Saturday, December 29, 2007

NoTube at school!

Originally uploaded by TW Collins
I've had a post bubbling away on the back burner for a while now and the way things are coming together, I better get on it soon. However, this is a holding post until I get time (ha!) for the full thing. Partly it is prompted by the reaction to my Queen's YouTube (or One'sTube as Mike puts it in a comment on Doug's post). Both John and Doug (rightly) complained that this resource would be blocked in most schools. Also, Doug's blog entry led me to Sean the Bass Player's post on the Student 2.0 blog. Other stuff I've caught up with recently (although it is fairly old) includes Gordon's comments on filtering YouTube, and John Connell's response.

I want to say more about this than I have time to write just now. For the moment, can I tease you (think of it as a trailer for an upcoming blog entry) by saying I think it is significantly more complicated than asserting "Web 2.0 good, blocking bad" - I have a lot of sympathy for Gordon's position. The issue deserves a more lengthy and considered response than I have time for just now... but I am working on it... honest.

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P.S. I'm now back home from holiday... and I missed the chance to wish you all a Happy Christmas... so I wish you a belated Happy Christmas! (And before we leave Christmas behind for another year, can I remind you of the Spot the Santa competition? There is still time to enter, and you know you want to win that coveted no-prize.)

I'll try to be more on the ball when the New Year comes around.

Monday, December 24, 2007

YouTube - By Appointment to...

The Queen has her own YouTube channel! This is to make the Queen's speech (and other things) "more accessible to younger people...". You can watch the first ever televised Christmas speech as well as documentaries etc. And this year, you can download her speech as a podcast too.

So the oldest British monarch, who was the first to send a message to the moon and the first to send an email, can add YoutTube and podcasting to her list. My daughter suggested that she might be a secret nerdfighter. :-)

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Saturday, December 22, 2007


I'm in holiday mode so don't expect too much in the way of sensible educational thinking over the next few days. (Stop that sniggering... I do have sensible educational thoughts sometimes.)

Catching up on a backlog of blog reading, I came across this belter from Derek (aka the man with the best job in the world): Marvelous free resources from Marvel Comics... »

I'll leave him to do the educational justification as I'm going to be too busy reading as many of the 250 "Limited Time Only" free samples as I can before the limited time runs out. I would be tempted by a subscription but I suspect when your subscription tuns out, so will your ability to access the comics.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

An "unequalled" subject

Door Knob
Originally uploaded by Sandra Rocha
I saw this on a poster that was stuck on a classroom door. The subject referred to has been omitted because I want you to tell me the subject you think belongs there, and to tell me why you think it deserves that place:
[Insert subject here] is the unequalled agent of mental discipline and the embodiment of constructive and inventive thinking.
{It reads like a quote but no attribution was given on the poster. If anyone can give me a source, I'd be very grateful}

So over to you - give me a subject and give me your reasons.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Talking Heads

I think there is great educational potential for animated talking pictures. You could get a picture of an historical character and put pupil generated words in their mouth... Or get pupils to talk in the persona of a fictional character... Or different pupils could record the same message but present it in different ways depending on the emotions shown by the person in the picture - in anger, in sadness, with resignation etc.

Well the chaps at PQ Computing Inc have come up with a program that lets you:
  • Create animated characters from any photo you want.
  • Easy to use. With simple mouse clicks, the animation can be generated in a few seconds.
  • Only one picture is needed to construct a realistic 3D face for animation
  • Animate any human or animal photos, paintings, drawings or even sketchs.
  • Automatically match lip movement with voice.
  • Support any spoken languges: English, Spanish, German, French, Japanese, Chinese, etc.
  • Create your talking photo album, live avatars on blogs, funny greeting card, pets talk show, etc.
(Quote from the PQ Talking Photo page.)

The product looks interesting. It is not as sophisticated as CrazyTalk, but I suppose PQ Talking Photo is going for a different market. Also, it does what it says it does and doesn't look like it's over-cluttered with extra features you may never need.

Perhaps I should have declared an interest earlier... but those nice people at PQ Computing Inc are offering a free copy to people who blog about their product before Christmas. To be honest, I think it's the sort of thing I would have blogged about anyway... but who am I to look a gift horse in the animated mouth? If (when?) I get a copy, I'll try to remember to post a proper comparative review.

A final word for the moment... As I said at the start, I think this is a great tool for schools... so it's a shame that at least one of the demo animations (I didn't look at the all) is in poor taste (to say the least) and I would judge inappropriate for school use. That's a shame and I hope it's something they reconsider before the official launch.

Anyway, here's an example of what it can do (Blogger allowing!):

blogmyspacedvd to ipod video convertertalkingphoto, dvd to psp convertertalkingphoto, dvd to zunetalking photo album

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Where's Santa?

I seem to have lost Santa.

If you think you can help me find him, go to the picture and add a note to show me where you think he is. There will be a special festive no-prize for the person that gets closest to Santa's actual location (as defined by a panel of expert judges).

Hope you can help... And I hope you have a good holiday when it comes.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Computing is... again!

We had another meeting today of the group of people considering the future of Computing Science education. There was another attempt to define what we think Computing is and we are perhaps slightly further forward but once again, we found it easier to say what Computing isn't. It isn't ICT.

It seems so obvious to me that there is a distinction between ICT and Computing that I may on occasion just state it as a fact and assume that people will go, "Of course! I see it now..." Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case.

I don't want to get too depressed though because some people get it. For example, three recent articles/letters in the Times Educational Supplement (No bytes at the back end, What lies underneath and Put computing in its rightful place), a post on the BBC web site (End of innocence for Mac fans) and the Guardian article that I've already blogged about.

The main problem seems to be the people in charge. In particular our Scottish Government don't seem to get it. For example, I wrote about our ideas for placing Computing in the Science area of a Curriculum for Excellence in my post Digital World. We pulled these thoughts together, made the distinction between ICT and Computing Science and presented what we thought was a good case to Maureen Watt (Minister for Schools and Skills). We received a reply - not from Maureen Watt but from someone else (a civil servant we assume). This reply assured us that ICT was firmly embedded in the Scottish curriculum and ICT was being taught very well and ICT would be even better with a Curriculum for Excellence. (I paraphrase... just a bit.) It basically said, "Thank you for your letter. Now go away." Bah! Did they even read our letter? If they did they completely missed the point. We may or may not be doing well at teaching ICT but ICT is not Computing!

We're going to try again. :-)

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Monday, December 17, 2007

The family that blogs together...

Daughter Number 1 drew the vlogbrothers (Brotherhood 2.0, nerd fighters, etc.) to my attention. She thought it would be the sort of thing I'd like. {I think she wants to try it herself - cheaper than wasting her money on texts and mobile calls to her parents after all!} I must admit, I'm not sure if it is a bold social experiment or just a couple of nutters messing about. However, it is done with care and attention and I can't help but feel impressed. For example the first video I watched (July 27: How Nerdfighters Drop Insults) included a nice riff on Shakespearian insults and a good punchline related to organising a home library. It is not a "sit down in front of a camera and record four minutes of stream of conciousness" stuff but a carefully crafted and well edited video message.

I wonder how lasting this form of communication will be. There is an ephemeral quality about electronic communications. I've been meaning to write a post on unwitting testimony for some time now (maybe this week...) and I'm sure there's all sorts of stuff in their exchanges that will be of interest to future historians but how accessible will their video be?

However, the main thrust of my wonderings has been on the nature of families and family communication in the age of the read/write web. I've become aware of a number of families that are making use of social networking tools to maintain family connections. For example Mrs Blethers seems to keep up with Blethers Boy 1, Blethers Boy 2 and more recently Baby Blethers through blogs, Flickr, Twitter and Skype. Also, the McKinlay clan are popping up on Flickr (Mister McKinlay, Master McKinlay and at least one other). As a final example, I was amused to see that Digital Katie's mum calls herself Analogue Ali and sets her daughter "Where am I?" tasks through her Flickr account. There was much speculation not that long ago on the death of the extended family. Are we seeing the emergence of the extended eFamily and is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Finally a rant... I see these families using read/write web but what do I get from my own immediate family? Grief -- because allegedly I spend too much time on Flickr! Ridiculous... especially given the Bebo addictions of Daughter Number 1 and Daughter Number 2. Pot calling the kettle... if you ask me. {I think I'll get away with that because, as although they claim I spend too much time doing this kind of thing... they don't actually look at it. :-) ...Or should that be ROLF? <-- Private family joke just to see if any of them are paying attention!}
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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Any answers?

Thanks to a Twitter tweet from Teach42 I discovered Polldaddy. So, for instance, if I want to get some feedback about which posts people like best, I can easily include a poll:

Now, I know that the new Blogger templates allow you to add a poll, and as soon as soon as I get around to a long overdue refresh of this blog, I'll add one to try it out. However, Polldaddy also allows much more sophisticated questionnaires to be developed. For example, please answer my extended questionnaire.

There are many educational uses for polls like this. For instance, I mentioned in a lecture recently that I'd been at a workshop before a production on The Crucible. There was some discussion about whether we are supposed to think that John Proctor is still attracted to Abigail Williams. I thought that sort of thing would be a great thing to ask by a poll on a class blog. It would allow the teacher to get a quick idea of the range of opinion in a class and for pupils to see that it can be legitimate to interpret a scene in a number of ways.

Steve Dembo (i.e. Teach42) also drew my attention to Poll Everywhere. This looks like an interesting alternative to the audience vote style personal response systems that some schools are using. I was sceptical about the use of such voting systems until I tried using them in a lecture. I found them surprisingly useful. There are obvious issues about asking students to pay to vote in class but I think it is worth investigating further. If I try it, I'll try to remember to let you know how I get on. I have a blog post on voting systems that's been bubbling on the back burner for a few months now. Maybe this will inspire me to finish and post it. :-)

In the meantime, what do you think of using tools like Polldaddy? Can you see potential for your classes? If you are already using that type of tool, I'd love to hear if it worked.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007


BBC NEWS | Education | School work priority for children

The survey of 507 boys and 493 girls, across all social classes, in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, revealed that half think they are British and half are patriotic saying they are English, Welsh, Scottish or Irish.

...So saying you are British is unpatriotic? How odd!

This report, and the bits on the Newsround site, are both a bit light on detail about attitudes to technology. However, the BBC report reveals that "The real world still beats online, children would rather play outside and talk to friends face to face" and the Newsround report says, "Most kids would rather play outside than on their computer". ...So despite changes in society and technological advances, children are still children!

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Getting ratty with Technoratti

Once again, Technorati seems to be missing some of my posts. At the moment, it has failed to pick up three of my last seven posts. This happened to me before before but I thought the problem (what ever it was) had been resolved. Now even the work around (change the time submitted on a post it failed to spot and resubmit) isn't working. Odd.

Anyone else having problems?

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Guitar Hero versus Violin Virtuoso

I said a bit about Joe Moretti's session at the recent Apple RTC meeting in Southampton. I forgot to mention he said he'd read that peripatetic teachers of guitar now outnumber teachers of violins in schools. His comment, if I remember correctly, was:
"Isn't that dreadful... why are so many kids being forced to learn violin?"
I couldn't find the report he referred to, but this one seems close:

Violin losing out to guitar in music lessons | News crumb |

a government-backed study has found that guitars and drums are, in fact, becoming the instruments of choice in the classroom.
Not everyone will share Joe's pleasure in this finding... but the solution seems obvious - do a Jimmy Page and play the guitar with a bow. :-)

I assume that part of the reason for this shift is that guitar and drums seem more relevant to children's experience of music. I'm reminded of the attempts to convince Daughter Number 2 that playing the flute was a good idea. Her music teacher suggested she should listen to James Gallway, but this failed to inspire. I tried Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull - but that was dad rock and that too failed to impress. Her sister, Daughter Number 1, seemed to come closest when she found the beatboxing flautist on YouTube. Relevance matters and dads (and teachers?) rarely manage to pull it off!

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

Note this

Wanted to try posting a photo with working notes.

Alan Levine thought that Blogger strips out javascript... but it seems to work OK here.

Details of how to do it can be found at Yuan.CC Flickr Experiments via CogDogBlog.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Regional Training Centres

Joe does GB08
Originally uploaded by DavidDMuir
I'm spending two days in Southampton in the company of people from Apple's Regional Training Centre network. As usual there was a mixed bag of speakers, talking mostly about creativity in education. For example, there was one session on the new features in Garagband '08. Once again, Joe Moretti showed me stuff that Garageband could do that I just didn't know about. He said he hoped I wasn't blogging about him this time as I did at eLive and at the last Apple RTC event... so I wont tell you the following... :-) He showed how Arrangements in Garageband (the ability to arrange your compositions into sections - introduction, verse, chorus, etc.) can be used to talk about structure in music and how Garageband is not only easy to use but is sophisticated enough to be useful up to (at least) GCSE level. (Is that OK Joe?)

View from the bench
Originally uploaded by DavidDMuir
A chap at the school that was hosting the event then showed an EduTube thing they were working on (like YouTube but for education). To be fair, the Wildern TV product looked good and gave students the opportunity to share and evaluate educationally relevant video material in school which they couldn't do through YouTube because it was blocked by the authority. It was also good to hear that the pupils themselves moderate the content. However, I've already talked about TeacherTube - what are the advantages of yet another NotYouTube? Steve has already had a go at him on his blog (perhaps he is slightly harsh but in general I have sympathy with Steve's point of view).

Also on Day 1 was a description of an Aim Higher summer school that reminded me of the S@S program at Strathclyde. I wonder if they are talking to each other? It was also good to see school pupils involved in this presentation who were clearly enthusiastic and inspired by their expeience at the summer school.

A presentation from the Centre for Excellence in Media Practice was interesting - particularly tools such as Dialogue Boxes. A presentation on iPods in education produced the following two quotes from pupils: "We are learning in a way that suits our lives." and "It’s not the gadget, it’s how you use it.” Evidence that the pupils get it? And finally, a presentation on some stuff done by Welsh national museums who worked with teachers to produce a "TV programme". Think Richard an Judy but set in Roman times. Was great fun and can be used to challenge stereotyped ideas of what the Romans were like.

An interesting first day. Pictures and Day 2 to follow.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Oops, they did it again!

BBC NEWS | Politics | UK's families put on fraud alert

Abstract Colors
Originally uploaded by Concubine
"Two computer discs holding the personal details of all families in the UK with a child under 16 have gone missing."
It seems ironic that as I try to teach my children the importance of looking after their private data (e.g. no real names on Bebo, don't display email/birthday/location/etc.) the government misplace the personal details of 25 million people - including my daughters' data!

And this is the same government that says we can trust them with our data for their identity cards idea!

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Fear of falure

Making Innovation Flourish: Failure is acceptable

I would go a step further and say not only is failure acceptable but it should be seen as inevitable.

Risky strategy
Originally uploaded by mark lorch
So says George Whitehead in a blog on the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) site. He seems to be talking about the world of business and entrepreneurial-ish things, but I wonder if education could learn from this kind of attitude. For example, it seems that some children are unwilling to answer questions in class for fear of getting it wrong and there is at least anecdotal evidence that students continue to look for the "right answer" even when the teacher assures them there is no right answer. However repeated failure with no realistic hope of success is clearly not a good thing, so how do you find a balance?

George ends his blog post with:
I don’t celebrate failure but it should be seen it as inevitable in a risk taking business.
Is the opposite attitude prevalent in education? Is there is a tendency to avoid even the possibility of failure? Are we unduly interested in risk-avoidance? It seems to me that education is not a risk-free activity. If everything is kept to small, easily achievable steps, we may minimise the possibility of failure, but we may also miss the excitement of the big success. Why do people do crosswords, suduko, jigsaws etc? It's not because they are easy - quite the opposite. It is the possibility of failure that makes these activities interesting and the possibility of success that keeps us trying to solve them.

However, even as I write this post, I worry about two possibilities. Firstly, I wonder if I am too far away from the classroom and therefore too unrealistic in my expectations. "Its alright for him, he doesn't have parents, and senior management, and inspectors breathing down his neck looking for exam results!" I fear there is some truth in these accusations. Also, as I consider my own teaching, I realise how rarely I take risks myself and I'm not sure how often I ask students to do something knowing that they might fail. Physician heal thyself! I clearly need to think about this more carefully in relation to my own teaching.

Secondly, I wonder if I'm being too pessimistic. Perhaps there is more risk taking going on in education than I think. I am not suggesting that we have to be taking risks all day every day, so there may well be parts of the term, or particular projects, where the potential for failure exits. Have you any examples of where you have taken risks? Can you share your successes... and perhaps just as importantly, your failures?

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Rock Radio

I won a competition! (Stick with me... we'll get to the educational computing bit soon.) It was a stunningly good prize and included a year's supply of Elixir Strings and a custom built guitar from Bailey Guitars. A truly stunning prize.

I also got to hang out for a while at Rock Radio which was also great. (See my set of pictures to get a flavour of what went on.) I thoroughly enjoyed the visit, but with my education hat on, I couldn't help but notice the technology behind the production of the radio programmes. There was the stuff that's obvious, like the web site and the internet stream of the radio, but there was other stuff that was interesting too. For example, I think it's interesting that the presenters all have blogs (see for example Kieron's blog and the entry where he describes the prize I won). At the moment, there's not very many comments on the blog but I like that they are doing it.

I also saw the studio where they create adverts and other stuff where there was a huge collection of digital sound effects on CD(ROM?) - things have come a long way from the BBC Sound Effects albums of my youth. The Computing bit that really caught my attention though was that the voice artists don't have to come into the studio. Apparently there is some sort of line into the studio (details were vague but we were told it's a bit like an ISDN line) that allows them to "phone" in their work at full broadcast quality. Interesting... and something I want to find out more about.

Finally, and the bit I thought was most fascinating was the way the programmes are put together. No faffing about with CDs and tape carts during the broadcast... everything was digitised and the complete running order was shown on the computer screen: music, links, adverts, everything... it's all there. But you are not locked into this list, it is possible to alter the programme even while the show is on air. For example, I watched Tom Russell take out one link between tracks and substitute another. So while the track was still playing, the link that would follow it was changed. The track finished a few minutes later and the show continued, with the new link, without a blip. Brilliant! I really want to know more about the technology behind that!

I came away with a great prize (thank you Kieron, Rock Radio, Bailey Guitars and Elixir Strings) but I also came away thinking about the computing technology behind radio production and wondering if there is a case study for schools Computing in Rock Radio? I wonder if they allow school visits? I wonder if I'll be organised enough to do more than wonder? :-)

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Computing: training, teaching, education and emancipation

Time for schools to teach computing, not just train users | Technology | Guardian Unlimited

"There is a fair amount of skills-based IT training taking place, so that students leave school knowing how to write a letter, make a spreadsheet and create a presentation, even if their skills tend to be oriented around Microsoft Office instead of being more general.

But this really is training, not teaching. IT has been embedded into the curriculum and students learn how to do stuff, but there is no space for discussion and debate that might lead to a deeper understanding of the technology or the issues it creates."
So said Bill Thomson, quoted in a blog post from yesterday's Guardian website. And that's just an extract from the opening few paragraphs - the article is just packed with good stuff! It chimes very well with some of the issues we were wrestling with at the Schools Computing: The Future conference (see for example my blog post: Computing is...). The distinction made in the post is between ICT training and ICT education - we were trying to make a distinction between ICT and Computing Science.

The post is just packed with quotable quotes. The one that initially attracted me is:
"...computers are intrinsically emancipatory devices, whereas schools are basically institutions of control."
-- Seymour Papert
I saw this in John Johnson's Tumbelog {note to self: investigate Tumblr soon!} and had to go and investigate. There is a great section which ends with "...where pupils can use the technology only under ludicrously restricted conditions" and it reports possibly my favourite quote of the year so far:
"To appreciate the distinction, think of sex. Would we be happy if schools provided sex training rather than sex education for our children? You only have to ask the question to know the answer."
(This replaces my previous favourite quote: "Digital World? - It's more like Forbidden Planet!")

So, what do you think? At least one of the people commenting on the Guardian blog remains unconvinced. However, my contention is that we live in a digital world. Pretty much all of the recent developments in science, technology and (possibly) the arts have depended on, or sprung from, the digital word. We ignore this digital world in schools at our peril... or rather at our children's peril. I simply do not believe it is enough to assume that children will all have computers and therefore will learn all they need to by osmosis.

...Or am I just being a grumpy old Computing teacher?

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Subterranean Homesick Blogs

I decided that in my efforts to come up with a theme song needed the help of a serious musician. However, I'm not sure that this is what I need. :-)

What do you think of Bob's efforts?

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Theme Song

Darth Tater's iPod
Originally uploaded by DavidDMuir
As I arrived at a colleague's lecture the other day, he was playing music over the hall's sound system. This caused some discussion among the students ("Why is he playing that?", "Is that Eric Clapton?", etc.). It made me think that it would be useful if every lecturer had their own theme tune.

A colleague suggested she'd like Another Brick in the Wall by Pink Floyd. I was tempted by School's Out by Alice Cooper but at the moment I'm leaning towards Won't Get Fooled Again by The Who.

What do you think would be a good theme tune for me? I'm open to suggestions.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Social Annotation

Social Annotation: Seamless Integration of Social Bookmarking, Web Highlighter, Sticky-Note & Clipping Annotated

learning accounting...
Originally uploaded by rnav1234
Two posts in a row about interesting web tools...

I've just discovered a web based service called diigo. (Yet another cool idea with a silly name! I would have pronounced it die-go, but apparently it is dee-go.) The site describes itself as a Social Annotation tool... which perhaps doesn't help explain much. The welcome screen adds:

Social Annotation: Seamless Integration of Social Bookmarking, Web Highlighter, Sticky-Note & Clipping

Highlight, Clip and Sticky-Note for any webpage

  • Just as you would on paper ⇒ Write on any webpage!
  • Make them private or public ⇒ Interact on any webpage
Share your online findings with your friends and colleagues
  • Complete with highlights and sticky notes
  • As lists, as blogs, as albums, as feeds, or via email
  • In groups
Still in the dark? It reminded me of the the review tools in Microsoft Word which I've used a few times with students - someone sends me a Word document and I add comments and suggested edits. The review tools can track changes I make as well as highlighting sections and adding notes in the margin. I can then send the annotated Word document back to the author and a conversation grows around the original document and our comments. When I first started using this feature of Word, I thought it would be great if you could do that with web pages. Imagine being able to get a class of students to collaborate on a web page: to highlighting sections, share their understanding, ask questions and add extra information. With diigo, that's exactly what you could do.

Add to that online social bookmarking (which can be linked to other bookmarking services such as, the ability to highlight any text on a page and search for it on a range of search services using a pop-up menu, to blog about a page and link non-diigo users to your annotations on that page (this blog posted was created using the diigo Blog this tool) and a host of other features ...and you have a stunningly valuable educational tool.

I think I'll be spending a lot more time on this site in the near future and I'm already plotting ways I could use it with students. What do you think? How could this service be used in the classroom?

By DavidDMuir

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Saturday, October 20, 2007


Those of you who have read previous EduFlickr posts will know that one of the reasons I like Flickr is because it gives students adifferent way of telling stories (for example EduFlickr: Telling Tales). Thanks to a recent David Warlick Podcast (Episode 84: Bloggers’ Cafe at NECC 2007) I heard about a new (well new to me) web service called VoiceThread.

It looks interesting. Photos can be posted and then any number of people can add text or voice comments to the picture - they can even doodle on top of the photo to highlight or add to the information. It is therefore easy to gather a variety of views on a single event or picture. It is also possible to link a number of photos together and gather different comments on each photo.

Photos can be uploaded from your computer or imported directly from Flickr and Facebook. However, you are not just limited to threading photos together. You can upload Powerpoint documents, Adobe Documents, Word Documents, Excel Spreadsheets and videos. How useful would that be in the classroom? Post a Powerpoint presentation, or some other document and get your class to comment. Everyone gets three threads for free but teachers can apply for a free educator account.

The final trick is you can embed the thread in a blog, web page or whatever. Here are three I made earlier showing three different ways of linking to the thread: large, small and text link.

View this VoiceThread on the site.

View this VoiceThread on the site.

VoiceThread about Computer Labs.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

We all know what that looks like...

David Stow
Originally uploaded by DavidDMuir
You may or may not know that the Education Faculty of the University of Strathclyde (where I work) is going to move. The plan is to move us from the Jordanhill Campus to a new location in the town centre by 2010. It will be a shame to leave the old buildings and all the history behind when we move but it is interesting to consider what it will be like - "State of the art and fit for purpose. An education building fit for the 21st century." we are told.

There has been consultation on the design, but from where I am, it has mostly been bickering about how big our offices should be. :-) However, recently I found myself on a sub-committee looking at the AV/IT support that should be available in the new building's learning spaces. We were looking at three levels of provision for three types of rooms: rooms for small groups, rooms for medium sized groups and "lecture theatres" for large groups. We had a good first meeting talking about how the spaces could be used and the kind of activities they could support. It was good to talk about learning and teaching issues rather than just who gets what space.

However, it was a throw away comment made near the end of meeting that really started me thinking. The chair of the meeting said something like, "Lecture theatres, well we all know what they look like..." and the discussion moved swiftly on to the other types of rooms. It was only afterwards that it struck me that I know what lecture theatres look like just now, but what about a lecture theatre that's "fit for the 21st century"?

What do we want from a space that can hold hundreds of students? What should a lecture theatre look like? Can it be designed to support effective learning where there is one lecturer and hundreds of students? Can we justify dedicating such a large space to this way of learning?

Over to you. What do you think a lecture theatre should look like?

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Rush in Concert

Now, I know your thinking, "Why is he doing a concert review in an Educational blog? Didn't he say he wanted to do more about the Scottish Learning Festival?" Well, I happen to think Rush are very educational... and it's my blog, so there. :-)

I'm serious about the educational bit. I think music can have the power to engage teenagers and introduce them to a world and to ideas that they might not encounter otherwise. From my own experience, it was because of Rush that I first used an inter-library loan system. I'd been a user of the Glasgow public libraries for some time but it never occurred to me that you could borrow stuff that wasn't on the shelves. However, Rush did a song called 2112 which I heard was based on a book by Ayn Rand called Anthem. I knew nothing more than this and when I couldn't find the book on the shelves (or indeed any book by Ayn Rand) I plucked up my courage and asked a librarian. Soon I was filling in a form and within a week I had the book. To be honest, I like the song better then the book. And I didn't really buy into her philosophy, but then I don't always fully buy into Rush's philosophy either. The point is, the music of Rush introduced me to new ideas and new ways of thinking.

They still make me think. Mr W. has commented elsewhere that it was a very political gig (which it was) Neil Peart's lyrics always have been political - even in their sci-fi days. A less enlightened friend described Neil's lyrics as "pretentious twaddle" - well, if it is twaddle, it's twaddle that raises important issues. Take for example The Larger Bowl from their latest album Snakes and Arrows:

If we are so much the same, like I always hear
why such different fortunes and fates?
Some of us live in a cloud of fear.
Some live behind iron gates.

Why such different fortunes and fates?
Some are blessed and some are cursed.
Some live behind iron gates
while others only see the worst.

Some are blessed and some are cursed.
The golden one or scarred from birth
while others only see the worst.
Such a lot of pain on the earth.

The golden one or scarred from birth.
Some things can never be changed.
Such a lot of pain on this earth.
It's somehow so badly arranged.

Some things can never be changed.
Some reasons will never come clear.
It's somehow so badly arranged.
If we're so much the same, like I always hear.

Interesting stuff and even more impressive in concert where it was paired with some really powerful images on the big screens at the back of the stage. Not only do the lyrics challenge me, but also, because of this song, I now know what a pantoum is. Perhaps you already know about pantoums, but if you don't, look it up! Learn something from Rush. :-)

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P.S. I got an email the other day from Rock Radio FM asking if they could post a couple of my Rush pictures on their website. I was happy for them to do this. :-)

The Captain posted this one and Tom Russell also used one of Alex playing Hope.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

TacheBack - the final push!

TacheBack - Day 29
Originally uploaded by DavidDMuir
There's only one day of moustache growing to go before it gets shaved off. Thanks to everyone who has contributed to the Everyman cancer charity. The total donated for my efforts to grow a moustache is currently £246.44 - which I think is pretty good!

I have been especially pleased the way people have reacted to what is, let's face it, a silly idea. The students were great with many coming up to me in the cafe and in corridors to give me money. A couple entered into the spirit and one posted a look-a-like picture Borat.

TeachMeet also reacted well with Ewan also posting a look-a-like (Clouseau this time). Also, at TeachMeet, Merlin John took possibly the best photo of of my moustache and wrote a great blog entry about my fundraising efforts.

And then there were friends and readers of this blog who reacted generously, including Kenneth who produced two look-a-like movies - Renee and Clouseau (again!).

I've also been accused of looking like Magnum PI and both Basil Fawlty and Manuel... but no look-a-like evidence for any of these. :-)

Finally, here is a short slideshow of the whole tache growing effort.

Although the TacheBack campaign ends on September 30th, I think you will be able to donate online for a while yet, so if you haven't done so already, it's not too late.

Thanks again everyone.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Maps and mobiles

Avian GPS
Originally uploaded by 4tunate1
We interrupt our normal program...

I have a few more posts I want to make about the Scottish Learning Festival and TeachMeet but I found a new trick that I can do with my camera phone and wanted to share it now while I was still ridiculously pleased with what I discovered I could do. :-)

I have not made an EduFlickr post for some time (something I'll need to put right soon) but over a year ago I talked about geotagging. It has become easier to geotag photographs, for example Flickr allows you to place a photo on a map, but I still find it fiddly. During the summer however, I bought a version of TomTom that runs on my PDA and uses Bluetooth to connect to an external GPS unit. I thought this would help with geotagging and to a certain extent it does. I used it a fair bit while on holiday in Bath (see for example this view over the cricket pitch at Norton St Philips). What I did was use TomTom at the location I took pictures and noted the latitude and longitude from the GPS. While this was easier than fiddling about with online maps after the event, it was still a pain because I couldn't find a way to export the location data from TomTom. What I had to do was write down the position myself beside a label that I hoped would remind me where I was when I took the photo. As I said, easier than messing about with online maps but prone to errors and still more fiddly that I would have liked.

What I wanted was a way to automate the process as much as possible, or at least a way to export the GPS data electronically so I could copy and paste the geotags into Flickr. I know that some cameras are beginning to appear that have GPS built in but a quick check on Google confirms that they are still unusual and expensive... besides I already have a GPS unit and a perfectly adequate camera.

I was very pleased therefore to discover this article on the Avec Mobile site: The Easy Way to Post Photos with Geographic Coordinates on a Map. It does exactly what it says on the tin. Brilliant! Stunningly brilliant even! It uses the Shozu service (which I've used a bit before, e.g. Science Cow) and makes use of Shozu's GPS feature - something that I wasn't even aware existed. What's the matter with the Shozu people? They should be shouting about this feature from the rooftops! It's still not perfect, but it's as close to perfect as I'll get for free with my existing kit. Now when I want to geotag a picture, I'll just take a second picture with the cameraphone and let Shozu geotag it. Then, later on, I can replace the cameraphone photo with the photo from my camera - which will inherit the geotags from the low-resolution version. Have I said before that this is brilliant? :-)

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Stephen Heppell @ The Scottish Learning Festival

{I wrote briefly about Stephen Heppell's keynote speech on the Connected Live blog but I wanted to capture a bit more here while it was still relatively fresh in my mind.}

Stephen Heppell
Stephen Heppell,
originally uploaded by DavidDMuir.
Stephen thinks we live in a world that has to be built bottom up and that the Scottish Learning Festival is a great example of this. Everywhere he looks he sees groups of teachers meeting together, talking together and getting excited about education.


The Internet doesn’t really do identity well. How many identities do you have on the Internet and who will you trust with your identity. We don’t trust politicians or companies or… Perhaps we trust our community. Perhaps we trust the educators in this room. We should be more in control of our digital identity.

Time is also treated badly – can you still access the web page you wrote five years ago?

Small is effective

What happens in our schools? We’ve ignored phones, we have poor real time data and find it hard/impossible to measure what we think is/will be important. Used SketchUp, claymation and Mark’s Coffee Break Spanish as examples of the great things that are happening that
haven't been planned from on high and/or that are hard to measure.

We make the mistake of assuming one-size fits all is a sensible approach. We need to move to quality assurance rather than quality control. Not telling them what to do but allowing schools/pupils/parents to do what works.

Showed us Wage Slips 4 U, Instant Life Experience Degree and Cheat House Online. He remarked that, "Bits of paper are worthless!" How do we represent process? How do I prove my experience? He showed a video of a Chinese midwife who could only get a job in a hospital kitchen in the UK. If we assume that certificating everything is the solution we will get it wrong.

Everyone is a publisher

From - To
From - To,
originally uploaded by DavidDMuir.
{Stephen displayed one of the From --> To slides that I like. Managed to capture this one in a picture.} Moved from educational research (based in institutions) to learning research (based in communities). Stephen is not impressed by the idea that we can identify good practice in a school and then tell everyone to copy it. Doesn't work because schools are different. People are different. Better to look at it like a series of ingredients that schools can look at and then make up their own recipes. {Like the restaurant we went to after the TeachMeet. :-) - DM} Recognise schools as research centres. If we start from the assumption that our schools could be better, the scholarship is to look around and see what ingredients can be used to make our school better. Borrow good ideas – take ingredients and make a recipe for a better school. End of the process is to exhibit what they have done. A third of the staff does this action research at the time and in the end is rewarded with a doctorate. He talked a lot about this Learnometer project.

Successful nations

Blurry but readable?
Blurry but readable?,
originally uploaded by DavidDMuir.
{Last time I heard Stephen talk about this I wasn't fast enough to write it all down... This time, I got a picture! - DM}

Nations that are showing astonishing progress are typically:
  • small, agile nations
  • stable culturally
  • track record of effective education
  • embracing a sense of change
  • embracing new technologies
  • outward facing often with global migration patterns
  • stable politically and administratively
  • egalitarian
Does this look like Scotland? Stephen thinks so.

A few closing quotes

A school’s policy should be: "We could so do this".
We don’t know how good or children can be – let’s find out.
Learning can inoculate children against poverty.

{John Connell has already picked up on this final quote.}

Saturday, September 22, 2007

In the Wild - Matt Locke

Matt Locke - Commissioning Editor, New Media Channel 4

Matt Locke
Matt Locke,
originally uploaded by DavidDMuir.
It's not about the technology – it's about the warm bodies. Trouble is finding the language that is meaningful both to the creative TV people and the technology people. Is it about a utopian dream or a distopian future? The same kind of discussions took place when the telegraph started.

Don't think about the technology but ask what structures people are creating in their head. What spaces are they inhabiting while they use the technology? Some spaces are:

Private spaces – like using mobile phones.

Group spaces – Bebo, Facebook etc. Often these are more public than people think but they are used to create a social group.

Publishing spaces – Blogs, Flickr etc. Can be same tools as above but tend to be used in a different way. Teenagers can use these tools to explore their identity. Rehearse what their voices sound like to an anonymous audience.

Performing spaces – Second Life, world of Warcraft, … People perform to show off their skills for example videoing themselves playing games.

Paricipating spaces – Marches, meetings etc. For example Threadless - a t-shirt design community. People organising themselves online. {Like the TeachMeet wiki? - DM}

Watching spaces – Television, gigs etc. people sharing their experiences for others {Like the sharing of SLF – technology means that the ripples are felt much further afield that the event itself. - DM}

Alternate reality game (ARG) – Jane McGonigal from the Institute for the Future created World Without Oil where the participants had to write about how their life was in an alternate reality where the world was without oil. Often an ARG has the idea of creating a mission – a quest for people to complete in the real world e.g. get a group of people to a gathering/party by public transport. It's that kind of blended activity Channel 4 wants to create.

These are the guiding principles (according to Matt) – make them playful (not necessarily fun!). How can the learning come from the play? Allow people to be exuberant, to show-off, to cheat (like cheat sheets in a game). Not about creating a resource library. Do one thing well. Give things away {cf. my excitement of getting a free Second Life t-shirt! - DM}. Messy is good! Make your audience your hero – opposite in network world to X-Factor style TV where slowly large numbers are whittled down to just one winner. Immerse yourself – find the things that make sense to you and be passionate!

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

How to create successful online communities

Seminar based on work of Heads together/Deputes together.

originally uploaded by phil h.
Can online users find they have too many ways to go - too much choice leading to confusion and rejection of all the tools. Why have previous Scottish communities struggled?

Too high expectations?

Activity levels - 2006 Nielson noted 90% lurkers, 9% contribute a little and 1% account for most. For blogs it is 95%, 5% and 0.1% "Blogs are interesting like diaries but if you don't have time to read through them..." {Blogs like diaries? Not convinced - DM}

Learning communities, communities of interest or communities of practice. Communities of practice take time, sustained interaction and trust. Confidence to share not just facts but trusts and beliefs. Changing practice requires reflection and time to reflect so that deep learning can take place. {So blogs can't be used for this reflection? - DM}

How do you encourage this?
  1. Invest in the means, not the end. Focus on generating traffic. Regular communication about what's happening in the communities.
  2. Oops... missed this
  3. Focus on the needs of the members. If something is set up by the members themselves it will be more successful.
  4. Resist the temptation to control. {Is this a lesson Authorities need to learn about Glow? - DM}
  5. Don't assume the community will be self sustaining. "It is nice that things change". The site should be refreshed.
  6. Collaboration has to be an over-arching theme.
Heads Together are averaging about 25% of their members logging in per month - c.f. the Neilson figures above - Heads Together is a very active community with a high level of message generation. The team has a fairly positive attitude to "lurkers". They have evidence of reflection and sharing that goes on outside the community. Not all members will have the same level of activity at all times.

Software has to be robust, easy to use, attractive and fast or the users will not come back. {As an example of ease of use, they have a button that says, "Thanks, I found this discussion useful". I wonder how this is set up? It could lose value if overused but I wonder if it is more like a rating system? - DM} There are resources there to bring people in but the community learns that the real pearls are in the discussion forums.

Staffroom - an area for relaxing. Example from current staffroom was a story from an early years head describing how a child told her they'd found a dead cat. "How do you know it was dead?" the head asked.
"I pissed in it's ear and it didn't move."
"You what?!"
"You know... I went 'Psst!" in it's ear and it didn't move."

Successful online communities need:
  • Purpose.
  • Induction. People need support - not just tools
  • Monitoring. "Sooner or later, someone will put up something inappropriate" {Is there a tension here with point 4 above? - DM}
If I have a pound and give it to my neighbour, he has a pound and I don't. If I have an idea and my neighbour has an idea we can share them and both win.

It takes time to get a community up and working.

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