Tag: Web 2.0 (page 1 of 2)

Raising achievement in History at KS4 using e-learning

SHP 2009 slides

Click here to go straight to the slides

I’m at the annual Schools History Project Conference for the fifth time this weekend and am presenting for the third time. This is the first time that I’ll be presenting without my partner in crime, Nick Dennis, as he’s unable to make the conference. It’s a shame, but it means I can focus entirely on what I did with my Year 10 History class this academic year at my previous school.

I’ve used the Cooliris presentation method, pioneered by Alan Levine, and which I piloted in my Open Source School presentation earlier this month. I’m not so sure he uses a Nintendo Wiimote (along with Darwiin Remote) with Cooliris, though. It’s an excellent presentation method – and free if you create your slides in OpenOffice.org (as I do!) 😀

The easiest way to share the link directly to the slides that go with this presentation is to go to:

http://bit.ly/SHP2009

Links (in order mentioned) to the websites mentioned in the presentation can be found below:

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My presentation @ TeachMeet Midlands 2009

TeachMeet Midlands 2009

This evening I’ll be attending TeachMeet Midlands 2009 at the National College for School Leadership in Nottingham. If you’ve never heard of a TeachMeet before, they’re based around the idea of an unconference, ‘facilitated, participant-driven conference centered around a theme or purpose.’ (Wikipedia) I’ve been to a couple before – both of which were additions to the BETT Show – and they’re great events. There’s a fantastic buzz around the place, people passionate about what they do, and it’s a wonderful way to not only meet up with people you’ve only talked to online, but to come across new faces as well! 🙂

My (micro)presentation

I’ve signed up on the TeachMeet wiki to do a 7-minute micropresentation. Initially, I was going to talk about my role this year as E-Learning Staff Tutor and a bit about my Ed.D. on digital literacy. However, TeachMeets should be a lot more focused on classroom practice, so I’ve decided to instead talk about what I’ve been doing with my Year 10 History class.

This year I saw my having a new, fairly able GCSE History class as a good opportunity to try out some new methods and approaches to the course. As students at my school now have four lessons of their option subject per week instead of three, I decided to have one of them timetabled in an ICT suite. The room I was allocated has tiered seating and laptops, which was even better! :-p

After looking at various options, I decided to use Posterous for their homework blogs. Reasons for this include:

  • Blog posts can be written by email.
  • It deals with media in an ‘intelligent’ way (e.g. using Scribd to embed documents, making slideshows out of images)
  • Avatars allow for personalization.

I set almost no homework apart from on their blogs. This means that on a Friday they start an activity using (usually) a Web 2.0 service and then add it to their blog via embedding or linking. The only problem with this has been Posterous not supporting iFrames, meaning that Google Docs, for example have to be exported to PDF and then uploaded. Students are used to this now and it doesn’t really affect their workflow.

Examples of student work

Links to all blogs can be found at http://mrbelshaw.posterous.com

Student feedback

I should, perhaps, have asked for parental permission to video students’ opinions about this approach. From what they tell me, they greatly enjoy working on their blogs. In fact, a Geography teacher at school has hijacked one of my students’ blogs so she does work for both History and Geography on it! I think they appreciate the following things:

  • Presentation (a lot easier, especially for boys, to produce good-looking work)
  • Multimedia (they’re not looking at paper-based stuff all the time)
  • Collaboration (they get to work with others whilst still having ‘ownership’ of the final product on their blogs)

It’s a system that I’d definitely recommend and I shall be using in future! 😀

Short URL for this post (for Twitter, etc.) = http://bit.ly/4jD6V

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

Bluehost

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

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

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 WordPress.com

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

(image by Joshua Davis @ Flickr)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Third Conversation

twitters-in-class.png
Image by biverson via Flickr

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

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

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

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

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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! 😀

* 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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5 ways my teaching will change because of today’s GCSE results.

Despite having now completed my fourth year as a teacher, today’s GCSE results were my first batch. Unfortunately, they weren’t great. In fact, they were rather embarrassing. 😮

I could list many reasons why my two Year 11 History classes didn’t do as well as they were predicted – or as well in History as they did in other subjects. But I’m not a whinger. Instead, here’s the ways I’m going to prevent the same thing happening again:

1. Spend some time ‘off the bandwagon’ before implementation

I was guilty of using my GCSE class as guinea pigs; we tried a whole host of Web 2.0-related stuff. I should have focused on stuff I knew inside-out instead of being intent on being an early adopter. There needs to be a sound pedagogical reason for using a tool, rather than just finding it ‘cool’.

In every other sphere of my life I try not to be an early adopter. For example, I usually wait for the second revision of products, for others to work out the quirks and foibles. Perhaps I need to do that more when teaching, too.

2. Treat students as teenagers, not adults

I tend to have a fairly laid-back approach in the classroom. I’m interested in stories and tend to go off at tangents. I assume that students have an interest in doing well and so perhaps I wasn’t strict enough with those who didn’t hand in practice exam questions during the revision period. I’m fairly certain it was those students who just missed out on C grades…

3. Get parents more involved

In my first, less successful school, I phoned home often – and not just to ask parents to discipline their children. I’d phone home and let parents know how fantastically their child was doing in my lesson. Cue extra effort in my lessons. I haven’t done that nearly as much at my current school.

Parents obviously have a massive influence on the life of young people and help shape their values and beliefs. I need to call on the power they hold a lot more often than I do now.

4. Be more positive

I smile a lot. In fact, people comment on it. But there’s more to being positive than just appearing happy. I know that I’m overly sarcastic and can take the mick a bit too much. I just find it hard to big people up in a non-sarcastic way. Too much Monty Python and Eddie Izzard, perhaps.

I’m going to make a conscious effort to, as John Johnston commented on a previous post, adhere to a policy of ‘unconditional positive regard’ within my classroom.

5. Feel less guilty about detentions for not doing homework

I don’t like homework set for the sake of it. I’m fine with project work done at home and students doing extra research out of interest, but homework for the sake of just trying to get knowledge into heads seems to me a waste of time in this day and age.

But when students get to GCSE level unfortunately they have to fill their heads full of some knowledge that they’ll probably only ever use for the exam. In this scenario, then, I’m going to feel a lot less guilty about insisting they complete knowledge-based homework.

What lessons have YOU learned recently?

And finally, just to make me feel better: “Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth learning can be taught.” (Oscar Wilde) – also read this. Thanks goes to @theokk for both. 🙂

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90% digital, or 12 ways my teaching ecosystem is evolving.

I’m looking forward to the new academic year. Having said that, I’m not hugely excited about the Web 2.0 tools I’ll be using next year – and I believe that’s a good thing. It shows that such tools have become part of my teaching ecosystem. As I read recently, “The music is not in the piano.” (i.e. it is but a tool, just like technology)

The only reason my teaching ecosystem isn’t 100% digital is because of outside influences: documents from colleagues and marking student books. It’s part of my aim for my E-Learning Staff Tutor position to put more digital tools in the hands of colleagues. I’ll be using the new elearnr site to help with that. 🙂

This week I came across Top 100 Tools for Learning 2008. It’s made up of a large number of educators’ top 10 lists of elearning tools. I haven’t tried to stick to 10 in what follows – it’s just a list of what I’m going to be using (in order of what I’ll be using most!) 😀

1. Google Calendar

I’ve been using Google Calendar for a couple of years now for my day-to-day planning (see here and here). Although it takes around half an hour to enter your timetable initially, you can then set this to repeat until a certain date (i.e. the end of the academic year).

I use a ‘double-star system’ (see screenshot below). Before a lesson has been planned it has two asterisk after it. Removing one star means that I’ve entered the title and lesson objective (and homework, if applicable). Removing the second star means that the lesson is fully planned.

After the lesson, if there’s anything I need to remember for the next lesson with the class, I just add it to the comments section.

Obviously things like meetings, parents evenings can be entered ad-hoc. As you can access Google Calendar via mobile phone as well, it means I’ve got my day-to-day planning everywhere. 🙂

2. Attendance/Homework checkers

I run a two-laptop classroom. I’ve got my school-provided laptop at the front of my classroom running the interactive whiteboard (a SMARTboard) and my netbook (an MSI Wind-like Advent 4211 now running Mac OSX) is for everything else.

Whilst I could use Google Spreadsheets for my attendance registers, there’s two reasons I don’t. First of all it just doesn’t update very quickly, being web-based. Second, I’ve got to have a register – even if Internet access goes down at school. So I use Microsoft Excel with some conditional formatting goodness that I blogged about ages ago.

3. Google Docs

I’d be the first to hold my hand up and say that I’m a last-minute planner. What I do in the next lesson with a class depends very much upon what happened in the previous. Students have different questions and things can go off at a tangent. That’s not to say I don’t medium-term plan, however!

For my medium-term planning I use Google Docs. Nothing fancy, just a table with columns for lesson title, objective and possible content. The great thing about this is that I don’t have to remember to back it up and I can drop in links to any online resources quickly and easily. I do about a half-term at a time, having worked out before how much I need to cover to get everything done within the year. :-p

4. Evernote

You’re not going to believe this but my school still doesn’t use email as the primary method of contact between members of staff. Hard to believe, I know! Consequently, I’m overwhelmed by a deluge of paper. To counteract this, I started taking a photograph of the documents using the camera in my Nokia N95. The trouble was that organizing these images was difficult and time-consuming. In the end, I just gave up.

Then I was invited to take part in the private beta for Evernote. This program is available cross-platform and is now out of beta, so it’s available to everyone. It takes the image you’ve taken and transferred to your laptop (e.g. via Bluetooth) and recognises the words – even when they’re hand-written! You can add tags to the photos and they’re automatically (securely) synced with your account on their server. That means they’re available wherever you’ve got an Internet connection.

Evernote’s a great system no matter what phone/digital camera/laptop combo you’ve got, but if you’ve got an iPhone, you really do need to download it from the App Store!

5. Google Presentations

Sometimes I feel a bit guilty for still using Powerpoint. After all, I’m training colleagues to use software such as SMART Notebook when I rarely use it myself. The truth is, Powerpoint is compatible, flexible, and has great clipart.

The problem comes when you want to get a Powerpoint online. Say that you’ve drawn on top of a diagram and want to make it accessible for students outside the classroom. In the past I’ve had to use OpenOffice to convert it into Flash, upload it to my website, and then create an HTML page in which to embed it.

Not any more. Now I just upload it to Google Docs and it’s transformed into a Google Presentation. This can then be easily embedded into a blog, wiki or website. Marvellous! 🙂

6. Google Sites

I used a self-hosted installation of WordPress for a couple of years successfully at learning.mrbelshaw.co.uk. That’s the place I direct students to in order to access homework activities and resources to aid their learning. At the end of last academic year, however, I switched over to Google Sites. My version actually comes as part of Google Apps Education Edition, but there’s no advantage in this other than the ability to customise the domain name.

I’ve found it really useful and reliable. Because it’s hosted by Google, I’ve never experienced any downtime and, of course, it’s not blocked by the school network’s proxy. You can edit things in a straightforward, easy-to-use manner. The built-in navigation features make it simple for students to navigate. Embedding objects is easy – I could ask for any more! 😀

7. Twitter

I’m disappointed that Twitter, the micro social-networking service, has made the decision to stop the ability to receive SMS updates when you receive direct messages or replies. It means that I’m unlikely to use it with my GCSE students this time around.

To neglect to add it to my list, however, would be misleading. I’ll still be using it both in and out of school in a professional development capacity. I can’t imagine being connected only via blogs now (as in the early days of the edublogosphere). Twitter and other real-time tools make professional development fun!

8. Edublogs

With my last cohort of GCSE History students I installed WordPress Multi-User (WPMU) edition at mrbelshaw.co.uk. Whilst it worked fine and the students took to it well, the system took some configuring and was a bit of a nightmare when I transferred web hosting companies.

This year, I’m going to be using Edublogs. It, after all, is a giant installation of WPMU, but they host it for you, make hundreds of themes available and there’s added values with wiki and forum integration (to name but two). It should cut down on hassle. I track what students are up to via the RSS feed for the blog entries and comments. 🙂

9. Google Earth

It’s fair to say that I use Google Earth a lot. In fact, when I had to teach Geography to a Year 8 Set 4 class last academic year, I think I used it every lesson! It’s also of great use in history as it’s so much more than a mapping application; the ‘layers’ and ability to create tours add huge amounts of value.

I’ll be using it next academic year, as I have in previous years, to plot the route of Hannibal’s march with elephants on Rome, doing a flyover tour of Engladn in 1066, building up the tension of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and a lot more. I’ve shared some of the resources I’ve created for Google Earth over at the historyshareforum.

10. Simple English Wikipedia

Although I’ve threatened to do it a couple of times before, this academic year is going to be the time when I carry through my plan. I want students to be creators and contribute to the Internet. In Years 10 and 11 whilst they’re doing their GCSEs, I get them to blog. But what about in Key Stage 3?

I’m going to get them to add to the Simple English Wikipedia. This lesser-known sibling of Wikipedia is for children and foreign language students. Every page on the main Wikipedia site (potentially) has a similar page on the Simple version. The trouble is that the Simple version doesn’t have as much content – I want to rectify that by getting my students to edit that.

The main problem with this is that they can’t do it at school. I’m sure it the same with most educational institutions: our IP address is banned from editing do to ‘vandalism’ of Wikipedia by a minority of immature students. So, I’ll get them to do it at home and look at the revision history of the page for proof! I’ll let you know how it goes… :-p

11. bubbl.us

I’m a big fan of mindmaps. Although I’m not convinced that bubbl.us creates mindmaps in the true sense of the term they are, at least, very useful brainstorms. If you haven’t given online, collaborative mindmapping/brainstorming a try with your students, I’d suggest you try.

Due to a re-organization of the core subjects at our school, students only get to choose two options for GCSE. This has the knock-on effect of meaning they have 4 lessons to cover content that previously was covered easily in 3. I’m going to spend that fourth lesson with them in the library or an ICT suite blogging, brainstorming/mindmapping, and more…

12. Posterous

I came across Posterous during the summer holiday (see this post). You couldn’t really ask for a blogging service to be made much simpler. All you do is email post@nullposterous.com and it intelligently sorts out what you’ve sent (including attachments) and displays them appropriately. At last I can say to staff that if they know how to email they can set up their own class blog!

If you read my previous post on Posterous, you’ll see that I feel the killer feature will be themes. They’re adding features all the time, it being a new service, and if they add this ability before the start of the academic year (1st September for me) then I’ll seriously consider using them with students too. It might seem shallow, but I’ve found that teenagers like to create an identity online, and the ability to make their site different from their friend’s is important to them.

Finally, I’ll be charting my progress and adding resources to help colleagues as part of my E-Learning Staff Tutor role over at elearnr. Do visit there often and/or subscribe to the RSS feed. 😀

(Image credit: Personal Ecosystem by activeside @ Flickr)

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I want educational technology to be boring.

A few weeks ago on an episode of the excellent podcast EdTechWeekly, Jeff Lebow, one of the co-hosts, expressed how he is still a little amazed by wireless networking. It started me thinking about how much technological stuff in my everyday life I take for granted these days – and how that’s a good thing. 🙂

Then, in a post which referenced my recent issues with a certain VLE provider, Will Richardson linked to a presentation by Clay Shirky. For those of you who haven’t heard of Shirky, he’s the Next Big Thing™ after Thomas Friedman. He’s written a book called Here Comes Everybody that I feel I should read this year. Within the first couple of minutes of the presentation, Shirky said something that made me lose track of everything which followed:

Clay Shirky on technology

Absolutely! I don’t mean by the title of this post that I want educational technology to be ‘boring’ in the sense of it being tedious. No, I mean ‘boring’ in the sense of it being so commonplace and ubiquitous that it isn’t thought about. I want us to get to a stage with all of this Web 2.0 stuff1 where we’re constantly focused on what we can do with the technology. A bit like wireless networking – at least for most of us… :-p

1 Tom Barrett’s getting there with his pupils and Google Docs

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AUP 2.0

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post entitled Towards a Forward-Thinking Acceptable Use Policy for Mobile Devices. To avoid repeating myself, a lot of what I’m going to say here builds upon that post. As a result, you may want to read that first before you start here – or at least remind yourself of it! :-p

No-one ever works in a vacuum, and I don’t think anyone in the history of the world can claim to have had a truly ‘original’ idea. At least not in terms of being the sole agent involved with the idea from scratch. With that in mind, there must have been something brewing in the edublogosphere, as the week after my post seminal blogger David Warlick posted his AUP 2.0. In it, he introduced his School AUP 2.0 wiki, a fantastic resource for anyone wanting/needing to grapple with these issues.

Writing policy documents may seem like a boring or even pointless job, but an up-to-date and meaningful Acceptable Use Policy is crucial to, and underpins, everything we do in terms of educational technology. I’ve mentioned before how my school, like most schools in the UK, has a policy that outright bans students from having their mobile phones in school. Yet, all of them do, and use them blatantly in front of teachers at break and lunchtimes. Some, like myself, have even encouraged students to use their mobile devices for learning: SMS updates from Google Calendar and Twitter, for instance, taking digital pictures instead of writing down homework, or podcasts and revision videos on their MP3/MP4 players.

Such discrepancies are dangerous. It means that the teacher is not protected if anything goes wrong. That’s fine for me, with my gung-ho attitude towards authority and copyright legislation, but less so for the ‘average’ teacher who is already cautious about the benefits of using educational technology. We need to say what is acceptable and what is not in this Web 2.0, digitally-connected world. Students, as teenagers, don’t live in what most adults would call the ‘real world’ anymore; it’s a blended digital/physical world with no hard-and-fast distinctions. Heck, even I don’t live in the ‘real world’. Reality is socially constructed. :-p

It may not be possible to actually keep an AUP up-to-date about specific policies. Realistically, these things are only revisited once or twice a year at an absolute maximum. I know of some schools who have the same AUP from about 1994… 😮

So, instead of a set of hard-and-fast rules, we need guidelines. I really liked the idea Pamela Livingston shared in the comments section here of a post on Classroom 2.0. She reports that her school came up with the acronym ‘LARK’:

  • Legal
  • Appropriate
  • Responsible
  • Kind

I think that’s a fantastic starting point, and a base from which few AUP’s could really go wrong. It reminds me of Sunday School, about putting what you’re going to say through the various seives of being loving, kind… anyway – I digress! 😉

Earlier I mentioned that some schools haven’t updated their AUP’s since the early 90’s. That’s not to say that what they came up with then is completely irrelevant; it just needs updating and tweaking to reflect 2008 and beyond. Take, for instance, Dave Kinnaman’s 1995 essay (with lots of links!) entitled Critiquing Acceptable Use Policies. Kinnaman has updated this over the years to reflect the changing nature of schools and the digital world. He starts it off with a great quotation from Howard Rheingold:

This technological shock to our moral codes means that in the future, we are going to have to teach our children well.

Which is exactly how it should be: any AUP worth it’s salt should begin with what the educational instution is doing to educate the youngsters in it’s charge about such matters.

Dave Warlick’s wiki is probably the best place these days to go to look for sample AUP’s, as it pulls in tagged links from del.icio.us, diigo, etc. You could also try here. Every AUP must appropriately balance those things common to all Internet and educational technology users, and those things that are specific to the context of that particular educational institution and it’s members. I don’t think it’s ever acceptable to grab something that works for one school, college or university and expect it to just ‘work’ with yours; the AUP must be tailored to your specific situation.

At the end of the day, AUP 2.0 must be more a manifesto of what we want to achieve with educational technology than be about what we want to restrict and block. There are obviously websites, services and practices we want to ban outright – pornographic, violent and racist sites, for instance. Children cannot cope with the same things adults can. But it should still be the guiding principle of an AUP to allow as much as possible, used in an acceptable way as possible. Blocking things because of their ‘potential’ to be used inappropriately (Twitter? Bebo? YouTube?) is to avoid the issue and to abdicate our responsibility as educators in institutions that are supposedly about learning.

The AUP 2.0 for my school will hopefully follow in the near future. I need to persuade the Senior Management, governors and, indeed, staff that it needs to be revisited first! 😮

Further reading:

Image credit: Don’t Stop Questioning by contrapositively, Traffic Light Tree by Squirmelia & T-092-0197 by yanyanyanyanyan – all @ Flickr

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