EduTech 2014

In June I had the opportunity to attend EduTech 2014 in Brisbane. Billed as the largest Educational Technology conference in Australia and boasting keynote speakers such as Sir ken Robinson and Sugata Mitra this was an opportunity I was looking forward to. Looking back now on the week I can confidently say it lived up to expectation. It presented a vision for a future in which education has a key role to play but a model of education unlike that we are used to. 

The common message was that schools need to change, to move towards the development of skills applicable to life long learning in an environment where creative problem solving is valued. Schools will best serve their students by moving away from content delivery and by embracing an understanding of the tools available to the learner in a connected world. The speakers outlined a confluence of factors that make the chalk and talk model of the past obsolete. The rapid expansion of connected technologies, changes to the global career market, population pressures and emerging industries present new challenges and schools will need radical transformation if they are to remain relevant.

Sugata Mitra started the week off and presented well-researched evidence for why the students of the near future will learn in an environment fundamentally different to the schools built to meet the needs of the industrial revolution. He spoke of the lessons learned from his ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiment in which students who were provided with access to the internet were able to meet learning goals considered impossible. This research led to the SOLE (Self Organised Learning Environment) model which is becoming popular across the world and is evolving into ‘The School in the Cloud”.  

Listening to Sugata describe his research process was entertaining and compelling. He described setting up an experiment designed to fail in which he provided a group of students who only spoke Tamil access to resources for the study of gene replication. He hoped that as this was a sufficiently complex topic and as the information was provided only in English the students were destined to fail. Disappointingly they did not. At the end of the experiment they were able to describe in their recently developed English how genes replicated. What was perhaps most surprising was that despite this feat of learning they began their response with “We have learned nothing, except  . . .’ where the ‘except’ was a beautifully coherent description of gene replication. From his research Sugata concluded that the power of the Internet is the learning it makes possible in an environment of collaboration. 

At the heart of this models success is collaboration. The students learned from each other, sharing knowledge, testing ideas, putting together the pieces of knowledge they gained and together drawing conclusions. This aspect of his research throws into question the trend towards 1:1 tech programmes. The forced sharing and collaboration that came from a scarcity of resources needs to be built into systems where each child has their own device.

Sugata also spoke about the role of the right type of feedback and encouragement in this model describing the ‘Role of the Grandmother’. The feedback or encouragement from the non-expert encourages the learner to continue to explore. To facilitate this he has employed a team of ‘grandmothers’ who listen to what the students are doing, provide non-specific positive feedback and thusly encourage the students to continue their exploration. This is so unlike the feedback commonly given to students where they are told whether they are right or wrong.

Lastly he spoke of learning as an edge of chaos phenomenon. Learning is described as what occurs when one is faced with the unknown and needs to move forward. For this chaos to exist though teachers need to give up a degree of control. We may like a completely ordered system where all is predictable; however, if we set up a predictable environment how do we know we have predicted everything. In chaos new outcomes become available, new learning can occur and discovery becomes possible.

His research challenges notions of a need to spoon feed content to students. Learning in a SOLE does not always have to be obvious. The best questions might be ‘I wonder ...’ and the trick is to not have an answer or to pick a topic with no answer. With this in place and with access to the right tools students are able to Self Organise their learning, to collaborate, to evaluate and explore directions not otherwise conceived. The possibility SOLE offers educators is a model for a learning environment where the core skills developed are exactly those students will require in a post industrial revolution age. 

Anthony Scalcito – Microsoft - Daily Edventures Blog

Next on the agenda was Anthony Scalcito of Microsoft. He spoke of the need for a Holistic Transformation of Learning. Building on from Sugata’s SOLE model he described how learning has fundamentally changed – ‘your students are learning without you’. In the internet age kids grow up surrounded by learning.

Anthony spoke of the 1:1 movement and how too often educators start with the wrong questions about how to use the device not what we want to achieve for the students. He outlined how his research and experience shows that the best innovations are when the learning environment changes. By putting discussions about dynamic exciting learning on the table and talking about how we set up environments for learning and not focusing on what gets taught or what device it gets taught on is essential.

A key advantage of technology enabled learning according to Anthony is the opportunity to deliver enhanced levels of differentiation. Schools can achieve an A-E grade in the same way for all and at the same pace OR aim for an A grade achieved by all at their pace and in their way. Having spent time recently researching ‘Universal Design for Learning’ this ideas of adapting the learning to the learner, instead of trying to adapt the learner to the learning or allowing some learners to achieve less because the system does not suit them makes sense. Technology allows this shift so all students move on to the next step when they are ready. 

Anthony shared some tools Microsoft is developing to enable this enhanced learning environment.

·       ‘Office Mix’ is a set of tools for creating online courses from the familiarity of the Office Suite of applications. Easy to use and to create content

·       Oslo. Bringing content to you in a manageable form with tools for collaboration. 

From his classroom experience he shared the story of an innovative use for Skype. Mystery Skype is a game played between schools on a global level where classrooms connect with each other and through a Question and Answer process try to guess where the other school is located. The students seemed very engaged with the process and learned a good deal about cultures as a result. 

He spoke of the ‘New Pedagogies for Deep Learning Project’ as a potential source of ideas. This project is definitely worth further exploration. 

Lastly he spoke of the need to move beyond Data to Actionable Information. For schools the amount of data we have access to is ever increasing. Anthony made the point that we now need to be able to act on that data in meaningful ways and that for this to happen it needs to presented in ways that are meaningful to the end user. When we move to Actionable Information about our students we are able to better plan for and meet their needs.

Student Voices – Brett Moller (Moderator) Faith Ty & Leio McLaren (Students)

This session was handed over to the students. First up Faith described how she had used Garage Band on her iPad to produce a piece of music selected for the Tripple J Radio programme ‘Uneathed’. In front of a large audience of educators this young lady re-produced her track demonstrating her knowledge of music, her talent for composition and the potential of mobile devices. Her award-winning track recorded under her stage name 'Cypher' is worth listening to and clearly shows what our students are capable of when provided with the right tools and teachers who let them explore. 

Listen to Liar by Cypher

Next up was Leio who passionately spoke of the importance of all students learning to code. His story was one that would challenge many educators as his knowledge of coding and ability to learn it went well beyond that of the typical teacher. Leio learned in many respects in spite of the education system but he was lucky enough to have teachers who understood enough of what he was doing to not put barriers in his way. Leio has gone on to produce App’s that have been featured on Apples iTunes store and are already making him money. He is the founder of AppAppAway and is suitably proud of his achievements. He has moved beyond just making and selling simple Apps to developing his own App Development Agency. 

Digital Literacy – Jenny Luca -

Jenny Luca spoke about the skills students require as they navigate an online world beginning with three key areas – connect, collaborate and curate. Her presentation was fast paced and covered concepts from the Australian Curriculum to tools that enable learning. Fortunately her slides are available online via the link above and worth a visit. In particular her slides ‘Future Work Skills’, ‘Ten Skills for the Future Workforce’ and ‘Digitally Resilient’ deserve a second look. The concept of being digitally resilient is particularly relevant to teachers as we explore and sometimes test new technologies. Digital Resilience will allow the teacher to push past the roadblocks and problems encountered and persist with the implementation of a new idea. In Jenny’s slideshows you will find numerous ideas including tools for the digital classroom, simple timesavers and a well-researched approach to privacy. I would recommend anyone with an interest in online privacy and youth online read Deborah Boyd’s book ‘It’s complicated’ that describes how young people really are using the internet and social media and in doing so dispels many of the myths and fears around the topic. 

Panel Discussion

A panel discussion of ‘Future possibilities of the cloud for school’ presented some of the opportunities of cloud based computing and indicated some of the pitfalls that may be encountered along the way. Clearly this is the way computing is moving but while the panel covered the topic well, the panellists failed to go beyond the fundamentals. It was a fair introduction for those beginning to explore Cloud computing but not much for those already living there.

Judy O’Connel introduced the topic of Web 3.0 and described some of the potential of innovations in this area. Judy has shared her slideshow online and for those wanting to better understand the impact the World Wide Web has had over its 25 year history or to see how it may evolve over the coming years this link is worth exploring.

Sir Ken Robinson

Sir Ken Robinson was undoubtedly a highlight of the two days. His mix of informative presentation and humour makes for a polished and convincing presentation. He spoke of the need for an ongoing transformation of Education with a focus on creativity. He summarised much of his writing to date and subtly mentioned his books on the subjects of Education and Creativity. In other talks, including his well watched TED Talks he has described the importance of creativity for schools and the sad reality that schools often stand in the way of this process. 

An interesting experiment he shared is based on student responses when asked to complete a drawing. Each group is provided with a piece of paper on which a triangle has been drawn. One groups is told they will be given points for correct answers the other is not. The first group mostly produced predictable drawings of a house with a triangular roof; the second group produced a great variety of creative drawing using more colours and a mix of themes. The results can bee seen below.


What differentiated this talk from Ken’s other presentation was his focus on a need for education to change due to increases in population that makes present models of delivery unsustainable. This was a new and compelling explanation for the need to change. If we are to meet the needs of an ever-expanding population we need to look for more efficient ways of doing so. 

Sir Ken was as always inspiring and his speech was an experience that will stay with me for a long time. In some ways though he has perhaps become the iPhone of the Educational speakers, a great experience, the best available but maybe overexposed

Gary Stager -

Gary Stager started the second day and brought his passion and excitement for the maker movement to life. Gary is the author of ‘Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering and Engineering in the Classroom’ a book I would recommend to anyone interested in the maker movement for education.  He showed the quality and breadth of learning that occurs in an environment that presents students with multi-faceted problems that engage their desire to learn. Gary is a master of finding tasks that are highly engaging, deeply challenging, academically rigorous and blend learning across the curriculum. He described a meeting in which he and his colleagues analysed a single engineering task involving students modifying a robot to complete a set course. In this one task they had managed to touch on a great array of Common Core Outcomes. Gary’s students must leave the classroom every day feeling they have had a day of play almost oblivious to the many outcomes they have mastered.

Gary is critical of much of the technology use in schools. He described how he is disappointed when schools celebrate their use of Chromebook’s as tools for note taking as though this is innovative. His answer is Making – starting with a computer and using it to make better things.

He spoke of a mythical place called Mathsland; a metaphor for learning mathematics in a land that speaks maths just as you would learn French better in France. He advocates for a new diet of mathematics and demonstrated Turtle Art as a tool for encouraging this. According to the Turtle Art website it:

TurtleArt lets you make images with your computer. The Turtle follows a sequence of commands. You specify the sequence by snapping together puzzle like blocks. The blocks can tell the turtle to draw lines and arcs, draw in different colors, go to a specific place on the screen, etc. There are also blocks that let you repeat or name sequences. Other blocks perform logical operations.

The sequence of blocks is a program that describes an image. This kind of programming is inspired by the LOGO programming language. It was designed to be easy enough for children and yet powerful enough for people of all ages. TurtleArt is focused on making images while allowing you to explore geometry and programming. 

Turtle Art is a good demonstration of Gary’s approach to learning. It is highly engage, challenging and yet achievable by students of all ages and with varying degrees of complexity to suit. It encourages collaboration and provides intrinsic rewards for effort. 

He shared the story of ‘Sylvia’s Super Awesome Maker Show’ as an example of how a wide range of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) outcomes can be explored and assessed through design and make tasks. Sylvia started publishing her online show when she was quite young but her knowledge of maths and engineering was already evident. For Sylvia the complex maths and science she masters is just a part of the fun she has in making things. Her high levels of intrinsic motivation, the relevance of her learning and that she is in control of it guarantees success and is the perfect model for learning in all our classrooms. 

To ensure even coverage Gary also touched on the importance of Literacy. As a result of technology students are writing more, writing better, writing differently, and with an ethos of sharing. He added that computer programming mirrors the writing process and that modern knowledge construction is inseparable from computing. 

Suan Yeo – Google -Social, Collaboration, Creativity: Empowering the Next Generation 

Follow Suan on Google Plus

As an opener Suan of Google Education, shared this image as a commentary on our engagement with Social Media. This led to a discussion of FOMO or ‘fear of missing out’ as part of an explanation for why we are so engaged in the online social world. It is of course this world that our students spend so much time so it worth understanding.

Suan described the challenges we face in teaching digital literacy to digital natives. He described the growth of computing and the speed of change that has occurred. A cute example of this is the YouTube video of ‘Kids Reacting to Old Computers’. 

A further demonstration of this is the infographic he shared that shows ‘The Internet in Real Time’. Developed by Penny Stocks this infographic updates itself in real time showing the expansion of key sites such as Twitter, Pinterest, Amazon and Google. It is amazing to watch how quickly the numbers increase.

He asked the question ‘If you are asking Googleable questions you are asking the wrong questions. What are the questions that are ungoogleable?’ Thinking about what this mean for the classroom and your teaching can be a little daunting, so much of what we ask students could be answered with a Google search. Combine this with some of the points made by Gary Stager on the use of Wolfram Alpha for solving mathematical questions and there is a real challenge for educators. 

Suan shared a great Blog by Steve Wheeler and pointed us to Googles Education page.

Tom Barrett – Creativity and the Australian Curriculum- 

Tom Barrett spoke of dichotomies in designing learning, of Direct Instruction with its advantages of rigour, reliability but a focus on teacher led learning and the product of the lesson vs Inquiry Learning with enhanced creativity, originality and student led learning with emphasis on the process of learning.  As with all things it should not be one or the other.

He spoke of the need to understand the impact that direct instruction has on limiting opportunities for discovery, that tools that move us quickly from the unknown to the known spoil chances for deeper inquiry - Googleable vs. Non-Googleable Questions

Tom asked ‘How do we design learning to create inquisitive faces for our students? How often do our students look puzzled and it is a good thing?’. This sort of thinking was common to many of the speakers at EduTech and linked back to Sugata’s opening comments about the ‘edge of chaos’. 

He cited Bonawitz (2011) - "The double edged sword of pedagogy- instruction limits spontaneous exploration and discovery" a great idea to lead into the explanation of an analysis of the interactions between Direct Instruction and Inquiry Learning.  Tom indicated that ‘When we add a process to inquiry learning we gain the opportunity to include the rigour that can go missing in the sometimes fluffy world of Inquiry Learning’. 

Tom’s speech presented in Oslo and available online mirrors much of what he presented at EduTech in a slightly longer form. View Online

Chris Betcher  Creativity in the Classroom - &

Chris took Ken Robinson’s call for creativity into the classroom and showed how it needs to become a ‘deliberate daily act’. He shared his project to do something creative every day for a year and spoke of how this forced creativity was changing his way of seeing the world. This idea became ‘My Daily Create’ a blog of daily creativity inspired by range of other ‘365’ projects such as . Through this project Chris has shared many great ideas for using technology in simple, creative ways. Each posting includes notes on the process and inspiration for the piece making this an archive of creativity and a resource for those seeking ways to include technology in the classroom. This has inspired Year Six at Redlands to take on the Homework challenge of creating four creative somethings every week. 

Margaret River Primary School - Sinan & Craig -

Margaret River Primary School is located south of Perth and presented their approach to Inquiry Learning. There approach hinges on the establishment of an environment that supports inquiry, building inquiry into their scope and sequences and developing opportunities for staff to share and celebrate their success.

The school has borrowed the ideas and language developed by Stephen Heppel and others including ‘The Third Teacher’ for the development of a learning environment. This means they have created Fireplaces for small group collaboration, Watering Holes for sharing, Caves for individual or partner learning and Mountain Tops for celebrating success. Each space has a unique character that suits its use and can be implemented in a variety of ways to suit the wider structure of the classroom or school. Thinking about how these spaces can be created is the first step to modifying the learning environment to best suit the learners needs.

Another key idea shared by Margaret River was there regular WOW sessions. This is a time for teachers to share an idea that has worked with their colleagues and to celebrate success. This was seen as a critical step in driving change across the school. They shared a nice video that demonstrates the importance of first followers to institutions wanting to implement change. They described how by nurturing the first followers they have been able to bring about an irresistible movement towards becoming the school envisioned by their executive. 


Ian Jukes – Aligning Technology Initiatives in the Age of Disruptive Innovation 

Ian had the hard job of wrapping up the conference and ensuring that it ended as well as it began. Anyone uncertain of the message that Education needs to transform itself if it is to meet the challenges ahead was left in doubt after Ian’s passionate, fast paced speech. He described how many of the jobs we currently prepare our students for will be moved off-shore or to services such as oDesk and that to ensure our students find a place in the world we need to focus on ‘Long Life Skills’. 

Ian began by outlining the basis for his assertion that education needs to change. He shared a series of graphs that showed where the jobs are moving to, away from agriculture and manufacturing towards jobs that involve creativity. The move away from agriculture and manufacturing and its causes linked to mechanisation is well documented. The category of Service industries is also in decline or is at least plateauing. In the remaining category of the traditional office worker the importance of what Ian referred to as Routine Cognitive Tasks is also declining and moving away from countries like Australia.

Because ‘Routine Cognitive Tasks’ are not location dependent they can be out-sourced to the cheapest bidder on a global scale or be completed by a computer. oDesk is a service that provides access to a pool of workers who can complete these Routine Cognitive Tasks through an internet based service. A company determines they have a need for a set task and then use oDesk to locate a person or small group willing to complete it. Consider the task of reading reports, instead of having a teacher in Australia do this a school could use oDesk to have the editing completed at a much lower cost by a worker in another part of the world. Because the task is not dependent on the person being based locally this sort of out-sourcing is easily achieved. This leaves students in countries like Australia unemployable unless they have skills to creatively solve problems. 

Our students will likely have 10-17 careers by the time they are 38 and so need to ‘learn, un-learn and re-learn’ at a rapid pace to meet changing needs. Ian pointed out that in the future we all need to understand that ‘If you want loyalty buy a dog. Don't expect from employers or employees’. Schools need to prepare their students for this world by developing these skills.  New opportunities for enterprise bring with them new challenges for schools e.g the birth and growth of the app developer. But this does not mean we teach app design in the same way we taught grammar, the skills needed now will be outmoded by next year or sooner, we need teach the mind set required for app design. What is needed is a problem solving, design process with inquiry skills and the ability to quickly learn and unlearn skills to suit the needs of the task.

Ian distinguished two types of skills and indicated that schools need to focus on the long life skills:

  • Short life skills are the ones that quickly become redundant or outdated.
  • Long life skills are creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving and social intelligence 

He asked the question ‘Are schools in the content delivery business? If that is so, then we are going to be out of a job soon’. According to Ian ‘Our present system is not broken, it is obsolete, outmoded. We cannot make little modifications, it is time to redesign’. He compared schools to Banks. If they retained their old model with antiquated operating hours, branch only access and a reliance on cash for all transactions they would be gone. This could be related to countless other industries that have faced or are facing radical changes to their business model. 

He concluded his very fast paced presentation with five key points for schools as they adapt to meet the challenges ahead. By understanding each point and its impact on what and how we teach we have a chance of remaining relevant. 

  • Connectivity is transforming knowledge
  • Why should we memorise basic facts when we have constant access to these. Relates back to Sugata's ‘back pack’ metaphor where the individual carries a supply of facts in their phone not in their brain.
  • Students are our customers and we have to compete for their custom. They have options and these options will expand and they will access to options that do a better job. It is not about doing what we do well but doing what is relevant.
  • Adaptive technology can replace much of what teachers now do.
  • Our students learn differently and so we need to teach differently, we must adapt our teaching to them rather than expecting them to adapt to our methods.