Mind the (Digital Technologies) gap.

This text was originally prepared for Educational Services Australia and published on the Scootle Lounge, and has been modified to suit this post.

mind the gap

(Image credit: A photo by Pawel Loj)

With the nation’s first Digital Technologies Curriculum available here and now, many schools have begun implementation into their own school settings, or are looking to do so in 2017.

As a new curriculum which brings challenges that either excite or terrify teachers, how do schools prepare themselves for successful implementation?

Below is a list of questions, key considerations, and resources that might be useful for school communities who wish to successfully implement the Digital Technologies Curriculum.



Key considerations and questions to ask in order to prepare for implementation and sustainability of the Digital Technologies Curriculum

Audit Teacher Readiness

  • Are teachers willing to shift?
  • Are teachers familiar with the curriculum?
  • What is their level of expertise?

Some teachers might sigh at the thought of continued ‘meddling’ with our curriculum, but we need to face reality; advancements in technology are rapidly shaping the world as we know it. It is our obligation to ensure that students are best prepared for a world which is increasingly reliant on technology. The Australian Government’s National Innovation & Science Agenda is one reflection of this response to a shifting workforce and innovation economy.

It should be of no surprise that the NMC and CoSN reported that these trends are already having an impact in schools as identified in the 2016 Horizon Report; with the idea of ‘Coding as Literacy’, and ‘Makerspaces’ as the new classroom. The report certainly puts into context the changing landscape of education in light of technology, and will remind teachers of the need to be responsive educators that provide the best possible learning for their students.

In July of this year, the ABC produced a compelling documentary titled ‘Future Proof’: 44 minutes of provocation that will ignite plenty of healthy discussion around the need to introduce concepts of Computer Science at an early age.

TED talks can also be useful for sparking conversation. Mitch Resnick’s ‘Let’s teach kids to code’ talk clearly outlines the benefits of  students learning to code. Also worth looking at is a talk by Linda Liukas titled ‘A delightful way to teach kids about computers’. Linda is the author of the picture story book Hello Ruby.


Audit Student Readiness

  • What prior knowledge do students have?
  • What are their needs?

With several toy manufacturers placing toys that involve computer programming into the marketplace, some students are becoming exposed to certain skills and concepts of Computer Science before their teachers even deliberately provide these opportunities.

Modern students who grow up with technology are fluent with ICT, and navigate technology easily. Teachers will be called upon as expert learners to assist students to be effective at using those fluencies for productive learning, and designing solutions with technology. A key distinction between the ICT Capability in the Australian Curriculum and the Digital Technologies Curriculum, is that the Capability assists students to be effective users of ICT, whilst the Curriculum assists students to be effective creators of solutions with ICT.


Digital Leadership

  • Which teachers or programs can be used?
  • How is ICT embedded in curriculum?
  • How is ICT supporting Learning & Teaching programs?

The introduction of Computer Science concepts into our curriculum is unfamiliar to most teachers (I am yet to meet too many teachers that have degrees in both Education and Computer Science!)

Teachers on the front line will be the crucial linchpin to determine implementation success. TPACK is a framework that identifies the type of knowledge required for effective pedagogical practice in light of technology. Leaders should be aware that the knowledge and practice of concepts such as computational thinking or algorithms is adding another layer to the already complex problem of leveraging technology with students in the classroom.

The University of Adelaide has been pioneering teacher education of Computer Science in recent years, and offers a free MOOC for teachers to prepare them to be effective educators with the curriculum. More recently, the university has also provided access to a lending library for schools, and supporting project officers in each state. More information can be found on their website.

The Digital Technologies Hub which contains plenty of links, curriculum resources, implementation advice, and access to professional development is also an invaluable resource for schools.


Curriculum Leadership

  • Where are the strategic links between Technologies and other curriculum areas?
  • Is there solid planning in place for weekly, termly, semester, yearly overviews?

Schools must make deliberate decisions that consider when the knowledge and skills of the curriculum are taught, and how evidence of student’s development is captured, assessed, and reported upon. It will be up to the collaborative expertise of teachers to design cross-curricular opportunities to develop students’ knowledge and skills in purposeful and engaging units. This will require dialogue and support with a variety of stakeholders within the planning process, and should not be left to one individual, or the resident ‘technology expert’ in the school.

Are schools agile enough to evolve with society?

This text was originally prepared for Educational Services Australia and published on the Scootle Lounge, and has been modified to suit this post.

A photo by Denny Luan. unsplash.com/photos/ovm_b91yEgY

(Image credit: A photo by Denny Luan


Agile: the ability to move quickly and easily.

A question worth considering is, ‘Are our schools agile enough to evolve with society?’

Do they move quickly and easily, with clear purpose? Or are they clumsy, stiff, and slow?

Most importantly, are they responsive to changes happening in society? If so, how responsive are they, and in what way?

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said ‘Everything flows and nothing stays’ — a striking reminder that the only guarantee in our complex world is that change is constant. In modern society, change is occurring all around us, at a seemingly exponential rate. In particular, technology has changed the way in which we live, work, play, and socialise. Yet at times, it seems that our schools are stagnant, unresponsive, and unwilling to adapt, reinvent, and reimagine learning opportunities in order to stay relevant.


‘Agile’ as defined by a Google search. Interestingly, its use over time shows a significant spike just before the turn of the 21st century.

Let’s rewind only a modest 10 years ago. No iPhone existed, nor did any iPad. Instagram was unheard of, and Facebook had a mere 12 million users.

Fast forward to today, and it’s hard to argue that technology hasn’t fundamentally shifted our world as we know it.

But has technology pervaded our schools in the same way that it has augmented our lives? To a degree it has, in scattered classrooms, with teachers and leaders who recognise the potentials and pitfalls of technology, and are agile enough to adapt.

Has technology pervaded into every classroom, or has every teacher changed their processes and structure in response to technology? Not a chance.

Our ignorant inheritance

Today we live in an ‘innovation economy’. The skills required to succeed in life have intersected with the skills required to be an effective citizen. Several decades ago, well before teachers and students used the internet, it made a lot of sense to teach the facts and content of a specified curriculum. This ‘factory model’ of education, where the teacher was the ‘dictator’, was acceptable for the time, but bears little relevance for today. However, the influence of an industrial era model can still be observed in schools now.

The tragedy of this inheritance is that we hold a lot of traditional structure that has become engendered in us. Generally speaking, learners are grouped according to age, with the teacher then deciding how to unpack the specified curriculum to those groups of learners. We tend to favour the telling of content to students rather than allowing them to discover. We tend to teach to the cohort rather than personalise pathways. Innovative teaching methods that involve technology such as flipped-classrooms, blended learning, game-based learning, makerspaces, inquiry, and project-based learning are yet to become the ‘norm’ in every school community.

Above all, technology has made access to information ubiquitous. Students no longer have to rely on only the teacher to learn or discover. Yet, the majority of our schooling system reinforces that students should come to school ready to listen and memorise the content from the teacher, or risk a demotivating failure on a test.

There should be no competitive advantage on how much ‘Student A’ may know in comparison to ‘Student B’. Both have, or should have, the commodity of knowledge available to them with the swipe of a finger. Instead, both students need to be able to ask great questions, critically analyse information, form expressive opinions, create products and solutions, and collaborate and communicate with one another, with and without technology. These are the skills essential for life in today’s world.

Essentially, school as we knew it, depended on how well pupils could passively consumecontent and retain facts and knowledge from the teacher, assessed by what students knew. School as we need to know it, should depend on how well pupils can actively consume then create content, critically ascertain facts from multiple sources, and be assessed with what students do with what they know.

So we need to ask ourselves, are we consciously and actively developing these opportunities with our students in mind? Or are we falling short? As the 2016 education machine turns out the next graduates from a system that teaches and tests narrow aspects of a curriculum that any smartphone can handle, we potentially set our future generations for failure, unhappiness, and social discontent.

We need to face the facts and recognise that technology has caused disruption to our economy and society. However, embracing technology will also be one answer moving forward, with many schools having already done so. Has technology fundamentally changed the machine of education? Not yet… but it certainly has started to put the wheels in motion.

Change in our schools

With the rapid change in the last 10 years, one has to wonder what the next decade will bring. Will schools be responsive enough to meet the needs of today and tomorrow, with one eye on the present and one eye towards the future? Will they be agile enough to remain relevant for students and their parents?

Schools will need to be prepared to change, adapt, and reimagine the established machine of school as we know it.

Change is taxing and requires effort. It requires us to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. It requires us to challenge the status quo, recognising that what we have always done may not be the best solution; and being dissatisfied with ineffective and no longer relevant pedagogies, procedures, and structures. It requires relentless dialogue and shared vision with all stakeholders about the purpose of school, the alignment of our beliefs and practices, and asking the question: ‘is this best for our students right now’?

We have natural a disposition to protect the tried and tested, rather than embracing the ‘new’. This is why new and innovative ideas are difficult to launch and gain traction, as the natural response of the status quo is to favour the known road rather than the risky foreign pathway.

Creating the space for innovative change to occur requires risk, trial and error, and an open mindset. After all, no real learning happens with failure, for either students or teachers. This means schools, leaders, and teachers need to be prepared to try new techniques if we are to disrupt conventional methods of education. We also need to be prepared for the status quo push-back, and allow space for positive conflict, disturbance and uncertainty to occur, in order to find ideas that will provide the highest level of value and outcomes for all stakeholders.


Schools need to create space for innovation, and at times, tolerate the messy and chaotic rather than the predictable and ordered. (Image credit: A photo by Azrul Aziz)

The age of disruption

Examples of disruptive innovation and its impact on society can be observed at an increasing rate, as more and more organisations exploit technology and the consumer. Uber and similar ride-sharing services are changing the way in which we travel, Airbnb is changing the way we sleep abroad, and Google Cars and other autonomous vehicles are changing the way we commute, deliver, and transport goods.

The innovators behind these initiatives have a few things in common:

  1. They are agile and responsive. They have grown quickly, and have a ‘fail fast, fail quick’ approach to rapidly improve their services.
  2. They leverage technology to find gaps and meet the needs of clients in new ways.
  3. They are not afraid to find problems and tackle them head on.

Schools could probably learn a lot learn from these examples!

American businessman Jack Welch once said: “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near”. As tomorrow comes around, current and future technology trends will continue to push the boundaries of traditional schooling.


Can schools keep up with the pace of change on the ‘outside’? (Image credit: A photo by Tim Gouw)

Responding to these trends will be crucial for schools. They may struggle or embrace, dissolve or evolve with society. Those schools that are not agile or responsive may eventually be scrutinised by society. It is possible that we could see the whole notion of school questioned, and formal education challenged.

A useful resource for schools and teachers alike is the NMC Horizon Report, which discusses developments in technology, short to long term trends in education, and the associated challenges for schools. It is essential reading and research for any educator who wishes to stay abreast of the influences that will drive educational change and policy.



Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., and Freeman, A. (2015). NMC Horizon Report: 2015 K-12 Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium. Available from http://cdn.nmc.org/media/2015-nmc-horizon-report-k12-EN.pdf

There are no easy answers available to shift schools in the right direction. The ‘right direction’ will need to be determined by the schools themselves, who will write their own futures. It is reliant upon the stakeholders within school communities to acknowledge the need to take appropriate action. The obvious stakeholders who wield the heaviest axe are teachers and staff leaders.

It is up to us to challenge ourselves to embrace change, so that we might evolve education to a rate that reflects evolution in the society in which we live.

It is up to us to challenge ourselves to let go of the past, recognising that it’s not about what we know from past experiences; but about being open to what could be, and what might better suit the needs of young people today.

Every decision we make contributes to this. When we teach in a certain way, question a traditional paradigm, leverage technology to new potentials, nudge a school in one direction, or influence today’s generation, we co-create what is coming next. It is up to us to be responsive. If we are passive, we will be too late. We can make change happen. We are all, each of us, practising futurists and world-makers. Let’s do so with open eyes, hearts, and minds.

Let’s think differently, learn differently, and disrupt the machine of education as we know it.

It’s up to us to define our own relevant futures.

The Rise of the Chromebook

This text was originally published in the February 2016 edition of ‘Educational Technology Solutions Magazine’ and has been modified to suit this post.



According to recent figures from the USA, the Chromebook has quickly became the best selling device in Northern American educational markets and is continuing to grow in popularity (see here). But are Chromebooks really a panacea for the ever growing and ever evolving educational market? Or are they merely a fad destined to burn out in the years to come? (Netbooks, we are looking at you). And what should schools consider before dipping their toes into the Chromebook realm?




The Rise of the Chromebook

A Chromebook is a laptop of a different breed, one which runs Google’s web-based Chrome operating system. At the core, a Chromebook is designed to be used with an internet connection with most applications and data residing “in the cloud” which is accessed through the Chrome web browser.

The first Chromebooks to go on sale were manufactured exclusively by Acer and Samsung. Announced at the 2011 Google I/O Conference to much fanfare, they haven’t quite gained traction in the consumer market.

This is a different story in schools; where tight budgets exist, and when it comes to technology expenditure, bang for buck is paramount.

To date, customers from the education market have formed the most common type of user for Chromebooks.  Big names like Dell, Toshiba, ASUS, Acer, Lenovo, and Hewlett Packard are competitively manufacturing a variety of Chrome devices to satisfy the market, with some companies producing up to 3 different models. The consumer here wins, spoilt for choice when it comes to size, power, form factors, warranty support, and accessories.

But under the hood, the principle of the Chromebook remains the same; they all run Google’s Chrome operating system, rely almost entirely on cloud-based storage and apps, and – most importantly for schools – cost between $300-$400, much less than a tablet or traditional laptop. They come with USB slots to support an array of devices, integrated web cameras,  headphone/microphone jacks and HDMI display ports. Some manufacturers even offer cellular LTE connectivity, touch screen capability, Gorilla Glass screens, rubberised edges and anti-spill keyboards to last the distance in children’s hands.

Popularity for the device is picking up pace around the globe, like in Malaysia where the national school system utilises Chromebooks for 10 million students in their primary and secondary schools. Their efforts of integrating the web through the Chromebook and Google Apps for Education forms part of their national plan to reform its educational system (see here).

Chromebooks merge perfectly with Google Apps for Education, which is now used by more than 50 million students and teachers around the world. The productivity suite, which includes already popular apps such as Docs, Gmail, Calendar and Drive, also includes Google Classroom which allows students and teachers to collaborate on homework and other assignments in real-time.

But Chromebooks are not only limited to Google Apps products. Through the Chrome Web Store, web apps and browser extensions can be installed to increase productivity, with a bevy of apps and extensions that can enhance the technology experience for teachers and students who use Chromebooks in the classroom. Moreover, as a fully fledged web browser, a user is only limited by their imagination when it comes to tapping into any pocket of the vast World Wide Web.

Upon opening the lid of a Chromebook it boots up in seconds and prompts the user to log in with an associated Google account. Once connected the device automatically sets up the user’s profile and synchronizes the preferences, apps, bookmarks, and Drive data. (The system is even more speedy when returning from sleep mode from the closure of the lid, resuming almost instantaneously). Within moments anyone can be surfing the web, authoring Docs, or checking emails. Speed and simplicity at it’s best, having a Chromebook at one’s disposal makes it easier to get on the web and get on with it.

The secret behind the Chromebook is the operating system ChromeOS. Lightweight on resources it doesn’t require massive amounts of CPU cycles of RAM storage to run the laptop or boot from scratch. This means the end user is not paying the price for high end processors and memory storage employed with traditional operating systems. Moreover, battery life figures on Chrome devices are extremely impressive as the device efficiently consumes minimal power on basic hardware in operating modes and in hibernation.

As a thin client based on the cloud model, massive amounts of hard disk drive storage is neither required nor warranted. All Chromebooks come with minimal amounts of solid state drive space for any local files or downloads, as the whole ideology of using a Chromebook is to utilise cloud storage.

All of this “down specced” hardware equates to a lean package which means that Chromebooks are incredibly light-weight and portable machines. And considering that there are no licensing fees to pay for neither operating system nor office tools, it means that the device also becomes extremely affordable.

Updates occur automatically, don’t break the internet, and won’t take seemingly forever to install. A quick reboot when the update is ready and the user is running the most recent version of ChromeOS, which continues to improve in performance, functionality and security over time.

Chrome features built-in multi-layer security architecture which eliminates the need for antivirus software. HTML rendering and JavaScript execution threats through the browser are neutralised through “Sandboxing”, a security mechanism which runs processes in a restricted environment. In the event of a malicious exploit against the browser, the Sandboxing technique contains the threat and prevents the code from modifying or reading any information on the system.

The Chromebook doesn’t come without it’s perceived caveats and limitations. It doesn’t run Microsoft Silverlight web applications, which some rich web interfaces require. It doesn’t run legacy software, or premier multimedia suites. However, what developers are currently achieving through a web browser using HTML5 standards of late has been very impressive and is continuing to improve.

Want to edit and produce that video on the Chromebook? Install the free WeVideo web app and edit your film in the cloud. What about editing that image with multiple layers? Install the free Pixlr web app and import your images directly from any location.

All in all, Chromebooks are an extremely affordable option as a purchased computing device, but also in the upkeep and management of the device. There are no setup times or imaging requirements. Google support most Chromebooks for up to 5 years with free ChromeOS updates. There is no need to automate backups of files.

For this reason, Chromebooks have been a hit with school deployments as they don’t require extensive IT departments to support and manage each device. To deploy technology across a classroom, school or even sector, computing devices need to be simple, manageable and secure. Chromebooks make this ideal. Administrators can make changes to a whole fleet of Chromebooks through a web-based console without even having the device physically present. Teachers can share them throughout the class, under individual student logins, for each session. Schools can set the appropriate measures for accessing content, and design the user experience with pre-determined bookmarks and apps.

With reduced overhead costs, Chromebooks are a cost-effective option to deploy technology at scale. Many schools are releasing this as an affordable option for closing the technology-equity gap whilst promoting the kind of rich digital learning that we all believe in.

For case studies of Chromebooks in education see https://www.google.com/edu/case-studies/


E-portfolios for personal learning

This text was originally published in the June 2015 edition of ‘e-technology‘ prepared for the Australian Council for Educational Leaders and has been modified to suit this post.

E-portfolios for personal learning.

For decades on end, students in schools have been completing assignments for their teachers. Too often, these were seen only by the teacher, assessed, and then returned to the student. Often they were kept in student tubs, lockers, bags or filed under ‘bin’. Sometimes, if the student was lucky, the work was displayed on a wall or in a hallway. Teachers collected work samples as a way of informing and reporting to parents, and very rarely, taught students how to build their own portfolios of work.

With many modernised educational institutions using less paper, and the rise of digital technologies in our classroom, student work has become more easily shareable, accessible by many, and more easily organised. Consequently, teachers are turning to the use of electronic portfolios – or ‘e-portfolios‘ – for their students; which have the potential to cause a huge shift in how a teacher assigns, collects and assesses student work, as well as how students, themselves, engage in the learning process.

An e-portfolio is an electronic record of student accomplishments; displaying student progress within a range of subject areas. The use of a portfolio brings various possibilities of collecting evidence of student learning. It allows opportunities for students to engage in a workspace for thinking, develop meta-cognitive skills, and create a passionate space for engaging in personal learning.

Having any type of portfolio (either electronic or paper-based) encourages self-regulated learning to occur. It can also be a powerful tool in terms of assessment for, as and of learning. When students own a portfolio of their learning journey, it helps give identity to who they are and understanding themselves as learners. It is also a great way of showcasing developmental learning and achievements.

Where the ‘e’ comes into it’s own with electronic portfolios, is the way in which technology helps remove barriers. Through portfolios that are stored on digital platforms, they can become interactive to multiple viewers or collaborators, as well as stored or accessed without physical limits. No longer do work samples, assessments and reflections have to be stored in a folder that resides with the student, but can be curated in a digital portfolio, thus multiplying the benefits of personal learning.

In my experience, implementing e-portfolios (Year 3&4 and Year 5&6as part of our personal learning program has helped strengthen relationships between peers, teachers and parents alike; with regard to our children’s own journeys at school.

In the past, students and teachers relied heavily on storing mountains of paper to show the progress of learning. These would include assessments, reflections, goal-setting journals, and evidence of outcomes. They were stored in a folder or in student tubs: therein lay the problem. That folder was limited to one place in space and time, to be accessed, most likely, by only the student and teacher.

However, since digitising existing ideas of personal learning and encouraging the development of stronger meta-cognitive skills in our students, we can now securely share and celebrate a student’s journey, with everyone in the school community; students, parents and teachers alike.

Utilising this method has changed the purpose of a traditional paper-based portfolio of learning. By using an electronic platform, the communication of the journey of a student needn’t be limited to the 4 walls of the classroom, but instead, can include the whole village which supports that child. Students realise the value of sharing to a meaningful audience, telling with pride, their experiences during the learning process. They can communicate it to a community of people who care. This in turn, I believe, lifts the standard of the communication used in the e-portfolio, as well as motivating students through the processes of learning.

The students, parents and teachers all play their roles in the development of student learning at school, and this is no different when it comes to e-portfolios. Students themselves want to be proud of their achievements, parents want to see evidence of learning and academic progress, and teachers seek documentation to support successful achievement of educational standards.

This article discusses the use of e-portfolios in Primary and Secondary classrooms, and provides guidance for introducing e-portfolios with your own students.

Dictating the portfolio

Before embarking on the path towards e-portfolios, one should think carefully as to who or what is dictating the structure and purpose.

Is it the student? If so, were they to have complete ownership of the portfolio, one would hope that their personal interests would rise to the occasion with their passions being clearly visible. The e-portfolio may include space for goal setting, provision for evidence of progress, as well as an outlet for self-reflection. It would be evident that the e-portfolio caters for true choice and voice in learning, if given a level of autonomy.

Or is it the school? There might be influences coming from traditional ideas of teacher assessment upon students. Understandably, as teachers have certain requirements they need to meet, this could be a space for it. It may be an avenue where standards and achievement outcomes are reported on. It could include achievements of both academic or personal in nature. It may even be a part of graded assignment, or a requirement for graduating.

Neither student nor school influences are more important than the other, but I do think that a balance needs to exist. Whilst students choice and voice can only be a good thing, the use of an e-portfolio is also a good opportunity to include school required documentation; particularly if it allows other students, teachers and parents in the community, to have viewership of that child’s journey. Moreover, in the years to come, it might prove to be a meaningful collection and narrative which encapsulates the learner’s developments and memories of their time at school.

The e-portfolio is a collection that should be treasured and cared for. We hope that, at the end of their primary years, our students take their e-portfolios forward, even continuing to use it as a space for development, sharing and celebration.

Process versus Product

As well as the influences of the e-portfolio, some consideration should also be given to the processes and/or products at play during the teaching and learning cycle.

If the portfolio is used during the process of learning, one could expect that such a portfolio take on the use of a workspace. It could include a journal, a transactional space for learning, or a chronological archive of drafts or samples that are relevant to the learning process. There might also be an opportunity for students to receive ongoing feedback during the process from the teacher or from peers.

If the portfolio is used for presenting learning or achievements, then it may take on more of a narrative. It could have a varied purpose or audience, from sharing work with classmates, to opening the portfolio to the wider community, or even to inviting viewership and comments from a global audience. Learners might display their work in a variety of ways, such as documents, photos, videos or other creative display formats. Teachers could assess students against standards or outcomes, and use student reflections and showcases as evidence of achievement.

Once again, neither e-portfolios that take on the process, nor product, is more important than the other. What is important however, is how the e-portfolios are effectively used to enhance teaching and learning. Moreover, there is no reason why elements of each could not be used within an e-portfolio with students.

Content is king

In addition to text, most electronic platforms can be used to link and enrich multimedia.

Examples of this might be: a video that students make for a project, a screencast demonstrating new found knowledge via a demonstration or explanation, an audio recording of self-reflections, or annotated photos. Incorporating these is a great way of bringing authentic student voice, showing evidence captured during the learning process.

As the saying goes, ‘a picture tells a thousand words’. Images or videos which capture the trial and errors of an experiment, the iteration process of a document, or the award received at assembly, can not only reveal insights, but create lasting memories. Visual media also allows for those students who are not as comfortable with writing, to be able to include videos or other media as part of their learning process.

Authoring for whom?

Students love an audience, but when using electronic mediums with students, privacy protection and age-appropriate safeguards, should be of the utmost importance. If portfolios are viewable beyond the classroom, it would be worth considering putting in place a review or moderating process. Minors should be conscious of their digital identity, and should never post identifiable information online. However, Secondary teachers may use blogs which are open on the web as student e-portfolios, as a vehicle to teach and encourage positive digital identities online, in an educational context.

The right tools for the right job (empowered students)

When considering which tools will be used for student e-portfolios, 3 major elements should be addressed.

1) Storage – Where will documents, files, artefacts be kept? Will the storage medium allow viewing, interaction or collaboration if necessary?

2) Reflection – How will students reflect on their learning? Does the tool allow a space for commentary on a frequent basis? Is it easily manageable? Will it need to be reviewed before being published?

3) Communication – How will students showcase their learning? Does the tool allow text, images and various files to be meaningfully organised? Can it be shared securely with the people who need to see it?

The tool or platform which is selected may encompass all of these things. Students and teachers may use a variety of tools and apps in order to store artefacts, reflect on their learning, and communicate it to a wider audience. Below are a list of questions which will help clarify the use of the technology to store, reflect and communicate learning:

  • Can student work be made public or private with ease?
  • Can students view and comment on each other’s work?
  • Can the teacher provide feedback?
  • Are the portfolios easily transferable from year to year, as the students move through the school?
  • Can the student access their work and export it when they leave the school?
  • Does the platform allow for multiple and common file types?
  • Are there any costs associated in setting up the platform for students?
  • Can a teacher create a supervising account and generate accounts for the class? Or does the student have to do it for themselves? (Is there a minimum age to sign up?)
  • Can the tool be integrated into existing Learning Management Systems?

Another consideration is in relation to the range of electronic devices that students will have at their disposal. For example, if students have daily access to an internet browser via desktops or laptops, then tools such as Wix or Google Sites, which operate effectively in these environments, may be a good option. On the other hand, if students have a personal mobile device in the classroom, these web-based options may not be suitable for mobile platforms, and teachers may opt to use a platform with a mobile app such as Blogger or Evernote.

Forms of e-portfolios using digital tools

Below is a list of tools (mostly free) which can be used for student e-portfolios. Some offer educational versions which have benefits for classroom management

Shared notebooks or folders – One of the easiest ways to develop an electronic portfolio is through an online notebook collection or a folder of artefacts. Microsoft Onedrive or Google Drive can be used to store and share files which are accessible from multiple locations and devices. Note taking tools such as Microsoft Onenote, Evernote or Three Ring can act as digital books which include annotations, reflections and links to artefacts.

Collection of pages – Tools such as Glogster, Livebinders or Wikispaces can allow for students to organise their ideas into one place, using pages. Microsoft Powerpoint or Google Slides could even be used in the earlier years, as a simple place for students to add weekly reflections, achievements and samples of work.

Personal websites – Building on from the idea of pages, organising a portfolio of learning in the form of a web site, can make organising content into categories and curriculum areas very easy and highly visual. Weebly and Wix are two great website builders that are suitable for older students, as these website platforms require users to be 13 years or older. The exception to this is Google Sites, which can be created legally with Google Apps for Education accounts.

Student blogs – Blogging platforms such as Kidblog, Edublogs, Ning, Blogger can be highly interactive, and are powerful for their social and interactive features.

What to do with paper?

Whilst teachers and students are now consuming increased amount of digital content, there is still place in the classroom for the paper, pencil and pen, or even the art brush.

Most modern multifunction printers now offer ‘Scan to Cloud’ functions, meaning that work samples, documents, thinking organisers or art pieces can be scanned and sent directly to Google Drive, Dropbox, Evernote or even to email accounts. Once the artefact has been digitised, it can then be included in the e-portfolio, depending on the platform.

If students or teachers have mobile devices or cameras at their disposal, these could also be used to capture images or videos of paper artefacts that could be included in the e-portfolio.

Steps to success

Prior experiences – Consider your own and your students’ prior experiences in using portfolios, web tools or social networks for personal and professional reasons. How do you, as teachers, currently use digital tools? And how do your students use them? Electronic platforms might be perceived as a ‘can of worms’ for educators, but the opportunities that digital tools bring to education should be embraced, not ignored!

Vision and purpose – Be clear as to what you wish to achieve by providing e-portfolios to your students. Determine the vision of how the electronic medium will help connect personal learning between all relevant parties. Clearly communicate those expectations to students, teachers and parents

Collecting artefacts – Determine the types of artefacts that will be collected, and how this will be done. If your teaching and learning cycle relies heavily on paper content, it would be worth investigating the move to digital mediums. Consider investing in technology for scanning paper-based content that you would like to be included in the e-portfolio.

Challenges – Think critically about the obstacles, such as student privacy, legality in using digital tools, and your existing ICT policy and documentation around the smart, safe and effective use of technology. Think about when and how e-portfolios will be updated, and from which device.

Professional Development – Create a PD plan for implementing by yourself or with your teachers. The New Zealand Ministry of Education have a fantastic resource available on their website titled ‘Digital portfolios: guidelines for beginners’. Explore the options available and decide on the tool or tools which will suit your intended purposes and access to technology. Learn and explore the tools, and consider inviting the students to be part of the learning process.

Assessment – Determine how the portfolios will be used for assessment during the teaching and learning cycle, and in turn, how you will evaluate your own effectiveness of the program.

Time and energy

  • Invest in an e-portfolio program that will:
  • allow for student identities to come shining through
  • encourage insightful reflections
  • provide the opportunity for students to make connections to prior, current and future learning
  • give the development of necessary contemporary literacies
  • show the story of deep personal learning.

Our experience with e-portfolios

(A presentation of this implementation can be viewed here)
As our school utilises Google Apps for Education, a decision was made to use a Google Site for each student e-portfolio in Years 3 to 6. Through Google Apps for Education, we were able to secure the portfolios to be viewable only to those in our school community. As students carry the same account from year to year, they can continue their eportfolio in the middle and senior primary years, accumulating into a portfolio of rich insights and showcase by the time they graduate. As students were already using Google Drive to work with files of different types, the Google ‘ecosystem’ allows students to embed items into their Sites with ease. Teachers are able to see the updates and activities occurring on each e-portfolio through the integration of Google Sites with Hapara Teacher Dashboard, a learning management system which integrates with Google Apps for Education.

A blank template which could be modified was provided to each student. This ensured that the e-portfolios would be consistent across the school and easier for the teachers to manage, but allowed the students to personalise their e-portfolio to their liking.

Existing elements of student’s paper-based personal learning folders were incorporated into the design. The site included 7 pages:

About me – a space where students can introduce themselves, reveal who they are, and share their interests and school and life experiences

Reflection journal – an announcement page that serves as a ‘mini-blog’: allowing students to post thoughts and reflections during the teaching and learning cycle

Goals – a space where students can identify long term and short term goals which are set between the student, teacher and parents at school interviews; providing evidence for the attainment in an ongoing manner

Achievements – a space where students can identify their proudest moments, in any curriculum area, over a semester basis

Showcase – a space where students can curate links to files, artefacts and media of completed projects, inquiries or learning activities

Assessment – a space where both students and teachers can provide evidence of student growth and progression based on assessments, feedback cycles and achievement of outcomes

Genius Hour – a space where students can communicate the progress of their Genius Hour projects: a passion-based inquiry, in which students have true freedom and creativity to learn about whatever they want, and present it however they desire.


Abrami, P., Wade, A., Pillay, V., Asian, O., Bures, E. and Bentley, C. (2008). Encouraging Self Regulated Learning Through Electronic Portfolios. In Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology. Retrieved from http://cjlt.csj.ualberta.ca/index.php/cjlt/article/view/507/238

Barrett, H. (2008). The REFLECT Initiative. In National Educational Computing Conference, 2008, 1-12. Retrieved from http://electronicportfolios.org/reflect/NECC08.pdf

Barrett, H. (2014). Electronicportfolios.org. Retrieved from http://electronicportfolios.org/

Ministry of Education (2015). Digital portfolios: guidelines for beginners [online] Available at: http://www.minedu.govt.nz/NZEducation/EducationPolicies/Schools/Initiatives/ManagedLearningEnvironments/MLEPublications/ePortfolios.aspx

Theodosiadou, D., & Konstantinidis, A. (2015). Introducing e-portfolio use to primary school pupils: Response, benefits and challenges. Journal of Information Technology Education: Innovations in Practice, 14, 17-38. Retrieved from http://www.jite.org/documents/Vol14/JITEv14IIPp017-038Theodosiadou0669.pdf

Leading a Digital School Conference 2015

This week I will be presenting 2 sessions at the 2015 Leading a Digital School Conference. Abstracts and session resources can be found below.


Google Apps for Education and BYOT

Abstract: Google is much more than a search tool – it is an extraordinary tool for education. Cloud-based technologies are now enabling “anytime and anywhere” access which has the ability to redefine learning and teaching for our staff and students. The vast suite of Google Apps and tools offer distinct advantages and powerful collaboration for its users. This session will: – Unpack the advantages and disadvantages of Google Apps For Education. – Provide resources and advice for deploying Google Apps in an educational setting. – Provide examples of Google tools in action in a primary setting. This session is intended for educators with basic knowledge of Google Apps or starting to experiment with some of Google’s offerings. It is also suitable for anyone considering whether Google Apps for Education is suitable for their school context, and if it might complement a BYOT program.



Ignited Learning through Genius Hour

Abstract: Genius Hour, inspired by Google’s 80/20 time, is a timely change from the industrial model of schooling. Time is set aside each week for students to take ultimate control of their learning. Teachers will no longer dictate the entire curriculum of the teaching and learning that is taking place in their classrooms. Students will have choice and voice in their learning as they pursue their interests and passions. It is Passion Based Inquiry Learning at its finest, and is engaging and motivating students around the globe to unprecedented levels. More information can be viewed at http://www.geniushour.com. This session will: – Explore the disruption of a traditional pedagogical approach that goes beyond the idea of flipping delivery of content, but flipping how, what and when students learn. – Discuss successes and surprises from a recent school implementation of Genius Hour. – Provide resources and advice for implementing a Genius Hour / 20 Time program in your school context.


DigiCon15 – Disruptive Thinking in Education

Disruptive Thinking in Education, DigiCon15 - Anthony Speranza

This week I will be presenting at the annual DLTV state conference, DigiCon15. The session, Disruptive Thinking in Education, draws on thoughts and inspiration of my 2014 Google Teacher Academy experiences, where a personal moonshot was developed:

How might we amplify disruptive thinking in education to bring about positive change in our community?

In some ways, this presentation aims to amplify disruptive thinking with colleagues who will attend the session. In a broader sense, the amplification of disruptive ideas in education for wider communities beyond DigiCon15 is something that I am still grappling with, coming to terms with, and immersing myself with. One of my goals this year is to start that course of amplification in other communities, however, DigiCon15 will be a great place to share my thinking and progress thus far.

Disruptive Thinking in Education, DigiCon15 - Anthony Speranza (1)


Abstract: Schools can be incredibly hard places to change, and at times, difficult spaces for re-imagination to take place. Too often we are bogged down by the day-to-day structures and internal / external forces and influences that dictate the learning for our students. Fixed-mindsets and the proud traditions or methods of “doing things we have always done” can be a toxic combination. Whilst there are pockets of innovation happening around the globe, we can’t really say that education has hit its mass tipping point as yet.

This session will unpack the importance and impact of disruptive thinking in education, as well as the methods that educators might seek in changing their classrooms and schools for the better. Examples will be provided of ideas and technologies that are disrupting our lives and shaping the future of education.

Slide deck

Collective ideas doc

Disruptive Thinking and Ideas form

Listening with intent – what your students can tell you about your practices.

This article originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of Education Matters Magazine (Primary).


During my seemingly short teaching career, there are two questions that I have constantly grappled with: ‘What makes an effective teacher?’, and to a greater extent, ‘How does one measure their effectiveness?’.

In my opinion, John Hattie’s (2009) influential work in the study of what makes a difference in our classrooms, has made huge inroads into answering these complexities of teaching. It is with little surprise that Hattie’s work is gaining in worldwide popularity and momentum. His study represents the largest collection and analysis of evidence-based research which investigates what is actually working in schools when it comes to improving learning.

I became interested in Hattie’s work after his first major release, Visible learning: A synthesis of 800+ meta-analyses on achievement. After hearing him speak, I took a number of his principles into consideration, mainly in the areas of calculating effect sizes, providing quality feedback to students, and constructing meaningful learning intentions and success criteria with students.

In his second major release, Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning, Hattie presents eight ‘mind frames’ or ways of thinking that must underpin every action and decision made in schools and educational systems if they are striving to improve the quality of education. Hattie argues that teachers and leaders who develop these ways of thinking are more likely to have major impacts on student learning:

  • 1) Teachers/leaders believe that their fundamental task is to evaluate the effect of their teaching on students learning and achievement
  • 2) Teachers/leaders believe that success and failure in student learning is about what they, as teachers or leaders, did or did not do…We are change agents!
  • 3) Teachers/leaders want to talk more about the learning than the teaching
  • 4) Teachers/leaders see assessment as feedback about their impact
  • 5) Teachers/leaders engage in dialogue not monologue
  • 6) Teachers/leaders enjoy the challenge and never retreat to ‘doing their best’
  • 7) Teachers/leaders believe that it is their role to develop positive relationships in classrooms and staffrooms
  • 8) Teachers/leaders inform all about the language of learning

(Hattie, 2012, pg 169)


Assessment for the teachers, from the students

Mindframe 4, the idea that student assessment can be treated as feedback to the teacher can be a hard pill to swallow for some teachers. It forces us to realise that every single student in our care has the capacity to learn, and that the teacher and school is responsible for facilitating that progress of each child. Too often, teachers tend to blame ‘undesirable’ outcomes or academic results on student absence, attitude to learning, or social / behavioural factors. However, by believing that we, as teachers, can master ways to progress every child, we can begin to make decisions which will lead to actions that make this happen.

Hattie states that all schools can be optimised to esteem the positive impacts that can lead to improved student learning, and for teachers, ‘knowing thy impact’ becomes crucial in determining and understanding one’s own effectiveness. Hattie suggests that teachers administer the following ‘personal health check’ for the principles of what he calls ‘Visible Learning’:


Personal health check for Visible Learning

  • 1. I am actively engaged in, and passionate about teaching and learning.
  • 2. I provide students with multiple opportunities for learning based on surface and deep thinking.
  • 3. I know the learning intentions and success criteria of my lessons, and I share these with students.
  • 4. I am open to learning and actively learn myself.
  • 5. I have a warm and caring classroom climate where errors are welcome.
  • 6. I seek regular feedback from my students.
  • 7. My students are actively involved in knowing about their learning (that is, they are assessment capable).
  • 8. I can identify progression in learning across multiple curriculum levels in my students work and activities.
  • 9. I have a range of teaching strategies in my day-to-day teaching repertoire.
  • 10. I use evidence of learning to plan next learning steps with students.

(Hattie, 2012, pg 193)

More recently, our school was fortunate enough to participate in the Visible Learning Plus program; a guided change process of professional development and practice which is based on Hattie’s work. One of the first topics of conversation, after being inducted into the program, was to complete the suggested checklist by Hattie.

For me, the point of seeking ‘regular feedback from my students’ particularly stood out. In the last few years I have come to realise the merit of asking students for feedback on my practise, but I determined that it should be increased in frequency, across multiple subjects or curriculum areas, and at various points of the teaching and learning cycle if I was to be the best teacher I could be.

In Bill Gates’ Ted Talk Teachers need real feedback (2013), Gates highlights the concern that despite teachers having one of the most important jobs in the world, many institutions and educational systems lack an effective approach to providing quality feedback to help teachers do their jobs better. He discusses his project Measures of Effective Teaching, which works towards building quality teaching practices, by analysing classroom observations, conducting student surveys, and measuring student achievement gains; which seem to go a long way in allowing teachers to reflect on their practises.

I think that the problem of teacher reflection is that, every day, the minds of teachers are filled with processes to carry out and tasks to accomplish. We think about how we meet the needs of a variety of students, all encompassing of learning, social and behavioural factors. We see our role as implementing curriculum that has links to content, outcomes and assessments. We plan and deliver lessons continually, occasionally reflecting in haste.

Often when delivering lessons, we are so caught up in the process, that we forget to stop and try to perceive learning from the eyes of our students. We tend not to realise the direct impact on our students, and whilst in ‘teacher mode’, our fundamental role should be to evaluate that impact on our students using a variety of sources.

I believe that a powerful source in evaluating the impact of the teacher can be with the assistance of students themselves.

The power of honest feedback from the people who matter most in the classroom should never be underestimated. It takes a certain level of bravery, and a possible paradigm shift of ‘it’s my fault they are not learning, not theirs’ in student to teacher relations. However, by listening intently to student voice, one can empower themselves to refined practises by constantly reflecting on their impact to improve.


Seeking feedback

In the past years I have been looking at ways of regularly seeking feedback from students. This has ranged from a variety of paper-based templates and tools to illicit anonymous and honest input from students. More recently, I have prefered to use electronic platforms with increased efficiency and effectiveness for gathering feedback.

Using Google Forms (a free online web survey collector) has been a great way to collect feedback from students. A form can be designed with a range of methods for collecting information, from short or long answers, to providing scales or multiple choices. The form is sent to students who can complete the survey on any type of electronic device. Students can easily enter their feedback, and the collection for the teacher is an absolute breeze. At a glance, I can see all of the results and even manipulate the electronic data to filter results and understand trends. Reserving 2 minutes at the end of the class becomes really worthwhile, as you explain to students that their feedback will, in turn, make you a more effective teacher.

Below are some examples of questions with short answers that I ask students. They are designed toillicit interesting responses and give insights as to how the student views themselves, the topic, and the role of the teacher. I may ask only one question or several at a time:

  • What worked well today?
  • What could be improved for next time?
  • Were you successful today? If so, how do you know?
  • Will you be able to use this learning later in life?
  • What further questions do you have about ______ ?
  • How much did you enjoy today’s lesson?
  • How much did you learn in today’s lesson?
  • What did you like about this lesson?
  • To what extent do you feel that your skills in ______ are developing?
  • How much have you learnt about ______ this week?
  • What do you now understand better after having completing this topic?
  • What would you like to learn more about in the next lesson?
  • Was today’s lesson useful for you?


At other times, I prefer that students think about a statement, and provide an answer to their agreement using a Likert scale:

  • To what extent do you agree with the following statements?
  • My teacher helps me to achieve.
  • My teacher helps me understand the work.
  • My teacher helps me to learn new things.
  • My teacher sets goals that are challenging for me.
  • My teacher’s lessons are interesting.
  • My teacher makes me feel welcome in the class.
  • My teacher gives clear instructions that are easy to follow.
  • My teacher often gives me feedback about my work.

Often, text fields are given to students so that they can explain their reason for agreeing or disagreeing with the statement.



There are many factors that contribute to the overall development of students. Influences such as parenting, family situations and social status all contribute to students’ learning. However, in most cases, the manipulation of these factors are completely out of our control.

Conversely, the quality of teacher practises that lead to student achievement in the classroom being the largest influence that we do have control of, can certainly be improved through reflection. Personally, I have found that seeking honest feedback from students has helped me to reflect and develop my own professional understanding into how I approach teaching and learning.

Sometimes when I read responses from students, I may be affirmed, surprised, or even laugh. On occasions, I have even been mortified! However, I can honestly say that every single piece of feedback that I have received from students has made me a better practitioner. I believe that great teachers are never afraid of inviting or facing difficult challenges. Most importantly, inviting student feedback has helped me to become a better, more empowered, and reflective teacher every year.





Cantrell, S., & Kane, T. (2013). Ensuring fair and reliable measures of effective teaching: Culminating findings from the MET project’s three-year study. MET Project Research Paper. Retreived from http://metproject.org/downloads/MET_Ensuring_Fair_and_Reliable_Measures_Practitioner_Brief.pdf


Gates, B. (2013). Bill Gates: Teachers need real feedback [Video file]. Retreived from https://www.ted.com/talks/bill_gates_teachers_need_real_feedback


Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of 800+ meta-analyses on achievement. Abingdon: Routledge.


Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. Abingdon: Routledge.