March 09, 2007

Computing Studies and Social Media: finding new ground

I've just ended the week in the most comforting way I know (other than with a fine Bordeaux) - in the company of teachers passionate about teaching, technology and finding untapped potential in the two. Mark Tennant helped group a good number of Computing Studies teachers from across East Lothian at its farthest Eastern point, Dunbar.

This post summarises some of the tools we looked at in this 'splurge' session. In May we have two more sessions together to look at how the Computing Studies curriculum and/or pedagogy might be adapted to take advantage of the exciting tools, the web as a platform for learning and the opportunity to teach children digital literacy skills. After meeting this group I am convinced that they are best placed to help both teachers and students understand the issues at stake, and not run away scared.

Taking digital images as a self-publishing starting point
It's the easiest thing to visualise and examine some of the new web's principles by using image sharing and online manipulation.

Podcasting for audio learning logs
Kids generally hate talking about themselves and what they do in front of others. Recording it to microphone is less daunting, more anonymous, and helps get over the nerves to talk about learning. If the kids doesn't feel they've done their best, they can delete and edit, representing themselves and their work in the best possible light.

  • Allows continuous, purposeful creation of multimedia products. Podcasts might just be done for the heck of it, or to sum up a period of learning, like they do in Sandaig.
  • Possible to do at home or in school using free audio creation apps (Audacity and the LAME Mp3 encoder) or online video editing apps (like Jumpcut)
  • Encourages Assessment for Learning principles (peer assessment, two stars and a wish, self-assessment, confirmation of learning and next steps) and Curriculum for Excellence aims (publishing their discoveries makes them effective contributors, shows their success at learning and helps them realise their role in helping others)
  • East Lothian teachers and students can publish audio or video for free as a podcast on eduBuzz.

Collaborating on the exciting - and the mundane
Everyone in Computing Studies has to learn how to use a spreadsheet and a word processing document. In the last month I've used Google Docs more for writing documents than Microsoft Word. It's easy to collaborate, is exportable, allows chat to take place while collaborating... It's free and it works.

Both the Word Processing and Spreadsheet functions can be used in their own right to learn about the apps, but also provide a superb collaboration planning tool for when students come around to planning multimedia projects and presentations. There's never enough time in class to do this properly and Google Docs allow us to do this from day-to-day in the classroom without losing information on Sick Boy's server space.

There's also Open Source desktop publishing with Scribus, for Mac and Windows.

Blogs to hold it all together
Teachers and students stand to gain if they can harness the positive force behind being Googleable and having a site that is useful or interesting for others. Pupils running their own blogs might be rewarded each term for having the most unique users, the most comments, the most read post, the best blogroll of useful study links...

Teachers benefit from having their own blog when they are able to provide useful insights to their subject that perhaps don't 'fit' into the curriculum, where they can provide good study links and provide a model of being a learner themselves, even if that just means posting links to videos that really make you think. Teachers also stand to benefit for future employment if we can find them easily and then see from their blog that they are not egotists ;-), that they regularly and publicly reflect on their practice and on how to do better at their jobs - and encourage others, including pupils, to help them do better.

A blog, being a website that is so easily and quickly updated, so easily categorisable, can help order the chaotic thoughts and experiences we all have while learning. It can become the revision guide and, best of all, it's the kids who will have written it.

Creating an ever-changing school or class webpage
Wikis on Wikispaces or PBWiki are good for creating quick and easy websites in a click, but they're not exciting unless they change a lot - and that means someone has to change it. Using an Ajax-based RSS aggregator such as Netvibes or PageFlakes (the latter works best in East Lothian and is what we use on the eduBuzz Explore page) provides an ever-changing, minimum effort, quite easy on the eye homepage for students. For younger kids and probably teens, too, YourMinis is prettier to look at.

Guidelines and letters for parents
East Lothian is one of the first Local Authorities in the country to have a policy on social media use both for teachers and for learners, together with letters of permission for Under-16s and for Over-16s. All schools in the Authority will use these as standard from the beginning of the school year, with non-returns or negative responses logged on the pupil monitoring system, Phoenix. In the meantime, feel free to use these for ad hoc projects. They are, of course, Creative Commons, so other Local Authorities and teachers may use and adapt these (at their own risk ;-).


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Thanks very much for this. I intend to play around with Google Docs today and set up a document with what each person is going to try over the next two months. Looking forward to the next session already.


hi, I don't know if you've come across the project that I work on, openlearn? If you take a look in the LabSpace there are a few tools that you might find useful. learningSpace has the material that we have made available under Creative Commons license.
Hope it's useful!

Thanks for the input to the Computing teachers Ewan. It would be good to see some cross-curricular work here. Will catch you at the next meet.

Cheers Ewan, 3 days into the conference and your keynote remains the highlight! Appreciate all the useful links. I sometimes have the notion of digital 'toe dipping'. It's nice, but sometimes the water is a bit too cold for diving in, yet it's funny once you make the move to jump right in that the water 'seems to warm up'. There's something in that don't you think?

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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