School 2.0

The internet looks nothing like it did when it started, but schools have taken a slower approach to change!

No one involved in the early construction of a network of networks saw what we have now coming. Therefore how can we know what comes next, but indulge me in an attempt at envisaging the potential impact of modern internet capabilities on the institutions of learning? Might the ever evolving internet have the potential to finally nudge education to innovate and evolve?

“From the moment you wake up, the web is trying to anticipate your intentions. Since your routines are noted, the web is attempting to get ahead of your actions, to deliver an answer almost before you ask a question.”

Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future by Kevin Kelly

The extract from my most recent Kindle acquisition prompted me to apply this idea to my passion, education. Machine learning uses data to predict what you will want to eat, consume, purchase and more. So what will this look like for learning? Google Drive already makes a stab at which documents you want to access when you open it. Google Sheets are starting to predict the formula you want to use, and it will only get better at it. Get your hands on the new Jamboard app which turns your sketch of common items into a neat icon. How? Using all the drawings people have added to quickdraw. If the data is there, a machine can learn from it. Learning is a very complex system but our use of data to measure learning is extremely simplistic.

Learning machines

If you live in Scotland as a 14 year old, this information alone gives a reasonable indication of what you are studying. Furthermore, your documents and data will too. Is it not inevitable that you will receive study materials, curriculum updates, pop quizzes and feedback based on this basic information? Having studied Pythagoras three weeks previous you can be provided with review materials, your notes and suitable problems to solve at the optimal time to review it and ensure it begins to embed in your long-term memory. This is available information ‘the internet’ can use to support your studies with timely content. This is not Sci-Fi, this is functionality many of us experience through our devices because we have traded access to our data for the tools to make our lives a bit easier or more productive. If this kind of automation and feedback were available to students, the kind of efficiency I certainly didn’t achieve (ask my students!), why would they need their teachers? A question you only ask if you are not able to change your view of what a teacher is or could be.

News corporations could not envisage the internet delivering news because their schema did not allow it. They were not able to foresee or imagine all their passive readers and viewers becoming the creators of content, whether that be videos, blogs, social media posts or reviews on Amazon. They assumed the content on the internet would have to be created by them, but that would not be economically viable. Remember, we are abysmal at predicting the future, yet here I am trying!?

What is school?

If a student is receiving feedback on their work quickly and efficiently without having to enter school building then what is the school for? A social place to share your learning, remain mentally sound by providing interaction with other children and experts? Will your schedule be dynamic and each day adjust to your needs? Let’s not forget we like structure… Could a machine learn the structures we work best in?

As a teacher would I have your essay appear in the morning and a meeting scheduled for the afternoon. The marking of your essay against a rubric will already be done the moment you ‘submit’ and I see it too. The thousands of teacher marked essays and millions more marked by machines means the assessment is now better conducted by machine than by a human. Our scheduled meeting is to review and discuss the next steps. Other students may join our tutorial by video link, they are visiting an educational site elsewhere but would benefit from the tutorial so they are added to the meeting if convenient, another institution may have a more convenient essay review of course.

All the while their online professional portfolio is being created and made available to employers and recruiters who might benefit from their skills. Employer data on the attributes of their most productive teams use this to match a students potential profile. This is similar to current sporting recruitment where young athletes with a lung capacity above the mean average might be pushed towards rowing or cycling. As long as every student can participate and have their information accessible in this way social mobility can be accelerated as the screening of portfolios is automated, bypassing our bias for names and backgrounds that we know or are similar to our own.

Don’t be put off by student data being accessed. This can easily sit within data protection laws if the service we want is for students to get prompt and useful feedback, then the data processor is within their rights to use the data they need to provide the service. The data controller, would that be the institution… Or could it be the student’s family? Whether you have “Alexa”, “Siri”, “Cortana” or just “Hey Google..” ringing around your house, you will be familiar with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. My phone gives me driving times to different destinations on different days, based on my previous journeys. So let’s take this scenario to learning. Based on your habits and working patterns might we have these types of prompts from our devices?

“It looks like you are studying, how long would you like notifications turned off”

“This is usually your most productive study time, shall I open your current assignments?”

“Looks like you have finished your essay, would you like to get feedback on it now, if so a lecturer is available in two hours to review the feedback, shall I schedule a tutorial? 7 other students on your course will be present.”

“You are not studying effectively, take a break I will check if your friends are free”

“Ready for a pop quiz on the civil war?”

These interactions could be the way we manage our studies, automated and based on our data. Machines using our responses to improve predictions and support.

Learning Institutions

Where might learning happen and what of the experts, coaches or teachers supporting that process? It would appear unlikely we would do away with physical space dedicated to learning. Our access to online learning is now vast, with reputable institutions offering courses online. However, the completion rates are very poor and these Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) may not be the future of learning.

The screen in the Principal’s office provides an interactive infographic of feedback metrics on student participation and progress in courses, student ratings for tutorials and dynamic course numbers. Permanent staff include trained councillors, learning facilitators but the teaching staff are fluid depending on need from week to week. Through their profile, many join via video link to support a burst of course interest or required expertise. Others are longer term on site having had superb feedback and progress metrics. They have built strong relationships and reputations for your institution and also contribute content to the courses. Their involvement with other institutions benefits the cross-pollination of innovations in learning. Why not have Elon Musk as your visiting transportation lecturer?

What are your qualifications?

There are signals of the waning value of traditional academic achievements. Will the transition between learning and work blur? How restricted are we in our exam systems? I am going to go and read more on assessment, the skills needed in a changing world and train some teachers on using G Suite for learning.

Writing this post is foolish as I am planting an artefact online that will surely be embarrassingly inaccurate. However, I will continue to consider what learning may look like as the world changes. I am confident change will come, but in education, I cannot predict whether it will be a systematic evolution or a learner revolution.

Thanks for reading.


Going Google at my School: Part 7 – Student Portfolios

Like all good events, had I completed a self assessment survey before and after the Google Teacher Academy (GTAUK13) I attended in December 2013 I would have given myself a 8/10 on the way in and 3/10 on the way out such was the astonishing creative use of technology to enhance learning amongst my cohort.


Stephanie Ladbroke was a team leader at the GTAUK13 having been a Google Certified Teacher (GCT) for a few years. Stephanie lead a session where she shared the technology her class had used for projects. The particular project that has stuck with me is a rainforest project her primary class carried out. The project culminated with a local company changing the packaging they used. The technology used is a footnote as all it did was enable exceptional learning. This is what the role of technology in education should be.

I mention this because it is the moment I realised that at secondary school, we had to do more to make sure that if we inherit students from classes like Stephanie’s we built on the amazing work they have done in primary school. I am implementing e-portfolios for next year to try and make sure we do this.

What is an e-portfolio

An online electronic collection of evidence of achievement and learning

The portfolio of work for our students will be maintained via a Google Site owned by each student and viewable to teachers. I chose to use Google sites as it is within our suite of tools as part of our Google Apps for Education (GAfE) account. Work created in Google Drive can be easily inserted into a page, hence leading more teaching staff to choose for their students to utilise the Google tools available and enhance collaboration.

Learning portfolios are not a new concept, but with the availability of devices, internet access and the ease with which sites can be created and maintained by people with no coding ability, collecting evidence of learning electronically seems a sensible choice, could save a lot of paper too! For a state secondary school in the UK the portfolio is meant to be student-led and we want it to be something they are proud of that can be used throughout their time at secondary school and even beyond for employment.

For the students to be motivated I feel we need teaching staff to refer to it regularly and plan their curriculum and schemes of work with the portfolios in mind. To this end I was able to meet with the heads of faculty to discuss the portfolio and ask for them to feedback to me on what they wanted the students to use it for in their subject. With the vast array of pressures on middle leaders I was pleasantly surprised with the level of support and interest though I wish I could have started the conversation earlier to allow them more time to digest and think of how it could work for them. It will be important to open regular dialogue with staff as the first year of portfolios goes on.

The portfolios are being rolled out with our new students in year 7 (11-12 year olds) and each subject has been asked to allocate at least one project in the year which the students will be expected to add to their portfolio and hence the teaching staff will need to focus on the students using Google tools to complete the project.

Rather than have the students create a site from scratch the feedback from faculties allowed me to create a template on which the students can build.

Advice to schools beginning this process:

Engage with staff and students as early as possible and create a group who can ensure the portfolio is supported by the leadership of the school and that it has a clear purpose for your school that is relevant to learning and the vision of the school. Try to get a range of staff to support the initiative, ideally ones with skills sets different to your own.  

The Template

For every different context a different set up could work. As a secondary school the consensus was for the subjects along the top. Other options that were discussed were to have main headings that related to achievements, leadership and life/employability skills. Below is the final template layout. The wider skills that we as teachers aim to develop but don’t get measured on are in the centre.

The front page design is a Google Drawing with links from each part to pages on the site.
The front page design is a Google Drawing with links from each part to pages on the site.

In discussion with the faculties some requested that their pages be pre-populated with project information ready for the students. Others saw a opportunity to collect some useful information from the students, such as our Languages faculty who had a Google form in their page to find out the language skills of the students joining us in September. We were able to do this by introducing the students to their sites on induction day.

Advice to schools beginning this process:

I did all the editing myself, in hindsight I should have used our digital leaders and other staff by adding them as collaborators on the Google Site I used for the template. If you are able to get one member of staff from each faculty to edit their page of the learning portfolio or even one student per page that would save time and make it a more collaborative effort as possibly increase the buy in from a wider section of the school population.

Creating the sites

Once the template is complete, each student needs a copy to call their own. My initial plan was to get them to create a site from the template, which is not too complicated but would need some clear instructions in the session. Luckily I know Oli Trussel, a UK maths teacher who is great at using Google scripts. He created a couple of scripts for me that allowed me to create and share the sites with the students via a Google Sheets. This meant that the students had a site waiting for them. By using an add-on in the same Google sheet I was able to email the link to their site to each student allowing me to introduce them to their email as well as their site.

Once created the students could get to their site by going to Sites once logged in but I chose to use the add-on Yet Another Mail Merge which allows you to write a draft email in your Gmail referencing columns in a Google Sheet. This meant I could send an email to every student with their site address in. This was how they would get to their site, which introduced them to their email at the same time.

Advice to schools beginning this process:

Drop me a line if you would like a copy of the Google sheet Oli and I worked on to create the Google sites for the students. With more time I am sure something more elegant could be created but if you want to create a large number of sites in relatively little time this will do it.

Induction Day

In the UK it is traditional to have a day in the summer term towards the end of the academic year where the students joining the school in September attend for a day to meet their form class and get used to the school. In previous years we use the day for them to spend time with tutors and attend a few lessons in different subjects. I approached the assistant head who is responsibly for the transition of students from primary to secondary so we could introduce the students to their portfolios on induction day.

Induction day was yesterday! The students were issued with their logins and passwords on paper and were then scheduled for one hour in the computer room where they were lead through the process below:

  1. Login to network (we operate a Microsoft network at our school)
  2. Login to the learning portal (our name for their Google login page)
  3. Open an email (first school email for most of them, though a lot have a personal one…)
  4. Go to Site and complete MfL survey
  5. Add a page “My Primary Learning” and write about their best primary learning experiences
  6. Share the site with form tutors and heads of house

I have colour coded our progress from the day. I was generally pleased as almost all students logged in (apart from a couple who got in to our school on appeal and their names weren’t in my list when I created the sites) , must follow those up! I personally ran two sessions and colleagues ran the other six. Informal feedback is positive but at this early stage I can draw no conclusions on the impact.

Measuring the Impact

There are a variety of ways in which I would like to monitor the impact of the learning portfolios, but I need to stay focussed on the purpose

  • Gather information about our new students that can better inform our teaching and development of the students.
  • Portfolio is valued by staff and students as a learning tool
  • Increases the use of the Google Apps tools amongst staff and students

The last one seems a little cynical but I strongly believe the tools can enhance pedagogy and learning if used consistently well across out school so I do not mind using the portfolios as a vehicle to help staff engage with the Google Apps tools.

The range of measures will be

  • Usage statistics for Google Apps and particularly the learning portfolio sites
  • Feedback from teachers, students and parents across the next academic year
    • Staff will be asked about usage, barriers, training needs and to share best practice
    • Students will be asked about usage and whether they value it via a number of Likert scale questions.
    • Parents will be asked if their child has shown it to them and to rate the quality of the work.
  • Evidence of teachers adjusting their teaching based on information in the learning portfolios
  • Report grades compared to previous cohorts (though only relevant if other measures are positive)

I would greatly value input from any education academics on the research aspect and measuring the impact. Indeed if anyone would like to add to the research related to learning portfolios I would be happy to work with them using our initiative as a case study.

Advice to schools beginning this process:

While research can inform decisions it also relies on you having a free year to get through the information and you may still be no further forward in your decision making. Case studies that match your circumstances would be a more efficient way to gather evidence for decision makers if you need to convince them of the worth of learning portfolios.

At the Google teacher academy I was fortunate to meet with a number of teachers who have e-portfolios working well in their schools.

However, I defer to one of my heroes, Grace Hopper who said:

“It is often easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission”

This philosophy has served me well so far!

I am sure I will be able to update our progress next academic year in a blog post or if I get the opportunity to present it might be something worth sharing.


Ben Rouse



Going Google at My School: Update

In my last Going Google post I mentioned that I was going to be presenting to staff. It was successful and just in case anyone is doing anything similar here is the presentation I used.

I embedded a number of videos but only showed the connected classrooms one. The idea of the videos is that after the presentation staff could access the slides and pick the videos for the part they wanted to develop for themselves. There was enough to get people excited before then grounding Google Apps for Education tools back into the day to day learning and teaching. I have challenged each member of staff to write down

1. Something they will do this week related to Technology for Learning. This can be from login to sign up to Google plus to make a video…

2 Something they will do this term like create a collaborative task in Google Drive to organise a virtual field trip

3. Something they will do ready for next year, looking at embedding technology for learning opportunities into schemes of work or planning for a flipped approach.

I am going to follow this up with a Google Form at the end of the week so I can get an idea of the type of things the staff are interested in. Hence I can cater my blog and video creation to their training needs.

The idea that has caught on most is developing virtual field trips and international links. In fact is any psychology teachers/students/lecturers out there want to connect with a UK school please let me know as our psychology faculty are looking to spread their wings.

The Art faculty are very excited by the Google Cultural Institute. Biggest success is gaining support for my student-portfolios idea, which is my action plan following on from the Google Teacher Academy I attended in December 2013. As a secondary school teacher I fear we do not make the most out of the exciting things students have done at primary and I want to find a way to capture and share their previous successes so we can stretch and challenge them. Hence, I want each new student joining our school to start a Google Site, which will be their e-portfolio throughout secondary school. The presentation by Rab Paterson is worth watching as he puts the argument forward much better than I can. I was fortunate to have seen the sites his students have created and it shows what mature and interesting ideas our students can develop given the opportunity.

Our member of staff who works closely with the primary schools on transition is interested at could be a great catalyst for it being adopted.

This meeting has given me a welcome boost for the start of the term and I am excited about the ideas our staff will have.

I hope to publish part 5 of Going Google at my School in the near future as I have a couple of schools visiting this month to look at GAfE and we have a months trial of 30 chromebooks arriving on Friday…

Ben Rouse