Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Glow Technical Briefing

Today I was in Stirling for a Glow technical meeting. It's fair to say that a good bit of it was too technical for me but there was some interesting stuff there too. In particular, I had my first look at the Virtual Learning Environment - GlowLearn.

Now, before I go any further, I should say that I am extraordinarily sceptical about Virtual Learning Environments (VLE) in general. In my experience, most are more about content delivery than about learning. Delivering content is of course a part of learning but there is so much more to learning than content. Most VLEs also provide management and assessment tools, however, I find the assessment tools (in general) fairly limited too. If I had a free choice of Virtual Learning Environment, I'd go for FirstClass, especially FirstClassEd which can do the content delivery, digital portfolio and assessment stuff but is stronger on communication and collaboration tools than the other environments I've seen. It seems to me that the creation and support of communities of learners is more important that simply delivering content and administering quizzes.

So, if I seem overly critical of GlowLearn, it's probably my dislike of VLEs in general that's the problem. I'll try to restrict myself therefore to four observations.

Firstly, GlowLearn seems to be largely about content delivery and quiz administration. :-) However, I suppose the point is that GlowLearn is only one aspect of Glow and the whole package (it could be argued) is about the creation and support of a community of learners.

Secondly, the interface looked fairly dull - largely text based. I suppose that it's not dissimilar to the rest of Glow in that respect. However, it is only a pilot testing version, so perhaps they are more interested in checking the functionality at this stage.

Thirdly, although I said GlowLearn is largely content delivery and quiz administration, there is quite a nice wee feature that allows you to attach short messages to tasks/assignments or quizzes. I think that this has potential. It could allow focused conversations about specific aspects of your online course. For instance, you could attach a private message to a quiz for a student along the lines of, "Well done on the last quiz Jimmy. This one's a bit trickier though, so think carefully before attempting question 5." I could see it having value as a means of providing targeted feedback and support to individuals. However, I do worry that it sits outside the rest of the Glow messaging system. The danger is that pupils could have messages here, there and everywhere and not even know they exist. Some sort of coComment system of pulling messages together in the one place, ...or a mechanism for forwarding them automatically to a pupil's email account, ...or an RSS feed of messages, ...or something similar, would seem essential. {As an aside, RSS seems to be conspicuous by its absence across the whole of Glow. That seems like a mistake. :-) }

Fourthly, the chap said that every quiz had to be submitted to a teacher for marking. I think that's bizarre! The feature I would find most useful would be to create an automatically marked, instant feedback quiz so that the pupils themselves could check their understanding without requiring input from the teacher. The instant and anonymous marking of a quiz like this is what makes them attractive to pupils. The presenter seemed open to the idea of instant feedback quizzes but made it sound like they just hadn't thought about it. Hopefully it will appear in post-pilot versions of GlowLearn. :-)

Sorry if I seem to have been grumpy throughout this post. I am in fact pleased to see the various bits of Glow starting to come together. Up until now it has felt a bit like vaporware, but it's good to see things coming together that teachers and pupils can use.

What would you look for in a VLE? Can anyone offer good examples of VLE use to counter my cynical attitude?

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Digital kids - Analog Teacher

Filmed DNA
Filmed DNA,
originally uploaded by Stitch
My wife the English teacher was doing a poem called War Photographer by Carol Ann Duffy. She was talking about imagery and metaphor and other Englishy stuff and had just got to the "Belfast. Beirut. Phnom Penh." bit and was pointing out that they were in order - like the "spools of suffering" that were in "ordered rows" when a pupil interrupted to ask, "What's a dark room?" Sudden mental gear change!

Darkroom? Photographic film? Not a clue! So much of the poem relies on an understanding of how film photography works and was completely lost on the digital generation.

It was not that long ago that I used to explain the difference between random access and sequential access by comparing it to playing an LP rather than a cassette tape. "An L what?" :-) Technology is moving ever faster and I wonder how many of our analogies and explanations are hindering rather than helping?

Has anyone else been caught out like this by a digital divide that has got in the way of learning? What favourite analogies are you having to let go?

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Friday, May 25, 2007

TeachMeet Version 3.0

A quick post on the TeachMeet. What a good night. I didn't get to talk to as many people as I would have liked but perhaps I spoke to more people than wanted to talk to me. :-)

Ewan looks disgusted
Originally uploaded by DavidDMuir
It felt more like the first ever TeachMeet that we had after eLive last year rather than the second one we had after SETT. This one was more Meet than Teach, whereas the one after SETT was more Teach than Meet... if you see what I mean. This may be in part down to the venue. When we were at the Jolly Judge we were in pub mode, so it was chatting and drinking, and when we were in Centotre we were in restaurant mode, so it was eating and chatting. Whereas, the previous TeachMeet started in a room which put us into classroom mode.

Both approaches have their advantages. I wonder if we could combine aspects of both if we ever have another TeachMeet? Perhaps we could meet in a room where people do a one minute "sales pitch", with no Powerpoint, to say what you can talk about and which corner you're going to sit in. People can then decide who they want to follow up and talk to. Would some sort of time limit for chatting be useful too in order to encourage mingling? What do you think?

Having said that, I'll repeat again... I really enjoyed the TeachMeet. I was able to share a couple of things, e.g. the wonderful ScanR service and, of course, the Tin Foil Hat song. I also learned a few things that I need to spend some time playing with. For example, I was directed to Salling Clicker, a really cool program that will turn a phone into a remote control for your computer, and I was invited to join Joost - an on demand, Internet based, TV service.

Great night, good company, new toys to play with! What more could you ask for?

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

eLive - Learning2Go Project - Dave Whyley

Learning2Go project, also a Learning2Go blog.

Laptops are primarily about writing - give them a pencil, it's cheaper. Also, laptops are heavy, take a while to boot up and can be easily damaged. The advantage of a handheld device is, the camera/video capability means it's not all about text, they are easily transported and they are instant on.

It took a hundred years of schooling to go from the teacher at the front with a book, he only book, and the children remembering what they were told -- to every child having their own book and own jotters (that need to be marked!) Compare with technology devices where it has only taken ten years to go from one computer in the classroom -- to each pupil having their own device.

Some of the applications used include: eBooks, simulation, full powerpoint, mind mapping, full kar2ouch (sp?), digital video and pictures. Dave described the camera as the "killer app". It is the thing that has had the biggest impact (although it is not without problems. The eBooks have been great too because so many classic texts are free and you can highlight a word and ask for a definition. {Note to self - must find out how to do this.} Children can not only read eBooks but can easily create their own with a conversion tool from Word. Can include pictures and drawings as well as text. {Note to self - must find out how to do this too!} The free eBooks available can be quite challenging but boys and reluctant readers seem more keen to read off the mobile device and they access books that they probably wouldn't look at otherwise. They also use a mapping tool with GPS that can track where the pupils are walking on an OS map on which pupils can link photos, videos and documents to record the trip.

They are using software that can lock everyone's device, so that everyone is paying attention, they can then display in real time, what everyone is doing on their devices. Can also highlight and display just one, or group the small images together... and this is done wirelessly. The pupils can also submit the files to the teacher's computer - date stamped and labelled to the individual pupils. Also individuals screens can be broadcast to the other's devices. Software is called SynchronEyes and was developed with Smart (an evaluation copy can be downloaded). Can also use as the devices as a voting system.

Had all sorts of evidence of the impact on attainment and attendance. But it has also had an impact on parents and their attitude to schools and learning.

They use a package called Feeder Reader for podcasting.

Teachers are given at least three days training before the pupils see the devices. Also, the teachers are allowed to choose an aspect to lock into and roll out. They are then brought together for a half day per term for a "show and tell" to spread expertise and understanding of what can be done.

They have a lot of money to spend on ICT and Dave hopes they wont be spent on ICT suites!

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eLive - Handheld Learning in Action - Kate Farrell

Aim is to get some sort of handheld device for every S5/S6 pupil. Looking at smartphones because of the Internet access.

Did face some opposition initially, however, Kate gave an example of one teacher at the start of a meeting saying phones should be banned because of the "annoying ringtones". By the end of the meeting, discussing the possibilities, the same teacher said that these devices are "essential".

Kate however has been disappointed with the response from the mobile phone companies who don't seem to see the potential.

Requirements include that it should be a 3G phone (which will mean the school will not need to go wi-fi). Wanted to have a windows mobile so that software can be installed. Also keen to have a keyboard option. In the end they went for a Vario II - partly because it looks like a handheld computer rather than a phone. They also hope to get a data only tariff because buying mobile phone contracts for children could be tricky.

They also wanted a phone that could record pictures, and video. Means that experiments can be filmed and posted to YouTube. Children can record reports for NABs rather than having to write them up. Allows them to get credit for work done rather than failing a NAB because of poor writing skills.

Sound was also important, both for recording homework for say Modern Languages but also for listening to audio and podcasts.

The Windows Mobiles also come with versions of Word, Excel and Outlook. Can therefore put reminders in their Outlook calender and To Do lists. And, of course, all of these uses can easily be shared by Bluetooth.

Because every pupil has an Internet capable smart phone, you know every pupil has Internet access. The can therefore be set Internet based homework. They can be asked to keep learning blogs and they can subscribe to RSS feeds to get news.

They are also looking at the funding of the devices and, just as important, the peripherals at a reasonable cost. The ownership of the device is important and the feeling currently is that parents should make a significant contribution to the device - probably to pay for insurance. If pupils choose to go onto Further or Higher Education, they get to keep the device. If they go into work or the NEET group, they will have to return the devices. They will also deal carefully with safety issues and consequences of misuse. Also, the mobile phone company will block websites that are restricted to over 18s but the possibility is there that while pupils are in school, web access will be routed through the council filtering system.

Support for the devices wil also be important but the hope is that pupils will install software themselves and everyone having the same device and operating system should help.

There are a number of supporting websites and wikis: a 2020 wiki, a 121 wiki and the Learning Hubs website.

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eLive - John Johnston - World Wide Wall Display

Are new web technologies a revolution? John thinks not. Good teaching is good teaching... so his talk is on wall displays! He started by showing some wall displays and the reasons for using them - e.g. displaying writing, artwork, news wall, ... He also showed the a wall display that had grown out of a blogging project.

Part of the reason he started the school website in the first place was to showcase the children's work. (In fact started with some space on AOL that is still there.) Setting up the galleries et. however involved the creation of html webpages and although John liked doing it, it was taking up more and more of his time. So he moved to a blog.

Using a blog brought a number of advantages. One is they are very visual. Initially, he thought he wanted to concentrate on writing so wasn't planning using many pictures. However, as he sid, children don't like writing but they do like taking pictures... and once they have taken and posted a picture... they have to write about it. He described it as "stealth education" - the children think they are learning bout computers but they are also developing literacy skills.

The blogging interface is very easy to use and so the children are able to keep and edit their own blogs. They also work as a whole class round a projected display or work in small groups.

So why blog? Firstly the audience. John showed the map widget that shows the wordwide audience the blog has. The children love it and have a real sense of audience. The pupils themselves also love getting the comments back and are developing effective learning conversations with people all round the world. One good example was their recent trip to the Netherlands where they had 180 comments in six days while they were away. They also did a bit of picture blogging from mobile phones. A bit "clunky" just now but becoming easier and soon will be straightforward. Also good because it is technology they are familiar with.

Also, puts them in touch with experts all round the world. For example, children write poems that get a world wide audience, get feedback from people all round the world - including (in John's case, a professional poet.

Important to remember that we are in very early days of blog use in education. Nothing is fixed in stone yet. So we can play, experiment, try things out...

Blogs are also a good way of drawing other members of staff involved. Do other members of staff have a special interest? suggest they start a blog on it. (See the Eco Otters blog for an example of a specialist blog.)

The children are now really enthusiastic about blogging and suggest their own ideas. John gave the example of children rushing in at lunchtime to ask for a camera so they could photograph and blog what they were doing. (Did you catch that... at lunchtime!)

The multimedia possibilities are so easy to use and allow pupils to record and describe their learning in all sorts of ways. For example, posting video of science experiments or recording sound description of artwork.

Almost all they do contributes to four capacities of A Curriculum for Excellence and so much contributes to Assessment is for Learning outcomes.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

eLive - Graphic Story Novel Project

This session was talking about a project to look at graphic novels in schools and targeted at reluctant/less able readers. The graphic novel thing sounds good but graphic novels like V for Vendetta, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Maus and manga comics are the most well known but in fact are quite advanced and therefore not really suitable for the target audience. Even the new version of Kidnapped (distributed free in Edinburgh I think) is quite advanced. Instead, the project got the readers to look critically at picture books to "review" them for younger pupils.

Looked at modern fairy tales, like Shrek, that subvert the genre. As an example, they showed a video of a fairy tale football match. The film stage came at the end of a six week project - most of the time was spent with the books and in planning and writing.

With second year they looked at humorous picture books looking at the drawings as well as the words - how are the characters portrayed? Went on to do they own storyboards. The pupils were really engaged and talking. For example, one pupil refused to write but recorded a good story idea on film. This wasn't a special project that pupils volunteered for - it was the whole class.

As a result o the project, some of the pupils went to a local primary school and read to the pupils. Their self-esteem was significantly enhanced and they really enjoyed it.

Also used Comic life and this really helped them focus on the plot and their English teacher has noticed a great improvement in their writing. Their stories are much tighter, more focused... better.

The project think they could do a lot more, for example, look at genre - horror, humour, ...

The project seems to have been a huge impact. Better primary/secondary links, parental involvement, increased confidence in ICT amongst staff, improved ethos (including better staff/pupils relationships) and a real insight into pupil abilities that may not have been obvious before. This was a new way for staff to get to see the pupils working and being involved and enthusiastic. There is (will be?) an LTScotland graphic novel website. (This perhaps, this, and this talk about the use of graphic novels in education.)

There were problems. All the planning was done outside normal school hours. Also, the decision was taken to work with all pupils, even the "problem kids". There is a problem about sustainability. It required a high level of staffing but perhaps creative use of classroom assistants or pupil mentors would help. Certainly, the Royal High School is looking at using 6th year pupils to help next year. Could extend to gifted and talented pupils with more difficult graphic novels.

There was also a spin off into other curricular areas, for example, Art. The Art department allowed pupils to develop illustrations for a picture book over a period of time - again hugely engaging for the pupils involved. Although picture books are seen as being for young children, some are very sophisticated.)

A recommended book is 99 Ways to Tell a Story - the same story told in different styles - was suggested that only real comic nerds would read all the versions but it looks like a facinating idea... and it's only £8.57 on Amazon. :-) Also recommended Window by Jeanie Baker - a pictorial history of twenty-four years of a boys life - all sorts of possibilities, e.g. environmental studies.

The school is keen to do it again. They were lucky to get a lot of resources to start it off but they started finding books everywhere, e.g. charity shops and swapping with other people. Probably wont happen with every class because it is quite intensive but the benefits are such that they will do it again. But why not other subjects? I'm sitting beside Ewan McIntosh and, of course, he's getting excited about the potential for Modern Languages.

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eLive - Enhancing the Music Curriculum

Joe Moretti

Joe is an Apple Distinguished Educator. He described himself as a musician. He is a music educator and interested in making things work in the classroom - not in selling kit!

He has some pdfs and loops etc. in the BETT bit of his site.

Why is singing everywhere except in the music classroom? About class music making, instruments. What should we look for in software for music?
  • Intuitive - has to be easy to use.
  • Compatibility/Integration
  • Range of features v transparency (many pro-tools are overloaded from a teaching point of view).
  • Real world interface/relevance
  • Inclusivity (Schools can be good at classical, some good at rock but Garageband does both!)
iLife comes pre-installed, free and integrated. Joe puts Garageband in the middle and goes into podcasting, iMovie, iDVD, iWeb, mp3 player - an it's all one-click.

Can plug the guitar straight into the mac - no messing, no extras. Joe thinks it's good that children are starting to carry real instruments about with them - last year saw the highest ever sales of guitars.

He then went into a demontartion of Garageband. Showed click and drag of adding drum loops (sticking to green loops because they can be edited). No problems with drivers, power supply etc. just plug in a midi keyboard and off it goes. Used keyboard shortcuts like C to cycle, R to record. Can ask for a count in and metronome. Even with only two tracks you can talk about about structure, texture etc. They are midi instruments so everything contained in the computer, no need for mixers, equalisers etc. Makes it easier to move from one place to another.

Can double click on a track to show it in different formats, including staff notation which can be edited. If all they do is create on a laptop and leave it there, the music is dead. With Garageband, you can do a one click send to iTunes. From iTunes, you can burn it to an audio CD which they can take to other classes. (As a aside, Joe thinks every child should be given a laptop to take to school.) The pupils can then swap and share - the music is alive. Also helps teacers who can easily create CDs to send to the exam board.

When recording real instruments, the details section allows all sorts of effects, eg. input volume, noise gates, different amplifiers, etc. Can tweak all the bits and then save as an instrument that can then be used elsewhere. Bass players, guitarists etc. can then act as session musicians on each other's pieces. (Or just add a wall of guitar tracks. Joe says, "You can never have too many guitars.")

With just the built in microphones and the vocal transformer you can change voices, create radio plays - creating characters, recording male parts in an all girl school, ... Adding sound effects etc. can also all be done on the computer. For example, Craigmount (sp?) High school did a version of "Monkeys on a Plane".

Click on the podcast icon and you get ready made theme tunes, stingers, sound effects ad more. All these effects can have added effects like reverb to change the sounds.

Click on media to add photos from iPhoto or movies (e.g. soundtrack for Myst movies which can be used free in education). Joe has never found another piece of software that can do that kind integration with music, movies, etc.

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eLive - Tea break

Good grief. £2.00 for a cup of tea and a Mars Bar!

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eLive 2007 - Tim Rylands - Keynote

Tim Rylands

Computers Overcome Most Problems Unless They Electronically Refuse - Acrostic poem by one of Tim's pupils.

It's about talking. Tim walks through the Myst games and they talk and they write. It is a slow game - walking pace. It's not about thumb speed and fighting. There are good female characters - not pneumatic tomb raiders. The worlds are written into existence and that spills over into the children's writing. Even reluctant writers think there's stuff that's worth recording!

He showed a short video of his children talking about, reacting too and participarting in the game. Brilliant, He just sat in the middle of the class working through the experience with the pupils. Brilliant, When he said it was time for lunch they all went, "Aww!" Brilliant.

One of the other things they did was film themselves talking about their writing. They sat in front of enlarged pictures from the game to put themselves into the game while they talked about it. Other schools send films of their children doing the same things.

It's all about the planning! Children can now work independently on film projects. The public information film is a good vehicle. Communication, not technology. "Everybody should have a magnificent obsession!" The children are encouraged to make a presentation and films showing their obsession.

It is a shared experience. The wireless mouse gets passed around and the whole class gets involved.

The game slows things right down. Children are encouraged not just to rush through things but to stand!

Al sorts of other things - postcards, maps, charcter studies, write your own game, ... Powerpoint games - take pictures in four directions move on a bit, four more pictures... Hyperlink to create Myst like game. It looked brilliantly. Wrote music to go with it.

Create simple flip book animation on the iPod. Children are immersed in a visually rich world. We should help children to analyse visual media - emulate it even.

He demonstrated a piece of software called The Hat (for windows). Picks names from a list. Can choose one or more names to be selected.

He is a believer in emergent planning... He thinks putting learning outcomes on the board is limiting. Ask them at the end what they have learned. If you've taught them correctly, they will tell you what you expected. If you've done it better, they'll tell you a whole lot more stuff too!

This made a huge improvement - especially in boys writing. Not all down to games - whole lot of other stuff too.

Myst is the biggest selling games - second only to the Sims. Has the highest level of female players. Because of what he was doing, Rand Miller (creator of Myst) made contact and launched the new game in Tim's classroom. NOw working with Joe Moretti to produce Myst Live for children.

Tim doesn't set set discrete tasks, he sets challenges.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Computer Workshop - Chris Stephenson

This is my second report from the Schools Computing: The Future workshop. (My first was Computing is...) A full report on the various sessions, including Powerpoint presentations, some notes and (for some) audio recordings, will eventually be published on the Schools Computing: The Future website. (There's a bit of a hold up because Andrew is in the USA.)

The first keynote was from Chris Stephenson, the Executive Director of the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) in the USA. I've given the audio link here {Nope! See below for explanation.} so you can listen to the whole thing at your leisure. (We forgot to use the microphone for people asking questions, so you'll have to guess what was asked from Chris' responses.) I'll content myself therefore with a few quotes and observations. {Update: Scunner! I've left the laptop with the audio files in my office. I decided to post this just now anyway and add the audio later. Since I'm off to the eLive 2007 conference, I thought it would be Thursday before I could post the audio. However, I've just realised that I've left my train tickets in the office too! Rats. I'm going to have to get up extra early to go to the office to get the tickets to get the train to Edinburgh. Bah!}

Chris started by explaining why there was a need for a professional association for Computing Science teachers. Changes in the US curriculum for other school subjects are influenced (perhaps even driven) by professional bodies but there was no body to shape the Computing curriculum. Observation: The development of the curriculum may happen in a different way in Scotland but it seems to me that a professional body in Scotland could fulfil a similar purpose. It could collect and collate opinions, acting as a clearing house for ideas and trying to find consensus between competing ideas between curricular reviews. That way, when an update to courses is proposed we can hit the ground running. Note that the CSTA is open to international members. You can join through their website... I'm member 4754981. :-)

Next she started talking about the fragmented nature of the Computing curriculum. Computing teachers find it hard to agree or describe what we do. She said that as Computing teachers we were:
"Not just shooting ourselves in the foot but in the head!"
Observation: Yes, I recognise that! We have split into Computing and Information Systems but seem unable to define either particularly well. Chris said that if you ask Biology teachers what they do, they'll say something like, "We teach the science of life." Simple, understandable, although perhaps a bit trite and if you push it not exactly filled with meaning. However, it sounds good and non-specialists think they know what it means. Try asking Computing teachers the same question and what will happen? Firstly, you are unlikely to get two saying the same thing and all to quickly they will descend into incomprehensible geek-speak. Computing needs the equivalent of "The science of life". Someone suggested, "The science behind the information revolution." Chris said this was too long. I think there's too much geek-speak. However, it's better than anything I can come up with so I'm willing to go with it (slogan 1.0) ...unless you can come up with something better. :-)

Work issues
. I remember when I started teaching Computing, the commonly held belief was that a qualification in Computing was a passport to a very well paid job. Chris thinks that the dot bomb situation and a perception that everything is outsourced means that this has changed. However, the fact is, in the US, they are only producing 50% of the Computing Science graduates that industry needs. The situation in the UK is not much different.

In the passing, Chris noted that Higher Education seems to blame schools for the problems but in general they have little idea of what happens in school Computing courses. Is the same true in Scotland?

A couple of brief thoughts based on answers to questions. Firstly, an association for Computing Science teachers would seem like a good idea for Scotland. Chris was asked how they fund their organisation. She answered, "Any way we can!" :-) Secondly, are we a science subject, or a technology subject, or what? Chris sees problems wherever we position ourselves but thinks we should establish ourselves clearly as a science. What do you think?

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Friday, May 18, 2007

eLive07 and TeachMeet07

I have the next post on the Computer Workshop (Schools Computing: The Future) almost ready to go but I thought I'd sneak this one in first...

I thoroughly enjoyed the eLive event in Edinburgh last year (it was well blogged about - mostly with the tag eLive2006) and now, eLive 2007 is just around the corner. If you can come along, it will be well worth your while. If you can't make it, I suspect there'll be lots to read - my guess would be to look for the eLive2007 tag.

05 JJ ScotsEduBlog
05 JJ ScotsEduBlog,
originally uploaded by DavidDMuir
I'm pleased that there will be another TeachMeet at the end of this year's eLive. Ewan has already written a blog post about it (TeachMeet07 - 3rd Edition of the ScotEduBlogger unconference) and there is a TeachMeet07 Wiki on the ScotsEduBlogs site where you can see what's happening, offer to help or sign up to come along. (It is, more or less, the first anniversary of the first ScotsEduBlogs TeachMeet, although, at the time of that first meeting we hadn't invented the name TeachMeet. The first event to carry that name was TeachMeet06 - the get together that coincided with SETT06.)

...And of course, if you can't make it in person, just watch for the TeachMeet07 tag. :-)

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Computing is...

Andrew McGettrick
Andrew McGettrick,
originally uploaded by DavidDMuir.
Over a week ago (grief... I have been trying to write this for over a week now!) I attended a very interesting conference on Computing in schools and in Higher Education. I've been aware that the numbers taking Computing in schools has been falling over the last couple of years but I didn't realise that there was a similar problem in universities. I was also surprised to discover that there was an international problem with recruitment to Computing Science courses.

A few months ago, Prof Andrew McGettrick from the Department of Computer and Information Sciences came to see some of us in the Computer Education section of the Faculty of Education with the suggestion that we held a conference to discuss the issues. Andrew put together a workshop on Schools Computing: The Future and invited school teachers, university lecturers and admissions officers, HMIe, the Scottish Qualifications Authority, the British Computer Society and industry representatives. We also invited people from a variety of other countries (including the USA, England and Northern Ireland) to give an international perspective.

There was a load of good stuff came out of these two days and (if I get time) I'll write a good bit more about it over the next wee while. Thankfully, others have been quicker off the mark and more diligent. Mark Tennant has written a bundle of posts on his blog (currently on part 8!) and Ewan gave a brief report of what he saw when he was with us on Friday.

Throughout the couple of days of the conference, there were a few recurring themes that I'll refer to now before (hopefully) returning to report on the individual sessions in future posts:

  1. The need to distinguish between ICT and Computing. {I'm using ICT here to describe skills based courses, typically focussing on applications such as word processing and spreadsheets, but possibly including information literacy ideas too - the sort of course designed to equip every student with the basic ICT skills that they will then use in context elsewhere.}
  2. The need to define more clearly what we mean by Computing. {Why is Computing a valuable subject to study in schools? We need to have broad agreement among Computing teachers about what is core to our subject, what defines it and what unique contribution it can bring to the school curriculum. We also need to be able to explain this succinctly and in non-geek-speak to other people.}
  3. An association Of Computing Teachers in Scotland may (among other things) help address the first two issues.
To briefly pick up on the first point, the need to make a distinction between ICT and Computing, has already come out through reaction to Ewan's post. I think this is one we have to work through carefully as Computing teachers first before we try to articulate the difference to other people. I've had a couple of discussions with a head teacher who thinks he will be able to dismantle his Computing department in a few years time because all pupils will know everything they need to know and will be using Computers throughout the curriculum. I try to point out that he was/is an English teacher but he doesn't argue that now we have literacy across the curriculum (pretty much every child can read, write and talk after all) we don't need an English department. Is that a fair comparison? ICT literacy against English literacy -- Computing as a subject against English as a subject?

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Information age?

Book of Kells
Originally uploaded by psd.
Around the start of the year, a number of bloggers picked up on PC World's decision to stop selling floppy disks (for example The Death of the Floppy Disk). It led some to speculate about the transitory nature of digital information. Way back in February of last year I exchanged some comments with Antonius Pius about the durability of books compared to digital media (Digital scholarship). It seems ironic that we call this the Information Age yet we may leave very little behind that historians of the future will be able to access!

I was reminded of this recently as I read an article titled It's the end of your data as you know it. A couple of thiongs leapt out at me from this report. The first is the statement:
"This year marks a turning point in the digital world, IDC argued in a recent white paper: for the first time, the amount of information created — around 260 exabytes — will surpass the storage capacity available."
I was not sure what this meant (and wasn't motivated enough to read the white paper) but it seemed to me that there has always been more information out there than there is capacity to record. Perhaps the dawn of the digital age just gave us the temporary illusion that somehow we could capture and keep it all. What ever it means, 260 exabytes is a lot of information! Note: A special no-prize available for the first person to leave a comment explaining how big an "exa" is and another no prize for the first person to offer a useless analogy such as, "If one byte is a scrabble tile, the 260 exabytes of scrabble tiles would cover Wales x times and would be piled to a hight of y metres." :-)

the second thing that struck me was the estimated lifespan of storage media:
"The design life of a low-cost hard drive is five years, while the usable lifespan for magnetic tape could be as short as 10 years, and optical media such as CDs and DVDs may become unusable in just 20 years."
Good grief! This means there is a very good chance that I'll live longer than my DVD collection. So much for my dreams of sitting grandchildren on my knee and showing them The Goodies at their peak. :-)

I wonder if the World Wide Web is more or less durable? It is tempting to assume that the stuff in Blogger will be looked after and archived by those nice people at Google but in reality I suspect it will lost eventually when blogs and the Web are superseded by the next big thing in much the same way the the Web swept aside previous systems, e.g. Gopher. While in theory Gopher data can still be accessed through a web browser, in practice I suspect most of the information that was available on Gopher has just disappeared.

That's it... no great conclusion or insight, just a technology thought for the day. :-)

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