Thursday, December 23, 2010

Teachmeet @BETT 2011

Teachmeet at BETT 2010
For the past few years, Teachmeet has been a highlight of the BETT Show for many people – with many even choosing to come on the Friday of the show as they know that they’ll get something new, innovative, fun - or all three - to take away. People have previously even timed their journeys from the other side of the world to attend a Teachmeet. Teachmeets aren’t only for big conferences or exhibitions of course – a cursory look at the Teachmeet site shows them appearing in all sorts of contexts, all over the UK and even abroad.

Lost in Space / School of Duty

FPP - derived from dsc_0113.jpg by metacheetr under a Creative Commons license.
After Duke Nukem.
Due to the nature of BETT - a four day exhibition/trade fair with 700 exhibitors, its more than 30,000 attendees making it more than twice the size of NECC /ISTE in the US, there's a sense of enormous cabin fever or Lost In Space which arises from being there for more than a few hours. Such an environment means that there are more than a few issues faced by a Teachmeet set at BETT. For a start, a Teachmeet is about sharing practice – classroom practice, work being done with learners now – rather than theoretical “in the future there will be robots” presentations or sales pitches. BETT is by and large like an immersive first person pitch-em-up game (FPP?) – you’re dropped into an alien environment, populated mainly by people you don’t understand, with a mission that you’re not clear on, with a cast of characters who don’t always behave or communicate in ways you’re familiar with as a teacher – unless you are on the receiving end of a lot of sales phone calls I guess.
BETT 2009 Tiltshifted
This are accentuated by the current cloud of issues around the role of ICT in education – the confiscation of Harnessing Technology funding to support the controversial Free Schools programme, the closure of Becta and the apparent absence of a role for ICT in the Education White Paper - all of which make for an extremely rarefied atmosphere in which schools attempting to use technology to support learning, school improvement and engaging with their school community might find the DfE unsympathetic with their aims. 
TeachMeet at BETT 2010
What this could mean for Teachmeet is fewer teachers attending BETT – even though entrance to the exhibition is free, it's easy to imagine many school leaders being less willing to release staff to browse an exhibition whose lifeblood of dedicated funding has been stemmed. So could this mean a Teachmeet devolved of practice and practitioners? Well I for one hope not-TeachMeets aren't about sales pitches, and there are enough of those on the floor of Olympia for the four days of BETT. Of course, if you're more than a little cunning you could see some real practice by attending one of the TeachMeet Takeover sessions...
In order to mitigate against that we're proposing a slightly different method of registering for the Friday evening Teachmeet at BETT 2011. We'll be using the Eventbrite service (which fits with the TeachMeet ethos, as it's a free service to those organising free events), and releasing the tickets in three batches:
  • teachers/LA/RBC consultants (those who are employed and work directly in schools on a full-time basis);
  • independent consultants (those who work in schools subject to contracts etc);
  • exhibitors (those who'll be at BETT and are salaried by a commercial company).
Eventbrite will mean that we will be able to communicate with ticket holders, match our numbers to the capacity of Olympia's Apex Room and release tickets in a way to try and ensure that as many teachers as possible get first chance to attend and share practice.
As ever, we'll be looking for sponsors (beyond EMAP's sponsorship of the room and AV/ICT support) to cover wifi access for attendees, an extra half hour of security so we don't all get booted out at the end, and some refreshments... so if you're interested in helping the event with a small amount of sponsorship then please get in touch by emailing teachmeetbett2011 [at] gmail [dot] com or follow the instructions on the wiki.
In the meantime you can...
  • read the TeachMeet @BETT 2011 page on the TeachMeet wiki;
  • sign up now if you're a teacher or LA/RBC consultant - and soon if you're an independent consultant or exhibitor - via the Eventbrite page;
  • consider presenting - either a seven minute micropresentation or a two minute nanopresentation.
Whatever your involvement - get stuck in if you can. TeachMeet is about sharing practice and, in the current climate, it must be more relevant than ever. Right?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Open letter to Michael Gove re: Severe Weather Disruption

Snow Day in Seattle by cheukiecfu. Used under a Creative Commons license.
Dear Mr Gove, 
Vobiscum cupio in situ euentus causa extrema caeli vel quasi eruptiones molaris scholae adhuc potest universaliter function - supportantes doctrina parentum Communicantes, cuius virtute baculum munere aliis huiusmodi. Video Admonitio de Severe Weather DFE collocato situ quoslibet mentionem fieri faciat quam Headteachers suis iudiciis quam scholis ludunt in partes key communitates locales.
Intrigued me saepe notione res posita in extreme Tempestas (maxime nives) ut simpliciter magistris conantur vade ad scholam localis. Miror quid sentias facturos ibi liberis nesciunt (possibly aetatis sunt inexperti supportantes dogmatisare), an non curriculum liberari. Quod hoc confirmat opinio sit essentialiter magistri pueri uelut minders et literae tantum processus auctoritate figura requirit praesens specimen in Nullam ac ante.
Postremo, miror si quidem plerosque studiis habere patriam potuerit facultas docendi et discendi si manere in corpore clausa Schola. Local Schools et vallavit auctores tempore et CPD volutans animo in developing online usu tools suscipere doctrinam administrationem communicet & carers parentesVidetur quod parum vel nihil diceret aut recognicio inde consilium habilitas in scholis vel Local Authorities Communionem.
Si um necessitatem directionis pagina DFE de situ ero gauisus super scriptis sustinebunt eam.
Tuus ex animo,
Ian Usher
E-Learning Co-ordinator, consilio County Buk.

Rough translation.
Source material.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Tweaking a Moodle course to display Resource & Activities in two or more columns

It's a long time since I've done a HowTo kind of post in Moodle, so please forgive any rustiness.

Rsuty columns...
West Pier by orange brompton. Used under a Creative Commons license.
Moodle's default course layout arranges things in quite a linear way - items (Resources or Activities) are added in each section in a course, and can then be re-arranged by moving them up and down, or indenting them. This normally works fine, and a judicious use of sections means that it's not too tricky to achieve an appealing layout that works well and is understandable by anyone accessing it.
However, sometimes you (or I) will end up with a bunch of links, or resources, or something, which just seems to go on forever and starts to look like a long line of toilet paper, stretching on forever.
I'll use our soon-to-be-revamped CPD pages on our main BucksGfL site as an example. We will shortly have a long list of Directory resources containing PDFs of CPD courses, which could easily go on down the page forever. Here's how they currently look:
You can probably see that adding any more to this will make the page go on forever. In contrast, have a look at this arrangement:

If you think that's more appealing, or maybe just easier to take in, than the previous image, then here's how it's done. It's quite simple and requires a tiny understanding of how a HTML table is structured, and then the tactical addition of a few Labels into your Moodle course.

A HTML table's structure

It's not very CSS, but here's the HTML that structures a table with two columns:

<table border="0" cellpadding="1" cellspacing="1">
<tr valign="top">
Content in column 1
Content in column 2

Breaking it down

However, it's not possible to wrap this HTML around the content on a Moodle course's main page, so it can't be done, right? Wrong.
To achieve a two column layout we need to dissemble the table HTML and break it into labels, which we can then intersperse among the list of Resources and Activities in Moodle to force it into displaying two columns. Here's the content of Label 1:

   <table border="0" cellpadding="1" cellspacing="1">
   <tr valign="top">

Here's Label 2:


and finally Label 3:


Making the Labels in Moodle

Inserting a Label (essentially a piece of free text or HTML) into your Moodle course is easy - Turn Editing On, Add a Resource, Insert a Label. However, the old-ish HTMLarea editor in Moodle insists on correctly forming any HTML which is edited in it - so if you try and enter Label 1 as written above, you'll end up with all of the tags "closed" - which will end the table prematurely and stop you using it to tweak the layout. This is how you should edit the label to ensure that it's not closed: 
Code for Label 1 in the Moodle editor (HTML view). The start of the table, table row, and table cell.
You should Save and return to course while in this (HTML) view, not the standard (rich text) view - otherwise the editor will close the <table>,<tbody>,<tr> and <td> tags and stop the layout tweak from working.
Do something similar with Labels 2 and 3:
Label 2 - the </td><td> code which marks the end of one cell (hence column) and the start of the next.

Label 3 - the code which closes the table cell, the table row, and finally the table.
Once you've done this, you then need to place these three labels around and in the list of Moodle Resource/Activities you'd like in two columns. Place Label 1 at the start, Label 3 at the end and Label 2 about halfway down the list of items. You might get some odd layouts happening while you're placing them, but it should work once they're all in position, assuming you've done the HTML correctly and not switched back to the Rich Text editor before saving.
Once they're in place, this is how things should look (this view is that of someone with editing rights over the course):
Labels in place - note that other Moodle resources remain editable / moveable / indentable / deleteable etc.

Some important notes:

  • You can of course make three or more columns by creating an extra instance of Label 2, then placing it at an appropriate position in the list of items.
  • If you go to edit any of the Labels, then your default view of it will be the Rich Text view, so HTMLarea will close any tags - you'll need to switch to the HTML view to remove these. However, once you've created them, there should be no need to edit them.
  • Don't hide the labels - tempting though that might be. The layout will still work for you if you have editing rights, but in my experience once a student looks at the course when the labels are hidden, they don't display - producing a standard "long list" if they are all hidden and a malformed mess if just some of them are.
  • If you are creating a course for someone else to edit, then you must explain why the labels are there, why they're important and why they shouldn't be deleted or moved! Some people are obsessive about keeping their courses tidy and the apparent superfluous sets of editing icons might just seem like they need deleting to them.
  • There's an oddity that occurs if you have enabled Drag & Drop on your Moodle site (e.g. you've turned Ajax on). If you have (for example) the three Labels to make this tweak work, then the first will have the Ajax Drag & Drop icon to move, whereas any subsequent labels in that section will have the old style Click & Wait icons. They all still work in their own ways though:
If you'd rather not go through the hassle of creating the labels, then I've backed up a Moodle 1.9.n course with a link to this blog post, and one, two, three and four column layouts in sections down the page. Feel free to use it as you wish - it's downloadable here in Moodle Backup .zip format.
If you've any comments about how useful this is or isn't, or if there are ways in which it could be improved, then please leave them in the comments. Thanks!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Teachmeet Takeover @ BETT 2011

Well, it’s nearly that time of the year again… the the end of Movember and the arrival of Advent means that January can only be a month away. That means BETT is approaching like some looming city in a US road movie, full of promise, labyrinthine alleys, hidden joys (and tacky mainstream pleasures) and an accompanying population which longs for a return to the countryside when all this is over...
BETT is a behemoth. It straddles the receding world of educational ICT and does its best to stare anyone down who dares to look it in the eye and say “stop trying to sell me stuff – what actually works in a classroom?”.

Last year, Tom Barrett conceived the idea of Teachmeet Takeover – a movable Teachmeet feast where, rather than assembling speakers and participants in a room after hours, teachers take the floor during BETT’s office hours - an event that could answer this question. The aim of Teachmeet Takeover is to take the interesting things shared during normal Teachmeet sessions and bring them into the well funded and rarely-replicable exhibition space in Olympia’s main halls and, in the words on the accompanying TMTakeover presentation which preceded most talks around the stands, to
“Learning something new, be amazed, amused and enthused”
Stuart Ridout #TMtakeover by kvnmcl. Used under a Creative Commons by-nc-sa license.
For BETT 2011 Teachmeet Takeover will again be using spaces donated by exhibitors to allow teachers & practitioners to showcase free tools, ideas and examples of how to do interesting things – right in the middle of BETT, during each day of the show. If you’re planning on going to BETT, either as an exhibitor or a ‘punter’ then you can sign up on the wiki – just names and contact details at the time of writing, there’ll be a detailed timetable available for vendors to offer slots and presenters to choose which slots they appear in later in December.
So far we’ve got (at the time of publication), 16 presenters (who, it would hoped, present at least once) and 10 exhibitors who have signed up to say that they’re willing to take part. I’ll be doing something Moodle-related (as yet undecided) and it’ll be good to, subject to trying to take in the rest of BETT, to see what people have been up to. If you’re not sure what it’s all about, have a browse of pictures taken during last year’s TM Takeover, or watch a brief video of Tom B doing one of his #tmtakeover presentations from last year’s show.
Even if you’ve never been to BETT before, presenting at TMTakeover is a great thing to do. Read the guidelines on the #TMTakeover2011 page on the Teachmeet wiki, and get stuck in! Thanks in advance to all the exhibitors who already have (and will) donate their time, space, AV, 240V AC, etc. – and a huge thank you to you if you’re going to share your real in-the-classroom ideas, tools and experiences with the slightly confused, bag-carrying hordes at BETT.
Many people say they most significant ideas and conversations they have at BETT come not from conversations with exhbitors, but from interactions with other teachers and practitioners - and that's what all Teachmeet events are supposed to be about. So, why not learn something new, be amazed, amused and enthused for free in the New Year?