Always on (them): Digital and Social Media use in Education

On Thursday we had the pleasure of attending a conference on Digital and Social Media use in Education, a welcome chance to get some fresh ideas to play around with over the Summer and think about implementing in the year to come.

The event was held at the University of the West of Scotland and it was lovely to see lots of familiar faces both speaking and in the audience. It was also nice to see the range of organisations present all having a dialogue about how they are currently supporting young people but also having the recognition that we need to continue to do more.

There is no doubt that young people’s lives are steeped in social media and in his introduction Professor David McGillivray described how social media functions as a ‘cultural mindset’. Many of the speakers talked about the need to actively work with young people on the benefits and potential dangers of social media and how to both empower and support young people, a message we are always trying to convey.

Jim Fanning, Senior Education Officer from Education Scotland spoke about the need for schools to really engage with safety and the responsible use of the internet and that this runs throughout the Scottish curriculum in Technologies, Literacy and Health and Wellbeing. He showed a document that neither of us were familiar with: Guidance on developing policies to promote the safe and responsible use of mobile technology in schools. This seems like a key document that every school should be looking at and engaging with but we wonder how many are even aware it exists. He also suggested that schools could be using the 360 Degree Safe Self Review Tool to look at current practice and think  about whether changes need to be made to help ensure staff are equipped to support young people.

via @johnjohnston
via @johnjohnston

Two experienced teachers spoke about positive experiences of social media use in education. John Johnston from North Lanarkshire spoke about the success he’s had with young people blogging and the impact that was had from connecting with the outside world. John made the point that we should consider whether our school’s use of social media was as a broadcast system or a conversation. He also posed a perhaps discomfiting question around whether we give learners themselves enough ownership over their use of social media, or if it is curated by adults on their ‘behalf’.  He talked about the pupils learning from their mistakes and his belief that the way to approach any new technology was about ‘practice and reflection’ which Athole McLauchlan from Bearsden Primary also picked up on.

Athole discussed the success his school has had with Class Dojo and Yammer (available within Glow). Class Dojo is being used to build positive relationships with the community within the school and allow the school to instantly share effective learning with parents. Lots of classes round the world are now using Class Dojo but this was interesting as it was a whole school approach and engagement with homes was so high. As only parents can get access, it gives security to schools not wanting to put pupils’ faces on Twitter. Yammer, a free Microsoft tool on Glow which can be accessed by both pupils and teachers,  has been effectively adopted by Athole’s pupils who are using it to create surveys, chat, learn and even on occasion, do homework! We’ll return to the use of Yammer in Scottish education over the next few weeks.

alway on 1And, as usual, we listened on in envy as Malcolm Wilson from Falkirk talked about the well embedded use of social media in Falkirk. It is refreshing to hear about their ‘can do’ attitude and the collaboration that is ongoing between schools. He gave useful advice for schools getting negative feedback or challenge from parents via a Facebook page or Twitter. His advice is to never engage with it and instead always invite the concerned party into school to discuss the matter further if they wish. This invitation should be repeated as necessary in ‘broken record’ style, and avoids confrontation in the online space.  Malcolm encourages public facing (rather than locked) school Twitter accounts to encourage transparency and the ability to engage with others. Both John and Malcom made us think more deeply about Twitter use in schools and the fact that, although lots of schools around Scotland have twitter accounts, most of them are using them to spread out information: a one sided approach rather than actually discussing and collaborating with parents and the community. For more information, you can find Malcolm’s presentation here, and John’s here.

Speakers from the YMCA, Young Scot and The Aye Mind Project made it clear that this is not just a school focus – work is going on in a variety of forms to support young people and ensure their rights are met. YMCA are doing Digital Streetwork and upskilling young people who are then passing on their skills to others which is an approach advocated in HGIOS4. Young Scot are trying to educate on the rights of a child in a digital age with the 5Rights framework , while Dr Trevor Lakey from the Aye Mind  project spoke about the free resources available to support mental health and wellbeing in young people.

At the end of a really interesting day, it was clear that everyone present was a believer but that no one was without their concerns. There were many questions raised about access, equity of use,  and the uncertainty around exactly what impact social media has on young people. However, it is clear that we do need to keep trying, sharing and reflecting on this to best support Scotland’s young learners in a world where social media engagement is, without a doubt, a fact of life for most.







Redefining Learning – Microsoft Style

We had a lovely Saturday morning last week at the Microsoft supported Redefine Learning event in Glasgow.

redefi e 5 a_minshall
via @a_minshall

Held at the Rookie Oven offices in the old Fairfield Shipyards buildings and organised by the ever-inspiring Ian Stuart, the event was refreshing and informative from start to finish. The surroundings helped – the beautifully converted high-ceilinged  space was filled with light on a perfect June morning. Every windowsill and shelf held an example of past technologies, demonstrating the evolution of tech over the decades. We spotted a pristine SNES, ancient iPods, a Gamecube and some early Macs, but we didn’t spy a ZX Spectrum (although there was probably one about somewhere).


In this welcoming space, over 70 educators from around Scotland had gathered to listen to other teachers telling us how they were using different MS tools in their work. After a challenging but rousing introduction from David Cameron (no not that one) we selected our workshops from the list on offer, including Sway, Office Mix, Kodu, Skype, OneNote, and Minecraft Edu.

We opted for Office Mix, Kodu and Minecraft Edu, and we weren’t disappointed.

redefine 6 misshedgesvps
via @misshedgesvps

Gareth Surgey from Queen Anne High in Dunfermline gave us a quick tour of Office Mix. This tool, allowing you to create slick  multimedia resources from PowerPoint, makes flipped learning so much easier. As both a tool for teachers and a tool for learners it has loads of potential, and Gareth is using it to great effect with a range of classes, who have taken ownership of their own learning and along the way generated screeds of valid and high quality evidence for assessment. Our only quibble is that some local authorities’ schools don’t yet have access to the more recent versions of Office that allow Mix to be used, another symptom of the unbalanced playing field we work on when it comes to access to technology in Scottish education. It doesn’t matter if it’s free if your local authority’s managed service will charge to upgrade your systems.


We then moved on to Kodu, an early coding/computational thinking app. The friendly user interface and high quality cartoon-like graphics make this an ideal first step into coding for younger learners. The presenter, Kiersty Travers, suggested that Kodu was ideal from mid-primary onwards, but both of us can see our own children (pre-school and P2) getting a lot out of this already. With the ability to simply create attractive Minecraft-like landscapes, adding characters and programming their actions, we can immediately see the appeal of Kodu. We were both able to download it to our hybrid Windows 10 devices, and although it was a bit buggy to begin with, it’s such a fun app to play with that we’re keen to persevere – a definite winner for developing coding and logic skills in children, and, like almost all of the applications being looked at during the event, free to use.

redefine 3But if it’s skills you’re interested in, there’s not much to beat Minecraft. In a hugely inspiring session, Andrew Minshall showed us what his class has been doing with Minecraft, and gave us a tantalising glimpse of the potential of Minecraft Edu. We are hoping that this will soon be available for Scottish schools to access via the Glow login. As a conduit for creativity it’s hard to beat. Andrew talked about how his class visited and measured Paisley Abbey, used physical blocks to help plan their design, used squared paper to create a blueprint, and then recreated the Abbey in Minecraft – this engaging process develops too many skills to begin to list across so many curricular areas in a real life context – absolutely outstanding. We were also shown the class’s recreation of their own school, down to the last detail, an amazing feat of cooperation. Andrew told us about the ready made recreations of landmarks and historic structures that can be downloaded and explored in the game, such as the Titanic and the Egyptian pyramids, bringing a whole new dimension to learning about the past. We’re so excited about the possibilities in Minecraft Edu (as keen players ourselves) and we really hope whatever purchase deal is announced is accessible to all. We’d hate to see this as yet another addition to that uneven playing field.

We learned so much during this short morning and it’s always great to meet other teachers and share ideas. Events like this are good for the soul, and especially valuable at this time of year when we’re counting down to the end of another session – it’s good to have a reason to look forward. There’s a second event in Dundee tomorrow morning . We wish Ian and all the presenters the best, and for anyone attending, you’re going to have a great morning!