No Longer Waiting for Formal Learning

Waiting by Jlhopgood (via Flickr)
Waiting by Jlhopgood (via Flickr)

Technology has changed the learning landscape. No longer are students limited by the resources that we offer within our schools. No longer do students have to wait for formal learning. Just think of the last time you used YouTube to show you how to do something – for me it was how to break open a lock on a suitcase (well, sometimes you just lose those keys). And what about the times when you can’t find the answer through searching online? Have you have thought about throwing out your questions into that cyber community of experts? See this wonderful video, shown to me by Dr Alec Couros, University of Regina (@courosa), of a young boy trying to start a fire with a bow drill who is asking for help by posting his problem on YouTube. A longer narrative on this can be found here.

What other ways have you used the internet to find experts to help you in your learning? Here’s another great example, again shown to me by @courosa of the Speaking Exchange project which connects students in Brazil with Americans living in retirement homes.

Have you ever shared something online that you learned so that someone else could benefit from your knowledge? Here are an example from our younger WAB students demonstrating how to ride a taxi in Chinese:

Our elementary school uses blogs as their learning management system. Each student has their own blog, their digital desk. It is their space where they post their ideas and work, where they explore, where they document their learning and where they interact and exchange ideas. They frequently upload examples of their learning to our in-house tigertube which in turn are embedded into posts for sharing and generating conversations about their learning.

We are in the process of relaunching blogs for our middle schoolers and re-igniting the interest for our high schoolers. Here is our landing page (soon to be revamped). Why? Why not? I look at this blog and how often I post and, most importantly, who I post to – who is my audience and why am I writing posts to them? What is the purpose? What do I want from my audience? I know that I am not as active has I have been and I am not sure if anyone out there is listening or cares which means that I need to take time to find my audience(s).

Another challenge that we face is this: Unlike the elementary school, we have a separate learning management system (Moodle), and therefore the blog is not the first point of digital entry each day. Therefore, will our students be prompted to blog and if so, will they find value in blogging? I have many questions which I am pondering below:

Why blog? As we all know, blog posts can have many uses: observations, reflections, stories, a show-and-tell, sharing of personal news, or even a soapbox. There are no hard and fast rules about what a post can or cannot be: length, media, number of links are entirely arbitrary as is the content: It can be a public display of homework, a photographic record of an event, a link to a video of a class project, a meme or even a diatribe (hopefully not). A post is [generally] publicly shared maybe purposefully to a known audience or perhaps just put out there into the ether to be stumbled upon by an unknown, anonymous audience. For me, however, the key is the ability for the author to engage their audience in a conversation. It allows our students to break down their classroom walls and to explore their learning in a more authentic setting through the interactions that may ensue – many of which may be with strangers.

What platform? Should we provide our high school and middle school students with a blogging platform, like we do with our elementary students, or should we encourage them to use the platforms and social media tools that they are already familiar with such as WeChat, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube? However, if we, as their teachers, are not in their spaces, how can we guide them? Do we need to guide them? I suggest that we should provide them with a platform that they see as a learning tool so that we can be their guides. Once they get the ‘hang’ of it and if they are able to gain from the use of blogs and see the value of those gains, there is nothing stopping them from transferring those skills to their other social media platforms, seeking out their audiences as needed.

Who is the audience for our students? This all depends on the nature of the post. For example, a student may want to showcase a piece of work that they have completed. Their audience might be their parents, friends, and future employers. The message might be ‘look at what I have achieved’. Conversely a student might be seeking help or advice. They might outline a brick wall that they have run into in their learning and may want their audience to provide help on how to proceed.

How do our students find their audience? Perhaps we should circle back to the large network that the student may have built through their social media platforms. Why not encourage students to send out the link to their latest post through their established networks in order to drive traffic to their blog? Why not actively seek help by challenging their social network to find their audience for them?

I’m excited about relaunching the blogs and wonder where this will take us and I would like to thank Alec Couros for getting me to think more deeply about the purpose of blogs and how we can re-ignite the blogging culture here at WAB.

Please join in the conversation if you have thoughts, feedback or anything to share that will help me continue to develop my thinking about blogging for our students.

tdt@wab: How technologically rich is the learning environment in the HS?

We are now in Week 3 of the Digital Teacher course (tdt@WAB). This week’s face-to-face focus has been to look at how technology is used in the teaching and learning process in each school section.  My piece was to give an overview of the use of technology in the High School. Here’s an overview:

Setting the Scene

Firstly I want to set the scene by presenting some of the of some factors, challenges and parameters under which we operate:


The end goal for the vast majority of our students is to pass the IB Diploma. This means that students typically take 6 subject-based courses (3 at HL and 3 at SL), Theory of Knowledge, the CAS component (Community, Action, Service) and the Extended Essay, an independent 4,000 word research paper. Subject selection is limited to one from each of the first 5 groups: Language A, Language B, Humanities, Science, Maths and either a second one from Groups 1-5 or one from Group 6, the Arts.

For each IB Diploma course, typically each student is required to study a large body of content to which they apply through the entire gambit of lower-order to higher-order thinking skills: from knowledge & understanding, application, analysis, evaluation & synthesis and the ability to present substantiated opinions. So learning content that leads to critical thinking, perhaps.


With the exception of the Group 6 subjects, the Arts, where the assessment is mostly portfolio-based, the assessment for the majority of the subjects in Groups 1 – 5 comprises a possible mix of 70-80% high-stakes exit examinations and perhaps a 20-30% internal assessment component. Is this 20th Century assessment in the 21st Century?

Building Effective Relationships:

Over the course of the even the first year of the IB Diploma, students could have a minimum of eight teachers at any one time, if we include the supervisor for the EE, and may possibly have a completely different set of peers in each class. Likewise, a teacher in the High School on a full teaching load and a homeroom, could teach 120+ students. So what are the challenges here? How can a teacher make an individual connection with each student? How do students build relationships with each teacher? What communication tools are available? For example,  if you miss a class or need help with a concept or an assignment, what communication channels are open for the students?

Access to the Internet:

Our access is somewhat limited in terms of bandwidth as access is very expensive here in China compared with costs in other schools in the region. In addition, we are constantly looking for China-friendly tools and resources as many Web 2.0 tools are unavailable such as google apps, Youtube, Facebook and Twitter.

21C Classrooms and the IB Diploma

If we look at concepts that characterise 21st Century learning as promoted by the Partnership for 21 C Skills: collaboration, creation, communication and critical thinking, we can see that there could be a number of challenges when faced with the IB Diploma assessment model. One simplistic observation is: how do we get students to collaborate to construct knowledge in their learning process but NOT able to collaborate in their internal summative assessments and certainly NOT able to do so in their final examinations?

With all that said, what is the blend of 21c skills that we can apply as teachers and students to enhance & maximise students’ performance in order to gain their IB Diploma? What are some of the features of a technological-rich learning environment today in our High School where the assessment model is essential rooted firmly in yesterday’s classroom? How can technology enhance student learning outcomes? In other words, what technology tools can we use to teach the content, thinking skills and prepare for examination which, by the way, are still hand written?

Technology in the WAB High School

1:1 Environment:

All students have their own Macbook laptop computer which should be installed with full suite of software that includes: Microsoft Office, iLife (Garageband, iMovie, iPhoto), Evernote (for note-taking and organising notes), iWorks (for those who prefer Apple’s version of Excel, Word and Powerpoint), data logging tools, the Adobe suite that includes Photoshop and Acrobat professional.

Web-based Resources

As the largest consumers of bandwidth, the High School students have their own Internet pipe, so that their consumption does not impact the access for the rest of the school community.

The web-based technology tools that students tend to use in their daily academic life are:

  • Powerschool to look up their schedule & grades
  • Moodle to access content and class materials, and a space to upload assignments, discussion.
  • Zimbra for access to email and to assessment calendar
  • WAB portal for bulletins
  • Etherpad for collaboration
  • extensive Library databases for research
  • Skype or some other messaging service such as iChat
Moodle: Flipping the Classroom?

Moodle is probably our number one ‘learning’ tool. Each course has a class which teachers, at the very least, build a repository of resources in a variety of mediums. Yes, there are a very large number of word documents and PDF files but there are also links to websites and videos, images, sound files and podcasts. These repositories alone allow students are review work at their own pace and select from a variety of differentiated material. As they can access from home, 24/7, the concept of the flipped classroom – where students study the content before the class – promotes productivity and individualised learning in the classroom. Not only that, Moodle is allows students to post assignments and receive feedback plus have access to a whole range of other collaboration and interactive tools such as the ability to contribute to discussions using forums.

Standardised Classroom

The High School classroom has been ‘standardised’ in terms of access to technology and includes: a common connection box for access to the projector, sound and Ethernet connection for a hard-wired, faster-network connection, great sound field so that speakers are place strategically around the classroom and an Interactive Whiteboard (IWB). In Maths, for example, the Interactive Whiteboard (IWB) is a well-used tool: in class, the solutions of mathematical problems are worked out on the board and then saved as PDF files and made available through Moodle so that students can access and review offline and in their own time.

Consumers or Producers?

One essential observation is this: what is the the mix of tools: consumer, producer or utility? Do we use more consumption & organisational tools than production tools?

In terms of multi-media, do our students ‘consume’ more than ‘produce’? Certainly, students can use production tools as part of the learning process, for example, collaboratively constructing knowledge through tools such as etherpad, which is similar to google docs. Students to do reflect using multimedia, for example in a language class a student might use Garageband or PhotoBooth to record a passage in order to analyse their pronunciation. The media server serves more as a repository for storing video downloaded from external sources than a place where student-created content is uploaded. Due to the assessment model, I would suggest that student create multimedia content as part of the learning process and therefore the product itself, could be ‘disposable’ or a digital ‘record’ and hence, more of a means to an end other than the end itself.

Compared with the Elementary school, and as our High School students are largely more literate [although I am sure we have some very proficient readers in the lower grades], our production tools tend to be more text-based due to the requirements of the formal, summative assessment. In the High School, the word processor is still ‘King’ although students are moving towards Evernote for notetaking in classes and then transfer to Word, or sometimes Pages, to publish and print or publish and upload their assignments to Moodle.

BYOD – Mobile Devices

Mobile devices are a common feature in the High School although these are generally the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) model. Most, probably all, High School students carry a mobile phone with the ability to take photos and sometimes video therefore the demand for low-end, school-owned cameras is diminishing. Likewise for headphones, as most students have their own (often multiple) MP3 players, so providing headphones is a challenge we do not have to face. As for back-up devices, the onus is on the student although, thanks to the uploading of assignment feature in Moodle and the seamless syncing (automatic backing up) of Evernote to the student’s online account, many disasters have been avoided!

iPads in the High School?

As I write, the latest iPad has just been announced. Apple CEO Tim Cook noted that the company sold more iPads last year than the number of PCs sold by any single competing computer maker. Apple, he said, is at the forefront of the post-PC revolution. Yes, we are piloting in pockets around the High School but the jury is out and will be for some time. The question that we face is this: as our students already have a Macbook and a swag of their own devices, what value can the iPad add that would justify it’s inclusion in the High School Technical Toolbox?

The bottom line:

Teachers are busy, teachers have to deliver content, students need to pass exams. Teachers will invest time in tools and technology only if they can see the value. The extent to which and how technology is used in the classroom is essentially up to each individual teacher. We can measure exam results but it’s hard to measure the impact of technology. That is not to say that technology is a hard sell – it’s certainly not – ask any teacher or student how they would feel if we took their laptops away. Never!

The Digital Teacher TDT@WAB

We are running a 10 week course for a cohort of 20 teachers from across the school with the aim to strengthen and develop our  technology-rich professional learning network at WAB through:

  1. an examination of best-practice technology integration globally & how this relates to current WAB systems & practices
  2. an examination of how mobile technology could impact the classroom (we provide an iPad 2 for each participant to use until the end of the academic year)
  3. developing our understanding of WAB’s proposed transdisciplinary standards and how these can be implemented in a technology-rich environment.

Every two weeks we will have a f2f session for hands-on training, talks from various stakeholders, guest speakers and the inevitable rich discussions. In addition we will be using Moodle for our asynchronous discussions & resources.

I have been looking for resources and readings to help support our course and welcome any suggestions.  For our introductory sessions, I am thinking of using these two videos to set the scene:

Above and Beyond: The Story of the 4Cs communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity) which is a short animated film produced by P21 and FableVision.


A Vision of 21st Century Teacher where eighteen classroom teachers “speak out” on the topic of tech integration and 21st Century skills for students.

Questions to ponder:
  • What professional readings would you recommend for our course?
  • Which blogs would be good for our teacher to follow?
  • Would you like to join the conversation and contribute to our course?

MYP ITGS Social Media Class: Blog Post Example about Flickr

My Grade 10 ITGS Social Media are looking Flickr as a way to report the news. They have compare and constrast two images posted to Flickr of the same news story: one from a professional agency/photographer and one from a ‘citizen’. Below is the assignment in full and my attempt (if I can’t do it, how can I expect my students to do it?).

Flickr Assignment

Go to flickr and find at two images from a recent news story. Try to find images that are similar: for example both images are of Nadal at the Mens Final Australian Open last night, or two images showing the Costa Concordia ship on it’s side.  Please try to find:

  • 1 posted by a ‘professional photographer’ with all rights reserved (copyright)
  • 1 posted by a ‘citizen’ and few rights reserved.

Compare and contrast the following information:

  1. The title and caption of image (and accuracy)
  2. Are there any links or extended information about the image?
  3. Tags (for searching)
  4. Copyright/creative commons licence,
  5. Quality of image (can you access in all sizes, is it a professionally taken image or just a snapshot – clue, look at the camera that it was taken on as this information is often given),
  6. Date published
  7. What can you find out about each of the photographers (look at their photostream)?
  8. Is each image part of a series of images?

For each image, explain WHY you think the image has been uploaded?

My Attempt: Djokovic loses the Australian Open

Image 1

And it goes to #Djokovic. Over 5 hours. #tennis #australianopen #australia #espn
Image 2: Not-so professional image

Image 2:

Title and Caption: Tennis 2012 – Australian Open – Men’s Final Novak Djokovic (SRB) celebrates after winning the men’s finals match on day 14 of the 2012 Australian Open at Melbourne Park, Australia.Rafael Nadal (ESP) and Novak Djokovic (SRB) pose for pictures with their trophies at the men’s finals match on day 14 of the 2012 Australian Open at Melbourne Park, Australia.

Title  only: And it goes to #Djokovic. Over 5 hours. #tennis #australianopen #australia #espn

The first image has a full title and caption which give clear information about the image whereas the second image just uses keywords/tags with the # to denote a tag. The first image has a comprehensive set of tags posted on the right of the image including Australia Open 2012, Day 14, Djokovic whereas the second images uses tags such as normal, square which do not give any information about the tennis.

The first image has all rights reserved and there is contact information about the image should you want to use it. In addition there is a watermark on the image (South Creek Global Media). The second image has only some rights reserved: you can share, remix, attribute but not use for commerical purposes. That’s why I can add the second image.

Tennis 2012 - Australian Open - Men's Final
Image 1: Professional Image

Both images were taken at the same time (at this was as Djokovic won). The quality of the first image is excellent compared with the second image. The first image was taken on a Nikon D3S com whereas the second image was taken off a television screen – the person wasn’t even at the event!

Andy King is the photographer of the second image. Looking at his photostream, it appears that he just posts images of things/events that he is interested in. His profie says that he is a student from the USA. The first photographer is Sydney Low and looking at his photos and profile, we see that he is a professional photographer from Australia. Sydney has a whole set of images from the event whereas Andy just posted two images both taken from the TV.

I think that Andy posted his image because he is a tennis fan and wanted to capture the moment even though it was off the TV whereas Sydney is using Flickr to advertise his images and his photography business.

Students: Your turn now!


Looking for a way to electronically mark students’ work?

…Or are you looking for a way to collaborate with colleagues?
Crocodoc - web-based annotation tool

Over the last week, I’ve been using with my IB examining colleagues in order to discuss samples of students work. I can certainly see many benefits for us in the High School.

Crocodoc is a very easy way to annotate and mark student’s work that is in PDF, word document for or even images. You create an account and upload files which you can then share with students and colleagues. Anyone you share with can add comments, highlight areas and make annotations.

And a note about the upcoming mock exams…

Now that we are coming to the examination season, our Grade 12 IB Diploma students are required to ‘hand-write’ their papers which means that there is one hard copy of the student’s work. That’s fine as you can physically mark and comment on the paper and give feedback to the individual student. However, why not consider scanning, uploading and annotating electronically one or two high-scoring papers to Crocodoc to share with your students to provide and discuss the marking and allow all students the benefit of the feedback as well as providing good model answers? An added benefit is that you have an online record of the annotated work that you may want to share with other students or colleagues for moderation purposes in the future.

To get started and try out Crocodocs, go here.

Example of editing student work

Crocodocs is FREE and currently available here in China….so get started and see how you go!

…and because of that….reflections from #ade2011

I have just been at the ADE Asia Insitute in HCMC and I feel that I have arrived back at home with the bends; I am giddy with exhaustion and need days in a decompression chamber to unravel and process the incredibly rich and intense experiences of the last seven days. I am going to take Pav’s advice and post this reflection because as the day goes on I see that I need some closure so that I can tackle the mountain of work that awaits me.

WAB’s Mission Statement is Connect, Inspire, Challenge and Make a Difference and for me, that really sums up the ADE Institute.

Western Academy of Beijing - mission statement

Connect – So many rich conversations with a diverse range of 68 awesome educators (60 new ADEs plus the other 8 Advisory Board members).  The connections, in the words of Karen Carpenter have ‘only just begun….’

Inspire – Words cannot describe how many times I was inspired – from each and every double-click video to the amazing thought processes and actions. I think that the Saigon 360 nailed it for me.

Challenge – My personal challenge was to appear ‘worthy’ of my place on the advisory board in addition to the those 3 letters: ADE. It was a humbling experience. My game plan is, as ever, to mask inadequacies with humour – if you don’t have anything profound to share, at least make a stab at humour.

….and because of that…I hope I made a difference


Some initial take-aways
  • Never turn away from criticism – look at it straight in the eye, learn and grow
  • I’m not the only one that processes by talking it through – but I also need quiet time to reflect and a good 30 minutes in the pool each morning helped
  • Listen, listen and listen
  • Diversity is a wonderful thing
And on a more practical level:
  • prepare cover lessons for the first 3 days back in school (so brain-drained that you can act like a cover teacher and read out the instructions)
  • have a trusted advisor to prep you for any meetings 10 minutes before the meeting and also prompt you in meetings by ichatting you your notes, links and other resources
  • remember that not everyone in the building wants to share your experiences – a quick ‘it was awesome’ is better than a blow-by-blow, minute-by-minute account.

Dreaming of Fallen Angels

A Fallen Angel
The Busy Concourse at London's Victoria Station

Yesterday I was chatting with Andrew Churches (Edorgami) on Skype and he sent me this link to the Lynx marketing gimmick which uses augmented reality (AR). AR is the ability place computer-generated graphics in the field of vision of the viewer. The gimmick is a marketing strategy for Lynx set in London’s Victoria Station and targeted at the male commuters who pass through the busy station concourse. On the ground is a large black Lynx Excite box directing the commuters to look up. So, what do they see? A ‘sexy’ Lynx angel descending down to greet them and captured live on the huge screen on the station concourse.

Our (inevitable) question was ‘Wow! How did they do that?’ Here is a slightly edited version of our Skype conversation:

Andrew: ‘A vactor (Virtual Actor) is my guess plus the green screen to get the composite picture’

Very lifelike - so how did they do it?

This turns to a discussion on who the actor is:

Me: She is a famous UK WAG – Kelly Brook
Being British, I know that one of the fallen angels is in fact Kelly Brook – who I recall is quite a famous model and possibly a WAG. Good old Wikipedia describes WAGs as ‘as an acronym, used particularly by the British tabloid press, to describe the wives and girlfriends of high-profile football players’

Andrew: OK… is she a vactor of a wag or a real wag…for that matter does she bark and wag

Interacting with the Fallen Angel

Me: So, if she is a vactor, she has been ‘animated’ and made into an avatar (like in Second Life) and is controlled by the dude on the computer that we see in the video


it’s a merge of two live feeds on the screen. My guess is the second one!

A: Could well be – would take more than a laptop to run the vactor and I don’t know how good they are in realtime…

I have since researched Kelly Brook and found that she was due to give birth (March 16) about 10 days after the event (March 5). Thanks to Wikipedia (again), I found that the father is her  Rugby Union boyfriend (so, Andrew, I was right there about the WAG thing).

Bizarre hand-eye coordination required

As you can see from the images, she certainly did not look heavily pregnant when dropping out of the sky so I concede that Andrew was right and I was wrong! Kelly was not, in fact, acting in real-time and holed up in some studio being a little more interactive than a weather lady on TV which where is it all gushing winds and rain and a bizarre hand-eye coordination thing happening.

MacBook Pro - but what software?

So back to how did they do it?

My revised idea: A series of set moves are pre-recorded of Kelly being a fallen angel set in front of a green screen. A laptop is loaded with these ‘set’ moves and the guy on the computer selects the move according to the behaviour of the general public (yes, there are rather ‘racy’ moves…)

Alternatively, like Andrew suggests, Kelly is turned into a vactor, akin to a Second Life avatar but much more life-like, allowing real-time interactions. The avatar is controlled by the guy on the computer.

For me, the final clue, and game breaker for me, was the Macbook Pro sighted in the video. No cables so must have been wireless (hmmmmm)….possibly OK to mix feeds in realtime and transmit wirelessly to screen but I am not sure it is powerful enough to render the lifelike graphics required for a vactor.

Ouch...did that hurt?

So what now? Could this idea be turned into a really coooool ITGS project? That led us to a  conversation about ITGS projects being about products and not processes that may not lead to a final ‘product’ – more thought and discussion required here.

However, just thinking about the possibilities for within our school – we have a tricaster system and a big screen on our sports field….what about our WAB Tiger mascot interacting with our players – or multiple mascots?

We have a great dance program – perhaps our dancers could interact with their audience? Even our WAB Elementary tri-weekly TV broadcast could find a great use for AR.

And what about in my own classroom? Perhaps a classroom management tool – I could set up a webcam in my classroom, project the feed onto the whiteboard and appear behind each of my students (simultaneously)….now that would scary!

For more about the Lynx Angels click here.