One of the challenges with a new learning platform like Compass is where it fits and how it compares with what went before. Here then is my comparison between Edmodo and Compass:

I think that there are many aspects that neither platforms deal with, including the ability to incorporate rubrics and the possibility to collaborate. Some other possibilities are Alice Keeler’s Rubric Tab, as well we Google Classroom and Google Apps for further communication and collaboration.

There will always be limitations to applications such as Edmodo and Compass. The challenge sometimes is finding what works best for you.

This was originally posted at ebox

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flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

My daughter recently started at a new school. One of the things that stood out to me was the use of Facebook for classroom communication. Every class is setup with a private page, where information is shared. To me this fits perfectly with the argument that we need to go where the people are and it seems these days a lot of people spend their time in Facebook. Already being there means that little effort needs to be applied to getting things going, whether this be signing up or instructions as to how to use it. The problem though is that just because people are already there does that mean that it is the best space for the task?

I remember when I was told of the changes to online permissions by the Victorian State Government. A part of a push to be more mindful of student data. My first thought was that the legal department were crashing the party. My mind was taken back to the supposed halycon days when a blanket permission slip would cover all sorts of online frivolity, with endless amounts of Web 2.0 programs and applications. However, times have changed. Doug Belshaw describes this as the move to the Post-Snowden Era. It is a scepticisim epitomised by Cory Doctorow in Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free, when he says:

Without a thorough understanding of our computers’ workings, and without independent verification of their security, it’s impossible to trust our machines.

It is for this reason that we can no longer just use what may work best (as if we ever should have), but what is in fact the most appropriate on all levels.

Maybe the problem is where the data is housed, maybe it is about who is in control of content, maybe it is about the decisions of edtech company. There are so many things to consider. Some of these ethical questions include:

Does the service/app require an account to be created? If so, why?

Does the service let you delete content? This should apply not only to finished work, but also the elements of that work. For example, if you upload photographs to make a slideshow, does it let you delete those photographs later?

Does the service easily let you delete your account? Does it include an ‘Account Deletion button’ in a menu? (Check out JustDelete Me for a guide to deleting some services. The site also has a Fake Identity Generator to help you get started with a dummy account)

Does the service require you to login with a ‘real name’, or can you just use a private handle instead? If it does require a real name, why?

Does the service easily let you export the work you create in standard formats? (e.g. TXT, PDF, DOC, MP4, MP3, MOV, XLS, CSV, JSON,HTML etc) Can you save the work to your device and take it with you when you close an account?

Do you have full control over sharing/unsharing and publishing of work online?

Does the service only ask for necessary permissions? For example, many browser extensions ask for permission to access your data on all websites, or mobile apps ask for your location. Some of these permissions are necessary for the service to work, but if a service seems to be asking for a lot of unnecessary permissions, then it may be best to avoid it.

Does the service have a clear, easy to read and transparent privacy policy? Is there a link to the Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy on the homepage? If it’s hard to find, hard to read, or non-existent, then think long and hard about why that is.

Does the service treat user data and content in an ethical manner? Do users have control over they license they apply to their work? Is the work easily embeddable on other sites? Will the company sell the work (or even worse, details about a user’s identity) to other services and advertisers?

How does this service make money? What is the business model? Online tools are expensive to build and maintain, so if there isn’t a clear model for how that service will make money, then it may be that data is being sold to advertisers, or the service will eventually move to a paid model or be sold or closed.

With the demise of the Ultranet, such questions have become more pertinent as schools search for the next digital solution.

In her post, Beyond the LMS, Audrey Watters recounts her experiences with Blackboard Collaborate and the problems she faced. After initially developing content in an open space provided by the institution, she was ‘encouraged’ to publish everything through the learning management system. From quizzes to resources to syllabi to discussion forums.  The problem she faced was that her and her students continually lost access to the content and communications once the subject was finished as the only way to access the content was through the site.

One example of an LMS that has been embraced by many schools of late is Compass. Like Watters’ experience with Blackboard, Compass too poses many similar questions. Although you maybe able to access past content, it is never made easy. One of the biggest curses is the amount of clicks to get anywhere. In addition to this, there is little avenue for students to communicate and collaborate. It is neither a campfire nor watering hole. Although as a platform it provides many of the same functionalities offered by the Ultranet, one absence is the possibility for meaningful student action. Whereas the Ultranet provided a space for play and creation, this is the one aspect that seems missing.  Maybe such spaces are walled to protect students. Maybe they are really about improving communication between home and school? Maybe they are about control and management? However, are we really supporting students if we are limiting their possibility for voice and choice through such spaces.

One solution to this is to publish your work, whether staff or student, at one canonical address and link elsewhere. This elsewhere could be Compass, Edmodo, Facebook or Google Classroom. Blogs offer the most obvious solution for such as a space. Whether it be as a portfolio, a social media stream, social bookmarking, class blog, project or subject space, they offer so many different possibilities. While a site like Edublogs may involve some effort in regards to another site to login to or to manage. It offers a lot more possibility and flexibility in the long run. Blogging still matters.

Although developing a canonical address in Edublogs may not go to the point of setting students up with a domain of their own, as Audrey Watters proposes, it does at least provide the possibility to take their data and do with it what they would like. Something Alan Levine describes as co-claiming. This is something that can be overlooked in the choice of spaces.

So what about you, how do you support students, while also considering some of the ethical questions? How do you push back against what is easiest, to consider what might be best? As always, comments welcome.

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Recently a representative from Compass, a relatively new LMS, came and presented at my school. The presenter began with the statement, “This is what the Ultranet should have been”. After he had finished and the presenter had left, I was asked for my thoughts. One of my biggest weaknesses is that I always see the positives and potentials in technology, whilst being blind to the negatives. Some of the pluses were the ability to share classroom content with students and parents, the idea that students could gain permission digitally and the possibility to publish reports through a portal with the click of a button. However, once the glimmer and gleam had waned, I started thinking about what failed with the Ultranet and why it would not simply happen again.
Looking beyond the poor product provided by the Ultranet, there were also many other hiccups and hindrances that existed. I have reflected on some of the more positive aspects of the Ultranet elsewhere. Here though I wish to pose some questions that were largely left unanswered in regards to the Ultranet and subsequently need to be addressed before embracing a product like Compass:

Who is in charge of getting everything up and running?

One of the problems associated with implementing anything within ICT is that someone is always responsible for getting stuff up and running. Even if a part of this is organised by an outside entity, there are still questions to be answered and information to be provided. Whether it be Google Apps for Education or the Ultranet, there is always some sort of administration issues. In some schools there is an ICT Coordinator or 21st Century Leading Teacher whose plate such rolls and responsibilities often fall upon. However, this is not the case in all schools. Therefore, it both needs to be made clear and equitable as to who is responsible and how they will be supported. Although the argument maybe that it makes teaching easier and allows for more focus on learning, at the start the most basic of tasks can take hours.

Once things are up and going, who is responsible for maintaining the system?

After everything is organised, the next question is who is in charge of maintaining things? This process involves many aspects, including ironing out bugs, sorting out passwords and other menial issues that always arise along the way with setting things up. Maybe Compass is different to the Ultranet and has rectified many of these challenges. However, one lesson learnt is that such issues can’t simply be left to one person, there needs to be a team of people responsible for driving things. Interestingly, I recently heard Phillip Holmes-Smith speak about setting up his Student Performance Analyser. One of things that he suggested is that you need a group. Although there may be someone who oversees the whole process, they are there to finalise things and sort out problems, not simply do all the work, absolving other staff of responsibility altogether.


What leadership is there around providing support and guidance for others?

One of the really interesting things to come out of my post exploring the supposed digital revolution was the amount of people who referred to the failure to provide sufficient leadership as one if the key reasons for the perceived failure. This sense of leadership comes in many shapes and sizes, whether it be modelling best practise or coaching others about how to utilise various programs to aid pedagogy. Although many argue that change and reform needs to come from the bottom up, the failure to empower such roles from above often means that they are either considered as being insignificant or treated in a tokenistic manner.


What expectations and requirements will be put in place to measure and maintain teacher take-up?

Linked with leadership is a failure of staff to get on board. The lack of any care and urgency from those above can have the detrimental effect on those below. Too often this gives staff an escape clause. If they don’t see it as important why should I? It is important to set clear expectations early for everyone. Attached to these expectations, there needs to be a plan about how things will be unfolded. One of the issues with the Ultranet was that it was realised in two phases where initially it was unclear exactly where things were heading as there were still aspects being designed and developed. I understand that this is the way things are and that there is no program that does not grow and evolve. However, it needs to be made clear from the beginning where things are heading and how the present situation relates to the future.

What happens when the connection to the cloud goes down?

The Achilles heal of the Ultranet, Compass, GAFE and so many other ICT products is the fact that they are online. Being in the cloud has many advantages, such as the ability to access it anywhere, anytime. However, it has one very big drawback. If the internet is down then Compass won’t work. What is interesting with this is that most staff will question the program before they interrogate the infrastructure. For example, many jumped off Google Drive into Dropbox because the Internet was simply too unreliable. (+Corinne Campbell recently wrote an interesting post on a similar matter calling for more digital resilience.) What is sad is that the solution that many schools are going with in regards to the problem of the web is to pay for their own Internet, subsequently adding to the divide between those schools who can and cannot afford such resources.


How will parents be introduced into the system?


One of the big selling points for the Ultranet was that parents would be able to log in and gain access to different points of information, such as students assessment and attendance. The biggest challenge though was actually engaging parents in this process. Too often information evenings and pamphlets are done in isolation. To succeed there needs to be a multi-pronged approach to the pushing the benefits. This means running information sessions, providing hands on support, placing details in the newsletter and online, both on the school website and any social media platforms. This approach though needs to be tied together with a clear explanation of the benefits for students and their learning, for as Sir Ken Robinson suggested, “If there is no teaching and learning going on there is no education happening”.


In the end, it is easy to pretend that all the challenges faced by the Ultranet belonged to the Ultranet. However, so many issues still persist, lying dormant, waiting for an opportunity to raise their head once again. The question isn’t whether Compass provides a great potential to improve education, the question is whether schools are ready for these changes. That is the real question.

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