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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