The Cranky Teenager Stage

If one year of a dog’s life is equal to seven human years, then one year of 1:1 implementation must be equal to about three human years. And seeing as we are entering in to our fifth year of implementation next year, we must be turning in to one of those cranky teenagers. Let’s break it down:

Year 1 – The Newborn: In our first year, only teachers of 1oth and 11th grade were given laptops. Everybody else, including students, were stuck with laptop carts and computers labs. While it allowed us to get familiar with the machines, we couldn’t really do anything.

Year 2 – Toddling Along: In year two, all teachers in the Middle/High School received laptops as did students in 10th and 11th grade. There was a lot of stumbling, falling down and crying.

Years 3 and 4 (this year) – Adolescence: All teachers and all students in grades 6 – 12 now have tablets. We’ve grown up, we’re getting more independent. For the most part, we are still trying to please but we are gradually testing the boundaries of what is ‘allowed.’

And this brings us to next year: Year 5 – The Cranky Teenager. Teachers and students are getting restless. Some want change and they want it overnight. They are no longer happy being told what is good for them or appropriate. They want to figure it out for themselves. They want to be subversive. Every wall is seen as a challenge to overcome rather than a boundary to be obeyed. And sometimes, just sometimes, people get cheeky just to see if they can get away with it.

Obviously, I’m not talking about every teacher or every student. But there is a critical mass forming. We’ve been given a rigid structure to help us understand one way of thinking. Now that we know the rules, some of us are ready to break or bend or ignore them. Now that we know some of the possibilities, some of us won’t settle for anything less than everything.

Idealistic? Maybe. Will we make mistakes? Definitely. But that’s part of growing up.

(For the record, I think this Cranky Teenager stage is an exciting stage to be in! We’re at the stage that Chris Lehmann talks about – except for our atrocious Vietnamese internet connection. The conversation is no longer centered around what technology we have in the school but rather what we are doing with that technology.)

How is your 1:1 implementation going? Are you going through similar stages, or are you a child prodigy?

Codename: Crossbone by Shavar Ross licensed under CC BY NC ND
Technology must be like oxygen by langwitches licensed under CC BY NC SA

International Collaboration – NISTech 2011

After the UNIS Unconference in January, I received a comment from Ivan Beeckmans, the Technology Integration Specialist at NIST in Bangkok. He told me about the weekend PD workshops he was organizing for the teachers there and we discussed how the unconference format could be incorporated as a way to empower teachers to be learners and leaders.

One thing led to another and Ivan invited me to join the NIST staff at NISTech 2011 last weekend. Considering the similarities between NIST and UNIS – Tablet PC program, SharePoint portal, IBO World School to name a few – and the proximity – Hanoi is closer to Bangkok than it is to Ho Chi Minh City – I jumped at the chance!

The weekend was full of great conversations by a group of teachers committed to learning. Julian Edwards, the secondary school principal, made the important distinction between dialogue and discussion at the beginning of the weekend. We weren’t here to prove that we were right or to win any debates; our main purpose was to talk with each other and explore ideas.

It was interesting to be the only non-NIST teacher at the event. It gave me a different perspective on things, even with all of the commonalities. It was great to see and hear how students and teachers are using similar tools to achieve similar objectives in different ways. It was also reassuring to hear the same concerns surrounding effectiveness, time management and student learning that our teachers at UNIS voice.

I managed to get in and facilitate a few sessions on blogging with WordPress, OneNote and Creative Commons. I even managed to geek out a little with Jay Priebe, the Tech Director at NIST, over SharePoint and Veracross.

I’m hoping that NIST and UNIS can continue to build a strong cooperative partnership between our two schools. At the very least I’m hoping to be able to reciprocate the hospitality that was extended to me by Ivan, Jay, Julian and rest of the great staff at New International School of Thailand.

SharePoint Diaries – Soliciting Feedback

A huge decision has been made to upgrade from SharePoint 2007 to SharePoint 2010. These SharePoint Diaries are meant to help me flesh out some ideas and to help others who may be going through (or about to go through) a similar transition.

Now that you know what we’re starting from, it’s time to start thinking about where we want to be.

To start, I asked the Middle School/High School teachers to fill out a shared Google Doc, answering the following three questions:

  1. What functions of the current portal do you use or ask/expect your students to use most often?
  2. Ideally, what would you like to be able to do with your students that cannot currently do easily? (I also asked them to keep in mind the work we did earlier on our Tech and Learning Plan to help guide them.)
  3. Any other comments?

The first question was to ensure that we don’t discard something that teachers find useful. With the second question, I purposefully avoided phrasing the question in terms of “What do you want SharePoint to do?” and instead wanted teachers to focus on the bigger picture ideas embodied in the NETS, such as collaborate, communicate, and create. The third question was included mostly to help keep the first two questions on track!

Once teachers had a chance to voice their thoughts, I asked for volunteers to come together face-to-face and discuss them in more detail, sort of like a focus group. In total, there were 5 teachers present and myself. I shared the objectives of the meeting that I had identified prior to the meeting:

Group Objectives

  1. To consolidate the general feelings of the MSHS staff with respect to their wishes for the new portal.
  2. To attempt to re-imagine what our school portal will/can be used for.
  3. To offer suggestions and concrete examples as to what the portal could/should/might look like on August 1, 2011.

To help us meet those objectives, I framed them in three questions which I will include, along with the collated notes, in their entirety below.

What I found, or rather what was reinforced, through this process were some major takeaways:

  • Our SharePoint implementation must be student-centered. As you can probably tell from my previous post, it currently is not. Students need spaces and permissions to create and collaborate. They need ownership and control and an audience.
  • Whether through SharePoint or some other means, we must address the issue of portfolios.
  • Teachers are concerned about the proprietary nature of SharePoint, both for themselves and for the students. Can the work that they put into SharePoint be exported? Can it then be imported into something else? Our community is highly transient and this is important. Portability is an issue.
  • In order to teach differently, we need the tools/access/flexibility to do so.

This, of course, is only the start. Now that we have an idea of what is needed/wanted, the question becomes: how can we meet these needs/wants? Environments matter. And currently, our virtual learning environment is, to some extent, shaping how we teach because of its limitations.

Later this week the Redesign Task Force will be meeting to discuss the feedback given by teachers across the school and to come up with some ideas of what that might look like. What can we do to create a learning environment that allows us to teach the way that we would like to teach? That allows us to fulfill our mission statement of encouraging “independent lifelong learners”?

I anticipate that this is also where we will begin discussing the different add-ons or modules that have been developed for SharePoint as well as think about how any changes in the structure will affect the migration of existing data. Exciting, isn’t it?

What do you think of our takeaways? What have you done to make your VLE student-centered? How does your VLE encourage innovative teaching and learning?


Below is a copy of the notes from our small ‘focus group’.


1. Looking over section one, what are the two most important features to be kept?

  • Wiki
  • Storage
  • Dropbox
  • Portfolio – bucket of work

2. Looking over section two, what are the three most recurring themes of the comments?

  • editable/collaborative spaces for students (wikis, blogs, whatnot)
    • student centered
  • Portfolios – defining what it means, how it is accessible, what goes in it
    • This goes beyond the current repository for all summative tasks.
  • Permissions
    • if you don’t allow common spaces, then more people will go off the reservation.
    • Allow for spontaneity.
    • “get out of the way”
  • There is a difference between a CMS and learning environment
  • Portability of work – 3.5 years average length of stay
    • For teachers
    • For students
  • Dynamic, embedded content
    • Locally hosted
    • internet access

3. How can we address one or two of those recurring themes?

  • Separate the tools: find the best tool to do the job well instead of relying on one tool to do things mediocre
    • Define acceptable external alternatives if SP cannot do what we want/need.
  • Class blog, discussion board, teacher controlled wiki, student based wiki – basic tools that need to be accessible (one example)
  • personalized dashboard
    • Can front page be different for different populations.
    • Create shortcuts w/in the portal
  • Sharing – local and global collaboration
    • Interactive learning spaces
    • External permissions
      • Scaffolded approach to open access
  • “We have to teach differently” – We need the tools/access/flexibility to teach differently
  • Class activities within Moodle
    • anybody create wikis
    • anybody create discussion boards
    • various activities
    • change the views; teachers can turn elements on and off

SharePoint Diaries – Our Current Portal

A huge decision has been made to upgrade from SharePoint 2007 to SharePoint 2010. These SharePoint Diaries are meant to help me flesh out some ideas and to help others who may be going through (or about to go through) a similar transition.

Here’s a brief rundown of what our current SharePoint portal looks like.

In addition to the top level site (UNIS Home), there are sub-sites for major areas within the school: MSHS, ES, Community, Curriculum and Training.

Looking deeper in the MSHS site, there are libraries for public information as well as staff-only information. There are also sub-sites for each of the departments and other important services such as the library.

Looking further into the Science departmental site, there are subsites for each of the classes taught: G06, G07, G08, G09, G10, IB Bio, IB Chem, IB Physics and IB Environmental Systems. Each class has its own homepage. This page (which is currently the homepage of the class wiki) uses a department-wide template and should include all of the course background information such as course expectations, units of study, initial resources and assessment information.

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Each unit of study also has its own wiki page – again using a department-wide template – that includes the general overview of the unit (unit question, significant concept, area of interaction focus), assessment and links to the content needed for the unit.

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Apparently SharePoint gets a bit wonky when the overall size of a site (Science) approaches 2 GB. Something about the web page aspect stuffing up: as you can tell, this isn’t my strong point!  To help with this, we have another side of the portal – Digital Resources. It is organized in much the same way: each department has a site with subsites for each of the classes taught. But because this is used only for storage and retrieval, there is essentially no limit to the storage quota. There is, however, a maximum file size of 20 MB.  Also, everything in the Digital Resources is accessible to all students, teachers and parents.

Science Digital Resources
Digital Resources for Grade 8 Science

Ideally, student and parents should never have to wade through the thousands of documents in the Digital Resources. The required documents should be linked on the appropriate wiki pages with the appropriate context to make sense of those documents. For the most part, our class wiki pages serve as elaborate Table of Contents pages for each unit.

There is other functionality within SharePoint that is available but rarely utilized: discussion boards, class announcement, timelines. One feature that is heavily leveraged is the integrated calendars. Each year group has a deadline calendar where teachers keep major summative assesssment due dates. This is to help students from getting to overloaded (only 2 assessments can be due on the same day) as well as helps parents keep track of what is coming up for their children.

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In terms of permissions, things are very controlled. Only teachers within the Science Department can edit science wikis, add or edit science documents, or access the Science Office. The default permission is that students have read-only access everywhere. The only exception is if they have their own blog within SharePoint.

I wanted to brief; I don’t think I managed that! But I think this is a pretty good general overview/introduction to our starting point. There are some other aspects to our portal but I think I’ve rambled on enough. If you have any questions or comments or would like some clarification, drop them in the comments below. I’d love to hear how other schools are using SharePoint and what the benefits or drawbacks are.

SharePoint Diaries – The History

A huge decision has been made to upgrade from SharePoint 2007 to SharePoint 2010. These SharePoint Diaries are meant to help me flesh out some ideas and to help others who may be going through (or about to go through) a similar transition.

When I first came to UNIS, in addition to a desktop in every classroom (I was lucky and got a shiny brand new Dell!), there were two computer labs and a class set of laptops on carts. We had a system (and I use that term very loosely) of network folders that were shared amongst the teachers. The best example of collaboration that I can remember is a unit plan that was nothing more than a Word document in a shared folder that had hyperlinks to other Word documents in other shared folders. That was innovation!

Oh how far we have come.

In less than 5 years, every teacher and all students in grade 5 – 12 have TabletPCs. The entire campus is wireless (although there are still connectivity issues – we do live and work in Vietnam, after all). Students and teachers are enhancing and transforming their learning through creative uses of technology. And we moved from network folders to SharePoint.

There are lots of arguments about which VLE/LMS/CMS a school should choose. Should we go Moodle? SharePoint? Finalsite? Something else? These posts aren’t really going to touch on that debate (that’s the plan, at least), although it is a discussion that I would love to have at some point. These posts will be more focused on our process of moving from SharePoint 2007 to SharePoint 2010 and the opportunity to re/design our school portal that this move presents.

If you work at a school that is currently using SharePoint, or one that has recently migrated from one platform to another, I would love to hear your views and experiences. Of course if you have any background in educational design or SharePoint development, I would love to hear your ideas too!

Next in the series: Our Current Portal

Doing the Best with What I've Got

Or, What SharePoint has Taught  Reminded Me About the IBO

My school runs a Microsoft SharePoint portal. It’s okay, I guess. It’s a bit clunky, not very attractive and somewhat limited in terms of customization. Or so I thought…

I have been given the keys to my own little kingdom: I have been granted permissions above and beyond those of most teachers (but not fully admin rights) because of my spiffy new job title. And, like any geeky gadget-lovin’ guy or gal, I’ve spent a fair amount of time trying to see how far I can go before I break something. And that’s how I discovered that, with the proper design privileges, you can embed media-rich content into SharePoint web pages.

Notice that I did not say blogs or wikis. That is the one feature that is most missed in SharePoint. You simply cannot embed videos or any other script-based ‘widget’ into the SharePoint blogs or wikis. But, emboldened by my new discoveries, I did some more research and came up with this: the Enhanced Rich Text Editor. This just adds a new button to the WYSIWYG editor that allows for exactly the embedding features I’ve been looking for. It hasn’t been installed yet but my Tech Director seems keen on the find too.

I’ve just finished reading “Education Needs to be Turned on Its Head” which was Tweeted to me by my friend @amichetti. I think his words are relevant here:

It’s this: learn about what interests you, gets you curious, gets you excited. Figure out where to get the information you need. Read about it, talk to someone about it, find out about it. Try it. Do it, make mistakes. Figure out how to correct the mistakes. Figure out how to solve the problems you encounter. Repeat.

I’ve just done exactly what we want our students to do. Find a problem; solve a problem. It was my own natural curiousity that drove this inquiry and I was only able to be an inquirer because of that extra bit of tinkering room I was given. We need to take the shackles off the students, give them the room to play, to make mistakes and maybe even break something. Let them be a risk taker! But we also need to guide them down the path of being a responsible and principled memeber of their community. Did you see what just happened?

Image Credit: Kingdom Keys by LivingOS (CC BY SA)