We are all “selling” something

Ladies Market, Hong Kong

Ladies Market, Hong Kong

I love my job. It takes me into many classrooms around my region where I try to  engage with students using ICT. Without trying to sound “cocky”, I can’t recall a classroom where I have left the students less than buzzing after the lesson. I also spend a good deal of time with groups of teachers, working with them and assisting them to use powerful tools in ways that are relevant and inform their teaching. I try and draw on my experience of 25+ years in schools as teacher and administrator when assisting other teachers.

For most of my working life I have done the above in the employ of a single school, although like a lot of my colleagues I have sometimes been contracted to other bodies to do presentations and workshops. I now work full time for a private entity that has an extremely popular e-learning portal for Mathematics. The company is committed to schools and teachers rather than parents and tutors and it is anything but hard sell. To me this is a fantastic job as I live and work my passion, schools using appropriate 21C tools, and I am working with many schools who are committed to making positive change in the lives of children.

Interesting for me that recently a school that I was working  with me that they had not replied to my email because they “get a lot of offers from vendors and they would do nothing but reply if they responded to them all”. I am not talking about a bulk email, it was a personal one following up on an enquiry from a teacher.

I have to say I was a bit taken aback by this. The school in question is a fee-paying school that does promote its services to parents.

I know that in the region I work and live there are a lot of wheeler-dealers but I would like to think that the relationship building I have done with schools over the last 6 years in the region sets me apart somewhat. Yes – I do sell product and I do rely on schools buying the product for my livelihood but I do not spam, I don’t badger and I spend the majority of my time in schools were they have already purchased so I do not need to try to sell to them anyway.

I have to admit to trying to “sell ideas” though. As a teacher, I feel that I have always done that. When I first started teaching I worked with Aboriginal kids from the North West of Australia who were sent to a mission in Perth to “get a modern education.” These kids were often lonely and quite sad. Understandably they missed their families. I had to “sell” to them the idea that a good education would give them a better future.  In the same way I have been forced to “sell” the idea to kids that learning the first 20 elements of the periodic table off by heart was going to get them a grade on a paper and allow them to have a life of greater choice in learning, whether they ever used the elements for anything beyond a quiz night in their lives or not 🙂

I think that we all sell ideas, especially teachers. I think our blogs and our tweets are an example of us selling ourselves and our products – ideas. Sure the exchange of money may not be as transparent, but I would have to say that a good number of the teachers I know who blog and tweet have somewhere at the back of their minds that they might be able to be noticed more and that may have some “payoff” in the future.

All that is to say, be kind to the next “Vendor” who is making a genuine offer. We are all (Mostly) human too 🙂

Image: Ladies Market in Hong Kong http://www.flickr.com/photos/chee_hian/3524403917/

Change of Direction

Readers of this blog will know that the last few years of my life have been an immensely rewarding but often frustrating time for me as I have gone about trying to work with schools to support 21st Century Learning in a region where many schools are still so predominantly textbook and examination driven. Whilst I have really enjoyed working with a lot of different schools in different parts of the world to support initiatives like 1:1 programmes, the setting up of Virtual Learning Environments, wireless projectors and tablet PCs and much more, it has been a struggle to manage my time and my requests from schools to ensure that I have a steady, reliable income. The words “feast or famine” spring to mind here.
I have recently been having discussions with the company 3P Learning, a Sydney based company that have an enormously successful online mathmatics programme called “Mathletics“. Initially those discussions were about representing the company as an agent in the Asian region but it quickly became evident that the company is exploding in the region and needed a full-time person. After a bit of negotiation surrounding me still being able to carry out my role of organising the 21st Century Learning @ Hong Kong Conference and a few other small things, I have just signed a contract to represent 3P Learning in Asia as a Regional Manager.
I am very excited about this prospect as it enables me to still build my relationship with international schools in the Asian region whilst at the same time, have a reliable income to be able to contribute to the household expenses such as my new daughter’s education. This is an area I have been sadly deficient in of late!
Please drop me a line or a comment if you want to know more about Mathletics as I really am excited about the product which I see as meeting a lot of the needs of schools and teachers just beginning to make a foray into a blended learning approach, I look forward to getting to more International Schools in the Asian region and getting them to use the product effectively.

Photo: Fork in the road http://www.flickr.com/photos/livlem/3660944508/

World Scratch Day in Hong Kong

No need for me to add anything to what Clive Dawes has said about the Scratch Day over on the Kellett School ICT Blog. I would, however, like to highlight some things Clive has highlighted about the event. The first of these being to highlight the fabulous work of LEAD in arranging and supporting this day. They really went out of their way to make us clumsy monolingual international teachers welcome.

The other thing was to pick up on Clive’s comment about the local Hong Kong schools:

On show were a number of Scratch presentations from local HK schools, including the amazing Sawing Down the Tree game. The standard of presentations was extremely high and I was left a little bemused after a Year 5 student showed me his complex and entertaining presentation. It’s clear that there’s some great work going on in HK schools and this was a great opportunity to observe, and dareisay, think of ways in which we might be able to catch up!

I too have seen some amazing things done by Hong Kong students at local schools and it always strikes me as a great pity that we do not do more to mix it up more with these schools.

Our first Dragon’s Triathlon of the season kept me from being there earlier but what I saw, I thoroughly enjoyed.

First Asia Edpod Podcast Uploaded

Asia EdpodIn this brief interview, Paul McMahon talks to Jane Harris of Chinese International School in Hong Kong about the World Scratch Day event coming up on May 16th and also about collaboration with other Hong Kong International Schools to spread the word about open-ended projects supported by Web2.0 technologies.

Links for this episode:

Chinese International School of Hong Kong

World Scratch Day site

Not Enough Teaching About the Net in Schools

There are a few reasons why Mark Prensky’s Digital Native term has not been helpful in a school context. The one I want to focus on here is the misperception that it gives some educators, including school leadership, that the students that they have in front of them know a lot about using online tools effectively.

Whilst  it is quite true that some of the students have some very well developed skills in lots of the creative and collaborative things that can be done online, it is certainly not the case that all of the students below a certain age possess an innate set of skills that allow them to do some fantastic things online.

it is easy to think that because students have more time to play on the internet that they will pick up more skills but study after study has shown that the skill sets that the students pick up are not the ones that allow them to demonstrate the necessary creative and collaborative skills we are looking for.

In working with Asian schools, it is amazing how many people (teachers and parents) I meet that suffer from this false impression of youth as somehow being “good at computers” because they can put some music on their iPod or can download and install a game and even know how to upgrade the video card to optimize it for playing. THIS IS NOT A MEASURE OF HOW “GOOD” AT COMPUTERS AND THE NET THEY ARE!!

I strongly urge you to read Ewan McIntosh‘s post on How to help people better use the net – go to them, let them copy, open up. You will see that Ewan has pulled together a lot of great research to back up his argument that very few of our students have skills on using the full potential of the internet to do things that are creative, meaningful and add to their knowledge or anyone else’s. This is quite troubling given the massive increase in use of online services by youth everywhere, especially brought about by mobile phone usage.

It is time that we really bring the explicit teaching of skills that will assist our students in an increasingly connected and online world to the fore. We blindly say that if kids know more about calculus and Shakespeare that they will be successful whilst knowing how to verify what they find on Wikipedia is of little use (sometimes because it is banned at school anyway).

To me, the argument that there is no room in the curriculum for teaching how to be safe, responsible and clever online is a bit like saying that we do not have time to teach them how to search a library catalog properly. We cannot continue to make statements in our school prospectuses saying things like “nurturing students to be successful in the world of tomorrow” without educating them about this increasingly connected, collaborative and online world.

Photo: iShare http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulm/1584418819/in/photostream

Keeping Unacceptable Content Out of Schools

blockedI have just finished listening to a podcast of Australian Radio Current Affairs program, Background Briefing where it discussed the issue of the proposed country wide internet filter the government plans to put in place via ISPs. The ABC does not keep the podcasts online for more than a few weeks so I urge you to download this one soon if you have interest. The programme is called Conroy’s Clean Feed.

Having worked in schools where the network Nazis are out to block absolutely everything and anything that might have even the slightest hint of pornography, bad language, or any other form of anti-social content on it, in the name of bottom covering, let me tell you it makes for an unhappy and quite frustrated teaching community. By all means filter out the really bad and blatantly unacceptable sites. No one would argue with this. The issue is and will always remain, in an era where around 7.3 million websites are created each day (source Berkley), it is going to be one very busy “network guy” who diligently evaluates these sites for appropriateness to kids! Faced with this daunting task, most network techs do the simple thing and set filters to block words/domains etc. This inevitably leads to the common issue of all sites with “sex” in them being blocked, thus making the personal development teacher trying to do a sex-ed lesson quite angry. Not to mention the plight of the poor biology teacher trying to teach sexual verses asexual reproduction.

Speaking as someone who set up and ran a 1:1 Laptop programme for over 800 kids in 1998, I have to say that I did see my fair share of unacceptable content on kids laptops in over 7 years of setting up and running the programme. The thing that might surprise and give many of you food for thought was that 90% of it did not come in via our internet connection!

As an independent school with an international population of students, our kids seemed to have access to a host of content from friends that were only too ready to share it with them. You can imagine the kudos of a 16 year old boy showing his peer group some content to make their hair curl! Our Malaysian and Chinese kids seemed to feel that this was a good way of being cool in their peer group. These kids were clever too. A few were silly enough to bring it in on a USB thumb drive that would be shared around but the really clever ones would have it encrypted on their laptop. As we had a blanket rule of no encrypted files on their computers, this would be immediately suspicious. Sometimes we did have issues with parents supporting us in demanding that the files be unencrpted in front of an adult but by and large our kids did get the message and I think that the level of sharing was small. In fact the kids used to regularly tell me that the level at our 1:1 school was a lot less than at other schools that were less tech-aware and allowed kids to bring in USB drives, Optical media and mobile phones unchecked.

This is a problem that a few schools are dealing with now as you can see by this post on Disruptive Student Owned Technology by an Australian educator. In short, rather than kids being able to bring along “any” USB drive, they have to buy and bring the school-badged one that is purely for school and can be searched at any time by any teacher.

I am very interested to know if your school has a policy on the media that kids can bring to school and your right to search devices such as their mobiles, USBs, iPods etc.

Photo: Blocked http://www.flickr.com/photos/za3tooor/65911648/

ICT in Education in Singapore: Perspectives from the private ICT sector

JJ YeeThis is the title of a HKU CITE seminar by Jenn-Jong Yee, CEO of ASKnLearn Pte Ltd

Here is the intro from the overview website:

About the Seminar
Singapore’s MOE has completed 11 years of ICT Masterplan since 1997. Since 2000, the InfoComm Development Authority (IDA) of Singapore has also actively supported the development of a private sector to support ICT in education.
The speaker, being an active private sector service provider to the ICT in Education programmes in Singapore, will share his perspectives on these initiatives and how the private sector has successfully worked with schools to effectively use ICT for teaching and learning.
He will share examples of innovations by schools in their use of ICT.About the Speaker
Mr Jenn-Jong Yee is founder and CEO of ASKnLearn Pte Ltd, a key player in Singapore’s ICT in Education industry. ASKnLearn was founded in 2000 as a 4-man start-up and grew to its current strength of over 150 staff serving 180 educational institutions in Singapore and Asia.
ASKnLearn’s growth coincided with several key government education and technology programmes implemented in Singapore from 2000-2008. It currently supplies e-learning solutions and ICT training to 150,000 students in Singapore across some 35% of all Singapore government schools.
Mr Yee was formerly a teaching staff at the National University of Singapore and has also served in the government service before venturing into private businesses. He graduated with MSc in Computing and MBA in Banking and Finance.

Here are my notes from the seminar.

Talked of the humble beginnings of the company.

Started with a platform from a polytechnic and acquired a company from the National University of Singapore who had another learning platform in 2005. Grew from 4 staff in 200 to 150 by 2008.

They are very big! Taken over by Pearson Education.

The Singapore context:

Most schools in Singapore do cambridge exams.

30+ International Schools, few private schools. All Singapore schools teach in English.

Singapore like HK have had ICT in education plans.

The government in Singapore tenders everything. Even to the level of software purchase. It was all top down. The government appointed experts decided on everything.

Large scale ICT training for school teachers.

Partnered board for local content development.

Digital media repository, Data loggers for all schools.

At the end of phase one.

Basic skills for teachers, reasonably good IT network, abandoning of the single LMS, About40-50% schools using LMS. Schools want ready content, Encouraging results from some schools experiementing with new ideas in ICT and e-learning.

Next phase of Masterplan 2003-2008

  • Flexible infrastructure (autonomy by schools)
  • Integration of technology at planning phase of curriculum design.
  • Resources for teachers to build customised lessons using reusable lessons and learning objects.
  • Baseline ICT standards
  • Active competitions for students and teachers.
  • LEAD ICT Schools.
  • Expanded role for HOD ICT
  • Ed tech officers as advisors to clusters
  • Emergency closure readiness-e-learning day simulations. (Great Idea!!)
  • Backpack.NET
  • Future Schools
  • (Teach Less, Learn more)


At End of IT MP2

  • 100% of schools use e-learning
  • Teachers more comfortable with varieties of ways of making own content.
  • 69 schools on LEAD ICT 6 schools selectied as Future Schools (Max 15)
  • Close collaboration with InfoComm Development Authority
  • Active actions research by schools and NIE
  • Fulfillment of content for schools by industry, low key by MOE

Masterplan III now underway

  • More experimentation with one-to-one computing
  • A lot of continuation of MPII
  • Improved bandwidth (Next Gen Broadband)
  • Active links with NIE and other institutions for research in ICT in Education
  • More active provision of content by MOE
  • Unknowns: Centralised vs independent LMS & core content.

Key Influencers

IDA Since 2000

  • lots of initiatives from them.

EDB (1997-2003)

  • iLIUP

Went though the Industry Evolution.

  • early startups.
  • masterplan showed a growth due to the plan and the dot com boom
  • Big mushrooming of companies
  • second masterplan showed a drying up of providers.
  • AnL went into content provision early seeing what the market would do.
  • AnL went in with complete solutions.

Challenges for Schools

  • Teachers not used to process of content/product development
  • HOD becomming IT managers
  • Understanding ICT effectively for T & L.
  • Rapid technological changes
  • How to drive usage acrss the board.
  • Change of vendors relearning, content migration.

Onto a demo of some element from the portal asknlearn.com

Fairly typical learning objects.  A lot of these developed by the parent Educom company in India.Learning Object

Shows the part of the portal where teachers author their own content.

Whoops time has run out!

I met for a coffee with JJ after the seminar.

He was very interested in knowing where international schools in the Asian region got the content to populate their VLEs. I had to say that the use of VLEs was, to my knowledge, quite embyonic in International Schools in the region. I have had direct experience of a few installations which have mostly static content and youtube videos. I was not aware of Portals in use in IS that have whole courses online linked to flash content. I know of one school who is looking into this at the moment.

I would love some comments from others.  Please let me know if you have a Portal/VLE that students can access with rich media content. From where has the content come? Have teachers developed or tracked it down themselves?

How Much Gaming in Schools and The Element


Doug Johnson of The Blue Skunk Blog fame just posted about Sir Ken Robinson’s book which he has been reading. I am very keen to try to get hold of a copy myself. Here is the link to the post and copied below is my reply.

I enjoyed this post Doug, as I have enjoyed many others from you. The issue that I have with the theory of “finding and then supporting the intelligence” is that it presupposes that kids live in environments where they have exposure to all of life’s rich experiences from which they can see what they are good at. Here in Hong Kong, limitations of space and parental income mean that kids get to find out if they are good at shopping, helping parents in the family printing business or studying hard. These kids may excel at barefoot water skiing, golf, horse riding or film making like your son but they may not get to find out if they are never exposed to the experience. I guess that we should be aiming to expose kids to every experience possible in their environment but the local schools in this part of the world have a long way to go to achieve this for all. Depressing!
The other thing that I have trouble getting my head around is the gaming phenomena and just how far we support this as being a valid “interest” of kids. Again, to quote a HK context, every kid here would have to say that they are interested in (good at??) gaming. We have areas of Hong Kong with arcades full of gaming consoles for sale. Kids and adults alike travel the subways of Hong Kong with attention glued to the Nintendo DS or PSP. I have yet to see any of them having math formulas or foreign phrases for learning a modern foreign language on the screen and most, if not all, would see them as recreational rather than educational. As a consequence, the international schools here have very strict policies about games on computers brought to school see this post from an international school librarian.
It would be very brave of a school to say “I think a lot of our kids seem to be very interested in gaming so we are going to let them develop this intelligence and hope it leads to a rewarding future.” Even Will Richardson expects adults to direct kids into broader learning at schools. Given this, where is the guidance for a librarian like Diane in terms of how far to support the “gaming issue” in schools?

Ambitious Plans for a Student Strand for the Conference

21C Learning @ HK LogoI just sent the following letter out to the members of the sub-committee charged with the challenging but enormously motivating role of trying to realise a dream of having a worthwhile and successful “Student Strand” to the conference this October.

Once again I acknowledge how busy you all are and trust that you are finding some time in your days to reflect on our ambitious plans for a student strand at the conference.

A very big thanks to Colin who has taken some time to put together a logo (see the sample on the right). So far this is the only one that we have. In the spirit of Daniel Pink, I would welcome any feedback or ideas about the logo.

Last week I came across a posting by Michael Stephens, who I originally thought was the Educational Director with CISCO who was coming out to the conference and has now sent Andrew Thomson in his place. Turns out it is a different Michael Stephens! Nevertheless, his post on Ten Tech Trends & Technologies for 2009 written from the perspective of a librarian, is a little easier to read than the horizon report but remarkably similar in tone!

I have attached a PDF copy for you. It might get you thinking about this connected student project that we want to run in conjunction with the conference.

A Letter to the Education Editor

HK Primary Class

I feel moved to write yet another article to the HK print media again! Not that it does anything more than help me get some things off my chest! It will of course be minus the pics of a very typical HK Primary classroom. Note the high tech device in the lower pic. It is called a chalkboard for those who have not seen these for a while 🙂

It is probably quite ironic that a lot of the debate about the language of instruction in government-funded Hong Kong schools and the sorry state of the system, which is so heavily examination focused it elevates tutors to the status of rock stars, takes place in English media seldom read by HK legislators. Indeed, getting a message to anyone capable of bringing about the necessary reform seems so very difficult, it often amazes me that parents don’t take up marching in the streets. I guess part of the answer lies in the fact that the rich, the powerful and the influential in Hong Kong have the option of paying private tutors with more international perspectives or sending their children to the international school sector, one that is understandably booming in this city due to the fact that local passport holders are welcomed to them.

Like other writers to these columns, I have personal experience of working within the system and have volunteered years of time, effort, energy and personal savings to try to increase the chances of Hong Kong children to have exposure to a modern 21st Century modality of learning. Also like others, I feel that I have met with very little success. In my work as a Digital Learning Consultant I have worked with agencies that use private sector money to be able to support a vibrant community of consultants and other experts to support governments in reforming education for the future. This unfortunately can’t happen in Hong Kong as the concerns about bureaucrats being accused of receiving kick-backs or feeling that they will be pressured to award lucrative contracts based on something other than merit mean that the only formal arrangements with companies have to come via a charitable structure such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. There are very few of these structures set up outside of North America and so the rich mix of expertise which makes amazing initiatives possible such as the one I have just returned on working with in Doha with teachers from around 20 nations just don’t happen for K-12 Education in Hong Kong.
Relying on charitable and not-for-profit organisations to lead your reforms is also very limiting in terms of being able to rally companies to come to the party and assist with conferences and exhibitions. I have attended the British Educational Technology Trade show (BETT) in London for the last 3 years and the vibrancy and energy of over 600 exhibitors and nearly 30,000 educators over 4 days has spin-offs that keep students and educators trying to reach for the best applications of technology for learning all year around. Hi Tech HK ClassroomThe small and poorly supported exhibit hall at the IT in Education Symposium at Pui Ching School each May is, by comparison, almost a waste of time and effort.

Personally, I have also tried to assist the Education Bureau of Hong Kong for the last 3 years on an almost charitable basis. I have run courses for teachers in such things as global collaboration with classrooms using remote conferencing tools, Podcasting for improving spoken English, Using Web2.0 tools for effective learning. For my time and trouble the education bureau pays me a honorarium which is considerably less than I could make if I did a day’s emergency teaching for a Hong Kong school.  It worked for a while but I have to try to support my family now that a new member is on the way. Maybe I can go back to helping after I retire. Given the current rate of progress in Hong Kong education, nothing much is likely to change in the next 20 years or so. In the meantime I will return to the blossoming international school sector confident that the Hong Kong government will continue to encourage more of its population to see this as the only option to get an education that prepares them for a collaborative, communicative, globally connected world of the future that will reward creativity and ingenuity over compliance and obedience. The great pity to me is that such a choice is not available to everyone in Hong Kong.

Pics: Anson & Teams by somejoseph