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Embracing the future: why I’ve ditched MP3s and signed up to Spotify Premium

Spotify logo

Image BY-NC Rsms @ Flickr

I like music. A lot. I listen to as much as I can as I believe it makes me more productive.* As a student I worked in HMV at Meadowhall in Sheffield and bought a prodigious amount of CDs. When I did my MA in Modern History I sold many of them to fund my living expenses, but still many remained. I hadn’t ripped them all to MP3 but still had around 100GB of my 250GB taken up with MP3s. I deleted all of that today, leaving only my downloaded podcasts:

iTunes data

After my week of divesting the only CDs that aren’t in boxes ready to be sent off to Music Magpie or Amazon customers are those (nine) that I’ve decided to keep as artwork.** I signed up for a Spotify Premium account the day after their iPhone app became available. It costs £9.99 per month to upgrade from the Free account. For that you get, amongst other things, the usage of their iPhone app (which doesn’t work with a Free account), a higher streaming bitrate and no advertisements.

That’s not to say that Spotify features every album and every piece of music that I’ve ever listened to. But I reckon that they’ve got about 90% of the stuff I search for. That’s good enough for me, especially given my eclectic, ever-changing taste in music and the fact they add thousands more track to their library every week – check out their blog!

The streaming model makes sense. Now that a decently-fast internet connection is available to me pretty much everywhere I go, there’s no need for me to manually sync and carry around with me a partial collection of music I like. Much better to have access to a much bigger collection everywhere I am. 🙂

Of course, there are times when your internet connection isn’t so good (or even non-existent). It’s for these times that Spotify has made playlists that you create available offline. Up to 3,333 tracks can be cached for offline play at any one time. That’s certainly enough for me!

Finally, then, there’s the problem of making Spotify’s vast library user-friendly. A start has been made via SpotifiTunes (see my library here) which takes your iTunes XML file and creates a list of Spotify links. Wanting an up-to-date version of this, I’ve created a workspace on my wiki dedicated to this. To access this, click on the ‘Music’ link at the top of this blog or click here!

What do YOU think about Spotify and the like? Will you be signing up any time soon? 😀

* I recommend you read Lifehacker’s The Best Sounds for Getting Work Done

** See CD wall tiles @ IWOOT)

Has WordPress-powered P2 left me ‘more organized and productive’?

Doug's work record - search for 'Google Apps'

Last month I wrote a post entitled How WordPress-powered P2 is (hopefully) going to leave me more organized and productive. If you haven’t read that yet, you probably should do now so that you understand what follows… :-p

There’s several reasons for my wanting to keep a record of the stuff that I do in my role as Director of E-Learning. These include:

  • Performance Management
  • An aide-memoir when dealing with other people
  • Interest – how much of my time do I spend on various activities?

Does it work?

If you’ve got this far into a second post on the subject, the question you’re probably asking is probably something like Does it work? or Is it useful? The answer to both of those questions is YES!

What’s harder to answer is whether it’s left me more organized and productive. After all, entering even a one-liner (and adding tags) takes time. When you’re flat-out busy (like I am most days at the Academy!) that could be seen as a bit of a waste of time.

So I suppose the best way to answer questions relating to organization and productivity are to take the politician’s approach and not really answer them. Instead, I’ll tell you what I’ve used the WordPress + P2 system for. So far, it’s been for three things:

  1. Checking when I emailed someone and tasked them with a particular activity.
  2. Counting how many of a particular meeting I’ve been to.
  3. Seeing which individuals I interact with most often (the tag cloud is very useful for this!)

I can’t help but think that this system would go from good to great if it were being used by more than one person. For example, ICT technicians could use it to keep a record of what’s going on, cropping up, and taking their time. This could be viewed by their line manager, who could make comments. And as with my personal work record, it could be password-protected yet internet-based for secure yet easy access! 🙂

P2 is available as a pre-installed theme at WordPress.com. A standalone version for self-hosted WordPress-powered blogs can be downloaded at p2theme.com.

So why not give it a go? It’s free! 😀

Who are you and where do you come from?

People come from far and wide to read this blog:

Map of visitors to dougbelshaw.com/blog

Source: Clustrmap

At my previous blog (teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk – back online soon!) I used to reflect monthly on blog visitors and subscribers via RSS or email. In a relentless drive to improve vistors’ experience when visiting the blog I’d analyze which browsers were being used, their screen resolution, and so on.

I haven’t really done that since moving over to blogging here at dougbelshaw.com/blog. Whilst I don’t intend to produce monthly blog posts on the matter, I thought it would be interesting and useful to reflect on the information I’ve got about blog visitors and subscribers! 🙂

The two tools I use to find out about blog visitors are both now owned and provided for free by Google: Analytics (for visitors) and Feedburner (for subscribers)

Visitors

The following graph shows how many visits were made to this blog per week between 26 February 2009 (when I installed the Google Analytics WordPress plugin) and today:

Graph of visitors to dougbelshaw.com/blog (Feb - Oct 2009)

Visits are slowly on the rise and are affected significantly by the school year! I’m slightly concerned that people spend, on average, less than two minutes here and tend to only visit one or two pages or posts.

Perhaps I need to make the blog easier to navigate and flag up related material?

So what are people looking for when they come here? The Top 10 most visited posts/pages is make interesting reading:

Top 10 visited pages/posts on dougbelshaw.com/blog (Feb - Oct 2009)

Unsurprisingly, stuff that was of direct practical utility – either in the form of a downloadable resource or a how-to guide – featured heavily in the Top 10. Geeky stuff also features significantly. I was, however, delighted to see that my Director of E-Learning interview presentation on How E-Learning can contribute to raising achievement was up there as well and that people, on average, spent over five minutes reading through it! 😀

Finally on the general visitor front, I’m pleased to see plenty of people coming from referring sites:

Traffic sources for dougbelshaw.com/blog (Feb - Oct 2009)

The majority of these referring sites were social media/networking sites such as Twitter and Disqus (the comments system that I use on this blog).

Subscribers

As I expected, most subscribers use either Google (iGoogle, Google Reader) or FriendFeed to keep up-to-date with my blog posts:

dougbelshaw.com/blog subscribers

At one time this would have been dominated by Bloglines. Google, as with most things, now rules the roost!

The above chart shows a combination of those who subscribe to the RSS feed via a feed reader or by email. Almost exactly 10% of the 964 people who subscribe to this blog do so by email. The great advantage of this is that I can see who they are and (potentially) contact them without having to put up a public blog post. 🙂

Subscribers act differently to general visitors. The latter might only ever view this blog once, having searched for a very specific thing on a search engine and leave after gaining that new knowledge or insight. Subscribers, on the other hand, have (presumably) made a judgement that this blog consistently produces content that they find relevant and useful.

You’d expect the Top 10 posts/pages for subscribers to be different. And it is!

Top 10 blog posts on dougbelshaw.com/blog according to subscribers

I think it’s fair to say that the majority of subscribers to this blog are those related to education in some way. And that would make sense given that the tagline is Educational Technology, Leadership & Productivity!

The best indicator of which posts have been most popular, however, comes from the sidebar widget at dougbelshaw.com/blog (RSS/email readers will need to click through to see it). This is powered by the previously-mentioned Disqus and measures how much interest a post has caused based on factors such as the number of comments it generated directly, how many tweets there on Twitter link to it, the number of trackbacks it received, and the number of pageviews.

To finish off, then, here are the current Top 10:

  1. HOWTO: Present using Cooliris (the basics…)
  2. Why I’m trying to make myself redundant.
  3. HOWTO: Present using Cooliris (advanced)
  4. Assessment in UK schools: a convenient hypocrisy?
  5. A Week of Divesting: an introduction
  6. A (temporary) farewell to a hero.
  7. Heuristical Templates (or, how to review elearning stuff in a way that benefits others)
  8. On the important difference between hitchhiking and bandwagon-jumping.
  9. How WordPress-powered P2 is (hopefully) going to leave me more organized and productive!
  10. Carol Dweck on ‘growth mindsets’ and motivation.
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Activity, Passivity and Failure.

quotation marksPerhaps I’m one step away from ‘the Voices’ telling me what to do, but some days a thought swirls round in my head and ends up fully-formed in a quotation. Here’s what has been doing the swirling today:

Failure does not spring from any one type of activity but from almost every type of passivity. (Belshaw, 2009)

What does it mean? I know in my context, but perhaps you could tell me about yours? I really hope I haven’t inadvertently claimed someone else’s work as my own – that would be embarrassing! 😮

My next job is to find a relevant Creative Commons-licensed Flickr picture using something like CompFight to which I can add the quotation. Perhaps you could direct me to one in the comments? 😉

Sign up for TeachMeet ETRU edition 09!

I’m delighted to announce on behalf of EdTechRoundUp that we’ll be having a (completely online) ‘TeachMeet’ on Sunday 6th December 2009. It’s called TeachMeet ETRU edition 09 and will hopefully be the first of many!

If you’re not too sure what a TeachMeet is, watch the excellent explanatory video by the BrainPOP team below:

Please do sign up to do a 7-minute ‘micro’ presentation, a 2-minute ‘nano’ presentation or to be an ‘enthusiastic lurker’. The idea is that we’ll be using Adobe Connect Pro for the TeachMeet. Presentations can be done live, but I for one will be pre-recording mine! 🙂

I noticed that TeachMeet Falkirk had a QR code* to make life a bit easier for those publicising the event. Here’s one containing the URL of TeachMeet ETRU edition 09

qrcode

Finally, please remember to include the tag TMETRU09 when discussing the TeachMeet on Twitter, uploading Flickr photos, YouTube videos or blogging about it! 😀

* A QR code, for those who don’t know, is kind of a barcode that stores information – in this case the URL of the wiki page (more at Wikipedia). Try it by downloading the software from qrcode.kaywa.com.

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On the important difference between hitchhiking and bandwagon-jumping.

Double Yellow Lines

Image CC-BY-NC-SA pitty.platsch @ Flickr

I’ll admit it. From 2004 up to about 2007 I was a bandwagon-jumper. I wanted to be the early adopter, the first to use pretty much anything to do with educational technology in the classroom. But that came at a cost. That cost – and it’s difficult for me to admit this to myself – was borne by my students who had a teacher who was too focused on the shiny shiny and not learning outcomes.

The trouble with bandwagon-jumping is that you’re not entirely sure where that bandwagon is headed; whether it fits in with where you want you and your students need to go; whether it’s potentially dangerous territory to head into. The bandwagon may be driven by sensible, rationale people in it for the long-haul, or you could be left stranded in the middle of nowhere by overnight cowboys. That’s not a safe place for teachers or students to be – even in a metaphorical sense.

Much better then to be a hitchhiker. The hitchhiker knows where they want to go. They don’t mind the odd detour or two so long as they get there. Whilst the destination is of ultimate importance, the journey is also important and life-enriching. So too educators who choose to be metaphorical hitchhikers. Sometimes we can ‘go it alone’ with our classes to blaze new trails to destinations, but often it’s better (and safer) to stick with others and figure things out together.

So if others use new technologies, websites and services before me, that’s fine. I’ll use them when it’s time for me to head that way, when my own or my classes investigations necessitate us exploring those areas.

Until then, I’ll leave the bandwagons to others. :-p

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Carol Dweck on ‘growth mindsets’ and motivation.

Last week I attended the Scottish Learning Festival. I was there for two reasons: an official reason (for which the Academy kindly paid my expenses) and an unofficial one. The latter I’ve already blogged about in the form of My Google Apps Education Edition ‘nano presentation’ at TeachMeetSLF09 but the former has taken a little longer to put together… :-p

A few weeks ago our Executive Principal introduced the Teaching & Learning team to Carol Dweck’s ‘mindset’ theory of motivation. I wanted to find out more and was informed (via Twitter) that she was keynoting SLF09. Spying an opportunity, I asked for (and was granted) permission to attend – on the proviso that I produced some type of ‘video podcast’ to inform staff of what I’ve learned.

The 8-minute video at the top of this post is a sneak peek at what I’ll be distributing to colleagues at the Academy this week. I’d very much welcome your feedback! 😀

(Dweck’s book Mindset: the new psychology of motivation can be found at Amazon and, as they say, ‘all good bookshops – and probably some average ones’….)

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Assessment in UK schools: a convenient hypocrisy?

Dilbert on graphs

There’s a couple of lines in the otherwise-average film In The Loop that not only made me laugh but made me think. At one point in the film, a British civil servant is remonstrating with his US counterpart. They end up in a very modern-looking chapel within a government building. The British civil servant starts shouting and swearing at which point the American reminds him that they’re in a sacred place, adding:

Neither of us believes that, but it’s a convenient hypocrisy.

I’ve realised that convenient hypocrisies happen often. Unfortunately, I believe it happens with assessment in UK schools every day. 🙁

Now I’m no expert on assessment, but even I know that research has established the following:

  1. Students regress as well as progress due to emotional, psychological, sociological (and other) factors.
  2. National curriculum levels and sub-levels are intended as summative, end of Key Stage assessments.
  3. Not all students progress at the same rate.

Yet, in all of the schools I’ve worked in during my teaching career, we’ve done the following:

  • Used National Curriculum level descriptors on a half-termly (or even a weekly) basis.
  • Set students targets based on the number of National Curriculum sub-levels an ‘average student’ will get through during a Key Stage.
  • Make few allowances as to the reasons why students’ attainment might fluctuate.
  • ‘Level’ as much work as possible when we know that doing so destroys any impact formative comments may have.

Using data systems based on numbers for assessment purposes looks impressive, gives control to senior leaders and produces pretty graphs and reports for parents. But is it useful to students? I’d argue that it’s not. Students become hung up on progressing through National Curriculum levels that aren’t always coherent and meaningful. It’s also very easy for Heads of Department to artificially inflate the National Curriculum levels of students whom they’d like to take their subject at GCSE. After all, if you’re a Year 9 student and you’re on a Level 6b in Geography and a 5c in History, which one are you going to take?

The reason for my inclusion of that particular Dilbert cartoon at the top of this post is that I reckon most UK teachers couldn’t differentiate between a Level 4b and 4a in their subject. In fact, the distinction’s pretty meaningless. I’ve seen some schools use the sub-levels as following:

  • Level 4c – some work at Level 4 standard
  • Level 4b – most work at Level 4 standard
  • Level 4a – all work at Level 4 standard

In that case, why use the sub-levels in the first place? :-s

It’s my belief that Assessment for Learning, that buzz-phrase from a couple of years ago, has been hijacked and contorted into something it’s not. I’m certainly not arguing against students knowing where they’re at in a subject and how to improve. It’s just that using National Curriculum levels as a means for doing this smacks of laziness to me. Instead, professional teachers should be able to convey the key skills, processes and subject knowledge students need to be able to progress. That’s just good teaching.

If the above has left you feeling the need to brush up on your knowledge of assessment, you might want to read Beyond the Black Box and/or view the TeachersTV videos on the subject.

What are YOUR views on assessment? :-p

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How WordPress-powered P2 is (hopefully) going to leave me more organized and productive!

Ever since I read Matt Mullenweg’s post How P2 Changed Automattic I’ve been thinking about how I could best utilise a similar system. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch this video:

But then it dawned on me this morning: there’s no reason I couldn’t use such a system for private, me-only stuff!

As E-Learning Staff Tutor last year and as Director of E-Learning this year, I’ve been keeping a record of what I’ve been up to. This is as much about me being able to cross-reference stuff as proving to others (if needed) that I’ve been fulfilling my role. Up until now I’ve been using Google Docs, which looks like this:

Work record on Google Docs

Now, however, with WordPress, the P2 theme and a plugin called Absolute Privacy, I’ve got a close, web-based system that should hopefully be a lot more flexible and powerful:

Word record on WordPress/P2 system

We’re discussing productivity for educators tonight at EdTechRoundUp‘s weekly meeting. Why not join us? I’ll post my reflections on this system next week! 😀

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E-Learning Strategy Overview (a.k.a. my 3-year plan)

I’ve already blogged about why I want to make myself redundant as Director of E-Learning after 3 years. At the end of this month – next week, in fact – I’m due to hand in my E-Learning strategy. I wanted my strategy overview to fit on one side of A4. Unfortunately, it’s run to two sides, but at least it’s still fairly short and to the point! 😀

It’s available ‘live’ (with any subsequent changes) here (via Google Docs), or below as a static PDF:

Creative Commons License

I’d very much welcome any comments or thoughts you may have on the above! 🙂

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