Thursday, July 31, 2014

Influences and Inspiration - A Reflection on a Year of Blogging

creative commons licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/14606572678


I have spoken elsewhere about how I have become a connected educator. However, I have not necessarily spoken about those who have had an ongoing influence on me. +Cameron Paterson talks about finding someone who scares you to drive you, but I feel that it is more important to find some who inspires you and drives you forward. Sometimes such moments can be intimidating or awe inspiring. They provide us with a choice, we can either say that is too hard and baulk at the challenge or say that although it is a lot of work, with a bit more effort and endeavour I could achieve that too.

Although 'influence and inspiration' exists outside of gender, I am inspired by a tweet from +Julie Bytheway to be more equitable. So I have decided to split my list between two five men and five women. So in no particular order, here are ten people who have made an impact on my journey and my first year of blogging ...

+danah boyd

I can't remember the list I found, but Boyd was one of the first people I started following when I got on Twitter. I would read her posts and relish the different perspectives which she provided. Boyd's work has helped me realise that there are different ways of seeing teens and internet, as was documented in her fantastic book It's Complicated, which I reviewed here.

+Peter DeWitt

DeWitt completely changed the way I saw Twitter and being a connected educator. Although I had connected with many other teachers, DeWitt was the first leader who I connected with. I had grown up surrounded by some great leaders, however they did not always share so openly and honestly. I can't even remember how I came upon DeWitt's blog, but it soon became a staple of my digital diet. Even when talking about tales and topics with little direct influence on my own day to day happenings, it is his endeavour to always keep the conversation going is what I aspire to the most and keeps me coming back.

Jason Borton

Although I had engaged with various school leaders from abroad both directly, as in the case with +Peter DeWitt, but also through such spaces as Connected Principals, Borton was the first 'local' principal who really changed the way I saw things at home. (Bit ironic how in a global world Canberra and Melbourne become local.) Whether it be questioning homework, reporting and whole school enabling, he has engaged with all those big topics on both Twitter and through his blog that from my experience many leaders baulk at. It was actually through Borton that I came upon Edutweetoz and the +TER Podcast, two other priceless points of perspective and great ambassadors for more empowered voices in education.

+Jenny Ashby

As I have discussed elsewhere, Jenny was very much the start of my connected journey. I am always inspired by how much she manages to achieve. Whether this be her podcasts (RU Connected or AU2AZ) or here involvement in such projects as Skype Around the World in 24 Hours and Slide2Learn. What amazes me the most about Jenny is that it would be so easy for her not to be involved in many of these things, distance to travel or quality of internet connection. However, from my experiences with Ashby, she often seems to find some reason to be involved, rather than an excuse not to be. Great mindset.

+Doug Belshaw

I came upon Belshaw via his phenomenal work around digital literacies. However, what stands out the most to me is his sharing and giving back. People tell me that I write a lot, then I ask them if they follow Doug's work. In addition to this, he is always pushing the envelope, question and critiquing, innovating for tomorrow, rather than living for today. Take for example his recent push to take back ownership of his data by self-hosting his own email. Although this may seem an impossible task, many great changes in history have been started by a lone nut who takes a stand.

+Richard Olsen

If ever I want a different perspective on something, I often go to Olsen. He always finds something that I have missed or puts a different spin on things. As I have stated elsewhere, a part of me lives for such critical engagement. Really though, what I respect most about Olsen is that instead of simply writing things off, ignoring them, carrying his own conversation, he puts in the time and effort to fuel the wildfire of learning and keep the conversation going.

+Pernille Ripp

Ripp has been a constant inspiration ever since i got online. Unlike many who perpetuate change from the top down, Ripp is a great example of what is possible from the bottom up. One of her greatest attributes is her openness and honesty. Although it can be easy to consider Ripp as taking 'risks' and going beyond the perceived status quo, what she has taught me is that in some respect we are all risk takers, whether we like it or not. That we are all making a choice. I think that what makes some people like Ripp empowering and important is that they own the choices and decisions. I must admit that I spent the first few years as a teacher thinking that it wasn't my roll or right to make big decisions, I thought that was the role of those above to feed down 'best practise'. However, when those answers never arrived I realised that change starts with me today in my classroom and that there is no time to wait.

+Amy Burvall 

Like Belshaw, Burvall's ability to seemingly achieve so much is a constant reminder that there is always something more I could be doing. In addition to her awesome amount of sharing online, she has also influenced the way I consider the assessment of art and creativity. She has also introduced me to the potential of some amazing applications, such as Mozilla Popcorn and Paper53. To me, Burvall demonstrates that there is no limit to engagement with and through digital literacies, instead the only limit is ourselves.

Inquire Within

I am not sure exactly when I came upon +Edna Sackson's group blog, Inquire Within, however it has become an important part of my growth in regards to teaching and learning. Having had a mixed past when it comes to inquiry, something I have discussed elsewhere, Inquire Within has brushed away so many misconceptions. I think that my greatest fault was to think that inquiry could actually be defined, rather than be what it actually is, a myriad of combinations which form to make different pedagogical cocktails. During my time following the site, I have come upon so many great posts and awesome ideas there, such as +Bianca Hewes 'Managing the Mushy Middle' and Kath Murdoch's 'How do Inquiry Teachers Teach?' Along with Ripp's blog, Inquire Within is often one of the first sites that I recommend to other teachers in regards to teaching and learning.

+Ed Tech Crew

When I think of influences, I find it hard to go beyond the +Ed Tech Crew. Whether it be guests on the program, such as +Ian Guest and +Alec Couros, the community curation in the Diigo group or the dialogue and discussion between +Darrel Branson and +Tony Richards, there is so much sharing that occurs. I have lost count of the thoughts and ideas that have taken seed via the +Ed Tech Crew. In addition to this, I have also been lucky enough to share my thoughts of Melbourne Google in Education Summit 2013, as well as my thoughts on leading ICT and where we have come in regards to technology in education. It was sad to hear that the +Ed Tech Crew would actually be going into hiatus. However, it is also a recognition that it takes a village.

...

The Word 'I' Refers To ...

It is good to recognise our influences in life. However, one of the problems with such a practise is that there will always be someone missed or overlooked. I was really taken by Jack Welch's statement that "nearly everything I have done has been accomplished with other people" as quoted in Carol Dweck's book Mindset. In some vague attempt to recongise some of these 'other people' I have listed all the people who I have mentioned through my many blogs over the last year: +John Moravec +Kevin Miklasz +Troy MONCUR +Tom Whitby +Andrew Williamson +Joe Mazza +Peter Kent +Rich Lambert +Corrie Barclay +John Pearce +Deb Hicks +Seth Godin +Ian Guest +Suan Yeo +Jim Sill +Chris Betcher +Anthony Speranza +Mike Reading +Jason Markey +George Couros +David Truss +Tom March +Vicki Davis +Ben Gallagher +Rebecca Davies +Anne Mirtschin +Adam Bellow +stephen heppell +David Tuffley +Tony Sinanis +Dan Rockwell +Alf Galea +Mel Cashen +Matt Esterman +Darrel Branson +Ashley Proud +Ryan Tate +Roland Gesthuizen +Aubrey Daniels International +Catherine Gatt +Celia Coffa +Kynan Robinson +Mark O'Meara +Lois Smethurst +Darren Murphy +Mark Barnes +Chris Wejr +Doug Belshaw +Miguel Guhlin +TER Podcast +Bianca Hewes +Luis L√≥pez-Cano +John Spencer +Tom Panarese +Edna Sackson +David Zyngier +Cameron Malcher +Mariana Funes +dave cormier +Dick Faber +Ewan McIntosh +Darryn Swaby +David Price +Alan Thwaites +Stephen Harris +Corey Aylen +Simon Crook +Nick Jackson +Simon Ensor +maureen maher +Keith Hamon +John Thomas +Margo Edgar +Jan Molloy +Kim Yeomans +John Bennett +Will Richardson +Bec Spink +Sam Irwin +Corinne Campbell +Rick Kayler-Thomson +Adam Lavars +Heather Bailie +Dean Shareski +Stephen Collis +Michelle Hostrup +Starr Sackstein +Charles Arthur +Craig Kemp +David Weinberger +Eric Jensen and +Katelyn Fraser. Although extensive, these are simply people whose thoughts and ideas I have been conscious of, emerged from the noise. For as +Keith Hamon recently suggested in an interesting post on authorship, "while I can find sources for all of my ideas, I'm not sure that they are my sources, but I am sure that it doesn't matter."

Friday, July 25, 2014

Presentations Don't Make a Conference, People Do

Lego poetry at DLTV2014

As I sat through one of the most horrendous presentations on Office 365, it got me wondering about the question, what makes a good presentation? I sat there thinking what would make this better? What was missing?

 
At first I thought that it was the absence of any conversation about pedagogy. A point that +Edna Sackson made about last years GAFE Summit in her post, ''I Want to Talk About Learning…' There was reference to pricing schemes and packages, what this includes and what that does. However, I had signed up with the hope that I could take back to school a few more tips relating to how to get the most out of Windows 8 - whether it be new applications or different functionalities - I was wrong.
 
The one thing that held me together throughout was the conversations I was having on Twitter with +Rich Lambert. He too was lost in the presentation. Although our banter was critical of Microsoft and their lack of innovation, much of it was in jest. We were adding a layer of humour that was seemingly absent. However, what occurred to me later was that it wasn't learning or even humour that makes a great conference, it is people.
 
+Steve Brophy and I presented on the notion of listening to voices in and out of the classroom. Even though we created a range of spaces to continue the conversation, whether it be in our Google+ Community, through our Diigo Group or even simply using the hashtag #eduvoice. The place where most people wanted to connect and share was not necessarily online, which may come later I guess, but rather in person. People wanted to talk, they wanted to tell their story, share their ongoing journey.

 
Creating new connections is what ALL conferences should be about. Building relationships and expanding your PLN. This sense of people connecting with people, both digitally and online, is what makes them such a fantastic place to learn. To riff on +David Weinberger's point, "The smartest person in the conference is the conference."

 
One of the things that I loved the most about #DLTV2014 was actually neither a session nor something that can necessarily be deduced to 'one single thing'. Instead it was an initiative to generate conversations about change and reform called Institute of the Modern Learner. The idea was that anyone could add to the conversation. What made this so interesting wasn't necessarily the idea itself, which was important, but the way in which it was carried and communicated. Some were handed random cards as they moved throughout the conference, an online space was created which was linked to a Twitter handle, while short injections were made during many different presentations. At its heart though, this movement to me was connected with the attempt to create a space for learning as embodied by 'Gaming in Education' stream. There were no presentations as such, instead there was a space with different hands-on posts set up, such as old console games, programmable devices and Lego poetry. Here you were at the centre of your own learning with people like +Dan Donahoo, +Kynan Robinson and +Jess McCulloch there to support and continue the conversation.

 
+DLT Victoria 2014 then to me has been a success. For it is easy to say that the spaces were sometimes confusing or there were too many sessions and streams, however if you walked away from the conference without creating one new connection or strengthening some ties that already existed, I would argue that you weren't really there. Coming back then to Weinberger, "Even if the smartest person in the room is the room itself, the room does not magically make all who enter it smarter.”

Were you at DLTV2014? If not, did you follow online? What is your story? Tell me, because that is what learning is all about.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills - Collaborative Problem Solving


Photo Credit: Celestine Chua via Compfightcc

This is the first assignment as a part of the ATC21S Coursera MOOC. It involved selecting an example of collaborative problem solving (CPS) in which you have been involved. The response included illustrating an understanding of the nature of collaborative problem solving, why it is important and what sets it apart from activities like group work. Associated with this, two specific incidents were required to demonstrate that different collaborators have different levels of skill in CPS. This is my response ...


It is easy to think of Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) as a highfalutin euphemism for what is commonly known as group work. However, they are not the same. The major difference is that CPS focuses on the skills and attributes people bring, rather than the jobs people do. In a traditional classroom, group work usually involves splitting a task between members in order to do something more efficiently or simply to share responsibilities. These contributions are then usually assessed at the end of the outcome. With CPS, the focus is not so much about product, but what that process can bring to bear.


In his book Too Big To Know, +David Weinberger argues that there are two key elements relating to diversity which make the room smarter: perspectives and heuristics. Perspectives are the maps of experience, while heuristics are the tools we bring to bear. Without either, there is little point to diversity. I feel that the same can be said about CPS.

What is significant is that success is not deemed by the room itself, but by who is in that room and what skills may be drawn upon. The reality is some individuals have more abilities than others. For as Weinberger posits, “Even if the smartest person in the room is the room itself, the room does not magically make all who enter it smarter.” CPS helps assess the contribution of the different people in the room by splitting work into different subsets as represented in the Conceptual Framework for Collaborative Problem Solving in order to identify areas for growth and improvement.

Difference between CPS and group work often relates to the authenticity of the task. Group work is often heavily scaffolded. In comparison, CPS is ambiguous and ill-defined. There is more than one way to solve problems and deciding on such solutions is usually more important than the end product.

An example of CPS I have facilitated was the creation of the school yearbook. My Year 9 Elective Class was put in charge of creating a yearbook. They had to decide who the yearbook would be for, what it would include and how they would complete it. Once students had made these decisions, they worked collaboratively to develop roles, timelines and expectations.

Two particular incidents of ambiguity associated with CPS was firstly, the beginning where the project was in its infancy, and secondly, in what +Bianca Hewes' describes as the ‘mushy middle’, where the project had taken shape, but hurdles start to arise.

The beginning is always an interesting point to reflect upon. Everyone starts from scratch, with a new opportunity to prosper. However, this lack of clarity and cohesion often divides collaborators.

On the one hand, some members commence by working as a part of the group to define the project and then set out to independently come up with all the answers. Although there is some recognition of the need for information, there is little consideration as to where this comes from or how it all fits together.

In contrast, there are some collaborators whose first thoughts are about everyone else. This does not necessarily mean that they are leaders in the traditional sense. On the contrary, they often seek to support others to take the limelight. These students persevere in the effort to identify the heart of the ambiguity and break things down into subtasks. They seek to include all the differences of opinion and create strategies associated to goals for how the project is going to push ahead.

The second significant incident when it comes to CBL is the middle stages. Unlike the defining stages of a project which asks collaborators to work together to define what it is that they are working towards, the middle stages raises the challenge of redefining ideas, managing goals and continually reviewing strategies.

For some, this part can be gruelling. Whereas in the beginning the connection that everyone shares is obvious, once people start moving into different subtasks, they lose track of where they are in relation to the wider problem. Therefore, when issues arise, there are random examples of trial and error. However, little effort is made to modify the initial hypothesis or reconstruct the problem at hand. It is simply seen in isolation with little connection to the other tasks or group members.

Contrary to this, some members thrive on continually reflecting on goals, connecting personal contributions with the work of others, exhaust all possible solutions when faced with a hurdle and evaluate their own performance. For example, when a program didn’t allow for the creation of collage, a student with high level ability took a step back and considered the alternatives. Once they exhausted this, they then spoke with other members of the group to see if anyone else had any ideas.

While here is the feedback which I received ...


Suggest any elaboration of the example that could have made it more clearly an example of a collaborative problem solving.
self → I think that I could have been more explicit in regards to the assessment. Maybe even fill in some examples and attach them to the document.
peer 1 → This example would need significant elaboration if it is to be considered an example of collaborative problems solving, The author speaks about the difference between CPS and groupwork, yet fails to implement this in the learning activity.
peer 2 → It would be better to show the specific skills listed in CPS workframe.
peer 3 → Provide clear links of personal behavior to CPS framework.
Say what you liked best about this example as an instance of collaborative problem solving. 
self → I like the practicality associated with the task. It is essential that the task is authentic.
peer 1 → This example did not address Part 1 of the assignment as outlined, and completely failed to recognize Part 2. This example does not demonstrate the capacity to use the conceptual framework for CPS.
peer 2 → i am not sure about the difference between CPS and group work and i think this homework gave a good explanation.
peer 3 → Very vivid and essential examples of CPS are provided.
It was definitely an interesting process and demonstrates one of the biggest problems with innovation, implementing 21st century strategies and education in general. As much as we think that we are on the same page, this is rarely the case. That is why the focus needs to be on creating canvas to structure the conversation as +Richard Olsen has suggested with the Modern Learning Canvas, rather than dictating strategies. For how can we achieve anything if we cannot talk about it?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Becoming a Connected Educator - #TL21C Reboot


This post and associated slides are for my TL21C Reboot Session addressing the topic of: Becoming a Connected Educator (22/7/2014)


Becoming a Connected Educator (TL21C) - Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Becoming a connected educator is so unique. There is no rule or recipe to follow and no two stories are the same. The reality is that it is many things to many people. The biggest challenge is continually defining what it actually means to be connected and why it is important. I don't wish to offer some cure, rather I hope to keep the conversation going.

Instead of providing a recipe, my approach has always been to share some of the choices that I have made and my thoughts behind them. Although signing up to various platforms is important, it is the journey associated with this that matters most to me. As +Tony Sinanis says, in reflecting on his own connected experiences, "the Twitter experience is a journey ... it is not an experience that can simply be replicated for those who have yet to be connected."

It is important to understand that being a connected educator does not automatically make you a better learner. Just because you have a Twitter handle doesn't make you special in itself. Although it may give you access to a global audience, this does not magically make you connected. As +David Weinberger points out in his book Too Big To Know, “Even if the smartest person in the room is the room itself, the room does not magically make all who enter it smarter.” The question that we need to consider is not whether we are connected or not, but rather how we connect.

Too often people believe that being connected somehow leads to something more, a conduit to some higher form of being. They enter with the question, 'What's in it for me?' I am not sure exactly what I thought being a connected educator would be, however the one thing that I have come to realise is that networks are not constant, they are more akin to a verb, rather than a noun.

Too often people describe PLN's as something we build. However this misses the organic nature. I believe that they are better understood as a plant which we help grow and nurture. Our networks will only ever flourish as much as we let them.

Associated with the focus on networks is a focus on learning. To get the most out of being connected I allocate learning time. In a recent post+Peter Skillen made the suggestion that the goal of a project should be to formulate questions, rather than starting with one. I think that this definitely applies to being connected. Sometimes you just need to tinker and play, wonder and explore, in order to know what it is you are looking for.

I feel that connecting and conversing is better thought of as sitting at a bar drinking pedagogical cocktails where we can mix different ingredients to come up with our own flavours. This does not mean that everyone should do Problem Based Learning or didactic learning should be banished, instead it is about choosing the right method for the moment, rather than keep on drinking the same old cocktail again and again.

One of the most empowering aspects about learning online is that there is always some form of learning just waiting for us. As +Alec Couros suggested, "some of the best learning happens each day on Youtube whether it is meant to happen or not" I once described this as 'hidden professional development', playing on the idea of the hidden curriculum, but I really like +John Pearce's notion of pop-up PD, that learning that can happen anywhere, any time, where there are people willing to learn.

One of the keys to learning online is actually giving back. If everyone just lurked from a distance, not only would this limit the depth of conversations that occur online, but it also limits how much you actually get out of such connections. There are many different ways of giving back, from simply sharing links to remixing ideas. The choice of how we do this is up to us.

Sharing should be thought of as a way of being. Many worry about whether there is worth in what they are sharing. However, only the community can decide such worth. As Clive Thompson states in reference to blogging, "Having an audience can clarify thinking. It’s easy to win an argument inside your head. But when you face a real audience, you have to be truly convincing." Surely then sharing can only be a good thing?

One of the most important elements to building relationships is having a clear and definable identity. After spending some time hiding behind various quirky images and username, inspired by +Anne Mirtschin, I took the steps to create a consistent digital badge that I 'wear' online. Associated with this, I developed an About.Me to connect together  all the different spaces where I exist. I feel that making these changes has aided with my connections.

In the end, there are many choices to be made when it comes to being a connected educator. For example:
  • Who do I follow?
  • What details do I provide about myself?
  • Which platforms should I work on?
  • Should I blog, vlog, create a podcast?
  • How many times should I re-tweet/republish links to my own work?
As +Chris Wejr points out, although it is easy to suggest that everyone should sign up and start sharing every last detail, not everyone is able to tweet and post who they are.

I think that +Steve Brophy sums up the situation best when he makes the challenge, "Be the connection that gives other learners a voice."

What has been your biggest hurdle in becoming a more connected educator? Can you provide an example as to how you are giving other learners a voice?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Making Listening to Voices More Doable



This is an introduction to +Steve Brophy and I's presentation 'Listening to Voices In and Out of the Classroom' for #DLTV2014 and explains what we mean by 'voice' and its relationship with technology ...

It is so easy to consider technology as the answer, that missing solution, that panacea that will somehow manage to solve all education's ills. However, there is no tool or technique that will magically solve all our problems for us. Instead, technology is a support, an addition, a supplement, something that helps us do what we do, but better. In regards to Ruben Puentedura's SAMR model, this change revolves around 'redefining' what we do. Providing a possibility for something that was often deemed impossible. +Bill Ferriter suggests, "technology lowers barriers, making the kinds of higher order learning experiences that matter infinitely more doable."

Importantly, the changes brought about by technology are not about simply dispelling the past. For as Ferriter argues, many of those attributes that get lumped with the call for reform are things that highly effective teachers have been doing for years. Various higher order thinking skills, such as the engagement in collaborative dialogue, solving complex problems and manipulating multiple streams of information, are not new.

Take the act of publishing for example. After consulting with a teacher from another state +Cameron Paterson got his Year 9 History class to create picture books around the topic of World War 1 for a kindergarten. While +Bianca Hewes used Blurb, a site that allows you to create both eBooks and physical books, to publish her student's stories for a wider audience. There is nothing new about composing texts for an audience. Technology though allows us to publish to a more authentic audience more easily.

Another particular area where technology allows for a change is in regards to capturing the different voices associated with learning. Whether it be communicating or collaborating, there are many different scenarios involving listening and responding to voices in and out of the classroom. Voices have always had a central role in the classroom for at its heart, learning is a social activity. However, instead of conversations being dictated by the few, technology democratises the whole process, it takes away some of the social pressures and tedious silences when no one is willing to respond. Technology makes it more doable.

We feel that there are three different categories when it comes to listening to voices in education:

  • Students communicating and collaborating with each other
  • Students and teachers in dialogue about learning
  • Teachers connecting as a part of lifelong learners

As with any sort of arbitrary division there will always be examples which go across categories. However, splitting things in this way helps to highlight some different spaces and situations where voices can be heard and provides a foundation on which we can continue the conversation.


So to the big question, how are you listening to different voices in and out of the classroom? And in what ways does technology make this more doable?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

To QuickVic with Love - My Reflections on Reporting




I have been report co-ordinator for four years now and I feel that I have gotten as much as I can from QuickVic, the free report software provided by the Victorian State Government. During this time, I have implemented many changes in an effort to not only improve reports, but also to streamline the whole process. Ever since I have been teaching, the process associated with reporting has been a tedious one.

Some of the changes that I have made to reports and the whole process include: 
  • Developing a guide for writing clear comment banks. This included providing a list of words to differentiate between high, medium and low, as well as various link words and phrases to help support the flow of paragraphs. 
  • Adapted the templates. Over the years I have adapted the templates by firstly embedding the blurb to splitting the primary reports into different subjects and areas to help seperate the comments. 
  • Created a collaborative document to share progression points. When I took over the role, co-ordinators added their choices to a document and sent them back. I changed this by creating a Google Doc that allowed people to see what other year levels had put down, as well as an overview of the whole school.
Reflecting on these changes now, I think that they were all so simply, don't get me wrong, very tedious at times, but simple none the less. The thing is that if they were so simple, then why did it take me to bring them in and make the changes? I think in some respect, many solutions look simple in retrospect. The reality though is that I think it does not matter how many changes you make, at some point there comes a limit.

Time for a Change

A few months ago I was listening to the Guardian Tech Weekly Podcast and they were discussing the demise of Windows XP. One of the reasons given as to why it has lasted so long is that it actually costs a lot of money for companies in regards to training, licences and even replacing machines in order to change over to a new operating system and with that a changed way of doing things. This has definitely been the case in regards to reporting.

At the start of the year the Victorian Curriculum and Assesssment Authority released a set of guidelines regarding curriculum planning and reporting. They outlined the following requirements:
(a) Schools have the flexibility to choose, in partnership with their school community, the way in which they will report student achievement. There will no longer be a single mandated report format.
(b) Schools report, both to parents and, where directed, to the relevant sectoral authorities, on student achievement in English, Mathematics and Science against the common achievement standards, indicating the level of attainment reached by each student and the age-expected level of attainment (except in specific instances of individual students where this has been determined by schools in partnership with parents to be unnecessary).
(c) Schools will not be required to report student achievement against the other domains each year, but should, following the Foundation year, report student achievement against all domains in each two-year band of schooling.
Although the guidelines provide some indication as to where curriculum and reporting is heading, they provide little clarity for schools. The one guarantee though is that the dependency of many schools on QuickVic, the free product offered by the Victorian state government, is coming to an end.

In a culture of autonomy, the onus is being put back on schools to develop a solution that best fits their needs. For many this means that the current reporting process is open for discussion and with that how and when reports are produced. 

In search for the next big thing, I started scrolling through the different options out there. Not only for the best program to replace QuickVic, but also the right fit for the school. The three main contenders that initially stood out were: Accelerus, Reporter Pro and Compass.

Accelurus

Owned by the same company who produce QuickVic, Accelerus is the next step up from Markbook. They have had the lion's share over the last ten years, particularly in secondary schools. Like QuickVic, there are avenues for developing your own templates. However, as far as I could tell, that is really where the similarities stop. 

The biggest difference between QuickVic and Accelerus is that it is a historical database that updates via the web, rather than across a network. Once setup, an administrator simply needs to update various elements in order to maintain it. This means that staff are able to develop their own gradebook in order to keep track of progress and start developing reports and profiles from the first day of the semester, rather than wait until late into the semester for the server to be opened up. In support of the core reporting module, there is also some provisioning for interim reporting. Something sorely missed in using QuickVic. 

Another big selling point for Accelerus are the possibilities of data analytics. This seems to be where it is all at. The ability to reflect on a student's growth overtime is very important when it comes to assessment and reporting. However, having recently gone with Phillip Holmes-Smith's Student Performance Analyser, this functionality is rendered null and void. One of the issues that some leaders had with Accelerus was the story that the data was able to provide. Although you can create your own rules to sort and present data, it was felt that what was on offer was not quite adequate.

Another interesting aspect associated with Accelurus is what other opportunities and attributes it offers? Clearly assessment and reporting is its bread and butter, this is what Accelerus has always done well. Subsequently, its offerings for other areas, like welfare, are not complex enough in my view to adequately replace learning management systems, such as Student Management Tool (SMTool). This is a big challenge at the moment for schools as many are trying to streamline their systems as best possible.

It must be noted that Accelerus are also looking at rolling out a lite version of its reporting package as a replacement for QuickVic, which includes the removal of such aspects as interim reports. However, the exact details are yet to be outlined.

Reporter Pro

There are many schools using Human Edge's timetabling package, First Class, so it makes a lot of sense to add attendance and assessment to this. Although already having the information in First Class helps a lot, what was presented in regards to Reporter Pro simply didn't stand up to other packages in regards to flexibility. 

Like so many others, it provides web access, allowing you to set things up early. However, there is little movement in regards to templates. Unlike Accelerus (and QuickVic) which allows you to create and modify your own templates, the options available within Reporter Pro seem rather limited. Although there is the offer of custom templates, sadly this seems to be done more by programmers and does not allow for much tinkering by the user. In addition to this, the structure of the interim reports is locked and very restrictive. In a culture of choice, fitting in with a system seems counterintuitive.

Although I know some schools that are utilising Human Edge for welfare purposes, I still feel that the same concerns that I have with Accelerus around branching out beyond reporting applies here. For me, it is not functional enough for the user to replace the more thorough learning management systems.

Compass

Compass is what the Ultranet should have been, well that was how it was sold to us. Compared to Accelerus and Human Edge, the team at Compass are relatively new to the field assessment and reporting. One of the things that stand out is that although other companies offer many of the same features, such as attendance and data analytics, Compass seems to offer so much more in a slick and intuitive manner.

Where Compass seems to trump other programs and applications is that it offers seemingly everything, whether this be news feeds, roll marking, file storage, curriculum planning, excursion notices and obviously, the publication of reports. Associated with this, it works comfortably on all platforms and even has an app which allows for the uploading of files on iPad and iPhone. 

There are two downsides that I can see with Compass. Firstly, the cost. Even with all the options and choices, there will always be elements that go unused or underutilised. This is exacerbated by the amount outlayed by the school.

The other concern is that whereas other systems do not necessarily require a massive buy in from staff, in many respects Compass is a game changer in the same respect that the Ultranet was supposed to be. I understand that Compass is a far sturdier system than the Ultranet. However, I am still concerned that there will be some who simply won’t take on the changes, making more work for others.

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Although these were the main programs that seem to be being used in schools at the moment, however there were also a few other alternatives that I came along in my journey:

Gradexpert

Like so many other reporting programs, Gradexpert covers not only learning and teaching, but welfare as well. In some respects, it reminds me of Accelerus in the way that each teacher is able to setup their own gradebook with notes, tasks and assignments in order to keep track of teaching and learning. 

In some respects, Gradexpert takes me back to the days of using Australian Teachers Chronicle's Microsoft Access based Electonic Teachers Chronicle that they produced a few years ago. Although Gradexpert is functional, it does not seem as smooth and slick as some of the other options out there.

One of the things that I did like about Gradexpert was the simplicity of their report designer. Unlike QuickVic's use of Word Templates, Gradexpert provides a series of drop down options and moveable parts that make the creation of templates quite easy. I feel that it would be a great option for Primary schools wanting an alternative to QuickVic.

nForma

Predominantly used amongst Catholic schools, nForma has started making a move into state schools. Like so many other programs, it combines reporting, attendance and welfare all in one place. It is also located wholly on the web. Although it looks rather slick and stylish, it still has its bugs, especially when it comes to compatibility with Macs.

It seems unfair to say much more than that as they are in the midst of change. Instead of stipulating what will be a part of their product, they are looking to support schools with their choices. What this actually looks like and how it works will be interesting to see.

Sentral

Originally taking foot in NSW, Sentral has since started moving across borders into different states. One of the biggest challenges in my view to moving into a new market is word of mouth. Other than speaking with colleagues from interstate, there just doesn't seem to be many local schools who have taken it up. I must admit that I wish I had seen more of Sentral as it does look to be a true contender, especially in regards to learning management systems.



Other Alternatives

These seem to be the various programs on offer. However, something interesting that came out of all my investigations was that with the push for flexibility, some schools have moved outside of the box and started appropriating other programs to support and supplement the reporting process. One school was sharing notebooks within Evernote that included examples of student work, supported by various annotations. Another school which had moved to the Ultranet before its demise has moved to Edmodo to provide their communication with parents. Some skip the complications associated with administering various programs by simply using Microsoft Word to create a basic report.

In the end, it is an interesting time in regards to education and the digital revolution. Managing assessment and reporting is a big part of this. Have you had different experiences with any of the programs that I have mentioned? Were there any that I missed? Would love to know your thoughts.