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Tuesday
May252010

6 Possible Reasons Your Educational Technology is Underused

Does your computer lab look like this?

It's seen better days

Hopefully not! But how about metaphorically speaking? If your once-lovely shining new facilities are simply not being used by other teachers, perhaps one of the following is the reason why.

Teachers don't know what's available

Just because you do, don't assume everyone else does. Do you know what's available in the music rooms? When was the last time you took an inventory of the science area? It's not a bad idea to let people know what they can use. Set up a special area of the staff noticeboard, issue a half-termly newsletter, or make the occasional announcement in a staff meting. And definitely include the information in staff induction materials.

Teachers don't know how they could use it, or why they should

I think this is a matter of making suggestions to people, and asking their opinions. Something to avoid is coming across as if you know their subjects better than they do. That is pretty obnoxious, and almost guaranteed to trun people off working with you.

Teachers don't know what the kids know

It's a daunting prospect, thinking that before you can do what you actually want to do, you have to teach the kids how to do it. I'll give you an example of what I mean. Let's suppose I teach geography, and I want the kids to use a spreadsheet to generate a graph from some rainfall figures. I don't want to have to teach them how to do that, because that's just going to waste precious time from my point of view.

One thing I tried, and it worked really well, was to issue a bulletin at the end of each half-term stating what the students had been taught, and what they were going to be taught next. Once the staff knew that, to continue with the example, we'd covered how to make graphs, they were a lot more confident about using the facilities with their students.

Teachers lack confidence or competence

I've lumped these together because I think they amount to the same thing. At least,m they go hand in hand with each other. Improve your skills, and you're bound to become more confident.

So, make sure there is in-service training available, and classroom support if required.

The facilities are too difficult to book

I've already dealt with this problem in Removing the Barriers to Entry. Teachers are too busy to embark on a sort of obstacle course, so if it's hard to book a set of laptops or whatever, they probably won't.

The facilities are uninviting

They could be uninviting for all sorts of reasons. Old equipment, dirty keyboards, broken mice, or lots of posters telling you what is forbidden. Or they may be unreliable, or not fit for purpose in some other way (for example, laptops don't retain their charge for more than about an hour), or the computer labs may be too hot (a common complaint) or too noisy because of the air conditioning.

Perhaps in one of the computer labs only some of the workstations work — with the non-functioning ones still in place looking ugly and useless.

You'll need to look at the facilities with an objective eye, as I advocated in Carry Out a SWOT Analysis. That will help you identify the causes of the problem.

Conclusion

Unless you're incredibly unlucky, you should be able to make a significant increase in the use of the ed tech facilities in a relative short period of time. I know that quality is important, that it's not simply a question of numbers. But people can raise their game over time, so the important thing is to get them using the facilities to start with.

Also, if the facilities are constantly in use you will stand a much better chance of winning an argument for more funding to upgrade the facilities. In these hard-pressed times, that sort of consideration is more important than ever.

See the References for other useful articles on this topic.

Tuesday
May252010

Announcement of Two Prize Draws

Win a year’s subscription to online resource bank

I’ve arranged several prize draws for subscribers to the Computers in Classrooms newsletter, starting with this one: Scholastic has kindly made available a one year subscription to their online resource bank for primary (elementary) children.

Once logged in, you can  browse through the thousands of resources by clicking “Browse our resources”, on the right hand side of the page, underneath the orange “My folder” button.

The “My folder” button is where you can store all your favourite resources, features and news, allowing you to easily find what you particularly liked, for next time!

Alternatively you can search for resources using keywords.  Type in for example “Role Play” into the search field on the main page, and select “Child Ed Plus” from the drop down ‘department’ list to show the resources available.

Being a subscriber to Child Education PLUS online resource also means that visitors have full access to all the back issues of the Child Education PLUS half-termly hard copy magazine, packed with lesson ideas, advice and news.

I’ll be running the prize draw at 10pm British Summer Time on 30th April 2010. For the rules that apply to our competitions and prize draws, please see http://www.ictineducation.org/newsletter/. For this one, all subscribers are eligible regardless of place of residency.

Thanks to Alison MacGregor and Carly Wonnacott of Mango Marketing for setting this up.

PIMS competition

One of the interesting things to arise from the increasing affordability of sound recorders, digital cameras and pocket video cameras is that these devices are increasingly being used in a ‘show and tell’ way. Rather than try to describe to parents, or even yourself, what the youngsters have learnt, capture it as it happens. See, for example, my account of my visit to Grays Infants School, and my review of the Flip Video – especially my interview with Elaine on how it might be used in the classroom, and the further possible uses we came up with.

Unfortunately, all too often the level descriptors and the digital evidence are stored separately. However, an application called PIMS brings the two together. Julian Barrell, the company’s Director, took us through the system: you upload the evidence right there and assign level descriptors to a child or group of children. In fact, the child could do it too.

You can have a go yourself by  going to Http://www.simplyefficientsoftware.co.uk and playing around in the demo school. Use the school name pimsdemo, and the username and password demo.

Now there’s some great news if you look at the system, like it, and are a subscriber to Computers in Classrooms, because on 26th May 2010 one randomly-selected subscriber will be able to use the system with any two classes of approximately 30 children, for up to 6 years. All you have to do is (a) subscribe to Computers in Classrooms and (b) agree to write a brief article for the newsletter and website, on how you find it.

The price is £400 per class for up to 6 years and includes future upgrades, so with a free introduction INSET session by Julian this prize represents a potential £1000. 

I’ll be running the prize draw at 10pm British Summer Time on 30th April 2010. For the rules that apply to our competitions and prize draws, please see http://www.ictineducation.org/newsletter/. For this one, all subscribers are eligible regardless of place of residency.

More to come

Look out for other prize draws, to be announced on the ICT in Education website. Still not a subscriber? What are you waiting for? It takes just a few minutes to sign up and confirm your subscription, and it's free.

Tuesday
May252010

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 24: Removing Barriers to Entry

Educational technology is different from other areas in the curriculum in one respect especially, which is that its success is partly measured by how much it is being used by non-specialists. With that in mind, the final quarter of this series is about encouraging other staff to use it.

A task a day for 31 daysIn fact, not merely use it, but want to use it. For that to happen, the technology has to be useful, exciting, easy to use, easy to access. Today, I'm going to concentrate on that last one, making the educational technology easy to access. I'll continue with this theme tomorrow.

Let's start with a simple proposition. If the educational technology is easy to access, other staff may or may not make use of it. If it is difficult to access, then they almost certainly won't, except under sufferance, such as if they are forced to by the senior leadership team, or on a particular day they have no alternative.

You have to bear in mind that, these days, it is really quite easy to gain access to a computer if you really need to. Many public libraries have computers which can be booked for an hour at a time, and there are internet cafés, not all of which look like dives. Many teachers have their own computer or, in the UK, a school laptop.

Bottom line: when it comes to using a computer outside school hours, teachers have a lot of choice as to where they go if they want to use a computer for lesson preparation or report writing. In a few days' time I'll be looking at how to encourage teachers to use the school's facilities for their own work.

But what of using the computers with classes? There are several things you can do in order to encourage or facilitate that, but within the context of this series I am going to focus on just one: making sure the equipment is accessible. Today, I am considering computer labs; tomorrow I shall look at equipment that is loaned out.

Remove the barriers to entryThe first step in making a computer lab accessible is to enable staff to actually get into it. Yes, I realise that is pretty obvious, but consider the situation I found myself in in one school:

  • The keys to the computer labs were kept in a Deputy Headteacher's office.
  • You were allowed to go into the office to get a key as long as the office was (a) unlocked and (b) not in use for a meeting.
  • You were allowed to take only one key at a time. (The significance of this will become apparent in a moment.)

What this meant was that what should have been a very simple act — walking into a computer lab — required meticulous planning if you were not to end up waiting outside a computer lab with a class of kids who were becoming more and more unruly by the second while you frantically tried to gain access to the key.

That is assuming, of course, that you had been able to book the use of the room in the first place, because that was another major hurdle. Each room had its own booking timetable, which was available on the teacher's desk in the room.

Sounds logical enough, doesn't it, but suppose I wanted to book the use of the room next Wednesday morning for one of my classes. This is what I could end up doing:

  1. Find key to computer lab A.
  2. Check timetable in Lab A.
  3. Return key and, if computer lab A was booked at the time I need it, take the key for Lab B.
  4. Check the timetable for Lab B.

And so on. There were three computer labs, so checking their availability could, by the time you'd managed to get hold of the key each time, easily take your whole lunch hour. Little surprise, then, that most staff did not bother most of the time. It would be untrue to compare the computer labs to the Marie Celeste, because at least that ship showed evidence of recent occupation.

Sorting this out took surprisingly little time, using a few simple expedients.

Firstly, I redesigned the computer lab booking form. I figured that nobody would care much which computer lab they used (we didn't have a specialist area set aside for, say, multimedia; the only real difference between the rooms was the number of computers in them). Therefore, I amalgamated the room timetables for all the rooms onto one booking sheet, and organised it by time rather than room.

In other words, if you wanted to use the computers next Wednesday morning, you looked at the sheet to see which room(s), if any, were free at that time.

I then placed the booking timetable in the staffroom, which seemed quite logical to me.

These two steps meant that booking a computer lab went from possibly taking an hour to taking less than five minutes.

I also asked the school office to take charge of the keys. After all, there is someone there all the time, so that made perfect sense too.

All of a sudden, gaining physical access to the rooms was no longer a Herculean labour.

There is also the matter of access to the network. I understand the need for security, but I could never understand why some Heads of ICT made it so incredibly difficult to get into the computers unless you ahd your own user ID.

My view is this: there are always going to be students who forget their login details, new students or staff who have not yet been given their login details (even though they should have been) and visitors to the school. So why not create a bank of generic user IDs, like User01, User02 and so on? I believe that as long as people know that the work they create under these names will not be kept very long, and so must be transferred or saved to an external medium if they want to keep it, that's fine. It will only be the odd one or two in a class anyway (one hopes).

Another aspect of access is ease of use. These days, many applications are fairly intuitive if you've been using computers for a while. But not everybody has. When I was Head of ICT I came up with Freedman's Five Minute Rule. This states that someone should be able to come into your computer suite, log on, do some work, print it out and save it and log off, all in the space of 5 minutes even if they had never set foot in the school before.

One of the things you might do in order to meet this requirement is to put up posters giving step-by-step instructions for starting each application, how to save work in the word processor, how to print off your picture, and so on.

To be accessible, the computer systems also has to actually work. I will be covering technical support another day, but it's worth saying at this point that if your computers are unreliable, people won't use them. If, for example, there is an intermittent fault such that every so often the network crashes for no obvious reason, you really need to get it sorted out. It may be that it "only" happens on average once a week, or even once a month, but no teacher wants to be the one in the computer lab with a class when it does.

None of the things I've discussed here will in themselves make teachers want to use the computers. What they are all about is reducing, or even removing, the barriers to entry, to borrow a term from the econommists' dictionary. Think of it as a shop might: opening the doors of a shop and putting in signs reading "Menswear 1st Floor" won't get people flocking through the doors. But make it hard to enter the shop in the first place, and then fail to let people find their way around easily, and you will certainly deter all but the diehards or the desperate from even trying.

Look out for another article, coming soon, on why your computer facilities may be lying idle much of the time.

Monday
May242010

The Value of Play

I've been watching, and watching and rewatching a video called Play, by David Kaplan and Eric Zimmerman. It's a film which envisages a possibly not-too-distant scenario in which games have become totally immersive. The line between game and reality blur — over and over again.

The first time I watched it I didn't quite 'get' it. The second time I understood it a lot more. The third time I was able to completely enjoy it, and after that I started to think about the possibilities for the ed tech teacher.

I don't think many teachers would feel comfortable showing this to a group of students. A pity, really, because there is so much rich discussion you could have with them. However, there are some risqué elements, like a scene where the main character grabs a woman's breast, followed by some choice words by the recipient of this unwelcome contact, and one with Japanese schoolgirls, which is clearly tongue-in-cheek but which may be unwise to show to a class. Anyway, watch it and decide for yourself.

But if there is a good chance that you will feel unable to show it to your students, why am I bothering to mention it?

Well, there is always the possibility of showing selected scenes, to illustrate points for discussion.
However, even if you watch it only with colleagues, perhaps as part of a team meeting or a staff training day, there is much to discuss. I have always believed, and found, there to be value in having an intellectual discussion for its own sake. This is especially important for teachers: ours is an intellectual profession, so we need to practise being intellectual.

If, having watched the film, you don't think you can use it, pass on the details to colleagues teaching media studies. They may find it interesting to consider how the lines between film, game and reality are not very apparent. There is also a video, on the Future States website (see below), showing the making of the film. I don't think it's very revealing myself, but it may be interesting for students to glimpse what a real film set looks like.

So what sort of issues does the film raise?

One is a moral issue about how points are accumulated. Watch the thug in the first sequence, to see what I mean at its most obvious, but the issue is repeated throughout the film.

Another is to do with truth — not only in the sense of distinguishing game from reality, but in terms of integrity. Look at the choices faced by both the politician and the psychiatrist. There's an element of humour there, but perhaps like much humour it touches a nerve.

There are underlying issues as well, to do with genuineness. For example, all the options presented to the psychiatrist appear to have equal weight. Do professionals like psychiatrists, doctors, even teachers, really ask questions which have no greater value than any of the alternative questions they might have asked instead?

But perhaps this is all getting too deep. Watch the film, which lasts just under 20 minutes, and see what you make of it.

A little background: I found out about this by looking at the Sliced Bread blog, where Tony Searl wrote an article called Future State. I chose to read that at the suggestion of my random blog reading generator.

See also the two articles cited in the References section.

On the topic of games, the forthcoming issue of Computers in Classrooms, the free (woo hoo!) newsletter, is a games special, with articles about 'serious' as well as 'educational' games (the distinction is not mine), reviews and original research from a student's dissertation and BESA, to cite two, plus some great prizes to be given away.

Monday
May242010

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Consolidation Day 3

Hopefully, the last ten activities have been useful. Having spent some time seeing what's going on, and then looking at some hard evidence, you should by now have started to address some practical issues, such as:

  • What is the documentation like? Is it helpful?
  • What resources do we have? What do we need?
  • What are people talking and writing about? What new ideas are coming in?
  • What do we need to do to make the ICT team (if there is one) even better?

It would be good to spend some time looking back on these activities to see if there are any gaps, because the next batch of 'assignments' are very practical and pragmatic indeed, as you'll see.

Just a couple of points to make:

Firstly, activities like reading, which don't produce an immediately identifiable result, are very important. I remember seeing a sign for a door once which depicted someone sitting with their feet up on the desk, and their eyes clothes. Underneath it said, "Quiet please: genius at work!"

I think there's a grain of truth in that. We all need quiet time to sit and just have ideas. The target culture has made us all think we're not doing anything of value if you can't see it or measure it. However, the brain needs time to mull things over. I certainly find myself that if I read and reflect, read and reflect, ideas start to gestate and are worth waiting for.

Secondly, there is a particular type of team leader who thinks that they have to take credit for everything the team achieves. Apart from being morally suspect, if not reprehensible, that sort of attitude is self-defeating, because ultimately people will simply stop giving out their ideas. Either that, or they will email you their idea and copy the email to everyone else they can think of, including your own boss.

If you've done a good job of encouraging and facilitating the birth and sharing of ideas, it doesn't matter whether people think you had the idea yourself or not. How come? Because if people in your team have great ideas then that's a reflection on you anyway.

Coming soon: some practical things you can do to get the technology being used across the school.

Sunday
May232010

What If Blues People Became Ed Tech Co-ordinators?

What if blues singers hung up their guitars and instead became ed tech co-ordinators? (Stranger things have happened, and we're constantly being told that in the 21st century career longevity is a thing of the past.) What sort of things might they hear, and say, in the course of their working day? This is a light-hearted bit of messing around with language, taken way out of context. And why not?

I got seven hundred dollars, Don't you mess with me. -- Muddy Waters

The sort of thing to say to other members of staff once your allowance for the year comes through? Mind you, $700 wouldn't buy much these days!

Blues Harp

My Pencil Won't Write No More -- McKinley Morganfield

Obviously a reference to some sort of handwriting device, like a tablet PC or a graphics tablet.

When I was an ICT Co-ordinator I was always having kids say to me: "I can't find my work on the network." Followed a second later by "You must have lost it."

Needless to say, it was only the lazy pupils who came out with such things -- the industrious ones tended not to lose their work and to just get on with it. I ought to have responded by saying,

You can't lose what you ain't never had. -- Muddy Waters

Mind you, having said that, there are some people for whom computers are their worst nightmare: as soon as they walk into the room, the screen fizzles and the network gives up the ghost; they save stuff in full view of everyone, but the system either snaffles it up and refuses to release it ever again, or else serves it up in the form of hieroglyphics. I can imagine such people bemoaning the fact that,

[I was] Born under a bad sign; I been down since I begin to crawl. If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all. -- Albert King

Back in the days when disks were relatively expensive, and before I was given enough money to buy them in bulk, I had to charge other teachers for them. No doubt behind my back they grumbled,

Got to get your own cos they sure ain't gonna give ya none. -- Reuben Wilson

or

Nobody never gave nothin' to me. -- Elvis Pressley

To which I would have replied, had I overheard them,

If you don't like my potatoes, why did ya dig so deep? -- Bessie Smith

Kids are forever trying to insert things in the wrong slot, like the USB cable into the network socket. Actually, not just kids. Computer labs ought to have posters saying,

If it don't fit, don't force it. -- Barrell House Annie

I was commissioned to write an article about furniture for the ICT suite in primary (elementary) schools. Size is a real issue here, and it brought to mind a Fats Waller song, Your Feet's Too Big:

Up in Harlem, at a table for two, there were four of us: me, your big feet and you.

Finally, break-ins are a real problem in schools, and the locks are usually changed afterwards. This has to be done pretty quickly, and there's a good chance that other staff will only find out when they attempt to use their copy of the key to gain entry. That's when you need to point out to them,

You've got the right key, but the wrong keyhole. -- Trixie Butler

Sadly, the only blues song I could find (after a pretty cursory search) about computers was one written in 1988 by Maurice John Vaughn, called "Computer Took My Job":

I was at work that mornin'
When the big trucks came
With the big machines inside
My boss had us all gather 'round
He said "the computers gonna make,
they gonna make your work easier
Don't you worry 'bout a thing"
But don't you know, don't you know
When the work is too easy
Lord they don't need you no more

(From http://www.lyricstime.com/maurice-john-vaughn-computer-took-my-job-lyrics.html)

(Actually, it might be interesting, and a bit different, to discuss the lyrics of this song, and the sentiments expressed in it, with a class.)

I hope you enjoyed that bit of messing about. Normal service will be resumed tomorrow!

This is a modified and expanded version of an article first published on 17th March 2007.

Saturday
May222010

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 23: What is Your Dream Team?

A task a day for 31 daysWouldn't it be nice to be starting work as an ICT leader in a brand new school? Not just a new building, but a new school. You know the situation: the school is opening in 18 months' time, and the Principal is recruiting managerial staff now, of which you're one. One of your tasks, along with your new colleagues, is to recruit people to be in your team. What a wonderful feeling that must be!

As you've probably inferred, I've never been in that situation myself. No surprise there, but this may surprise you: I've never regretted it. It's not that every team of people I've managed has been perfect, far from it.  But even 'challenging' colleagues can not only make very valuable contributions to the work of the team, but can help you and their other colleagues grow.

In fact, the very term 'dream team' carries connotations of some sort of notion of wishing to work with people who are made in your own image. People are individuals, and it's that individuality, and the interplay between team members, that is all-important.A good team leader encourages that, and does their best to ensure that the team ethos facilitates it.

Also, recruiting a 'dream team' from the start assumes that the team members and therefore the team as a whole will remain exactly the same ad infinitum. Is that actually good? The dream team of today will surely not be the dream team of tomorrow, unless you're either very good at recruiting, or very lucky.

So where does that leave us? I suggest that the dream team is more about 'soft' characteristics, and not things like qualifications or even experience. I recall once being invited to sit on an interview panel for the appointment of a Head of ICT in a secondary school. In the end, it came down to a choice between a young man who had a great deal of expertise and experience, but who had no 'presence', and another fellow who hardly knew anything technical about technology, but had bags of energy and enthusiasm.

The Headteacher said to me: "I don't know which one would be better." My response was: "Well, it seems to be that you have a choice between someone who has no personality but lots of knowledge, and someone who has no knowledge and lots of personality. You can teach someone about computers, but you can't give someone a personality!"What's your dream team? Photo by Hilde Vanstraelen.

In another context, Doug Woods puts his finger right on the button when he says:

21st century education is not about equipment, it’s about approaches.  It’s about putting the learner at the heart of their learning and allowing/enabling them to use the equipment you have in creative and collaborative ways.

So, what would your dream ICT team be? The kind of things I always look for are the following, in no particular order:

My dream team

Willingness to co-operate

If there's one thing we know about technology, it is that it will go wrong. Maybe not today. Perhaps not tomorrow. But it will do so sometime. In that situation you need people who can step in at short notice, be willing to swap rooms with you if they don't need the computer lab, or let you use the laptops because what their class was going to is not as urgent as what yours was going to do, etc etc.

Enthusiasm

I want to work with colleagues who can get the kids fired up. Hey, I want to work with colleagues who get me fired up -- which is pretty tough because I'm fired up to begin with. I don't want to work with people who have seen it, done it, got the tee shirt and are treading water until they retire.

Self-confidence

I'm not prepared to accept cop-out excuses like "Well, the kids are all digital natives and so know a lot more than I do" for dumbed-down work that keeps the kids' behaviour under control by the simple expedient of sending them to sleep. I don't care that there are gaps in your technical knowledge — there are gaps in everyone's technical knowledge. But I do expect you to know about teachning and learning.

Particular strengths

I think a large part of what makes a team a 'dream team' is the individual strengths of its members. It's impossible to specify these in advance, but to give you an idea of what I mean, here are the strengths exhibited by the members of a team I worked with once:

A: Had excellent discipline, even though she was only in her second year of teaching. I think it was because her main role was a PE teacher, in which listening to the teacher's instructions is of paramount importance for the children's safety.

B: Was absolutely brilliant with students with learning difficulties. She had infinite patience, and could make the most complex concept comprehendible. I asked her to be in charge of ensuring that all our resources were suitable for students with special educational needs.

C: Was a science teacher and doing an MA, so she brought an academic rigour to every aspect of her work. If a student gave an answer like "Because it's more efficient", she would respond by saying "What do you mean by that?" Her students soon learnt to think before speaking, and to be prepared to back up every statement or opinion with evidence. A woman after my own heart.

D: Had the ability to break down activities into even more stages, so that if someone was away when you covered the topic, or couldn't 'get' it, you could use all these extra resources that he had created. He, too, had outstanding reserves of patience and energy.

Well, you can see where I'm coming from with all this, but a few questions arise. Firstly, am I saying that technical expertise is unimportant? Secondly, most of us inherit a team rather than create one from nothing, so doesn't my list really constitute a dream in the sense of having nothing whatsoever to do with reality? And finally, and related to the foregoing question, how do you make sure that people are co-operative or whatever, if they're not?

Is technical expertise unimportant?

No, but if you're going to insist on having something like a degree in ICT before you will even look at someone, you will close yourself off from a great deal of expertise that's around. Also, people can go on courses, and will learn by doing anyway. If they need extra technical support of classroom assistance for a while, then that can be arranged.

How do you 'convert' an existing team into a dream team?

In my experience, people will co-operate, have more self-confidence and be more enthusiastic if you delegate responsibility for one or more units of work to them, and have interesting activities and opportunities for professional development, such as good in-service training, going to exhibitions, attending conferences, and having their lessons observed.

I'll be saying more about delegating a unit of work after the end of this series, but the important thing about delegating the responsibility (as opposed to merely the task) is that the teacher can choose whatever topic they light to hang the concepts on. If they happen to love windsurfing, and can use it as a means of teaching modelling, why not?

Also, this approach actually reduces teachers' workload, as I'll be demonstrating. As for the other things mentioned here, they are all about respecting the person as a professional, and treating them as such.

It's also encumbent on the team leader to notice people's strengths and weaknesses, and to use them and address them respectively.

Bottom line: there's no such thing as a template for a dream team, so you have to think it through for yourself. So your 15 minute task for today is to make a note of the following:

  1. What are the features of your dream ICT team?
  2. Which ones are already in evidence?
  3. How might you address the deficiencies?

Oh, and by the way, you're not allowed to recruit new staff or lose existing staff. 

Friday
May212010

Five Minute Tip: Managing Your Team Meetings

Five minutes are all it takesIn my experience, most people run most meetings really badly. What are the most common pitfalls, and how can you avoid them?

Meetings should always result in something happening. Even if the meeting was a discussion, an exchange of views, there should be an action arising from it -- a good example here would be for someone to produce a summary of the views expressed.

Colleagues should know in advance what the meeting is going to be about. All too often, the Agenda appears at the last minute. You must give people time to prepare, especially if you want to have a genuine discussion about something.

Papers for the meeting should be made available well in advance. I have attended meetings where a 108-page document relating to the meeting was emailed to everyone 25 minutes before the meeting was due to start. That is unacceptable, and simply lays you open to suspicion of not intending to have a genuine discussion.

Someone should take notes in the meeting. As you are unlikely to have a secretary to do that, the fairest thing to do is take it in turns. But note that it is very difficult to take notes and chair a meeting. When it's your turn to take notes, you might consider asking someone else to chair it. That would also have the benefit of giving others a chance to step into your shoes and gain some valuable experience in their own career advancement.

Minutes are meant to be a record, not a transcription. Keep them brief and to the point. And make sure they are distributed within a day or two. The person taking the minutes should always give them to you for your approval before disseminating them to the rest of the team.

Minutes must always include action points, with a named person responsible. Note that the person responsible must be selected in the meeting, not afterwards, and only if they are present and agree -- it could be considered unprofessional to assign a task to someone in their absence, especially if it's a task that nobody else wishes to do.

Meetings should have set start and finish times. Even better, there should be some guidance in the Agenda as to how long each item will take. If these timings turn out to be optimistic, curtail the discussion and put the item(s) high on the next meeting's Agenda.

The meetings should start on time, and finish on time. No waiting for people who haven't arrived: the most important people are the ones who are actually there, and it's unfair to keep them waiting. It's also self-defeating, because they will learn that meetings start later than the time specified, so next time they will arrive late as well, because there is always something that "I just need to do quickly before the meeting."

Meetings should not be so frequent that they end up being held for their own sake -- everybody is too busy for that. Neither should they be so infrequent that there is no opportunity for a team spirit to build up. You'll have to judge this for yourself, but I would suggest that a meeting every two or three weeks is about right. If that is very difficult to fit in, consider a different pattern and structure: say, a full meeting every month, with a ten minute get-together at the end of each two week period in-between -- or an audio or online meeting just to "touch base".

Sometimes it may be impossible for someone to get to the meeting, but that need not be a problem. It's now both possible and easy to hold meetings which include people who are not physically present. Doug Woods, in a comment on my article about special team meetings, made some incisive comments, which I've reproduced here:

It seems to me, and this is hardly an earth-shattering observation, that people cannot always attend a meeting. Maybe this is because of illness, working from home or a different site, or they have a scheduling clash...whatever. Perhaps, this may be more of an issue nowadays with school clusters, federated schools, schools on split sites etc..These people, however, may well have a valuable contribution to make or could benefit from hearing other members' contributions .... else why would you have invited them to the meeting?

It can be important, therefore, that you enable such absentees to be able to make their contribution to the meeting in some other way. Possibly you could ask them to write their contribution beforehand and then have someone read it at the team meeting but I'd suggest that might be a poor substitute for an informed dialogue or discussion. So why not consider audio (telephone) conferencing or video conferencing as a means of allowing absentees to contribute and share in the meeting? Even someone on a train or someone driving could pull into a services [station] and contribute via a video link on their smartphone.

It also occurs to me that while meetings take place between key members of your team, there are other staff who may be affected by decisions or outcomes made at such meetings. Why not video your meetings and/or have a discussion board live during and after the meeting so that these other people can make a contribution and feel that they are included?

I'd also add that you could invite guest speakers to your meeting via Skype or a similar webcam-based solution. If you really wanted to push the boat out you could ask a member of your team who is attending a conference or an exhibition to report in live through their laptop. There also various online meeting applications available, such as Flashmeeting.

Finally, even though they may not have a choice in the matter, the members of your team are giving up valuable time to attend the meeting. Very few people like meetings. Sugar the pill by making sure refreshments are available. If possible, invite a guest speaker in, or ask one of your team to prepare a presentation. In other words, make it a bit different: you might like the sound of your own voice, but others might not!

This is an expanded version of an article originally published on 5th April 2007. Thanks to Doug Woods for his comments.

Friday
May212010

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 22: Organise In-Service Training

I am firmly of the belief that an ed tech leader is only as good as the team they're leading, and that good in-service training plays a large part in improving teachers' skills, knowledge and understanding.

A task a day for 31 daysLet's take that phrase 'good in-service training': what does 'good' mean? What is 'in-service training'?

Not all INSET has to involve PowerPoint

The meaning of 'good'

I think in-service training is good if it enables the teacher to do something s/he couldn't do before, or to be able to do it better. I'm using the word 'do' in a very broad sense. It could be that, having attended a course, you have a greater understanding of a particular issue than you did before, without necessarily having to actually do anything with your new-found knowledge.

(I'll explore this in another post, but I believe very strongly that there needs to be time and space set aside for teachers to explore issues as an intellectual endeavour, and not merely so that some pre-defined 'output' measure can be improved. But that's for another day.)

Ideally, in-service training should be useful for the individual teacher, the ICT team and the school as a whole.
Teachers should have a huge say into what training they will experience. I've seen instances of where teachers are sent on courses they don't want to attend, and denied permission to go on courses they do. That's a ridiculous way of trying to get the best out of your staff. Admittedly, there may be some things which everyone has to attend, such s information about a new curriculum, but there has to be give and take.

As far as what is good for the ICT team is concerned, that should be discussed by the ICT team. As team leader you will need to take some decisions, but they need to take into account your colleaues' concerns and ideas too.

Types of in-service training for ed tech specialists

But what is in-service training? Traditionally, it's a course. However, it could take a number of forms, such as:

Types of in-service training for non-specialists

Bear in mind that one of your jobs might be to organise training for non-specialist staff. Ideas that come to mind include:

  • As you don't know what colleagues know or don't know, I'd suggest conducting a survey to find out what sort of things they would like training on.
  • Running a regular ICT surgery. I'll be covering this in more depth soon.
  • Running specific training for teaching assistants who help out in ICT lessons. I've always thought it best for all concerned for them to have at least a basic level of competence in using technology.
  • Encouraging colleagues from other subjects to invite you to their team meetings to help them discover how technology could be used in their lessons.
  • Making a video of the ICT going on around the school, and showing it at a staff meeting. (Students can take this on as a project.)

Your task for today

 

There's a lot to think about there, but here are a few issues which you might like to consider in your 15 minutes today:

  • Who is going to deliver the training? It doesn't have to be you or an outside expert. One of your colleagues might be able and willing to do so. I've had pupils giving training, and the teachers loved it because it was so effective for them.
  • Does training always have to take place as an extra-curricular activity? Doesn't that discriminate against colleagues who are paid by the hour? Since the training they enjoy will benefit the school (one hopes), should they not be paid to attend it?
  • Does training always have to take place after school? After all, that discriminates against colleagues with family commitments. How about lunchtime sessions as well? I don't think there is an ideal time for training or a foolproof answer to this type of concern, but I think it's important to try and be as flexible as possible.
  • Does all training have to take place 'live'? If you were to video your training sessions, the recordings could be made available on the school's VLE for colleagues to access in their own time.
  • The same goes for screencasts. Why not create a series of short screencasts to cover the basic aspects of applications which are commonly used in the school?
  • Does training have to take place in school or a teacher development centre? How about a team visit to an exhibition? I have organised some great visits for teachers to work places where technology is used.If such days are planned and organised well, they can be really effective professional development.
  • Does all training or professional development have to be organised? What about taking part in online discussions? What about making the technology available and allowing people to use it how they see fit, or simply to explore it?
  • Looking at your team as a whole (or yourself if you don't have a team), what are your most pressing training needs? Where are the gaps in your knowledge or skill set? How and when can you start to address this?

Further reading

You may also find the following articles useful:

5 Minute Tip: Keeping a Professional Development Record.
Web 2.0 For Rookies: Proving Professional Development.
                    

Thursday
May202010

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 21: Organise a Team Meeting With a Difference

A task a day for 31 daysIf you lead a team of ed tech teachers, you can do a lot with team meetings; in fact, you can turn (at least some of them) into opportunities for professional development. It's a very good idea to occasionally depart from the standard team meeting format and put on a "special". This helps to keep interest high, and enables various goals to be achieved, including staff professional development, which I discussed in the post about attending conference. They can also help the team to maintain its "edginess" and dynamism. As Doug Woods said in his comment about the post on resources, the most precious resource a school has is its staff. Help them become even better, and in so doing improve the team as a unit.

1 Invite a guest speaker

It may be difficult to get someone to come for just an hour. However, if you invite them to spend the afternoon, say, being shown around and taken into some lessons and talking to students, they may be willing to address you and your team afterwards. The benefit for them is that get to see a real school in action, and which prevents them from losing touch quite so rapidly!

Alternatively, invite another member of staff or even a student to give a talk on something of relevance. It may be about a generic issue such as assessment or lesson observation, or a more specific one such as how your students use Facebook.

If you invite a student to an after-school meeting, make sure you obtain parental permission and check that it's OK with the powers-that-be.

Remember: all guests should be offered refreshments.

2 Evaluate resources

Make team meetings productiveIt helps to prepare for this. For example, ask teachers to come armed with a list of topics that they need resources for, and/or a list of resources they have come across or acquired but have not had time to have a proper look at. There's a rubric I devised which you may find helpful.

Also, consider getting in inspection copies of books and demo software to look at.

You could also consider combining this idea with the previous one, and invite a product salesperson to come in and give you a demo and answer questions.

3 Invite the senior management/leadership team to meet YOUR team

Yes, they know you and your team and what you do -- but  do they? Why not invite them along to look at the kind of activities the students are asked to do, and have a go at some of the whizzier things themselves? Make sure there is student work to look at, and be prepared to discuss examination results and that sort of thing.

4 Do pupil work scrutiny

"Work scrutiny" means going through pupils' books and folders to try and gauge what they have leant and achieved -- in this case in the use of educational technology. It can be very useful if you can, with permission of course, go through the pupils' books from another subject, such as English, although a request to do so could be construed as being some sort of inspection.

The purpose of doing work scrutiny is to find out how good a job you've done at getting pupils to use and understand educational technology in general. Read more detail in the post about looking at students' work.

5 Watch and discuss a video podcast

There are plenty of technology-related podcasts available. It could be useful to watch and discuss one or two, in case there are issues you could raise with students. (Look out my forthcoming post about a great video to get the intellectual juices flowing.)

6 Listen to and discuss an audio podcast

See above.

7 Have an international discussion

This is a variation of inviting a guest speaker. Why not arrange to speak to an ed tech teacher or her students in Canada or the USA, say, via Skype? Obviously, you have to keep an eye on time zones (which is why, being based in the UK, I did not mention Australia or New Zealand).

8 Do moderation

"Moderation" means going through pupils' work and assessing it, in order to make sure that everyone has the same understanding of (a) what the standards are against which you're assessing the work, and (b) how to interpret and apply them. It is not the same as work scrutiny, mentioned earlier.

9 Share best practices

If you or a team member has done something that worked really well, or heard about something that someone else has done, it should be shared. This idea could be combined with the first one, ie you could invite a guest speaker, possibly from another curriculum area in the school, to talk about what other teachers have tried. If you arranged for another teacher to come and look at what you do,

10 Share ideas

Why not discuss the activities you already do, and see if other ways of achieving the same thing can be thought of? Ideas that sound promising could be put into practice on a limited trial basis -- see the next idea also.

11 Share research results

For this to work, at least one person has to have done some research of course. It could be classroom-based research. For example, you may have decided to try out one of the ideas generated in the ideas "special" meeting with one class as a pilot study. The outcomes can be discussed here. Or someone might report back on a conference or an exhibition they've attended.

12 Have staff training

Use the time to be shown how to use a particular application, and to practice using it. This can be especially useful if a unit of work is coming up that requires people to have a knowledge of, say, how to use a wiki or desktop publishing.

13 Create resources

The one thing that teachers always complain they have too little of is time. So make a space for them to create resources. Doing so in the same room as others gives people a chance to bounce ideas off their colleagues.

14 Share news updates

This works especially well if you have asked different members of your team to be responsible for different things. For example, are there changes in the rules about writing school reports? Has anything happened in the edublogosphere that ought to be brought to your colleagues' attention?

15 Do development planning

What courses will you put on next year? What needs to be done for the new course starting in September? What courses do you hope to run, or should you be thinking about running, in 3 years' time?

16 Discuss data

How well are your students doing? How much progress have they made since last year? Are there differences between the attainment of girls and boys? What does your data tell you about these sorts of questions?

17 Discuss ways to become better

This is not quite the same as discussing ideas (see above). Having analysed the data, you will probably want to discuss ways in which to improve -- but this can be a stand-alone activity. A very useful starting point is to approach it from the point of view of a student. As a student, how do you know how well you are doing, for instance. In fact, why not ask the students what they think you're doing well, and what needs addressing, with suggestions?

18 Focus on pupils with special educational needs

Take a look at your handouts or VLE pages for your students. Do they require a higher standard of reading than some of your students possess? What is in place to ensure that students at risk of falling behind get the extra help they require? In fact, going back a step, what is in place to make sure that you find out in advance which students are at risk in that sense? What about students with physical disabilities? Have you catered for them?

Use a meeting to discuss these issues and then draw up an action plan to deal with them.

19 Focus on pupils who are gifted and talented

If pupils are under-challenged they become bored, and bored children often become disruptive. What extension activities are in place to prevent that happening? Again, use the meeting to identify gaps in the provision for such students, and decide who is going to what about it by when.

20 Have a good clear-out

Do you and your team really need that copy of the version of the National Curriculum that was changed in 2000? It's nice to have an archive of historical material -- but only if you're a museum. I have always found that clearing out a load of obsolete stuff has a really liberating and refreshing effect on the whole team.

21 Do budget planning and analysis

Is too much money being spent on printing? Are costs in one area significantly greater than in others? What peripherals and consumables need to be bought before the end of this school year, and what needs to be planned for next year?

Involving the whole team in such discussions can lead to a greater sense of shared responsibility -- as well as some good money-saving ideas.

22 Plan capital purchasing

What equipment needs to bought next year, and what replaced? How about over the next 3 years? You'll need to have your development plan handy for this one. It also ties in with planning professional development (see below).

23 Discuss success and challenges

What's going well, and what not so well? Clearly this is related to other suggestions here, such as sharing good practice, but there is a subtle difference in emphasis. To make this work, there has to be an atmosphere of trust: nobody likes to say in public what is not going so well for them. It also ties in with the Niggles and Quick Wins suggestions (see below).

24 Do joint lesson planning for team-teaching

If there is a chance to have some team teaching, why not use meeting time to do some joint planning? In fact, even if you are not  going to have team teaching, planning lessons together (doing so in pairs works well) can lead to new insights and ideas. It can be a great way to freshen up everyone's teaching. See also the suggestions about creating a lesson plan bank.

25 Discuss lesson observations

If you have a chance to observe each other's lessons, the results can be discussed here. With permission, you could video parts of lessons and use the meeting time to watch and then discuss the videos. Alternatively, and perhaps less threatening to people, carry out this exercise using a third party video. For example, Teachers TV lets you download and use video clips.

26 Departmental policies

When was the last time your departmental policy on assessment was looked at? Do you have one about accessing the VLE? How about equal opportunities? Obviously, in an ideal world the policies will be lived in practice. Nevertheless, the documentation ought to be reviewed and, if necessary, updated at least once a year.

If you think about it, an evaluation by an inspector, who will not have the time to see everything that goes on, can be affected by the sight of a set of policy documents that are clearly 5 years old. Sometimes, the policies themselves are fine in principle, but the terms used have become obsolete. For example, a sentence like "Pupils are not allowed to bring in their own diskettes" looks old even though diskettes are still in use. But changing that to "memory sticks" will only solve the problem temporarily. It may be better to try and future-proof it to some extent by using a general term like "media" instead of a specific one.

27 Niggles list and simple solutions

What sort of things are upsetting people, and how might they be tackled? One of the things that always used to upset me, for example, was teachers leaving the computer room as if it had been hit by an earthquake. Or take the case of a school I visited recently where someone had walked off with a video lead, because it was "stored" on someone's desk. What creative or even very simple solutions could be implemented to deal with such occurrences? See the next suggestion too.

28 Quick wins

In a way, this is similar to #27, but is more outwardly-focused. Walking around the school, what could be done very quickly and inexpensively to make other teachers want to make greater use of the educational technology facilities? Why not ask your colleagues, via a survey, what they like and dislike about the provision, and invite suggestions to improve it? You could then discuss the results at this meeting.

29 Plan professional development

What professional development do the team, and its individual members, require? What's coming up in the next year by way of conferences or other events that may be useful to attend? You will need your development plan at this meeting, because it is much easier to get the go-ahead to attend an event if you can demonstrate how it will enable you and your team to meet your objectives.

Did you find this list helpful? All feedback greatly appreciated!

This is a variation and an update of an article first published on 22 August 2008.

Wednesday
May192010

Try Before You Buy

Think of the hassle you save yourself when presented with the opportunity to try a new hairstyle before a pair of scissors gets anywhere near your head. Well, if something goes wrong despite such precautions, at least nature will sort it out in a matter of weeks. How much worse would it be if a tattoo went wrong?

I don't think so somehowI'm not a tat fan myself. Nevertheless, I think a site like Tatmash represents a great use of technology. You can upload a photo of yourself and then see what different tattoos would look like on you. I wouldn't necessarily advise you to get your students trying it out, given that you can elect to have a tattoo displayed on any part of your anatomy, but it's good to know that this facility is not only possible but also both easy and free.

What other uses might you find for this sort of thing in an educational context?

Wednesday
May192010

Connected Leadership Course

My friend Peggy George has sent me details of a Moodle course she is facilitating. Called 'Connected Leadership', the course is running this week (May 16-21), although all of the resources and the entire course will remain online indefinitely.Become a strong link in the leadership chain

Peggy tells me:

While Kim [Caise], Lorna [Costantini] and I created the course and organized all of the content, there are a number of co-facilitators behind the scenes who are there to contribute to the discussion forums and keep the conversation going which is a great help! They include Paul Stacey, Sharon Betts, Bruce Bearisto, Virginia Rego, Clint Surry, Randy Labonte, David LeBlanc and Wade Gemmell.

I've had a quick rummage around and it looks very good indeed, with lots of resources listed (including the 31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader series, which is most flattering) and some interesting discussions in progress. I'm looking forward to exploring further, and I suggest you might find it interesting and useful too. Here's the link:

Connected Leadership

 

Wednesday
May192010

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 20: Do Some Reading

In my opinion, reading is very important for helping you generate ideas and innovation. However, I do believe that to get the most out of a book or article you need to do what I call ‘active reading’.

A task a day for 31 daysThat means not simply reading an article in the way you might read a sweet wrapper or a billboard, but thinking about what you’re reading – even before you open the first page. There’s a good article on this website about efficient reading by Alison Skymes, and I should highly recommend that.

In this article I’m going to recommend some newsletters , blogs and Twitter accounts which should prove useful to you. Please bear in mind that the official UK ones from Becta (marked with a *) may be discontinued as part of, or a consequence of, the impending spending cuts.

Also, I haven’t recommended any books here. That’s not because I don’t read books – I do! But books come and go, and I tend to review them on their own, usually in Computers in Classrooms first. To find book reviews,  go to the tag ‘book review ’. You can also see a list of books I’d recommend on the books page. And, of course, there are my own books, which you can find listed here .

OK. With no further ado, here is my list of recommended reading.

Always make time for reading

Why subscribe to an independent newsletter?

  • They have an independent voice, ie independent of organisation’s interests, or commercial interests – but you need to check just to make sure this is the case.
  • They tend to contain a wide range of expertise, viewpoints and topics.
  • There’s a sense of community (sometimes).
  • They can be good for local news.
  • They can be good for national news.
  • They can be good for international news.

Subscribe to an independent newsletter!

Examples include:

  1. Computers in Classrooms  This is my own newsletter, so I would recommend it, wouldn’t I smile_tongue? But several thousand other people like it too, and they all have an interest in educational ICT. Although Computers in Classrooms contains news items, it is mainly a forum for exploring the possible implications of recent developments rather than simply the news of the developments. It also contains magazine-type articles, reviews, prize draws (sometimes) and other good stuff.
  2. Information Technology in Developing Countries I have to declare a bit of an interest here because I occasionally have articles published in this newsletter. I like it because it has articles about educational ICT issues in countries such as India and Africa, which tend not to be reported on very much by the main magazines, blogs and newsletters.
  3. From Now On This has some interesting discursive articles, and provides plenty of food for thought. I don’t like the website much because in my opinion it takes too long to drill down to the list of articles, but it’s worth the effort.
  4. Stephen Downes' Online Daily newsletter. Useful and eclectic round-up of half a dozen or so ed tech news items every weekday and sometimes at weekends as well. Downes can be acerbic or hilarious -- I find my point of view varies according to whether it's my turn to be at the receiving end of one of his withering comments! Downes scans hundreds of ed tech blogs and is good at seeing through the persiflage.
  5. Ed Tech Talk Newsletter This short newsletter gives out information about forthcoming online talks and discussions in, especially, Classroom 2.0 Live (which I mentioned in the article for Day 18, on joining a group).
  6. Technology & Learning News Useful for keeping up with an eclectic range of educational technology-related news.
  7. Technology & Learning Blogs Again, I must declare an interest, being one of the bloggers featured on this site. You’ll find a great variety of bloggers and blogs here, each blogger posting every two weeks on average. Much food for thought.
  8. Local newsletters can be very useful indeed, so if your Local Authority or School District published one, subscribe!

Subscribe to a blog or follow a Twitter account (or two)!

  1. Becta’s Emerging Technology  News * I have to declare an interest, as I proofread this before it goes live. It’s a great source of technical news with suggestions about the impact on education of technical developments. Neil Adam does a sterling job of finding and summarising complex technical issues, and often writes about advances months before they appear in the mainstream press.
  2. Next Generation Learning  * This will be useful to you if you’re looking for articles suitable for parents, ie without technical jargon and implicitly assumed knowledge.
  3. National blogs/updates, eg Department of Education and Learning & Teaching Scotland: these are useful, but cover all aspects of education, not just ICT.
  4. Local blogs, eg Havering ICT Blog, or even a local school’s blog
  5. Corporate blogs, eg Microsoft’s Schools blog
  6. Independent blogs, eg The ICT in Education blog smile_tongue , Andy Black, Doug Woods and Shelly Terrell. Note that these are just a few of the blogs I subscribe to.
  7. Tech  News blogs, eg TechCrunch and Gizmodo -- although I’d recommend Becta’s Technnology News over these (see above).
  8. Collections of useful information, eg Shelly Terrell’s Teachers Reboot Camp (again), Chris Smith’s Shambles and Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day.
  9. Leadership-oriented blogs, eg Miguel Guhlin’s Around the Corner, Scott McLeod’s Dangerously Irrelevant and Stephanie Sandifer’s Change Agency .
  10. Twitter in general
  11. Twitter lists, eg Danny Nicholson’s Techie Teachers list. (Uk-centric, mainly).  You’ll find more ed tech lists listed here.

I hope that’s enough reading for you! Remember, you don’t necessarily have to do it all yourself. If you lead or are part of a team, perhaps your colleagues could monitor particular newsletters or blogs, and report back briefly at the start of a team meeting.  In a nutshell, the suggestions in Delegate a Unit of Work applies to other aspects of leading ICT as well.



Tuesday
May182010

How to Randomize Your Blog Reading

OK, I know it's ridiculous, but I am currently subscribed to 829 blogs. That means if I checked one per day it would take nearly three years to get through them all. What I ought to do is go through them, and be absolutely ruthless about weeding out the ones I don't read as often as I should. Erm, that would be all of them then.

Or perhaps I should ditch the ones I don't like too much. But I often read blogs I don't like because they are useful sometimes.

So I've decided that the only answer to a ridiculous problem is a ridiculous solution: I have decided to experiment with randomizing my blog reading. Here's how it works, using Excel.

Setting up the random blog post generator

Extract from my blog list

  1. Open Excel and start a new workbook.
  2. Open your RSS feed reader.
  3. Export your subscriptions to what is called an OPML file. This option will be found somewhere in the menu system of your blog reader. In Google Reader, for example, you click on the link at the bottom of the screen called 'Manage your subscriptions', then to Import/Export.
  4. Next, open the OPML file in your web browser.
  5. Select all the text in the file.
  6. Paste it into the Excel file. You should find that each blog you subscribe to lands on a row all to itself.
  7. Get rid of any extraneous text at the top of the worksheet, ie any text which is clearly not an actual blog. Make sure that the first blog is in row 1 or, if you wish to be prim and proper and give your columns headings, row 2.
  8. Get rid of extraneous text at the beginning of each line, such as 'outline text'. Use the Find and Replace tool for this, replacing the offending text with nothing.
  9. Next, we need to assign a number to each blog. The easiest way to do so is by using the formula =row() in the column to the immediate right of your list of blogs. For example, in my spreadsheet the blogs are listed in column F, so I have placed the row formula in Column G. Don't worry about obliterating some of the text in the blog list: you can always widen the column just enough for you to be able to read the name of the blog. If you have started your list on row 2 rather than row 1, amend the formula to =row()-1. You only have to enter the formula in the very first row of data.
  10. Place the mouse pointer on the bottom right hand corner of the cell with the =row() formula in it, and double-click. This will copy the formula all the way down.
  11. Next, we need to place a random number generator somewhere near the top of the worksheet. The best formula to use is Randbetween: =randbetween(bottom,top). Thus in my case this has to be =randbetween(1,829).
  12. Save the spreadsheet with an impressive sounding name. I've saved mine as 'blogarizer'.

Using the random blog post generator

Putting this 'blogarizer' to work is simplicity itself.

  1. Just press F9, and a number will appear where the Randbetween function resides.
  2. Scroll down your blog list to find the blog to which that number has been assigned.
  3. Go to your RSS reader and go to that blog.

Some awkward questions

I'm about to start experimenting with this myself. If you decide to try it, let me know how you get on. Although this is an interesting approach to having too many blogs to read, a few questions spring to mind:

  • Does each number really have an equal chance of being generated? I have my doubts, but I think I will have to assume it does, unless someone proves to me otherwise.
  • Although each blog (we assume) has an equal chance of being chosen, is this actually a fair, in the sense of equitable, method of doing so? Would it not be more fair to weight the randomizer in some way, perhaps to reflect the fact that some people really contribute to the education community and therefore 'deserve' to have their blog posts read?
  • Is this actually a sensible way of approaching the problem? It means, in effect, that someone who writes about every aspect of his/her life, and only occasionally about educational technology, stands an equal chance of being read as someone who posts exclusively about educational technology -- and whose posts might therefore be deemed to be the more useful of the two.
  • Is it ethical? I mean, there are people whose blogs I follow because their posts never disappoint -- which is pretty good going if you think about it. Yet here am I saying, in effect, "Thanks a bunch for all the great work you are doing, but you have only a 1 in 829 chance of being read by me on any given day." Is that right?

I think it's interesting that although this approach may be fair in the purely mathematical sense, it could be grossly unfair in other ways.

So what's your opinion?

Tuesday
May182010

My Twitter Parade

In these soon-to-be-even-more-straightened times, we all need a bit of light relief. Here's a nice fun thing to have a go at, if you have a Twitter account: the Twitter Parade.

The only thing wrong with it is that after a few minutes the 'music' drives you insane.

Thanks to Shelly Terrell for writing about this.