Author: Natasha Gunn

December 6, 2016 Natasha Gunn

Communicating comes naturally to most of us.  

Communication is fundamental to the development of human society. We learn and practice the Michelangelo, Abstract, Boy, Childcomplexities of language from the day we are born. In a world where the importance of written and spoken communication is paramount, learning multiple languages is common in most modern school systems. In recent times, ‘code’ has emerged as a new language of the world, one that breaks through ethnic and geographical divides so prevalent in other dialects. Despite this, there isn’t the diversity you would expect speaking code.

But what about when we need to talk to machines?

To put it very simply, ‘code’ is the language used to tell machines what to do. We aren’t talking about one simple universal language either. There are a variety of different  languages, HTML, C++, Java and XML, to name a few. Take a moment now look around the room. How many things can you see that rely on code? No doubt the most obvious example is the screen you are reading this from right now. Think about your day to day life; the traffic lights you drive past, the self-checkout at the supermarket, the phone in your pocket … examples of code are everywhere. Pretty much everything powered by electricity uses code in some way. Programming has become the building block to modern life. Demand for people who can tell machines what to do is growing exponentially every day and we are struggling to keep up.

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So who should be learning to code?

There’s a big debate on whether learning code will become as integral to a child’s education as learning other languages. While there is a lot of speculation for the future, current evidence is clear. An estimated 1 million technology jobs will go unfilled by 2020, according to a report put forth by Microsoft in 2012. It’s hard to imagine what exactly the future will be like, I’ve already experienced expansive change since being a child when the internet and cell phones didn’t exist in my realm of possibility. Developments in VR and 3D printing are just two examples of a new world being around the corner. We will not just need people who can build computer programs, we’ll also need translators – people who can express creative innovation in a language a computer can understand. We’ll need teachers who can inspire kids to try new things, tap into the infinite possibilities.

Oh boy! Another boy’s club!

Evidence suggests there is already a shortfall of people who can program and as jobs requiring programming skills increase while conventional education systems struggle to catch up, this shortfall will continue to increase. Not only that, other discrepancies exwoman-214786_960_720ist such as the disproportionate number of boys to girls that learn to code.  According to company diversity reports from 2015 women make up less than 20% of people employed in technology positions in the largest 10 tech companies based in the U.S.

Right through my education and beyond I’ve never taken an opportunity to learn code.  I’ve played computer games since the 90’s, I love tech and enjoy learning new things and it’s definitely a skillset I could utilise, but for some reason, up until recently it’s never really taken my interest. If I’m honest, it wasn’t because I was a girl and felt threatened in a man’s world, it was more that I saw it as too hard. I perceived computer programming as tedious and complex. Something that would take years to learn before I could see any results.

Breaking down the barriers.

binary-1327493_960_720My attitude toward code changed about a year ago when I heard a computer science teacher speak at a conference. I was engaged as soon as she asked us all to get our smartphones out because we were all about to become ‘coders’ in 15 minutes. Sure enough, the interactive lesson worked and I had created a simple animation on screen. This changed my focus from the process of programming to what I could create as the end result. It was there I realised I had perceived computer programming hard because I was treating it like science or maths rather than a language.  For me science and maths take a lot of effort and aren’t really something I’d do for fun.  However, languages are my thing, and code is an outlet for creativity. All of a sudden, I had the motivation to learn code.

In the past coding has been seen as an exclusive skill, accessible to a few nerdy tech geeks with nothing better to do than bury themselves in the computer.  As a result, many people, like me, tend to regard code as a less of a discipline and more of an arcane magic accessible to a select few. Silicon Valley and the media have created an image of the young lone wolf entrepreneur making his millions overnight with their latest innovation. People like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg provide credence to the myth. In more recent years, largely in response to the increasing shortage of skilled programmers, efforts have been made to demystify coding and encourage a wider and more diverse uptake. Online public learning platforms have been instrumental in making coding, or the ability to learn to code, more accessible. Since 2013, more than 140 million adults worldwide have downloaded a starter coding lesson from the industry-funded Hour of Code, a non-profit initiative that aims to increase access to coding skills.

Take an Hour to Code, I dare you!

Initiatives such as Hour of Code have done a lot to raise the profile of coding, rebranding the skill as a fun and creative endeavour that focuses on the creative output rather than a tedious and difficult process. For someone like me, who is closer to the code as magic level of understanding, the Hour of Code was a great way to introduce some basic concepts. In less than hour I’d built my own game that I could then share online with my friends. Granted the game was a simple pixelated knight who to score a point had to bounce in the right direction to hit the dragon flying in a repetitive loop. Simple and not about to launch my new career as a game developer, but fun and an effective way to introduce some simple basic concepts. Breaking down the activities into 10 simple ‘puzzles’ is a really effective way to provide the learner with some quick wins. As a result I enjoyed the experience enough to start working through the other courses offered from free from the site.

If you don’t have an hour, just take a minute.

Take a minute to google ‘learn code for free’ and you will be inundated with options. Skip the ones promising miraculous results in only a short time and look for the sites that offer a decent introduction to the world of code.

Code.org is a great place to start.

February 24, 2016 Natasha Gunn

When you hear the wreal world signords virtual reality, you might think of Sci Fi movies or computer gaming, but have you considered the impact this technology could have on learning? Virtual reality(VR) replicates a physical environment, whether it be a real or imagined world, and allows the user to interact in that world by creating a sensory experience. Unlike books or movies a VR environment allows the user to explore using sight, touch, sound and smell. Currently VR technology is limited to being displayed on a computer screen or special stereoscopic displays. Although some advanced haptic systems exist, few offer additional sensory information. although some big companies such as Samsung, Sony, Google and Oculus, are promising big things to come in the near future. Although, compared to the entertainment sector, there is little investment into educational VR it is already being used for learning in medical and military applications.

So what’s the big deal about Virtual Reality when it comes to learning?

So far virtual learning has provided some awesome progress in terms of learning accessibility. By learning virtually we can study when we want, where we want. However, anyone who has been a virtual student will agree – sometimes you just want to be able to put yovr unitur hand up and ask a question, or have a quick chat with another student or teacher to make sure you are on the right track. The asynchronous nature of the relationship between teach and learner in a virtual classroom makes this really tricky. Tools such as Online Forums try to combat this by creating an online community, but how far they really go in replacing the real classroom environment is debatable. Group work and peer to peer learning is tough to achieve in current virtual classrooms. No one doubts the value they bring to learning. Today you can achieve these things in the virtual learning using collaboration sites and video conferencing, but they are difficult to coordinate and often don’t provide the same level of engagement you would expect in the physical classroom.

Virtual Reality worlds might be the first real time we can combine the benefits of online virtual classes with the physical classroom. For the first time learners can become immersed in a ‘real’ classroom environment, anywhere in the world, without leaving their home. Learners will be able to have greater exposure to the real world as virtual reality becomes more accessible. Remember the scene in Goodwill Hunting? Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) counsels genius-level Will Hunting (Matt Damon);

ceiling-painting-561770_960_720“So if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the Pope, sexual orientation, the whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling. “

Virtual reality will let you look up at that ceiling without having to pay the airfare. What’s more virtual reality will be able to go beyond the real experience. Why not travel through time to watch the Sistine Chapel be built? Or fly over it to get a birds eye view? Engaging students will definitely be easier with a tool like this. Especially if we consider going beyond just visiting and provide opportunities for students to create and build their own VR.

Virtual reality has huge potential training people for dangerous situations. Some industrifirefighterses already use simulators as training aids. Imagine the potential of fire
fighters being able to experience a serious blaze in training before they are needed at the real thing, surgeons operating on VR patients, or defence personnel practicing emergency building evacuations before real lives are on the line.

The opportunities for Virtual Reality in the classroom are endless and we are on the exciting precipice of a whole new world. A virtual world that can be anything you want to make it.

 

January 16, 2016 Natasha Gunn

Technology is changing the way we teach and learn and will continue to do so at a great pace. Here’s a few ideas that Karl put together for you to ponder. We’d love to hear what you think. Share your ideas in the comments section and let’s get the discussion going!

 

 

January 16, 2016 Natasha Gunn

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It’s an exciting time to be a life-long learner. Technology has changed the game forever and it’s hard to imagine where it’s going to take us.

When I started my own schooling in the 80’s we didn’t have computer access, the internet was unimaginable, girls studied Home Economics & Sewing and boys took Woodwork & Metalwork, we passed paper notes in class instead of texting each other and graduating from pencil to pen was something we strived for. Our exposure to the world was limited to what our teachers told us and the textbooks prescribed by the curriculum. Field trips were limited to what we could afford, so typically were kept local.

Twenty years later I’m back in the classroom, this time as a teacher. I encountered an institution struggling to keep up with a radically changing world and students empowered with smartphones and Google. The things I valued in my own schooling, such as correct spelling and a memorized table of elements, meant nothing to this new generation. Wikipedia had become their fountain of knowledge, social media was emerging and the teacher now had to earn respect after losing the assumed elevated status of old.

I observed some colleagues thrive in this environment. They embraced technology, and used it as an instrument for engagement and exploration in the classroom.  They learnt with their students, become agents of change and ambassadors of discovery. They inspired learners and inspired me.

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I also observed colleagues drowning in a sea of change. Whether through fear or ignorance they viewed technology as a distraction rather than an enabler of learning. They feared that technology would diminish the quality of learning and information in our schools. They alienated students by enforcing old ideas and methods in the classroom, stifling creativity and innovation in the process. New learning tools were ignored being perceived as too difficult or of no value. Students outpaced teachers in adopting new technologies, further increase the gap between those who embraced the new world and those who stuck stubbornly in traditional teaching and learning methods.

So where are we now? For the most part the utilisation of technology has been accepted in modern day learning and despite some accessibility barriers still existing, technology is opening up opportunities for millions deprived of education in the past. Information has never been so accessible, the internet can expose a classroom to the other side of the world in moments and soon virtual reality will transport us there too. I believe we are on the cusp of a learning revolution that has only just begun. I have no doubt that learning in the future will look entirely different than it does today.

Join us for this series, where we will explore some of the learning theories, technologies and trends that will radically transform learning in the future.

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January 6, 2016 Natasha Gunn

Never built a website but would like to? Epic recommends Tyler.com. It’s a great resource that teaches you the basics of WordPress using a custom theme. How do we know it works? We used it to build this website of course!

I’ve never built a website before this. In fact I didn’t really know where to start. When we started the Epic Learning adventure it seemed logical to get one of our more tech savvy members to develop and maintain our website as a central point for sharing great learning stories. But that’s not what Epic is about! We believe anyone can learn to do anything they want. They just need the resources and guidance to help them. So instead of taking the easy way out I chose building a website as my first Epic Learning adventure.

The first thing I did was hit up Google for some advice. It’s amazing what free resources you can find on the internet these days. You can pretty much teach yourself anything. I looked at heaps of pages promising to teach me how to build a website. Some promised I could make a site in under 30 minutes, others encouraged me to sign up for a series of tutorials. I chose the Tyler.com tutorial for a few reasons;

  • Tyler promised to walk me through every step leaving no step out. As a beginner that’s what I needed.
  • I could see the website we would be building together and I really loved the look of it.
  • Tyler’s instructions were clear, concise, in everyday language I could understand and delivered at a pace I could follow comfortably.
  • His advice made sense – don’t pay for custom advice. Instead look at some of the greatest, most successful websites online (like Apple.com) and take inspiration from them.

Learning new things isn’t easy. There were a few moments where I wanted to fling my laptop across the room in frustration. I have to admit, it was typically due to WordPress doing what I was telling it to do rather than what I wanted it to do. Each time I got stuck, I’d just walk away for a moment then come back and revisit the instructional video. It wouldn’t take long before I’d realise what step I’d missed or where I’d gone wrong. Sure enough after some hours work, the Epic website was born!

So what have I got out of the experience? The website is the least of it. Sure – it needs some tweaks, there’s some stuff that could look better, but for a first attempt, starting from limited knowledge, I’m pretty proud of my achievement. And that’s what learning new things does. It helps you grow. Not just skills but confidence and self belief. Henry Ford is quoted as saying “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young”. I couldn’t agree more. Learning is discovery. When we stop discovering we grow old fast. So what will your next Epic Learning adventure be?