Saturday, January 21, 2012

Fun On Friday #135: xkcd

I think it's time for xkcd to feature properly. Here are some of my favourite tech-related xkcd comics. (Note, click the comic to go to the xkcd site and see the comic full size. Also, once on the xkcd site, leave the mouse on the graphic and enjoy the description that appears after a short pause!)

This comic may only make sense if you understand that there are 10 types of people: those who understand binary and those who don't.

I was thinking again this week about ICT verses Computing Science? I wonder where it would be placed on the "purity" continuum?

I would guess somewhere between Physics and Maths... but no doubt many other scientists would slap me for even suggesting this.

And finally, something I have printed out and laminated:

Do you have a favourite xkcd comic?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Say hello to BEd Bloggers

I am working with three groups of students just now and want them to use a blog as a learning log and/or a tool for professional reflection.

#271 eLearning by adesigna
#271 eLearning, a photo
by adesigna on Flickr.
The group that has been going longest is a BEd 3 class that started before Christmas but most haven't quite taken to blogging... yet. I hope to encourage them to get more into the spirit of blogging over the next couple of weeks.

I'd like, therefore, to ask three favours:
  1. Could you suggest how I can help the students to develop a blogging habit, how I can encourage them to keep blogging? What evidence can you offer that blogging is a useful activity for student teachers?
  2. Are there any educational bloggers that you think they should follow?
  3. I'll share some links below of BEd 3 blogs that have been updated recently. If you could look in and reply to some posts or send them some enoencouragement - that would be great!
Thanks in advance.
  And here are some that haven't been updated since last year... at least not yet!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Computing in schools

...Well, Computing in English schools.

So many things I've been meaning to write about but just not finding the time. Couldn't let this one go without comment though. Today, it was widely reported that Michael Gove, the education secretary for England, announced that the current ICT curriculum is "demotivating and dull" and a "mess". (See for example, School ICT to be replaced by computer science programme and Michael Gove to scrap 'boring' IT lessons.)

Computers by amberlynnlane
Computers, a photo
by amberlynnlane on Flickr.
Three comments. One: it's about time. I reported the the extreme grumpiness expressed when Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, spoke at at the Learning Without Frontiers conference in January 2011 (see The creative and digital economy). The grumpiness was not with Mr Vaizey, the techno-savvy auidence was largely in agreement with what he said. The grumpiness was directed at Mr Gove and can be seen in two of the three questions I managed to capture:

Q: Why is there no one from Department of Education here?
Q: Why was technology/computing not mentioned by Gove?
While Mr Vaizey was talking about the "digital economy" and the importance of game design, Mr Gove was talking about Latin and the Kings and Queens of England. In November 2011, when the government finally got around to commenting on a report published in February 2011 (Next Gen - Transforming the UK into the world's leading talent hub for the video games and visual effects industries), there appeared to finally be an acknowledgement of the importance of a Computing curriculum in schools (see for example 'Seismic shift' in computer education), as well as some attempt to make a distinction between ICT and Computing.

Two: I think Mr Gove is still hugely underestimating what children can do with technology. He is quoted as saying:
"...we could have 11-year-olds able to write simple 2D computer animations using an MIT tool called Scratch."
Never mind "could have", it is amazing what 11 year-olds are already doing with Scratch! And not just 11 year-olds but children much younger than that too. And as for "simple" have a look what an 11 year-old has already done and tell me it's "simple"!

Scratch Project

Three: In Scotland, we have had a Computing curriculum for over thirty years and have trained and qualified teachers in Computing teachers since the mid eighties but we are not without our problems. We too are seeing falling numbers of pupils taking the subject and see reports of children bored in the early years of secondary school with courses that lack relevance, excitement and challenge. Seeing that there is a problem is important. Knowing how to fix it is trickier. It's something we have been wrestling with in Scotland for some time. I wonder though if English and Scottish Computing education people are talking to each other?

What do you think? How do we develop an appropriate computing curriculum for schools and how do we re-engage the pupils that we have managed to put off the subject? Any thoughts?

Friday, January 06, 2012

Fun On Friday #134: Back to the future!

Happy New Year.

The New Year is traditionally a time for making resolutions and looking forward, so, today's Fun on Friday is FutureMe - a website that lets you send emails to your future self. You go to the site, enter your email address, write yourself a message and then choose when you want it delivered. An astonishingly simple, yet stunningly brilliant idea.

Why not make your resolutions, then write yourself a note to be delivered later this year and encourage yourself to keep going. (Assuming you haven't broken this years resolutions already!)

Is there a nice class project here? Get a class to set targets, choose a deadline and then write emails to themselves to check in on the deadline. Or write an email to themselves for when they leave school... or reach 21... or... I guess you can come up with your own ideas. And if you do, leave a comment here to share it with other readers.

While we are on the subject of time travel (which we are sort of) here's my favourite bit from The Big Bang Theory:

My New Year resolution? To blog more often in 2012. So far, so good!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

eBooks can damage your reading?

Two things collided and I thought it was worth noting.

Kindle by ...-Wink-...
Kindle, a photo by ...-Wink-... on Flickr.
First, I caught a short chunk of a programme very late on Radio 4 (or possibly the World service). I think it was a business programme and they were talking about Amazon. Among other things, they were saying what a smart move (for Amazon at least) the Kindle was and, almost as a throw away, they stated that Amazon were now selling more eBooks than paper books!

I was surprised by this, especially since (in my opinion) many eBook editions are too pricey - I have even seen paperback versions of a book on sale in Amazon for a lower price than the eBook. How does that make sense?

While this was still fizzing around the back of my mind, I came across this blog: Why Books Are Better than e-Books for Children. The article asserts that if parents read eBooks with their children, it "...may actually impede our child’s ability to learn". If true, this would be worrying. The post referred to research from Temple University: Traditional books provide more positive parent-child interaction according to Temple, Erickson researchers. (It is worth noting that while the blog post is dated 28 December 2011, the research is dated 2006 - and five years is a very long time in the world of tech!)

Despite it's age, a couple of the points the research raises are interesting. One of its findings is related to the way eBooks can read the text to you:
'"It turned out that reading electronic books became a behaviorally oriented, slightly coercive parent-child interaction as opposed to talking about the story, relating it to the their child's life, or even talking about the book's pictures or text," Parish-Morris said. "Parents were under the impression that when you are sitting down with a book, you are supposed to read it," she added.  "But what was happening with the e-books is that reading was not even part of the process, probably because these books literally read the story to the child.  So parents are not needed.  The book makes commands and tells the child what to do; it encourages them to play games and reads to the child, so parents are essentially replaced by this battery-operated machine."'
This is an important point but it seems to me that this is no different from the story tapes we used to play for our children. They were not, of course, a substitute for reading to our children but they were a supplement. For example, it was while reading to my children at bedtime that I discovered Mr Tumnus has an Irish accent and (later on) that Aragorn sounds a bit like Clint Eastwood! But there were times when story tapes were invaluable, for example when we were going long journeys in a car. So I would argue that the problem here is not eBooks per se, but rather the way they are used.

The New York Times blog goes on to suggest, "Readers with an e-reader were focused on the device, not the story." I can see this would be an issue but probably only while the devices were new and novel. I remember having to teach people how to use the back button and hyperlinks on the first web browser but now the focus is on how to use the information accessed rather than the means of accessing it. If it is true that eBooks are outselling paper books, I think we can safely say that that we are well past they days of them being novel (pun intended) devices.

I am less than concerned therefore by the issues raised in the New York Times blog. It seems to me like another example that shows the truth of the phrase "It's not the tech, it's the teach". If the focus is on the reading and the parent child interaction, I suspect it makes no nevermind whether you use an eBook or a pBook!

I suspect though that this is worth further investigation. I must have a look for some more up-to-date research.