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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.


Reflections on Games-Based Learning 2010

#gbl10 The word that popped into my mind at the end of the conference was 'inspiring'. That's good. There's a chance that when you've believed in and seen the efficacy of games for learning, for many years, that you can become harder and harder to please until you reach the point where nothing excites you. The technology is exciting, obviously, but more exciting than that is what people are doing with it.

Screenshot from Patient Rescue, a game for trainee doctorsI took the opportunity to look at so-called 'serious games', as I'm familiar with the school-based work that's going on, so my viewpoint will reflect that a certain extent.

How did the conference stack up against my 14 criteria for conferences ?

#1 Fresh air and daylight

Not much of that, I'm afraid. I spent most of the time in artificial light and in darkened rooms. At least the breaks were long enough to be able to nip out and get some oxygen. But this, of course, is more a reflection on the venue than the conference itself. The Brewery, where the event was held, is a very pleasant environment. Just no daylight in several rooms.

#2 Can we move now?

Some of the sessions did seem a little long, but the long breaks compensated for that I think. At least, I didn't feel that my blood had stopped circulating!

#3 Where are the kids?

There were 10 year-olds showing off their programming skills at the 2Simple stand, and at least one person I know brought his son along. However, as far as I can see there were no children physically in evidence as part of the programme. Fortunately, two or three speakers included video clips of youngsters playing and reflecting on games. I think that's important.

#4 Plenty of 'down' time

This was an excellent aspect of the conference. For example, the lunch break was so long that it was possible to go for a walk and still have time to eat lunch and talk to people. The terminology used was good as well: 'socialising' and 'reflecting'. At many conferences, there is a relentless torrent of 'stuff', and hardly any time for reflection. This was different.

#5 Good speakers, on good topics

No complaints about the topics, but some of the speakers could do with a few lessons in presentation. For example, why did two speakers assume the audience could read print and diagrams that had obviously been designed to be read on paper? Or were we expected to bring telescopes? And since when has it been acceptable for speakers to address the audience with not just one hand in their pocket, but both hands in their pockets? Is that how you speak to people you respect?

Fortunately, some speakers were excellent, in terms of both content and style of delivery, and all speakers had great content to share. I've come away with a lot of information to process, and a lot of information that will be useful in my work, which is what I'd hoped for. So overall, I'm pretty satisfied.

#6 Let the people speak

As well as plenty of time for networking there was usually time for questions after a talk. Also, the seating was 'wedding style' with gorups of tables so people could converse with each other. There were two ' unconference ' sessions, Mirandamod   (# mmgbl in Twitter) and Teachmeet . Unfortunately, they were both on at the same time, which I thought was a great pity.

#7 I wanna be connected

The wi-fi was excellent, and the Twitter stream great fun. There was a Twitter game too, which I didn't take part in, and the tag to be used was made clear (#gbl10).

#8 Who else is here?

It was nice to meet lots of people I know and quite a few I didn't. I was not able to find a delegate list, but in these days of data protection legalities perhaps conference organisers are reluctant to take chances. The Twitter stream is always a good way of finding out who else is around too!

#9 Decent accommodation

Well, I can't complain because I stayed at home and commuted each day. Someone I know stayed in a new hotel for half-price. There are always good deals around throughout the UK.

#10 Lots of choice

There were three main strands, and you could mix and match, on each of the two days. The only time I thought choice inappropriate was that between Mirandamod and Teachmeet , as I've already said.

#11 Post-conference information

Well, the Twitter stream is still going strong at the time of writing (#gbl10), and the conference website should have links to lots of videos of the talks next week.

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

Well, I suppose that if, as I did, you go to sessions on serious games you have to expect advertising. I have to say, though, that one or two talks felt like just one long TV advert. Happily, there was plenty of good content too, so perhaps we can regard the talks as ' advertorials '. I'm not complaining, just observing.

#13 No text please

There was a lot of printed material for the taking. I just wrote down their website addresses. There were CDs available on some stands too.

#14 Start and end on a high

Well, the conference got off to a good start with a nice video and thumping music; the talks were good too! The closing keynote, by Jesse Schell was superb. And it was great to have the prize draws afterwards, even if I didn't win anything! Graham Brown-Martin certainly knows how to organise a conference.

Over to you

I'd be interesting in learning how you found the conference, and the 'wow' moments for you. If you like, contribute a paragraph or two to a forthcoming newsletter, described in the next paragraph.

I'll be writing about the conference, or certain aspects of it, in greater depth in the special Games issues of the Computers in Classrooms newsletter , due out in April. It has a great line-up of contributors and lots of interesting information and reviews.


Pupil and Parent Guarantees, and ICT

#GBL10 The consultation about pupil and parent guarantees is under way. This consultation seeks views on the full text of the pupil and parent guarantees and whether the requirements for pupils, parents, schools and local authorities are clear and understandable, whether all the ‘musts' and ‘shoulds' detailed in the guarantees are correct and whether the responsibilities and entitlements for schools, pupils and parents are correctly balanced.

I've looked through the Pupil and Parent Guarantees document, and what strikes me is how minimalist are the requirements for ICT education. Yes, it's there, as an entitlement and an expectation, which is good. However, it's there in the context of a life skill (Functional Skill). What a pity that there seems to be no setting down of an expectation that ICT lessons should be exciting, and ICT education more than just the basics one needs to get by in life.

I suppose you could say the same thing about any subject. So I looked through the document, and nowhere is the mention of that all-important 'e' word: 'exciting'. Derek Robertson, at the Mirandamod at the Games-Based Learning Conference yesterday expressed it really well, albeit in a different context:

We should be making schools the kind of places where learners want to be.



Also on the web: 03/29/2010 (p.m.)

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

The Amazing Web 2.0 Projects Book

This is a quick update. As of around 6 am today this book had been downloaded nearly 9,000 times since being pubished 15 days ago. It's a great example of the power of viral marketing, because I've done very little directly to promote it. When I have more time I'll write about the process I used, because it may be useful if part of the curriculum you teach entails caampaigning of some description. 


Web 2.0 For Rookies: Scheduling

Scheduling is the act of writing something, and setting it to 'go live' at  some point in the future. Strictly speaking, it's not Web 2.0, and therefore should have no place in this series. However, it has an important part to play in a Web 2.0 universe, as we'll see.

A wise man once said that there is nothing new under the sun, and scheduling is a case in point. It has been around for a long time. Ever received emails from a member of your team sent around 5 am? If I were a more cynical person I'd suggest they had penned the email before leaving work for the day, and timed it to be sent early the next morning.

Putting such unworthy thoughts aside, can there ever be a legitimate use for a scheduling facility?

Staying with email for the moment, having an awareness of audience (which is one of the higher-order skills in ICT curricula, including the National Curriculum's ICT Programme of Study in England and Wales) should include knowing when one's emails are likely to be read. You could use this knowledge to minimise the chances of your carefully-crafted missives falling on deaf ears.

That, of course, raises another issue: do you or your students have any metrics about when the target audience for their project answers their emails? Why not?

This type of consideration comes into its own when sending out an emailed newsletter. When is the best day to send out your newsletter? When is the best time to send it? Now, if tracking the stats tells you that the best time to send out your newsletter is at 4 am on a Tuesday morning, or 2:30 pm on a Wednesday afternoon, that may well prove challenging because of sleep and work respectively. The solution is clear: prepare the newsletter at a more convenient time, but schedule it to be sent out at the more optimal time.

Let's turn to Twitter. A number of people have said that one way to amass lots of followers is to send out tweets throughout the day – and, presumably, night – in order to catch people in different time zones. The obvious flaw in that plan may be overcome by using a service like SocialOomph. That allows you, amongst other things, to send out tweets automatically at a time of your choosing.

I think the scope for sending out timely and relevant tweets using this approach is limited, but with a bit of thought you could use it to good effect, especially if you wanted to draw people's attention to an upcoming event, or recently-published book or website.

Another use for scheduling is to space out your published activity. For example, sometimes i will publish a blog post, which gets announced in Twitter automatically, and then a few minutes later discover a great-looking resource that I want to share with everybody. Rather than 'bombard people with another thing to read so soon after the first one, I'll often bookmark in Diigo. That will be posted on my blog and tweeted automatically later the next afternoon or morning.

Blogs, too, can be scheduled directly, if you have the right platform. One thing I really like about my new home for the ICT in Education blog is that this feature is provided. It means that if I know I am going to be away, or busy, I can write a few blog posts when I have the time to do so, and schedule them to come on-stream one at a time. How else could the most recent article about Web 2.0 have appeared on Friday afternoon, whilst I was making my way home from a school visit?

The facility is also useful for ensuring that posts which are part of a series can be available at the same time every day. For example, you may have noticed that articles in the'Web 2.0 For Rookies' series are almost always posted at 10 am UTC, whilst those in the 'Why Schools Cannot Ignore Web 2.0' series appear at 16:40.

Scheduling is also a great facility to have when you're 'on a roll'. I don't often suffer from  writer's block, but there are certainly times when I am more creative than others. So, during those times, if I can write half a dozen articles in one go, I'd be silly not to do so, and then set them up to go live on successive days.

So now you're probably wondering whether I wrote this article just now, or 'cheated' by writing it some time ago. In fact, I wrote it two days ago, whilst nursing a latté in a hospital restaurant. I figured the most appropriate time to write an article about scheduling was when I had the time, and to set it to auto-publish later.

Be honest: would you have expected anything else?

Over to you

I've suggested in this article a few ways in which I think the scheduling facility is a real boon. Can you think of any others?


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:



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.


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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.