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.

Assess. Analyse. Intervene.

This white paper – Assess. Analyse. Intervene. From E-Assessment to Personalised Learning – was written to help Ministries of Education, Local Education Authorities and prospective suppliers understand how to build on E-Assessment and E-Examination to create personalised learning experiences. Taking the three key building blocks of Assessment, Analytics and Intervention, the paper defines a Personalised Learning Platform and its interfaces within a broader schooling ecosystem – the Schooling Enterprise Architecture.

The central proposition to this paper is that using data generated by the growing use of E-Examination and E-Assessment process offers significant value for increasing the effectiveness of the schooling systems.

Schooling system needs to constantly innovate and evolve.  This paper sets out a vision for how schooling leaders can make learning even more effective by personalising the learning experience for all school students – without introducing unmanageable complexities.

The implementation of the key recommendations of this paper should deliver the following benefits:

  1. Effective learning – Intervention is about developing virtuous cycles of learning, tailored to individual needs
  2. Deep insights – using deep analytics, new and unpredicted patterns can be found that can help inform decision makers about where to focus investments
  3. Timely intervention – whilst E-Assessment takes essential “rear view mirror” snapshots of learning performance, predictive analytics can be used to constantly steer students in the right direction, maximizing the chances of doing well in assessment and examinations

Three interdependent processes combine to deliver a personalized learning experience:

  • Assess
  • Analyse
  • Intervene
Figure 1. The three main components of a Personalised Learning Platform

Ongoing assessment from a range of sources is used to gather data about how individuals and groups of students are learning. This data is analyzed to help target students with tailored learning, and to make decisions that lead to increased effectiveness. Using data, interventions can be set up do deal with issues such as reducing drop-out rates; selecting the most effective ways of improving reading and mathematics; and dealing with risks before they become a problem. Ultimately interventions can be tailored for individuals and groups of students.

Each of these processes are interconnected in multiple ways –

Figure 2. Logical connections between functions

The white paper explores these processes and how they integrate and can be implemented.

Download the white paper here: Assess. Analyse. Intervene. From E-Assessment to Personalised Learning

Thanks to Quoc Bui; Horng Shya Chua; Puay San Ng and Edgar Ferrer Gil.

Invitation – Schooling Solutions Community

Thanks to the 80 people from 25 countries that took time out from the BETT Show to spend a morning with us at the Schooling Solutions Workshop.

As Roberta Bento from Planeta Educação said – “its amazing how so many of our problems and opportunties are the same”.

Key themes that emerged from the workshop included:

  • Deployment
  • ROI and effectiveness
  • Elearning and Content
  • ITL Research
  • HTML 5
  • Cloud (Live@edu; Azure; InTune)
  • Security

I’d like to thank Bruce Dixon, Sarah Armstrong, Edgar Ferrer Gil, Fotis Draganidis, Dan Baelum, Kirsten Panton, Walid Mohamed, Thomas Hauser and Dolores Puxbuamer for delivering the event.

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!

Schooling Solutions Workshop, London, January 12, 2012

If you are in London on the 12th January for BETT, come and join us at our  Schooling Solutions Workshop.

Key questions that the workshop will address include:

  • How can standards be raised whilst reducing costs?
  • How can you take advantage of trends such as personalization, BYOD, Cloud and virtualization?
  • What approaches can you take to simplify and improve ICT services?

This workshop will bring you up to speed with the latest worldwide trends in education technology and give you practical methods and approaches that you can use immediately. It will be a mix of formal presentation and round-table discussion with world-class experts and leaders in their fields.

Designed to help decision makers plan more effective, efficient and inspiring systems, the workshop will provide an understanding of the Microsoft technology roadmap, solutions for access, connected communities and analytics, and offer the opportunity to work in groups with experts.

Agenda

Time Session
09.00 Solutions for Schooling
10.00 E-Learning
10.30 Institutional Effectiveness and Efficiency
Round-table – project planning sessions
11.00 Access
Managing large scale access programs
Learning
Using ICT to increase learning outcomes
OperationsUsing data to improve decision making
12.30 Reflection & Networking Lunch
  • Date: Thursday, 12th January, 2012
  • Time: 09:00 – 13:00 followed by lunch
  • Location: Microsoft Offices, Cardinal Place, 100 Victoria Street, London, SW1E 5JL

Confirmed speakers/facilitators include Mike Lloyd, Sarah Armstrong, Matthew Fox, Edgar Ferrer Gil, Fotis Draganidis, and Thomas Hauser .

To book your place, contact your local Microsoft Education representative, message me on Facebook, or drop me an email

Austria – e-Learning and Innovation Conferences

Thanks to my colleagues in Austria for inviting me to give the keynotes at the “Elearning Conference” in Eisenstadt and the “Microsoft Innovation & Education Conference 2011” in Vienna.

In all, around 350 senior Ministry of Education, Local Authority and teachers attended these events to learn about effectiveness, collaborative learning and the “new world of work”.

My presentation covered the following topics:

  • How can ICT accelerate the learning process?
  • How can ICT be used to drive operational efficiency?
  • How can ICT help drive transformation?

The slides can be downloaded here – Schooling at the Speed of Thought Austria, November 2011

Each of the participants at the Vienna event got a copy of “Schooling at the Speed of Thought“.

Thanks to Yuri Goldfuß; Andreas Exner; Daniela Denk; Mirjam Blechner; Thomas Hauser; Ulrike Lanner; Sven Reinhardt; and Dolores Puxbaumer for an excellent reception and well organised agenda.

BYOD / BYOC?

The question of “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) is dividing opinion across the world of Ed Tech – and increasing scrutiny over how schooling budgets are spent is fuelling the debate. In essence, BYOD is about letting students bring their own devices – from mobile phones to full blown laptop PCs – into school as part of formal learning. Regardless of whether this approach is right or wrong, increasing numbers of schools – particularly in the United States – are adopting this approach.

In the US, BYOD is often seen as a strategy for schools to do more with less. EdWeek reported that one US State paid $56k in repairs for the computers they lease for $175k annually, so it’s easy to see how BYOD can seem an obvious approach for some. However, shifting the ownership of devices has many complex implications for how schooling systems operate. BYOD has complex and hidden costs which need to be considered carefully.

This article sets out the arguments for and against BYOD, highlights key considerations and proposes some potential ways forward.

What is BYOD?

In adopting BYOD, schooling is following a broader trend in the world of business. Monica Basso, Research VP at Gartner, predicts that by 2014 “90% of organizations will support corporate applications on personal devices.” At companies like Kraft Foods, rather than providing some employees with a standard laptop configuration, money is offered to let staff go out and get what they want.

Delloite observes that “most [business] users strongly believe they should be allowed to install any mobile application, visit any mobile website, and store any personal data they want on their personal device regardless of who paid for it”.

According to Forbes, reported on Yahoo, the adoption of technologies in the enterprise is increasingly being driven by consumer preference, not corporate initiative. “Many organizations are considering allowing personally-owned mobile devices to access business applications in order to drive employee satisfaction and productivity, while reducing their mobile expenses”.

In schooling, BYOD has different goal – it’s about enabling students and teachers to bring their own devices into school to support formal learning and productivity.

Why Should BYOD Be Considered?

From just a utility perspective, BYOD makes perfect sense. Why have a computer gather dust in the student’s bedroom while they are in school, and why have a school computer gathering dust in the 85% of time that students are not in school? Consolidating two resources into one has great potential for cost savings. Where the number of computers in a school is low, BYOD can be a quick way to boost access levels.

BYOD saves the school having to buy all the children a device, allowing school funds to be focused on providing access to the less well-off pupils.

Cary Harrod writing on the AALF blog –

“We launched our BYOL program this past January with our 7th graders. It was an overwhelming success in several key ways:

Out of 559 7th graders, we had 353 students bring in their own laptop, netbook or tablet pc. Add that to the 160 district owned devices and it’s easy to see that one of our major goals was met…to increase access to technology for ALL 7th graders… we successfully increased access to students who were unable/unwilling to purchase their own device access to technology without the barrier of having to check out a cart of laptops”.

Carry’s school didn’t’ service the computers either. “It was made clear to the parents that they owned the device… it was no different to when I take my device to Starbucks; Starbucks does not assume responsibility for my device…I do”.

Carry’s school is teaching their students “how to select the best computer and the most appropriate tools for their individual needs” and “through intensive professional development “we were able to move our teachers towards a student-centered way”

Why not BYOD?

Not everyone supports the BYOD concept. In fact, many people do not. Jim Wynn, former Headteacher and now senior Director at Promethean doesn’t believe BYOD is a viable concept for the classroom yet.

Imagine the possibility of 25 students walking into a classroom with what could amount to 25 different devices – with a teacher who is afraid of computers! Imagine the kinds of things that teachers could potentially hear in a BYOD environment:

“Miss, how can I get my phone to see the Wi-Fi”

“Sir, my battery has run out”

“Sir, a big boy put my computer in the bin”

Even the most advanced adult technology users frequently suffer from common technical issues such as getting Bluetooth devices to connect, so letting students loose across a range of technologies during classes is a recipie for potential chaos.

There are other factors to consider too:

  • The most commonly owned mobile device is mobile phones. Not everyone has got a phone that is powerful enough to enable high quality research, homework, coursework, revision, etc
  • Variation in the different types of student-owned devices, from Blackberries to i-Pads to Laptops, may make it hard for teachers to run lessons where they may want all the students to undertake the same tasks
  • Health & safety liability and requirement for all devices to be tested for suitability for use in a schooling environment

Gary Stager writing in AALF news asks “BYOD – Worst Idea of the 21st Century?” and says that BOYD:

  • Enshrines inequity
  • Narrows the learning process to information access and chat
  • Increases teacher anxiety
  • Diminishes the otherwise enormous potential of educational computing to the weakest “device” in the room
  • Contributes to the growing narrative that education is not worthy of investment

“Of course teachers should welcome any object, device, book or idea a student brings to class that contributes to the learning process. However, BYOD is bad policy that constrains student creativity, limits learning opportunities and will lead to less support for public education in the future”.

Towards BYOC

Gary Stager, asks “when was the last time you walked into a computer store and said, “I’d like to buy a device please?” Nobody does that. You buy a computer….. BYOD simplistically creates false equivalencies between any object that happens to use electricity… Repeat after me! Cell phones are not computers! They may both contain microprocessors and batteries, but as of today, their functionality is quite different”.

“Kids need a personal computer capable of doing anything you imagine they should be able to do, plus leave plenty of room for growth and childlike ingenuity”.

Whilst Cloud computing and HTML 5 will make the type of computer that you are using less important in the longer run, let’s be clear – effective learning with and through technology requires that students have computers. Ultimately, we want students to produce content – not just consume it – and develop their own learning experiences.

Ideally, every student should have their own computer for use both in and out of school. There will be many places where this just isn’t practical for all students, so in these cases there should be an appropriate progression towards increasingly available and increasingly powerful computing, so by the time a student leaves school, they are fully IT literate and ready to enter the university or the jobs market with a computer that they know how to use, and with a portfolio of high quality materials, applications and resources – online and on their hard-drive.

“Hybrid BYOC”

Clearly, BYOD or even BYOC as a blanket approach in any schooling system is going to be problematic.

Bruce Dixon again – “We are most likely going to see a gradual shift of the responsibility for the provision of a personal portable computer for our students from schools to families, as costs come down further, and computers are commoditized even more. But it will take time for the most effective funding, implementation and management models to be developed, and I expect they will, for the most part, be blended models”.

According to the e-learning Foundation, “In some areas all the pupils might have a suitable device they can bring in, so there’s no stigma attached to those who don’t have their own”.

There’s a crucial point here – BYOC may work in some areas – particularly where consumer technology usage amongst students is high and consistent. In other areas BYOC may not work at all because of a lack of appropriate devices in the hands of students.

There is no need to think of BYOC as a “blanket” approach at single school level either. E.g. at West Hatch School, London, just those students between 16 and 18 years old who have elected to stay at school for an extra two years can bring their own computers to school and access school resources.

Practical Considerations

Whether BYOC is the right approach or not, there is an increasing number of schooling systems under extreme budget pressures so there’s a practical reality that has to be addressed right now.

For those schools wishing to consider BYOC, an understanding of complex issues such as trust and liability is essential.

Trust

Which users do I trust with which data and applications and under what circumstances? Every organization should have its data classified in terms of who has access to it. However, BYOC adds another layer of complexity to the trust models because BYOC computers are not locked down as tightly as school owned computers, so can easily fall in and out of compliance.

Acceptable Use Policies will vary, and user expectations will differ. On school owned devices, users may accept not being able to use social networking apps, but that type of policy is unacceptable for personal devices.

West Hatch gets around this problem for student-owned devices, to an extent at least, by using a role based portal. Alan Richards – “the only reason this [BYOC] works is the fact that all resource are available through SharePoint, so as well as shared documents they can access their email, home drives, media etc”.

Liability

Whilst schools should have risk assessments covering actions such as unsecured use of organizational data to accessing inappropriate applications or websites, BYOC introduces new complexities:

  • Different protections may be required on different devices, depending on type of device and the OS that they run on.
  • A teacher or student who brings in their own device may have the expectation that they can use it however they wish. Is inappropriate use still a liability for the school, even if it doesn’t affect its data?
  • How is liability affected when computers are partly funded by the school?
  • There is a risk – albeit a small risk perhaps – of the school accessing and damaging personal data (for example, if IT inadvertently wipes a user’s personal data or applications)

On teacher-owned computers, at least, both the trust and liability issues can be addressed in part by if end-point data encryption implemented.

Regardless of how robust and secure the IT system, every school wanting to implement BYOC should seek their own legal advice on how to frame and assess liability between BYOC and more traditional access programs.

Equity And Finance

A key risk of BYOC is increasing the digital divide, so a BYOC program would need to be combined with effective initiatives to acquire or upgrade ICT, for those students that need this, including subsidized models.

Bruce Dixon, Founder of AALF, has given advice on 1:1 access programmes for nearly 15 years – “one of the benefits from an effective 1:1 program would be to provide 24/7 access, and there is a reasonable expectation that parents should make some contribution for the 80% of the time their son or daughter could now use a laptop for personal use outside school. However, I’m not sure why we can now suddenly expect parents to pick up 100% of the cost.”

According to the “e-learning Foundation” – a trust supporting the 1:1 access initiatives in the UK -“schools will need to provide all students who cannot bring their own device into school with something suitable, otherwise the school will create a digital divide, favouring wealthier pupils”.

Beware Of Potential Unintended Consequences

Transferring the burden of purchase to the students’ parents can be a “double-edged sword”. For example, organisations in consortia have purchasing power that can potentially drive costs down when ordering large volumes of IT goods and services. Passing on the cost of PC ownership to the student reduces the volume of IT purchased by the institution and therefore reduces negotiating power. When purchasing occurs on a large enough scale, a widespread BYOC policy could potentially drive up the net cost of providing computers to those who the schooling system will still need to provide a computer to.

There could be other unintended consequences too. As Microsoft’s Edgar Ferrer Gil points out, if a school depends heavily on Flash based learning content, then a whole subset of devices will not be able to utilize those resources, so a BYOC policy in isolation could reduce the value of investments in devices, IT resources and content.

There’s a cost too in supporting different technologies. For example, in the world of business the widespread adoption of RIM Blackberry’s required an expensive Blackberry server.

Consistency

If several students have different types of software, then it will mean that teachers need to adjust to that. For instance, a teacher won’t simply be able to set up a lesson where the students collaborate using a single application or service. Imagine the scenario when an LMS won’t accept certain file formats leaving students to figure out how to turn in their assignments if its not in the correct file format.

If a BYOD or BYOC implementation allows any device to be brought in, then the organization can expect to see old, second-hand and possibly even stolen devices – which pose legal, and security risks from viruses or malware.

Edgar Ferrer Gil again – “Schools need to think carefully what BYOC means to them. There are things that are going to run fantastically well on the right kind of device – eg standards-based cloud services, internet connectivity, file sharing and in some cases virtualized desktops. But today, I think that the ROI of a fully-open BYOC policy will be extremely poor”.

IT System Architecture

BYOC can quickly lead to 1:1 access ratios, and this has significant implications for infrastructure and IT services –

Physical Environment

Cleary, having appropriate furniture, benching, electrical sockets for charging and extensive wireless access points, is a key first step. It’s also important to provide secure lockers for storage of computers when not in use.

Network

As device choice becomes fluid, confirming identity of user and device, usually through the use of certificates, becomes more important.

Proxy servers are required to present login requests to users when using their own computers in the same way as you would filter usage for students using a school-owned computer.

At West Hatch, all routes for external traffic from the school’s data switches point to a Smoothwall box which deals with proxying. Computers that are on the school domain point to the same box but to a specific port. Computers that students bring into the school don’t point to a port and are captured by Smoothwall, which presents the user with an SSL login page asking for their domain credentials. This gives the same kind of user experience as you would get when using an Internet connection in a hotel or public space. At West Hatch, this approach works across any device or OS.

Optimised Core Infrastructure

Managing the extra workloads that a BYOC program would place on a school’s IT infrastructure requires that the infrastructure is optimized – ie made more robust and secure. Infrastructure Optimisation is a program that should be applied to the school IT infrastructure if BYOC is being implemented.

Key elements covered in Core Infrastructure optimization include:

  • Client Services
    • Management
    • Security
  • Identity & Security Management
  • IT Process & Compliance

Another key technical consideration is support. Whilst, as already discussed, some schools are passing-off technical support to parents, the danger with this approach is inequity – some students will have to wait longer than others for their computers to be up and running. On the other hand, it’s completely unreasonable to expect schools to be able to support just about any device on the market.

The only realistic way around this is to have a BYOC policy that narrows the range of computers accepted in the school environment to reflect capacity of local support services – both inside and beyond the school. In other words, if neither the school nor local computer repair shop can support a particular Operating System or computer, it’s best not to include these in the BYOC policy.

Remote Desktop Services (RDS, formerly Terminal Services)

Working with mixed computers in a classroom can be made a lot easier if schools were able to “push” desktops to those computers. In other words, regardless of computer type or its Operating System, the student would get a desktop provided by the school. Such a desktop could contain a full range of applications and resources needed to cover the curriculum. As the desktops would be delivered from a Server, the only requirement on the device would be a browser and possibly a small client application.

The first and easiest way to do this is through Presentation Virtualization, which was covered in detail in the “From Virtualization to Private Cloud” article. A relatively straightforward way to deliver Presentation Virtualization is Windows Remote Desktop Services (RDS).

RDS applications run in Virtual Sessions, each projecting a Windows user interface to a remote client computer. For non-Windows computers, a Citrix client application can be installed and this will allow the same user experience as with a Windows device. (There are also 3rd party RDP clients available for slates and phones). In a Remote Desktop Session, the device processes only screen refreshes sent from the server, and mouse clicks and keyboard strokes are being sent back to server. Whilst users will get a Windows interface, it won’t be a Windows 7 interface. Administrators should be careful not to assign administration rights to RDS users.

Virtual Desktop Interface

VDI offers a more sophisticated approach to remote desktops. From the client device perspective much is the same as with RDS, but there is added sophistication on the server which gives additional scope for flexibility.

With VDI, sessions are delivered through Virtual Machines run within a Hypervisor such as Hyper-V. Each virtual machine can contain a different Operating System and a different set of applications. This allows school to offer each student has their own specific desktop, subject/topic specific desktops. As each virtual machine (VM) runs in its own environment trust relationships are easier to manage. Each VM is a file enabling easy backup and portability. The entire desktop “estate” can be run through a management product such as System Center.

West Hatch School is evaluating VDI, looking at it eventually as a web-based resource for access beyond the school gates.

Classroom orchestration

Ideally, a teacher would not only be able to push out a common virtualized desktop, but orchestrate a class too. This means having control over the computers whilst they are in the classroom. For BYOC schemes that stipulate bringing in Windows devices, Multipoint server can be used to combine old and new school-owned computers with student owned computers in a single, orchestrated network.

Conclusion

The net is that BYOC is really not the silver bullet to widespread access that it appears on the surface. The argument that IT can’t be funded is a not a budget question – it’s a prioritization question! BYOC won’t come free – it will require investment, and as always, the most important question to ask with any IT investment is “what outcome do you want?”

Bruce Dixon, writing in the AALF blog, observes – “Seems the last thing anyone wants to ask is, ‘What will they want to do with it?’”

Full BYOC, partial or no BYOC at all, it makes no sense to decide on an approach without first being crystal clear about what results or impacts are wanted.

Once the intended learning and operational outcomes are clear, Schooling Enterprise Architecture offers a formal process for developing impactful learning solutions. Whether BYOC is an appropriate approach or not depends entirely whether it fits with higher level organizational goals, circumstances and capacity. BYOC, ultimately, should be part of the process of simplifying ICT, and if adopted at all, it should be very carefully thought through.

Thanks to:

Sven Reinhardt, Edgar Ferrer Gil, Dan MacFetridge, Erik Goldenberg, Bruce Dixon, Jim Wynn, and Alan Richards for contributions to this article; and to Brad Tipp/Howard Gold for graphics.

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

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.

CRADLE Conference, Singapore

On August 1st I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to deliver the Keynote at the CRADLE conference in Singapore.

The presentation contained a mix of material contained in “Schooling at the Speed of Thought” and some of the articles in this blog, especially the Transformation Phase article. Here’s the key points:

ABSTRACT

Introduction

Singapore was one of the first countries in the world to have a national strategy to roll out ICT to all schools. Key challenges addressed in this initiative are to:

  • Prepare students to meet the challenges of the 21st Century
  • Bring about improved learning and increased engagement through the use of ICT
  • Enable more self-directed learning

In summary, the challenge is to make schooling in Singapore even more effective through the use of ICT.

To address this, we need to ask three key questions:

1. How can software accelerate the learning process?

Computers in learning are increasingly being used as tools for creativity rather than as machines to deliver the curriculum. So, with a proliferation of new hardware and software developments, what new creative options are there for learning? How can software help to personalise the learning experience and open up completely new learning opportunities?

2. How can software be used to make better decisions?

How can schooling information and data be leveraged to get maximum impact from precious resources; what do we mean by “intelligent intervention” and why it is so important; how can we empower all stakeholders with information; and how do we drive alignment and performance towards strategic goals?

3. How can Cloud Computing be exploited to cheaply deliver massive-scale, high-quality learning solutions?

We don’t normally expect a school to generate its own electricity – but we have expected our education institutions to be experts at running their own “IT Power Stations”. How can Cloud Computing change this?

With the advent of Cloud Computing, also comes the realistic prospect of providing anytime anywhere learning for all. So how can massive, cheap, and highly available computing services be combined with a range of access technologies and high quality learning content to open up learning opportunities to all citizens of Singapore – and especially those who are in the greatest need of it?

Conclusion

With highly developed infrastructure, talent and innovation, Singapore is in a great position to exploit technology even further. The concluding part of this presentation asked what world-leading innovations and software solutions can be leveraged in Singapore and how we can architect “anytime anywhere learning for all?

For a copy of the presentation please go to: http://bit.ly/pRZUMJ

Thanks to my colleages in Singapore – Horng Shya Chua; Jason Trump; Gerald Tan; Puay San Ng; Eugenia Lim, Lee Boon Keng and the staff and students at Crescent Girls’ School. Thanks also to all those who attended the CRADLE event.