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The Amazing Computer Education Projects Book


Digital Education

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Monday
Jan182010

7 Things To Do After the BETT Show

There is always a danger that no matter how good an event is, it will turn out to have very little impact in the longer term, as you forget what you saw and more pressing concerns vie for your attention. Here are 7 suggestions for preventing that from happening.
 
  • Arrange a team meeting for as soon as possible after the show. Have each team member say what three things most excited them, and three new ideas they picked up, plus what needs to change in your current practice. OK, “three” is an arbitrary and artificial number, but you get the idea.
  • Draw up an action plan for following up. That may take the form of arranging visits to other schools, or demonstrations from suppliers, or introducing some new ideas into your lesson plans.
  • Arrange a meeting with the Headteacher or other senior manager as soon as possible after your team meeting. The aim is to discuss with them what you learnt at the show that may impact what you are doing, or the school’s plans. If you discover that you are ahead of the game and don’t need to change anything at all for the time being, that is in itself an outcome that needs to be conveyed to your boss.

Make sure that you are well-prepared for the meeting, especially if you will be suggesting changes in what the school does, or you wish to ask for extra funding.

Also take into consideration whether your boss is a shoot-the-messenger type, if you need to report back on a new – and unwelcome – Government direction.
 
  • Give feedback to the rest of the staff on any key messages you picked up from the show. This is as much for diplomatic reasons as anything else: for some reason, there are people who believe that spending 12 hours travelling and walking around all day along with thousands of other people is the equivalent of a day off.
  • Allow at least a week after the show to hear from any suppliers to whom you gave your business card.
  • Find out what others thought about products and events seen at the show. Use the tags  BETT2010 and #bett2010.
  • Check the ICT in Education website and the Computers in Classrooms newsletter for news and reviews about the show.
Sunday
Jan172010

What Is The Meaning Of 'Good'?

Transport for London clearly uses a very different sort of dictionary to the rest of us. Take, for example, its use of the word 'planned', as in 'Planned engineering works'. This is the term used to justify and explain the fact that public transport, by tube at least, becomes an endurance, intelligence and orienteering test worthy of the Duke of Edinburgh Award at the weekends.

A photo of a train in serviceTake this weekend, for example. What should have been a simple and straightforward journey home after the BETT Show turned out to be a task akin to one of Hercules' Labours. My plan was to get on the Circle Line at Gloucester Road, sit there and cogitate, meditate or sleep until I arrived at Liverpool Street, and then take the National Express train home.

Unfortunately, TfL had other ideas.

Because of so-called 'planned engineering works', the Circle Line was completely suspended, the District Line was also suspended, no Piccadilly Line trains were stopping at Kings Cross, and even if they had been it would have made no difference because the Hammersmith and City Line was partially suspended.

The result was that, after spending a bit of time deciding which of the possible routes home was the least arduous, I spent the next two hours on a long, circuitous journey, standing virtually all the way.

Before I get on to the bit that relates to the title of this article, let me just say something about this 'planning'. To use an Americanism (which I don't often do but in this case the expression fits), it sucks. Any 15 year old with a rudimentary knowledge of Excel could devise a better plan that this. How come other countries are able to upgrade their metro systems without all the disruption that we Londoners have to suffer, every single weekend?

But this time TfL surpassed itself.

This was the weekend in which the BETT Show finished.

The BETT Show is the biggest show of its kind in Britain.

The BETT Show is the biggest show of its kind in the world.

This year the BETT Show had 700 exhibitors and attracted 30,000 visitors.

Surely someone at TfL might have looked at a calendar of events and thought that perhaps Saturday 16th January 2010 was not a great time to suspend half of the tube?

When I was project managing a major school refurbishment, which at one stage involved closing one of the entrances,  I consulted with all the stakeholders I could think of -- even including local residents who would be affected by all the kids going past their houses because their usual route to school would no longer be any good.

As it happens, I upset the patrons of the local church, because nobody had thought to tell me that they used that school entrance every Sunday in order to park their cars in the playground. But that only goes to illustrate the importance of consulting with as many people as possible before taking major actions.

Anyway, here we have possibly 30,000 people rattling around trying to find their way home or to the airport or to their hotels, and someone announces that, apart from the fact that half the network doesn't work (making it a 'notwork'), there is a good service.

A good service!!

That's like a teacher saying to an inspector: 'Twenty percent of my class will fail the course; a further 30% will get a lower grade that they should. Apart from that, I'm providing a good service.'

If walking for miles from one line to another at one interchange, standing most of the way for two hours, being crowded along with all the people who would have taken other routes, at the end of a very long week is considered a 'good' service, all I can say is let's hope and pray we never have a bad one.

Sunday
Jan172010

What Was Your 'WOW' Moment

Dr John Cuthell of MIrandanet likes to ask people what was their 'wow' moment, that nanosecond in which they realised that technology had something truly transformative to offer.

That 'wow' moment!For me, that moment came in 1976. Interestingly, I had already been using technology, but at one remove. I was teaching Economics at the time, and in order to familiarise my students with the vagaries of the stock market, I enrolled them in a game called Stockpiler. The idea was that you were 'given' a certain amount of money, and the students' job was to use that to maximise their profit through the buying and selling of shares.

Each week they would pore over the share prices and, having spent their 'spare' time (I didn't believe in such concepts) in the previous week reading periodicals like The Economist and the newspapers (I'd made sure these were amply available) and then make their decisions.

I would then collect in the forms on which they'd detailed their instructions, and send it off to some central processing place. Around a week later we'd find out how we did.

That was interesting, but it's hard to become excited by the technology when the time between input and output is so high.

About a year after I'd joined the school, a student brought in his computer. He had taught himself to program it, so I asked him to knock up a quick program to emulate a concept called 'the multiplier'. He did so, and the rest of us crowded around the screen. When we saw the numbers responding instantly to the suggestions we threw at him ('Make the interest rate 12%'; 'Lower income tax to zero'), I knew things could never be the same. With this technology it would be possible to model the behaviour of systems and show instantly the effect of changes in inputs on the outcomes.

That was my 'wow' moment. What was yours?

Sunday
Jan172010

The Myth of the Digital Native

Angela McFarlane gave a talk at the Naace 2009 Conference which was quite interesting. The full title of her talk was:

"5 year olds never could program the video -- challenging the myth of the digital native".

That's a pretty good title for an opening keynote. Too many people, including teachers, relegate responsibility for learning how to do interesting or exciting stuff because they limit what they ask the kids to do on the basis of what they themselves can do -- a point which was brought out in a recent inspection report into ICT in English schools.

She made some good points, although I'm not completely convinced that she was correct in all she said. In particular, her assertion (or conclusion) that a third of children are not engaged with technology at all seems to me rather suspect.

The key points of her talk, for me, were as follows:

The "techno-romantics" bandy the expression "digital natives" around, but it can actually act as a barrier to learning and can disadvantage a particular section of young people.

Love that description, "techno-romantics"! I think this is largely true, or potentially so. I cannot tell you the number of times I've had this sort of conversation:

Teacher: "The kids know so much more than I do about this technology."

Me: "Well, even if that's true, surely you know more about teaching and learning, and have more common sense and general knowledge, than they do?"

Why are new technologies not always adopted in schools?

They must have the potential for the following:

  • interaction between people and other people, and between people and the technology;

  • it must support the production of something, ie not be merely passive;

  • must facilitate feedback, with gradated content, and play;

  • Personalisation: being able to personalise the technology, and being able to be connected, are key for getting young people to adopt the technology and become proficient in its use.

One interesting thing that McFarlane said was that devices needed to have a battery that would remain charged up for the length of a school day. Pretty obvious, that, once someone has said it!

She went on to say that a third of the kids in the study she undertook are really engaging with the technology, but that a significant proportion are not engaging with it at all. The "low users" don't know how to use the technology, even if they look like they do.

This sparked off quite a discussion with one of my colleagues. As she said, perhaps the reason that the kids were not engaged is that they weren't interested in what they had been asked to do.

Of course, it could be true.  Steve Woolgar, in Virtual Society?: Technology, Cyberbole, Reality , draws attention to the fact that there are sections of society which do not have the slightest inclination to engage with technology in terms of getting online.

Other pressures

Schools are unable to devote enough time, in extended projects, to enable the process of iteration -- production of content, followed by feedback, followed by amendments to the content -- to be exploited to the full. Teachers are under too much pressure to move on to the next item on the curriculum.

I think this is both true and not true. If a project is rich enough, and the teacher creative enough (and the management supportive enough), you can teach quite a lot of a syllabus from a relatively small range of topics.

The importance of the teacher

McFarlane stated that her research indicates a very strong correlation between the teacher's use of the technology in lessons, and the kids' use of technology outside of school. It is essential for the teacher to model not only how to use the technology, but how to learn effectively.

I thought that was quite an interesting observation. It suggests that, as I think she herself went on to say, that whilst running classes for parents in how to use the technology their kids are using is a good thing to do, it is not enough. Parents should also be taught how to help their kids learn from using the technology. An interesting idea.

What also comes out of this is that the kids who are not enamoured of technology will not be persuaded to change their minds only by having a computer at home through the Home Access programme.

Monitoring young people's use of technology outside school

Schools should do so, says McFarlane, in order to identify those who don't make too much use of technology. I'm not I agree with that. By all means seek to find out what your kids are doing and can do with technology, in order to inform your teaching, as Miles Berry and I have encouraged (see this article for relevant links), but why focus especially on those who don't make much use of it? There is an underlying implicit assumption that there is something amiss, something that needs correcting in these cases (her expression in relation to the Home Access programme, according to my notes, was that kids will not be helped by the Home Access programme alone. Why should the concept of "help" come into this at all?)

In any case, I do wonder how many you'd really find who come into that category.

Working together is not the same as collaboration

McFarlane stated that a lot of so-called collaborative learning is not collaborative at all because kids are not taught how to learn together. That's probably true, but whether they are taught it or not they can still do it: they help each other informally quite extensively from what I've read and found out through surveys.

Conclusion

All in all a stimulating talk, though not one I'd agree with wholeheartedly. The video of the first part of the lecture is below.

 

 

Wordle summary:

Wordle: The myth of the digital native

 

 

 

Wednesday
Jan132010

BETT Highlights #1: Technology and Reading

I thought I'd reflect on what, for me, were the highlights of the BETT show this year. By 'highlights', I mean things which I found inspiring or interesting. My first highlight concerns digital reading.

Sally McKeown, in her talk called Reading for Pleasure: The Technology and the Future of Literacy, mentioned the appalling statistics (from 2005) that 25% of the adult population in Britain reads litle or nothing. Of course, I don't know what they counted as 'reading': people seem to be reading text all the time, and presumably they read the TV pages to see what's on. Perhaps they also have subtitles on while they're watching TV. I know that's not exactly high literature, but we do need to define what we mean by 'reading' when having such discussions I think.

Indeed, Sally identified 5 different sorts of reading experiences being enjoyed by (young) people these days, these being

  • Distributed narrative, such as by email (which reminds me: I keep meaning to have a proper look at Daily Lit, which allows you to read a book in email messages or by RSS feed).
  • Wikis (eg Wikibooks)
  • Twitter fiction
  • Publishers' Microsites, and
  • Digital fiction

A forthcoming issue of Computers in Classrooms will focus on digital reading, so I hope to explore these topics further then. If you have any views or experience of these or any other aspects of digital reading issues, or ebook readers, please consider contributing to the newsletter.

Wednesday
Jan132010

All set for BETT

BETT looks to be a biggie this, its 26th, year.

Recommendations include:

  • Check out the Future Learning Spaces
  • Newcomers like Google
  • Product launches from the likes of Dell and Toshiba

The government has spent (I think) £5b since 1997 on educational ICT, and BETT is the largest educational technology event in the world, apparently. Last year 25% of visitors were from overseas.

Apparently the Home Access programme is going to be widened, so listen out for that.

Stephen Heppell: we're in the post-appropriation phase. But we can't appropriate any more: we can't reel in what the kids are doing, we have to go where they are!

Also, what kids' play is these days is engaging and seductive: using GPS for example,, so it should be worth checking out Prof Heppell's Google-sponsored Playful Learning.

Some welcome news: according to Ray Barker of BESA, Ministers from around the world are now recognising what we old hands have always known: it's not the technology, but the people, that makes the difference!

Great quotable statement from Heppell: we've been very lucky: we've been able to do 19th century teaching with a bit of 21st century gloss!

Content-driven sessions like the 3-night Teachmeet is the future of BETT, according to Richard Joslin of EMAP: it's almost like Web 2.0 in an offline format.

Tuesday
Jan122010

Web 2.0 For Rookies and Other Matters

I've had to put the 'Rookies' series on hold for a bit -- not because I've run out of things to write about, but because I've run out of time!

I've been working on my two presentations at BETT, and trying to earn a crust too!

For Web 2.0 enthusiasts, the second edition of the Web 2.0 Projects Book is now in its first proof-reading stage. Around 90 projects and resources, 40 applications, over 90 contributors and loads of URLs to explore. Attendees at my presentation on Saturday will be given a URL to download a preview edition which they can start to enjoy and use right away. You can find out more about this new free ebook  in the next issue of Computers in Classrooms -- which, as luck would have it, will be sent out to subscribers at 11:30 this morning, UK time. For more details about this free e-newsletter, look at the newsletter page on this website.

It also contains information about the Safer Internet Day as well as the full article about the BETT show: how to prepare for it, how to get the most out of it, how to follow up afterwards and other useful information. A lot of this will be useful for people going to any conference.

Monday
Jan112010

The Children, Schools and Families Bill

The Children, Schools and Families Bill was presented to Parliament on 19 November 2009, and made the headlines as a series of guarantees for pupils and parents.

On the face of it, that's not a bad thing, although it did receive some flack in the press for not promising anything new.

For leaders of ICT in schools there is, as far as I can see, one positive aspect of the Bill and one rather worrying one.

The positive one is that the Bill places Personal, Social and Health Education (PHSE) on a statutory footing and ensures that all young people receive at least one year of sex and relationship education.

"What's that got to do with me?", you may ask. Well, there is scope for encouraging your PHSE and Citizenship colleagues to explore the internet for resources and exciting activities. Indeed, in this newsletter there are two reviews, one primary and one secondary, of a recently-launched website called Your Justice, Your World.

As for the sex and relationships aspect, well I don't think we want to get involved in the sex part, but I think ICT leaders have much to offer the 'relationships' bit.

Firstly, discussion of issues such as cyberbullying and online etiquette is never wasted.

Secondly, acknowledging that most of us learn by doing, why not set up or join a Facebook-like community using the free facilities at http://ning.com? Students and teachers can contribute to forum discussions, upload videos and photos, and write blogs. It's definitely worth looking into, as some of the contributors to the forthcoming Web 2.0 Projects book will testify.

I started such a community a while ago: http://ictineducation.ning.com. However, I have to warn you that I haven't had the time to administer and nurture it, with the result that spammers keep getting in, and so I have closed it down for now. For this reason I suggest that if you do start your own, set it up such that applications for membership have to be approved, or make it by invitation only (which would make sense in a school setting).

If you would like to see a particularly vibrant community, involving students as well, head on over to Digiteens. Established by Julie Lindsay and Vicki Davis, the Digiteen project and Ning was created as part of their collection of flat classroom projects. The community is open to teachers but not students, unless they have taken part in a Flat Classrooms project. There's a forum for teachers only at http://flatclassrooms.ning.com/.

Back to the CSF Bill, and the worrying part for me is the fact that it creates new powers for local authorities and the Secretary of State to intervene to raise standards in schools, especially the latter part of that. I've heard Ed Balls, the Education Secretary, speak, and he seems genuinely passionate about education. But is it healthy for him to intervene in order to raise standards? How would 'standards' be judged? Would an experimental project involving, say, blogging, be deemed to be not raising standards fast enough, and so be knocked on the head? How far would issues like that depend on the political persuasion of the incumbent of the post?

There may not be much we can do about it on a macro level, but I think this is another reason that anyone engaging in a Web 2.0-type project with their students needs to ensure that they can demonstrate that they are achieving good outcomes according to traditional measures. You can read more about this in a series on the ICT in Education website about projects, including 15 Ways to Make An Educational Technology Project Successful. You can also listen to me talking about it on Classroom 2.0 Live.

This article was first published in Computers in Classrooms, the free e-newsletter. For details of how to subscribe and to look at past issues, please go to the newsletter page.



Friday
Jan082010

16 Tips For Getting The Best Out Of BETT

Here are 16 suggestions for getting the most out of the experience.

Wear shoes with cushioned soles: the floor is concrete and therefore very tiring to walk on for a whole day.

Put your phone on vibrate if you can: in my experience, you can't hear your phone ringing above the noise.

As soon as you have passed through the entrance, find somewhere to sit, and look through the bag you will have been given. Get rid of any unwanted paper, and then look to see if there are any last-minute exhibitor entries, in case there are one or two that you ought to visit. Then get your bearings.

Aim to visit the most important exhibitors on your list first, in case you get waylaid or get too tired to continue.

If you attend BETT on the Wednesday, ie on the first day of the show, it may be worth finding the Department for Children, Schools and Families ( DCSF) stand soon after the opening of the show. As a rule, the show is officially opened by a Government minister, who may announce new funding or a new development.The DCSF stand may have an area where you can listen to the announcement live (the hall in which the announcement is made is usually difficult to get into without an official invitation).

Do not collect loads of information: it weighs a ton after a while. That’s where your business cards come in: give them to exhibitors you are interested in, and ask them to send you stuff after the show.

Don’t collect loads of information on behalf of other teachers. I did that for years and as far as I know not one person did anything different as a result. In fact, it was probably counter-productive because it conveys the impression that you are just a glorified mailman.

If you get thirsty, look out for free water which may be provided by some stands.

When you strike up a conversation with someone, or meet up with colleagues, always ask: what have you see today that has excited you? And then follow up on their suggestions.

At some point in the day, forget your careful planning and wander around. You will be surprised at what you come across that hasn’t been listed in any brochure. For example, good prices on some items, new publications, and companies you have never heard of.

Head on over to the Times Education Supplement stand, to pick up a free copy of the periodical.

Pick up free copies of other educational technology magazines – but bear in mind that some are little more than collections of advertisements.

As well as the usual sorts of freebies like mugs and sets of pens, mouse mats and notepads, there are often more useful ones. For example, one year the QDCA was giving away miniature versions of the ICT Programme of Study, which you could keep on you for quick reference. Some stands may have useful documentation on data sticks.

If you are staying to the bitter end, and you have deposited a coat in the cloakroom, collect it about an hour before the end of the show, to avoid a long wait. That means around 5pm Wednesday to Friday, and 3pm on the Saturday.

The next two points are  especially relevant if you are attending for more than one day, or have team members attending on different days to yourself.

Find out what others thought about products and events seen at the show. Use the tag #BETT2010 in Twitter and  BETT2010 in Technorati and elsewhere. (Not sure what a tag is? See this article.)

Check the ICT in Education website for news and reviews about the show.

Friday
Jan082010

Driving Your ICT Vision: The Seminar

Believe it or not, there are a lot of parallels between ICT planning and driving. The journey can be long, so planning is necessary, but hazards seem to keep appearing that can really throw you off course. But notice that I didn’t use the phrase ‘unexpected hazards’. You don’t have to be a Nostradamus to make educated guesses about possible future scenarios, if you’re managing to keep yourself informed in the right kind of way.

Similarly, a key aspect of advanced driving is to anticipate hazards based on the information to hand, and avoid any trouble before it arises. Interestingly, the most commonly-used expression when a car accident occurs is ‘suddenly’:

I was driving along and all of a sudden this child ran in front of me out of nowhere.

As a matter of fact, things like this tend to happen less suddenly than you might think.

So, with this kind of thing in mind I successfully proposed a seminar at BETT called ‘Driving your ICT vision: what can advanced motoring techniques teach us about achieving our goals?’, which I (partially) described as follows:

The ideas covered include:

  • The limitations of target-based strategic planning.
  • What is the advanced motoring system?
  • Being prepared: how to spot hazards.
  • The system in more detail, with practical examples: using the principles of the System to address short, intermediate, and long-term goals.
  • Using the system flexibly.
  • The value of commentary.

 

Looking at that, you might wonder if it’s going to be some theoretical, but impractical, exposition of a pet theory. Not so. My intention is to absolutely whizz through the bit about SMART targets, spend slightly more time on describing what the advanced driving system is, but spend the greatest proportion of the time going through the phases of the ‘system’ and identifying some applications that could be used during each one.

I can see clearly now...I’ve identified 90 tools, organisations, and information sources, many of which are free, which I think will be of interest to the ICT leader. Actually, I’ve looked at and tried out several more, but these are the ones which I think are worth exploring. And within that lot, I’ll be pointing out the two or three in each section which I think are the best. I hope it will be especially useful to recently-appointed ICT leaders: you know, the ones who are starting to wonder what possessed them to ever take such a job in the first place!

I’m a bit nervous about doing the presentation, just in case someone complains that they didn’t learn enough about driving! Also, let’s be honest: any analogy can only be taken so far, and this is no exception. I don’t want to stretch it beyond credibility. Nevertheless, the motoring angle does give us some nice conceptual hooks on which to hang the various tools I’ll be recommending. I didn’t want to just come up with a ‘Top 50’ (or whatever) set of tools without providing a context for each. I think that Top 50 lists are fine, by the way; it’s just that I didn’t want to  create one.

As I doubt that I’ll be able to cover all of the tools in detail, or possibly even at all, I will be providing attendees with a URL from which they can download the entire list.

If this sounds interesting to you, you can book for the seminar on the BETT website. Perhaps I will see you there.

Friday
Jan082010

Web 2.0 For Rookies: Photo-Sharing

Let's face it: clip art is, generally speaking, boring. And the reason is not hard to fathom: if a popular program comes with clip art all ready to use with no extra payment needed, then people who are in a hurry are going to use it. The question is: should we not encourage children in schools to look beyond the standard fare?

The answer is a cautious "yes". Why cautious? Because one of the things we should be teaching children is that there's no point in reinventing wheels just for the sake of it. If a piece of clip art is just right for the purpose, then why not use it? The problem is, many teachers seem to go no further than telling kids where the clip art menu item is. In the words of the standard school report, they could do better.

One way is to create their own photographic clip art with a digital camera. Storage is no longer a problem if a class Flickr account is opened: it's free. What's more, there are thousands of photos on Flickr which have been uploaded by other users, many of which can be used free of charge under certain conditions. Most of these pictures are as unique as the people who took them.

(Incidentally, there are other photo-sharing applications on the web, but I've chosen to use Flickr. If access to Flickr is blocked in your school, you may still be able to enjoy an approximation to its functionality if your school or Local Authority has installed a Learning Platform/Virtual Learning Environment which allows photos to be uploaded and tagged. But unless your lucky it's likely to be a very poor approximation because of the many features that Flickr boasts.)

There is another outcome of going around taking photos: you start to notice things more. Here's an example: when I went around taking pictures according to a theme of "numbers", I noticed for the first time ever that London buses have *three* numbers: the licence plate or registration number, the bus number itself, of course, and also, inexplicably, another number displayed in the driver's windscreen.

That outing also made me start to notice that some shops advertise goods at 50% off while others advertise goods at half price. Does that make a difference to people's perceptions? I have no idea, but I do know that once I'd got going I started to notice numbers all over the place -- and I noticed even more numbers in some of the pictures when I looked at them afterwards on my computer screen.

What better way to fire up a young person's interest in numbers and in their environment?

One venture of mine was to take pictures of patterns in the street: it's astonishing what you notice once you really look. Some are very nice indeed. And there would have been even more of them had I remembered to charge up the camera battery and the spare battery before leaving home!

You can see all the photos I've referred to, and more, by going to www.flickr.com/photos/terryfreedman.

So where does Web 2.0 come into all this? There are 3 ways in which it does:

  • Uploading photos in this way paves the way for sharing. For example, if I see a photo of yours that I like, and which I think will fit perfectly with the theme of my story, I will be able to use it as long as the licence assigned to it allows me to do so. The licence terms are clearly stated by the side of the photo. If it says 'All rights reserved', I'm not allowed to use it. But if it says I can use it as long as I give an attribution to the owner, that's fine. Nancy White has provided a useful review of a couple of online applications to help find photos with what is called a Creative Commons licence. A nice side effect of all this, of course, is that it gets across the point that you can't just go around taking stuff you like from the internet: at the very least you have to give credit to the originator. If you don't, it's rude to say the least. And if you use an image for which you don't have permission at all, it's theft.
  • Sharing isn't the same as collaboration, which involves more interaction. There are several ways in which people can collaborate on Flickr, or with Flickr, using various options ranging from joining a Flickr group to annotating photos to manipulating them with a number of 3rd party tools. I intend to write about some of these but in the meantime you might like to check out The Great Flickr Tools Collection.
  • You can use the photos as a starting point for discussion or creative writing. For example, you could incorpoarte a picture into a mindmap, as I have done on my Big Freeze example (shown below as well), and take it from there.
  • Snapshot of The Big Freeze Mindmap

Before closing this article, a few words of caution about using Flickr, some of which apply generally.

  • It's good practice to tag photos, and discussing with children the most appropriate words and phrases to use is a worthwhile exercise. Part of the information & communication technology (ICT) curriculum in the UK is concerned with finding things out, so pupils need to know that the use of appropriate tags makes this process a whole lot easier.
  • You will need to exercise the same sort of attention to what pupils search for as you would for any internet search. Although I haven't found anything explicitly pornographic on Flickr, there are pictures with ample amounts of flesh on display. I'm not sure if they would be blocked by an ordinary filtering system.
  • Remember that people own the copyright in their pictures, so you can't use them without permission. Flickr makes available 6 different kinds of copyright licence and explains what each one means in terms of what people can do with the photos. It might not be a bad idea to put a summary of these on your classroom wall or on the school intranet or home page. Children should be encouraged to check to see what, if any, licence has been assigned to the photos they wish to use -- and to ask the owner's permission if none has been assigned (or ask you to do that for them, to prevent their identity being revealed). By the same token, you should decide what rights you're going to assign to th class photos you upload to Flickr -- what a great opportunity for a class discussion followed by a democratic decision!
  • You can't take pictures of people and post them on the web without their permission -- at least, that's the position in the UK. However, I understand from a talk I attended at a recent Society of Authors event that you don't have to worry if the people were not the subject of the photo, such as if you were taking pictures at a fottball match. But I'm not a legal expert, so if in doubt seek advice, or err on the side of caution (see the next point too). You will also, obviously, need to ensure that photos of children are not published without their parents' permission, and to make sure that the children cannot be identified individually: see the UK's Information Commissioner's advice on taking photographs in schools, or UNESCO's guidance for broadcasters. (Thanks to Neil Adam for disocvering the latter whilst researching an article for Becta's TechNews.
  • I'd also recommend going a step further and not taking photos that easily identify businesses or which feature car registration or other identifying details. Perhaps I'm being unduly cautious, but it seems to me that we should at least be encouraging pupils to consider the rights of other people. I for one would certainly not like my car or house details plastered all over the internet, and would feel pretty aggrieved if I discovered that someone had done so.

But notwithstanding those few caveats, digital photography is a great way of creating clip art, and for making the environment come alive and helping children to seen new things -- or new aspects of old things. And Flickr (and similar tools) help take it all a step further by encouraging and facilitating the cross-fertisliastion of ideas, and collaboration. That has to be a good thing!

STOP PRESS! I've created a group on Flickr called ICT in Education for the purpose of sharing photos to be used as a stimulus for discussion. Contact me if you'd like to join it. (I declined to make it completely open because I'm fed up with spammers getting everywhere!)

Thursday
Jan072010

Preparing For BETT: 13 Things To Do

Here are 13 things to do before you go to BETT.

Although I've written the following with BETT in mind, most of the points will apply to getting ready to go to any conference.

  • Register online at http://www.bettshow.com. Doing so will save you time because there are two entrances: one for ticket-holders and one for non-ticket-holders. The latter line moves much more slowly than the former.
  • While you’re on the site, pre-book seminar sessions (where you can). This will cost a bit of money, but will help you avoid disappointment.
  • If you are coming from abroad, go to the International Visitors section of the website in order to find out which exhibitors there are active in your own country, so you can follow up afterwards.
  • Also, try out the planning tool. It’s quite impressive: you tick a number of boxes to say which areas you are interested in, and then it gives you a PDF file containing a floor plan, a list of stands you should visit, and a list of seminars. The only thing is, it does not seem to list the stands in a very efficient order. Therefore…
  • … Plan the most efficient route around the show. The aim is to minimise the amount of unnecessary traipsing around you have to do.
  • Print (or buy) a set of business cards. These are essential for entering competitions and, more importantly, for having information sent to you after the show. Also, of course, for exchanging details with any new acquaintanceships you make at the show. You can create a simple business card in Word (or similar), and you can buy perforated business card printer paper at a very reasonable price.
  • Buy a small stapler. This is useful for stapling your business cards to various forms on stands, such as the ones they provide for entering competitions. For some reason, exhibitors never seem to have a stapler themselves. Completing the same contact information over and over again is tedious and time-consuming.
  • Prepare lists of questions to ask the suppliers of particular products, if you are looking to purchase something. Different members of your team may have different questions, as suggested earlier.
  • With your team, decide on who is going to do what (if others are going as well). It is a good idea to avoid the temptation to fill every waking moment. I have found that you need to allow for serendipity, especially as some exhibitors are not listed until the last minute. I have also found that every so often you need to find a place to have coffee, think about what you have seen, plan ahead, and get rid of any unwanted paper you may have acquired on your travels.
  • Organise cover lessons if necessary.
  • If technicians will be attending as well, try and select a day when the school’s computer facilities tend not to be in high demand, just in case something goes wrong.
  • Prepare a list of phone numbers that the school secretary or someone else can contact for help if something dreadful happens.
  • On the way to the show, buy a bottle of water, because show prices tend to be higher than outside. 

More tomorrow. Look at all the articles about BETT 2010.

Thursday
Jan072010

8 Reasons Not to Have a Blogroll

Lots of people have a blogroll -- a list of blogs which the blog or website owner reads -- on the front page of their blog or website. I happen to think it is a practice which sets a poor example to students whom we instruct to set up a website as part of an assignment.

Here are the reasons that I don't have one myself.

Reason 1: Marketing

I think from what may be called a marketing point of view, having a blogroll on the front page is rather silly. To my mind, it's the equivalent of a store displaying a list of other stores outside the main entrance! I know (before you contact me to tell me that I "don't get it") that one of the factors that makes blogging vibrant is the link journalism aspect, but I don't think that a blogroll is the right way to incorporate it. Certainly not on the front page, anyway.

Reason 2: Context

When I see a list of blogs on someone's website, I have no idea why I should be interested in them. This is especially so when the subject matter covered by a blog is not obvious from its name. Why would I wish to inflict the same kind of confusion on others?

Reason 3: Maintenance

Having a blogroll means having extra site maintenance to do. I follow hundreds of blogs, and every so often some of them move to a different server, or give up the ghost altogether, which results in the main URL leading to a page containing the new URL or, worse, an error page.

It's also conceivable that one or two URLs might end up pointing to a third party website that advertises porn or web hosting deals or other irrelevant rubbish. (It has been known to happen: a geography education website officially approved by an education agency in the UK was sold off, and the URL then led to a pornography site.)

I just don't have the time, or the inclination, to keep checking the links in order to avoid these kinds of problems.

Reason 4: Reputation

This is closely linked to reason number 3. Listing blogs is, of course, to recommend them. If they suddenly go off the rails in some way, or even simply post an article with which I am in strong disagreement, that could reflect back on me. I'd rather not take that chance.

Reason 5: Creating an impression

To my mind, one of the reasons for displaying a list of blogs he or she reads is, I suspect, a blogger's way of signalling how well-read he is. It is the equivalent of having rows and rows of books which one has never read, or just dipped into once or twice. If you really have read all these blogs, or do so on a regular basis, surely the best place to demonstrate that fact is within your own posts?

Reason 6: Being honest, and being seen to be so

This is very much tied in to reason number 5. I don't have the time to read all the blogs I follow on a regular basis. Would it not be dishonest, in some sense, to give the impression that I do?

My best effort involves dipping into my list of blogs two or three times a week, and skimming through a sample of them to see if any of the blog posts catch my eye.

Those people who list dozens or even scores of blogs in their blogroll -- do they really expect me to believe that they read all of them all the time? And if not, why bother to display them all in the first place?

Reason 7: Originality of thought

If someone lists dozens of blogs in their blogroll, and reads them all assiduously, doesn't that imply that they have little time left for some original thinking? One of the reasons I follow the people I do is that they don't just react all the time, but come up with stuff all on their own. Assuming that I'm not the only person who thinks like that, why would I wish to give the impression that I don't have an original thought in my head?

Reason 8: No hard feelings

Another reason I shy away from having a blogroll is that I'd be concerned about leaving people out. Silly, perhaps, but I sometimes feel slightly "miffed" when I notice that someone who I know reads my blog hasn't listed it in their blogroll. I shouldn't wish to upset someone else in a similar way!

The best way to link

The best place to link to other blogs, in my opinion, is from within a blog post. That addresses all the points listed here. It provides context, and therefore a more sensible reason to send the reader off to someone else's blog. To continue my store analogy, it's a bit like a particular department in a store recommending other stores that provide complimentary goods and services. That happens in the right place, and also at the right time -- after you have actually entered the store!

As for dead links, in my experience, blogs may change their URL, but quite often the location of the original post remains. But where that is not the case, or where the website gets taken over by a holding company or worse, the likelihood is that a reader will inform me when a link doesn't work, so I don't feel the need to be doing maintenance all the time.

And I think it's a more honest approach. I'm not saying I read hundreds of blogs all the time, just that I read a couple for that particular article.

Hopefully, that also gets across the point that I do have original thoughts too, that I don't merely rely on others to post something to which I can react.

And, of course, by referring to nobody as part of a list, I upset nobody -- or everybody!




Thursday
Jan072010

Web 2.0 For Rookies: Offline is Important Too

Spike Milligan, the British comedian, was once working in his study at home. All of a sudden the doorbell rang. His wife answered it. Standing there was a postman bearing a telegram that Mrs Milligan had to sign for. When she opened it, she saw that it had been sent by her husband. It read:

VERY THIRSTY STOP MAY I HAVE A CUP OF TEA PLEASE

My wife and I sometimes communicate like this, in an updated way.If I have been upstairs for a few hours, and she is downstairs, she will sometimes send me a message on Facebook to suggest we have supper in half an hour's time.

This cartoon seems to me to encapsulate the funny side of all this.

 

 

But there is a serious side too. Kahlil Gibran, in The Madman, describes a man who is standing on a beach with his back to the sea, listening to the sound of a seashell.

Gibran says:

He is the realist, who turns his back on the whole he cannot grasp, and busies himself with a fragment.

The beach at Aldburgh, Suffolk, England

I think sometimes we need to remind ourselves that actual physical experiences are important too:
There's a joy to be had in walking around the school playground looking for minibeasts to photograph, instead of just looking on Flickr.

There is pleasure and much 'hidden' learning to be had in visiting somewhere in real life, if you can, than looking at it on Google Earth, or experiencing it vicariously through someone else's eyes via a video stream or webcam.

And everyone I meet agrees that, whilst online communication is wonderful, nothing quite beats actually meeting people face to face.

And there's another consideration too. Many years ago, as a form tutor, I decided that I was going to play some classical music to my registration class each morning. Not because I thought that music was superior to their own, but because I didn't think they would even get to hear classical music in their everyday lives. They really enjoyed it.

In the same way, if it is true that youngsters today are always online in some fashion, especially as many parents are afraid to let their children play outside on their own, don't we owe it to them to provide a few quality offline experiences during the course of the week?

If this post has seemed very un-Web 2.0, don't worry: normal service will be resumed tomorrow!


Have you seen the other articles in the Web 2.0 for Rookies series? Feel free to comment, and to recommend them to your colleagues and students.

Thursday
Jan072010

Blogrolls, needles and haystacks -- a conundrum

Everyone knows that finding good information on the internet is like finding a needle in a haystack, right? In fact, it's worse than that because when you find a needle at least you know it's a needle, as opposed to something masquerading as a needle; you don't have to go looking for objective proof that it's a needle.

So why do so many "edubloggers" think that the concept of blogrolls, which are lists of blogs that subscribers to a blog subscribe to, and similar devices (such as, in effect, shared favorites) are so wonderful?

I can see the (superficial) attraction of having many more potential sources of information, but if finding good information is like finding a needle in a haystack, what is the point of increasing the size of the haystack?

You may have read this before; here's why.