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Each day a randomly-selected "law", observation or suggestion will appear here.

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Monday
Mar292010

Encouraging Digital Access to Culture

well worth readingThis looks like an interesting document. I've literally just skimmed through it in nanoseconds, but it contains nuggets like:

A culture of playful, rapid small-scale experimentation needs to be fostered, complementing the desire for quality and integrity which already exists. Inappropriate governance is often stifling innovation and rapid expansion of digital access. Encouraging digital access means a radically different approach to managing technology from the way that large-scale legacy systems have been managed. Technology needs to be better integrated into creative processes.

Hear hear to that! That's exactly what we need in education too: a culture in which experimentation is encouraged, without fear of punishment if it doesn't quite pan out. Obviously there needs to be standards, and kids shouldn't be used as guinea pigs for every new half-baked idea that pops into people's heads. But hasn't it gone too far the other way?

That's what's so refreshing about the projects described in The Amazing Web 2.0 Projects Book (8,895 downloads at least, by the way, as of 5 minutes ago; and that's in just over two weeks!). They are small-scale, and driven by educational aims rather than technological ones. They were experimental; and they were undertaken in a spirit of playfulness.

Read the 10 Essential Things To Do. It's excellent advice, and transfers easily to an educational context.

You can download this free publication from here:

http://www.culture.gov.uk/images/publications/DCMS_Encouraging_Digital_Access_to_Culture.pdf

 

Friday
Mar262010

Why Schools Cannot Ignore Web 2.0: Economic Factors

#iCTLT2010 Last week I looked at the technical drivers for change. Turning now to economic factors, I’ve called this set of factors ‘economic’ rather than ‘commercial’ because I’m using the term in its pure sense, which is to do with efficiency rather than money.

It’s recognised in the world of business that sharing knowledge actually increases knowledge, because it enables people within the enterprise to make connections that they may not have made before. This has obvious parallels in education.

Companies are starting to use customers to help develop what they can offer to customers, and this is another example of this levelling process I’ve talked about.

There is also the point that social networks such as Linked-In are not just clones of Facebook. Many people are using them as part of their job-seeking process. By posting their details online, and also by contributing to groups – Linked-In has over half a million groups ­– people can draw attention to themselves and put into practice Woody Allen’s dictum that 80% of success is showing up. It seems to work: I myself have been contacted by companies out of the blue because someone has been looking for a consultant and seen my details on Linked-In.

Corporate recruiters use them as well. For example, the Head of Viadeo’s French operations says that the resumés online tend to be right up-to-date, and that people’s profiles give them a good idea of a candidate very quickly.

Finally, knowledge-hunting. A study last year found that workers spend between 6 and 10 hours a week hunting for information, but that using social networks they can save a lot of that time because of the knowledge-sharing and collaboration they encourage.

All this indicates that using socal networks, and by implication other Web 2.0 applications, is more and more starting to be an economic imperative. Schools which do not recognise this, and act on that realisation, are doing a disservice to their students in this respect.

Friday
Mar262010

Also on the web: 03/26/2010 (a.m.)

  • I've had a quick look at this (and I mean quick) and haven't had a chance to read the parts about ICT teachers. But I will check later, as it looks like it contai9ns interesting content. May be worth your while looking at this 58 page PDF.

    tags: STEM, ICT, Teacher


Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.
Thursday
Mar252010

Technology and the Budget

I haven't looked into these claims, but according to the Department for Children, Schools and Families, there's a lot of money to be saved through the use of technology:

  • £650 million from greater use of collaborative procurement in schools. DCSF will provide support to schools through its procurement programme, enabling schools to use secure electronic procurement through the Educational Procurement Centre. DCSF will also support up to 250 groups of mainly primary schools each year to benefit from a shared schools business manager.
  • £50 million through schools lowering energy usage, using energy display meters which will be available to all schools that want them, enabling schools to typically reduce energy consumption by between 5 and 15 per cent.

On the first point, there has been quite a lot said recently about Gordon Brown, the Pime Minister, wanting to increase the facilities offered by government departments to enable people to conduct their business with officialdom over the internet. Again, I haven't delved into it, but at first glance it seems like a welcome development to me. There is little more depressing and time-consuming than waiting in line in a government building, trying to get something done: doing it online is a far better prospect.

I have serious doubts about the idea of energy meters. I can imagine kids (especially boys) wanting to see how far they can make the number rise! I can see such things working in a domestic environment, where the effect of doing X on energy consumption is fairly immediately apparent, and where everyone has a personal interest in using the information to reduce energy consumption. But in a school environment? I have my doubts.

I'd be interested to hear what others think of this idea.

Wednesday
Mar242010

28 million emails

Erm, that's how many emails were languishing in the Trash server on my webmail account. I thought I'd emptied the trash folder every so often, but obviously not. I wonder if that's what has been causing my web mail to be so incredibly slow?

I am now going off to sit in a darkened room where I can hang my head in shame at allowing that many spam messages to accumulate.

Tuesday
Mar232010

Further Thoughts on Conferences

My ruminations on what makes a good conference seems to have sparked quite a bit of interest. Hardly surprising, if you think about it, given the inordinate amount of time a lot of us spend at these things! I thought I'd write a separate post about it in order to draw your attention to some other people's thoughts on the subject, especially as they may be currently buried in the comments on the original article.

Jim Buckingham expands on the comments he made about my article, in a blog post in its own right. In Conferences, My Definition of a Great One, Jim comes up with some brilliant suggestions, including this one:

Ultimately the perfect conference, is not a one off or something that works in isolation. By that I mean, it is hopefully part of a broader picture… namely supporting a “community of practice” and is clearly seen to be doing so.

Absolutely!

I loved reading Kim Cofino's recipe for a better conference, in her Next Generation Conference. She takes the view that conferences ought to be more practical, ie result in the actual creation of something. That certainly ties in with my own tendency to ask myself, whilst sitting in many conference sessions,

Yes, but how would this help me with Year 11 on Monday morning?

One thing I agree with, though it worries me a bit, is Kim's asking:

Why, oh why do we still see the same presenters at every conference? I don’t mean the same individual people (although that can be a problem too). I mean the same older, white, males. Where’s the diversity? Gender, race, age, experience? How did we get trapped in this model where we think only older white men have something to offer?

I think we should have more diversity, but as an older white male I feel I am being unfairly picked on here: I didn't select myself, and I can't help my age, gender or colour!

Actually, I was thinking at the Naace 2010 conference recently how many presenters were men, but also how thrilled I was that two of the keynoters were Martha Lane Fox and Keri Facer. These are two of the brightest people you could ever have the pleasure of listening to. I would also venture to suggest, at the risk of being castigated for generalising and/or sexism, that on the whole it's less likely to find a female ego-tripper on a conference podium than a male one. But maybe that's because there are fewer of them to be  ego-trippers!

Finally, Doug Woods asks:

Is the conference relevant to me and my work?

He also mentions the issue of cost.

Both points are well taken. One thing which Doug does not mention is the opportunity cost of lost earnings. For example, a conference that costs, say, £300 is actually costing you £300 plus the money you could have earned had you not gone.

A big thank you to Jim, Kim and Doug for their helpful comments, and for forcing me to deepen my own thinking in this area.

Monday
Mar222010

A Great Reading Video

One of the planned special editions of the Computers in Classrooms newsletter is about books, so I was pleased to come across this video by Science Girl Em. Em is a 2nd grader, which I guess means 7 to 8 years old, and she is taking part in the Student Blogging Challenge, run by Sue Walters.I discovered it through Stephen Downes.

This is a delightful response to another video about reading, which I hadn't come across. If you like it, please leave comments on Em's blog; I'm sure she'd appreciate it.

Also on her blog is a wonderful description of a trip to Kansas University. Em writes:

We saw a big giant classroom. I thought it was a theater.

Here is the video. Enjoy!

Monday
Mar222010

Learning Platforms Revisited

In the article Learning Platform or Virtual Learning Environment?  I reported on my visit to Grays Infants School in Newhaven, Sussex, UK. There was a film crew in attendance, and the resulting video along with some commentary has been published on the Next Generation Website: 

Show and tell: Extending learning both within and beyond the classroom

Nina Howse of Shiny Red has kindly given permission for me to include the video here. Do take 10 minutes to look at it, as it is quite interesting to hear what various people have to say about what has made it work so well.

One of the things which this video, and the visit itself, emphasised for me, yet again, is the key importance of having a school leader who is both visionary and practical -- a rare combination!

Here is the video. Enjoy.

If you found this article useful, you may be interested in the extended article in the next edition of Computers in Classrooms. Jeff Smith, London Headteacher and member of Becta's Leading Leaders Network, describes the issues involved in transforming a school, and what he describes as a 'personal journey'. It's a great read, and very insightful.

Also, take a look at the new series on managing change.

Sunday
Mar212010

This Small World

We take so much for granted, we digital citizens. But every so often I stop to think of the 'amazingness' of it all. Here's an example of what I mean:

It's a small worldI've just come back from the Naace 2010 conference in England where I met up with a Canadian fellow, Michael Furdyk, co-founder of Taking IT Global. I first met Michael at the ICTLT 2010 Conference in Singapore a couple of weeks ago.

He happens to know someone called Derek Wenmoth, from New Zealand, whom Elaine and I had dinner with on Friday night. He was in Singapore too, and I first 'met' him by being introduced to him by Sharon Peters, a Canadian Blogger.

If my memory serves me well, Sharon introduced herself to me after hearing of a book I was on, through Jennifer Wagner, an American educator.

And I think that Jennifer and I got to know each other through the blogosphere after I'd published a free book about Web 2.0, Coming of Age, that feaured, amongst other writers, David Warlick, who also lives in the USA.

Who could have predicted 15 years ago that anything like this would ever happen?

Sunday
Mar212010

What I Look For in a Conference


I attend a lot of conferences, and over the years I've developed a useful set of criteria by which to evaluate them. Here, then, in no particular order, are my top 14 characteristics of a good conference.

#1 Fresh air and daylight

I shouldn't have to say this, but air and natural lighting are pretty fundamental for our existence. We all know that, so how come half the conference sessions I attend don't make the grade in these respects? Worst of all were the National Strategies' training days. They were pretty dire anyway, for the most part, but what made them even worse was they always seemed to be held in a basement room with no windows and no air. As the day wore on, especially after lunch, half the delegates would be falling asleep. Not good.

#2 Can we move now?

That raises another issue. A lot of conferences involve a lot of sitting around and listening. After a while, you feel like your blood has stopped circulating -- which it probably has. Now, I don't go along with ideas like getting the audience to do some sort of physical workout, which I have seen advocated in self-styled 'cutting edge' texts. But I think a variety of different kinds of session, together with making each one no longer than an hour -- and preferably less -- helps a lot.

#3 Where are the kids?

SeesawLike I said in an article called But where are the kids?, you would never know, walking into a lot of educational conferences, that the conference is about education at all. At best, some of them have a few token young people around to remind us all what they look like, but that's about it. I have to say that this is where conferences like ISTE (previously known as NECC) and iCTLT do well. Kids not only start the conference off, but are seen at the exhibitors' stands, and even speak!

I like the increasing presence of young people as reporters at some conferences. This was the case at the BETT show in January 2010, and a curriculum conference in March 2009 (see the 'kids' link, above). We need more of this sort of thing.

#4 Plenty of 'down' time

Some conference organisers feel that they have to pack every waking moment -- and half our sleeping moments too! -- with activities. This is justified on the grounds that would-be delegates have to have their applications approved by bean counters who equate more stuff with better value. In fact, after a certain point has been reached, the opposite is likely to be the case.

My own view is that the best part of any conference is the conversations you have. I won't even say 'networking', because although you're 'supposed' to go to conferences to network and make connections, I find it really hard to do. The reason is that whenever people unleash their 'elevator speech' on to me, I feel like I am being sold to -- which, of course, I am. Far more interesting is having a normal, honest conversation. And if that leads to some business in the future, that's all wonderful and marvellous. And if it doesn't, well that's fine too because at least you had a good social time.

#5 Good speakers, on good topics

For me, given my views on the importance of #4, if the sessions are good too then that's a bonus. By 'good speakers' I do not mean people who shout, jump up and down, try and gee us up, and regard themselves as primarily entertainers (unless, of course, it's in the context of an after-dinner speech). I mean people who are at the top of their game, who have a deep knowledge of their subject, and who are going to give me some information and insights which I would either not be able to obtain at all otherwise, or which it would take a fair bit of time and effort to get otherwise. And up-to-date insights too, not the ones they came up with five years ago and have been trotting out ever since. Ever heard of blogs and YouTube, guys?

By 'good topics', I do not mean stuff I am interested in, because that's taken as read. I mean stuff that I should  be interested in but which I didn't know I need to know about!

#6 Let the people speak

I think there's a place for 'unconference' elements in the conference programme, like a Teachmeet or opportunities for groups of people to get together to discuss topics of mutual interest. It's not the end of the world if there isn't this option, but I think every effort should be made to provide it where possible.

#7 I wanna be connected

ConnectedThe best conference will have wi-fi throughout the venue, including the hotel. There must also be a conference Twitter feed, and Flickr and Technorati tags. Some conferences also have a conference blog, Facebook page,  and a social network. I think having all that is more likely to dissipate commentary, or even discourage it altogether, by making the choice too wide. What's the point anyway? Anyone who's going to write about the conference will want to do so on their own blog, wouldn't they?

#8 Who else is here?

I like to see a delegate list. Notwithstanding what I said about networking, if there is someone there whom I'd really like to meet, I'd prefer to know about it so I can look out for them and try to connect with them. Conferences provide great opportunities to meet people you have had dealings with, or need to have dealings with.

For example, at the Naace 2010 conference I was able to meet up with several people I've been having work-related conversations with. As it happens, the conference was small enough for me to see they were there. At larger conferences, you cannot rely on spotting or bumping into people, which is why a delegate list can be so handy.

#9 Decent accommodation

It's a well-known fact that people evaluate training days on the basis of whether the food was any good. The same goes for conferences, and more so if you're staying overnight. Good grub, with a proper choice for vegetarians and other diets, and a clean, well-appointed room, are what we all like.

#10 Lots of choice

It can be very frustrating when sessions you want to go to clash with each other. But I'd rather be spoilt for choice than to feel like I have almost no choice at all.

#11 Post-conference information

Presentations, and podcasts or videos of the presentations, should be available afterwards. So should supplementary material where relevant.

#12 If you're going to advertise, tell us

If you look at the ads in the paper, or this website, you'll see they have the word 'Advertisement' above them. The reason is obvious: to make sure that people don't mistakenly think they're part of the editorial. Well, I believe conference speakers should do the same. I've been to a couple of conference sessions where the presentation was an extended advertisement in all but name. If this is made clear in advance, then people are given a genuine choice. If you find out once you're in the session, not only have you had your time wasted if you didn't want to listen to an ad for 45 minutes, but you've missed the chance to go to a presentation you would have liked to have seen.

#13 No text please

Exhibitors should make their stuff available electronically, such as on a conference CD. I think it's unreasonable to expect delegates to lug tons of printed material home.

#14 Start and end on a high

I want my conference to open with a bang, and make me eager with anticipation. I want to end my conference on a high, full of adrenalin, wanting to rush back home with renewed determination to make a difference.

Over to you

What do you think are the characteristics of a great conference?

Saturday
Mar202010

The Bug Force

It's quite obvious that there are forces at work which deny rational explanation -- at least in terms of the laws of nature as we commonly perceive them. This can be seen most readily where any kind of proofreading is required. Is there anything we can do about it?

All joking aside, should we always be encouraging students to produce perfect work? And if not, how many errors are acceptable?

P1030955.JPGNow, I don't want to detain you longer than necessary, so I'll come straight to the point: the short answer is "no". True, you can take a proofreading course, seek advice in a forum, have an extra pair of eyes, and seek advice from the experts. Nothing makes any difference, ultimately, because you're dealing with the unknown. The real  issue is this: how many errors are acceptable? I'll come back to this point shortly.

What proof do I have that proofreading is the playground of a malevolent spirit? Simply this: no matter how many times you proofread a document, there will always be one more error. This is even enshrined in a "law" of computing, albeit in a different context:

Lubarsky's Law of Cybernetic Entomology: There's always one more bug.

You, or someone else, will discover the flaw. Eventually. My research into this phenomenon over many years has led me to the inescapable conclusion that you will discover it in one of the following types of circumstance:

  • When you have printed off 400 copies.

  • When you have just mailed it in response to a job advertisement.

  • When you have just emailed the third version of it to an editor you have never worked with before.

Does this mean that you can never create a perfect copy? Not exactly, but even if you manage to thwart the forces of non-good at the proof-reading stage, the gremlins in the software you use will launch a second wave attack. How else would you explain things like:

  • A document that looks perfect on screen does not retain all the contents of the page when you print it out.

  • Page-numbering develops a mind of its own.

  • Sometimes, if you try to place a caption beneath the picture instead of above it, Word goes berserk. For example, once it caused the two paragraphs under the caption to disappear altogether.

  • Once, a colleague said that her document included a copy of a spreadsheet which looked fine on the screen, but kept printing out with most of the left hand column missing.

Is there anything you can do about it, being serious for a moment? After all, one doesn't like to be completely fatalistic. Well I do three things:

  • Run the spell-check.

  • Read through it one word at a time (and boy, is that tedious!).

  • Cajole someone else to read it.

Ultimately, none of this will make much of a difference (see Lubarsky's Rule, above), but at least you will not need to castigate yourself over it.

So, being realistic, what this really boils down to is: how many errors are acceptable? This is a serious question, and one which I don't think tends to be addressed in schools.

Students are encouraged to produce perfect work for their e-portfolios or coursework. But that is unrealistic. What we ought to be doing is encouraging them to make a judgement about the acceptable number and type of errors given the nature of the piece of work in question, the audience for whom it is intended, and the purpose of the exercise.

There are, I believe, viable alternatives to the proverbial view that if a thing is worth doing it is worth doing properly. Consider the following:

  • If you do something perfectly, there may well be an opportunity cost involved, ie the cost expressed in terms of the next best thing foregone. For instance, is it better for me to obtain a grade A in my Art exam and fail everything else, or to obtain a scattering of Bs and Cs across a range of five subjects? The answer will depend on a number of factors, such as whether I want to get into Art college or become a vet.

  • We owe it to our students, in our any time, anywhere  society, to nurture a "good enough" attitude. Don't get me wrong: I am a perfectionist, as no doubt you are too. But there comes a point (three in the morning, perhaps, or the third draft) where we all say:

    "That will have to do, and if they don't like it, they can do it themselves!"

  • In a related way, there is also the Law of Diminishing Returns. After a certain point, the benefits from continuing to work on something are outweighed by the costs in terms of fatigue or opportunity cost (see the first point).

  • Sometimes, imperfection is good. Once, for example, I completely messed up something I was doing whilst demonstrating some software to a class of teachers. They actually found it reassuring, and it gave them confidence. The logic was along the lines of:

    "Well, if an expert like Terry can make a stupid mistake like that, it's ok for me to do so too without beating myself up over it."

I don't know the answer to the question: "How many errors are acceptable?". It's a judgement call. Our job as educators, I suggest, is to help students make that judgement as part and parcel of the skill of writing and presenting for different audiences.

This article was first published on 1st August 2008.

Postscript

I received an email recently from Cate Newton of the SR Education Group. Cate says:

"The Bug Force" is an excellent article for writing, editing, and proofreading.

My interest in proofreading and writing for students sparked an article that was just published on our website, Guide to Online Schools, here: http://www.guidetoonlineschools.com/tips-and-tools/proofreading. We are trying to build up useful resources for students of all ages and this is our most recent. We’ve compiled a list of the most useful grammar, proofreading and writing style guides on the internet into one, easy-to-navigate article.

I've looked at the article and I have to say Cate has probably undersold it. It is full of links to writing and grammar guides, and looks immensely useful. The only caveat I would add is that it is mainly (though not exclusively) for a non-British audience. So whilst the processes and general principles of writing and proof-reading no doubt apply everywhere, you should exercise caution when looking at non-UK grammar texts, as there are significant differences.

In this context I should recommend Grammar Girl. This is an excellent podcast full of useful tips, and advice on common errors. And although the podcaster, Mignon Fogarty, is either American or Canadian, she usually gives the British version of grammar and sentence construction -- which is, of course, the correct one ;-).

Does any of this matter? I think so. Just because writing for the web is, arguably, less formal than other writing, and blogs are fine for publishing off-the-cuff thoughts, writing should still be error-free as far and possible, notwithstanding my comments in the article, and pleasant to read.

 

Saturday
Mar202010

The internet – empowering or censoring citizens?

I attended a fascinating talk at the RSA last September. In a lecture entitled “The Internet: Empowering or Censoring Citizens”, Evgeny Morozov questioned whether the internet really is the means to inevitable freedom and democracy it is often portrayed to be.

‘So what?’, you may ask. From an educational point of view I think this is an important topic for discussion for two reasons. The first is that, in general terms, we should take every opportunity to ‘force’ students to think for themselves. When I was a teacher, I usually adopted Oscar Wilde’s stance:

“Don't say you agree with me. When people agree with me. I always feel that I must be wrong.”

Students need to be encouraged to seek questions, even if the answers are not as readily forthcoming.

Matthew Taylor and Evgeny Morozov at the RSA

Secondly, in every ICT course, apart from purely skills ones, there is a section on the effects of technology on society. By examining issues such as whether or not the internet is automatically a means of distributing power more evenly in a society, the teacher would be addressing the spirit (if not always the letter) of that section.

Morozov challenged the view of the people he refers to as ‘cyberutopians’ that connectivity + devices = democracy. Some states, he pointed out, are using the web to crack down on dissidents.

In his talk, the link to which is given below, he described a number of ways in which some countries are using the power of the web to curtail, rather than to extend, democracy and freedom. If you think about it, it is obvious that web 2.0 applications are not inherently good or bad, so why would it be so surprising to discover that countries use them for their own ends?

In this context Morozov spoke of the ‘spinternet’. The idea is that when deletion of content is, in effect, impossible, the next best approach to dealing with what we might call off-message sentiments is to use political spin to defuse the issue.

The general and simplistic view seems to be that once every young person in a country has an ipod, they will miraculously turn into democrats. This ipod liberalism, as Morozov terms it, represents a deterministic view. It seems to me to be pretty insulting too. After all, if someone gave you an ipod, would your principles and beliefs suddenly fly out of the window? I realise that that is a somewhat simplistic counter-argument, but no more so than, it seems to me, the argument itself.

In any case, a more realistic approach would be to recognise the existence of cyberhedonism: most people are not interested in politics, as shown in this illustration:

 Online politics

And perhaps we need to borrow from Maslow and draw up a hierarchy of cyberneeds (see illustration below). In this paradigm, internet users start by satisfying their basic ‘needs’ – for pornography, file-sharing and video downloading – before progressing to less self-centred activities.

Hierarchy of internet needsTowards the end of his talk, in an almost throwaway comment, Morozov vividly illustrated the power of the web in the ‘wrong’ hands. In the past, he said, a totalitarian regime would have to torture an activist to find out the names of his associates. Now all they have to do is go on Facebook.

Of course, it’s easy to point the finger at totalitarian regimes, but even in countries like the UK and USA, power is not evenly distributed on the web. For example, half of Wikipedia’s articles are accounted for by only 10% of its users (Clay Shirky has drawn attention to this sort of thing as well). There is nothing nefarious in this, of course, but it’s salutary to bear in mind that, according to Morozov, the average person stands only a 2% chance of being mentioned on the front page of Digg. Hardly an even distribution of influence.

It seems to me that a number of questions might fruitfully be discussed with students:

What do you think of Morozov's arguments?

Is the concept of a hierarchy of cyberneeds a useful one?

Does it exist?

Where would your students place themselves in that pyramid?

Where would you and your colleagues place yourselves?

If web 2.0 applications can be manipulated by governments and even individuals, how can one guard against being taken in?

Is being digitally literate enough?

One of the key points to come out of a discussion about these issues would surely be that of identity? Morozov focused mainly on the use of Web 2.0 applications by non-democratic governments, but the truth of the matter is that you actually don’t know who you’re ‘talking’ to in any online space unless you do a bit of research and cross-checking. How do you know that the word-of-mouth recommendation you have just received is genuine?

How do you know whether or not the person ‘bad-mouthing’ a particular product is working for a rival company?

How do you know if an Amazon book review is genuine?

And is it not crucial, therefore, that we take some issues out of the ‘niche’ area of e-safety and bring them into the mainstream, or widen the definition of e-safety to include such issues?

Further reading:

Read Matthew Taylor's blog post about this (which centres on the political rather than educational implications of Morozov's address) and, especially, the comments. I especially like Taylor's conclusion:

The web is changing culture, relationships and organisations. Its effects are real and important. Sometimes they are good and sometimes not. The exaggerated claims of those who say the internet is inherently a destroyer of organisations and hierarchies or that it is bound to lead to greater democracy and collaboration are an unhelpful distraction from the important study of the internet’s real impact on real lives.

The internet society – time to get real

Listen to Morozov's talk

This article was first published on 30th September 2009.

 

Friday
Mar192010

Why Schools Cannot Ignore Web 2.0: Technical Factors

#iCTLT2010 Based on my recent talk at the ICTLT2010 Conference, this short series looks at the social, technical, commercial, economic and educational factors that I think together mean that a compelling case can be made for schools to fully embrace Web 2.0 technologies.

Last week I looked at the social factors involved. This time, let’s look at the technical drivers for change. The obvious one here is changes in technology. As well as Wikipedia and social networking, there are other developments too, such as Cloud Computing, which is starting to enter the mainstream as a viable proposition. In fact, 98% of reluctant companies have said that their main concern was security. But technically, it is now completely feasible to use web-based software for most things, and some schools and even whole districts have been using Google Applications for Education, or similar services, with success. In fact,  Singapore's Minsitry of Education has arranged for access to Google Apps right across the country.

There is also now an openness on the part of government as far as data is concerned. For example, the UK Government recently launched a data portal that enables people to work with the data, and create apps, to drill down into the data to find information which might otherwise remain hidden, such as to do with housing and local amenities in an area. In the USA, the Patent Office has built a wiki called Peer to Patent to enable people to peer review patent applications.

The technology of search engines has changed so that search results can include blogs and consumer reviews. There has also been a  growth of open source, consumer-developed apps, such as for the i-Phone. There are now 150,000 apps  in the Apple Store, and by January there had been 3 billion downloads. Other companies are also adopting this model. Facebook Connect, which lets you take your Facebook identity with you to other communities on the internet, is another example of what I called a kind of 'levelling' process.

Changes in technology have enabled the existence of what Chris Anderson has called the long tail, by which is meant the fact that anyone can produce a niche product in an economic way. For example, by using print-on-demand you can produce a book that only you and your students will use, or you can create a television channel just for use in your school.

AnywhereIn a recently-published book called ‘Anywhere’, Emily Nagle Green talks about the importance of connectivity, in devices, such as pill boxes that know when they’ve been opened and closed, and can notify the network accordingly; in customer experiences, such as people being able to pay parking meters by text messaging, as shown below; and connectivity in business, such as wireless transmitters on taxis in London to save waiting time at Heathrow Airport.

I discovered that in Singapore when you enter a car park your arrival and departure are noted, and you are sent the bill afterwards. Apparently, in Hong Kong things are even more connected.

Parking by textI think the degree of connectivity in the world was brought home to me recently by something which a manager in IBM said:

“There are more transistors in the world than grains of rice”

Brendan Riley, IBM

I have no idea how many grains of rice there are in the world, but I’m sure it’s a lot!

Next week: The Economic drivers for change.

Friday
Mar192010

Email: The Electronic Leash?

I am not sure why it is, but whereas channels such as Twitter and Facebook are pleasant and liberating, email is somehow depressing and restrictive. Perhaps it's because it is associated with work rather than pleasure, or because it is, psychologically, more demanding. Perhaps, in my case, right now, it is because I have just returned from the #Naace2010 conference (which I shall write about in due course) -- and to 3,697 emails.

No, the conference was not 3 months long, it was 3 days in total. And yes, they did have wi-fi, so in theory I could have dealt with some of the deluge whilst at the conference. Here are a few of my thoughts on the matter.My reaction to nearly 4,000 emails waiting for me

The trouble with alerts

Setting up alerts to tell you when something has been downloaded is, usually, good. In my case, I find that seeing a few downloads of something I've published, each time I check my mail, lifts my spirits. Thus it was that when I published the Amazing Web 2.0 Projects Book a few days ago, I set up an alert of this nature. I should have turned off the alert before I left for the conference, but in my naivety I assumed there would be a few hundred downloads at the most.

I could not have been more wrong.

As of a few minutes ago, it has been downloaded 4,758 times, and the majority of the 3000+ emails were the associated alerts.

So my conclusion about this is: disable any automated alerts and things of that nature before leaving home for more than a day or two!

Web mail can be slooooow

Checking my email at the hotel was a nightmare. For some reason, my main provider's web mail service is always really slow. It's cope-able with when there are just a few emails, but not when there are over 90 pages of messages. It got to the stage where each page was taking several minutes to load. I can get email on my phone, but I've learnt from past experience that if the number of messages becomes too large, the phone grinds to a halt. I found that out in Phoenix, Arizona a few years ago, when I spent a merry hour in an organic wholefood café (I don't know why I put that detail in, but I just felt the need to give the complete picture!) furiously deleting stuff and even uninstalling apps I'd never used.

Conferences are for conferencing

The other thing is that, whilst I try and keep on top of what's coming in to my email inbox whilst away, I don't want to miss the opportunities for networking and so on that a good conference provides. So unless the email is from a client, or urgent in some way, then (assuming I'd seen it at all) I would normally wait until I return and deal with it then. I constantly meet colleagues at conferences who miss entire sessions in order to deal with emails, and I can see why they would do that, but I think I am doing my clients, subscribers and readers a better service in the long run by participating in the conference as much as I can.

Sleep is important too

I know from my days of studying and teaching economics that the rarer a commodity is, the greater its value. Well, at conferences sleep tends to be placed in that category, and that has a twofold effect on my dealings with email.

Firstly, on  business grounds, I don't think answering emails late at night when you've been on the go for 19 or 20 hours is especially sensible.

Secondly, faced with the choice of grabbing 4 or 5 hours' sleep, or checking emails, surely the more sensible option is the former?

And now the deluge

And so, today and no doubt part of the weekend will involve my going through the emails, responding and, hopefully, catching up on work too. So, if you happen to be one of the people who have emailed me and have not as yet had a reply, please accept my apologies.

As it may be a bit of a wait, you might like to download that book I mentioned. Its 121 pages of good stuff, from some fantastic practitioners. And no doubt of more practical use than War and Peace, which was going to be my other reading suggestion.

But seriously, you no doubt have better things to do than wait around for responses to emails, but if you have a moment or two I'd be interested in how you deal with the inevitable email mountain we typically find on returning from a conference or vacation.

Thursday
Mar182010

In Praise of Silliness

I am all in favour of the experiment by an ATM company in London which sees instructions in rhyming slang on some of its cash machines.

People tend to be too serious, and sometimes you can achieve quite a lot in terms of making people think, or even improving learning, through the interjection of a bit of mild humour.

I’m not suggesting that these ATMs will educate people, but that a similar principle might be introduced into the school environment. When I was running an ICT department in a school, I sometimes used to put up silly notices along the lines of:

Is you is or is you ain't printing? If so…

(From the song Is you is or is you ain’t my baby?)

OK, so it didn’t produce guffaws, but then it wasn’t meant to. Just about every ICT suite has notices saying what you can’t do, what is forbidden. The overall effect is to put people on edge, in my opinion. You can grab people’s attention with an unusual and slightly humorous headline, and then state a few rules. I believe that the light-hearted opening puts them in the right, ie receptive, frame of mind.

Humour is fine to use in other places too, especially when the work can get pretty intense. I tweaked a spreadsheet once so that at the top, in the title bar, it read:

Mr Freedman says: Get on with your work!

I also had a button which said

Click here in case of an emergency.

Inevitably, clicking on it caused a message to pop up stating:

This is not an emergency! Stop messing about!

My coup de grace, however, was recording myself saying "Stop that and get back to your work", and assigning the sound file to one of the windows events on a stand-alone computer. It was quite humorous to see the reaction of a pupil experiencing it for the first time!

Of course, it goes without saying that such frivolity will not work if you have not already established classroom discipline and have really interesting work for the students to do. My aim was to try to replicate a workplace environment, in the sense that in a normal, healthy work environment people work, have a bit of a break, exchange some banter, and get on with their work. Why should school be any different?

Related article: Fings ain’t wot they used to be.

This article was first published on 26th August 2009.