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Reflections on Handheld Learning: Authenticity vs Karaoke, and Magnificent Failure vs Benign Success

Malcolm McLaren

I was saddened to learn of Malcolm McLaren's untimely death due to cancer. I wrote the following article after the Handheld Learning Conference in 2009, and have republished it as my tribute to him.

#HHL09 Malcolm McLaren is not, perhaps, the first person that would spring to mind in the context of education. Yet, as one of the keynotes at the Handheld Learning Conference 2009 he had much to say that was highly relevant  - in an irrelevant sort of way.

Let me deal with that last comment first. I think that if there is one danger of conferences is that, if the organisers are not careful, the delegates end up in a kind of echo chamber in which all they are doing is, in effect, reinforcing what they all believe to be true anyway.

For me, this was no more apparent than in those sessions in which the presenter eulogised about the benefits of handheld devices.


I know.

That's why I came.

Go tell it to a bunch of people who haven't had the opportunity to think about it or find out about it yet!

What conferences need is at least one 'outsider' who does not know the rules and conventions, and who can therefore break them. Or, at least, challenge them. That's why a few years ago I booked a journalist called John Clare to speak at the Naace conference, a gathering of the sort of people who attended the Handheld Learning Conference. Clare, a sort of intellectual Luddite, had one or two people walk out of his lecture, and another person subsequently voicing the view that it's only a matter of time before Holocaust-deniers will be brought to the podium.

In other words, his talk was a huge success! It got people talking for days afterwards, and even grudgingly admitting that he might be right.

Thus it was that McLaren had people tweeting each other and anyone else who would listen, asking what the point of it all was. Well, I'll pull out a few key things he said, and give you my own take on it all. Whatever you may think, one cannot deny that the atmosphere in the room was electric. That was partly because, I think, it was pretty amazing to have such a cultural icon addressing us in person, despite his somewhat avuncular (or, in Steve Wheeler's phrase, affable grandfather) appearance. And also, possibly, because one dared not think what he might actually say.

McLaren described his schooling. To cut a long story short, by any usual measures he was an abject failure. However, McLaren believes that it is important to be a magnificent failure rather than a benign success.

Yet, in our modern society, that is hardly presented as an option. Rather, we live in a karaoke world in which we can revel in our own stupidity, in which we want instant success without working for it. We have lost (and this is my interpretation) the understanding of the truth behind the old show biz joke that it takes 20 years to achieve overnight success.

McLaren likes the idea of the flaneur, the observer who is at the centre of everything yet invisible to all. He spoke of the need to understand the artistic value of banality.

For me, McLaren put into words what I have been unable to, or at least not nearly so eloquently. For example, for a long time now I have been taking photos of 'boring' subjects. The way I see it, lots of people take photos of 'interesting' subjects; who is recording the boring everyday stuff? I also took a similar stance in an article about a video, in which I asked why everything has to be so interesting all the time. 

So what does all this have to do with handheld learning? The key, I think, can be found in his comment that by working on his creative side, it helped him get along with himself; it helped him to find out who he was.

That is a very profound, and very moving, statement. We have fantastic technology now, technology that can liberate us in all sorts of ways. For example, as I mentioned in a recent article, technology has had some profound effects on our lifestyle over the past few decades. But what a missed opportunity if none of this stuff leads to, or contributes to, inner liberation. Look at the Attainment Targets for ICT in the National Curriculum, and you'll see that the higher the level, the greater the emphasis (either explicitly or implicitly) on efficiency and evaluation and all those kind of left-brain activities.

Why is there not an attainment target which encourages creativity, even if it leads to a solution that doesn't work?

McLaren finished by saying that the romantic pursuit of learning has died. The technology we have should be used to rediscover the idea of the flaneur, and art for art's sake, not a career.

He warned: don't take information for granted just because it's free. Don't become so reliant on technology that you don't know how to read a map, or spot a lie. Technology is not a replacement for applied learning.

I'm not sure how long McLaren spoke for. I believe he overran his allotted time. I, for one, could have listened to him for much longer.

This article was first published on 8th October 2009.



Should Games Be Played in Secondary School ICT Lessons?

#gbl10 A colleague of mine, when asked by a primary school teacher how best to prepare her class for secondary school answered, without hesitation, "De-skill them." That was around 6 years ago.

Twelve years ago, asked to show a group of newly-qualified high school teachers examples of excellent practice in ICT, I arranged a visit to a local primary school.

Around the same time, a geography teacher showed me what he'd been doing with his year 9 students (14 year-olds) in the realm of data-handling.

"What do you think of that?", he beamed.

"I think it's brilliant.", I replied. "In fact, I thought it was brilliant when I saw it in a Year 4 class last week."

Not the best way to make friends and influence people, perhaps, but the point was well-made, and still holds true today: if you want to see innovative, exciting, engaging ICT, you're more likely to strike lucky if you visit a primary school than a secondary school.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not knocking the teachers. I think that in an environment that puts such a high premium on getting the grades, any teacher who tries something different, and therefore a little risky, is either supremely confident or somewhat unhinged. Possibly both.

So it's not surprising to hear Edith, the young lady who complained last year that she and her friends were being under-taught in ICT, bemoan the fact that games in her ICT lessons are an add-on, a reward at the end of term. Not only that, the games she showed are pretty one-dimensional to say the least.

Having said that, I do think there is a place for such games, as long as you take into account various factors. It comes down to appropriateness: if it helps the student learn in a challenging and engaging way, that's fine. But the teacher should still aim to raise the game (pardon the pun) as soon as possible. My yardstick is how much perspiring the student is doing: if they're too relaxed, not even breaking into a sweat, the activity is not challenging enough.

Before making way for Edith, I should like to observe a couple of things. Firstly, that despite Edith's deprecatory comments, the fact that she knows the terminology associated with spreadsheets presumably means that her teachers haven't done such a bad job after all.

Secondly, and Edith did mention this, games are useful for what students can learn from playing them. So if students can learn about modelling from a game, that's OK. If not, then a challenging project involving spreadsheet modelling is absolutely fine: contrary to what is sometimes said, spreadsheets are not inherently boring; they just look that way!

Enough! Listen to Edith.

There is a special games-based learning issue of the free newsletter, Computers in Classrooms, coming out in April. Some brilliant prizes plus fantastic articles! Sign up now!


Review of the Livescribe Pulse Smart Pen

Here are my thoughts about this amazing gizmo.

Derek Wenmoth's blog is here:

Livescribe's 4Gb Pulse Pen is described here:

The music is High Five, by George Wood, and is podsafe music.

I haven't mentioned the name of the handwriting recognition software because I'm trying it out for 30 days, and therefore cannot yet recommend it or not recommend it.

The video lasts for just over 7 minutes.


A Note About My Review of the Livescribe Pulse SmartPen

Whether it's age, or a momentary lack of focus because of a relative going into hospital, I made a really silly mistake in my recent review of this product, which is why I've taken the post down and made the video private. I will cut out the offending part as soon as possible, but this is the mistake I made:

I said you could use a different pen to the one supplied and still have your notes digitised. Well of course you can't: that happens when you plug the pen in!

Me: mortified at making an errorThis is highly embarassing for me as I always look into things thoroughly before writing about them. I did in this case as well, but clearly had a momentary lapse. Anyway, my apologies for the error, which will be expunged ASAP.


The video has been edited, and the review reposted. Enjoy!


More Shock Tactics: Making ICT More Exciting

P1030688.JPGIf you're in charge of teaching information and communications technology, what can you do in order to inject even more life into the subject? Here are 12 ideas to get you started. And when you've read these, you might like to look at Shock Tactics: 7 Ideas For Teaching With Technology.

  • Do the unexpected. For example, show how you can do modelling with a word processor.
  • Delegate the responsibility. Ask the teachers in your team to each take a unit of work and be responsible for creating a package for it: lesson plans, resources and in-service training for the rest of you.
  • Do a different unit. For example, if delegating responsibility for units already happens, don't do the same unit this year as you did last year.
  • Collaborate with other teachers (1). For example, ask a business studies teacher to come up with some ideas for teaching copyright protection. They're bound to have a different -- and therefore refreshing -- take on it.
  • Collaborate with other teachers (2). Put together an ad hoc team from a couple of subject areas, take a theme, and see where it leads you.
  • In one school I taught in, a group of us from the English, Economics, Geography and History departments put together a unit of work dealing with the origins of some common words in the English language. It was fascinating, and the students loved it. We all brought a different perspective to the topic, which served as a vehicle for teaching a whole range of things. The main thing we all had in common was that we all worked on crosswords in the lunch break!
  • Put the students to work. Ask them to devise a lesson package for some of the work. For example, ask them to produce 2 lessons on the effects of technology in society. The reward for them would be for it to contribute towards an accredited project, or be included in their e-portfolio.
  • Teach a different age group. If you usually teach 10 year olds, do a swap with a colleague and take their 14 year olds. Having to teach the subject to a different age group will force you to rethink your approach.
  • Use a different medium. If most of your resources are text-based, change the balance: can you find a few podcasts and video clips that could form the backbone of the unit instead?
  • Use a different approach. Instead of teaching unit 1, unit 2, unit 3 etc etc ad nauseum, try devising a really interesting scenario that can form the basis of a project spanning several units, and several weeks.
  • Give a different kind of assignment. For example, ask the students to work in teams to produce a game designed to teach people how to keep safe online.
  • Get out more. That's right: see what other schools are doing. It might give you some ideas.
  • Read more. Sometimes, for example, the school reports published by Ofsted, the English inspection body for education and related services, highlight good examples of using or teaching ICT. Read educational journals, both print and electronic. And, of course, continue to subscribe to Practical ICT in order to be able to read articles such as this one.

This article was first published on 25th September 2008 under the title Shock Tactics.

If you enjoyed reading this article, you may find my book useful:

Go On, Bore 'Em!: How to make ICT lessons excruciatingly dull. This looks at ten reasons that ICT lessons are often described by kids as 'boring', and what you can do about it.




Also on the web: 04/05/2010 (p.m.)

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

Hazardous Environments

I was working in Jersey last week, and came across this sign.

OK if you're a duck...I like to think of this as being a metaphor for any situation in which one is challenged. It may be a conference, or it may be a small gathering of friends or colleagues (I use the word 'or' in the Boolean sense). It may be a new assignment, or a new team to manage, or a new boss. It may be a new syllabus, or a new piece of software. It may be a new government initiative. Or it may be a failure to launch a new government initiative.

It seems to me that what keeps good educationalists interested, and therefore interesting, is continually venturing into 'hazardous areas'. Where old assumptions and current paradigms no longer work, and long-honed skills lack relevance.

Involvement in educational ICT has its own challenges. There is the obvious one, that of constantly having to learn about, and learn how to use, new applications. But there is a curricular and assessment challenge too, which is more subtle. As new developments make certain things easier to achieve, it becomes untenable to give credit for achieving them, from a skills point of view.

A good example of this is desktop publishing. My first desktop published page took me about an hour and a half to achieve, as I figured out what I had to do. Once 'wizards' and templates had been introduced, by Microsoft Publisher, the same task took little longer than it took to enter the text. What was once a highly-skilled operation suddenly became almost unskilled.

This is reflected in several national ICT curricula I have looked at: as the grade level rises, the skills required rise less quickly. In fact, I would argue that in the English National Curriculum for ICT, there are hardly any more skills to learn beyond Level 4. You can achieve Level 8 with not much more than a Level 4 skill set, in my opinion. Why? Because the further up the ladder you go, the more important become factors like feedback (and therefore iteration) and systematic (strategic) thinking.

In this context, talk of digital natives or cool tools is not especially helpful. The real issue is that one must be continually finding new challenges for youngsters. Challenges which:

  • Make use of their current technical skills but nudge them towards the next level;
  • Are relevant to them personally in some way;
  • Are problems to be solved;
  • Excite both them and their teachers;
  • Are not easy; ...
  • ... Yet are not so difficult as to make one want to give up;
  • Have many facets;
  • Encourage collaboration; ...
  • ... And friendly rivalry;
  • Cannot be assessed by a tick list.

I often hear people bemoan the fact that ICT lessons are boring, and then proceed to blame the National Curriculum. I think the National Curriculum is broad and flexible enough to cope with modern demands -- where people actually make them.

That to me is the real problem: that for all sorts of understandable reasons many teachers do not make real demands of their students. They provide them with intellectually safe, and therefore boring, environments.

They should be providing intellectually hazardous ones.


The Amazing Web 2.0 Projects Book: An Update On Downloads

This ebook has now been downloaded at least 10,056 times. Why the lack of precision? Because lots of people Over 10,000 downloads in less than 3 weeks! Woo hoo!have put it on their own websites or VLEs, and obviously I can't track the downloads from 3rd party sites. Also, some folk have linked directly to the file on my site -- in which case I still can't track the number of downloads. Much better to link to the download page, and let people click the link there.

In case you've missed it, the book contains details of 87 projects involving Web 2.0 applications in the classroom. It's methodical, inspirational, fun, moving (to quote Gerald Haigh) and free!

Go to the download page just mentioned to find out what others have said about the book and, erm, download it!

Here's the spec:

87 projects.
10 further resources.
52 applications.
94 contributors.
The benefits of using Web 2.0 applications.
The challenges of using Web 2.0 applications.
How the folk who ran these projects handled the issues...
... And what they recommend you do if you run them.
What were the learning outcomes?




Why Schools Cannot Ignore Web 2.0: Commercial Factors

#iCTLT2010 Last week I looked at the economic drivers for change. Turning now to commercial factors, I’ve called this set of factors ‘commercial’ rather than ‘economic’ because they concern financial matters.

Turning to the commercial drivers for change, one development in recent years has been the internal enterprise. What this means is that different parts of the organisation become cost centres in their own right, so instead of having to accept what someone else orders for them, let’s say in the way of IT equipment, they take charge of that themselves and also take responsibility for balancing their budget.

This is not Web 2.0 as such, but I think it’s another interesting example of the 'levelling process' I've alluded to before in this series, in which people are doing things themselves and for themselves rather than having someone else do it for them and to them.

I have to say that, having worked in such an environment, there is a danger that the individual units lose sight of the aims of the organisation as a whole. Therefore I think there does need to be quite strong guidelines and training in place.

I’ve already alluded to companies using Web 2.0 for marketing purposes, and again I think schools need to educate youngsters about this. For example, how do you know if a blogger is independent, as opposed to being paid to write something or promote a product? Guidelines about this have been proposed recently by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, but ultimately I think the only way you can really educate people in this sort of media literacy is by embracing it and discussing it. But in the context of drivers for change, the point is that people are becoming more and more used to Web 2.0 applications being used in the real world, and there’s a danger that schools will find themselves becoming seen as irrelevant from a young person’s point of view.

Lots of companies have realised the value of social networking and other Web 2.0 applications, but are wary of allowing their employees to spend time on Facebook and in other public-facing areas. So what they have done is construct their own internal versions of these applications, collectively known as Enterprise 2.0. 

The fact that some companies have invented an internal version of Web 2.0 applications, especially social networking and instant messaging, does not detract from the main message of this series: the Web 2.0 approach to problem-solving is here to stay. Schools ignore it at their peril.

Next week: Educational drivers for change.


Review of the Flip Video

Since the introduction of the Flip Pocket Video Recorder a couple of years ago, several variations on the theme have been put on the market, both by rivals and Flip themselves. I thought it might be interesting to read what I said about it, and what it might be used for, back in June 2008.

Big ambitions?Here's a classic case of buying a solution in the hope of finding a problem for it! I have often toyed with the idea of purchasing a video camera and taking it with me on my travels, but the effort and cost have always seemed to me to exceed the likely benefits.

However, the Flip Video, which arrived on the shelves in Britain only very recently, changes all that. True, there have been other, similar, devices here for some time. But none of them, in my opinion, matches the sleek good looks of the Flip.

Elaine and I have been putting it through its paces, and would like to share the results, and our thoughts, with you.

The Flip has a number of advantages over a traditional video camera, or a still camera that can shoot video. It has clearly been designed with the YouTube generation in mind, because the process of shooting, editing, saving and uploading a video is just so easy.

Let's put it this way: I have a firm principle that if you can't get something usable out of a device or an application within 5 minutes then it's too complicated. The Flip comes with a quick start guide that is, in effect, a sheet of card with instructions and illustrations on each side. I gave it a quick glance just in case it warned me of dire consequences if I set it up in the wrong order (it didn't) and to find out where the batteries went (I was trying to open the compartment with the on-off switch). Other than that, everything was straightforward, and within a very short time I had shot and edited a couple of videos and uploaded them to TeacherTube and YouTube. Spielberg: move aside!

I think this ease of use is important because it changes the rules. I may be a creative person, but if I want to quickly record my actions or your thoughts, I don't want to have to do a course in video editing first and I certainly don't want to risk losing or damaging a camera costing hundreds of pounds.

The editing facilities are limited, but that is just how I like them. There is an option to mix your videos using a sort of template and add a musical soundtrack, which is fun but irrelevant for my needs at present. More useful is the ability to use sliders to mark the start and ends of a video clip and snip it to exclude the bits you don't want. If you save the original video in its entirety you could, I suppose, carry out this process several times in order to create several useful short clips. However, if you're going to do that you would be better off using a proper video editing application. The “snipping” feature is really meant to be used only to get rid of the start and end bits which will not form part of the final product.

In trying it out, I wanted to see what the quality of sound and video would be like outdoors, or in noisy environments. It strikes me that the whole point of a device like this is to be able to slip it in your pocket or bag and use it as and when you like. In a school context, you'd want the children and young people to be able to work outside, such as in the playground, the street, or a science field trip without having to mess about in Audacity to sort the sound out once back in school.

I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised. For the most part, the sound in the clips here was fine – there was just a few minutes of an chat in a restaurant where the background clatter of crockery and cutlery made it difficult to hear Elaine. You have to get fairly close to the device, say about a foot, to ensure audibility.

Plus points

  • Easy to use: there is basically one big red button to press!
  • Very small and light
  • Comes with the software built in...
  • ... And installation is automatic
  • Sound and visual quality are very good, especially before saving for the web
  • Very easy to transfer videos from the device to a computer: use the pop-out arm to connect it via a USB port, and the software does the rest.
  • Basic editing is very easy...
  • ... As is uploading to YouTube or generating the code for embedding the video if it's uploaded to an unnamed web service such as TeacherTube.

Minus points

  • I find it hard to stop recording, for some reason. Elaine thinks it may be because my fingers are big. She has no such difficulty.
  • Storage capacity is 60 minutes. It would have been nice to have the option of reducing the quality or using an SD card to expand capacity.
  • Just slightly too expensive to make class sets of 10 or 15 a viable possibility.
  • Because everything is so automatic, it is not immediately obvious where the videos are being stored. It would be good to have a version which is geared for school network use.

Here are the results of our experimentation. Each of these lasts just a couple of minutes.

Return from a shopping trip

I wanted to see what the results would be like if I recorded in an urban environment. I sound puffed because I was lugging a huge amount of shopping with one arm.


Interview with me about articles and books

Interview with Elaine about uses for the Flip Video

Further uses for the Flip video

Here are some other possible educational uses we came up with:

  • Ask teachers, technicians and support staff to record brief commentaries explaining what their job entails. These could be stored as part of the school's Careers resources.
  • Ask pupils or staff to record a brief running commentary on a task they are carrying out.
  • Carry out quick interviews.
  • You could record interviews with people about an issue, and instruct different sets of pupils to use the “snipping” facility to edit them to reflect a particular point of view. This would be a good introduction to the concept of propaganda.
  • Record pupil presentations...
  • ... And use them for reflecting back to the pupil how they appear to an audience, for the purpose of improving their performance.
  • Ask pupils to create brief “bulletins” about the work they're doing, for parents to be able to view, and/or for their e-portfolio.
  • Ask pupils to record their thoughts on what is good about a piece of work they have done, and how it might be improved.
  • Pupils could use the snapshot facility for extracting a suitable still shot to illustrate an essay, blog post or e-portfolio entry.

You'll find some other interesting ideas here and here. And Mark Warner has written an interesting review here.

If you can think of any that haven't been mentioned (I'm sure there are lots), please leave a comment in order to expand our horizons in this area.

This is a slightly modified version of an article which was originally published on 27th June 2008.


The Secret of Success

We all strive to be successful in our chosen field. Go into any bookshop and you'll be confronted by hundreds of self-help books on the subject. But, as usual, Lucy Kellaway has brought her incisive and acerbic wit to bear on the problem. The result is that she has distilled the advice into three things:

  • You need to be lucky. (I agree, except that I believe in creating one's own luck too.)
  • You need to be ambitious.

But the most brilliant observation comes right at the end of her article, which is well-worth reading or listening to:

While I’ve been writing this I’ve thought of one more law of success: to be able to say something obvious and make people think you’ve said something wise.


But I think that a lot of 'wise' things are obvious. Consultants and advisers often come out with things which are not earth-shattering, but which the client has unable to see because they are too close to the situation.

In my opinion, the problem is not in other people thinking that an obvious statement you've made is wise, but in your thinking it's wise. That way hubris lies: a trait which really successful people don't have.




Too Overbearing By Half

There is a danger in overselling your services.

Being too overbearing simply does not work.

menu_and_clockI have recently stopped going to 'my' gym, and started going to an unfamiliar one instead. The small increase in travelling time and the extra cost in terms of parking are more than compensated for by the peace and quiet I enjoy as a result of switching.

So what's all this about, and how does it relate to educational technology?

Let me deal with the second question first, because I wish to keep your attention. Many subject leaders of ICT in schools (and sometimes Local Authorities and other organisations) have a remit to encourage colleagues to use educational technology as well. To do so, one has to tell people about, and demonstrate to people, the benefits. But there is a fine line between doing that, and being completely insensitive -- and thereby disrespectful -- to the other person.

Back to the gym. It's not the gym that's the problem, but the restaurant. If you order a cheese sandwich, you get a sort of roll call of every other type of sandwich you could have instead. A request for a coffee is answered by a list of all the health benefits of smoothies. Wondering aloud if you might try the fruit salad, you get a long-winded explanation of all the ingredients therein, why they are healthy and how the fruit was hand-picked from a local farm only hours earlier. You get what you want in the end, but not before having to waste time listening to someone you don't wish to listen to, and without feeling that you have to summon up reserves of assertiveness merely in order to enjoy the light refreshment of your choice. And in the shortest possible time.

Consequently, I have decided to vote with my feet.

Several conclusions can be drawn from this in the context of ICT:

Firstly, I can read. Therefore, I can read the menu. I don't need someone bending my ear about all the things I could have. Does your school have a menu of ICT services that colleagues could enjoy? If not, I think you should make that a priority: not only will it be informative to those colleagues who wish to be informed, it will save you from being an insufferable bore to those who don't.

Secondly, there's an implicit assumption that I am not well-informed enough to make a sensible choice by myself. At least, one could infer that. By the same token, to look at this in an educational technology context, if someone tells you they'd like to word-process their worksheets, do you respond by suggesting they may like to consider desktop publishing them instead? I did once, and was unable to understand the negative reaction I received. It's fairly safe to assume that someone who is intelligent and qualified enough to be a teacher is able to decide what they'd like to do with their own worksheets. And if you do harbour any doubts about that, you can always refer them to that menu I was talking about.

Thirdly and finally, I think it is generally acknowledged that there is nothing worse than an evangelist. As an ex-smoker, I suddenly lurch somewhere to the right of Attila The Hun when anyone inadvertently blows cigarette smoke in my face. Nobody is more tedious than the couple who have just discovered a new holiday resort and insist on showing you -- and describing in great detail -- every single one of the 400 photographs they took whilst on vacation.

Similarly, if you start to get the feeling that the staffroom starts to empty when you enter it, and bookings for equipment either dries up or starts to be done on teachers' behalf by trusted students, perhaps it's time to ask yourself if, perhaps, you've been coming on a little strong lately.

This article was first published on 23rd September 2009.


New to Web 2.0? Here is a Book Review of a Great Book For You -- by Mike Nardine

New to Web 2.0? Here is a Book Review of a Great Book For You
By Mike Nardine

Exploring Web 2.0:Second Generation Interactive Tools-Blogs, Podcasts, Wikis, Networking, Virtual Worlds, and More
By Ann Bell Katy
Crossing Press 2009 Copyright

Web 2.0? Whatever happened to Web 1.0? For that matter what's the difference? And even more to the point, who cares?

According to the author, Ann Bell, an Online Instructor and Course Developer For the University of Wisconsin-Stout, Web 1.0 faded away shortly after the Dot Com debacle at the beginning of the new millennium. Before that, she says, the information paradigm was "publish and browse;" the web was there to be read from, not interacted with. Today, in Web 2.0 data streams from every conceivable source are continually mixing and combining. As to who cares, knowledge, as they say, is power; any businessperson planning to make a living on the Web would be wise to pay heed to some of this stuff.

And this is a fine book for someone who wants to learn more about the Internet but doesn't want to get bogged down in the technical morass. Author Bell doesn't torment us estimating kilobytes or explaining domain name servers. Web 2.0, she says, depends on sharing among users, and she sets out to show us how we all can benefit from this collaboration. The chapter on RSS Feeds, for instance, gave the clearest explanation of what RSS is and how to use it of anything I've yet read on the subject. Information diced and sliced and delivered to your plate to suit your needs. She also gives us a list of valuable links to use in building our own RSS system.

For those of us that have always gone blazing by such nonsensical words as metadata and folksonomy, there is an interesting section explaining these terms and showing how they are important in Social Bookmarking, another system any businessperson who hopes to succeed on the net should be aware of. Are you on yet? Good, then you understand tagging. Of course there is still Podcasting, Vodcasting and ScreenCasts, Wikis, Mashups and Virtual Office applications to be discussed.

Virtual Office applications, or cloud computing as it is called by many, is a valuable addition to any business office. Free software and free storage that is well beyond the reach of your crashed hard drive. You don't know where to find this valuable stuff? No problem, Ms. Bell lists several of the better-known services: Google Docs, Microsoft Live Office and Zoho. (I tried Microsoft Live Office for the first time and found it overly complicated; I'm back to Google Docs.)

Some readers might find this book a bit on the light side. Ms Bell spends very little time on technical questions. Except for the section on RSS she tends to be more descriptive than helpful in using the various items she describes. But the book does serve as an excellent introduction to the new interactive resources of Web 2.0.

Mike Nardine operates Mike sells domains and hosts websites at competitive rates. Mike also writes book reviews at http://www.YourBookReview.Com.

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Let's Hear It For The Digital Pioneers

#gbl10 Here's a new game you can play next time you attend a conference: see how long it is before someone quotes Edison or Churchill on the meaning of success. Sooner or later someone is going to show a slide with

 "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."



"Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm."

Having visions?The Games-Based Learning Conference did not disappoint in this regard, with at least two of the speakers using these quotations to illustrate their talk.

But these quotes are not celebrating success, they are celebrating risk-taking. As a community we do not encourage risk-taking, because we do not celebrate it. We celebrate only success.

Want proof? Where are the ICT Risk-Taking Awards? Where is the Edublog Award for riskiest project undertaken? Exactly. We say we value risk-taking, but we don't live it. We should adopt the philosophy espoused in The Rocky Horror Show:

"Don't dream it; be it."

Last year, Leon Cych used the term 'Digital Pioneer' in the context of the usual sort of discussion involving digital natives and digital immigrants (another couple of expressions you might use in 'Conference Bingo'). There are those of us who are too old to be called digital natives, but are not exactly digital immigrants either. We're the people who hacked through the undergrowth of outmoded teaching methods to experiment with these new-fangled devices called 'desktop computers' and 'modems'. We were the digital pioneers of our generation.

There are digital pioneers in every generation. There are probably digital pioneers in every school. But they are acknowledged and recognised only when they have achieved success, however defined.

If we want to encourage progress, we have to find a way to encourage risk-taking. Not just in the purple haze of a conference setting, after which the keynoters ride off into the sunset to prepare for their next inspirational, feel-good, talk, but in the real world of exam grade, parental and Ofsted pressure.

When will a government agency step up to the plate and really encourage people to be digital pioneers?


Thinking About My Thinking About What Makes A Good Conference

#gbl10 I go to a lot of conferences, and get invited to attend even more, and sometimes get invited to speakCogitating on't at them. There is a fine line, I think, between attending the conferences you need to maintain your skill set and your employability, and becoming a sort of conference junkie.

And 'junkie' is a good word to use in this context because one of the effects of good conferences is that they induce a feeling of euphoria. You can tell this by what happens afterwards: there is almost nothing worse than the mild depression one starts to feel as one nears home, the train becoming less and less populated, and the remaining people looking tired, their ennui almost palpable, all brought to the fore by the post-adrenalin rush let-down.

The problem is, that feeling of euphoria can just as easily be brought on by conferences which, when all said and done, don't amount to a hill of beans, to use that wonderful quote from Casablanca. The fact is, although I added it as a follow-up to my original blog post on the subject of what makes a good conference, the issue of whether you can actually do anything practical as a result of attending is very important to me. You know, if all I want is a feeling of euphoria, there are all sorts of meetings I can go to, and come out feeling high, without spending a penny. But what would that achieve?

That's one of the reasons I thought about what makes a good conference: as well as attending several bad ones, I've also attended lots that make me feel good. The question is: is feeling 'good' enough?

Another reason is that I wanted to find a way of evaluating conferences that made comparison meaningful. I realise that not all conferences can be compared with others, because they are so different. But in economic terms, they are all goods competing for the same resources of time and money. From that point of view, I feel it my duty, both to myself and others, to start a record of how conferences fare against my criteria, in order to help me make choices in the future. (Although I acknowledge that Conference X next year will not be the same as Conference X this year; as Heraclitus said, you cannot jump into the same river twice.)

So yesterday I started the ball rolling by evaluating the Games-Based Learning 2010 Conference according to these criteria, and was quite surprised by the result. I really did enjoy the conference, but looking at the event in the cold light of those 14 points, I can see more clearly the not-so-great aspects of it.

I will need to think about this. Using those quasi-objective criteria forced me to think about the conference in a very detached way, as far as that's possible. As a result, the conference no longer shines quite so brightly to me. That will not deter me from attending next year's, or from recommending that others do so too. But it has made me think that in future conferences I shall be more 'robust' in my criticism of poor speakers, and more effusive in my praise of good ones, to take just one of the criteria. To some extent this year I allowed the 'euphoria' to blunt my edginess when it came to completing the evaluation form.

Yet at the same time, I wonder whether I am simply being too demanding. Does it even matter if some aspects of a conference 'suck', to borrow an American colloquialism? In these dark grey recessionary days, is not a glimpse of enlightenment to be welcomed, even if it is merely transitory?

I'd value your opinion on these matters, whether in the form of comments on this post using the facility here, or in Twitter or Facebook, or even by email.