Saturday, February 26, 2005

I still haven't found what I'm looking for

Before I start this post proper, I hope you spotted that the title of this post is the title of a U2 song. I wanted to list U2 as one of my favourite bands, but for some reason Blogger wouldn't let me! Apparently band names have to be at least three characters long. The "workaround" is to add a dot at the end of their name which is why I love "U2." on Blogger but "U2" everywhere else!

What's the best way to find things on the Internet? I often tease my students by promising to tell them the answer to this question but when I tell them, they get annoyed at me. However to digress briefly before I tell you the best way to find things on the things on the Internet, have you come across the term "Web Rage"? A study suggests that after only 12 minutes of fruitless searching, most people give up in frustration. (7% give up after less than 3 munutes!) Another survey suggests that 70% of people have sworn at their computer and about a third admitted to hitting their computer out of sheer frustration! Clearly the chap in this video has had a bad 3 minutes with MSN Search.
Smiley face
So how do you avoid Web Rage? You need to know the best way to find things on the Internet. Now, I will tell you what the best way is... but you'll have to work a bit to see the answer. If you haven't changed my default colours, you should see what appears to be a gap in the text below. It is in fact the answer to the best way to find things on the things on the Internet but the text colour is the same as the background colour. To see the answer - highlight the gap and all will be revealed! The best way is... for somebody to tell you where it is! Disappointed? You shouldn't be, because it makes sense when you think about it.

The Internet is so vast, and changes so rapidly, that there is no way even the best search engine can keep up with what’s going on out there. What's the solution? Improved search technology is one possibility. An interesting possibility is search engines that make recommendations based on previous behaviour. Amazon does this to an extent with its "Other people who bought this…" recommendations. The search engine Teoma is also interesting with its Resources links. I also like which tailors the music it plays according to music you’ve already listened to as well as what people with similar tastes listen to. At the moment though, one possibility I am playing with is shared bookmark pages such as and furl. When these tools are paired with RSS feeds, they create interesting possibilities...

I've gone on too long again, so I'll say more about RSS another time, but I want to finish with a couple of questions to encourage feedback.

What is the best search tip you’ve ever been given?

Do you subscribe to an RSS feed that gives you great information about education and computing? If so, what is and why do you like it?

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

You got a friend.

...Well more accurately, I've got a friend. I have already mentioned David Warlick's blog (and it's listed in the Education blog links at the side of the page here) but his latest post gives me a mention! {Unfortunately he doesn't mention me by name, nor link back to my blog (scunner!) but... I take it all back the post has been edited and I get a name check and a link back! Thanks David} I am the "friend in Scotland" he mentions in his ANT Enough! post.

I emailed David to ask if it was OK to include his photograph in my blog. (He said, "Yes!") Within minutes of sending my email he had replied. I don't know how long I've been using the Internet, but the speed of response sometimes still gives me a wee thrill. (...I know, sad geek!)
Smiley face
Blog-->Podcasts-->ANT-->? It reminds me of my experiences as a teenager when I used to go hillwalking. Every time I thought I'd reached the top of the mountain, I raised my eyes and there was another peak above me. There's always a new technology to play with!

Ah well... further up and further in!

Saturday, February 19, 2005

A time to blog?

First of all, an apology for mangling a Bible verse to make a title for this entry. It is, of course, an allusion to Ecclesiastes chapter 3, which starts:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…
Ecclesiastes 3:1 (New International Version)

So why did I want to use this title for this blog entry? Well the worlds of education and of technology seem to have their seasons too - some ideas have their five minutes of fame before disappearing from view (anybody else remember OpenDoc?) while some catch on and grow beyond all expectations (look at how surprised the phone companies were when text messaging took off!).

In the world of Oor Wullie things are much simpler. The bools season is followed by conkers is followed by sledging and so on until he works his way back round to bools again. Unfortunately, in education, the only universal constant is change! It seems to me that every year when I go to SETT (and I’ve been going to SETT since before it was called SETT!) there is something else trying to claim its season under the sun. Two years ago it was tablet PCs, then it was Interactive Whiteboards and, at the most recent one, it was wireless handheld voting systems (like PRS or Quizdom) There is rarely the opportunity to wait for something to come around again so that you can have another go at it.

However, one such opportunity has recently come my way with the recent emergence of blogging’s season in the sun. David WarlickThere has been a sudden growth in the public awareness of blogs. Stories about blogs have been hitting the mainstream press with increasing regularity and traditional news media are setting up their own bloggs (for example the Guardian’s Newsblogg). This coincided with my discovery of David Warlick’s blog and my investigation of RSS (which I may feature in a future blog entry). I decided it was to re-investigate blogs and you are reading the results.

I created my first blog many years ago but didn’t know what to do with it. I started using it as an online bookmark resource where I’d publish “useful websites” along with a brief review. It seemed like too much pain for too little gain, so eventually it just died from neglect. However, I have been considering blogs and RSS anew and I wonder if it could be a useful tool for encouraging self-reflection. Many people find that the best way to learn something is to teach it to others because to teach others you have to be much more careful about organising and arranging your own understanding. Could blogs be used to help people order their thoughts about what they have learned? Could blogs foster the development of reflective learners? I don’t know yet, but I think I’d like to find out.

I speak at various training events and conferences about eLearning and one of the things I always bang on about is how important the C is in ICT. It stands for Communication and as an educator I find that much more interesting than the T of Technology. Clearly blogs provide a painless way for people to communicate on the World Wide Web. Learners can become creators of Internet information, not merely consumers.

At the moment I think it looks interesting. I’ll keep you posted about where that interest takes me.

Friday, February 18, 2005

I say, I say, I say! My blog has no nose...

My dog Archie
Archie Posted by Hello

I was trying to work out how to send pictures and play (there's that word again) with Hello. I think I've worked out how to do it and I hope the pictures stay on the Blogger site. This was a test. It is a picture of our dog Archie's nose. A proper Blog update will follow shortly.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Why build a blog?

My father tells a story but I'm still not sure what it was about or even if I've remembered it properly. The gist of the story is as follows.

It involved my father when he was perhaps about 20 and his father (my grandfather) visiting someone who had just acquired a tape recorder. Depending on what age you are, you may have to do a mental rewind at this stage. We are not talking dictaphone style mini tape recorder, or even a cassette recorder, but a big reel-to-reel tape recorder. They wanted to record something, but as is often the case in circumstances like this, no-one could think of anything to say... until my grandfather (a man not normally stuck for words) pulled an advertising flyer out of his pocket and read, "Why build a porch?" For some reason or other this became a family catch phrase and whenever it was felt to be appropriate, somebody might trot out, "Why build a porch?"

I don't know why this story stuck in the family sub-conscious and I suspect you are wondering why I have included it in the first post to my new blog - a blog which is supposed to be about Educational Computing. There are a few reasons, one is that it gave me the title for my first post: Why build a blog? Another is that it says something to me about how people approach new technology.

My grandfather and father had access to a very expensive piece of technology that was supposed to be used for serious business purposes. What were they doing with it? They were playing with it! I don't think that this is because I am descended from a long line of gadget geeks (although I suppose this is possible). It seems to me a more universal approach to new technology. The same kind of response can be seen in the play Death of a Salesman where Willy Loman's boss is playing with his new tape recorder - replaying recordings of his son rather than listening to Willy.

So what does this say about Educational Computing? Well, to me it says that we need to give people time to play with the wonderful bits of technology that are coming into schools. We need to give the teachers time to play before they use it with pupils. This is so they can become familiar with the capabilities of the technology, but perhaps more importantly, so they can learn to enjoy using it! Similarly, pupils need time to play. I think we often expect pupils to be able to run with new technology as soon as they have shown they can walk. It may be that pupils pick up the technical skills more quickly than their teachers, but they still need time to play, to explore, to discover or they will not get the best out of the technology and we will not get the best out of them.

Unfortunately, time is one of the most precious of commodities in schools today. It is probably easier to get £1500 to buy an interactive whiteboard than it is to get a couple of days free to play with the board once it is installed! What is my solution? Unfortunately, at the moment I do not have one ...other than to sit in my ivory tower and complain.
Sad face
However, to finish on a more positive note, the main reason I have set up this blog is so that I can play. I do not know if I'll keep it up. I do not know if anyone else will ever read it (but let me know if you do). But I do know that I want to play with blogs and see what they can do!