Tuesday, March 25, 2008

John Davitt's reflections on BETT

In this week's missed-because-I-was-doing-too-much-Moodle-training Education Guardian supplement John Davitt gives a considered reflection on BETT and asks more than a few probing questions. His description of a learning platform monoculture hits right to the core of the issues around technology in education at the moment, with perhaps the most cutting observation at the start of the piece:

The heavy-handed compulsion for all schools to have a learning platform by the end of the year has removed the chance for schools to try some different approaches to find what suits them best. This policy has also ensured that the bigger business community would turn up and, by default if nothing else, start squeezing out the small, the fresh or the free from the market.
The article mentions TeachMeet, Ode, and others - and interestingly refers to the Help Us Get To BETT campaign as being one of the high points of the show in recent years - ironic, as it was
necessitated by the way in which it's prohibitively expensive for anyone without a huge marketing budget to maintain a presence at BETT. Ironically, one of the smaller companies cited by Davitt at being in tune with the educational ICT zeigeist (is there one? what does it look like (other than TeachMeet I mean)?) has said that they won't be at BETT in 2009, along with the BBC and (I would guess) a significant number of companies, both large and small.
Particularly revealing in John Davitt's article is EMAP's response - which doesn't quote any teachers as saying "this BETT was better than ever". Of course, some people will go there for the first time and say "Wow! It was amazing" - but it reminds me of going to your first gig as a young teenager - it sounds brilliant, you can't believe the atmosphere, the experience, etc. - until, with a few more gigs under your belt (quite possibly from more significant and less embarrassing artists), you realise that your judgement of that first one wasn't as accurate as you thought at the time. Emap's response is interesting - the comment from the folk at Ode was that they seemed to give the impression that they'd dreamed up the concept of TeachMeet. Now, I'm not sure that's true - Ewan McIntosh's recent post about the next TeachMeet at BETT implies both that Emap will be heavily involved (a necessity I guess) and that the event will be sponsored in more of a micro way than the huge wads of cash it might take to buy everyone present a couple of drinks on the night. Still, all being well I continue to hope that we could do something similar, on a smaller scale, in Bucks next term.
Talking to teachers both during and after BETT it was clear that no-one was completely captivated by anything they'd seen; it seemed to feel a bit like the John Lewis clearance sale - you felt you had to go just in case you missed something, but came away no better off than when you went in-indeed, most people seemed to feel simply a day poorer. Maybe the acid test for BETT won't be when the big vendors don't come, but when those involved in teaching don't.
On a personal note, I'm about to be whisked off to Oxford to spend a day in the Nuffield hospital, and so will be partially out of action for a little while. In the couple of weeks which I've been told that I'll be signed off for, I hope to get much catching up done, including a couple of posts which have been gestating for a fair while now, so watch this space. It'll all be typed with my one good hand. Oh, and I acquired a Stone UMPC for about a week and a half today, so I'll be testing how that works with our Moodles and Connect.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

A Governors' Meeting on a Saturday

After a bit of a lie in following a long journey back from Torquay yesterday I'm going to Cookham this morning (famous for Stanley Spencer's paintings) to speak to a conference of governors from one of our secondary schools. The school in question has been unsure about choosing a VLE for a long, long time and has committed to using Moodle. So, what would I say to them?
Just in time Mark Berthelemy posts something that's pertinent in so many ways. It's referring to adult education, but can be easily translated into the use of online learning at secondary and even primary level. Don't worry, I already know what I'm going to share with the governors, but it's useful to have much of it validated by someone you respect.
One part in particular is relevant to a post I wrote just before the flurry of mid- and post-Naace postings entitled Does a VLE need content to be useful? which provoked a flurry of comments (well, a flurry for this blog anyway), mostly in agreement. Here's part of Mark's message to senior management (emphasis mine):

Learning is not about delivering content - it is about people engaging with that content and doing something with it, such as discussing it, practising the ideas, taking a test, re-presenting the ideas etc. Some of this can be done online; some is best done face-to-face.
Nail. Head. Hit.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Jim Gamble - It's Not About The Technology

The penultimate keynote is by Jim Gamble from CEOP - the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. This is an overview of CEOP and some information about the myths around online child abuse. CEOP has to have a police officer as its head. The police are very good at making mistakes

  • start from a position of ignorance:
  • fear what you don't understand;
  • keep what you fear at arm's length;
  • Psions weren't allowed in NI policing for fear that someone could access the data on them - instead information was in filofaxes which were just as easy to use and had no protection of the data inside them;
  • Police move from ignorance to arrogance;
  • The arrogance:
    Police technology must be bigger, better and a different colour and not interoperate with anything else.
  • Oh, and the difference between God and a Chielf Constable is that God doesn't think he's a Chief Constable (good gag);
  • Moved to a position of understanding and often get seduced by technology.

The police were seduced by the internet - police thought they were too stupid to deal with it. The Wonderland Club existed because they felt that it was OK - they are others like me. Access test was to provide 10,000 child abuse images.

The police are good at having a party - and they had a big party after the Wonderland Club were caught. Normal pornography can be accessed - it's a moral problem, not a legal problem. Operation Ore against Landslide Productions. 94% of 2,500 people arrested by Ore pleaded guilty - the police didn't know what to do with the volume of material in Ore.
Myths around internet child abuse
  1. The internet is different - somehow magical - and if a child avatar is abused in Second Life that's OK, right?
    The internet is just another public place and it's defined by the character of the individuals which occupy it. When young people are in a public place where others are operating to a commercial imperative. The internet is a fantastic place to be a young person - build a business, extend friendships, but it needs a civilised element.
  2. "I was only looking"
    If there's a doubt, who deserves the benefit of the doubt? The child or the person looking at the images of 2 year old to pre-pubescent children? "Reasearching a book or a part in the play" aren't excuses. Henry Hayler (portrayed in 61 Pimlico) was arrested in 1874 and had tens of thousands of images. Don't use the world "Child Pornography" - would a rape victim be the victim of Adult Pornography or rape? Don't confuse this with normal sexual behaviour or normal sexual development. Paedophiles try to normalise this and don't like the phrase "child abuse" because it makes them abusers.
  3. Why track people abroad? Isn't it OK if people abuse others abroad?
  4. Why bother, isn't it too big?
    How do you police it? The suggestion of policing makes behaviour change, something like a picture of a speed camera on a road where there may not be any cameras.

CEOP was created as a functioning agency based around intelligence - the CEOP most wanted web site - gives relevant information to the public.
462m unique users on MSN - police can approach Microsoft and kids can use the CEOP logo in MSN.

Protection isn't about ICT and more sophisticated technologies, it's about behaviour, good citizenship.

How do we educate this generation of children so that they bring their children up to be wise. People will always get around image blocking and other technologies - this is about people.

Later on, others who've heard Jim Gamble speak say that they've never heard him do the same presentation twice - and this was an accessible, blunt, very well delivered and different angle on a subject which many in the room probably thought that they knew all they needed to know about, thanks.

Professor John Stein - The Brain, Memory, Learning and the Future

My chosen parallel session this afternoon is by John Stein, Prof of Physiology, Chair of the Dyslexia Research Trust.

"People who know nothing always have strong opinions".
What do we know about learning?
This feels like it's going to be one of those sessions you couldn't get anywhere else. Food for the brain (which sums up two of Professor Stein's areas of interest - oh, and he's Rick's brother, or so says the conference programme).
He talks about Pavlovian classical conditioning, Operant Conditioning (shocking rates after a light is switched on) - making associations between disparate things.
JS focuses on different parts of the brain - the cerebellum, the hippocampus and the pre-frontal cortex.
The brain contains 1012 nerve cells which make 1018 connections between them - more potential connections than there are particles in the known universe.
There's lots of detail about how receptors and nerve cells work and how different cells can be amplified or turned down in different ways. There's an amazing picture of someone with a carving knife between the two lobes of her brain - she showed full recovery within a few days due to the plasticity of the brain - which changes throughout life. The number of dendrites (and hence connections) peaks at age 20 and decreases to an embryonic level in something like dementia. There's a peak in connectivity at age 2 in the visual context, which tails off as this matures, and a peak in the frontal cortex at age 15, where morality and decision making are established. There's a demonstration of the Kanitza illusion and its perception by the 40Hz gamma waves in working memory.
Demonstration of the Active and Passive Kittens experiment - the kitten allowed to learn and move was far more developed then the one in the same environment and how this led to the Head start programme in America. Active play in preschool for severely deprived 4 year olds - for every $1 spent, $10 was save over the next 40 years. Rats allowed to explore and play were far more capable (twice as much) of running a maze than those in a non-stimulated environment - children need to be able to run, play, explore which will develop their brains more.
In London, cab drivers who pass The Knowledge have a hippocampus which grows larger than in others, shown by structural scans (see a BBC news story on this or a Scientific American article). Navigation through virtual reality screens activate the right hippocampus and left caudate. Brain plasticity - practising 5 finger exercises increase the area of brain cells which control the fingers. Simply imagining doing an exercise has the same effect and gaming consoles and texting have made modern boys' thumbs more dexterous than it was. Sleep consolidates the learning process - of things learned when awake - also for motor activities and that sleep deprivation decreases the effectiveness of this. During sleep the parts of the brain involved in learning things are reactivated. Good diet is also crucial - without omega-3 DHA nerve cells fail to grow proper axons. DHA is needed to form the membranes which allow the axons to go. Breast milk is best as it contains more omega-3 DHA - lack of this leads to high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes etc. Breastfed children have an average 7 point higher IQ than those fed on formula milk with no omega-3s.
Information about dyslexia - brain scans of those with dyslexia, different scans from different languages, some of which are transparent, some are not (yacht). Dyslexics have decreased activation in cerebellum during motor learning. Dyslexics have very unstable vergeance control - eyes have to converge for near vision when reading, control essential to stop words on a page moving around.
Alzheimer's disease created by tangles - cerebral atrophy in the temporal, frontal and parietal lobes. Those who eat two or more portions of oily fish per week are less likely to get Alzheimer's even if they have a genetic disposition towards it.
SWOT analysis of the brain
  • Strength - human brain's adaptability
  • Weakness - dependence on environment
  • Opportunity - intelligent and imaginative use of IT
  • Threats - toxic childhood and toxic adulthood, isolation, poor nutrition, too much passive IT, not enough sleep
Toxic Childhood

Poor nutrition

  • Too protected
  • Reduced risks and imagination
  • Reduced active play
  • Reduced sports
The average Briton was better fed at the height of the WW2 blockade than today.

  • CAL - not as good as a real flesh and blood teacher
  • IT revolution carries the risk of human isolation and passitivity
  • Potentially, the visuospatial renaissance and a new era for brain / computer symbiosis.
Essentially, John Stein ran out of time at the end and didn't really get to cover the ICT aspects of it, but this was like drinking a sharp fruit beer in the midst of a line of occasionally heavy pints of beer - refreshing and completely different

Fiona Aubrey-Smith - Extending Learning Opportunities in an Infant School using a Learning Platform

Fiona Aubrey-Smith from Uniservity is presenting on how to extend learning opportunities in infant schools. She used to work in a two form entry infants school in an Armed Forces catchment area and now works for Uniservity. (I overheard a rumour at the Naace exhibition yesterday that Capita might be looking to take over Uniservity, I wonder if that will happen?).

Her first slide is Start Small Think Big - a picture of different stages of growing beans, with the sunshine being leadership, the rain being the kids, the soil the school holding it all together.
How is an LP relevant to 4-7 year olds in a school, where many of the learners aren't reading? The first thing was to focus on one school improvement focus, such as maths homework with simple quizzes - one member of staff and six pupils.
The digital divide isn't as much of an issue - family engagement is. Kids will always find ways to access - through friends, the library, on holiday - and cross the perceived digital divide. This is something we've seen in schools like Winslow. Fiona's school opened the ICT suite after school and gave connectivity - free access, so that pupils could only attend with parents and vice versa, but not as a computer club or homework club. A virtual holiday to Kenya was a way of starting to include children in investigations as part of a wider project. The planned use of an LP can support AFL by allowing the children to see what's ahead - so they can see what they will be learning about. The children have the best kind of vision for this - and family mentoring & participation drives it as well. If the question is "can we do this on the Learning Platform?" then the answer should be yes, since if they're keen to learn then bring it on. This is an interesting contrast to the note in yesterday's Learning Platforms session, which said "if the staff ask 'Can we do this on the learning platform?' then say 'Yes'" - I'm pretty sure I prefer today's method as it focuses on the children's needs and not just the school's.
A leaving school cook set up a TASC club (Thinking Actively in a Social Context) with more able children - she would set tasks for them and then come in to celebrate what had been done. Governors did the dull stuff - meetings, agendas, whatever - but also could take part from Navy ships as internet access is free. A curriculum project was focused on the navy - used across the school, concentrating on floating and sinking for younger years and comparing Nelson's navy and the modern navy for older children. Dads on ships would send in information and reports about what was going on, ships tracked using Google Maps and information reflected on and incorporated in to the curriculum. The buzz always comes from the children - an online book club ran by the TA. The skills and understanding from the Year 1 and 2 children was taken to junior school - mentoring in both directions as they mentored older children on using the LP while the older children provided more the "traditional" mentoring associated with transition.
Examples of projects:

  • Simple drawings of what an extraterrestrial might look like captured in a camera or visualiser. This then led on to literacy - discussing the pictures;
  • Ask Amy Johnson a Question - what do the children want to know? Questions asked inside a forum with children asking and answering questions;
  • Book club in the library with a video review made in Windows Movie Maker of boys talking about their reading and why they liked books;
  • It's a Small World - Benny the Bear visits schools around the world and finds out about things - the importance of characters for younger children;
  • Olympic History - bringing a list of resources together about the Olympics - then asking kids to categorise them: which helped you learn? which are right? which made you think
  • Primary Art - children placing work in forums using connectives - I did this because...
  • What does God look like? - came out of a famous people activity - children included X Factor, the Osbornes... and then Jesus, Moses, King David, God... a dressing gown and flip-flops, in case you were wondering.
  • Transition support - PhotoStories of what happened on induction day to share with parents, include classlists so pupils can remember who's in their class. Children getting to know each other (buddies) before they arrive at school.
How does this apply to children who aren't yet reading? Even if children are confident with reading their parents might not be.
How do Early Years ePortfolios work? Think of it as a family portfolio - their learning support team who might help them - family, teachers, etc. Entries in the portfolio are often written in the third person ("Lucy has been doing..."). Foundation Stage Profiles could be included in a portfolio. As children become older and start to own the portfolio they can start to experiment with things. Fiona makes the point we use in working with our primaries about competencies and literacy to use these tools to support first steps in social networking-esque tools - for many children the first chance they get to have anything like their own space might be inside a VLE or LP.
How do we extend learning in our role across an LA, rather than just using it as a repository? This echoes many of the thoughts which I've had for a while, which is that (it's obvious) teachers and staff are learners as well and we should expect them to use it. A couple of questions...
  • How do we encourage Early Years kids to log in? Practice and teaching how do it learning; children know how to line up 'cos they do it time after time each day in the infant classroom - same with logging in.
  • How do you prevent bad things being uploaded or written? Not possible, it's an ethos thing, knowing what's appropriate and what's not and learning that as well.
  • Do parents log on as themselves or the child? Children should work with their parents so using the same log in.
  • Should the tools (for recording video, audio, making things) be built into the platform? Everything in moderation - the skill is to learn how to do something should be transferable.
Once again, this presentation fundamentally isn't about what you use but how you use it - it's about a series of tools which enable interactions, sharing and other good things.
I got a chance to chat to Fiona over lunch after her session, and it was really encouraging to meet someone from a Learning Platform vendor who's not obsessed with selling (she only mentioned the 'product' once, and then only in response to a question asking what it was), and in fact appears to position herself as far away from that part of a business as possible. I'd like to get her to come and work with / talk to / learn from some of our primary school Moodlers, possibly in the autumn term. Do you think that'll be possible or might commercial considerations take precedence over sharing practice? I hope they don't...
Update 13-02-2008: Terry Freedman has just re-published an article by Fiona from the publication Computers in Classrooms. If you're thinking about using a VLE or Learning Platform in primary - at both infant and junior level - then you really should hurry on over and read it.

Discussion session on ePortfolios

After a keynote session this morning in which I managed to get a lot of work done, I'm in a small group discussing ePortfolios. About a dozen people in a small group in the Forum...

First section: what is/isn't an ePortfolio?
  • something which contains digital assets;
  • is it more than something to just store things;
  • something in the format of a blog, with comments?
  • not something which is part of a VLE, it puts the learner at the centre;
  • owned by the learner cf. a VLE which is owned by and reflective of the institution;
  • I think we could get stuck on this bit. For a long while. Oh well...
  • in Australia, ePortfolios exist within a school and interoperability isn't as important.
Second section: how to use an ePortfolio
  • recording progress in reading;
  • recording physical development;
  • supporting teaching
Third section: where to go from here
  • what tools do we want in ePortfolios;
  • do we need tools (to create things) inside ePortfolios or not?
  • we want a space which is easily accessible, through common standards and common protocols which all ePortfolio providers should be able to access. This just came to me and I think I need to write a complete blog post on it.

I don't know if we actually get anywhere during this hour or so, but it's interesting to hear the range of views on some of the issues - unfortunately, the more - and increasingly diverse - views I hear on this the less I think a "one size fits" approach stands a chance of working, especially without clear guidance from Becta.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Does a VLE need content to be useful?

I'm sat, near what might be the only available power socket in the room, at the back of the hall of the Naace strategic conference. On Monday, while in the office tying up loose email ends and making sure that things were shipshape while I'm not in the county for a few days (somehow, I don't think my absence will affect things that much), I picked up a piece of mail - one of many identical pieces of mail addressed to every member of our ICT team. It was from Birchfield Interactive and was a four page A4 brochure with a bold claim on the front. You can flick through it yourself below:

Now that's a bold claim and one I'm not sure I agree with - not just about Birchfield but for everyone. Whatever I say isn't necessarily about Birchfield's content which, as the positive quotes in the brochure say, might well be quite good.
However, the salient question is is a VLE without bought content a waste of time? The campaign in question implies that a VLE without content is like a car without fuel which must mean something similar.
As previously mentioned I think Birchfield's content is OK - we've got some samples of their content and will open it up in a shared Moodle area for our schools to look at when the main BucksGfL site is updated to Moodle 1.8 so that schools can have a go with something that works in their VLE before purchasing it.
Something that Ewan McIntosh alluded to last night was that it's the users that make a VLE work. You can throw all the content you want at it, but without users it would be like... well, a fully fuelled car without a driver I guess. Is the teacher the driver in this analogy? I think not, but then neither are the learners. Besides, bearing in mind that VLEs and Learning Platforms exist in a world where existing pedagogy doesn't always cater for them, aren't teachers learners as well? Some of the best work we've seen within our Moodles in Buckinghamshire hasn't come from great swathes of pre-produced content but from interactions (particularly in forums) between learners and other learners (with teachers in there as well) - reflecting on their own work - some of which comes from curriculum requirements and some of which doesn't. Much of it reflects on and responds to freely available content available online. Of course, good quality content could stimulate this as well, but on its own, does it make a difference? It's a different world from something like RM's Kaleidos which comes with "ready mapped" curriculum content - so does this make any real difference? At last week's Becta Symposium on Effective Use of Learning Platforms the point was made that effective VLEs aren't content driven - instead it's a whole raft of other things which make them effective. So why is content being marketed to schools like this? Is it because schools are worried that what they do themselves isn't good or compelling enough? Are we about to see a push of content at schools as the end of eLCs nears - while it be useable, or even useful to them? Will it be shrink-wrapped and difficult to use, or in bite sized chunks, a la Ode or the way some people think it should be?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Ewan McIntosh - aka "Ewan Does Devon" - Naace Keynote

Note to the casual reader: this is a rather shambolic attempt at live blogging a session from the Naace 2008 Strategic Conference in Torquay, hence it reads something like a stream of (un?)consciousness rather than a thought through, planned blog post.

It's Tuesday evening in Torquay... time for Ewan McIntosh to address the Naace conference and (maybe) rattle a few cages?That's my hope, at least...
Ewan starts off with this image:
Bebo Boomer
and says let's play bullsh*t bingo if the word "community" comes up too much.
Why should we allow students to do things like playing computer games?
When the world changes, do we?

  • Digital Holidaymakers
    Torquay's great for a conference like this because it sums up the experience of an ICT conference
  • Initial Teacher Education
    There's a big issue with ITE (ITT) - many teachers think they know it all and can't use it in the classroom.
  • The Institution
    Does it exist? Maybe it's not as overbearing as we think...
A link to yesterday's blog post about the participation in something, nowadays we're allowed to record things- a few links to Teachers TV videos on social networking. Ewan says there's 113million blogs (according to Technorati - more than earlier, maybe that's the rate of growth). No such thing as the digital native & digital immigrants - just digital holidaymakers and everyone else who "gets it".
Thinking about Bebo and how kids use tools like this to write for their friends - not their teachers.
How to get beyond Kate Modern - looking at Ewan's contentious blog post on the Guardian's Comment Is Free site.
What's Participation Culture anyway?
Culture is the problem there... we don't know how to change culture. Is it iterative or a big bang?
The example of I Love Bees - an alternate reality game which mixed real world (or "meatspace" to use Ewan's preferred phrase) and online aspects. Things like SETI at home and LHC at home which are large real-world community projects relying on ICT.
What is private in a community? What's the difference between private and public? What's Identity 2.0? A myriad of differences...
  • Secret Spaces
    Those areas which cannot be seen by anyone - texting isn't secret really
  • Group Spaces
    Those areas (Facebook, Bebo) which build something around a group of people.
  • Publishing Spaces
    Areas to connect with people who you don't know you want to connect with yet, Photobucket, Flickr, VLEs are locked down, is this wrong?
  • Performing Spaces
    Second Life, World of Warcraft - areas to "show off" (cf the Minister's speech this afternoon).
  • Participation Spaces
    Areas of meetings, concerts with lots of people videoing
  • Watching Spaces
    Schools do this well, conferences like Naace
What's reputation?
Being part of a community - like Naace - is founded on reputation. The "tipping point" and how "influencers" and the effect. Does Naace think it's a reputation group or a lobbying group? So why does Bebo work? There's no influence, no-one's better than anyone else - not based on who you are, but your ideas and what you're trying to say. Thin slicing - being able to separate things and go after the good ones is an important skill.
What worked in Scotland for changing things?
  • 20 teachers & managers sharing their ideas, experiences and resources online in 2005-6;
  • within 8 months, 350 sharing 2006-7;
  • 1300 students, managers and teachers online at the moment;
  • 1,300,000 page views at eduBuzz.org;
  • length of visit goes up even if numbers go down.

Audience is vital - teachers and students grow to appreciate and use the audience and we need to help them take advantage of their learning.

Five point strategy:

  1. Identify key user groups - no key influencers, not the usual suspects;
  2. identify and understand you key users and influncers - those who don't share;
  3. let key users evangelise - in a world of abundance, a club is exclusive - you feel part of something;
  4. turn evangelists into trainers;
  5. support bottom-up and emergent behaviours - TeachMeet and the idea of an unconference - face to face communities.

Emergent behaviours:

  • Lead by example - have a blog, do a podcast
  • Lead by reminding - start by reminding in a Google Doc
  • Provide adequate report - use a wiki or something something
  • Lead by mandate
  • Personal and school benefits complement each other.

He finishes off with a quote from John Hunter...

Don't think, try.

Finally, the usual YouTube video...

John Naughton - Naace conference keynote

Note to the casual reader: this is a rather shambolic attempt at live blogging a session from the Naace 2008 Strategic Conference in Torquay, hence it reads something like a stream of (un?)consciousness rather than a thought through, planned blog post.

(I'll put links in later)
John Naughton from the Observer is presenting the first keynote. I'm live blogging it, but not yet using CoverItLive (oops). Here goes... this will be mainly a collection of random lines, so apologies in advance.
JN not a fan of Second Life... and isn't sure what a keynote speaker is for - possibly to "lend tone to a disreputable occasion".
Most educators wouldn't say they were in the media business, but we all are. Media being the plural of medium - not just a carrier, but a medium in the scientific sense - a mixture of things needed for cell growth for example, like a petri-dish. Society is a living thing and it relies on media for development and growth. Change the media, you change the organism. What's changing in our society? Cites Neil Postman - author of The Disappearance of Childhood - unappreciated and not taken seriously. In a print based culture it takes longer to become competent to function as an adult. Postman's contention is that the arrival of TV has transformed society in the same way the arrival of print undermined the Catholic Church. It doesn't take long to become competent at TV - hence the age of reason is lowered. You'll never see a remedial class in TV viewing... Postman's view of education - Amusing Ourselves to Death (on US politics). Political climate in soundbites - hence there are always only two sides to an argument.
Media ecology - a more dynamic system with complex interactions in different forms - parasitic, symbiotic, equilibrium, change, etc. Better than the market metaphors used by government and media. TV didn't wipe out radio, or films or newspapers; the web hasn't (yet) wiped out newspapers - it's not about markets and market share, more of a changing ecosystem. The organisms in this ecosystem inc TV, radio, P2P, web, etc. The dominant organism was broadcast TV - but this is changing - terminal decline. Narrowcast digital TV is eating broadcast TV from within. Once audiences are fragmented, things change - PVRs, iPlayer, etc. Broadcast will still work for major events - 9/11, World Cup, etc. The Web won't replace TV, but the internet might. The Web is just one kind of traffic - P2P data exceeds web data by 10:1 or 2:1 depending on the time of day. The web might be seen as an interesting blip - not the biggest thing ever, just a single innovation.
Penetration of broadband, video streaming, audio streaming, eCommerce, IP telephony (Skype 150,000 new users a day), wide access to Wifi, social networking, IPTV (Joost etc.), - all in developed countries. Then there's Google...
Young people rely on search engines - they view rather than read. Google runs on Linux - hence everyone uses Open Source software, even if they don't think they do. Everyone wants the service, they don't care how it gets to them - Open Source or not. The platform is not the computer anymore - the network is the computer exemplified by the concept of cloud computing. Our children and grandchildren will grow up in a world dominated by the net.

  • Push media - broadcast TV - a select band of producers create it, passive audience recipients (the couch potato) could switch off, or change channels chosen for him by others, about as free as one of BF Skinner's pigeons. Push is fundamentally asymmetrical - the creativity is at the producer's end, not at the viewer's. The most astonishing thing about broadcast was how it kept tens of millions in its thrall - commercial TV is essential "a licence to print money". Push was an artefact of the technology - analogue frequencies limited how many channels could be broadcast. Digital changed this and hollowed out the push model from within.
  • Pull media - the web - the opposite of push, the user selects something and browse to it. Comparing online prices from the comfort of your own armchair means prospective purchasers turn up with not just specifications of products but their prices as well. Consumers can be much more informed - harder to keep secrets from them (see Prince Harry in Afghanistan). cf with Edward VIII and the abdication - a deal done with newspapers which stuck, until Edward came to marry Mrs Simpson - a divorce court is a public place. King's Moll Reno'd in Wolesley's Home Town was how one (unfettered) US paper put it - people in WHSmith were employed to cut out sections of US papers which mentioned Mrs Simpson. Nowadays the internet allows things to be found out and disseminated which wouldn't otherwise - like Kryptonite Bike Locks opened with a biro or Sony's stealthy installation of a rootkit. A quote from a medical researcher "in 2010 the biggest problem for GPs will be how to deal with internet-informed patient".

The asymmetry of the push world will be replaced with something more balanced.
(there are lots of echoes in this of Lessig's TED Talk on Creativity).

  • Blogging - no-one knows how many blogs there are ~100m? Ewan disagrees with this in the subsequent session, but I think the point is that it's a lot. (Technorati say 2 new blogs per second). Many contain high order thinking and are very trustworthy. The traffic in ideas in blogging isn't a one way street. Blogging gives a platform. This is a reversal in the decline of the public sphere. Support for Obama comes from the debate in the blogging community which encouraged him to stand - he whupped Hilary in that. Endism - is blogging the end of journalism? Not from an ecological perspective - it changes the ecosystem. A new organism arrives, existing organisms need to adapt.
  • Digital photography - sharing through flickr etc. allow display of photographs with tagging, the private becoming public.
  • YouTube - from the crass to the compelling. 9/11 - video coverage couldn't have been assessed using push media. All of the CNN, ABC and Fox coverage is available,the experience of listening to Jeff Jarvis's 6 MP3 files on his blog. The remix culture - again, back to Lessig.

The phrase user generated content is what links them. LiveLeak of a Iraq video - I can never watch these without wincing as you know something terrible's going to happen, but not in this clip:

This sort of clip would never be shown on broadcast TV, as it doesn't make the news. It does, however, show

  1. why the US aren't liked in Iraq and
  2. that patrols never stop if they can help it

Kids born in 1985 have grown up with the web, use BitTorrent to get US TV shows, 6 new realities for them:
Lee rennie?

  1. Media and gadgets are ubiquitous - therefore things are far more complex;
  2. New devices allow this to be enjoyed anyway;
  3. Mobile phones;
  4. Multitasking a way of life;
  5. Devices with rich media are critical;
  6. Things will change even more in the future.
By any metric, the emerging media ecosystem is immeasurably more complex than before - over 50s are conditioned to previous models of media.
The big question: what are the implications for education?
The problem is the speed of change. A widening gap between which the media ecosystem is changing and the glacial pace of educational progress. Educational sector has sought to control variety rather than amplify its own variety. Curriculum is devoted to training rather than education in ICT - the line about replacing the word "sex" for ICT in "would you rather your kids got ICT training rather than ICT education". He then shows the Vision of Students Today video which unfortunately whoever is running the computer decides not to show full-screen... a real shame as the video will mean nothing to those watching without being able to read what it says, so here it is:

Question: (it's mine, but hey...) - is a user-generated curriculum worthwhile and desirable? The wrong question (oops) - rather, what's wrong with the current pedagogical model - it's users' delight in creativity which is the good thing about this, it enhances the curriculum and enables the focus to be on the learner. These technologies would enable something conversational, rather than the hoop jumping which is required at the moment - they don't fit into a target driven environment - teachers are resourceful, autonomous, creative, not drones. The internet isn't a pipe, it's a beanstalk, up which children climb.
Question: many of the types of technology are morally neutral - they just "are" rather than being intrinsically bad or good. Are we in a position where we need to rethink the teaching of moral choices. If the computer's in the bedroom then you've lost, don't abdicate responsibility - you wouldn't with TV. JN didn't install filtering software, instead encouraged children to think about what they were doing, how it made them feel - safe or unsafe, etc.
Question: Ivan Ilic (?)- Technology can be used for bureaucracy in teaching or creativity in learning - are we near a tipping point for that? Seymour Papert was a visionary - from Mindstorms to The Children's Machine - teachers had seen technology as a threat. JN's kids are bored by ICT at school - "We did key skills - f-ing PowerPoint"...
Question: After reading Neil Postman's Teaching as a subversive activity - what are the implications when schools are not full of teachers who grew up in the previous ecosystem? The danger is that these teachers will be in the system and crushed by its weight - a potential tragedy. We're all rats in this maze - the OU is still giving home computing specs in platform requirements rather than capabilities.
JN's Question: What's your policy on PowerPoint in the classroom - JN's own response - it should be a sackable offence.

Naace conference ministerial address

I'm sat (on the floor, near what might be the only available power socket) at the back of the hall of the Naace strategic conference. Gareth Davis is just introducing the sessions and John Naughton of the Observer and elsewhere will speak after Jim Knight speaks via videoconference (he's also doing it in Second Life apparently, which will appear on the screen, hosted by Leon Cych of Learn4Life).

Here he is, and (mostly) the technology works. He (or his avatar) talks about the aim for 2010 for every parent to be able to login to a "school intranet" (his words) and see how their pupils are doing. This is based around a demonstration from Shirelands Language College, one of the ICT Test Bed schools and a bleeding edge example - but that's hardly an "average" school, is it? It's like saying "this method of investing in infrastructure and crowd control worked at Old Trafford, therefore it'll worth at your local football club.
Jim K visits the Learn4Life island and then the IBM University.
There's then a Q&A session, and I get to ask a question which is translated through Gareth asking a text question in SL. The question's essentially where does the government see the burden of allowing parents individual logins falling - on schools or local authorities? Has anyone really thought about the complexities of giving every family / parent a username and everything that might ensue from that? Obviously it's a question which needs listening to rather than reading and it doesn't get typed in OK, but never mind!
There is (in government) an assumption that it's very easy to simply give out "a username to parents" and that schools will easily give access to their MIS / VLE / Learning Platform / whatever - without much apparent thought about the logistics behind it. In the main it's wishful thinking, a hangover from the time where a previous Secretary of State insisted that parents were at the centre of everything, but unfortunately to my mind it doesn't operate in the real world of schools. When the thoughts in my head about this stop buzzing around and settle, I'll post about this another time.
Kudos to Jim Knight for even attempting something like this (and to Leon who may well have held his virtual hand, if you see what I mean) - althought it wasn't a real conversation which we might have had had he been physically present. I don't think most people learned anything they didn't already know, and for some reason I'm reminded of a few years ago, when Charles Clarke addressed the conference by a traditional video conference link and was candid, direct and accessible. Jim Knight seems like a good bloke (what do I know?) but maybe this was a mixed opportunity and everyone involved was distracted by the technology.

Monday, March 03, 2008

If it's Torquay, it must mean Naace

Thanks to a nice little service called Time Capsule, last week I was reminded of a picture I took roughly this time last year from my hotel window at the 2007 Naace conference in Torquay. Naace appears to have set up a permanent camp in Torquay, making the trek for someone from, say, CLEO about 367 miles each way. Is it worth making that journey each year? I guess that depends. I've been a member of Naace since about 2001 when I started working in Hertfordshire and have, by proxy, spent a considerable amount of my local authorities' money in attending the conference. In some respects it's been money well spent - I've met numerous useful contacts from local authorities, suppliers and other agencies through Naace, but there have been many, many (too many) presentations and sessions when I've had that "I wish I'd gone to the other session in the programme" about five minutes in. Last year, after the bits of barrel had been picked out from under the Naace fingernails, I was asked to present a parallel session on our use of Moodle in Bucks -this year, I'm back to constructive heckling (or something).
As you'd expect, this year the programme has a greater emphasis on Learning Platforms / VLEs / etc. - here it is:

Last year my main complaint was the inflexibility of the programme - the fact that if you wanted to see one thing of interest in a particular theme it precluded you seeing much else. This year, one hour-long discussion session in particular has ten different parallel presentations - none of which are repeated and the main parallel sessions are again run once only. That's quite frustrating for delegates (many of whom will pick the "wrong" one) but just as frustrating for presenters - imagining travelling all that way to get just one hour. The more and more I spend time in conferences, with all of the acculmulated expertise, experience and potential wisdom in a room (not to mention the expensive time which could potentially be wasted), the more I'm drawn again and again to the unconference format at demonstrated by something like a TeachMeet. It's always interesting to look at the Naace conference in the light of Dave Winer's Fundamental Law of Conventional Conferences:
The sum of the expertise of the people in the audience is greater than the sum of expertise of the people on stage.
I've been asked to do some live blogging from conference sessions using CoverItLive (does that mean I get a guaranteed power supply in each room? In that case I'll do it...) so as well as a few posts on here they should be on the Naace web site as appropriate. It'll be interesting to read what Ewan McIntosh thinks, he has the first night's keynote and could be seen as some sort of disruptive technology on the established Naace landscape. Let's hope so.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Becta Symposium on Effective use of Learning Platforms

On Friday I was in Birmingham to take part in an event organised by Becta which was trying to distil the experiences and practices of a wide range of schools in using VLEs/Learning Platforms. There were about 50 or 60 people there, "hand-picked" to try and capture just what needs to take place in a school to ensure that a learning platform gets off the ground in a school - or at least avoids getting strangled at birth.
The biggest shock of the day was walking in to the room where the day's work was being done and seeing a video of schools using learning platforms which included lots of footage from Buckingham Primary School and Chalfonts Community College. It was a very surreal experience to see Greg and Paul on screen with music from a Year 4 pupil at BPS providing the soundtrack for the video. If I get permission, I'll publish it here...

The day was focused on working on tables (I facilitated one - I've clearly never facilitated anything before). I also did a brief presentation after lunch on "Cross school networks and collaboration benefits" (I couldn't bring myself to use PowerPoint so put something together that you can see over at Issuu, but it's not much use without the context, and possibly me presenting it...). There were seven participants on my table, plus Libby from Becta as a "scribe" and myself as a facilitator. Each person had up to ten minutes to do a brief presentation followed by ten minutes of questions and discussion - trying to get to the heart of what worked, what were the processes they went through in their schools and which one was the most important. At the end of the day we agreed which were the two most important from our list of factors - these were then placed on a series of flipcharts around the room and all the delegates placed three colour coded Post-Its next around the processes which we thought were most important. This was all done on the Becta collaborative space and subsequent posts outlined which were perceived as the most important. These were the schools on Table 3 and :

  • Egglescliffe School
  • St Bede's Catholic School
  • Sir Robert HItchem School
  • Charters School
  • Garland Junior Schoool
  • Fens Primary School Hartlepool
  • Stopsley High School

Here are the things we thought most important:

  • Vision from the senior leadership (distributed leadership). Clear lines of command within the school - ie decision making process that everyone sticks to. Putting LP into school development plan and dedicating staff time to LP;
  • CPD and training - including working in school group or as a cluster of schools. Shared experience very important;
  • Shared successes with other teachers and pupils - created demand for LP;
  • Set up virtual staff room - chat facilities etc to grow staff confidence, then did same with governors, then invited parents in to explain - including advice on e-safety etc asked parents to sign EUP and ensured children understood what this meant;
  • Creation of virtual staff room to show benefit of gateway, spread word quickly.

The two in bold then went into the main pot and, along with others, were voted on by all of the delegates. Here are the three which were (overall) perceived as most important.

  1. Senior management involvement
  2. Vision and understanding of what you want from the technology
  3. Effective, appropriate and timely CPD

No surprises there then! I'm pleased to say that we try and emphasise this and model it when we start our schools out with Moodle, but maybe we could actually take some of our own medicine. I am concerned that involvement of senior management in this in the Local Authority is somewhat distant, but I'm pretty sure that we have a vision of what's needed from the technology and we spend most of our time supporting schools with good quality CPD (but then I would say that wouldn't I?).

The £100 laptop - a reason for visiting the Education Show?

The (now contentious) $100 laptop / OLPC project was never completely focused on a specific education "market" as such - but the realisation that a laptop could be had for around £50 must have caused excitement / panic depending on whether you were a user or manufacturer. More recently, devices like the Asus Eee PC, the original OLPC or Intel's Classmate (complete with Intel's controversial approach to marketing) have shown that the level of "entry level" technology gets lower with each month.
Into this steps what (in the UK) will be the £100 laptop - the Elonex ONE. Not sure why it's in capitals, maybe the RM One held the copyright on the capitalised version of that word. Anyway, after traipsing around the Education Show before Friday's Becta Learning Platforms symposium, I went to the Elonex stand to see what's what and filmed a quick demo whihc you can view below. It turned out to be one of the only things which captured my attention in halls 10 and 11 of the NEC, other than Classical Comics.

The obvious comparison is between the ONE and the Eee PC (which is also marketed as an RM badged machine). I got to use both the Linux and Windows versions of the RM Asus Minibook at the BETT Teachmeet and, while the Windows environment would be reassuring to those who feel scared of the prospect of colouring outside the lines, the Linux version of the Asus feels (to me) more natural - Windows is crammed onto a small machine like this and you can't help but feel that it doesn't sit comfortably there. The Linux operating system for the Asus genuinely feels like something new and appropriate for the device, whereas with the Windows version it feels akin to trying to drive a new Mini into which someone's tried to fit the seats from a Ford Mondeo.
The Elonex ONE also uses a Linux OS, but this is Linos rather than the Asus's Xandros. The interface looks less slick than the Asus, and uses a disparate collection of tools rather than the Asus's more unified OpenOffice option - AbiWord, a spreadsheet and a number of other tools. It does wireless networking as well and for another £20 you can get bluetooth and increased memory.
When looking at devices like this I'm less concerned about the "bundled" applications than I am about how well the device can access web-based tools - things like the excellent Splashup or Picnik, Google Documents, Gmail, etc. I was shown the email client on the ONE - but do people really want a mail client like Outlook? Maybe. Elonex said that the ONE has Flash 7 capability, while the Asus does (I believe) Flash 9, which opens up the possibility of using the richer applications. As more and more applications move onto the internet (see Jooce and similar) - and also have their roots on the desktop using something like Air - the ability to get the most out of these is critical for any device which claims to offer easy web access. With something like the ONE I'd be interested in seeing how it can cope with our Moodle sites and Connect videoconferencing - plus how could it access a rich media portfolio application?
Sample Elonex USB wristbandSo what of the ONE? Well, it's due pre-June, and Elonex are taking £10 deposits to secure one of 20,000 units. I was speaking with someone yesterday who'd invested in Asus machines thinking they were as cheap as it would get, then this comes along. Doug Dickinson thinks it's a dutch auction and it will be interesting to see what happens over the next few months.

The storage on the machine is not much compared to something like the Asus so Elonex are co-marketing a series of "charity USB wristbands" with up to 16GB of storage - the aim being that pupils' data will live on the wristbands rather than the device. Problem is, by the time "pre-June" comes, will your £10 have reserved you the best value tool on the market? At this price, are these tools becoming (in the words of Douglas Coupland) semi-disposable?