25 August 2014

Innovative ideas for improving education in developing countries

I’ve been a long time supporter of One Laptop Per Child and Sugarlabs, but there are some other quite interesting innovations that I thought some of our readers may be interested in hearing about. I’ve just picked a couple to write about.

This idea is based on reusing old computers and giving each child a USB drive with their own computing environment whilst sharing a computer.
It’s an Android based Operating System which allows the student to get the best apps from the marketplace for their education or other uses.
Read the BBC article about Keepod in Nairobi.

Raspberry Pi
The idea behind Raspberry Pi is that you reuse a computer monitor or TV and a keyboard and a mouse to plug into a credit card sized computer (the Raspberry Pi) so that students can explore computing and learn how to program in (quite accessible, easy to learn) languages like Scratch and Python.
The Raspberry Pi is also quite a capable computing device, whether students want to use it for web browsing, writing, or watching videos. You can connect peripherals to make things even more exciting.
The Raspberry Pi website is well set out to make it easy for students to learn how to program their Raspberry Pi and for parents and teachers to support learners.

Aakash tablet and the government of India
Datawind invented the Aakash tablet (also known as UbiSlate) in response to an Indian initiative to develop a low cost computing device, similar to OLPC, intended for college students. The tablet was sold to the Ministry of Human Resource Development in India.

School in the cloud
Sugata Mitra, renowned for his “hole in the wall” experiment, wanted to build a school in the cloud that utilised what he learned in his granny cloud (students are encouraged by a “grandmother” which enables them to learn what they need and motivates them to find what interests them) and SOLE (self organised learning environments) projects (students work in groups, and use the internet to access educational support). His first cloud school opened this year in India.
Do you know of an initiative that our readers might like to hear about? Please feel free to add in the comments.

15 August 2014

Moodlemoot NZ 1-3 October 2014

It's time to register (and propose a talk!) for Moodlemoot NZ 2014. This year we will be enjoying sunny Nelson as the hosting venue is Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology. Block out Wednesday 1st to Friday 3rd October 2014.

The first day is workshops, with four offerings:
  • Moodle Foundation for newer users
  • Moodle Administration
  • Mobile Moodle
  • Moodle in Government
There will be the usual three tracks: technical, general and teaching.

Martin Dougiamas (founder of Moodle) will share "Moodle from the horses mouth" and Dave Sturrock (NMIT) will also keynote.

The usual fun and frivolity can be expected at the conference dinner.

Looking forward to seeing you there.

15 April 2014


Sharefest is an annual conference held in Hamilton, New Zealand, in September. In it's seventh year, it aims "to encourage and develop an ongoing community of practice where those engaged in e-activities... can share their innovations and experiences" (http://wordpress.isle.ac.nz/shar-e-fest-2014).

Theme: E-learning in practice: How are learning technologies and social media being used effectively to enhance student learning and achievement?

Keynote speaker: Professor Jan Herrington 
  • First call for papers:  8 July 2014
  • Conference: 29-30 September 2014
Registration: click on the "register" link and you get sent an email to activate your membership 
Submission: the submission system will go live in early July, so plenty of time for you to prepare!
The old website provides a bit of history and the flavour of the event. 

09 April 2014


Manaiakalani is an elearning and literacy strategy that is being coordinated out of Pt England School but includes a lot of schools in the Tamaki region of Auckland. 

The plan was/is to get one netbook per child (almost like one laptop per child but not quite?) for students from year five through to year thirteen, and to distribute wireless broadband into homes in the community, increasing family engagement in education. The first netbooks distributed run Ubuntu and they use Google apps for managing their work. Software in the build includes GIMP, Scratch and TuxPaint. The newer devices are Chromebooks.

To see how it all fits together you might want to check out the Tamaki Achievement Pathway website.

The Manaiakalani Hackers meet at Pt England fortnightly to support the project, along with all the other stakeholders: teachers, students, families, philantrophists, researchers, contributors, and the Manaiakalani Education Trust (hopefully I included most of the stakeholders in my list!). 
Us hackers wrote some design principles way back in the beginning, which we revisit occasionally to see if we are still on the same page. We have indepth honest discussions at our meetings - rowdy, passionate discussions - where lots of points of view were brought to light and thrashed about. We frequently have guests at our meeting and all the given feedback is very useful.
I think the role of the hackers and the Trust are to facilitate the changes necessary, so technology is developed, and solutions tailored to be appropriate to the pedagogy desired.

Wow! Looking back over the last few years since Manaiakalani started, here are some highlights courtesy of http://www.manaiakalani.org/our-story 
  • Tamaki College became New Zealand's first state secondary school go fully digital in 2012 with all 600+ students with netbooks and has doubled its NCEA level 2 results for Māori and Pasifika in its first digital year making it among the top 60 improving schools in country
  • We have research validated rates of improvement for reading, writing and number across its primary schools that exceed national averages
  • We have developed and tested a software product called the Teacher Dashboard which is now in is the hands of 1m + users in the USA and elsewhere
  • Commercial partners have invented a wireless network that has gets UFB quality wireless into family homes for $4 netbook per month
  • More than 1500 families on an average adult income of $19k are paying off netbooks at $40 deposit and $15 per month over 3 years with an 80%+ payment success
  • Nearly $4m over 4 years has been raised to support this innovation and nearly 30% comes from parents
  • Tamaki year 9 students are sitting internal assessment online (NZQA have announced all exams will be online in 10 years)
  • We are creating a digital teaching academy in 2014 partnering with the University of Auckland.
The success comes down to:
  1. Collaboration across 11 schools where 'all boats rise on a rising tide'
  2. Parent as investors with support from commerce and philanthropy
  3. Results focus on reading, writing and number with comprehensive research
  4. Shared pedagogy across cluster – Learn, Create and Share
  5. Affordable infrastructure


After years of volunteering for One Laptop Per Child and Sugarlabs (I started mid 2008), it is very exciting to share with you that there are now New Zealand schools using the "One Laptop Per Child" XO laptops in both English and Maori. There are more than two million XO laptops distributed around the world, with over five thousand in the Pacific, and over seven thousand in Australia
A not-for-profit charitable trust, OLPC New Zealand has now been established in New Zealand to "to empower educators to lead and inspire children to learn through innovative use of affordable technology". 
XO Laptop New Zealand Empowering Kids Learning
The first school to get them is Te Wharekura o Manaia. You can read all about it in the Hauraki Herald.  Based in the Coromandel, this is a bilingual school making the most of the opportunity to have laptops in Te Reo. When I visited this school I met some of the fabulous teachers and students who are using the XO laptops and saw just how much they had discovered in their first weeks.  
With over one hundred laptops now in the hands of kiwi kids, it is a good time for you to step forward if you want to be involved. There are lots of ways you can help, so contact the OLPC New Zealand trust to find out how. 

Implementing an LMS

A couple of days ago I was asked for a few ideas on how to get started with writing an LMS implementation plan. I thought some readers here might be interested in what I wrote to the enquirer. The following is not a complete how to, but might help with those first conversations before the real planning starts. 

Identify your stakeholders
Obviously students, teachers, academic and administrative staff at your institution, and ICT staff, but stakeholders could also include (but are not limited to) - industry partners, parents, mentors, employers, standards bodies (your national qualifications authority or your industry governing bodies), prospective students, partner learning institutes, ...
Considering your stakeholders, identify who should be in your project team and write up what you think their roles could be.

In your project plan list what is in-scope and what is excluded. 
  • Will the LMS take enrolment automatically from your student management system? Enrolment is one of the most important things to figure out and you shouldn't underestimate how much work this might be.
  • Will your LMS pass grades out to an external records management system at your institution?
  • What customisation will your LMS site have have for your institution? Did you include marketing department in your stakeholder list?
Include in your plan what constraints there are and what assumptions you have made - e.g. financial constraints, time constraints, assumptions around IT support for staff and students…. is there wireless on campus for students to bring their own devices and can they connect, and Is investigating this something you list as in or out of scope?

Include in your plan some costings… servers and infrastructure, project management, external consultation, licenses if applicable, IT staff to setup the environment, trainers to teach the teachers/students how to use the LMS, designers if you are going to create course material for the teachers (though I wouldn’t! I would get specialists to help the teachers do this as a better long term investment).

You will need a communication plan. Decide how you will communicate the arrival of the learning management system to stakeholders, and how it will impact on them. Communicate the changes they can expect, the training that will be available, and the support they can access. 

Think about it as more than just setting up a website
Make sure you plan includes setting up a pilot before building your production environment, getting stakeholder feedback to ensure when put into production your LMS works in a way that meets your teaching and learning needs.
Have a testing environment for trying things out before they are put into production.

Supporting your LMS implementation
You will need documentation of the test, pilot and production environments.
You will need teacher and student guides to using your LMS (tailored to your institution). Face to face training, training videos, and other training resources and activities are all options that you should explore within the context of your institution. 
You will need IT support - phone, face to face, and email support for teachers and students, and potentially for other stakeholders.  

The future
Have a backup and recovery strategy.
Plan for future feature upgrades and decide if this will this be on request ad hoc, or at planned times such as six monthly or yearly.
Plan for maintenance, bugs, and security patching. You might have one day a month or quarter that is publicised as scheduled maintenance day, so as to reduce the impact of downtime for your students and staff. 

Decide how will you evaluate the project at the end - e.g. did it meet budget and time and quality expectations? Decide how you will measure quality - e.g. surveying students and staff and other stakeholders during pilot and after going into production, perhaps looking at academic achievement if improving this is a goal?
Be prepared to do something about it if the evaluation reveals areas your learning management system (or how it is used) can be improved.