The Wireless Decade

car wash

I’m sitting in line at the car wash adding a blog post after reading some detailed articles regarding our wireless learners. Not so long ago I would have sat with a newspaper instead. I would have been limited to the content provided by the editors and authors of the day. Still an enriching experience but now I can direct my attention on the subjects I’m most interested in. They are at my fingertips. I’ve become the curator of my own learning.

At home one of the kids is using YouTube to develop a skill set in movie making. He’s spent a couple hours every night learning the tool and checking other artists creations to compare his own skills. He’s 13. He epitomizes today’s learner.

As we gear up for the movement towards BYOD devices in the classroom as a strategic plan instead of by accident, there’s a number of concerns bubbling to the murky surface that is the understanding of the learning community. Questions are focused on responsibility for the most part. It’s about damage and security and ownership. I have to admit that those concerns strike me as odd. I suppose it’s the teacher in me, but I would hope their first concerns would have been about improving learning.

The number of resources busting loose on the web related to the benefit of personal devices as a part of student learning are beginning to pile up. The articles generally expand on the notion of gamification of learning, the benefit of personalized devices and student organization and ubiquitous access.

As I work to engage parents, I’ll be adding links and refer to the research in future posts. In the interim here’s an article posted by John Steele from Dell Computing regarding gamification of learning.

Wireless devices have proliferated the space we’re immersed in. My phone just pushed a notification that my garage door opened and then closed. I know the boys are off to school and that they remembered to close the door behind them. The WeMo motion sensors and the lights connected to them will automatically shut down shortly and the FitBit on my arm is tracking my efforts towards maintaining my goal of remaining under 40…

It is a wireless decade. The curiosity belongs intertwined with what this means to the average learner. A constant set of analytical data is available and the impact of that work can be seen everywhere.

Join the idea of wearable technology with data analytics and there’s a great chance we will be seeing adaptable learning that happens in real time as feedback from student owned devices lets both the teacher and the learner know if they are in the flow.

This decade is accelerating the use of all things wireless – as educators we need to seek the opportunities that will allow us to leverage these tools to help all kids learn.

Mr. Hay

I’m at ATLE and David Hay is presenting the gamification of learning from his perspective. He always does an amazing job and I enjoy what he has to say. He lists a large number of resources and provided explanations for each.

His resources are listed at


On Living Connected

I have an amazing family that includes 5 siblings. We come from parents who missed the opportunity to complete high school and in spite of that, or maybe because of that, we’ve done all right. Things were different in my parents’ day. My father is an entrepreneur – he’s made his way by being a life-long learner and as a result has changed careers a few times – welder, construction manager and consultant. Now he’s enjoying retirement and exploring the globe. And my Mom… she’s a woman sought world-wide for her knowledge in the area of genealogy and is part of the reason the two of them wander the planet. As they trek along you may find them searching libraries for records, or in a technology store taking yet another course. Each of us is successful in our own right and each of us has our own story. We are the way we are partly because of our parents, partly because of how we supported each other growing up as a family and partly because of our teachers. We have all chosen different career paths, – Engineers, Managers, Financial Advisement and me, Director of Learning Technologies.

One of the things we share is a common love of technology and to a degree, it is because it keeps us connected. What I find compelling is that it keeps us learning.

I have some very strong beliefs about how technology has played a role in our successes. I also know that balance is a part of that choice. In Foothills classrooms students access interactive whiteboards, tablets, and smart phones daily. As students embrace wearable connected technology like the new Samsung, Pebble, and Apple Watches there’s concern about distraction and damage (the top two topics in casual conversations with Foothills students) AND there’s a million ways kids see these devices supporting their learning.

Learning in today’s world has changed dramatically. The emphasis is not on facts that are easily garnered from a phone in a back pocket. The emphasis is on critical thinking and shifting the balance between consumption and creation of knowledge. We’re beginning to move into the realm of disposable tech – how many of you have iPods that are sitting unused in your house? And the next best thing is coming out at Christmas… will it be a part of improving your child’s learning?

There’s some crazy innovations being created. Some of the craziness is being embedded into clothing – how about an outfit that updates your Facebook status for you? Or a contact lens that provides instant feedback to your smart phone regarding your blood sugar levels? And then there’s the Melon… it’s a Kickstarter project that provides ongoing feedback regarding focus. As it is worn it reinforces behaviours that help you stay focused.

To support students learning digitally, Foothills School Division has gone Google. Students have an unpublished domain controlled user account in Google (controlled, monitored and managed by our IT staff). We’ve also ensured our Wifi connectivity is robust and falls well within safety guidelines developed by Health Canada. Additionally, we’ve partnered with Shaw GoWifi to offer additional services to our Foothills Family. Our students are using iPads, Chromebooks, iPhones, and Android devices in support of their learning. Our teachers are embracing the technology so that your children can leverage them for learning. Students are collaborating, co-creating and communicating their critical thinking through the use of personal technologies. While they learn, students are taking pictures and video, creating group review notes, peer-commenting on their writing and sharing their work with parents and other family members. We’ve seen students extending their learning to school busses and their homes. The Google Edu platform allows a secure reliable means for students to access their work anywhere, anytime, and anyplace there’s Internet connectivity.
I’m proud to be a part of the Foothills Family – we have high hopes and expectations for our learners and we’ve been admired as one of the top performing school divisions in Alberta. We are like family – supporting each other so that we can Explore, Develop and Celebrate the unique gifts of our students. We’re working with teachers to help students understand their digital footprint and manage concerns around citizenship, distraction and caring for devices.

At the heart of our work of Improving Learning for All Students is Ensuring Intellectual Engagement and Developing Healthy Relationships. Communication is a big part of our vision and our ability to achieve those goals. As our students grow through our system and head out in pursuit of their own careers, the daily use of technology will shape them. Being connected as a part of the Foothills Family gives them an advantage.

Dick Tracey Revisited

I’m sitting at a coffee shop in Sidney. The ocean air is sweeping up off the water and it’s easy to see why so many have stopped to relax in the sun. The story of the Malaysian passenger flight being shot down sits on the sidelines of my thoughts and I’m reflecting upon how quickly the technology has allowed the stream of fragmented pieces to string together a story of the atrocity it represents.  We live in a world where the plight of its peoples is at our finger tips and I wonder how, in this day and age, we just can’t figure out how to get along.  The laid back calmness that surrounds me is a sharp contrast to the hornet’s nest that has been stirred up near the Ukraine.

I stopped in to visit my sister on my way here. She’s the kind of person that everyone likes to be around. She exudes positivism and her energy is a wave that lifts spirits. She was wearing a device on her wrist that connects to her phone via blue tooth – Dick Tracy’s sister. Her calendar, email, text messages and phone calls all attached. This may seem trivial but my sister suffers from a disease that sometimes limits her physical abilities. She’s fallen a few times and been hurt bad enough that those who love her are concerned when she’s alone. Now, that goes away as she’s got the connections she needs always within reach.  And that’s pretty cool.

What happens to our classrooms as BYOD comes into play and every kid has the world’s news on their wrist and every text message and tweet is a blinking light beside it. Kids are telling us in BYOD pilots that damage and distraction are the two greatest concerns. What happens when the news of the Malaysian airline crash blinks on and that child’s grandparents are in Amsterdam flying to other parts of Europe? What does that do for teachable moments and classroom control.

In our classrooms there’s work to do to prepare for the inevitability of wearable technology. BYOD will be a buzz word of the past as it will just be the way things are – personal tech embedded in clothing and jewelry and eye glasses.

The best tool for success is engagement and as educators our investment into learning is best placed in that realm.

(recently updated to repair errors from blogging on a phone…)

Successful BYOD Implementations – A Technical View

Image from Air Watch
Recently Foothills School Division hosted a BYOD strategy meeting in the Town of High River. We’re still recovering from the craziness of the flooding that took place just over a year ago. Despite the efforts still taking place to get everything running optimally, life goes on… and so our School Division is developing a strategic implementation plan to employ personal devices in the classrooms of our students. Others in Alberta are ahead of us as we were delayed by the flooding.
As a part of the planning we sought out advice from other Alberta School Divisions, the hardware communities and experts from software companies. (Kudos to Allan Manzano from Shaw Go Wifi and Greg Milligan from Microsoft for their keynotes.)  We were provided with some great insights. Following the keynotes, a panel discussion ensued providing insight related to reviewing the research. A special thanks to Daryl Hoey for his notes during the event.
Guests on the panel included:
  • Todd Kennedy – Director of Technology, Golden Hills School Division
  • Lyle Roberts – Director of Technology, Prairie Rose Regional Division
  • Kevin Wttewaall – Director of Technology for Learning, Rockyview School Division
  • John Schutte – Senior Manager, Infrastructure and Operations at Calgary Catholic School Division
Here’s what we learned. There’s 7 Focus areas.
  1. Engage Community
  2. Distribute Leadership
  3. Build Infrastructure
  4. Create Cloud Based Access to Resources
  5. Create a Portal to make Access to Resources Simple
  6. Provide a means to Build Digital Citizenship
  7. Focus on supporting Curriculum.

The dialog between the participants elicited a number of salient points. I’ll list these in point form and expand on them later.

Engage Community

  • Teachers must be engaged and prepared in order for any technology initiative to be successful
  • It’s important to get the story out (around how the technology improves learning) by getting the story out – possibly from pilots
  • Including adults as participants in the digital citizenship process is a great way of moving the initiative forward
  • Drive the initiative by learner needs
  • The real work begins once the early adopters embrace the initiative. 
  • Expect push back once things move past pilots and to the second level.
  • Mentor teachers to mitigate the risk of failure.

Distribute Leadership

  • Students become leaders within schools helping with support and talking to teachers about technology issues.
  • Students that volunteer love it.
  • Districts that push the leadership to engage in BYOD processes moved further faster – this included board members.
  • Developing strategies that include the learning commons is also important.

Build Infrastructure

  • It’s important to ensure the installation of access points is verified onsite. It’s far to difficult to determine placement using theory.
  • Some sites have chosen to eliminate access to network drives and printing in order to reduce traffic.
  • Savings from device purchasing was redistributed toward bandwidth and access.
  • Device management can improve tech support but has an impact on bandwidth
  • Some divisions have already put a plan in place to increase access – 10 Gb at the head end, 1 Gb at each site.
  • There are metrics being used to ensure great connectivity
  • Tools like Aruba Analytics, Cybera Analytics, Cacti and Exinda are supporting the measurements

Cloud Access

  • Google Apps for Education (GAFE) is a common tool in Alberta
  • Microsoft 365 gaining some popularity
  • Many divisions moving to or considering leveraging cloud solutions and eliminating local data centres
  • Alberta Core program provides an online delivery of learning objects that is collaboratively built between partner divisions.
  • SharePoint is becoming less important in divisions that already utilize this software


  • Students and staff need a “one stop shop” to get to their cloud based services.
  • Edmonton Public School Division and Red Deer Public both have icon based access to their cloud services. (Great examples).
  • Others have gone away from the use of the word portal since it’s left a bad taste in the past. Digital Learning Commons is one example of an alternative.

Responsible Use and Digital Citizenship

  • Policy and Administrative Procedures should be revisited.
  • Consider Search and Seizure due to the use of cell phones and text messaging – there’s legal implications
  • All schools that are going to BYOD must have a embedded digital citizenship plan.
  • Provision must be made in all classes to work with the students for life in the cloud.
  • Filtering practise is stopping only the darkest places.
  • Try to help students around resiliency at the classroom level

Curriculum Design

  • Consider understanding by design UDL and assistive technology to create a process for working with curriculum division wide
  • Shift from grading to competency outcomes.
  • Work on assessment with parents
(note: all divisions that participated in the conversation are working on curriculum redesign, inclusive education, and the changes aligned with Inspiring Education)


On Being Famous

On Being Famous (well, not really…)

There’s something about the Internet that makes you consider personal presence. I have been  mentioned by @VanessaSCassie on Twitter and her Blog. I don’t really blog a lot nor do I Tweet (@kjamesa) as much as some of my cohort but what I’ve found is it’s really important to be relative to your intended audience.

Vanessa writes a description that leaves me appreciative of her compliments and sets me up as a possible source for innovation. I’m somewhat humbled by her perception of me and want to let you know that you would be fortunate to be in her circle of influence. She’s a rock star.
In the moment she tweets , there are currently 2520 of her followers and who knows how many lurkers of her Blog that suddenly have an insight into who I am.  People I know nothing of may go in search of some of the personal wisdom that Vanessa eludes to that remains unpublished and still floating in the intercises of my experiences.  Her post has caused me to think at length about my own Tweets and Blog(s) and rekindled my thinking about posting more regularly.
I’m glad I wasn’t alone! The four others mentioned have made the time to regularly add to their own online presence. I would invite you to read their posts – they’ve done some great work.
In the interim I’m cleaning out my digital garage and sorting out the 3 or 4 sites where I have bits and pieces of my writing. I’ll put them in one spot so that if you do come looking… there will be something worthwhile to read.
My thought for today – if you haven’t looked into WordPress as a tool for creating a Website or Blog, you should. From a PC using Microsoft Word you can publish directly to your Blog (I haven’t tested the Mac side yet..) Images and formatting are not lost in translation on the way from creation to publishing and I highly recommend its use.  When you do get started, consider using the latest version as there were a few security leaks that have been fixed. Many hosts including locations like allow for one step installs of WordPress to their servers. WordPress itself offers free hosting.  A great place to start.
I’m using for this Blog, and I’ve tried a great number including built in blogging in iWeb for Mac as well as WordPress on a local server.  They all have their parts that shine.
Consider what you are doing when you get started posting… you never know who will show up on your door step and whether or not you’ll become famous…