My experiences of the evolution of IT in Education

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Brendan Woodage
Operations Manager at CyberSmarties

The Primary and Secondary Education system in Ireland are constantly making adjustments to ensure that it is constantly up to date with technology and the best that it can be to bring out the best in its students. The Irish education system is in a constant state of evolution, with more and more attention being given to technology aided teaching, more enthusiasm to bring technology into the classroom and more creativity being emphasised today. I started school in 2000 in Ireland and finished school in 2012 and in those years even at a young age, I noticed the shift in tide towards technology becoming essential to the Irish schooling system. Even in the 4 years that have passed since I have finished, technology in schools have already taken their next step in their evolution.

When I attended school my father always used to remind me of how lucky I was to be going to school in a time where teachers could no longer lay a finger on you. And believe me I was lucky! Although I wasn’t a bad behaved student, more often than not I got in trouble for my cheek and stupidity. So had I lived in the same generation that my father lived in, I would have received a far more severe punishment compared to my customary A4 page of “writing lines”. A punishment which I expect anyone of my generation who liked to rock the boat a little at school can to relate with.

But I always found it hard to relate to that time, as it was unconceivable to me that a teacher would have the right strike a student. It was just a time I don’t understand. No doubt the generation currently in primary schools might find it hard to comprehend how things were when I was in school. Certainly when my boss Diarmuid Hudner was in school, they were probably using a quill or stone tablet to communicate!! (Note to self – do not ask for a raise after he has read this). But seriously, methods of teaching, communication and culture changes with each successive generation and so it should because that is how the human race evolves.

For example, initially when I was in primary school, if there was an internet, I didn’t know about it. The computer sitting in the corner of the classroom was still that early 2000’s grey, and I remember that it was so seldom used, that when it was, you knew you were in for a treat. There were always amazing games on it and even though they may have been slightly educational, I remember the feeling of accomplishment when that multiplication question meant that my rocket flew quicker and higher towards the planet.

So then by the time I was in secondary school, I personally had a love for computers and computer games. So in my secondary school we had a large computer room (this time they were the square flat screen Dells running Windows XP) and 4 hours of Computer Studies each week. We learned the basic use of Microsoft office (which I had learned at a Foróige years prior) and so I spent my computer classes browsing the internet and playing online games.

In Transition Year, we got a new computer room with new laptops and a few new subjects called ICT and Design Communication Graphics (DCG). In ICT we did projects, learnt a higher level or Microsoft office, and learned researching skills. DCG was a combination of technical graphics and working on Digital design software such as AutoCad where we learned how to design objects and different rendering processes. It was also the year that one by one, the classrooms began to receive their very own projectors.

By the time I was leaving school, there was talks of bringing in iPads to replace books, which my school was heavily in favour for as most of the staff disagreed with the weight of the school bags, and the potential future health risks the students faced, like back problems etc. Also, every classroom had a projector and wall mounted speakers.

So looking back at my experiences with IT during my school years, I can clearly see how quickly it evolves and adapts. I can understand how modern primary school students may think it incomprehensible that our classes didn’t involve modern technology like projectors in every room, a computer room or iPads in primary schools, or the internet. And what they don’t realise is that they’re so incredibly fortunate to be the generation where technology is firmly embedded and thriving in schools, and what great initiatives they’ll be fortunate to engage with during their future school years. For example, learning Coding. We at CyberSmarties believe that we’re not only here to protect children online, and teach them great behaviour. But we’re also here to assist young minds to flourish and be creative and so we’ve added a fully interactive Coding curriculum to our site. This coding section teaches various coding languages in a fun, interactive and age appropriate way. Coming soon in the near future we’ll also be adding a Doodle Section we they can let their creativity be showcased amongst their friends. At CyberSmarties we will continually add progressive and new initiatives to our system, to make sure that we’re always providing our students with fun, progressive and safe place to learn, both at school and at home, ensuring they are the leaders of their generations technological evolution.

The Inner Dialogue

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Diarmuid Hudner
CEO of Cybersmarties Ltd.

“Intelligence has no bearing on your level of happiness because happiness doesn’t have an IQ”
From the novel Im Happy Now.Com

This week, I heard on the radio on the way to work that the Leaving Cert Results were out. I was taken back to a time in my own youth when the same circumstances faced me. Although I did a good leaving cert, I know now that my results had no bearing whatsoever on how my life turned out, what trials lay ahead and ultimately how happy I would become. I write this blog today for everyone who has just gotten their results but especially for those who may be disappointed and are worried for their future. Please don’t be.

Firstly, as parents, we hope the best for our children. We try and give them the best we can so that they have the same or hopefully better opportunities than we had ourselves. This is only natural. We push them to be the best they can be but sometimes if truth be told, their results are seen as a reflection of us as parents. But if we are to stand back for a moment and look at our own lives, really think about the purpose of why we are living, we can see that it is ultimately to find contentment or happiness and no results will ensure that. I am not saying that we should not try and achieve, far from it, what Im saying is that we have to look at the purpose of our lives first.

To me, life is a series of challenges and the real learning is how to face them, learn from them and strive for happiness. No academic results will prepare you for life. Life just happens. Whether you have done exceptionally well in your Leaving Cert or not, results are not a definition of who you are or who you will become. The only one who defines how successful you become (and the definition of success is different for everyone) is you. Happiness doesn’t have an IQ. Happiness is just happiness. If your life brings you joy then you are an extremely successful person. This doesn’t just happen, it takes work to train how your mind perceives setbacks and disappointments, pain and loss. These are unavoidable but equally so are good times, laughter, love and fun. The question is, which do you want more?

For many years, I looked at financial success as a measure of who I was as a person. Now I know that financial success is just financial success. It allows financial freedom; that is all. It doesn’t guarantee you will marry the girl or boy of your dreams. It doesn’t guarantee you that the people you love will be free from harm or illness. It doesn’t guarantee real friendship and it doesn’t guarantee you are happy in yourself as a person. It just means you have one less thing to worry about. I never agree with those who say money cant buy you happiness because this lends itself to the belief that poverty brings you happiness. I have lived in poverty too and I certainly wasn’t happy then either. All money does is take care of money problems and that is just one problem in a long line of problems.

In my opinion and I speak only for myself here, I have to always be very careful of the inner dialogue in my head. Thoughts lead to words, words lead to actions and actions lead to repercussions. I need to work hard that the inner dialogue in my head is a positive one and catch myself when negative voices start taking control. It is very easy to let bitterness, cynicism and a moaning voice take over and this way of thinking will ensure my life goes exactly in the direction that train of thought steers me in. You are in control of the way you think, you always have been and always will be. No one lets negativity into your mind except you; you are the master of your own mind and therefore your own future. The critic inside is always more dangerous that the critic outside. When you determine that your life is going to be a certain way, truly believe it and more importantly act on these thoughts, then it is inevitable that this will happen. But most people give up when it isn’t happening straight away and find solace in believing life is easier for others or that the world is against them.

Never pity yourself. What other people think of you is none of your business. You have the same number of hours, minutes, and seconds in your day as anyone else. Oprah Winfrey doesn’t have any more than you, or Conor McGregor or an Olympic Medallist. It is what we choose to do with this time is what determines whether you achieve your goals or not. Confucius said “Those who say they can and those who say they can’t are both usually right”. If you have a goal in life; to work in Africa, to run a marathon, to be a brilliant parent, to open your own business, then make the decision and just do it. It really is as simple as that. You are unique and are on this earth for a reason; find the reason and show your uniqueness. One thing I have noticed in life is that like attracts like. If you are positive, you attract positive people around you and likewise if you are negative, negative people will be attracted to you. So be careful of the inner dialogue in your mind, because your mind will always find a comfort zone in positivity or negativity. For those young people who have just got their Leaving Cert results, irrespective of how you have done, the world is your oyster. Go out and get it, make yourself proud before anyone else, live rather be living. Your dreams are like parachutes and they only take flight when they are opened. And always remember; You are the painter, the paint, the canvas and the brush of how your life will unfold.

3 Questions

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Diarmuid Hudner
CEO of Cybersmarties Ltd.

“Humans don’t have eyes on the back of their heads for a reason…you can’t move forward if you’re continually looking back”
From the novel “Im Happy Now.Com”

I was listening to a radio program recently as I drove home from work which told the story of a man living along the border during The Troubles. This man, a farmer by profession, said that on his journey to and from his farm, which spanned both sides of the border, he was continuously stopped by army patrols asking him the same three questions.

Where have you come from?
What are you doing now?
Where are you going?

As I listened to this man recount these questions over and over, I thought to myself that, albeit yes, it must have been extremely annoying for the farmer, but on a different level, the questions themselves could be used for an altogether different purpose. I thought if we asked ourselves these same three questions in relation to our lives, what answers would we give?

Take the first question. Where have I come from? Think back about all the decisions you have made in your past to bring you to this point in your life today. Are there things you would have done differently? Different choices you would have made? Things you would have said but didn’t? Would the “one who got away” have got away? Was the faraway field any greener? When many of us look back at our past, we see the things we didn’t do, the life we could have had if only this or that had happened. Few of us look back at the massive amount we have achieved, the struggles we have overcome, the family losses we have learned to live with, the love lost as soon as won, the disappointments, the courage it has taken to get up every morning, despite all the setbacks, despite all the pain and obstacles, despite it all and still kept going on. Truth is, we can’t change our past, you will never breathe the same air you did a moment ago and yet sometimes old ghosts need to be put back in their closet in order to move on. To me we are not defined by what has happened in our past or the choices, good or bad, we have made; We are defined by the choices we make today because that is all we have control over. You cannot put back together a broken egg but you can still make an omelette out of it. Give yourself credit just for being here today, you are a success, despite everything, you are still fighting the good fight.

Let’s take the second question. What are you doing now? This I felt is an interesting one. Are you where you expected to be at this point in your life? Have you exceeded or fallen behind your expectations of yourself? My friend and author, Alan White, recently wrote in a blog for Creagh Castle Publishing, that we all have a negative or positive perspective on things, people and situations based on what has happened in our lives and the environment we grew up in. I agree with Alan on this. I must have been looking the other way when God was handing out the optimism cards that day because I don’t remember being given any. I struggle with it. I don’t bound out of bed every morning with the joys of Spring, rushing to take on the world with a smile on my face. I have to work at it, tell myself throughout each day to keep going no matter what happens. However I do find that over time I don’t have to tell myself as often or struggle so hard to convince myself because I do believe that we have the power to change our circumstances at any given moment. We have a choice in every situation to look at things in either a positive or negative way, to keep bouncing like a cork on the crest of a wave and to never go under. So I choose to look at the second question in a positive way because where I am today is not necessarily where I am going to be in the future but it’s up to me.

This leads us to the third question. Where are you going? The motivational speaker Zig Ziglar (yes he must also have been looking the other way when God was handing out names) asked the question “How can you hit a target you cannot see?” Yet nearly every major human endeavour or goal ever achieved was born out of such short-sightedness. The answer to this question is that it is possible to hit a target you cannot see. This is where hope comes in. However you will never hit a target if you don’t have one. I believe that the Universe alters or changes with you when you change. If you decide and then take action towards a goal, your mind and perspective will move you in line towards it. An example is a car that you might fancy buying. If you like the look of, for example an Audi A6, then you will see them everywhere; not because there are more of them around but because you have reprogrammed your mind to focus on them and where focus goes, energy flows. This how Cybersmarties happened, one idea, lots of focus and now we are helping children through behavioural technology to use social media in an entirely new way. We couldn’t see that target either.

I always think there are little messages being given to us every day; like these three questions I heard on the radio, these messages can make one reflect on how far one has come, where one is and where one hopes to be. The power lies in the decisions we make today and the commitment to see those decisions through. I truly believe that power is within us all and that’s what we tell children on Cybersmarties, every day, through positive messages; there is nothing they cannot do. P.S Big congratulations to our adopted Chinese Systems Administrator, Wenqian Xu on passing his driving test in Ireland first time, unlike his boss who took a little longer. He hasn’t quite got the Audi A6 yet so The Cybersmarties Team emptied our wallets and bought him a toy Fiat Punto instead. From small acorns…

Online Parks

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Brendan Woodage
Operations at CyberSmarties

CyberSmarties took a two week break from work recently. After our first eight months of tirelessly working towards our goal of creating a safe space for children online, we decided that it was time for some time off. My colleagues immediately used this time to both spend time with their kids, and visit their parents, while I spent my time off catching up on boxsets and taking trips to my local park.

Now I’m forever observing. I enjoy sitting back and watching. I enjoy learning my surroundings and analysing and understanding who and what is in my immediate vicinity. So although my holidays were spent relaxing, I still managed to learn a lesson or two.

I journeyed to the park five times over my time off. There was this particular spot under a large tree that I went to that was near the playing field in case I wanted to go for a run, but also gave me a good view of the rest of the park. Each day that I sat there with my headphones on, I’d see the same faces. There were the same boys out kicking a football around, the same people walking their dogs, and the same mothers or fathers out with their kids. It was this that got me thinking. As a child I lived in England and there was a park that I used to visit called Victoria Park, across the road from my house. My parents would bring my siblings and I to the park every opportunity they had and it was there that I learned to ride my first bike, where I first went to kick a ball with my dad, etc. I remember wanting to spend all of my time there, to explore the park by myself. But my mother told me that you couldn’t stay at the park forever and that I was not allowed to go to the park by myself until I was old enough. By the time I was old enough, we had moved to Ireland. The thing is that as I watched the people at the park in Limerick, I realised that the same thing was happening here. Kids were having their first experiences here. You could see their love for the park growing. They were building up memories with their parents, learning how to do new things, being social, and having fun. Even the teenagers who were playing ball were having a great time.

And so, this park; in my eyes, reminds me of the internet and social media. It’s a place where you can socialise, meet friends, have fun, and learn new things. But you wouldn’t let your kids go to the park by themselves if there weren’t old enough just like you shouldn’t let kids be on grown up social networks when they’re not old enough. Cybersmarties Fully Monitored System is the age appropriate safe stepping stone to teach kids how to behave, be safe and communicate online. It is the stabilisers of the bike. The kids are going to move on to other social networks as they grow older, and explore different parks. But making sure that they’ve learned the right skills to protect themselves before they venture out into the wider world is a must, and with CyberSmarties, not only do we have interactive games and coding lessons, jokes, competitions, and daily positive reinforcement, but we have behavioural technology to ensure that when the child moves to their next social network, that they’ll be safe, educated, and happy, free to enjoy an “online park” which is creative, nurturing, fun, educational and above all is safe.