Monday, September 26, 2005

SETTing Sons

Still working up to giving my thoughts and reflections on the SETT conference, but first I wanted to get some general comments out of the way. I'll start with some of the things I'm scunnered about.

Firstly I'm scunnered that I had to miss the whole of the first day because of teaching commitments. In particular I am scunnered that I missed Andy Carvin's session (although Andy has helpfully posted the presentation he used and a podcast of what he said). I'm scunnered I missed Alan November's video conference (I saw him at SETT a few years ago and thought he was extraordinarily inspirational). But the thing I am most scunnered about is that I missed the Masterclass dinner! (It was my own stupid fault, I had the dates wrong and thought I was going to the dinner on Thursday night. In a bizarre way, it was a double disappointment. I was annoyed I missed the dinner on Wednesday and I was annoyed that I wasn't going to get a dinner on Thursday! Does that make sense?)SETT Logo

So, what were the bits I enjoyed most? Some of the good points will undoubtedly come out in future posts, but here are some of my general impressions. I always think one of the best things about SETT is the free pens... No, sorry, I mean meeting people. :-)

Ewan McIntoshI particularly enjoyed meeting Ewan McIntosh this year. I even had time to have a coffee with him. I think I taught him when he was at Jordanhill but it is because of his blog (where helpfully posts this picture) that I really got to know him - and I do feel I know him. It's one of the things that I think is interesting about this blogging thing - it's about conversation, it's about social interaction - it's about people. It was especially fun to discover that his mum reads my blog - hello Mrs McIntosh. :-)

John JohnstonSpeaking of people, I saw John Johnston in the passing but didn't have a chance for a chat. He and Ewan did however get to meet and recognised each other from the pictures on their blogs. :-) John has already started posting his thoughts on SETT, including one on a round table discussion on podcasting with Ewan and Andy Carvin. Interestingly, he has had a couple of comments on this already. One from David Warlick who says how much he enjoyed SETT last year and that he's sorry he wasn't able to come this time. I really enjoyed David's session last year and he is partly responsible for getting me into blogging. I went to look for his website after his session, and found his blog, and found out about RSS, and found some other blogs by people I know, and... Anyway, as I said above, it's about community. David was at SETT last year and has obviously kept reading some Scottish blogs. Brilliant! It's a conversation. Another comment is from Andy himself. John makes a post about a session and one of the people involved in the session joins in the conversation. I'll say it again... Brilliant!

Finally for this post. I came across a few more Scottish educational blogs. Firstly, searching for Scottish Learning Festival on Technorati turned up an SQA blog! It looks more like a newsletter than a blog, but I'll stick with it a bit longer to see how it goes. For instance, I have already discovered the SQA are working with somebody at the University of Strathclyde about an e-mentoring qualification. I worked on a full Diploma course in this sort of area a few years ago, but it sort of fizzled out and the other people involved moved on to other things. I'll need to try and track this University person down and see if it is too late to get involved. The other blogs I discovered through Ollie Bray. I went to a session he co-presented and he mentioned he had a blog. There are in fact a few at the Exc-el site (an East Lothian site?). Unfortunately (unless I'm missing something obvious) there is no way to leave comments. Is it still a blog if you can't leave comments?

Finally a special prize is available to the first person to explain the origin of title of this post. :-)

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It's official: I hate blogger. :-)

I have just spent much longer than I should have putting to gether a blog entry on this holiday Monday. Three times now as I have hit the Save as Draft button, Blogger has chosen to ask me to log in (again) and lost everything I had just typed instead of doing what it says on the tin! I am not pleased and their technichal help people are about to get an email from an upset user.

If I eventually calm down enough, I'll have another go. :-(

Saturday, September 24, 2005

From keynote to e-note

I took this picture at SETT while waiting for a keynote address to begin.

This was going to be one of a number of postings from SETT via my mobile, but the best laid plans of mice and mobloggers...

I had three main problems.

Firstly I forgot to check the battery of my phone. All I managed was the photo you see above, the start of a text message to go with it... and then the battery died. So no other photos from SETT from me. :-(

Secondly, I thought I knew how to send to Blogger, but I had only ever sent to Flickr before (see what I sent - minus text). I thought I could send an MMS to Blogger, but it just got lost in the ether. On reading the help pages, it seems that Blogger only takes MMS from certain phone networks and mine isn't one of them. Scunner! However, I managed to send it from my phone as an email, but couldn't face re-entering the text (see problem three below). The other problem was that to get this entry displayed I had to access an email reply from Blogger. I forgot that I had linked my phone email to my home email account and ended up waiting ages while 27 messages were downloaded to my phone!

Thirdly, I boasted in a previous posting that I wasn't a digital native, but that I had dual citizenship. However, when it comes to SMS, I am a very slow one thumbed texter! Entering anything longer than a line is painful. I initially persevered, but when the MMS version failed to work, I could only face entering the one sentence version you see at the top of this post.

So, I reproduce below the line, the full message I originally entered.

I took this picture while waiting for a keynote address at SETT to begin. Guy Claxton was about to speak on Educating Powerful Learners. We were in the Clyde Auditorium and the last time I was there was to see B B King. The hall was just as full then, but this time I had a better seat! :-) Looking around I was surprised to discover a distinct lack of technology in the audience - everyone I could see was note taking with paper and pen. I decided therefore to take a picture of my old Palm and its new flexible keyboard. I like my Palm and the graffiti handwriting system works well, but it's hard to use for extended note taking. My accuracy definitely drops off after a few a few minutes writing. This conference is my first real test of the keyboard. If it goes well you'll see some Palm produced notes appearing in my blog over the next few days.

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Friday, September 23, 2005

Wha's like us?

I know I said I was going to post something on SETT next, but I couldn't resist adding this comment on the BBC news story I mentioned in my last post. The story was about exam boards in England, but it included a quote from a spokesman for the Scottish Qualification Authority:
A spokesman for the Scottish Qualifications Authority said it had no figures because it did not have a problem with cheating.

Candidates were given very specific instructions about what was not acceptable.

"That's something we nipped in the bud a long time ago," he said.
Well that's all right then. Proof, as if further proof was necessary, of the superiority of the Scottish education system.
Smiley face
As we also say in Scotland (proving that a double positive can be negative)...

Aye. Right!

Smiley face

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Thursday, September 22, 2005

I'm only happy when it rains

I've been meaning to post something on David Warlick's post Our Schools are Leaking for ages, but I was surprised to discover he made the post almost a month ago! He talks about how children don't even think about using technology. They don't even necessarily think about it as anything special - it's just there. It has always been there. It's there, you use it, it's just there!

I don't think I'm a digital native, but I like to think I have dual citizenship. Recently I discovered how little I think about the technology I carry when I flew from Glasgow to Stornoway. When I went through the metal detector, it beeped. Oops - I had forgotten about my mobile phone. It went on the X-Ray machine, but still I beeped. Oh - my Palm PDA. The security people obviously thought I was at it, so I was taken aside and frisked. It seemed that every time they touched a pocket, I pulled out another bit of electronic gubbins. A USB memory stick, a battery for my digital camera, an mp3 player, ... I have never been so thoroughly frisked in my life! (Look up Stornoway on Google Map if you have to - it's not exactly an obvious terrorist target!) I don't fly very often and I just hadn't thought about all the stuff I had in my pockets... it's just there, I use it!

I read with interest therefore a BBC report Exams ban for mobile phone users. The report says almost 300 students were "... disqualified from exams in England last summer for malpractice involving mobile phones." The report clearly suggests that all these mobile users were up to no good and seems to only grudgingly admit that they may have "inadvertently taken handsets into the exam hall." Of course some would have been trying to cheat - students have always tried that - but I suspect there were many who just took their phones in without thinking. It is always in their pocket or bag, why should this day be any different?

As David says:
Through their mobile phones, wireless handhelds, mobile game systems, their laptops, and a simple, yet pervasive sense of a broader world that ignores time and distance, our children's attention is leaking out of our classrooms, our textbooks, and our state and national standards.

The question that looms overhead is...

Do we continue to container our children, amputating their intellectual appendages during "learning" time?


Do we try to integrate learning into the flow of their attentions, taking advantage of the new porous nature their lives, using their appendages to connect children to the world that we are teaching them about?

The title of the post comes from a song by Garbage. If our schools are leaking, should we ban the technology that causes the leaks or should our attitude more like the lyrics in the song?
I'm only happy when it rains
I'’m only happy when it'’s complicated
And though I know you can'’t appreciate it
I'm only happy when it rains

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P.S. I wanted to get this out the way before turning to posts based on stuff I heard/saw at SETT. More later... probably.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Disclaimer: I didn't do it... whatever it was.

I recently added a disclaimer to my profile. (I'm sure you all noticed this momentous event.) It is a variation on the disclaimer the University asks us to put on our personal web pages. However, I wish I was brave enough to use the disclaimer that is on Michael Lach's blog. A part of it reads:
Opinions are the author's and not necessarily shared by the Chicago Public Schools, but they should be.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Trojan Bookmark

In my previous post I commented that the way to get more teachers using social networking tools is to keep plugging away and convert the teachers one at a time. Once a teachers is an enthusiastic blogger, it is a fairly small step to become a blogging teacher in the classroom. The trouble is that it takes time to become a confident user of any technology and unless teachers are convinced that it is worth their while, they wont even bother starting.

Anyone who has heard me talking about eLearning has undoubtedly heard me recommend Gilly Salmon and her Five Stage Model. The second stage in her model is Online Socialisation. She describes this stage as follows:
Stage two involves individual participants establishing their online identities and then finding others with whom to interact.
I usually paraphrase this as, "Give people time to play with the technology". {I knew I'd posted an earlier entry on needing time to play with technology, but I couldn't find it. I spent about 20 minutes looking through my own archives, but without any success. ...So I took the dog out for a walk and it came to me - it was the very first post I made in this blog!}

For example, this year I am making more of an effort to use Flickr with our PGDE(S) Computing teachers. We have set up a private group because I want the students to have a space where they are able to interact freely without having to worry about "outsiders" looking in. At the moment we are playing with it. We posted a photo of everyone in the class, including tutors, and then invited everyone to post comments about themselves (e.g. favourite movie, favourite website etc.) and to comment on each others comments. I've added a MarsBarWinner tag and awarded Mars Bars to the best posts and the comments. It's a good way to get to know a class that I see less than once a week and for them to get to know each other. Not everyone has joined in yet, but most have. So far it is going well and is working at a fairly lighthearted level.
originally uploaded by sjohnson.
(I have already been compared to Herman Munster!) I think we are now just about ready to move to the next stage in Gilly's model and as we progress I hope we'll be able to make some of it public. We have given them time to play. Now I hope it is only a small step for them to see the educational value and to considering how they could use it in the classroom. It's a sort of Trojan Horse approach. The hope is that they will get excited by the educational potential because they have enjoyed using the tool themselves. Is that a dishonest approach? Am I selling one thing and delivering another? I hope not. I think I've been up front about what I'm doing, but I've concentrated first on Online Socialisation and on creating passionate users.

That's why I've titled this post The Trojan Bookmark. I think the easiest social networking tool to "sell" to teachers is online bookmark tools such as Furl and Everyone who has used the World Wide Web for more than a couple of hours can almost instantly see the value of an online bookmarking tool. A brief demonstration of tags and categories and teachers have no problem about getting excited as to how they could be used in the classroom. So can social bookmark tools be used as a Trojan Horse to get teachers into other social tools such as wikis and podcasts and blogs (oh my)? {OK, even I'm getting fed up with that "joke" now, but somehow I can stop myself.} My answer is yes - social bookmark tools give a very easy way in.

When I created my Guide to I based it on Jim Wenzloff's Guide to Furl and I almost omitted his section on RSS and Bloglines. Now, I'm really glad I didn't because there, built into the guide, is a Trojan Horse. Teachers get social bookmarking almost straightaway and in the process of following the guide to create one, they also create a Bloglines account. Once they have a Bloglines account, can they be encouraged to start reading blogs? Once they start reading blogs, can they be encouraged to start writing blogs? Once they start writing blogs, will they start using them in the classroom?

I realise that what I need to do is to go back to my guide and expand the Bloglines section so that people following the guide will also subscribe to a couple of educational blogs. Perhaps I need to write a companion guide for Bloglines. (Or Rojo - I've just discovered this aggregator and I'm still at the playing stage. It came to me via a recommendation from Richard MacManus so although I'm not convinced just now, I'm willing to play for a bit longer.)

So what do you think? Social Bookmarking Tools as a Trojan Horse? Will that work better than trying to convert the educational world one teacher at a time?

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Saturday, September 10, 2005

If you build it, they will come.

So here's the problem. You've got this really cool stuff(tm) that will help improve learning. You know the pupils get it, but you can't get teachers to implement it. Pop quiz hotshot. ...What do you do? What do you do?

I was planning to do a long overdue research blog entry but made the mistake of trying to catch up a bit on some of my Bloglines feeds. I found myself eavesdropping on a conversation between Ewan and John which seems to have been prompted by an EdTech Coast to Coast podcast. Ewan wanted to know, "Is there any other way of showing blog power to the masses, other than going round bit-by-bit and showing kids and teachers in classrooms?" John picks this up and says that even that doesn't work because the response is often, "cool, but where will I get the time."

The trouble is, just as the Coast to Coast chaps discuss, you can be utterly convinced about the value of something (wikis, podcasts and blogs or whatever) but unless the teachers you are talking to get passionate about it, you'll get the reaction that John talked about. As the great Stan Laurel said:
"You can lead a horse to water but a pencil must be lead."
{It works better if you say it out loud.}

Beckett on the mound
Beckett on the mound,
originally uploaded by Pichichi.
The title of this post comes from the film Field of Dreams. In the film, a character builds a baseball park in the middle of nowhere confident that once it is built someone will come and play on it. The trouble is that all too often we build the virtual eLearning playground only to find that it ends up virtually empty!

However, I think that part of the answer is to keep plugging away at it "bit-by-bit". Only once a teacher is convinced that the benefits outweigh the costs will that teacher seriously consider classroom blogging. Make the teacher an enthusiastic blogger and you're pretty much there. One of the speakers in the podcast describes this process. He got teachers using the technology and describes how an enthusiastic Music teacher came to him and said, "If we can do this, can we do that?" The classroom uses took off as the teachers got enthusiastic.

It's not all bad though Ewan. I used to be a sums teacher, and I do remember a bit about exponential growth. If the three of us manage to get three teachers each to be enthusiastic blog readers and writers then that means there are now twelve of us. If that twelve now manage to convince another three each, that takes us to forty-eight. And if that forty... you get the picture. Think small, but aim big.

Finally, to pick up on some specifics from Ewan and John's posts and comments. It's very flattering of Ewan to describe me as carrying out "one man effort" to promote social networking tools but that sounds grander than I think it deserves. {Still not happy with "social networking tools" as a name, but I prefer it to Web 2.0 or read/write web. I'm still open to suggestions.} I'm particularly pleased the way a Flickr thing is going this year. It's all in a private group at the moment, but I may be able to make some of it public later. John's comments about the need for more networked computers chimes nicely with Steve's comments on Would you want a computer without the Internet?

Ewan asks about a "child-safe environment for blogging". I suspect you know about this already, but David Warlick's Blog Meister looks interesting from that point of view, although a totally teacher moderated blog would be a real pain for the teacher, but may not bring significant gain.

And finally, on Ewan's comment on John's blog. He says, "The FE and HE groups have more time to run blogs, and treat them as interesting from a research angle, which therefore makes them legit conerns in their day-to-day work." All I can say as lecturer in HE is that the other man's blogsphere is always greener!

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Saturday, September 03, 2005

Radio, Radio: Social networking Tools

RCA Future
RCA Future,
originally uploaded by Victory of the People.
So you had better do as you are told
You better listen to the radio

Radio Radio: Elvis Costello

I was talking to a group of teachers on Tuesday about eLearning. This is a topic I have been leading session on for some time now and over the months I've adapted and developed what I talk about. Recently I've been talking more and more about tools such as wikis and podcasts and blogs (oh my!). {As an aside, what is the collective noun for these things? My guess in the title of this blog entry is "social networking tools", but that doesn't feel quite right.}

Anyway, for once, I got the timing better than usual and had some time to do more than just say, "Get a blog!" and gave people a quick look at some wikis and podcasts and blogs (Oh, my!). {Sorry, I know that wasn't funny the first time, but I couldn't resist doing it again.} I finished by showing them Now I admit that this doesn't have an obvious educational application, and that since it is still in beta it is a bit flaky, but I really like the idea behind the way it works. Essentially what you do is you tell what bands you like and it starts playing you music. You can say whether or not you like what it is playing and it will further refine the music it plays based on your choices and what music people who like the same as you like. It doesn't take long for it to create for you a personalised radio station... and a network of people who share similar music tastes. Brilliant! The only downside is that since the most recent redesign, I can no longer access it from behind the firewall at work. Scunner!

Inevitably, given that this was the example that was supposed to be a bit of a light-hearted throw-away at the end, this was the tool that seemed to provoke the most interest. I showed them my personal page which not surprisingly revealed how much I listen to Rush. Out of a group of 12 or so teachers, one was from Toronto (the band's home city) and grudgingly admitted to liking Tom Sawyer, one teacher said she saw them years ago at the Glasgow Apollo (I was almost certainly there too) and another had been at the recent concert at the SECC in Glasgow (and her husband got a t-shirt from Geddy's tumble dryer - I think I hate him! I was miles from the stage and could barely see Geddy and so had no hope of getting a t-shirt). What are the chances of that? A quarter of the people in the room being Rush fans when I suspect most people have never even heard of them. Weird!

So, can anyone come up with an educationally sound use of that I could use to justify showing it to teachers in the future? I'd like to see if that was a one off fluke or if the world is full of closet Rush fans.

On a vaguely related note, Daughter Number 2, via her Chemistry teacher, came up with a music link that could be of use in the classroom. I'm not sure about the copyright implications (although I suspect it's suspect) but it is well worth checking out Mike's animation of Tom Lehrer's The Elements song. Enjoy!

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Friday, September 02, 2005


In a strange way, I am impressed. Within a few minutes of making the previous post I had two Spam comments!

I've turned on the word verification thing for comments. I hope it helps. :-)

Thursday, September 01, 2005

All I do to you is talk talk

| Lo que llevo en mi bolso - 6 |
| Lo que llevo en mi bolso - 6 |,
originally uploaded by arquera.
I have tried to keep up with blog reading, but poor time management has meant that I haven't got around to writing anything for a while.

One of the topics that caught my eye in my hurried snatches of blog reading made me think about what I'm doing wrong in this blog. I don't think I've really not got the hang of this blogging lark. I think I rant too much and listen too little. The topic that brought this home to me was a series of blog entries about distributed conversations. David Warlick seems to have kicked it off and it was then picked up by Will, Alan and Ewan (among others). I'm still reading and digesting all of this (I am a bear of very little brain) but one of the messages I have picked up is that I need to listen and respond to conversations more and rant less.

I can't promise a rant free zone, but I'll try to show that I'm listening!

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