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Digital things upon which I *do* and *would* spend real cash.

moneyI’m not a huge fan of spending money on software and digital services. There’s a couple of reasons for this. The first is that I’m an advocate of Open Source Software (see Open Source Schools, of which I’m part). As such, I believe that making software available free of charge – with the source code inspectable – makes for better software and communities built around the functionality the software provides. The second reason is that I tend to like to have something tangible as a result of any financial outlay.

All this is by way of explanation as to why the following are services that persuade me to part with some of my hard-earned money. I follow that with those I use for free but would happily pay for! 😉

Things upon which I *do* spend real cash


I have a number of websites and blogs, all of which need a home on the Internet. I’ve found Bluehost to be reliable and very reasonably priced. They’ve got CPanel installed in the admin interface, which makes installing web applications such as WordPress and forums a breeze!

Flickr ($25 = c.£17)

Photographs are incredibly important things. They are a snapshot of a time that can never be recaptured, and evoke powerful memories. Despite backing up regularly via my Apple Time Capsule, it’s important that I never lose the most important of my photographs – especially those of my son. That’s why I upload all the ones I consider important to Flickr.

Purchasing a yearly Flickr Pro license means that more than just the last 200 of my photographs can be seen and that I can create an unlimited number of ‘sets’ in which to place them. 😀

Remember The Milk ($25 = c.£17)

You may wonder why I’d spend good money on what is, essentially, a glorified to-do list. It’s because Remember The Milk (RTM) is so easy-to-use and fits in with my way of working. The free account is fine if you just want to organise yourself via the web-based interface, but the real power comes if you’ve got an iPhone. The app for the iPhone is only available to those who have a Pro subscription. It’s a work of art in terms of simplicity and adding to your productivity. Great stuff. 😀

Things upon which I *would* spend real cash

Gmail & Google Docs

Gmail features c.7GB of storage With Google Docs providing an online, collaborative suite of office applications that are just a joy to use. Every time I reflect on the fact that I can use this for free, I count myself fortunate. Marvellous!

Super-quick synchronous Internet connection

We currently get broadband free from Orange as a benefit from my wife’s mobile phone contract. We pay an additional £5 per month to upgrade the speed from 2MB/s to 8MB/s. But that’s only the (theoretical) download speed. We get about 6MB/s download and 512KB/s upload.

I’d pay about £25/month for 20MB/s synchronous DSL and would even consider £50/month for 50MB/s. That really would mean ‘cloud computing’! 😉


Twitter is a micro social networking/blogging service with a 140-character limit. I’ve connected to even more people than I had done previously via blogs in the Edublogosphere. It’s real-time and very, very powerful. Some people call it their ‘PLN’ (Personal Learning Network). I’m not one of them. I just think it’s great. 😉

If, for example, Twitter charged the same amount for a year’s service as Flickr does (i.e. $25) I think it would be hugely profitable very quickly.


WordPress is the software that power this and, to be honest, most blogs on the Internet. It’s developed rapidly – mainly because it’s Open Source – and very flexible and powerful. If you don’t as yet have your own blog, I’d encourage you to sign up with Bluehost and install WordPress on your own domain via CPanel. You can, of course, just use

Which software and digital services do YOU pay for? Why?

(image by Joshua Davis @ Flickr)

Meeting with Ed.D. thesis supervisor: the way ahead

Wordle - meeting with Steve Higgins

A week ago I had a Skype meeting with my Ed.D. thesis supervisor, Steve Higgins. He’s a great guy and a breath of fresh air compared to my previous one. Steve’s full of great ideas, willing to listen to mine, and is very flexible. I’m pleased with his guidance and supervision thus far! 😀

This blog post is mainly for my own benefit, to summarise where I’m headed with my thesis. If you find it interesting – well, that’s a bonus… :-p

Literacy as metaphor?

We started our discussion by talking about literacy as a metaphorical concept as opposed to one that can be supposed to be objectively ‘real’. Both Steve and I are coming at the thesis from a Pragmatic angle, so we would hold that literacy, even as metaphor, is a valid concept if it is, in the words of William James, ‘good in the way of belief’. Pragmatists also hold that something is true if it ‘works’ and has some type of ‘cash value’. I’ll explain this in full in the thesis proper!

I then brought up the distinction, made by Hannon (2000: 23) about the literac(ies) involved in making a text and then in the communication of that text. This led to us discussion the notion of ‘digital fluency’.

What’s missing from ‘digital literacy’?

I, and those authors whom I’ve read, have been keen to see overlaps between ‘traditional’ literacy (involving processes and knowledge related to books and printed matter), and what can be termed ‘digital’ literacy (processes and knowledge relating to screens and virtual environments). Steve questioned what was missing from the digital version of literacy, what’s outside the overlap. I brought this back to the creation/communication dichotomy, which should make for an interesting discussion in the final thesis! 🙂

We touched on the notion of possible advantages of letter-based, printed text in that they are tightly-defined and slow to change. This means, for example, that although we have some difficulty in reading texts written in Old English, the average reader can quite easily make sense of texts from the last few hundred years. Does the same hold for digital ‘texts’ requiring digital literacies? 😮

Forms of literacy as ‘umbrella terms’

I mentioned to Steve that I’ve noticed almost every proponent of a form of literacy (digital literacy, visual literacy, media literacy, etc.) tends to conceive it as an ‘umbrella’ catch-all term that other literacies fit into. An example of this would be ‘transliteracy’, as championed by Thomas, et al. (2007):

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.”

This led into a discussion of Semiotics and the work of C.S. Peirce – something I need to revisit after studying in some depth during the third year of my Philosophy degree!

Literacy and value-judgements

From a discussion of my trying to identify a ‘third space’ (my notes are a little sketchy here), Steve brought up the fact that ‘literate’ used to me ‘cultured and well-read’. This, of course, includes a value-judgement and an elision between two separate conceptions.

This then led to my raising a few questions as to the sphere in which literacy practices can be said to operate. On the one hand, you don’t want a definition of a form of literacy that asks too much of an individual – otherwise virtually no-one can be said to be literate in that way. But on the other hand, ask too little and the term is meaningless.

It was here that the link to the Pragmatic method was strongest in our conversation. Steve reminded me of Wittgenstein’s ‘private language’ argument: just as it is impossible to have a language that is private, so a literacy has to make a difference in practice.

Schools and digital literacy

Bringing things back to more mundane and structural issues, I shared my worry that I wouldn’t be able to do my planned final section of the thesis any justice. Whilst still a purely conceptual thesis, I’d planned to bring my studies down to a more practical level to explore what schools could do in order to promote ‘digital literacy’. Steve reassured me that painting this in broad brush-strokes would be sufficient. He asked whether I was planning to organize the thesis historically, conceptually, or in some other manner. I’m currently thinking that I’ll be bringing in some elements of how terms and ideas have developed historically-speaking, but in order to gain the rigour and critical analysis required at Ed.D. level, the thesis will be mostly conceptually-driven.

Thesis structure

After some negotiation and discussion, Steve and I have agreed on broadly the following structure to my Ed.D. thesis:

  1. Literacy (what is literacy? -> multiple literacies -> functional literacy)
  2. ‘Digital literacy’ (literature review -> critique -> value-judgements)
  3. Pragmatic methodology (what is the ‘core’ of definitions? -> what would an acceptable form look/feel like?)
  4. ‘Flow’ (Csikszentmihalyi’s seminal work -> C.S. Peirce’s ‘dancer & dance’ -> ‘at one’ -> physical relation to technology (spatiality) -> aesthetics -> functionality -> figure & ground -> can only see something against background – i.e. what it’s not)
  5. Application to schools (how can schooling be made better (effective/efficient) ->how can culture be changed -> schools as making/shaping -> purpose of education -> Labour govt. (1997) & tension between economy & personalising learning)

Where do I go from here?

I could actually spend forever and a day reading and making notes on some great authors who have written some very intelligent and interesting things on conceptions of literacy. However, needing to get cracking, I asked Steve how I should get started. He said that he liked the look of my concept map and that, after tidying it up a bit (and tying it more closely to my proposed chapters) I should choose a chunk to ‘get my teeth’ into. This should be a section – such as a discussion of different forms of literacy – that will definitely feature in the final thesis.

Publication and university requirements

Steve admitted that the University of Durham isn’t the most forward-thinking when it comes to the submission of theses. Although they will accept electronic documents with embedded hyperlinks, they may be a bit wary of wikis, for example. I also need to be careful, in theory, about how much of my thesis is ‘published’ prior to my submitting it. Of course, in this day-and-age, ‘published’ can mean many and varied things. Steve is of the opinion that so long as most chapters haven’t been published by academic journals, I should be fine.

I mentioned that I’d like to be published in an academic journal whilst I’m writing my thesis and Steve confirmed this would be a good idea. The sections on analysing different forms of literacies and how the terms have evolved as well as the philosophical underpinnings of digital literacy may be good candidates for this.

Finally, I mentioned to Steve that I’d like to publish – probably self-publish through something like – a less academic version of my thesis. I’d like something the intelligent non-specialist could pick up, read, enjoy and get something from. Steve said I should focus on the academic version first, as that’s where my (and his!) priorities lie. 😉

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The Problem with Promotion

***Update: For those who don’t know, I successfully applied to become Director of E-Learning at Northumberland Church of England Academy. Thanks for everyone’s advice and guidance!***

Decisions, decisions...

I’m loving my role as E-Learning Staff Tutor at my current school. I get to teach 16 out of 30 lessons per week whilst having time to spend with staff developing their use of educational technology.

But there’s a problem. 🙁

I don’t earn enough. Now before you castigate me as some type of money-grabbing not-in-it-for-the-kids type of person, let me (rather paradoxically) state that I’d quite happily teach for free. If I had a roof over my head and food on the table, as a single man I would give up my time to educate children. I love it.

There’s the rub, though. I’m not a single man. I’m happily married with a two-year-old son and a wife who wants to spend time at home with him. That’s where I want her to be too. Hence the need for me to earn more to keep my family happy.

So what do I do?

As a teacher in England, there’s two paths traditionally open to teachers seeking promotion:

  1. Become Head of Department in your chosen subject. This then can lead onto an Assistant Headship, Deputy Headship, and ultimately a Headship.
  2. Become Head of Year or seek out some other pastoral role. This too can lead to an Assistant Head position, Deputy Head and then Head.

I don’t want either. Heads of Department have to deal with a lot of admin and jump through a lot of hoops that would infuriate me and lead to me not enjoying my job. And on the other hand, I have never had an interest in the pastoral side of education (over and above my role as a form teacher, which I deem important).

There needs to be some type of New Labour-ish ‘Third Way’ for teachers. I can see what the suggestion is going to be already: become an AST! (Advanced Skills Teacher). Erm, no thanks. We have had a few of those visit my school. Not the type of thing I want to do at all.

So I’m left with some other options. As far as I can see, I’m left with options that take me out of the classroom:

  • Lecturer/researcher at a university (once I’ve finished my Ed.D.)
  • Freelance advisor/researcher/consultant
  • Consultant for an organization (e.g. a Local Authority)

Any ideas? 😮

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Dilbert on ‘learner voice’

For those not within the education system in the UK, allow me to explain. There’s been an emphasis over the last year or so to give the opinions of students in schools more status. In some cases this has worked very well and added to the life of the school. In others, it’s been just another box to tick. I imagine that in the latter type of school, the Dilbert cartoon below would resonate with teachers:

Dilbert on learner voice?

What are your thoughts on ‘learner/students/pupil voice’?

Podcasting: Step 3 – Converting and uploading your podcast ready for the masses!


Before reading this, you should have gone through the steps indicated in these two posts:

In this last part of the Podcasting guide, we’re going to convert our audio masterpiece to a format suitable for mobile audio players and the Internet, and make it available as a podcast! This will involve 3 steps:

1. Converting your audio to MP3

2. Sending your MP3 file to your blog

3. Getting your students/colleagues to subscribe to your podcast

To get started, follow the guide below! 🙂

Interesting ways to use Twitter in the classroom

After a suggestion received, quite fittingly, from another Twitter user, Tom Barrett is weaving his magic again. This time, after getting educators to collaborate on ways in which Interactive Whiteboards, Google Earth, Google Docs, and Pocket Video Cameras can be used in education he’s turned his (and his network’s) sights on Twitter:

I got involved straight away – in fact mine’s the first tip on there! Get involved by contacting Tom (@tombarrett) 🙂

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My Ed.D. thesis concept map on ‘Digital Literacy’

This concept map took me ages. So long, in fact that I’ve no big long words or energy left to pad out this blog post longer than it needs to. Suffice it to say that the references on it can be found on my wiki. 🙂

I created the concept map using XMind, which is Open Source, cross-platform software that allows you to upload and collaborate. I found it very easy to use and would recommend it as a perfect blend of online and offline functionality! 😀

I’ve been asked under what license I’m releasing this mindmap. Here’s my answer:
Creative Commons License
Digital Literacy Ed.D. thesis concept map by Doug Belshaw is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at

New music section at

opentapeI’ve decided to add a music section to If you head over to /music then you’ll find an installation of Opentape, some Open Source software that is very similar that used to power version 1 of Muxtape. I’ve added a link to the navigation menu at the top of this blog.

Every Sunday I plan to upload a new playlist of music I’ve been listening to during the week. This first playlist represents the amount of time I spend listening to ‘mashups’!

‘Following’ me on Twitter? These people are!

I’m @dajbelshaw on Twitter. If you’re not following me then you’re missing out on links and conversation. Here’s my followers (so far!):

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HOWTO: Add an RSS feed to Google Sites

Google Sites is wonderful. Not only can anyone and everyone sign up to make a wikified website, but it’s really easy to use and very configurable. BUT it’s got one very, very major drawback. No RSS feeds! This post shows you how you can generate an RSS feed from either an ‘announcements’ or ‘recent changes’ page quickly and easily. 😀

If you’re an educator, you might want to try Google Sites as part of Google Apps Education Edition. It’s free. I’ve configured it on my domain and it makes life very easy. Throughout the following I’m going to be using my Google Sites-powered as an example.

RSS feed for ‘announcements’ page

If want to create an RSS feed for a blog-like announcements page, you’re looking for a page similar to the one below. You are given an option to create this kind of page when you click ‘Create New Page’.

Google Sites - Announcements page

You need to highlight and copy the URL of your announcements page:

Google Sites - copy announcements page URL

…and then head over to this Yahoo! Pipe and paste the URL you just copied from your announcements page into the box:

Yahoo! Pipes - paste Google Sites 'announcements' page URL

Once you’ve done this click the ‘Run Pipe’ button and  you should see something like the screenshot below (although obviously yours will reflect the contents of your ‘announcements’ page!):

Google Sites 'announcements' page in Yahoo! Pipes

Now all that’s left to do is to discover what your RSS feed URL is by clicking on the orange RSS icon:

RSS icon in Yahoo! Pipes

You should see something like the screenshot below, although it may look slightly different if you use a web browser other than Firefox – and will, of course, depend on your websites’ content:

RSS feed created from Google Sites announcement page using Yahoo! Pipes

You can now take the URL of the RSS feed that’s just been created:

Copy URL of RSS feed from Google Sites 'announcements' page generated by Yahoo! Pipes

…and add it to your Google Sites-powered website, along with the web-standard RSS feed icon!

RSS feed on Google Sites page

RSS feed for ‘Recent site activity’

If, however, you want to create an RSS feed from updates made to the site as a whole, you need first of all to locate the ‘Recent site activity’ link at the bottom of your website:

Google Sites - Recent Site Activity

Once you’ve located that page, simply go through the same steps as above, but use this Yahoo! Pipe instead. 😀

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