An interview with Andrew Dobbie


As I noted earlier, I’m going to be away from blogging this week. Over the years, I’ve had the good fortune to interview 77 people for this blog. I’ve used a random number generator to pick a few from this collection to repost. Please enjoy them (again?) They’re all located here.


Andrew Dobbie is a teacher with the Peel District School Board.  To get his attention, all that you have to do is express an interest in sustainable activities or reusing computers for the benefit of students.  I had the opportunity to interview Andrew.

Doug:  Thanks for agreeing to the interview, Andrew.  My first question is always the same; do you recall the first time that we met in person?

Andrew: Thanks for inviting me to chat Doug! My memory is fading in old age but I believe we first met when BIT was held in Toronto before the shift to Niagara Falls.

Doug:  We’ve been following each other on Twitter for a long time.  Why would you want to follow me?

Andrew:  I thought it was pretty obvious why people follow you, Doug.  You help me sift through current media and provide me with useful, sometimes actionable resources each week

Doug:  Your passion for sustainable things is very evident to anyone who follows you on social media.  Can you give us a sense of where your passion is with this?

Andrew: The root of my passion for sustainability is in providing learners with a quality education through equitable access to computers in their classrooms.  My students needed help, so I researched a way to help them. Then, my students and I agreed that we should help everyone else.

Granted, the supportive team working with us exists throughout North America, Europe (in its infancy) and Iceland. We all work together to help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Doug:  My interest in following you comes from the conversations and interactions that we’ve had online dealing with Linux.  You use it to breathe new life into old technology, often discarded. My interest was personal. I just wanted an alternative to Windows 10 for my 2010 Sony Vaio laptop. 

Do you use Linux personally?

Andrew: Yes! I use Linux every day with my students. I am also well versed in Win10 and MacOS too  I need to be comfortable with all operating systems because some of my students bring in their own devices and I need to be able to assist them with daily operational challenges/troubleshooting.  I also dabble a bit with Android OS too just for fun. More along the lines of experimenting with converting different computing devices into hybrids running other operating systems. I’ve built some ChrMacbooks, converted old Windows computers into Linux devices, and even built one of the largest Android boxes using a massive desktop computer (as a joke- and it continues to be in operation today).

Doug:  Now, when a person dips their toe into the world of Linux, it can be a bit frightening.  Long time Linux users go back to working the command line. apt-get, sudo, etc. Did you start that far back?

Andrew: I remember when I first tried terminal coding. I had no idea what I was doing. I have no formal training at all. Just YouTube, blogs, and Google Hangout guidance from a Linux expert, Aaron Prisk  

Aaron continues to be a very patient and supportive teacher. He listens to my coding frustrations and helps me to find parallel understanding between our common language and that of terminal coding. I started to learn the verbs of the language and it helped me learn how to install, move, package, and assembly Aaron’s student-tailored Xubuntu OS.  I still haven’t met Aaron in person. All our work has been completed remotely via Hangouts, Facebook IM, and now mainly via text message. So, yes. I use raw code in the terminal when constructing Linux FOG Servers and student-tailored Linux workstations.

Doug:  Linux comes in many flavours.  My first distribution was Ubuntu 4.04 and then the Edubuntu fork.  What was your first?

Andrew: Oh wow! You’ve been at it a little longer than me. I started with Cub Linux and Lubuntu initially because they were packed so small and could fit on a 2GB USB for installations.  Then, as I started dabbling with install on many different systems, I worked all the way back through history to Ubuntu 10, BSD, Linux plop, and all flavours after Ubuntu 10. Over the past 3 years, I have used and installed dozens of flavours to learn more about their unique strengths and differences but followed Aaron’s lead in using Xubuntu 16.04 for the first version of the student-tailored workstations.

Doug:  Since that time, I’ve changed my allegiance and now run Linux Mint.  What’s your favourite distribution?

Andrew: My friend Ryan, who is a data analyst and Linux junky, loves Mint too but my favourite continues to be Xubuntu because it provides me with all the necessary packaging tools to create the Linux student workstations.

Doug:  You talk about using Xubuntu.  Why this distribution?

Andrew:  Aaron Prisk introduced me to Xubuntu (a developer version of Linux) because he was already using it to create his own districts’ student image for all of their computers in Pennsylvania.  Lucky for me he was working through the process when I showed interest in learning it, and he took me under his wing (so to speak).

Doug:  It’s golden when you find someone with that amount of interest and patience. If someone else was interested in getting started in this area, how do they get started?

Andrew:  If anyone wants to learn how to install any Linux operating system, then I would suggest beginning with the USB installation technique.  We created a gForm to walk new learners through the process:

bit.ly/reimagewithlinux

It’s a little dated but it will help guide a new learner through the process.

Doug:  I like the way that you’ve used the Google Form as a tutorial for the end user. Well done.

You’ve forged a number of partnerships over the year, especially with Renewed Computer Technology of Ontario (RCTO).  How does that work?

Andrew: rcto.ca is an outstanding not-for-profit business who provide learning facilities with free desktop computers.  Initially, I needed computers in my classroom because our school didn’t have the budget for them and I couldn’t afford to buy them. RCT Ontario helped us.  We were lucky because they had tons of available computers back in 2016 when we first asked. They also had lots of LCD displays, which are a hot commodity and not easily available currently.

Essentially, if any learning facility needs free desktop computers, then they need to go to rcto.ca and request them. You will need to fill in a few online forms but be sure to request the free computers. They do offer some very affordable paid computer options as well (including a 1 year warranty), so they are a much better idea than buying new.  The first batch of 150 desktops we received for free in 2016 is STILL in service, supporting student learning needs in our classrooms!

RCT will also be happy to answer your questions by telephone too, so if you need help just call them.

In September, I was asked to assist their IT department in establishing a Linux line of free computers, so I created a Xubuntu 16.04 FOG Server clone, and a Xubuntu 18.04 FOG Server clone. Both of which can deploy the student-tailored Xubuntu operating system on any computer 10 years old or newer.

Doug:  One of the stumbling blocks that some might have with school districts is putting non-district computers on the network.  How have you handled that?

Andrew: All school boards have always been open to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, so we explored and found success with multiple school boards by signing Linux computers onto board networks as BYOD devices. I was invited to York Catholic and Toronto Catholic boards to show their IT department heads how this process can work, and at that time (in 2017-2018 I believe) I created FOG Server clones for them to more efficiently deploy the student-tailored Xubuntu operating system onto their computers. 

I think it’s important to note that all of this is free, and always will be.

Doug:  That’s always been the claim for Linux and there are so many talented people driving that ship. We could always remind them that the Chromebooks that people buy new are running ChromeOS which is based on the Linux kernel!

How do you address concerns from teachers that running Linux doesn’t given them all of the applications that they would have on a Macintosh or Windows computer?

Andrew: Most teachers and students are running cloud-based programs these days anyway.  My students never have a problem using Linux to run any gSuite, Office365, or any other web-based tools like Scratch, Robocompass, Explorelearning.com, you name it.  They all work!

Some teachers have asked for special photo editing tools, so I showed them how pixlr.com runs perfectly through Google Chrome, and is easy for students to use.

Essentially, if an educator is resourceful enough, then he/she will find a comparable and free software tool that will run on their Linux systems. Yes, Minecraft too

Doug:  Your plan also involves your students.  How much training do they require before they are experts?

Andrew:  Experts? Hmmm. I’m not an expert and they would say they aren’t either, I think.  However, after having about a month or 2 of troubleshooting exposure and experience within our Tech Stewardship program, our Stewards are able to repurpose old computers easily.  In fact, 3 of our newest Stewards just repurposed a teacher’s old laptop this past week and they just started in the program in September.

Granted, our Xubuntu FOG Server does make the repurposing process extremely easy to transform multiple computers into Linux machines with only a few key strokes.  

Doug:  What is the minimum requirement for a computer to be refurbished for your purposes?  Do you limit it to old Windows computers or have you put Linux on Macintosh computers?

Andrew:  Current minimum requirements for excellent performance running our Linux image would be 4GB RAM and about a 2.4GHz processor (not that much really). It will run fine with only 2GB of RAM as well but 4GB RAM and learners WANT to use Linux instead of brand new computers because they are faster.

Also, I recommend installing our Xubuntu student-tailored operating system on computers 10 years old or newer.  Older than 10 years and we usually run into compatibility issues with hardware drivers and hardware begins to fail at times.

At this point in time, we have FOG Servers that can deploy Linux onto Windows computers easily.  Regarding Macs, students love ChroMacbooks the most, and I used to hand code each one because the FOG server wasn’t designed for Macs. Each student-tailored ChroMacbook took about 2 hours to code about a year ago.  Now, I simply open up the Mac. Remove the hard drive. Put the Mac hard drive into a windows computer. Change the hard drive to Linux using the FOG Server, then put it back into the Mac Only takes about 15 minutes depending on the build.

Doug:  You will be doing a session at the upcoming Bring IT, Together Conference.  Can you give us a sneak peek?

Andrew: A sneak peek 

(FREE COMPUTERS!)  

On Wednesday morning, I will be bringing some of my special FOG Servers to make FOG Server clones for anyone that wants one.  You just need to bring an old laptop (that turns on) with you, and stop by. I will even show you how easy it is to use it. You can use it on site to repurpose any other laptops you bring with you

When I’m not teaching the process, I can repurpose up to 50 computers an hour by myself. So, if you just want some help repurposing your laptops for student use in your classrooms, then bring them by on Wednesday morning.

I will also be sharing some of our work highlights at IgniteBit2019 on Wednesday evening, so feel free to connect with me there too

If you can’t attend the Wednesday session, then my students will be joining me on Friday morning to help attendees repurpose their computers with Linux too. So, we can build you a FOG server or student-tailored Linux laptop at that time as well.

Finally, I believe I will be bringing lots of free mini desktop computer towers for attendees to take back to their classrooms for their students to use.  These mini desktop towers have been donated by rcto.ca and will include the tower, keyboard, mouse, and power cords (but unfortunately not LCD monitors due to short supply at the warehouse).

Doug:  Wow. Come to Bring IT, Together and leave with a free computer. It doesn’t get much better than that!

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts with us, Andrew.  If people want to follow you on Social Media, where would they turn?

Some great ways to start connecting:

An interview with Chris Stephenson


As I noted earlier, I’m going to be away from blogging this week. Over the years, I’ve had the good fortune to interview 77 people for this blog. I’ve used a random number generator to pick a few from this collection to repost. Please enjoy them (again?) They’re all located here.


One of the highest pieces of praise that Chris Stephenson has for professional development speakers is that she could “Listen to them read the phone book”.

I feel the same way about Chris.  She’s one of the wisest people I know and I’ve known here in a number of different positions throughout her career from Holt Software to the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario to the Computer Science Teachers Association to Google and plenty of places in between.

chris

It was an honour for me to have Chris be part of the class of 2018 recognized with Life Membership in ECOO.  It’s a great chance to publish this interview with her about her time at ECOO.

Doug:  Let’s put things into perspective – what years were you President of ECOO?

Chris:  1995-1997

Doug:  Do you recall who was on your Board and who was the ECOO Conference Chair?

Chris:  I was on the Board for a number of years and so cannot recall exactly who served in my specific term. But I do remember lots of wonderful people who did great work during my years on the Board: just some of whom included Nancy Murray, Rickie Schieven, Joan Jones, Sandy Mitchell, Ron Millar, George Milbrandt, Tom Schick, and my VP Paul Ryan.

Doug:  Some of those names sure bring back fond memories for me.

Where was the conference held during your term as President? Did it have a theme?

Chris:  At the Constellation Hotel in Toronto. We used to call it the Jetson Hotel because of the strange looking tower.

Doug:  Oh, that tower!  And the astrological names for some of the session rooms.

What was your “day job” at the time?

Chris:  Research Associate at the University of Toronto and and Vice President of Holt Software.

Doug:  It was your role at Holt Software where we first met.  You provided our Computer Science teachers with access to the Turing Programming language and backed it up for excellent, regular professional learning.

Do you recall your go-to computer from back then?

Chris:  Power Macintosh

Doug:  What initiatives did ECOO undertake under your leadership?

Chris:  We redesigned and significantly grew the ECOO Output, increased our membership, and grew the conference. We reached out to educational technology teachers in other parts of the world and even hosted a group of teachers from Estonia. And we focussed a lot of attention on developing new resources that would directly help classroom teachers.

Doug:  How many members strong was ECOO during your presidency?

Chris:  I think it was about 2200 but I really cannot remember. I do know that we were growing.

Doug:  Today’s hot button is Coding for all ages. What was the hot button for ECOO during your presidency?

Chris:  Professional development for educational technology teachers. We didn’t have the luxury of a ready made community of experts, so we were scrappy and we grew our own.

Doug:  What was the hot button in education in general during your presidency?

Chris:  I wouldn’t say it was a hot button, but what really excited me about that time was that practitioner-led subject associations were coming into their own as key educational supporters and stakeholders. ECOO became an increasingly important voice in discussions about what and how Ontario students should be taught. At the same time, we were directly serving our members by fulfilling the need for classroom relevant professional development and practical resources.

Doug:  What advice would you give to today’s computer using educators?

Chris:  Be fearless, be inclusive, be sure it works. Don’t let fear about not knowing everything hold you back from trying something new. Engage your students, their parents, your administrators, and your communities in the discoveries you and your students are making together. And make sure the computing tools that you are using with your students really are producing the outcome/impact/learning you want.

Doug:  How involved with computers and technology are you today?

Chris:  I remain very involved in computer science education. As the Head of Computer Science Education Strategy at Google, my role is to work with internal teams and external partners globally to grow the entire CS field and to make it more diverse. This means making sure that everything we do in computer science education supports teachers and students and helps build capacity throughout the education ecosystem.

I did have the pleasure of nice conversations with Chris at the recently concluded Bring IT, Together Conference and was invited to be a fly on the wall as she met with a number of educators involved in a special project.  It was like no time at all had passed since the last professional development session with her.  For more information, just “Google” her!

An Interview with Emily Fitzpatrick and Derek Tangredi


As I noted earlier, I’m going to be away from blogging this week. Over the years, I’ve had the good fortune to interview 77 people for this blog. I’ve used a random number generator to pick a few from this collection to repost. Please enjoy them (again?) They’re all located here.


Screenshot 2018-05-18 at 20.33.08

Doug:  Thank you so much for agreeing to the interview.  Let’s start with an easy question – where did our paths first cross?  Either online or not.

Emily: Our first encounter was through Twitter!  I remember my first BIT (pretty sure it was 2014) where I had the chance to really start to learn what it mean to be a connected educator.  My goal was to then find Ontario educators to follow and learn from and someone recommended that your Follow Friday was a great place to start (and still is a great place to go back to each week!).  For the next few months, I was more of a lurker and then, finding my voice, engaged a bit more. Online interactions followed us for the next few years and we crossed paths last year at BIT17 in person (I believe this is the first time we ‘official’ met F2F).

Derek: Thanks for offering us the opportunity to share today.  It’s been a pleasure knowing you for a few years within the virtual environment but it was only recently at the #ECOOcamp we met in person.  Admittedly it feels odd saying that as I feel like we’ve known each for some time.

Doug:  The two of you were the keynote speakers at the first ever #ECOOcamp in Owen Sound.  That happened on the big ice/snow/rain storm of 2018. Yet, both of you showed up and delivered wonderful messages.  Did you ever think about not showing up and blaming the weather?

Emily: If educators were going to be there, I was going to be there.  Although I chose not to come in the night before, I ensured that I made it out that morning before the storm came in (and pretty sure it chased me all the way up Hwy 6 from Fergus!).  Canada, anytime of the year, comes with weather challenges and we see educators, parents, and students making the trek to get to school and this event was no different.

Derek: In all honesty there was no way I was going to miss the event.  The rationale behind that decision is simple. The organizers, speakers, presenters, put so much work and dedication into offering an experience like this and it wouldn’t feel right to miss it.  There is so much work that goes on far beyond what is visible to everyone in attendance and online. It’s the communication, interviews, research which makes these opportunities difficult to orchestrate.  I feel as though we were given an amazing opportunity the least we can do is show up to share our message/passion. I actually joked with Martha Jez that even if no one shows up I’ll periscope to ensure the message gets out.  

Doug:  How many different weather scenarios did you pack and bring clothes for?

Emily: On my journey up to Owen Sound that morning I had all the winter emergency essentials!  I had shoes and boots, extra socks, blankets, sweaters, and overnight bag as well as clothes to wear at #ECOOCamp.  I think I was a bit more worried about losing battery on my device, so I made to sure pack my extra battery pack, have both computers fully charged and lots of different cables/dongles to connect anything and everything together.  Rather than get stuck in the snow, I was more worried about getting rerouted and not quite knowing where I was!

Derek: I’m really bad for this and love to have contingency plans A-Z.  I had two suitcases in my car which included but was not limited to: winter coat, spring coat, winter accessories, gym attire and running shoes, and four sets of work clothes in case I was stranded.  All of this coupled with multiple battery charging packs.

Doug:  What was the inspiration for the keynote addresses that you delivered?

Emily: I had the honour of going first thing in the morning; to set the tone for a day of learning with each other and building the energy to last until Derek’s closing message.  My goal was to inspire educators to embrace the future and give something new a try, with a few laughs along the way. Taking that journey from what technology first looked like in the classroom, to all of the potential technology that is on the horizon, there is a lot to get excited about.  The inspiration came from our students, many of who, are excited to try to news things and learn how to solve problems just a bit differently than how we were taught with these new tools.

Derek: Well first off let me say that I heard so many amazing presentations over the course of the day including Emily’s which was great.  I loved her motivating approach to the talk and it was a great way to kickstart the day.

In terms of my own talk, I wanted to shape it so there was potentially something for everyone.  Even if you’re not an educator perhaps you could take something away from it. The general theme of my talk was teaching and learning with empathy.  As mentioned in my talk this is something I don’t often talk about although it is a area of interest and passion for myself.

Doug:  We were so appreciative that you followed through with your commitments and made the trip.  Those in the audience were as well.

Both EdTechTeam and Fair Chance Learning donated door prizes for the event.  I was curious but didn’t open them. Can you tell us what was in the packages?

Emily: The surprise EdTechTeam Canada bags were dongle bags themselves (great for holding cords, iPad minis or portable speakers.  Their soft insides provide a bit of extra padding for anything a bit more fragile. Inside the bags there was a Google Cardboard viewer and a battery pack for those who may need a bit more power while exploring the world of virtual reality.

Derek: Fair Chance Learning donated several “maker kits” which included a micro:bit, alligator clips, additional sensors, and stickers for either teacher or student to get started with coding and STEAM based applications.  It’s a great prize for anyone who is either interested in learning to code or for those looking to move from a coding environment into a world of robotics and understand how they work.

Doug:  ECOO and those who were in attendance and won really appreciated the generosity.   

Respectively, your positions are “Director of Professional Development, #EdTechTeam” and “Director of Integrated STEAM Education with Fair Chance Learning”.  What do these positions involve?

Emily: My role is to connect educators to ideas and ideas to educators across Canada and the world.  Almost like a hub, I am able to share in person and online. There are some amazing things going on across Canada and I have the opportunity to make sure those stories are told and shared.  I have the opportunity to empower and inspire educators to jump in, try something new and take a risk in their classrooms, all while having the support of their students (or learning from/with their students!).  Learning alongside educators, we are able to discover and implement tools that work across platforms, devices, and that are best for the learning (technology-based or not!) – not just the latest, flashy tool!

Derek: Doug, our entire team jokes about this all the time.  There is not enough time or space to encapsulate what this role entails.  We struggle to tell our families what we do (I think they believe we’re making it up) but this is what is exciting about it.  In all honesty it’s a variety of things. We have the opportunity to create professional development for school boards throughout Canada, we work on creating digital resources for online use, we’ve recently partnered with several major organizations with the focus being to better equip both teachers and students with modern resources.  The thing I am most proud of however is that we get the opportunity to get to work directly with students. If you follow us online you will see where we go students aren’t far behind. Even at #ECOOcamp we had student support and this is what it is really about. Giving students a platform and a voice to share what they are doing. Fair Chance is really about empowering and inspiring kids, something our entire team is devoted to.  

Doug:  These director positions must also involve a great deal of travel and hotel stays.  Do you have any stories to share?

Emily: Yes, lots of stays in many different places.  Although there is not one story in particular, it is the stories that I get to learn from those who I meet.  Whether they are the stories of the educators we are learning with and coaching, or their students who help out, or those outside the realm of educator on the way there, their stories add the opportunity to learn something new, explore a different concept or work together to solve a challenge.

Derek: You’re right in that the travel can be extensive but it also allows us to connect with people we otherwise would never meet.  This isn’t overly exciting but in a short time frame I’ve had the opportunity to visit at least each province and territory (including Nunavut).  I mention this because it’s really given me a different perspective that goes far beyond teaching. I am far more aware of what challenges people from each region are subjected to and how we can help.  I am forever grateful for that opportunity.

On a personal note, one of my favourite trips was to Vancouver this year because I was able to bring both my wife and newborn son along with me.  We were heavily involved with IT4K12 but having them there was amazing and we even got to climb a few mountains.

Doug:  Before these positions, you had other jobs in education.  Can you describe them?

Emily: Prior to EdTechTeam Canada, I was in the classroom as a Math, Computer Science and English as a Second Language Teacher.  I taught Orangeville District Secondary School (Go Bears!) as well as other schools in UGDSB as I moved from Occasional Teacher, to LTO Teacher to Contract.  Before UGDSB, I had the opportunity to teach over in the UK for a year as a Maths and ICT teacher in Cleethorpes.

Derek: Prior to this opportunity with Fair Chance Learning I was a teacher at Stoneybrook PS in London Ontario with the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB).  Preceding that I worked within Engineering in various capacities. I also do work for Hacked Education which is a passion of mine.

Doug:  If I asked you to highlight one moment in your career, what would it be?

Emily: My highlight so far is when I had the chance to work with the English Language Learners at ODSS as that program was just getting off the ground running.  We had the chance of not only learning English (and boy did I learn too!) but also understanding the different cultures, traditions and values we all brought to the group.  We also practiced reading in English to our reading buddies who were enrolled the DD class at our school. Those relationships will be with us forever!

Derek: It is difficult to pick one moment that stands out the most. That being said my school surprised me on my birthday and every class went out in the hallway and clapped as I had to walk throughout to music only to arrive at a surprise awaiting me.  What was most special about this is that my students created something for me that is of personal importance and something I will always treasure. I was so proud of them for doing something beyond amazing for someone else. This really showed me the direct impact teachers can have.  

Doug:  Since both of you are so deeply vested in technology, there must have been a break-through moment where you were really convinced you were on the right track.  Can you share it?

Emily: My Grade 11 College Math class while teaching at ODSS.  The class fell in second semester, and the flip-flopping afternoon period.  At the start of the semester, I was struggling to keep the students engaged, to keep them excited about math and, ultimately, to keep them coming to class.  That semester, I had the opportunity to attend my first EdTechTeam Summit where I had the chance of learning about an application called Pear Deck.  I decided to give it a go with this class to see how it would work.  Many of my students were BYOD with their own smartphones and for those without, we borrowed a small group of Chromebooks.  As we learned through Pear Deck’s social learning environment, my students were hooked; it changed the atmosphere of the classroom.  I met the students where they were at and on the platform, this group, felt most comfortable on. I could go on and on why Pear Deck really helped my students gain their voice and build their understanding of mathematics, but that part will be for another story.  I had always used technology with my students before, but this Grade 11 Math class and Pear Deck was definitely one of the memorable breakthroughs.

Derek: Since I was a kid I’ve been invested in learning how and more importantly why things work. This led me down a path of design and multiple iterations.  It wasn’t until I was able to share this approach with students and see their response to it that I understood the power technology can have on them. I love the way technology makes learning accessible for all learners.  The feedback I’ve received from the students themselves transcends most of what I’ve done in the classroom. I love when students start to believe in themselves and realize how amazing they are.

Doug:  Now that you have moved into these current positions, you see and experience all kinds of applications of technology in the classroom.  What would you describe as the most inspirational experience you’ve seen?

Emily: The best practice of technology, in my opinion, is when that technology works together to connect students to a larger community.  Whether it is a computer science class out of Hamilton, Ontario creating app that solve a problem or the power of students creating a keyboard in their native language, technology has the power to connect us.  Allowing classes to explore the world through virtual reality or connecting to an expert in the subject they are learning, I am most inspired when students see their learning beyond the four walls of the classroom.

Derek: While I’m not trying to couch my response it’s difficult to select one thing because each individual has different needs and things adapt and change over time.  That being said my wife is an occupational therapist and always reminds me that the most powerful tools are ones that inspire and create opportunity or increased independence for the user.  The things that inspire me are creations which help others through empathic design. When students reach out to people within their community (and beyond) to solve a genuine problem it provokes an emotional response.  This gives true purpose to their work.

Doug:  What areas of technology use do you feel education isn’t doing a good enough job with?  What can be done to change this?

Derek: I feel as though education is doing well in terms of technological implementation.  One potential bottleneck is the allocation of resources. Throughout my travels I’ve noticed there is often a lack of equitable distribution.  I am excited for what the future holds especially in terms of machine learning, mixed reality, and big data/analytics.

Doug:  Today, people have multiple devices at their fingertips and I imagine that you’re no different.  What’s your favourite go-to piece of technology?

Emily: Lately it has been my Google Home.  I don’t know if I would be able to cook without it anymore!  From ‘OK Google, set a 5 minute timer’ to ‘What’s the next step’ in a recipe, she usually has the answers I need.  I also love the ability to play music (and of course Netflix) from asking a simple question.

Derek: I’m sure my wife would say my phone as it seems like we are permanently tethered to our devices at times but my maker side would advocate for my soldering iron or 3D printers.  It’s more of a creation space which supports the notion of producing over consuming.

Doug:  I envy the opportunities that you have in your positions.  What’s the next big event on your calendar?

Emily: We have lots of different events coming up (edtechteam.com/Canada).  Working with Adult Education teachers up in Barrie and working with Board Office staff in Kitchener are two Ontario based ones on the horizon!

Derek: This week our team is off to Connect in Niagara Falls and then I’m flying out to Thunder Bay to work with a school board.  There are lots of exciting things on the horizon!

Doug:  Will we see you at the Bring IT, Together Conference in Niagara Falls in November?

Emily: Bring IT, Together is the conference that got this all started for me. I always do my best to attend.

Derek: This is one of my favourite events of the year so if I have any say yes! Pending any unforeseen events we’ll be there…let’s grab a beverage!  

Doug:  It was great to have both of you for the interview and also at Owen Sound.  Thanks you so much.

Make sure that you follow Emily and Derek on social media:

Emily:

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/efitz_edtech
Blog:  http://emilyfitz.ca/

Derek:

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/dtangred
Blog:  http://www.hackededu.com/

An interview with Cliff Kraeker


As I noted earlier, I’m going to be away from blogging this week. Over the years, I’ve had the good fortune to interview 77 people for this blog. I’ve used a random number generator to pick a few from this collection to repost. Please enjoy them (again?) They’re all located here.


I’ve known Cliff Kraeker for a number of years in his role as a Technology Coordinator with the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB).  I don’t know exactly when we first met so will ask him and get his thoughts on a number of things in this interview.

Doug:  Hi Cliff – thanks for agreeing to do the interview.  I can’t remember; do you remember when we first met?

Cliff: Actually I don’t, but I suspect it would have been at the RCAC conferences which were held for many years in London at the Lamplighter Inn. I was probably introduced to you by Daryn Bee or Vince Vecchio – who were Learning Coordinators as well at the time.

Doug:  I do remember you in your role as a Technology Coordinator with the Thames Valley District School Board.  A district so big that it had Community Education Centres.  If I remember correctly, you had the East and part of London.  Are the CECs still in place?

Cliff: Actually I lived in the East area and worked with a good number of schools there because I knew so many principals and teachers from the time before amalgamation when it was still Oxford Board of Education. But it was Bill Schreiter who had the East Community of Schools – he lived in Stratford so the East was a better place to be mileage wise. For the time I was a Learning Coordinator, I was responsible for the schools in the west along the Wonderland and Oxford Street section of the city.

Doug:  Whoops.  My memory failed on that one.  You worked with a team – do you still stay in touch with them?

Cliff: I’ve been retired now for only 6 years. In the first 2-3 years Bill Schreiter and I would get together once a month, one month in Stratford and then the next closer to my home. Marlene Turkington, who was the Learning Coordinator of Libraries would often join us.   David Fife became a Vice Principal and now soon to be a principal and we’d meet now and again at the various iCon conferences which were held each year. Sandra Balestrin went back to the classroom and we get together 2-3 times a year for a meal and catch up. We have a tradition that I go to her class at the end of August and help her get all the technology connected in her class. Vince Vecchio is the only Learning Coordinator that seems to have disappeared. I’ve never seen him and when other former Learning Supervisors and Learning Coordinators ask about him and how he is – they haven’t seen him either. Maybe he’s the smartest one among us and in retirement just made a total break from education and educational circles. He loved golf so maybe if I was a golfer I might find him one morning on the links. Maybe this interview will help me find him again. A visit would be nice again.

Doug:  Thanks for the update.  That’s great news for David.  There were two outstanding things in the SouthWest of Ontario.  One was the Regional Computer Advisory Committee (RCAC), of which we were both members and would meet four or five times a year.  This no longer exists.  What benefits do you think individual districts miss from its demise?

Cliff: RCAC existed for us long before anyone was really attending ISTE or other larger technology related conferences. I remember ECOO in Mississauga during those years, but there a person would attend some sessions, browse through the vendor displays and go home. The RCAC was different in that we always had very good and intense Professional Development, particularly on the Friday after the main RCAC conference. But what we enjoyed the most about the various meetings during the year were those times we met and talked about what was going on in our various Boards. How were SMARTBoards being integrated into the classroom? Were we moving to laptop carts and which ones were the best for classroom use? So many of the over-riding questions we all struggled with as we tried to serve the various schools in our Boards. Many times it was good to know how the Hamilton Board was introducing a certain technology or how Greater Essex was dealing with introducing various new pieces of software from OSAPAC to their teachers. When RCAC folded that direct personal connection was lost. I suppose now our Twitter connections keeps all of us updated on what’s going on and what’s current. Of course the transition of ECOO into Bring It Together fills that need to get together in educators from all over Ontario as well now.

Doug:  Can you think of a specific learning that you got from the group that you might not have otherwise received?

Cliff: Some of the day long intensive sessions the Friday after RCAC with Will Richardson on blogging and a few on Photoshop. (forget the presenters now) but I still use some of the techniques we were taught at those sessions.

Doug:  I’ll bet the name you’re think of is Leslie Fisher. The other event was the annual RCAC Symposium.  We always held it in London during the worst weather of the winter on the first Thursday in December.  Sadly, it’s no longer offered to technology leaders.  What do you think of its demise?

Cliff: I think like I hinted at earlier, not being able to connect with technology leaders from all the various Boards in southwestern Ontario isolated us a bit from knowing first hand what was happening in other Boards. Not that we had to copy each other and what we were doing, but it was always nice at our planning sessions to actually know what was happening in other Boards around us. It often gave us a jumping off point for our own planning. Granted this was at a time before Twitter and the intense blogging so many are doing now. So maybe our connectivity is now happening that way. But it was still nice to sit down together and talk.

Doug:  Big question in Ontario today – Microsoft or Google?  Your preference?

Cliff: Right off the top probably Google!

Doug:  Why?

Cliff: So many things about Google / Google Docs / Google Classroom and all the various addons – SpeakIt, Voice Note 2 and so on are even replacing the more expensive software – Dragon Naturally Speaking and Kurzweil. It is allowing universal access to assistive technology like never before. But that is assuming schools are acquiring Chromebooks. For the most part many still are using PC’s so Microsoft becomes a layer that is still being used and then Google is that other layer. Even Boards that have a lot of Apple products are still using Google and the related applications in their use. The issue for many teachers happen when Boards limit the ability of teachers to access various applications through security measures that doesn’t give teachers admin rights to use the technology to the level of their own abilities. I doubt that question and issue will ever be dealt with to everyone’s satisfaction. The ultimate question still seems to stand. Does Information Technology Departments (IT) dictate to education what they can do or does education dictate to IT what needs to happen and then IT makes it happen?

Doug:  that’s such a really important question that every district needs to answer.  Classroom environments are certainly changing with new technologies.  Tablets, Chromebooks often fill the places normally filled by computers and laptops.  How do you feel about this?

Cliff: I love it but have a huge IF that needs to be in place. Great, IF the wireless is adequate to deal with all the available tablets and Chromebooks that are being used in any classroom in any part of the school. In so many schools I still support, I’ll hear that the wireless just doesn’t work in certain parts of the building. Labs have been dismantled in Thames Valley for the most part, so equal access needs to happen for every teacher and classroom. It’s also great IF teachers have begun to switch to the whole Inquiry Based Learning concepts in their classes, where the technology is used as a tool integrated into the learning and not an “event” like we use to have when we went to the lab every day 4 period 3 and usually just played some piece of software,  the whole period really being unrelated to whatever learning was happening in the classroom. (eg. play Math Circus or Sammy, Millie and Bailey)

Doug:  I still shudder when I hear the word “play” used in that context!  Are there certain subject areas that are affected most?

Cliff: It’s probably not subject related as much as it’s teacher related. Some teachers were dependent on that weekly visit to the lab to do something with technology where every child had their own station and could do something individually for 40 minutes while the teacher either walked around behind them or spent time online themselves checking email or doing report card comments. Those teachers are finding the disappearance of labs and the switch to mobile technology or Learning Commons where 3-4 students share one station and collaborate on a topic, the hardest to adapt. Plus the vast difference between schools where parent groups fund raise and can get their schools 3-4 class sets of iPads and a school down the road only has 5 iPads in the whole building are also creating inequities among classes and schools. Teachers feel that and are often frustrated when their lab disappears due to a Board wide directive and yet the the additional devices are not coming into the school in adequate numbers to satisfy the needs of the whole staff. There are some classes in Thames Valley who are piloting 1:1 iPad technology, but there is no plan to use that data to now find funding to replicate that experience in other classes. My question is do we really need a pilot to give us data on something so obvious? Maybe the real heroes in our classrooms are teachers who can take the 3-5 iPads they’ve been given and make those work effectively for an entire class of 28 kids. How THAT is done needs to be publicized a bit more.

Doug:  I’m smiling.  In that one paragraph, you’ve described the past 20 years of computer use in classrooms.  Progressive classrooms and schools have come so far and matured.  It’s interesting to note that we’re still in search of the perfect solution.  Who should set direction for technology within a district?  Technology departments or classroom teachers.  I know that there is a pie in the sky answer but there’s also a reality answer as well.

Cliff: Having been on the frontline of using technology in the classroom (teaching computer prep for the entire school for 8 years) Teacher Librarian Spring 2003 (page 18) http://www.accessola2.com/images/infocentral/TL10.2.pdf   I wanted as much control over my system, my lab, being able to reimage computers, install my own software etc. as possible. I was lucky enough at that time to have a one of the best IT TSA’s and he taught me so much and then gave me the ability to do so much on my own.

But then when I became a Learning Coordinator I came face to face with the issue of a system having to deal with 27,000 computers and some 36 TSAs to manage all those machines. Remote management was vital and the need to lock-down the system in certain areas was important in schools where there was no one who had the level of expertise needed to manage a school’s technology. So I experienced both extremes. Ultimately I’d like to see a variety of methods used. Model schools where both the staff and students can handle it properly, allowing them more access to the admin rights and then others where their systems are managed remotely but still serve them at the level they need. I think the increased use of Chromebooks have helped with this as they are less likely to be locked down as much as our Microsoft Active Directory stations were in the past. Although I was talking to a few teachers recently and they had heard about a few Google Addons at a recent STEAM conference, but when they went back to their school to install them, found they didn’t have the rights to do so. So there is still some “locking down” of even the Google environment.

Doug:  What are your thoughts about the role of teacher-librarians in today’s schools?

Cliff: What can I say? Some of my best friends are Teacher-Librarians!! And of course if you browsed to and read the article I posted earlier you’ll know my partnership with a great T-Lib was a part of my time teaching technology full-time at the elementary level. Prior to our massive dependence on technology it was the Partner in Action teacher-librarian who was the best support for a classroom teacher. Classroom teachers would plan and collaborate together with their T-Lib and together they would work through the project with their students. It really was a partnership. Although in my time as a LC I visited many schools where the T-Lib would spend time at her desk holding the bar code scanner as kids walked by holding their books for the computer system to scan their information.  No helping kids get books, no sharing, no Partners collaboration, no reading to kids, nothing!  Those were very sad situations. I don’t remember exactly when the change came in Thames Valley when a school had to have a qualified person in the library to the point now where a principal can assign anyone to that task happened, but in far too many schools, qualified / non-qualified didn’t seem to change anything.

Today when labs are disappearing and libraries are becoming Learning Commons and / or MakerSpaces, the best T-Lib have added the ability to support the teachers in their schools with technology, Google Classroom, coding, Spheros, robotics and so many of the authoring apps on iPads, but at the same time not neglecting literacy, reading and writing. I know and visit a few of them and their stories might be well told here in another interview.

Doug:  I know now that you’re doing some work with schools in your retirement to share your technology expertise.  We’ve had many discussions about Ubuntu.  Can you bring us up to date?

Cliff: While I was still a Learning Coordinator I would do various inservice sessions for some of the First Nations schools (mainly SMARTBoard sessions) After I retired I began going to those same schools one day a week to support all their technology. This involved actually repairing computers, updating the software, doing inservice sessions for teachers and team teaching with them on various projects in their classrooms.

With regard to the Ubuntu connection, I found as Windows XP stopped being supported that I could add Ubuntu to those desktops and still get a lot of mileage out of their use.

Doug:  You tag many of your Twitter messages with #tvdsb, obviously with reference to your old district.  Should all school districts use such an approach?

Cliff: I think they should, I mean why not? For the various educators #tvdsb is one of the main hashtags where everything of interest can be shared, but there are also others – #tvadmin, #tvdsbmath #tvdsbtech #tvdsbadmin #tvdsblit #tvdsbart and so on …. So if you want to find what is being shared in our Board it’s being shared somewhere with that hashtag.

Doug:  A while back I had interviewed Jennifer Aston, a person I’ve never met personally but read her blog and interact with online.  Is she as nice a person in real life?  Can you describe her role as an instructional coach with respect to technology?

Cliff: LOL …Is Jen a nice person in real life? That’s a good one! If she weren’t I’d have just ignored this question and moved on. I might be retired and have more freedom to speak my mind but being cruel is not my style. Not only is Jen a nice person (as you put it) but she is extremely conscientious, a self-starter, a leader and very innovative. She’s on a MAT leave right now but still continued hosting and moderating Twitter chats in the evenings. I remember sitting down with her years ago in her first year as an Instructional Coach and brainstorming ideas for the entire Instructional Coach team to find a way to share all their great ideas with the system. The result was a Pinterest collection that started here https://www.pinterest.com/TVDSBcoaches/ and grew into the personal collections of so many of the 38 Instructional Coaches TValley has now in all of our schools. One of the most massive collection is from another Coach who works with Jen – Sabrina Tyer – https://www.pinterest.com/sabrinatyrer/  I think on one level all the Coaches inspire each other.

TValley had a unique program recently, GENTLE – where they were able to welcome more Syrian refugees into our schools in a very unique way. http://www.lfpress.com/2016/02/27/student-ambassadors-helping-syrian-refugee-children-learn-the-ropes-at-london-elementary-school And if you read Jen’s Blog http://jaston.edublogs.org/2016/01/19/snapshots-from-helping-a-syrian-family/ you will know she was very active in working with Syrian families. Her passion to help is natural and innate to her personality. And another example of that generosity was so very evident when she responded to the story about outrageous food prices in the Canadian north by joining this FB group and regularly sending parcels of food to food banks in Nunavut. https://www.facebook.com/groups/HelpingOurNorthernNeighbours/ So yes, Jen is a nice person.   

With regard to her role as an Instructional Coach and how it’s related to technology, simply looking at her digital footprint will tell the story. Her blog is http://jaston.edublogs.org/  Her Twitter feed is https://twitter.com/jen_aston She moderates this Twitter Chat group https://twitter.com/hashtag/fslchat  and her Pinterest page – https://www.pinterest.com/TVDSBcoaches/

Doug:  From your experience, you’ve seen lots of things come and go.  What technologies do you think:

  • will ultimately stand the test of time;
  • are a “flash in the pan” and will just be a memory in a few years;
  • what about “makerspace”.  Game changing, innovative, or something that has always been done in Ontario just with a new name;
  • is in the future for education

Cliff: Mobile will stay! Apple started way ahead of the pack, but Android, Google etc. are making a fast in-roads into our schools. Stories are coming out of the US where entire districts are dropping Apple products for Chromebooks etc. But that battle will continue.

Flash in a pan will be some of the toys that are related to the whole coding phenomena. I love Sphero balls and OzBots and programming them can be fun, but some math teachers are already making reference to the fact that we are not getting the depth of math understanding out of programming them to roll down the hall and make a 90 degree turn. That might be fine at an early elementary level but I’m hoping to see a deeper richer math experience with these toys in the higher grades or we might find we leave them altogether and move on to something else. But that will always depend on the teacher and the knowledge and skills they bring the their students in that regard.

MakerSpace will evolve with each teacher and each school. Some stick with Lego Walls and Connects Sticks. Others are creating circuits and still others experimenting with green screen and video production. You can travel from school to school and what you find are successful MakerSpaces are dependent on the teachers in the building, the actual space they’ve allocated to that concept and of course the funding they are prepared to allow to get the collections of things the kids can do and experiment with during their MakerSpace experiences. Key though will also always be the organization, how the bins of materials are stored, replenished and monitored. Nothing will kill a MakerSpace faster than finding (after a few weeks) a mess in the room; the bins not sorted, lego in with circuits, Ozbots not charged, parts of the robotics mBots missing and the teachers who started out so passionate about the concept,  fed up with being the only ones cleaning up and organizing, that they say, “I can’t do this anymore, I’m done!” and walk away from the project.

In the future? How we do assessment has to change first. In a time of FreshGrade and Seesaw (to name a few) doing report cards 2-3 times a year needs to change. Curriculums also need to adapt to the whole Inquiry Based Learning model and subjects as a focus will disappear and collaborative integrated learning will take place in a stronger holistic manner. Finland seems to be headed in that direction and I know there has been discussions in many Innovative forums in TValley about how that might look within our own schools. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/finland-schools-subjects-are-out-and-topics-are-in-as-country-reforms-its-education-system-10123911.html  Our whole Rethink Secondary plan might come to some of those conclusions. We don’t know yet, but the report is here. http://www.tvdsb.ca/welcome.cfm?subpage=304444

Doug:  Thanks so much for the interview, Cliff.  It was great to catch up.  I enjoyed so much shared learning with you and those you recognized when we met regularly through the Western RCAC.  I’m so glad to hear that you continue to help colleagues in Thames Valley.

Cliff is very active on Facebook and on Twitter at @kraekerc.  He also builds and maintains various websites for educational and private clients. If you need support with a website drop Cliff a line at kraekerc@gmail.com

Here are just a few of those links Cliff mentioned in the interview.

Media Literacy Tuesday


I suppose this will ultimately be labelled as a Post from the Past. In the past, it would have been posted on the Monday after the Super Bowl. But,with schools re-opening yesterday, I figured it would be better posted today. I suspect people had better things to do yesterday.

This was always a big concept for a colleague of mine and I supported her with doing the research and this post. It always seemed a little out of place because with a 6:30pm start to the Super Bowl, a lot of kids would be in bed by the time all the commercials had aired. But, I guess they’ll see them eventually.

If you’re concerned about Media Literacy, waiting until the Super Bowl is probably too late. It’s something that should have been done all along. Have you checked out the resources from the Association for Media Literacy?

This year was a bit different. With the new NAFTA, Canadian television stations were allowed to override the American commercials. Around here, the local CTV station did not broadcast the game so we watched it on the Detroit CBS affiliate so we did get the American commercials.

Anyway, here’s the original post, fact checked and updated to make sure the links are current and relevant.


Could there be a bigger opportunity than the Monday Tuesday after the Super Bowl to talk about advertising and Media Literacy?

Who could forget this classic advertisement from 1984?

From yesterday, the commercial that I best remember would have been the Jason Alexander, err, Tide commercial.

Maybe the most interesting one and I’ll admit to missing it was the Reddit ad. They could only afford 5 seconds.

CBS has a page devoted to the commercials that it will show during its broadcast – http://www.cbs.com/superbowl/commercials/video/ – this should be your best source for the original content, right from the broadcaster. The link is there but I can’t get to it since it’s blocked in Canada. There’s a lesson there in itself.

If you’re still in need to seeing them all, check out this link.

Amazingly, there was a time when a media literacy lesson couldn’t be taught the day after Super Bowl.  You might have to record the commercials at home or wait for you media department to edit and distribute the commercials.  Increasingly in schools, YouTube and other media sources are unblocked, the actual advertiser is making the commercials immediately available.  And well they should to get the bang for their buck.  Today’s going price is $5M for 30 seconds. Update in 2021, they were $5.6M according to this article.

But, how do you actually plan for the lesson?

Frank Baker shares an excellent lesson plan just for times like this.

Deconstructing a TV Commercial: Media Literacy” is a terrific lesson for investigating any commercial.  He has a page devoted specifically to the Super Bowl here.

With these resources and, certainly, the tools that we have available in the classroom, this is one of those teaching moments not to be missed.