Tag: elearning (page 2 of 4)

elearnr posts now at dougbelshaw.com/blog

elearnr posts now at dougbelshaw.com/blog

As regular readers are aware, I’ve ‘divested’ myself of some stuff recently, including a couple of domain names. The legendary Dave Stacey will be taking over elearnr.org, the space I used in my previous position as E-Learning Staff Tutor to provide ‘e-learning links, resources and guides’.

Whilst Dave has indicated a desire to keep the existing content, I didn’t want him to feel restricted. I’ve imported, therefore, all of the content that was at elearnr.org to this blog.

Here’s some examples:

Use the search function to find more! 😀

A Week of Divesting: Domains [incl. a competition!]

This blog post involves a competition to win the domain names http://edte.ch and http://elearnr.org. It’s free to enter, but you have to comment and make a promise! If you’re not interested in the story behind the competition, simply scroll down to the section in bold at the end for what to do.

Hot Air Balloons
Image by a4gpa @ Flickr

Introduction

Every now and then I decide to buy a domain name. It’s usually related to some project or other I’m thinking of undertaking. Sometimes the project doesn’t take off (e.g. tweetmeet.eu) whereas other times it does (e.g. edtechroundup.com). Unfortunately, the two domain names I’m proudest of coming up with are currently lying dormant. That’s causing me increasing angst as I wonder what to do so as not to squander them. I’ve decided, therefore, to donate them to a worthy cause. 🙂

The stories behind the domains

In 2007 I was growing frustrated at ‘only’ being a teacher of History and ICT. I wanted to do something like what I’ll be doing from this academic year onwards as Director of E-Learning. Unfortunately, such positions were still very much in their infancy and it wasn’t clear that schools in the state sector would create such positions. Consequently, I started creating a consultancy and training company. Unfortunately, I didn’t get much further than the business cards and website.

The domain name for this business, however, I thought was clever as it was based on what I consider to be quite a valuable domain: http://edte.ch. This is the first domain name that’s up for grabs. All you need to do is to add a comment to this post explaining what you would do with it. The other thing that you must promise is that it will be beneficial to the educational community in some way and not be for-profit.

The second domain name also has a backstory. In January 2008 I went to the Headteacher of the school where I was teaching History and ICT explaining that we needed a position akin to a Director of E-Learning. The Head agreed that we needed something like that, but that the position I was proposing was a little ahead of its time, shall we say, at that particular school. To cut a long story short, I became E-Learning Staff Tutor for the academic year 2008/09.

Reflecting on this position during the summer holiday of 2008 I realised that whilst a physical presence was necessary in terms of a noticeboard and things in staff pigeonholes, having a central digital place would also be important. I had a think, realised that for various reasons it should be separate from the staff website, and started a blog entitled ‘Elearnr’ (like Flickr – without the ‘e’) powered by Edublogs.

After a while, as it was used increasingly by staff, I realised that http://elearnr.org was available. This not only shortened the URL but solved some of the frustration I’d experienced with Edublogs introducing advertising. This, then, is the second domain that’s available. It’s currently got guides and useful links relating to e-learning on it. If you’re fortunate enough to secure the domain name, feel free to keep or dispose of this content!

What to do to enter the competition:

Want to enter the competition to win one or both domain names? Here’s what to do:

  1. Decide which domain name you’d like (or both!)

  2. Explain what you’d do with the domain in the comments section to this blog post.

  3. Add the following to the bottom of your comment: ‘I hereby promise that I shall use the domain in a way beneficial to the educational community and not for financial gain.’

Be as creative and detailed as you can and may the best entry win! Entries close on Sunday 6th September 2009 at 12pm British Summer Time* and the winners will be announced in a blog post on the same day. If you know someone who may be interested, why not tweet or blog about it, or send them an email? 😀

* Find out what time this is in your part of the world here.

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Why I’m trying to make myself redundant.

cc-by-nc-sa Kaptain Kobold @ Flickr

(cc-by-nc-sa Kaptain Kobold @ Flickr)

A week tomorrow The Northumberland Church of England Academy opens its doors to students for the first time. As you’re probably aware by now, my role there is Director of E-Learning. I want to be in a position within three years whereby I’ve made myself redundant.

I’ve had the same conversation with a number of people. It usually centres around two basic questions:

  • What will you be doing as Director of E-Learning?
  • What’s the next step after this position?

The answer to the first should be easy, but it’s not. Whilst I’ve got a job description, things aren’t always as cut-and-dried as they appear on paper – as I’ve found out already! It’s also been written by someone who’s not an expert in the field, and therefore should be seen as a starting point to an evolving role. In the main, however, my priorities remain those I set out in my interview presentation:

  1. Attendance – providing for  ‘anytime, anywhere’ learning.
  2. Behaviour – ensuring accurate and up-to-date information flows freely between relevant parties to enable Academy spaces to be conducive to learning.
  3. Communication – allowing for every member of the Academy to be (potentially) accessible both synchronously and asynchronously at any time.
  4. Design – promoting best practices, workflows and – of course – Open Source Software.
  5. Engagement – making staff aware of the latest and greatest, as well as how older technologies can be fused with new ones in a pedagogically-sound way.

If I do my job properly, I should be akin to a Sherpa, guiding and leading the way for Academy staff and students. Communication is my main priority in the first instance, with Google Apps Education Edition and our Frog Learning Platform being the focus. Once these are being used adequately, the second stage is to promote best practices. In this respect, it’s all about the heuristics – something I’ve blogged about before.

The final stage is to ensure technologies are being used to engage students. You’d think I’d start there, wouldn’t you? But I reckon by getting staff enthusiastic about the tools I’m helping provide, this will rub off on the students and lead to engagement in any case. I’m of the opinion that we’re talking less than 5% of staff who will really need their hands holding. Peer learning and time-saving elements become valuable when you’ve got 400 members of staff to get around…

So in the meeting I’ve got next Wednesday where I’m to outline my vision for E-Learning at the Academy to the Teaching & Learning group, the above is pretty much what I’m going to say. I want to be redundant within three years. I want a culture of experimentation, collaboration and blending to take such hold that they don’t need a ‘Director of E-Learning’ any more. I see the role as being akin to that of the DVD recorder: it was a necessary step between VHS recorders and hard-disk based PVRs (like Sky+) but that’s all. I’d like to see aspects of the Director of E-Learning role to merge with those of the Director of Teaching & Learning and Director of Operations.

We come back, then, to the second question I’ve been asked several times – what will I do after this position? What will happen if I’m successful in making myself redundant? My answer: I don’t know. This position didn’t exist three years ago!

Are you trying to make yourself redundant? How/why? :-p

Join us for EdTechRoundUp 2009/10!

EdTechRoundUp logoAs regular readers will know, for the past couple of years I’ve been meeting up on a Sunday evening with like-minded educators to discuss all things relating to educational technology and e-learning. We’re far from being an exclusive group and, although we’re mostly from the UK, some do join us from further afield.

We’ve been on a summer break since the end of last academic year, but we start again tomorrow night, 30 August 2009 at 20.30 BST.

So make it your new (academic) year’s resolution to try and set aside an hour at 20.30 GMT/BST every Sunday evening to join us via FlashMeeting (meeting schedule here). More at edtechroundup.com!

A Tale of Two Guest Houses (or, what are you offering your students this academic year?)

I’ve been in Devon this past week. Driving back from Exeter to my inlaws’ house I passed the signs for two guest houses:

Guest house with hot tub and wi-fi

Guest house with 'central heating'!

It got me thinking about the differences in educational opportunities being offered at various schools not only in the same country, but around the world. No doubt, the reason why the guest house at the top in the pictures above is successful is because of the bells and whistles it offers. I should imagine they could get away with relatively poor customer service and offering a ’rounded’ experience as they offer the ‘wow’ factor.

The bottom guest house in the pictures above  is probably still in business due to the personality of the proprietors. The fact that they’re still advertising having central heating and a TV shows how behind the times they are, yet they must offer something the others don’t otherwise they would have gone out of business long ago.

Transferring the above into an educational context, it’s easy to see the parallels. The equivalent of the first guest house is the educator who jumps on every new bandwagon, wanting to test everything so they can say they’ve used the newest tools with their students. The equivalent of the second the educator that eschews completely such technologies and continues by force of personality.

I think our students deserve both: committed, personable teachers who are au fait with technology. I’m sick of the false dichotomy between the two.

I’ll be doing my best to promote educational technology in a way that enhances learning in my role as Director of E-Learning this academic year. What will you be doing? 🙂

The importance of heuristics in educational technology and elearning.

Dilbert - heuristics

This post has been brewing for a while.

I’m sick to death of people ‘recommending’ products, services, applications and utilities based on, essentially, zero real-world testing and feedback. Why? They can’t help with the heuristics.

What are heuristics?

Wikipedia definition:

Heuristic is an adjective for experience-based techniques that help in problem solving, learning and discovery. A heuristic method is particularly used to rapidly come to a solution that is hoped to be close to the best possible answer, or ‘optimal solution’. Heuristics are “rules of thumb”, educated guesses, intuitive judgments or simply common sense. Heuristics as a noun is another name for heuristic methods.

Why are heuristics important?

As I argued in my SHP Conference workshop Raising achievement in History at KS4 using e-learning, it can actually be damaging to:

  • launch into using educational technologies without thinking it through properly (the how not just the what).
  • attempt to replicate what someone has done elsewhere without thinking about the context.

People like Andrew Churches (of Educational Origami fame) deal with heuristics. They show how educational technologies can be used, things to think about, and issues that may arise.

What I’d like to see

Think about new users of educational technologies. Let’s say that someone wants to show parents what’s happening on a school trip in the following country. They ask for advice. Which of these would be the most useful response?

  1. I’d use a blog if I were you.
  2. Have you seen Posterous?
  3. I used Posterous successfully. Here’s how to set it up and here’s an example of how I’ve used it before. Ask me if you get stuck.

Obviously 3. I really don’t want any more of 1 and 2 thank you very much. :-p

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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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Acceptable Use Policy – feedback required!

I’m in the process of putting together the Acceptable Use Agreement (AUA) that students at the (3-18) Academy will sign in September. Although everything’s subject to change, I’d like to base on principles and make it as short as possible, rather than have some monolithic document that people sign but never read. The latter state of affairs means that although the Academy’s back would be covered from a legal point of view, it would have little or no effect on thought processes and behaviour modification.
This is not my first foray into the world of the AUA. I discussed Acceptable Use Policies (AUP’s) on this blog last year in AUP 2.0.

blocked

BLOCKED by ~Devastis @ deviantart

As Director of E-Learning at Northumberland Church of England Academy, I don’t want a situation similar to the one depicted above. I want clear policies whereby both staff and students know where they stand when it comes to internet access and filtering. As far as I’m concerned, resources should be available for teaching and learning unless a clear case can be made otherwise.

I’m in the process of putting together the Acceptable Use Agreement (AUA) that students at the (3-18) Academy will sign in September. Although everything’s subject to change, I’d like to base on principles and make it as short as possible, rather than have some monolithic document that people sign but never read. The latter state of affairs means that although the Academy’s back would be covered from a legal point of view, it would have little or no effect on thought processes and behaviour modification.

This is not my first foray into the world of the AUA. I discussed Acceptable Use Policies (AUP’s) on this blog last year in AUP 2.0 after some thinking about how access to the internet via mobile devices was likely to completely change the landscape. David Warlick, around the same time as I was doing this, put together the School AUP 2.0 wiki to collate resources and thinking from around the internet. That’s a useful resource and I’ve spent a good deal of time looking at the various options and permutations.

To my mind, the best AUA I’ve come across is Andrew Churches’ Digital Citizen AUA which he’s kindly released under a Creative Commons License. I’ve taken that and – after discussion with the Principal Director of Operations at the Academy – adapted it. This is how it stands currently for students in the Secondary phase:

1. Respect Yourself
I will show respect for myself through my actions. I will only use appropriate language and images both within the Learning Platform and on the Internet. I will not post inappropriate personal information about my life, experiences or relationships.

2. Protect Yourself
I will ensure that the information I post online will not put me at risk. I will not publish full contact details, a schedule of my activities or inappropriate personal details in public spaces. I will report any aggressive or inappropriate behaviour directed at me. I will not share my password or account details with anyone else.

3. Respect Others
I will show respect to others. I will not use electronic mediums to bully, harass or stalk other people. I will not visit sites that are degrading, pornographic, racist or that the Academy would deem inappropriate. I will not abuse my access privileges and I will not enter other people’s private spaces or work areas.

4. Protect Others
I will protect others by reporting abuse. I will not forward any materials (including emails and images) that the Academy would deem inappropriate.

5. Respect Copyright
I will request permission to use resources and suitably cite all use of websites, books, media etc. I will use and abide by the fair use rules. I will not install software on Academy machines without permission. I will not steal music or other media, and will refrain from distributing these in a manner that violates their licenses.

By signing this agreement, I agree to always act in a manner that is respectful to myself and others, in a way that will represent the Academy in a positive way. I understand that failing to follow the above will lead to appropriate sanctions being carried out.

Those in the Primary phase would be asked to sign a slightly simplified version of the above with more age-relevant words included. The ongoing Google Docs reflecting how they currently stand can be seen here:

I’d really appreciate feedback, comments and ideas on the above! 😀

Why (educational) technology?

'The Thinker' and laptopBen Grey got in touch via a Direct Message (DM) on Twitter earlier this week asking my opinion and for some help. Although I haven’t (virtually) known Ben for that long, I like him. He comes across as a intelligent, knowledgeable, considered – yet humble and understated kind of guy. Given that, and the fact that what he was asking of me is close to my heart, of course I’ve responded! 😀

Ben asked:

I thought it would be helpful, and perhaps a powerful learning opportunity as well as resource, if I could gather a series of responses from a variety of minds in the field of education on the question I posed in my recent Tech & Learning post, “Why Technology?”  http://www.techlearning.com/blogs/20444

If you’re up for it, would you mind giving me your input on the question?  That can be done in the form of an email, a blog post, a comment on the T&L blog, or some other form of your choosing.

The problem is this: it’s easy to cut funding on technology-related projects citing technology as some kind of ‘luxury’ or ‘optional add-on’. I’ve got three points in reply to Ben’s post:

  1. What price education?
  2. Learning cultures and communities
  3. Invisible technology

I shall take each point, as they say, in turn:

What price education?

i_has_a_moneyIn his post Why Technology? Ben cites economic problems as reasons for school districts in the U.S. cutting back:

I’ve heard from several colleagues in various states that there is pressure mounting to cut both future and existing plans for increasing technology utilization in their districts.  Many districts are eliminating technology personnel as well.  The primary catalyst for this is being blamed on the economy.  Budgets are being trimmed and belts are being tightened, and it would appear to those wielding the shears that technology is the low hanging fruit.

At times of stress, we tend to revert back to what we know and be conservative. That’s why under-pressure teachers teach as they were themselves taught and parents tend to discipline their kids in the same way they were disciplined. But to do something just because ‘it’s the way it’s always been done’ or because someone you respect did it that way is fundamentally misguided. It takes into account neither context nor the purpose for which you or the organization for which you were are there.

Every generation needs to ask questions and tell its own story. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been done with education for at least a couple of generations. So as many commentators put it, we’re in the situation where students ‘power down’ when they come to school. They’re using the tools of previous generations. It’s at best anachronistic, and at worst dangerous to the intellectual health of the western world. 🙁

Learning cultures and communities

lolcat_tweetsMy grandmother is fairly representative of her generation. Not only does she have no idea when it comes to the internet, but she cannot comprehend how it can allow ‘communities’ to spring up. The latter point is something that is shared by others, some of whom are much younger than her. I have argued this point before, but most teachers, themselves being successful at school under the ‘old system,’ have if not an opposition to wholesale changes in education then certainly an inertia to change. Hence the status quo reigns supreme.

We’re used to both seeing school buildings and having not only children’s lives but those of adults being centred around the school day and the school year. Never mind that, for example, the long summer holiday was a result of a no-longer-needed nod to children helping with harvests! We carry on with what we’ve got because it’s familiar. But familiarity is no basis on which to resist change.

Newspapers and the media in general bemoan the breakdown of communities. By that, of course, they mean physical communities: people talking over hedges, leaving their doors unlocked, that sort of thing. What is ignored in their reactionary rants is abundance of technology-mediated networks. (I hesitate to use the word ‘virtual’ as it makes them sound less ‘real’) Just because older generations do not realise the importance of technology for communication should not mean they deny access to it to those who are already using it for such purposes.

Invisible technology

lolcat_invisible_everythingBut what is ‘technology’ after all? Pen and paper are ‘technologies’ yet we don’t tend to think of them as such. I would argue that it exactly our conception of something being ‘a technology’ that places an unnecessary barrier in the way of its widespread use. I don’t believe its simply playing with semantics to talk of ‘tools’ instead of ‘technologies’ – especially when the discussions about ‘hardware’ and ‘software’ becomes if not blurred then increasingly irrelevant with the advent of cloud computing. Laptops, after all, are almost commodity items these days.

To discuss technology is to talk about the wrong thing. You will always lose a debate if the only position from which you argue is that we should use more technology in education. The technology needs to be used as a means to an end, not as an end in itself. That’s for specialized clubs, hobbyists and those for whom technology is a passion. Education has the dual role of preparing young people for society and opening their eyes and minds. If technology, in whatever guise it takes, helps with that then so much the better.

At the end of the day, technology has the potential to change relationships and therefore disrupt power structures. I can’t help but think that it’s the desire of teachers to remain at the front of classrooms, senior leaders to remain behind desks, and parents to stick to what they know that results in no real fundamental, technology-driven changes happening in education.

What do YOU think? Do you agree with the above? What IS the role of technology in education? Join the discussion! 😀

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

What are the ‘functional specifications’ of a VLE that drive real learning?

You may want to read my post What is a VLE? as an introduction to this post!

lp-dvd-capture-05It’s the nature of blogs that they reflect the ideas and interests of those who write them. As a consequence, this particular one has, of late, featured much on the ‘nuts and bolts’ of E-Learning – i.e. the systems and processes that enable Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), for example, to work effectively.

In my new role as Director of E-Learning (and I quote from my job description) it is my responsibility to:

Ensure the creation of the virtual learning environment (VLE), identifying clear targets, time-scales and success criteria for its development and maintenance in line with the Academy Development plan.

As such, in conjunction with the ICT Advisor from the Academy’s consultants, I need to come up with some ‘functional specifications’ for the VLE. We shall be using the existing VLE that is in place in the current High school, either developing that or replacing it for the new build in 2011.

Becta’s list of functional requirements can be found here, but I wanted to ask those in my network if they had any other suggestions. Here’s what they came up with in a short space of time (click to enlarge):

In terms of what I want to see in a VLE, I think it needs to:

  • Be a collaborative space where students and staff can collaborate on documents and web pages (like Google Apps)
  • Enable users to have appropriate contact with others within the Academy and the wider community by a range of methods (e.g. Twitter-like microblogging, instant messaging, shared whitetboards, video conferencing,email, social networking)
  • Promote learning by have clearly structured course elements, rather than be a file repository.
  • Process appropriate data quickly in a visually-appealing and easy-to-understand way for Academy staff, students, and parents.
  • Allow students to publish their work to various parties: peers, teachers, the Academy, the world.
  • Enable outside agencies to access appropriate data on students, staff and Academy issues.
  • OpenID login so users have a single sign-on and have more control over their digital identity.
  • Integration with immersive worlds such as Second Life (as, for example Sloodle does)

I’m sure by 2011 there will be many other things I want the VLE to do function-wise, but that’s enough for now… Would appreciate your input in the comments section! 😀

(image by Mr Ush @ Flickr)

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