Thursday, September 28, 2006

Safe or sorry?

I have so many things I still want to say about SETT and the TeachMeet but I'm getting further away from both and still not finding the time to type up my thoughts. (Is there any significance in "typing up" compared to "writing down"?)

I realised today however that I have written a the equivalent of a couple of posts in comments on other peoples blogs in response to the whole issue of filtering. This seems to have stirred up a few people in the aftermath of SETT/TeachMeet. It is not a new topic (see for example Open the windows) but perhaps the imminent arrival of Glow and increasingly easy access to the Internet is bringing more teachers up against the frustrations of a restricted service.

Read some of the conversations I have joined and add your own thoughts:
What do you think? Is this a short term problem? Will the the issues go away or get worse with near omnipresent wi-fi and ubiquitous access to the technology to take advantage of it? Or will things get worse as schools (and governments?) try to ban, legislate and restrict?

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Belated... but better than never?

At the entrance,
originally uploaded by DavidDMuir
I spent a good bit of Friday (when I should have been preparing for classes) reading other people's posts from SETT and the TeachMeet. It was interesting comparing notes for sessions I had also blogged, as well as reading about sessions I missed. (Did anybody blog David Weinberger's keynote?) There were a fair number of posts, but while most have been picked up by John Johnston's Tagmix and Hitchhikr, a few seem to have fallen through the net. In particular, Technoratti doesn't seem to have found Ewan's posts - I wonder why?

However, reading all these posts remind me that I've been a bit lax about saying thank you. I've got a few more posts I want to make on SETT and TeachMeet, but thought I should get the belated thanks in first.

Firstly, a huge thank you to Ewan, both for inviting me to co-present at his SETT session (Creating Communities), and for TeachMeet. A special thanks is due for TeachMeet as the idea for the format was his, he set up the wiki and then he did a lot of work behind the scenes to pull it all together. I was a bit cheekier in a previous post where I said the TeachMeet was being put together by a bunch of numpties who were making it up as they went along on a wiki! That was not entirely true. :-) However if it hadn't have been for Ewan, I suspect it would have looked like it was organised by numpties instead of turning out the great success that it was. (More of this in a future post I suspect.)

Other thanks are due to various sponsors that I should have been acknowledging as I went along. Specifically, Stormhoek who provided the wine, Promethean who paid the hotel's corkage charge and also bought some wi-fi access for us, and to LTScotland who paid for our meeting room and also helped out with the wi-fi.

I very much appreciated the wi-fi access. It was a bit slow in the TeachMeet room (we were in the furthest flung corner of the hotel) so I couldn't do the live demo I had planned (I'll say more about this too in a future post) but it worked a treat in the seminars and the exhibition area (...and I suspect I'll say more about wi-fi access in yet another future post!). A final thanks however should go to Scotsys. I had run out of wi-fi credit and was sitting having tea and buns with John Johnston when we noticed the number of wi-fi networks available from exhibitors. Many were locked down, but some appeared to be open. We tried the Scotsys link and were given free access with a good strong signal. I think my Interactive Chatting Teddies post was made on the Scotsys link. :-) I felt a bit guilty about it though, so I went to their stand later and thanked them, however they seemed quite relaxed about it, so thanks again to them. (Perhaps this is a way ahead for next year. If the SECC are still asking funny money for wi-fi, perhaps a number of exhibitors would be willing to open up their wi-fi for public access. Just a thought.)

So, thanks again to everyone mentioned above. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and I suspect that both SETT and TeachMeet will feature in my posts for a good wee while to come.

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

SETT: Edward de Bono Keynote

The Powerful Effects of Teaching Thinking Explicitly as a Skill

Top hat
Top hat
originally uploaded by julia_adelle
Edward de Bono's opening words were, "Good afternoon blonds, ladies and gentlemen!" He said he'd explain why later. {I guess I must have missed why. Did any other blogger pick this up?}

He said: for 2,400 years we've done little about thinking. About 2,400 years ago there were the GG3, the Greek Gang of 3. Aristotle, Plato and Socrates. Plato came up with the ideas of categorising things - a logic system that puts things in boxes. It works well with things like doctors diagnosing and deciding treatment. Based on judgement, it works well, but we need to think about design - about the possibilities rather than just the facts.

Judgement <<------>> Design
Truth <<------>> Possibility

People think you can collect the information on computers and make decisions based on this information - but this is not enough. You need creativity. EdB is interested in designing software for the brain. He defined a new word - Operacy: The ability to make things happen - skills of doing. (c.f. literacy, numeracy, etc.)

The teaching of thinking skills has a measurable effect. For example, a school for violent teenagers taught thinking skills. A 20 year follow up study found a huge reduction in offending rates. Also, big impact on self-esteem. Gave another example of a tenfold increase in the number of lines of text produced by primary school children taught the six hats methods.

For 2400 years we have used argument to explore a subject but this is a very poor way of doing things. For example, if you are arguing, "Is it A or B" you don't think of the possibility of C, D or E. Sometimes, when we have people who are arguing - both can be right from their perspective, but they need to see the other side (or sides). This is called parallel thinking. The idea is that all the parties in the argument all look in the same (i.e. parallel) direction at the problem. Then they all change perspective and all look in a different, but still parallel to each other, direction. While working on a problem, everyone puts on the same "hat" so that everyone is looking in the same direction. They have tried this with juries and they found they reached decisions much more quickly.

Six hats:
  1. White hat: Information. What do we know, what do we need to know.
  2. Red hat: Emotions and feelings without a need to justify.
  3. Black hat: Caution. "This wont work. That's wrong"
  4. Yellow hat: Value sensitivity.
  5. Green hat: Creativity. Look for new ideas and possibilities - lateral thinking.
  6. Blue hat: Organising - overview of situation
As a way of exploring a subject, this is much more effective than argument.

Logic errors are rare in thinking. It is much more likely that the problem is from perception (90% of the errors). A mathematicians has even said that it is impossible to prove things from first principles because we have to start with certain assumptions that we take on faith. {I think I may made this last bit up... I kind of lost what he was saying because the laptop sent a battery warning.}

CORT program creates some tools for perception. For example, C&S Consequence and Sequel.

{At this point my battery died. I took notes on the rest by scribbling in the margin of the conference programme booklet. I'll transcribe and upload as soon as I get a chance.}

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SETT: To blog or not to blog?

Susan Buchanon, Fiona Cunningham, Fiona Andrews and some children from primary 7.

Woodhill Bloggers
Woodhill Bloggers,
originally uploaded by DavidDMuir
"A blog is what ever you want it to be". However Susan warned about coming up with contrived projects. The technology should fit the curriculum, not the other way around.

Good intoduction to podcasting can be found at PC Pod.

Why use?

Woodhill did Modern Foreign Language podcasts. Reasons given to the headteacher:
  • real audience
  • motivational
  • flexible (anytime, anywhere)
  • interactive
  • strengthens home school links#
  • ...and more but lost it. :-)
Susan was inspired to try blogging after SETT 2005. Started small with Blogger and a focus on French vocabulary with Primary 6. They got three iPods from Enterprise funding and another from Comedius {right name?}. Established a development group including a classroom assistant who was very experienced French speaker (Fiona Cunningham).

Fiona explained how desperate the pupils were to help with the podcasting and to get the files downloaded to their own players. (Most of their pupils now have players.

All the soundfiles etc. are available on the Woodhill Blog, either for download to iPod or, for those who don't have mp3 players, to listen to it on the web.

Like the Teddies presentation, the pupils' voices were heard - this time because the pupils were with them they stood up and explained what they did. They showed us how they used the iPod and how they answered questions.

In the project, the pupils blogged about what they did. The pupils loved the project. They thought the iPods were cool and liked getting out of class. {DM: It suits the way they like to work! :-)} Again, it was a pupil that showed us here how they used Blogger. {DM: I thought it was brave to have the children do a live blog post. I hope they leave the test post he did in place!} He said, "As you can see, it's very simple.", in fact he said that anyone can use it even parents and teachers! :-) Comments have to approved by the teacher before they are made live... but in response to my question she said she had never had any inappropriate comments. She also explained the online safety training they did.

They now have other sites and are using "two stars and a wish" to comment on the pupils online work.

See Eco Warriors an environmental project, a wiki developed with other schools and blog for parents to get feedback from parents and encourage home school links.

Susan highly recommended Will's book.

Susan then went on to show some other primary school blogs. What was brilliant was that Susan showed some examples of primary blogs including Sandaig (with a picture of John and Spencer and Campbell taken earlier today) and the Interactive Chatting Teddies blog (where there was a picture of me with Campbell and Spencer taken earlier today! Ah the wonders of the read/write web and the wireless internet access here at SETT. Stunningly brilliant! :-)

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Spencer and Cambell @ SETT

Infants can Communicate!

Campbell and Spencer
Campbell and Spencer,
originally uploaded by DavidDMuir
Marlyn Moffat and Morag Macdonald tell us about the Interactive Chatting Teddies (with primary 2 then primary 1-3 in the second year of the project).

Before the session started, they thought they were short of an audio cable, so I ran back to the car, fighting my way through what appeared to be an entire school's worth of pupils, ran back into the room (the very hot room), to be told that, "The man found us one after all!" :-)

Marlyn and Morag were both Masterclassers and wanted to do something for younger children because they thought most of the things were aimed at older children.

One of the first things they did was explain how they posted Spencer to Campbeltown... but even better than that, they showed us a slideshow with commentary from a couple of kids who took him to the post-office. The children were worried about putting the bears in a box, but reasoned that bears hibernate, so they would be OK. They sent him recorded delivery so they could track his progress on the royal mail website. Brilliant.

The parents got right behind the idea and between them they recieved 2-3 thousand images!

Both schools used Kidspiration to allow the children with pre-writing skills to write about what they were doing.

Marlyn and Morag were doing their own blogs, mostly about Interactive Whiteboards, on the back of Masterclass. But the bears asked if they could have their own blog. So the Interactive Chatting Teddies (ICT - I'd never noticed that before.)

Campbell got to sit in the front of the Logan Air flight and was treated as a VIB. :-)

The next trip they did was illustrated with more slideshows and GarageBand recorded songs from the pupils. I love this - not just talking about what they have done, but showcasing their children's work. The presentation was just full of examples of the children's work. They described the huge amount of writing their pupils did about the bears, the technology work, art work... loads of stuff.

Marlyn (I think) showed a piece of writing produced by a boy who normally hardly wrote, hardly spoke, but he got so excited about the blog and the international audience they had, that he wrote the longest piece of work he had ever produced complete with very detailed drawing of the computer screen. The site meter showed them where people were coming from to visit the site and that they had thousands of visitors. (Learning about bigger numbers from the site hits, estimation skills - how many hits will we get next week etc.) The children caught on to the value and importance of the audience before the teachers did. ...And Blue featured with Ike in the presentation! :-)

Children in Morag's class had seen Comic Life and asked if they could do a comic about the bears. They taught themselves how to use the software.

The work went on right through the holidays - even to the extent of getting him on a local radio programme. :-) {Think about it... a bear on a radio programme!}

Loads of work came out of this. For example, in connection with where visitors came from. How far away are the places? What do children do in these countries? what money do they use?

It also gave a context to talk about Internet safety - in fact the primary 3 class gave a talk to the primary 6!

What did the children get out of it?
  • Motivation
  • Approbation
  • Independence
  • Confidence
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
Seamless ICT. Cross-curricular instead of compartmentalised. Finished with video diaries from the children saying what they liked. Brilliant to see again the children and hear their voice, not just the teacher's interpretation. They spoke confidently and showed good insight into what they had learned. "Mrs Moffat thought we were whizz-kids ...and so do we!" Stunningly brilliant! :-)

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006


{This is a quick and dirty post that I'll need to tidy up and add links etc. later. This is posted from the Goat while we wait for people to arrive.}

Theo Kutchel

Videoegg, Jumpcut, Eyespot

Theo Kutchel demonstrated You can remix video that you upload or pull from the web. Gives a timeline and effects, title, etc. It looks like iMovie but it's on line. You can grab stuff from the community of users. It's like a video version of Flickr.

Chris McIntosh

Pinky Parky Blog. Described the two pupils who came to her having problems with creative writing. Process writing involves six cards with a starter subject. This is shared with a neighbour who writes comments on their card. The writer then develops the next paragraph. Lots of bits of paper, lots of noise. If instead it is done on a blog, it saves the teacher writing the same things over and over again. It is also opened up to comments from everyone who reads blogs.

Sean and Katie

Couldn't blog while they were doing it because they were presenting on my machine. :-)


Mediastage can be used to create 3D movies with virtual actors and stages, scenes, camera angles. The virtual actors have limited AI and can react and interact. You can even record speech and the characters mouth moves in time with your recorded voice! Brilliant.

Ollie Bray

Using Google Earth Ollie had overlaid images on top of Google earth. E.g. overlay OS maps. Can also use Sketch up and the 3D warehouse to add into Google earth overlays.

GPS starting to come into schools. Get one for about £60. You can map using easygps or gpsvisualiser. Can get children to try and write their name by walking around . can map position of trip including altitude! Graphs can show where people have come from plotted onto Earthplot software. Explore Our (similar to Earth Browser) can recognise where you are blogging from and add all sorts of stuff above. things like sounds of the rainforrest. can predict area that will be flooded if the sea level rises. Ollie will link to digitalgeography.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

What am I doing at SETT?

Andrew suggested we should post what we are going to do at SETT... so here goes.

09:30 - Creating Communities Co-presenting this with Ewan McIntosh.
10:45 - Back to Jordanhill for lecture and tutorial
14:15 - Gutted that I'm missing David Weinberger's keynote! Tempted to watch it on video stream with students instead of doing tutorial. :-)
15:30 - Crowne Plaza Hotel to set up for TeachMeet.
16:00 - TeachMeet06
19:00 - The Goat for Grub and Gossip and wi-fi (couldn't think of another "G").

10:00 - Hoping to gatecrash Infants Can Communicate!
12:45 - Blog or not to Blog?
14:45 - The Powerful Effects of Teaching Thinking Explicitly as a Skill

At all other times I will be wandering around the exhibition, stealing pens and other freebies from the exhibitors, and having tea and buns with anyone that is willing to stop and chat with me.

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Grab some Goat Grub!

Dog-goat says, "Merf!",
originally uploaded by DavidDMuir
Last week I paid the deposit to confirm the provisional booking at The Goat. I told them there would be about twenty people in the group. Today there are about thirty people signed up on the TeachMeet wiki! I hope they can cope with us. :-) I'm impressed we've made it up to thirty - especially as some people had to pull out because they got Glowed.

With so many going on to The Goat, they have asked us to pre-order. The menu is available online and we could just take a count on the night. However, since most of the rest of the preparation has taken place online (and since I wanted an excuse to play with online spreadsheets) I have created a collaborative spreadsheet version of the menu in EditGrid. Go to the spreadsheet, add your initials at the top of a column and put a 1 beside the things you'd like to order. I'll find out for Wednesday what the "...of the day" items are but feel free to make your choices now - you can always edit the spreadsheet at the TeachMeet on Wednesday... or any time you like. :-)

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Friday, September 15, 2006

They also serve...

originally uploaded by wit
I've done a lot of standing and waiting this week. I was called for jury duty and was asked to report to the Sheriff court on Tuesday morning. Three hours of standing about later we were told we could go, but that we should come back on Wednesday. Wednesday, same thing. Thursday, only half an hours wait this time. Thankfully, we were told last night that we were no longer required. :-)

I should have spotted the proximity to SETT and made my excuses when first told I was being called. However, although I checked my timetable to see my classes could be covered, I stupidly didn't check my diary. (I'm co-presenting Creating Communities with Ewan McIntosh on Wednesday morning at SETT next week.) As it turned out, I didn't get a chance to make my excuse in person as both trials I could have been called for were postponed.

It was an interesting experience although I would have preferred comfier seats outside the courtroom (there were only hard, marble benches) and a bit more information from the court staff would have been good (e.g. "It'll be at least half an hour before we know if we'll need you. Why not go for a coffee."). I was impressed however that about 45 people came out three days in a row to wait outside a courtroom despite not getting paid to do so and presumably at some inconvenience. There also seemed to be a real cross-section of society - from an hairy biker in leathers to a balding fat man in a suit (me!).

To get to the court I took a footbridge across the Clyde. On Wednesday, as you looked up river to the east, it looked fantastic. The low sun created a shining path up the middle of the river that was stunning to see. I whipped out my digital camera to record it, but the batteries were dead. Scunner! By Thursday we were back to a more typical driech drizzle and although I now had recharged batteries, it didn't look as good, so I just kept my head down and hurried over towards the court.

I spent about six and a half hours hanging about but I had my laptop with me so the time was not completely wasted. I said I'd write a couple of chapters for the second edition of Coming of Age, which seemed like a good idea at the time, but I was struggling to meet the deadline for the first drafts. However, it is amazing what you can get done when you are free from the distractions of the office (email, telephones, students, scones, ...). As a result, I should have something to send Terry tonight. :-)

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Friday, September 08, 2006

I think this is what I think I think!

originally uploaded by radioeffect
I keep telling people how blogging is a useful aid for reflective practitioners. I quote the phrase, "Good enough to criticise" from Alan November and talk about the learning conversations that take place when you share your thinking in a blog. I also talk about how blogging can be a powerful thinking tool but I don't always see this in my own blog. Sometimes I just go off on a rant and very little thinking takes place. Sometimes I post fluff and nonsense (like the treadmill video). However, every so often I react to something, post my "thoughts so far" and find myself challenged to think more carefully by the conversations that develop.

The most recent example of this was my Education: product or process? post. At least two parts of the conversation that resulted from this post made me think more carefully. Firstly David Warlick picked up on my post and pushed my thinking a bit further along the direction I was already going. I have complained before about the dangers of reducing teachers to the level of technicians who simply deliver stuff but perhaps I have never fully articulated what I want them to do instead. There is nothing wrong with being a technician, we need technicians, but we also need teachers and I think teachers do something different... but what? David comes to the rescue in his response to my post:
It is not a time for teacher-technicians, trained lab clerks who observe a deficiency, and prescribe a scientifically researched strategy. It’s a time for teacher-philosophers, who love their world, love what they teach, love their students, and who love what their students will be.
A teacher-philosopher! I like that, but I'm still thinking about the implications...

The second part of the conversation that pushed my thinking, this time in a different direction, comes from a comment left by Kenneth on my original post. He started me thinking about the value of knowing things. Do we have a utilitarian view: knowledge is only worth knowing if it is useful in some way? Or do we believe that knowledge is somehow intrinsically valuable: put crudely, that it is better to know stuff than not know stuff! I think I incline to the latter view and did not intend to suggest the former in my first post.

The problem with taking the view that knowledge has to be useful is how do you decide what is useful? In particular, how do you decide what knowledge will be useful to our students in the future? As David Warlick often reminds us, "We are preparing our children for a future we cannot even describe". It may be helpful to revisit the example I gave of knowing the codes for an Epson dot-matrix printer. Was that knowledge useful at the time? Yes! I had to know how to do it or my worksheets would have been even more boring than they were. Is that knowledge useful now? Not directly. It is knowledge that has gone off, but the process of embedding codes in a document to change the way things look is still useful knowledge.

So am I saying that we should only look for generic, widely applicable processes? I don't think so. As I said above, I think knowing things may have an intrinsic value whether or not I can see an application - specific, generic or otherwise. For example, I was born in Ayrshire and was brought up in the west coast of Scotland, so inevitably I was introduced to the poetry of Robert Burns. I had to learn some of it - rote learn it! I could recite some of it word perfect but had (and still have) very little appreciation of what the poems are about. I can still recite chunks of Burns' poetry to this day - is that useful knowledge? It was certainly valuable at the time. I won a prize for being able to recite a poem from memory. (The prize was a book of Burns' poems!) I won applause and congratulations for getting all the way through Tam O'Shanter at the school Burns' Supper. But is it still valuable now or will it be valuable at some point in the future? Is it knowledge that has gone off? To be honest, the main value to me now is that I can embarrass my children by bursting into a recitation at inappropriate moments (and embarrassing your children is a very important part of being a father) but I find it hard to say that knowing these poems is in some meaningful way useful to me today. However, am I glad I know these poems even though I still have little understanding of what they are about? Absolutely! But putting my finger on why I think this, and why I respond with such an emphatic "Absolutely!", is a bit trickier.

I think the best I can come up with so far is, as I said above, knowing stuff is better than not knowing stuff! At a recent tutorial I said that it was too simplistic to state, "Rote learning bad. Meaningful learning good." but would I get away with saying, "Rote learning OK. Meaningful learning better."?

Please help me think some more about this so that I can work out what I think I think!

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Monday, September 04, 2006

Confession is good for the soul

I have a confession to make... I think I'm addicted to the X-Factor. I'm especially ashamed that I enjoy the early stages when most of the "entertainment" seems to come from watching people who have little hope of successfully putting one foot in front of the other never mind having a successful pop career.

On the show broadcast on 26th August, there was a woman called Vickee who claimed to be Louis Walsh's biggest fan and who ran his unofficial fanclub and website. Much to Simon Cowall's amusement, she claimed to have 45 members. I finally remembered to go and look for her site at the weekend and eventually unearthed Lovin' Louis - The Unofficial Louis Walsh Fansite which now has over 1200 members. That'll put Simon's gas at a peep! :-)

I was prompted to write this post because, before I found Vickee's fansite, I found her MySpace account. Listed among her friends was Sharon Osbourne. "Surely not the Sharon Osborne!", I thought to myself but a quick check seemed to confirm it was indeed Mrs. Ozzy! Sharon wasn't her only "celebrity" friend. The rest of the Osbornes were there (Ozzy, Jack, and Kelly) as well as some of last year's contestants (Shayne Ward, Steve Brookstein and Chico). I don't know why I was surprised to see famous people with MySpace accounts, but I was!

Sap (picture of a wall)
originally uploaded by Dave Gorman
Then, as synchronicity would have it, while searching for a picture of a fish, I found a Flickr account belonging to Dave Gorman. Yes, the Dave Gorman of Are You Dave Gorman? and Dave Gorman's Googlewhack Adventure fame. He also hosted a Radio 4 series called Genius which I thoroughly enjoyed. (Through his picture of a wall, I was introduced to the concept of Moviscrolliosis - which is interesting.)

So, is anyone else surprised to find famous people using social networking tools, or is it just me? Has anyone else come across celebrity snappers on Flickr, or is it just me? And does anyone else now have a weird image in their head of Ozzy sitting at Ozzfest on Internet Chat to his MySpace mates before he goes onstage to sing War Pigs... No? Just me then. :-)

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Saturday, September 02, 2006

Education: product or process?

I was struck by the final sentence of a recent post on George Siemens' blog:
"We have designed education to promote certainty (i.e. a state of knowing)...we now need to design education to be adaptable (i.e. a process of knowing)."
I read it almost immediately after a tutorial at Jordanhill where we explored the need to engage pupils in meaningful learning. The students at the tutorial were keen to hang onto rote leaning arguing that there is some stuff that you just have to know. I didn't dismiss this, but it seems to me that rote learning is a means to an end rather than an end in itself.

I think that George's final sentence sums this up. Education should not only be about what you know - how many "facts" you can recall and write on a test paper. If that's how we view education, we could end up turning schooling into a version of The Weakest Link. (And in case you are confused, I think that would be a bad thing!)

originally uploaded by YeeJen
I remember, many years ago, a professor at Jordanhill saying, "Knowledge is like fish - it goes off!" A couple of my colleagues got quite upset by this, but I think he had a point - especially in the fast moving world of technology. For example, I used to know the control codes you sent to an Epson dot-matrix printer to make the text print in bold, or italics, or double sized. I knew them because you had to type them into your word processed document. But this is knowledge that has gone off! I don't need to do it any more and I've forgotten how. In the same way I know how to use <b>, <i> and <h1> in html documents - knowledge that hasn't gone off yet, but is certainly on the turn.

What is more important, I think, is that I know when it is appropriate to use these text effects and I am confident that if I had to find out how to do it again, I'd know what to do. It's like the definition of intelligence I came back from SETT with last year:
Intelligence is knowing what to do when you don't know what to do.

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