Andrew Balzer unlocks the learning potential of classroom technology

When the students at Swansea High School wanted to put more benches around the school, Andrew Balzer suggested they conduct a digital experiment.

First the students built the benches using Minecraft Education Edition, then used the mixed reality app on the Microsoft Surface to locate the benches around the school – under trees, in hallways – in order to see where they would work best.

According to Balzer, who is a STEMShare Leader (SEO1) for the NSW Department of Education (DoE) and a Microsoft Innovation Educator (MIE) Expert; “Things like that bring reality in the digital world to a whole new level.

“We are in a neat spot where the two worlds are merging but we haven’t got enough people trained in the technology which is already being rolled out. The problem is that people don’t know it’s there or how to activate it and turn it on. But it’s all there – you don’t have to add any plug ins or pay extra – it’s all there in Office 365 and it’s awesome.”

Andrew Balzer is based at Hunter Sports High School and Glendale Technology High School and works with schools across the State to help teachers unlock the potential of the technology they already have and also is now responsible for assisting with the rollout of STEMshare kits across the State.

His ambition is to offer a mix of MIE: Expert and DoE training particularly for Microsoft Teams, Minecraft Education Edition and OneNote which he believes have huge potential in terms of learning impact.

What does the MIE: Expert program mean to you?

It’s fantastic, there’s an energized buzz when you connect with like-minded individuals. You can feel a bit like a one man show sometimes – but then you can come together and be part of a community making a difference.

Your job is to educate the educators?

About technology, yes. Office 365 has grown so much – with Sway for example and Teams. When you talk about Office people thinking Word and PowerPoint and maybe Excel. When you talk about Sway the majority of educators have not heard about it, or Teams – but these applications all talk to each other, and to MS Forms and the whiteboard app. That’s where we come in – to join up the dots for them.

Can you give me an example of how new features make a difference in the classroom?

Say you’re using PowerPoint. It now has 3D models – the kids start using that and building medieval structures and then using the transform function on PowerPoint to do 360-degree tours. No one is really utilising because they don’t know about it.

We need to see how an application can help, especially in education where kids are trying to solve problems in the real world. We have got devices and tools that make that happen.

And is Minecraft Education Edition being used to its full potential?

I’m a huge believer in its potential. I get frustrated when people say it’s a game because the Education Edition is solely linked to learning outcomes. Get away from stigma of it being a game – it’s a learning tool. We try and push the boundaries – the next thing we want to do is take Minecraft and integrate it with virtual reality and mixed reality.

You mentioned Microsoft Teams – how are you using that?

It’s been a game changer. Teams came along and I set up a digital faculty on Teams as a central point for conversations that are work related. I’ve got staff members collaborating when they’re doing their shopping and they share an idea. Or on holidays in Tasmania – they take a great snap and want to share something about geography.

Before Teams collaboration was a grey area – you could do it but you couldn’t do it well. Teams has unified us and builds on top of SharePoint which the department uses so it’s sensational for keeping us together.

And is it useful in teaching?

Our educational system is built on meeting outcomes. Teams has given us the ability to match outcomes on Teams as a marking guide. What we want to do is give students a mark and show which learning outcomes are met – it’s one of the only platforms that does that.




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