Recommended reading

ReadingHere is a selection of online articles that I think worth reading – some of them are my own (he says modestly), but others are others’! They cover a wide range of topics, including the flipped classroom, Bring Your Own Technology, what happens in an internet minute, up and coming conferences and others.

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31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 20: Do Some Reading

In my opinion, reading is very important for helping you generate ideas and innovation. However, I do believe that to get the most out of a book or article you need to do what I call ‘active reading’.

A task a day for 31 daysThat means not simply reading an article in the way you might read a sweet wrapper or a billboard, but thinking about what you’re reading – even before you open the first page. There’s a good article on this website about efficient reading by Alison Skymes, and I should highly recommend that.

In this article I’m going to recommend some newsletters , blogs and Twitter accounts which should prove useful to you. Please bear in mind that the official UK ones from Becta (marked with a *) may be discontinued as part of, or a consequence of, the impending spending cuts.

Also, I haven’t recommended any books here. That’s not because I don’t read books – I do! But books come and go, and I tend to review them on their own, usually in Computers in Classrooms first. To find book reviews,  go to the tag ‘book review ’. You can also see a list of books I’d recommend on the books page. And, of course, there are my own books, which you can find listed here .

OK. With no further ado, here is my list of recommended reading.

Always make time for reading

Why subscribe to an independent newsletter?

  • They have an independent voice, ie independent of organisation’s interests, or commercial interests – but you need to check just to make sure this is the case.
  • They tend to contain a wide range of expertise, viewpoints and topics.
  • There’s a sense of community (sometimes).
  • They can be good for local news.
  • They can be good for national news.
  • They can be good for international news.

Subscribe to an independent newsletter!

Examples include:

  1. Computers in Classrooms  This is my own newsletter, so I would recommend it, wouldn’t I smile_tongue? But several thousand other people like it too, and they all have an interest in educational ICT. Although Computers in Classrooms contains news items, it is mainly a forum for exploring the possible implications of recent developments rather than simply the news of the developments. It also contains magazine-type articles, reviews, prize draws (sometimes) and other good stuff.
  2. Information Technology in Developing Countries I have to declare a bit of an interest here because I occasionally have articles published in this newsletter. I like it because it has articles about educational ICT issues in countries such as India and Africa, which tend not to be reported on very much by the main magazines, blogs and newsletters.
  3. From Now On This has some interesting discursive articles, and provides plenty of food for thought. I don’t like the website much because in my opinion it takes too long to drill down to the list of articles, but it’s worth the effort.
  4. Stephen Downes' Online Daily newsletter. Useful and eclectic round-up of half a dozen or so ed tech news items every weekday and sometimes at weekends as well. Downes can be acerbic or hilarious -- I find my point of view varies according to whether it's my turn to be at the receiving end of one of his withering comments! Downes scans hundreds of ed tech blogs and is good at seeing through the persiflage.
  5. Ed Tech Talk Newsletter This short newsletter gives out information about forthcoming online talks and discussions in, especially, Classroom 2.0 Live (which I mentioned in the article for Day 18, on joining a group).
  6. Technology & Learning News Useful for keeping up with an eclectic range of educational technology-related news.
  7. Technology & Learning Blogs Again, I must declare an interest, being one of the bloggers featured on this site. You’ll find a great variety of bloggers and blogs here, each blogger posting every two weeks on average. Much food for thought.
  8. Local newsletters can be very useful indeed, so if your Local Authority or School District published one, subscribe!

Subscribe to a blog or follow a Twitter account (or two)!

  1. Becta’s Emerging Technology  News * I have to declare an interest, as I proofread this before it goes live. It’s a great source of technical news with suggestions about the impact on education of technical developments. Neil Adam does a sterling job of finding and summarising complex technical issues, and often writes about advances months before they appear in the mainstream press.
  2. Next Generation Learning  * This will be useful to you if you’re looking for articles suitable for parents, ie without technical jargon and implicitly assumed knowledge.
  3. National blogs/updates, eg Department of Education and Learning & Teaching Scotland: these are useful, but cover all aspects of education, not just ICT.
  4. Local blogs, eg Havering ICT Blog, or even a local school’s blog
  5. Corporate blogs, eg Microsoft’s Schools blog
  6. Independent blogs, eg The ICT in Education blog smile_tongue , Andy Black, Doug Woods and Shelly Terrell. Note that these are just a few of the blogs I subscribe to.
  7. Tech  News blogs, eg TechCrunch and Gizmodo -- although I’d recommend Becta’s Technnology News over these (see above).
  8. Collections of useful information, eg Shelly Terrell’s Teachers Reboot Camp (again), Chris Smith’s Shambles and Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day.
  9. Leadership-oriented blogs, eg Miguel Guhlin’s Around the Corner, Scott McLeod’s Dangerously Irrelevant and Stephanie Sandifer’s Change Agency .
  10. Twitter in general
  11. Twitter lists, eg Danny Nicholson’s Techie Teachers list. (Uk-centric, mainly).  You’ll find more ed tech lists listed here.

I hope that’s enough reading for you! Remember, you don’t necessarily have to do it all yourself. If you lead or are part of a team, perhaps your colleagues could monitor particular newsletters or blogs, and report back briefly at the start of a team meeting.  In a nutshell, the suggestions in Delegate a Unit of Work applies to other aspects of leading ICT as well.

How to Randomize Your Blog Reading

OK, I know it's ridiculous, but I am currently subscribed to 829 blogs. That means if I checked one per day it would take nearly three years to get through them all. What I ought to do is go through them, and be absolutely ruthless about weeding out the ones I don't read as often as I should. Erm, that would be all of them then.

Or perhaps I should ditch the ones I don't like too much. But I often read blogs I don't like because they are useful sometimes.

So I've decided that the only answer to a ridiculous problem is a ridiculous solution: I have decided to experiment with randomizing my blog reading. Here's how it works, using Excel.

Setting up the random blog post generator

Extract from my blog list

  1. Open Excel and start a new workbook.
  2. Open your RSS feed reader.
  3. Export your subscriptions to what is called an OPML file. This option will be found somewhere in the menu system of your blog reader. In Google Reader, for example, you click on the link at the bottom of the screen called 'Manage your subscriptions', then to Import/Export.
  4. Next, open the OPML file in your web browser.
  5. Select all the text in the file.
  6. Paste it into the Excel file. You should find that each blog you subscribe to lands on a row all to itself.
  7. Get rid of any extraneous text at the top of the worksheet, ie any text which is clearly not an actual blog. Make sure that the first blog is in row 1 or, if you wish to be prim and proper and give your columns headings, row 2.
  8. Get rid of extraneous text at the beginning of each line, such as 'outline text'. Use the Find and Replace tool for this, replacing the offending text with nothing.
  9. Next, we need to assign a number to each blog. The easiest way to do so is by using the formula =row() in the column to the immediate right of your list of blogs. For example, in my spreadsheet the blogs are listed in column F, so I have placed the row formula in Column G. Don't worry about obliterating some of the text in the blog list: you can always widen the column just enough for you to be able to read the name of the blog. If you have started your list on row 2 rather than row 1, amend the formula to =row()-1. You only have to enter the formula in the very first row of data.
  10. Place the mouse pointer on the bottom right hand corner of the cell with the =row() formula in it, and double-click. This will copy the formula all the way down.
  11. Next, we need to place a random number generator somewhere near the top of the worksheet. The best formula to use is Randbetween: =randbetween(bottom,top). Thus in my case this has to be =randbetween(1,829).
  12. Save the spreadsheet with an impressive sounding name. I've saved mine as 'blogarizer'.

Using the random blog post generator

Putting this 'blogarizer' to work is simplicity itself.

  1. Just press F9, and a number will appear where the Randbetween function resides.
  2. Scroll down your blog list to find the blog to which that number has been assigned.
  3. Go to your RSS reader and go to that blog.

Some awkward questions

I'm about to start experimenting with this myself. If you decide to try it, let me know how you get on. Although this is an interesting approach to having too many blogs to read, a few questions spring to mind:

  • Does each number really have an equal chance of being generated? I have my doubts, but I think I will have to assume it does, unless someone proves to me otherwise.
  • Although each blog (we assume) has an equal chance of being chosen, is this actually a fair, in the sense of equitable, method of doing so? Would it not be more fair to weight the randomizer in some way, perhaps to reflect the fact that some people really contribute to the education community and therefore 'deserve' to have their blog posts read?
  • Is this actually a sensible way of approaching the problem? It means, in effect, that someone who writes about every aspect of his/her life, and only occasionally about educational technology, stands an equal chance of being read as someone who posts exclusively about educational technology -- and whose posts might therefore be deemed to be the more useful of the two.
  • Is it ethical? I mean, there are people whose blogs I follow because their posts never disappoint -- which is pretty good going if you think about it. Yet here am I saying, in effect, "Thanks a bunch for all the great work you are doing, but you have only a 1 in 829 chance of being read by me on any given day." Is that right?

I think it's interesting that although this approach may be fair in the purely mathematical sense, it could be grossly unfair in other ways.

So what's your opinion?