57 posts categorized "RSS"

April 20, 2007

Tomorrow's teaching is today

I was presenting a keynote this morning in a Slovenian school to about 100 eTwinning teachers, ambassadors and European Commission-y people, a Slovenian school where Skype is on and available, where the connection speed is rapid and the welcome one of the warmest you can hope to get. The audio from my talk to Primary Leaders of the Future, given on Thursday, provides most of my main points (minus the visuals, of course):

Download ewan-mcintosh-dlft-keynote.mp3

The talk was based on the one I delivered to Modern Languages teachers in Oxford a few weeks ago and the notes over there are perfect for those wanting to get stuck into some new technologies for language teaching and collaboration. The notes from Congres Frans should be fairly comprehensive for those wishing to read more about les nouvelles technologies pour l'apprentissage des langues instead of the English version. The MFLE ICT links should help a lot, too.

I'll be doing three workshops next taking what I did en francais about tools back in Holland and turning it into a workshop in the fullest sense of the word. Instead of presenting more stuff and potentially blanking them I want them to discover something new and think about how they could apply it in a collaborative project - and maybe even start a new international project there and then.

The bouquet of technologies and pedagogical starting points will probably include:

  • Collaborating for planning:
    • GoogleDocs: Sign up for a free account here (or use your existing GoogleMail login) and several people can edit a document 'live', in real time. Great for planning timelines (using the Spreadsheet) or sketching out ideas (using the Word-like docs). All participants need to have been invited by the person who set up the original document so it's very safe and secure.
    • PBWiki: For longer term more public working, or for creating a very simple website quickly, use a wiki such as PBWiki or Wikispaces. My preference is PBWiki because it looks nicer ;-) and does not carry any advertising if you're a teacher. The education region East Lothian Council uses a wiki for both designing safety policy with all the teachers and students affected as well as for providing a support community - everyone with some expertise can share what they know. Your ideas are invited here if you have time. There are some videos showing how others have used it: Link to http://educators.pbwiki.com/PBwiki-educator-videos
  • Digital Storytelling:
  • Keeping safe and sensible:
    • East Lothian's documents and, coming soon on this blog, how we go about bringing students, teachers and parents on board. I'll be doing it later on so that we can compare with some of the issues already raised in more 'restrictive' European states.

More to come very soon with those interesting comparisons hopefully and some solutions for teachers in these different and sometimes difficult situations.

March 31, 2007

So motivating you can't stop them learning

397831786_cd1b38b937 A few days down south in Shropshire and Oxford have rounded off two months of pretty much non-stop conferences and workshops. I've worked with around 1500 teachers over that time and, considering each one might have an average 80 students a week (between primary and secondary), that's potentially 120,000 kids that might see a classroom near them change, even just a bit. Add to that around 24,000 uniques to the blog, and 1700 subscribers, the slightly surreal fatigue I'm experiencing this weekend is, I hope, worth it. It's not quite over yet - April's got its fair share of kms - but I thought I would leave some notes of what I've learned through doing this over the winter of 2007.

The changes I have been proposing are small steps. We need to pick one or two pet projects and really make a difference through them and then, just as we get comfortable, it's a good idea to share that with colleagues and move on to the next thing ourselves. That's because most of these teachers are the potential innovators - they chose to come along to conferences on new technology. You/They are the ones that'll make a difference.

Four things that hold us back from innovating, or that make us get innovation a bit wrong:

  1. "Thin-slicing"
    Malcolm Gladwell's Blink gave me plenty of parallels in education to think about. Thin slicing is the Pepsi Challenge effect, where we see a guy at a conference talking about something new for a couple of minutes. We then make up our minds: "I love it, I'll just jump into it" or "I'm too old for that/the boss will never go for it". Taking a thin slice of a more complex process makes us less likely to succeed in both these scenarios. Most of the things I've been proposing this last wee while are simple initially, but require more complex thinking about the role of the teacher.
  2. Fear = loathing?
    When we fear things we decide not to take the jump. But if we can decide that failure might actually be a good thing then we can start to play a lot better. Making purposeful play something that both learner and teacher do will help make that learning so much more effective.
  3. Over planning
    I'm not saying that we should stop planning our lessons, but rather that we need to leave room for happy accidents to happen, for those tangents to be developed. This might mean throwing out the annual planner for a week, just to go off on a tangent that might lead to something more interesting or relevant to the kids' own experiences. It might be a false lead, it might be the lead that makes that period of learning 100 times more worthwhile.

    With ICT we tend to overplan our lessons. This might be a starting point, if we can start to see technology as opening tangents ("how could we do something other than PowerPoint to make the task more demanding cognitively and less demanding technically?") rather than closing them off ("we don't have all the equipment we need to do that").
  4. "Why bother?"
    Kids are changing. The 16 year old in 2007 is entering the employment market with only internet-age experiences on which to rely (the internet came into being in 1991). The six year old entering elementary school expects the web to allow them to publish and share their views with the world.

Five elements that have changed outside school and which need to change inside school

  1. Audience
  2. Creativity Unleashed!
    • Student creations can be conceived and published in the same place, whether that's in photographic, video or audio forms . Find out how to do all this. Channel the creative energy and ideas of your students - teacher as guide, not fount of knowledge - and you can turn those silly YouTube aspirations into something much more powerful.
  3. Differentiate... by raising the bar
  4. Authentic goals (for students, not teachers)
    • Create real audio guides for the city in AudioSnacks.
    • Keep a learning log of what is going on in class or on a school trip .
  5. 438003004_5cf11894c9_o It's not about the teach, it's about the tech
    • Use the technology that is in your students' bags and pockets - mobile phone ideas; iPod  use (listen to education material on iTunes Podcast Directory; xBoxes let you speak with fellow players around the world; the games played by kids on their Nintendo DS or Wii (I'm playing one at Steve's here) can often be put into multilingual modes - never has brain training been so draining.

The tools we use should not get in the way of the far bigger question - what is your role in your classroom now and will new technologies integrate with it? The chances are they won't, unless you integrate (i.e. change) with them. The main release these tools will offer the teacher is the extension of the classroom beyond the 'nine-to-four': collaborative tools like these offer free and flexible ways to claim back some of the 200 minutes spent online by our kids each night.

And why this urgency to adopt new and changing technology? Because new technology tends to push us into new practices. Take a look at the Scottish Inspectorate's report or the Becta New Tech report to see what I mean. Some ideas will work, some will not. Do you have the desire to try and maybe make some mistakes? Will you blog about it so that others needn't make the same mistakes?

March 18, 2007

Congres Frans: News ways to teach and to teach yourself

Img_5112 Another packed talk on new technologies, but yesterday morning's was more about specific tools and letting the participants use their imaginations as to how they might use them to either work with the kids or just to get more savvy themselves.

The notes are in French, but obviously the links are of use to anyone new to tracking the wealth of useful information out there for teachers of languages or any other subject for that matter. Excuses pour les fautes de français ;-) I'm glad to be home after yet more time away, but Sonja, who I met while doing the ECML Blogs project 18 months ago, was kind enough to take me to the beach at Noordwijk for some brisk breezes and spectacular moonscapes (left).

Avec tellement d'information sur le web ça devient de plus en plus important de savoir comment y naviguer. Tout ce que j'ai montré ce matin est gratuit et se prête parfaitement à l'apprentissage de langues et, bien sûr, sert à former le professeur.

Firefoxscreensnapz001 1. Del.icio.us - mon réseau de liens
Tu gardes tous tes liens sur le menu 'Favoris' de votre ordinateur, où personne peut les trouver et où ils deviennent désorganisé dès qu'on y rajoute? Pas moi. Je garde tous mes liens en ligne avec le service del.icio.us où j'ai ma propre page de liens.

Chaque lien est 'étiquetté' - ou 'tagged' - avec des mots que j'ai décidé étaient les meilleurs pour les retrouver plus tard. Certains liens ont deux mots clés, d'autres ont vignt. Ça dépend du lien et pour qui c'est utile.

Pour mes classes, je peux inventer des tags particuliers: francais2e (c'est pour la classe de français '2E'). Je peux aussi mélanger plusieurs liens: poésie, contemporaine, français2e, français6f (ce lien est utile pour tout étudiant ou prof qui s'occupe de la poésie, de la poésie contemporaine, de la classe 2E, de la class 6F ou tout combinaison de ceux-ci. Tout ce que j'ai à faire c'est rajouter des tags à celui que j'ai déjà choisi pour rafiner ma recherche.

Firefoxscreensnapz002 2. GoogleDocs
Collaboration à plusieurs auteurs? Utilisez GoogleDocs. Invitez ceux qui peuvent changer le fichier 'Word' ou le tableau 'Excel' (tout est en ligne donc il n'est pas nécessaire de disposer de ces logiciels, en effet, pour visualiser les fichiers). Vous pouvez être à un, à deux, à vingt... personnes à la fois en train de rédiger le document et voir ce que les autres écrivent en même temps, même si les autres se trouvent loin dans une école partenaire, par exemple.

Firefoxscreensnapz006 3. Wiki
Wikiwiki sont les bus rapides de Hawaii. Un wiki est un site web qui peut être changé par seulement une personne à la fois. Créer une page est simple comme une clique, donc parfait pour des élèves ou des profs qui veulent créer un simple site web de ressources ou de travail. Les pages peuvent être réglées pour que tout le monde ou seulement certaines personnes puissent les changer. PBWiki ou bien Wikispaces ne sont pas mal (et gratuits).

Firefoxscreensnapz003 4. Blogs
Le centre du réseau personnel pour beaucoup de professeurs partout dans le monde. J'ai montré plein de profs anglophones avec leurs 'learning blogs' (journaux d'apprentissage) mais il en existe aussi en français - plus de liens à venir la-dessus.

Regardez les Blogroll des blogs pour trouver encore de pensées, des idées et des ressources de profs qui partagent les mêmes passions. Pour savoir créer votre propre blog allez sur le MFLE.

Firefoxscreensnapz004 5. Pageflakes pour tout tenir ensemble
On peut copier les liens trouver dans les petits boutons oranges (comme celui sur mon blog, en haut à droite) dans le 'Add Feed' de PageFlakes.com. Vous finirez avec une page qui n'arrête pas de changer. Regardez la page de East Lothian Council. Devenir membre de ce site et vous pouvez partager gratuitement vos pages avec tout le monde comme nous avons fait ici.

6. Podcaster
Faire un podcast c'est facile avec Garageband sur tous les Macintosh. Si vous voulez un logiciel qui le ressemble sur votre PC téléchargez et Audacity et LAME MP3 encoder (liens et instructions ici). La première fois que vous créez un fichier et que vous voulez le convertir en MP3 vous allez devoir montrer à Audacity où vous avez suavegardé LAME, mais c'est la seule partie difficile de ce logiciel.

Pour une bonne introduction au podcasting (en anglais) allez sur le site de ma région, Podcasting 1. Il y a aussi des idées pour faire encore mieux dans vos podcasts et des idées de structure et de pédagogie dans la partie 'Podcasting 3'.

Pour voir ce que d'autres profs de langues ont fait allez sur le MFLE.

Firefoxscreensnapz005 J'avais utilisez Google Earth pour montrer ou les professeurs écrivains se trouvaient un peut partout dans le monde. J'avais aussi 'volé' d'une photo dans Flickr à un endroit sur Google Earth en utilisant le logiciel FlickrFly. Ce dernier n'est pas le plus facile à capter la première fois qu'on utilise, mais ça vaut une petite demi-heure pour l'apprendre.

Bon courage avec vos nouvelles technologies et n'hésitez pas à me contacter avec, bien sûr, mon blog!

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 ;-).

February 16, 2007

CESI: Why should we innovate?

This is a follow-on run-through from the start of the talk I delivered today to the Computer Education Society of Ireland. You can read the beginning, perhaps, before reading the middle.

PrivategardenStephen Heppell speaks about the innovation cycle: change will always be happening, just a question of jumping on, and jumping off (no-one tells you that part). The successful innovator knows when to jump off and when to keep on just in case. Teachers don’t need to be the ones innovating: students can do that, too. Take a look at this innovative kid, left, talking through her "Private Garden", where the stems move with each incoming and outgoing email, chat, text message, phone call... It's a 21 Century kid doing the innovation, not the teacher, not the school.

Innovation is not something the teacher makes the decision to do, it just happens around us. All the time. Continuously. Not all innovation will lead to better attainment, more fun, more motivation, better learning - some of it is the equivalent of the Pepsi sweetener. Other innovation needs to be drunk by the can - it's not until you've gone through, learnt the hard way and failed a good bit along the way that you and the kids get the benefit.

I use five arguments to justify why there needs to be some evolutionary change in the way we use ICT. We've forgotten the 'C' part (Communication) for too long. The communication doesn't always need to take place through the technology, but can take place Face-to-Face thanks to the technology in a collaborative film-making activity in class, for example, where the communication comes not just from the message in the video but also the collaborative activity (negotiation, role-allocation, instructional language...) taking place in the making of the film. It's difficult to have that level of collaboration between 30 people if one person, the teacher, wants to maintain constant, uncompromising control on each decision, outcome, next step or tangent. The tech is going to change the teach.

Slide023 1. Audience
I always harp on about this, but if my kids produce some work I'd like to think it was interesting enough to share with at least one other person. Parents, peers, other teachers, other countries, the local community - how are you going to let them know about the work your kids are doing, the processes they've gone through to get there, the failures they've overcome...?

In the 19th Century classroom...
...the average audience for student work is one (two for a conscientious student who bothers to read their own work). Even in whole school display I'm not convinced the whole school becomes avid viewers of their peers' artwork or essays. When I was at Musselburgh I stood in the corridor for weeks at breaks and lunchtimes, looking to see who stopped to observe student work on the walls. I was surprised quite so many did, but they were all from the class to whom the display 'belonged'.

Slide019 In the 20th Century classroom...
...there have maybe been some missed opportunities for kids to communicate with their local communities. With more abundant projectors than ever before why are two or three of these not pointed window-wards to project that day's best artwork and sculpture from the school? Passers-by in the community could observe the work taking shape and then, at the end of term, see the final products in their full glory. You could even take things to extremes at certain points in the year, doing what they did at Rouen Cathedral with a couple of Monet prints.

In the 21st Century classroom...
...we invite children to redraft work in its entirety in jotters, workbooks and foolscap paper (it's called foolscap for a reason ;-) In three clicks I can publish whatever I want - this text, links and photos, for example - to whoever wants to read it. Because it's a blog people can subscribe to the content so that every time I write something new they get it in their inbox (find out how to do that). That means that I have an instant audience of around 1200 people for everything (and anything) I pop up.

We don't need to rely on a staff to run our print presses anymore, we can do it with one finger and an internet connection. And we don't need permission - kids are already encyclopedia editors and self-publishers on the net. How many English teachers are there who have published work? Hmmm...

Writing on a blog means that your content is frequently updated which means you have great Googlejuice. The location of today's talk was Coláiste de h-Íde, whose traditional school website has been knocked into second place by RateMyTeacher - RateMyTeacher doesn't even have a 'feed' (wee orange button that replicates the content elsewhere on the web for you, helping others find you) in the same way as a blog does, so the school would find it really easy to create a better web presence just be handing over the school blog to the kids to update daily.

2. Creativity Unleashed
Taking a digital photo is quite creative. Preparing it for publication more so. Publishing the photo and commenting on other photographers' work is highly creative. Publishing the already highly creative work undertaken in schools means that creativity is truly unleashed.

358355868_c4e58d41c2 Take the Five Frame Story or Six Word Story based on one photograph. Besides being a creative enterprise, with thought of storylines, aesthetics and meaning, publishing the photos on Flickr adds an additional creative element: students can leave comments on pictures, so each member of the class can write alternative elements to stories under each photo. Not being able to publish pics of kids may not be such an issue if you let them work around that rule: Play Mobil and Lego can take on a life of their own in a photo story.

What about adding some notes to a photo to explain the history of art concepts from that trip to the museum? You can't do that with one printed photo or a textbook.

Comments from these kids as they made a podcast on their city show that simply publishing their work made them work harder and better.

3. Differentiate by raising the bar
Differentiation doesn't mean that you have to produce a million multi-coloured worksheets. Differentiation might involve a new skill (creating a radio show or podcast) which is in itself quite challenging, but which allows the weaker pupil to stretched in that area while practicing, drilling their basics. Meanwhile, more able pupils get the motivation to produce something for a real reason (why not add your city guide podcasts to a real city guide site?).

300pxbluetooth Making the work of kids digital, even if it is just taking a picture of display work, means that you can also make it portable. Audio, video and visuals can be transferred via Bluetooth to mobile phones - just transferring one example of a 'good talk' or your teacher-made podcast on the life of the Potato Famine to one mobile, you can have a class of thirty spread this video amongst themselves within a 40 minute class. Take the stuff of viral marketing that works so well for Mentos and CocaCola and make it work for learning.

That means, like the PiE Language Project has done, that the teacher acts as guide, encouraging kids to create their products and publish them in a variety of large, medium and small file sizes that can be read on PSPs, DSs, iPods and mobile phones.

What if you're an English language teacher or the project you are working on just involves more words than it does pictures. You could take a leaf out of Adam Sutcliffe's RateMyMates, a weblog where student work is displayed (PowerPoints, text, MP3 audio recordings) and then commented upon by students in the same class and those from other schools, even. Formative assessment in a manageable and fun format, designed with the kids and not the curriculum-makers at heart.

More lengthy text can be seen developing from scratch in the creative writing process blog, Progress Report. From a short first paragraph full of comma splice and cliché, to a finely tuned finished version, built up over six weeks, the student eventually got a huge jump of grades in a seemingly impossibly short period of time. The difference between her and the rest? She blogged her writing bit by bit, and made the process of creative writing more efficient than was being done in the classroom.

It's also just more efficient and, well, greener. Take a look at the amount of paper wasted on producing folios for English language and you see what I mean.

4. Authentic Purpose
I feel that publishing for an audience is already an authentic purpose for a task - the need to interest, inform or entertain the public with what you are learning brings with it inherent authenticity. The next time a kid asks "Why do we have to do this?" will you secretly answer "Why do we have to do this?"? If you do, what could you do to make that task more authentic, where you could publish the kids' work to make it worthwhile? Why write a 'pretend' newspaper article when they can make the news for real by publishing it on a blog for real people?

5. It's not about the Tech, it's about the Teach. Yes, but...
...the tech will change the Teach. This leads to its own batch of concerns and desires to learn. That's for the next post... In the meantime, do you see a change in the role of the teacher in all this?

January 20, 2007

The importance of creating a network

Slide001 From individual professionals to cohesive pressure groups, from advisory bodies to national project boards: creating and knowing how to harness your network can prove the difference between toddling along and excelling in whatever you are setting out to achieve.

On Wednesday I was invited to give a small presentation to Scotland's Maths Advisory Group, a representative committee of around 20 Advisors and Principal Teachers who meet every so often to:

  • coordinate their efforts on changes in teaching and learning;
  • find out more about national projects;
  • and, hopefully, exert their influence upon them to some degree.

All professional bodies like this exist for these same reasons. Glow, Scotland's national intranet, will offer collaborative tools that sell the idea of networking being a natural thing to do. However, Glow's networking will, to some extent, stop in Scotland, and many of the proposed collaborative tools have been around for several years yet still have relatively low use in education.

I wanted to show them the principles behind good networking and how the humble wiki, the blog and the Technorati watchlist could help them achieve their three aims better than ever before, and leave more time to talk about teaching and learning.

Slide002 Understanding different types of network: The London Underground
In the end, knowing your network and harnessing it can mean the difference between getting what you want, getting it effectively and efficiently and, well, not. But knowing this network isn't as easy as it sounds. Take these very different images of the same thing: The London Underground.

The original map of the London Underground is barely recognisable by today's version. You could still use it and probably find your way to your destination, but you take longer, some stations will have changed name and, of course, many modern lines taking you to new exciting places can't be seen on this old, browning map. But, of course, many professionals today tend to use outdated maps in the form of the computer they use, the internet tools they know about and their means of gathering information.

Slide004 Sometimes, of course, one believes one is not only using the best tool for the job until, on closer inspection, you don't recognise any of the stations any more. This map of the London Underground looks familiar but then you realise the stations are written in a tongue you don't understand. This is how people feel as they discover the internet whose coloured lines of Google (the red Central line), Microsoft (the blue of Piccadilly), MSN (the black Northern line) and Amazon (Hammersmith and City) they can recognise but the stations of blogging (the popular Kensal Rise), Technorati (the Marble Arch through which we can see the world move by each second), wikis (the ever-changing Canary Wharf) and podcasting (White City, of course) are only things they know exist, somewhere, but not sure exactly where, on the map.

Slide006_1 Letting them know that the map is no longer about how many metres apart the stations are (or how popular a page is on Google) but how long the stations are going to take to get to (like the 'most recent content on the web' from Technorati) can confuse the matter once more.

Make that map global, and it's easy to see how creating and understanding an ever-changing, global and four-dimensional network might just be a huge turn-off.

Slide010 Local Networks
Probably the easiest networks to understand are the Local Networks we have within our school (maths) department. This is somewhat a lone island, autonomous but without large impact, simply getting the proverbial food on the table. Even then, communication can be difficult to manage and, when the inhabitants of this network do meet, it's to discuss how many sheep have been eaten that week instead of how best we can multiply the flock (i.e. we talk admin instead of how we can improve the teaching and learning in our classrooms). Here, the simple use of a web page anyone in the department can change to coordinate the humdrum during the school term and keep everyone informed of changes would free up face-to-face time to talk about what really matters: teaching and learning.

One step further, by showing people how they can automatically be informed of changes to that wiki by subscribing to the page's orange RSS button, you can spread out 30 mins of weekly admin over a few seconds here, a few seconds there, as and when the need arises.

Slide011 Regional Networks
The image says it all for me: Regional Networks in Local Authorities are often small fortresses, looking after their own affairs first, coordinating with other fortresses later. Of course, once a fortress has set its path it's difficult for it to change tack when other fortresses have decided on other approaches. This is somewhat a necessity, of course, since Local issues often need sorted out first but, again, if Local Authorities use a wiki to not only coordinate but simultaneously report back out to everyone else what is going on then small, subtle changes can be made as the fortress is being built. When a national group such as the Maths Advisory Group do meet up face-to-face they have so much more in common and can concentrate on their homogeneous efforts to effect change for the good of mathematics, rather than each other's differences.

East Lothian has used wikis for a couple of years now, with more effort being made to concentrate the efforts of all those in the Local Authority in one place. The eduBuzz Training and Support wiki is a nice though young example of a regional network coming together to take care of details so that face-to-face meetings or courses can be used to further "chalkface" teaching and learning issues.

Slide012 National Networks
For groups like the Maths Advisory Group this might seem like the most important group to take care of, although I hope that the importance of local and regional networks in a national network's success is clear now. The image of Jodhpur viewed from its fortress (Scotland viewed from within a Local Authority) reflects the complexity of the national network along with its attachment to the Regional Network (the fortress). Most people in Local Authorities leave foraging through that national network to the advisor or managers in the Authority HQ. But can you imagine one or two people sustaining life in the maze of Jodhpur? The city would fail, become a dangerous and daunting place. It's important that we all take part in the national network.

How can we keep that together? Well, this is where personalities, leaders of some description have to show the way. They might be bloggers in the internet. Bloggers tend to fall into one or two of three (Malcolm Gladwell) types: the mavens, the connectors or the salesman.

Every Local and Regional network has its mavens, people who have the experience to know all the right people, all the best resources and all the best ways to procure the best equipment. They should be blogging these ideas publicly for the local community all the time, simultaneously leading others in the National Network, even if they don't know they are leading them.

Every Local and Regional network also has its connectors, the people who themselves may not be in a position of traditional power or decision-making but who represent enough of the teaching population's great ideas to bring that collective force together. They should definitely be blogging, too, giving a public representation of the views which might otherwise be missed by those in HQ who don't have the time or opportunity to listen. By blogging, you make them listen.

Sales people
The salesman or saleswoman may, in fact, be the regional representative at the Advisory Group or the Local Network's Head Teacher on the teaching and learning group of the Regional Network. They might not blog, they might not edit the wikis themselves but they are constantly reading, constantly picking out the most important details and bringing those to tables who would otherwise not listen. They sell it. They garner influence.

Slide013 The International Network
If a country is to succeed in the International Network, having its finger on the pulse, contributing to debate, having influence and raising its profile globally, it needs all the networks and types of contributor within it. If there is just one missing or all-too-quiet link then it's difficult to use the international network as it is so large and so fast-moving. Tools like Technorati help us pick up on the noise from the international network but only if the Connectors and Mavens know how to listen to the right voices will we be able to gain from others' experiences around the world, picking it out from amongst the noise. It is, perhaps ironically, the job of those locally based Connectors and Mavens, not the those trying to coordinate things nationally, to pick out those experiences.

National organisations such as the Scottish Executive and Learning and Teaching Scotland are often the first to send officials to international conferences, for example, but may, in fact, be the worst placed to have maximum impact unless those representatives are also highly plugged in to Local, Regional and National networks.

In Learning and Teaching Scotland we are working hard to make sure that our learning organisation is among the most plugged-in in the world. The Maths Advisory Group also appear to be taking the notion of networking seriously, not just for the cynical raising of profile or increasing influence, but for the more effective working of their group.

What about you? Where do you fit in the networks? What type of contributor are you?

Tools worth using:
Wikis: PBWiki or Wikispaces
Blogs: edublogs.org or, if you're in East Lothian, eduBuzz
Technorati: allows you to create watchlists on topical issues, keeps your finger on the pulse
Finding Scottish blogs: ScotEduBlogs (the wiki or nascent dynamic listings service)

January 14, 2007

Wherefor the wiki in ScotEduBlogs?

The ScotEduBlogs wiki was set up just over a year ago to allow anyone to add their blog to a relevant Local Authority page, browse other blogs in their area and, using the front page, send messages on gatherings to the larger community.

The latest developments from three of that community - Robert, John and Peter - are interesting in the form of ScotEduBlogs.org.uk. The main improvements are:

  • tagged blogs - people can find your blog quickly by the interests you describe your blog as covering (I like the drilling down through multiple tags)
  • a simple blog submission form - it's difficult to leave out useful information by accident when you've got a form to fill in, but it's difficult to offer additional information which might be of interest.

It's a work in development showing some great promise but there are a few things that the wiki provided, and which have been hugely useful tools, but which appear to be missing form this one.

1. Editable pages and Scots'EduBlogs

The fact that every page in the ScotEduBlogs wiki is editable means that the front page could be used to highlight the ScotEduBlogs meetup and TeachMeet events. It was also easy for any member to create a new page to cover these events and organise them.

Without an integrated ScotEduBlogs wiki - or even one active link back to the original - we lose one of the most important factors there has been in creating the burgeoning group of connectors and persuaders in Scotland's social media world: face-to-face meetups which are organically organised by everyone who attends. I hope that the guys don't forget to build this in.

2. Content control - who's 'in charge'?

I can't add this element myself since I don't have access to the URL or the site - on the wiki everyone does - and I don't have the not insignificant expertise to code the site's content. This is the second payoff with the site. There might be something slightly prettier to look at but the downside is that, currently, the average ScotEduBlogger has no control over what appears on the pages or what appears from their blog content. With the wiki, we are all fond of saying, you can change what you want: "If you know how to use Word, you can change the page". With ScotEduBlogs.org.uk it's Open Source, provided you've got the computer science to understand what on earth the coding all means ;-)

Moreover, some blogs are having their content replicated entirely on the news page of the site. This is potentially quite destructive, effectively removing the notion of conversation since the comments button, the comments themselves and the connected posts within that blog are not presented through the news portal. It also takes 9 out of 10 of the audience away from those blogs which, in turn, might reduce the desire of some edublogging teachers and students to continue their work. If someone's going to partially quote my blog, fine, but in blogging they join the conversation, they add to my thoughts with their own. If they're going to rip off my entire post and not add anything, expect an email ;-)

3. Aggregation vs Editorial

I am aware that most people don't use a feed reader and so the news page of the ScotEduBlogs.org.uk site is a welcome addition to our world. However, the way an aggregation site becomes the feed or homepage of choice for people is because of what it adds to the blogs those punters will start subscribing to or visiting directly once they're hooked. I want some framing, some analysis, some back story, some connections to be made for me if I'm just jumping into the conversation now.

This is something which requires more than coding - it needs good editorial. It's a tall order for any project, but easiest probably for an open project. It would also be a real improvement on the wiki and perhaps start to appeal to those who don't understand where some of the blog conversations come from until they are given the full story. The site would also have the ownership transferred from the owner of the .org.uk domain name to those writing the news on the site.

These are just a few of my tuppences for the guys to consider, but I wonder if there are other things a community site should be doing or if there are other ways a community site can have larger appeal. Any ideas?

January 05, 2007

Feedburner will now do your stats

Get information on how many people subscribe to your blog form Feedburner but, announced today, you can also get general site statistics, too. Essential information if you want to know who your audience are.

December 04, 2006

Blastfeed filters your filter - cope with all that RSS

Blastfeed Robert was wishing he had something which would intelligently work out what material in his RSS reader he would most like to read next. I left one of those annoying messages that says "I know something that can do that" and never left a link. Tsk, tsk.

Blastfeed uses keywords in the feeds you read most to automatically sift your feeds into something more apt for your interests. Once you've got as many feeds and as limited time as I seem to have ended up with, this is an invaluable little tool. Pressing control-K doesn't seem so painful any more. It's in private beta at the moment but there are plenty of free invites floating around in the Googlesphere.

In the meantime you might also want to try Threz, which helps to organise and prioritise feeds in a way you tell it to.

Thanks to Steve for sharing.

December 03, 2006

LTS at the heart of social media?

LTS, through people like myself working Futures, is absolutely committed to providing social tools within Glow, the national intranet. This large wiki project is one step in that direction but not everything we do is centralised in the same way as the edutopia proposal is.

Robert's words of wisdom, encouraging LTS to take more of a role nurturing social media and paying more attention to what's going on in East Lothian, seem to forget, though, that a significant part of current social media growth in East Lothian is down to work and advice that LTS is giving East Lothian. A few examples that Robert cites are elements, in fact, which LTS has helped nurture:

  • advising the use of open source blogging software in the form of WPMU;
  • encouraging more diversity in designs and templates, particularly for students (remember those ezPublish pages? We now have fuschia! ;-));
  • making sure you can create things in one click without asking someone to set things up for you;
  • devising training programmes and sifting through tools that support staff throughout the year;
  • making sure that multiple forms of expression - not just textual blogs - are pushed through to potential users;
  • still on the cards: getting the albeit-behind-schedule RSS-fuelled portal open by January; and
  • the rebranded service (you'll be able to find it in Google - yay!)

LTS want to see what has impact on kids' education or workers' efficacy and then push to get the tools built for future Glows. Should I be heart-achingly reassured when, as LTS's social media conscience, our work with East Lothian is so seamless that no-one notices it ;-)

Using LTS to further fuel social media
One more example: LTS are proposing a Virtual Advisory Service, where teachers with questions on any curricular area, covering pedagogy, curriculum, technology... anything, really. The advice will come from designated "experts".

There has been some criticism about it already as it reinforces the impression that those in the classroom are not experts. I think that is partly misplaced and looking at it from the wrong angle. This represents a huge opportunity, in fact, for those who are part of self-propelling educational communities, using blogs, photo-sharing sites or wikis.

I was talking through some opportunities with Don Ledingham, Director of Education of East Lothian, just a couple of weeks ago. He also likes the idea of communities of practice addressing the occasional need of teachers for a helping hand. Since I started working with East Lothian we have managed to increase uptake in social software tools, not just in blogging, from around 20 keen individuals to around one third of our teaching staff around 300. This gives us a really strong community with which to work, and a community which is going to be relatively easy to leverage, as far as I can see.

But here's my point: while individual "experts" from the Virtual Advisory Service will be paid individually is there anything to stop communities of experts who are already sharing their knowledge for free on the blogosphere from contributing to this service and commanding a share of that cash investment as one group? The money could be used for the greater good of the community, to fund action research, time, or independent servers through which to run 'safer' blogging communities, for example.

In East Lothian I believe this could happen, giving yet another opportunity for that community to share its knowledge and further the impact of existing tools on the education of our kids. Could other Local Authorities in Scotland find the same sense of community to make money and expertise work harder and smarter?

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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