Tag: Wikipedia (page 1 of 2)

Why e-safety isn’t part of digital literacy (and never will be).

Increasingly, I’m realising that there are unsaid words that precede almost any statement involving a connotative element. What are those words?

Let me tell you a story…

Given the potential for almost any word in any language to be used metaphorically, storytelling is happening pretty much most of the time.

So here’s my story.

Digital literacy, despite the heated debate going on behind the relevant page at Wikipedia isn’t computer literacy. It isn’t media literacy either. And it’s certainly not e-safety.

Including e-safety as an input, as a constituent part of, digital literacy makes no sense at all. It’s like defining traditional (print) literacy by describing behaviour in libraries (or what you can do with a book). What lies behind this approach is the assumption that a collection of competencies makes a literacy, which isn’t true: a collection of competencies is a skillset. And one only has to refer to Searle’s Chinese Room argument to see the fallacy behind equating a skillset with any form of understanding.

No, e-safety is an output of digital literacy, something that flows out of it once an individual is fluent. Fluency is the top end of the literacy scale – and fluency is the result of practice. To divorce e-safety from practice, to conceive it as something that can be taught in isolation is ill-advised and, ultimately, futile.

So stop building your creepy treehouses, and start thinking holistically about literacy and education more generally. Avoid digital Taylorism, and start debating about what it is we’re trying to do here. If we’re truly trying to protect and educate our young people we need to know what it is we’re protecting them from, why we’re doing it, and the best ways of going about it.

Scaring people with statistics and horror stories perpetuates the wrong type of responses (e.g. blocking) and avoids the problem. Let’s tackle it head-on. Let’s start focusing on digital literacy.

Update: Fixed incorrect link.

#uppingyourpresentation

Anyone should be able to present on anything of which they’ve got a basic grasp.

That’s the theory.

A group of us at work meet together every so often to improve our skills in a certain area. On Monday it’s presentations. My first thought was to present using a single image related to a random Wikipedia article. However, this is what came up:

Hence my tweet asking for a random subject and method of presentation for an upcoming (informal) peer review session at work:

(click to enlarge)

I hadn’t come across Juxio before, so have decided to use that. As for the subject, I really like Lou McGill‘s suggestion of dandelions as it had a connection to work (I collaborated with Lou on the OER infoKit for which we used a dandelion motif).

**Update***

Here’s my presentation as I delivered it. You may need to turn the sound up as the Flip camera was quite a distance away from me!

5 things I can do with my Kindle that you can’t with your dead-tree books.

1. Read things I save for later using Instapaper.

2. Sync highlights and comments to Evernote.

3. Search for a quotation or section in a book.

4. Look up a word in the built-in dictionary or a concept at Wikipedia.

5. Use the built-in 3G to navigate Google Maps via the browser.

UX: 5 valuable resources

I realised recently that the middle of my Venn diagram is ‘user experience’ (broadly considered) user outcomes. This incorporates what’s known as UX:

User eXperience (UX) is about how a person feels about using a system. User experience highlights the experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human-computer interaction (HCI) and product ownership, but it also covers a person’s perceptions of the practical aspects such as utility, ease of use and efficiency of the system. User experience is subjective in nature, because it is about an individual’s performance, feelings and thoughts about the system. User experience is dynamic, because it changes over time as the circumstances change. (Wikipedia)

Since then, I’ve been looking for resources that will help me sharpen my thinking around UX. Here’s five that I’ve come across:

  1. UX booth – a blog ‘by and for the User Experience community’.
  2. Chris Messina’s Design Patterns – a collection on Flickr of ‘interesting interfaces and design flows from around the web’. Definitely worth checking out!
  3. UX Myths – a collection of user experience misconceptions, with explanations of why they aren’t true.
  4. Smashing Magazine: 25 User Experience videos that are worth your time – the title says it all!
  5. UX Magazine – a really nicely laid-out site (as you’d hope!) settting out ‘to explore, promote & discuss the multiple facets of user experience one article at a time.’

Have you come across UX resources that would help? 😀

The problem with free stuff.

divieto?
Image: ‘divieto?

Background:

I like free stuff. I also like Open Source (OSS) stuff. I especially like FLOSS. OSS has a model that works:

In his 1997 essay The Cathedral and the Bazaar, open source evangelist Eric S. Raymond suggests a model for developing OSS known as the bazaar model. Raymond likens the development of software by traditional methodologies to building a cathedral, “carefully crafted by individual wizards or small bands of mages working in splendid isolation”. He suggests that all software should be developed using the bazaar style, which he described as “a great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches.” (Wikipedia)

The trouble is, the only real ‘model’ that non-OSS developers have for making software freely available is freemium: making basic services free whilst charging for more advanced features.

The problem:

Educators get upset when services they’ve been using (for free) get shut down. That’s understandable.

Why are educators using these free, online tools? Because those that are provided for them don’t cut the mustard. Why aren’t they paying for the more advanced (premium) features? Because they would have to pay for them personally.

Solutions:

  1. Encourage/dictate that staff and students use only Open Source software (if a developer leaves, the software is still there and you can find/pay someone to develop it further)
  2. Give staff (and students?) a budget to spend on software/web apps (a bit like a personal version of the ill-fated eLearning Credits system in the UK)
  3. Have a backup plan (what other services could you migrate to if the worst came to the worst?)

Conclusion:

If you don’t pay for it (or, if ad-supported, click on the ads) don’t grumble if it’s not there tomorrow.

Affinity spaces, secondary orality & digital epistemologies.


sfondo spaces azzurro

CC BY-SA misstitina86 @ Flickr

I’ve been trying to squeeze in my Ed.D. research when I can recently, sometimes rising well before the sun does! I’m at the stage (seedougbelshaw.com/thesis) where I’m nearing the end of my first run through my Literature Review. I want to have it pretty much finished when I have a video chat with my supervisor next week.

This post is to summarize what I’ve been learning (and attempting to synthesize) about so-called ‘affinity spaces’, ‘secondary orality’ and ‘digital epistemologies’. Much of the following comes from, or was thinking provoked by, Lankshear and Knobel’s New Literacies (2006). My notes on the books and articles mentioned, as ever, are available at dougbelshaw.com/wiki. 🙂


Literacy is all about communication. Literacy therefore is all about creating or reading texts for a particular purpose. This doesn’t change when we move into the realm of ‘digital literac(ies)’. It was Gee (2004) who came up with notion of ‘affinity spaces’. These spaces are characterized by the following elements (taken from this useful post):

  • A common endeavor is primary, not aspects such as race, class, gender, or disability that can often hinder communication.
  • Newbies, masters, and everyone else share common space
  • Some portals are strong generators (whatever gives the space some content)
  • Content organization is transformed by interactional organization
  • Both intensive and extensive knowledge are encouraged
  • Both individual and distributed knowledge are encouraged
  • Dispersed knowledge is encouraged
  • Tacit knowledge is encouraged and honored
  • Many different forms and routes to participation
  • Many different routes to status
  • Leadership is porous and leaders are resources

In other words, an affinity space is somewhere where informal learning takes place and which ‘bridge[s] barriers of age, race, socio-economic status, and educational level, and allow[s] each user to participate as he/she is able’ (Gee, 2005). They are hotbeds of literate practices.

Some – e.g. Davies (2006) – discuss the ‘Third Space’ that websites such as Flickr allow to flourish:

Third Space … constitutes the discursive conditions … that ensure that … even the same signs can be appropriated, translated, rhetoricized and read anew. (Bhabha, 1994 – quoted in Davies, 2006)

The example that is used time and again in the literature is that of Fan Fiction as the genre is a relatively stable one. Other affinity spaces tend to be characterised by memes. Knobel (2006) mentions that, indeed, affinity spaces are ‘perfect conduits’ for memes and that the former ‘can be fixed or fleeting and are always thoroughly relational in nature’. Lankshear & Knobel (2006:236) quote Gee as saying the following about affinity spaces:

[Affinity spaces are] specially designed spaces (physical and virtual) constructed to resource people [who are] tied together… by a share dinterest or endeavor… [For example, the] many many websites and publications devoted to [the video game, Rise of Nations] create a social space in which people can, to any degree they wish, small or large, affiliate with others to share knowledge and gain knowledge that is distributed and dispersed across many different people, places, Internet sites and modalities (magazines, chat rooms, guides, recordings).

It is clear even from the short introduction above that affinity are at the other end of the scale from the traditional classroom. They are based on interest rather than compulsion, the idea that everyone participating is of equal status rather than one person being in control, and emerging ‘rules’ rather than those imposed top-down.

The driving question behind my Ed.D. thesis is What does it mean to be digitally literate? Lankshear & Knobel (2006:243) make the point that definitions of digital literacy make little or no reference to memes, creativity or ‘digital playfulness’:

[T]he phenomenon of online memes challenges the growing dominance of ‘digital literacy’ conceptions of what it means to be a competent user of new technologies and networks… Digital literacy mindsets do not pay sufficient attention to the importance of social relations in developing, refining, remixing and sharing ideas in fecund and replicable ways, or to the important role that memes play in developing culture and creativity. (my emphasis)

The authors proceed to discuss Steven Johnson’s Everything Bad is Good for You, comparing books with ‘networked texts’. Digital literacy, of course, is not necessary to read the former – but it’s perhaps the inherently social element of the latter that sets it apart from print-based classical conceptions of literacy.

It is this idea of ‘text plus something else’ that will lead me to bring in the work of Walter Ong to my thesis. Ong (1982, 2002:3) talks of ‘secondary orality’ – i.e. a set of social practices that resemble purely oral cultures but which are predicated upon technologies surrounding literacy:

The electronic age is also an age of ‘secondary orality’, the orality of telephones, radio, and television, which depends on writing and print for its existence.

Ong’s point (summarized well at Wikipedia) is that oral cultures are additive in a way that solely print-based cultures are not. Writing before the dawn of the internet, Ong rather presciently explained that oral cultures allow ideas to be revisited in different ways that books and articles often do not. Positions are less fixed. As Douglas (1998:160) puts it in relation to the internet, ‘when you spin an argument in hypertext, you can choose to represent a world that is strictly ‘either/or’ or one that is ‘and/and/and’.’ Chris Lott made an interesting presentation entitled Closing the Gutenberg Parenthesis related to this recently.

All of which takes us neatly to the question of digital epistemologies. I need to check out A New Literacies Sampler before actually writing this section of my thesis, but I’m fairly sure where I’m going in abstract. Epistemology is, of course, philosophical questions about the nature and scope of knowledge. Digital epistemologies, therefore, refer to how knowledge is different in a digital world. This obviously has an impact and a bearing upon notions of T/truth. Truth (with a capital ‘T’) is received – and often ‘revealed’ – truths about the world that cannot (or should not) be questioned. Education has often been like this, leading to a transmission model of education.

On the other hand, truth (with a small ‘t’) is provisional knowledge, tentative conclusions based upon available evidence. This is the Pragmatist position, a philosophical methodology I’m employing in my thesis. A lot of what happens online – in fact most of what happens online is concerned with truth with a small ‘t’. As Lankshear & Knobel (2006:242-3) put it:

[A] seemingly increasing proportion of what people do and seek within practices mediated by new technologies – particularly computing and communications technologies – has nothing directly to do with true and with established rules, procedures and standards for knowing. That is most emphatically not to say that these matters are no longer important. Rather, it is to draw attention to the fact that today’s learners are increasingly recruited to other values and priorities.

Given the nature of the above, it seems out of place to tie everything together into a neat conclusion at the end of this post. Suffice to say, therefore, that memes and their impact on affinity spaces, the concept of ‘secondary orality’ in respect to the internet, and the links between literacy, truth and epistemology will certainly be featuring towards the end of my literature review.

I’ve still quite a bit of work left to do on this, so do feel free to point me towards any related and useful blog posts, journal articles books, etc.! :-p

Bibliography

  • Davies, J. (2006) Affinities and Beyond! Developing Ways of Seeing in Online Spaces (E-Learning, 3:2, 2006)
  • Douglas, J.J. (1998) ‘Will the most reflexive relativist please stand up: hypertext, argument and relativism’ (in I. Snyder (ed.), Page to Screen, London, 1998)
  • Knobel, M. (2006) Memes and Affinity Spaces: some implications for policy and digital divides in education (E-Learning, 3:3, 2006)
  • Knobel, M. & Lankshear, C. (2006) New Literacies: Everyday Practices & Classroom Learning
  • Ong, W. (1982, 2002) Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word

The difference between ‘crowdsourcing’ and being lazy.

Crowd

Image CC BY-NC-SA Samuel Stroube @ Flickr

I don’t usually get involved with things explicitly concerned with education in the USA. But there’s been one issue recently that prompted me to reflect on a wider concern: the difference between ‘crowd-sourcing’ and just being lazy.*

In fact, it’s more than being lazy. It’s taking a concept and twisting it for your own ends to look like you’re doing something you’re not. It’s an attempted shortcut to being seen as ‘innovative’. It’s bandwagon-jumping instead of hitchhiking. 🙁

The current Wikipedia definition of ‘crowdsourcing’:

Crowdsourcing is a distributed problem-solving and production model. Problems are broadcast to an unknown group of solvers in the form of an open call for solutions. Users—also known as the crowd—typically form into online communities, and the crowd submits solutions. The crowd also sorts through the solutions, finding the best ones.

When done well, the results can be outstanding. Take, for example, The Guardian‘s decision to open up and make available the 700,000 documents involved in the UK MP expenses scandal. They received over 20,000 responses highlighting irregularities.

However, crowdsourcing is something that can be done very badly and for the wrong reasons. Take, for example ISTE’s decision to ‘crowdsource’ the Keynote speech for its 2010 conference. On the face of it, and for those involved with ISTE, the idea must look cutting-edge and innovative. It’s got a Digg-like voting system for proposals and has created a buzz about the conference on Twitter and blogs. However, although it looks as if it’s ’empowering’ people, it’s actually doing the opposite.

As Miguel Guhlin points out,

…I’m tired of hitching my carriage behind some writer’s idea of what could be in business but is designed for education since they’re the chosen keynoter. While research may say something, the fact is, research has been speaking up for years in school change and reform…and you know what? People aren’t listening.

Go and read Miguel’s post in full, but to summarize it briefly here, he says that expecting a keynote to change things at the coalface means putting faith in the following process:

  1. Educators go away and learn how to use a tool to the extent that it becomes part of their practice.
  2. The tool is appropriate to use within the context of their school and educators are free to use it as they wish.
  3. Educators are able to get their school leadership onboard and stay at the institution long enough to make a difference.
  4. Parents offer little or no resistence to flattening the walls of the classroom through the use of Web 2.0 tools.

Put in that way, it’s clear that ISTE’s decision is far from revolutionary. As Miguel states, it’s time for a ‘radical reboot’ in national and interational approaches to innovation in education. Isn’t it ironic that we use a lecture format to encourage teachers to be innovative and move away from such a format? 😉

So if you’re a leader and are looking to be innovative, please do look about you to see what others are doing. But once you’ve done that, go back and think about what the objectives of your organization/business/conference/whatever actually are. Then see if the process/innovation/tool that you’ve come across is appropriate. Ask yourself if you’re going through the process/using the tool for the right reasons.

Do you know of any other examples of thinly-disguised laziness?

* That thinking was started by reading Charles Leadbeater’s We-Think: mass innovation, not mass production (my review forthcoming)

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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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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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5 productivity tips/hacks I’ve come across recently.

I’m always on the lookout for ways in which I can be more productive and increase my creative outputs. Time is precious when you’re a teacher, husband and father! Whilst I recommend you subscribe to blogs like Lifehacker and Lifehack.org directly, I’d like to share with you some of the tips and ‘lifehacks’ I’ve found useful recently:

1. FriendFeed

If you’re not using FriendFeed yet, you should be! I’ve been using it for a couple of months and find it very useful. It’s like the river of news and updates you get on Facebook (or at least last time I checked). The difference is that it’s people in the edublogosphere so it’s things related directly to professional learning. The quality of links, recommendations, etc. I get through FriendFeed means that I actually check my feed reader less often now (and use Feedly instead of Google Reader when I do…)

2. Firefox Extensions

I’ve already blogged about Stylish and Feedly, but it’s amazing how much Firefox extensions (addons) can improve your productivity. Take a couple recommended by Lifehacker recently:

  • Tree Style Tabs – allows you to hierarchically organize tabs in a vertical manner in your sidebar. Much more useful than it sounds!
  • Picnik – allows you to capture and edit screenshots online.
  • Zemanta – adds features when creating blog posts like related articles, suggested tags, links to Wikipedia articles, etc.

It’s worth trawling through the Mozilla Firefox addons site and/or doing a Google search for recommended extensions. There’s some great one out there! 🙂

3. How Priorities Make Things Happen

I know from experience that I work much better and in a more focused way if I’m working to a deadline. In fact, I purposely don’t start things until, for example, I’ve only got 24 hours left to complete it. Otherwise, I procrastinate and then, when finished, endlessly tinker to make things ‘just right’.

In a Lifehacker post about a book entitled How Priorities Make Things Happen, this is put into a more structured and easy-to-understand (and follow) form:

The easiest way to make a goal meaningful is to use ordered lists and a high priority one bar. These two simple tools force you to make tough decisions early. An ordered list simply means putting your goals in priority order, most important at the top, least important at the bottom. Divide that list in half: the top are things you must do, or die (Priority 1). The rest are things you hope to do, but can live without (Priority 2). Make your priority 1 list as small as possible: set a high bar. The smaller your list of must do’s, the easier they are to achieve. You will face waves of conflicting emotions as you decide what is truly important, but once you settle on priorities the hard decisions will be behind you.

4. Share Your Secrets To Be The Change

I’ve always shared pretty much everything I’ve ever produced – from my university essays/theses to resources I use in the classroom. Others have been flabbergasted by this approach, finding it strange that I should give away for free what I’ve put so much work into. I have the opposite approach – I get back so much more than I give. I’m sure others reading this have found the same.

It’s for the above reasons that I found Share Your Secrets To Be The Change, a post on Lifehack.org, to be so affirming. I especially liked the bits about sharing ‘making your life happier’ and making you into a ‘hero’. Knowing that I’ve got an audience certainly makes me more productive.

5. Top Ten Modern Life Survival Skills

It’s all very well these websites that show you how to start a fire using a Coke can and a piece of chocolate, but how many of us will actually ever need to do that? Really useful ‘modern survival skills’ can give you more control over your life; ergo more time and therefore productivity.

A post on Lifehacker entitled Top Ten Modern Life Survival Skills includes this gem:

Ever notice how putting your hand on your clock radio tends to clarify and boost the signal? You can use that same body-as-extended-antenna trick to locate your car in a stuffed parking lot. Hold your remote opening fob against your skull, hit the alarm (or beep-beep locking button), and you’ll locate your vehicle from farther away.

Have YOU got any productivity tips/hacks you’ve come across recently you’ve found useful? Share them in the comments section! 😀

(Image credit: branching out by shapeshift @ Flickr)

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