It’s not a shopping list

I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that telling people what tools we use might be a mistake. Or, is at least distracting from what is really important.

We’re a frequent host to visiting SLTs and IT departments, interested in the ways we work, the kind of projects we’re involved in as a school. I really enjoy the discussions with others working in the same area, and we always gain something we can add to our own practice from the experience.

What I really want to avoid though is people just walking away with a shopping list of things we own. We do have some great tools here (including the ones we wrote ourselves…), and I would happily recommend them to others in similar circumstances.

But, I’m concerned that the ‘what’ is overshadowing the ‘how’. No tool is as important as the work that goes on around how it fits in to our school practice. Which particular brand of [insert tool of your choice here] is no way near as important as what you’re going to do with it.

If you walk away from any school visit with a set of notes only containing things to buy then you’ve probably missed the point. It’s the practice that’s important.

So, in future I’ll tell you the tool providing you also take something away about the process! 😀

Broadcasting Literacy Hour



This time last year I wrote a post documenting our first high profile attempt at webcasting. We’ve taken that idea and moved on to look at CPD. Last week we used part of our CPD day to deliver ‘The Literacy Hour’ as a live, online training session. I wanted to document the project as others might be interested in trying similar- particularly those of you with high staff numbers, or are spread across multiple sites. All credit for the training itself and the content goes to @matthljones – we just pressed the buttons…

Literacy hour was a combination of video, conversation and tasks that our entire staff took part in, working in their department areas. We wanted to achieve the following:

  1. Video content to be watched by all staff at the same time. Could be pre-recorded or live content.
  2. Staff able to discuss the contents of the video, ask questions, share ideas.
  3. Some joint activities to take place (worksheets/online quiz style things).
  4. Wherever possible use tools staff are already familiar with, no training to use it, minimal signup/registration to join in.

The screenshot below shows you what we built.

Screen Shot

Screen Shot

The key elements are:

Video broadcast: UStream, UStream Producer.

UStream is a free (ad supported) webcasting tool. It takes your video feed and broadcasts it out to the world. We embedded the broadcast stream into our own webpage to mix it with the other content we wanted staff to see. UStream Producer is their (free) software that you can use to mix video content.

The adverts were the risk. When you join the stream it plays you a 20 second ad, and there were occasional banners popping up during the hour. Fairly minor, and until we start doing this regularly we can’t justify paying to have them removed.

Live discussion: Twitter, CoverItLive

CoverItLive is a great tool. Educational institutions can register for a free account too.

What you get is a chat box for your website. A user enters their name, types their message. The admin panel in the backend allows a presenter to moderate comments before they appear in the stream, and do all sorts of neat things like post links/images/polls/etc. Once you’re all done with your session it archives the content for you to use elsewhere.

We also have a good number of staff on Twitter these days. Using a pre-arranged hashtag they could tweet and have their messages also show in the live chat stream. Nice use of existing tools.

Joint activities: Google Docs

Obvious choice as a Google Apps school. Staff completed an exercise using a shared GDoc. I’ve talked a lot about how much we like GApps before, but watching an entire staff successfully collaborate together on a single document is a pretty cool thing..

If you’d like to find out more about the content delivered during literacy hour, and more generally about Wildern literacy CPD plans @matthljones is your man.

Next Year…

As this went well we’ve started to think about our next event. With our BigBlueButton trials running in the background there is clearly potential for that tool, we have some ideas about doing a similar CPD session for partner schools too, and on the technology front we’re starting to investigate using fullscreen video with the text content appearing as overlays to the main feature. Watch this space…

Image source- TV Studio Camera by Waleed Alzuhair

Blogging our CPD



We’ve just had another round of meetings with our school improvement groups at Wildern. The SIGs are voluntary groups that run as half-termly after school meetings for groups of staff to work together to develop their practice. This year we’re running:

  • Creative classroom
  • Gifted and talented
  • International classroom
  • Language for learning
  • Media literacy
  • New technologies
  • Themed days
  • Wildern TV & radio

Each group has a focus, and each member undertakes an action research project during the year. The research is fed back in to their performance management, their departments, and through our SDP is influencing policy. It’s an opportunity for staff to try out new ideas and measure their impact, and I think a great model for collaborative school improvement.

What I am most pleased about this year is our shift to documenting the projects by blogging. As a blogger I know the process encourages reflection on your own practice, but by including our SIG blog as a feed on staff homepages we are placing new ideas front and centre to staff every day.

By publishing the development blog to the rest of the world we’re also stepping up to share these things, the good, the bad, at a much wider level. We have more ideas in the pipeline, but it is starting to feel like we have a whole school approach to developing and showcasing innovative practice.

Some quick links from the SIG blog to a couple of my favourite posts:

Interviewing IT Technicians



We’ve been learning about the best way to interview edu IT staff in various guises for almost 10 years now. In the last couple of weeks we’ve been advising a couple of other organisations on how to approach technician style interviews as well as doing our own hires, and I wanted to share a few quick thoughts.

  1. Don’t just ask for CVs. You’ll get more applications than you think and won’t be able to easily filter.
  2. Don’t get over-obsessed with questions, conversations are more valuable. We gained more in 15 minute informal chats than have done in previous formal technical tests and interviews.**
  3. Communication skills are just as important as technical ability. Our guys are increasingly working with staff and students on using tools rather than sitting in dark rooms fixing them.*
  4. The education element is really important. What do they think about ICT vs. computer science? What exciting new technology would you like to see us add to our classroom practice? Why?
  5. Ethos is another important word. ‘Do you think we should block Facebook’ is a great conversation starter, teaches you a lot about how an individual might fit in with your vision.***
  6. Talk about the bad. These candidates will have researched your organisation in advance, had a tour, met lots of staff, etc. Ask what they would do to improve the school. Ask senior candidates what they would change when they join. The new hire should make you better.

* I’m not suggesting you hire the chatty one that hasn’t heard of unix, but you see the point…
** I read a post ages ago (37signals I think..), they do similar and start by asking candidates what they did yesterday. Perfect.
*** We also do plenty of work on developing that vision if you’re not sure how your conversation about that particular topic would go..

Bringing our own devices

We’ve been working our way along the development curve of moving the school to #byod. If it’s a new idea to you, what we are trying to achieve is an environment where any user can bring any device they like to school and access all the services they require using it.

It seems to me to be absolutely the correct way forward. In the same way we don’t force every student to study Spanish, why should we make them all use the same computer? It’s about personalisation, and it’s about flexibility.

This is clearly not one of those changes that can happen overnight, and at the request of @eylanezekiel I wanted to try and write up what we are doing. I’m not suggesting this is the best, or only, way to achieve it, and we are learning and modifying this plan as we go. We are always open to comments, questions and suggestions, and we’d be happy to support any others that would like to head down this path too.

What we have done so far:

1) Talk to the students

We did this in plenty of informal situations, but also used our student ICT school improvement group to more formally survey the student population about student owned devices. This group then collated the results, wrote a draft AUP for allowing students to use their devices in school, and then pitched it to SLT, staff, students and governors. These guys are brilliant. You should all have a group like this.

2) Developed our policies

#byod is a culture change, but the reasons why are clear and you can be controlled about it. This isn’t some big free for all, your lesson isn’t constantly interrupted by ringing phones, etc. It is down to the individual staff member, guided by the department heads to choose which/when/how in a lesson electronic devices can be used.

3) Opened up limited parts network & started the move to the cloud

@jamesyale is the technical genius on the team for those who want detail, but our standard wireless now allows a user to connect any device, providing they enter their school username and password. Access is still restricted and filtered in all the ways you would expect, and the username/password allows us to log use, develop different rules for staff, etc, etc.

We also made the jump over to Google Apps. There are other ways to do this, but it is the start of our development to become platform, as well as device agnostic. It’s that flexibility word again.

4) Built a genius bar!

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Well, sort of (photo is from work in progress during the summer)… We are lucky in terms of student devices. The vast majority of our kids carry an array of technology that would make IBM envious. But, equality of access is really very important to us. The new genius bar, among other things, provides the backup devices. Maybe a staff member wants every student in one lesson to have a specific piece of technology- the bar can provide loan kit for these. Perhaps they need a few extra iPods to give to students who don’t have a similar device for a particular task. The bar provides a loan pool with a booking system to supplement student owned devices. It also provides a constant staff presence who can support and inspire users. I’ll post again later in the term about this as it warrants a little more detail.

5) Engaged the staff

Our new techs AST is the absolute key here. @ribbk and the members of our staff ICT school improvement group are tasked with sharing good practice and supporting our others with new technologies. They organise regular learning focused, sessions supporting teachers using the technology and build confidence. And, they are key members in their departments for a lead on new technologies.

The other hugely important thing our staff and student groups do is plan the future. Can you teach outstanding lessons on a tablet device? Will coursework marks be higher if the content is blogged? Can twitter improve engagement in X set in Y subject? And so on. Every year members of these groups take on action research projects, and using measured results we can not only make good purchasing decisions, but help mould our curriculum.

I said it before, but your school should have these groups.

What is coming next:

1) Unmanaged wireless

A bit techy I’m afraid. One of the limitations of the wireless access is it doesn’t allow device to device communication. Good for security, bad for playing each other at DS games and so on. Our current intention is to put up a second unmanaged network to allow for this when required.

2) Building up the genius bar

We are starting to see what is popular, what we need more of. It is also teaching us new ways of supporting and training our users in more informal learning situations.

3) Student loans at the bar

Wouldn’t it be great if students could loan kit themselves? A teacher formally signing out is a step in the right direction. But, as a student being able to drop into the bar at lunch to pick up a camera because I want to document my artwork next lesson and forgot my Blackberry (unlikely, I know…) would be perfect.

4)The 1-1 scheme

This is the big picture, long term goal part. I’m either a genius or mad, but the vision makes complete sense to me.

The clear weakness of stopping where we currently are in the process is while the loan kit props up those without, it’s not good enough.

I’m a fan of the 1-1 schemes that are appearing, some really nice implementations in schools local to us. Giving a student access to a digital tool of some description with the potential to enhance their learning in every lesson is just great.

But I don’t want to tell every student the way they learn best is with X brand of laptop, or even Y type of device.

The 1-1 scheme that we are building is one where (guided by our staff and student SIGs) our stakeholders can make informed choices about the device that best suits them, and we can support them in purchasing this in all the standard ways you see with other device specific 1-1s.

Backed up by our loan pools it means we can personalise student owned devices, but still offer the flexibility of all the other tools if what they have isn’t ideal for that moment in time.

Or, if my battery runs out I can drop mine in to be charged and grab a backup device while that happens.

Or, I could pick up some extra kit to take home because I wanted to challenge my Dad to that maths game we were playing in lesson.

For those working in the area you’ll see the challenges in going down this route compared to the standard 1-1. But, just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother.

So, that’s where we are. I’d say we’re about halfway through the process.

The important takeaway if you managed to read this far is we measure. The SIGs test the theory, prove the benefit to teaching and learning (or in some cases the opposite), we move from there. We’re still planning the final stages, and will only go there if our research tells us we should. I’m the lucky one that gets to blah on about vision and go to some very shiny events for inspiration, but the structure alongside is what will get us there.

I’m also lucky enough to be in a position where we can work with others who share our vision. If you still don’t think I’m mad we should probably be working together!