are some real sticking points with EdTech. To start with I’ll focus on Google Classroom – but I will broaden out a bit to discuss some of the wider issues, issues which relate more to some specific products that I have had experience with.
One of the big issues with Google Classroom is that there were some pretty serious complaints over student privacy. A fuller description can be found here but the long and short is that Google Classroom was doing what Google does it was mining the data, which is something that you would find fairly unsurprising for a company which revolves around data. However, when it comes to a product that they have put together for pupils it does seem as something that is fairly unethical.
For Google a fairly important thing for them is gaining a large share of the digital market, their battles with Apple are well documented. So I cannot help but think that for Google it isn’t really a case of providing a truly beneficial education system that can be used in the classroom? Or is it about enticing a new generation of users onto their platform? Well, Google has a finger in many pies, with its Android operating platform a major one, if pupils are using Google for large parts of their school lives, will they follow naturally on by also opting for the mobile platform and email address in their personal lives as well? It might seem and sound like a bit of an Internet conspiracy theory and it normally would be the sort of claim I would scoff at, but when it comes from the horse’s mouth, then it is a bit harder to ignore. (http://www.wired.com/2014/08/google-classrooms/)
Putting those issues to one side, if we approach EdTech in the same way that we should approach everything that we do in the classroom then we should be looking at the pedagogy upon which it is built – where is the evidence that it will work with our pupils?
When investigating a range of EdTech, it is incredibly difficult/impossible find their educational grounding for the product. Companies are dictating how their products could be used within education. These may have benefits, but these seem to be colloquial rather than empirically measured. If they were building a system for education, should they not be starting with an empirically grounded foundation and build from there? They should be asking the question ‘what education needs and how we can provide this?’, rather than, ‘this is what we have, how can we make education fit to it?’
When I looked into Google Classroom and searched for its reasoning behind its products all I could find were slick, well-produced videos of people singing its praises. It is easy to show highly motivated pupils talk about how they love it, but we are seeing no comparison of equally motivated pupils and how well they work when they are not using Google or its associated products and how well they can cope (and succeed) with the demands of school life. Ultimately, Google Classroom does little to show that it is more effective – yes it uses less paper, but it seems like there is a lot of show, flashy speedy computers and lots of online submission and collaboration, but these things would be achievable otherwise.
Again, I have come down hard on Google, there are many other products that similarly fail to satisfy this fairly basic need of providing robust pedagogical grounding and solid demonstration of why and how they lead to enhanced learning. (To name a few so it doesn’t just look like I have a vendetta against Google; Padlet, Edmodo, Minecraft, Evernote, Duolingo, Powerpoint – which I could write a whole book on why it is the worst thing that has happened to education). A lot of their justification for their use is on baseless and unmeasured claims. It also relies heavily on this assumption that just because it is technology and it can make our lives easier, that it is in turn improving the learning of the pupils.
It is therefore essential that we do not blindly use EdTech, acting like magpies being drawn to the new shiny objects that we find in front of us. EdTech can have some real benefits (though you may not believe that given what I’ve said already) but it must be selected carefully. It should not be a case of EdTech leading us, we (as education professionals) should be dictating what EdTech we use, we should also be informing the companies which products we need. There are EdTech products which do this already, some of which I have talked about in other posts, there are products for screencasting, ones to help speed up assessment and others which have some real, research-grounded benefits for teachers and the pupils which we teach.
This post is very one-sided and it can be argued that I am being too harsh, or requiring too high a standard from EdTech. I believe that I have set a high standard because that is what is required. I could also be critiqued for myself not providing sound, research-backed arguments. The reason that lots of references haven’t been provided is that I didn’t want to bog the piece down with them – I also wanted it to be an opinion piece and not an academic essay. I am happy to provide research to whatever I can, if I cannot then I apologise and I will accept that I did not meet the standard that I myself demanded.
I am truly a fan of what EdTech can do, I plan to follow this post with a piece about the democratizing effects that EdTech can have.
In the meantime, let the debate commence…
Virtual Reality has now reached a point where you can sit around and talk about Pokemon Go around the dinner table with your grandmother, which ultimately makes it a lot easier to talk to those who aren't 'in the loop'.
So, my original plan was to build my own virtual reality and augmented reality device. My hope was to make an affordable device which would enable all pupils to access the learning, without having to resort to relying on pupils using (or even having) their own devices.
So how did I get on?
Well, not as I'd hoped, but I have learnt a lot along the way.
I've lost/misplaced/torn up in despair the costings that I'd originally done, but for all the parts required for what I was looking to do it in terms of a virtual reality unit, it would have been cheaper to purchase a mid-range mobile phone as that would have had most of the required parts.
In terms of building an augmented reality-only device, that was much more affordable, but it would have been a case of dealing with a small, low-resolution screen and the idea of fitting some questionable battery units, it didn't seem like the safest of products to be putting into the hands of pupils (or anyone for that matter).
So, seeing as my initial objective seems like an initial failure, I am fully of the belief that the use of virtual and augmented reality has huge potential in the classroom. The real difficulty is the access to it. I'm not entirely convinced that there is a call/need for widespread use of iPads/tablets/persoanl-laptops in the classroom. The cost (not only of the individual unit, but also of the insurance) is already an off-putting amount, but there is a really questionable educational value of using different pieces of tech of which I'm not entirely convinced.
However, if it was financially viable, then I feel that the use of tech for augmented and virtual reality could be really interesting, useful and exciting.
Imagine you need to give pupils some prep and training ready for some Geography field trip, then you could set up, using tablets that pupils are travelling around the school site and when they scan certain relevant points, then useful information for the task they need to complete appears on the screen.
Perhaps you are in a science lesson and need to example how a practical should run, again you could have information/videos appearing when certain things appear to talk them through the experiment.
Or perhaps you want to join in an build upon the hype of Pokemon Go, you could incorporate that into PE lessons, with pupils completing some sort of Geocaching or orienteering exercise, with pupils working in teams to complete a course in the correct order in the fastest time.
There are so many possibilities, but really the cost is such an off-putting factor that at present it is somewhat of an unachievable aim. Perhaps that will change, maybe soon, maybe a long way off.
I'm hoping to get a few more posts out before the end of the summer holidays, but I'm working on a piece about the vested interests within Education Technology and the benefits and hazards that these may present.
Enjoy your holidays as much as you can, and if you try out any cool stuff with either augmented or virtual reality then let me know (unless you've made an amazing homemade set and succeeded where I failed).
I've been working on a little project recently, it's not yet ready, and I've been keeping it on the down-low.
I recently got myself a Google Cardboard, and it is brilliant, I've even been testing out making some 360 degree photos of my own, maybe, if I can one day justify it, I'll spring for a 360 video camera. The Ricoh Theta looks cool, but till then I'll use what I find online.
I was messing around us not the Google street view app, looking at the Gran Canyon, when I thought of the potential it would have for RE (it also has huge potential for any subject, history and geography spring to mind). It's not always easy to get to places of worship and it's close to impossible to check out sites of pilgrimage, this is where Google cardboard helps out a lot. I've decided to start creating virtual field trips, allowing pupils to the experience the place of worship or pilgrimage site without having to step outside the classroom. If you haven't tried it out, make sure you do, imagine the fully immersive experience that you could provide pupils with.
Sure, it's a little gimmicky, but I'm positive that it will create a memorable learning experience.
There's also huge potential with augmented reality, talking to a geography colleague I saw more potential with his subject than mine, but I'll do some head scratching on that. Basically augmented reality allows you to hold a device and when it scans certain items then additional content appears on top, my thoughts immediately jumped to how you could use this for fieldwork training, perhaps having a video pop up when you reach a certain area with an explanation of how to do that particular task. I'm currently testing out the possibility of using it to provide additional content support for homework, but I'll be working on some in class uses soon.
As you might have seen with other stuff I've done, I'm keen to use stuff that doesn't require pupils to use their own devices, nor am I too keen on them using my iPhone inside the cardboard for a whole host of reasons, but mostly because I'd cry if it got broken.
This leads me on to the 'exciting' part, what I'm trying to create is a multipurpose virtual reality and augmented reality headset using a raspberry pi as the base. In this way I can start building up a multipurpose device which can achieve my aims and also avoid the issue of pupils having devices.
I'm not saying that this is going to be easy, and it is definitely going to be a work in process.
If anyone has any experience with similar pi projects then I would love some input, but hopefully this could be something very exciting that opens up a whole realm of affordable and accessible virtual reality for the classroom.
I'll be posting updates as I go along, but as always, thanks for reading and chat to me on Twitter @MrMcKavanaghRE
ThingLink, it's tricky to say aloud, but what it does is pretty magical.
It was a dreary evening last week, one of those evenings when you're about to pack it all in and head off to bed when I stumbled upon ThingLink and the hours of playing around with what it could offer were much more rewarding than a few extra hours of kip.
I've embedded some of my creations, they're by no means the limit to what ThingLink is capable of, but I've put them together to give you a bit of an idea.
The cool thing about ThingLink is that you can take an image and you can make it interactive. You can add in bits of info, you can embed videos, or, where it gets really exciting, you can team it up with Google Docs.
In my example of the Church, I've been able to embed a presentation and if I was using it in a lesson, I could use the Exit Ticket which I have embedded using Google Forms.
The potential of what can be done with ThingLink seems huge and I'll no doubt be updating this when I've sunk my teeth in and tested it out a bit more.
In the meantime check out my video and the examples I've made up.
Some of you might be aware of my Youtube account where I talk about some different tech that you can use in the classroom.
Below you can see my video on how I use Plickers, but I wanted to give a bit of a write up to go with it.
The reason I am pro-Plickers and anti-most other apps of the same kind is that Plickers only requires the teacher to have a device. For me this is essential for a few reasons:
- Not all pupils have a smartphone or the latest smartphone, therefore meaning that they cannot take part in the activity. We are effectively excluding them based on their income, or parental decision not to allow their child to have a smartphone.
- Some pupils have a phone, but it is not a smartphone. Again, this excludes them.
- Some schools don't have the infrastructure, or do not allow pupils to connect their devices to the school wi-fi, it is unfair to get pupils to use (or overuse) their data just so that they can take part in an activity.
- It might go against a school policy, perhaps pupils shouldn't have phones out at all. It would create an inconsistency if you started allowing them for chance events.
For Plickers, only the teacher has a device, this means that you avoid all of the above problems.
All the pupils require is a card (prior to the class you need to allocate a number to the pupils) printed out with a funny shape on it. You can see an example at the top.
As you can see on the card there is a letter, 'A', 'B', 'C' and 'D', a question, selected by the teacher, appears on the whiteboard, pupils then hold the card up with the letter which they think has the correct answer, pointing towards the ceiling. Using your device, you then scan the cards.
You are then able to see how pupils answered, meaning that if they all got it right you can move on. If there were errors then you can recap on what they need to know and address any confusion.
I really like Plickers, it is easy and simple to set-up and use and it is something different for pupils, whislt enabling you to see how pupils are answering and getting on.
You can check out the video I posted below, which is avaliable on my Youtube channel.
Try it out and let me know how you got on, either in the comments below or on Twitter, I'll do my best to help you out, or defend my points.
Ever since I read about it on the highly informative Education Endowment Foundation Tool from the Sutton Trust (which can be found here) I've been fairly interested in the idea of Mastery Learning. The Sutton Trust gives a really good explanation of Mastery Learning, in short, they found that for a low implementation cost, there was significant progress made by pupils. However, they found that this progress tailed off the longer Mastery Learning was used.
My account is purely anecdotal, but would make for a fairly fascinating research project. Meaning that I'll have to add it to the list.
I initially tried Mastery Learning out last year with my Year 8s on a SoW on the Buddha. I forget my motives, but I decided to combine the idea of Mastery Learning with that of Flipped Learning. I can only assume, at this point, that I chose to do this for either the sake of practicality, or because I'd come across the idea of Flipped Learning at the same time and haphazardly meshed the two together.
I administered the course through Edmodo (because it's pretty great for a range of stuff) and the course followed this structure:
- Prior to the lesson, the pupils watch a video. I link this to Edmodo. They then have a quiz to answer.
- The quiz starts, in week 1, with 10 questions. By lesson six the amount of questions raises to 20.
- The quiz has a time limit set, this was done to prevent pupils researching the answer every time.
- Based on the tenets of Mastery Learning pupils were required to score over 80%.
- If pupils score over 80% when they arrive in the next lesson, they complete tasks which work on apply the knowledge that they have gained.
- If they score less than 80% then they complete a task to ensure that they do meet the 80% threshold. This also allows you to tailor support to pupils as soon as they enter the lesson.
- The reason that the question number grows, is that in Lesson 1 they are only tested on content for that lesson. In week 2 they are quizzed on content from Lesson 1 and 2, week 3 they are tested on content from week 1, 2 and 3. Eventually in week 6 they are being tested on content from week 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6! Meaning that it should place a high value on retaining knowledge across a longer term, not just in the moment as some teaching styles can promote.
It's easy to write this online, as you cannot quiz my pupils, but they were genuinely enthusiastic for each video and quiz.
I would never recommend something unless I thought it had a benefit for pupils (and teachers). The initial set-up of this was somewhat time-consuming, but the time spent in the set-up saves you A LOT of time once you get into the swing of it. The fact that Edmodo can 'mark' the quiz for you means that you can tailor individual support for pupils really easily and effectively.
One of the time-consuming factors in the set-up is the quiz design. You can opt for multiple choice, which brings the potential headache of providing effective distractors. Or the fact that in a subject like RE there can be spelling variations which Edmodo cannot cater for.
Last year was my first run-through. I loved it, the pupils seemed to love it, but I know there were areas that I want to work on.
This year I'm working on some of the brand, shiny, new version. With a whole load of research backed factors (which deserve a post of their own) I'm going to make my own videos, use Edpuzzle to ensure engagement with the videos and work on the quiz design, which is a WAY bigger job than I'd ever imagined. I'm also going to try and measure the output to see whether there is a significant improvement in the pupil's work.
Any questions, please send them my way. I'll make sure to keep you posted with my revamped look at Mastery and Flipped learning and will most definitely be putting together a research-backed look at video use.