Flipped / Blended Classroom with NEO LMS

NEOLMS

As the new school year started last week I wanted to push further with my Flipped Classroom approach. My hacked-together system of EdPuzzle videos, Google Form WSQs and Google Classroom feedback to the students worked but was very time-consuming for the teacher. There was also a drawback to the students as it was difficult for them to quickly return to a topic at a later date for review.

I am currently half-way through completion of a University of Georgia Coursera entitled “K12 Blended and Online Learning”. I wanted to complete this to further my own knowledge and experience in this field and hoped that it would open my eyes to some pedagogical or behavioural methods for use in this type of learning environment.

I am enjoying using the Coursera system but it doesn’t let individual teachers create their own courses. When I worked at Robert Gordon’s College I successfully developed a number of iTunesU courses for iPad but unfortunately couldn’t leverage the same system for Macbook. I did a little research and found NEO LMS. It’s early days but I wanted to give my initial impressions of the service.

Courses were easy to create and customise and students register for these with an access code. When I introduced it in class last week there were NO issues with sign up – that rarely happens with new services. Students were impressed by the interface and found it easy to navigate.

I spent some more time exploring the multitude of options this afternoon while setting up two new courses. NEO LMS has made it so easy that I’m going to attempt to Flip my entire curriculum, not just a course or two throughout the year. I’ve already worked out how to get my students into separate Groups which then makes it easy to register them for future courses without the need for an access code. In fact, if you have the Enterprise edition, you can leverage the Rules engine to automatically enroll students in the next course when they finish the current one!

If you are looking into building your own Flipped / Blended courses then I highly recommend you check out NEO LMS. The individual teacher account is free and supports up to 200 students. You also get a 14-day trial of the Enterprise edition when you sign up.

This was originally posted on LinkedIn, 11th September 2016

#RGCdevicetrial staff drop-in sessions

We are just shy of 3 weeks from the end of the #RGCdevicetrial and I realised I haven’t yet blogged about the weekly staff drop-in sessions. Every week since early March most staff involved in trialing the devices have given up roughly 45 minutes of their afternoon to talk about their experiences, try out other devices and get troubleshooting help for theirs. Every week @stefanhorsman sends the invite to all staff and every week the attendees and questions have been different. In short, it has been a really great thing to do.

This afternoon we met in the Junior School. I love this venue as it already has the WiFi network coveted by the rest of the campus and, as the drop-in session is hosted in one of the device trialist’s classrooms, we have an Apple TV permanently connected so those experimenting with Macbooks, iPads or Windows 8 tabtops (and Air Parrot) can try wireless projection as well as the devices themselves. In addition the room layout lends itself well to both round-table discussion and informal groupings.

The sessions themselves are organic – there is no agenda apart from to experience the devices and take the opportunity to ask questions. People are welcome to arrive late and leave whenever they like. Today we even welcomed our first pupil who was very quick to explain to her (teacher) mother why they really needed an Apple TV at home!

I’ve blogged already about my experiences with the iPad and Kindle Fire (which I’ve been allowed to keep for a week in return for the Dell XPS tablet – I think I got the better deal there!) but has been really interesting to talk to staff and address misconceptions on cost of devices. Most of the time it is assumed that the Apple products are the most expensive (true for the Macbook Air, but not the iPads), the Kindle is the cheapest (ok, by FAR the cheapest) and the Windows products are somewhere close to £300 as “that’s what normal laptops cost”. When I explain that, bar the Macbook each of the Windows 8 / RT devices in our trial are at the top end of the price list, jaws drop.

Today I explained this as I attempted to reinstate the touchscreen on one of the Samsung ATIV Smart PCs: a touchscreen device that allows you to turn off the touchscreen! Not only does it make very little sense, the process is hugely convoluted and therefore difficult for users to remember – meaning troubleshooting at best takes time and at worst requires a visit to IT support and then a longer wait without the device. The Windows devices also need two batch files I created to set up the IPv4 Internet settings correctly for home (or any DHCP network) and school (static IP and DNS servers) use [if these would be useful to you, connect with me on Twitter and ask].

The more I experience the Windows 8 / RT machines the stronger my belief that we should move away from devices where users cannot customise without navigating screens of administrative features that are not linked, grouped or even described particularly well. I don’t think a tenfold increase in the apps available for these devices would matter either: for learning and teaching we have 40 or 80 minutes where our lessons need to be pacey, varied, stimulating and above all educational. It’s hard to do that when the teacher has their head in a user guide because an incorrect keyboard combination or tap shuts down the core functionality of the device.

 

iTunesU Course Creator #RGCdevicetrial

The end of term approaches and this means that the coursework and project submissions are pouring in and the focus of learning and teaching turns to final exam preparation. The iPad has been passed on to a colleague (hope you are enjoying it Wendy!) and I now have a brief opportunity to try out the Macbook Air.

I have been so impressed by the iPad in recent weeks that I want to try and replicate the functionality on a laptop to see if I have just been dazzled by technology. It wasn’t just functionality I was impressed with, but I feel that if I can augment my learning and teaching to the same degree as easily on another device it will make the final discussion on device choice much more balanced.

One of the things I found out about at a Apple Store event in Aberdeen during February was iTunesU. To be honest I’ve not found iTunesU that easy to navigate and usually find a keyword search turns up a lot of university level courses and nothing suitable for secondary students. When I heard that you can create your own course I  assumed that it was possible with the iPad. Unfortunately not as it only appears to work with Safari browser for Windows or Mac at present.

After reading this blog post from TNW I recorded a quick screencast using Quicktime Player on the Macbook and edited it slightly using iMovie before uploading to YouTube. There were a few issues with getting the movie from Quicktime Player into iMovie which I’ll put down to user inexperience for the moment (update, it was!)

There are a few things I’d like to see in future (or discover if they already exist!):

1. Importing of multiple web links embedded in a YouTube playlist

2. Importing of a document that contains the outline of a course e.g. page structure and content and turns weblinks in the document into resources in the Materials section.

3. A preview course feature within the browser!

17 iPad apps for teachers #RGCdevicetrial

Tomorrow I hand over the iPad to a colleague, so I’m signing out of all linked accounts and removing whatever personal data I can.

I’ve also purged the apps installed and categorised them so the next person using the iPad isn’t overwhelmed with pages upon pages of apps to investigate. Here are the apps that survived the three weeks:

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When designing the timescale for each part of the device trial I thought three weeks would be enough. Judging by the feedback received from my colleagues it can either be too long (for example if they don’t like the device) or not long enough!

Some highlights:

  • Being able to create documents with the Pages (£6.99, link) app has been great although I do agree with reviews about its value for money. See my previous blog post about how I used it with my Higher Computing class.
  • I had really hoped to make better use of Explain Everything (£1.99, link) but, most annoyingly, I found it wasn’t able to record browser screens that contain HTML5. My planned walkthrough of Snap! on the iPad for the blog is still on the to-do list…
  • …Synchronised to-do list app Remember the Milk (free, link) to be exact. I use it as I’m still not 100% happy with my Evernote workflow (especially using the web version we access at work) as the searches suggested by The Secret Weapon do not always work. Remember the Milk is on my Android phone, in the Chrome browser on my laptop and I’ve made good use of it on the iPad too.
  • That said, Evernote (free, link) has been fantastic for helping me carry less paper around. Using the iPad to quickly scan documents (from my notebook) into an Evernote note has been a real eye-opener. At the moment I don’t have a notebook at all, but I feel I still need a small amount of paper to jot ideas down quickly.
  • Being able to create Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents is still necessary and given that it’s a three week trial I’m not going to throw away years of knowledge in an attempt to break away from Microsoft Office. I’ve used CloudOn (free, link) quite a bit although you have to be online to use it so I’ve made best use from home. It is fairly fast, allows quick sharing of files (great for discussing prelim marks over the weekend with your boss! Sorry…) and keeps documents compatible with the desktop at work.
  • Marking music has been essential and I’ve enjoyed the Podcasts (free, link) app. However apart from that I didn’t use it nearly as much as I had envisaged. I realised that I listen to most of my podcasts on the train or walk home and the form factor of the iPad doesn’t suit. Time to transfer what I’ve downloaded onto the Samsung Galaxy Y…
  • I never thought I would type this but my other half has made good use of the Kindle (free, link) app. Strongly against eReaders in the past, she was convinced to try reading on the iPad as her book group choice was 20p on Amazon and out of stock in the local libraries. Her feedback was that the iPad felt cold and it was a bit tricky to hold while in bed, so she would choose to have a suitable case to protect it if dropped and to make it more enjoyable for the reader to hold.
  • For image editing, Aviary (free, link), Luminance (free at the moment, link) and Snapseed (free, link) have been great. I hated the Photoshop app – everything seemed to require an in-app purchase – and it was quickly deleted.
  • iDownloads+ (free, link) allows iPad users to manage downloads and extract compressed files. I found this especially useful when looking at the Computing At School site, with email and also to access my zip files on Dropbox (free, link) which has always been a favourite app of mine since the days of the iPod Touch 2G!
  • Programming on the iPad was covered in an earlier blog post, but I still want to recommend Pythonista (£2.99, link), A.L.E.X (first 25 levels free, link), TouchDevelop (web link) and Snap! (web link). Textastic (£5.99, link) looks great for creating code but I haven’t yet had time to use it fully. Something else for the to-do list!
  • GoSkyWatch Planetarium for iPad (free, link) is such an amazing app to use. I downloaded this for my three year old son and he found it really easy to use. I don’t think I could use it to enhance my teaching, but it definitely enhanced our learning!
  • Flipboard (free, link) is such a beautiful app, full of interesting stories to inspire and inform your lessons, that I’ve just spent ten minutes reading it instead of finishing this blog post! Oops…

Using an iPad and Pages app to improve student attainment #RGCdevicetrial

Recently my Higher pupils sat their Computing prelim. In previous years I have gone through the marking scheme question by question, describing the ‘best answer’ where possible and highlighting which my students answered a particular question well. Unfortunately their peers rarely see these answers, so have to rely on what I say or put on the board.

This year as I marked the prelim I created a spreadsheet showing how many marks each candidate gained for each question (using the CloudOn service for iPad). I do this to help me highlight areas of development when discussing prelim performance with individual students, but this year used it to help create a document the whole class could use:

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Part of the document, shared with students via our Edmodo group

The document replaced the marking scheme and allowed them to see the ‘best answer’ as written by their peers. There was one occasion where no student managed to achieve full marks for a particular question so I selected the best answer from the class and added some suggestions for improvement.

It was very easy to create using the Pages app for iPad and, although a little time-consuming on my part, took as long as going through that section of the prelim with the class. The advantage here is that I know all pupils have a permanent and consistent revision aid and I can use it when working with individual pupils on their areas of development. I also hope to use it next year to prepare students for their prelims by getting them to assess other student answers.

I entered the questions into the Pages app first, then used my spreadsheet to identify which student answer to add into the document. Taking photographs of their written answer using the iPad rear camera was so simple thanks to the ‘tap to focus’ feature and I was then able to crop the image quickly in Pages. The document auto-saves, which was very useful later in the process as the iPad ran out of memory a few times and crashed the Pages app. It caused a nervous moment the first time it happened but, once I was confident no information had been lost from my document, I put up with the inconvenience until all questions were associated with an image of a pupil answer.

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Exporting the document from Pages as a PDF file was a straight-forward process, however the file size was a whopping 40MB! The file can be sent to a variety of apps as a Pages file, PDF or Word document. Uploading that size of document from a home Internet connection takes a long time, especially galling when I compressed the file on a desktop PC to 1.4MB using Adobe Acrobat. If anyone has worked out how to compress PDF files on the iPad I’d love to hear from you.

Once complete I shared the document with the class via Edmodo. I immediately made use of it by setting homework with similar questions. The average score in that homework was over 30% higher than their prelim score. In a few cases it was over 50% up! Obviously you have to take into account the fact they had access to their textbooks and the Internet while completing the homework task, but I feel that this type of document has definite value in improving student attainment.

Programming on an iPad #compSci #RGCdevicetrial

At the start of the #RGCdevicetrial I was very cynical about the effectiveness of iPads in education. I did not think they were suitable for use in secondary school classrooms. I saw them as content consumption devices, tailored for personal use only, and an expensive gimmick destined to gather dust in a department store cupboard (much like the iPod touch devices bought en-masse a few years ago).

I’m happy to state that I was wrong. For me, the iPad is a very strong contender for not only becoming the device of choice at our school but for eventually replacing desktop PCs in the Computing classroom too.

Like many others I thought it wasn’t possible to program on the iPad. I’d heard about Scratch being removed from the App Store and, whilst working on a successful Internet Safety project at Inverurie Academy in 2011, had fought a battle of wits with XCode to create and install a series of simple apps on the aforementioned iPod touch devices. I didn’t want to rely on having a spare Macbook sitting around for pupils to code on, in a language that was fairly impenetrable, just to be able to use the iPad in a Computing Science classroom.

However, after speaking to Fraser Speirs at a SCIS event in Edinburgh a few weeks ago, I realised that it was possible. He told me about Pythonista, which allows you to create command-line or graphical programs straight on the iPad. Fraser also told me that he pays for processing time on Amazon servers and gets students to upload code from their iPads and execute it remotely. The extra benefit of this, he says, is that his pupils have access to the same programming environment regardless of their location. It allows them to continue coding at home on a task they may have started in school.

For early stage programmers one app that helps build coding foundations through sequential instructions is A.L.E.X. I downloaded it whilst setting up the iPad for the #RGCdevicetrial and accidentally syncronised it with the iPad Mini which was being used by the ICT specialist in our primary school. She loved the app so I gave it a go last week while learning more about how an iPad mirrors to a data projector using Apple TV. There were young pupils in the playground outside with their noses against the window as they watched the robot move through the levels.

This morning I spotted a retweet by Dawn Halybone and had to investigate further:

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Snap! is a web-based drag and drop programming language developed at Berkeley. Very similar to Scratch, you create programs by associating scripts with sprites on a stage. It runs through a browser so you have to be online to use it however it looks very stable on the iPad. Even though the most recent Scratch beta is also web-based, it does not work with the iPad due to the fact it needs Adobe Flash to play content. I wasn’t even able to access the code screen on the site so, for the moment anyway, Snap seems to be the only option.

Do you know of any other apps or websites that allow programming on the iPad? Please share!

A return to blogging – iPad & WordPress app #RGCdevicetrial

The blog has been a bit sparse this year, something I desperately want to rectify.

Time has been an issue due to work and personal commitments but, really, what’s new with that? I have a lot (an awful lot!) that has gone un-blogged in the past two months.

Two weeks ago Robert Gordon’s College began a fairly comprehensive mobile device trial, something I was (and remain) heavily involved in setting up. More on that in future posts but an outcome was that, for a few weeks, I have an iPad and a clear focus – to see if it improves my learning and teaching methods and productivity.

I aim to post four blog entries this week, inspired not only by Dr Doug Belshaw’s frenetic activity, but also his brevity. Less is indeed more.

Are we insulating our 21C learners from critical thinking?

Today is the 30th anniversary of the ZX Spectrum. This little box of wires, alongside some forward-thinking parents who patiently saved up to buy one for the family, crafted my career plans and interests from a very early age. Five to be precise. I know I am not alone in being introduced to computers at this early an age, especially in the 1980s, but to me there is a clear difference between the children using iPads and those who used ZX Spectrums (or their contemporaries): real critical thinking.

Today’s computers provide so much functionality and are so integral to the day-to-day life of the family there is much less time dedicated to tinkering. Even when your child gets a chance to experiment they are insulated from the core functions of the computer by helpful graphical user interfaces, voice recognition, touch screens and thousands of pre-written apps. So your toddler can swipe and pinch an iPad screen? Fantastic, but in ten years time how much further will they have progressed? Computer experience akin to bubble wrapping the user is rarely going to inspire, but what about if they could move on to change the way the iPad functioned without the need for expensive developer licences or extra hardware? What if they could tinker, knowing that if the worst happened they could reboot to a stable state and start again?

You thought this was another plug for the Raspberry Pi didn’t you? Not this time. To my dismay, the same insulation is happening in the classroom. As teachers we strive to make learning accessible to all, so we create many ways to access the same information: text, presentations, podcasts, video lessons, wikis, blogs. And we keep doing it, adding an extra layer to the fact bubble surrounding our learners. We explain, they absorb and we watch for signs that they aren’t understanding it before adding another layer and starting again. I’ve experienced this more and more in the last seven years of teaching and think the solution is as simple as the ZX Spectrum itself. Users who tinkered with the computer engaged more deeply than those who simply tried to load a tape: learners who tinker with the resources should more fully grasp the concepts contained within them. As teachers we should stop removing the possibility for divergent thinking from our learners by overloading them with all the solutions in all 52 flavours.

Today, in not so many words, I was asked to provide transcripts for videos which I had selected and included in a set of theory notes. Admittedly this was the first time I had heard this kind of request but then again two years ago I wasn’t recording video summaries. Or dividing up my non-contact time into podcast friendly chunks. It made me stop and think – is this approach actually helping or hindering my pupils? Is our eagerness to engage removing the challenge and spark or interpreting knowledge in a unique way?

TeachMeet Aberdeen October 2011

On Wednesday evening I once again found myself at MacRobert Building, University of Aberdeen six months on from the last one organised primarily by Stuart Brown. The wikispace advertising the TeachMeet can be found here and, in addition to this, Stuart made use of social media to extend the reach of the promotional material. This approach, along with the assistance of Jim and Linda at the University in selecting the optimum date for engaging PGDE and BEd students, resulted in over 60 attending the evening. At times the online stream had viewers into double figures but we were beset with technical issues, most disruptive was the lack of constant wifi and this seriously hampered our online impact as well as preventing the planned link up with TeachMeet Strathclyde. However the evening could be considered a success and as we were able to record most of the presentations on the laptop I hope we can – in time – share the talks with a wider audience.

To whet your appetite, here is a YouTube playlist of the May 2011 TeachMeet Aberdeen presentations.

When I find the time to edit and upload the individual presentations to YouTube I’ll update this post but I’ve included my notes on each presentation and relevant links to the web sites mentioned.

Stuart Brown – “Why de ye bother with aww that?’ – Justifying the use of ICT in the classroom

Stuart Brown: "the way we communicate is changing"

I felt this was an excellent start to the night. Stuart highlighted the fact that 19C teaching methods and environments are not suited to 21C learning. That most pupils have access to instantaneous information using devices which are often more technologically advanced than the computers and resources available in school puts today’s teachers at a disadvantage. I agreed (through gritted teeth as I recognised the phrase “don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater” from many unfocussed, confused presentations on implementation of Curriculum for Excellence) with Stuart on the need for all teachers to adapt, not rebuild to ensure that we are serving our learners sufficiently. I recommend you watch Stuart’s last TeachMeet talk (May 2011) which is a stepping stone to this presentation.

I loved the phrase Stuart used in the presentation “to stratify education” – but felt it needed explanation. Internet searches show this to be standarisation of education or use of standard tests and tracking methods.

Ian Simpson – “Becoming Orson: Podcasting the War of The Worlds”

I did this so I won’t comment for long on the actual presentation. On reflection this talk was a little early, my lunchtime podcasting group had only been working on this for about 5 weeks (30-40mins per week) and despite their excellent progress there was little evidence to share with the teachers present. However it was a good starting point for a future presentation (maybe TeachMeet Aberdeen October 2012?) on how these learners have self-organised themselves into an amateur radio drama production group. After working with them the day after the presentation and seeing how they continued to innovate and collaborate with the newly-arrived high quality microphones I have high hopes of achieving our ambitious target to have recorded and shared the full radio play by next October. Follow the progress via this blog or my twitter stream @familysimpson.

In addition Dave Adams, DO Curriculum and Quality Improvement Service for South Lanarkshire, got in touch in September and kindly sent his ideas based around the 1938 Orson Welles War of The Worlds radio play for CBS. I’ve emailed Dave to see if these lesson ideas are publicly available and will update the links section if this is the case.

Nikki Stobbie – Random Name Generator

Nikki Stobbie describes how she uses classtools.net with her classes

A presentation from a press-ganged student! Nikki showed us http://www.classtools.net and, in particular, the random name generator. Great resource to use in class and a great 2 minute presentation!

Mark Hay – ‎”Look what I did…” E-Portfolio’s using glow wiki

I didn’t see this presentation as I had to run to the shop for supplies but will update once I’ve extracted the presentation from the video clips currently sitting on my laptop.

Martin Coutts – “Maths is just a game”  – Using GBL to raise attainment

Martin showed how he used Mangahigh with an Access 3 / Foundation class to improve their motivation and attainment. Pupils were taught maths through combination of games and Prodigi technique. Competitive aspect through bronze, silver and gold and school leaderboard. Martin especially recommends sigma prime.

Kathryn Roper – “GeoBus – A mobile Earth Science Resource”

GeoBus: based at St Andrews University but a national funded resource for secondary schools (or P7 at a push). Kathryn seems very passionate about Earth Science and claims to be able to develop activities to suit your curricular area.

GeoBus launches January 2012 but those interested can get in touch with Kathryn now via kathryn.roper@mac.com

Gretchen Perk exemplified how she uses the Frayer model to enhance literacy

Gretchen Perk – “Frayer Model in Literacy”

Meldrum Academy English teacher Gretchen spoke about the Frayer Model which is a “vocab aquisition graphic builder”. She found it great for more effective learning of keywords through use of higher order skills such as analysis and synthesis. I personally found the use of non-examples especially useful. Gretchen highlighted the fact that it is a good teaching strategy for all subjects I’m already thinking about how to use this with Computing classes.

Charlie Barrow – An outward facing classroom using Augmented Reality – Junaio

Charlie repeated his May 11 talk on using augmented reality in the classroom but wanted to inspire teachers to build an Aberdeenshire channel for augmented reality. I’ve included the video of his presentation from May and hope to be working with him in the future on his vision for an Aberdeenshire channel.

More information on his own use of augmented reality in the classroom can be found at http://www.charlesbarrow.com

Stephanie Orr – Medieval Law and Order

Stephanie gave a quick 2-min presentation on using games in class to motivate and educate by stealth. http://www.tudorbritain.org/joust

Ed Walton – Fusion, Meta-cognition and The Learning Story

Presentation written during teachmeet! Ed shared how Fraserburgh Academy used Glow effectively to dissemenate work to pupils unable to attend school during snowdays. Three themes; fusion, meta-cognition And the learning story. Ed showed snow work posted for AH on glow featuring embedded prezis for self-directed learning, stagework.org which allows users to be the director for a scene from His Dark Materials. It looked fantastic! Ed showed Comic Life which he has used with classes and whole-school assemblies to explain meta-cognition. Finally Ed explained how Fraserburgh Academy has been using Honeycomb / I Can as a trial school to build an ePortfolio which remains with the child as they progress from primary through secondary. I was interested to note that because data is stored on a separate server from Glow there is no upload limit so videos and large image files can be posted. To be honest the presentation was actually 3 or 4 but there was lots of useful information.

Darren Gibb describes how he uses a variety of ICT tools to enhance learning and teaching in the English classroom

Darren Gibb – ICT teaching and learning tools

The last talk of the night was delivered by Darren Gibb, teacher of English at Banchory Academy. He exemplified many ICT tools that has augmented his learning and teaching. Again the audience was treated to a suite of presentations on different services from Todaysmeet to Evernote, Wikispaces to Glow.

The coffee shop as a classroom: mobile learning environments

Image shared under Creative Commons licence - Kate Williams

I like coffee. No – let me rephrase that – I LOVE coffee. It plays a big part in my teaching – at times providing a versatile prop for explaining the difference between an object and operation, at others simply providing the nervous energy to keep the learners learning. (I’ve been re-reading #MoveMeOn, curated by Doug Belshaw @dajbelshaw. thanks to @frankcrawford for that particular gem!)

I managed to clear my desk on Thursday earlier than planned so took the opportunity to walk around the three shopping malls near my new workplace. Not just to kill time (heaven forbid Mr McCormac!), I wanted to expand an ongoing series of lessons on data protection and loyalty schemes I had delivered to my S4 ICT class earlier in the term and me having an up-to-date knowledge of the businesses in the local area was a pre-requisite. It didn’t take long to complete what I needed to do (UK shopping malls or shopping centres are much smaller than in the US with perhaps 20-40 stores, some smaller) so I had a quick stop at the Apple store in Aberdeen to eavesdrop of a group of six pensioners who were being shown how to use their brand new iPads then started my lunch break at the nearby Starbucks with a crème brulee macchiatto and a quick refresh of my social media sites on their free wi-fi.

It was a lot busier than usual – I had, in the past, only used this particular Starbucks as a go-to when late afternoon trains were cancelled and I had an hour or so to kill before the next one – but I found a small table with plenty of scope for people-watching. The coffee-house furniture is a mixture of hard back chairs and small “regular” tables, sofa chairs and low tables, benches and long tables, stools and narrow bars. Students, parents, office workers and transients like myself sat and chatted, read quietly, enjoyed their purchases and from time-to-time accessed their devices if they had them and if they needed to. A few of my Advanced Higher Computing students had had a similar idea to my own, joined me at my table (they asked first!) and then… we had a fantastic unplanned seminar on what had been taught over the past few weeks, about mobile apps, about Steve Jobs, about programming, about social media,  and then finally about learning spaces! During this enthralling conversation (I think we all learned a lot in this half-hour) one asked why schools didn’t create spaces like this and I saw immediately what he meant because it had been percolating in my head at that moment too. Why can’t we all have learning rooms where the furniture offers visitors choice of working areas, where the wireless Internet access is a background consideration that “just works with a quick log-in”, where there isn’t a designated space for the teacher to lecture from, where learning becomes personalised? All three of us had mobile devices on the table between the cups and plates and augmented our conversation with these when we needed to: I showed them Twitter for example and explained why it was such a great resource for me to make contact with others who share similar interests. I posted this tweet:

Coffee chains have undoubtedly studied the effect of their environment on their customers from a financial point of view and have generally come to the conclusion that a varied, customisable, slightly eclectic environment is the worm that keeps us on the hook. So who is doing this for education? There are educators in each authority, in roles from classroom to management, who are striving to find the best furniture or layout for existing classrooms. Most of us tend to tinker with our rooms if we can. But if you’ll indulge the point of view of a Computing teacher for a moment (well you’ve got this far!) this may be the problem – moving the furniture in any space which has been built to deliver the Victorian model of education has inherent restrictions but when you also have electrical equipment, cables and power sockets to worry about you really can’t change very much without the firm belief and financial support of your school management team. And then you move on and the next teacher has a different idea… it’s really not that feasible an option for any subject with fixed resources.

But why do they have to be fixed? Hasn’t the last decade of technical innovation shown that mobile devices are here to stay? That an increasing number of learners arrive in classrooms with devices that can easily be personalised to suit their learning, rather than forcing the learner to make use of a machine set up to a generic specification? Are educators really, as a group, nervous about losing control?

And who is studying the effect of the coffee shop environment on learners? Well, a few have come to my attention. I stumbled on a paper whilst writing this blog post called “The Classroom Coffeehouse” which focusses on reworking the layout of an English classroom to promote sharing of written work between New Jersey 8th graders – well worth a read! Also highly recommended is the well-considered post “The Coffee Shop: A Classroom for Creativity, Reflections from a Coffee Shop in Harbin, China“. The Edinburgh Coffee Morning model is something which I envied a few years ago while at Inverurie and provides a nice text break below!

Edinburgh Coffee Morn Stop Frame from brandfeed on Vimeo.

Edinburgh Coffee Morning: from Mike Coulter, DigitalAgency.com on Vimeo.

Last night I read Angela Maiers’ post “What If You Knew You Mattered?” where she describes an increasingly common experience of customer non-service where recognition of failure and empathy with the customer would do much more than a discount voucher. It’s at the core of GIRFEC policy for teachers to make their learners feel included and respected while at the same time encouraging their development as respectful and inclusive citizens. The two words “you matter” apply to each young person who steps into your classroom, but if you are delivering your education as if you were working a conveyor belt at a factory when do you have the time to make sure your well planned generic summaries (and even the differentiated materials) are actually arriving at their destination? Through spending some time listening to the learners and learning something new yourself. Where better than the relaxed environment of a coffee shop?

I’m not advocating that we all abandon our classrooms for the nearest coffee chain but that school leaders and decision makers take a look around the wider world and really see what engages people. I highly recommend you view the articles, blog posts and videos I’ve linked to if you are in any way interested in developing mobile learning, and please suggest more using the comments option below! I am already planning to make this chance meeting a more formal part of my teaching at upper secondary level in the next term and although, yes, it will be more work initially filling in risk assessments and carefully planning my mobile lessons and – depending on the numbers – speaking nicely to the manager of the coffee shop! Escaping the classroom might be just what our learners need, and all it took was a coffee.