Out of the Box: Innovative Learning Spaces (NAIS 2013)


I have the honour to offer a “speed innovation” session at the NAIS Annual Conference today at 1:30 p.m. The topic is “Out of the box: Innovative Learning Spaces” and I plan to adapt some of the materials I used at my 2012 ISTE presentation on the topic of innovative learning spaces and the role of technology.

The sessions I’m doing today are only 15 minutes long, so to focus the discussion I’d like to address the following trends:

— learning spaces becoming increasingly flexible and large and student centered
— modern computer labs
— design centers for STEM and STEAM
— Learning Commons concept for libraries
D-school flexibility concepts
— fly spaces
— immersive learning experiences (like Smalllab)

The core questions I’d like to discuss:

— learning itself becoming more dispersed and differentiated
— reports of college-level students requesting course materials be e-reader friendly
— the “near future” of digital textbooks
— growth of online courses
— growth of home schooling
— use of 3/4G devices to improve teaching and learning “in the field”
— increased use of technology for life-long learning and interaction by parents
— learning spaces becoming international: return of the teleconference room
— learning spaces becoming global: the Avenues school concept

It’s common for us to rethink traditional classrooms (and make useful changes in space, furniture, media access and presentation), but at the same time it is worth addressing how the full learning sphere of learning is changing for students and extending to almost every waking hour. This can be too much of a good thing, but the potential for how life-long learning changes and improves is remarkable.

Additional resources:

Learning Spaces, a free Educause book: http://www.educause.edu/research-and-publications/books/learning-spaces

Horizon Report 2012 K12: http://k12.wiki.nmc.org/

I look forward to the session!

Google Glass….

Just for the record, I don’t want to think about these in a school environment yet…

Acer C7 Chromebook– An interesting option

About a year ago we ordered one of the early Chromebooks to evaluate. We rather liked the concept of having a browser-based, inexpensive laptop that worked well with Google Apps, but the model we had was flawed in that purely having a browser interface on the screen was confusing, and swapping between tabs to write a paper (such as from Google Docs to resource pages) seems like it could have been a challenge. It also wasn’t clear if off-line files would work, since it only had 16 gigs of solid state memory, etc. Finally, the pricing for the domain management suite (free for one year, massively expensive the following years) just didn’t make sense.

Over the past year, we believe a lot of these issues were addressed. I don’t have confirmation yet, but I believe the pricing structure for ongoing management from the Google Domain console has improved. Also, we ordered in an Acer C7 Chromebook for evaluation (£199):


Unlike the Chromebook we tested last year, this one has a 320 GB hard drive and an overall better build and feel, despite being over £100 less expensive.  The keyboard feels fine, despite an unusual split return key, and the screen is large and bright.  Number one problem: only a four-hour battery life, which is irritating but not a deal-breaker in a £200 machine.  As a comparison, we paid close to £74 each just to have a bluetooth ZAGG keyboard and case for the iPads– maybe for keyboarding, it would be better to have 10 Chromebooks backing up 20 iPads, instead of 20 iPads with bluetooth keyboards?

Just as importantly, the Chrome OS now has a windowed environment, meaning that multiple Chrome windows can be opened, and not just tabs.  The offline files option for Google Docs now appears to work (also enabling document creation when the Chromebook is offline), and it is fairly easy to drag files from the Chromebook to a jump drive, and vice versa.  Downloading a basic image editing app, we found it could talk directly to our Picasa cloud-based galleries, edit images, and then save copies to the local hard drive.

Not all reviews of the C7 have been positive– there are other Chromebooks with better battery life, faster solid state drives, and perhaps better keyboards and less size and weight.  For the price point, however, the C7 is interesting.  Also, if we can manage the device from our Google Domain Control panel, then all the better.

In our current scope of tech integration, iPads are doing great in grade four and possibly lower, and Macbook Airs are doing great in grade seven and higher.  In grades five and six, there are great things being done with collaborative documents in Google Apps and other online services, but these objectives don’t need Macbook power or iPad touch interfaces.  Maybe in that niche, a Chromebook could be a well-fitting tool for the core work, with iPads or Macbooks as supplemental.  We’ll look into it.

The construction of small traditions

I enjoyed attending a “fathers only” presentation by Michael Thompson at our school this week. He addressed about 60 fathers in the room (not bad at a 7:30 a.m. start) with the concept that it is very easy for a father to feel “disqualified” from being needed or actively involved in the raising of children.  Fathers can be less able to calm a crying baby or less present for recitals and play performances because of work travel.  At the same time, he emphasized how critically important the relationship is between the father and his children, especially once the children are full-grown and looking back at their childhood experiences and relationships.

Thompson’s advice was to actively and thoughtfully invest in the “small traditions and routines” of how a father builds a relationship with his children.  These routines might be very small (something routinely done at the breakfast table or when riding together in a car), but in the long run they will form the positive, lasting points of definition that children remember. Members of the audience shared examples of these routines, including father and sons who make a point of visiting classic baseball fields for games together over a multi-year period, or spend a lifetime trying to see all of Shakespeare’s plays together live on stage.

Some routines die out (such as singing or reading to children as they fall asleep), but then they should be replaced with new traditions– Saturday breakfast out.  Or even shopping together in a mall for a few hours, which one father did with his daughter because he had the patience and she could be the authority in terms of what shops they visited and what they saw and discussed.  Afterwards, they had a lunch together.

In my case, I enjoy the morning bicycle ride to school with my son, and how every morning we can have a short talk when locking up the bikes about the day, or the ride in on the London streets, or anything we feel like.  Cycling in London is a little scary and dangerous, but we overcome it together.

Another touchstone in our family is the sailing trips, in which we don’t have much choice but to come together and face some hardships and discomfort.  Luckily, we are aware enough to feel proud afterwards.  As my daughter once said, “Doug and I never fight on the boat,” because doing so simply wouldn’t do.

For good or bad, our next challenge together is a point-to-point bicycle tour from one side of England to the other.  It’s called the coast to coast challenge, and it’s only about 140 miles from the Irish Sea to the North Sea on a pretty route just south of the Scottish border near Hadrian’s Wall.  We have all the train and B&B reservations to do this over four days during spring break, and we just bought new bikes for the kids so they are ready for the ride.  Steph and I still have our touring bikes, and the kids know their parents have done many cycling tours in the past, before they were born.  Our best was from Seattle to California (camping all along the Pacific Coast), but we also did the Shenandoah Valley many times, and across Maryland and New England, the San Juan Islands, etc.

Steph on rest break (collapse), cycling in the San Juan Islands

So, doing a trip like this with the kids has been a goal for a long time, and now we think they are old enough.  I simply hope it isn’t 37 degrees and pouring rain for every second of the trip (as it is doing now in London for day-after-day on our February break).  To their credit, however, the kids are riding every day this week to tune up for the ride, despite the very cold and wet conditions here!

The emotions of going digital

This thought-provoking post by Susan Lucile Davis has been out awhile, but I found myself referring to it again this week:


The feelings of fear and mourning associated with digital learning she refers to are becoming less common, but we still witness them.  There is a “coming of age” sequence in middle and high school as students become increasingly able to self-monitor and focus their technology use, but it is a challenge to engage and help with the process.  The journey is unique for each student, and  they need to own the process and their decisions as they hear our advice and see us model postive choices and uses.

Parents who witness their children learn to self-limit and focus digital learning believe that a remarkable, long-term asset is gained.  (I include myself in this group.) They approve of the challenge starting in middle school, even though there are adults in the workplace who themselves struggle with these issues. Students learning to master these opportunities will make mistakes and face distractions, but the skills aquired and critical thinking developed are well worth the effort.

Windows 8 Pro Tablet/Laptops











I recently had the chance to trial a Samsung Ativ Smart PC for about two weeks.  Of all of the new Windows 8 Pro tablet/laptops I’ve seen so far (including the Lenovo Yoga 13), I believe I liked the form factor of this model the best.  Unlike the others, it had a true tablet feel when detached from its keyboard/laptop base.  Compared to my iPad, I really liked the 16×9 aspect ratio screen and the full Microsoft Office.  Many features of the “Metro” style touch interface began to make sense (the tile interface), and I really liked reading email and web pages with the tablet in portrait orientation.  Plugged into the keyboard base, the tablet became a laptop with a standard hinge arrangement but thin and light (similar to a MacBook Air).

All that said, I still sent it back after the trial.  The things I didn’t like about it were primarily related to the current status of the Window Pro operating system, and not the hardware.  For example, the free “start menu restorer” program for bringing back the Windows 7 Start menu broke and I was too cheap to pay for the commercial one.  Office 2013 was fun, but Outlook didn’t work correctly with our version of Zimbra yet (but it should when we upgrade Zimbra to version 8 this summer).  Also, I didn’t see if the Veracross client software worked on Windows Pro yet, which would be essential.

So, it was fun to see a device that could be both a regular laptop and a creative tablet and e-Textbook reader in the future.  I’m tempted to buy a Surface Pro tablet when I’m in the US for NAIS in February, since its build quality is getting good reviews (but it may have the lingering operating system issues).

An international superschool?

This article is worth a review for the tech ideas:


It’s interesting that they have a comprehensive 1:1 approach (I wonder when the students shift from iPads to laptops).  Also, it sounds like 90 percent of their materials are on the iPads instead of paper.  However, for an independent school, it’s unusual how heavily tracked and monitored the devices are reported to be (apparently for all students).  Second, it’s strange to think that all 5,000 devices will be replaced by Apple after only two years.  We have always driven the “return on investment” model at our school to get four years of use out of a Macbook, and three out of an iPad.

Still, it’s fun to think about– especially the idea of one school having many international campuses and a shared curriculum, with the plan for students to immerse in different cultures by having semesters around the world as part of the program.  I could see a unified tech strategy (right down to a shared SIS) helping with that.

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