Thursday, January 31, 2008

Computers and Creativity

You know how you get pages in newspapers that appear to be a regular report but when you look more closely you see the words "Advertising Feature" at the top? Well this post is like that - it's an advert. However, in my defence it's an advert for something cool and interesting. :-)

14/365: #1 Look out!
Originally uploaded by DavidDMuir
Jordanhill is hosting an Apple Teacher Institute (ATI) in March. The anual ATI in England is extraordinarily popular and usually runs during the Easter holidays. We wanted to try something similar in Scotland but since the Easter holidays were already spoken for, we thought we'd try three consecutive Saturdays - the 1st, 8th and 15th of March.

One of the advantages of three Saturdays (we hope) is that people will be able to take the ideas and skills developed on the Saturdays back to their workplace and try things out in the weeks in-between. That way they can come back the next week with problems and questions and get help from ATI tutors and their peers rather than being left on their own to work it out. We are arranging for laptops to be made available to participants. They will be able to borrow these laptops and take away with them in the weeks between the Saturdays. That way, they can easily show colleagues and pupils what they produced on the Saturday and (if they wish) continue to work on ideas during the week. {The expectation is that these new laptops will be available to buy at a discount at the end of the course if the participant wants to keep one.}

The emphasis of the three days is on creative uses of technology in the classroom. The topics we will be exploring include music production, digital video, animation and podcasting. Beginner and Intermediate level workshop sessions will be on offer so hopefully there will be something for everyone. As well as keynote speakers and practical workshops, there will be the opportunity to work in a small group to produce something that will be of value to you in your school or workplace.

We have produced a flyer with all the information regarding costs, the programme and how to apply. If you want to know more, leave a comment here, or email for application details.

I think this could be really interesting and I hope it will be the first of many Scottish ATIs.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

It's like an Operating System...

Mac OS X Leopard
Originally uploaded by [mac][mac]
I was listening to the Today programme on the way in to work this morning and I heard a chap called Dr Craig Venter describing his team's advance towards the creation of synthetic life.

I thought the report was interesting for a few reasons. Firstly, I thought it was an interesting topic. I find the science and the ethical issues interesting. Secondly, I thought it was interesting how hard the scientist found it to explain what had been achieved in a way that made sense to people outside his field. He couldn't help himself - he kept lapsing into science-speak. It reinforced what I already knew: good teachers should be smart and know their subject but being smart and knowing your subject does not in itself make you a good teacher.

Thirdly, and the main reason I decided to write this blog post, I thought the analogy that was used to explain what they had achieved was interesting. After trying a couple of times (unsuccessfully) to get Dr Venter to explain the breakthrough in simple terms, the interviewer gave him a very big steer and the Doctor picked up the analogy that had been thrown at him. He described the very complex biochemistry they had worked on as like writing an operating system but that they still had to install it on the computer and boot it up.

Why did I think that was interesting? It struck home to me just how mainstream computers have become. It's not that long ago when computers were strange and mysterious machines, surrounded by incomprehensible jargon like... well, like "operating system" and "boot". Yet, here complex science was being made more accessible to the listeners by using computers as an analogy. Interesting - no?

Have you come across other examples where computers have been used to explain difficult to understand concepts?

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Podcasting Across The Pond

Originally uploaded by Esther_G
I took part in a Skype conference call the other day - a first for me. The call was recorded and turned into a podcast - another first for me. (Up until now, I've always been in the same room as the podcaster... this time I wasn't even in the same continent!)

Those nice people at Photo Share Podcast noticed that I had blogged about something they said in their podcast (see Stealing, borrowing or using?) and contacted me to see if I'd be willing to record something with them for their latest podcast. I said, "Yes" ...and I had a great time! We talked about Creative Commons and, as usual, I talked too much. (Occupational hazard.)

As I listened back to the interview I found it a bit scary. I was pontificating with such confidence on a subject in which I am not really an expert. (Again, an occupational hazard!) The podcast should probably carry a disclaimer along the lines of, "This man may be talking rubbish. Please consult someone who knows more about the law before continuing." :-) As long as you keep that disclaimer in mind, if you are interested in photography, I suggest you give the podcast a listen.

I talk about a couple of things that you may be interested in following up. Firstly, I was fairly sure I had read about a country in Europe where the Creative Commons licence had been tested in court and upheld. I said, "a Scandinavian country"... it was Holland! I also implied it was a photographer who had his work used without his permission... it was Adam Curry a music person rather than a professional photographer. However, I was right about the court "slapping" the magazine for publishing the photos against the conditions of the Creative Commons licence, although some think it was a a fairly light slap! Some legal types though seem to be pleased that at least it has set a legal precedent that will be useful in future court cases. See what I mean about needing a disclaimer? I found the story on a Creative Commons site (Dutch Court upholds Creative Commons licence) and there is another report of it on the CNET News site (Creative Commons license upheld by court).

Secondly, I pronounced with great authority on how the Creative Commons licence was being adapted for different countries. This time I was right. :-)

Finally, note to self: Bill was pleased with the sound quality but if I ever do something like that again... I must remember to sit further away from the microphone. It sounds like I WAS SHOUTING!

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Games in Learning - Derek Robertson

{This blog post was typed live during the presentation. I've now edited it a bit and added a photo but there may still be blips in the information because of the original live capture. :-)}

Derek started with demonstrating a word game (My Word Coach) on the DS and talked about Hotel Dusk as examples of the kinds of games he is interested in - education/training games and narrative driven games. He showed a video of a boy using a maths games and pointed out the concentration on his face. Another example was the concentration, discussion and problem solving demonstrated by two of his pupils when they were playing on a game console - two boys who he thought were poorer than many in the class turned out to be very good problem solvers and logical thinkers in the contexts of game playing. SITC have some examples of the things Derek did when he was at Whitfield Primary School.

Derek is absolutely convinced of the value of games in education and the Consolarium has formed links around the country. A number of Authorities are working with Derek. He thinks it is important because this technology is an important part of our children's lives... but often they have to "power down" when they come to school.

Games Based Learning

Derek talked about some of the work he has done to promote Games Based Learning and he acknowledged that it does cause panic in some people. (For example it is blamed for obesity, sedentary lifestyles, aggression...) Derek is not convinced that these fears are all justified and furthermore, he asserts there are many positive effects. One example he gave was an increase in pupil writing, e.g. reluctant writers producing pages of writing - even completing work at home off their own initiative. He also talked about his research with Doctor Kawishima's Brain Training. There was an improvement in speed, confidence and accuracy but the effect was especially impressive with the lower ability range. Another example given was of a cross-curricular project based round Guitar Hero linked Geography, Art, English, Music, Drama, ... real problem solving, real collaboration. He also talked about a Myst project with Tim Rylands and the writing it inspired.

However, Derek said the intervention of teachers is key. It is not about having the flashiest games technology but about the guiding and support of a good teacher.

He was unable to demonstrate CrazyTalk but described how it can take a still image and animate it so that it lip-syncs with recorded audio. Once recorded, the character can be saved for blogs, MySpace, mobile phones, ... It encourages writing even from reluctant writers - they will write for a character in a way that they wouldn't do the same exercise for a teacher.


Successful learners require good teachers. Games Based Learning one way to engage and motivate

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Glow - Jan Pollok

18/366: Thinks!
Originally uploaded by DavidDMuir
{This blog post was typed live during the presentation. I've now edited it a bit and added a photo but there may still be blips in the information because of the original live capture. :-)}

Glow is connecting pupils, teachers and parents across Scotland. In the first instance there will be 8000 users. {Is that right? 8000. I think now it might have been more but I can't quite remember.} However, it's not about the tech - it's about the teach! Jan is very keen to make it clear that her job is to think about and promote learning and teaching within Glow.

When you login to Glow, the first thing you see is relevant, targeted news. As a Glow user, you will belong to groups and these groups will dictate what you see. You can also access selected Glow resources through this front page - for example learnnewsdesk which will be freely available in Glow. New email messages will be shown here too. The expectation is that teachers will login to Glow first thing every morning to catch up and see what's happening.

Glow Learn

Glow Learn is the Virtual Learning Environment where resources (lesson plans, pictures, videos, documents...) are stored and shared {either nationally or locally I think}. Teachers can prepare and share work as well as set homework, deadlines, tests etc. {I would like to have seen more of GlowLearn. See a bit more about how it works and the kinds of activities it supports.}

School Information

School based information is available, such as notices and events but other information can be pulled in directly from school/authority MIS systems and displayed in Glow. For example, a teachers timetables and cover periods can be pulled in and displayed. (Not old information pasted in some time ago, but the most up-to-date information from the MIS server.)

Featured Resources

There will always be a featured resource. (During this demo, it was Gigajam.) It will be used to feature interesting resources and will change regularly to encourage people to explore the available resources.

Glow Groups

Pre-Glow you could go to an in-service event and not get the chance to use the skills/knowledge until some time later. By the time you need to use the knowledge and skills, you may have forgotten it and you are not with a community of educators with similar interests. Glow groups allow you to form and access people around a topic at the time you need it. These groups can be local to the school, to the authority or nationally. Pupils can also set up their own groups (although not every authority will allow this). Various web apps can be incorporated in the Glow pages, for example survey tools.

Chat Rooms and Glow Meet

Many authorities were threw up their hands in horror at the idea of chat, so Glow have tried to alleviate the fears in a number of ways. For example, a transcript of the chat is automatically kept for a minimum of 7 days. The chat facility was used during the pilot to help prepare children for their Higher examination. The meeting room can be set up to be just a click away because Meet can be added into Group, or other Glow web pages.

Glow Meet uses Marratech video conferencing to link schools with other schools (not necessarily within Glow - example given was of linking a Scottish school with one in Malawi). Museums and other bodies are also very keen to link by video with schools.

My Glow

As well as using the areas of Glow provided for them, Glow users can also customise and use how they like.


{I liked these example uses. Again it would have been good to see a bit more of this kind of thing and perhaps a bit less of the information portal side of things.}

Clackmanshire primary school had a seaside theme. Children drew pictures of the seaside, uploaded the pictures and then discussed them online. Aberdeenshire did a Myst project with Tim Rylands. East Dunbartonshire had a number of schools reading the same novel who chatted about the novel with other schools. Linked to the novel the primary schools were reading, a secondary school music came onboard and talked about {and performed?} Japanese music. One primary school made a special study of Japan and became the "experts" that other schools questioned.

Quote from pupil: "I liked how you are learning things but having fun at the same time."


The hope is that Glow will be a one stop shop that provides easy access to all the tools that will support learning and teaching.

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Friday, January 11, 2008

TeachMeet 2030

Watching TeachMeet08 at BETT on FlashMeeting. Ewan offered £7 of drinks vouchers to the first person in the room to blog about what people will be talking about at TeachMeet in 2030. I hope they will be talking about learning and teaching - not technology! :-)

Update: I typed up this very quick response while listening to the presentations from TeachMeet but made at least three basic errors:
  1. The question was "What do you want Teachmeet 2032 to be discussing?", so I was out by 2 years. {Why 2032? Seems an odd choice.}
  2. There was no point in "entering" because the drinks vouchers were only good for TeachMeet08... and I wasn't there.
  3. I forgot to tag the post... so it wouldn't have been picked up anyway. :-(
Can I add however, that I did beat the winning entry by about 15 minutes!

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Stealing, borrowing or using?

A Flickr contact of mine has started doing a Photo Share Podcast and through the most recent episode I heard about a post from Robert Scoble. In the post, Steal my content, please!, Robert says:
"I WANT YOU to steal my content. ... I’d like a credit, yes, but don’t demand it. I’d rather just add to the human experience and if that means that other people make money off of my work, so be it."
If Robert Scoble wants to do that with his content, I have no problem - his content, his choice. However, I do want to make one comment about his choice of words and then make a more general point about Flickr.

Firstly, "steal" is a poor choice of word. I know a minister who used to have a church up in the northwest of Scotland. He says it used to be common practice during the winter months, when there were few tourists about, to leave your keys in your car. That way, if someone needed to borrow his car, they could do it without disturbing him or his family. So sometimes he'd wake up in the morning and find the driveway empty. "Ah... Donny must have needed the car again.", he'd think. Was the car stolen? No, because he'd in effect given his permission for it to be used by other people. The same is true with Robert Scoble's content - he says it can be used, so no theft is involved.

However, not everyone is happy for their work to be used and abused by others. For example, I remember how annoyed I was when I discovered that my work (not photographs but stuff to do with networking for the Advanced Higher Computing course) was being sold to schools by a publisher. Nobody had given consent and they hadn't given credit. In fact, some years later... I'm still annoyed that they passed off my work as their own. In general, I am happy for people to use stuff I've produced but at the very least I'd like them to acknowledge that it is my work. So, to my second point...

The thing that I really like about Flickr... OK, one of the many things I really like about Flickr is that it is explicitly stated, on every single photo page, what you can and cannot do with that image. No guesswork necessary - each image page has a clear description. Some images are copyright protected but many have a Creative Commons Licence. I wrote about Creative Commons on Flickr ages ago but I still think the ability to search for Creative Commons Licensed photos is brilliant. I just did a Flickr search for "guitar" and found 527,717 images and 84,457 of them have a Creative Commons Licence of some sort. Over eighty-four thousand! Why bother stealing an image when for the "cost" of a link back and an attribution you can choose from that many images?

In the digital age, when it is so easy to copy and re-purpose, we have to make sure our students understand the importance of proper attribution. Note your sources and credit your sources. It can be a bit of a pain but it is an important lesson for our students to grasp. A blog post from John Johnston about a month ago suggests one way of approaching this and the discussion he refers to on John Connell's blog is worth checking out too (especially the interesting reply from Theo Kuechel).

Has anyone experience of using Flickr to explore these issues with classes? If so, I'd love to hear from you.

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