Finding Digital Tools for Education.

As a teacher of computer it’s kind of expected that I’ll know about most of the digital tools out there, which is like expecting a history teacher to know the deatils of all of history. Where the reality is most know knowing the techniques without the details of the individual tool.

Finding the right tool for the task at hand has been an uphill challenge with literally thousands of different pieces of software or web services to choose from. Many of those solutions have hidden catches or create other problems that are not obvious from the outset.

Also having move school over the last few year, I’ve discovered that each workplace has it’s own common choice of software solution. Jane Hart maintains a list of the top 100 digital tools. The Best of Breed 2016, is excelent list of software that meets a particular need. Although be aware that with the speed of change on the Internet it will never be a complete list.

Now the trick is to reduce the list to a minimum set of posible choices, that will do what is needed. So I ask a series of questions to narrow my choices;

  1. Purpose. Know what you want to do. By setting out and planning your software goals, it’s easier to meet them. Do I have something that will do the job already? For example; for most of the image cropping I do Paint loads quickly and can finish the job, while Photoshop is like using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut.
  2. Availablity. Does the school already prefer certain software, or require the use of particular systems? For example, if the school supports Microsoft’s Office365, of Google’s Docs/Drive/etc, then it may be best to start there. Something that limits your choices can be make it easier. Personally, I have a preference for open source software. mainly because the underlying code is checked others, and not locked away in-house and it’s less likely to disappear if the company goes under.
  3. Support. Who is available to assist you if you need help? Most good software will have a wiki or some form of online documentation. The ‘For dummies’ series of books can be very useful to get started with somethign new. If another teacher is already using something within the school, then it can be an easy source of professional development and experienced support. Also consider if the digital tool is Cross-platform, in that it will run on different operating systems, because in the BYOD school environments you should only need to learn the software once regardless of which operating system it is run one (ie Windows, Mac or Linux), and that will make life easier for you. This is where online websites work well, as they run in any web broswer, but if the network is goes down or is slow, then the service becomes less usable.
  4. Cost. Not just in terms of money from the school budget, but in in terms of time & nuisance. For example, with a lot of web services using the SAAS (Software As A Service) model there maybe a monthly or yearly subscription cost to cover the development of the software. Another model is the freemium, where the basic service is free and the useful version costs. Also watch out for ‘free’ software that incorporates advertising.
  5. Trust & Longevity. If you are planning on using a piece of software or an online service to achieve your educational goals, then is the company who’s technology you are using to be trusted, or likely to be around in the long term? For example, Geocities was once a huge hub of Internet culture with websites that are now considered horrific. Since it’s heyday it has faded into nothing. Myspace was another large Internet company offering online space and it has also become a backwater.

So when searching for the best digital tool for your educational purposes and considering its suitability for your purpose look at it’s Availablity, Support, Cost, Trust & Longevity.

Mapping activities to the Australian Curriculum

I’ve being working on mapping the various activities, tasks and assessments to the Australian Curriculum. Below is the mapping document I use to make sure that I have the right content in mind then planning the activity. Please take it and use as you wish.

[embeddoc url=”” download=”all” viewer=”microsoft”]

All I did to create it was to take the scope and sequence from the part of the Australian Curriculum that I was concerned with. In this case Design & Digital Technologies. I cut & Pasted it down the left side and placed space up the top for Notes about the activity. I’ve also formatted the page for a landscape A3 view to make it easier when writing all over them.

Then during a planning session we wrote all the sheets, setting down how the topics within a subject map to the Australian curriculum. This helps to make sure we where on the right track. Another pass ensured that particular topics or activities has clear links to the curriculum.

GATTACA is happening in kuwait

It’s kind of scary t see the ideas from the movie Gattaca enter the real world with Kuwait creating a DNA database for all of it’s residents. It is in response to a local terrorist incident. And there are legal consequences for those who give fake samples.

In the European Union, such a database has been declared by illegal after the European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2008 that keeping a non-criminal’s DNA sample “could not be regarded as necessary in a democratic society”.

Such a database has serious privacy and ethical considerations as to how to information could be used or abused.

New nano-material could lead to artificial brain cells

A press release from RMIT, Research mimics brain cells to boost memory power, details a new nano-material discovered that has the potential to lead to a new scale of computing architecture and possibly artificial intelligence.

At 10000 times small than a human hair the new material is may not supersede the current silicon based computer chips. Given that the best silicon technology can manage is about 9 million per square millimetre, or one transistor per 111 pm (1.1 X 10^-10m) vs the nano-material managing 1.7 nm (1.7×10^-8). However, this is just the first steps with this new material and when silicon was first used in this way only a circuits could be fitted per millimetre. So this technology has potential.

Of more interest is the fact that the material mimics brains cells that form the basis of neuro-networks, and could lead the the development of credible artificial intelligence (See Nano-scale thin film structure mimics brain cells) by creating a copy of the human brain structure.

PauseFest 2015

Recently these two videos appeared in my inbox and it reminded me of the experience. Back in February I was lucky enough to receive some free tickets to PauseFest. The event was an excellent melting pot of ideas from many different areas of life, looking at the ways innovation, technology, and business collide to create new forms of doing things.

The festival ran for the week from Monday the 9th until Sunday 15th of Feb, but I was only able to make the weekend. Although this still meant a very busy time looking at things like the effect of Australian copyright laws on innovation, a deconstruction of a 2D animation pipeline, how IoT (Internet of Things) is reshaping the world, why hackathons are good, and creating innovation cultures.

All of this is important because the core focus of as an educator is to bring a window of the world into the lives of those you educate. Each session highlighted the many directions that our world is rapidly changing and the unconventional paths that people follow to achieve their dreams.

Pause Fest is Australia’s premier digital event, aimed at supporting and showcasing the best in creative and tech from Australia and all over the world.

Each Pause festival tells a story through a unique theme. In 2015, the theme is Pure.

Creating Electronic Circuit Diagrams

I need a quick and easy way to create the diagrams for electrical and electronic circuits. So I’ve done a quick web-search. I’ve decided to go with Partsim as a way to create the circuits, instead of another java app. a library of Electronic Symbols, or a word document with the Symbols in it. The last was the atlence resistor-viewer, but it’s a 30 day trial (instructions).


Seminar: Inclusion and education in Scandinavia

Run by The Victoria Institute at Victoria University on the 27th of November 2014, this seminar consisted of four talks by researchers from Denmark and Finland. The main focus was on inclusive practices within these education systems. I have reversed the order of the talks because it makes more sense to me to move from national to local.

The case of Denmark: Inclusive efforts at a crossroads – Susan Tetler

This talk gave an excellent overview of the reforms for the Danish education system. She showed the background of the shift in the numbers of students that have been moved from the regular school system in to the special schools from 2000 where it was 2% until 2012 where it had become 5.6%. These special schools received approximately 30% of all the schools funding in 2012. This reform appears to part of a larger movement to increase teacher’s contact hours and work load

The policy framework, now in it’s third year of implementation aim for 2015 is for only 4% of students been moved into special schools. Each municipality has been given autonomy to implement this in different ways, with a range from token effort to active teacher support.

How do teachers experience counselling as an inclusive tool – Charlotte Riis Jensen

This talk was more practice focuses for the teachers implementing Denmark’s Inclusive schools policy (See the talk by Susan Tetlet, below). The following cartoon was included in the talk and frames the starting point for some of the teachers, who at the start of the change were considering their profession. It also reminds me of an Albert Einstein quote, ‘Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.’


To aid the reintegration of student back into the regular school system some of the teachers were provided with facilitation counsellors to assist teachers with this process. While many teachers expected a magic wand to solve their problems the discussion process provided other ways of perceiving the situation and they now have tools to deal with these situations. So teacher job satisfaction has improved.

Student engagement of 1230 Danish 7th grade students – Hilde Ulvseth

This talk looked that the link between the characteristics of engagement and the teacher-student relationship. Which seams obvious as a classroom teacher, however, it’s good to see some statistics on this. These was taken from the Student Engagement Instrument developed by James J. Appleton, Sandra L. Christenson, Dongjin Kim, Amy L. Reschly. Further reading;

Encounters over the counter – Sanna Aaltonen

Even though Finland achieved top results in the PISA tests for OECD countries there are still underlying problems for the socialist state. There is social anxiety over the high rates of young unemployment, school drop-outs and the social exclusion of young people. Finland has the Youth Guarantee, which is part of a larger EU program. Finland’s Youth Assistance rate (of all people on benefits) is around 22% in 2014 having increased from 20% in 2009.

From the data they identified three distinct groups of unemployed Troubled, Worker/Citizens in the making and Victims of the recession. The Troubled group has the characteristics of No Job, not engaged in education and ambivalent engagement with society. The second group, Worker/Citizens in the making, has no jobs, but were still engaged in education. And the final groups, Victims of the recession, had lost their job.

The program aims at re-engaging passive young people with the Finnish society through the use of Experience experts. Where young people with knowledge of the system support others in similar situations.

A number of common problems were brought up;

The deficiency model of an external society must fix the young person, which is unlike to go down well with a disengaged individual. the forcing of the identify of being a broken young person shapes how the individual sees themselves

Another graphic showed the scarcity of time to help young people (ie They need help now, but have to wait.), which lead to the idea of affordance (borrowed from environmental psychology, see The Theory of Affordances Gibson, 1977. or An Outline of a Theory of Affordances).

What do I walk away with?

It was interesting exploring the overlap between education (ie schools) and society from the young person’s point of view as they move into the wider world. There are some questions, puzzles, and a few answers I have….

Are there measurements for wellbeing? A lot of self-help books give definitions, and neuro-science has provided some answers, but short of scanner every child, how can you know? What should you be looking for? [More research required]

Homework (Assistance) Cafes! Looks like an after school program, and given the increase in contact hours for the students within Denmark education system this appears likely. Adding a few Chai-Lattes may make the kids not notice.

Examining the link between student-teacher relationships and the student’s engagement with school. I found there is not enough detail from the attitudes to school survey used in Victoria. I would like to know how individual student-teacher relationships effect that student’s engagement for the teacher’s subject, how do other factors like gender and background effect the results. I found there was not enough detail to provide useful answers. [Again more research required]

The talk of helping young people is great, especially the idea of youth experience experts, but it would have to be handled with care to avoid a rebellious backlash.

And finally I was reminded of a quote by Voltaire, “Work banishes those three great evils, boredom, vice, and poverty.”