Get some perspective… (a primer piece re: lofty ideals vs on the ground realities in regards to educational technology deployments)

Perspective graphic sm sm
I just found out that I’m one of about 20,000 people in Australia working in the area of information and communication technology in education ( Wow. That’s a lot of us. My first reaction was, why aren’t we having a bigger impact?

Turns out this figure is actually only 3.71% of all the nations ICT workers, so maybe thats why. You see what I did there? The big picture perspective does matter.

I’m fortunate that my job does have scope for analysing research around ICT integration and pondering these kinds of matters so I can best support schools who are moving towards mobile and transformational learning programs (specifically the XO laptop, but also other platforms such as iPad’s and iPod’s). This led me today to this big picture article: Global trends in ICT and Education that lists mobile learning, cloud computing, 1:1 computing, ubiquitous learning, gaming, personalised learning, redefinition of learning spaces, teacher generated open content, smart portfolio assessment and teacher managers/mentors as the top 10 trends happening in ICT and education right now. Shorter and easier to quickly read than the similarly useful Horizon reports (, this blog post has however inspired a series of comments many times its length, my summary of which is: ‘lofty ideals vs on the ground realities’.

We seem to waste so much time in this field debating which of these two extremes deserves to be the guiding light. In response, I’m going to commit the cardinal sin of saying – there is an easy solution (more on that in a moment). Basically the commenters were saying either that yes, these big picture trends should be what educators aim at, or that no, realities close to the ‘coalface’ (there’s that industrial vestige still hanging around) of schools and classrooms should be the priority. One comment from a teacher in Morocco in particular really effected me (‘the true trends’, anonymous). This teacher states that “that in most parts of the world teachers are still fighting to get colored chalk from the administration of their schools”. Wo. Didn’t see that one in the top ten trends. They go on to say that while their school has one multi-media room with PCs, its little used, and that a training program for teachers to encourage ICT use only focused on theoretical topics, not practical issues, and thus was largely irrelevant. The teachers own efforts in using a blog to enhance learning had gone completely unnoticed and supported by the schools administration. You can understand a person like this questioning the if the global trends were trends or just buzz words.

So instead of ‘global’ trends, perhaps we should say ‘western’, or ‘for those who can afford it’, or ‘for those who live in cities’ etc. My own work in partnership with One Laptop per Child Australia’s 1:1 XO laptop deployments is giving me a unique and treasured chance to see what education in some of the disadvantaged schools of my own country is like. One Laptop per Child could certainly be said to have lofty goals. “Give poor, disadvantaged children a laptop?!” Many people say “What about food, clothing, and water?” Even those who can see that a digital education is key to help give students a chance to connect with a wider world and create their own solutions to such problems may have other questions such as “what about our existing curriculum and mandated testing?”, or “we don’t have a culture of individual ownership here, how can we give laptops to kids to take home and expect them to come back to school?”.

So, should we aim high? Or take care of local problems first? If we do aim high, how can we stop on the ground complications from impacting the benefits that ICTs might otherwise bring? Does it have to come down to a one or the other choice?

“There is another” (- Yoda, Empire Strikes back). My offering here in this debate, gleaned from spending a few years now working in my own school, with teachers across my state, and now across the country to help teachers integrate technology in their pedagogy amounts to this – there is a middle way. See, easy! Don’t take one or other side – look for the exact mid-point. Ok? Article over.

So why doesn’t this occur? Why is it that the continuous commentary on the success or otherwise of One Laptop per Child on a site like, or the debate on the Global Trends post referred to in this article always come down to aim high, OR focus on local problems almost exclusively?
Hard work, thats why. Not that educators are avoiders of hard work, far from it. But whether you are an administrator planning a technology deployment, or a teacher dealing with a busy classroom, you are no doubt already working at your limits, and finding an approach that marries the best of two lines of thinking is always going to be harder than sticking with one or the other.

So am I going to specify what this middle way is to ease the burden so to speak, if I really am saying this is the way to go? I would, except I don’t fully know yet myself… , sorry.

See what I did there again? I raised your hopes, only to leave you somewhat disappointed. Why would I do that to someone who has faithfully read the last 850 words? Because, you don’t need my solution. In effect, you are your solution, as long as you know not to stick just to one camp or the other.
What I do humbly suggest though, is these two things:
1.Plan plan plan: The most lofty but potentially transformative ideas tend to convert into hot air if left to do all the work themselves, or if its assumed that a ‘one size fits all’ approach is sufficient. Please don’t allow this to happen. Effective transformation opportunities in schools are too rare to not do the hard work behind the scenes of planning every step, and answering every local question first before they get asked. In this way, you can base your plan on the right big picture goals, but address on the ground issues as well.
If you’d like a basis on which to do this planning, have a look and download this detailed planning guide that gives 21 steps to take your school through It bravely but sensibly leaves handing out the actual technology until step 20. Have a read to see why.

2. Change the minds. “THERE IS SOMETHING WHICH COMES BEFORE TECHNOLOGY. It’s the mind of people.” So says our anonymous teacher from Morocco. Research shows that teachers are the biggest factor effecting the long term success of technology deployments (see page 10, Therefore, it is vital that teachers engage in processes that allow their pedagogy to best support the possibilities that 1:1 classrooms and technology rollouts in general offer. This means effective teacher training that gives the theoretical big picture argument as well as the means to apply this locally in ways that enhances existing practice as a means to starting them on a journey where the potential of ICTs to inspire transformation can begin.

I’ll have more to say about this stage of the process in a future post…
NB. The thoughts and opinions expressed in these posts are all mine, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of anyone else, including my employer.

Slide to Learn – guide for teachers (Beta)


For about 5 months I (with help from friends) have been writing a guide to using the iPod touch, iPhone and now iPad in education. Nearly every day I get an email or query as to how to approach deploying these devices in schools. I’m passionate that hard-working teachers not fall into the ‘shiny-things’ syndrome and just spend school money on whatever is the latest cool gadget – although I am secretly stoked that finally, most are actually looking at mobile devices rather than dubiously fixed IWBs.

To help answer some of the questions that these time-poor teachers have, there now exists THIS guide – . It takes its name obviously from the ‘slide to unlock’ home screen of iPod touch, iPhone and iPad devices – a nice metaphor for unlocking potential. My favourite description of this platform is that it is a ‘blank slate’ ready to become whatever the user/ student/ teacher wants. Sure its not a perfect platform (no true video-out, can only act as clients of a desktop pc) – but its flexibility and ease of use put it at the head of all mobile eco-systems at present. (I’ll be happy to write an Android guide if I ever am able to get some devices).

The guide has five main sections – and is still in beta and receiving feedback – so please feel free to comment/ email back.


Review of the iPhone 3GS from a uLearning perspective

The iPhone 3GS is the most advanced converged mobile device and as such, is one that teachers and educators need to be familiar with. Its really a signpost on the road to ubiquitous computing, where mobile, miniaturised, wirless and cloud-based devices proliferate.

This review looks at how the 3GS is an update to the 3G – its faster speed, video recording, better camera, universal access tools, compass, Nike+ and improved battery all make a compelling case for this new model to find a home with educators. The review details what each of these improvements means for educators looking to advance 21st century learning.
Go here to view in 3 parts:
or here to view in full (21mins)

Posted via email from Jonathan’s posterous

The first Web2.0, comprehensive iPhone education app?

By Jonathan Nalder, and Shane Roberts

One common problem for educators seeking to use the iPhone or iPod touch in their learning environment is the fact that the most common uses of the devices for things such as taking attendance, voice recording or interfacing with learning management systems (such as Moodle) require constant exiting and switching between several different apps. All this switching has the potential to keep teacher eyes off students for the precious seconds it takes for them to go off-task.  Excessive app-switching will also increase the number of applications accessing the device memory, resulting in a slower operational and response time.

Helping to solve this problem is a new app from iKonstrukt thats simply titled ‘Educate’. Unlike many other education apps released so far for the platform, ‘Educate’ groups several common functions into one program, meaning that running a lesson requires less app-switching. These multiple functions include an inbuilt calendar with welcome widescreen mode, an attendance and grade marking database, a stopwatch, voice recorder, photo tool (take images and add text to them), reference area (with numerous teaching strategy tips) and link to online learning system Moodle (apparently integration with the other main LMS Blackboard is being looked at for a future release).

So can this app live up to its ambitious name of providing everything needed to educate a student? Bearing in mind that this is a 1.0 release, and still has a few quirks (that running the ‘free memory’ app first often helps with), it has in our 3 days of testing proved to be a great start at accomplishing just this lofty goal. It does need the ability to import student names as well as calendar data before time-poor teachers may really start to use all of its planner and tracker features to the full.

What may really convince some Teachers to purchase Educate is its Moodle integration, but I haven’t been able to test this, with my school being Blackboard-based. The app does however seem at this point to only allow the posting of content to Moodle; I’m not sure if …

Another unique Educate feature that should be noted is its in-built link to the app’s Facebook support page where help forums and the growing number of other educators using the app can be directly accessed, again all without closing the app itself.

So is it worth its price of US$6.99 ($8.99 in Australian store)? The answer to this question may depend on how much your school could benefit from mobile access to Moodle, but for those doing the math (one function which you do still have to switch out of Educate for – think I’ll make a calculator a feature request), Educate’s price is cheaper by quite a bit than buying separate apps to get the same functionality.

On the other hand: Why I won’t purchase Educate (personal opinion of shanetechteach);
1. Lesson planning is “trapped” within the device.  I can’t access it from my other devices, or share it with others.  How can my students see my planning?
2. Doesn’t integrate with BlackBoard.
3. Grade and attendance data seems to be trapped within the application.

I will stick to the use of multiple and free applications until it has a process to copy data from the iPhone or iPod Touch to your laptop or desktop.  Where recording of grades and attendance is completed in one program, export is required for school specific processes so that teacher work is not increased by double input. For example, my school uses IDAttend for attendance and OneSchool for reporting. Cohort grades are centrally recorded on a network spreadsheet. As a Head of Department it would not be in my interests to have each of my teacher’s grades stored separately, and only on their device.

So I personally will stick with Google calandar (synced to the iPod Touch calendar) for my lesson planning; iTalk and Evernote for images, notes and voice recording.  BlackBoard will still require me to use my computer so no advantage there.

In summary, its great to see a specific education application developed for teachers, however it does not offer the services that would convince me to purchase it - yet?

By the way readers, there’s an active feature request page HERE:

Full details:
Educate: iPhone & iTouch App for Teachers

Educate is an iPhone/iTouch application designed to support teaching professionals in schools, universities and colleges. Featuring inbuilt lesson planning, student tracking, teaching strategies and eLearning tools, Educate provides teachers with a holistic approach to engaging students in 21st century learning environments.

Video Link:

Key Features:

Plan lessons: Educate’s inbuilt weekly planner allows teachers to personalise their timetable and plan lessons all from a single interface.

Monitor student attendance and progress: Quickly and easily track student attendance or performance in classes via ready made scales.

Engage students at a deeper level: Access easy to follow strategies for engaging students during individual or collaborative activities.

Implement eLearning: Post real time content to Moodle learning spaces, anywhere, anytime. Also, access critical tools such as a voice recorder for anecdotal notes, a camera that allows you to label images and a stopwatch for time-critical tasks.

Collaborate with other Educate users: Connect online through Facebook with other Educate users to discuss pedagogical practice, suggest application features and seek support.

Price: $6.99 US

Itunes Link:

6 Queensland Educators talk about the iPod Touch

This new paper describes how Australian teachers are using the iPhone and iPod Touch to A. assist them as Educators, and B. to enhance learning. As such, it presents a vital survey of apps and ideas to be shared with other teachers also beginning to use this platform. Thanks to the included Teachers for their keen responses.

6 Educators Talk About iPhone Use High Qual

Launch of

ANNOUNCEMENT: this blog is now part of the fantastic content and online community @
Head over there to discover a wealth of mobile learning content, and click below for the press release.

Download now or preview on posterous

PressReleaseCC.pdf (59 KB)


Posted via email from Jonathan’s posterous