Friday, 6 January 2017

Amazon Echo in Education?

So Amazon released a new toy in September in the UK called Amazon Echo. For those unaware, the Amazon Echo allows for voice control of various different functions, such as a calendar, shopping list, music and web searches. It can also do IFTTT (If this then that) functions, as well as control your Internet of Things household, such as smart switches and lights.

In something of a rarity for voice commands, the Echo, or Alexa as I call her, is actually pretty decent at picking up and understanding the human voice. But I didn't want to turn this into advertisement for the Echo, but rather ask the question of whether a voice controlled device like the Echo has a place in the classroom?

Students use devices in classrooms to access the internet to answer fairly simple questions. What if you could ask a device that sits in the classroom that question? What year was the Battle of Hastings? How long do you bake a Mushroom for? How much wood does a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

I like the idea that facts are just a question away, and could see it being useful in lessons where skills are more important to learn than just straight facts. If we acknowledge that learners are always going to have Google to find facts, an Echo device would make it near instantaneous to find out information, rather than waiting for laptops to login, browsers to load or relying on batteries to be charged.

So will I be introducing an Echo to a classroom any time soon? No, I don't think the current Echo is quite prepared for the classroom just yet.  As it has access to radio stations and music that you wouldn't necessarily want, and no ability to restrict what the Echo can do. Also it's voice recognition, whilst very good, isn't perfect, and it could lead to some frustration for students and staff alike. You have to quite specific to get the answer your looking for. For example, asking 'How to cook a Mushroom?' doesn't get an answer. But ask 'How long should I cook a Mushroom for?' Does get the desired answer.

Then there's the questionable issue of having a microphone listening to everything that happens in a classroom...

But niggles aside, I think there might be a market for a Education Echo. As Google, Apple and Microsoft start to move in this direction, a voice enabled electronic assistant in the classroom might not be too far away.

Of course I'm not the only one to join the Dots (aha, sorry)

Thursday, 17 December 2015


As we start down our BYOD journey, a question came to mind, now that our students can connect to our WiFi with a device, what can they actually use it for?

What I wanted was a free app or web tool that teachers and students could use that could have an impact on teaching and learning, and provide a good reason for students to use their own devices.

Shamelessly taken from Mike Gunn, Socrative is an excellent way to get quizzes and questions to your students, who can answer in real time on any device. All students need to do is go to and enter their teachers room code and away they go with the activity their teacher has set. The app can be downloaded on iOS or Android, or just the web browser works well.

Teachers obviously need to do a bit of setting up in creating the quiz, but the amount of feedback (realtime and reports) makes the initial input worth the effort. It can be used in a variety of ways (Student led quiz, with instant feedback, teacher led, group races etc) and is the first, in what I hope will be many, really useful web tools to use with student devices.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

BYOD in education

I attended the Academies show at Birmingham NEC last Wednesday, which was, for the most part, a worthwhile experience. There was a fair bit of tech there to look at, and a lot of talks about the use of technology in schools. In particular, the talk by @mike_gunn was an excellent presentation showing a really positive light on BYOD. As I wrote in my write up:

The talk I took the most out of, and a great shame it was only half an hour long. His presentation has been uploaded to his blog since the talk, and is well worth a look on it's own. Indeed his blog may well be a source of inspiration for BYOD in the future.


He talked about barriers to implementing BYOD, his first barrier was connectivity. Insure that all areas of the school can connect, the one area that we might struggle with would be the sports field, though whether we need an active WiFi in the field would need to be explored first.

Another barrier is that not all students can afford devices, so he suggested this was an excellent use of Pupil Premium funding, something I believe we already do, though may need to extend should we go completely BYOD.

He stressed the importance of developing a pedagogy that significantly increases what teachers can do, students can learn and ensure that results improve (sounds easier said than done!). but he emphasised that the learning is what is key, not the device that the learning is taking place on. Student devices can enhance and deepen learning is used correctly. For him, it meant that learning could become more personalised and differentiated as a result of the technology in the classroom.

He talked about how BYOD empowered students in their learning as it gave them different means on how to present their work: Powerpoint, video, photo etc He was also surprised at how quickly students can type on their phones, and actually tested students and found they could write quicker on their phones than hand write. Did mention that school still conducts hand written lessons, and picks up students whose handwriting doesn't make the grade and gives them help with that for the all-important exams.

Abuse of technology

He mentioned the potential abuse of technology, specifically the risk of disengagement from lessons as devices hold many distractions. His answer is to "treat the behaviour, not the device". Treat the device the same way as you if a student was doodling with a pencil, you don't confiscate the pencil, you get them to be productive with the pencil by treating the behaviour.

He talked about Cyber bullying and the importance of education, reinforced in PHSE lessons. Make sure students understand that what they do online has long lasting consequences, and that their online activity can be traced (especially if it's done in school).

Parents should be engaged at an early stage to get them onboard with what the school is trying to achieve with BYOD. They ran workshops and used social media to show off what the students are achieving with their own devices.

Device Specification 

For their device spec, the most important aspect was battery life, a device that can last all day was seen as a necessity, and it was made the students responsibility to keep the device charged. Like turning up to a lesson without the right books, having a device that wasn't charged meant the student wasn't ready for learning.

The school did put in charging points across the school to aid students charge up their devices before school or during break and lunchtimes.

Ultimately device selection came down to what the school expects the devices to be able to do. There was a minimum expectation that the device could access the internet, have a camera and had all the apps that the school required (all free apps). If students want to purchase apps that did the same thing as the school required, they were able to do so and use them in lesson, but all school mandated apps were free.

Again, the importance that the device is seen as learning tool was emphasised. He talked about students discussing the differences between their devices, and how one device allowed you to do one thing that another couldn't. If you can get students to talk about their devices as learning tools, you are onto a winner.

Make sure your policies are updated with BYOD specific terms (Safeguarding, ICT and Esafety).

Staff Preparation

Staff training consisted of showing staff 30 free web tools that can be learned in 3 minutes. They then had to choose 3 that they would use in their lessons over the next term. If I can't find the 30 web tools he mentioned, I'll ask him via Twitter.

The use of Digital leaders (I believe a mix of staff and students, but could have just been students) was critical in the success of BYOD.

They carried out the following:

  • Auditing use of apps and assessing impact
  • Deliver CPD to staff
  • Solved basic ICT issues
  • Develop specialisms
  • Troubleshooting
  • Sharing best practice
  • Ran digital safety courses for parents, staff and students.
  • Helped draft the BYOD policies in PHSE (My emphasis)

Outcomes of BYOD

Positive impact on motivation and enjoyment of learning (but don't expect it to last, soon becomes "the norm").

Students felt they had a more varied educational diet, as whilst devices were used in many lessons, they were used in very varied ways.
Improved student organisation, though I think Show My Homework has already helped in this regard. But students were using calendar apps to set reminders for work due etc.
Made the student body a more active body, with collaborative learners.
Allowed for more personalised interventions.

Changing teaching from "Sage on the Stage to Guide by the Side" which can be a big culture shock for some teachers.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Coding games

Nothing lends itself better to the gamification of learning than Coding. In all likelihood, if you're interested in coding, you've probably got half an interest in gaming, so a marriage made in heaven is to use coding as a gameplay element. Thankfully, some people have decided this is a good idea too, and have created some top notch websites to learn coding whilst exploring dungeons, killing monsters and getting loot!

First up is Code Combat which has 80 free levels covering all the basics of coding in a language of your choice (including Python). You can create Clans which allow you to monitor student progress. Teachers, for more info, check out

I really like Code Combat, it's got a great visual style, and I love the fact you can choose which language you want to learn. It's a nice step by step guide, with instant visual results. It's style is similar to a lot of iPad games, and it looks good without being overly flashy.

Next up is Codekingdoms which is also free. This has a younger feel to it, so probably better for the lower end of KS3, so this one might not be as useful to you. Again it has Class management built in, but the language is restricted to its own, Java based language. Again, more info can be found here

I'm not as convinced by this one. There's a bit more of a game going on, but the coding is a bit more hidden and not explained as well. Maybe I'm being harsh, but I feel that you aren't going to choose to play a game like this because you want to play a basic platformer, you're playing it to learn coding. Therefore, the coding parts should be first and foremost, which Code Combat does, rather than a secondary element, which seems to be Codekingdoms approach. That said, it certainly has the capacity for indepth coding, so perhaps the mix of platforming and coding can give players some divergence in their gameplay. 

Other websites on a similar theme: - Be aware of a load, 8 bit soundtrack!

Edugeek thread on the subject here:

Monday, 23 February 2015

Quiz Hero

Almost been a year since my last post! A reminder that a blog only stays useful/relevant if you update it often, which I'm failing to do...

Anyway, just saw an interesting blog collecting two of my interests into one, RPGs and game based learning, so I present to you, Quiz Hero!

Will be giving it a try later on this week, work permitting.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

New school - what device to use?

I've been asked by a friend to advise someone on what devices to use in a completely new school. Should it be Mac or PC? Are iPads a good idea for student use? What should staff use? What is the best solution for a school?

This is an incredible difficult question to answer, which is why I've gone for a blog post to give me room to explore the various options. My first piece of advice is to read. Find case studies of schools where different technologies have worked for them, and where it hasn't worked for some schools. There are a fair few schools that have gone down the 1:1 device route, be it with netbooks, iPads or other devices, see if it has worked, and whether they would recommend it. Also, talk to the other people at your school, and if you have a fair sway in what devices you are going to want to use, make sure you;re best friends with the Network Manager, as you're about to put a whole heap of work his way!

Before I get into my advice, a disclaimer. I've only ever worked in a Microsoft environment. We have one Mac onsite, which helps manage the 10 or so iPads we have. I like Apple products, but Apple products don't like our budget, so we've gone PC. I'll try to keep the advice generic where possible, but I can't go into great details about Macs as I haven't had the opportunity to manage them.

The backbone

Before looking at any devices, make sure that the school has a suitable wireless infrastructure in place. This can be Aerohive, Ruckus, Meru, Aruba, Meraki, Cisco or any other brand of managed wireless system, but it has to work for your devices to work. If coverage is poor, then access to the internet is poor, and a slow connection cripples any device, from a high end Mac to a low end Android tablet, connection speed is key. It is also fairly likely that the servers are going to be running Windows Server, or possible Linux, and Windows tends to be easier to manage. As that's a debatable point, I'll leave that there, but my wider point will be that whatever device you go for, make sure that the person in charge of managing the devices is competent on that OS. Managing a Mac environment can be very different from managing a Windows one, and linux another level more complex than both.

My final word on this though is that Teaching and Learning should come first, so if you need a specific device to a do a specific task to enable your course to be the best it can be, make sure that's what you get.

Teaching and Learning

As mentioned, it's the Teaching and Learning that should be key to your decision. What does your school need from Technology to achieve it development plan? Does your music teacher need Garageband to teach, and therefore Macs, or is your Media Studies teacher dead set against Macs, and will only use Windows? If you can get an idea of what the teachers need then it could be that the choice is made for you.

Mobile Device Management

There are many obstacles to implementing a 1:1 device to students scheme. I wouldn't want to put a school of implementing such a scheme, but make sure the following questions are answered first:
1, Who owns the device? The school or the student?
2, Who pays for the device? School or parents?
3, Who pays for the repair of the device if broken?
4, Who is responsible for the insurance of the device?
5, What is the provision if a student forgets the device/forgets to charge the device/has a broken device?
6, Can students print from their device? Where, and who pays for it?

But most importantly, what are they going to use the device for?

iPads, and tablets in general, are excellent at consuming media. You can read books, watch movies, use apps to test knowledge etc, but the actual creation of media is best suited to desktop PCs or Macs. If the expectation is for students to write essays or other more 'desktop' style activities, then perhaps a laptops of some description would be a better bet than a tablet.

Summing up

It's an important decision to make, but ultimately, make sure the technology meets your demands, and matches what you envisage teaching with. Look around, find the software that you want to use, or the technology that will enable your students to do the most in your lessons, and then decide the hardware that best matches that ideal.

Further reading I don't have too many case studies to hand, as this kind of opportunity doesn't come around too often. But here is a few resources to look at: - A headteacher that implemented a BYOD system in his school, he talks a lot about different devices and their pros and cons. Well worth a read before implementing iPads!!/ - The Network Manager for Wheatley Park school, talks mainly about Google Apps. - Investigates new technologies for teaching. - Free technology for teachers.

Personal preference

Speaking as a Network Manager, if it were left to me alone to decide, then I would go for a fully Microsoft environment for the back end, and the majority of ICT suites. It's tried, it's trusted and it's flexible for a schools environment. I would perhaps implement Macs for areas such as Media Studies and Music, with Windows machines for general ICT use.

If mobile devices were considered a must have, then the Surface Pro 2 with a keyboard attachment would be my device of choice. It has all the benefits of a tablet, but also allows for legacy Windows programs, and will work with pretty much anything you can throw at it (wireless, printers, flash player etc) and has USB connectivity. It's also a lot easier to manage than iPads or Android tablets (from my point of view anyhow!).

Whilst I would consider having a mix of Macs and PCs across the school, as the two can work in tandem. But I would insist that mobile devices be kept the same type. A mixed mobile device platform adds whole new dimensions of problems for teachers, if a website only works on two Android and Windows, but not Mac or iPad, then a teacher lesson can be ruined in a heartbeat. Basically, I would want to ensure that there was uniformity in a lesson. So if the lesson is Music, and it's using a suite of Macs, then every student has the same experience, and a teacher can prepare for that. The same with ICT using a suite of Windows PCs. If students are using their own devices in another lesson, they all need to have the same capabilities so a teacher can plan the lesson effectively.

That would be my preference!

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Technical help - User Profile cannot be loaded

If you've worked with Windows 7 for any length of time, you're sure to have come across this error sooner or later. Most of the time it's relatively easy fix involving the registry, which you can find here (this works for Vista, windows 7 and 8: However this one laptop was not playing ball. I'd ran through all of the above steps, and nothing, no new accounts could be created, the guest account wasn't working and I was in a state of confusion. After reaching the third page of Google, I found an unlikely solution here: THe problem was, Windows Live wasn't installed on this laptop, but I thought the idea was sound, so I tried this: Browse to C:\Users\Default (ensure you can see hidden files and folders) Right click AppData Choose Security Advanced Change permissions Edit Everyone and give them Full Control Click Okay Then click on the tick box next to Replace all child permissions with inheritable permissions from this object Click Apply then Yes to the Security warning Amazingly, this solved the issue, so my assumption is that if a file in the Default User profile has it's permissions screwed up, new accounts can't be created. Since every other solution was either to go back to a system restore point or rebuild the machine, I thought it worth blogging on here as it might save someone a lot of time and effort!