Thursday, 5 April 2012

It's Google - but not as we know it! Google Teacher Academy

Google HQ London
With a building that looks like this, who else could you expect to occupy it?
Fifty of us arrived, bright and early yesterday morning at 8am to start the second Google Teacher Academy UK and the thirteenth overall. Having been told that nobody in a Google office is ever more than 150 paces from a kitchen, we started with breakfast in the Marketplace. You will notice a recurring theme beginning to develop around food through this!
From here there was an amusing attempt to get to the next floor using the most amazing lifts that seem to have a mind of their own -   and no buttons.
Danny Silva from Cue kicked off the day with an overview and introduction. The breakdown of where we all came from and what we all did, should about as wide and varied range as you could get.
With only 24 from the UK, Sheli Blackburn (@SheliBB) and I were really chuffed to find that there was a third person from Norfolk, Alan Garrec (@alangarrec).
The first group discussion of the morning focused us on innovation we had seen in education, without the use of technology. Some of the key themes seemed to be about the importance of the physical surroundings of learners, the need for learners to be exposed to risk and the need to engage learners through activities that capture their imaginations.
Many people might assume that a 30 minute input on Google Search would not bring gasps of amazement from an audience who probably thought they knew most things about it already - wrong! The ability to drag an image into the Google Image Search bar to find out more about it was a winner for me.
We moved into a packed programme that whizzed us from breakout room to breakout room to catch up on the Core Apps. My highlight was watching Tom Barrett (@tombarrett) seamlessly move from tool to tool, demonstrating what he called a transmedia story.
Google cupcakes
I should point out that we didn't escape the continuing flow of amazing food. Moving between sessions, I couldn't resist taking a picture of just one of the trays of Google cupcakes. And they tasted as good as they looked!
Discussions within our team (Team Land), and with everyone else, carried on throughout the day, and well into the evening!
The rest of the programme was a mixture of guest speakers, inspiring ideas, lightning rounds, electives and demo slams. Some of which I intend to write about once my brain feels slightly less frazzled, and I have had time to digest the many, many things we did.
In the final session, a hangout with Mark Wagner, we were encouraged to think about what impact does our school/institution have on the world and how we could make a difference. It is a requirement of the Academy that we each produce, then apply an action plan.

During the unconference today, we will be working on them, as well as exploring the many themes and ideas from yesterday. Just think - 50 educators with a plan to change the world - I think I may need to keep writing about this for a long time to come!!

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Positive Disruptors

In February, I was very fortunate to hear Professor Tim O'Riordan address an amazing group of students who were looking at how they could change the environmental impact of their schools and communities. He made reference to the term 'positive disruptors', and encouraged them to be just that.
Now, I'm very aware that this is not a new term, but it was the first time I had heard it, and it got me thinking. Am I a positive disruptor? Are the teachers involved in the Norfolk Cloud Educator Programme all postitve disruptors? Are all the people invited to be part of the Google Teacher Academy positive disruptors?
Am I a positive disruptor? I'm curious to know what people's opinions are on this subject.
At the moment, I think a positive disruptor is somebody who comes up with a solution to a problem in a way that has not been done before - and crucially has a positive impact. I'm sure we have all experienced disruptors, and know that not all of them are positive!
I came across a blog by Christa in New York and found it an interesting starting point.
1.) Figure out what you want to disrupt, meaning what do you want to fix.
2.) Discover the clichés in your chosen area.
3.) Bust up every cliché in your area.
4.) Now scale.
You never know what it will inspire in others.
While Christa discusses these in terms of her own focus, parts could be translated easily into the world of education.
Back in 2010, Norfolk procured Google Apps for Education to replace our previous email system. It didn't take long to realise that Google Apps held the potential to offer our schools a viable alternative to a Learning Platform, particularly as the County provided platform contract was coming to an end.
Many people predicted that we would not be allowed to deploy Google Apps across the county due to data protection issues and perceived e-Safety concerns. Having explored all possible options, it came down to something very simple - a risk register. Did the benefits out weigh the risks? And, just how 'real' were the possible risks? The overwhelming answer was that the benefits won hands down!
The positive disruption of attempting to move and change the ethos of Norfolk Schools to thinking about working in the cloud is going to be a long, slow process, but one that I feel will be worth every second.
The recent work by Chris Mayoh (@chrismayo) and Vicki Cox (@vickit23) in Bradford with their Digital Leader Project has been a real inspiration to many, many teachers and is having an amazing impact on the pupils and schools involved. I believe that this is a great example of some positive disruptors at work. I know many others have similar projects, but it was this one that has inspired one of our wonderful ASTs in Norfolk, Sheli Blackburn (@SheliBB), to develop the concept even further.
Sheli is now working on developing a Digital Leaders Network, where pupils in different schools who are Digital Leaders can link up and support each other. Through Twitter contacts, many others are supporting Sheli in her Digital Leader quest.
Sheli, Chris and many, many others have been great positive disruptors in their own schools. The difference now is that through things like Twitter and Blogs, teachers now have the ability to share their ideas and thoughts and 'scale up' in a way never previously possible.
The generosity of those involved, not only in sharing ideas, but also actively supporting those who develop their ideas further, is amazing to watch and even more amazing to be a part of.
A chance remark at the end of my first (very enjoyable) experience of Geocaching during a session at NAACE on Saturday run by James Langley, @lordlangley73, might just lead to an amazingly exciting project linking schools, counties, countries and Formula 1. Even if the idea does not develop into a viable project, it shows to me that there are plenty of educators out there willing and able to be positive disruptors. 
There always have been positive disruptors. The difference now is that we have access to tools that enable us to share those ideas, develop and build on them around the world. This is such an exciting time to be in education - no matter what else may be going on!

Monday, 27 February 2012

Google Teacher Academy

Five hours, yes, I'll say it again... five hours! That's how long it took me to create a one minute video to submit for my application to the Google Teacher Academy 2012. I was still not happy when I finally uploaded it, and I also complained on Twitter about just how long it had taken me.
But, as I now realise, it was definitely time well spent. Why? Well, I am one of the very fortunate people to have been chosen to attend the Academy in London in April, 2012. Out of fifty places, twenty five have been given to overseas teachers, coming from places as wide ranging as Mexico, USA, South Africa and Argentina.
That makes me even prouder that two places from the UK were given to teachers from Norfolk. Sheli Blackburn (@SheliBB) was also accepted, and we have already got hotels and trains booked.
While I am already a Google Apps for Education Certified Trainer, I have always wanted to be able to take part in a Teacher Academy. I suppose because I am first and foremost a teacher, I love being able to explore and share how Google Apps are being used to support teaching and learning. Going through the process of becoming a Certified Trainer was great, but a very solitary activity. Once you complete the six online tests, you then have to submit a portfolio of work. The Googlers back in the USA then make the decision about whether or not you have met their standards. I know it is not a straight forward process as I'm aware that they are quite selective about who gets through.
But, the Teacher Academy is almost the complete opposite of this procedure. Even the process of creating the video and writing the online application ended up being a collective activity. So many great people were tweeting and sharing their thoughts and ideas. The level of support and collaboration was amazing. Those who were slightly more organised and had got their videos completed before the deadline were more than happy to share them.
I think this was one of the reasons that, while being ecstatic at being accepted, I felt bitterly disappointed for those who did not get there. With only fifty places, it was always going to be hard, but there are a lot of fantastic teachers out there who helped and supported many of us, but who did not get in.
I've made many great contacts as a result of going through this process, and the Academy is still six weeks away. I can't wait for us all to meet up, but I know that a lot of us will be tweeting furiously during the two days to make sure that as wide an audience as possible can get a flavour of what is going on.
Simon McLoughlin (@simcloughlin) has already started a shared document so we can find out who else is coming, and who will be around for the Tuesday evening before the real fun starts! Jo Badge and Kate Farrell have also been doing a great job getting a GTA circle going on Google+.
The collaboration, interaction and sharing is what I am most looking forward to, before, during and after the Academy. I think it will be an amazing experience that I hope I will be able to share with many other teachers through my role as an ICT Adviser.
For those who have not experienced the richness of a Personal Learning Network - I would suggest that following #gtauk on Twitter might help make you aware of some amazing people out there around the world who are willing to share, support and discuss almost anything! I know I learn something every time I spend any time on Twitter and Google+. I'm greedy now - I want more! I just hope I can give back as much as I take?!

Monday, 13 February 2012

What do you want to do?

During the two fantastic Saturdays that I spent with the Cloud Educator Group, the same question got repeated several times: should we be getting iPads in school?
I've been saying this for quite some time - that is the wrong question. The question we really should be asking is 'What do you want to try and achieve?'
Don't get me wrong, I think iPads are fantastic tools and there is already evidence of some amazing learning happening in schools (@SheliBB is a great example
But....I've always said, 'Give a good teacher a brown paper bag, and they will do a good job with it.'
Technology will never remove the need for good teachers, but it can enhance and empower teachers and learners in ways that we are still discovering.
I know that we will always need those moments of, 'I wonder what would happen if....'. Without them, the amazing innovation that we see in schools wouldn't take place.
But, we do need to take a step back and work out what we are trying to achieve. I occasionally wonder if some schools feel like they should be keeping up with the Jonses, rather than having a clear idea about what impact their spending (with diminishing funds) is going to have.
The Self Review Framework from NAACE refers to an outstanding school as one where, 'The school frequently reviews and updates the place of ICT within its overall vision. It explores and evaluates the potential of emerging technologies, new initiatives and practices. Reviews take account of internal evaluations and changing learner practices within and beyond the school.'
If schools are going to be in a position to make informed judgements about current and future technologies, a good place to start would be reviewing what is already in place, and what impact it is having.

Monday, 16 January 2012

How do you keep that buzz from BETT?

Well, it is three days since I was at BETT and still feel a real sense of excitement. As much as I am enjoying it, I'm not sure why I feel like this, when I've never had this happen before in the ten years that I have been going.
It is probably down to a whole combination of things. I had the real privilege of presenting on the Google stand, which has to have been the highlight of the visit.
I have presented previously at BETT, but never to such a large crowd who seemed to be listening very intently. I was also incredibly nervous before the presentation - but as soon as I started, I really enjoyed it and almost wished I'd had more than my 15 minute slot. Whether the audience thought that, I'm not sure, but plenty of people stayed on to ask questions at the end and throughout the rest of the afternoon.
Getting to meet so many tweeters face to face was fantastic, along with the general enthusiasm of people I spoke to.
It was also a great opportunity to have some very in depth chats with Google about what we are doing in Norfolk. The Cloud Educator Programme has slowed slightly, so it was good to talk about some ways of kick starting it.
I was really looking forward to the Spring Cloud Training Sessions before BETT. Now, I just cannot wait.
There was also a great level of discussion going on through Twitter, speculating on what impact Gove's speech may have. The insightful blogs written by many people were inspiring and it was wonderful to see so many people willing to engage in informed debate about how things may change.
I'm one of the optimists in the big debate. So much so that I'm trying to get teachers in Norfolk and beyond to decide what they would really like to see in their schools as far as ICT is concerned and trying to build a collaborative approach through a public Google Site so that we are not all trying to reinvent the wheel by ourselves.
I'm not sure if it is a reaction to the uncertainty we are surrounded by at the moment, but I feel the most positive I have in a long while. I just hope I can make it last!!

Saturday, 14 January 2012

BETT 2012

I am sitting on the train coming back from BETT, thinking just how long it has been since I blogged.
With no excuse of being too busy on the train, I thought I'd put down some thoughts about my afternoon on the Google Stand.
I got the opportunity to do a presentation about what we have been doing in Norfolk with Google and how the Cloud Educator Programme is going. There was loads of interest, and some very loud intakes of breath when I mentioned that we had nearly 150,000 accounts for our students and staff!
It was great to be able to share the fantastic work that has been going on in Norfolk with an International audience.
The rest of the afternoon was spent wearing a Google t-shirt with 'I'm Certified' written across the back. I'm still not sure that the Americans really get the humour in this!
I spoke to loads of people about Google Apps for Education. The most common questions were around eSafety. While there are things that need to be considered, I'm not sure why so many people feel that this is a potential issue. Within Google Apps there are many tools to help you manage the domain, therefore giving you more control than many other apps and services.
Over the next couple of weeks I have the privilege of working again with the Cloud Educators. I'm really looking forward to bringing them up to date with everything I learned today, and hearing what they have been doing since September. I know some have been busy with the Google online test and I'm really proud that two have already gained their Qualified Individual Status already.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Cloud Expert First Meeting

The first meetings were on Thursday 15th September and Monday 19th September. Having tweaked the funding to allow for thirty two teachers to be in my Expert Group, I decided to run with two groups of sixteen. All teachers, ranging from an Early Years specialist in a Primary School of twenty five pupils to the E-Learning Co-ordinator of a large High School, arrived keen and eager to get started.
The level of discussion and debate during both days was fantastic and ranged round many areas, but mostly focused on how Google Apps for Education was going to be used back in their own schools. The willingness of everyone to share great ideas and practice was wonderful to see. It has reminded me why teachers can be such wonderful people to work with!
Examples of Sites were already emerging during each session, and several have been created since. I think I can quite confidently predict many more than 10 sites each being created and shared by July 2012.
There was a quiet level of panic at the mention of the Qualified Individual Exams. I have asked that everyone should aim to have completed them by Easter. The good news is that three people have already asked for codes to get them started.
It was a real privilege to work with such an enthusiastic group of teachers. It was a bit like those wonderful but infrequent times as a teacher when you have a group of pupils who have all chosen to do what you have offered and want to be with you. I learned so much from each group and have a great feeling of excitement about what we might be able to achieve this year - Game On!!!