Friday, April 27, 2012

The Near Horizon

This morning I had a review lesson with a class of Grade 4 students where the focus was on the 6 ICT in the PYP strands.  We talked about how we'd used technology to investigate and identified some of the units of inquiry that involved a lot of research.  We talked about how we had organized our work into both the school network folders and in the cloud.  We thought back about all the times we'd collaborated using Google Docs, how we had created animations and videos and how we had communicated our understanding through blogs.  However the real reason I wanted to talk to the students this morning was to reiterate our responsible use policy and to reinforce the strand becoming good digital citizens.  Up to now, our students have used passwords that we have provided for them.  I talked about the fact that it was now time for them to learn how to make their own secure passwords and to take responsibility for all their work.

As I reflected on this lesson later, I thought about the recently released K-12 Horizon Report 2012.  I started to think that in just one year these 4th Graders would be Middle Schoolers and then I started to think about the sort of technology they would be using - they have done so much this year and come so far that it's exciting to think what they will be taking on next.  I went back and re-read the report looking specifically at the trends that will be adopted in one year or less.

Cloud Computing - When I first arrived here in 2009 I was enthusiastic about using all the Web 2.0 tools I'd been using with students when I worked in Thailand.  I tried some of these out with these students - who were then in Grade 2 - and found them difficult to use because of network problems.  I was keen to have students store their work in the cloud and to use Web 2.0 tools to collaborate with others.  At that time I was a lone voice in the school advocating this.  Now just a couple of years later the Horizon report states "few schools do not make use of the cloud, whether as a matter of policy or not."  Attitudes have definitely changed - and our students are able to connect to their work anywhere and from any device they have.  Google Apps, introduced the following year, allowed learning to extend well beyond the school day.  In fact one of our administrators told me this week that he'd been able to communicate and collaborate with his PYP Exhibition group while he'd been out of the country last week.  They were using Google Docs on their phones and he was using Skype.

Collaborative Environments - The Horizon Report goes on to discuss online spaces where students can collaborate in groups.  Our Grade 4s did try to collaborate 2 years ago - in fact this was a very successful project where they skyped with other schools and then built VoiceThreads based on photos and information they collected which were shared with the collaborating schools.  Now that these students are in Grade 4 they are blogging and connecting with other students again - sometimes at school and sometimes at home.  Quad blogging has enabled our students to gather a variety of perspectives and has motivated them to improve their writing skills.  To the best of my knowledge none of our elementary students has yet been engaged in online learning - in fact I've only really got into this myself recently - but I think it's only a matter of time before this will become a reality for them.  Maybe even by the time they are in Middle School.

Mobiles and Apps - Students are bringing in their own mobile devices - mostly mobile phones - which they can access the internet with using 3G (so not using the school network at all).  Earlier this week I had a discussion about how we could be using more of the tools that the students have.  BYOD is the way of the future, as students will simply use the devices they already have and are comfortable using, and of course this leads to huge savings in the budget for desktop and laptop computers.   This year I've also found I'm more likely to be talking with our teachers about apps they can use on mobile devices than I am about new software (I don't think we'll buy any new software next year though helpfully we'll buy more licenses of the ones we already have as we will purchase more carts of laptops.)  The Apple app store has more than 1 billion downloads a month of cheap and useful tools.  The Horizon Report notes, "The power of apps coupled with the portability of mobile devices, is causing many schools to take another look at their policies regarding mobile devices.  Many see mobiles as a key aspect of Bring Your Own Device environments."

Tablet Computing - I'd been part of a Tablet PC programme in my last school in Thailand for 4 years before moving to Switzerland, but even I could not have imagined the impact that iPads would have on education.  The Horizon Report describes these as "not just a new category of mobile devices, but a new technology in its own right, one that blends features of laptops, smartphones, and earlier tablet computers with always-connected internet and thousands of apps ... they are independent and distinct from other mobile devices ... ideal tools for sharing content, videos and presentations ... easy for anyone to use ... and highly portable.  Although I don't believe our Grade 4s will be using iPads next year, I know students in some grades certainly will be, and I see more and more good international schools discussing going 1:1 with iPads for students in Middle and Primary sections of their schools.  iPads are economical, flexible and much cheaper than laptops, they are portable and have access to thousands of free or almost-free apps.  I've looked at how iPads have been used in PE and in Music with our students and it's very impressive.

From a PYP perspective I think iPads could be a great tool simply because teachers are probably at a similar level to students in their use of them - therefore they can learn alongside students and discover together what they can do.  The #pypchat today asked What does inquiry look like?  Giving students and teachers iPads and encouraging them to explore what they can do with them seems like a great inquiry to me.

Photo taken at the Haven Bar/Restaurant in Zug

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