An Amazing Race using Voxer

The Icons race is one of the feature components of our Year 9 Urban History program.  Students work in groups of three and navigate their way around Melbourne trying to locate key features and fixtures of the Melbourne CBD.  Traditionally students received cards with clues and needed to decipher the exact location that they needed to travel to. The group would then need to work out their travel route and collect a souvenir, usually in the form of a photo. Once the group had solved the clues on the card, they would race back to the one of three checkpoints where a staff member would provide them with the next set of clues.  The race worked well for the most part with the card system but there was a lot of time spent transitioning back to the same fixed location instead of exploring our great city.  Groups stayed in contact with teachers by random phone calls and of course the check ins at the checkpoints.  By in large most students engaged with the activity but there were definitely areas to improve. When we began a review of the program last year, I replaced the card system with a Geocaching race where students downloaded the Geocaching app and using the GPS on their phones tried to locate geocaches around Melbourne. The below instructions are an example of what I gave the students.

Geocache guide

Each group had to find ten geocaches from the designated list with each group starting at a different point.  Due to the challenging nature of some of the geocaches, students also used the photo taking capacity of the app to take “selfies” at the location coordinates.  All in all, the Icons race worked well but the Geocaching element just wasn’t the right fit. Students enjoyed the treasure hunt nature of the geocaching experience and especially enjoyed the ‘selfie’ element so when I was reviewing the Icons race, I looked for a solution that captured these elements.

Voxer was the choice that won out.  Voxer is basically a walkie talkie for your phone or mobile device and it allows a user to send/receive text, voice or pictures.  Another great feature that I wanted to explore was Voxer’s use of the mobile device’s GPS to capture where an image, voice recording or text was sent from.  This feature would allow the teachers running the Amazing race to verify a student’s location. Voxer is also so easy to use and deploy. To begin with, I collected 16 iconic Melbourne images which formed the trail of the Amazing race. Each group was given an address to start at.  To receive their first clue, students had to prove that they were at the address. This was usually a photo of the address or a selfie on location.  We used Voxer’s location settings to make sure that students were actually there.  Students were then sent an image of an iconic Melbourne landmark and they had to make their way there. Once they arrived, they had to respond with a selfie at the location (verified by the teacher) to receive their next clue.

Voxer 4

Voxer 2

The next clue was a text challenge that required the group to search the venue for the answer. Many students went searching for plaques or engaged with employees at venues to find the answer. Once they had submitted their response, the group was then given their next landmark to travel to. The aim of the Icons race is to give our students a better understanding of our city’s physical dynamics and to engage with the city. Students had to use their group smarts to track the quickest, most efficient route to their next clue and then they had to spend some time learning about each iconic landmark.  As the students are Year 9 students, there are afforded a greater deal of independence but Voxer enabled teachers to be aware of where each student group was at all times. Staff would sent groups a voice message and ask where they were and students would respond and their location could then be verified. The purse in Bourke street proved challenging for some students and a staff member was easily able to direct groups to this location by looking at the group’s current location.  I am wanting to add more engagement with the city and other Melbournians to the next Icons race and have already asked students to make this Icon race even more games based.

Voxer 3 Voxer 1

Reflections of an eLearning Coordinator

A year in…reflections on a my first year as an eLearning Coordinator

This post is inspired by the Xmas end of year podcast by the EdTech Crew.  The podcast was a Google Hangout with a collection of inspiring educators (Hello Mel and Lois!!) with the focus of the Hangout being to provide guidance and support for a graduate teacher who had also been appointed as an ICT Coordinator (Click on the link to listen to the podcast, highly recommend it. EdTech Crew Xmas Podcast).  In my first year of teaching, I took on the role of District Sports Secretary for the whole of our school district which was a massive role at the time but with support and guidance (like the EdTech Crew podcast), I managed to find my feet and complete both my first year of teaching and the challenging leadership role.  15 years on and I have now just finished my first year as an eLearning Coordinator and so I write this post as part reflection and (hopefully) part guidance/support.

First off, I must lead off with stating that I love my job.  In my spare time, I am always playing, tinkering, finding, solving and challenging myself with technology.  Being passionate about what you do makes work feel like play and people can really sense that.  I also believe wholeheartedly that technology when driven by great pedagogy can transform learning for all learners.  This authenticity also helps validate your credibility with other staff.

So here a few things that I have learnt from my first year in the role…

The job of the eLearning coordinator is to help with the successful integration of technology.  However, with that being said, success in the role relies more on the person that you are and how you manage yourself and your relationships than your knowledge of technology.  Don’t get me wrong, knowledge and capacity with technology are extremely important but in this role, who you are and how you do things are number one.

  • Be positive, optimistic and proactive.  Be open when you don’t know something but proactive in developing a solution.
  • Be genuine and responsive.   Sit in on classes, attend team/faculty meetings, meet face to face with staff, catch staff members for a coffee.  Show that you are willing to learn about the way that people operate.  This will provide greater insight for your own planning as well as increase your standing with staff.
  • Take more time to get to know staff.  Actively listen to them to learn about the intricacies of their contexts.  Context is a huge factor in the success of your ideas and initiatives.  The greater your knowledge of the various contexts at your school, the greater your opportunity for success.
  • Take stock of your progress by regularly looking back at what you have achieved.  Forward focusing all the time can be a big drain on morale if the workload is heavy.
  • Find platforms to showcase the great work of staff and students.  Once you spark creative conversations between staff members, you build momentum.  Try to keep this up by championing staff of all capacity levels.  If you are rolling out new technology, have a small group of staff members (mixed capacity levels) beta test the technology.  Having advocates of all skill levels will help inspire all staff.
  • Celebrate the big wins & little wins.  I worked with my Director of Staff Learning and Director of Well-Being to develop a Staff Professional Learning Newsletter called Connect-ED.  This magazine was designed to share the professional learning that staff had undertaken, celebrate the innovative use of pedagogy, spark conversation and to build collegiality.  I used SimpleBooklet to do this.  It is very easy to use and allows for great dynamic content to be shared.
  • Learn, learn and more learning. Find manageable feeds to feed your learning and support your role.  For me, Flipboard and Scoop.it capture everything from RSS feeds to Twitter hashtags to Google + hashtags.
  • Use web tools to make your life easier.  I use Trello to manage daily workflow as well as to manage project timelines and tasks and it works on all devices.  Use IFTTT (If This Then That) recipes to capture web content easily.  Find an organiser that works for you…for me it is Evernote.  Using IFTTT recipes and tags, I can easily find great resources to share with staff or to fuel an idea.
  • Be flexible and firm.  Know when you bend and flex and when to hold your ground.  This one is inspired by some marriage advice I was given about “picking your battles”.  Suffice to say on that front, I’m still losing the war ; )
  • Have fun and play.  If you are passionate about this role, it is a great role.  However, like all leadership roles, you can lose yourself in the day to day existence so take some time out for yourself to keep play as an element in your role.  Every holidays, I would keep every Tuesday free for myself and would head in to the State Library (great Wifi, location and inspiring context) where I would work on creating, building, exploring or writing.  I would not use any of this time to check work emails or other mundane tasks and these small windows of personal time helped rejuvenate me for another big term of work.
  • Find like-minded people to bounce ideas off and find folks with different perspectives to challenge yours.  I have been lucky enough to have found a few great mentors on staff and their perspective and advice have been pivotal to my development as an educator.  Develop your Personal Learning Network.  Connect through Twitter, TeachMeets, curation, conferences and any other form that you can think of.
  • When talking to staff, don’t lead with technology.  Talk about learning.  The possibility of enhanced learning is why we are using the technology in the first place.  Talking about learning also reduces staff anxiety about their capacity with technology as you are speaking a language that they are familiar with.  Take plenty of notes (old school way or Evernote, whatever works for you) and use your organised information feeds to provide possibilities.  Your role in the conversation is to listen, hear and then see the possibilities. Couple this with a good knowledge of context and a dedication from both parties to work together will help to find solutions that will have longevity and will help transform the learning.
  • Work with staff teams and staff collectively to develop a vision and plan for the future.  Think Big picture and then work to marry this to the day to day existence.  Everyone needs a plan and the best plans are developed collaboratively with buy in from all key stakeholders.  Tie your goals to the key strategic goals of the school.  This will help with traction, take up and support.  Bringing about change requires a great plan, collective buy-in from all on the journey, time, plenty of highs and lows, hard work and more hard work and flexibility to adapt and recalibrate.
  • Be prepared for meetings and then also be prepared to throw the ideas to the curb if need be.  Sometimes the best laid plans just fall flat.
  • Form a good working relationship with your technical team and support.  I regularly annoy our team by asking “Why?” and “Why not?”  Learn about how your system works and this will help the ideas that you are trying to get off the ground succeed.

Someone asked me the other day what my vision for my role was.  I told them that I wanted my role to be obsolete in a few years.  If I have done my job correctly, all staff will be equipped with the capacity to use technology to transform the teaching and learning in their classrooms and there would be no need for my position.  I know it seems silly to try to work myself out of a job but I do believe that innovative use of technology led by innovators and hard workers will transform education.  I hope my reflections have been helpful.

Best of luck!