Tag: blogs (page 2 of 3)

“Toto, I have a feeling we are not in Kansas anymore!” (or, How to get started in the Edublogosphere…)

Wizard of Oz

I’ve been contacted by four different postgraduate researchers in the last two weeks. It’s getting to the stage where I’m considering setting up a new website/discussion space! A couple of them just wanted permission to use some of my stuff in their theses, one is already a member of the Edublogosphere, but one asked a very pertinent question:

My stumbling across some of your postings last night was my first trip in the edublogosphere. What else is going on out there?

As you can imagine, I hardly knew where to start! As I like to reply to emails ASAP, I replied thus:

  • Find some blogs to read. My Google Reader shared items might be a good place to start. Also try the big names in the edublogosphere – search for Stephen Downes, Will Richardson, Vicki Davis, Ewan McIntosh, and Dave Warlick. ๐Ÿ™‚
  • Get yourself a Google account and use Google Reader to subscribe to the RSS feeds of blogs (don’t know how? click here)
  • Start using Twitter. At first you’ll think “What on earth…?”. After a while you’ll find it indispensible.
  • Start blogging yourself. Doesn’t matter what, but start making links with people. It’s the conversation that counts! Try edublogs to get you started. ๐Ÿ˜€

There’s a Hebrew proverb that I’m sure almost every educator will have heard before: “Do not confine your children to your learning, for they were born in a different time.” The same could be said of the Edublogosphere. I can hardly recommend that people start by using the same tools I did when things have moved on so much in the last 3-4 years! What would YOU recommend?

This Sunday, EdTechRoundup will be discussing just this issue – how to get started in the Edublogosphere – from 7.45pm onwards. Please do join us and give your input. The session will be recorded and go out as a podcast.

If you can’t make it, or just want to get the conversation going before then, please add your comment below! :-p

Some web-hosting advice, please…

Last month when I opened up our credit card statement, I looked with horror at the amount I was being charged for webhosting. It said that MediaTemple, my current web hosts for this blog, learning.mrbelshaw.co.uk, edte.ch and historyshareforum.com were charging me almost ยฃ20 per month for the privilege. This, apparently, is due to the ‘amount of MySQL activity’ on my account. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

Last summer, I transferred from Bluehost – with whom I’d been very happy – due to MediaTemple’s well-publicised ‘Grid Hosting’ and their ability to host domain names such as .ch (needed for edte.ch). Now, however, I find that my websites take longer to load, their customer service is below average, and they’re over-charging me.

I’d love to simply go back to Bluehost. That’s not really an option, however, due to their inability to host .ch domains. I had a look at going with HP-backed and much-advertised One.com, but they don’t allow ‘download-related’ sites – historyshareforum.com is for the sharing and downloading of resources.

So I’d like your recommendations please. My criteria are:

  • Good value (i.e. reasonably cheap!)
  • Good customer support (quick response time)
  • Support for a wide range of domain extensions

Ideally, I’d also like the servers to be based in the UK. It makes fast loading times of the websites for the majority of my visitors more likely, you see… ๐Ÿ˜€

Image credit: The Web that is Us by ecstaticist @ Flickr

How I got started… and the difference it’s made.

Karyn Romeis’ dissertation is going to be on “the use of social media on the professional practice of learning professionals”. She’s asked the edublogosphere for ‘testimonies’ – how we got started and the difference it’s made to our professional practice.

For what it’s worth, I’m going to chip in with my $0.02 as Karyn has often helped me before and has been a valued commenter, both here and on the now-defunct teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk.

The questions Karyn has asked are:

  1. How did you get started with social media?
  2. What was your introduction, and how did the journey unfold?
  3. What difference has it made in your professional practice?

I shall take the points, as they say, in turn:

1. How did you get started with social media?

Although I knew what a blog was before 2004 (they came up in Google search results, for one) I didn’t really start subscribing to RSS feeds, etc. before then. I read the early ‘big names’ in what was then a small edublogosphere – the likes of Will Richardson, Dave Warlick, Stephen Downes and Wesley Fryer.

After subscribing to a number of blogs, including educational ones, I started blogging myself in late 2005. My confidence had grown from commenting on a range of blogs and having created websites the old-fashioned way as a teenager. I set up my teaching-related blog on a sub-domain of the mrbelshaw.co.uk website I was using with students in my classroom. When I found myself off work for a sustained period due to stress I began to blog at teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk every day. Like so many in the early days, I saw the huge potential of Web 2.0 tools in the classroom, and genuinely believed they could revolutionise the way we deliver learning to young people.

Wikis came later. I still haven’t found a way to use them in the classroom in a truly collaborative way, but I’m willing to keep trying. I’ve dabbled with podcasting, but blogs are my main method of communication on the Internet. Blogs, wikis and podcasts were – and to many still are – the defining tools of Web 2.0. Indeed, it’s pretty much the title of Will Richardson’ book.

2. What was your introduction, and how did the journey unfold?

I’ve mentioned the first part of this question above, but the journey unfolded in the following way. First of all, I started getting comments on my blog. These actually came from ‘seminal bloggers’ – in some cases figures such as the luminaries mentioned above. This spurred me on. During my absence from school due to stress, blogging gave me a focus, positive feedback and, I believe, aided my recovery.

The numbers of subscribers to the RSS feed of my blog slowly grew from late 2005 until I stopped blogging there at the end of 2007. During this time, I witnessed a huge expansion in the size of the edublogosphere. Ordinary class teachers (like myself) started putting their heads above the parapet online. First, this was mainly in the USA, but gradually I became aware of those in International Schools, then in Australia, and finally in the UK. I’m of the opinion that we still haven’t got enough English bloggers – Scotland’s at least 10 times smaller, population-wise, yet they put us to shame in the edublogosphere!

I’ve cleared my RSS feed reader and started again from zero a couple of times now. I think it’s probably a useful thing to do at least once per year: it gives you a reason to go out looking for new content and angles that can motivate and inspire you.

Finally, Twitter has been somewhat of a revelation. I’ve had my account about a year and a half now. During that time I’ve made so many more connections than I could have done before. You can get answers to very specific questions almost in real-time, begin impromptu more formal discussions or simply get the latest ‘buzz’. I love it. ๐Ÿ˜€

3. What difference has it made in your professional practice?

I’ve always been a fairly inquisitive person (I chose to study Philosophy as an undergraduate) and never been scared to mix things up a bit. In fact, the reason I became a teacher was to play my part in reforming the system for the better. Being part of a global community of teachers, however, has given me confidence, the knowledge and, in some cases, the skills, to get my point across in my educational institution.

There is such a thing as the ‘wisdom of crowds’, but I think it’s probably more like the ‘wisdom of the network’. Twitter’s a wonderful example. Thinkers such as George Siemens have a theory to explain this – it’s called Connectivism. Learners are ‘nodes on a network’ and the network harbours a great amount of knowledge, on tap at almost any time.

In my interactions with students, it’s allowed me to ‘flatten the walls of the classroom’ – to use a Warlickian phrase. Although students could keep up with homework, etc. with mrbelshaw.co.uk 1.0, the advent of learning.mrbelshaw.co.uk saw the dawn of mrbelshaw.co.uk 2.0, including links to Web 2.0 apps (wikis, podcasts, YouTube video clips, and so on).

It’s also meant I could start really showing my colleagues that they could use the Internet quickly and easily to interact with students. Having to learn HTML or to use a program with a potentially difficult-to-use learning curve to get content online, was a barrier for most teachers. Now, it’s as easy (in most cases) as signing up for an account somewhere, typing/uploading stuff and then sharing the web address with students. It also gives you the chance, again in most cases, to get feedback.

I’ve been fortunate to begin my teaching career at a time when such revolutionary tools are available. It’s just a shame that they haven’t – yet – caused a learning revolution. I’m four years into my teaching career and very much looking forward to what comes next. Web 3.0 and the Semantic Web? ๐Ÿ™‚

Image credits (all @Flickr):

EdTechRoundup 4 featuring, erm, me again…

EdTechRoundupSinclair Mackenzie and I are proud to present the next podcast under the auspices of EdTechRoundup. For those who don’t know, we’re a group of UK-based educators interested in the potential of educational technology to enhance teaching and learning. We’re a diverse bunch and anyone’s welcome to join us. There’s more details at our wiki – do feel free to join us on Sunday nights from 8-9.30pm!

EdTechRoundup podcast episode 4 is all about Internet Safety and features Ollie Bray – the man, the myth, the legend. He’s doing some great things up in Scotland that you really should hear about. So head over to the post to get the links and subscribe to the RSS feed, or just listen to us by clicking below! ๐Ÿ˜€

Oh, and that absolutely rocking music at the start and end is the magnificent guitar solo from Muse‘s Knights of Cydonia. Of course. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Things I’ve been reading online recently

Blog LinksI don’t like it when people automatically post their daily del.icio.us/diigo links on their blog. It just clutters up my feed reader. What I do like, however, is when bloggers share what they’ve really enjoyed reading.

So here’s what I’ve enjoyed reading recently with a brief synopsis! ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Lifehack.orgHow to Be an Expert (and Find One if You’re Not)Some great advice; I like this bit especially: “In addition to knowledge, an expert needs to have significant experience working with that knowledge. S/he needs to be able to apply it in creative ways, to be able to solve problems that have no pre-existing solutions they can look up โ€” and to identify problems that nobody else has noticed yet.”
  • indexed No matter what the DNA test saysJessica’s diagrams on index cards can be somewhat hit-and-miss, but I love this one reminding me what being a Dad’s all about!
  • Lifehack.orgQuantity Breeds CreativityThis post about creativity references problems with the school system, not least, “[W]hen our students leave school they are steeped in a system that says find the โ€˜right answerโ€™ and you have solved the problem. Unfortunately the real world is not like that. For almost every problem there are multiple solutions. We have to unlearn the school approach and instead adopt an attitude of always looking for more and better answers.”
  • aphopheniadoes work/life balance exist?An honest post with some swearing, so be warned! I like this bit: “Underneath the sensationalism, there’s a core point here: those who are passionate about what they do do it to extremes.” In other words, you don’t get anywhere by half-doing something… ๐Ÿ˜‰
  • BectaEmerging technologies for learning: volume 3 (2008)Several bloggers gave the heads-up on this. No great surprises, but interesting reading!
  • Drape’s TakesPrensky: Valiant Efforts on the War on BoredomDarren Draper summaries Mark Prensky’s article Turn On The Lights. I like the idea of working towards 100% engagement and being intolerant of anything less! ๐Ÿ˜€
  • ICT in my ClassroomTwitter – A Teaching Learning Tool Tom Barrett’s excellent post on how Twitter can be used in a pedagogically-sound way. Ironically, he composed the post when completely off-grid (“No mains gas, no telephones, no mobile signal, no internet connection, no possible way to interact with my personal learning network”). I love it when bloggers incorporate useful graphics in their posts. Very helpful – thanks Tom!
  • Drape’s TakesDrop.io: File Sharing With RSS = Endless PossibilitiesDrop.io looks like a great tool. A one-stop solution for sharing resources automatically with students!
  • Teaching SagittarianInspired by 3 Steps – Reflections on this video that looks at 3 steps to a more creative classroom. Great links and great ideas. I just wish I had most of my students for more than one 50 minute lesson per week!
  • Middle School Ed Tech BlogWeb 2.0 Overview for AdministratorsLinks to blogs you might not have read yet. Also good for ‘that’ conversation you’ll inevitably have with a member of your Senior Leadership Team!
  • Steve HargadonWeb 2.0 Is the Future of Education – ‘Web 2.0′ isn’t a great term, but some of what it represents are extremely powerful. The technologies really level the playing field and allow users to be very creative. Perhaps best summed up by this quotation, “I believe that the read/write Web, or what we are calling Web 2.0, will culturally, socially, intellectually, and politically have a greater impact than the advent of the printing press.”
  • RuminateSocial Fluency and Improvisation – Mainly useful for the excellent diagram at the beginning of the post. It’s a Venn diagram showing ‘Social Fluency’ as being a combination of ‘Knowledge’, ‘Communication Skills’ and ‘Thinking Competency’. It’s certainly interesting stuff… ๐Ÿ™‚
  • ConnectivismPedagogy First? Whatever. – Although I usually agree with him, I don’t agree with George Siemens here. The most important sentence in this post which sums up his position is, “Pedagogy is not hte starting point of planning to teach with technology. Context is.” George quite rightly points out that ‘pedagogy’ can mean many and diverse things and that anyone can find research that backs up their own position. But that’s not to say that learning shouldn’t be put first. Of course context is important, but it’s a consideration on the way to creating learning activities. Otherwise, the learning is unlikely to be rigorous, or indeed, useful and long-term.

More and more I find myself using the mobile version of Google Reader on my Asus eee, starring and saving what I like in order to come back to it on a bigger screen.

I shared and starred the above items and you can see all the posts I do this to (and subscribe to the RSS feed it creates) here.

EdTechRoundup 3 featuring Yours Truly

EdTechRoundupI’m delighted to announce that (eventually!) EdTechRoundup Podcast Episode 3 is now available for your listening pleasure. It’s around 33 minutes long and is centered around a conversation about the merits of blogs vs. wikis I had with Kristian Still.

The quality music inbetween sections is taken from the first few seconds of Justice’s One Minute To Midnight. ๐Ÿ˜€

Recommend me 3

Just before Christmas I suffered from blogging burn-out. Having our first son in January last year knocked me for six and the consequences became apparent towards the end of the year. So I made a bit of a dramatic decision (at least for me).

I unsubscribed from every blog I subscribed to via Google Reader.

Now I’m suffering from information under-load (if there’s such a term). I feel a bit disconnected in terms of my main areas of interest: education, technology, productivity. So, reader, I need your help! Which blogs would you recommend in these areas? Are there any that you don’t miss a single post from? Check out my Trends provided courtesy of Google Reader below:

Trends in Google Reader for Doug Belshaw

Once upon a time I’d read 1,000 items in a day, never mind a month. Of course, I want quality over quantity.

I’ve shown you mine – care to show me yours? ๐Ÿ˜€

4 blogs that enhance my productivity

Dilbert - productivityI used to be naturally productive. These days, for a multitude of reasons, I need some assistance, some guidance, a helping hand to point me in the right direction. It’s about time (and especially given the education, technology, productivity tagline of this blog) that I share some of my productivity kryptonite… ๐Ÿ™‚

Read more →

Don’t miss Stephen Fry’s blog and podcast

PodgramsIf you haven’t come across Stephen Fry’s blog, your really should pay it a visit. Yes, that’s he of Jeeves & Wooster and QI fame.

Not only does he, rather surprisingly, have a passion for all things geek-like (see this post on Linux and the Asus eee for example) but he’s now doing podcasts – or Podgrams as he calls them… ๐Ÿ˜€

5 things School of Rock can teach us about real education

School of Rock

I watched School of Rock a couple of nights ago. Unbelievably, given that I absolutely love High Fidelity – which stars Jack Black in a somewhat similar role – I’d never seen it before. The film was great and I really enjoyed it; I also thought it gave some pointers as to what real learning experiences should look like.

Obviously, I don’t think that it’s acceptable for substitute teachers(or ‘supply’ teachers as we call them over here) to be unchecked and do whatever they want in the classroom. It’s not that aspect I think is laudable. Instead, it’s the following

  1. Project-based learning – the students in School of Rock work on one big project. If this was organised by a qualified teacher, department or faculty, then this could incorporate many different skills rather than trying to teach skills and content separately.
  2. Drawing out students’ talents – At first some of the students seem to be given roles that are an after-thought, ones which are not important. However, the students grow into these roles and make them their own. For example, the student who produces a lighting show is amazingly talented – but would never have had the opportunity to discover this if it wasn’t for the project.
  3. Developing confidence – The system of gold stars and receiving grades for each piece of work keeps students in their seats and keeps them well-disciplined in the film. This is necessary in some schools where students have very disorganised and fragmentary home lives. However, in most schools students need creative freedom and the opportunity to work to their strengths, building confidence in their own ability.
  4. Teamwork – Instead of working individually (or nominally in pairs), students in School of Rock had to depend on one another. They were all vitally involved towards the same end which made them seem valued and developed their interpersonal skills.
  5. Real-world experiences – The students work towards something called Battle of the Bands. Although the students do not win this competition, the experience of playing in front of a live audience and showing their parents what they have been up is invaluable. This made me think of students publishing their work for bigger audiences through blog posts, YouTube videos, etc.

Which films have you seen that you think relate to education?

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