Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Measuring Technology Adoption

One of our schools is nearing the end of an 8 week term which culminates in every student out of 230 producing their own ePortfolio.

The school is using the Google Apps suite to host these ePortfolios. From year 1 to year 6 the approaches range from constructing a PowerPoint document from the work samples inside a pre-set template which is uploaded, through the students constructing a PowerPoint document which is uploaded, to a process where each work sample is uploaded to its own page inside the ePortfolio site.

It's an interesting project, and I'm looking into ways to now evaluate the process, to identify the areas of strength and weakness, and to develop methods which can be employed over the next 10 week term when the next termly ePortfolio is developed.

Dr Helen Barratt links to these two older pieces of work:

Being in an international school which an have a high turn over of teachers, one focus will need to be to identify potential leaders in this area.

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Thursday, 20 August 2009

From BBC News - the problem with PowerPoint http://tiny.cc/l9LM6

I have to agree with this article completely. The best PPT I've seen is in the opening scenes of the movie 'The Da Vinci Code' where the slides are used to zoom out from images, and so presenting different views of the image to the audience and challenging their assumptions.

The article does miss the advantage of a bullet-point format that for someone reviewing a presentation later, the bullet-points can be useful.

Perhaps PPT should be thought of as providing the framework for a discussion, a vehicle for content it you like, rather than containing the actual content.

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Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Academic Colleges Group CEO shortlisted for International Business Leader of the Year award from NZTE. Pretty good stuff

I received an exciting internal email today. NZTE (New Zealand Trade and Enterprise) are running their International Business Awards for 2009, and our CEO of Academic Colleges Group, Ian King, has been selected as a finalist!

It's been a long journey for ACG from its beginnings as Senior College of New Zealand in 1994, Since I joined the company in 2001 the growth has been pretty spectacular. There have been challenges along the way - SARS, the Asian financial crisis, the issues with the quality of English Language providers (do we remember Carich and ModernAge) to name a few, but ACG has been well-managed through all of these issues, with rolls constantly growing and more importantly, the quality of the teaching and learning increasing.

Maybe the group doesn't promote itself and its achievements enough - to manage 4,500 students across six schools operating out of eight campuses in three countries is quite an achievement.

Personally I'm feeling quite proud to be able to work with someone such as this, and I hope that Ian progresses to win this award.

If you're interested in reading more about ACG's schools, visit http://www.acgedu.com.

Posted via email from Andy's posterous

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Day 1 in Singapore

The day of departure came, and all went to plan. House paperwork done, house packed, luggage packed, waiting for pickup. Then a phone call from the shuttle. 'Is your house the one with the gates?' Oh dear, the message to the shuttle company asking to pick us up elsewhere hadn't got passed on. Oh well, a few phone calls later and it was all sorted. We would be getting to the airport on time.
It was an uneventful journey to Singapore. The kids either watched movies, played games, or slept. Meals were served and picked at, and then we arrived. Singapore Airlines do a very fine job of getting you from A to B with the minimum of fuss. Ferg will one day forget that I managed to choose him the only window seat on the plane without a window, and Julia might disagree that the kids were no hassle, probably because I sat next to Ferg, and she had the girls.
Likewise Singapore Airport is an easy place to get around. Julia had a slight hiccup at passport control where her passport wouldn't scan right, but other than that the process was great. Left Lugguge Guy in B2 of Terminal 3 is to be recommended for somewhere to leave luggage. Such a character - he talked me into leaving our luggage there for 2 hours less to save us some money. How often we we find service like that in New Zealand? 
But then we found a taxi driver who seemed to have little English (OK, we were prepared for that - we had printed instructions on how to get to The Mitraa where we were staying), but also had less eyesight than he had English. Race Course Road I said a number of times, pointing to the  address on the paper. Little response. Eventually 'Ah, horse race' he said. Would we end up getting taken to the races? Who knew. Well, he found the hostel in the end. Nice guy, wouldn't fault him anything. Just goes to show how some patience, and a lot of faith will get you to your destination in the end.
Great people at The Mitraa too. It's a small hostel, and we arrived at 8am, well before our 1om checkin time. They were happy to store our bags, so we headed off to the zoo. If you're visiting Singapore with children, the zoo has to be your number one destination. We visited the zoo and did the Night Safari last time we passed through, but it's still an amazing place. Generally fantastic exhibits, and some have been upgraded/added since 2006 when we were last there. Not too sure about the leopard, he looked a little bored, but the rest were great. The kids of course, enjoyed the water play area in the KidZone. If you are headed to the zoo with kids, pack togs, and maybe a towel (but they will dry in the heat anyway). (Oh, and if the kids are under 12, avoid the Baboon rift-valley exhibit - it needs an R18 rating - enough said).
Have to say that the kids were coping well. We'd left Auckland at midnight, arrived in Singapore at 6.40am Singapore time, and they survived the day until 7pm at night. Very impressive. Dinner was interesting. Tekka mall was the place we were headed to. We've eaten there before. Good food, and a greast fresh-juice bar. It was on the maps in the hostel, the maps in the MRT, and noted in the guidebooks. Off we headed, looking for this fantastic place. But where had it gone? Turns out the Tekka Mall is now 'The Verge' http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Verge. Still under redevelopment, they've turned what was a slightly authentic food market, into a typical western food court, straight out of a Westfield/Carrefour design handbook. No character whatsoever. Well, we ate, we drank, we left, we staggered back to the hostel exhausted at the end of a long, but great family day. Now out in the street there's a shop across the street teaching music (or maybe it's a pots and pan sale) - lots of claves and cymbals involved, it's a little hard to know what's going on. Sleep beckons. Tomorrow brings who knows what. I'm keen on the Science Centre, but may get outvoted in favour of  Wild, Wild, Wet. We'll see.

Posted via email from Andy's posterous

Monday, 27 July 2009

Debden Chocolate Self-saucing pudding

We first came across this dish at a dinner party with friends around 10 years ago. We were hosting, they brought desert, and it was this delicious chocolate pudding. They told us it was aDebden Choclate self-saucing pudding, so we embarked upon a quest to reproduce the dish.

We tried many recipes, but none with such taste and richness. A few years later, we were given the recipe, which we've jealously guarded. Until now.

We're packing the house, and fear that this gem of sustenance may be lost, to us, and thence to others.

We're sharing the recipe for all to enjoy, and for us, should we lose the solitary, dog-eared morsel of parchment we have this recorded on.

1 cup self-raising flour
1 teasooon vanilla essence
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 egg
1/2 cup castor sugar
60g butter, melted
1/2 cup milk
1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon cocoa
1 3/4 cups boiling water

Preheat over to moderate (180C)
Butter a 5-cup casserole dish.
Sift flour and cocoa into a mixing bowl. Add sugar.
Mix milk, vanilla, egg and butter. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in milk mixture. Beat well with a wooden spoon for about 30 seconds.
Spoon mixture into the prepared dish.

To make topping, crush any lumps iin sugar, sift cocoa over the top of the sugar. Scatter sugar and cocoa over the pudding mixture. Pour boiling water over the mixture as evenly as possible.
Bake the preheated oven for 45-50 minutes.
Cooking time depends on the depth of dish. Pudding should be just firm to touch and the sauce beginning to form bubbles around the edges of the pudding.
Leave to settle for 5 minutes before serving. HINT: Do not use too deep a dish or the cake will take a long time to cook and the chocolate can darken on the edges.

Well, this pudding has served us well for many years. May it be as rich to you, as it has been to us.

Posted via email from Andy's posterous

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Why Twitter is useful to me

About 2 years ago I succumbed to joining Facebook. A friend had sent me an invitation a couple of months earlier. I'd done nothing with it, but in one of those "Get my Inbox to zero" moments, I stumbled across the email.

Nothing to lose I figured, so I took the plunge. Before long all my real friends had become my Facebook friends, and a few others. I'd become friends again with a few people from school back in the UK. Then I had sheep thrown at me, got poked, knew who was playing MafiaWars, and was able to access album upon album of baby photos.

OK, so Facebook is great way of keeping up with what others are doing when we're all so busy. It's also fantastic for people who want to drop the "I've got some news, but won't tell" type of status updates.

So what did Facebook add to my life, that I didn't have before? Pretty much nothing. It didn't enrich any relationships, and didn't create any new ones. In fact, I think it made me lazy. It's far easier to send someone a message, or write on their wall, than to actually make real contact.

I can't remember what was the catalyst to joining Twitter. Perhaps it was just curiosity. Somewhere I'd read that many commentators were moving from writing and maintaining blogs to contributing through Twitter. A blog was something I'd managed two posts of in 2007 after attending a conference, but it had gone no further.

A few months later and Twitter has allowed me to follow the Blackboard conference in Washington in fairly real time, to make contact with Blackboard support staff in DC. TVNZ news headlines and CNN news headlines are delivered in realtime. Then there's the assortment of 'celebrities'. Some are worth following for the gossip, others make intelligent and interesting contributions. The professional nuggets are worth their wait in gold. This one (http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/seven_e-learning_and_teaching_resources.php) from http://twitter.com/Schnicker/ is great.

So far, no real relationships have come from Twitter. I can see that there is potential. It's a place like-minds can meet, on a level-playing field.

Posted via email from Andy's posterous

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Blackboard 9 Notifications feature has serious problems

Over the last 4 months we've upgraded our two Blackboard servers to Blackboard version 9, and have recently applied Service Pack 1.

The upgrade process for each upgrade has gone pretty smoothly. We had some issues with availability of tabs being reset, but other than that, the upgrades went very well.

Staff uptake and adaptation to the new interface has been very good. Very few problems were found. The original version 9 release had two issues with the GradeCentre though.

1. Because the name column is now split into separate columns for surname and forenames for students, the sort algorithm was broken. When a user sorted by surname, the student order wasn't also sorted by forenames, so Bobby Smith could have been appearing before Andy Smith in a class. This could have led to some incorrect data being entered by staff. Fortunately, they noticed this, worked around it, and our IT department bore the brunt of the moans and groans.

2. SmartViews couldn't be exported. The SmartView feature is a great addition to the GradeCentre. We group all of the classes taking a subject into the same Blackboard course (so if there are four classes of IG Maths, the students from all four classes are enrolled in the same course). SmartViews allowed teaching staff to distinguish each class when they were entering grades. In version 8 you could have a SmartView displayed, and when you downloaded the GradeCentre, only the data for the students displayed was downloaded. Unfortunately, this was broken in version 9, and the entire GradeCentre was downloaded, even if a SmartView was showing. The IT Department bore the pain from this as well.

Good news was that these two issues were addressed in Service Pack 1.

Then we stuck the notifications and email problems.

Oh dear.

The first issue we hit was that staff who had more than 81 users in their course, found that they couldn't use the Send Email to Users function from the GradeCentre. It just fails. BBSupport followed this up, and it's been acknowledged as a bug. Worked fine in 8, and apparently works fine if you run your system on an OS other than Windows. Oh well, we wait for a fix.

OK, shouldn't be a problem though, BB Learn 9 has a new funky notifications system, enabling users to either receive individual emails, or a daily digest of new changes to course content (like new announcements added to courses that users belong to). So, if an announcement was added, all the users in a course would get a notification email, which they could use to access course content.

However, it's not that simple.

When users receive the email and click the link in the email, they will receive a red error screen, unless they have logged into Blackboard previously, and have an authenticated session. But if the user has an authenticated session, why bother with the notification email? A number of the other modules (My Courses, What's New) will have given the user the information already.

OK, I can see why the linked content isn't already available - so the user should be given an authentication dialog box for them to complete, so that they can then access the content.

Unfortunately, this isn't the behaviour. There is no method available for an unauthenticated user to access the content.

Blackboard support tell me that this is Feature by Design. Humph, interesting design.

Let's hope enough people raise this issue with Blackboard and submit a Suggestion to have this behaviour changed.

Currently I'm regretting the move to 9.

Posted via email from Andy's posterous

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Vietnam for 3 months

The last 6 months have seen me take four trips to Vietnam to work with our schools there. Each trip has been positive and productive, but the time away from Vietnam often meant that progress stalled.

So, for August to November I'll be travelling to Vietnam with the rest of the family.

The kids are looking forwards to visiting and staying in a foreign country for 3 months. I'm looking forwards to showing them around Ho Chi Minh City, the motorbikes, the food, the street stalls, the markets. My wife will be looking to see if she can find manufacturing partners for her shoe designs.

It's a great opportunity for us as a family, and a challenge as well. It will be quite different from New Zealand with getting around the city, the food, the language and the culture, but plenty to learn!!!!

Posted via email from Andy's posterous