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Productivity, Organization & #tweetmeet

I’ve spent this afternoon and early evening at a ‘tweetmeet’. These are also known as ‘tweetups’ and are when people who have previously only met, or usually communicate, through the microblogging service Twitter meet up face-to-face. I’d actually met all of the people from the small tweetmeet we had today in Nottingham.* :-p

Such ‘unorganized’ meetings of people – TeachMeet is a similar, slightly more structured example – are the subject of this blog post. What prompted my thinking about organization was part of the discussion we had, foolowed up by listening to a Radio 4 podcast on the way home called Thinking Allowed. I suggest that you listen to it right now!

The whole point of organizations is to achieve something. These may be set in stone and known by all participants in the organizations, or there may be many (and possibly conflicting) objectives framed by participants. All organizations, therefore, have different degrees of productivity, both globally (as an organization) and, depending on their size, on a more micro-scale.

I say this because we discussed at the tweetmeet – which was itself a kind of exemplar – the concept of an ‘unconference’. This is defined by Wikipedia (as I write, anyway…) as ‘a facilitated, participant-driven conference centered around a theme or purpose.’ Our purpose, I suppose, was to discuss things face-to-face that we’d previously discussed online, and to get to know each other a little better. Then, on the way home, listening the Thinking Allowed podcast (above) it got me thinking more generally about organizational structures.

Michael Thompson, author of Organising and Disorganising, talked about going on a expedition to climb the South face of Mount Everest. He explained how there were two separate groups – ‘Team A’ and ‘Team B’ – with the leader and middle managers (as it were) in the former group and the rest in the latter. He explained how this rigid hierarchical structure led to those in Team B, despite being experienced and highly-motivated mountaineers, adopting a chaotic, somewhat anti-organizational structure.

The important thing, however, was that order in fact came out of this structure; order that depended on those involved. This is the thing that is missing in organizational planning these days: the role of individuality. Because, actually, someone who fulfils a role in an organization cannot simply be swapped-out for another person. The whole organizational structure depends on the talents, personality and individual attributes of that person. Change one part of the organization and the whole thing shifts. It may be a small amount in some cases – imperceptible to some – but a rearrangement and alteration does take place.

This helps to explain why organizations seemingly consisting of brilliant minds that should be amazingly productive and innovative fail to be so. An effective organizational structure is one that removes barriers and enables individuals within an organization to reach his or her potential. This, of course, cannot be at the expense of another, otherwise it is a futile exercise. One such way of going about organization, therefore, is to unorganize things, to mix things up a little.

So I’d encourage you, as Tom did me today, to once you’ve attended an unconference, to think about organizing (or un-organizing…) one of your own. You can’t really state in advance the specific things you’re likely to learn, but that’s part of the fun! I’ll leave you with a couple of things. The first is a Twitter message from @hrheingold which sums up in a far more eloquent way than I could ever manage the benefits of letting a little (controlled) chaos into organization:

The second is a link I came across, shared by Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher), whilst writing this post. It’s called 8 Tips on How to Run Your Own UnConference. I hope that and this post change your thinking a bit and encourage you to think a little differently about organization, or the lack of it, and how it could impact the productivity of any organization of which you are part! πŸ˜€

* I knew Lisa Stevens originally from last year’s TeachMeet at BETT, Jose Picardo from an Open Source Schools event, and Tom Barrett from some work we did for a Becta-funded project into Web 2.0 in the classroom at Nottingham University a few months back. The reason it says #tweetmeet in the title is because on Twitter you can add tags by prefacing words with hash symbols. These then can be tracked by websites such as Twemes.com. You can see this in action on the front page of the tweetmeet.eu website!

Image credits: iPhone Matrix App -MoPhaic & Podcamp West, both from Flickr

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3 reasons I’m against the Edublog Awards

Last year on my previous blog, teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk, I wrote a very short ‘microblog’ post entitled Please don’t vote for this blog! about the Edublog Awards. It, erm, caused some debate – some of which could be put in the category heated.

It’s time for the Edublogs Awards again, and I still haven’t changed my stance. I’m totally against them, for reasons I shall explain. I wasn’t going to say anything as people who I like and respect such as Tom Barrett and JosΓ© Picardo are stoked to be nominated, but I really must give my $0.02…

1. They foster competition instead of collaboration and co-operation

Just as when you’re teaching a course that has an exam at the end of it you teach differently to those purely assessed by coursework, so the Edublog Awards can influence blogging. Although I’ve blogged before about making sure you don’t get ‘unfollowed on Twitter’ and offered tips on how to retain RSS subscribers, this is slightly different. The point of those posts was to make sure that people offering a different view of education continue to get their voices heard. The Edublog Awards are a popularity contest that pit blog author against blog author instead of striving to a common goal πŸ™

2. They’re promoted by people who have vested interests

I’ve met and think I get on with Josie Fraser reasonably well (education and social media consultant). I’ve heard that James Farmer (Edublogs.org owner) is a great guy. However, both of them do this kind of thing for a living. I’m certainly not saying that they set up and continue to run the awards purely for financial and self-centred reasons. But it’s a consideration.

When I’ve made points like this before, people have said that bloggers deserve a thank-you, a well done and a slap on the back. Yes. They do. That’s what comments, tip jars (like Dave Warlick’s Starbucks one) and blogging about what you’ve learned via that person are for. Awards are divisive.

“I smell sour grapes,” say others. Not so. In fact, one of my blogs (the now non-existent edte.ch) was nominated in the category ‘best resource-sharing blog’, even though it did nothing of the sort! What’s worse, people actually voted for it. I was shocked.

Still others may say that it’s a good way to find out about new blogs or ones that have escaped their attention. So are Technorati, Google Blog Search, the ‘recommendation’ feature in Google Reader, and – shock horror! – people actually just blogging about other people and their blogs that they find useful or interesting. There’s no need for an award, or series of awards, just so that people can discover new or different content. The Internet is already good at connecting people and for searches…

3. It’s very easy to rig them

Just as ‘Teacher of the Year’ awards are won by good teachers but not necessarily the best in their field, so the Edublog Awards reflect the nature the process. What happens when a teacher is nominated as ‘Teacher of the Year’? Everyone even remotely related to their school or family is urged to vote for them.

I know as a matter of fact of teachers nominated in previous years who have encouraged every student they teach to go home and vote for their blog (as the school has a single IP address). I’ve seen blog posts pratically begging readers to vote for a blog.

In the end it comes down to who wants it the most. And I don’t want it at all. Comments and thank-you’s on this blog and Twitter are reward enough. It’s a shame that’s not the case for others in the edublogosphere. :-p

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The Simpsons ‘do’ Apple…

I love my Macbook, iPod(s), iPhone, Time Capsule and pretty much everything Apple. But despite (or perhaps, because of) that I do find this Simpsons parody very funny:

‘Steve Mobs’, ‘iPhonies’ and devices ‘glowing to confirm they’re off’ indeed. Great stuff! :-p

(via MacRumors via Macenstein)

Beyond boring Powerpoint presentations.

It’s easy to create a bad Powerpoint presentation. That’s because it’s easy to be fooled into thinking that because your audience is looking at something, they’re engaged with and by it. What is gained in clarity can be lost in repetition and boredom. Below are some ways to use Powerpoint more effectively and alternatives to spice up your content delivery.

First, though, here’s Don McMillan explaining some of the REALLY bad ways people use Powerpoint:

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5 quick tips if you MUST use Powerpoint…

  1. Never use a font size smaller than 24pt. If you have a large classroom, you may need to go even bigger than this. Stand at the back and check!
  2. Limit the number of words you have per slide. Don’t use them as an aid to remind you what to say. They should enhance what you are talking about, not repeat it! A great way is to limit yourself to 5 words and 5 bullet points. Alternatively, just use an image to represent your idea/concept/instruction.
  3. Find graphics that represent things you do frequently in lessons (perhaps from clipart) and always use these when doing a similar activity. For example, a pen writing for when it’s time to start work or two people talking for discussion/group work. These help reinforce good habits and aid classroom management.
  4. Use contrasting colours. The easiest way to do this is to choose an option from the ‘Slide Design’ menu. Otherwise, remind yourself of the colour wheel.
  5. Limit the number of different slide transitions in a presentation. One or two is classy, lots of different ones looks unprofessional.

Beyond Powerpoint…

There are lots of different tools that do a similar job to Powerpoint. For example, Keynote on the Mac and OpenOffice.org Impress (all platforms). But you don’t want to simply replicate Powerpoint’s functionality, you want to move beyond it.

Method 1 – Online presentations

Creating presentations on, or uploading presentations to, the Internet can be extremely useful. Not only does it give you access to better visual effects than Powerpoint can offer, but it makes them readily available to your students outside the lesson. The following three slides are taken from part of the very first lesson I had with Year 7 this academic year:

This is the same presentation when I uploaded it to Google Docs and tinkered slightly:

And here it is in the wonderful SlideRocket after using some of its functionality:

Zoho Show is another option. All of these are completely free or have a free basic option. I’d recommend Google Docs if you’d like to collaborate (or students to collaborate) on presentations and SlideRocket for fancy effects. The latter has a desktop version, although you have to upgrade your account to a paid-for version to be able to download it. Of course, if you just want to make your presentations available online, you could use SlideShare

Method 2 – Add interactive elements

  • Need to show some statistics and figures? Try richchartlive.com!
  • Add a short video clip to your presentation. Find it on YouTube, or another video-sharing site. Download and convert it (in this case to MOV or WMV format) via Zamzar.com. There’s an elearnr guide on how to do this here. πŸ™‚
  • The PicLens plugin for Powerpoint 2007 means you’re not restricted to a linear presentation – and it looks cool! (see below)

Method 3 – Use a completely different approach

Ask yourself, “do I really need to use a Powerpoint-style format?”. If the answer is “perhaps not!” then check out some of these suggestions:

  • Glogster – we’ve already been through glogs on elearnr. They are a great, visual way to present as you can embed videos, audio and images quickly and easily.
  • Mindmap – why not demonstrate good practice and create a mindmap to present ideas? Students can learn organizational skills from this, and there are a number of collaborative mindmapping sites, including MindMeister, bubbl.us, Mindomo and Mind42.
  • Wiki – a wiki is a collaborative website. It’s also a great place to embed content from other websites and therefore a useful presentational tool. Your audience (i.e. students or other teachers) can also add their ideas and thoughts to it at a later date – if you want them to! I like Wikispaces, but it doesn’t seem to play nicely with our school network. I’d recommend, therefore, Google Sites, Wetpaint and PBwiki. I use Google Sites to run learning.mrbelshaw.co.uk πŸ™‚

Finally…

Keep up-to-date with new ways and ideas for presenting ideas, concepts and content. The following are websites that can help:

Have YOU got any tips to share about good/bad practice when using Powerpoint?

The very best of teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk

A couple of private messages and a comment on a previous post on this blog made me realise something the other day. Here I am assuming that readers of dougbelshaw.com are aware that I blogged for two years solely on teaching and education-related stuff at teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk. It would appear that this is not the case. And why should it be? After all, I make very little mention of it here.

So what follows is a roundup of what you missed between 2005 and the end of 2007. Hope you find something useful! πŸ˜€

According to the Most Popular Posts plugin still installed at teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk, the most visited posts are (in order) :

  1. How to write an application letter for a teaching-related job
  2. Online Storage
  3. I can’t teach properly
  4. 20 Ideas: Getting students to use their mobile phones as learning tools
  5. Interesting Desktop Backgrounds
  6. 10 Top Behaviour Management Tips
  7. WikiMapia.org
  8. 8 things that irritate me with edublogs
  9. Weekly Roundup (3 September 2006) – 1 – Theory
  10. Using Twitter with your students

There’s a few posts in there – numbers 2, 5 and 7, for example – that are there because of general Internet searches unrelated to education. Most of the rest in this list gained some traction due to being referenced on one or more sites with a larger number of readers! :-p

My all-time Top 10

1. The kind of school in which I want to work…

I referenced this post recently. In it, I attempt to explain the type of education system and school I want to be a part of. I compare teachers to being like ‘lifeguards’. Creating the graphics for this post and coming up with the metaphor helped clarify my thinking a great deal!

2. I can’t teach properly

I spend a lot of my time frustrated in life, but I’ve learned to live with it. In this post, I poured out this frustration in a way that seemed to strike a chord with quite a few other educators (judging by the comments!).

3. 5 reasons why I love teaching

Despite being frequently frustrated, I do actually love teaching. Most of the time, it doesn’t even feel like a job. Before we had Ben a couple of years ago, I would frequently tell Hannah (my wife) that I’d do it for free! That’s obviously changed a bit now that I have dependents, but the actual interfacing with young people, their enthusiasm and lack of fear to ask questions, is so refreshing. πŸ™‚

4. 1 year on… How has blogging affected my life as a teacher?

I started blogging in 2005 after having read the blogs of other educators for a good while and commenting on them. My blogging regularly – usually every day – began when I was off work at my previous school due to stress. Connecting with educators worldwide made such a difference, and 2006 ended up being a great year. πŸ˜€

5. Infectious Learning: Teachers as Lifelong Learners

I’m a firm believer in teachers being allowed the time to be learners too. In fact, I think it’s essential to prevent stagnation. This post was sparked from an exchange during an interview in which the Head of a school I shall not name stated he was ‘somewhat suspicious’ that I’d remained in full-time education (when I did my MA in Modern History) ‘longer than I had needed to’. The post outlines four reasons why teachers need to be effective learners.

6. Digital Natives, Mountain Men and Pioneers

During 2006 I became increasingly tired of seeing both in blog posts and ‘academic’ research the terms ‘digital immigrant’ and ‘digital native’. This post was a follow-up to an earlier post in which I called the dichotomy a false one and suggested an alternative.

7. Do textbooks hamper 21st-century learning?

This post was in response to a call by Wes Fryer for a moratorium on the purchase of new textbooks. Others, such as Stephen Downes and Vicki Davis had joined in the debate. I looked at the ins-and-outs of textbook usage, adding that I managed to burn myself out during my first year and-a-bit of teaching by seeing textbooks as evil things that should be avoided. A blended approach is a much better option… πŸ™‚

8. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teachers

There’s nothing like a good-old ‘list’ post! This one goes through, unsurprisingly, the seven ‘habits’ I believe teachers I would class as ‘effective’ and – dare I say it – inspirational teachers possess.

9. Homework-casting using del.icio.us

I don’t think I would have included this post in my Top 10 was it not for a conversation during last week’s EdTechRoundup FlashMeeting. I suggested a couple of years ago a possible method for automatic resource-delivery to students via RSS of homework/coursework materials. Theoretically, you should be able to deliver any type of file via RSS – not just audio, video and PDFs. Unfortunately, I’m still not aware of any program that allows the automatic downloading of any type of file enclosed in the RSS feed. πŸ™

10. Yearly Roundup – The 20 best edublog posts of 2006

I used to really enjoy doing my weekly, monthly and yearly roundups of the edublogosphere. There’s two reasons why I can’t do that any more. First, I have less time these days – what with my son, working for educational publishers in my ‘spare’ time, and an additional role in school. Second, the edublogosphere has (happily) expanded greatly in the last couple of years. It’s just impossible to keep up… πŸ˜‰

What are YOUR favourite posts on your blog(s)?

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Interesting Ways to use Netbooks in the Classroom

I’ve been inspired by Tom Barrett‘s excellent use of Google Presentations to get educators collaborating on ways to use Google Earth and Interactive Whiteboards. Having recently purchased six Asus Eee 1000 Netbooks for my school, I thought I’d try something similar:

Whilst there have been many blog posts and wiki pages dedicated to the ways in which laptops and Netbooks can be used in a 1-to-1 environment, it’s less obvious what you can do when you only have a few in your classroom. This presentation, as an ongoing project, should hopefully remedy that!

If you’d like to collaborate, here’s what to do:

  1. Look at the presentation above to see what tips have already been added.
  2. Send a message on Twitter to @dajbelshaw, or use the contact form on this site in order to request to be added as a collaborator.
  3. Add a slide in a similar fashion to the ones already there, making sure you credit any Creative Commons-license images used.
  4. Change the number of tips now included in the presentation on the first slide, and add your name as being a collaborator.

I’m looking forward to your contributions! πŸ˜€

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Finally! a video that explains what I’m aiming for as a teacher.

This video was originally created by Wendy Drexler and uploaded to YouTube. I’ve transferred this to Edublogs.tv as YouTube is blocked on most school networks in the UK. I came across it after reading Clint Lalonde’s post about it, and I discovered Clint’s blog after an incoming link from his blog to this one!

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A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post entitled The kind of school in which I want to work… In that post I outlined a different role for teachers using the analogy of the teacher as lifeguard:

I don’t think I’d come across the theory of Connectivism at this point which explains really well my pedagogical stance. We can’t consider each learner in isolation. Their ‘network’, both physical and digital is extremely important in the learning process. As a teacher, I’m effectively aiming for redundancy: I want students to leave me at the end of the time at school with the ability to learn independently and play an active role in learning communities. If I can contribute towards that, then I’ve done my job effectively.

The trouble is, I can’t do this alone – it’s a whole-school issue. Wendy’s video will hopefully help explain myself a little better in future. πŸ˜€

How to use Google Earth more effectively.

Google Earth is a fantastic, FREE, tool for teaching and learning. There are many, many different ways of using it. It’s almost as if the whole world is a canvas!

As befits Google Earth, the following are some ideas from educators around the world as to how to use the program effectively.

Tom Barrett has created a Google Presentation to which other educators have contributed. Check it out here:

Β 

Further Links:

Know any other useful links not in the guide or above? Please share them! πŸ™‚

Functionally and aesthetically-speaking: Asus Eee 1000 vs. Advent 4211

Disclaimer: I was approached by a representative of Test Freaks looking to advertise on this site. As I’m trying to keep this blog ad-free, I declined. However, exploring the site I found it to be genuinely useful, collating reviews, pictures and videos – and therefore one I’d recommend to readers of dougbelshaw.com πŸ˜€

Earlier this week I took delivery of six Asus Eee 1000 netbooks at school. I used part (OK, most) of my E-Learning Staff Tutor budget to buy them and opted for the Linux-powered black 40GB SSD version for robustness. I own, and use at in my teaching, an Advent 4211 which is essentially a clone of the MSI Wind. I’ve ‘pimped’ this somewhat, upgrading the RAM, purchasing a ‘high-capacity’ battery, adding a 802.11n wireless card, and installing Mac OS X (guide here).

Despite running different operating systems, the two devices are similar. Both are dark-coloured with 10-inch screens and are physically similar in size. Both have Bluetooth. With the extended battery, the Advent weighs about the same as the Asus. Looking at the Test Freaks website, both devices (at the time of writing) have an average score of 9.8 out of 10:

Although the Advent is Β£280 to the Asus’ Β£320 (including VAT), I’ve spent more than the differential on the upgrades I’ve made. The Asus Eee 1000 comes with 802.11n wireless networking and up to a 7-hour battery as standard, whereas I’ve had to add to the Advent to get it up to this standard.

So far, neck and neck. I’ve got the option of using either in my everyday role. Which would I choose and recommend? It’s difficult, but I’d go with the Asus Eee 1000. Why? Because it’s high-spec (for a netbook) out-of-the-box, it’s sleek and glossy, has a wonderful battery life and comes with a case.

Wait until after Christmas so they’re widely available under the Β£300 mark and get yourself one! :-p

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Glogs – create interactive and rich media web pages quickly and easily!

Blogs are great. But sometimes you just want students to use something that is intuitive, easy-to-use and looks great. Enter glogs!

Fortunately, Glogster, the place to go if you want to create a glog, has an education version. This means that you can set up glogs on your students’ behalf if you wish – although they can set up their own. Using Glogster is very straightforward and produces fantastic results you can either leave online or print out.

Here’s how to get started:

You can check out a couple of my GCSE History students’ glogs here and here.

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