Porsche versus Volvo


Since Monday’s state-wide, student-free professional development day, I have been pondering the what the future might hold for Victorian teachers and the Ultranet. According to some reports, six years and $88 million has been spent developing the on-line education platform that will allow 24hr access to lesson plans, timetables, student assessment data and attendance records.

 Some teachers have been using the tools that the ultranet purports to deliver for many years already – web2.0 tools, such as blogs, wikis, slideshows, interactive calenders and message boards are readily available on the internet. These ‘early adopters’ of technology in education have tested the tools, used them with students and made decisions about how they can be used to improve learning outcomes. Many of these teachers have become ‘lead users’ of the ultranet, trained to deliver professional development to their fellow staff members and be responsible for the uptake of the ultranet in their schools.

 It has been disappointing, to put it mildly, for these teachers that the ultranet was unavailable and running very slowly on the day that it was meant to showcase its benefits. As well as giving credence to the ‘blockers’, naysayers and critics, many of the hours spent preparing for the day have been wasted. Experienced teachers had plan B in place and the day was not a total loss, with the opportunity to introduce many other web2.0 tools to staff. Our staff were able to spend time exploring FUSE (Find, Use, Share, Educate), GradeXpert (assessment tracking tool), image, audio and video software as well as iPods and Google. Anne Mirtschin, our ICT expert at Hawkesdale and our beloved  guru of technlogy, has written a much more detailed account of our day, including preparation and post-op at “Are we there yet? The Ultranet.”

 When we first heard about the ultranet, four or five years ago, it’s premise was a ‘safe’ learning environment for Victorian school children, a ‘walled garden’, where students could learn about communication, collaboration and connections without risks to their privacy and safety. Since then, our students have been involved in many global projects without any concerning incidents. They have learnt how to be ‘cyber-safe’ and the importance of the digital footprint they leave behind. They have been prepared for life outside school, when there is no wall keeping them in.

 Hence my pictures – the Porsche is what we’ve been using up to now – a smooth, fast and up-to-date vehicle for experienced drivers. A high-performance engine and easy to manouveur with your finger-tips, the Porshe is fast and flexible but risky to drive for inexperienced users. On the other side is grandma’s Volvo – solid, safe and practical. Good for learner drivers, the Volvo can be slow, clunky and difficult to turn. The Ultranet will give teachers who have not yet fully embraced web2.0 technology the opportunity to learn in a safe and secure (but slow and inflexible) environment. Hopefully, the owner and mechanics will keep the vehicle well maintained and up-to-date and it will transport many passengers , until they are ready to purchase their own high-performance vehicles!



  1. Shane Kennedy

    I think you are being generous describing the Ultranet as a Volvo. It seems more like a Leyland P76, a car that was intended to rival Ford and Holden but quickly became a laughing stock. Looking back now, it is hard to not say “what were they thinking?”. With all of the functions of the Ultranet already available elsewhere, for free, in better varieties, how long will it be before we all say, “what were they thinking?”

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  3. Anne Baird

    Great post Britt. Having been closely linked to the roll out of the Ultranet in my region I too was very very disappointed about Monday and the failure of the Ultranet to manage the huge influx of users on that particular day. If anything good was to come out of it, it was to indicate to CSG that there is still some work to be done in managing load especially since we will soon start to introduce students and parents to the Ultranet.
    The other point I want to make is about the notion of the walled garden and the view that this is a backward step. I firmly believe that the Victorian DEECD Ultranet is not going to replace the global learning of our students. In other words I don’t believe that we will be using the Ultranet to the exclusion of other global wikis, blogs, nings and the vast array of collaborative and learning tools that we can utilise as teachers and students. I see the two, Ultranet and the global internet as playing different roles and purposes and functioning side by side. The audiences are going to be different, Ultranet- students, teachers, parents and special friends who are part of the DEECD system. In this environment students will be able to document their work and learning over time, share, collaborate with their parents, teachers and friends in a safe and secure environment. And the other ‘world’ will be on the broader internet where the audience will be students, teachers and adults from all over the world. In this environment students will learn more about their world, understand other cultures, meet new and interesting people and ideas. In this world, most importantly they will learn how to manage knowledge and their own web2 footprint in a safe and smart way. I believe the message we need send to our teachers that the Ultranet will not replace but will enhance in a very powerful way our ability to learn from others, share our ideas and record our learning.

  4. Anne MIrtschin

    Hi Britt, thanks for sharing these wonderful illustrations and mashing them with the ultranet and its great promises, yet failure to even load on the staff PD Day. It was extremely disappointing as you and I both know the wonderful outcomes that have already been achieved through the use of existing, free web2.0 online tools. Yet, these tools have only been taken up by a small group of teachers. I firmly believe that should the ultranet stabilise the uptake and use of effective technology in the classroom would skyrocket and there, lies the ultranet’s best advantage.
    Will we get a stable ultranet? Banks and other huge organisations have a huge customer base, so surely, the ultranet can survive. Until we can be assured that that is the case, I shall continue on my global highway, using the tools, that are so fantastic in class – blogs, wikis, voicethreads, wallwisher, bubblus, nings (or their equivalent, now that they charge).
    Thanks ever so much for all the amazing amount of work that you put into our school day in your role as ultranet lead user. It paid dividends in the end as staff had a great day learning about the tools that we have grown to adopt and love.

  5. Andrew Williamson

    Great post Brit,

    Firstly, I would like to personally thank you for all the encouragement and help and inspiration you gave me during the weeks lead up to Monday the 9th. You along with the rest of my DEECD PLN, who as it turns out are mostly Ultranet Lead users, were a brilliant source of information and ideas.

    I agree with you that the fact that it didn’t work on Monday was huge disappointment. I haven’t had the energy to look at it since. I too had a plan B and the staff had not stopped raving about how beneficial it was. I am still rather bitter at the time spent setting up a ‘kick arse’ design space complete with fun and interactive activities only to see it not used. Unfortunately because of our busy schedule we won’t be looking at the Ultranet as a whole staff until Term 4.

    Love your analogy. It worries me however that DEECD schools will be lambasted with a slow and clunky tool like a ‘Volvo’. Our students too have engaged in blogging through globalstudent and have made many connections through them. They are very aware of their place in the digital world and our teachers continue to emphasis the importance of good digital citizenship. It will be interesting to see which way our students will go when we introduce the Ultranet to them. I envisage that there will be many puzzled faces when we explain that the rest of the world wont be able to see their work or ideas. I know that they will see a that the Ultranet will lack the real world authenticity that a globalstudent blog and other web 2.0 apps offer.

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  7. Graeme Bennett

    Hi Britt,
    I love the analogy that you have used, of the Porsche vs the Volvo. I agree with your sentiments completely – for many teachers and students the Ultranet will take us backwards. While I understand the need to “protect” our students, it is hard to see how we can prepare them for “the real world” with giving them experience in it. As an enthusiastic user of Globalstudent for the past 2 years I will be disappointed if my students can no longer blog for a world-wide audience. I guess the upside of the Ultranet is that it will put many of our “inexperienced” colleagues behind the wheel and on the road, and maybe grandma’s Volvo is where they need to start. I guess time will tell!
    Graeme Bennett

  8. margm

    Excellent summary and analogy Britt. I’ve been fiddling with the ultranet over the past few weeks, and find it clunky, limiting and hard to understand. I have, as you say, been using blogs, wikis, nings and a wide range of web 2.0 tools now, for 3 years. Using the ultranet really does seem like pulling over into the service lane while the rest of the world zooms past in their shiny porsches. Well, I’ll let you in on a secret – I intend to keep on connecting with that big “scary” world out there, and continue to build cyber safety into everything I do with my students. I want our students to continue their amazing journey collaborating, connecting, questioning and wondering about the wonderful world in which we live. Anyway, gotta go – my porsche awaits.

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