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.
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.
I’ve just finished doing the end of term educational conferences with Lee Stott who is a Microsoft Evangelist and a genuine nice guy. I’ve been speaking and running workshops, on Microsoft’s new mobile development platform TouchDevelop as well as speaking about Games Based Learning and the use of MineCraft in education.
TouchDevelop is a brilliant platform and is quite unique in that it runs entirely within an HTML5 web browser, which makes it truly cross platform. It will run on PCs, Laptops as well as Smartphones and tablets running Windows, iOS or Android. For me the outstanding feature of TouchDevelop is that students can create APPs easily, without having to go through a tricky process and they can then see their APPs running on their device, whether it is an iPhone, iPad, Surface or Nexus tablet. Whatever the device is, they can see something they have created running on their device. Everything they create in TouchDevelop is saved to the cloud, so its very easy for students to begin writing an APP on a PC in the classroom and then log back into their account on a mobile device at home (or even on the way home) and continue working on the same APP.
The first conference I spoke at, on TouchDevelop, was at Microsoft’s UK Windows Gaming Awareness Event at Birmingham City University on the 26th of March 2013. I did a presentation and the always risky “live demo” :-). Luckily it went well and I was invited to speak on TouchDevelop at 2 more conferences.
The first of these was Games Britannia at Sheffield Hallam University, organised by Dr. Jacob Habgood from Sheffield Hallam University, who himself worked in the games industry for Gremlin Interactive and later on Infogrames/Atari. Games Britannia was a week long event from the 10th to the 14th of June 2013, Tuesday to Thursday of which, was a series of workshops for KS3 & KS4 high school pupils to attend on many different aspects of the games industry. They had well over 300 pupils in attendance at the conference over the 3 days, attending workshops such as Concept Art, PS3 programming, CryEngine Art, Minecraft, Kinect Motion Capture and of course TouchDevelop.
I ran two morning sessions on TouchDevelop and it was great to see students aged around 14-16 really engaging in programming at a level they could understand. Being able to see them actually create something that worked within a 2 hour workshop was a thrill and one of the things I really love about TouchDevelop.
I also ran an afternoon workshop on Games Based Learning and I let students try out my free educational games (xGames and Kinect Games) which make use of gaming hardware to revise and engage students in subjects like Maths and English. The games went down very well, although by the end of the day my “Name that tune” pop music quiz was being replayed a lot. However it was interesting to see how that particular age group engaged with the games and which ones worked best with them. With the age group in attendance my xBots game was certainly the most popular, I’m guessing because there were a lot of teenage boys in attendance and that game is partially an FPS. However my Kinect Games and in particular my NoNeed4Green went down very well too.
On Tuesday evening I was fortunate enough to attend an amazing talk from Gary Carr, Creative Director of Lionhead Studios. Gary has worked with industry legend Peter Molyneux for the past 20 years and is responsible for the art in titles such as Barbarian 1 & 2, Populous 1 & 2, Theme Park, Theme Hospital and the Fable games. He had some fascinating insights into what is like working in the ever changing games industry and I’m hopefully Gary will come up later this year and speak with some of the 150+ games students at our new West College Scotland.
In between conferences I had a day in Leicester where I actually did a bit of shopping, although I was almost refused my Scottish ten pound note when the lady serving me asked what it was and if I would rather pay on card. I’ve been told repeatedly since that I should have said “I think you’ll find pal that’s legal tender”.
However, that day I also got to visit Leicester College and spoke to a great guy called Chris Seaton who is Computing Supervisor there. It was very interesting to hear the challenges he faces with the adoption of learning technology, which seem to be the same throughout education. I also got the chance to plug TouchDevelop to some of his computing lecturers and it was great to visit another FE college while on my travels.
CAS Conference 2013
On Thursday I headed with Lee to Birmingham University for the Computing at Schools annual conference. This is a great event which is probably the biggest educational conference for School Computing teachers in the UK. I ran a workshop at CAS last year on Games Based Learning, but this year I helped Lee with one of the plenary keynote presentations to the whole conference on the Friday morning. So I got to present and demonstrate TouchDevelop to around 200 of the most motivated computing teachers from around the UK, which was a big thrill, although a bit scary. We gave out around 200 TouchDevelop books and copies of my games development based curriculum. I also ran a workshop on TouchDevelop later on that day, which was attended by over 30 teachers and in a short 50 min session it was good to see so many teachers quickly picking up the basics of TouchDevelop and starting to create their own apps on a whole host of devices from Google Nexus tablets to MacBooks.
One of the things I love about these conferences is the people you meet and I met a variety of highly motivated teachers from different sectors, including a number from Scotland. I also found out while at the conference, that the Scottish government had announced £400,000 over 2 years to CAS Scotland to help support CPD training for Teachers in Computer Science, which is fantastic news.
College Development Network
The following week I attended two conferences in Scotland, this time without Lee Stott. The first was the Computing, ICT and Digital Media Annual Conference at City of Glasgow College on Monday 17th June 2013 and the second was the Festival of Dangerous Ideas: Learning Through Gaming conference at Dundee College on the 20th of June. Both conferences were organised by Gerry Dougan from the College Development Network (formerly Scotland’s Colleges).
At the first event I presented mainly about TouchDevelop to the audience who were made up of Heads of Departments and senior lecturers from around Scotland and I covered an exciting project I had organised for Gerry making use of Minecraft.
At the second event in Dundee, Chris van der Kuyl from Brightsolid gave a fascinating and motivational presentation on why games should be used in education. Chris was responsible for bringing MineCraft to the XBOX360 which became the fastest and biggest selling game on XBOX live marketplace ever, selling something like 6.5 million copies in North America alone. He gave some fascinating insight into MineCraft and how it could be used in education. He also spoke about E3 and showed the video below of a wonderful looking creative game called Project Spark coming to XBOX1 later this year.
I presented at the conference on Games for Learning and demonstrated my xGames and Kinect Games. I also went into detail about an exciting Minecraft project that I had organised for Gerry Dougan, which was the brain spark of Derek Robertson from Education Scotland. I will do a separate blog post on this project later to do it justice, but in summary 8 teams of 4 from Scotland and Norway competed over 3 weeks in the virtual world of Minecraft via a shared online server, to create their vision of what an “Ideal Learning Environment” would look like. What they came up with, the hours they put in and the learning that went on inside the world, truly blew my mind.
HEA STEM : Teaching and Learning Programming for Mobile and Tablet Devices
My final conference, before my summer holidays could properly begin, was a Programming for Mobile & Tablet Devices event at London MET University on the 25th of June 2013. It was literally a flying visit to London, down on Easyjet on Monday evening and back up Tuesday evening. I was reunited with Lee Stott and he presented on the Opportunities of Microsoft devices and services and I followed him with my now much rehearsed, presentation and demonstration of TouchDevelop, which you can download from here.
I must thank Jacob Habgood from Sheffield Hallam University, Simon Humphreys from CAS, Gerry Dougan from the College Development Network, Yanguo Jing from London MET and of course Lee Stott from Microsoft for having me at their events.
First off respect to all London workers who do the tube thing every day, it’s a very quick and efficient way of getting about London, but I couldn’t handle the rush and crush every day. I saw one women getting the door slammed shut on her and another few close calls, plus I experienced being crushed hard against the other commuters on the tube on the way home from BETT one evening, something I’ve not experienced since I was in Manchester to watch Rangers in the UEFA cup final a few years back. So respect to those who do that every day.
Before Christmas I took part in 3 virtual university sessions on TouchDevelop with Peli de Halleux from Microsoft Research in USA and was selected from the 50 or so educators from around Europe who took part, to go to London for a final 24 hour appathon. TouchDevelop is an exciting new platform which allows you to create apps on any HTML5 enabled browser and therefore you can develop on pretty much any platform, including mobile devices such as tablets or even phones. The apps you create can also be tested in the browser, so this platform provides the opportunity for students to create apps on mobile devices for mobile devices and on pretty much any device they have and see it running on that device. The final apps can be published as Windows 8 RT apps or Win7/8 phone apps on the Windows marketplace.
I flew down to London (courtesy of Microsoft) on the Sunday night before the event and due to Easyjet delays ended up getting to the hotel just before midnight. We began the event on Monday in Microsoft’s plush London offices and it was exciting to meet up with the other educators from around Europe who were taking part. Along with my English friends Jimmy Edwards and Ray Chambers who I knew from Microsoft Partners in Learning, I especially enjoyed talking to and sharing ideas with the 2 guys from Norway who are doing amazing stuff with Minecraft in the classroom. The appathon kicked off properly at 11am and we went hard at it, developing our app ideas into reality using TouchDevelop way into the small hours. I was creating a Windows Phone app version of my Kinect Math Mage game which I had just finished developing the previous week.
The competition went on late into the wee hours and I was last to leave at around 4am, but on the walk back to the hotel it dawned on me that I had a bug in the game and did a bit more in the hotel and finally went to bed around 5am. Luckily we didn’t need to be back to present our apps until 1pm.
We gathered together at 1pm and presented our apps to the judging panel and to our fellow educators. Math Mage was one of the fully completed apps, which made me feel pretty good about it, but there was some very stiff competition from Eastern Europe and from my friend Ray Chambers.
I must give a shout out here to Michael Philp a Scottish art student who created the amazing original art work for Math Mage, in my view anyway Math Mage was certainly the best looking app :-).
At the dinner later that night, the Ukraine pulled off the win for an amazing app which lets you construct and test electric circuits on your mobile phone. The winner received a brand new Surface RT Tablet courtesy of Microsoft. Despite not winning the big prize Microsoft UK were very impressed with the apps that myself and Ray Chambers produced and are going to publish them both in the Windows Marketplace.
On Wednesday I went to the BETT Show at the ExCeL Convention Centre where Vince Cable and Microsoft VP Anthony Salcito opened the show in the new Microsoft Arena in the middle of the massive ExCel conference centre. I bumped into Ollie Bray on the tube on the way to BETT and had a good chat with him and he shared some ideas for things I could do with Kinect, as well as catching me up on the exciting things he is involved with at present.
I enjoyed exploring the show on Wednesday and met up with the Northern Irish team from GameToLearn who I had done a Skype interview for last year, but never met in person. I recorded a new interview for them at the show and tried to be more positive this time when they asked for one word to sum up education (last time when they sprang it on me and I said “Challenging”). I also saw a company from Greece who are producing some nice educational Kinect games, not a million miles away from the Kinect Games I have created, but who are charging for their games (better grab my games for free while you can). Their system does have a whole backend reporting system to give feedback on how the students are performing which is a nice touch, but my games make better use of Kinect’s camera to give a more augmented reality aspect to my games. I couldn’t see an overall theme running through the show, but if I had to choose one I would say BYOD was the dominant message, which is Bring Your Own Device and the idea that in future students of all ages from Primary through to FE and HE should be allowed to take the amazing technology sitting in their bags out and use it in the classroom.
On Thursday Ray Chambers was back in town and after a morning of footering with our PowerPoint we headed to BETT to present on Kodu, Kinect, xGames and TouchDevelop. Before we presented we went to the NAACE stand for the launch of the Kodu Kup in conjunction with Microsoft. I bumped into Microsoft VP Anthony Salcito at the stand and had a chat with him about my Kinect Games and showed him pictures of how they were being used in Schools on my iPad mini (never have I wished for a surface tablet more). However he wasn’t totally put off as he came along to our K-Team presentation later on. On the NAACE stand Stuart Ball from Microsoft Partners in Learning along with Nicki Maddams from the K-Team launched the exciting new competition for all school kids aged 7 to 14, where they are challenged to work together in teams of 3 to produce a game which will be judged by Microsoft, with the top ten teams from around the country winning a trip to Microsoft HQ in July, where the top teams will be rewarded with XBOX360s and Kinects.
After that myself and Ray rushed over to Learn Live D where we were presenting as the K-Team on Kodu, Kinect, xGames and TouchDevelop and how these tools can and are being used to the classroom to engage and excite learners. We had some famous faces in the audience such as Anthony Salcito and Stuart Ball from Microsoft and the game developers behind the Fable game series. The presentation went very well and it seemed to be well received by everybody.
On the Friday myself and Ray had initally planned to take it easy and just take in the show and I had planned to go see Professor Brian Cox presenting, but Lee Stott from Microsoft managed to glently persuade myself and Ray to take part in another Appathon, this time it was the Stone Hackathon which was being judged by Johnny Ball of 80s kids tv fame. Ray made a french and maths version of his Spelling Bee app and I made an English version of my Math Mage called Word Mage which tests kids knowledge of Nouns, Verbs, Adverbs and Adjectives. Congratulations to Ray as he managed to grab second place for his Spelling Bee App and won a small portable printer for his efforts. It was another day spent on touchdevelop and it is a platform that I am getting very familar with in a short space of time, so much so that I have agreed to produce teaching materials for Microsoft on using TouchDevelop for games development and programming. The materials will cover basic programming concepts and how to use TouchDevelop to create classic arcade games like Pong, Breakout, Space Invaders etc.
A final thank you goes out to Stuart Ball for inviting me down to the Appathon and to Microsoft for paying my flights and accommodation for the event. Also much say thanks to my Head of Section Bill Gallacher, Head of Department Anita Osborne and my Principal Audrey Cumberford for giving me the week off from my teaching duties at Reid Kerr College to attend these events.
It has been an inspiring and eventful week and something I have learned a lot from and with TouchDevelop I am taking back a great new tool to Scotland that I will hopefully be teaching to college and high school students in the coming year.