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Tipping Point for the Supertanker June 12, 2009

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Tipping Point

Tipping Point

Image by: Steve Wampler http://www.flickr.com/photos/sgw/

It has been a while since I have updated the Supertanker’s heading and you will see that we have made a 50 degree change since the last update.  The Supertanker has been making excellent headway in 2009  and this large jump reflects that fact and in addition reveals the  alarming fact that the heading was last updated in July 2008!  What has happened?  Has the captain been sleeping at the helm?  The answer is no, just busy!

What is clear from the actions of the crew on the Supertanker is that like all Supertankers, our change in direction is gathering tremendous momentum.  This is fantastic news,  there are some really interesting developments happening on the Supertanker.  Change is occurring as a result of a perfect storm of three initiatives all started in 2008.

The first was the Supertanker embarking on its ICT PD cluster oddessy.  We are now in our second year of the cluster, we have three facilitators of which I am one and responsible for ICT.  The pedagogical  input from our other facilitators has created a natural platform for integrating ICT into the classroom.  Now the cart and the horse are in the appropriate alignment and the crew are  starting to really experiment with the potential for ICT to be used as a tool to enhance student learning outcomes.

In 2008 we changed our tech support team. With our previous model of support we were in a regime that thwarted creativity and stifled initiative, in 2008 we threw off that cloak and embarked upon a more open and freer model.  It has taken time for the crew to recognise that fact and to spread their wings and experiment with the possibilities.  They now have the power to experiment with tools that they have discovered and wish to use, they can give things a go instantly.

The final strand of the triumvirate has been investment in infrastructure.  We have strived to create a level playing field in all classrooms in an attempt to mitigate ‘the grass is greener’ envy that we had before.  In previous years, old equipment or a range of different performing equipment between classes and even within classes has been used as an excuse not to use ICT tools or to even try.  With a level playing field, every class has a minimum of three computers and a digital camera, staff no longer feel as though they are a poor cousin and are just using the tools.  We have also streamlined our server room.  We have consolodated the core switch cabinet, pulling together all the various coms equipment that had previously been scattered all over the Supertanker.  We have also increased our storage capacity.

The nett result of these three initiatives is that the staff have the freedom to experiment, the pedagogical rationale and space to store stuff.  As a result we are going places, a sleeping giant has been woken, the Supertanker could yet well morph into lithe A class off shore racing machine!

Has this rapid change been hassle free?  Well the answer has to be no!  The new found freedoms have now presented me with a range of new issues to deal with and in conjunction with my IT support team we are constantly having to manage the new challenges posed by the momentum.  The first issue has been our data growth, this finds me in an enviable position.

Our data growth is currently 7 Gb per day!  This is fantastic news and I can not complain about it.  It is a very crude indicator that staff and students are using the stuff that we spent so much money and time putting into place.  It means that the digital cameras are being used and some!  It means that the microphones purchased the video cameras purchased are all being used, as the data growth is due to the explosion in multi-media files.  It also means that our 1 Tb drives purchased last Christmas are now looking decidedly small!

The other and potentially more difficult issue to manage is the lag between staff enthusiasm and staff savvy.  It is a quotient that I starting to call TCoF (Total Cost of Freedom).  Having been set free from the constraints of the previous support model, staff are now experimenting and innovating, which is exactly what I wanted.  There is a price to pay for this, and we have.  For the majority of this term we have been battling a trojan on our network that is replicating, it has been a bit like fighting the Hydra.  We are now in control and the Hydra has been slain.  What is clear is that as MS tightens up its notoriously sloppy code, the hackers are looking elsewhere for their attack vectors.  The recent Adobe security compromise is a good example, as is hijacked web sites.  Both of which dupe an unsuspecting user into downloading something that they are not expecting.  It is this savvyness that unleashed users now need to develop, but it can only develop through mistakes.

Therefore as the Supertanker continues to gain momentum, my issues and focus have in their turn changed.  I have moved  from having to cajole reluctant users to use the stuff to working with individuals to plan great integration strategies.  I have also to cope with the mistakes of enthusiastic innovators and manage a rapidly increasing data storage and back up headache.  I now have to balance momentum and enthusiasm with protection that is not draconian and restrictive.  I have to manage data and lots of it,  juggle resources and move stuff about in order to cope.  Hallelujah!

We are truly Turning the Supertanker!

“Warp factor 5 Mr Sulu!” January 30, 2009

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Warp Speed

Warp Speed

Monday sees the start of a new year, a new term and most importantly a new era on the Supertanker.  2009 will be a very exciting year for me, the crew of the Supertanker and most importantly for the students.

The latter half of term four last year saw me project managing  a huge infrastructure change on the Supertanker.   Two huge new switch cabinets were installed on either side of the gully, with four additional pairs of fibre cables connecting both sides of the site terminated in these cabinets.  Three new servers with massive storage capacity were installed, we now have terrabyte drives with RAID 1 swapout drive bays.  Cabling between core switches was rationalised into one of the new cabinets housed in a new purpose designed and air conditioned server room.  Every server has its own UPS and all the core switches are now on a UPS.  The new three phase power supply to this room has different hardware on different phases.  All of this infrastructure was put in place and cut over to without the staff or students even noticing that it had happened, to the extent that many of the crew do not know that I have already moved into this new bespoke server room or even where it is! (Long may that last!)

In addition to this we also purchased a raft of new equipment for the classrooms.  Every classroom is now cabled to Ministry standards with 6-8 data outlets and has a Smart Board and data projector in it.  In addition every classroom has the same kind of computer with identical specifications.  What we finally have is a level playing field.

For two long we have struggled with old tools, broken tools and oases of newness.  This led to ‘grass is greener inertia’ from both crew and students alike.  With a level playing field we have created an environment of collegiality and homogeneity.  Today I gave my first introductory whole crew lesson with Smart Notebook 10.  I have held back on introducing this product so that today we all installed this new product and the new version is sufficiently different looking to even fox those that have been using Smart Notebook 9.5, it was a great leveller.  Today I have seen staff all helping each other to get their boards and the software up and running for Monday.

I have been working with many of the crew who have been energised by the potential that they see for increasing student outcomes in utilising the tools now available to them.  The ideas being discussed and possibilities to extend them have futher motivated the staff.  Good teachers need good tools, the Supertanker now has both.  Maybe what the new tools have given them is a sense of reliablity from that new plastic smell!  It is as if the latent potential for innovation and integration of ICTs into their pedagogy has burst forth.  By the end of today the one member of the crew who I least expected to make significant inroads quickly had produced an interactive registration document for her students to use on Monday when they arrive.  To continue the Star Trek theme, may this initiative and others like it  live long and prosper on the Supertanker.

Come on 2009 the Supertanker is primed and ready to sail!

Ulearn08 – reflections October 12, 2008

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Post war teaching evangelists...

Post war teaching evangelists...zzzz

A growing disquiet has been welling in me throughout this year’s Ulearn08 conference and now that I am home, this disquiet has turned into more of a roar! The euphoria of the event has subsided and a couple of good nights sleep later I now gaze at the reality of re-boarding the Supertanker and the game of chess that is managing the politics of change, no longer is it sufficient to use the Nike ad slogan of “Just do it.”

One of the words that kept coming up throughout the discussions that I had with other delegates was ‘disconnect.’ We were using disconnect in relation to creating relevant and authentic learning experiences for students, but increasingly I began to recognise that there is also a level of disconnect with teachers and this is the cause of my disquiet.

My main concern with events like Ulearn08 is that they are a tabernacle, a temple, a crucible of self affirmation. Each keynote is preaching to the converted and each breakout, provides more initiatives, tools, tips and techniques for the eager devotees; they in turn internalise the ICT/C21pedagogy gospel and in dewey eyed and rosy cheeked  fervour, add what they have heard to their own large and growing armoury of web2.0 tools and to their individual e-learning pedagogy. All that is missing is the occasional euphoric ‘Hallelujah!’ and ‘Amen’ from the floor to complete the picture. To continue the metaphor, the eager disciples were released from the Ulearn08 temple on Friday to return to their schools to evangelise the needs of the C21 learner. My question is, how effective is this model?

Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Will Richardson in their opening Keynote speech ended their presentation by arguing that we have a moral obligation to rapidly change our teaching styles and learning environments to meet the needs of the C21 learner.  Bruce McIntyre argued from a business perspective as did Steven Carden that out of the box thinking, creativity, and an entrepreneurial approach are the hallmarks of modern business success.  Mark Treadwell has long argued that the new education paradigm is here and the old industrial model of education is redundant, but still it persists.  In one of her spotlight sessions Sheryl got us to think about  how education has changed over the last 100 years and what is needed to be changed in order for students of today to be successful.  She recounted the words of Seymour Papert who reportedly asked who would fare better today if we went back 100 years in time, grabbed a C19 surgeon and teacher and transposed them into the C21 environment of their respective professions.  Who would fare better patient or student?  Surgery with  an ether mist and non sterile scalpels anyone?  We all know that the teacher would be fine and that the students would notice odd clothes and little else different.  What a damning indictment of educational innovation over the last 100 years that vision is.

And yet we could see it, the future that is, we have all internalised and agree  (those that attend Ulearn type conferences that is) with the blend of arguments for change and rapid change now. We could all see the brave new world of engaging, relevant and authentic student learning.  So where is it?  The final keynote got perhaps the loudest applause from the floor, the great work that is happening at Manaia Kindergarten is a joy to behold, but the saddest moment was perhaps the story of the student who had transferred from Kindergarten to Year 0 and presented his new teacher with a business card with his blog address on it, with the statement “This is my blog address, you will be needing that.”  I have no idea of the ICT enthusiasm of that child’s New Entrant teacher, but I got the distinct impression from the presenter that the notion of blogs and all things web2.0 were not on the agenda of that student’s new teacher.

And this is the point.  We can not rely on student pressure for change, how truly empowered was that Kindergarten student? The educational revolution we aspire to will not happen through student agitation or revolt.  Students are already disconnecting during school hours, they do not see it as relevant to them or their world, especially and increasingly at secondary level.  So why hold conferences like Ulearn?  Do not get me wrong, I loved going and will want to continue to attend and present, but I now know that unless the message changes or the audience changes, then change will be slow and we as a nation do not have time on our side.  Every day we continue to think about change, discuss it or debate it; it is a day wasted for our students be they at Kindergarten or in Year 13.  The problem is that united at a Ulearn type event we can see the future and know that it is right, but back in our schools we are lone or minority beacons for change.  How do you argue against an experienced teacher who argues that they have had consistently good results for years that they  produce literate, numerate students using worksheets? How do you persuade a management team who measure their success against student test results from the self same teachers, to change?  It is just that they do not see or  do  not want to see, that the old paradigm is just that, old and outmoded.  It is these teachers and management teams that are disconnected from the needs of the students in their charge…

My epiphany from the conference is that none of us who attended this year should attend next year and that the conference name should be changed.  I will be recommending that next year it should be  representatives from the BOT, senior management and teachers who do not recognise the need for change, who should attend and what is more the conference name should be changed from Ulearn09 to Theyneedtoknowandunderstand09.

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The 10 000th visitor October 12, 2008

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10 000 visitors to the Supertanker
10 000 visitors to the Supertanker

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Congratulations, the 27th visitor today was the 10 000th visitor to my blog since its inception, according to Clustr maps.  If you would like to stake that claim, to be my 10 000th visitor, please let me know by claiming your spot in the hall of fame, yet to be built but acknowledgement will be public!

Half time match report July 31, 2008

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Image source: http://www.hydrolance.net/common/OceanBowPlow.jpg

Here we are in the second week of term 3 on the Supertanker, the year is already well past the halfway point and I have had some time for reflection.  The first two terms were stress on legs for me, there was Prague to prepare for and then there were the technical issues of the network, I have said before that we have had  a run of technical bumps with network performance.  The nett result has been that terms one and two could be described as a PR disaster in terms of ICT.  The upside of that is that we now have a more robust network and normality has been resumed, now I can go on a charm offensive to win back the hearts and minds of the waiverers on the Supertanker.

Yesterday I spent my first day on the Supertanker wearing my facilitator hat.  It was my role to work with teachers on rotation throughout the day helping them with ideas, solutions and giving some helpful suggestions to further integrate their ICT ideas into their planning and therefore their pedagogy.  To my delight, I left the Supertanker last night with a very healthy and positive view of the ICT within. I spent the day with 16 teachers, just over 50% of the staff.  It seems that despite the technical bumps the staff have been quietly getting on with it, this is fantastic news.  True the initiatives I worked on yesterday represent exactly where on the integration continuum the staff are.  There are some staff just making tentative forays into integration and the ICT skills and activites and their ambitions reflect this.  However,  there are staff doing some really ambitious and really challenging activities at the other end of the spectrum and the remaining staff are occupying all the shades between the two extremes.  Some of these activities will really be enhancing the conditions of learning of their students and I am looking forward to seeing the end products.  I think that it is fair to say that the Supertanker has made a further bearing change even in a choppy and disturbed sea.

Some of the programmes and utilities that the staff are currently using in their class programmes are: blogging, wikis, Photostory, digital cameras, Inkscape, The Gimp, Google Earth, Google Sketchup, Mogulus, Movie Maker, video cameras, Voicethread, Podomatic, Bubbleshare, Mindstorms and so on.  There is a good spread and the staff are very positive about their own progress and not a PowerPoint in site! Great news indeed!

We are on a new bearing of 230 degrees and are at full steam ahead!