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‘Flow’ and the waste of free time

flow_bookHaving twice got the classic work Flow: the psychology of optimal experience out of Durham University Library and having it twice recalled before I got a chance to read it, I decided to just go ahead and buy the book. It’s a very famous work, cited in almost everything I read – despite the fact that the author, Mikhail Csikszentmihalyi, has an almost-unpronounceable surname…

Upon its arrival from Amazon, I eagerly opened and flicked through Flow. Just as sometimes you’re sitting in an audience and you feel that the speaker is talking directly to you, so it was with the section ‘The Waste of Free Time’ (p.162-3). Here’s my abridgement of that short section. Do you recognise yourself in it? I do!

Ironically, jobs are actually easier to enjoy than free time, because like flow activities they have built-in goals, feedback, rules, and challenges, all of which encourage one to become involved in one’s work, to concentrate, and lose oneself in it. Free time, on the other hand, is unstructured, and requires much greater effort to be shaped into something that can be enjoyed.

The tremendous leisure industry that has arisen in the last few generations has been designed to help fill our free time with enjoyable experiences. Nevertheless, instead of using our physical and mental resources to experience flow, most of us spend many hours each week watching celebrated athletes playing in enormous stadiums. Instead of making music, we listen to platinum records cut by millionaire musicians. Instead of making art, we got to admire paintings that brought in the highest bids at the latest auction. We do not run risks acting on our beliefs, but occupy hours each day watching actors who pretend to have adventures, engaged in mock-meaningful action.

The flow experience that results from the use of skills leads to growth; passive entertainment leads nowhere. Collectively we are wasting each year the equivalent of millions of years of human consciousness. The energy that could be used to focus on complex goals, to provide for enjoyable growth, is squandered on patterns of stimulation that only mimic reality. Mass leisure, mass culture, and even high culture when only attended to passively and for extrinsic reasons – such as the wish to flaunt one’s status – are parasites of the mind. They absorb psychic energy without providing substantive strength in return. They leave us more exhausted, more disheartened than we were before.

Most jobs and many leisure activities – especially those involving the passive consumption of mass media – are not designed to make us happy and strong. Their purpose is to make money for someone else. If we allow them to, they can suck out the marrow of our lives, leaving us only feeble husks.

Eloquently put, I’m sure you’ll agree! It reminded me somewhat of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in terms of the vision it conjures of a mass ‘citizenry’ obediently doing what the guiding voice behind the media they consume tell them to do.

It’s a wake-up call for me. Instead of spending money on gadgetry that allow me to consume mass media at an ever-increasing rate, I’m going to focus on creativity and meaning-making. For me, that will mostly be in a written format because of my interests and talents. But, you never know, it may stray into areas musical as well… 😀

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Podcasting: Step 2 – Recording and editing your podcast

Read/act on this first:
Podcasting: Step 1 – RSS and setting up a teacher blog

In the last session we set up a blog and learned what RSS was. Let’s just remind ourselves of what podcasting is, shall we?

So podcasting is when you deliver audio files to ‘subscribers’ automatically using an RSS feed. This RSS feed is generated automatically by the Posterous-powered blog you set up in Step 1. 🙂

In this session we’re going to be using a program called Audacity. This is available for all platforms – Windows, Mac and Linux. It is free and Open Source software. Audacity is already installed on the computers we shall be using at school, but if you need to download it at home, you can find it here:

Note: we will need a ‘plugin’ for Audacity to be able to export to MP3 format, but we’ll leave that for next session!

Instead of re-inventing the wheel, we’ll be making use of the excellent video guides to using Audacity that can be found here:

These are the ones you should focus on today:

  1. The editing tools
  2. Basic editing and trimming your audio
  3. Importing audio and adding music to your podcast

When you save your audio, just save it as a WAV file. We’ll work on exporting to MP3 next time. If you’re looking for music that you can legally and safely use in your podcasts, check out the links at the bottom of the Wikipedia page for ‘Podsafe’.

My Computing History

BBC Owl logoSpurred on by Andrew Field’s new site, Dave Stacey reminisces about the computers of his youth in Early Computer Memories. The venerable Mr Field needs more examples of this to share with his ICT students, and I’m always happy to oblige. It has meant I’ve had to do some thinking about when these memories I have actually happened!

I suppose it’s relevant here to say that at the time of this post being published I’m 28 years old, being born in December 1980.

BBC Micro

My Dad was Deputy Head of the high school (13-18) I eventually attended. I can remember him bringing back a BBC Micro that must have cost the school a fair chunk of cash. Given that the BBC Micro was discontinued in 1986, it couldn’t have been long after that he started bringing it home in the school holidays. I can distinctly remember having to type in lines and lines of code to play a game called Duck Hunt. There was no way for me to save it once I’d programmed it in, so there was more typing than playing going on! I don’t think it was exactly the same as this version for the Nintendo NES, but it was similar…

My Dad also brought an Acorn Computer back once, but as we had no games for it, we (my younger sister and I), didn’t really use it.

Nintendo NES

I was never allowed to have a games console, my parents being of the belief (quite rightly) that I’d just spend my life playing video games. One of my friends who I only saw outside of school time had a Nintendo Entertainment System, which was legendary – Super Mario and the like made me a frequent visitor to his house!

Amiga 600

As my birthday is very close to Christmas, I was in the fortunate situation of being able to combine the money that would be spent on present for me to get one ‘big’ present. Given that the Amiga 600, according to Wikipedia, went into production in 1992 and was discontinued in 1993, I must have received it for birthday/Christmas 1992. As a 12-year-old, I can remember going to Canterbury when we were on a family holiday and my parents buying Lemmings and Kick Off 2 for me. Although, theoretically, the Amiga 600 was a computer and a games console, I never did anything other than play games on it! 😉

Sega Megadrive

Whilst I had my Amiga 600, another friend had a Sega Megadrive. This was my first experience of Sonic the Hedgehog and I found the graphics on it amazing – especially when the 32X add-on was released!

Compaq Presario Pentium 75

My Dad had brought home his 486DX-powered PC during the holidays during 1994 and 1995. It was upon this that I learned how to touch-type with a version of Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing that came free on the front of a magazine. Then – and I’m not sure how I managed to do this – I persuaded my parents to spend £1,500 in Bainbridges (now John Lewis) on a Pentium 75-powered PC. I think I promised that it would not only be a combined birthday and Christmas present for 1995, but for 1996 and 1997 as well!

I can remember playing Sim City 2000 and especially, the Secret of Monkey Island on this machine. My sister and I would return from school and be straight on the PC trying to figure out the next puzzle! I also had Sensible Soccer, a flight simulator, and some other games.

It was with this machine, however, and Windows 95 that I began to use the PC as a computer rather than a console. Before Freeserve, you had a choice between paying Compuserve or AOL around £15 per month on top of dial-up charges to access the Internet. My PC had a 28.8kbps modem – twice the speed of the previous 14.4kbps standard.

There was no way that my parents were going to pay this to allow me access to a resource they didn’t see as necessary to my education. I tried and tried and tried to persuade them, but when they didn’t agree I decided to take matters into my own hands. I used my Dad’s credit card to sign up for a 30-day Compuserve trial, and then used the Internet when my parents were not using the phone. This, of course, was slightly dangerous as, if they’d picked up the phone when I was online, they would have been able to hear the giveaway noises. I had to go to a phone box and pretend to be my Dad after about 29 days to cancel my (his!) Compuserve account, and make sure I wasn’t connected for longer than an hour. Billing was only itemised for calls over 60 pence, you see… :-p

In 1997, as a 16-year-old, I was getting a bit fed-up of Windows 95. I’d read about Open Source Software and Linux in particular. Although by now I had a 56kbps modem and my parents allowed me online via Freeserve, downloading anything substantial over this connection speed was painful. I bought a book with a title something like Teach yourself Red Hat Linux in 24 hours. Despite the book that came with it, I couldn’t get Linux to work properly on my PC.

More PCs

I can remember getting an ‘overdrive’ processor. This fitted on top of the existing Pentium 75 processor I had and took it up to something like 150mhz. Then started the period of me building computers to my own specification. I can remember spending the £1000 left to me when my Great Auntie passed away on components for an AMD-K6-2/400 computer I took to university with me in 1999. Of course, I should have invested that money as the computer became outdated very quickly. I had word-processed my essays in Sixth Form on my PC and done some research on the Internet.

I should probably also mention that John Roden, my Physics teacher, introduced our class to Dreamweaver and creating websites. My first was hosted via the webspace I had via my Freeserve account and was basically a Monty Python fan site called I put sound clips and images on there that I captured directly from the VHS video I had of the Monty Python films. 😀

At university, I continued to upgrade my PC and replace parts until it was pretty much the Ship of Theseus!

LG Phenom Express

Towards the end of my time in Sheffield, I bought an LG Phenom Express. This was a Windows CE sub-notebook that I could take to lectures and seminars to take notes. It was touchscreen too! The only bad thing was that you had to connect and transfer information to your PC via serial cable. It wasn’t really a computer in its own right.

I bought the LG Phenom Express from eBay, and was my most expensive purchase on there during my time at uni. I then sold it for about the same price as I bought it a year later in 2002.

Compaq Presario becomes MP3 jukebox

After my undergraduate degree in Philosophy, I decided to move back in with my parents and do an MA in Modern History at the University of Durham. This was 2002/3.  During this period, with lots of free time on my hands, I hacked and modified my ageing Compaq Presario to turn it into an MP3 jukebox. It was running a cut-down version of Windows 98 and Winamp and the track titles were displayed on a Matrix Orbital LCD I imported from Canada. I got stung for about £50 import duty on that! It worked reasonably well, but took some time to boot up…

Energy efficient PC

After getting married in 2003, my wife and I decided not to have a television. We couldn’t really afford to buy one and pay the TV license and, as we were both training to be teachers, didn’t have time either. We did watch DVDs on my PC, though.

When we moved down to the Doncaster area, I decided that I needed to have a machine that didn’t cost us much to run. I also wanted it to be near-silent. I used the components from to build a machine that was mainly used for web browsing and downloads. It worked really well. 😀

I was dabbling with Linux again, but didn’t really have much success.

Laptop era

When laptops started coming down in price, I bought myself one. It was a Compaq laptop that I managed to get cheaply via a special offer. It would have been 2005 and I believe it was processor with a speed around 1Ghz. I’d researched it on the Internet and it seemed like a good deal. Of course it was impossible to upgrade in the same way desktop PCs are, but a lot more portable!

I kept on dabbling with Linux, and Ubuntu – the new kid on the block – worked reasonably well. I still couldn’t rely on it for day-to-day use, though. 🙁

Since that first laptop, I’ve many and various laptops. I’ve had a few, mainly cheap, Windows-powered laptops but then, with the release of the Macbook in 2006, I decided to delve into the world of Mac. It wasn’t such a risky proposition as OSX-powered Macbooks can still dual-boot Windows via Boot Camp. Nowadays I run Windows XP on a virtual desktop via VMware Fusion on my Macbook Pro when I need to run a Windows-only program. 🙂


I bought a console for the first time in 2005 – but not to play games on! I bought, from eBay, a modified Xbox that could run Xbox Media Center (XBMC). This, in conjunction with a NAS drive, meant we could watch programmes and films encoded in DivX format via our TV! This is largely in disuse now, as Nick Dennis has loaned us his AppleTV (which I’ve also modified to run Boxee and XBMC)


In 2008 I bought my first netbook – an Asus Eee 701. Although this was amazingly small and cool, the 7″ screen was just too small. I then sold that and bought an Advent 4211 that I managed to hack to run Mac OSX. However, when I used my E-Learning budget at school to buy some Asus Eee 1000‘s, I decided to sell it on eBay.

Apple iPhone

In October 2008 I replaced my ageing Nokia N95 with an Apple iPhone 3G. This is my computer and Internet connection on-the-move. It’s a joy and a wonder to behold, and a paradigm shift in terms of always-on, ubiquitous access to online content. 🙂


So there we are. I’ve had many and varied computers, and the pace of upgrade and change has certainly accelerated as I’ve grown older. I’m really happy in an Apple-powered world, as everything ‘just works’ and I can concetrate on being productive and on the things I enjoy doing. My wife has a Macbook, and these are both backed-up continuously to an Apple Time Capsule. These days, if I want to tinker with something, it will be software – usually something to do with my websites – rather than hardware.

As I write this, my son is playing next to me. His earliest computing memory will probably be a more powerful machine than the Macbook Pro he sees me using now. Given the pace of development in the twenty years of my computing history, I can’t even imagine what his will be like when he gets to my age! 😮





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Hannon: ‘Reflecting on Literacy in Education’

It’s not too often I read something which makes me continually nod in agreement, but Peter Hannon’s marvellous Reflecting on Literacy in Education (2000) certainly had me doing that!

As regular readers will know, in my Ed.D. thesis I’m looking at the concept of ‘digital literacy’ – whether it (or something like it) ‘exists’ and the implications this may have. At one point Hannon’s book made me think he actually had all the answers but, like all great works, it left me with questions and inspired me to do more thinking and research. 🙂

Hannon has a very logical and coherent style, demonstrating a clear-headed and considered approach to his subject. I’m going to string together some of his quotations so you can get a feel for what he’s arguing. He begins by explaining that differences between printed and electronic text are very real and cannot be ignored:

David Reinking (1994) has suggested that there are four fundamental differences between printed and electronic texts. First, he points out that while it has often been suggested that readers interact with text in a metaphorical sense, in the case of electronic text this can be literally true, for example in the way readers can respond to some texts by switching to other texts via ‘hot links’. Second, it is possible for electronic texts to guide or restrict the reading path according to educational or other criteria, e.g. requiring re-reading of passages if comprehension questions are not answered correctly. Third, the structure of electronic text can be radically different in ‘hypertext’… Fourth, electronic texts often employ new symbolic elements – not just illustrations but video clips and other graphics, including next ‘navigation’ aids. One can argue about whether or not these features of electronic literacy are desirable but that they have arrived and that they represent a radical shift seems beyond argument. (p.22)

Whilst I think that at this stage he’s probably jumping the gun slightly to ascribe these different elements to literacy, I do think that pointing out these four differences is important. There are those, for example, who simply believe that electronic text is simply printed text in a different format.

From here, Hannon goes on discuss, as other writers have before and after him, how literacy is dependent upon technology:

The nature of literacy in a culture is repeatedly redefined as the result of technological changes. Throughout history the introduction of new materials (stone tablets, skins, papyrus, paper) and new mark making methods (scratching, chiselling, ink, the printing press, typewriters, ball-points, laser printers, and so on) has meant both new users and new uses for written language. The consequences of such changes can be very complex – not just in terms of more literacy but different literacy (Eisenstein, 1982). Technology begins by making it easier to do familar things; then it creates opportunities to do new things. Our literacy today is consequently very different from that of  medieval England not just because the printing press is more efficient than having scribes copy manuscripts, but also because printing and other technologies have stimulated entirely new uses for written language (e.g. tax forms, novels, postcards, advertisements) unimagined by medieval society. If the past is any guide to the future, we should information technology to transform literacy rather than eradicate it. (p.22-3, my emphasis)

The point that new technologies create new literacies because they allow different methods of expression and communication I believe to be monumentally important. Such changes lead to different norms of behaviour and cultural practice. Hannon gives the example of how email has removed tedious barriers such as printing a letter, putting it in an envelope, posting it, waiting for a reply, and so on:

Eliminating these stages not only speeds up the process of writing letters but also, like earlier technological developments in literacy, changes the uses for written language. It encourages a casual, immediate style of communication and it becomes possible, for example, to sustain a research collaboration with people thousands of miles away. (p.24)

Writing in 2000, Hannon was able to set up somewhat of a ‘straw man’ – the opponent who claims that because everyone has not yet got a computer with Internet access, teaching such literacy skills are pointless. Hannon, in a move which would delight any enlightened reader of the edublogosphere and believer in ‘School 2.0’, writes:

All our literacy students will end up using written language tomorrow in ways very different from those we can teach them today. This applies… much more strongly to younger students and children who, if development proceeds in the next fifty years as it has in the past fifty, will use written language in ways which we cannot even imagine. What matters in this context is that we teach what is important about written language – those essentials which can be expected to endure in future contexts. These could include the ideas that the value of written language depends on what we want to do with it, that all texts can be read critically, that there are many genres, that literacy has a potential for liberation, that writing can aid thinking, that reading can be enjoyable, that public writing is for readers not writers, and so on.

This is almost a ‘meta-literacy’ – an ability to reflect upon literacy not as a state, but as a continual socio-cultural construct.

Hannon then turns his attention upon those who espouse, almost unthinkingly, a ‘unitary’ view of literacy. He gives examples, all of which assume that literacy is a skill, that there is an ‘it’ of literacy to which we can refer. Opposed to this, Hannon investigates the claims of thinkers who put forward a ‘pluralist’ view of literacy. He quotes Lankshear (1987:58):

There is no single, unitary referent for ‘literacy’. Literacy is not the name for a finite technology, set  of skills, or any other ‘thing’. We should recognise, rather, that there are many specific literacies, each comprising an identifiable set of socially constructed practices based upon print and organised around beliefs about how the skills of reading and writing may or, perhaps, should be used. (p.32)

Hannon also quotes Gee (1996:46) who is concerned about the context of literacy:

[T]he traditional view of literacy as the ability to read and write rips literacy out of its sociocultural contexts and treats it as an asocial cognitive skill with little or nothing to do with human relationships. It cloaks literacy’s connections to power, to social identity, and to ideologies, often in the service of privileging certain types of literacies and certain types of people. (p.34)

But does the pluralist conception of literacy lead to problems. What type of literacy should be taught at school. If they are all so very different from one another, should we be calling them ‘literacies’ at all. Hannon brings in Wittgenstein’s famous difficulty (1953: sections 66,67) in defining what a ‘game’ is in support of the pluralist argument:

And the result of this examination is: we see a complicated network of similarities overlapping and criss-crossing: sometimes overall similarities, sometimes similarities of detail. I can think of no better expression to characterize these similarities than ‘family resemblances’ for the various resemblances between members of a family: build, features, colour of eyes, gait, temperament, etc.overlap and criss-cross in the same way. And I shall say ‘games’ form a family. (p.36)

Just as Wittgenstein found nothing concrete in common between the different activities we call ‘games’ – yet still found a way to put them into the same category – so Hannon wants to do with literacies. He imagines them being set out on a family tree, with some more closely related than others. It’s an interesting concept.

He then, however, goes and muddies the water somewhat and, for me, spoils his argument slightly, by stating that we don’t talk of ‘musics’ even though there are many and varied styles. He also reduces theorists’ conceptions of literacy into two broad camps. He believes that there are those who believe literacy to be a skill and come from a psychological point of view, and those who believe it to be a social practice, who come from a sociological background.

Hannon concludes the chapter by offering a rapprochement between the two by quoting with approval Delgado-Gaitan (1990:29):

The ability to interpret linguistic and graphic symbols associated with texts requires one type of ability. Literacy is a sociocultural process, and it follows that another literate ability has to do with the sociocultural knowledge and cognitive skills that are necessary for the child and the family to interpret text. (p.38).

When I first read this, I thought it was a somewhat of a cop-out, a way of sitting on the fence. However, if we unpick it slightly, we end up with:

1. To decode linguistic symbols is an ability.

2. To decode graphic symbols is an ability.

3. Literacy is dependent upon the ability to decode symbols using the technologies of a relevant culture and context..

Ergo = To decode symbols using technology is a literacy dependent upon sociocultural factors.

I’m still thinking about this. At the moment I’m thinking it’s akin to genius as it cuts through a lot of the problems in defining literacy. On the other hand, I’ve a nagging  suspicion at the back of my mind that it may be using a lot of words to say something which maybe isn’t worth saying.

Hmmm…. :-p

Podcasting: Step 1 – RSS and setting up a teacher blog


Over the next three weeks, staff e-learning sessions will focus on getting started with podcasting. This first session starts off with the basics you will need as a teacher before even pressing that ‘record’ button:

  1. An understanding of what RSS is.
  2. A blog onto which to put MP3 files.

The easiest way to get your head around what RSS is and how it means that audio files can be delivered to interested parties automatically is by watching this excellent explanatory video prepared by CommonCraft:

A podcast differs from simply placing an audio file on the Internet because of RSS. It means that new content can be ‘pushed’ to interested parties rather than them having to manually check for updates. The process of interested parties requesting that podcasts are delivered automatically is known as ‘subscribing’.

Now that you know what RSS is, you need to have a mechanism by which you can generate one. In our case, this is going to be a blog. Anything that you add to a blog post will be automagically turned into a subscribable podcast.

To learn how to set up a blog, check out the elearnr guide entitled:
Creating a homework blog in 3 simple steps using email

If you want to jump ahead and have a go podcasting before the next session, you should visit the Box of Tricks website where José Picardo has put together an excellent short presentation entitled Podcasting in Five Easy Steps. 😀

Safeguarding: the next step in the transition to Web 3.0?

Icon for the FOAF (Friend of a Friend) project...
Image via Wikipedia

I’m worried about ownership. I’m concerned about ‘intellectual property’. There’s two statements I never thought I’d make on this blog! Why am I thinking about these two topics? It’s a result of a combination of three things that have happened recently:

  • The release of WordPress 2.7 that has made my use of the Disqus commenting system on this blog largely redundant. I’m now wondering why I’m using it as the comments aren’t backed up along with my blog posts. What if Disqus goes paid-for or bust? 😮
  • TeachMeet09 at BETT was great. But what’s stopping people taking the name and patenting it, thereby trading off all the great (and free) work educators have done?
  • Dai Barnes registered last week to test out Jumpbox. Whilst that’s great and was fine, what was to stop someone else registering that name and spamming it?

So I suppose what I’m concerned about isn’t ‘ownership’ or ‘intellectual property’ at all, it’s safeguarding. To my mind, that’s something that’s got to be sorted out before we move from what has been called Web 2.0:

The second generation of the World Wide Web, especially the movement away from static webpages to dynamic and shareable content.

…to what, for the time being is known as Web 3.0 or the ‘semantic web’:

Web 3.0… refers to a supposed third generation of Internet-based services that collectively comprise what might be called ‘the intelligent Web’—such as those using semantic web, microformats, natural language search, data mining, machine learning, recommendation agents, and artificial intelligence technologies—which emphasize machine-facilitated understanding of information in order to provide a more productive and intuitive user experience.

For ‘intelligent agents’ and semantic web searches to be possible, there has to be an understanding of the relationship between spaces and identities on the Internet. There is an element of this with the FOAF (‘Friend Of A Friend’) protocol included in web applications and software such as WordPress, which powers this blog.

It’s going to be difficult to weigh-up and balance on the one hand, making sure that brands, identities and ideas aren’t hijacked, whilst on the other, giving individuals and groups freedom of expression. But without some change in safeguarding, I can’t see the change happening anytime soon.

Who’s going to be the guarddog that provides guarantees? Or can it be distributed?

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BETT 2009, TeachMeet & and iPhone misfortunes

(photos from the TeachMeet BETT 2009 Flickr pool)

I’m on the train back from BETT 2009. I did my 5-minute slot on using Linux-powered netbooks as part of an Open Source Schools presentation this morning, the reason for my visit. In total, I only managed about 30 minutes ‘on the floor’ visiting stands. That suited me fine! 😉

The rest of the time I spent meeting people I only knew online through Twitter, etc., new folk and those I know both online and offline. I only just got to London Olympia in time for TeachMeet due to a combination of the Piccadilly Line being useless and my losing iPhone at the BETT registration desk. Fortunately, it was handed in to the conference organizers in perfect condition! As soon as I entered the room I recognised lots of edtech people – José Picardo, Lisa Stevens, Tom Barrett, Joe Rowing, Dai Barnes, Josie Fraser, Ollie Bray, the list went on and on…

What really pleased me more than people just coming up and introducing themselves as being the real-world version of what I only knew as online avatars, but those who came to thank me. One, Chris from thanked me for a guide to ripping DVDs I produced during my teacher training in 2004/5! It’s always nice to find out that what you’ve  done has been worthwhile and made a difference. 🙂

TeachMeet was even bigger and better than that at BETT last year. Hats off to the organizers (including Ian Usher and Drew Buddie) for that! There was a screen dedicated to online activity (tweets, blog posts, etc.) that contained hashtags (such as #tmbett09) relating to the TeachMeet, tracked using Monitter. Ian Usher announced at one point during proceedings that it was the fourth most popular hashtag on the whole of Twitter at that point! 😀

I’m not going to go into detail about who presented on what at the TeachMeet. Suffice to say that I got a chance to plug EdTechRoundup‘s weekly FlashMeetings, Ian Stuart presented virtually from Islay on Education2020, and I discovered the following websites and resources:

  • MirandaNet’s Braided Learning E-Journal – looks like a handy professional development resource.
  • Mathtrain – an Maths website using screencasts produced using TechSmith‘s excellent Jing application.
  • NATE: making hard topics easier to teach with ICT – The National Association for the Teaching of English’s excellent microsite with great examples of using ICT to enhance learning.
  • – This is a website to connect music teachers and encourage them to use Web 2.0 applications. David Ashworth made me laugh by asking the audience to raise their hand if they were a music teacher. No-one did. He then produced the quote of BETT 2009: “See! That goes to show what I’m dealing with here. We’re not talking Lego here, we’re talking Duplo.” Classic!
  • Learning Event Generator – this is a great idea from the new tools website – gives something to do and then a way to do it (randomly). Good for ‘outside the box’ ideas!
  • Comicbrush – Ollie Bray showed the ways he’s been using this application to create cartoon-like images, somewhat similar to Comic Life for the Mac. The 3 witches scene from Macbeth in Manga and text speak? Quality!

The TeachMeet09 BETT wiki has links provided by both those who did and did not get a chance to present. The above links are only my highlights. :-p

After TeachMeet there was TeachEat at Pizza Express, where I sat, I’m a little ashamed to say, with those I already knew rather than making new acquaintances. Must. Do. Better. Still, it was a good laugh and, sitting with the Open Source Schools co-presenters allowed us to talk for the first time face-to-face what we had only discussed online up to that point.

This morning, Miles Berry, Michelle Walters, José Picardo and I presented on the Becta-funded Open Source Schools project. As soon as the presentation – too large to upload via on-train wi-fi – is uploaded, it will appear embedded below…

I think it went well. People certainly seemed very interested and plenty came to ask lots of questions afterwards. I then stayed on for Terry Freedman and Miles Berry‘s presentation What are your students learning when you’re not looking? Miles’ literature review was excellent, and will definitely help inform my Ed.D. studies. Their presentation, they assured the audience, will appear on their respective blogs. 😀

A cursory glance around the area nearby the Club Room in which we’d been presenting with Richard Woofenden, fellow History teacher, was followed with a meeting with a couple of representatives from the BBC. They’d recorded our Open Source Schools presentation and want to work with us in developing an exciting new section of the BBC website about Open Source Schools. More details to follow in subsequent blog posts!

Straight after that I met the inimitable Drew Buddie and was shocked to see his the cracked screen on his iPhone. Somebody had accidentally stood on it when it was in his coat pocket when it was on the floor during TeachMeet. 🙁

Finally, I remembered that my Head had asked if I could look at any new technologies that would make registration at our (proposed) new VI Form easier. I managed to (just) have time to visit Aurora, providers of a biometric facial recognition system. Although it may seem somewhat paradoxical given the amount of my life I share online, I’m very much pro-privacy, so I’m still in two minds as to whether to pass details on to my Head. We’ll see…

Overall, my experience of London was much more positive than usual – probably because I spent most of my time conversing, thinking, and linking! 😀

What if….?

High School Teacher Appreciation Cupcakes
Image by clevercupcakes via Flickr

What if instead of everyone being allocated to one main job within a school, there was some kind of rotation system? What do you suppose would happen if teachers had experience in working in the school office? Would teachers have their eyes opened if they were given the opportunity to be learning support assistants for a period of time?

What if, more radically, everyone earned the same amount of money within a school and status was denoted by the amount of time spent with students? What if time with students actually meant that you ‘earned’ more rather than less? What if the traditional top-down hierarchy was bottom-up, with administrative positions explicitly supporting, rather than dictating, teaching? What would happen then?

I wonder…

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BETT 2009 and EdTechRoundup

TeachMeet09 @ BETTI’m off to BETT 2009 on Friday, one of the largest educational technology-related trade fairs in the world. This year I’m speaking about my use of Linux-powered netbooks as part of a Becta-funded Open Source Schools project of which I’ve been part. Last year, if you remember, I spoke with Futurelab about barriers and enablers with regard to the adoption of educational technology, and in particular Web 2.0 tools, in schools.

If you’d like to see me and others from the project in action, come to the seminar on Saturday 17 January at 10.45am in the Club Room!

I’ve been granted cover for my one ICT group on Friday afternoon, meaning I’ll be able to get from Doncaster to London in time for the TeachMeet. Last year’s was great and I not only got the chance to do a 2-minute nanopresentation about EdTechRoundup (thus officially launching it), but met lots of great people for the first time. I can remember Lisa Stevens and Jo Rhys-Jones accosting me and talking as if they’d known me for years because they read my blog! I can remember meeting José Picardo for the first time at the ‘TeachEat’ meal at Pizza Express afterwards, and having a debate with Ian Grove-Stephensen about the future of schools. In fact, I met so many people there for the first time that I feel like I’ve known for years! 😀

This year, if I get a chance to do another nanopresentation at TeachMeet (people are randomly selected using the ‘fruit machine’ from I’m going to give an update as to how far we’ve come with EdTechRoundup and hopefully recruit even more regulars. :-p

If you’re heading to BETT 2009 on Friday or Saturday and want to say hello in person, please get in touch via Twitter (@dajbelshaw) or the contact form.

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The Third Conversation

Image by biverson via Flickr

In the beginning was ‘The Conversation’, ‘The New Story’, or how new technologies had the potential to change the educational landscape. What could we do with these new technologies. Did it mean the end of schools? This was from around 2003/4 up until 2006.

From around 2006 until 2008, conversations centred around applying these new technologies in the educational landscapes. What are the barriers to implementation? What’s the best tool for this particular learning outcome? I’ve just spotted this new Web 2.0 tool – has anyone used it in their classroom yet? Things got a lot quicker from 2007 onwards by many educators beginning to use Twitter.

At the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 a new conversation is starting. Perhaps as a consequence of what has been termed the ‘Credit Crunch‘, there’s a renewed focus on the signal/noise ratio. What’s important in education? What do we need to see in practice for things to change? Is literacy in the 21st century different?

I just hope this conversation doesn’t end before I finish my Ed.D. thesis! 😮

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