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Looking to the future of education: learning spaces and mobile devices

Tomorrow, I’m off to a school – the one I attended as a teenager – that will form part of Northumberland Church of England Academy. I’m going there as Director of E-Learning after my successful Twitter-powered interview. I start officially in September! It’s the first of a series of meetings looking at the ICT/E-Learning systems for the Academy and we’ll be looking at ‘Devices and Learning Spaces’. This post, therefore, is a result of my reading around this subject and interaction with colleagues on Twitter. 😀

'Mobile Application Prototypes that Relate to Location - Sheridan Interactive Multimedia One Year Post Grad College in Oakville' by Dan Zen @ Flickr


Any time I want to get up-to-speed quickly with an area of educational technology or the future of schools, I head straight for Futurelab. I’ve worked with them many times as part of their Teachers as Innovators programme, was interviewed for their website, and have presented with them at the BETT Show. Futurelab’s Publications, reports & articles section has freely-available PDFs and, if you’re in the UK, you can request hard copies to be delivered for no charge!

In terms of learning spaces and mobile devices, I believe the following Futurelab reports to be most useful:

Futurelab have also been responsible for some great projects that use mobile technologies – read about them in the project reports section. They’ve also got a project called Beyond Current Horizons that looks into the future of education in 2025 and beyond. Interesting stuff!

Suggestions from my Twitter network

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the people that form my network on Twitter were most helpful when it came to mobile devices: most of them are educators rather than school designers (with the exception of Christian Long who is – or has been – both!)

Here’s what they recommended:

Mobile Devices

Learning Spaces

Finally, there’s Becta’s Next Generation Learning site. There are, no doubt, many resources and sites that should be added here. If you know of one, please let me know in the comments section and I’ll add it! 🙂

(Image by Dan Zen @ Flickr)

HOWTO: Make yourself more visible online by building a Google Profile

I iz hea!I don’t know about you, but I’m never sure where to link to when I want people to know a bit more about me. For example, when emailing someone who might like to know who I am and where I’m coming from, do I link here, to my blog? To my Twitter stream? To my FriendFeed? Sometimes I just pick the one I think most appropriate, sometimes I hedge my bets and link to all of them!

Thankfully, I no longer have that problem. Why? I just link to my Google Profile! It’s very easy to do – simply visit Here’s what mine looks like:

Doug Belshaw's Google Profile

You should probably claim your preferred username (e.g. ‘dajbelshaw’) ASAP  in case someone else claims it. Once you’ve got it, you can use your favourite URL-shortening site to make it even easier to remember and add wherever you wish – e.g.

I’ve already been contacted a couple of times via my Google Profile and really like the way it brings my accounts together into one, easily accessible place. I don’t think it will be long before typing ‘Doug Belshaw’ into Google will result in landing at my Google Profile. And, I reckon, that’s no bad thing… 😀

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Telling a new story.


98/365 by tim caynes @ Flickr

Oh, how the media do spin things! Teachers want ‘four-day week’ screams the headline from first of all the Daily Mail and then, more unexpectedly, the Daily Telegraph. Those within the profession know that this is, of course, nothing like the reality – and this is indeed revealed in the second paragraph of the Telegraph article (in the actual newspaper):

[Teachers] want the equivalent of a four-day teaching week to free up more time to mark and prepare children’s work.

How on earth can that be a bad thing? And notice that little word that was omitted from the headline? ‘Teaching’. We want to not teach so much in order that we can spend more time preparing high-quality lessons and have time to assess work properly. We don’t want a ‘four-day week’; we just want the proportion of time we spend in school to be allocated differently.

This, of course, highlights the problem facing anybody or group of people who want to change education in any real sense:  the nature of the conservative media. Whilst happy to bemoan declining standards in schools and the ‘factory’ nature of the state system, anything which might lead to progress is attacked as ‘unworkable’, ‘expensive’, or ‘dangerous’.

Take another piece of ‘research’ that also appears in today’s Daily Telegraph under the headline Facebook students ‘underachieve’ (I quote this in full):

Students who spend their time on Facebook are underachieving in exams, research suggests.

A study by Ohio State University has found that students who spend their time on the social networking website may devote as little as one hour per week to their academic work. It found that 65 per cent of Facebook users accessed their account daily, usually checking it several times to see if they had received new messages.

However, students who used Facebook had a “significantly” lower grade point average – the US marking system – than those who did not use the site.

On the face of it, a factual report and one that could be used to bolster stances taken by parents and those generally of a more reactionary nature during dinner party-table discussions. Looking at the Ohio State University’s overview of the study, the tentative nature of the conclusions become apparent:

The researchers surveyed 219 students at Ohio State, including 102 undergraduate students and 117 graduate students.  Of the participants, 148 said they had a Facebook account.

The study found that 85 percent of undergraduates were Facebook users, while only 52 percent of graduate students had accounts.

Karpinski emphasized that the results don’t necessarily mean that Facebook use leads to lower grades.

“There may be other factors involved, such as personality traits, that link Facebook use and lower grades,” she said.

“It may be that if it wasn’t for Facebook, some students would still find other ways to avoid studying, and would still get lower grades.  But perhaps the lower GPAs could actually be because students are spending too much time socializing online.”

Now that paints a fuller picture, doesn’t it? And what about the potential benefits? What about the fact that many more undergraduates are using it than graduates? What about harnessing the potential of a space students are already spending much of their time?

And then comes the darling of the middle classes, the neuroscientist who’s never scared to tell us that new equals bad. Professor Susan Greenfield is against computer games, social networking, and now the teaching of things like Twitter to Primary school children. It’s hard to feel that she’s not somewhat out of touch and setting up ‘straw man’ arguments:

“There’s nothing wrong with enjoying games. But don’t you think it’s strange that people are engaging in activities that have no purpose? Spending their precious time and money sitting in front of a screen in a make-believe world when they could be out there having love affairs and doing things in the real world?

“And that’s what worries me. That we are rearing a generation of kids that are in danger of becoming emotionally stunted, inarticulate, hedonists with the attention span of a gnat. Because they spend the majority of their time in front of a computer screen. A whole generation that can’t interact because their skills are limited to inhabiting a fantasy world on a screen.”

Never mind that ways of communicating change and evolve, that she’s as inarticulate in that world as she’s claiming the gamers to be in hers.

I think we need to tell a new story. A story about how technology can be used to bring people together. A story about realistic 21st century education. A story based on experts deciding upon and then implementing what’s best for children. A story, I suppose, not told by journalists in the traditional media.

Ignore everybody.

There are blog posts I plan in advance and there are those that happen as a result of serendipity and need blogging straight away. This is very much one of the latter. :-p

Earlier this week I was following with interest the tweets of Jenny Luca, an Australian educator, as she sat in the audience during one of Stephen Downes‘ presentations. Before the whole thing even started, she overheard Downes:

Jenny Luca - tweet

In her next tweet she simply wondered how that squared with connectivism, a learning theory of which Downes is an advocate. I thought up several responses, but didn’t have time to get into a debate and so kep them to myself. Jenny’s reflections on the event, if you’re interested, are here. That particular event isn’t the focus of this post. 🙂

Today, during an Easter Sunday afternoon in which I’d run out of things to fill my leisure time, I turned to my feed reader and came across this from Hugh McLeod:

Ignore Everybody

It’s actually a remixed (and, to be honest, improved) version of an original by Patrick Brennan.

These two coming so closely together made me reflect upon my online interactions. Now, before I go any further I need to point out very explicitly and clearly that I greatly value the interactions and conversations I have with individuals. I’m certainly not aiming to devalue that in what I’m about to say.

The power in a network comes from the amplification of individual contributions and connections to make it more than the sum of its parts.

I think this is may be where Downes was coming from in terms of ‘following topics not people’ on Twitter and where McLeod (via Brennan) means r.e. ignore everybody.

  • Yes, you need to learn the heuristics of the network.
  • Yes, you need to capture the zeitgeist.
  • Yes, you have be able to argue for your point of view.

…but when it comes down to it, you need to be your own person, using the network for your own ends. Not in some manipulative, Machiavellian sense, but in a ‘give-and-take’ way that means that the network truly does become more than the sum of its parts. 😀

Ed.D. thesis Literature Review: a start has been made!

I wrote the following (c.2,400 words) today towards my Ed.D. thesis Literature Review, needing to get something written as I’ve neglected my studies for too long. It represents my current thinking, but needs fleshing out (a lot!) and tidying up. I’d very much welcome your comments if you’ve got time to read it critically… 🙂

UNESCO - Literacy (1957)

The concept of ‘literacy’ is akin to the Wittgenstinian problem surrounding the concept of a ‘game’: everyone knows what you mean when you employ the term, but pinning it down in a more formal sense is extremely difficult (Hannon, 2000:36). Simply conceiving of literacy as ‘the ability to read and write’ not only sets up a false dichotomy, but makes no allowance for reading and writing using various tools and for different purposes. Even the Oxford English Dictionary equivocates between two definitions: ‘one who can read and write’ and ‘a liberally educated or learned person’.

Some, such as Holme (2004:7) use the analogy of wave/particle duality in physics to explain how ‘literacy’ can have more than one nature yet still be a single concept. He believes there to be two central questions to the literacy debate, namely: (1) How much does one have to know about reading and writing to be literate? and (2) What does it really mean to read and to write? As Holme comments, these are seemingly simple questions yet are very difficult to answer.

Although not stated explicitly, Holme has a view of literacy that is predicated upon literacy’s relationship with knowledge, as alluded to in his first central question. This is manifest in his brief treatment of concepts of ‘new literacies’ such as ‘computer literacy’:

For example, a core feature of literacy’s meaning is ‘a knowledge’, often of the basic skills, of ‘reading and writing’. Now we use the term to refer simply to basic knowledge as in ‘computer literacy’. Though even more confusingly, computer literacy is also bound up with reading and writing skills. (Holme, 2004:1-2)

This link between literacy and knowledge is taken up by Gunther Kress in Literacy in the New Media Age (2003) in which he asserts, “Literacy remains the term which refers to (the knowledge of) the use of the resource in writing.” (Kress, 2003:24). Kress believes that the communication of ideas and meaning-making are covered by the terms ‘writing’ and ‘speech’. Knowing how to read and write, and then actually going about doing so to communicate meaning is something above and beyond mere ‘literacy’ for Kress.

Despite Kress’ erudition and attempted defence of equating literacy with knowledge, problems arise. The first is perhaps best summed up by Carneiro when he states,

New knowledge is undergoing constant metamorphosis. The most important change concerns the transition from objective knowledge (codified and scientifically organized) to subjective knowledge (a personal construct, intensely social in its processes of production, dissemination and application). (Carneiro, 2002:66)

Equating literacy with knowledge is relatively unproblematic if the latter is a static concept. However, if knowledge is ‘undergoing constant metamorphosis’ and is social in its aspect, then literacy must be likewise. Muller (2000:2) believes even more strongly that Carneiro that knowledge is intrinsically social, putting even more pressure on conceptions of literacy that are tied to a knowledge-based definition.

Given these problems, others writers have contended that literacy should be understood not as a ‘state’ which an individual has managed to reach, but instead should be conceived as being a ‘process’. Rodríguez Illera (2004) believes that we should rethink ‘literacy in terms of literate practices rather than seeing it solely as learning to read and write, [see] it as a process and not only as a state, and [emphasize] its multiple character and, above all, its social dimension.’ (2004:58-59)

Viewing literacy as a social process gives rise in the literature to much discussion about social and cultural practices upon which literacy may be predicated. Going back to Scribner and Cole (1981), Rodríguez Illera quotes the authors as stating that, ‘Literacy is not simply knowing how to read and write a given text but rather the application of this knowledge for specific purposes in specific contexts.’ This would seem to allow for Kress’ concern about literacy’s relation to knowledge, whilst allowing for the social context that so many writers on literacy believe to be important.

The ‘proof of the pudding’ in terms of whether someone can be called literate is the production of texts. Allan Luke (in Tuman, 1992:vii) gives a concise overview of the three-step process by which texts are created:

Literacy is a social technology. That is, literate communities develop varied social, linguistic and cognitive practices with texts. These require the development and use of implements, ranging from plumes and ball point pens to keyboards. The objects and products of such practices and tools are recoverable texts arrayed on tablets, notebooks or other visual displays.

The text is co-constructed within a community, it is ‘written’ using one of a number of technologies, and then it is displayed. With this social aspect of literacy comes several issues and problems, not least the ethnocentric problem of being ‘literate’ according to the norms and practices of one community, yet not so according to those in another – even another community speaking the same language. Secondly, it would seem at first glance rather problematic to identify literacy as depending upon the literacy practices of a community. We talk of individuals being ‘literate’, not communities. Third, if literacy is a ‘cultural expression’ (Freire & Macedo, 1987:51-52) then it would be possible to be literate at one point in a culture, but not when the culture evolves and changes.

This first problem is a somewat philosophical one in terms of the problem of ‘other minds’. However, on a more practical level, Welch (1999) has argued that literacy is not just the ability to read and write, but, ‘an activity of the minds… capable of recognizing and engaging substantive issues along with the ways that minds, sensibilities, and emotions are constructed by and within communities whose members communicate through specific technologies.’ (Welch, quoted in Gurak, 2001:9) This interaction, and indeed the ability to do so, is for Welch what makes an individual ‘literate’. Note that this definition is predicated upon technology – whether that be pen and paper or digital technologies such as email. Literacy involves the ability to read and write: merely speaking about and showing and understanding of what one has read does not completely fit the criteria.

The second problem mentioned above, seeing as problematic literacy being dependent upon the literacy practices of a community, is dealt with more easily by thinking of communities of literacy practices. Although Carr (2003) is talking of more generic skillsets in the following, it can easily be applied to literacy and literacy practices:

…there are going to be skills and activities (such as literacy and numeracy) that all need to acquire because no modern person can adequately function without them, as well as skills (of auto-repair and secretarial work) that some but not all individuals will require for particular vocations. (Carr, 2003:18)

Likewise, there are going to be some particular literacy practices – perhaps centering around professions or interests – that are specific to smaller communities, but this does not preclude there being a wider ‘literacy’ that all recognise as being relevant in a generic sense to all of these sub-communities. To be literate, therefore, can mean to build upon the literacy practices of one or more communities, without leading to the absurd conclusion of identifying the communities themselves as ‘literate’.

The third and final problem can be solved rather straightforwardly with a couple of thought experiments. First, imagine that you are taken as you are now and dropped in the middle of a village in a country whose language you do not know how to speak or read. You would not be able to read anything that they had written down, nor write yourself in a manner which they would understand. You would not be ‘literate’ in that community. The second thought experiment is similar, but involves a time frame. Imagine an English monk from the 13th century somehow being transported to modern day England. Although some words in Old English and Latin are similar to their modern-day equivalents, still the monk would struggle to communicate. Not only that, but he would be limited to being able to use – at least at first – those technologies available to him in the 13th century. As a result he would not be fully ‘literate’ in a 21st century sense of the term. Given these two examples, it seems relatively clear that literacy does depend upon culture and has an historical aspect. In fact, it must include the latter for community and cultural cohesion: generations have to be able to communicate with one another effectively!

Some may argue against this stating that an individual is still literate when apart from a community and in isolation. That may be the case, but his or her literacy skills are predicated upon those learned when within a community. The critic may rebutt this argument by thinking up a thought experiment of their own where an autodidact stranded on a desert island teaches himself to read and write by discovering a library. That may be the case but, as Lemke points out, we employ community-constructed social practices even when alone:

Even if we are alone, reading a book, the activity of reading – knowing which end to start at, whether to read a page left-to-right or right-to-left, top-down or bottom-up, and how to turn the pages, not to mention making sense of a language, a writing system, an authorial style, a genre forma (e.g. a dictionary vs. a novel) – depends on conducting the activity in a way that is culturally meaningful to us. Even if we are lost in the woods, with no material tools, trying to find our way or just make sense of the plants or stars, we are still engaged in making meanings with cultural tools such as language (names of flowers or constellations) or learned genres of visual images (flower drawings or star maps). We extend forms of activity that we have learned by previous social participation to our present lonely situation. (Lemke, 2002:36-37)

The three problems relating to literacy being predicated and depending upon the literacy practices of a community, therefore, are solvable. In fact, to try and define someone as ‘literate’ without reference to something produced for another to read would be extremely difficult!

Hannon (2000) points out a distinction between ‘unitary’ and ‘pluralist’ views of literacy. The unitary view, he states, is predicated upon the idea that literacy is a ‘skill’ and that there is an ‘it’ to which we can refer – a single referent,

According to this view the actual uses which particular readers and writers have for that competence is something which can be separated from the competence itself. (Hannon, 2000:31)

In contrast, the pluralist view believes there to be different literacies. Hannon quotes Lankshear (1987) who links social literacy practices with a pluralist view of literacy:

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. (Lankshear, 1987, quoted in Hannon, 2000:32)

Pluralists believe not only that we should speak of ‘literacies’ rather than ‘literacy’, but reject the notion that literacy practices are neutral with regard to power, social identity and political ideology. By privileging certain literacy practices – intentionally or unintentionally – hegemonic power is either increased or decreased (Gee, 1996, quoted in Hannon, 2000:34). The pluralist conception of literacy is, to a great extent, similar to the postmodernist movement in the late 20th century. Whilst adherents are clear as to what they are against – in this case a ‘unitary’ conception of literacy – it is not always clear what they stand for. Hannon attempts to bring some clarity by appealing to the notion of ‘family resemblence’, much as Wittgenstein (mentioned above) did for the concept of ‘game’.

Hannon, however, does not pigeon-hole himself as either a ‘unitary’ or ‘pluralist’ thinker with respect to literacy. After suggesting that whether theorists prefer unitary or pluralist conceptions of literacy depends upon whether they focus on literacy as a skill (psychology) or as a social practice (sociology), he questions why we need to choose between these two conceptions. ‘A full conception of literacy in education requires awareness of both,’ he states (Hannon, 2000:38).

Although Hannon does not give a name to this ‘third way’ of dealing with literacy, it is difficult to argue against his rationale. Those working more recently than Hannon have indeed given a generic name to the types of literacies mentioned above. Known simply as ‘new literacies’, their study is now a distinct and separate strand of literacy research. They seek, as Durrant & Green put it, to describe a more ‘3D’ model of literacies including ‘cultural, critical and operational dimensions’ (quoted in Beavis, 2002:51). Seeking to describe and, to some extent, promote the new opportunities digital, collaborative technologies afford society, ‘new literacies theorists’ focus on new ways individuals can express themselves. They then debate and try to explain how using these new technologies and methods of expression fit within, or complement, existing literacies.

Most new literacies theorists seek to demarcate a new form of literacy, explain it in detail, and then explain how it is actually an over-arching literacy that contains many sub-literacies. Thus, we have Potter (2004:33) who states, ‘Reading literacy, visual literacy and computer literacy are not synonyms for media literacy; instead, they are merely components,’ but it perhaps most transparently and obviously stated by Thomas, et al. in their definition of transliteracy:

Our current thinking (although still not entirely resolved) is that because it offers a wider analysis of reading, writing and interacting across a range of platforms, tools, media and cultures, transliteracy does not replace, but rather contains, “media literacy” and also “digital literacy.” (2007)

The proliferation of terms, ranging from the obvious (‘digital literacy’) to the horrendous (‘electracy’) seems to be as much to do with authors making their name known as provide a serious and lasting contribution to the literacy debate. So far, although literacy theorists are almost certain about what literacy is not, and which side of several fences they sit, we are not much closer to a definition of what literacy means or consists of in the 21st century.


  • Beavis, C. (2002) ‘Reading, Writing and Role-playing Computer Games’ (in I. Snyder, Silcon Literacies: communication, innovation and education in the electronic age, London, 2002)
  • Carneiro, R. (2002) ‘The New Frontiers of Education’ (in UNESCO, Learning Throughout Life: challenges for the twenty-first century)
  • Gurak, L.J. (2001) Cyberliteracy: navigating the Internet with awareness
  • Hannon, P. (2000) Reflecting on Literacy in Education
  • Holme, R. (2004) Literacy: an introduction
  • Kress, G. (2003) Literacy in the New Media Age
  • Muller, J. (2000) Reclaiming Knowledge: social theory, curriculum and education policy
  • Potter, W.J. (2004) Theory of Media Literacy
  • Rodríguez Illera, J.L., (2004) ‘Digital Literacies’ (Interactive Educational Multimedia, number 9 (November 2004), pp. 48-62)
  • Thomas, et al.Transliteracy: Crossing divides‘ (First Monday, 12:12. December 2007)
  • Tuman, M. (1992) Word Perfect: literacy in the computer age
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Conversations about (new) literacies

As regular readers of this blog know, I’m (still!) studying towards my Ed.D. on the subject of ‘digital literacies’. The subject crops up in various networks of which I’m part from time-to-time, not least via my Twitter network.

Twitter only allows 140 characters which can be a little limiting sometimes and tweets are hard to collate and archive. As a result, I decided we needed a old-skool forum. And so, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you:

It’s powered by bbPress, the sibling of the excellent WordPress (which powers this blog). It was super-easy to setup and there’s already some first-class debate and conversation going on. Head on over and take part! 😀

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The Big E-Learning Questions

Northumberland Church of England Academy - ICT Vision

Northumberland Church of England Academy’s ICT vision statement, as seen by Wordle

Further to my previous blog post setting out what I was going to do at interview, I’m delighted to report that I was successful! Many thanks to my Twitter network for their support. As of next academic year (September 2009) I shall be ‘Director of E-Learning’ at Northumberland Church of England Academy.

This is a significant promotion for me and, as the Academy comes into existence as I assume the role, means I’ve got (almost) a blank slate with which to work. Hence the need for me to have a clear and coherent plan as to the E-Learning ecosystem I want to create.

I’m embarking on a series of blog posts over the Easter holiday period which, provisionally, I’m going to title:

  1. Attendance: what are the pros and cons of SIMS, Serco and Phoenix?
  2. Behaviour: what are the e-options for real-time monitoring and tracking of student behaviour?
  3. Communication: which tools are available to enable anyone within an organization be able to appropriately communicate and collaborate with anyone else?
  4. Design: what are the standards upon which pedagogically-sound learning design can be constructed?
  5. Engagement: which technologies lead to confident engagement in learning?

I have perhaps phrased some of the above clumsily so I’d welcome your feedback! 🙂

How ‘microblogging’ sites such as Twitter can be used in education


This week we’re going to be looking at three tools. I’ve labelled them ‘microblogging’ tools, but that’s something of a misnomer as they’re all much more powerful than that. If you do actually just want something to quickly and easily get content onto the Internet, try Tumblr or Posterous.

With that disclaimer out of the way, the three tools we’re going to look at are:

They all have slightly different uses and focuses, but I believe that they can all be used successfully within educational environments. I’ll discuss each in turn, looking at the features specifically relevant to educators.

Twitter logo

Obstensibly, Twitter is a micro social networking utility designed to answer the question ‘What are you doing?’ In practice, it’s used for a multitude of other things, from news reporting to marriage proposals(!).

Educators have been using Twitter ever since it was launched to connect to one another and share ideas, resource and links. There’s an element of social networking in it, inevitably, but it’s very professionally-focused and a wonderfully powerful thing to tap into.

Just launching yourself into Twitter will leave you baffled and confused. The Twitter experience is only as good as your network, consisting of those who you ‘follow’ (track updates of) and those who ‘follow’ you. The best way to do this is organically. By that, I mean:

  1. Find someone you want to follow on Twitter (@dajbelshaw is a good start…)
  2. Check out that user’s network and read the mini-biographies.
  3. Follow the users who look like they are related to something you’re interested in!

In terms of interaction, there’s 3 basic ways of interacting on Twitter:

  • Sending a ‘normal’ message that goes out ‘as-is’ to your network.
  • Replying to someone (or bringing something to their attention) by including their username preceded by an @ sign – e.g. @dajbelshaw then message. This can still be viewed by everyone who’s following you.
  • Sending a direct message by entering d <username> – e.g. d dajbelshaw then message. This can only be seen by the person to whom you sent the message and they will receive an email informing them of what you have sent.

If you want some ideas for how to use Twitter in an educational setting, you could do a lot worse than checking out Laura Walker’s post entitled Nine great reasons why teachers should use Twitter. Although I’ve tried using it with students, it’s not something I’d recommend for the faint-hearted. Use one of the other tools below for that. I see Twitter as being like a giant, worldwide staff room or café. It’s great! 😀

Edmodo logo

Edmodo‘s just been upgraded to v2.0 and is an amazingly useful tool. The only reason I haven’t used it a lot more extensively is that it effectively replicates – for free – a lot of the features of very expensive, commercial Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs). For example, some of the features:

  • Set assignments for students (and attach files)
  • Manage classes
  • Share a calendar with fellow teachers and students
  • Interact in a safe and closed environment with students without sharing email addresses
  • Securely share learning resources
  • Grade students’ work

In their own words:

Edmodo provides a way for teachers and students to share notes, links, and files. Teachers have the ability to send alerts, events, and assignments to students. Edmodo also has a public component which allows teachers to post any privately shared item to a public timeline and RSS feed.

Although I haven’t used this with students yet, I know people who swear by it* and I’ve explored the features using test accounts. Certainly, if your school VLE isn’t up to scratch – or if you haven’t got one – you should definitely be checking out Edmodo!

* José Picardo has discussed Edmodo on a couple of occasions in Edmodo: microblogging for the classroom and Edmodo: What students think – both well worth a read! 🙂

Shout'Em logo

Shout’Em describes itself as a kind of roll-your-own micro social network:

Shout’Em is platform on which you can easily start co-branded microbloging social networking service. Something simple as Twitter or with more features like Pownce. It is up to you 🙂

Networks on Shout’Em are “lightweight social networks”. They have small set of features: microblogging, links and photo sharing, geo location sharing and mobile browser support.

I think Shout’Em is probably best suited for those who want something a bit more engaging than a forum for their students, but not anything as full-blown as Edmodo. Shout’Em enables you to have a private community, like Edmodo, and they’ve even entitled a blog post on their official blog The 15-Minute Guide to Microblogging in Education!

Check out their video to find out more:

ShoutEm Demo from vikot on Vimeo.

Do any of these ‘microblogging’ services fill a need? Have you tried any of them? What did you think?

How E-Learning can contribute to raising achievement

Many, many thanks to in my Twitter network who replied to me during my presentation for the ‘Director of E-Learning’ position. I received over 100 replies in total and the panel seemed impressed at the ‘power of the network’! 🙂

ABCDE = Raising Achievement

The graphic that I’ll be referring to in the presentation.

The three arrows pointing towards the centre relate to the three strands that shall permeate the Academy’s curriculum.


I’ve an interview today for a position entitled Director of E-Learning. It’s a position at the Academy that is to replace the schools that I attended growing up, so it’s especially important to me. I was asked to present on the impact E-Learning should make in the Academy in terms of raising achievement – and how I would go about achieving this. It’s a school that has a catchment including fairly high levels of deprivation and standards are improving, but academic results still low.

My 15-minute presentation

Mulling over in my mind the type of person they want for the role, I decided to make a bold statement and not to use technology to present to them. Hopefully this will have the effect of reinforcing my point that it’s all about the appropriate use of technology in education. I am, however, going to show them the power of my Twitter network. How? By a 3-step process:

  1. Explain how I’ve been using Twitter for the last two years to establish connections with learners worldwide. I’m going to use the map of my Twitter follwers at TwitterAnalyzer to illustrate this.
  2. I’m then going to show the type of people (currently numbering around 1,100) following my updates by creating a tag cloud of the words in their Twitter mini-biographies. I’ll be using TwitterSheep to do this. 🙂
  3. Finally, I’m going to direct my Twitter network towards this blog post and ask them to comment on it during my presentation/interview. Their responses will appear on the screen for the interview panel to see courtesy of Twitterfall.

Whilst that’s going on, I’ll be referring to the diagram at the top of this blog post. It’s something I put together to illustrate my (hopefully) clear and straightforward way in which results can improve. That graphic, with my name, a photo of me teaching, my online avatar, and links to where to find me online will be on a sheet of A4 paper in front of each member of the panel.

I’m going to take each of the points in turn – Attendance, Behaviour, Communication, Design, Engagement – and discuss the role E-Learning can play in it. Obviously, there’s some points (e.g. Communication and Engagement) that I’ll spend longer talking about than others (e.g. Attendance). I’ve got each word with a relevant image printed on a sheet of A4 paper. I’m going to stick these on the walls of the interview room at various places as I talk about them. 😀

Here’s an overview of what I’m going to be saying:


Alarm clockLittle in the way of worthwhile learning is likely to place if learners are not ‘present’. But what does ‘present’ mean? You can be physically present whilst being emotionally and psychologically ‘somewhere else’. This feeds into issues surrounding engagement that I’ll discuss later.

In addition, learners can be somewhat self-directed by using a Managed Learning Environment (MLE) to access resources and materials to help develop their skills. This links in closely to the ‘Design’ element that I shall also be discussing later. This will feed into the concept of an ‘e-Extended School’ programme, where learning does not stop at the school bell, but continues either on the Academy sites or at home.

Do learners need to be present in a traditional classroom to learn if they are ‘in school’? Probably not. Whilst it shouldn’t be a free-for-all, leaners should be able to take control of their learning so they are more self-directed and can ‘attend’ in various ways.


BullyClosely related to the ‘Attendance’ element is the issue of learners’ behaviour. This has improved in the existing High school over recent years, but still has a way to go in order to bring about a happy, positive environment conducive to learning.

Behaviour management is a huge field for research, but the findings are clear: learners who are aware of what they need to do in order to improve and who have a meaningful towards which to aim, are much likely to be well-behaved. Technology has a role to play in improving behaviour in three main ways:

  • Enabling data to be shared and made accessible to Academy staff, parents and learners themselves on how their behaviour is affecting their own learning and that of others.
  • Providing a way in which learners can publish their work and results of their learning to a real-world audience.
  • Creating an exciting, immersive environment in which to learn.

Without appropriate attendance and behaviour, other efforts to raise achievement are less likely to be effective. Getting these right means greater likelihood of employability which is central to the ‘Investing in my Future’ strand.


Tin cansFor any organization to be successful it must have a steady flow of relevant and timely information between those who make up its members. At a basic level, communication about attendance, behaviour and attainment can be shared using a shared interface.

But technology can do much more than that. In an Academy that is currently spread over 10 sites and is to end up as 5 sites, it can enable cohesion and informed decisions to be made. Communication using technology doesn’t have to be real-time: it can be asynchronous or a blend of synchronous and asynchronous. Updates and messages in a Web 2.0 world can be as real-time as you want them to be. This enables busy teachers and administrators to be flexible in their working whilst being responsive.

There is also no need for either learners, educators or administrators to be tied to a single physical space. With mobile technologies, e-portfolios and Internet access should be available anywhere. Year 9 learners at the current High school have individual netbooks and 3G broadband dongles. These, and their successors, if available for all learners should enable ‘anywhere, anytime’ learning – either individually or collaboratively. Both educators and learners should feel ‘digitally connected’.

It’s also important to have a dialogue with the local community, including churches and businesses. To truly promote the ‘Investing in my Community’ strand, the school must be confident enough in its internal communications to be able to face outwardly to the community and world-at-large. A large part of this is equipping learners with the literacy and oracy skills to articulate their view of the world and how they want the future to be.


Lego bricksAll staff at the current High school are expected to use the current Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) for their planning and interactions with learners. This is a good start, but does not guarantee that the VLE is suitable for pedagogically-sound learning design. We need to move from a one-size-fits-all approach to a much more personalized one. Staff will need training on how to use the introduced MLE as a base to bring in relevant and targetted resources to use with learners.

In my role as E-Learning Staff Tutor I have experience of persuading staff to voluntarily give up their time to embark upon Continuous Professional Development (CPD) relating to E-Learning. I would build upon this experience at the Academy, seeking to not only accreditize their professional development, but contexualize it and build a constituency of those willing and eager to try new and innovative E-Learning strategies.

It is vitally important to have a whole-Academy overview and plan for this. As Director of E-Learning, therefore, I would aim, after making sure data management and communication issues had been ironed out, to head a group of educators and learners focusing on using E-Learning to raise achievement. This would be on a voluntary basis, but attendees would have specific time set aside for related development work.

Using a metaphor of the National Grid, the school should build up enough innovation to sustain itself, but then feedback into the national picture, much as the most sustainable and efficient buildings sell electricity back to the National Grid.

As the Academy’s specialism is in ‘Design and the Built Environment’, modelling best practice in all elements of design is essential. Learners need to have examples of well thought-out methods of presenting information and expressing ideas on which to draw. A properly-managed and crafted blended learning environment can go a long way to help make this happen.


EngagementWhen ICT or E-Learning is mentioned in terms of impact on achievement and attainment, ‘Engagment’ is usually the first thing that people think of. Yet, it’s something I’m addressing last in my presentation. Why?

Whilst I’ve nothing against the ‘wow’ factor – it’s important to have those moments in learning – only aiming for these when using E-Learning strategies and resources is not a recipe for success. After all, to do so would be to pit Academy-centred learning experiences against entertainment experiences on games consoles. If learners get bored playing the same game that has an initial ‘wow’ factor – despite its richly-immersive environment and compelling storyline, how much more quickly will that happen with E-Learning?

Instead, we should be using innovative technologies to provide a sense of achievement. The confidence that comes from many small successes and the positive feedback is what gets game-players going back for more, long after the ‘wow’ factor wears off. Engagement should come with well-designed and professionally-produced resources and activities that are provided for learners. They should be available ‘anywhere’ and ‘anytime’ and be immersive enough for a learner to ‘lose’ themself in them for a period of time.


I’ll be wrapping up my presentation by referring back to the Twitter replies to this blog post that (hopefully!) appear on the screen. I’ll talk about my connections to educators worldwide, about my ability to tap into this and other networks (EdTechRoundup, Becta, Mirandanet, etc.), about my Ed.D. on the concept of ‘digital literacy’, about events I have and shall speak at, and my CV in general.

After that, all I’ve got then are the interview questions… 😉

What do you think? Anything controversial in there? What would YOU change?

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HOWTO: Present full-screen using Prezi and an Apple Remote [OSX]

Prezi - Apple RemotePowerpoint is dead. Well, at least if you want to impress people. Over at I’ve done a quick overview for ways in which you can present using different methods. One of these is the wonderful Prezi.

For an example of what Prezi looks like in practice, check out a sample one I used in a lesson here:

As part of an interview I’ve got this week I need to do a presentation. I’m using a large image and zooming in on various parts of it during the presentation; Prezi is perfect for this!

Whilst I could use my iPhone and AirMouse to do this, it depends upon a laptop and the iPhone being on the same wi-fi network. I can’t guarantee that there will be wi-fi, so need something else. I began wondering whether I could use the Apple Remote I’ve got with my Macbook Pro. I found the answer tucked away at the bottom of this thread, but whilst it’s not hard, it’s not immediately straightforward.

Here’s what to do….

5 steps to presenting full-screen using Prezi and an Apple Remote

1. Download your Prezi presentation:

Prezi - download presentation

2. Download and install iRed Lite, a free program that remaps your Apple Remote to allow you to use it in the same way as a mouse.

3. Open iRed Lite and choose the option ‘Mouse Control’ in the drop-down menu to the bottom-left of the window:

iRed Lite - Mouse Control

4. Hold down the Menu button on your Apple Remote until the iRed Lite OSD comes up. Click the centre Play/Pause button and your should be able to start using your Apple Remote to control the cursor!

iRed Lite OSD

5. Unzip and open the Prezi presentation you downloaded* and press Apple-F to go fullscreen (it’s also on the View menu). Place the cursor over the ‘next’ button in Prezi using the trackpad or mouse, as the speed of movement with the Apple Remote is rather small. Clicking the Play/Pause button on the Apple Remote should now enable you to move forward through your presentation. 😀

Prezi - controls

* If you want to present directly from the Prezi website, you’ll need a full-screen web browser. Plainview is a good, free option for this task. 🙂

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