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Wednesday
Nov282012

Review of Learn for Life News

I recently discovered a fairly new educational technology and ICT news service. Published daily by UK ICT veteran Leon Cych, Learn for Life News is a welcome – and different –  addition to the plethora of information sources currently available.

Leon Cych, by Leon Cych. Used with permissionWhy “different”? Because it is not just another source of news but, as Leon himself describes it, filtered news. Leon is acting as a human filter of what is currently being discussed on the UK ICT grapevine.

Now, obviously, there are potential issues with human filters, such as bias, pet peeves, and so on. But there are two answers to that I think.

First, all filters, even automated ones, have inherent bias, even if only because of the underlying coding that determines whether something gets filtered in or out.

Second, all human news sources are biased in one way or another, even innocently. For example, I can’t write about every topic I’d like to in respect of ICT, because I have to work, eat and sleep! So what you see on the ICT in Education website has been, as it were, “filtered in”.

Then again it comes down to authority and trust. Leon has been on the education scene for (wait a minute: it can’t be that long; someone’s inserted an extra zero!), well, ages. Having listened to his latest podcast, about his schooling, it sounds like he and I went through formal schooling at around the same time.

You don’t get to stay a major player in any field if your judgement is rubbish: sooner or later, and usually sooner, you’ll be found out. So, while long-term involvement is not a guarantee of sound judgement, it’s a pretty good indicator.

Besides, I’ve known Leon for quite a long time, and have always found him to be very wise in matters of education in general, and educational ICT in particular. So I was delighted to see him start up this new daily news service.

At first, it comprised a video as well as audio and a summary of links. However, Leon has decided to focus on the audio aspect, which frankly I don’t think is any great loss: I only listened to the audio anyway, because it’s hard to do much else if you’re having to stare at a screen. It’s a pity from the point of view that Leon’s videos had such exemplary production values (my own “Terry’s Two Minute Tips” also had production values: poor ones!), but on balance it was probably a sensible decision on Leon’s part.

The Learn 4 Life news service not only includes audio, but sets of Bitly links to all of the resources he talks about. In his podcasts, Leon draws in news from a variety of sources, and adds his own views to the mix. From my point of view, it makes a refreshing change to be able to listen to a podcast that is authoritative, useful and not concerned solely with the technology itself. In the short time I’ve been listening to it it has proven a valuable source of information to me. For example, I spent time today following up on some Bring Your Own Technology- related information he cited. A topic he seems to have covered more than once is coding, one of the big topics now in the UK landscape: I’d advise anyone concerned about that to check Learn 4 Life News.

What I like about the service

  • It’s UK-oriented, and by a UK-based person. Lest you think that is verging on xenophobia, and before you contact Social Services, when I want to hear about the US scene I prefer to listen to or watch US-oriented podcasts by US-based presenters, etc etc. I know an outsider’s view also has it’s value, but you certainly need the view from a resident.
  • It doesn’t waste loads of time with fancy intros. Every time I watch BBC News, which is rarely, I have one minute of my valuable time wasted by their pointless countdown. That’s seven minutes a week, which I know isn’t much, but it’s my time and I don’t see why some producer feels they have the right to waste it!
  • It’s topical. The latest one, for instance, features the latest report from Ofsted, the school inspectorate. I haven’t listened to it yet, and I’m looking forward to it.
  • It’s authoritative.
  • It’s opinionated.

What I think could be better

  • I’d say that in parts it sometimes seems too detailed, such as listing several of the presentations coming up in some TeachMeets, (two or three would have sufficed I think.
  • Although there is a facility for commenting, it seems to me that there is a mismatch between the nature of the news service and the way you can comment about it. I wish there were a way to comment by speaking too.
  • On the subject of commenting, I think perhaps it would be good if this service became richer, and more community-friendly, eg by having a Facebook page or a forum. I have no idea whether or not Leon would want such things, and I should be astonished if he had any more time to devote to this, but it’s a thought.

By the way, I do have a slight interest to declare: Leon has kindly mentioned my website a couple of times and, as I was rounding off this article, he emailed me to invite me to be interviewed. But all of that wouldn’t have induced me to write a glowing review, as I hope you know!

I asked Leon a few questions about the service:

Why are you doing this?

Because I cannot get out and film and it is a good way to disseminate my vision of a networked profession held together by online practice through film news. I don't believe technology can improve learning but I do believe networks can through the power of dissemination of quality resources and practice and quality connections between individuals. We can all learn from each other. My site is called Learn 4 Life because the remit stretches beyond the school timeframe or geographical boundaries. I believe education and learning will transcend these strictures in the next few years and informal and formal education begin to merge culturally. Someone has to document it.

How long do you intend to do it for?

As long as I can keep it up the production values and time necessary to create the resource. It is very, very time consuming. On the other hand it is intended to be a long term resource , historical record and a gateway to individuals and organisations with the expertise to share. So long as there is a need but initially three months with a review after that time. I am hoping to get some sponsorship in order to be able to continue – as long as potential sponsors understand that I’ll insist on maintaining my independence, and not try to lock me down in terms of content!

Anything else?

Yes, as this service did not exist so it needed to be put in place - I hope people enjoy the resource and it is used for highly targeted CPD (continuing professional development). I have worked hard to ensure the programmes can be downloaded - referenced quickly and disaggregated and remixed for professional development purposes and/or wider dissemination.

OK, so now you want to know how to avail yourself of the service? Here are the various URLs:

Website: Learn 4 Life

RSS for website:

http://feeds.feedburner.com/co/zCel

http://feeds.feedburner.com/co/zCel?format=xml

L4L iPhone App (FREE): https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/l4l/id349167931?mt=8

Audio:

Audioboos: http://audioboo.fm/users/11452/boos.rss

iTunes: itpc://audioboo.fm/users/11452/boos.rss

Archive.org: http://archive.org/search.php?query=L4Lnews

Mixlr for Live Broadcasts: http://mixlr.com/l4lnews/

Mixcloud: http://www.mixcloud.com/L4Lnews/

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