Are we there yet? The Ultranet

(First, apologies for the longer than usual blog posting, but this has been a long time coming!)

8 years ago, I was fortunate to have received a Navcon scholarship to attend a conference in New Zealand. Whilst there, I met staff from the Glen Waverly College , Melbourne, Australia who had devised their own intranet of Learning Management System. This sounded so exciting and I wanted our school to be part of it. However, they told me that our Education Dept was interested and about to build something similar for all Victorian schools. So……..

After years of planning, production, preparation, publicity and million dollar budgets, the ultranet is ready to be launched. To ensure that government schools and staff are ready the following actions have been taken over the last number of years:-

  • Ultranet coaches were assigned to each of the regions in Victoria working with schools to bring technological skills up to date
  • A laptop program for all teaching staff
  • Trial 1:1 netbook program in a number of regions
  • Ultranet Lead Users appointed from each school who together with their Principal were trained over a number of days in the use of the Ultranet.

At pre-training sessions it was apparent that the Ultranet was HUGE!, a little clunky at first and not as user friendly as many of the online tools that were already being used. There are many spaces to be populated, involving blogs, wikis, iframes, RSS feeds, staff walls, connections, contacts etc. There are spaces for the community and collaboration.

Then came weeks of preparation by the Ultranet Lead Users. Here are some web2.0 tools used prior to the launch

  • Twitter was used to good effect – with suggestions for approaches to the 9th August shared and discussed. It also enabled a back channel for learning together.
  • An online meeting in elluminate was also held for Ultranet Lead Users and DEECD staff.
  • A wall wisher was set up by Britt Gow to determine what teachers wanted to know on the PD day
  • A google form was embedded onto the school blog for staff to choose their sessions.
  • A wordle to summarise staff feelings about the day

Britt Gow, one of our Lead Ultranet Users spend weeks ensuring she knew how the ultranet worked , the nature of the spaces offered and the applications that could be applied. Britt had spent time developing a passport for staff to complete, including a treasure hunt and an outline of the day. Some wonderful resources had been put together by the DEECD team and these were to be found online at Connect. Finally the day for the ultranet launch came.

Whilst Principal staff attended the Big Day Out in Melbourne, students from government schools throughout Victoria stayed home on Monday 9th August, so that all staff –both teaching and non-teaching, could be professionally developed on the use of the ultranet.

After a night of seeing ultranet logos throughout my dreams/sleep,  I couldn’t see the logo when I got to school anywhere online – the Ultranet failed to load!!!The twitterverse ran ‘hot’ with tweets from all over Victoria letting us know that we were not alone – they were also unable to logon.

Our staff assembled in the library. Amongst them were the anxious, the cynics, the excited, the curious but mostly the interested. The wordle below describes how each staff member was feeling about the day.

It was always bandied around some  educational circles that the Ultranet would not work, but being optimistic, we lived in hope. Fortunately, we had a number of activities planned that did not require ultranet access, but would complement its use once staff became confident.

Our planned program:-

Introduction: -with 2 videos

  1. Mr Winkle an animated character who woke up after 100 years to find that everything had changed, except schools!  and
  2. A Vision of Students Today

Feelings! A pen and sticky note were at each seat, staff wrote on the sticky note how they were feeling. These were collected and keyed into a wordle. (See wordle above)

Session 1- Introduction to the Ultranet

  • What is the Ultranet?
  • Mythsbusters
  • Purpose and overview of Express, Collaborative, Community and Design Spaces
  • Setting up personal profiles and developing the express space.
  • Hands-on – Your Express Space – Message board, edit profile, join spaces etc

Session 2 Staff choice (sessions chosen from a google doc on the school blog)

  • Working with images
  • Scavenger hunt/ultranet spaces
  • Blogging
  • iPods for Learning

Session 3 (after lunch)

  • Scavenger hunt/ultanret spaces
  • Working with images
  • Podcasting/video making
  • All things google

Closing: -Reflections and discussion on potential use of ultranet in the classroom

Personal reflections

Having been so long a supporter and user of online tools eg blogging, videoconferencing, wikis, nings etc, it has been with mixed emotions, that I have contemplated the implementation of the ultranet. Over the past three years, blogging has been used to great effect for reflections, class instructions, tutorials, lesson plans and given us a window to the world. Nings have been used for networking and socialization, wikis for interaction and web page building, voicethreads for podcasting, wall wishers for interaction, bubblus for mind mapping, delicious/diigo for social bookmarking, flickr for online photo storage, google apps for spreadsheets, documents, surveys, emailing groups, presenations, mapping etc.  These tools have all been free. (although ning now charges and flickr is subscribed to for extra services). Not wanting to come back completely ‘inside the walled garden’ but to be able to walk the path between the tw0, there was uncertainty of what would be required of us. Will we still walk the major highway of globalization or be pulled back behind the safety lock on the gate to the ‘walled garden’?

So much of what the Ultranet offers, I can do now and possibly better with existing online tools.

  • Provide an element of learnin/teachingg 24/7
  • Connect my students to a broad audience including a global one
  • Communicate and create with others across the globe
  • Expose  students to other cultures
  • Prepare them for the flat world that they live in and increasingly globalised world that will be theirs.
  • Connect with parents who have online access via blogging conversations through comments.
  • Use a fantastic suite of online tools that are user friendly, manageable and free.

What the Ultranet can do that I currently may not be able to do

  • Connect Victorian Government Schools/classrooms. Internet filters, proxy issues etc, have made Victorian classroom connections extremely difficult. The ultranet will make those connections simpler.
  • It will benefit rural and country schools, enabling subjects to be taught across schools, where they may not currently exist, ensure a broader curriculum eg Languages Other than English, senior specialist subjects, bring experts into schools via videoconferencing type methods etc
  • Assure teachers across the state who may be timid about embracing technology that they can use it and may rest assured that safety and privacy can be theirs.
  • There is a uniform and common platform of use
  • Great potential to connect communities and parents – one of its strongest points.

However, the Ultranet has to be a stable platform. It has to work all the time, for people to have confidence in its use. Otherwise it is easier to teach in the current format, which for most educationalists is one without technology. It has to be available 24/7 with few downtimes. It has to cope with the possibility that all teachers and students may be on at the one time. We have to have technician time and look seriously at a 1:1 program for all students so they do have ready access. How will grade preps and ones cope? Will they require a 7 digit password incorporating a capital letter and symbol?

Time has to be given for staff to ‘play’- it will take many months, maybe years to learn how to use if to best effect, by the majority of staff. Ultranet coaches need to continue in the position, helping schools on a demands and needs basis.

The Ultranet is an exciting concept that is quite unique globally, uses the technology that students live with, connects communities, parents and stake holders and can lead us into an exciting future for education, but it has to WORK!

Listen to an interview/podcast by @georgiapeorgia with me at RRR

2 responses to “Are we there yet? The Ultranet

  1. Great post Anne – you are so right – we need a stable platform that will cope with expected number of users and be accessible when required. Your excellent ICT leadership at Hawkesdale college has enabled our staff to have the confidence to trial many web2.0 tools and embrace the change that 1:1 and global collaboration can bring to education.

  2. Pingback: Porsche versus Volvo | Technoscience

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