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11 Essential Elements of a Digital Financial Literacy Course

There are sharks out thereFinancial literacy. Here is a great opportunity to address two pressing concerns at once: financial illiteracy amongst some youngsters, and one particular area of digital safety. Yet in trawling the internet and skim-reading a few documents, the only reference I could find to teaching young people about guarding themselves against financial predators on the internet , as opposed to sexual ones, was in an Australian paper published in 2003!

In my opinion, the usual sort of financial literacy 'curriculum' really fails to hit a few important spots. Yes, teaching kids how to manage their budget is obviously a good thing, but how is learning how to take out a bank loan useful for an 11 year-old? As far as I can tell, every financial literacy course includes this topic; that link is just an example.

I looked at the financial literacy page on the Teachernet website ,  and found that three of the links either don't work at all or lead you to a holding page -- and one of the defunct URLs belongs to an organisation that is supported by the Financial Services Authority. Hmm.

And looking at several examples of financial literacy syllabuses, how is learning how to set up and run a coffee shop/video rental shop/clothing store of any use or interest to an 11 year old?

I can speak with some authority here, as someone who, 15 years ago, was setting exercises and projects involving the setting up and running of video shops, record shops and tuck shops. (Do any of those things even exist now, as far as anyone under the age of 30 is concerned)? Admittedly, the team-working aspects of such activities are worthwhile, but even in those days I was of the opinion that the Young Enterprise scheme was far more useful, through being more relevant to what the youngsters themselves wanted to do.

Times have moved on, but the financial literacy syllabus hasn't. I used to teach Business Studies, in which I had to educate the kids about the differences between a loan and an overdraft, and between stocks and shares. I had serious doubts about the usefulness of it all, and still do -- except that at least now there is a chance to do some real buying and selling, on the web. Or, if that is a step too far, at least to deal with real, relevant and important financial issues which actually do, or could, affect the youngsters in your class right now.

So here are my 11 suggestions for inclusion on a digital financial literacy course:

  1. As a consumer (user) of stuff on the web, understand what is meant by copyright, licensing and attribution. Using someone else's stuff without permission, or failing to acknowledge use of it when it is allowed, is not only morally wrong but is potentially a criminal offence, and almost certainly grounds for civil action for damages. The fact that these scenarios are unlikely to materialise is irrelevant. We have a duty to teach kids how to keep themselves safe -- not only personally, but legally and financially too.
  2. As a producer (writer, artist or inventor), understand the difference between licensing your work, and giving it away. I've looked at websites in which the small print states that by uploading content to the website give ownership to the site's owner. I don't care how much potential income or exposure they are promising, it is never a good idea to give away ownership of your creations except in special circumstances with carefully worded agreements that both sides agree on.
  3. So licensing your work is OK, right? Well, not necessarily. Get that magnifying glass out again and take another look at the small print. If it says that by uploading your stuff you grant the site owner a licence -- forever -- to do what they like with it, you need to think about that pretty carefully.

    Some websites even go so far as to say that you give them the right to sell anything you upload, without even acknowledging you as the creator. So that's a double whammy: not only do you lose out on potential income, you lose out on potential further work too because people won't get to hear of you as being the creator.

    So you think I am making one huge fuss over nothing? I realise that I am showing both my age and evidence of my misspent youth here, but you only have to look at the Superman copyright story to realise the sense in what I'm saying.

  4. Who owns the copyright anyway? In the UK, if you create anything as part of your work, your employer owns the copyright. That means that you don't have the right to do anything with it, or allow a third party to do anything with it, without your employer's permission. You might be able to argue your way out of it after the event, but it will likely be a time-consuming, financially debilitating and career-limiting procedure.

    So who owns the intellectual property (IP) in stuff that a child creates? The answer isn't straightforward, as a perusal of this document will reveal (read especially the beginning, and the concluding paragraph). Irrelevant? Unlikely? I don't think so, if the young lady we spoke to in this video at Stephen Heppell's 2008 Be Very Afraid event is anyone to judge by.


    Copyright and IP is a minefield, so don't take my word for it as I'm not a legal expert. But that's precisely my point: we need to get it across to kids that this is a serious business, and that they shouldn't allow themselves to be exploited for financial gain. They need to look at the fine print, and get adults to look at it too. In fact, whenever I invite a young person to write for my website, I always ask them to make sure their parents and/or teacher is happy with the arrangement. I think that's good practice. And I don't ask contributors to give up any rights, only to allow me to publish their article in my newsletter and on my website.
  5. So how about writing for no return? Generally speaking, I think a good starting position is that of Dr Johnson:

    "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money."


    That puts me a bit of a difficult situation, in that I don't pay contributors. And it makes me look like a hypocrite because I contribute to other blogs for no financial return. The key thing is to look at each situation on its merits and to broaden Johnson's approach to the fundamental question:

    What will I get out of it?

    Writing for no financial return should be a conscious choice, not an imposed or assumed position. But I would argue that if you are going to write for no money, make sure you get something out of it, such as a plug for your website or blog.

  6. How can I sell stuff over the internet? If you sell digital goods, you need to find a service that will generate a temporary URL, ie one that expires after a couple of days and which can be used only once. Otherwise, how do you avoid someone simply sharing your download URL?
  7. So what can you do about someone sharing the product itself? And how could you even find out they were doing so? Now, you may believe that it's OK for people to pirate your stuff, but the issue here is one of choice. There are definitely potential benefits from giving stuff away, even if you're selling it (see, for example, The Pirate's Dilemma ; its author, Matt Mason, gave a compelling talk at the 2010 Games-Based Learning Conference). And it may ultimately even be futile to try to lock everything down. But a key element of digital financial literacy is knowing about the issues involved and being able to discuss them and make informed decisions about them.
  8. How do you buy and sell over the internet? Is Paypal a good service? How do you compare such services? How does eBay work? How do you try and prevent yourself being ripped off, either as a buyer or a seller?
  9. How do you recognise an internet/email scam? What are the emotional and financial consequences for their victims?

    As a subset of this, how can you avoid being the victim of identity theft? And what can you do about it if you are?
  10. Where do you stand as far as libel is concerned? In the UK, the libel law is such that you can wind up bankrupt even if you're telling the truth! It doesn't even matter if you publish stuff on a non-UK website: if there's a chance it can be read in the UK, someone can take you to court in the UK.

    What that means is that you have to be really  careful when reviewing a book or some other product or service if you decide that you don't think too highly of it. Again, it's a complex issue, and I'm no lawyer, but the point is that students need to know that not being a UK citizen won't necessarily protect them.

  11. How is personal reputation likely to impact future employment and earnings prospects? If you want to get young people to understand why it's not a great idea to post photos of themselves in various states of inebriation or other compromising situations, maybe the old adage 'Hit 'em where it hurts' -- ie their pockets -- would prove more efficacious than only talking about personal safety, especially as everyone under 25 thinks they're immortal. Obviously, continue to emphasise the personal safety aspects, but introduce the longer-term financial considerations as well. A two-pronged approach can often be effective, generally speaking.

I don't think this is necessarily a comprehensive list, but I think it's a good starting point. By addressing digital financial literacy, we would also be addressing key aspects of e-safety. The two things, far from being mutually exclusive, are highly complementary.

What do you think of these points? What have I left out? Feel free to leave a comment.


Making a Good Impression: Creating a Buzz

These days, doing a good job as an ICT or Technology Co- ordinator/Subject Leader is not enough. In order to get on in your career, you have to be seen to be doing a good job.

In this new series, Alison Skymes looks at ways of making a good impression. Today: generating a buzz.

Alison SkymesBefore I look at this, I just gotta tell you something that neatly follows on from what I was going on about last time. I ended my piece by saying you should use a spell-checker. Well, it's a pity that an IT consultancy company I came across didn't take my advice. Their "representative" (actually, some 20- something studenty-type) thrust a flier into my hand.

I read it because I had nothing better to do at that particular moment. So here's what greeted me:

"Benefit from Consultancy from the proffesionals."

Why does "Consultancy" start with a capital "C"? Why is "professionals" spelled incorrectly? Why is the word "from" used twice in the same sentence?

Those aren't the only errors, of spelling, grammar and sentence construction. Now, maybe I am looking at this the wrong way, but if these people can't even be bothered to take care over their own flier, can I really trust them to look after my IT systems? Doesn't exactly inspire you with confidence, does it?

OK, on to today's topic: creating a buzz. Here are 7 points you need to know:

1. Question: what's creating a buzz got to do with creating a good impression? Answer: plenty. Looking at it from your boss's point of view, she has spent gazillions on educational technology: the least you can do is get people excited about using it. Because, at the end of the day, that's the only thing that really counts anyway. If the technology is being used, and people are excited about using it, that will create a warm glow in the hearts of the powers that be. And that can only be a good thing, especially when it comes to dishing out the money.

2. In case you're still not convinced, take a leaf out of the politicians' book (yeah, yeah, I know). Basically, if you can't or won't actually do anything, then at least shout about it. Of course, this approach is fine for politicians for whom the long run doesn't exist. Ideally, you should have something behind the "spin". But my point is this: Woody Allen said that 80% of success is showing up. I say that 90% of the remaining 20% (is your head hurting yet?) is telling people about it, whatever "it" happens to be.

3. Make your space welcoming. Most computer labs look like something out of Stalag 17: full of notices telling you what you cannot do. How about some positive posters telling you what you can do -- and how to do it? Hey, and don't forget to include lots of examples of children's work: posters from the journals may be colourful, but they don't generate buy-in from the kids or their parents, and so they don't generate buzz.

4. Not if but when. If you say to a student "If you go on to take this subject at a higher level...", or "If you do well in this subject...", you're suggesting there's a possibility that the opposite will be the case. Be positive. Set your expectations high. People have a tendency to live up to, or down to, the teacher's expectations. Nobody ever created a buzz by making everyone else feel depressed.

5. Do some exciting work. It is possible to think outside the box and still meet all the National Curriculum requirements, or the equivalent standards in your country. Don't bore the pants off the kids: what have they ever done to you?

6. Put on exciting events. At open days or parents' evenings, have an automated rolling display, like a SlideShare or PowerPoint slide show, or a video containing interviews with the students saying how great the course is. Probably best not to bribe or threaten them though.

7. Above all, enjoy yourself. Enthusiasm begets enthusiasm. Be upbeat about what you do, and what the kids and your team are doing.

Tomorrow: If brevity be the soul of wit...



Be Very Afraid 2008

What's it all about?

On 27 October 2008 I attended my first ever "Be Very Afraid" event. Established by Stephen Heppell a few years ago, the idea of this occasion is, as I understand it, to give us teachers and educationalists a kick up the rear end -- in the nicest possible way, of course!

The premise, in a nutshell, is that kids can do, and are doing, fantastic things, and we ought to know about them. Well, that has always been my guiding principle, so the idea of the event appeals very much. So, did the reality live up to the promise?

I made several videos with children and young people at the event. Here they are; judge for yourself.

Before attending the event, I'd been under the impression that the focus would be on brilliant things the students were doing with educational technology. As it turned out, much of the students' ed tech skill set was pretty low level in my opinion. But the remarkable thing (which I don't regard as that remarkable, to be honest), was the extent to which the students were self-taught. Also, the uses to which they were putting their skills and the technology were noteworthy.

Articulate and enthusiastic

But the thing which stood out for me was how articulate and enthusiastic the young people were. You'll see this for yourself when you watch the videos. The eleven year old girl, for example. I was actually at that stand for close to an hour, and while she was explaining everything she had done, in minute detail, the ICT advisor from the area was chuckling away in the background, every so often giving me a look as if to say, "You;re going to be stuck here all afternoon!"

Or take the seven year old boys. They were dead tired, and their teacher had to do most of the talking, but even so they had a good stab at saying what they'd been doing.

And a thirteen year old girl from Juliette Heppell's class was so articulate that I asked Juliette if she worked in a very expensive private school. As it happens, her school is an ordinary school in an ordinary area in west London.

Why I enjoyed the event

I enjoyed the event for several reasons.

First, it was a great chance to talk directly with young people, all of whom were delightful.

Second, it's wonderful to meet kids -- and teachers -- who are excited about what they're doing, who have not been ground down by thoughts of league tables and the other 5,000 things that schools have to worry about these days. (Last year I did a back-of-an-envelope calculation and worked out that there were at least 40 ICT-related initiatives or sets of rules and regulations presented to schools over the last few years; I say "at least" because I stopped counting at 40.)

Third, it afforded an opportunity to meet up with people I know, although the chats I had with them were fairly brief because we all wanted to talk to the young people and their teachers.

One of the things that made the event successful was its laid-backness, if that makes sense, and you can see from the photo what a fantastic opportunity it was for professional development.


Anyway, grab a cup of tea and settle down to watch the videos. That will take you around half an hour, which I think you will conclude was well-spent.

The videos

Video 01: An 11 year-old girl talks about her project on The Vikings

Video 02: Two 15 year-old girls talks about their project on disability


Video 03: Two 13 year-old pupils talks about their international project on people aged 1 to 100

Video 04: Juliette Heppell describes her school's project and its benefits for the children

Video 05: A student describes how she intends using the IT skills gained in her textiles classes, along with her artistic ability, to make some money!

Video 06: Two boys describe their work with Google Earth

Video 07: Two 11 year old boys describe Praise Pod

Video 08: Two 7 year-old pupils talks about their work with Nintendo dogs

Video 09: More on the Nintendo dogs project, and its outcomes in terms of numeracy and business savviness!

Some photos from the day


Praise Pod (Video 07) : Pupils learn interviewing techniques, and can zap your interview to your phone.



Nintendo dogs (Video 08) : The children decorated these bags as part of their project work.



Artwork/design (Video 05) : Amazing artwork, which has the potential to earn money.



 The Vikings (Video 01). The children made the videos and slideshows, and uploaded them to the website. Could your pupils do that?

And now, a challenge...

Here's an idea for an in-service training activity for you and your colleagues.

Watch two or three of these videos and then discuss:

  1. What was it about the projects that got the pupils so enthusiastic? Are there any common factors?
  2. If you have identified a few common characteristics, how might you  try to reproduce them in your own situation?
  3. What steps can you take to enable your pupils to explain their projects as articulately as the pupils in the videos?


Thanks to:

Stephen Heppell and Lys Johnson, for organising the event.

Anna Rossvoll and her pupils

Juliette Heppell and her pupils

Ben Jeddia and his pupils

Vicky Dassoulas and her pupils

The Praise Pod pupils

The Art/Design student (To see more of her work, look out for her website, "To be continued", which will go live in due course.)

Northfleet Girls School

Lampton School

Anagh Coar School

Elrick Primary School


Kings Road Primary School

To read the Nintendo dogs blog, visit

Please note that I have deliberately divorced the school names from the videos, and omitted the children's names. We obtained permission to take video and photos from the teachers concerned.

Visit the BVA website.

This article was first published on 30th October 2008.




Making a Good Impression: Presenting Yourself

Alison SkymesIn the start of a new series, Alison Skymes looks at ways of making a good impression, starting with the 7 different facets of presenting yourself. The interesting thing for me is that they don't have much to do with ICT as such, they're fairly generic points. You might like to discuss them with your students.

Hi, and thanks to Terry for the opportunity to share with you a few of my thoughts on the subject. I'm assuming that you don't have a lot of time on your hands (who would, in these days of initiative overload?), so I will be brief and to the point.

  1. Let's start with generic stuff. You're a professional, right? Guys, that means no turning up in jeans. Gals, save the party top for the weekend. Sorry if this ain't politically correct, but you have a choice: self-expression or a career path. Your decision.

  2. Presentation isn't only about your clothes. When was the last time you had your hair seen to? If you look like a mess, don't expect anyone to regard you as leadership material, unless you're incredibly lucky.

  3. Presentation is about more than just your appearance. It covers communication too: emails need to be polite and carefully written -- and spell-checked. The signature should have your name, title and contact details, not some quasi-religious proverb you found in a fortune cookie. Your letters/memos/posters should be spell-checked too.

  4. On the subject of memos and so on, no hand-written notes, ideally. But even if you have to, write them on headed paper. You're an ed tech guru, right? It shouldn't be rocket science for you to design a template and print off a stack of blank memo sheets. It's all part of what the marketing pundits call "branding".

  5. How do you come across when you talk to your co-workers in the staffroom? Knowledgeable? Quietly confident? A geek? If people can't understand you, they won't promote you. If people think you're patronising them, they won't want you in a position of power and influence where you can make them look like an idiot.

  6. Same with manuals and help sheets, posters and all that sort of thing. First of all you got to produce them. Then you better make them readable. If the best you can do is something that reads like it was written by a geek for whom English is his third language, get someone else to write it for you. That's known as "outsourcing", by the way.

  7. Always, but always, have some pertinent facts at your fingertips. It's a lot easier than you might think.

Feel free to comment. But use a spell-checker before hitting the Send button!


5 Minute Tip: Starting A New Job

So you have landed that great ed tech-related job -- but getting it was the easy part. What do you do next, and how do you get off to the best start? Here are 10 useful tips.

1. The classic mistake made by many newcomers to a school is to go in like a bull in a china shop. Brimming with ideas, they launch themselves into their first meeting with suggestion after suggestion after suggestion -- only to be told: "Yes, we tried that".

The very first thing you have to do is research. Find out from the people who are already there what needs to be done. Walk around and make a note of what's going on. Then you'll be in a much better position to make changes.

2. Some of this groundwork can be undertaken before you start. Perhaps you can arrange to spend a day in the school with the person whose job you're taking over. Make sure you think carefully about the questions you want to ask before you get there.

3. Politics is a dirty word, but it's also a reality. Make sure you find out pretty quickly who has the ear of the Principal, and who doesn't. The bottom line is that if you want to get things done quickly, then to some extent you have to make sure you influence the right people.

4. Nobody likes a smart alec who is going to turn the place upside down straight away (see point #1). But people will be expecting you to do a little more than tread water. So look for small but significant changes you can make. In fact, subtle changes are often the most effective. For example, installing a new computer in the staffroom, or giving the existing one a spring clean so that it runs faster -- but without saying a word to anybody -- can be incredibly effective.

5. Develop a house style. We hear a lot about the paperless office but everybody knows it's a pipe dream. But if you have to use paper, make it distinctive. Why not run a competition for the kids to see who comes up with the best departmental logo, with a $25 book token as the prize? Then create a letterhead using the logo, and with your school contact details on, for use on all your communications. (If the school has a rule that letters have to be sent on official headed paper, then perhaps you could create compliments slips instead, and/or use your letterhead internally only, for notices and notes to your co-workers.)

6. Under-promise and over-deliver.

7. Adopt the highest standards of dress.

8. Create your elevator pitch: something you can say in 30 seconds that will encapsulate your aims and what you've achieved in the last two months.

9. Be open and amenable.

10. Be honest.

You'll notice that there's nothing here about technology. That's because I'm assuming you know your stuff. What I've done here is to list a few generic points that will stand you in good stead whatever the nature of the job itself.

Look out for a great series on making a good impression, by Alison Skymes. Also, a new series by yours truly, which will be announced in Computers in Classrooms, the free newsletter.



Book Review of How to Do Everything With Web 2.0 Mashups, By Mike Nardine

Book Review of How to Do Everything With Web 2.0 Mashups
By Mike Nardine

How To Do Everything With Web 2.0 Mashups By Jesse Feiler
McGraw Hill 2008

This book grows on you. I originally purchased it to find out something about mashups. I'd come across the term before and hadn't been satisfied with the explanations I'd found. This book at once did an admirable job of that; I'm satisfied I now know a mashup when I see one.

What put me off about the book was its almost mechanical approach. Written in terse, no-nonsense unemotional prose, it had none of the humorous dry quips I'd come to appreciate in other Internet-related books. It drove from point to point as if building a house rather than a concept. Liberal arts major that I am, I guess I'm uncomfortable with that. Of course it's possible others, more technically inclined than I, might enjoy the book precisely because of this approach.

The book's first chapter is titled "Welcome to the World of Mashups" and that's the last bit of gratuitous amicability you'll find. After that it's, bang! "Understanding the Mashup World;" and bang! "Use XML to Structure Data;" and bang! "Use JavaScript to Script the Mashup Page," and so forth until your head spins. I set the book aside.

I picked it up again a month or so later when I suddenly discovered that it had done an excellent job of acquainting me with the central mysteries of mashups. I finally recognized them for what they were when I came across them, and found the book had given me the ability to actually understand how they did what they were doing. I wasn't quite ready to start building my own mashups, but I did enjoy the feeling that I'd learned something interesting and wanted to learn more-I guess that might be even more important than the humor I found in some lesser books.

Instead of struggling against it I found myself appreciating the way the book broke mashups down into their component parts and put them back together. Anyone who has struggled with JavaScript, RSS, XML, Php and API's as separate unrelated entities will get a sudden flash of understanding from each seeing them now working as parts of a larger whole. Still, I wish the author put a bit more of himself into the prose.

Mike Nardine operates Mike sells domains and hosts websites at competitive rates. He reviews books at

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Why Schools Cannot Ignore Web 2.0: Educational Factors

#iCTLT2010 Last week we looked at the commercial drivers for change. But what of the educational drivers? What are youngsters doing that we ought to know about? 


I think I’ve probably already covered many of the educational drivers for change, in previous articles, but  just to summarise, I think it comes down to two things: the need to help youngsters  prepare for the future, and the need to give guidance to young people. I know a lot of people take the view that youngsters already know everything there is to know about technology, but even if that were true, which it isn’t, they would still need help on how to use the technology effectively and safely. As a 14 year old very tech-savvy girl said in a conference last year, she and her friends feel that they have been under-taught. You can find an interview with her about her views on this website.

There are also two other issues. Firstly, young people need guidance in order to help them keep safe on the web.

Secondly, it’s more and more the case that parents want to be, and have to be, involved in their children’s education, and to be kept informed of their progress ­– in real time if possible. Having Web 2.0 applications like blogs is obviously one way in which they could see what their children are doing, and having a wiki would make it possible for parents to easily contribute to discussions about the school. I visited a school recently in which parents said that the school website had made a huge difference to how involved they felt in what was going on in the school, and they wanted even more involvement by having access to the school portal in which homework was set and resources uploaded, and students and teachers discuss issues in subject forums.

Here are some statistics about youngsters’ use of the internet.

  • 73% of USA teens use social networks.
  • 12-17 year-olds in USA spend 1hr and 35 minutes texting.
  • UK teens in the 13-15 age group spend over 31 hours in an average week surfing the internet.
  • They use it for socialising; with people they already know (especially girls).
  • They use it for homework more than recreational activities like games.
  • They do a lot of multitasking.

I’ve carried out some of my own research online to find out more about how teenagers use Web 2.0, which are the points in blue. I found that teenagers belong to three general social networks, with MSN, Bebo, MySpace and Facebook being the most popular,  in that order. Their average age was 15. Half of them also belonged to at least one specialised social network, like YouTube. I know that we don’t tend to think of things like YouTube as a social network, but YouTube does have the kind of attributes that we associate with social networking, such as being able to follow people. It’s the same with MSN.

Now, surprisingly, the most popular use of the internet was to learn new things, followed by doing homework together with friends and then playing games, in that order. It’s possible that they were only saying what they thought the adults would like to hear, of course.

As for multitasking, that is no doubt true, because if you add up the amount of time they spend online with the amount they spend watching television and other activities, they are spending more hours than are available, because they spend over an hour and a half watching television and nearly an hour and a half playing games every day, as well as nearly one and a half hours a day on the internet. Incidentally, that figure comes out to around 10 hours a week surfing, which ties in with my own research which came out at 9 hours, and other research which suggested 12 hours online. The figure of 31 hours seems a bit excessive, and it is: the researchers  added up all the different activities.

What all this, along with the previous articles in this series, boils down to is the following:

We've looked at a lot of information and several factors from different angles, but I think we can probably summarise it all in half a dozen points:

  • ‘Levelling’.
  • Expectations.
  • Online conduct issues.
  • Awareness of issues such as privacy and non-delete.
  • Ability to share and collaborate.
  • Ability to respond quickly.

These are the elements which seem to me to be common to all of the areas we’ve looked at so far, or which arise from them. There is the idea of levelling, which goes hand-in-hand with people’s changing expectations. Then there are conduct issues, and these are bound up with concerns such as privacy and also the non-deletable nature of the web, that is, that once you’ve uploaded something you can’t get rid of it as a general rule.

There is also the need to be able to share and collaborate with people in distant locations (look out for an interview with Melendy Lovett, senior vice president of Texas Instruments and president of the company’s worldwide Education Technology business, in which she speaks about the charactersitics of the ideal TI recruit). I think what also comes out of this is the need and the ability to respond to situations and discussion points quickly. Again, I think this ties in with expectations too, because people these days expect to receive very fast responses to their communications.

If you're convinced of the usefulness of Web 2.0 in education, but are not sure where to start, you have a number of options, none of which are mutually exclusive:

  • Read the Web 2.0 For Rookies series to get an idea of what the terminology means, and for examples of great applications.
  • Read the Cool Tools for Ed Tech Leaders series to get an idea of what Web 2.0 (and other) applications are available for helping school leaders do their job.
  • Download and read The Amazing Web 2.0 Projects Book. It contains 87 classroom activities involving Web 2.0 applications + other resources, submitted by 94 contributors. Running at 121 pages, this free ebook has now been downloaded 10,995 times from this website in the three and a half weeks since it was published.



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?