Monday, 2 March 2015

Does it have to be an either or? Some ponderings about platforms

It's been an interesting few months in the BeLchick's world - not only having in regards to having moved the family 'across the ditch' to Australia, also in regards to work itself. Quite a bit is the same, and quite a bit is different in this new role - or is it?

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In New Zealand most of our paper work and administration was hosted in Google, our team meetings went through Google Hangouts etc. I know Google apps quite well, have completed various exams and qualifications and I have worked a lot with schools to meaningfully use Google apps in their teaching in learning. Here at Expanding Learning Horizons our parent company is a Microsoft partner, we conduct training on behalf of Microsoft at times. We use Lync for our online team meetings, share OneNote notebooks etc.

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In New Zealand many of my schools used iPads and had or were investigating Chromebooks; here, the majority of the schools I have come in contact with so far have Windows 8 devices.

In New Zealand I worked in a MoE funded role as Learning with Digital Technologies Facilitator solely with state schools and state integrated schools. In Australia most our work is funded directly by the schools, and the majority of our schools are not state schools.

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These seem to be glaring differences, and I have been asked questions about it, many of them along the lines of 'how do you cope with all the changes', and 'how could these schools choose platform X/Y/Z'?

Firstly, I cope just fine thanks for asking - being a tutu (derived from te rēo Māori, meaning someone who likes to play around and try out / figure out new things) I enjoy working out new things. And by being thrown into the deep end, with the support of my lovely team leader I have learnt lots in a short while.

The second question is very interesting, and I have been thinking about this for quite a while now: Why and how do schools make the decisions they make? There can be quite an outrage by some innovative educators that have adopted the one or the other platform as theirs when someone else chooses a different platform. I can't help but once again come back to the Golden Circle (see Simon Sinek e.g. here):

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WHY - What is the vision for the learning at our school?
HOW - How will we put this vision into action?
WHAT - What actions are we taking?

Office365 or GAFE or iPads or BYOD are NOT A WHY or VISION, they are not even a HOW really but simply a tool to support the HOW.

Regardless, within the progression of changing teaching and learning at a school, permitting 'open slaughter' in regards to platforms and type of devices used can create havoc and be detrimental to the quality of learning we are trying to improve. So if you are looking at making changes in your school / classroom, you might want to ponder the following questions:

  1. What is your (e-)learning vision?
  2. How will you put this into action?
  3. What tools are you most familiar with / confident about? Are they supporting your vision?
  4. Have you got support within your setting with expertise beyond your own, and what is their expertise?
See, I believe we should always start with something we are familiar with, and make small changes from there, one step at a time. Sometimes the decision is made for us, and we have to make the best of a situation. For some schools this might be prescribing one platform for all to use, or one device for all students because this might be the one change they are ready to make at that time. If they have gone through WHY and HOW, and this was the decision they have come to from there, let's support them that they are ready for their next step, and then the next step, and the step after that.

I include the teachers with the learners and with being considerate of their needs. Yes, they are professionals, and as that we expect that they continually up-skill, but that, too, has to be one step at a time. I also emphasised their above because I truly believe that there is no one solution that is right for all schools, they need to make their decisions based on their vision and their needs. 

So after all this, do I personally think one platform is better than the other?
I move between many different platforms to suit my needs at particular times. I have access to a MacBook Air, a Samsung and an Acer Chromebook, a Toshiba Ultrabook, a Surface Pro3, an iPad Mini, a Nexus 3 tablet, and you would see me pull out one or the other at different times. I have not found one device that suits all my needs at all times, and I'm not even looking for that any more. I have access to Google Drive, to OneDrive, Office365, Dropbox etc. and I swap between them as I need to. I love aspects of the different platforms, and no platform does meet all my needs at all times
Can you see the common theme? It is about meeting different needs, at different times. 

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Some of the the tools that I currently find especially valuable include:
  • Google Drive for the ease of collaborating synchronously and asynchronously on documents etc.
  • OneNote2013, esp. on Windows 8 devices, for collaboration and fabulous integrated UDL features
  • Google+ incl. Communities and Hangouts for connecting beyond my organisation
  • Office Mix add-on which allows the creation of flipped learning opportunities and monitoring of learners accessing this content

My blog post is not influenced by who pays my wages; I'm of the opinion that if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all, so if I didn't like the one or the other platform, I wouldn't have written this post. I believe that I get the best of all worlds if I learn to navigate between them, but I do not expect everyone I come in contact with to be doing this, or to be aiming for this. My role is not to tell you what to do, it is to support you to make the right decision for your situation and then support you to take the little steps you need to take. For me personally I don't think I need to settle on one platform or the other, and I can make use of what supports my needs best at different times. How about you?


  1. Kia ora Monika, this topic has always interested me. Why did we choose one platform instead of the other.
    I am a teacher who uses three platforms in my class, windows, google (chrome and apps) and IPADs. As you see I am one of the lucky ones. It was only when I moved to another school and into a managerial position, that I understood why schools choose one platform to work with.
    The school's choice is based around these criteria.
    1. Finance - What schools can afford? What can our parents afford? Our schools in New Zealand are not funded correctly, even though our education minister states regularly that they are. But every principal and BOT would state that to run their school and meet the demands and requirements for every child in their class, they would like a little more money. Something I might say, our Cherter Schools are getting - classic example Whangaruru School. So this leads to the next issue.
    2. Professional Development. I am currently in a cluster which involves schools in the Bay of Islands. This schools missed out on getting financial support in developing digital education, so we are lumbered together and will will be receiving a diluted programme, compared to our counterparts in the Kaikohekohe Cluster. Why because their is no funding to employ expert digital leaders to support our teachers to transition effectively from using paper to chrome books.
    3. Teachers - Whether we like to be honest or not, each school have great staff and not so great staff teaching their students. The great staff will take on new pedagogy and run with it. Teachers with poor teaching practice will carry on doing the same stuff everyday, day in and day out. So the solution to this, put all teachers on the same playing field i.e. one platform. Give each teacher the same PD, the same device, the same information, the same support and the same expectation. Make your great teachers support teachers who are struggling.
    4. Research - Schools (hopefully) make decisions based around practiced research that is working. Because of the invested time, money and resources (human and non-human) schools can not afford to boldly go forward based on a whim. The leaders of Kaikohekohe cluster visited a cluster in Auckland (Manaia Kalani Cluster) that had the same vision as us, the same decile rating, the same financial grant, the same passion and more, supportive readings and research; before they committed their school and community.
    5. Problem Shooting - It's far easier for a teacher to solve technical issues if you are using one good platform, instead of trying to solve issues with 10 platforms with devices ranging from quality to cheap.
    6. Package deals - if our schools buy your product, what do we get with it i.e. insurance, loading apps, free apps... etc.
    The BIG ISSUE: Student achievement, raising students achievement. I haven't numbered this criteria because this Student Achievement underpins everything. As an educator who has taught most of her teaching career in low decile schools, this is an area where I'm most passionate and it erks me to madness when decisions are made in governance, managerial, and classroom level, that affect student achievement. But we wont go there.

    These are just some of my thoughts Monika, hopefully they can add to the discussion pot. The more ingredients added the better the flavour.

    1. Hi Tracey, thanks so much for your comment and I am sorry that is has taken so long to come back to it!
      You have added a number of very valid points to the blog post, thank you! There are obviously many more points to consider than I had thought, and I am very glad that you are helping me out with this. I completely agree that student learning is what needs to underpin all our decision making, and sadly we have to compromise or make do at times due to some of the reasons you have outlined.
      Given this is the reality in many schools, I think it would be good to look at the next step, how to successfully implement digital tools into the classroom - hmm, another blog post brewing in my little head now...
      Many thanks! Monika


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