31 March 2016

Oversold & Underused?

Or: It's not enough to change the tools, you have to change mindsets

(And if you don't change mindsets, nothing changes)

Oversold and Underused by Larry Cuban (2001)
I am amazed at how many of the teachers I encounter who are involved in 'edtech' - the ongoing of work to see real reformation and revolution in terms of the potential of digital tools to transform learning - who are oblivious of this book, and it's profound words of wisdom.

"“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it” George Santanya

Alongside Fullan's Stratosphere, Cuban's seminal text on the challenges of tech integration has to be one of the most important, and insightful books on the subject of tech integration in schools I have ever read. What is more astounding still is that Cuban's predictions back in 2001 continue to remain as true today as they ever were.  As a case in point, take this closing paragraph; I see this almost everyday in my role:

"I predict that the slow revolution in technology access, fuelled by popular support and continuing as long as there is economic prosperity, will eventually yield exactly what promoters have sought: every student, like every worker, will eventually have a personal computer. But no fundamental change in teaching practices will occur. I can imagine a time, for example, when all students use portable computer this way they use notebooks today. The teacher would post math assignments from the text and appropriate links on their Website, which students would access from home. Such access, however, will only marginally reshape the deeply anchored structures of the self-contained classroom, parental expectations of what teachers should be doing, time schedules, and teachers' disciplinary training that help account for the dominant teaching practices. The teacher in my example would use the laptops to sustain existing practices, including homework. In short, historical legacies in school structures and parents' and taxpayers' social beliefs about what schools should be doing, I believe, will trump the slow revolution in teaching practices. Those fervent advocates who seek to transform teaching and learning into more efficient, proactive work through active, student-centered classrooms will find wholesale access to computers ultimately disappointing."

Why? In an environment, where, as Cuban predicted,  every one of our student's has a personal computer, how can these predications still be so true? Have we learnt nothing in the intervening decade? Seemingly, no.


Well the causes are myriad, but I see a correlation between the emphasis on high stakes assessment and the extent to which screens are used meaningfully. In the Primary school where traditional assessment has thankfully waned, there is much greater evidence of powerful, meaningful change, but as the focus pans upwards to the Middle School and beyond? The scope narrows, and the above quotation becomes all too evident, anywhere you care to look. Sure, teacher despondence has it's place as well, the 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' mentality, which fails to see that, worksheets and textbooks ARE broken, they just don't want to see it, but they're protected from the futility of these modes of instruction because the antiquated models that still dominate the assessment of learning, are the means that justifies their ends. Ends that can be achieved more efficiently using worksheets and textbooks, than with screens (or any human interaction)...

But is this is the way these students will be 'assessed' and appraised' when they leave secondary/tertiary education and enter the world of paid work? Will these artificial constructs benefit them then? As the focus narrows the closer we get to high stakes exams, and ends that justify the means, the artifice become more and more tangible.  No, we're not preparing these kids for the real world of paid work, we're preparing them for a the same old obsolete archaic modes of assessment that remain completely unchanged in decades; no wonder so many of their teachers cling to outmoded practices of instruction. Once the exams are over, what use will those of cram and regurgitate be to them then? Then, like generations before them, they will finally turn to the screen to help them compete in the 21st Century, ironically exploiting the same trial and error modes of learning by survival that their own teachers (taught and tested in the same way) had to use. When will we learn? According to Cuban, not very soon...

Now, I realise that most teachers have better things to do than read books about tech integration, so with that in mind, I have condensed the entire book into my own version of 'Cliff's Notes', and 'Sean's notes', in a Google doc. Below, for the sake of brevity I present the sections that I believe are absolutely essential. Everything that follows are Cuban's words, anything I have to interject is included in [brackets], in addition most instances of emphasis, and headings to structure content are also mine.


Levels of Integration

These levels of integration with curriculum and instruction are drawn from Judith Sandholtz, Cathy Ringstaff, and David Dwyer, Teaching with Technology (1997).

The Initial level is entry (first months of using computers). Then adoption (teachers generally use text, lecture, and conventional approaches but introduce lessons to teach students how to use keyboard, mouse, and elementary applications). After adoption, the next level of integration is adaptation, when most of the classroom time is still spent in conventional ways of teaching, but students spend about one fourth or more of their time using computers for homework and daily work in class. The next level is appropriation, where the teacher is fully confident in the use of computers and integrates the technology regularly into daily routines. The highest level is invention, where teachers experiment with new ways of networking students and colleagues and use project-based instruction and interdisciplinary approaches.

Teacher's Attitudes toward Technology

To fervent advocates of using technology in schools, no revolution had occurred in how the teachers organize or teach in these classrooms. Nor had there been dramatic or substantial changes in how teachers teach, or children learn. If anything, the addition of a computer center to the array of centers already in common use in these classrooms means that teachers had adapted an innovation to existing ways of teaching and learning that have dominated early childhood education for decades. Studies of computer use in other preschools and kindergartens across the country supported this observation.

Despite the claims of technology promoters that computers can transform teaching and learning, the teachers we studied adapted computers to sustain, rather than transform, their philosophy that the whole child develops best when both work and play are cultivated and “developmentally appropriate” tasks and activities are offered.

In interviews with the 21 teachers, 13 (just over 60 percent) said that their teaching had indeed changed because of their use of information technologies. [...] Of the 13 teachers who said that their teaching had changed, most referred to how they changed their preparation for teaching and how they used computers as another tool to teach. Only four said that they now organized their classes differently, lectured less, relied more on securing information from sources other than the textbook, gave students more independence, and acted more like a coach than a performer on stage. In short, they said that in using technology they had become more student-centered in their teaching; they had made fundamental changes in their pedagogy.

Neither the age, experience, nor gender of teachers was a significant factor in our data. We found little difference in computer use between veteran and novice teachers, between those with and those without previous technological experience, or between men and women. Furthermore, we did not find technophobia to be a roadblock. Teachers at both schools called for more and better technology, were avid home users, and believed in the future ubiquity of computers in society.

Teachers continually change their classroom practices. For example, some teachers quickly adopted computers for their classes, though most did not. Yet the teachers who decided to wait or choose to ignore the new technologies still engaged in changing other aspects of their teaching. Some may have decided to use a new textbook; others may have discovered a new way to do small-group work; and even others may have borrowed a technique from a colleague down the hall to press students to write more than a paragraph. These small changes are incremental and occur frequently among teachers. But these small adjustments are not what the promoters of computers had in mind. They wanted to transform teaching from the familiar teacher-centered approach to one that required the teacher to play a considerably different role. Using technology, the teacher would organize the classroom differently, giving students far more control over their learning (for example, working in teams on projects). Such changes would entail fundamental shifts in the teacher’s and students’ roles, the social organization of the classroom and power relationships between teacher and students.

The point, then, is that teachers change all the time. It is the kind of change that needs to be specified. Champions of technology wanted fundamental change in classroom practice. The teachers that we interviewed and observed, however, engaged mostly in incremental changes.

In a previous study, I investigated teachers’ responses to the introduction of the technological innovations of film (1910’s-1940’s), radio (1920’-1940’s), and instructional television (1950’s -1980’s). Each of these highly touted electronic marvels went through a cycle of high expectations for reforming schools, rich promotional rhetoric, and new policies that encouraged broad availability of the machines, yet resulted in limited classroom use. [...] But logistics gave teachers a headache. Securing a film from the district’s audio-visual centre at just the right time for a particular lesson of having the radio or television broadcast available at only one time and not other times caused problems. Incompatibility between the existing curriculum and the offerings of films, radio, and television further reduced use. These growing complaints from teachers about inaccessibility and

Since the nineteenth century, chalk and blackboard, pens, pencils, and textbooks have proven themselves over and over again to be reliable and useful classroom technologies. Teachers added other innovations such as the overhead projector, the ditto machine (later the copying machine), and film projector (later the VCR) because they too proved reliable and useful. But most teachers continue to see the computer as an add-on rather than as a technology integral to their classroom content and instruction.

In the case of information technologies, teachers make choices by asking practical questions that computer programmers, corporate executives, or educational policymakers seldom ask. And the reason is straightforward enough: schools serve many and conflicting purposes in a democratic society. Teachers at all levels have to manage groups in a classroom while creating individual personal relationships; they have to cover academic content while cultivating depth of understanding in each student; they have to socialize students to abide by certain community values, while nurturing creative and independent thought. These complex classroom tasks, unlike anything software developers, policymakers and administrators have to face, require careful expenditure of a teacher’s time and energy. So in trying to reconcile conflicting goals within an age-graded high school or a bottom-heavy, research-driven university, teachers ask themselves down-to-earth questions in order to decide which electronic tools they will take to hand. Here are some of the questions teachers ask:

• Is the machine or software program simple enough for me to learn quickly?

• Is it versatile, that is, can it be used in more than one situation?

• Will the program motivate my students?

• Does the program contain skills that are connected to what I am expected to teach?

• Are the machine and software reliable?

• If the system breaks down, is there someone else who will fix it?

• Will the amount of time I have to invest in learning to use the system yield a comparable return in student learning?

• Will student use of computers weaken my classroom authority?

The maverick computer-using teachers I have identified sought to substantially change their instructional practices. They welcomed computers with open arms, took courses on their own, incessantly asked questions of experts, and acquired the earliest computers available at their school or for home use. They did so because they sensed that these machines fit their pedagogical beliefs about student learning and would add to the psychic rewards of teaching. Most of the innovators used computers to support existing ways of teaching. Others not only embraced the new technology, but also saw the machines as tools for advancing their student-centered agenda in transforming their classrooms into places where students could actively learn.

Thus, even within the constrained contexts in which teachers found themselves, teachers—as gatekeepers to their classrooms—acted on their beliefs in choosing what innovations to endorse, reflect, and modify.

The introduction of computers into classrooms in Silicon Valley schools had a number of unexpected consequences. They are:

• Abundant availability of a “hard” infrastructure (wiring, machines, software) and a growing “soft” infrastructure (technical support, professional development) in schools in the late 1990’s has not led, as expected, to frequent or extensive teacher use of technologies for tradition-altering classroom instruction.

• Students and teachers use computers and other technologies more at home than at school.

• When a small percentage of computer-using teachers do become serious or occasional users, the—contrary to expectations—largely maintain existing classroom practices.

Slow Revolution

Simply put, more and more teachers will become serious users of computers in their classrooms as the “hard” and “soft” infrastructures mature in schools. This explanation also suggests that uses of technology to preserve existing practices will continue among most teachers but give way slowly to larger numbers, especially as high schools and universities shift to more student-orientated teaching practices.

For the tiny band of teacher-users who have already transformed their classrooms into student-centered, active learning places, the slow-revolution explanation places them in the vanguard of a movement that will eventually convert all classrooms into technology-rich sites. Embedded in the explanation is a supreme confidence that with further work to secure better equipment, more training, and adequate technical support, as the years pass a critical mass of users will accrue, and the gravitational force of this group will draw most of the remaining teacher into technology’s orbit.

Depressing (but accurate) Predictions...

I believe that core teaching and learning practices—shaped by internal and external contexts—would remain very familiar to those who would visit mid-twenty-first-century schools.

Success in making new technologies available obscures, however, the divergent goals spurring the loosely tied coalition. Some promoters sought more productivity through better teaching and learning. Others wanted to transform teaching and learning from traditional textbook lessons to more learner-friendly, student-centered approaches. And some wanted students to become sufficiently computer literate to compete in a workplace that demanded high-level technological skills. Have these varied purposes been achieved in schools?

Beginning with computer or digital literacy, more and more students now take required keyboarding classes and courses in computers that concentrate on learning commonly used software. No consensus, however, exists on exactly what computer literacy is. Among computer advocates, definitions diverge considerably. Is it knowledge of and skill in programming? Is it being able to trouble-shoot computer lapses or software glitches? Is computer literacy knowing how to run popular software applications such as word processing programs and spreadsheets? Or is it simply completing a required course in computers? When we remember the many shifts in the meaning of computer literacy since the 1980's (recall how many experts once urged everyone to learn BASIC programming), any hope of securing agreement on a common definition appears slim. On such an elementary but crucial point, promoters offer little direction to computer-using teachers.

Some researchers have claimed that computer literacy, however defined, pays off in higher wages, further strengthening the educational rationale for using computers in schools. Yet schools can hardly claim full credit for students' growing technological literacy, when many also pick up computer knowledge and skills at home and in part-time jobs. The contribution that school courses and experiences have made to computer literacy and competitiveness in the workplace remains, at best, murky.

Nor has a technological revolution in teaching and learning occurred in the vast majority of American classrooms. Teachers have been infrequent and limited users of the new technologies for classroom instruction. If anything, in the midst of the swift spread of computers and the Internet to all facets of American life, "e-learning" in public schools has turned out to be word processing and Internet searches. As important supplements as these have become to many teachers' repertoires, they are far from the project-based teaching and learning that some techno-promoters have sought. Teachers at all levels of schooling have used the new technology basically to continue what they have always done: communicate with parents and administrators, prepare syllabi and lectures, record grades, assign research papers. These unintended effects must be disappointing to those who advocate more computers in schools.

Securing broad access and equipping students with minimal computer knowledge and skills may be counted as successes. Whether such intended effects lead to high-wage jobs is unclear because the outcomes may be due more to graduates' skills picked up outside of school or to their paper credentials. When it comes to higher teacher and student productivity and a transformation in teaching and learning, however, there is little ambiguity. Both must be tagged as failures. Computers have been oversold and underused, at least for now.

Yet technology will not go away, and educators have to come to terms with it as an educational tool. Understanding technology and the social practices that accompany it as a potent force in society is incumbent on both students and adults. From the telephone to the automobile to the computer, technologies carry with them the baggage of complex social practices and values that need to be explicitly examined.

How early childhood classrooms, high schools, and universities in Silicon Valley and across the nation responded to the last two decades of technological innovations is a case study in both stability and change. No one who attended schools in the 1950's and then visited schools in 2000 could fail to note many important differences in classroom practice. It is untrue that schools or teachers cannot change. Those visitors, however, would also note strong, abiding similarities between classrooms and teaching practices a half-century apart. Those similarities are due to the historical legacies and contexts. Ad hoc incremental changes have occurred often; fundamental changes have occurred seldom.

Although promoters of new technologies often spout the rhetoric of fundamental change, few have pursued deep and comprehensive changes in the existing system of schooling. The introduction of information technologies into schools over the past two decades has achieved neither the transformation of teaching and learning nor the productivity gains that a reform coalition of corporate executives, public officials, parents, academics, and educators have sought. For such fundamental changes in teaching and learning to occur there would have to have been widespread and deep reform in schools' organisational, political, social, and technological contexts.

I predict that the slow revolution in technology access, fuelled by popular support and continuing as long as there is economic prosperity, will eventually yield exactly what promoters have sought: every student, like every worker, will eventually have a personal computer. But no fundamental change in teaching practices will occur. I can imagine a time, for example, when all students use portable computer this way they use notebooks today. The teacher would post math assignments from the text and appropriate links on their Website, which students would access from home. Such access, however, will only marginally reshape the deeply anchored structures of the self-contained classroom, parental expectations of what teachers should be doing, time schedules, and teachers' disciplinary training that help account for the dominant teaching practices. The teacher in my example would use the laptops to sustain existing practices, including homework. In short, historical legacies in school structures and parents' and taxpayers' social beliefs about what schools should be doing, I believe, will trump the slow revolution in teaching practices. Those fervent advocates who seek to transform teaching and learning into more efficient, proactive work through active, student-centered classrooms will find wholesale access to computers ultimately disappointing.

Cuban L (2001). Oversold and underused: computers in the classroom. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.


27 March 2016

Tech Enhanced Learning—Why bother?

Why? Why use ICT? Why not just use pen/pencil & paper? In my experience schools that make the leap into a 'tech enhanced learning' model (TEL) often fail to address this critical question

This is a crucial question, and one that needs answering. The bottom line for me is I honestly believe that virtually...

any teaching/learning context + ICT = better.

I started using ICTs properly, ie to learn/create, when I was about 18 (1988) using CAD systems on PCs for drafting, on an Industrial Design Diploma in West London, and from that day to this, one thing has remained consistent, I struggle to think of anything since that day which, related to my own experiences as a learner, now as learner and a teacher, that has not benefited from the inclusion of ICTs. As the technologies have evolved I've been able to add more and more ICT to things that I maybe couldn't before, and as far as I can see it's always been more, well, just MORE afterwards.

Hence my passion for all things technological and digital. So the problem is I am convinced, but are you? I don't need a WHY do justify the inclusion of ICT to almost anything, because I just KNOW it will be better - honestly I'm sitting here, trying to thing of a learning/teaching context which would not benefit from sort of ICT inclusion and I really can't!

I have a more detailed rationale for this, don't worry I didn't write it for you, I wrote it as an element of my Master's dissertation, but it is here if you do want to read it, all 3000 words. It is fully supported by the literature, and I have a separate list of References if you would really like it.

Ultimately, sure we could manage the next unit we plan to teach as teachers have for 100s years with paper and pen/cil, or we could do that AND make it more AWESOME with ICT.

I genuinely believe that if half of the teachers chose to use NO ICT for a unit, and half did, the kids in the classes of the half that did would be much, much better off.

Here are the main reasons, taken from the full document:
  • Paper is a very powerful medium, but it is not dynamic and it does not provide sound, animation, real-time feedback that facilitates a capacity for continuous expansion. Integration of ICTs allow for more dynamic teaching, and more importantly, they allow students to show what they know in non-traditional and non-linear ways that more closely approximate the skills they will need to be successful in the adult world. 
  • Critically, in my experience, it is the unanticipated, unplanned for possibilities that are powerful: ICT as a part of routine class activity offers unexpected sources of inspiration. This inspiration has an impact on learning interactions in ways that are often serendipitous for the teacher. It is more widely acknowledged that technology can inspire students, for instance by enabling them to make their own discoveries, perhaps more importantly, it often equips students to be sources of inspiration for others. 

ICTs make possible new forms of classroom practice. This is apparent in three distinct areas: 
  • The reconfiguration of space so that new patterns of mobility, flexible working and activity management can occur, a finding also corroborated by a completely separate non ICT related study, (Hastings & Wood, 2002) who argue a pedagogical, empirical and essentially intuitive case for arranging the physical environment to support the attention and activities that a task requires. 
  • New ways in which class activities can be triggered, orchestrated and monitored. 
  • New experiences associated with the digital ‘virtual’ resources for established and routine practices – such as real time modelling, shared document editing, or manipulating spatial representations. 
ICTs create the possibility of a wide variety of learning practices.
Overarching this variety are three central activities, which are significantly enriched by the increasingly ubiquitous availability of technologies:

  1. Exposition which is animated by the opportunity to invoke rich shared images, video and plans,
  2. Independent research which is extended by the availability of internet search opportunities, and,
  3. Creation, construction and presentation, which is made possible by ready-to-hand ICT-based tools. 
  • It also important to consider that ‘technology’ does not simply mean PCs or netbooks. Some class activities depend on access to a variety of technology tools perhaps only briefly, especially when utilising mobile technologies, these experiences are about much more than working at the computer and typing a document, but requiring students to move around a room filming each other, making audio notes, taking pictures etc. 
  • Engagement – students find ICTs ‘fun’. Used properly ICTs enhance classroom participation, feedback provision and pace of learning, offering multimedia presentations and the authentic link to future potential professions. 
  • ICT practices invite an approach to understanding that considers the impact on learning practices, rather than the impact on learning outcomes. This not only shifts attention from attainment products to engagement processes, it defines activities in terms of learning practices rather than instructional practices (emphasis in the original). Likewise, Starkey (2010) notes that this enabled teachers to have students self-pace their use of digital technologies to meet their personal learning needs, giving the teacher time to spend with individual students. 
  • positive benefits are reported relating to motivation (Becta, 2006b), Passey et al. (2004); on self-esteem, interest, attendance and behaviour among hard-to-reach students 
  • Successful integration of ICTs in schools can help students to develop skills, both specific to ICTs and more generally, that will be useful for them in their future academic and professional lives, enabling them to use ICT skills to access, compile, synthesise and exchange information effectively.(ie in Grade 5, they will be better at this, having been exposed to this). 
  • "… if the support for ICT usage in the primary school remains unsystematic, variable and unreflective then there are two significant dangers: the first is that young people with ready access to technology out of school will develop an incomplete and unreflective capability, unsupported by adult guidance, with risks both to their learning progress and their safety. The second is that a digital underclass, lacking opportunities for wide-ranging use of technology, will be permanently excluded from a world mediated by ICT." (Becta, 2009)

What we are really concerned with here is learning in a way that is most effective in an age dominated by digital technologies. The information revolution of the past couple of decades has created an impetus, to reconsider what learning should really be about – leveraging the tools of the digital age to ensure that the skills that have been the province of the few, become universal.
What is also new are the actual types of experiences that learning in a medium where screens are so ubiquitous as to almost become invisible, I would argue that these experiences are very different to anything that has gone before.

... so really the question we should really be asking now is not WHY, but HOW.

How? I'll tell you how. These kinds of experiences, or modes of learning are being transformed by 5 unique aspects of working with digital technologies, that I call 'SAMMS', learning which is transformed by:
  • Situated practice (work anywhere, anytime, any place)
  • Accessibility (to information)
  • Multi-modality (image, audio, video, interactivity, reciprocity)
  • Mutability (provisionality, flexibility)
  • Social networking (access to people) 
Of course the bottom line is that as far as we are concerned UWCSEA as an institution is already committed to this so the WHY is a moot point, those that lead UWCSEA are and have been convinced...

How can we use ICTs most effectively?

That's a question we can only answer together.

26 March 2016

Video Games & Violence...

A few years ago, the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) in the UK, published a document, reviewing official government recommendations to improve children’s digital and video game safety. POST is an office of both Houses of Parliament, charged with providing independent and balanced analysis of policy issues that have a basis in science and technology.

The original document, in its entirety can be located here.

I have taken the liberty of highlighting the points that I as gamer and a father find particularly interesting.

First I should come clean; am I biased? Yes - absolutely, as a gamer of many years, and one who not only permits his children to play games, but actively encourages it, and have done since they were very young. Here's my son playing Dora and the Purple Planet when he was 4.

The back pack actually waits for my answer? No way! 

Well, I say 'they', despite my continued enticement my daughter remains less than enthusiastic about the whole gaming thing. A little Wii Fit is all she can tolerate before returning to her dolls, or making faces at herself on an iPad.

Truth be told given the choice between coming home from work and seeing my kids slouched on the couch passively gazing at a television screen or excitedly interacting and participating in a video game, I'll always choose the latter.

My concern is media bias, for some reason it's considered OK to blame games for the ills of the earth, but not TV, or film? If someone is a little hot under the collar after playing a video game, it can only be because of the violence, right? Wrong. Speaking personally, yes, games can sometimes leave me a little hot under the collar, but then very often so does sport, for the same reason, frustration, good old simple—this is really challenging—and I can't believe I find it so hard—frustration.

No, it's not mine. Really. 

If anything, I am more likely to get wound up by a level in a Mario game than a level in Call of Duty.

So—to the article, all are direct quotes I have selected from the original report, with my contributions in [brackets] or italics, all emphasis is mine:

"There is debate surrounding the impact of violent video games on behaviour. This document summarises the key aspects of the discussion, and other potential impacts of gaming such as addiction. It also examines the educational use of games, and reviews mechanisms to ensure children’s game safety.

As gaming increases, particularly among children and adolescents, so have concerns over the games’ content, influence and excessive use. While the main focus of research and policy has been on violent games, other impacts of games on addiction, brain development, social interaction and education are also considered
  • Some, but not all, research suggests links between violent video games & aggression. However, causation cannot be proved
  • A small minority may play video games excessively, but there are no firm criteria for diagnosing video game addiction
  • Video games can be social, educational, and allow for personalised learning 
Research suggests that social, cultural and genetic factors have a stronger influence on aggressive behaviour than video games. For instance, gender, personality and violence in the immediate family environment are important influences on aggressive behaviour.

Desensitisation is the result of reduced emotional reaction due to repeated exposure to violence. It is thought to increase aggressive responses in individuals and to fuel a demand for more extreme games as gamers search for new excitement levels. However, this is not specific to games and applies to all media.

Many young gamers (aged 15) are upset by violence in games that are rated 18. Just as exposure to violence in films, television and the internet can be upsetting so can violence in games, and this is why content in games is age restricted (my emphasis).

(Young children are) more susceptible to negative, especially scary, content in video games and media. (Again, all forms of media, not just video games).

Despite the media focus on violent video games, the impacts of gaming are diverse and can be positive.

On average, 5-16 year olds play 1.5 hours of video games a day, but many gamers acknowledge that it is possible to devote too much time to games and many parents also worry about this. [Of course, it is possible, if not more likely, to devote 'too much time' to other media… Especially television]

A recent review of the literature reports that (only) 8-12% of young people (mean age 21) engaged in “excessive gaming”, whereas “problematic gaming” was present in (only) 2-5%."


"There remains debate over whether gaming addiction is a valid concept, with some researchers claiming that dependency and withdrawal are not observed in video game addiction. The American Psychiatric Association has stated there was not enough evidence to include video game addiction in the latest edition of the widely used Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders."

[In my experience the symptoms often attributed hastily to 'addiction' would be better attributed to 'flow'. Something game developers work very hard to facilitate, and something that only the very best games are capable of inducing.]

"A sense of that one’s skills are adequate to cope with the challenges at hand in a goal directed, rule bound action system that provides clear clues as to how one is performing. Concentration is so intense that there is no attention left over to think about anything irrelevant or to worry about problems. Self-consciousness disappears, and the sense of time becomes distorted. An activity that produces such experiences is so gratifying that people are willing to do it for its own sake, with little concern for what they will get out of it, even when it is difficult or dangerous." (Csikszentmihalyi, 1991)

"Educational" Games

Some of the most popular games are 'educational' (eg brain training games). Generally, educational games are developed to increase pupils’ motivation, communicate information, improve specific skills and test competencies. They can allow for personalised learning by being able to target specific learning difficulties and can also be used with groups of children, allowing players an active role that demands a wide range of skills.

Importantly, there is a difference between learning skills such as problem solving, and learning behaviours from video games. Playing video games can improve reaction times and visual skills related to attention and problem solving regardless of their genre. However, it is more difficult to show that behaviours, both positive and negative, transfer from video games into the real world.


Video games that contain film footage or include violence, criminal or sexual activity are accounted by for by only approximately 6-7% of all games. (BBFC)

There is an on-going need to educate parents about their responsibility to monitor game play."

Here in Singapore, most games originate in the USA, and as such their ratings will be governed by the ESRB. The problem is the ESRB ratings have been over politicized, to the extent that they are not that useful; this is because the 'adults only' rating is rarely used, instead they prefer to use the 'M'(Mature) rating. This rating is often misleading, as many games that get the M rating are definitely adult games. For this reason I advise parents to refer to the European ratings instead.

Ratings from the USA—not so helpful

Games from the EU are governed by the PEGI classification system . Both classification systems have indicators that are obvious, but the advantage with PEGI is that they are more practical, as they are not afraid to use the adult rating (18).

European ratings, not afraid to use the 18 rating

The problem is, even when a game is rated adult, as they err on the side of caution, this can also be a little overzealous... eg the Batman games by Rocksteady, and the Grand Theft Auto (GTA) games get rated 18; but there is no way they can describe both of those games as being 'adult',  the former is not, and the latter most certainly is, and when they describe both of these games as being adult, it makes a mockery of the whole ratings system.

Fortunately, there are sites out there like Everybody Plays, that include reviews for parents.  Common Sense Media have also got a great review section which is very helpful, although I do find they also err a little too far on the side of caution to be useful, just aping the rating on the box. The Parent posts are a better way to gauge whether or not a certain game would be appropriate for your child.

Put simply, if in any doubt, go by the rating on the cover—ignore this at your peril!

Last, but certainly not least, the best approach is communication. If there is a game your child is desperate to play, there will almost certainly be plenty of game play footage on YouTube that you can use to get a sense of the level of appropriateness of the gameplay. Below I've included an example from the 'adult' rated Batman games, which I allowed my son to play when he was 12. Having watched the gameplay footage (search with the keyword 'combat') I felt the level of violence was no worse than a typical action film—far be it from me to be guilty of media bias!

Chocolate, Broccoli & a Minecraft ECA/CCA

No doubt many parents are wondering, "Why would a school offer a Minecraft activity as an after school activity? There are many reasons why, but a short answer would be; for the same reasons we offer a Chess Activity. Of course the main motivation for this is the cold hard fact that I am a gamer, I love gaming - contrary to popular opinion I do not believe it is 'addictive' - although it is extremely adept at creating a 'flow' state that can easily be interpreted as addiction... I definitely believe that gaming has a great deal to offer. But this is not the post for this subject, this one is:


So where was I? Oh yes, that said, if I'm honest, Minecraft is not my kind of game, but it is a rare kind of game that both my son (Grade 5) and daughter (Grade 3) LOVE. It is a game they can play together, but very differently, and therein lie the benefits... I'm very wary of attempts to try and make any game 'educational' - this kind of gaming invariably has the attraction of what is known in the industry as 'chocolate covered broccoli'.

Chocolate covered broccoli... via edutopia

Despite this, as a teacher, I could not resist the desire to attempt this anyway. For example I persuaded students to build a virtual maths museum, with exhibits that showcased ratio, basic 3d shapes, right angled triangles etc. but... But no matter how much metaphorical chocolate I covered it with, it was still broccoli - and I thought, do we do this with Lego? Channel their creations? "Hey kids why don't you build a Maths museum out of Lego?" No. We let them play, and let them take it where they want, just let them play, be creative, cooperate, collaborate, and that's good enough for me...

Therein lies the power of Minecraft, the kids aren't being duped, to extend the gaming industry analogy, Minecraft is not an 'educational (game)' it's an 'educational' GAME; or to put it another way, as far as the kids are concerned, it's chocolate covered chocolate.

Minecraft: chocolate covered chocolate

All that said there are some great examples online of teachers who have been able to kids to create some delicious chocolate broccoli with it, even without realising it. A colleague of mine in the UK let some of his students model homeostasis in Minecraft, But the essential element here is that it was their idea, the teacher didn't even know what Minecraft was. He does now.

And that's what I love about it, it was student centred; their ideas, their motivation, he was the catalyst... That's what I'm looking for. That in a nutshell is my rationale for Minecraft, when people inevitably ask 'Why?' - almost all the reasons you could give me for the value of playing with Lego, can be said of Minecraft.

Or to quote a sentiment commonly being expressed about '21st Century Learnng', we are preparing students for a future in which the 'three Rs' are embedded within the 'three Cs', communication, collaboration, and creative problem solving *(Thornburg, 1998). Minecraft is one example of students doing precisely that.

Think Lego, but with unlimited bricks, space, and best of all, no need to demolish it all at the end of each session.

The Minecraft game is available on almost all game platforms, even iOS. In fact playing Minecraft on an iPad (or even iPod touch or iPhone) is the easiest (and cheapest) way to play it, and multiplayer could not be simpler, up to 4 players, in the same room, on the same wireless network, that's it.

Minecraft on the iPad, a great way to introduce kids to this game.

Youtube - Use it better

Youtube is splendiferous

And what an awesome treasure trove of video delights it is, BUT, not if:

  • you don't want to be reliant upon an internet connection to play the video... especially if you have more than one to show...

  • you have to wait for it to buffer to play, because loads of people just happen to be online right now.

  • you go back to show the video the following week/month/year/decade and it's ...  gone, just gone, or.. what was it called again?

  • it has a load of highly appropriate comments (and the punctuation!!!!!????) underneath it, I've seen swearing in comments on a 1970s Mr Happy video, people swear about Mr Happy?

  • you want to be able to insert the video into a presentation, or edit it into a video project... OK this one is a bit more geeky, I'll stop now.

Get my point? You can avoid all of the above by downloading the video in question to your computer, also you can then save it somewhere accessible, lie the shared drive, for you beloved colleagues to use as well.

Nerd Alert

It's really great to freeze frame a scene, (space bar to pause/play) and annotate over the image/scene (note facial expressions that indicate mood, scene details, or maybe situational considerations - oooh look the car is falling) using the IWB 'annotate over desktop' feature, (the blue rectangle with squiggle in it...)

So here's my preferred ways to download youtube video, easy and almost as easy:

Use a website...

  1. ... like www.splandoo.com, or maybe keepvid.com, dirpy.com, no doubt there are others.
  2. Find your youtube video, copy the URL in the address bar that's the gobbeldy gook that starts with stuff like 'http://www.youtube.com/watch?v= ... ' stuff in it, see the image below for an example...
  3. Copy it
  4. Go to www.splandoo.com
  5. Paste it in the hole (actually, that's called a field) where it says 'Enter The Video's URL'
  6. Choose FLV or MP4 (I would choose MP4, it's easier to playback, and edit)
  7. Click the helpful 'Download!' button


Use a FireFox Add-on

Tip - Add-ons are awesome, they are helpful little modifications to your browser that let it do things it can't normally do... like the bionic man.

  1. If you haven't already, download and install Firefox - http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/personal.html
  2. Open it
  3. Go to Tools > Add-ons
  4. Click the 'Get Add-ons' tab
  5. Do a search for 'Easy Youtube Downloader' (there are others, this one I likey) and install it
  6. When it's finished you will be prompted to restart your browser.. please do so
  7. Go to a youtube video, and Oilah! Now a magical 'Download As' button has appeared below the video, so click it!
  8. I would choose MP4 for the aforementioned reasons...
  9. That's it, now any time you visit youtube with this browser on this computer you can download with one click.
  10. Oh, there's more? Why YES. With this Add-on you can also download the audio ONLY, as an MP3 file, really handy for locating obscure bits of music you need...

You might need to download VLC to play the video with, either way it's well worth it.


Getting Started with iPads for Teaching

iOS Devices for Learning

I've been working with iPads in schools since they first burst onto the pedagogical scene all the way back in 2010. Needless to say a lot has changed since then, and while where I work has scaled up from 50 to more like 500 now, and with it a fancy wireless management system, I'm conscious that many, if not most schools our there are still working out the basics, if that's the case, then this post is for you... 

There are several critical steps to get right, but one thing to be considered right at the start is how you plan to to store the iPads… The solution that we have opted for is to purchase an iPad cart for each class set, most iPad carts contain anywhere between 24 and 48 iPads. The reason why this is important is that you will need a way to be able to simultaneously keep the iPads safe, secure, synchronised with a master computer, and synchronise charging of all the devices.

The only problem is that the price of these carts can tend towards the absolutely ridiculous (try US$4000 for one Bedford cart) we are currently getting some iPad cards manufactured in Singapore for 500 Singapore dollars per cart which aren't as fancy as the ones I mentioned, but do the job.

So here's the critical elements in a nutshell: 
  • iPad storage 
  • App purchasing and updating on a 'mother computer'
  • creation of a master iPad 
  • Careful consideration of settings (and restrictions) on the Master iPad
  • cloning (imaging) of the master iPad onto each of the other iPads (using iTunes and the 'mother' computer)
  • a system for keeping the iPads charged that does not make the mistake of "cooking" them.

The creation of a Master iPad is critical to get right, as once you have cloned it onto 20—200 other iPads (this could easily take at least half an hour to one hour per iPad) you don't want to have to do that again too soon. Once a year would be an ideal goal although it is common to have to reclone all the iPads two or three times a year (to update Apps, and add Apps that are 'essential')… 

Now I can obviously help you with establishing a decent master iPad, to that end, here is a link to a photo gallery of screenshots that show clearly how a master iPad is organised.

Master iPad Considerations 

Some important rules of thumb to consider when creating the master iPad are:
  • Consider very carefully what the folders are that you will use to organise the Apps 
  • Give folders short, simple, but meaningful names, 
  • Consider very carefully how many content apps you choose to include (if any) as without any doubt the most powerful use of the iPad is not content/consumption apps but creation Apps—Apps that require students to work from a blank screen and create their own content that demonstrates their learning/understanding (learning through making/doing) rather than Apps that require students to pop balloons and pick objects in games that are nothing more than passive, glorified multiple-choice quizzes (with annoying music).

Content vs Creation

In the web album that I linked above, arguably the most essential folders are the folders called: create, explain, story, write, draw & paint, and mind map (in order of essentiality).

I would seriously consider completely avoiding content Apps completely for the first year and then introduce them in the second (or third) year when you know that students and teachers have made effective use of the creation apps. 

Once you place content apps on the iPad, they are like a drug, very hard to stop teachers and students from being distracted by them, and relying on them as an "easy option" but that provide learning that is far from transformative and is often nothing more than redundant... You have been warned! Don't get me wrong, they have their place (otherwise I would not include any on our Master iPad image) but that it is exactly where they need to be put, 'in their place'—they need to support not dominate iPad use.

There is more that you will need to know later on, especially relating to the actual mechanics of how to do the cloning using iTunes etc, (not to mention how to actual use and teach with them) but I think this should be enough to get you started!

iOS Device practice and protocols

iPads, iPod touches, iPhones, collectively known as iDevices or iOS devices. We are all going to be using these more and more, so it makes sense to have a good idea about what you should and should not do with them...

Just because you can doesn't mean you have to... 

Not everything that students create on the iOS devices needs to be saved/exported/captured, often it is enough for it to be what it is and maybe shared with a peer, much liked working on a mini whiteboard. We have awesome learning moments/conversations/experiences with students that are rarely captured, this doesn’t make them less important, it just is what it is. That said ...

If you use the Reflection App on your Mac you can easily share student outcomes directly from any iOS device to a projector via a connected computer. That is often all you need to do.

The Reflection App—Wireless Awesomeness

As far as possible allocate devices to students so you can find lost work or know who to blame if there are problems.

While they can be used for reward/free play - (much like a pencil or paper) this is not their primary purpose, as far as possible you should have a specific app(s) and activity in mind.

Just like the Mac, use SPOTLIGHT to locate apps quickly and easily.

Use the folders when you want students to explore a range of apps within a specific focus, eg spelling, maths drills, etc.

A longer term activity can be saved, to be continued at a later time, but only do this if you know the student will be able to use the exact same device later.

Sharing iPad Content

IF you need to capture/export media from an iOS device here are some guidelines:

Most apps will export directly to the photo app, including video outcomes. Media which is smaller in size, ie less than 1 MB like text and images can be easily emailed to any email address (usually the student or teacher) from the device. Once an email address has been used once, the device will 'remember' the email address for ease of use in the future. It will also 'remember' mistakes, so for this reason it is a good idea to supervise students the first time they email from the device.

For larger Media, ie, larger than 1 MB, like video outcomes, it is generally easier to use an iOS Device cable to transfer the media to a computer. Although there are a range of wireless ways to do this, Google Photos, DropBox, SendAnywhere, iCloud Photo sharing, it's hard to beat the reliability and simplicity of a cable.

Some (not many) apps use a slightly more convoluted method to export media, which is why it always important that you trial an app before using it with an entire class...

If you use the Reflection App on your Mac you can also capture this content (screen capture) using the reflection app on the mac, which will save it as a video file. This can also be another useful way to get content off an iOS device.

Once the media has been exported please encourage students to erase the contents from the iPad, especially deleting recorded images and video from the photo app.

Confused about sizes? See this post.

Some top tips:

Tapping and double tapping are common techniques on an iOS device, but also remember the tap and hold technique, which usually behaves in a very similar way to the right click on a mouse.

Double clicking the home button (or swiping 4 fingers up) will bring up the multitasking menu allowing you to easily switch between apps that are running. For example between Safari and a Pages document.

4 fingers swipes to the left and right allows you to quickly switch between apps.

From the multitasking menu you can quit apps that are running. IMPORTANT: You do NOT need to close apps that are running in the background, this is a common myth. But this is a useful way to quit apps that may have hung/frozen. But is probably easier to just shut the device down and start it up again.

You do not need to shutdown an iOS device very often, just pressing the power button (top right corner) to send it to sleep is enough.

Be vigilant and discourage students from changing the settings, a common one is to invert the screen making it pretty much useless for anyone else to use. This is another good reason for assigning specific iOS devices to specific students.

Always always always remind students to LOG OUT of any app they have logged in to, eg Popplet, Google Apps, etc. otherwise the next student who uses the iPad will be able to access their account directly. Remember these devices were not designed with multiple users in mind - we are repurposing them for an educational context.

You to do not need to leave an iOS device charging, this will only shorten battery life, it is better to only plug them in for one overnight charge when they are below 50 % in battery life. Avoid leaving them charging (cooking) over weekends and holidays.

Screen shots are a great way to quickly capture a moment. Just hold the power and home buttons at the same time. The photo will be added to the camera roll.

iOS device Email accounts

I have created email accounts for each grade, this is if you or a specialist would rather not use your own email account to receive media from students. These are already saved onto every iOS device so just typing in for example 'g1' in the to field of an email will automatically fill in the grade 1 account email address. Then you or a TA/helper can login to that account at a computer to access and download the media. Specialists find these accounts particularly useful.

Remote Device Management

If you have reliable wifi support, then this is something you really need to consider. Basically it's a way to control all the iPads wirelessly, once you've set up (enrolled) each iPad into the system you are using, there a few competing solution out there, such as Casper and Filewave—we went with the latter, but if you have a lot of iPads it gets expensive, like easily $7 USD per device expensive... but the gains in terms of hours of manually managing every single device may make it worth it. The good news, if you're only managing a small number of iPads (ie less than 100) is there a free solutions out there, like Cisco's Meraki, a colleague of mine uses this system in her school in Australia, and has this to say:

"...so far Meraki seems really user friendly. You can easily add and remove apps from a series of iPads with the click of a mouse."

There is one big con to this management method, but so many pros that it makes up for it.


  • Cost: unless you have less that 100 iPads, it is expensive.
  • No folders: all apps will be pushed over the air, and arrive on the iPads strewn all over the place. We've always found being able to organise apps on the iPads in carefully named folders to be really useful (see screen shots above, from before we switched to a device management system). That said it is possible to arrange apps in folders on individual devices, but this has to be done device by device, not centrally. Kids will need to learn to use Spotlight to search for apps by name, generally all they will need is the first letter... 
  • Payment: involves finding ways to circumnavigate Apple's payment systems, cloning devices is technically only legit for 5 devices, once you go over that you are in dodgy territory, paying for an app once and pushing it to 50 iPads is not really appropriate practice! Another more legitimate way around this is to purchase a load to iTunes gift certificates, and use those to purchase the apps on different devices... 


  • Time savings: all those hours spent waiting to clone every single device (restoring from a master backup) are but a memory. 
  • Control: this will vary dependent on the system you choose, but you will be able to pretty much control every enrolled device from one computer.
  • App sharing: Now you can easily move apps from one set of devices to another, especially useful for expensive apps... 
  • Flexibility: someone desperately needs an app? With the manual system, someone would have had to install the app on every single iPad, with remote management, it's a few clicks of a mouse.
  • Payment: now you can use Apple's VPP (assuming your country's App store supports it) to purchase apps in bulk and at reduced prices for education, then push those to any device you want. 

Welcome to the wonderful world of iPads in the classroom, they are a hassle to setup and manage, but they are so powerful for learning, it is well worth it!

Transforming Maths Practice & Practise

Why Use Digital Tools in Mathematics?

  • Immediate feedback
  • Infinite patience
  • Personal (individual) differentiation
  • (Less marking)
  • Dynamic interactive models (what if)

Situated: work anywhere, any place any time. No carting around text or exercise books, all you need is scrap paper and a pen or pencil. Students can work out the own pace in their own space without having to do work pitched at a group of students in order to make the management of the task practically feasible for the teacher. No more having to set 'homework', now the homework is the classwork continued, and vice versa.

Access: videos and tutorials from some of the greatest Maths teachers on the planet is only a click away. Not to mention access to a wider range of strategies, and ways of explaining. Leverage the computer processing power of automated marking; faster, and more efficient than a human, freeing teachers to focus on marking the stuff computers cannot, and freeing time for teaching/planning. No longer do students have to wait several days to find out whether the work they did is correct or incorrect, they know as soon as they submit an answer and are able to work on each problem until they get it right without the need for teacher intervention.

Multimodality and Mutability: beyond text and static images to illustrate, they can use video to explain, and animations (animated gifs) to demonstrate visually/aurally, in ways that allow rewind, repeat, retry, as often as is needed. Interactive dynamic models allow students to really explore mathematical models, with 'what if' experimentation. Got it wrong? Try again. No limits, no stress, no strife. Undo, try again, repeat.

Socially Networked: via an online space, students can share their questions, clarification, celebration. Teachers and students alike can can help one, help many. The fact that students can receive so much of the mathematical support via digital resources and via each other means the teachers actual face-to-face time can be used far more efficiently to work with smaller groups that would benefit more from the personal touch that computers cannot replicate.

Who Says?

Well, there’s lots of research, but let's just focus on a few for the sake of brevity. I reckon the points they made (some time ago, I might add) will convince anyone who has any passion for the teaching of Mathematics that their argument make sense.

In Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (NCTM 2000), the Technology Principle asserts: “Technology is essential in teaching and learning mathematics; it influences the mathematics that is taught and enhances students' learning” (p 24). More specifically, a technology-rich environment for mathematical learning influences five critical features of the classroom (Hiebert et al 1997): the nature of classroom tasks, the mathematical tool as learning support, the role of the teacher, the social culture of the classroom, and equity and accessibility. An essential question when working in a technology-rich mathematics environment is how technology can be used (appropriately) to enhance the teaching and learning of mathematics.

An effective way to optimize the mathematical thinking opportunities presented by technology is to plan the mathematics task focused on the five Process Standards (NCTM 2000): Problem Solving, Reasoning and Proof, Communication, Connections, and Representation.


Learning environments that take advantage of virtual manipulatives offer a number of ways for students to develop their mathematical understanding. The authors identify the following as five primary benefits:
  1. Linked representations provide connections and visualization between numeric and visual representations. 
  2. Immediate feedback allows students to check their understanding throughout the learning process, which prevents misconceptions. 
  3. Interactive and dynamic objects move a noun (mathematics) to a verb (mathematize). 
  4. Virtual manipulatives and applets offer opportunities to teach and represent mathematical ideas in nontraditional ways. 
  5. Meeting diverse learners' needs is easier than with traditional methods. 
Enhancing Mathematical Learning in a Technology-Rich Environment
Teaching Children Mathematics / November 2008

Then there’s this from the Centre for Research in IT in Education (CRITE) Bray & Tangney (2013):

An examination of the extent to a which recent technological interventions in mathematics education make use of the educational opportunities offered by the technology and the appropriate pedagogical approaches to facilitate learning, focused on digital tools classified as follows:
  • Outsourcing of Processing power 
  • Dynamic Graphical Environments (DGE) 
  • Purposefully Collaborative 
  • Simulations/Programming 
These are the guiding principles that have the potential to form the basis of a 21st Century model for the integration of technology into mathematics education. An appropriate and innovative technology intervention in mathematics education should:
  1. Be collaborative and team-based in accordance with a socially constructivist approach to learning. 
  2. Exploit the transformative as well as the computational capabilities of the technology. 
  3. Involve problem solving, investigation and sense-making, moving from concrete to abstract concepts. 
  4. Make the learning experience interesting and immersive/real wherever possible, adapting the environment and class routine as appropriate. 
  5. Use a variety of technologies (digital and traditional) suited to the task, in particular, non-specialist technology that students have to hand such as mobile phones and digital cameras. 
  6. Utilise the formative and/or summative assessment potential of the technology intervention. 
Students often wait days or weeks after handing in classroom work before receiving feedback. In contrast, research suggests that learning proceeds most rapidly when learners have frequent opportunities to apply the ideas they are learning and when feedback on the success or failure of an idea comes almost immediately (Anderson, 1996).


Aibhin Bray, Brendan Tangney Centre for Research in IT in Education (CRITE), School of Education and School of Computer Science & Statistics, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland

Anderson JR, 1996. The architecture of cognition. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Earlbaum Associates, 1996.

Bray, A., & Tangney, B. (2013, May). Mathematics, Technology Interventions and Pedagogy-Seeing the Wood from the Trees. In CSEDU (pp. 57-63).

Hiebert, James, Thomas P. Carpenter, Elizabeth Fennema, Karen C. Fuson, Diana Wearne, Hanlie Murray. Making Sense: Teaching and Learning Mathematics with Understanding. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1997.

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). Principles and Standards for School Mathematics. Reston, VA: NCTM, 2000.

Backups & RAID

I often get asked what the best solution is for backing up your data - a question that is best asked BEFORE you lose all of your precious digital memories, but sadly is often asked afterwards.

These days it's not uncommon for a typical family with a couple of kids in Junior School or higher to easily have in excess of 20-30 hours of video footage (still waiting to be edited) and several 1000 images. By the time your kids are ready to graduate it's a safe bet that you can double that - and at that size, chances are it won't all fit on your computer/s hard drive/s - which means you need a way to back up those files AND get them off your computer hard drive.

But first things first.

For storage of images and video you need to use a local computer hard drive, most likely the hard drive of your Mac. And to back this up you should use an external hard drive with Dropbox or Google Drive for everyday files, and Time Machine for everything else.

The problem comes when your local Mac Hard Drive is FULL, and you need to move that media off your Mac, just dumping onto an external drive is not good enough, as if that drive fails, (quite likely in my experience) you lose everything.

You can buy ANY Hard drive, they can all be reformatted on a Mac, using the Disk Utility Application, which will erase the drive and make it Mac (Mac OS Journaled), if you want to use it with Time Machine, or FAT 32 if you don't want to use it with Time Machine, and want to be able to read and write to the drive from a Mac or PC.

If you plug a brand new drive into a Mac, you should get a prompt from Time Machine asking you to format the drive automatically, all you have to say is YES!


What did you say? RAID? Do I really need to know about this—in a word YES. If you have a large amount of data you can't fit on your computer drive, then yes you need to learn about RAID for your backup solution. RAID means Random Array of Independent Disks, it means having your data backed up to more than one hard drive, so if one drive fails, and they do, you have another drive with your data on it.

If you do use a separate hard drive, make sure that you always have the data in TWO locations, otherwise it's not backed up, just moved. So if your Mac is FULL and you need to make space, this is not a good solution.

The solution for moving data off your HDD completely is to use a 'Hard Drive Enclosure' With a couple of Hard Drives plugged in.This is a 'RAID' set up... a big black box ($150 USD) with space for 4 drives to slot in, each drive can hold about 1 TB or more depending on what you buy...

Here in Singapore I bought the Probox 4 Bay for $195, at Sim Lim Square (Best Bargain and I bought two 1.5TB internal drives to slot into it ($70 USD each), so I still have two spare lots for later expansion...

I make one drive copy the other, so I don't have to keep it on my Mac - remember if the data is not in two places it's not backed up.

Mine looks like this when it's open, you can see where the internal drives can be slotted in, as easy as Lego.
They come in all sorts of shaped and sizes, but they all work the same way, data on one of the drives is copied onto another drive in the same enclosure, so now it IS backed up, and you can free up that space on your computer.

The process of copying that data from one drive to another can be done automatically, some of the more expensive solutions come with built in software that does this automatically, or you can just do it yourself, by copying data from one to the other manually, a bit tedious, but it gets the job done.

A prettier (and more expensive) RAID solution by Drobo

If you're confused about sizes of hard-drives, see my other post here. But a guide would be that each internal drive needs to be at least 1 Terabyte, so if you buy 2 you effectively have one, as the second drive is just mirroring the first one.

18 March 2016

Typing vs Writing

Image: jomurpheyblogspot.com
Have you ever sat in the proximity of someone writing who can touch-type? They sit nonchalantly in front of the screen, their fingers dancing over the keys; meanwhile I sit hunched over the keyboard like Gollum, forehead facing the screen instead of, well, my face. Hunting for keys and pecking at the keyboard, before eventually, and with great trepidation, looking up at the screen only to be presented with a mangled representation of the thoughts I so diligently delivered with my not so deft strokes—littered with the red lines that demand I attempt again to wrestle the meaning from the scrambled melange of words, words that barely resemble the ideas I am attempting to represent, even now fading from my short term memory…

This may come as a surprise to many, but typing faster is not the primary objective of learning to touch-type; rather it is a desired side effect. Once you are able to type with all ten fingers without needing to look down at the keyboard, your overall productivity when using a computer will improve dramatically. When typing with two fingers (hunt and peck), "the visual and frontal cortices of the brain are forced to focus on where individual keys are located. Keyboarding removes this burden, enabling students to work on things like sentence structure and grammar while they type." (Typing Club Handbook)

Writing Defined

In the interests of clarity it's important to establish from the outset that there are at least four different ways of coding meaning using the symbols we call 'letters' that equate to sounds that we in turn translate into words, in other words—writing. Some of these are easily confused, this confusion can easily led to 'much ado about nothing', for example no matter the enthusiasm for touch-typing, no one is considering abandoning the teaching of handwriting, cursive maybe, but handwriting? No.

Wikipedia to the rescue:


Touch typing (also called touch type or touch method or touch and type method) is typing without using the sense of sight to find the keys. Specifically, a touch typist will know their location on the keyboard through muscle memory.

Hunt and peck/two finger typing/keyboarding

"Hunt and peck (two-fingered typing) is a common form of typing, in which the typist presses each key individually. Instead of relying on the memorized position of keys, the typist must find each key by sight. Use of this method may also prevent the typist from being able to see what has been typed without glancing away from the keys. Although good accuracy may be achieved, any typing errors that are made may not be noticed immediately, if at all." (Wikipedia)


Handwriting refers to a person's writing created with a writing utensil such as a pen or pencil. The term encompasses both printing and cursive styles and is separate from formal calligraphy or typeface. It is, in essence, a visible form of a person's voice, including pitch and tone.


Cursive, also known as longhand, script, handwriting, joined-up writing et cetera, is any style of penmanship in which the symbols of the language are written in a conjoined and/or flowing manner, generally for the purpose of making writing faster. Formal cursive is generally joined, but casual cursive is a combination of joins and pen lifts.

Print-script or Block-letters

Print-script uses block letters, in which the letters of a word are unconnected rather than joined-up script. Block-letters (known as print-script, manuscript, or print writing) are a style of writing in which the letters are individual glyphs, with no joining. In English-speaking countries, children are often first taught to write in block-letters, and later may advance to cursive (joined-up writing).

Handwriting vs Touch-Typing: The Research 

There are a plethora of articles bouncing around the web, more or less like this one, purporting in tones of moral crisis that the worst thing we could possibly entertain is a world with a generation who can no longer write in looping flowing cursive... These articles usually attempt to bolster their argument by making appeals to supposed brain research that evidences a higher level of brain function when putting pen/pencil to paper as opposed to tapping keys...

The problem with these arguments, as is often the case with attempts to leverage research within a field that most 'lay people' have absolutely no grasp of, is it's easy to completely misinterpret the data, usually in favour of a particular argument. We should all be very wary of the claims and 'The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience'; over the past decade, neuroscience has become overprivileged as a method of examining the mind. That's not to say that it is meaningless, far from it, new research into how our brains work "offers educators an unparalleled opportunity for building a scientific foundation for educational practice which will allow us to make more informed decisions". It's just that we should be cautious when extravagant claims are founded on area of learning that is as best currently relatively nascent, "it is important to realize that neuroimaging is just one of many tools used in neuroscience. Equally important is the fact that it is widely viewed as rudimentary in its current state".

This article being a case in point; the author leaps to the assumption that the data must mean that handwriting is superior to typing, when the issue is not actually the mode of codifying meaning, it's the processing. So people taking notes who can touch-type have a tendency to transcribe, just because they can, rather than processing the information, ie summarizing, summing up, rephrasing. Touch-typists who do the latter rather than the former will be engaged in the same kinds of cognitive function as those handwriting. So the answer is not to demonise those who can touch-type, but rather to educate them.
"The thing is, that transcription process doesn’t require any critical thinking." 
“transcrib[ing] lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning.”
Of course all of this makes the extremely dubious assumption that lecturing and the accompanying practice of expecting the attendant students to sit their and passively take notes is a medium of teaching that we need to desperately go to all sorts of lengths to support and enable. This couldn't be further from the truth, as acclaimed Harvard Professor, Eric Mazur realised years ago, when he discovered that the notion that the clear, polished lectures and demonstrations he was delivering to lecture halls populated mainly by premed and engineering students was successful “was a complete illusion, a house of cards.” Now his focus has moved away from the lectern and toward the physical and imaginative activity of each student in class. Now his focus on "interactive pedagogy turns passive, note-taking students into active, de facto teachers who explain their ideas to each other and contend for their points of view. Thousands of research studies on learning indicate that “active learning is really at a premium." It’s the most effective thing. Not note taking, and certainly not lecturing.

Yes, I realise that not all of us are as fortunate as the students of Professor Mazur, so what do we do when we are confronted with the reality that some teachers still cling to this inefficient practice? Simple, don't transcribe, process and reframe (and get a better a teacher if you possibly can).

Note taking really has nothing to do with handwriting or touch-typing. The people I feel for when these debates erupt, are our students who, due to 'special needs' have to type because they don't have the fine motor skills to write, do we really want them to feel like the modes that they have to use are actually inferior?

Stop taking notes and listen!

Personally I like the best of both, but as a general practice, I avoid taking notes at all, and I'm not the only one.. This way I can concentrate on the content being communicated, if there is the odd fascinating fact/finding/phenomenon that I absolutely have to record, I take notes by hand, mainly because I find using the temptations proffered by a digital device (know thyself!) quite distracting. After all, all note taking really is is yet another form of the rightly demonised 'multi-tasking' which just results in another 'lose-lose' scenario...  So I minimise note-taking, and later on dictate my core recollections into screen text, (I can't touch-type—yet) which usually involves still more of that all important processing. Also in this day and age, I think we should expect the presenter to provide notes online.

Having trawled the literature I can honestly say that the findings do many things, but criticise the need to learn the skill of touch-typing they do not. The arguments they do make are moot points, as their findings are at best tangential to the questions that surround the considerations that related to touch-typing:

There is also plenty of research that compares touch typing favourably to handwriting:

The computer vs. The pen: a comparative study of word processing... 

"students in the Computer group, on the whole, wrote better than those in a Pen group. According to the Jacobs et al. (1981) Composition Profile, all aspects of writing except Content and Organization showed highly significant differences, with the Computer group exhibiting superior performance".

The need for handwriting to aid letter recognition in the early years

The influence of writing practice on letter recognition in preschool children: A comparison between handwriting and typing. "The results showed that in the older children, the handwriting training gave rise to a better letter recognition than the typing training."

Teaching elementary age children touch-typing as an aid to Language Arts instruction

Typed writing has been shown to improve students reading, spelling, grammar, punctuation, and creative writing abilities.

The word processing approach to language experience

The word processor not only makes LEA easier for teacher and student, it enhances the value of the approach as well.

Looking at the keyboard or the monitor: relationship with text production processes

"In this paper we explored text production differences in an expository text production task between writers who looked mainly at the keyboard and writers who looked mainly at the monitor. Eye-tracking technology and keystroke-logging were combined to systematically describe and define these two groups in respect of the complex interplay between text production and the reading of one’s own emerging text. Findings showed that monitor gazers typed significantly faster and were more productive writers. They also read their own text more, and they frequently read in parallel with writing."

Writing the natural way: on a computer

A model of computer writing skill is presented that consists of four stages of development‐‐(1) Writing Easier, (2) Writing More, (3) Writing Differently, (4) Writing Better‐‐representing the evolution of a natural computer‐based writing approach under favorable conditions. The relevant conditions comprise the starting state of the user and a range of constraints on computer use.

Image: Bruce Almighty, via persephonemagazine.com


The speed of (legible) handwriting (with or without cursive) is much slower with touch-typing. Over to Wikipedia for the breakdown of relative speeds:

The average human being hand-writes at 31 words per minute (WPM) for memorised text and 22 words per minute while copying (Brown CM, 1988).

Whereas an average professional typist types usually in speeds of 50 to 80 wpm, some advanced typists work at speeds above 120 wpm. "Hunt and peck" typists, commonly reach sustained speeds of about 37 wpm for memorised text and 27 WPM when copying text.

Go on, try it yourself, I used typeracer, and scored 35 WPM, first try, then timed myself writing the same text (so a slight advantage) as fast as I could by hand, focusing on speed over beauty, but still maintaining legibility, and scored ... 17 WPM. Pathetic, I know.

So to summarise: that's handwriting at 22 WPM, hunt & peck at 27 WPM (about the same) and between 50-120 WPM for touch-typists. So, if we don't teach our students how to touch-type they are in theory, after ten year sof 'hunt and pecking' at least no worse off than they would have been if we'd asked them to write it all by hand. Although research on cognition in relation to writing gives us some pause for thought when they politely highlight the fact that the hunting and pecking process effectively makes the cognitive process of writing far less efficient, as the resources which should be dedicated to composition are instead being dedicated to hunting for letters to peck. 

In other words, when you can touch-type, the cognitive load of writing and thinking at the same time are lessened and free up working memory for thinking—a bit like cycling a bicycle—once the effort required for remaining balanced, and changing gears et cetera are automatic, you can spend more time noticing/enjoying where you are going.  The same idea applies to things like decoding in reading via ‘sight words’, this frees thinking space for understanding instead of decoding.  The absence of effort in one frees cognitive space for the other…

So, the gains with touch-typing frees up cognitive space, and increases speed, with typing hovering in the range of double to triple the speed of handwriting. And of course none of this even considers arguably the most important element; digital text is capable of so much more than handwritten text.

Distinctive features of word processing that support creativity 

"We think that there are distinctive features of ICT that can support creativity and they can be described as follows: 'provisionality', 'interactivity', 'capacity', 'range', 'speed', 'accuracy', 'quality', 'automation', 'multi-modality', 'neutrality' and 'social credibility'."

Loveless A (2002) Literature Review in Creativity, New Technologies and Learning

"The provisionality of ICT enables users to make changes, try out alternatives and keep a 'trace' of the development of ideas. Interactivity engages users at a number of levels, through immediate and dynamic feedback. ICT demonstrates capacity and range in the ways in which it affords access to vast amounts of information locally and globally in different time zones and geographical places. The speed and automation ICT allows tasks of storing, transforming and displaying information to be carried out by the technologies, enabling users to read, observe, interrogate, interpret, analyse and synthesise information at higher levels. Quality can be recognised in the potential to present and publish work to a high standard of appearance and reproduction. Multimodality is reflected in the interaction between modes of text, image, sound, hyper textuality and non-familiarity..." p 94

Loveless, A., & Wegerif, R. (2004). Unlocking creativity with ICT. Unlocking Creativity: A Teacher's Guide to Creativity Across the Curriculum, 92.

Typing is Writing

Confession. I have believed for years that touch-typing is clearly useful, but not essential, why?

• a stubborn reluctance to commit to the discipline that learning this skill requires

• a possibly na├»ve expectation that keyboards will be go the way of the Walkman soon,

• the recent exponential improvement in the accessibility, reliability and accuracy of speech recognition tools like Apple Dictation.

However, I now realise...

• there are few, if any, life skills that can be learned in less than 3 months based on a commitment of 10-15 minutes a day that would literally reap benefits almost every day, for the rest of our lives, furthermore, with the plethora of online touch-typing tutorial tools it’s never been easier.

• keyboards (or similar) aren’t becoming obsolete any day soon, aside from the profound difficulties people face when thinking and speaking, as opposed thinking and typing, short of wearing a menacing helmet with sensors that allow the computer to recognise my thoughts (and who would really want that?), we are always going to require some sort of physical interface that we can interact with to be able to transmit our ideas into words.

• voice recognition tools lose their efficacy in a shared space, which as a teacher, and certainly for our students, is more than the case than not.

This is not an argument against handwriting, typing is also writing. Our choice, much like the difference between handwriting using print script or flowing cursive, is whether to become adept at typing or to resign ourselves to the mind numbing frustration of ‘hunting and pecking’. The keyboard is here to stay; our choice is to either master it, or to spend the rest of our lives wrestling with it.