Category Archives: Virtualisation, cloud computing

Pedagogically driven…?

Over the past few  years I’ve frequently heard the comments; “It’s not about the technology, it’s about the pedagogy”, or in relation to the advent of ultrafast broadband; “we’ve got to drive it from the teaching and learning.” These are well intended sentiments, but why is it that the technology still dominates much of the discussion, and so often becomes the starting point by default? And just what do we mean by letting the teaching and learning lead? How would you explain that to someone outside of education – or, for that matter, someone inside?

I’ve been thinking about this for some time now and this week I had a chance to share some of my thinking with Russell Burt, principal at Point England School. I’ve captured our jottings at the whiteboard in the diagram above (click on it for a larger version). Key points are:

The fundamental activity of students as learners is shown in the ‘process’ line, consisting of:

  • Learn – This is the part of the learning process where learners are exposed to intentional teaching, access to content, the development of pre-requsite knowledge and skills etc.
  • Create – this is where learners work with, manipulate and re-present the information they have gathered in the ‘learn’ scenario. This may be done independently or collaboratively, and may involve a range of tools and environments.
  • Share – where learners communicate with others what they have learned, being especially aware of the audience. May involve a celebration of some sort, and feedback where appropriate.

These three things are underpinned/supported by a comprehensive assessment process – both for and of learning. The assessment band is deliberately shown this way to emphasise the fact that it isn’t driving the learning, but is an integral part of the learning process.

Below that are the three principles that we think are key to developing an effective, future-focused approach to teaching and learning:

  • Ubiquity – focusing on learning that happens anywhere, any time, any pace and through/with any device. Learning is no longer confined to the ‘box’ of the classroom, the ‘fences’ of the school yard, or the period between 9-3 in a school day. It also reflects the underpinnings of life-long learning.
  • Personalisation – learners in charge of their learning, with the ability to make meaningful choices about all aspects of what and how they learn. Also recognises the imperative on teachers, as learning designers, to recognise that all learners learn differently and in ways personal to them. 
  • Collaboration – recognising that the ability to work with others is an essential skill in a future-focused world. Acknowledges the theoretical underpinnings of social constructivism and connectivism, and the need to recognised and work with each other’s strengths (and weaknesses).

The layers below this illustrate the way the services and infrastructure supports our intended learning outcomes/teaching approaches. Working from the top, it becomes relatively straight forward to see how the teaching and learning may drive the technology decisions. Take this example for instance:

Beginning in the ‘learn’ area, a school decides it is important that students have unfettered access to a broad range of online resources and materials to support learning in the classroom as it is required (just in time).

Acknowledging the ‘ubiquity principle, the decision is that access should be available anywhere on the school premises, but shouldn’t be confined to the school day and school premises.

This leads then to decisions about mobile, internet capable devices, school-wide wireless, cloud-based content servers and filtering solutions that aren’t unnecessarily restrictive.

Although this isn’t a particularly detailed explanation, and there are a range of other factors and possible scenarios that could be developed to meet the original ‘learning’ need, you’ll get the point. The important thing is that the model is an attempt to initiate some dialogue about how we articulate our teaching and learning needs, and how they can then be appropriately supported by the technologies available to us.

When disaster strikes

A number of years ago I had the misfortune to be caught in a heavy rain shower on my way to work. Not only did the water penetrate the raincoat I was wearing, leaving me totally saturated, but it also ‘drowned’ my laptop, leading to problems occurring when I tried to start it up, resulting in the hard drive being completely unusable and nothing able to be retrieved from it. Fortunately I worked in an organisation that allowed me to send daily backups of my laptop across the network to be stored on the server. Within a few hours I was again working on a borrowed laptop, with all my files installed, minus just a few things I’d been working on the night before.

That was really my first ‘close shave’ that caused me to appreciate the absolute importance of ‘backups’! Failure to do that would have been a disaster for me!

I’m imagining that many schools and teachers in Christchurch are thinking about this after the recent earthquake. Many have either had their laptops or servers  destroyed, or have lost access to them as they lie inside condemned buildings. For them the issue of ‘disaster recovery‘ takes on new meaning – more than simply a case of whether things have been ‘backed up’ – but also a case of where those back-ups are located.

The principal from one school I spoke to is distraught because while his school had invested wisely in a complete back-up server and ensured that regular and comprehensive back-ups were made on a regular basis, the back-up server was located alongside the active server in the school, and together they lie in a condemned building in the city. Their data is undoubtedly safe, but inaccessible.

A teacher from a second school was telling me how ‘lucky’ they were that as the earthquake was happening their technician had the presence of mind to grab the back-up tapes from the office as he fled the building, and now the staff and students are able to continue operating on borrowed computers in borrowed premises accessing their files installed on a borrowed server. Certainly a case of good luck rather than good planning – they are the fortunate ones. Their tapes could so easily have been left inaccessible inside a condemned building also, leaving them in the same situation as the first school.

One of the essential elements of a good disaster recover plan is to ensure that you have off-site back-up and storage. This doesn’t simply mean that you take the back-up tapes home at the end of each day. Effective off-site back-up involves regular ‘pushing’ of data to the off-site server – this should occur at least once daily, typically overnight, but with digital data being mission critical for schools,  more frequent back-up or “continuous data protection” should be seriously considered.

This is one of the significant benefits of being connected to Ultrafast Broadband, and as schools look forward to how they can leverage their investment in UFB, the lessons learned from Christchurch should raise the concerns for a good disaster recovery plan to somewhere near the top of the list.

Challenges, changes and trends 2011

I spent the weekend preparing a presentation that I’ll be using with some of the clusters I speak with at the beginning of the year – titled “Challenges, change and trends in 2011”. It is framed around four key questions:

  • Who are our learners?
  • What are we preparing them for?
  • How are we preparing them for this?
  • What are the implications of connectivity for learning and schooling?

I’ve drawn on the Horizon Report 2010 (NZ-Aus edition) and provided links to illustrations of each of the trends. I’ve also created a livebinder (link below) which has all of these links listed for easy access.

Learning without limits

This morning I attended the Ministry of Education’s Learning Without Limits seminar in Christchurch. Around 100 principals, teachers, BOT members and other interested parties came to hear Douglas Harre and Marg McLeod from the Ministry of Education share an update on the progress being made towards the government’s plan for ultra-fast broadband in schools. The basis of the vision is:

  • 97% NZ schools (99.7% of students) will have access to UFB (100megabits/second) by 2016
  • 3% remote schools will have access to fast broadband (10Mbps) by other means eg.satellite or point-to-point wireless
  • Crown Fibre Holdings (CFH) and Local Fibre Companies (LFCs) are connecting urban schools, MED and rural broadband providers are connecting rural schools.
  • $150 million investment signalled to prepare schools for the rollout
  • $1.5 billion investment overall

A key part of what the Ministry of Education is doing is through the Schools Network Upgrade Project (SNUP) which aims to make schools fibre ready over six years. Key points about the SNUP programme are:

  • Provides subsidised upgrades to internal data and electrical cabling infrastructure
  • 473 schools have been upgraded since 2006 ($18m)
  • 100 more schools underway ($22m)
  • 80 % costs for state /68% for state integrated funded by MoE
  • Further 239 announced by Minister to start in Sept/Oct ($48m)
  • By end of 2011 approx 1/3 of schools will have been upgraded

The presentation also canvased activity in the area of laptops for teachers, capability building and resource provision before providing an update on the development of the proposal for a National Education Network (NEN) across the country. Not a lot of detail on this as it seems that there’s still a lot to sort out – but the NEN trial is currently going ahead with an extended trial of up to 200 schools until June 2011.

All in all a useful meeting – the first of a series that will be held throughout New Zealand. I’m a fan of open information sharing, and the more we can have of this sort of thing the better – providing an opportunity for people hear details directly from those working in the area, and also to have the opportunity to ask questions and seek clarifications in an open forum.

A “G-Cloud” for England?

News just out here in the UK is of plans to develop project to build a shared cloud infrastructure for all government departments – announced yesterday at the Future of the Data Centre conference happening over here at the moment.

According to the release the UK government’s Cabinet Office plans to create a so-called ‘skunk works’ team to develop better ways to manage IT projects.
The proposal was revealed in a strategy document published this week, entitled the ‘Structural Reform Plan’’, which proposes a number of IT-related reforms.

This will be an interesting development to watch – thanks Malcolm for the alert 🙂

Forecast for Education

I had the privilege of attending the TUANZ Telecommunications day event in Wellington yesterday, along with around 250 people from a broad range of telecommunications leaders from both the industry and public service sectors. It was a great opportunity to see and hear about what is happening at a national and international level in terms of the development of IT solutions, in particular, the roll-out of ultra-fast broadband (UFB), and how this is providing benefits to the sector groups involved and creating opportunities at both a local and national level. While the event wasn’t targeted at educators, education certainly was a focus of many people’s thinking when it came to the benefits of the strategic roll-out of UFB – including Dr Taylor Reynolds from the OECD and Steven Joyce, NZ’s minister of communications.

I’d been invited to share a perspective on what all this means for education, and my presentation and notes appear below…

I used the metaphor of a ‘cloudy’ future for education because of the way it represents the future ‘boundary-less’ nature of education, both technically and pedagogically. The physical structure and location of a school will become less important, with emphasis shifting to how that school ‘fits’ within the network of educational service provision. Students may continue to turn up at a physical school for all or part of their school day, but as far as their learning is concerned they will consider themselves a part of a learning network.

This may sound a rather outlandish vision to some, but the drivers and vision for this have been with us for more than 20 years – it’s just that now the enablers are catching up to where we can begin to see how it can be achieved.

From a technical perspective I referred to the overwhelming issues schools are facing in terms of the total cost of ownership of IT – everything from the investment in hardware, software and infrastructure, to the cost of support, updates and licensing etc. This is not to mention the ever changing nature of the investment itself – including the demand for support of internet capable mobile technologies (as opposed to location-bound desktops) and the future of a network of things, the implications of which have yet to be considered for schools.

The cloud (and I used the term very loosely to embrace everything from the concept of virtualisation, co-location and global cloud provision – anything that enables schools to move the IT off-site really) provides potential for the following solutions…

  • Desktop virtualsiation
  • Software as a service
  • Server co-location
  • Online support
  • Ubiquitous access – any time, anywhere, any device
  • Backup and fail-over
  • Disaster recovery
  • Data security

From a pedagogical perspective, schools are facing increasing pressure in terms of catering for the diverse needs of students. It is no longer acceptable to treat groups of students as a heterogeneous cohort – defined by age. Face with the demands from students to provide access to the breadth of subject choices they want, and to personalise the learning experience for each individual, the existing structures of schools are being challenged – and to try and resolve this with a traditional mindset ends up seeing demands for more staff (a scarce resource anyway), more buildings (requiring more physical space and more dollars), and more resources (at significant cost, often for a very small group of learners, and which may become out of date very quickly.) On top of this are the demands for individualised assessment through the learning process (not just at the end), and the desire to maintain a record of an individual student’s learning through their learning lifetime.

I introduced the concept of disintermediation, a concept developed in the world of economics and business, but now finding its way into education as we consider the potential benefits of separating out the various components of the educational process (planning, teaching, resources, assessment, support etc) and enabling access to source for each. (Bill St Arnaud commented on this yesterday following a post in the New York times about disintermediation in the tertiary environment.)

I referred to ‘cloud’ solutions for education – including the use of video conferencing and virtual schooling to enable access to curriculum choices and to subject matter experts, while remaining in the geographic location of choice. I referred to the NZ instance of the virtual learning network as an example of this happening already on a growing scale.

I spoke about the development of local schools “loops”, referring to the development of a National Education Network in NZ, and to the London Grid for Learning as an example of this internationally. In my view, these will provide the ‘tipping point’ for a transformation of our educational service provision in the future.

I also spoke of how a network of UFB will enable a smart use of data – something that will enable us to start thinking about futures data modelling in the education system, allowing us to be more precise in planning for new school buildings (where appropriate), anticipating staffing needs, providing a more timely response in terms of funding etc. It also has huge implications in terms of our assessment processes – causing us to rely less on end of year assessments, and focusing more on formative processes that are data-driven, informed by national means and cohort referencing, and pointing to next steps of development (instead of simply labelling the learner and leaving it to them or their teacher to think about what next).

It was a lot to squeeze into 25 minutes – but I did get there and managed to end with a reference to what I believe is the major stumbling block we face – and that isn’t the hardware or infrastructure – or even funding. It’s in our minds. We need to make sure we avoid the notion of horseless carriage thinking (thanks William Horton) as we strategically plan for and adopt these new technologies. We have to make sure that our adoption of the new doesn’t simply become a ‘tack-on’ to what we’ve known in the past. We are talking about true transformation here, not a tinkering with what we currently have – and we have to be prepared to embrace the futures that emerge before us as the implications unfold – just as they did when the first motorcars were invented!

ADDENDUM: Telecommunications Review have published their ‘top ten from telco day‘ summary of the day.

Creating a regional school’s network

I had the opportunity today to visit the Warwickshire Education Services in Warwick, and their ICT Development Services team who provide a “one-stop-shop” for  ICT services for schools in the Warwickshire Local Authority. The authority provides services to 249 schools (36 Secondary and 213 primary, nursery and specialist schools) – a total of around 80,000 learners and 15,500 teaching and support staff.

I was generously hosted by Chris Page who has worked as Technical Development Manager there for more than 15 years, during which time the authority has seen a lot of development in terms of the ICT systems and infrastructure linking all the schools. IT was a wonderfully insightful meeting and tour of their facility, providing me with some useful insights that I can take back with me to New Zealand where we’re in the process of building regional school networks based on fibre connectivity.

Key features of what I saw include:

  • All schools in the authority are using a common student management system – SIMS by Capita
  • There is also a common portal service (Sharepoint-based) and VLE (RM provided) for all schools
  • All students in Warwickshire schools are entered into a common identity database on entry to school – making the issue of IAM straightforward to deal with, and enabling the movement of students between and among schools etc. to be more easily managed.
  • Use of SWIVEL to enable two factor authentication for access – assures greater security without creating more layers of interface for the user.
  • Funding for support for ICT in schools is on a user-pays basis by the Ed Services group, and is provided on a subscription system.
  • They have adopted the SIF protocol for data interoperability between systems.
  • IAM process and SIF usage also enables common access to a variety of services, including the learning portal, the VLE, SIMS, cashless catering, absences and reporting etc.
  • Strong emphasis on user support and professional development in all of the planning and visioning of programmes
  • Implemented solutions to address the Parental Engagement Agenda, using an application called Insight by Tasq, that draws data from the MIS package and presents it in a form for parents to access – including an iPhone app that is in development.
  • Strong emphasis on cyber safety and monitoring of online usage – including the use of monitoring and filtering software from Forensic Software that is installed and managed by the ICT Services group, and also WebSense, used to monitor much of the admin application usage.
  • Well developed disaster recovery procedures, with data centres located in four parts of the region, each connected by fibre with regular backups scheduled etc. The software used allows for the virtual backup of all machines (including teacher and student laptops) in all schools on the network.
  • All computers in schools are managed using an imaging process, allowing for remote updating etc through a virtualised environment, using Microsoft’s VMware and MS HyperV server technology. In this way the ICT services group are able to set up a new school installation in a morning.

I’m sure I’ll surface more thoughts once I’ve reviewed my notes more – but the key thing I came away with was a confirmed understanding of the importance of a comprehensive approach to IAM at the centre of a shared services infrastructure, and the importance of a common data interoperability framework to enable discrete systems to talk to each-other (or at least share data!)

There are a number of examples and case studies of the work they do available online, including:

CORE’s ten trends for 2010

Today I presented CORE’s ten trends for 2010 to an audience of around 400 delegates at the Learning@School conference in Rotorua. The ten trends are a collection of themes and issues that have been identified by CORE staff as trends in education that we imagine will impact on the work of teachers and leaders in early childhood centres, schools, and tertiary institutions in NZ in the coming year. While our focus is on the bigger picture of education, there is a focus on trends associated with the use of ICTs in education, reflecting the fact that we are living in a world where nearly everything we do has a digital dimension.

UK Update #3

lakeside centre

I had the privilege today of attending day one of the 6th annual JISC CETIS conference “A Brave New World?” , held at the The Lakeside, Conference Aston, Birmingham. The conference is billed as an opportunity reflect on the successes and challenges of the previous year, to look into the future, to speculate, and to consider the interventions needed to realise the information systems for teaching and learning into the future.

For me it was an opportunity to link again with several people I’ve come to know over the years through my work in the area of ICT in education, standards, interoperability etc. It was particularly good to be there for the farewell to Oleg Liber, professor of eLearning at Bolton University and the outgoing director of CETIS. I’ve met Oleg on a number of occasions in the past and have a great regard for his work, particularly in the area of educational cybernetics and his visioning the future of online learning environments.

Opening keynote was Chris Cobb, pro vice chancellor, Roehampton University. His talk was titled: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but rather the one most adaptable to change…” Chris noted that this quote has previously been attributed to Charles Darwin, but was actually said by Clarence Darrow, an early 20th Century Lawyer working out of New York! Chris used a variety of Darrow’s other quotes through his talk.

Chris’s address was a stimulating vision of the future from the perspective of a University administrator with an IT background. His main thrust was about how a SOA (Services Oriented Architecture) is going to unlock a lot of the systems we have in our world today. Chris believes believes there’ll be a move away from ERP systems – huge, monolithic products etc. and move towards a suite of interoperable services. He provided a range of examples of the use of Software as a Service (SaaS) being used to illustrate the benefits of this approach over the current ‘enterprise architecture’ approach and the bloated, monolithic systems that inhabit it. This future will see lots of smaller suppliers delivering things in a different way, resulting in a more agile, responsive approach.

Some of the examples he shared were:

  • WPM – hosted automatic online payment system – now used by dozens of universities. Includes online shop feature etc – Birmingham University – using a cloud-based, software as a service approach
  • The Princeton Review – shared service for post graduate admissions – also “Graduate Advantage” – online application form delivered to institutions, fast turnaround, information ported into SMS etc (a brokerage service)
  • campus M – providing mobile apps (downloadable) that link into core corporate systems and allow download into mobile device – eg links into library management systems, uses GPS technology to help students find where they are on their campus, alerts to timetable system etc. Hosted environment – nothing in the institution itself. Breaking the mould of what a university has always done.
  • Student Pad – hosted environment for institution to put their own private landlord information on it.
  • Careers – eg Target Connect, Olivedon
  • Reading list – eg TALIS Aspire – links reading list to library catalogue – marketed to TALIS and non-TALIS users. Allows users to see books from their reading list in the local library and also in local bookshops

A useful resource Chris pointed us to is an article titled Painting the Clouds by Colin Currie, published by Educause. The article provides a balanced view of the issues involved in shifting the administration of IT functions to external entities.

Software as a Service – e-Book

With all the talk about the ‘cloud’ and opportunities it creates for schools to re-think their ICT infrastructure, one of the terms that is also appearing in people’s vocabulary is Software as a Service (SaaS).

SaaS refers to computer applications that are delivered over the web as a service rather than being physically installed on school servers or individual desktops.

This morning I downloaded a free e-book from Tech&Learning titled “A guide to software as a service in education” which provides a very readable summary and introduction to what this is all about. While written for the US context, there’s plenty of useful information in here for those embarking on understanding what SaaS is all about.