Tag: Internet (page 1 of 2)

My sites are now hosted in the European Union

I host my websites through Reclaim Hosting. I’ve been with them for a few years now, ever since they were known as ‘Hippie Hosting’ and an offshoot of the amazing work done by Jim Groom and team at the University of Mary Washington’s Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies.

Companies often talk about their commitment to customer service, but I’ve never known anything like that which receive from Reclaim Hosting. It’s insane. For example, in the last six months, amongst other things, they’ve:

  • Responded within a minute to a query about my wiki being down, and had fixed it for me within five minutes.
  • Worked with me to rectify a persistent spamming problem on my sites (that was my fault, not there’s)
  • Migrated my sites from US servers to ones based in the EU within 24 hours of me tweeting that I’d like them to do so.

On top of that, they charge me a very low price. I’m a huge fan, as you can tell.

The last of the bullet points is an important one as President Trump continues to rip up the good work carried out by his predecessors. For example, earlier this month, The Register reported on a joint letter sent by Human Rights watch and the ACLU which outlines in detail how Trump’s executive orders are underming the US-EU Privacy Shield. Bloomberg reckons that the EU are ready to pull out of it.

It’s 2017, so it seems strange to be talking about things that seemed more important in the early days of the web, such as where your server is located. But, of course, given the nationalist turn we’ve taken in the west, these things matter.

They matter because he location of your server is still of vital importance, despite recent protestations, that data in transit through the US makes it subject to US law. What you put on your own web space isn’t just the front end stuff that everyone sees, it’s the backend stuff as well — family photos, private emails, and the like.

Some people have asked why I’ve chosen to host my data in Germany, rather than in the UK. Well, for a start, I still consider myself as more European than British, despite ‘Brexit’. Second, Germany has stronger privacy laws than the UK (and certainly the US). Finally, and more pragmatically, it’s the EU option offered by Reclaim Hosting (mainly, I believe, because Digital Ocean offer block storage in that zone)

I perhaps spend more time thinking about these things than most, but that’s because it’s something I deem important. Ironically, most of my readers are in the US, so this move actually adds a few milliseconds to their page load times. Sorry about that…

Image CC BY Jeff Ddevjet

#ScreenFreeSunday

I’ve seen plenty of weak signals over the past few months/years about people taking time to unplug for a day at the weekend. Some people do it on Saturdays, others on Sundays. I think I’d prefer Saturdays but, realistically, it’s the day I get my newsletter written (which then goes out Sunday morning UK time).

So this week I tried a ‘screen-free Sunday’. Well, kind of. The fact that I’m typing this via my laptop demonstrates my lack of commitment to the letter of the self-imposed law. But the spirit of it was there at least. From around 10pm last night until 7.30pm tonight I didn’t use screens. So no playing FIFA15 with my son; no helping my daughter with the CBeebies app; no checking my Twitter timeline; and I couldn’t “just look up” for my wife the gym opening hours.

Things I’ve done over the past 24 hours I haven’t done for a while:

  • Written in my dead-tree diary with a pen
  • Studied an Ordnance Survey Map closely
  • Visited an historic monument with the family on the spur of the moment

It’s crazy to think how entwined interactive screens are with our everyday lives. I’m not saying that’s a good or a bad thing. It’s just a fact. So I’m going to try and take 24 hours off screens every week. As with this weekend, that will probably mean turning my laptop(s) and mobile phone off at some point during Saturday evening and not turning them on again until Sunday evening.

Do you go screen-free at certain times? Have you found it helpful? How?

Image CC BY-NC Ashley Brown

How do you explain the web to your kids?

There’s no way I could respond to the following tweet in 140 characters, so I’m writing a blog post instead!

My kids are four and eight years old, respectively, so you’d think I’d have a programme all drawn up about how to teach them the web – right? After all, I’m on the #TeachTheWeb team and my job is Web Literacy Lead, for goodness’ sake! Well, it’s not quite that simple.

Intro

As I said in a post a couple of years ago, the best way of teaching is through example. You’re doing this to an extent when your children observe you read a book or use the web. However the best learning from example comes when you talk through what you’re doing. This is what I try to do with my children. I’m not perfect (or even very good at it!) but I try my best.

Ages 3-5

For my four year-old, I’m trying to help her understand that all the devices she might use – or see other people use – are connected together. I’m also interested in her fine motor control. By this, I don’t mean big swipes or button presses that babies (or monkeys) can do, but things like going ‘back’ to the menu in an app, or using a touchpad to access various parts of the CBeebies website.

Another thing I want her to understand is that sometimes things don’t work.  That happened last night when our router stopped working briefly, meaning we couldn’t use BBC iPlayer. Nor could we stream films from our media server. Last week she couldn’t play a video because I didn’t have flash installed on the laptop she was using. I tried to explain software to her using the app metaphor.

To my mind, the key thing at this age is being able to know where the boundaries are between online and offline stuff. I don’t want her growing up thinking ‘the Cloud’ is literally in the sky! A lot of it comes from you as an adult talking about what you do and encouraging the child to ask questions – either immediately or later. I find asking them whether they’ve got any questions for you can be fruitful. This is often best when they’re not distracted – for example, when you’re walking them to school or driving them to an activity.

Another thing that’s useful at a pre-school age is being silly or ridiculous. they tend to be sticklers for wanting the world to be the ‘right’ way and are amused when you present it in a way that’s not. I use “imagine if…” a lot. This morning, for example, my daughter needed some Calpol so we went through “imagine if you got better by sticking carrots in your ears!” (etc.) They learn a lot by counter-examples. In a web capacity, you could try things like “imagine if websites were open only sometimes, like shops!”

Ages 6-8

My son, who’s just turned eight, started his blog when he was five but didn’t really start using it much until he turned six. Although I encourage him to write a blog post on a weekly basis, I don’t force him to. It’s the same way I tend to strongly encourage him to do things like tidy up his toys, “find something to do rather than annoying your sister”, or play Khan Academy / Duolingo every morning. As a parent you have to dole out your ‘musts’ sparingly – otherwise they lose their effect!

Through blogging, even through the WordPress iPad app, he’s learned about basic HTML tags. We also went through some basic CSS at one point but he’s probably forgotten that. The reason the HTML has stuck is repetition. He was super-interested in X-Ray Goggles activity about 18 months ago, so I created a basic cheatsheet and put it up next to his bed. I’ve found this a great technique at all ages. When I was a classroom teacher I used to provide my GCSE History students with revision tips and facts. They’d stick to the fridge or next to their bedroom lightswitch so they couldn’t help but see them! Repetition breeds familiarity.

He’s also migrated to using more devices. Whereas his sister is still 90% iPad with the occasional use of a laptop, he’s using the laptop more often. He used it last summer to search for howto’s on loom band making, for example, and seems to prefer the web-based WordPress interface for blogging now. It’s all about asking them if they’re ‘ready’ to move onto something else. It’s fine if they’re not, but you have to keep prodding. It’s the same way I get them to eat new things – not by forcing, but asking whether, now they’re a bit older, they’d like to try XYZ.

Metaphors

I think we get too hung up sometimes about people having a ‘perfect’ mental model of things. This week our team at Mozilla has been working on adapting an activity that can help with that for the upcoming Webmaker Clubs (name TBC). This is just one way to think about the web. Sometimes it’s worth having kids come up with their own metaphors. After all, they have to relate it to their experience up to this point.

This is why it’s always a good idea to get someone to whom you’ve just taught something to then teach someone else. This could be an elder child teaching a younger one, but equally could be a younger child teaching an adult feigning ignorance. It’s about reviewing and solidifying learning. Remind them that all this wasn’t around when you were younger and you had to learn it all. Comparing and contrasting life before and after a technological innovation can be instructive.

Rationing

This post is experiencing some scope-creep, I recognise that. But this is useful for my own reflection and may be useful to others.

I just want to mention briefly the amount to which my wife and I ration access to network-enabled devices. This is slightly different, although related to the (controversial) idea of ‘screen-time’. What I will just say on that is I’ve seen my children (and others) turned into somewhat-violent zombies when they come off an epic session on the iPad / laptop / whatever. We try to avoid that by doing the following:

  • No sessions longer than 15 minutes (youngest) and 25 minutes (eldest)
  • Nothing other than specific learning stuff (e.g. Khan Academy / Duolingo) before lunch
  • Our mobile phones are ours – we don’t hand them over to our children
  • Passcode locks on everything

I’m sad about the last of these points, but it’s a result of my son sneaking downstairs at 4.30am last summer to look at loom band videos! We try to remove the passcode on the iPad now and again, but we haven’t been able to trust our eldest in that regard 100% yet. We’ll keep trying.

What we don’t do (or want to do) is filter the web. There may come a time when we make that decision, but ideally the filter should be in the child’s head. If we ever do impose a technical filter, that filter would be on for the whole family – not just for the children. I think it’s unfair to say one thing and do another. And I’d rather respond to an actual problem rather than lock down their experience so they can never go wrong.

Conclusion

So there we are, for what it’s worth. I don’t use the Web Literacy Map explicitly with my kids, but then that’s not the point of it at this moment in time. I have used Webmaker tools to encourage and follow the interests of our eldest child. Equally, we’ve used DIY.org and a whole host of other websites I’ve come across. It’s all about weaving it in rather than seeing it as a discrete activity.

Finally, it’s worth saying that my son volunteered to be a mentor at Maker Party North East 2014. I planted the seed ages beforehand with “do you think you’d ever be able to…” and “imagine if…” so he felt like it was his idea. Inception! A lot of the time with new skills it’s about confidence. 😉

I’d love to hear what you do to teach the web with your children! Add a comment below, or write a blog post that links back here.

Thinking through helping my kids learn Web concepts.

TL;DR version:  I’ve been thinking of the best ways to help my six year-old son understand some of the concepts behind the Web. I’ve settled on a non-linear, interest-based approach that sparks his interest through ‘hooks’. These should build on his curiosity from other areas. He should also get to just ‘mess about’ a lot with some just-in-time intervention.


I went on a walk down to Druridge Bay and back today. It’s my headspace – not just the beach itself, but the whole act of walking on my own without any stimulii but the environment. It gives me a chance to think, and today I was thinking about the Web.

Specifically, I’ve been thinking about how to introduce the fundamental concepts of the Web to my kids. My daughter is two, so she’s probably slightly too young at the moment, but my son is six which is definitely old enough for him to start understanding some of the concepts behind the Web. While the browser is not completely foreign to him his digital life is funnelled predominantly through iPad apps and games platforms like the Wii and PS3. I want to show him the vast expanse of the Web, to begin to help him understand how it’s structured.

While I was walking I was thinking about how best to start introducing Web concepts to my son. The classroom teacher in me made me think about formal, linear structures – about concepts that were fundamental to grasp before he even looked at a Web browser. But then I realised just how disingenuous such a pathway would be; no-one I know who is ‘Web literate’ learned this way. They learned based on their interest and curiosity, they learned just enough to get done what they wanted to do, they learned almost by accident.

When you’re a parent, it’s very difficult to let go of the reins sometimes. It’s hard not to make everything into a learning moment for your child, into an intentional activity with a particular outcome.  And yet, an unstructured, slightly chaotic approach is how I and millions of other people have learned how not only to read but write the Web. At the same time, it’s important not to fetishise such a free-flowing approach: some people understand the Web better than others. Indeed, some misunderstand the Web, some use it in sub-optimal ways, and some don’t understand the basic concepts behind it. I’m trying to avoid that.

So, what to do? I want to list the things I think my son should know about the Web but I don’t necessarily want to place these into any kind of linear order. What I need are ‘hooks’ to sustain his interest long enough to be able to explain concepts that, at times, can be fairly nuanced for someone in their first year at school. Those hooks will, of course, be different for every individual but one good place to start is to find Web-based resources that lend themselves to peeking under the bonnet.

I work for Mozilla and my colleagues are building some fantastic Webmaker tools. One such tool that might be really worth using with a six year-old (and their associated reading level) might be something like Popcorn Maker. This is a video tool to ‘enhance, remix and share Web video’ that relies primarily on visual clues to get started. Basing a project around this tool would, for example, allow for the teaching of concepts like URLs (copying and pasting from YouTube/Vimeo), staying safe online, and fair use/copyright.

Despite their protestations, I’ve found people to be fundamentally creative. It’s the reason why showing users how to change their background, theme or avatar usually gives them so much satisfaction. Indeed, even much more advanced users tend to set up their digital environment before getting on with doing something with a tool. Putting your mark on something makes it yours. The last thing people want when they’re learning about the Web for the first time is to sit through a lot of theory before they get going; they want to tinker, they want to customise, they want to ‘see what this button does’.

One thing that six year-olds (thankfully) haven’t yet had crushed out of them is a fear that ‘they might break something’. Such apprehension isn’t natural, but a learned behaviour that tends to affect technophobic adults. Indeed, it’s a significant reason for such people being technophobes in the first place. Although with my son I won’t have to tell him it’s OK just to mess about with the Web, if this was an adult I may well have to do that. It’s something to bear in mind when introducing new digital concepts, I think. Horses for courses, and always start where the learner is at.

Finally, a word on measurement. It might seem like what I’ve said so far about providing ‘hooks’ to the user and going with their interests would preclude assessing their progress. But, actually, I think feedback – so long as it’s useful to the user – is extremely beneficial. Indeed, it’s the essence of video games, where you get pretty much instantaneous feedback on what you’re doing. These games tend to throw you right in from the start, without a ‘manual’. You learn how to play the game not by reading about them, but by playing the first few levels. Games designers scaffold the experience for players both in terms of them learning the controls and giving them feedback on their performance. A common way to do this is through some kind of in-game achievements or trophies that signal a player’s progress. These can be expected or can be surprises. The can be easy to acheive or fiendishly difficult.

I intend to follow up this post at some point with a list of the concepts I think my son as a six year-old should understand. Feel free to chip in with some suggestions in the comments below!

Image taken from the iA Web Trends map

Web Literacies: What is the ‘Web’ Anyway? [DMLcentral]

Network flower diagram

My latest post for DMLcentral is now live. Entitled Web Literacies: What is the ‘Web’ Anyway? I take a step back to examine something we now take for granted every day:

Over two billion people now use the web on a regular basis. For many people, like me, the web is a fundamental part of how they communicate — and, therefore, how they are. We create and sustain relationships through the web. We watch videos that provoke joy, laughter, sadness, and anger. We exchange artifacts and multimedia such as photos, memes, and audio files. The web is an inherently social technology.

You can view the archive of my posts for DMLcentral here. I also participated in a recent DML Connected Learning webinar with colleagues Mark Surman and Carla Casilli entitled Mozilla Webmaker: Digital Literacy Through Making and Sharing

Image CC BY saintbob

Some thoughts on the Department for Education’s consultation on ‘Parental Internet Controls’.

The Department for Education's consultation on 'Parental Internet Controls'

If you’re in England and a parent, guardian and/or educator you should be responding to the Department for Education’s consultation on Parental Internet Controls.

The assumptions behind it are quite staggering.

It would appear that the government believes that the best way of ‘protecting’ young people is to shield them from ever accessing ‘inappropriate’ material online.

This is wrong for several reasons:

  1. Despite your best efforts, all young people will at some point come across inappropriate things online
  2. Any tool you use to block inappropriate sites will be a fairly blunt instrument leading to false positives
  3. Blocking tools tend to lead to a false sense of security by parents, guardians and educators
  4. Who decides what’s ‘inappropriate’?

The best filter resides in the head, not in a router or office of an Internet Service Provider (ISP).

I don’t want my internet connection to be filtered in ‘the best interests of my children’. I don’t want to be subject to censorship.

I’ve responded to the consultation. I’ve pointed out that their questions are sometimes unfairly worded. For example, I want to respond for one particular question that I don’t think ‘automatic’ parental controls should be in place in any households.

It’s about education, not censorship. Make sure you respond to the consultation, please!

‘Literacy’

As I’ve neither the time nor the amount of energy needed to get published in an academic journal for the first time, this blog will continue to serve as a repository for slightly more formal blog posts (or less formal journal articles, however you want to think of them…) 😉

I’m aiming to investigate the concept of ‘digital literacy’ and issues surrounding it in my Ed.D. thesis. You can read my proposal at digitalliteracies.edublogs.org.

Everybody knows what literacy is. It’s the ability ‘read and write.’ But read and write what, and to what standard, and for what purpose? An even more important question might be ‘to read and write with which technology? For, as Tuman (1992:2) notes, notions of ‘reading and ‘writing’ are unstable as meanings shift along with technological change. We can no longer take it for granted that someone’s remark that they ‘read’ something means that they had to hand physical paper marked in a decipherable way by ink. By ‘writing’ we can no longer assume authorship using a pen or pencil. The digital world has turned literacy on it’s head.

Although people do write for an audience of only themselves in diaries, journals and suchlike, the usual purpose of writing is to communicate something – an idea or an emotion, for example. As new methods of communication become available, so new sub-literacies come into being surrounding them. As Kellner (2002:163 – my emphasis) puts it:

As technological convergence develops apace, individuals need to combine the skills of critical media literacy with traditional print literacy and new forms of multiple literacies to access and navigate the new multimedia environments. Literacy in this conception involves the abilities to engage effectively in socially constructed forms of communication and representation. Reading and interpreting print was the appropriate mode of literacy for books, while critical media literacy entails reading and interpreting discourse, images, spectacle, narratives, and the forms and genres of media culture.

Literacy, as alluded to above, it always reading and writing for a purpose. We would hesitate to call someone ‘literate’ who could read words and write them, but could not meaningfully communicate in written form with other people. Literacy is a ‘set of socially organised practices’ (Rodríguez Illera, 2002:51) or a ‘social technology’ (Tuman, 1992:vii) and, as such.

…involves gaining the skills and knowledge to read and interpret the text of the world and to successfully navigate and negotiate its challenges, conflicts, and crises. Literacy is thus a necessary condition to equip people to participate in the local, national and global economy, culture, and polity. (Kellner, 2002:157)

Without culture and society, there is no literacy. It is the practical application of historically-situated (Barton & Hamilton, 2000:13) sets of codes and signifiers that allow meaningful discourse within domains of various sizes. The activities within these domains are neither accidental nor random and are structured by these literate practices. (Barton & Hamilton, 2000:11-12) ‘Literacy’ has traditionally been pointed towards ‘high culture’ – which is actually a minority culture. (Beavis, 1998:240) The democratization of literate practices through technologies such as the Internet and the blog upon which I write this serve to illustrate this. Niche groups, with literate practices of their own, flourish. Take l33t, for example.

Schools, institutions that are perhaps the most conservative and preservative of the status quo in a society, perpetuate this link between literacy and ‘high culture’. As Alan Luke (2003) puts it,

Literate practice is situated, constructed, and intrapsychologically negotiated through an (artificial) social field called school, with rules of exchange denoted in scaffolded social activities around particular selected texts. (Eyman, no date:20)

Whilst there need to be some ‘rules to the game’ for there to be meaningful discourse, it would appear that schools are the enemy of evolving literate practices. Teachers have, almost necessarily, been successful at ‘working’ the existing system. They are at least reasonably successful within the bounds of traditional literate practices. There is therefore, somewhat understandably, a fear by some teachers that new technologies and literacies may somehow supplant those which they hold dear. As Illayna Snyder comments, however, such a sharp demarcation and transition is unlikely to occur:

New introduction of a new technology of writing does not automatically render older ones obsolete. For example, even though printing completely replaced handwriting in book production, it did not spell the end for handwriting. Rather, the boundaries between the two writing technologies blurred… The future of writing is not a linear progression in which new technologies usurp earlier ones. A more likely scenario is that a number of technologies will continue to co-exist, interact, even complement each other.

So just as we have both printed and online versions of newspapers, printed and electronic scholarly journals, and a variety of ways of accessing information we need for our day-to-day lives, so literacies can co-exist. Realising this, we need to embrace new technologies rather than fear them, finding ways to transform our world, and responding to the challenges we face by discovering new literacies (Kellner, 2002:154). 

Ultimately, decisions about literate practices are not ones we can avoid as educators by ‘sitting on the fence’. As William James put it, ‘…our thoughts determine our acts, and our actions redetermine the previous nature of the world.’ (Bredo, 2006:21). For us to be able to act, and interact, with others in a meaningful way given the nature of the technologies that surround us, we must develop new literacies, new pedagogies and new stories.

References

  • Barton, D. & Hamilton, M. (2000) ‘Literacy Practices’ (in Barton, D., Hamilton, M. & Ivanic, R. (eds.), Situated Literacies: reading and writing in context
  • Beavis, C. (1998) ‘Computer games, culture and curriculum’ (in I. Snyder, Page to Screen)
  • Bredo, E. (2006) ‘Philosophies of Educational Research’ (in Green, J.L., et al, Handbook of Complementary Methods of Education Research)
  • Eyman, D. (no date) ‘Digital Literac(ies), Digital Discourses, and Communities of Practice: Literacy Practices in Virtual Environments’ (Cultural Practices of Literacy Study, Working Paper #12)
  • Kellner, D.M., (2002) ‘Technological Revolution, Multiple Literacies, and the Restructuring of Education’ (in I. Snyder (ed.), Silicon Literacies: communication, innovation and education in the electronic age)
  • Rodríguez Illera, J.L. (2004) ‘Digital Literacies’ (Interactive Educational Multimedia, number 9, pp. 48-62)
  • Tuman, M. (1992) Word Perfect: literacy in the computer age
(image adapted from an original by Pink Sherbert Photography @ Flickr)

Living offline

Apologies for the lack of updates this week. Normal service was to be resumed yesterday after returning from a school trip to the WWI battlefields in France/Belgium (http://battlefields.posterous.com). However, Orange, in their infinite wisdom, cut off our Internet connection earlier this week instead of migrating it from my mobile phone contract to Hannah’s. 😮

I’m obviously meant to have a break. My Ed.D. supervisor’s ill so couldn’t meet up with me today, Nick Dennis isn’t able to come up to collaborate on some work we’re doing for a publisher and, finally, it would seem that my house is no longer in a 3G area.

I’m writing this using the WordPress iPhone application. Whilst it’s fine for short text entry, it’s not really able to create my usual sort of blog posts. It would seem that this is a blessing in disguise. I’ll *have* to slow down this half-term! 🙂

Orange have promised to have us up-and-running by the end of next week. In the meantime, check out the battlefields blog (see link above) and the work I’ve been doing in my first half-term as E-Learning Staff Tutor at my school (http://elearnr.edublogs.org) :-p

The feature that will make Posterous better than Edublogs is…

…themes! Or at least backgrounds and the ability to change the colours on your blog home page – à la Twitter.

<<< Rewind! For those who haven’t come across Posterous, it’s a great blogging platform that just works. You can blog by logging into your account as with normal platforms, but the real power of Posterous comes through it’s ability to ‘intelligently’ deal with anything you send to post@nullposterous.com.

In fact, sending an email is all you need to do to set up a blog in the first place. I love how straightforward it is to use – it certainly sticks to the 7 Essential Guidelines for Functional Design as far as I’m concerned! Text formatting from your email is retained on the blog post, links to YouTube become embedded videos, PDFs and text files become Flashpaper-like previews, and images become galleries. Check out my test posts here and here! 😀

As far as next year and my E-Learning Staff Tutor role, this is perfect for recommending for classroom teacher blogs. It’s just so easy to get stuff up there and online! For students, however, a Twitter-like ability to change colours, backgrounds, etc. needs to be there before they’re likely to be sold on it… :-p

Thanks to @tombarrett and @johnjohnston for making me aware of Posterous!

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Doug lives in rural isolation thanks to the Internet

Years ago, before I saw the light and used Macs, I used to subscribe to PC Pro. There was a guy who wrote for that magazine called Davey Winder whose short bio simply read ‘lives in rural isolation thanks to the Internet’. I can remember thinking that must be great. Now I’m living the dream:

Obviously I’m not going to link to a Google Map showing exactly where we live. I don’t want to give the SWAT teams too easy a time… 😉

Home broadband will be installed in a few weeks’ time due to issues I won’t go into, but for the meantime I’m very happy with mobile broadband access on a pay-as-you-go basis via the 3 network. I’m sharing the connection obtained through HSDPA with Hannah courtesy of our Macbooks’ Airport feature.

Life Chez Belshaw is peachy. No non-human/animal/bird created noise. Rolling fields. A 19th century mill within our grounds. What more could I ask for? 😀

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