Thursday, March 30, 2006

More classroom blogs

Another quick post to highlight a couple of interesting ideas for using Internet tools in the classroom.

DILOsept05 06
DILOsept05 06,
originally uploaded by Mouse.
First up is Chris and her Process Report blog. If you visit the blog, it will be fairly clear what she is up to but she explains it all in a recent post on her blog. She is doing this to help her pupils improve their creative writing skills, but I don't see why a similar technique would not work with pretty much any writing task. Are your pupils writing a report on a programming task in Computing? Are they describing a visit to their aunt's in French? Are they creating a newspaper article on a recent world event for Modern Studies? Are they... you get the picture. I can think of few writing exercises that would not benefit from constructive criticism from a wider audience, or even just from their classmates in a blog environment. What do you think? Am I letting my enthusiasm get ahead of the practical realities of teaching in schools?

The second post I wanted to highlight is an entry in Straun's blog, The Tree House, where he uses Bebo to talk to senior pupils about Internet safety in a post titled To Bebo, or not to Bebo? It's brilliant stuff and I think that a similar lesson should be compulsory for every teenager. Struan's blog has already been added to my Bloglines list and if his posts stay even close to the quality of this one he will be required reading for my students next year.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Classroom blogs

Snowy Stirling
Snowy Stirling,
originally uploaded by DavidDMuir.
I was at an in-service event in Stirling where some teachers were learning about emerging Internet tools such as blogs, podcasts, wikis, photosharing and online bookmarks.

Various groups came up with good stuff, but I liked this blog, the Masterclass Virtual Classroom from the group that called themselves the Six Smarties. I don't know if they intend to maintain the blog, but there are a number of good ideas, covering a range of subject areas, on how blogs and podcasting could be used to support learning and teaching.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A Belated Thank-you

While I'm still in Communicate.06 mode, I should have said thank-you to Ewan and John. The presentation I gave at the conference was delivered without the aid of a Powerpoint safety net and if Ewan and John had not been so helpful, I would have been left tap-dancing and waving my hands for 45 minutes!

I am fairly confident with the technology I use when speaking to groups. My backup plan is usually to have the presentation on a USB memory stick as well as my laptop - it has been years since I printed off OHP copies of a presentation, "Just in case". However, at Communicate.06 I didn't have a presentation at all. Everything was online. Will I say that again? Everything was online! Ewan wanted us to go for a Yoda-like presentation Zen, but as the day wore on, and my presentation came ever closer, I became more and more concerned because I couldn't get my laptop to talk to Stirling University's Internet connection. If a presenter presents without a presentation, will he hear the sound of one hand clapping? Very Zen!

Thankfully, Ewan and John came to my rescue by offering to swap rooms. John was more prepared than me (clearly a Boy Scout... I was in the BB) as he had a backup plan in case he couldn't get a live Internet connection. Ewan and John did their presentation in the room without the Internet connection so I could show my stuff and the people at my session could get online to try stuff out. Phew!

Note to self: never prepare an Internet based presentation again without having a Plan B!

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A Grand Day Out

As I said in the previous post, I was a bit worried about going to speak at the Communicate.06 conference. Communicate.06As a non-linguist, I was wasn't sure how I'd go down. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the day - despite the many jokes at the expense of IT people and computer geeks!

For me, the best thing about the conference was being with over one hundred teachers who were excited about learning and teaching and who enjoyed finding out about how they might do it better. It made me think that I'd like to have a similar conference for Computing teachers. I wonder who might sponsor such a venture?

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Friday, March 10, 2006

Ich habe zwei Brüder

Just in case you're worried, I actually have two sisters, but when learning German I found it easier to say zwei Brüder (which is a lie) than zwei Schwestern (which is true). So in a desperate attempt to learn German, I ended up learning to lie in a foreign language.

The reason I tell you this is that I have been invited to speak at a Modern Foreign Languages conference. Bizarre. If my old French teacher is still alive, he'll be turning in his grave!


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Thursday, March 09, 2006

...And another thing

Still working on the next post about wikis but thought of a couple of things that probably go best with the previous post.

First, I should have acknowledged Ewan's quote:
It's not about the tech; it's about the teach
I really like this quote. (Is it a McIntosh original?) I've often said that you can give a duff teacher the best technology available and they'll still be a duff teacher. Similarly, you can take an outstanding teacher and put them in a wooden hut in the middle of nowhere and they'll still do a better job teaching than the duff one with all the technology! However Ewan's quote says it more concisely and with some humour. This is sad I know, but I was pleased with the way I animated it in the presentation. You know how when you are up against a deadline, you can get distracted and spend a silly amount of time on something that is relatively trivial... well I spent a silly amount of time animating that quote!

The second thing I wanted to say is related to Lessig style presentations. I said in a previous post that I don't think I quite got the hang of this style. I also said that I felt they really need an audio commentary to be of use. Well I came across this entry on Lessig's blog where he talks about how he adds audio and various people have left comments giving further ideas.

Now I need to do a bit more marking before getting back to the wiki post...

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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Wikis, Podcasts and Blogs: collaborative learning in education Part I

I described in my previous post the background to my presentation on Wikis, Podcasts and Blogs: collaborative learning in education at a Teaching and Learning Through Technology event at the University. This post will start to fill in the detail on what I talked about and what I omitted due to poor time management and my failure to do a true Lessig style presentation!

Here is my Powerpoint presentation more or less as I delivered it. The main differences are that I have blurred the photos of the people doing the vox pop and I have embedded the sound files in the presentation (I hope). The first quote is from the Dearing Report, specifically, a section from point five of the introduction to the Summary Report. The "...willingness to risk oneÂ’s prejudices" is more of a paraphrase, but the idea comes from Halliday, J. (1996) Back to good teaching: diversity within tradition. Cassell. The "public scrutiny" idea comes from Leinhardt G., Young, K. & Merriman, J. (1995) Integrating professional knowledge: the theory of practice and the practice of theory. Learning and Instruction. 5, pp. 401-408. The "Good enough to criticise" quote comes from Alan November via Will Richardson. Finally, I referenced the Seven Principles for Good Practice. I think all of the quotes have some relevance to the Web 2.0 tools I wanted to talk about, but there is a very clear link from these seven principles which I will make explicit later.

Dog and Bone
Dog and Bone,
Or Doggie's Breakfast!
originally uploaded by DavidDMuir.
After the presentation I went straight into blogs. Perhaps I should have explained a bit about what a blog is, but went straight into showing some examples instead. I started with Stephen Dancer's blog - Doggie's Breakfast. Stephen is a friend from my university days that I'd more or less lost touch with. At the time I found his blog, I was wondering what blogs were and why anyone would want to write one. I discovered that he'd left his engineering job at Rolls Royce and was studying theology with a view to becoming a minister. I thought blogs were just personal diary spaces, but as I read Stephen's, I realised that they could be learning spaces too. And more than just personal learning spaces, because Stephen seemed to be in contact with a community of learners. This community was contributing to his blog by leaving comments and Stephen was picking up on posts in other blogs and interacting with these people too - learning conversations.

I like Doggie's Breakfast. It's not all deep theology, there's fun stuff and family life there too. For example, as a Scot living in England he clearly found it difficult to resist this recent post. But he's also learning. He talks about what he's read, about assignments, about his experiences... He opens up his thinking for others to see. He is challenged by people and he has to defend or re-think his position. I asked him why he blogged and if he thought it helped him with his studies. He thought it did. Having to write down his ideas and having the opportunity to discuss them with others was useful. (Stephen, if you're reading this, and I've misrepresented you, feel free to leave a comment.)

So, I started my own blog, and at the start of term, I tried to talk the students into starting a blog to help them reflect on their learning. Thanks to a boost when Ewan talked to them, we now have about a dozen students bloggers. The one I chose to show at the TLTT event was Lesley's blog: To Probation and Beyond. Her blog is very pink, but there is some good reflection going on there and some great comments. Comments from tutors, fellow students, ex-teachers, current teachers, ... She's having problems with programming, and a Computing teacher offers support. Classroom management issues and she get comments from arespectedd American educational blogger. Brilliant! Well I think it's brilliant, and the good thing about blogs is that Lesley can speak for herself by leaving a comment here, or posting a response on her own blog. So, what do you think Lesley?

There were a few questions on blogs, the last one was essentially asking if there were any dangers? The short answer is, "Yes!", but the thing about blogs is that it is your space. You can control who leaves comments, you can delete comments, it's your blog, it's your choice. There are sharks out there, but so far, all I've encountered is dolphins!

In my talk at the TLTT event, I had intended to go onto podcasts after blogs, but the, "Can you trust the advice you get on blogs?", question gave me a good way into wikis. So, in my next post I'll give some background on what I said about wikis.

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Thursday, March 02, 2006

Acting like a serious academic

Today I was speaking at a Teaching and Learning Through Technology event at the University. I was speaking on the subject: Wikis, Podcasts and Blogs: collaborative learning in education. I wanted a more frivolous title, but obviously someone felt that a more serious, academic title was required and changed it when I wasn't paying attention.

Mirror Mirror
Mirror Mirror,
originally uploaded by Anakha.
I hope Ewan believes that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery because, inspired by what he did recently at Jordanhill, I shamelessly ripped him off. I have already admitted to borrowing his digital vox pop idea, but I borrowed other elements too.

I liked the way Ewan talked about teaching aims and then linked them to blogs, podcasts and wikis. I looked for stuff on the aims of Higher Education, and quoted from Dearing, two or three other sources and finished with Seven Principles for Good Practice. However, I spoke too long and didn't have time to demonstrate the tools, talk about what they were or how they could be used. It would probably have been better to pick one quote and make clearer links to why the Web 2.0 tools would help deliver.

The final thing I borrowed was the style of presentation. I've been toying with the idea of doing a Lessig style presentation for a while, but I'm not convinced that it's good if students want to take notes on what I'm talking about. Also, Lessig style slides make little sense on their own - making them available for the students without an audio commentary is not much use and I would rarely have time to add audio. I was going to wait for a conference to try Lessig style, but today's TLTT event seemed like a good excuse.

The two examples of Lessig style presentations that I've seen on the web (Lessig's Free Culture and Dick Hardt's Identity 2.0 ) both use very stark, black and white text and backgrounds (as did Ewan in his presentation). I did mine in black and white at first, but then struck a blow for individuality - I went for grey and white! There are other elements of the Lessig style I didn't get. For example, I kept wanting to add a heading (eventually I took them out of most slides). Also more big pictures rather than text and graphic would have been better. Finally I spent too long talking around most of the slides - I didn't get the hang of the rapid delivery Lessig style.

The Lessig thing wasn't a disaster, but I'm unsure if I'd try it again.

Perhaps this post is a bit self-indulgent, especially since you haven't seen what I did. However I wanted to explain what I tried and what I thought went wrong to clear the decks for my next post. In it I'll talk about what I said, and perhaps more importantly, what I missed out.

Oh, and I'll post my presentation next time too.

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Ask and you will receive

As Ewan has pointed out in his comment, this was a blank post. I'm taking Ewan's response as a request for content... he asked, he receives!

This post was a mistake. I was doing a talk today and decided to copy Ewan's trick of interviewing people as they come into a lecture and then putting their photos and audio content into the presentation. I almost pulled it off (I ran out of time, so had to play the audio from iTunes rather than editing out the bits I didn't want and playing directly from Powerpoint).

The photo bit did work though. The unfortunate thing is that my phone has bluetooth and infrared, but my laptop doesn't! That's why I ended up with a blank post here. To get the pictures into Powerpoint, I emailed them from my phone to Flickr. The problem was that I forgot I'd started a moblog entry on my phone, just to see if it worked, but had never got around to entering any text. When I sent the photos, I accidentally sent the blank moblog entry too. Oops!

So, since Ewan had commented, I thought I'd explain myself and create an entry rather than just delete the mistake.

Hopefully I'll write a post on what I was talking about soon.