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Wednesday
Jan132010

BETT Highlights #1: Technology and Reading

I thought I'd reflect on what, for me, were the highlights of the BETT show this year. By 'highlights', I mean things which I found inspiring or interesting. My first highlight concerns digital reading.

Sally McKeown, in her talk called Reading for Pleasure: The Technology and the Future of Literacy, mentioned the appalling statistics (from 2005) that 25% of the adult population in Britain reads litle or nothing. Of course, I don't know what they counted as 'reading': people seem to be reading text all the time, and presumably they read the TV pages to see what's on. Perhaps they also have subtitles on while they're watching TV. I know that's not exactly high literature, but we do need to define what we mean by 'reading' when having such discussions I think.

Indeed, Sally identified 5 different sorts of reading experiences being enjoyed by (young) people these days, these being

  • Distributed narrative, such as by email (which reminds me: I keep meaning to have a proper look at Daily Lit, which allows you to read a book in email messages or by RSS feed).
  • Wikis (eg Wikibooks)
  • Twitter fiction
  • Publishers' Microsites, and
  • Digital fiction

A forthcoming issue of Computers in Classrooms will focus on digital reading, so I hope to explore these topics further then. If you have any views or experience of these or any other aspects of digital reading issues, or ebook readers, please consider contributing to the newsletter.

Wednesday
Jan132010

All set for BETT

BETT looks to be a biggie this, its 26th, year.

Recommendations include:

  • Check out the Future Learning Spaces
  • Newcomers like Google
  • Product launches from the likes of Dell and Toshiba

The government has spent (I think) £5b since 1997 on educational ICT, and BETT is the largest educational technology event in the world, apparently. Last year 25% of visitors were from overseas.

Apparently the Home Access programme is going to be widened, so listen out for that.

Stephen Heppell: we're in the post-appropriation phase. But we can't appropriate any more: we can't reel in what the kids are doing, we have to go where they are!

Also, what kids' play is these days is engaging and seductive: using GPS for example,, so it should be worth checking out Prof Heppell's Google-sponsored Playful Learning.

Some welcome news: according to Ray Barker of BESA, Ministers from around the world are now recognising what we old hands have always known: it's not the technology, but the people, that makes the difference!

Great quotable statement from Heppell: we've been very lucky: we've been able to do 19th century teaching with a bit of 21st century gloss!

Content-driven sessions like the 3-night Teachmeet is the future of BETT, according to Richard Joslin of EMAP: it's almost like Web 2.0 in an offline format.

Tuesday
Jan122010

Web 2.0 For Rookies and Other Matters

I've had to put the 'Rookies' series on hold for a bit -- not because I've run out of things to write about, but because I've run out of time!

I've been working on my two presentations at BETT, and trying to earn a crust too!

For Web 2.0 enthusiasts, the second edition of the Web 2.0 Projects Book is now in its first proof-reading stage. Around 90 projects and resources, 40 applications, over 90 contributors and loads of URLs to explore. Attendees at my presentation on Saturday will be given a URL to download a preview edition which they can start to enjoy and use right away. You can find out more about this new free ebook  in the next issue of Computers in Classrooms -- which, as luck would have it, will be sent out to subscribers at 11:30 this morning, UK time. For more details about this free e-newsletter, look at the newsletter page on this website.

It also contains information about the Safer Internet Day as well as the full article about the BETT show: how to prepare for it, how to get the most out of it, how to follow up afterwards and other useful information. A lot of this will be useful for people going to any conference.

Monday
Jan112010

The Children, Schools and Families Bill

The Children, Schools and Families Bill was presented to Parliament on 19 November 2009, and made the headlines as a series of guarantees for pupils and parents.

On the face of it, that's not a bad thing, although it did receive some flack in the press for not promising anything new.

For leaders of ICT in schools there is, as far as I can see, one positive aspect of the Bill and one rather worrying one.

The positive one is that the Bill places Personal, Social and Health Education (PHSE) on a statutory footing and ensures that all young people receive at least one year of sex and relationship education.

"What's that got to do with me?", you may ask. Well, there is scope for encouraging your PHSE and Citizenship colleagues to explore the internet for resources and exciting activities. Indeed, in this newsletter there are two reviews, one primary and one secondary, of a recently-launched website called Your Justice, Your World.

As for the sex and relationships aspect, well I don't think we want to get involved in the sex part, but I think ICT leaders have much to offer the 'relationships' bit.

Firstly, discussion of issues such as cyberbullying and online etiquette is never wasted.

Secondly, acknowledging that most of us learn by doing, why not set up or join a Facebook-like community using the free facilities at http://ning.com? Students and teachers can contribute to forum discussions, upload videos and photos, and write blogs. It's definitely worth looking into, as some of the contributors to the forthcoming Web 2.0 Projects book will testify.

I started such a community a while ago: http://ictineducation.ning.com. However, I have to warn you that I haven't had the time to administer and nurture it, with the result that spammers keep getting in, and so I have closed it down for now. For this reason I suggest that if you do start your own, set it up such that applications for membership have to be approved, or make it by invitation only (which would make sense in a school setting).

If you would like to see a particularly vibrant community, involving students as well, head on over to Digiteens. Established by Julie Lindsay and Vicki Davis, the Digiteen project and Ning was created as part of their collection of flat classroom projects. The community is open to teachers but not students, unless they have taken part in a Flat Classrooms project. There's a forum for teachers only at http://flatclassrooms.ning.com/.

Back to the CSF Bill, and the worrying part for me is the fact that it creates new powers for local authorities and the Secretary of State to intervene to raise standards in schools, especially the latter part of that. I've heard Ed Balls, the Education Secretary, speak, and he seems genuinely passionate about education. But is it healthy for him to intervene in order to raise standards? How would 'standards' be judged? Would an experimental project involving, say, blogging, be deemed to be not raising standards fast enough, and so be knocked on the head? How far would issues like that depend on the political persuasion of the incumbent of the post?

There may not be much we can do about it on a macro level, but I think this is another reason that anyone engaging in a Web 2.0-type project with their students needs to ensure that they can demonstrate that they are achieving good outcomes according to traditional measures. You can read more about this in a series on the ICT in Education website about projects, including 15 Ways to Make An Educational Technology Project Successful. You can also listen to me talking about it on Classroom 2.0 Live.

This article was first published in Computers in Classrooms, the free e-newsletter. For details of how to subscribe and to look at past issues, please go to the newsletter page.



Friday
Jan082010

16 Tips For Getting The Best Out Of BETT

Here are 16 suggestions for getting the most out of the experience.

Wear shoes with cushioned soles: the floor is concrete and therefore very tiring to walk on for a whole day.

Put your phone on vibrate if you can: in my experience, you can't hear your phone ringing above the noise.

As soon as you have passed through the entrance, find somewhere to sit, and look through the bag you will have been given. Get rid of any unwanted paper, and then look to see if there are any last-minute exhibitor entries, in case there are one or two that you ought to visit. Then get your bearings.

Aim to visit the most important exhibitors on your list first, in case you get waylaid or get too tired to continue.

If you attend BETT on the Wednesday, ie on the first day of the show, it may be worth finding the Department for Children, Schools and Families ( DCSF) stand soon after the opening of the show. As a rule, the show is officially opened by a Government minister, who may announce new funding or a new development.The DCSF stand may have an area where you can listen to the announcement live (the hall in which the announcement is made is usually difficult to get into without an official invitation).

Do not collect loads of information: it weighs a ton after a while. That’s where your business cards come in: give them to exhibitors you are interested in, and ask them to send you stuff after the show.

Don’t collect loads of information on behalf of other teachers. I did that for years and as far as I know not one person did anything different as a result. In fact, it was probably counter-productive because it conveys the impression that you are just a glorified mailman.

If you get thirsty, look out for free water which may be provided by some stands.

When you strike up a conversation with someone, or meet up with colleagues, always ask: what have you see today that has excited you? And then follow up on their suggestions.

At some point in the day, forget your careful planning and wander around. You will be surprised at what you come across that hasn’t been listed in any brochure. For example, good prices on some items, new publications, and companies you have never heard of.

Head on over to the Times Education Supplement stand, to pick up a free copy of the periodical.

Pick up free copies of other educational technology magazines – but bear in mind that some are little more than collections of advertisements.

As well as the usual sorts of freebies like mugs and sets of pens, mouse mats and notepads, there are often more useful ones. For example, one year the QDCA was giving away miniature versions of the ICT Programme of Study, which you could keep on you for quick reference. Some stands may have useful documentation on data sticks.

If you are staying to the bitter end, and you have deposited a coat in the cloakroom, collect it about an hour before the end of the show, to avoid a long wait. That means around 5pm Wednesday to Friday, and 3pm on the Saturday.

The next two points are  especially relevant if you are attending for more than one day, or have team members attending on different days to yourself.

Find out what others thought about products and events seen at the show. Use the tag #BETT2010 in Twitter and  BETT2010 in Technorati and elsewhere. (Not sure what a tag is? See this article.)

Check the ICT in Education website for news and reviews about the show.

Friday
Jan082010

Driving Your ICT Vision: The Seminar

Believe it or not, there are a lot of parallels between ICT planning and driving. The journey can be long, so planning is necessary, but hazards seem to keep appearing that can really throw you off course. But notice that I didn’t use the phrase ‘unexpected hazards’. You don’t have to be a Nostradamus to make educated guesses about possible future scenarios, if you’re managing to keep yourself informed in the right kind of way.

Similarly, a key aspect of advanced driving is to anticipate hazards based on the information to hand, and avoid any trouble before it arises. Interestingly, the most commonly-used expression when a car accident occurs is ‘suddenly’:

I was driving along and all of a sudden this child ran in front of me out of nowhere.

As a matter of fact, things like this tend to happen less suddenly than you might think.

So, with this kind of thing in mind I successfully proposed a seminar at BETT called ‘Driving your ICT vision: what can advanced motoring techniques teach us about achieving our goals?’, which I (partially) described as follows:

The ideas covered include:

  • The limitations of target-based strategic planning.
  • What is the advanced motoring system?
  • Being prepared: how to spot hazards.
  • The system in more detail, with practical examples: using the principles of the System to address short, intermediate, and long-term goals.
  • Using the system flexibly.
  • The value of commentary.

 

Looking at that, you might wonder if it’s going to be some theoretical, but impractical, exposition of a pet theory. Not so. My intention is to absolutely whizz through the bit about SMART targets, spend slightly more time on describing what the advanced driving system is, but spend the greatest proportion of the time going through the phases of the ‘system’ and identifying some applications that could be used during each one.

I can see clearly now...I’ve identified 90 tools, organisations, and information sources, many of which are free, which I think will be of interest to the ICT leader. Actually, I’ve looked at and tried out several more, but these are the ones which I think are worth exploring. And within that lot, I’ll be pointing out the two or three in each section which I think are the best. I hope it will be especially useful to recently-appointed ICT leaders: you know, the ones who are starting to wonder what possessed them to ever take such a job in the first place!

I’m a bit nervous about doing the presentation, just in case someone complains that they didn’t learn enough about driving! Also, let’s be honest: any analogy can only be taken so far, and this is no exception. I don’t want to stretch it beyond credibility. Nevertheless, the motoring angle does give us some nice conceptual hooks on which to hang the various tools I’ll be recommending. I didn’t want to just come up with a ‘Top 50’ (or whatever) set of tools without providing a context for each. I think that Top 50 lists are fine, by the way; it’s just that I didn’t want to  create one.

As I doubt that I’ll be able to cover all of the tools in detail, or possibly even at all, I will be providing attendees with a URL from which they can download the entire list.

If this sounds interesting to you, you can book for the seminar on the BETT website. Perhaps I will see you there.

Friday
Jan082010

Web 2.0 For Rookies: Photo-Sharing

Let's face it: clip art is, generally speaking, boring. And the reason is not hard to fathom: if a popular program comes with clip art all ready to use with no extra payment needed, then people who are in a hurry are going to use it. The question is: should we not encourage children in schools to look beyond the standard fare?

The answer is a cautious "yes". Why cautious? Because one of the things we should be teaching children is that there's no point in reinventing wheels just for the sake of it. If a piece of clip art is just right for the purpose, then why not use it? The problem is, many teachers seem to go no further than telling kids where the clip art menu item is. In the words of the standard school report, they could do better.

One way is to create their own photographic clip art with a digital camera. Storage is no longer a problem if a class Flickr account is opened: it's free. What's more, there are thousands of photos on Flickr which have been uploaded by other users, many of which can be used free of charge under certain conditions. Most of these pictures are as unique as the people who took them.

(Incidentally, there are other photo-sharing applications on the web, but I've chosen to use Flickr. If access to Flickr is blocked in your school, you may still be able to enjoy an approximation to its functionality if your school or Local Authority has installed a Learning Platform/Virtual Learning Environment which allows photos to be uploaded and tagged. But unless your lucky it's likely to be a very poor approximation because of the many features that Flickr boasts.)

There is another outcome of going around taking photos: you start to notice things more. Here's an example: when I went around taking pictures according to a theme of "numbers", I noticed for the first time ever that London buses have *three* numbers: the licence plate or registration number, the bus number itself, of course, and also, inexplicably, another number displayed in the driver's windscreen.

That outing also made me start to notice that some shops advertise goods at 50% off while others advertise goods at half price. Does that make a difference to people's perceptions? I have no idea, but I do know that once I'd got going I started to notice numbers all over the place -- and I noticed even more numbers in some of the pictures when I looked at them afterwards on my computer screen.

What better way to fire up a young person's interest in numbers and in their environment?

One venture of mine was to take pictures of patterns in the street: it's astonishing what you notice once you really look. Some are very nice indeed. And there would have been even more of them had I remembered to charge up the camera battery and the spare battery before leaving home!

You can see all the photos I've referred to, and more, by going to www.flickr.com/photos/terryfreedman.

So where does Web 2.0 come into all this? There are 3 ways in which it does:

  • Uploading photos in this way paves the way for sharing. For example, if I see a photo of yours that I like, and which I think will fit perfectly with the theme of my story, I will be able to use it as long as the licence assigned to it allows me to do so. The licence terms are clearly stated by the side of the photo. If it says 'All rights reserved', I'm not allowed to use it. But if it says I can use it as long as I give an attribution to the owner, that's fine. Nancy White has provided a useful review of a couple of online applications to help find photos with what is called a Creative Commons licence. A nice side effect of all this, of course, is that it gets across the point that you can't just go around taking stuff you like from the internet: at the very least you have to give credit to the originator. If you don't, it's rude to say the least. And if you use an image for which you don't have permission at all, it's theft.
  • Sharing isn't the same as collaboration, which involves more interaction. There are several ways in which people can collaborate on Flickr, or with Flickr, using various options ranging from joining a Flickr group to annotating photos to manipulating them with a number of 3rd party tools. I intend to write about some of these but in the meantime you might like to check out The Great Flickr Tools Collection.
  • You can use the photos as a starting point for discussion or creative writing. For example, you could incorpoarte a picture into a mindmap, as I have done on my Big Freeze example (shown below as well), and take it from there.
  • Snapshot of The Big Freeze Mindmap

Before closing this article, a few words of caution about using Flickr, some of which apply generally.

  • It's good practice to tag photos, and discussing with children the most appropriate words and phrases to use is a worthwhile exercise. Part of the information & communication technology (ICT) curriculum in the UK is concerned with finding things out, so pupils need to know that the use of appropriate tags makes this process a whole lot easier.
  • You will need to exercise the same sort of attention to what pupils search for as you would for any internet search. Although I haven't found anything explicitly pornographic on Flickr, there are pictures with ample amounts of flesh on display. I'm not sure if they would be blocked by an ordinary filtering system.
  • Remember that people own the copyright in their pictures, so you can't use them without permission. Flickr makes available 6 different kinds of copyright licence and explains what each one means in terms of what people can do with the photos. It might not be a bad idea to put a summary of these on your classroom wall or on the school intranet or home page. Children should be encouraged to check to see what, if any, licence has been assigned to the photos they wish to use -- and to ask the owner's permission if none has been assigned (or ask you to do that for them, to prevent their identity being revealed). By the same token, you should decide what rights you're going to assign to th class photos you upload to Flickr -- what a great opportunity for a class discussion followed by a democratic decision!
  • You can't take pictures of people and post them on the web without their permission -- at least, that's the position in the UK. However, I understand from a talk I attended at a recent Society of Authors event that you don't have to worry if the people were not the subject of the photo, such as if you were taking pictures at a fottball match. But I'm not a legal expert, so if in doubt seek advice, or err on the side of caution (see the next point too). You will also, obviously, need to ensure that photos of children are not published without their parents' permission, and to make sure that the children cannot be identified individually: see the UK's Information Commissioner's advice on taking photographs in schools, or UNESCO's guidance for broadcasters. (Thanks to Neil Adam for disocvering the latter whilst researching an article for Becta's TechNews.
  • I'd also recommend going a step further and not taking photos that easily identify businesses or which feature car registration or other identifying details. Perhaps I'm being unduly cautious, but it seems to me that we should at least be encouraging pupils to consider the rights of other people. I for one would certainly not like my car or house details plastered all over the internet, and would feel pretty aggrieved if I discovered that someone had done so.

But notwithstanding those few caveats, digital photography is a great way of creating clip art, and for making the environment come alive and helping children to seen new things -- or new aspects of old things. And Flickr (and similar tools) help take it all a step further by encouraging and facilitating the cross-fertisliastion of ideas, and collaboration. That has to be a good thing!

STOP PRESS! I've created a group on Flickr called ICT in Education for the purpose of sharing photos to be used as a stimulus for discussion. Contact me if you'd like to join it. (I declined to make it completely open because I'm fed up with spammers getting everywhere!)

Thursday
Jan072010

Preparing For BETT: 13 Things To Do

Here are 13 things to do before you go to BETT.

Although I've written the following with BETT in mind, most of the points will apply to getting ready to go to any conference.

  • Register online at http://www.bettshow.com. Doing so will save you time because there are two entrances: one for ticket-holders and one for non-ticket-holders. The latter line moves much more slowly than the former.
  • While you’re on the site, pre-book seminar sessions (where you can). This will cost a bit of money, but will help you avoid disappointment.
  • If you are coming from abroad, go to the International Visitors section of the website in order to find out which exhibitors there are active in your own country, so you can follow up afterwards.
  • Also, try out the planning tool. It’s quite impressive: you tick a number of boxes to say which areas you are interested in, and then it gives you a PDF file containing a floor plan, a list of stands you should visit, and a list of seminars. The only thing is, it does not seem to list the stands in a very efficient order. Therefore…
  • … Plan the most efficient route around the show. The aim is to minimise the amount of unnecessary traipsing around you have to do.
  • Print (or buy) a set of business cards. These are essential for entering competitions and, more importantly, for having information sent to you after the show. Also, of course, for exchanging details with any new acquaintanceships you make at the show. You can create a simple business card in Word (or similar), and you can buy perforated business card printer paper at a very reasonable price.
  • Buy a small stapler. This is useful for stapling your business cards to various forms on stands, such as the ones they provide for entering competitions. For some reason, exhibitors never seem to have a stapler themselves. Completing the same contact information over and over again is tedious and time-consuming.
  • Prepare lists of questions to ask the suppliers of particular products, if you are looking to purchase something. Different members of your team may have different questions, as suggested earlier.
  • With your team, decide on who is going to do what (if others are going as well). It is a good idea to avoid the temptation to fill every waking moment. I have found that you need to allow for serendipity, especially as some exhibitors are not listed until the last minute. I have also found that every so often you need to find a place to have coffee, think about what you have seen, plan ahead, and get rid of any unwanted paper you may have acquired on your travels.
  • Organise cover lessons if necessary.
  • If technicians will be attending as well, try and select a day when the school’s computer facilities tend not to be in high demand, just in case something goes wrong.
  • Prepare a list of phone numbers that the school secretary or someone else can contact for help if something dreadful happens.
  • On the way to the show, buy a bottle of water, because show prices tend to be higher than outside. 

More tomorrow. Look at all the articles about BETT 2010.

Thursday
Jan072010

8 Reasons Not to Have a Blogroll

Lots of people have a blogroll -- a list of blogs which the blog or website owner reads -- on the front page of their blog or website. I happen to think it is a practice which sets a poor example to students whom we instruct to set up a website as part of an assignment.

Here are the reasons that I don't have one myself.

Reason 1: Marketing

I think from what may be called a marketing point of view, having a blogroll on the front page is rather silly. To my mind, it's the equivalent of a store displaying a list of other stores outside the main entrance! I know (before you contact me to tell me that I "don't get it") that one of the factors that makes blogging vibrant is the link journalism aspect, but I don't think that a blogroll is the right way to incorporate it. Certainly not on the front page, anyway.

Reason 2: Context

When I see a list of blogs on someone's website, I have no idea why I should be interested in them. This is especially so when the subject matter covered by a blog is not obvious from its name. Why would I wish to inflict the same kind of confusion on others?

Reason 3: Maintenance

Having a blogroll means having extra site maintenance to do. I follow hundreds of blogs, and every so often some of them move to a different server, or give up the ghost altogether, which results in the main URL leading to a page containing the new URL or, worse, an error page.

It's also conceivable that one or two URLs might end up pointing to a third party website that advertises porn or web hosting deals or other irrelevant rubbish. (It has been known to happen: a geography education website officially approved by an education agency in the UK was sold off, and the URL then led to a pornography site.)

I just don't have the time, or the inclination, to keep checking the links in order to avoid these kinds of problems.

Reason 4: Reputation

This is closely linked to reason number 3. Listing blogs is, of course, to recommend them. If they suddenly go off the rails in some way, or even simply post an article with which I am in strong disagreement, that could reflect back on me. I'd rather not take that chance.

Reason 5: Creating an impression

To my mind, one of the reasons for displaying a list of blogs he or she reads is, I suspect, a blogger's way of signalling how well-read he is. It is the equivalent of having rows and rows of books which one has never read, or just dipped into once or twice. If you really have read all these blogs, or do so on a regular basis, surely the best place to demonstrate that fact is within your own posts?

Reason 6: Being honest, and being seen to be so

This is very much tied in to reason number 5. I don't have the time to read all the blogs I follow on a regular basis. Would it not be dishonest, in some sense, to give the impression that I do?

My best effort involves dipping into my list of blogs two or three times a week, and skimming through a sample of them to see if any of the blog posts catch my eye.

Those people who list dozens or even scores of blogs in their blogroll -- do they really expect me to believe that they read all of them all the time? And if not, why bother to display them all in the first place?

Reason 7: Originality of thought

If someone lists dozens of blogs in their blogroll, and reads them all assiduously, doesn't that imply that they have little time left for some original thinking? One of the reasons I follow the people I do is that they don't just react all the time, but come up with stuff all on their own. Assuming that I'm not the only person who thinks like that, why would I wish to give the impression that I don't have an original thought in my head?

Reason 8: No hard feelings

Another reason I shy away from having a blogroll is that I'd be concerned about leaving people out. Silly, perhaps, but I sometimes feel slightly "miffed" when I notice that someone who I know reads my blog hasn't listed it in their blogroll. I shouldn't wish to upset someone else in a similar way!

The best way to link

The best place to link to other blogs, in my opinion, is from within a blog post. That addresses all the points listed here. It provides context, and therefore a more sensible reason to send the reader off to someone else's blog. To continue my store analogy, it's a bit like a particular department in a store recommending other stores that provide complimentary goods and services. That happens in the right place, and also at the right time -- after you have actually entered the store!

As for dead links, in my experience, blogs may change their URL, but quite often the location of the original post remains. But where that is not the case, or where the website gets taken over by a holding company or worse, the likelihood is that a reader will inform me when a link doesn't work, so I don't feel the need to be doing maintenance all the time.

And I think it's a more honest approach. I'm not saying I read hundreds of blogs all the time, just that I read a couple for that particular article.

Hopefully, that also gets across the point that I do have original thoughts too, that I don't merely rely on others to post something to which I can react.

And, of course, by referring to nobody as part of a list, I upset nobody -- or everybody!




Thursday
Jan072010

Web 2.0 For Rookies: Offline is Important Too

Spike Milligan, the British comedian, was once working in his study at home. All of a sudden the doorbell rang. His wife answered it. Standing there was a postman bearing a telegram that Mrs Milligan had to sign for. When she opened it, she saw that it had been sent by her husband. It read:

VERY THIRSTY STOP MAY I HAVE A CUP OF TEA PLEASE

My wife and I sometimes communicate like this, in an updated way.If I have been upstairs for a few hours, and she is downstairs, she will sometimes send me a message on Facebook to suggest we have supper in half an hour's time.

This cartoon seems to me to encapsulate the funny side of all this.

 

 

But there is a serious side too. Kahlil Gibran, in The Madman, describes a man who is standing on a beach with his back to the sea, listening to the sound of a seashell.

Gibran says:

He is the realist, who turns his back on the whole he cannot grasp, and busies himself with a fragment.

The beach at Aldburgh, Suffolk, England

I think sometimes we need to remind ourselves that actual physical experiences are important too:
There's a joy to be had in walking around the school playground looking for minibeasts to photograph, instead of just looking on Flickr.

There is pleasure and much 'hidden' learning to be had in visiting somewhere in real life, if you can, than looking at it on Google Earth, or experiencing it vicariously through someone else's eyes via a video stream or webcam.

And everyone I meet agrees that, whilst online communication is wonderful, nothing quite beats actually meeting people face to face.

And there's another consideration too. Many years ago, as a form tutor, I decided that I was going to play some classical music to my registration class each morning. Not because I thought that music was superior to their own, but because I didn't think they would even get to hear classical music in their everyday lives. They really enjoyed it.

In the same way, if it is true that youngsters today are always online in some fashion, especially as many parents are afraid to let their children play outside on their own, don't we owe it to them to provide a few quality offline experiences during the course of the week?

If this post has seemed very un-Web 2.0, don't worry: normal service will be resumed tomorrow!


Have you seen the other articles in the Web 2.0 for Rookies series? Feel free to comment, and to recommend them to your colleagues and students.

Thursday
Jan072010

Blogrolls, needles and haystacks -- a conundrum

Everyone knows that finding good information on the internet is like finding a needle in a haystack, right? In fact, it's worse than that because when you find a needle at least you know it's a needle, as opposed to something masquerading as a needle; you don't have to go looking for objective proof that it's a needle.

So why do so many "edubloggers" think that the concept of blogrolls, which are lists of blogs that subscribers to a blog subscribe to, and similar devices (such as, in effect, shared favorites) are so wonderful?

I can see the (superficial) attraction of having many more potential sources of information, but if finding good information is like finding a needle in a haystack, what is the point of increasing the size of the haystack?

You may have read this before; here's why.

Wednesday
Jan062010

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

Next week sees the annual, and ever-expanding, BETT Show in London. It has been going for more than 20 years, and shows no signs of being irrelevant in the near future.  So what exactly is BETT, and should you go?

The BETT Show 2009BETT is a huge exhibition, with seminars and presentations playing a supporting role. That is the theory, anyway. In practice, it would be very easy indeed to visit BETT and see almost nothing of the exhibition stands. All it requires is attendance at two or three seminars, a couple of snack breaks, and a meeting or two, and the time has gone. For that very reason, I tend to visit on at least two of the four days. It’s exhausting, but it’s the only way I can get to see things!

Unlike the case with a normal conference, especially one that is residential, people don’t so much visit one event, BETT, for several days, but several events, BETT, each lasting for one day. It therefore lacks the sense of cohesion of a conference, even a huge one such as the National Educational Computing Conference in the USA.

On the other hand, comparing these single days with other one-day events would also be misleading. A one day conference usually caters for a relatively small number of people (perhaps 100 or so at the most), and has a restricted number of alternative options – if any.

Is any of this relevant? I think it is, because if you have never been before the vastness of it could come as a shock. Planning is, I think, essential, even if it’s a fairly loose plan like “Morning: seminar; afternoon: exhibition”.  I’ll be covering that side of things tomorrow.

Furthermore, the nature of BETT does, as far as I am concerned, provide justification for asking for two or more days out of school (or wherever you happen to work).

Why attend?

There are at least 9 good reasons to attend, these being to:

  • See what’s new or coming soon;
  • See products demonstrated;
  • Attend training sessions, eg on how  use a particular aspect of a program;
  • Attend a seminar, eg on personalised learning, given by experts in their fields;
  • Arrange one-on-one meetings with (potential) suppliers;
  • Have opportunities for networking;
  • Pick up the latest Government or other official publications;
  • Pick up new ideas, using the overview of what’s on to help you decide what to visit. Incidentally, you may wish to check out the three ‘unconference’ events taking place from 6pm on the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. These are Tedx, Amplified and  Teachmeet respectively. The first two have been organised by ICT veteran Drew Buddie, whilst Teachmeet has been organised  by Tom Barrett. Ian Usher has written about these and other aspects of BETT so you might like to check that out (after you’ve finished reading this, of course :-p!)
  • Become (re-)energised and stimulated from the “buzz”.

Good reasons to attend: the ones to put to senior management

All of the reasons to attend given in so far are valid, but they are personal, in a sense. That is to say, it is not obvious from looking at the list how your school will benefit from your attendance at BETT. So here are 4 suggested arguments in your favour:

  • Best value. If you are considering major new purchases, such as Learning Platforms or interactive whiteboards, you really ought to look at all the options available.
  • Show prices. Exhibitors at BETT often have special show prices, which are lower than their usual rates. It may be worth attending the show to take advantage of such discounts.
  • Professional development. By attending seminars and talking to people on the stands, you will find out ways of improving what you do, which can only benefit the workplace.
  • News update. If you decide to attend on the first day, you will be first in line to hear whatever new initiative or (with luck) new funding the Education Secretary has up his sleeve, which will put you in a prime position to advise the school in a hot-off-the-press way. I hope to be publishing an article about his talk.

You can bolster your case by ensuring, as far as possible, that any potential inconvenience to others is minimised, eg by attending on a day or days when you have fewer teaching commitments, if possible.

One is a lonely number

If you work in an ICT team, there’s a good case for the school allowing others in your team to attend:

Other teachers. The more who go, the more scope you have for dividing BETT between you. For example, one could look at Learning Platforms, whilst another looks at software. Similarly, more seminars can be covered between you.

It may be better for the school if different people attended on different days. However, an advantage of everyone going on the same day is that people tend to talk on the way home about what they have learnt. In other words, they usually end up doing more work than they might otherwise have done – that should please the Headteacher or Principal!

Technicians and other support staff. If you are to have a shared vision for educational ICT in your school, it is essential for support staff to be included in professional development opportunities, especially BETT.

Take the earlier example, ie let’s assume that you are in the market for a Learning Platform. Technical staff can ask the sorts of questions that affect the underlying robustness of the hardware. For example, is it easy to create resources, is it easy to back them up? What about the transition from your current VLE (if you have one) to the new Learning Platform? Is it easy to give different people different levels of access?

Similarly, classroom assistants can ask the sort of practical questions that you may not think of. For example, is it easy to change the cartridges in this new printer – especially when there is a class full of kids milling around?

Senior teachers. Again, taking the example of looking for a new Learning Platform, they can ask questions which concern them, such as “How easy is it to get reports on individual students’ progress across a range of subjects?”

I hope you found this useful, because there's even more to come!

Tomorrow: Preparing for BETT. I’ll be sharing at least 13 ‘secrets’ about what to do even before you get to BETT.

Friday: Getting the Most Out of BETT. I’ll be suggesting at least 15 things to do while you’re at the show.

Monday: After the Show. Here you’ll find at least 7 ways to capitalise on your attendance.

Why do I keep saying ‘at least’? Because I might think of more!

To find all of these articles (and other relevant ones) once they've been published, use the BETT2010 tag on this website.

 

 



Wednesday
Jan062010

Web 2.0 For Rookies: Working Together

Web 2.0 is about nothing if it isn't about working with other people in some way. It doesn't matter what application we're talking about, working with other people is what it's designed to do. That, in fact, is what Web 2.0 is, hence my very pragmatic definition: Web 2.0 is as Web 2.0 does, as explained in the very first article in this series.

It's not just kids who work togetherNow, the reason I'm talking about 'working together' rather than 'collaborating' is that it seems to me that 'working together' is more encompassing. Why? Because there are so many ways in which people can work together.

They may indeed collaborate, for example in the development of a mindmap using a program like Bubbl.us or Mindmeister. Or they may contribute a note or a comment which, while possibly insightful, is not as involved, perhaps, as collaboration.

Perhaps this is splitting hairs, but I am thinking in particular of the sort of youngster I had in my Business and Information Technology class 20 odd years ago. Group work was the order of the day, but he preferred to chat with members of a neighbouring group about last night's soccer. Nevertheless, in a feat of multitasking not usually seen in males (sorry to sound sexist, but it's true), he was also able to follow the discussion in his group.

Thus, every so often he would look back over his shoulder and say, "Well how about a targetted advertising campaign?" or "An overdraft would be better." Invariably, the rest of the group would continue in this new direction, and he would go back to discussing the game.

The interesting thing here is that the rubric supplied by the Examinations Board (now called an Awarding Body) didn't have any provision for that sort of contribution, which meant that my colleagues and I spent ages debating whether he was really good at collaborating, or excruciatingly bad at it - because he wasn't really collaborating at all in the true sense of the term. Had there been a box for "Makes useful contributions" it would have been a non-issue: A for contribution, D minus for collaboration.
I'll deal with assessment issues in a separate article. The point I'm making here is that Web 2.0 facilitates working together in all its guises.

Now, if you think of Web 2.0 from this point of view, it makes life easier if you're not allowed to use Web 2.0 applications in your school, because there are alternatives to some applications. For example, some Learning Platforms and Virtual Learning Environments include a forum feature that takes the form of an area on which people can post 'stickies'. So, if you can't use Wallwisher you may have something like that instead. It will have a limitation in that nobody will be able to view it without logging in to the VLE, but for many schools that would be seen as an advantage anyway.

And at the risk of causing you to shudder, even a program like Word, or the OpenOffice version of it, has a review facility whereby people can make suggested changes and leave named comments. OK, it's not something you can use in real-time, and you can end up with the most terrible problems of version control if you're not careful, but if push comes to shove you can use it instead of a wiki or, say, Google Docs.

Now, I have to be honest with you and say that in my opinion non-Web 2.0 applications do not have the same level of excitement as proper Web 2.0 ones. They don't have the same breadth of collaborative features as a rule, and working in real-time, or near real-time, is exciting in itself. Most of all, though, is the tremendous buzz that everyone gets from working with someone thousands of miles away without having to email documents back and forth.

However, if you have been unable to convince the powers-that-be of the need for access to Web 2.0 applications, it is not the end of the world.

The important thing, I think, is not to think in terms of application but in terms of the activity and the learning. If your school has a VLE then it probably has a built-in word processor application designed for collaborative working, if what you'd like pupils to do is work on a story together. If you would like them to be able to upload and share photos, there's almost certainly a facility for that. I've already mentioned the post-it notes approach to discussion.

When pupils have completed their work, they may still be able to show it off to the world by uploading it to the server to enable it to be embedded in the school's blog or website, as described in the article about embedding.
Getting back to the idea of working together, what lies at the heart of it is a particular philosophy of education and an underlying theory of how people learn. If you think that the teacher is the expert, and people learn best by keeping quiet and taking notes, then Web 2.0 is not the approach for you. If you feel that everyone has or should have an equal voice, and that people learn best by discussing things and working together, a Web 2.0 suite of applications will be on your list of 'must-haves'.

In reality, these approaches are not mutually exclusive, but are dependent on circumstances. For example, if I am going abroad, I would like someone to tell me what sort of plug adapter I need. I don't want a discussion about it, or someone's opinion; I want an expert to say to me: you need X.

In an ideal situation, the teacher will have  access to a whole range of types of application and classroom repertoires.

And the knowledge and skills to use them effectively. 

Have you seen the other articles in the Web 2.0 for Rookies series? Feel free to comment, and to recommend them to your colleagues and students.

Wednesday
Jan062010

The Right Writing Style

My deskWhat is the 'correct' style for a blog post? When I first started blogging, I decided that my blog should be pretty serious. After all, one wants to be taken seriously, so it's logical that an article with a serious intent should be written in a serious manner.

But there are degrees of seriousness. If a blog post comes across as too didactic, it may prove useful, and may even be bookmarked for future reference. But it won't be enjoyed necessarily.On the other hand, some blogs go too far the other way in my opinion. Blog posts which use the occasional swear word may be funny, but you can't really share them professionally. I experienced something like this before blogs came on the scene. Back in 1998 I saw an hilarious diatribe against the internet by a British comedian called Ben Elton. I should have loved to have shown it at my next Ed Tech Co-ordinators' Day; unfortunately, the use of a swear word at a crucial point made it an untenable prospect.

One of the things I am growing weary of, when I read some blogs, is their underlying arrogance. In my opinion, blogs are meant to encourage conversation, but it's difficult to feel confident to start a conversation with someone whose tone already suggests that theirs is the only valid viewpoint. I have to say, it is almost exclusively men who have this trait in my experience.

In my own writings, I have become increasingly conversational in tone. I'm writing more and more often in a way that is closer to speaking than writing. I'm not sure if that is objectively good or bad, but it feels right for me.

And I think that is the crucial point. When it comes to blogs, which, after all, started their existence as personal web logs or journals, we need to find our own voice and our own style. Only if we enjoy the act of writing will others enjoy the act of reading it.

Surely that is the standpoint we must adopt in schools too? For example, should youngsters be asked to 'correct' their grammar or not to use text-speak in their blogs? Should they even be asked to correct their spelling?

If I were back in the classroom now, I think what I'd like to do is encourage my pupils to experiment in lots of different ways when writing their blogs. I try out different things myself, sometimes writing list-style articles, other times writing longer, more discursive pieces. Occasionally I even experiment with fiction writing. As far as I'm concerned, experimentation is fundamentally necessary, in the same way that exercise is necessary.

Let's make 2010 the year of trying out new ways to express ourselves in blogs! 

This is a slightly amended version of an article I posted at the Technology & Learning blog yesterday.

Tuesday
Jan052010

Web 2.0 For Rookies: Social Bookmarking

Have you ever signed up for one of those dating agencies? No, I haven't either, as it happens, but we know how they work. You fill out a form saying what your interests are, and what drives you nuts, and the agency tries to match you up with someone with similar predilections.

Social bookmarking can work in a similar sort of way -- but I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning.

You're probably aware that when you come across a website you like, and wish to return to, you don't have to write down its address. All you have to do is bookmark it, usually by pressing Ctrl D on a PC and Cmd D on a Mac: job done.

However, this approach has some limitations. Firstly, the bookmarks reside on one computer only. If that's not the one you're using when you want to return to the site, that's pretty inconvenient to say the least.

Secondly, if your computer gets stolen or trashed, your bookmarks are lost (unless you've had the foresight to back them up; I doubt many people do).

Those reasons are good enough in themselves for wanting to do things differently, say by saving your bookmarks online somehow. But there is also a third reason…

When you come across a site you like well enough to bookmark for future reference, that's great. But there's only one of you, and only so many hours in a day. Moreover, because you think the way you do, you're going to search for, or come across, or take notice of, particular websites but not others - meaning that you will probably miss some which could be just what you need. You've heard the saying, two heads are better than one. Well, social bookmarking is a good illustration of that principle. Here's how it works.

Let's say I come across a website I think is wonderful. Instead of (or as well as) bookmarking it on my own computer, I could use a social bookmarking website like StumbleUpon, Diigo or Delicious to save it there.

In order to help me find it again, and to help other people find it, I can put tags in the description box for the bookmark. (If you're not sure what tags are, see the article on tagging in this series.)

Example of a social bookmarkOnce I've bookmarked the site I've discovered, I can let other people know about it, in various ways. For example, people can subscribe to my bookmarks (and I theirs), and I can set up Delicious and Diigo to alert people in my Twitter network automatically. I could also, if I wanted to, embed my latest bookmark updates to my website through the use of the update's RSS feed. You can see why it's called social bookmarking.

But I can go even further, and here's where the dating analogy comes in. One thing I can do is click on the tag I've used to see what other people have found on the web and tagged using the same descriptor. And let's say I realise that one person in particular seems to consistently bookmark websites I will find useful. What I can do is hook up with that person by subscribing to their update feed, a possibility which I've already alluded to. OK, it's not as potentially romantic as dating, but I think you'll agree that the analogy works!

Another nice illustration of, if you will, the corollary of  following someone's bookmarking activity is to be found in this advertisement for British Telecom, made during the 1980s. If it were made today, and if it concerned websites rather than household appliances, Mrs Jones would be a person to subscribe to!

If you found this article useful, you may also like to read 10 Reasons to Use Diigo.

Have you seen the other articles in the Web 2.0 for Rookies series? Feel free to comment, and to recommend them to your colleagues and students.