Monday, November 05, 2007

The not-retro-in-any-way Naace Social Networking Conference

Brrr it's cold. Today I'm sat in The Palace, Tamworth, which hosted the The Bay City Rollers at the weekend and in future weeks will host a Whitesnake tribute band. However, in a departure from this the venue is bang up to date as it hosts the Naace Social Networking Conference, which places it firmly in the twentieth twenty-first century.
So, today might be the only useful thing to have come down the pipes as a result of the "naace will eat itself" tool that the Naacetalk Advisory list has become over the last few months. Anyway, the first thing that strikes me is the number of "sponsors" here for the conference about Social Networking Sites (SNS). This morning there are a series of "lightning" talks (i.e. five minutes long), at least half of which appear to be directly related to specific products. Well, as they're lightning talks I guess the only thing I can do it give them a one sentence summary. You can see the entire programme in PDF if you like, or you can read whatever I tap out below. The most important thing at any ICT conference is to get a seat near to a plug, so I'm sat at the back on the wireless network sharing an extension lead with the venue's sound desk, which has recently mixed Bye Bye Baby and will mix Here I Go Again and more. Today, it'll have to make do with a bunch of people promoting software or companies they have relationships with, and the occasional person from a school. Actually, only one practitioner here, according to the programme.
First impressions? Well, I hope this isn't too pejorative, but you'd never guess this was a "Web 2.0" gathering from the clientele. Anyway, I'll publish it now (at the start) and update it throughout the day.
First up is Stephen Carrick-Davies from Childnet International on Social Networking opportunities and risks for children and educators. I saw his presentation at the Handheld Learning Conference a couple of weeks ago on Mogulus and wonder if this might be similar. He starts off with Douglas Adam's point that whatever you're born with is just "stuff", whatever comes later (before 35) is understandable, anything invented when you're older than that is a bit scary until about ten years later when it might be OK. Actually, I've just realised that he's Josie Fraser's boss (or one of them), which makes sense now, suddenly I understand what she's doing.
Positive things on SNS - the ability to hang out & have an identity, a shift from consumption to creation, risk assessment, peer to peer education and informal learning.
OK, here are the lightning talks (plus my one sentence summary). These are all, allegedly, examples of how social networking is being practically incorporated into mainstream education:

  • Andy Preston, EduJam: recap on why the conference is here, quick plug for EduJam, no examples of anything;
  • Ian Lynch, TheIngots: online courses and accreditation for work by students - examples of students' work and how it's assessed by using Web 2.0 tools;
  • John Hackett, The Learning Landscape for Schools: it's about blogs, file storage and RSS, apparently - or a tweaked version of Elgg. This is purely a promotional piece - the two important things? The URL of the product and the fact that the speaker's here all day. No examples of anything due to the connection going down - don't classroom teachers have a Plan B? I think this talk was about 10 minutes;
  • Drew Buddie, The Royal Masonic School: examples of Web 2.0, descriptions of practice within speaker's Moodle, example of anonymised collaboration, a nice picture of the speaker's daughter playing EyeToy against her stuffed toy lamb,which elicits "aaaaaaahs" from many of the audience;
  • Doug Dickinson, apparently on behalf of Podium: it's a software promotion, which looks like it shows how an ICT consultant can use a podcasting tool to record some Shakespeare, which is entertainingly theatrical;
  • Charles Worth, Infomapper: It's a five minute plug for the product. That's all you need to know. Obviously there are no examples of practice, and I think I'm losing the will to live.
Well, unless I'm very much mistaken I saw four and a bit plugs for software tools and nearly two examples of practice. Without meaning to offend anyone who presented (all of whom had a tough job, after five minutes the microphone was muted) but instead of being the main focus as promised, evidence of how social networking tools are being practically incorporated into mainstream teaching was conspicuous by its absence, and as such the session has made me very frustrated. I can't imagine any teachers who had been asked to present on "examples of practice" coming along and showing how to use a piece of software or trumpeting its great features, so, how does an advisory community get away with it? Grrr, I give up.
After an odd cup of Earl Grey Green Tea, Ruth Hammond from Becta is speaking about the national perspective on safeguarding children online and how this shouldn't be just an ICT thing - even though it's in the revised secondary ICT programme of study. Apparently the new SEF now includes section 4b - the extent to which learners adopt safe and responsible practices in using new technologies, including the internet. There are some interestinglinks to places like Teachernet, Know IT All, CEOP and the TDA, as well as explanations of what roles those resources might play in combatting cyberbullying - and not just of children.
Leon Cych Workforce remodelling and web 2.0: Leon is talking about why Web 2.0 is a challenge which requires remodelling of the workforce – why models of CPD need to take into account what happens outside the classroom as well as what happens inside it.
As you’d hope, it’s about the need for proper education about how to use the real-world resources rather than expecting learners to use dumbed-down/emasculated versions of these tools. Kids have got good media literacy but no life skills – that’s an important gap. One question he asks at the end is “what can Naace do?”. His answers include: get a dynamic forum, put in a Moodle or something, have a go. Someone then says that there are lots of things coming but implies that they’re being tested so that they work. This leads to the question in my mind – what about creativity (after Sir Ken Robinson)? Why can’t an organisation like Naace (or a school, or an LA) be permitted to try something, maybe even get it wrong, learn the lessons, but at least do something? Maybe there'll be an answer later. In the meantime it's time for lunch.
Terry Freedman, editor of so-long-in-gestation-it-might-come-out-as-an-elephant Coming Of Age 2, is presenting on Social networking from a teen's perspective. He questions some of the stats around SNS, in particular the issues around active users versus those who have a mainly dormant account. One interesting area is a review of Their Space (the Demos report) by teenagers - the teenagers' response to some of the portraits of scrupulous, well-informed, balanced teenagers in the report are very interesting and contradict the report's main findings. The presentation is available online and will make interesting reading once the data (such as it is) is fleshed out with some more examined case studies.
The final parallel session is done by Theo Kuchuel, who does an excellent presentation on practical uses of things like, flickr for things like classroom displays, uses of wikis like the Flat Classroom project, plus the obligatory mentions of Facebook.
The final "expert panel" session is supposed to (the programme says) include people from Bebo and Google, but doesn't. There's a dearth of questions, and I do try and point out that it would have been a good idea to model good social networking by using a social networking site to do some pre-conference administration. I came to a Naace meeting on transforming CPD a few years ago and we used a content management system instead of a VLE for course preparation; anyway it's suggested that we did indeed use some sort of social networking tool since the Naacetalk advisory list was the genesis of today and information was shared on the Naace web site. Which, bearing in mind the nature of the advisory list recently, makes me wonder what any follow-up conference might be. Does anyone in Naace get what social networking really is? (I don't know the answer to that, it's just a question I've heard asked a few times today by others). Is anyone up for an anti-social networking conference?


  1. I'm not sure where this conference went wrong as it had a lot going for it. It was organised by members of Naace following a discussion on the talk list with a 'let's get on and do it' enthusiasm. Naace offered support to those members to make it happen. But somewhere things got "lost in translation". The original idea was to discuss the dilemma schools and teachers face around e-safety (I think ... and my hesitation is perhaps indicative) which became translated into Social Networking. It therefore failed on both counts to really address its original enthusiasm to answer a question or the title finally thrust upon it. All credit for those that attempted meet an identified need, but in the end the event fell rather flat.

    The venue was also strange and as often happens, set the tone for the day. The black walls, the high stage with table, the not so sharp projector image and little bit dodgy wireless, made delegates feel unsure as to what was happening.

    I noted your comment in the final plenary and agreed, then looked for comments on the conference blog in the hope of redemption, and only found my own. Seems like a chance missed even by you :-)

  2. I agree with most of this, and would like to add that it may be time to explore some alternatives to the traditional formats for conference presentations. A good example to start with might be the Teachmeet session at the Scottish Learning Festival in September> Informal and innovative it embodied the spirit of social networking and collaboration, and as one teacher remarked "the best cpd I have ever had. There is another Teachmeet scheduled for BETT 08, find out more here

    < PS > Ian if you let me have your email I can ad you to the bus media wiki as requests - apologies for public request.

  3. Hi Ian, Sorry about the lack of examples in the five minute lightning session. It was a bit too short really to include any.

    It was a pity you missed the session which included the examples. However, Neil Adam wrote this about it "Empowering creative producers with ownership of their own space. Andy Preston of Edujam showed how portable kit and an easy to use website can help pupils become creative producers.
    In another of the parallel sessions I attended, Andy Preston of Edujam addressed the issue of Empowering Creative Producers. He showed a bag of kit, comprising digital and video cameras, a microphone and an audio recorder, that pupils could easily take round school. The portability, he argued, enabled spontaneity to flow out into genuine creativity using these types of media. I was particularly struck by an example audio file he played, in which a pupil was interviewing one of her classmates about the work she had produced. Not only did this promote genuine self and peer-assessment, but it clearly fostered a sense of self-worth and value.

    Andy also strongly believes, following Charles Desforges, in the impact that online systems can have through parental involvement in the pupils' learning process at home. The Edujam system enables such uses, as well as simplifying content checking, tagging and assessment processes for teachers. He also demonstrated how teachers in the "staff room" could search for examples of work that have been done by other teachers."