Extended Lecturer in Computing at Reid Kerr College Paisley teaching mostly Games Development at NC, HNC and HND level. Particular fondness for Microsoft Visual C# and XNA. Interested in innovative ways of using technology in education and encouraging partnerships between different types of educational institutions to make the best use of technology, resources and skill sets.
This is probably slightly controversial and may be seen as outdated thinking, but I have to set the context of the title of this blog post first. In FE (Further Education) Colleges in Scotland, we generally have only two outcomes for each unit students undertake, PASS or FAIL. I’m not really sure the historical reason for this (it’s been that way as long as I can remember and I’ve been teaching in FE for 18+ years), I think it was to do with making all students feel they have achieved. On our HNC (Higher National Certificates) and HND (Higher National Diploma) courses we do have a single Graded Unit in which they do receive an A, B or C, but that is only one unit out of the 15 or so units they do a year.
The problem with the PASS or FAIL system with no grading, is there is little motivation for excellence, apart those who are internally motivated to do their best anyway, but a lot of students we get at college are ones who didn’t achieve their full potential at school and have disengaged with education to a degree. So a student who submits work on time to a very high standard receives a PASS, the same result as a student who submits the bare minimum work 4 weeks late.
Now we could just fail students who submit work late and that would certainly work as a motivating factor, however it would also mean less students would pass and achieve courses and we are judging in Scotland in colleges on our pass rates (that might not be an official line, but it is effectively the case). It also wouldn’t help with encouraging students to do their best. In the past I have tackled this by running internal competitions, such as the best 3D Animation receives a prize. That certainly did help encourage some of the highly motivated students to do better work, but it only really worked with a small percentage of them.
So this block at college I introduced on my HNC and NC games courses grades for all units. I taught 42 HNC students in our block 1 between August and November and at the end of block 1, less than 10 students had submitted their work on time and complete. A few of my better students said to me, “How come we get the same results as those guys who submitted late and did the bare minimum?”. My answer was that I totally agreed with them and it wasn’t fair at all. So I decided I would try something. I did speak to SQA about introducing grades and it did get a positive response, but it was obvious nothing was going to happen soon.
So this block I told my students that for every subject (unit) they completed they would get an A, B or C for attainment based on the quality of their work and on it being submitted on time. I told them they would also receive a mark for effort (also A, B or C). Effort would take into account how they worked in class as well as their time keeping and attendance (something FE students are notoriously bad for). I did explain it was only an internal thing, equivalent to a school report, but that we would give them their results at the end of the year on a college certificate and we would also use it as a basis for selecting who would progress onto our HNC and HND courses the following year. I setup a gradebook for each student on their college OneNote (as shown below).
As I write this, it is now the day after the submission date for my 2D Animation class, with the same 42 students I had in block 1. I have now 30 out of 42 complete, the vast majority of whom did submit on time. That is 71% complete within a day of the submission date, compared with around 20% at best in block 1. The standard of work is also the best I have seen for this unit, with some really nice animations, some of which I have included in this blog post. All the ones I have included are to a better standard that I could have produced myself (as I am not an artist) and I am pleased with that. I don’t think my job as an educator is to always be superior to the students, but it is to encourage them and engage with them so that they fulfil their full potential. The way I approached this unit was I wanted to show them the tools and then let them run with it and produce their own work & take ownership of it. When the student becomes better than the master, I think that is job done.
Out of the 30 who have now passed I have assigned 9 As, 15 Bs and 6 Cs, although the remaining 12 students now will get a C at best, so the number of Cs will rise. I personally think this is a resounding success, although it’s early days and it will be interesting to see how the other lecturers on the course find the improvement within the subjects they teach. It seems to me then, that applying grades (even unofficial ones) to all units seems to work. It’s not perfect and I still have 12 students who have not passed, 7 of the 12 having not submitted at all as of yet. However getting 70% of them completed on time for me is a win.
The negative is that it is certainly was more work for teachers/lecturers and they all need to buy into it. I had to grade every student and I gave each one of them personal feedback in their grade-book as to why they got the grade they did. This is certainly more work than just assigning PASS or FAIL. However providing quality feedback is something that is encouraged by SQA and Education Scotland and is something educators should all be doing anyway.
I was privileged enough to attend my 2nd Microsoft MVP (Most Valuable Professional) Global Summit at the HQ of Microsoft in Washington state last month. This is my 2nd year as a Microsoft MVP for Kinect and I am still the only Kinect MVP from the UK. This has been largely for my work in using Kinect in education and the Kinect applications that I have created for education.
The summit gives MVPs opportunities to go behind the scenes at Microsoft and see the latest technologies they are working on before they are even announced, as well as attend sessions by Microsoft Engineers and Software Developers where they share what they are currently doing and what will be coming out in the future. It also provides MVPs the opportunity to speak to MS Engineers and developers in small groups and feedback to them with any problems they are having or suggest improvements that could be made. A lot of information that MVPs receive at the conference are covered by Non-Disclosure agreements, so I’m not at liberty to share it until it is public knowledge.
One of the highlights of the week was a talk given by the new CEO of Microsoft Satya Nadella to MVPs on his vision of the future for Microsoft. There seems to be a renewed focus on doing what they do best, which is software, whereas he sees Apple as a devices company. This is demonstrated by Microsoft Office now being one of the top selling Apps on iOS. The Microsoft employees I spoke to were all very positive about Satya as CEO, as they see him as one of them as he worked his way up through the company starting as an Engineer.
One of the significant announcements in my field, which I can share, is that Microsoft are now selling a £30 adaptor for XBOX1 Kinect so that it can be used with Windows PCs. Although Kinect was originally a motion sensing gaming device, it has been adapted to be used in so many other areas from Physical therapy to Hospital operating rooms and of course in education. This announcement will encourage this further with the new and improved Kinect for XBOX1.
I also took the opportunity while at Microsoft to meet with the TouchDevelop team at Microsoft Research. We are using TouchDevelop to teach programming on our School courses and NC games courses and I have been in constant touch via e-mail with the TouchDevelop team in Redmond. I am also currently working on a project with Delhi University and West College Scotland, where I am creating an online course on games development using TouchDevelop. So it was good to sit down with them and discuss how we were using it, what we need from it and find out what they are planning in the future for it.
This update has been coming for a long time and was actually pretty much complete before the summer, but I’ve been so busy with my new role at College that I haven’t had a second to package it up and get it out. The new version of my Kinect educational games makes use of the latest Kinect SDK (v1.8) for the original Kinect for Windows, using the new SDK brings some performance boasts in itself. However the main thing that this release adds is the new X-Ray mode in my NoNeed4Green program (the green screen without a green screen). Press X once to show a skeleton overlaid on whoever is standing in front of Kinect, press it again to show just a skeleton avatar. I’m sure all you innovative educators out there can think of uses for this in the classroom.
Download the new version of Kinect Games from here. It requires Windows 7 or Windows 8 and a Kinect for Windows v1 or Kinect for XBOX360 with external power supply.
Thanks goes out to Benjamin Swindells (an ex-student of mine) for providing the skeleton graphics captured from his 3D models. Benjamin is one of the best 3D modellers/animators I have had to privilege to teach, far better than me at 3D art. Also thanks to my fellow MS expert educator Simon Johnson for creating transparent versions of the skeleton for the overlay mode.
Last week I attended the Microsoft in Education Global Forum in Barcelona. I was selected as part of a ten strong team from the UK to attend the conference, although I was the only Scot in the team and the only FE lecturer. The week was an amazing mix of talks, panel discussions, collaborative sessions and a TeachMeet. We also spent 2 half days exhibiting our learning activities on stands to the other educators and school leaders at the conference. However for me the best thing about the forum was the amazing educators that I met from around the world and the future projects that I will now be able to collaborate with them on.
On day one of the conference a highlight for me was Stuart Ball, UK PIL manager, presenting on some of the amazing apps for education that are available on the Windows 8 store and more specifically for the Surface tablet. I downloaded 5 or 6 apps onto my Surface during the session that I hope to make use of them in my classroom practice.
The other major part of day one was the first exhibitor session, where we got to show off our projects to educators and school leaders from around the world. There were 6 of us from the UK manning stands, with a variety of projects. Simon & Ray both had projects around TouchDevelop, while the Queen of Kodu, Nicki, was presenting on the KoduKup. I was mostly talking about a project I ran, where my college students made games in groups in conjunction with a local primary school using XNA. However I was also speaking about using Kodu & TouchDevelop to teach coding to children and teachers. So there was a common theme of coding in 4 out of the 6 projects, which reflects the current trend in the UK towards programming in Computing. I found the exhibitor sessions invaluable, my only criticism is that I wish I had more opportunities to visit the other stands myself, as we were pretty much tied to our stands. I think a system where only half of us were presenting at a time, while the other half were free go around and visit the other stands would be a much better approach in future.
On day two we started with an inspiration keynote address from Anthony Salcito, Microsoft’s worldwide Vice President for Microsoft Education. He started by saying that our students are learning without us; I wonder myself if sometimes it is despite of us . He talked about Microsoft’s commitment to education and teachers. He also made it clear that he recognises that technology isn’t the answer, but great teachers using technology well is. He also demonstrated the amazing Project Spark, which although not new to me, drew gasps of amazement from the audience. Project Spark is Kodu on steroids, it builds on the creative 3D world available in Kodu, by allowing students to create truly jaw droppingly beautiful worlds, but is also allows them to fully customise that world by programming the objects within it, to do whatever they want. Whether it is telling a rock to follow your character or making an ogre dance when you are near it, you can truly create whatever you want.
He also demonstrated an amazing new app called ChronoZoom, which allows you to create dynamic timelines on any topic. A great tool for teaching History, but not just limited to history as it can be used to visualise historical or future timelines for any subject.
After the keynote it was back to exhibiting our learning activities. This time I decided to take time to talk to the other expert educators, so I was a little bit naughty in that I left my stand unattended for a while and went to the other displays and spoke to most of the educators near me, which just so happened to be mostly team USA. This was my favourite thing from the conference, making connections with other educators from around the world and seeing the innovative ways that they are making use of technology in the classroom. I spoke to Michael Braun from Seattle, who I had actually met before when I visited a high school in Seattle to speak about TouchDevelop, while I was at the MVP summit in November last year. I learned about how he has been using TouchDevelop to teach coding in his classroom on smartphones and tablets. I also spoke to two teachers from Tampa (Bradley Smrstick and Joshua Sawyer) who are running Coding camps in Florida during July, which coincides with when I am there on holiday with my family, so I’ve arranged with them to do some sessions on TouchDevelop & Kodu while I am there. I also spoke to a primary teacher from Canada (Leah Obach) who is now going to enter 2 teams from her School into a Minecraft competition that I am running in conjunction with the College Development Network in Scotland.
It was also great to see so many Kodu projects from educators around the world, I think I counted 7 different projects, including one from my friends from Norway, who have 70 schools involved in their KoduKup competition this year. My Norwegian friends have also invited me over to Norway in May to judge at the Norwegian KoduKup, which hopefully I can arrange to do. It inspired me to look at setting up a Scottish KoduKup, which Microsoft have given me permission to do, so watch this space for further details.
In the afternoon after I finished exhibiting, I attended a hot topic panel discussion on “Inspiring Student Learning and Creativity through Gaming”. I wasn’t actually expecting much from this, as it was not a formal talk, however it featured an Australian guy called Simon Breakspear who is an educational speaker, researcher and innovator. He communicated much of my own thinking about the proper use of games in education, in a far more articulate manner than I could have. Simon was my favourite presenter from the entire week, as games for learning is something close to my heart. I was chuffed to get a retweet from him with my thinking that the “gameplay should be where the learning happens”, as far too many “learning” games use the gameplay as a reward for answering a question. The key to a good educational game is where they learn through playing, rather than by using the gameplay as a carrot. We also need to look at how games that students already play & love, can be used in learning, a great example being MineCraft, which is so much more than just a fun game and can be used to encourage collaboration, teamwork, creativity and even programming. Simon is someone I hope to hear from again and I will try and get him to come speak at one of the conferences I am involved with in the upcoming year.
In the evening I managed to get away from the conference and went down to see Barcelona beat Manchester City at the Nou Camp. Being a good Scot, I was wearing my Barcelona top and sat in with the Catalans. It was an amazing experience to see a near full Nou Camp cheering on Messi and co to victory, although I must be honest and say the atmosphere doesn’t compare to Ibrox on a Champions league night (although it might be a while before I experience that again). I also got to witness the nasty side of English footie fans, as the Manchester City fans, who were right behind me, went about wrecking the fence that was keeping them separated from the Barcelona fans.
On day 3 we had the Learn-a-thon, which I wasn’t really expecting much from, however it was actually a valuable experience and put the educators on the other side of things, as we worked together with educators from around to world to create a learning activity, while overcoming obstacles such as the language barrier. Our team worked to our strengths with our art teacher Darko from Macedonia creating an impressive stop motion animation about our theme which was “Treasuring Water”, while I created a Kinect game on the same theme.
That evening Stuart Ball and Dave Rogers from the UK team did a fantastic job organising a TeachMeet for Western Europe. Unknown to me, TeachMeets are a British thing, which the other countries were not familiar with, however it went very well and it was one of the best events I attended all week. I got another chance to present my xGames to educators who had never seen them and I had a lot of interest in them, especially from the Netherlands.
On the last day we presented our Learn-a-thon learning activity to the judges in the morning, after which myself, Ray, Simon & Dave Rogers finally got a chance to enjoy the Sauna & Jacuzzi facilities of the hotel that Microsoft had very kindly put us up in. It was nice to get a chance to relax for a couple hours and take in the wonderful views of the surrounding area.
Early afternoon we went back to the main conference auditorium where we had an address from Prince Felipe, heir apparent to the Spanish throne. We had to go through proper airport style security checks to get into the conference arena, because of the presence of royalty, as evidently he isn’t too popular in Catalonia.
In the evening we got dressed up for the formal Gala Dinner and awards ceremony. I spoke with James Ptaszynski at the dinner, who is Senior Director in MS for Higher Education strategy, about the role that FE & HE may play in future Global forums. At the awards ceremony Scott Wieprecht from the UK team placed 2nd runner up in the Cutting Edge use of Technology for Learning category, so Congrats to Scott and his school Saltash.
At the after party I spent hours with my Norwegian friends speaking about teaching, education, politics and the meaning of life. We agreed that I must visit Norway again soon to help judge at the KoduKup final in May and whatever else I can fit in while there; perhaps some Project Spark and TouchDevelop.
Overall it was a fantastic week and it was also great to catch up with friends like Ray and Simon, while getting to know Nicki & Dave Rogers better, but also it was lovely to make new friends with some amazing educators from all over the planet.
I have a bunch of events lined up between now and the summer, all of which would not have happened without my involvement with the Partners in Learning network. I am going to Lincoln University next week to present on Kinect for Windows v2, as well as taking part in a Kinect Hackathon. During our Easter break in April, I am going to the Codebits conference in Lisbon, Portugal, to present on Kinect v2 and from there I fly to Berlin for a Kinect v2 developers event & Kinect Hackathon. At the end of April I will travel to Microsoft’s data centre in Dublin for a Microsoft MVP open day.
In June I am doing workshops on TouchDevelop and Project Spark at Games Britannia which is being held at Sheffield Hallam University. The same week I am presenting on Kinect and playful learning at the JISC ITECH conference in Glasgow. So busy, busy times ahead. Thanks to Stuart Ball and the PIL UK team for all their support and the opportunities they have provided me.
It’s been a while since I last updated my blog; I’ve just been so busy that I’ve hardly had a chance. Last time I wrote I was about to head down to Birmingham for the NEC Skills Show to demonstrate the incredible Project Spark, so I thought that would be a good place to start.
Project Spark Demo
Skills Show Birmingham NEC 14th to 15th November 2013
I spent two days at the Skills Show at Birmingham NEC, at the invitation of Lee Stott (Microsoft Technical Evangelist), presenting on Microsoft’s amazing new game creation tool Project Spark and on Microsoft’s cross-platform app development tool TouchDevelop. Microsoft sponsored the City and Guilds stand at the Skills Show, which was an amazing event which had at least 75,000 visitors over the 3 days of the conference.
I also got to meet up with another one of Microsoft’s Innovative Expert Educators, Simon Johnson Highfields School – Secondary Comprehensive (11-18) in the City of Wolverhampton.a High School Computing teacher from Highfields School in Wolverhampton. I had been corresponding on Twitter with Simon for months about TouchDevelop, as he was using some of my TouchDevelop game creation tutorials with his pupils. Simon has set up a TouchDevelop challenge website with some great resources on it and fascinating examples of games created by his pupils.
Simon concentrated on TouchDevelop at the Skills Show, while Simon Michael (Microsoft Technical Evangelist) and I concentrated on spreading the word about Project Spark to the legions of High School pupils passing by. The reception for Project Spark was incredible; I really think the creative types who love Minecraft will love it. Project Spark has the creative aspects of games like Minecraft and game engines like UDK, but unlike Minecraft you can change the way the world works and program the characters to do what you want, including programming NPC (non-playable characters) with AI. Spark was created by the same minds behind Kodu and it builds on the simplistic language of KODU, so those who are familiar with coding in Kodu will take right to it, however there is so much more you can do in Spark than you could in Kodu. In Project Spark you can create a rich beautiful 3D world with its amazing next generation graphics, far superior in my opinion to the blocky world of Minecraft, but for those who love their Minecraft blocks there is even a cubify option. Project Spark has been added to the Kodu Kup competition this year and it will be launching free soon on Windows8.1, Xbox One and Xbox 360.
I had a great 2 days at the show, showing off Project Spark to the multitudes and even saw a few famous faces, like Theo Paphitis of Dragons Den fame and Princess Anne, who came by our stand for a visit, but unfortunately did not try her hand at Project Spark. I also got to demonstrate and do a recording of my Kinect Math Mage game, being played by Dolly bow bow. What you have never heard of her? Neither had I, she is YouTube famous evidently :-).
Microsoft MVP Global Summit Bellevue / Redmond 17th to 21st November 2013
Straight after my 2 day stint at the Skills Show, I jumped on a plane to Seattle from London for my first visit to Microsoft HQ in Bellevue, which is just outside of Seattle on the North West coast of the USA. I was visiting for the Global MVP summit, as I have recently been awarded the title of Microsoft Most Valuable Professional for Kinect, making me the only Kinect MVP in the UK. The MVP programme has around 4000 professionals in it from over 90 countries and they answer more than 10 million questions a year to the technical community.
I got to Seattle on Saturday and the conference was beginning Sunday evening, so I spent Sunday during the day doing a bit of sightseeing, my favourite thing was having brunch at the top of the Space Needle.
I spent the first 2 days learning about the new Kinect for Windows version 2 which will be coming out probably around summer 2014. It is based on the Xbox One Kinect and has many new features over the old Kinect for Windows, such as:
Full HD colour camera feed.
Much wider field of view (removing the need for the tilt motor).
6 skeletons can be tracked at once instead of 2.
Much improved depth camera.
Much more accurate skeletal tracking with more joints detected and far less jitter. It can now track when someone is standing side on to Kinect. It can also detect if you are leaning forward or backwards and continue to track joints.
Hand detection and tracking, allowing for better grip detection and new gestures such as lasso which is pointing two fingers together for drawing or dragging. Also thumb tracking allowing the detection of a shooting gesture, which I’m sure, will have applications in games.
Facial expressions are now available such as left or right eye open or shut, smiling, mouth open or closed and more. It should even be able to tell if you are wearing glasses or not.
Most of the processing is now done on the GPU rather than the CPU of your computer.
It now comes with and requires a USB3 port, which allows for a much higher throughput of data from the sensor.
While I was at the conference all Kinect MVPs in attendance (about 12 of us) were gifted an alpha version of the new Kinect for Windows (K4W) v2 developers kit. It really is an amazing piece of kit and the accuracy of skeletal tracking is far superior to the previous generation.
All MVPs attending the summit also received $300 off a Surface 2, making it a bargain at only $150, plus they gave us a free keyboard cover as well. I really love my Surface 2 and my iPad mini has almost been retired. There are still some Apps missing that I would love on Surface, but when I want to do some serious work on the go, or I want to take my work with me without having to carry about my full size laptop, there is no comparison and Surface wins. Plus it has a USB3 port, which might seem like a minor thing, but it really is a God send on a tablet when you have been used to not having one on the iPad.
On the afternoon of day 2 of the conference I was able to visit with the TouchDevelop team in their offices and meet Peli and Nikolai who I have been emailing for the past year. I have spoken with Peli on the phone and in person many times while I was creating my games development curriculum for TouchDevelop, which I have been using to teach games programming to our entry level college students. It was great to see where TouchDevelop was created and meet with the rest of the TouchDevelop team.
On the morning of day 3 I got a message from Peli early in the morning, asking if I wanted to go to a School with him, so I quickly got ready and took a taxi out to the school for 8.30am. Peli goes to the School 3 or 4 times a week from 8am until around 9.30am and then goes into Microsoft to do a full day’s work, that’s commitment for you. I gave a talk to the class about games development and TouchDevelop and showed them some techniques I use with TD to make games with my students back in Scotland. It was fascinating to see a full class working on TouchDevelop just using phones or tablets to program on. In college we mainly run it on a pc and load it up on a phone or tablet for testing, but these students were doing it all on the phone. It was also strange and flattering to hear that students from half-way around the world were making games using my games curriculum.
Later that day I recorded a video for Microsoft where I was interviewed about my use of Kinect and they also recorded me demonstrating my Kinect Games. That evening I had a great night out at the MVP attendee party at the Seattle Aquarium and Seattle Great Wheel, at which I beat Ben Lower at Kinect Golf and enjoyed a ride on the Seattle Great Wheel, which is a slightly smaller version of the London Eye.
On the last day of the summit I visited Microsoft’s amazing Envisioning Center with the rest of the Kinect MVPs and I got a glimpse into the future of technology, which evidently involves a lot of talking to appliances and rooms which sense your presence and sets the environment to suit you. I also got to go to the games studio that is behind Project Spark and meet with Scott Fintel who is project lead on both Kodu and Project Spark. I got to see the team hard at work on Spark and see the amazing concept art behind Spark. Peli & Nikolai from the TouchDevelop team came over later on and we jointly recorded a video with Scott, about Kodu and Project Spark for the Hour of Code on Channel9.
The MVP summit was truly an amazing experience and I got to meet some incredible people from Microsoft as well as some inspirational MVPs who are doing amazing things with Kinect and other technologies. I just hope they renew my MVP award next year so I can attend again.
Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert UK Training Event 3rd to 4th January 2014
The last (but not least) part of this blog post is about my visit to Cardiff in Wales to meet up with the other Innovative Expert Educators who will be attending the Global educational forum in Barcelona with me. Strangely enough Wales is the only country in my travels with Microsoft to which I had never been before. It was great to meet up with friends like Gareth, Ray, Stuart & Simon, but also to meet the likes of Katie, David Rogers & Scott for the first time. Gareth Ritter became our tour guide for the weekend and took us in his School mini bus around Cardiff finding various places to eat and drink that only Gareth would know about.
When we got down to work on the Saturday, Stuart Ball laid out his plans for us for the coming year as MS Innovative Expert Educators and discussed our areas of expertise and what we are going to focus on. He also helped us get our heads around what we need to do for Barcelona in March. Overall it was a great weekend with some old friends and some new ones and Wales is not that bad after all, but Cardiff Airport is tiny, what gives with that?
Thanks again to the Partners in Learning Network and in particular the UK programme manager for PIL Stuart Ball, for supporting us Innovative educators and for putting me on this path. Also a shout out to Lee Stott Technical Evangelistic at MS for inviting me to speak at so many events and for the great support he has given the Games Dev courses at West College Scotland over the past few years. My next post about my travels with Microsoft will be on the Global Education forum in Barcelona in March, at which 250 of the most innovative and inspiring educators from around the globe will be in attendance. Watch this space!
There is a massive need amongst both primary and secondary teachers in the UK for training in coding. Throughout industry in the UK and the USA there is a shortage of programmers, with not enough graduates in Computer science related subjects coming out of University to fill those roles.
The importance of Computer Science was recognised in the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence, first implemented in Scottish Schools in 2010, with skills like games development embedded as an experience and outcome that school children as young as age 9 should experience. More recently English schools have also recognised that computational thinking and coding are vital 21st century skills for all school children. This is a move towards Computer Science and away from Computing being all about the use word processors and spread sheets.
There is now a massive need throughout the UK for training in approaches to teaching computational thinking and coding, as well as training in the various development tools available, since many ICT / Computing teachers can’t program or haven’t done so in years. This means that around the UK, teachers are struggling to find the time to learn about the tools and new skills they need. That is why I think it’s important for FE colleges and HE institutions to look at how they can get involved in providing CPD for teachers in these areas. That is why I have been pushing the idea that West College Scotland should offer CPD on tools like Kodu, TouchDevelop and Scratch.
As part of this I recently hosted a stand at the Scottish Learning Festival (25-26th September 2013), along with other staff from my college, to tell schools leaders and teachers about some of the great tools available for coding and about the training we are offering. SLF is a 2 day event for all types of teachers, it originally started life as a technology show for teachers, but over the years it has grown into a show on everything to do with teaching. There were many stands still to do with various technologies for use in the classroom, but there were also other stands like the very popular zoo in a box and the Tree of knowledge. Overall there were over 150 of the best educational suppliers covering all levels of education, including various councils and the SQA represented.
Both days at SLF were busy, but day two was especially busy at it was an in service day for many local teachers. We enjoyed the 2 days of talking to teachers, pupils, councils, HMIe representatives and other educationalists about Kodu, TouchDevelop and our various CPD offerings. We made a number of good contacts who we hope to follow up on, by offering them training.
About a week after SLF I got a surprise e-mail from Microsoft in the USA, presenting me with the 2013 Microsoft MVP Award for Kinect! This award is given to exceptional technical community leaders who actively share their high quality, real world expertise with others. I was awarded it for outstanding contributions in Kinect for Windows technical communities during the past year, which largely revolved around my Kinect educational games which I have released free via my blog. I was particularly pleased with the MVP award as it’s not an education award and as I understand, it is quite rare for an educationalist to win one. I did work in the computing sector for a number of years before moving into teaching, but I am now full time in education and have been for the past 10 years, so my work on Kinect has been largely in my spare time. Although my college have been very supportive of my Kinect work and have given me time to go around local schools demonstrating it to teachers and school pupils.
As part of becoming an MVP I was invited to the MVP Global Summit in Bellevue & Redmond in Washington State USA from the 18th to 21st of November 2013. I didn’t expect to go to this, but my college have been very supportive and have paid for me to fly out to Seattle for the summit, as well as giving me time off from teaching that week to attend. At it I will get to see first-hand some of the latest technology from Microsoft, including the latest advances in Kinect technology, so I am thrilled to be attending this. Plus getting to go see Microsoft HQ in the states is, I reckon, a computer geeks’ pilgrimage, especially for someone who remembers Windows 3.11 very well. I will blog about my visit to Seattle where I also plan to meet with the TouchDevelop, Kodu and Project Spark development teams.
On Saturday the 26th of October 2013, I continued promoting TouchDevelop by presenting on it at the CAS Scotland Annual conference at the University of Glasgow. TouchDevelop is a great tool for getting high school pupils into coding as its easy enough to be accessible to them, but it still teaches them the basics of programming. It also engages them as they can very quickly and easily see an app they have created running on a mobile phone or tablet. I was amazed at the great turnout at this event, considering it started at 9am on a Saturday. There were around 250 teachers from both the Primary and High School sectors in attendance. My TouchDevelop workshop was full to the brim with 40 to 50 teachers in attendance. I gave them an overview of TouchDevelop and the benefits of using it to teach coding. I did a live demonstration of creating a simple game app in approximately 5 minutes and then let them have a go at creating an app. I actually ran out of my TouchDevelop games based curriculum to hand out, but luckily you can download it for free from the TouchDevelop website.
After promoting training in coding at SLF and CAS in Scotland, the first training sessions that I was booked for was perhaps surprisingly in Norway. The link with Norway was thanks to the brilliant Microsoft Partners in Learning network, which gave me the opportunity in January this year to attend a 24 hour appathon at Microsoft’s London offices. At it I met a couple of amazing teachers from Norway who were using MineCraft in the classroom to teach Viking history. I really clicked with them and we kept in touch throughout the year. We even ran a joint Scotland / Norway project later in the year, in conjunction with Scotland’s Colleges, which involved students from both countries working in teams to create their ideal learning environment within a shared virtual world inside Minecraft. The Norwegian guys (Øystein Imsen and Bjørn Sør-Reime Erga) wanted me to come over and train teachers in TouchDevelop. They have started their own think tank / teacher training company called PedSmia and with backing from Microsoft in Norway, they paid to get me over for 3 days of training. I travelled over on Sunday the 3rd of November 2013 and stayed with my friend Øystein at his house in Oslo.
On the Monday we travelled to Kongsberg where we met up with a group of teachers for TouchDevelop training. The plan is to train a small group who will then go out to Schools in Norway and spread the word about TouchDevelop. I spent the morning session going over TouchDevelop and giving a live demonstration of it and then in the afternoon the teachers worked in pairs to produce apps. Given the amount of time they had, they came up with some great concepts and created the beginnings of some really nice apps. One of the big advantages of TouchDevelop is that you can actually develop and test apps, that you create, instantly on mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets, all that is required is a device with an HTML5 browser. Two of the teachers tried this out at the end of the day and they had their apps running on an iPad and an iPhone, which really excited them. This is something I think will get students really excited about programming using TouchDevelop, because apps they create in School or College can be saved to the cloud and they can continue working on them at home on their tablets or smartphones, as well as being able to show off their apps to their friends on their own device.
On Tuesday we continued with the same group of teachers and this time we did a day of training on Kodu. Kodu is something most of them were already familiar with, but we looked at some of the more advanced features of Kodu and the Norwegian guys went over approaches to using Kodu in the classroom and their plans for getting Kodu & TouchDevelop out to Schools in Norway.
On Tuesday evening, I presented on TouchDevelop and demonstrated my xGames & Kinect Games in Oslo, at an open evening to teachers, parents and school children. The following day I visited Microsoft HQ in Oslo and repeated the same presentation to a group of Microsoft technical staff and technical evangelists. Ivar Berg (Microsoft Partners in Learning Manager Norway) gave me a tour of Microsoft Offices in Oslo, where I got the chance to try out a nap pod ;).
Before I went home Øystein took me to the Viking museum in Oslo, which was an amazing experience. It contains Viking Longboats and other artefacts, some of which were around 1300 years old. Many of the boats are deteriorating badly and this may be the last generation of Norwegians who get to see them. Overall I had a great experience in Norway and I hope to return again soon. It’s always great to work with the highly motivated and inspirational teachers who form Microsoft’s Partners in Learning.
I got back to Glasgow about 10pm on Wednesday night and I was teaching at 9am the following morning. However it was all worthwhile as I got an email from Microsoft on Thursday saying I had been selected to be part of the very first class of Microsoft Innovative Expert Educators. The email said I had been selected to be one of 250 educators selected from 23,000 applicants from 150 countries. Microsoft’s Innovative Educator Expert is an exclusive one year program that celebrates educators across the world who use technology to transform education. I am one of a ten strong team from the United Kingdom, however I am the only Scot in the group, although Ollie Bray teaches in Scotland and so perhaps counts as an honorary Scot J. I am also the only FE lecturer in the group, with the rest being High School teachers. As part of the award I will get a trip to the Microsoft in Education Global Forum on March 11th to 14th 2014 in Barcelona, where I will get to network, share ideas and work with the other Expert Educators from around the globe. Again I would never have known about this program was it not for my involvement with Microsoft’s Partners in Learning network.
To round off the week, on Friday the 8th of November, I got to attend the extremely fancy and glittering awards ceremony which is the 2013 Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) Star Awards. The ceremony is to reward and recognise inspirational achievements and commitment from individuals, schools, colleges and training organisations across Scotland. We had applied before the summer for this award, when we were still Reid Kerr College, but I only found out recently that we had been shortlisted in the top 3 in the innovation category for my work on and use of xGames, Kinect Games and our use of TouchDevelop in the classroom to teach mobile app creation.
The ceremony was hosted by media personality Kaye Adams of Loose Women fame and I had no idea what our chances were. The evening consisted of a lovely 3 course meal and some fantastic entertainment from some amazing School pupils from across Scotland, which including dancers, singers and musicians.
We were half way through the awards and our category was up next, at which point they took a musical interlude, which although was very nice, it upped the tension :-). However we shouldn’t have worried as following the break, West College Scotland was announced as the winners for innovation. Bill Gallacher (Head of Computing Paisley Campus) and I collected the award and posed for photos. It was also great to see our principal Audrey Cumberford in attendance to witness us collect the award.
No rest though, this weekend I am learning Project Spark, a great new development tool which is about to launch on XBOX1, XBOX360 and Windows 8. I am presenting on Project Spark at the Skills Show at the Birmingham NEC next week with Lee Stott from Microsoft, before flying out to Seattle on Saturday for the MVP summit.
West College Scotland will start offering CPD in coding with a series of 3 twilight courses on Kodu, running at our Paisley Campus from 4pm to 6pm on 20/1/2014, 17/2/2014 and 17/3/2014. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in attending. If you teach in Renfrewshire it will also be on the CPD catalogue for Renfrewshire very soon.
The main reason for this blog entry is to have a single place for teachers to grab the best of my resources. I’m doing a stand at the Scottish Learning Festival next week, where I will be promoting the CPD training my college (West College Scotland) can provide in coding using tools like Kodu, TouchDevelop and Scratch. However I will also be demonstrating my educational games as well and I will be directing teachers to this blog if they are interested, so again a single place to get everything will be beneficial. My games were just shortlisted for the SQA Star Awards in the category of Innovation and I will find out in November if they win first place.
Alternatively click here to download Kinect Games v4.1 all in one installer (383MB) which includes the SDK and install it.
If you have any problems either of the installers then click here to download the XNA4 runtime installer (6.72MB) and try installing it first before running the installers. TouchDevelop
Click here to download my games development curriculum for teaching coding using Microsoft’s free HTML5 browser based free development platform TouchDevelop.
Click here to visit my YouTube channel for my free tutorials on creating games using TouchDevelop. These videos tie in directly with my games dev curriculum. Keep on eye on this channel as I plan to add a PacMan tutorial soon.