Saturday, January 31, 2009

Fun on Friday #17: Jammin'

Sorry... another belated Fun on Friday. You'll have to settle for a fun on Saturday instead. I realised that I haven't featured sound and music in Fun on Friday to any great extent, so here's a few examples to redress the balance.

For those about to rock...
Originally uploaded by Don Solo
First up is some free online music creation software in the shape of JamStudio. Not as easy to use as GarageBand (but then what is?) as it requires a bit more musical knowledge - though, from an educational point of view, that may be no bad thing. You can create different sections of a song (verse, chorus, bridge, ...) and then join them together to make your tune - another potentially useful feature for education?

You can sign up for free and share your compositions online but if you want to be able to save your songs as an MP3 you have to subscribe. However, the good news is, they say that they have a limited number of grants available which will allow teachers to give their students free access to all the features.

Have a go and share your tunes. :-) {Note sure why I come up as "undefined" or d.d.muir on JamStudio. Can't see a way to create a profile... Perhaps I should have shared my tune publicly.}

For the more musically challenged, how about a free, online guitar game where your querty keyboard becomes the guitar controller? Pick up your keyboard and rock out with JamLegend. I managed to beat the computer the first time I played... but only just! Fun and addictive.

If you have a go, share your high scores.

Any other fun music resources I should know about?

Friday, January 30, 2009

Thinking about Initial Teacher Education

I am attending a conference where we are reviewing our courses of Initial Teacher Education, how we organise ourselves, and how we organise our courses at Jordanhill. There are a number of influences driving this review. For example, there is a desire to harmonise the different courses we offer. There is clearly overlap between the BEd and the Professional Graduate Diplomas in Secondary and Primary and questions therefore include how do we ensure best practice is shared across these programmes? External issues include Curriculum for Excellence

It was suggested that the various courses are already using inovative approaches to learning and teaching. For example, the use of Virtual Learning Environments {the plural is deliberate - a course can use more than one} and video streaming. {My observation: If we want to develop and support such innovation, there is a need to consider AV and IT support but I'm not sure we are making the links with these services that we should.} 

Other important developments include the drive nationally to develop integration of services and inter-professional learning. {Within the university are there parallel developments with discussions on the integration of Faculty of Education and Arts, Law & Social Sciences into a Humanities Faculty?} 

Other areas we will consider today include: 

  • Is there a case for recognising PGDE at Masters level? {It was implied our "rivals" are already doing this. I will need to do a bit of investigation here.} 
  • How do we ensure there is space for staff to develop their own research? Difficult when we know staffing levels will be reduced. This needs new and innovative approaches. “There are no sacred cows.” we were told.
Change is always tricky but when we are looking to bring radical changes to large (over a thousand students), well established courses, it will be even trickier. Even getting so many people together (about 70 members of staff from the University), from all the teacher education courses (and others), is unusual. 

Interesting times!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

It's a matter of trust...

I picked this up via a news posting from Computing magazine: Wikipedia considers limiting user access. It seems that they are considering having trusted users that can edit Wikipedia pages straight away but other, newer users, will have to earn their trust as initially their edits will have to wait to be moderated.

Originally uploaded by Dru!

It seems as though Wikipedia is caught between a rock and a hard place. One of the fundamental ideas of Wikipedia is that it is "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit..." and yet, thanks to the actions of a few numpties, they are having to re-consider this most basic of principles.

Perhaps Wikipedia are victims of their own success. They are so well known that they attract the numpties who are more interested in hindrance than help and they are so big, that there are quieter corners where acts of vandalism can sit unnoticed for a while.

Wikipedia's dilema led me to think again about the perenial debate on restricting access to the Internet in schools. Rather than just trying to block everyone from accessing sections of the Internet, would a trusted user system be a better way to go? Teachers would be trusted users and have (more or less) free access to all areas of the Internet. Pupils would earn increasingly trusted status as they get older and as they demonstrate a history of responsible behaviour. Would this satisfy schools' desire (need?) to protect the young people in their care while allowing appropriate use without overly restrictive blocking policies? To be honest, I'm not sure. I think we could end up with a system that is complex, clumsy and not much better than what we have just now. And of course, the untrustworthy will find ways round the system anyway (as they do at the moment!).

Final thoughts. I described the discussion of Internet restrictions in schools as a "perenial debate" but I wonder how wide this debate really is. For example, some recent discussions I've observed are Ewan McIntosh enlisting Barack Obama as an ally in the fight for openness, ("Yes we can!"), a consideration of whether the Internet should be instant or filtered, a fairy story and a wiki considering what education will look like in 2020. I suspect that it is a small minority of teachers, the already Internet/Web 2.0 savvy teachers, that are getting frustrated. Is it an issue that concerns the majority? How widely is it debated and discussed by people in a position to bring about changes to policy and practice at an authority or national level?

As usual, a blog post with more questions than answers.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Fun on Friday #16: Games Night

All this marking drives me nuts.
I hate it with my very guts!
I'll take no ifs or ands or buts,
All this marking drives me nuts!

I need distraction from marking twenty 3500 word essays... so I offer up these two games:
I can't promise they're educational but they're better than marking!

Share your high scores in the comments. :-)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Talking About Games...

I met Andrew Brown earlier in the week and we had a quick chat about BETT, the frustrations of site blocking in schools and... games in education.

A few of the things we said about games are, I think, worth repeating here.

Firstly, I said that roughly a quarter of the students I spoke to, claimed to be gamers. This illustrates something that Ewan McIntosh has said to our students on previous occasions - that the children who grew up playing games on home computers like the ZX Spectrum are now adults, parents even, and are still playing computer games. Andrew said that he had been surprised at the number of Playstation games in the shops with an 18+ rating. The image of the game player as a spotty teenage boy no longer holds water (if it ever did). {Comment: Having said that, I suspect there a a fair number of gamers under 18 who are playing 18+ games. Perhaps their parents are unaware, uncaring or uninformed.}

Another aspect related to gaming that struck me is the way Nintendo is advertising its products. It has families sitting on the couch playing games together and two people on a plane (Patrick Stewart and Julie Walters) bonding over More Brain Training on the DS.

As far as Nintendo is concerned, it is not just the spotty teenager bit that's wrong, the the stereotype of the isolated loner playing games is wrong too. I realise that most (all?) the modern games machines support networked multipayer games but Nintendo are going further. Gaming is a communal, family activity.

Does this have any relevance for games in education? I think it probably does. Increasing numbers of teachers will be gamers themselves and aware of the motivating power and immersive nature of commercial, off the shelf games. This combined with the rehabilitation of gamers in the media as mature, sensible adults and happy family members will hopefully make it easier to introduce games in he classroom.

Is this right? Am I being over overoptimistic? I'd be keen to know what you think.

I'll try to post my presentation on games in education soon (which draws heavily on the work of Derek Robertson). For now though I'll close with the observation that playing virtual tennis on the Wii has resulted in a very unvirtual pain in my arm! I made the mistake of trying to make up for lack of technique with brute strength... it didn't work. :-(

Friday, January 16, 2009

Fun on Friday #16: It's painting Jim... but not as we know it!

Thanks to one of my students (thanks Richard) for directing me to this:
It reminds me a bit of one of the elements of Thinking Things.

There is a gallery of bonomo pictures on Flickr that mostly put my effort to shame!

As always, if you have a go... please share your work.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Calculator Poetry

Proof, if proof were needed, of the persistence of your web presence comes through to me periodically. It is good to be reminded of the importance of being careful what you write on the web because it can come back to haunt you!

My reminder of this often comes in the shape of an email that comments on some half forgotten page I'd created years before. Once Google has found it, it seems that a page can be thrown up in answer to a search no matter how old it is. The most recent specific example of this is two emails I received about the calculator word pages I created in December 2000. (My definition of a calculator word is a word made up of numbers typed on a calculator that can be read when the calculator is turned upside down. I will not link to the pages because they are on a part of the university's server that I thought had been taken down, however, I might transfer the pages to the new homepages section of the university's server... if I get time. I've already written about these pages (almost four years ago) so you can read about them in Count On Me.

The emails I received were both from a poet called Winston Plowes who wrote to tell me of two calculator word poems he had created - the second of which even rhymes. Brilliant. :-) Look them up yourself. The first is called Sozzle and the second Googlize. I hope you enjoy them - I think they are brilliant.

If you feel inspired, you can download my Calculator Quiz sheet at Scribd... although it's a bit late for Christmas. I'd be interested in hearing from you if you do anything with calculator words.

Update: Minutes after posting this, I came across two calculator word haikus. :-)

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Eco-friendly office

When I started teaching in the mid eighties, it was trendy to talk about how computers would bring about the "paperless office". Ha! It's probably fair to say that computers have been responsible for the destruction of more trees than any other piece of office equipment.

I try, as far as possible, to read stuff on screen but despite an increasing number of email signatures extorting me to:

P Before you print think about the environment

I find that there are still many occasions where it is just easier or more convenient to print stuff out (as can be seen in this picture of my desk). Of course, I recycle as much of this paper as possible but I still feel vaguely guilty.

I suspect I am not alone in this and that is why I thought the approach suggested by the Ecofont was really interesting. The idea is that the font has holes in it so it uses less ink when you print. This seems to acknowledge that humans do daft things and uses technology to minimise the impact rather than simply to berate us for being daft.

Now, what about Ecopaper - paper with holes in it to save trees. :-)

More seriously, what do you think? Is this serious or are people just having a laugh? Will printing using a font with holes significantly reduce the amount of ink used?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Friday, January 09, 2009

Fun on Friday #15: New Year Health Check

After the excesses of the Christmas and a hard week back at work, I felt some sort of neurological test was in order.

Have a go at the Spiral pinwheel illusion.

What do you think? Have you been damaged by too much over-indulgence?

If the pinwheel illusion amused you, there are other good illusions at the eChalk site.

I especially like the Mona Lisa one.

What's your favourite? Do you know of any other good optical illusion sites on the web?

Fun on Friday update

I hope to post the First Fun on Friday of the New Year later today (but then, I've been intending to write a blog post all week...). However, just a quick update on a previous Fun on Friday where I talked about comicbrush.

I just noticed today that comicbrush has added many more free art packs including cartoon people, clothes, animals and dinosaurs... and free Christmas themed art packs but I'm either a bit late or very, very early in finding these.

Another new feature is the comment facility in the Gallery section so you can start to interact with fellow comicbrush users. Next on my wish list would be a favourite option so you can bookmark comics you like and some sort of add friends facility to support communities. And while I'm on community building, the option to create groups (like Flickr's groups) would be jolly useful.

I'm never happy, am I?

Monday, January 05, 2009

Sad News

I was very sad to hear the news of Tom Conlon's death. I only worked occasionally with Tom but when I did meet him, I enjoyed his company. He was stimulating, fun and challenging - a good combination as far as I'm concerned.

He was at times controversial but even when I disagreed with him there was usually something at the heart of what he was saying that was worth hearing. For example, relatively recently he ruffled a few feathers by criticising Glow in the TESS. I meant to reply to some of the comments that condemned or dismissed what he was saying because I thought he made some important points... but I never got round to it. Perhaps that's another point about him that is worth remembering - unlike me, if he had something he thought should be said, I suspect he would have found the time and would have got round to saying it.

His contributions to the development of Computing in Scotland (and beyond) are immense. He will be missed.