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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.

Tuesday
May182010

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 19: Attend a Conference

A task a day for 31 daysIt's a great pity, in my view, that one of the first things to go when the budget is tight is training. You can understand why: allowing a teacher to go on a training day not only costs the event fee, but also the cost of hiring a substitute teacher. Plus there is the hidden cost in terms of the fact that substitute teachers, no matter how good they are, rarely fill the shoes of the regular teacher. (And that is one reason, incidentally, why creating a lesson bank is such a good idea.)

Nevertheless, it's a short-sighted measure because I think continuing professional development (CPD) in any job is essential. One especially good form of CPD is — or can be — a one day conference.

I've already written about what I look for in a conference. But how can going to a conference help you become a better ed tech leader?

Benefits of attending a conference

A conference presentation can give you useful insightsIf you choose the conference well, these are the potential benefits:

  • Get the latest news and upcoming developments. Things move so fast in  both technology and education that this is a good enough reason in itself to get along to a conference. One thing I have often found is that if a representative of officialdom is giving a talk, they will give you off-the-cuff news and insights which will either never find their way into published reports or will take some time to do so.

    For example, they may give you interim results of some research they've been carrying out, or some options they've been considering plus a heads-up about a forthcoming consultation. All of these kind of things help you keep on top of your game and put you in a position to be able to advise the senior leadership of your team from an informed standpoint.
  • Meet other ICT leaders. I do my best to keep up with the news, but even so I always manage to find something out from a fellow attendee that I didn't know before. In fact, just being able to, if necessary, have a good moan about the state of things can be very good. After all, being an ICT leader or co-ordinator is often a lonely job, and meeting others in a similar position can be therapeutic if nothing else.
  • Another benefit of meeting colleagues in similar positions is that it enables people to exchange ideas. No matter how innovative you are, you can still learn something from talking to other people.
  • If the conference has been good, you will not only come away full of new information and ideas, you will also have had a morale and energy boost.

Conference follow-up

One of the downsides of going to a conference is that the new information and ideas end up going to the bottom of the virtual in-tray. I think it's very important indeed that when you return from a conference you work to a simple rubric along the lines of:

  1. What were the three key things I learnt at the conference?
  2. What is one thing I can and should change immediately as a result of attending it?
  3. What is one thing I should change, or advise the senior leadership to change, over the long term?

If you lead a team of teachers, feedback should be given at the next team meeting. That in itself can provide valuable CPD, not only in terms of disseminating the knowledge to colleagues, but also in terms of the ensuing discussion.

If the team meeting is not scheduled for a long time, the information and advice should be disseminated to the team in some way.

I also think that one of the conditions of being allowed to go to a conference is that the notes made are distributed as necessary. Otherwise the benefits of attending are confined to only the attendee and can soon disappear.

Clearly, most of the points made here can be applied to any form of training, not only conferences.
There are aso online conferences, perhaps the best known being the K12 Online Conference. Attending such a conference is often easier than attending a physical one because you can watch the presentations in your own time, and so do not need permission as such.

However, I think there are two principles and one practical issue involved here. The principles are that, firstly, I believe that teachers should be treated as professionals. That means being given time to go to events like conferences. Secondly, expecting people to attend a conference in their own time effectively discriminates against those teachers who have family commitments and for whom, therefore, attending an online conference is impractical at best and impossible at worst.

The practical issue is that attending an online conference in real time enables you to participate in the discussion and Twitter stream taking place at the time.

It may be possible to negotiate for members of your team and yourself to have guaranteed no cover while the online conference is going on, so that each of you could attend in their 'free' lessons. Obviously, that kind of arrangement won't be possible in the average primary school.

In any case, it's not an ideal situation because in my experience you still get constantly interrupted and even called upon to do an emergency cover anyway. In fact, the ideal arrangement is to attend the conference at home or at a colleague's house. I don't underestimate the difficulties of getting that approved though.

Bottom line: attending a conference at least once a year is essential. It should help you do your job better. Everyone knows that teacher expertise is one of the most important factors in securing student learning and progress; conferences can help you maintain and increase that expertise.

You may also find this article useful: All About BETT: What it is, 9 Reasons to Attend,4 Reasons You Should Be Allowed to Attend, and 4 Other Colleagues Who Should Go Too

Monday
May172010

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 18: Join a Group

A task a day for 31 daysWhy join a community? John Donne said ‘No man is an island’, and that sentiment is certainly true when it comes to education in general, and ICT in particular. Joining an organisation can reap benefits – I’ve identified 12 possible benefits below.

We work better togetherI’ve drawn a distinction between societies and communities. It’s a completely arbitrary approach on my part, which sees a society defined as a formal organisation, with a particular structure, entry requirements and so on, and a community as an informal organisation.  As I say, it’s pretty arbitrary: some communities also have membership approval and other formal elements. Nevertheless, I hope the distinction proves useful to you.

Why join anything?

  • Remember the proverb, many hands make light work. I have often found that when I am looking for information, someone in one of my groups has already done some of the work of researching and collating. (Equally, I think it’s incumbent on each member of a group to contribute in some way now and again, and that would include you!)
  • Belonging to a group affords networking opportunities, such as through discussion forums, a newsletter, or conferences.
  • It’s very hard to keep up-to-date with news and still have time to do your day job. Belonging to a group is a good way of keeping in the know, such as through a society’s newsletter. Incidentally, on Day 20 I shall be looking at newsletters you might like to subscribe to.
  • If the society has a magazine, you can be sure to find discursive articles which go into more depth than the average blog post or newsletter item. Note that my newsletter, Computers in Classrooms, often has discursive articles. See, for example, the April 2010 issue.
  • Societies usually put on special events, eg talks, conferences, including expert speakers. Some communities do so too, in the form of ‘webinars’, ie web-based seminars. In fact, sometimes that is the only thing a community does. See, for example, Classroom 2.0 Live, which features a special guest speaker and discussion each week.
  • Communities and societies often have online forums, blogs and podcasts.
  • Belonging to a group may give you opportunities to get involved in projects. I know, you already have enough on your plate. But doing this can give you greater knowledge and insight into a particular area.
  • There may be courses and other professional development opportunities.
  • It’s a support network, not just for work-related stuff, but for emotional well-being too. See, for example, Elizabeth Potts Weinstein’s article and video. IN the video she states that after being told in effect that she was useless, she went to her Twitter community and asked for reassurance.
  • Being exposed to group discussions and newsletters is likely to give you a wider spectrum of information sources than you might otherwise be aware of.
  • There are opportunities to contribute own point of view. Not everyone wants to do so, of course. In fact, most people don’t. But the option is there should you want it.
  • Some groups and/or levels of membership give you kudos. That may not be too important to you on a day-to-day basis, but it can help make your CV/resumé stand out from the crowd.

Examples of societies include:

  • The British Computer Society http://www.bcs.org/. The magazine is good for in-depth articles which tends towards more technical topics.
  • Royal Society of Arts http://www.thersa.org/ A very interesting organisation which has social good as its core aim. Lots of opportunities to get involved in projects and discussions.
  • Naace http://www.naace.co.uk/ . This is, in effect, the subject association for ICT in the UK.
  • Mirandanet http://www.mirandanet.ac.uk/ An academic society, but one which sets a lot of store by teacher/classroom research. Unlike the other societies listed here, Mirandanet is free to join.
  • International Society for Technology in Education http://www.iste.org/ I’d describe this as the subject association for ICT (educational technology) in the USA. Lots of interest groups available.
  • If none of these sound suitable, you can always form a local group, eg of fellow ICT leaders or of colleagues from neighbouring school districts or local authorities. Note that I have included only those societies which have a broad set of interests, not highly specialised ones.

Examples of communities include:

  1. Social networking groups, eg Linked-In http://www.linkedin.com See, for example, http://uk.linkedin.com/in/terryfreedman This is a good networking community and a source of interesting discussion and news (if you join one or more of the groups available)
  2. Social networking groups; use this as a starting point: http://www.educationalnetworking.com/List+of+Networks Note, though, that some of the URLs listed may change because Ning has announced that it is going to end its provision of free networks.
  3. Discussion list: Safetynet http://lists.becta.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/safetynet Specialises in e-safety, as the name suggests. I’ve included it even though it is specialised because e-safety is such an important consideration in our work. Note that I have no idea whether this group will continue, because I don’t know what the new UK’s government’s plans are for Becta.
  4. Discussion list: ITTE http://www.itte.org.uk/ This is a community of teacher-trainers, specialising in ICT.
  5. Discussion list: Ed Tech: http://www.h-net.msu.edu/~edweb
  6. http://www.classroom20.com/ Good all-round community with thousands of members.

I hope you find something there which ignites your interest. Your task today is to explore the links I’ve given you to determine which of these, if any, to join.



Friday
May142010

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 17: Visit an Exhibition

As an educational technology leader, one of the most important things you can do is to actively look for new ideas. One great source of ideas is an exhibition.

A task a day for 31 daysBut, you say, there are no educational exhibitions going on right now. Really? Well maybe there aren’t, but maybe there are – I’ll return to this in a moment. However, it’s not necessarily that relevant anyway. The point of attending an exhibition is not to just be spoon-fed ideas, but to kick-start your imagination.

So, your task for today is to try to identify, and possibly even visit, an interesting exhibition. Where are the best places to look? Here are 8 suggestions.

  • If you live in the UK, have a look at the Exhibition and Trade Fair website. This is very comprehensive, and should enable you to plan ahead if you can’t get to an exhibition in the near future.
  • On the subject of planning ahead, don’t forget to pencil in the BETT Show for next January. A cross between an exhibition and a conference, this is a must for any ed tech leader who is serious about keeping on top of their game. You can read my thoughts about it in my BETT Highlights articles.
  • Museums, especially science museums, can be a great source of inspiration. They often also showcase very interesting applications of technology. Sometimes they house exhibitions of the development of technology over time. Perhaps you could take a look, and if it looks good arrange to take a group of students along.  Search for ‘museums and galleries’ online for lists of useful links.
  • Another source of useful links is the tourist board for your country. Enter ‘tourist board’ into your search engine. For example, the English Tourist Board website lists lots of interesting exhibitions and similar attractions.
  • Have a look at the website for your local area: there may be an interesting exhibition not a million miles from where you live.
  • In fact, there may be an exhibition going on in the foyer of the Town Hall, or your local library.
  • Perhaps a local school has put on an exhibition which you could attend.
  • Maybe a colleague in your own school has mounted an exhibition you could get to in the next ten minutes.

Even if attending an exhibition does not, in the end, furnish you with any great insights, not to worry. In the words of the old adage: a change is as good as a rest!



Wednesday
May122010

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 16: Create a Lesson Plan Bank

I am very much a believer in certain principles, which to me are evidence of good leadership:

The WORM Principle

This acronym stands for Write Once Read Many, and originally applied to CDs I believe. I think the principle can be applied much more widely, though. Why the need to do the same thing several times? Why reinvent wheels? In the context of lesson preparation, I think it makes perfect sense to (a) use a lesson plan template, as discussed on Day 14, and (b) for everyone in the team to deposit a copy of each lesson plan they create to a common area.

The latter will happen naturally if units of work are delegated, as suggested on Day 2. But even if that doesn’t happen, it is sensible for the team to start building up a resource bank of lesson plans and associated resources.

It saves work because in many cases it’s easier to start with something than starting from scratch. So if I draft a lesson plan and you create another lesson plan based on it, there are now two lesson plans on the same topic from which others can choose, or from which we ourselves can choose when we come to teach the topic again.

Share and share alike

I don’t think people should work in silos, especially if they’re on the same team. Sharing lesson plans not only saves time, but also helps colleagues see different aspects of the same topic. You can look at a colleague’s lesson plan, compare it to your own, and see something you hadn’t thought of.

Sharing need not be confined to the finished product. Why not use a wiki to share the process of creating lessons? I don’t think this is always appropriate, because the process takes time, and you may not always have that luxury. But it’s certainly worth trying.

Contingency planning

When I was Head of ICT, I used to ask my colleagues to always prepare an extra lesson on the topic, which could be used in a contingency situation. The lesson had to be a stand-alone activity, so that it could be used by a cover teacher without her having to understand everything that had gone before.

My thinking was as follows. When a teacher is out of school, nine times out of ten the work set for the youngsters is irrelevant, and designed purely to keep them quiet. I wanted to build up a bank of activities which were meaningful, interesting, useful and which would not disrupt the flow of the work.

But I don’t have a team!

If, like many ICT Co-ordinators, you don’t have a team because you’re the sole teacher of ICT in your school, these principles still apply, but in a different way. I suggest the following:

  • Build up your own lesson bank. You can do that by creating an area where copies of each of your lesson plans is stored, and even drafts of lesson plans: why lose those half-formed thoughts? They may come in handy in the future.
  • Join a community of other teachers in a similar position. I’ll be saying more about this later in the series, but one thing you might do straight away is start collaborating with another local school or two.
  • Have a trawl around the Teacher Resource Exchange, or any similar sites you’re aware of. It contains lots of great ideas, and everything there is for sharing. You may like to contribute your own.

What now?

As often is the case, none of this can be achieved in its entirety in the 15 minutes I’ve suggested you spend each day on the articles in this series. However, what you CAN do is the following:

  • Have a common area set up as a repository for lesson plans.
  • Have a look at the Teachers’ Resource Exchange to see if there is anything you can make use of immediately.
  • Start talking to your colleagues about the feasibility of producing one extra lesson each for the sake of contingency planning.

 



Tuesday
May112010

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 15: Look at the Resources

A really good leader of educational technology, in my opinion, is one who makes the subject exciting. Students will be there at the start of the lesson, not straggling in 10 minutes after the start. Students and staff alike will want to use the facilities: they won’t need to be cajoled, threatened, or dragged kicking and screaming into your domain. They won’t need to be pleaded with to take a laptop.

At least part of this happy state of affairs is down to the resources available.  So today, have a look at what there is.

What’s the hardware like to use? For example, does it take 10 minutes for all the computers in the computer lab to spring into life when a whole class logs on? Do some of the laptops have keys missing? Are the keyboards filthy? I'm not suggesting you roll up your sleeves and grab some cleaning fluid, but paying attention to these things means that you can get something done about it.

What’s the software like? Is it hard to use? Is it eccentric, in the sense of having completely different to the norm, and therefore unintuitive, commands?

What are the teaching resources like? Are you using a set of books which is boring, out of date and completely uninspiring?

Which websites have been bookmarked for the students to use? And which ones have been blocked? And should they have been?

And that’s it. You may have wi-fi access in every nook and cranny, an internet café, a resources centre that would make the head of the British Library envious. But if the resources of hardware, software and, especially, teaching and learning are dreadful, you need to do something about it.

And the sooner the better.

You may find the following articles useful:

23 factors to consider when evaluating digital resources

12 factors to consider when evaluating books and other paper resources

Monday
May102010

Refurbishment Isn’t The Same As Improvement

One of the places I like to go sometimes is a bar where they have free wi-fi and a relaxed attitude. You can sit there for three hours nursing a single pint (orange juice and lemonade in my case, if you’re buying) without being hassled or asked to leave.

Basically, neither the bar staff nor the owner seemed to care about such things. And as for the clientele, they were all concerned with their own affairs. I wouldn’t call them social misfits exactly but they were, shall we say, characters.

And now they’re gone.

The bar, you see, has had a make-over. It’s been ‘done up’. It’s been ‘upgraded’. It now serves ‘toasties’ and ‘skinny lattés’. It’s more light and breezy. But it’s not my bar.

I’m not, and never have been, a pub-type person. But a pub with free wi-fi and open all hours, now that’s a different matter.

But now that it’s changed so much, I doubt that I’ll be seen there too often. I may venture in there when I need to send an email urgently and I happen to be in the area. I doubt that I will again make it the point of my journey.

All of which makes me wonder: are all refurbishments improvements? Is it possible to have a brand spanking new computer suite, but none of the old atmosphere or user-friendliness?

I visited a school a few years ago in which the computer lab had nothing on the walls. No posters about how to use the equipment. No notice stating who to phone if something went wrong.

“Why’s that?”, I asked my host.

“Private Finance Initiative”, came the reply. “Not allowed to put anything on the walls.”

That should have been negotiated out of the contract before a single brick was laid, in my opinion. But that, and my bar experience, serves as a warning, I think: just because something has been refurbished, or renewed, doesn’t mean to say it’s been improved.



Monday
May102010

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 14: Look at the Docs

Today is about documentation. In my experience, this tends to be set aside, for the best of reasons: people are usually too busy. But documentation is important for a number of reasons.

Why documentation is important

  • It acts as a reminder of procedures.
  • It serves as a reference point.
  • It is essential for induction of new staff in your team.

What documentation should be in place?

  • Educational Technology Handbook.
  • Scheme of Work.
  • Educational Technology Self-Review.
  • Educational Technology Action Plan.
  • Educational Technology Lesson Plans.
  • Stock inventory.
  • Details of software licence agreements.

What should the Handbook contain?

Think of the Handbook as a reference for new staff, and an aide-memoir for existing staff. What do want them to know? Here are the things which I believe to be very important:

  • The ICT vision and philosophy.
  • Summary of resources available and how to avail yourself of them.
  • Index of Educational Technology Resources or where to find them.
  • Rules or procedures, such as for setting homework or using the school librarian's services, and health and safety issues.
  • Details of risk analysis if subject leaders are expected to undertake one.
  • Reference to where the wider school procedures and rules may be found.

Creating and updating the documentation

Documents such as the Handbook and the Scheme of Work should be collaborative efforts in my opinion. You can kick-start the process of developing them by creating a wiki for the Handbook, populating it with some suggestions, and then inviting others to contribute to it.

The documentation needs to be 'living', in the sense of being referred to and informing actions and planning and not left to languish in a filing cabinet. Therefore it should be referred to in meetings and revisited every so often — I would say at least once a year. It should be given to new members of your team. Indeed, it, or parts of it, could even be given to all staff.

Some notes about the other documents

The Self-Review

The self-review should be carried out at least annually. It doesn't have to be arduous, and it doesn't necessarily all have to be done by yourself. What it amounts to is repeating a lot of what you've been reading about so far in this series, in effect. That is, looking at the state of educational technology, especially the data, and asking the question: How are we doing?

The Action Plan

The Action Plan can be very simple, along the lines of:

Year 1: Buy set of 30 laptops.

Year 2: Develop links with European school.

and so on. But it does need to be continually evaluated in the light of changes in technology, budgets and priorities.

Lesson Plans

In theory these are the responsibility of individual teachers. Also, if your school has a particular generic policy on lesson plans then you will obviously need to follow that. However, the following suggestions may be useful.

If you followed my advice on Day 2 and delegated the creation of some units of work to your colleagues, then the lesson plans will (or should be) included within that.

There’s a case to be made for making lesson plan templates available, especially electronically. Templates help to ensure consistency across the team and coverage of particular types of thing. For instance, one of the items might be ‘Link to the Literacy Framework’. Another advantage of templates is that they save time: it’s much quicker to use drop-down menus or to circle an item than it is to write out a whole sentence.

Stock inventory

There should be an inventory of hardware comprising details of what was purchased, how much for, when, serial numbers and, if a digital inventory system is in place, where the equipment has been deployed.

The purpose of an inventory is that it should be very easy indeed to check if something is missing, see when it will need replacing and move it to a different location.

Hopefully, actually carrying out an annual stock-check and maintaining an inventory is not your job – but it may well be your responsibility.

Details of software licence agreements

Similarly with software licences. You should know how many user licences have been bought for any commercial software that you use. The licences themselves should be locked away, perhaps in the school office.

How does keeping track of hardware, and also of software licences and use, help you become a better educational technology leader? The answer is that keeping track of these things helps you plan future spending better, and also to deploy resources better.

If, for example, the computers in curriculum area A are almost never used, but those in area B are in constant use, it makes perfect sense to move some computers out of area A into area B, or to try to find out why they are not being used, in the hope of changing the situation.

Systems which automate such monitoring, and which can generate reports can save a huge amount of time as well as provide very rich and comprehensive – but simply presented – data.

What form should the documentation take?

All of it can simply be kept in a digital format. Some of it -– the stock inventory is a good example – is much more useful electronically than physically, because you can do more useful things. For instance, you can get a list of items that are coming up for replacement, or instantly find the location of a particular laptop.

When it comes to the staff handbook, I have always kept that in a ring-binder format, with each topic stored as an independent section (which means as a separate word processed document altogether). The reason is that it is easy to update individual parts very quickly.

However, these days I would also have a print-on demand version ready for my team members, the senior leadership team and a couple of copies for reference in the staffroom, plus a few spare for new staff on my team and to cover loss and damage. Getting this done is really cheap these days, and having a handbook that looks like a proper book indicates that you take it all seriously and have a pride in what you do. The bottom line is that there is no need these days for the ‘handbook’ to take the form of a collection of typed up sheets stapled together – it can look much more professional than that.

And presenting a print-on-demand handbook to new team members says, in a way that mere words never could, “Welcome to the team, and congratulations: you’ve joined a bunch of people who take pride in what they do and are going to be taken seriously.”

Sunday
May092010

Also on the web: 05/09/2010 (p.m.)

  • Very interesting page, brought to my attention by Catherine Andy. The subject matter is interesting in itself, and if you like it you might wish to vote for it: it has been shortlisted in the Japan Webpage Contest run by the Japan Foundation. This is the link: www.japanwebpagecontest.org.uk/vote What interests me in particular, though, is the use of the different applications to present the information, such as Tagxedo (which I reviewed in Computers in Classrooms) and stickies provided by Crazy Profile (which I hadn'd heard of before). Well worth exploring, and don't forget to vote for it!

    tags: Taigo, Japanese, web resources, Gartree School, ICT in schools


Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.
Sunday
May092010

Preview of The Blue Nowhere, by Jeffery Deaver

So there I was, feeling pretty tired from working too hard, thinking to myself that I really need a break from everything related to educational technology. “I really must get out more.”, I told myself.

Definitely worth reading!And indeed I have, metaphorically speaking, by embarking on a novel by Jeffery Deaver, called The Blue Nowhere. It involves computer hacking. (It’s possible that I haven’t quite got the concept of getting away from it all.)

Like all Jeffery Deaver books, there’s an intriguing plot and, no doubt, plenty of plot twists to come. I have read only about an eighth of it, therefore I cannot review it exactly, just give my impressions so far.

It features a computer hacker who selects his murder victims and then gets to know all about them by hacking into their computers.  As an aside, it’s interesting to note how much seems to have changed, in both technology and terminology, in the nine years since the book was published in 2001. For example, do we continue to draw the distinction between hackers (the good guys, or at least the not-really-evil guys), and crackers, the nasty pieces of work? Does anyone still do phreaking, that is hacking into telephone systems in order to make free calls overseas? If so, haven’t these people heard of Skype?

Of course, they did it, and possibly still do it, for the challenge. This isn’t directly relevant in regards to this book, but it’s of tangential interest.  An understanding of human behaviour, and human nature, is an essential weapon in the true hacker’s armoury. It’s long been recognised that the biggest hole in sophisticated security systems is the human element, and serious hackers – the really serious ones -- are very adept at social engineering. That is, appearing to be someone you’re not (a computer repair person, for example) and, like all good con artists, brilliant at getting people to actually want to help you.

This is very much a theme in the book, as is the issue of keeping oneself safe online. The book is probably too long to make it feasible to set as an assignment (though it might go on a recommended summer reading list if you teach older ones), but there is much to be drawn from it in a professional sense.

  • For example, what could victim #1 have done to protect herself whilst online?
  • Can hacking ever be morally right? Discuss.
  • Data protection is the sort of topic which can be as dry as dust and little more than trying to memorise the laws that have been passed. This story highlights issues which illustrate (or can be used to illustrate) important data protection issues.

You would have to go about this sensitively. Without care, using the book to bring out these kinds of issues could lead to some students – and their parents – becoming totally paranoid about going online at all. As you’ll see if you read the book, keeping safe isn’t entirely a matter of ‘stranger danger’ and not meeting online friends in real life.

But if you’re worried about scaring the kids then you could just read the book for its own sake, for relaxation.

Which is what I’m going to do for the rest of the day.

To purchase the book, click on the picture above and you'll be taken to Amazon UK, where you can buy the book and thereby help me to put some more crumbs on my family's table, courtesy of the Amazon affiliate scheme. Thank you.



Saturday
May082010

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader: Consolidation Day 2 

A task a day for 31 daysIn a sense, most of what we've done so far is looking and listening, and not an awful lot of doing. That's not literally true, of course: looking and listening are activities, as is planning. However, the point I'm making here is that it's better to wait a little while before storming into a situation. As the old proverb says, Make haste slowly.

That can be very difficult to do, especially if you have just taken up the post of ICT leader in a school. You've seen some things which need addressing, and you want to make your mark. That's why Day 6 was concerned with identifying actions you could take that would gain some 'quick wins'. But more profound change, which becomes embedded in practice, takes longer.

So, Week 1 was concerned with gaining a few quick impressions of the state of educational technology in the school. In Week 2 we went a little deeper, looking for hard data and getting other people's opinions.

Next week we do more looking — at something which from my experience is not looked at often enough. Also, it's a time for action, where we look at things you can actually do in order to make the experience of educational technology better for the youngsters, your colleagues and yourself.

As they say in the media: Stay Tuned!

Friday
May072010

Amazing Web 2.0 Projects Book Update

A couple of days ago I posted a short article about this free book, and where you can find it. There is now another location. Thanks to Peter Twining and his colleagues at OU Vital, it's now available online in HTML format (though you have to register -- free -- on the Vital website to access it).

 

Peter informs me that people can link to individual sections of the book within the vital community by copying the link for the section in question from the menu that is visible on the left of each page when you are looking at the book.

e.g. http://www.vital.ac.uk/community/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=4286&section=8.10 links to the Global Penpals case study (if you are logged into the Vital Community).
It's quite a nice, easy to use interface, with an index of projects down the left-hand side, as you can see from this screenshot.
The Amazing HTML version
Friday
May072010

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 13: Arrange Visits

A task a day for 31 daysToday's suggestion is that you invite a teacher from another school to visit your school, and to try to arrange a visit to another school. Doug Woods suggested this back on Day 4 ('Get out and about') when he said:

I'd suggest walking around other schools to get a view of how they approach things. And also invite other teachers from other schools to visit yours and ask for their impressions.

There is no right and wrong about any of this, but the reason that I have deferred this until now is that I think you get more out of visits if you have done a lot of groundwork first, as I explain below.

Purpose of the visits

There are several good reasons to arrange such visits, for example:

  • To help you see your ed tech provision through the eyes of a disinterested third party (note that I said DISinterested, not UNinterested). People tend to see things they want to see, and to get used to the things that perhaps are not quite right. Someone from outside, with no axe to grind, can ask the awkward questions like, "But why do you do it like THAT?", and to share their own experience with you.
  • Visiting other schools can give you ideas. When I was involved in ICT inspections, on one or two occasions I suggested that the Head of e-Learning visit a few schools to see what was going on 'out there'. Without that injection of fresh ideas, it is really easy to become a bit stale.
  • If you're thinking of investing in a particular type of network, or software, a visit by and to someone who has already done so can be invaluable in helping you avoid some of their mistakes.
  • On a longer-term basis, it is often a good idea to forge 'vertical' links, ie with the schools that your pupils are coming from or going on to.

Who should you visit or invite?

If you're in the UK, it's easy to find schools worth a visit in your area. To find out which schools have been accredited with the ICT Mark, or even those which have committed themselves to going down that road, the Next Generation website is very good.

You can also go to the Becta ICT Mark site, but in my opinion that is not as good because it has only ICT Mark schools, not ones which have committed themselves to the Next Generation Charter (as it's called).

For a less 'official' list of schools, go to the SSAT's ICT Register — but bear in mind that schools nominate themselves as being worthy of inclusion on the Register.

You could also ask your Local Authority advisor (if there is one) or your School Improvement Officer.

You might also trawl through the Ofsted reports for schools in which ICT received a good mention, but as ICT is not always specifically mentioned the reports of good schools in that respect may be a few years old now.

Companies can also recommend schools. For example, an interactive whiteboard company will be able to recommend exemplar schools, ie ones which have done great things with that product. In a sense, that narrows the focus somewhat, but in my experience, and from the reading I've done and conversations I've had, doing great things as a whole school in one particular area is usually indicative of a much deeper and broader level of engagement with change management processes and that sort of thing. In other words, it would be highly unlikely, I think, to find a school that was working wonders in its use of interactive whiteboards throughout the school, but which was pretty awful in every other use of educational technology.

Also, if you attend conferences or training days, get chatting to people and, if feasible, contact them subsequently to arrange reciprocal visits.

It doesn't have to be another school. It could be a college or even a company. It all depends on what you're mainly hoping to gain from the exercise.

Getting the most out of visits

If you have invited someone to visit your school, I would suggest asking them to do what you did on Day 4, ie walk about and gain a general impression of what's going on. Unless, of course, you'd like their opinion on a particular thing the school has been doing.

When visiting other schools I think you gain much more from it by doing even a small amount of research. What was their last inspection report like (if you're in the UK)? Are they on the ICT Register, or have they achieved the ICT Mark? What does their website tell you.

For me, part of the research is being done whilst you're attending to your own affairs, which is why I am suggesting visits now rather than on Day 4. I think it's important to have have done some deep thinking first, so that you can ask relevant questions or look for particular aspects at the time: nothing is more frustrating than wishing you'd asked to look at a particular thing when it's too late.

Your task for today

So your task for today is not to visit a school, obviously, as you can't do that in 15 minutes, but to think about what you'd like to get out of a visit to another school, or from someone else visiting your schol. Then have a think about whom to approach.

If you lead a team of ICT teachers, put this topic on the agenda for your next team meeting. Perhaps your colleagues can suggest schools to visit or teachers to invite, and why. If they are nervous about the idea of having visitors, try to explore why. Why is it that they are not 100% confident in what the school is doing in that regard, and what can be done about it?

You can see that even if the discussion results in a decision to not invite others in, that in itself can provide a rich source of data about what needs to be addressed and prioritised as far as educational technology in your school is concerned.


Thursday
May062010

The Amazing Web 2.0 Projects Book

The Amazing Web 2.0 Projects Book

Amazing projects at an amazing price

This is an updated version of a news item published on 21st April 2010.

This fantastically useful and free book has now been downloaded 12,972 13,068 times, and that only tells part of the story. Others have made it available on their own websites, and I obviously cannot know how many downloads they've enjoyed. Also, some people have passed it on to many others.

Going by the poll I set up, the 40 people who have responded so far sent it out to an average of 77 people each, which if true of everyone would mean that over a million people have seen it so far. It's rather too small a sample to draw such conclusions though, and that mean figure hides a wide range. UNESCO, for example, has sent information about to to 5,000 people as well as placing a note about it on their website.

If you have downloaded and looked through the book, please complete the survey, which comprises three questions and involves hardly any typing!

If you like, you can access the contents of the book in three other ways, and even embed it on your own website. Firstly, there is a SlideShare  option.  The links are live, ie you can click on them and they work. Also, the subject-project  list near the beginning of the book now contains hyperlinks to the projects cited. You’ll see the embed code near the top right-hand side of the screen.

Secondly, I have created a Myebook version. To obtain the embed code, you will need to open the book and then click on the Info tab. The advantage of this over the SlideShare version is that it looks and sounds like a real book, and you can zoom in to read it more clearly. Also, you can grab parts of the screen and email it to a friend. Unfortunately, though, the links don’t work, simply because I don’t have time to create them all manually - I’m waiting for a forthcoming automated version of the book builder to do that for me!

Thirdly, there is now a Scribd version. This, too, can be embedded in a web page or blog post, and shared over social networks.

You can download it from the Free Stuff page on the ICT in Education website, where you will also be able to read a sample of the nice things people have been saying about it.

Wednesday
May052010

The Role of Technology in Campaigning

In the UK at the moment we're in the run-up to a General Election, so we're being assailed in all sorts of different ways by various political parties. Given that some syllabuses require students to design a campaign, I think it's interesting to consider the ways in which technology could be, and sometimes have been, used.

Here is my 'back-of-an-envelope' list of ideas.

  • Website, containing essential information about policies and contact details.
  • Blog, updated daily -- not necessarily about the party or the person, but about relevant issues.
  • Twitter account, so that people can follow the person's activities and thoughts. Less maintenance than a website or blog in some respects.
  • Facebook fan page.
  • YouTube video channel.
  • Flickr group of relevant or pertinent photos.
  • Daily or weekly podcast.
  • Radio channel.
  • Emailed newsletter.
  • Digital magazine (which could be part of website).

That's a tall order for a single person, but for a political party it should not be too much trouble at all. The list is based on four principles:

  • It should be easy for people to find out what they need to know about the party or Parliamentary candidate.
  • It should be easy for people to be updated frequently, by whichever means they prefer.
  • Potential supporters should be engaged, not just talked to or, even worse, talked at.
  • What probably matters is a decent marketing strategy, to catch so-called 'floating voters' -- the people who can be persuaded to vote for one party or another if the arguments and presentation are right.

So on the subject of marketing, what is it that each political party is trying to sell? When it comes down to it, probably a set of values rather than a set of policies. Therefore, rather than try to inform the floating voter of the finer points of its manifesto, perhaps each party would be better off trying to create a viral video instead, or create a geocaching-based game of some description. Or some really great t-shirt designs with matching mugs.

So this raises at least three questions:

First, a marketing/philosophical/political question I suppose, rather than a technological one: does it make sense to try to sell a political party and its policies in the same way as you might try to sell a rock band or a can of beans? Or am I being incredibly cynical and ridiculous?

Second, in terms of the technology, what have I left out?

Three, if you're one of the people teaching a syllabus which requires students to design a campaign, what sort of things have they come up with that use technology in interesting ways?

This is an expanded version of an article published today in the Computers in Classrooms newsletter.