CLWB @ Bristol Technology and Engineering Academy

 

bteaIn one of our most exciting projects to-date, we are delighted to be implementing STEM at the Bristol Technology and Engineering Academy, a Centre of Excellence for teaching Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. BTEA is a University Technical College sponsored by the likes of Rolls Royce, Airbus, Royal Navy and GKN.

Over the next year, BTEA will be adopting several of CLWB’s products and programs including:

CLWB STEM Box” – a virtual ‘sandbox’ for STEM coding activities covering each STEM subject area, including:

  • Astronomy
  • Physics
  • Biology
  • Technology
  • Engineering
  • Mathematics

ZEP Island™ – an education game which integrates STEM learning experiences

Electronics  

Games Programming  

Introduction to Coding 

In the Christmas and Eater terms we will also be running whole-school events:

  • Extreme Measures – how to measure everything!
  • Sporting Innovation – design, prototype and pitch new sport products

We very much look forward to working further with the staff and students at BTEA to develop a UK showcase for STEM.

CLWB at BETT Asia Leadership Summit

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We were delighted to present at the first BETT Asia Leadership Summit. We demonstrated some simple principles for using Programming, Electric Ink, and Control Technology to boost STEM learning. Download the presentation (55MB, make sure your security settings allow downloads) from here:BETT Asia Workshop PowerPoint Show.ppsx​​

Coding – Using Java to demonstrate the orbits of the planets in the solar system

Javaplanets

Programmable Visual Displays – representing the frequency of the orbits of the planets using flashing LEDs. This solution used Electric Ink for the circuitry.

solarsystem

Games Controller – We showed how the Arduino Esplora can be used for multiple learning scenarios involving gaming and sensors.

arduino

We also showed how plot data in Excel from sensors directly from an Arduino.

Excel

We also chaired a session entitled ‘Distance education and mobile learning: Increasing choice and accessibility whilst ensuring safety management’. The panel consisted of Dr Daniel Tan, Group Chief Learning Officer, Taylor’s Education Group (TEG) – Malaysia; Stephen Lee, CEO, Swan Christian Education Association – Australia; and Allan Christie, General Manager and Learning Technologist, Blackboard ANZ – Australia

The panel answered questions such as:

  • What outcomes do we want from increased access to distance education and mobile learning?
  • How do we balance access with security?
  • What security is needed for e-examinations/tests and assessments

BETTAsia

Internet of Learning-Things

Mass access to the Internet is a mere 20 years old and during this time Web Services have completely revolutionised how we interact – so how will the Internet transform us over the next 20 years?

This article explains how technologies can be architected to allow learning to flourish in the emerging world of the Internet of Things.

Beyond the “Internet of People”

In 2008, the number of things connected to the Internet exceeded the number of people on Earth – but that is still less than 1% of all the physical things in the world today. Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG) predicts some 25 billion devices will be connected by 2015, and 50 billion by 2020, whilst IDC estimates machine-to-machine communication to grow to 41% of Internet communication by 2020.

IoT represents a major shift in how IT is being used. The personal computer and the ‘Internet of People’ defined the previous IT era. The Internet of Things will be defined by embedded and ubiquitous technologies such as 3d printing, advanced sensing and energy management.

A powerful illustration of this new world comes from wearable clothing, Tshirt OS from Cutecircuit –

Another is the rapid development and spread of 3d printing –

IoT is surging ahead in areas such as manufacturing, medicine and transportation, but what about education? ‘Smart Cities’ initiatives get plenty of attention, but what about Smart Schooling? What about an ‘Internet of Learning-Things’?

To help answer this question, eight schools in the UK will take part in a $1.2m scheme to find out how “Internet of Things” can enhance learning in science, technology, and geography. Students and teachers will be taught to measure and share data – using new Internet of Things technology – in ways that help make learning fun, link directly to the curriculum, and ultimately inform the design of the next generation of schools.

Whilst new-build schools in developed countries routinely use advanced energy and security management IoT technologies, a more fundamental shift is beginning to happen. There is a clear movement towards a Do It Yourself (DIY) approach to technology in the classroom. A great example of this is the such as the Bigshot digital camera kit – http://www.bigshotcamera.com

A key part of this DIY trend is the increasing use of single-board miniature computers, particularly Arduino and Raspberry Pi. Arduino is a purely embedded system, while Raspberry Pi has both embedded and PC functionalities. Both are designed to teach computer science and electronics, and are optimized for managing control technology – i.e. the world of sensors, motors, displays etc (Things).

Floor Turtle and other technologies from the Constructivist movement have been around even longer. However, Arduino and Raspberry Pi have accelerated the Constructivist approach. To get results from these systems, users have to really understand how technology works, and once children understand the basics, their imaginations and creativity are unleashed. In an age when some ‘children think that cheese grows on plants’ one wonders where they think their consumer electronics come from, so its wonderful to see children becoming increasingly connected to the real world of how things work.

Slide3
Arduino – the worlds’ most popular learning tool for electronics

Arduino and Rasberry Pi are surrounded by an extensive and complex ecosystem of devices and code, and one of the most noticeable devices is Makey Makey. Coming from the same stable that gave us Lego Mindstorms and Scratch, MaKey MaKey is a circuit-board with crocodile clips and wires which allow users to turn practically any object into a key from a computer keyboard. For example, a banana could be used for the letter ‘A’, some plastercine for the letter ‘B’, and a coin for the letter ‘C’. Using this simple principal, a staircase can be turned into a piano, or graphite pencil marks on paper could be used as a game controller.

Neither the Arduino or Raspberry Pi are anywhere near as prolific as PCs or Tablets, and they sell at a tiny fraction of the volume of the consumer and business devices that find their way into Education – tens of thousands a month as opposed to millions. However, unlike consumer and business PCs and Tablets, Arduino and Raspberry Pi have been designed specifically for education – so do they point the way forward?

The cost of a complete class set of Raspberry Pis (around $35 each) with Internet browsing, productivity tools, peripherals, sensors and devices would cost about ½ that of the equivalent class set of Tablets or PCs. However, the big drawback with Raspberry Pi is that they require patience and high levels of technical competency for their setup and operation – users need to become familiar with Linux and command-line prompts. At present the support ecosystem for Raspberry Pi is less than optimally organized for mass proliferation.

To get a better look at what the Internet of Things can mean for Education, we need to look beyond the ‘DIY’ world and think about a complete architecture for “Internet of Learning-Things”.

Towards an “Internet of Learning-Things”

Needs should drive the design of an Internet of Learning-Things – not the other way round. As with all questions about technology, the first question we need to ask is ‘why’? What new scenarios should an ‘Internet of Learning-Things’ deliver? Here’s some examples:

Technology literacy.

In the next 20 years machines will take increasing amounts of decisions. In a world where so much can be sensed or observed, security and privacy take on new meanings and relevance. In a world where systems will be managed increasingly remotely, technocrats will control much more of the world we live in. Its critical, therefore, that children get to understand how this completely new world works, and learn how to build and control it. To achieve this understanding, children need to have the opportunity to build systems that combine computer science with electronics and product design.

Science, Technology and Geography.

The use of sensors, data-logging and basic electronics has long been a part of the UK National curriculum, but with a proliferation of low-cost sensors, devices, drones and kits, its reasonable to expect to see an increase in the increasing use and sophistication in the application of these technologies across the world.

For example, the Parrot AR.Drone2.0 enables students to survey an area using a mobile phone. HD video is shot and stored on a USB memory stick, or relayed directly back to the phone. In one package, Science (e.g. physics of flight); Technology (e.g. OS, networking, control); and Geography (e.g. surveys, observations) can be delivered, in a way that is completely engaging for children of all ages.

The key development in this space is the opportunity for children to learn how to code with Scratch, Python and .NET Gadgeteer offering progressive learning pathway. Scratch even has a way to control the GPIO on Raspberry Pi, enabling students to control a range of devices easily.

Internet of Learning-Things - beginnings
Scratch offers an easy entry into the world of programming

Ubiquitous and context-aware learning.

With devices able to talk more easily with other devices, augmented reality should spill out from museums turning everyday features in the environment into learning objects. For example, point your phone at a building and see what was there of historical significance in the past; point it at a plant or animal and get key scientific facts; use a phone to control a drone and receive live images of your local neighborhood. Kiosks offer another platform for AR, and Lego have a powerful illustration that shows the kinds of scenarios that AR offers –

Learning through everyday play

A market research study by Tangull America indicated that the market for toys with embedded IT is growing over 15% annually, and will grow to sales of US $146 billion by 2015. Examples include interactive puppets, girls’ toys that share secrets, and “real playmates” – which measure changes in facial expressions and use AI to respond. There are huge opportunities to embed learning tools into children’s toys.

Personalised learning

With a greater spectrum of learning opportunities available, and wider use of project-based learning, the potential for more personalized learning increases.

Devices connecting securely to big (and nano) data, content and SRM systems, can enable more and better e-learning services that dynamically adapt to learner’s needs as they evolve.

“The growth of devices connected to the Internet will give learners access to untold sources of authentic data in an environmentally friendly way.  Through their Internet connections on multiple devices, learners will collect these data and work with fellow learners and experts around the world to analyse, interpret and manipulate the information and so contribute in a meaningful way to the development of social and scientific understanding, Learning will become more contextualised, relevant and meaningful as a result.”

Dr Michelle Selinger, Director of Education Practice at Cisco Consulting Services

Anytime anywhere high-stake assessment and exams

Nearly everyone on the planet has sat or will sit an examination or another form of high stakes assessment. Device-level security, built on biometric systems such as facial recognition, offer ways to ensure honesty in exams. As well as local devices, routers could be potentially enabled for exam-standard security in designated ‘Examination Zones’.

Towards an Internet of Learning-Things Architecture

The first technical problem that needs to be solved is that every device on the Internet needs an IP address to communicate with other devices. Currently most Internet traffic runs on IPv4, which allows ‘only’ 4.3bn addresses. The current version – Ipv6 – allows 7.9 x 1028 times more addresses, but IPv6 and IPv4 are not interoperable, so the transition is not going to be immediate and smooth.

The next problem to be solved is the development of protocols for data, network, transport, sessions and applications. A lot of work is underway such as MQTT, a machine-to-machine/Internet of Things connectivity protocol, but as yet there are no real IoT standards – unlike the Internet of People, which uses protocols such as http (for hypertext), and XMPP (for IM, presence and chat).

So, achieving any form of architectural standardization for an Internet of Learning-Things is going to take some time.

However, in the meantime, there are concepts and scenarios that can help. One way to look at IoLT architecture is to split it into functional layers, and map existing technologies and services to those layers:

IoLT Arch

Internet of Learning Things Scenario

A student has learned something significant and has verified the learning through a series of low stakes e-assessments. The student now wants to get full credit for this learning through an accredited examination board (eg, University of Oceania Certificate of Secondary Education). The student finds an accredited ‘Examination Zone’ – a room or an area set up to written examination standard, and monitored for honesty. The student logs onto the examination system, which verifies the user through device level biometric security, then locks down the device to ensure no access to local resources. The student is presented with the questions and types or handwrites the answers. The device pushes an encrypted version of the student’s answers to an E-Exam-Ready Wi-Fi router, (gateway) which relays the data to servers, which also have device level security to verify the validity and security conditions of the student’s responses. From there, the examination response is assessed and credit given in due course, with an encrypted certificate sent back to the student.

Whilst this may seem far-fetched and problematic, it’s worth taking a few moments to compare the kind of advances that have been made in Internet and mobile finance and medicine. For example, diagnostics in medicine is light years ahead of ‘diagnostics’ in education. In an era when we allow sensors to be implanted in the human body to monitor and improve health in the most precise and targeted way, why do we insist that practically everyone on the planet sits down in silence and recall facts from memory on bits of paper in order to get recognition for what they have learned?

Despite phenomenal progress with e-assessment and e-examination in some countries, a recent incident at Kasetsart University in Thailand illustrates just how far other places have to go. Students there were pictured wearing makeshift paper ‘anti-cheating’ devices.

The wrong kind of innovation
Draw your own conclusions – but no conferring please.

Challenges

“We need to be ready for a new pace of change in learning”, says Jim Wynn, Chief Education Officer at Promethean.

“We will depend upon the content to be organized in ways which do not hinder learning and also and I think crucially, content will have to reflect next generation pedagogues and not those that are designed for the technology of pencil and paper”.

Another key point made by Jim is that the ‘Do It Yourself’ approach is not going to work on its own universally. “There has to be a balance between explore-and-find-out and directed learning from a wise head”.

Within formal learning, a major challenge is going to be lack of technical capacity amongst the teaching workforce. In developing countries, where some teachers don’t even know what Facebook is, ‘DIY’ will be a real challenge. Teachers in this new world will need to be a lot more technically skilled than they are now, and that will be a significant challenge.

Another challenge is the inertia in the examinations systems, and the cascade effect that it has on schooling as a whole.

One of the biggest challenges of all, however, is the uneven distribution of Internet Access across the world. Whilst it’s fascinating to talk theoretically about the Internet of Learning-Things in the developed world, what happens to those who are left behind from even the Internet of People?

According to the International Telecommunications Union, 39% of the world is not using the Internet. 31% of the developing world, and 77% of the developed world are using the Internet.

Slide6
Internet users 2012, C/O International Telecommunications Union

There are several initiatives aimed at attacking this problem from different angles. For example, there is potential for using old analog TV bands – VHF/UHF – to deliver Internet access, whilst Project Loon is about delivering Internet access via high altitude balloons.

The Internet of Learning-Things will require significant amounts of virtual teaming. For example, the UK schools ILT pilot project will be led by DISTANCE, a consortium which includes at least 8 organisations, including 3 universities. Interestingly, DISTANCE plans to create a digital information hub using Xively Cloud Services – a cloud platform that is purpose-built for the Internet of Things.

An Internet of Learning-Things may be a long way off for some. However, in the same way that online content is beginning to be a disruptive force in formal schooling in some parts of the world, a new era of ultra-low cost and increasingly connected devices, sensors, displays, security and control technologies, is surely going to accelerate change in a very positive direction.

2012 – The Year of Constructive Disruption?

This article is a personal perspective of the key Education Technology trends that we can expect to see in 2012. Whilst not expecting anything as apocalyptic as the Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar theory, my belief is that the world of education technology will see new and powerful disruptive forces in 2012. Whilst there are certainly very challenging times ahead for public sector institutions and the industry that serves them, innovation is accelerating too and new technologies and approaches will offer creative solutions for those who are prepared drive, or at least accept, change.

Mark Anderseen writing in the Wall Street Journal in August 2011 proposes that “Healthcare and education are next up for fundamental software-based transformation”. Education, Anderseen contends, has historically been highly resistant to entrepreneurial change, and is now primed for ‘tipping’ by new software-centric entrepreneurs”. This article explores the forces of technological change that are priming education for ‘tipping’, and what form that ‘tipping’ could take.

Forces of Disruption

As we start 2012 we enter uncharted economic, social and political territories. Frontier Strategy Group, a Washington based provider of market intelligence, predicts that advanced economies will “muddle through the next 18 months with low growth but avoid a major recession”. Gartner, on the other hand, predicts that by 2014, “major national defaults in Europe will lead to the collapse of more than a third of European banks” – which will have significant consequence worldwide.

Gartner also predict that the control of technology is “shifting out of the hands of IT organisations… Cloud, social, mobile and information management technologies are all evolving at a pace”.

Developing markets are exerting an increasingly powerful influence too. According to Frontier, in the next 4 years, Latin America will consume more PCs than in the previous 30 years combined (276 million units). So much for the so called “post PC era”. At the same time we’re seeing the Asia/Pacific region emerge as one of world’s largest markets for devices, with an expected total market sales of more than 6.3 million tablets in 2011.

End-user expectations are rapidly changing too – “end users expect to get access to personal, work, applications and data from any device, anytime and anywhere”. Users and institutions are also demanding ever better power conservation too. The concept of “Big Data” is starting to “alter the relationship of technology to information consumption, as data coming from multiple federated sources in structured and unstructured forms must now be analysed using new methodologies”.

So what does all this mean for education technology? The first thing to consider is the fact that ICT expenditure in education in 2012 is coming off a comparatively weak platform. For at least 20 years now, IT has systematically been introduced into schooling but whilst the value of IT in education is clear, what is also clear is that education has the lowest levels of IT spending amongst any type of major enterprise – IT Spending by Industry Vertical Market, Worldwide. So are we likely to see a boost in the purchase and adoption of IT in schooling worldwide in 2012? The answer to this will depend a lot on spending on education ICT by governments.

Government Spending

According to Gartner, the current decision-making environment is dominated by demands to cut costs while improving operational efficiency and effectiveness. “Government organizations will continue to adopt technology innovation, but mostly in areas where technology is inexpensive” or “support more radical approaches to cost containment”. “By 2013, government financial sustainability will join cost containment as the top driver and constraint for government IT spending”. This isn’t a short-term trend either – “the continuing pressure to cut government budgets is likely to influence spending priorities for the next decade or more”.

Those of us wishing for a tipping point where schooling gets transformed at scale may be in for a wait. For many governments in 2012, “the key challenge will no longer be to transform, but to fulfil their statutory obligations”.

IT investments that enable transformational change “will be limited, especially by the politics of establishing budget priorities and the difficulties of institutional change”. However, these challenges and opportunities won’t be evenly spread, so let’s now look at how these forces are playing out in different parts of the world.

BRICs

Brazil – Microsoft’s Emilio Munaro says “there are more than 198,000 schools in Brazil and 98% of them now have computer labs”. “Tablet usage is growing fast, in many cases accelerated by popular touch enabled apps, but also long battery life which suits environments where electricity outlets are in short supply. However, broadband connection will remain as the challenge for Brazil in the next 3-4 years”.

Russia’s 2012-2014 budgets emphasise long-term development goals and the further introduction of ICT in schools. Expect to hear more about a significant new School of the Future project in the Moscow Region initiated by the Skolkovo Foundation.

The importance of using ICT for improving education in India has been emphasized in the policy framework for over a decade, and 2011 saw a number of large-scale device-lead initiatives. India is home to both one of the biggest IT workforces in the world, but also has incredible diversity in wealth and geography and this has lead to a wide range of solutions for both formal and informal learning. There’s every expectation that use of ICT in education will continue to grow and more innovations will emerge from India in 2012.

Meanwhile in China, mass school computerisation efforts are under way in rural Western China. “It is clear that Chinese support for the purchase of ICT infrastructure for schools will most likely increase greatly in the coming years” according to Michael Trucano from the World Bank.

Europe

The recent down-grading of credit ratings of some major European economies will mean that government borrowing in those countries will be more expensive, giving less room to manoeuvre on public spending. Whilst innovation and investment in ICT in schooling remains strong in many European countries, public sector austerity measures will inevitably cause disruption. However, one mitigating factor is that unemployment and the cost of school dropout is at the top of the agenda for many European countries, so investment in Education ICT may also be seen as a way to boost economic growth.

According to Mark East, General Manager for Microsoft’s Education Group “One thing is for sure; human capital is a nation’s greatest asset and Education will remain a priority investment area for most Governments”.

Asia

South Korea – already top of PISA and digital literacy skills tables – is surging ahead with a $2.4bn Education technology plan, now in its third phase of deployment. Many middle school and high school students now download and complete e-learning classes via their portable multimedia players as a matter of routine.

In Singapore, the government is driving technology lead innovation, and recently announced plans to digitise testing and examination systems.

USA

There’s a sense of big appetite for change in the USA, driven by a collapse in adequate levels of funding for schooling and the rapid growth in virtual schooling and online learning resources. The Department of Education is executing against a strong National Education Technology Plan and the USA is a hotbed of innovation in the education consumer space.

Teacher Shortages

The world urgently needs to recruit more than 8 million extra teachers, according to UN estimates. A worldwide shortage of primary school teachers threatens to undermine global efforts to ensure universal access to primary education by 2015.

According to the Guardian newspaper, at least 2m new teaching positions will need to be created by 2015, and an additional 6.2 million teachers will need to be recruited to maintain the current workforce.

This means that the 55m practicing teachers worldwide have increasing demands on their time as countries compete to raise education standards and develop the skills required for economic growth, at a time when the profession is short of the optimal workforce by 15%. As pointed out by Professor Sugata Mitra recently, “quality teachers simply don’t exist where they’re needed most”. “Talented teachers tend to be drawn away from relatively poor areas due to offers of better jobs or higher incomes. For these reasons, “we need new methods of learning”.

Whilst it’s clear that ICT can help governments achieve their education aims, the increased demand for teachers with ICT skills is clearly outpacing supply.

Consumerisation

Rapidly increasing availability of access to online learning sources, coupled with social networking is opening up a spectrum of low cost learning opportunities for students both inside and outside the classroom. MIT Open Courseware, Kahn Academy, University of the People, BBC Bitesize, Mymaths, Tutorhunt etc. all offer a supplement to teacher-lead “instruction”. Sugata Mitra’s “Hole in the Wall” project goes even further, offering learning where there simply are no teachers.

According to sources quoted by Larry Cuban of Stanford University, the worldwide market for self-paced eLearning products and services reached $32.1 billion in 2010 (about 50% of what formal education currently spends on ICT). The five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) is 9.2% and revenues will grow to $49.9 billion by 2015.

Clayton Christiansen, in his book “Disrupting Class” predicted that virtual schooling will force massive changes to formal schooling systems. By 2008, online enrolments for virtual schooling in the US had risen from 45,000 in 2000 to over 1 million, and there are no signs that this is slowing down.

A key component in consumerisation is social networking, and we’re seeing a lot of innovation in this space. For example, Microsoft’ recently announced So.cl which integrates search into the social learning experience.

Shifting Power

More Learning Please

Rising youth unemployment in Europe and the Middle East, globalisation and growth in developing countries are all fuelling the need for more knowledge, skills and competencies.

“People leaving our schooling systems, more now than ever, will need to be able to respond positively to the opportunities and challenges of the rapidly changing world in which we live and work. In particular, they need to be prepared to engage with environmental, economic, social and cultural change, including dealing with the effects of global warming and the continued globalisation of the economy and society, with new work and leisure patterns and with the rapid expansion of communication technologies.” (UK Qualifications and Curriculum Authority).

In the same way that there is limited funding available from the public purse, there is also limited time in the school day into which to squeeze the curriculum. Again, the implications are clear – more effective learning has to be implemented.

Mind the Engagement Gap

Commercial websites are increasingly become social sites, leaving a shortage of people to deal with social engagement on the scale required. The same pattern is happening in schooling where the teaching workforce does not have the capacity to deal with the explosion in the demands for skills and competencies, and the increasingly availability of online learning. As students’ technology capacity grows relative to that of teachers, an engagement gap between students and teacher is set to widen.

The answer to the engagement gap in commerce is the increasing use of “bots” and many sites now have fully or semi-automated live chat. In 2010, the average user of Facebook has 120 to 150 friends. Some of these “friends” are not real people, and many users find this to be quite natural. Gartner predicts that by 2015, 10% of your online “friends” will be nonhuman. It’s a reasonable bet that some of these online friends will be virtual tutors.

What will the answer to the engagement gap in schooling look like? Professor Sugata Mitra explores the theory that, given unrestricted and unsupervised access to the Internet, groups of children can learn almost anything on their own. Few – myself included – would advocate this as a universal approach to schooling, but it’s clear that technology enhanced independent and social learning offers answers to both the lack of teachers and the need for more effective learning.

Irresistible Forces Meet the Immovable Object

So the forces of consumerisation, increased learning requirements, and the demand for relevant ways to engage are beginning to weigh heavily on institutionalized learning.

According to Gartner, “the homogeneous learning and technology environment of the last century is fading fast. Moreover, the ivory tower mentality of education agencies is disappearing to reflect changing needs and values”.

These irresistible forces, however, will continue to meet an immovable object – schools. Whilst the nature of schooling will surely change, children will still be going to places called schools run by teachers well into the foreseeable future. Schools have responsibilities beyond academic learning. Parents and voters want schools to socialize students into community values, prepare them for civic responsibilities, and get them ready for college and career. Technology enhanced independent learning alone cannot meet those demands.

Big challenges for 2012

So the 2012 landscape will be dominated the necessity to provide more learning at less cost, against a backdrop of human capacity shortages and students faced with greater consumer choices.

Schooling IT leaders must balance the demands of supporting today’s environment, addressing the demands of the education stakeholder community, and preparing for a technology-driven transformation of the education ecosystem.

So what, then, are the big education technology challenges for 2012?  Its my belief that there are three big problems to crack, and that in 2012 market forces will drive progress in each of these areas.

1. ROI

2. Personalising Learning

3. National Education Networks

ROI

I start with ROI because in times of squeezed budgets it’s essential that both institutions and suppliers are able to identify which budget lines have the greatest and least impact on the learning “bottom line”, and identify where investments will have the most positive effect. At the very least, I’d expect it to at least become more acceptable to talk about ROI for investments in education technology. As discussed in detail in this blog – Lets Talk About Money – the idea of at least attributing “cost per unit learned” to investments should have become standard practice by now.

Personalised learning

For at least 10 years, the goal of personalized learning has been talked about, pursued as a strategy, dropped when found too hard to execute, and then talked about again. So, could 2012 be the year when personalizing learning at scale begins to take off?

I’m optimistic that we’ll see some progress in this space this year, because Personalising Learning can address so many of the problems that schooling currently faces. When we also add the learnings that we now have from games-based-learning, neuroscience and Artificial Intelligence (see Artificial Intelligence in Schooling Sytems) we seem to have all the technical building blocks in place. Personalised Learning also fits the trend towards consumerisation really well.

Think of Personalised Learning from a student’s perspective as “My Learning My Way”. To get to My Learning My Way, there are several key elements:

My technology my way

As discussed in detail in the BYOD/C article, the emergence of low cost technological supplements and alternatives to institutional “instruction” is growing at an increasing pace. Yes, the state will always have a role in providing a “base level” of appropriate technologies for learners, but the reality is that students across the world are “doing it for themselves”, learning on their own devices using software and learning services of their own choice.

The biggest challenges in this area are to ensure equality of access to opportunties, and stopping the adoption of “lowest common denominator” technologies, learning applications, services and devices.

My pathway my way

Learning can be said to be ‘personalised’ when students have a unique set of pathways through their learning. Clearly, at early stages younger learners need a lot of adult support with learning decisions, but as learners progress through their schooling they need to become more independent – and that independence can be supported with technology. Personalised Learning is a characteristic of the Transformed Phase of schooling and discussed in the “Transformed Phase” of this blog.

For personal learning pathways to work well, three key problems need to be addressed:

Firstly, assessments – both high and low stake – need to be ported into the electronic domain. Increasingly we’re seeing this happen. In Norway, for example, national tests at level 5, 7 and 9 ++ and exams in upper secondary and now administrated electronically.

Secondly, data from assessment and ongoing learning tasks needs to be used to make effective decisions about what learning tasks need to be undertaken, and when. The resulting learning pathways need to be challenging but achievable and “in tune” with how individual students learn.

Thirdly, the difficult problem of Dynamic Timetabling needs to be solved. This is where the time students spend in formal schooling is determined not by a pre-determined matrix of subjects and timeslots allocated according to age and classes, but by a system that matches their precise learning requirments against the resources needed to meet these. The problem can, to a point, be addressed through CRM, but it will take an evolution in schooling management techniques as well as technology developments to solve this problem.

My content my way

The model of purchasing standard textbooks for all students must surely come under more intense questioning in 2012. Companies such as Triba Learning from Finland are offering fascinating glimpses of new models where data and algorithms are used to generate value. Triba uses data to segment students into increasingly granular groups that exhibit similar learning dispositions. Powerful algorithms are used to analyse how they best learn and select appropriate content. School districts save money through using this system to purchase only the content that best fits the learner’s requirements – as opposed to having to buy large sets of books which may only ever be partially used.

Content itself needs to change radically too. “Our high school kids are fantastic teachers,” said Professor Harry Kroto, talking at NEST 2011 about the GEOSET project, in which students record lectures that can be freely accessed online. Creating content leads to more learning than merely consuming content, so “atomising” content into building blocks that can be reassembled into customised materials by students and teachers is a clear way forward.

Whilst content and learning sofware has evolved to accommodate visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning styles, the next frontier is the use of neuroscience to make learning more engaging. We are learning more about the science of learning, and how to drive the motivation to learn. Emerging game-like learning software makes use of the individual’s natural reward system which helps them to learn which action has the most valuable outcome. Software can be designed to emulate a teacher who constantly adapts to current learner understanding. Thus software can enable far more effective learning than is often possible through one-to-one teaching.

My data my way

The standard way of looking at student related data is that it should be “owned” by the institution. But to get to truly personalised learning there needs to be a paradigm shift – one that is prepared to accept that the ownership of the data resides with the student, and their parent or gaurdians.

A similar idea sits behind Microsoft’s “Health Vault”. This CRM based solution enables individuals to store their own health records in the Cloud and then grant access to these records to trusted people – doctors/relatives etc. Health Vault has evolved into a platfrom with an online marketplace for applications and even USB devices that can be used to monitor and manage health issues. This idea isn’t new in education though – e-portfolios have long been based on similar principles.

For school students, it would be essential to integrate personally held data with the data held in formal schooling institutions. According to Stephen Coller from the Gates Foundation, its not possible to build large scale data driven solutions without going through formal schooling data systems and subsystems. For example, to integrate with class rosters, enrollment systems have to be accessed. According to Coller, there needs to be:

  • A unifying middle layer that eliminates the need for solution providers to integrate with each school’s systems

or

  • a trust framework and ‘digital locker’ that gives users control over their own data and records

and

  • A badging or certificate framework that spans formal and informal learning

When thinking about large scale data systems, the question is whether exisiting data is sufficiently rich or accessible enouhg to justify the huge efforts required to get more than a basic dataset shared between the stundent and the institution, or whether it would be easier to rearchitect the entire system from scratch based on the new paradigm.

Either way, a core problem which needs to be solved in this area is “Micro Federation” – ie the concept that a student with their own “digital locker” can grant and control access to that data to trusted 3rd parties. The benefit to the institution is access to data to help decision making at micro and macro levels. The benefit to the student is having their learning supported in ways that may have been difficult to achieve otherwise. To achieve Micro Federation, there are some key areas that need to be addressed including:

• Privacy

• Security

  • Authorization
  • IDs and authentication
  • Encryption

• Transaction models

• Interaction models

• Interconnection technology

• Interfaces

National Education Networks

Greater personalization requires improved interoperability between data, content, assessments and applications. But to scale personalised learning, we need to be able to solve big problems in the areas of data management; decision automation; individualised learning pathways; and content. To do all this requires National Education Networks (NEN). The purpose of an NEN is to:

  • Improve data flows for the benefit of students, within and between end-users and schooling institutions, regionally and nationally.
  • Provide a stable platform for learning and innovation based on interoperable systems
  • Reduce the technical burden on schools, allowing them to focus on the use of technology in teaching and learning rather than its management

Few countries have built NENs, but the UK is one country that has. In 2004, the BECTA – the British governments ICT agency – produced detailed plans for a national level network infrastructure for schools. This became the National Education Network – http://www.nen.gov.uk/

So what are the key problems that need to be solved in building a National Education Network? Firstly, a National Education Network should have three architectural layers:

  • Services
  • Interfaces
  • Infrastructure

Services

The services layer should define the outcomes required from the NEN. Key questions that need to be addressed are:

  • What services do we want the NEN to deliver?
  • To whom and when?
  • At what costs and return on investment?

This leads to functional decisions about three key elements – interfaces that expose the functions of one system to other systems; what operations are performed within a service function; what messages are inputted and outputted from service operations.

A well-designed NEN should provide a services platform on four levels:

  • Connectivity services linking all elements of the model together, safely and securely connecting end-user stakeholders to the internet and wider educational community
  • A marketplace for institutions and individual students to purchase and consume learning services including content; personalised learning management systems; and management information system
  • Data services including data warehousing, management information systems (MIS) and a range of data mining tools
  • An R&D “sandbox” using anonamised data about learning to enable software entrepreneurs to build ever more effective personalised learning solutions

Interfaces

An interface is a shared boundary across which information is passed. In an ideal NEN students own the data, and share selective parts of it with schooling systems, Local Education Authorities/Municipality/State, the Ministry of Education, parents/guardians and ultimately prospective Higher/Further Education institutions or even employers. Different stakeholders would need different information – the Ministry of Education, for example, would need much less information than the school.

For data to move effectively across the system, trust relationships need to exist between these boundaries. In a NEN, interfaces can be specified to manage the flow of data; monitor status; manage assets; and even control devices.

Defining interfaces trust relationships, and data exchange methods across a large population may be complex, but it offers huge potential in terms of increased effectiveness and cost savings.

Infrastructure

The Physical Network component of an NEN has multiple layers and requires at least the following to be designed:

  • Infrastructure
    • Access models – radio and television, digital devices, computing
    • Topology, IP addressing, naming
    • Plumbing, traffic routing
    • Storage
    • Network control
    • Security
  • Establishing Physical Security
    • Creating a secure physical boundary for critical communications equipment
    • Protecting the Network Elements
      • Securing routers, switches, appliances, VoIP gateways and network devices define network boundaries and act as interfaces to all networks
      • Designing the IP Network…
        • … based on sound IP network design principles
  • Directories and Control
    • User directories
    • Asset catalogues
    • Identity management
    • User management

A comprehensive design blueprint for a National Education Network is the BECTA specification for the UK’s NEN.

NENs for Personalised Learning

The ultimate goal for a NEN is to enable personalised learning at scale and cost-effectively. For that to happen several “moving parts” need to synchronise. At the start of the cycle, data about learning is used to present students with appropriate learning opportunities through tailored content. Students progress through these tasks through individual pathways. As they do, they generate data and different aspects of that data are used by different stakeholders for different reasons. The data is managed and communicated via the National Grid for Learning, and the marketplace platform within the NEN acquires appropriate content for the learner’s on-going learning process, starting the cycle over again.

Standards

Take a NEN with interfaces across the 5 boundaries described above. If each boundary handles 10 different types of data, then roughly speaking there are 105 (100,000) “sub-interfaces” that have to successfully connect to make the system function properly. The complexity increases dramatically when you add complexities such as data formats and exchange methods.

To reduce complexity in NENs, standards are a key consideration. I say a “consideration” rather than “the answer” because there are two different perspectives to take into account.

From a vendor point of view, standards can get in the way and increase costs. Typically, solution developers will build large scale Schooling Enterprise Architectures up to LEA or even state level, but rarely at national level. At these levels vendors generally find it easier to not have to conform to standards as this gives them freedom to design information systems to their own specifications and re-use IP and technologies from other similar projects.

From a NEN commissioning body (e.g. Ministry of Education) perspective, standards that are open and not driven by vendors are a key way to reduce their overall costs and complexity. For example, a NEN will require the integration of separate datacentres at municipality/LEA/State levels. Without standards, proprietary interfaces must be reworked for each new system added. It is simply easier if everyone does it the same way; so each datacentre should require just one standard interface which:

  • Standardizes the dialogs, messages, and data elements
  • Standardizes user interfaces to the system
  • Allows a single external interface with different agencies, enabling cooperation and coordination between them

Standards need to deliver value at both macro and micro levels. Standards that are developed at the national level may include information that local systems will not use. On the other hand, standards may need to be supplemented with additional information to meet local needs.

A noteworthy national level IT infrastructure for public services is the National Transportation Communications (NTCIP) system in the US and there is much that is transferable from NTCIP to the design of NENs. NTCIP is a set of standards for interoperability between computers and electronic traffic control equipment that covers the US and is now being adapted for implementation in other countries. A key to the success of this is system is how standards are integrated into the model. For example, for a system to be a part of the NTCIP “Management Information Base”, a set of mandatory objects are required, but to enable local adaptation, specified optional objects are permitted. To minimise cost, risk and complexity, the NTCIP Management Information Base is public, not proprietary.

Education has a long way to go to catch up with how NTCIP uses standards.

Key challenges in building NENs

There are many major challenges to building NENs including:

  • Selecting and building an appropriate framework of international standards and prescriptive methodologies, and ensuring public ownership of the overall model
  • Data aggregation and interoperability
  • Reconceptualising NENs to put the student at the centre

National Education Networks are certainly complex, but with the methods and standards now available, and the overall gains that they can bring there is every reason to expect to see an increasing number of national level education network projects in and beyond 2012.

Technology Trends in 2012

IT organizations must balance security against access, and meet the growing expectations of individuals who are more technology-savvy than ever before. As consumerisation grows and budgets get cut, IT leaders in education are becoming increasingly open to leveraging personally owned devices and external Web 2.0 services as well as to delivering information and services beyond their physical campuses.

This is shaping what IT and digital services will increase in significance in 2012, as summarised in the table below:

Enterprise computing Consumer computing
Wireless aaS Social-Learning Platform for Education
Federated Identity Management Windows-Based Tablet PCs
SIS International Data Interoperability Standards E-Textbook
Hosted Virtual Desktops Social Media in Education
Cloud Email for Staff and Faculty E-Portfolios
Unified Communications and Collaboration Mashups
CRM Lecture Capture and Retrieval Tools
BYOC strategies Media Tablets

At the NEST conference in Hong Kong, Facebook Co-founder Chris Hughes pronounced that “the textbook is dead”. “In the next five to seven years, the textbook is no longer going to be the basic building block of education.”

The challenge for education institutions in 2012 is to treat the pending changes as an opportunity and navigate into the future, making sound decisions that focus on learner achievement, and develop strategies and adapt organizational structures that embrace a world of choice.

The challenge to the education technology industry in 2012 is to ramp-up proofs of concepts that demonstrate how technology can viably personalise learning on a large scale.

A Chinese proverb says, “May you live in interesting times”. In the world of education technology, 2012 should prove to be a very interesting year indeed.

Happy New Year!

Artificial Intelligence in Schooling Systems

Q. “What do you give a hurt lemon?”

A. “Lemon aid”

Like me, you may have thought that the writer of this joke is a student. Actually, the joke writer in this case is Artificial Intelligence software – a “joke generator” called JAPE.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has growing implications for schooling, and this article aims to set out some of AI’s main concepts, and explore how they can be applied to improving learning.

What is Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial Intelligence is a mature field in Computer Science that has delivered many innovations, for example:

  • Deep Blue, the chess program that beat Kasparov
  • “iRobot Roomba” automated vacuum cleaner, and “PackBot” used in Afghanistan and Iraq wars
  • Spam filters that use Machine Learning
  • Question answering systems that automatically answer factoid questions

AI is best known for aiming to reproduce human intelligence. The field was founded on the claim that intelligence can be simulated by a machine. Essentially AI is the design of systems that perceive their environment and take action that maximize their chances of success. AI addresses natural language processing, reasoning, knowledge, planning, learning, communication, perception and the ability to move and manipulate objects. AI is about many things including interacting with the real world; reasoning and planning; learning and adaptation.

Different Approaches

There are several approaches to AI including:

  • Building models of human cognition using psychology and cognitive science
  • The logical thought approach with emphasis on “correct” inference
  • Building rational “agents” –  a computing object that perceives and acts

Key areas of application of AI in education include:

  • Robotics
  • Simulations
  • Games
  • Expert systems
  • Intelligent tutoring systems
  • Search, question and answers

Key AI Concepts

An initial view of AI reveals a field that is deeply divided into seemingly unrelated subfields. Some of these sub-fields even appear contradictory. For example, Neural Network techniques are considered by some a better model of human reasoning than rule-based Expert Systems, so lets take a closer look at these two approaches.

Neural Networks

This approach mimics the human brain through the use of “nodes”, which resemble neurons. Neural Network technology – which uses layers of “input”, “hidden (process)” and “output” nodes – has been applied successfully to speech recognition, image analysis, adaptive control, games and robots. Most of neural networks are based on statistical estimations, classification optimization and control theory. Neural networks can be programmed to model the behavior of natural systems – e.g. responding to stimuli.

Expert Systems

Expert Systems emulate the decision-making ability of a human expert by reasoning about knowledge – as opposed to following the procedures set out by a software developer as is the case of conventional programming. An expert system is divided into three parts – a knowledge base; an inference engine; and a dialog interface to communicate with users.

Machine Learning

Neural Networks can be applied to the problem of Machine Learning – the design and development of algorithms that allow computers to evolve behaviors based on data from sensors, input devices, or databases. An important task in Machine Learning is pattern recognition, in which machines “learn” to automatically recognize complex patterns, and to make intelligent predictions.

In games which have concrete rules and multiple permutations – eg Chess – Machine Learning calculates the most likely outcomes of the game given the position on the board by playing simulated games into the future. In addition, pattern recognition enables the game to analyze the relative merits of different moves in the game, based on which ‘shapes’ were created by experts in historical games.

Intelligent Agents

An intelligent agent is a set of independent software tools linked with other applications and databases running within one or several computer environments. Agent based technology systems include a degree of autonomous problem-solving ability. The primary function of an intelligent agent is to help a user better use, manage, and interact with a system or application. Additionally, software agents, like human agents (for example, an administrative assistant), can be authorized to make decisions and perform certain tasks.

Coach Mike, is an Intelligent Agent used at the Boston Museum of Science. Coach Mike’s job is to help visitors at Robot Park, an interactive exhibit for computer programming. By tracking visitor interactions and through the use of animation, gestures, and synthesized speech, Coach Mike provides several forms of support that seek to improve the experiences of museum visitors. These include orientation tactics, exploration support, and problem solving guidance. Additional tactics use encouragement and humor to entice visitors to stay more deeply engaged. Preliminary analysis of interaction logs suggest that visitors can follow Coach Mike’s guidance and may be less prone to immediate disengagement.

Enhancing Learning

Herbert A. Simon, an AI pioneer, said – “If we understand the human mind, we begin to understand what we can do with educational technology.”

Human learning and reasoning is founded on multiple knowledge representations with different kinds of structures, such as trees, chains, dominance hierarchies, neighborhood graphs, and directed networks. From MIT Open Courseware (Image by Prof. Joshua Tenenbaum.)
 

With systems that can both “learn” and provide “expertise”, the implications of AI for schooling are profound. Whilst AI has potential for solving problems like optimal resourcing and improving operational performance, the strongest area for the application of AI in schooling is to make learning more effective.

AI in schooling can be traced back to 1967 when Logo was created. Since the introduction of Logo and “floor-bots” such as Turtles, ever more sophisticated robots along with associated control technologies such as Lego Mindstorms – have been used in schools. Products such as Focus Educational’s “BeeBot” is a recent addition to systems applying some of the principles of AI in a schooling environment.

AI in schooling is evolving in several different ways:

Question and Answer Systems (QA)

By 2020, we’ll be creating enough data for a stack of DVDs containing it to reach the moon and back three times! Regrettably, the quality of answers does not necessarily improve in proportional to the amount of information available. The current generation of search engines are essentially information retrieval systems providing a list of “hits” from which the user has to deduce the closest match. One of the goals of AI, therefore, is to enable more natural questioning resulting in better answers and related information.

The first QA systems were developed in the 1960s as natural-language interfaces to expert systems. Current QA systems first typically classify questions and then apply Natural Language Processing. Natural language ‘annotations’ describe content associated with ‘information segments’. An information segment is retrieved when its annotation matches an input question. A generating module then produces sentences – ‘candidate answers’. Finally, ‘answer extraction’ processes determine if the candidate answer does indeed answer the question.

The implications for QA systems in schooling are enormous and raise significant questions about the role of teachers, learning content and assessment.

Learning With Expert Systems

Imagine students being given the task of recognizing patterns on science laboratory slides and making correct classifications. By combining expert and pedagogic models we are able to exploit AI to “mash” both domain specific and more general learning principles into a rich learning experience. When classifying the slides, students will be not just presented with a “right or wrong” response, but their behavior will be refined through “machine understanding” of why the student is making their decisions. AI differs from more conventional computing approaches by being able to generate and handle both “feed-forward” and “feed-back”.

Intelligent Tutors

Taking this a step further are Intelligent Tutors. These record their interactions with students to better understand how to teach them. Computer tutors are capable of recording both longitudinal data, as well as data at a fine-time scale, such as mouse clicks and response time data. Using these interactions as a source of data to be mined provides a new view into understanding student learning processes.

Games and Simulations

Currently, the area in which AI is applied the most is Computer Games – and by a large margin. The use of scenario-based simulations and serious games for training has been well-accepted in many domains. Simulations require active processing and provide intrinsic feedback in an environment in which it is safe to make mistakes. Artificial ecosystems – like the one shown below – have proved popular and have their uses in schooling.

An interesting learning mechanism used in game based learning that is potentially usable in other contexts is “Transfer Learning” – which can help improve the speed and quality of learning. The idea is to use knowledge from previous experiences to improve the process of solving a new problem.

Two key AI methods underpin this approach –

  • Case-Based Reasoning (CBR) – a set of techniques for solving new problems from related solutions that were previously successful.
  • Reinforcement Learning (RL) – set of algorithms for solving problems using positive or negative feedback from the environment.

Reinforcement Learning can be delivered through the following mechanism –

  1. A central database with a collection of rules, mapping all possible actions and relative values.
  2. A learning component that takes feedback from the environment, and updates the utility value of each action. This is done using a reinforcement learning policy which estimates if there were any improvements since the last step.
  3. A planner then takes these rules, and computes a plan of action randomly based on the utility of the actions.

To anyone who has explored managed learning, this should sound quite familiar.

Two interesting models for understanding human learning in AI and Games context have come out of Microsoft Research:

This model classifies different types of learning in the context of games environments, but has transferability to broader understandings of the interface between computing and learning:

This model helps visualize the relative ease with which a game player can learn, depending on the granularity of detail presented to them:

  • Too coarse: cannot learn a good policy
  • Too fine: impossible to learn from little experience
  • Just right: learn a good policy from little experience

Personalized learning

Ramona Pierson, Chief Scientific Officer for Promethean, talks about ‘mashable’ digital content with embedded assessments tightly coupled to the curriculum, and learning progressions made ‘dynamic’ by AI. This can adjust learning progressions continually for each student, presenting cross-curriculum content and learning strategies based on a dynamic learning process.

“Imagine how powerful it would be for a student to have a customised textbook, sequencing of lessons, and embedded assessments that dynamically changed to ensure that he/she masters the material in the way that makes sense, and would result in obtaining nationally set benchmarks and learning outcomes”. (Mass Customisation And Personalisation Of Learning, Education Technology Solutions).

Nick Fekos, a former AI programmer in the financial sector and now at Athens College, agrees and is formulating plans for an intelligent object oriented knowledgebase that ‘learns’ from ‘experience’ and adjusts accordingly. The system Nick has in mind will implement dynamic, self-organizing and differentiated learning paths. The more the learning algorithm is used, the better it will get – perhaps something that can be said for the more general application of AI to schooling itself.

So How Do I Build an AI System?

Firstly, there is plenty of opportunities for getting students developing AI systems.

Besides Logo, its worth looking into Kodu – a  visual programming language made specifically to enable children to create games.

Also check out Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio which helps make it easy to develop robot applications. The current version (4), which is in Beta, provides extensive support for the Kinect sensor hardware allowing developers to create Kinect-enabled robots in both a ‘Visual Simulation Environment’ and real-life.Integrating AI into other learning workloads is an altogether more complex task.

For anyone wanting to understanding the mechanics of programming an AI system, this excellent article shows how to programme a neural network in C#.

For a more comprehensive desicription, including important architectural principles, check out this paper from University of Southern California which explains how to build a simulation to teach soft skills such as negotiation and cultural awareness.

For a comprehensive coverage of the field of AI in Education, look at the proceedings from Artificial Intelligence in Education, 15th International Conference, AIED 2011, Auckland, New Zealand, June 28 – July 2011.

For a comprehensive coverage of the field of Intelligent Tutoring, look at the proceedings from the 10th International Conference on Intelligent Tutoring Systems, ITS 2010, Pittsburgh, PA, USA, June 14-18, 2010

School Technology Innovation Centre, Brussels

For the next few months I’m delighted to be able to be based out of the School Technology Innovation Centre (STIC) in Brussels. For anyone with a passion for Education Technology this is simply Nirvana!

If you can get to Brussels, put a visit to the STIC at the top of your agenda.

So what is the Brussels STIC? First of all, it’s an education area in the Microsoft Executive Briefing Centre (EBC) in Brussels – an environment dedicated to showing the full spectrum of Microsoft technologies in real-world contexts. The EBC contains a home environment with the latest in 3d television technology, full spectrum of entertainment, electronic music, and home control software. On another floor is a HP Private Cloud datacentre connected directly to the Microsoft Public Cloud in Dublin – complete with a spectrum of demos set up to show what can be achieved with Cloud computing. A large telepresence enables an “in the same room” experience with locations all over the world.

The STIC itself comprises two learning spaces packed with the latest cutting edge education technology. The STIC is run by Jacques Denies, a highly knowledgeable former teacher who is able to demonstrate a wide spectrum of applying technologies to learning scenarios.

Visitors come to the STIC from all over the world. Most visitors are senior decsion makers – for example, within a two week period the entire leadership team of the Thailand Ministry of Education and a delegation including ministers of Education from 14 African states have visited the STIC for workshops.

Finnish Minister of Education, Ms. Henna Virkkunen
European Educators Forum with EU Commissioner Fiegel and ‘DigiGirlz’

The types of activities that are hosted at the STIC range from 3 day workshops to 3 hour briefings/creative brainstorms, to competitions and award ceremonies. World class conferencing facilities and a huge range of equipment make just about any kind of workshop possible to run there.

Conferencing and workshop facilities

The technologies on display at the STIC are far too numerous to list fully here, but a sample include:

The latest in IWB and creative furniture solutions

IWB and creative furniture solutions

Classroom On Wheels

COW

Communication and Collaboration

Roundtable

Assistive Technologies

Assistive Technologies

To book a visit to the STIC, contact Mike Lloyd mike@edutechassociates.net

Specific technologies on display include:

MultiPoint Server + hub (HP & NComputing)

Full spectrum of creativity and productivity desktop applications including Office 365

Windows Phone solutions

SharePoint based e-Learning environment

Assistive technologies on display include:

Ease of Access Center; ZoomIT; Kurzweil; Super Nova; Reporter; Tobii

Mouse alternatives; Specialised keyboards with trigger buttons

Partners include:

Samsung (MyPC, printers, displays)

SMART Technologies (Interactive Whiteboards – tablet)

Sanako (Classroom Management – IT-Lab)

ELearningforce Sharepoint LMS – managed learning

Neo (Mobile Class – Presenter)

OnWijs (Multi-touch applications)

ICTwijs (Assistive Technology)

Sensotec (Assistive Technology)

Putting the “i” into Singapore Schooling

With top rankings in PISA and TIMMS, Singapore is the envy of many schooling systems around the world. Whilst ICT is just one of a range of factors that affect learning outcomes, it is a key tool for meeting at least two of the four key desired outcomes of the Singapore schooling system – for all students to become self-directed and collaborative learners.

Singapore was one of the first countries in the world to have a national strategy for ICT in Schools. A succession of well-planned, funded and executed programmes focussing initially on infrastructure and training, and more recently focussing on self-directed learning – has driven effective use of ICT. For details of Singapore’s main ICT projects, see http://wp.me/P16Iyp-46

A great showcase for the effectiveness of this investment is Crescent Girls’ School, a member of the “Future School” programme, and recently awarded the status of Mentor School by Microsoft. Crescent also hosted the CRADLE conference on 1st – 3rd August.

On the surface, Crescent could be any other Secondary School, but a quick glance at the trophy cabinet next to the reception makes it clear that this school is totally committed to high performance. Crescent’s aim is to be at the forefront of harnessing technology to enhance learning outcomes. ICT is used extensively in both delivery and assessment and the school’s 1300 students each have their own Tablet PC. The goal of using ICT is to give students a degree of choice over what they learn and how they learn.

The students engage in a wide range of activities including 2D, 3D animation and robotics; multimedia production; photo-shooting and editing; and development and use of e-books. Particularly impressive is the use of Tablet PCs’ “inking” features for a range of activities including highly impressive manga artwork.

Crescent is moving towards project based learning with a series of “Integrated Secondary Curricula” programmes.

Virtual Reality is used at the school too. For example, in Geography, students experience immersive content showing erosion in a river – a concept that is much easier to grasp when viewing 3d animated rocks being swept along by the current from the perspective of the river bed.

Particularly impressive at Crescent is the way that teachers engage in the content creation process. For example, a complete suite of applications and content have been developed for the Tablet PC that not only exploits the pen and inking technologies but also address a range of different learning styles.

Taking this process further, teachers specified collaborative games to take advantage of the MultiTouch features in Windows 7 and HueLabs’ “Heumi” multitouch (Surface) devices. This means that students can now engage in a wide range of collaborative learning experiences, such as learning to write Chinese. As impressive as the technology itself is the way in which the room in which the Heumi devices are deployed. Here, in the “iCove”, strong colour coding of the devices and the seating, enable teachers to group learners according to their learning objectives.

More recently the school has introduced a biometric system that not only automatically records the students as present but takes their temperatures as they come into the school in the morning, enabling their health to be monitored.

The infrastructure that sits behind Crescent’s ICT provision is highly impressive. The infrastructure foundation is a Campus-wide wireless network with 100 Mbps Broadband. Tablet PCs are stored in steel lockers, and batteries are charged at charging stations.

Approximately 30 on-premises servers perform a range of essential back-end functions from authentication to content management. The Server infrastructure – based on a Microsoft platform – supports a rich tapestry of capabilities including:

  • i-Connect Learning Space – a role based portal for organising student’s learning and activities
  • Pearson’s Write to Learn – a system that helps “automate” the marking of essays
  • HeuX – Huelabs Classroom Management System – with lesson management, digital book library, real-time Communication and Collaboration include notes-sharing and social media; screen monitoring and broadcasting; Presence awareness; attendance; Video Conferencing
  • i-Media – content management system.
  • Interactive books

These solutions are supported by Windows Server; SQL Server; Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server; System Center; Live Communications Manager; Hyper-V and Live@Edu. Much of the learning that takes place at Crescent happens after school hours, and the Virtual Private Network enables students to have 24×7 access. It’s not uncommon to see the portal being used by students at home at 2.00AM.

Singapore schools benefit from very high quality teachers (only 10% of applicants get admitted into teacher training). This is reflected in the staff at Crescent. Principal, Mrs Eugenia Lim, supported by Chief Technology Architect for Learning, Mr Lee Boon Keng, have a highly structured and team orientated approach, underpinned by a strong focus on continuous professional development.

Every hour, the chimes of Big Ben ring across the school signifying a change of lesson. As with Cornwallis School in Kent in the UK, I was totally inspired by what I saw at Crescent but couldn’t help wondering whether a shift from time-based to a performance-based model would better fit such a technology rich approach to learning. Nonetheless, Crescent’s use of ICT is without doubt world leading.

Whilst Crescent Girls’ School is clearly a leader amongst leaders, it’s far from unique in Singapore in the way in which it innovates with technology. Singapore schools benefit from long term, consistent policy and investment in ICT in schooling. With their structured approaches, strong management and deep understanding of how ICT can make learning more effective, Singapore schools look set to continue to show the world how it’s done.

Fortunately for us all, Crescent Girls’ School are “giving back” by encouraging people to visit the school – both physically and virtually.

Thanks to Eugenia Lim, Lee Boon Keng and all the staff and students at Crescent Girl’s School.

What’s on the Horizon?

The 2011 NMC Horizon Report on IT in Higher Education has interesting implications for schooling systems.

The report, produced by New Media Consortium in partnership with EDUCAUSE, focuses on how new technologies are impacting, and likely to impact, on teaching, learning, and creative inquiry in Higher Education. Whilst Higher Education and Schooling have quite different needs, many of the trends picked up in the report are already being seen in schooling, as evidenced at BETT earlier this year.

By far the most interesting aspect of the report is the people dimension – how new technologies are affecting teaching & learning, and operations. Easy access to an abundance of resources and relationships via the internet is changing the roles of both students and teachers. Students now expect anytime anywhere learning. As noted in these Skills and Problem Based Learning articles, ease of collaboration over the internet and the need for digital literacy skills are redefining the process of learning.

Not surprisingly, Cloud is identified as a major trend, along with decentralized IT support. This fits with a broader trend of the consumerisation of IT and IT services. New authoring methods – eBooks, blogs, wikis, online presentations etc – are challenging traditional methods of classifying and evaluating scholarly writing. The proliferation of user created content is a “double-edged sword”. On the one hand there is no shortage of easy to access information, ideas and perspectives. This in turn leads to a greater than ever need for tools that enable end users to find, sift and sort information.

 The report categorises six technologies into three adoption timeframes:

  • One year or less: Electronic Books and Mobiles
  • Two to three years: Augmented Reality and Games-based Learning
  • Four to five years: Gesture-based Computing and Learning Analytics

ELECTRONIC BOOKS

Strong interest and high availability are seeing electronic books proliferate in both consumer and Higher Education areas. There is little evidence of significant uptake yet in the schools sector but with a wave of slate devices rushing towards classrooms across the world, I have no doubt that e-Books will proliferate in schools. Amongst the many e-book formats that have recently emerged, Blio, stands out as being particularly exciting. For ease of publishing Kindle is terrific and expect to soon see a new marketplace – Kindle Singles – for papers between 10,000 to 30,000 words.

What’s interesting about formats such as Blio is that it goes beyond the mere digital reproduction of printed books and supports note-taking and links. But what makes ebooks a potentially transformative technology is that they make an altogether new kind of reading experience possible – ‘social reading’. The possibility of sharing the reading journey with others through collaboration tools, tactile interactions and immersive experiences will greatly expand the notion of what reading – and writing – actually is.

MOBILES

Internet capable mobile devices will outnumber computers within the next year, and they are increasingly users’ first choice for Internet access. In Higher Education there is resistance to the use of mobile phones in the classroom, but a growing number of institutions are taking advantage of the fact that nearly all students and staff are rarely without these small but powerful computing devices – and the institution doesn’t need to pay for, manage or maintain them! Attitudes towards mobile phones are changing, and one university college recently incorporated the use of mobile phones in a performance of Othello so the audience could use them to receive messages to clarify Shakespearean language and interact with the performers.

The rate at which new mobile applications are being built continues to accelerate. Functions that were once packaged and delivered through a web browser are now being repackaged as mobile applications – for example, I can easily edit and manage this blog via the WordPress application for Windows Phone 7.

As a tool for learning, there are the obvious limitations of screen size, but mobile phones in education can be used for digital capture, polling responses to quizzes, eBook reading, annotation, location and positioning, and social media (e.g. Twitter). Expect to see mobiles increasingly used in the learning process.

AUGMENTED REALITY

In essence, augmented reality layers digital information over a view of the real world – e.g. head-mounted displays used by fighter pilots. The use of AR is growing quickly in learning environments – especially museums. For example, London’s Natural History Museum is using AR in a recent exhibition called Who Do You Think You Really Are? Visitors are given handheld screens featuring an interactive video that allows users to learn about the evolution of dinosaurs.

There are two key ways in which AR works. One method uses visual cues that are picked up by a camera on a computer or mobile device. Another method uses GPS and compass information about the device’s location to work out what objects are nearby. In both cases, this information is interpreted by software that then overlays relevant information onto the screen or display. In education, AR has great promise in the Sciences – e.g. simulated environmental disasters; or Geography – where cartographic information is tagged with information.

Taking this concept further still, developers at the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology in Korea have created a book format that allows goggle wearing users to see 3D characters emerge from the pages.

GAMES-BASED LEARNING

The greatest potential of games for learning is in their ability to nurture collaboration and problem-solving skills – two of the key attributes required in the modern workplace.

There are a huge range of games for education – from simple, single player games to massively multiplayer online and role-playing games. There’s currently a lot of development in collaborative digital games, which can give players the feeling of achieving success by solving problems through collaborating with others. For example, World Without Oil, is a collaborative imagining of the first months of a global oil crisis. Other examples BETT Award winner Global Conflicts designed to help teach concepts in citizenship, geography, and media; and Mass Extinction which is about climate change.

Gaming is a natural way to get many students engaged. The trick is to embed high quality and effective learning experiences into engaging and fun games.

GESTURE-BASED COMPUTING

Mobile phones, tablet, multitouch and gaming devices are introducing users to gesture based computing. Its widespread use in education is several years away yet but its significance for cannot be underestimated. Earlier this year in this blog we covered a trial of the use of Kinect – which responds to body motions – in a school in South Africa, and this new video explains this further. Also, the multi-touch Surface devices from Microsoft all react to pressure, motion, and the number of fingers used in touching the devices.   

The technologies for gesture-based input also continue to expand. Evoluce has created a touch-screen display that responds to gestures to control Windows 7 through the Kinect.

As the technologies develop, new scenarios open up – imagine, for example, enabling students to determine or change the DNA of an animal by piecing it together by hand or practice procedures that require a high degree of dexterity.

LEARNING ANALYTICS

The promise of learning analytics is to tailor learning experiences to the precise needs of students – something that is very difficult to do in today’s ‘factory schools’. High quality data and analytic tools can enable intelligent interventions. For example, above or below expected learning performance; absence; social and health factors; and detailed understanding of specific needs such as reading age or learning style are all potential triggers for interventions. By coupling this with automated workflows in CRM (SRM), learning analytics can support immediate alterations to individual or group learning in ways that would be hard to achieve using current methods.

Learning analytics can go much further than this too, aggregating data from a range of sources to create detailed profiles of students, enables teachers and administrators to make data driven decisions at micro and macro levels. Ultimately learning analytics can be used to guide investment decisions at Ministry of Education or university level. Learning analytics could also be used by students themselves in order to better understand their learning.

The challenges of combining data from disparate sources, often in different formats, used to be a blocker for the use of learning analytics. However this can now be addressed relatively easily with integration technologies. There are of course concerns about student privacy and profiling, as well as the sense that students are being reduced to information and numbers. However, progressive organisations accept that the benefits of learning analytics greatly outweigh these concerns.  

There are a range of tools and resources available for learning analytics in a schooling environment –

Further information:

Thanks to New Media Consortium and EDUCAUSE

Kinecting with young learners in South Africa

Games based learning has always offered a lot of opportunity, but Kinect is clearly accelerating innovation in this area. Kinect is a console adapter for Xbox 360 – it has a dual camera system that enables users to control software through their gestures.  It’s an immersive experience, and learners can use their whole body– arms, legs, hands, and feet – to interact with software, and devices such as interactive whiteboards.    

There are signs that Kinect can be used to make classroom based learning more effective. For example, in Lakeside Elementary school in Vryheid, KwaZulu Natal in South Africa, Kinnect has been used to improve literacy and numeracty.

Kinnect was put into 6 classrooms and a curriculum was developed to exploit the technology. Lesson content included:

  • A bowling game was used for numeracy – children counted how many pins were knocked down and how many were left
  • The creation of avatars to teach life-skills
  • Students used Kinnect to conduct quizzes on eye and hair color
  • Students developed their kinesthetic intelligences through a dance game
  • Kinectimals was used to develop sentence construction and punctuation skills

For the teachers, the key benefit is that levels of interaction have sharply increased. For one 9 year old with severe hearing difficulties, scoring the highest in “Dance Central” meant a significant boost in confidence.

We can expect to see much more innovation based on Kinect, and a powerful illustration of how Kinect can be used to make learning more effective can be seen here:

To see how else the Kinectimals game cen be used in the classroom, click here.–

Thanks to Reza Bardien, Ashley Sanichar, Angela Schaerer, Victor Ngobeni, Nyaladzi Mpofu and Larry Venter