Tag: Wikipedia (page 2 of 2)

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)

Zemanta Pixie

What is a VLE?

There’s been a lot of talk in the media about VLEs and how schools will soon be required to have them. It’s easy for parents (and teachers for that matter) to get a little confused. :-s

So… what is a VLE? Easy! Wikipedia has the answer:

A virtual learning environment (VLE) is a software system designed to support teaching and learning in an educational setting, as distinct from a Managed Learning Environment (MLE) where the focus is on management. A VLE will normally work over the Internet and provide a collection of tools such as those for assessment (particularly of types that can be marked automatically, such as multiple choice), communication, uploading of content, return of students work, peer assessment, administration of student groups, collecting and organising student grades, questionnaires, tracking tools, and similar. New features in these systems include wikis, blogs and RSS.

While originally created for distance education, VLEs are now most often used to supplement the face-2-face classroom, commonly known as Blended Learning.

End of blog post? Not quite. 😉

Becta (“the Government’s lead agency for Information and Communications Technology… in education, covering the United Kingdom”) has specified certain requirements for VLEs, which must be implemented in schools by the beginning of the new 2008/9 academic year. I was going to list them here, but the requirements are quite large in number. You can see the functional specifications for VLEs (also sometimes called ‘learning platforms’) on the Becta website here.

There are 10 ‘approved Learning Platform Services Framework’ suppliers (name of product in brackets – unless same as name of company!):

Sadly, Moodle, the open-source Content Management System (CMS) doesn’t make it onto the list, although, pleasingly, Fronter is based on open technology with the source code available to clients. 🙂

There are other VLEs available – for example Doncaster, where I teach, has gone for FrogTeacher from 2008/9 onwards. Despite the bizarre name, I was quite impressed with it when I had a play with it at the BETT show earlier this year.

***I had criticized TALMOS in this section, but they contacted my school to ask me remove my ‘potentially commercially damaging’ comments. It’s a shame to be effectively silenced through legal threats when all I did was compare their offering unfavourably against another…*** 🙁

The QIA Excellence Gateway has a useful diagram for gaining an overview of the functionality of a VLE:

The problem I have with all this is twofold:

  • The focus doesn’t seem to be on learning. It seems to be upon assessment and streamlining communication between educational institutions and external agencies. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this, but to call it a ‘learning environment’ or ‘learning platform’ is something of a misnomer.
  • The majority of ‘approved’ VLE suppliers aren’t education-specific. Therefore, however much they may protest that they’ve built their VLE solution from the ‘ground-up’, it’s likely to be heavily influenced by the world of business. As I’ve argued elsewhere and (metaphorically) until I’m hoarse, schools and businesses are not, and should not be, alike. They have different needs and methods of operation.

To my mind, and you’ll have to read the aforementioned Becta functional specification for VLEs to really see what I mean, everything that should be ‘mandatory’ for a VLE seems to be merely ‘recommended’. Instead, it’s those things such as communication, record-keeping and assessment that are mandatory and core to the specifications. What does this mean in practice? The potentially transformative Web 2.0 tools (blogs, wikis, VOIP tools, RSS feeds, etc.) mentioned as ‘recommended’ in the specification take second place and will either not be included at all or take second place to the other features. I really hope that pressure from teachers, parents and students means that all VLE suppliers are forced to enable these tools in a meaningful way.

The Doncaster approach, where schools are (in effect) given free access to a chosen VLE solution, could be useful. This potentially creates a district-wide intranet similar to the GLOW network in Scotland. Whilst the latter is likely to be the result of a lot more joined-up thinking, the former could lead to a situation of more collaborative teaching and learning. I can’t help but think, however, that having a well-thought-out and useful government-funded national intranet is a much better way of going about things than perpetuating a marketplace in education for companies more interested in profit than personalisation of learning. As Martin Weller (Professor of Educational Technology at the Open University) pointed out last year, VLEs are already out of date – the way forward is loosely-coupled, not central-and-monolithic… :-p

I’d be interested to hear YOUR thoughts on VLEs, whether or not you live in the UK. Has your institution got a VLE? Are you happy with it?

Further reading:

More on Research Methodologies


There are two main philosophical traditions when it comes to research methodologies: positivism and constructivism. Positivism holds that the world is ‘out there’ waiting for us to discover it, whilst Constructivism holds that ‘facts’ are socially and psychologically constructed labels and descriptions we place upon the world as we experience it. All research methods – apart from perhaps Pragmatism – fall into one of these two camps.

The Wikipedia article on Methodology sums things up quite nicely:

Methodology refers to more than a simple set of methods; rather it refers to the rationale and the philosophical assumptions that underlie a particular study. This is why scholarly literature often includes a section on the methodology of the researchers. This section does more than outline the researchers’ methods (as in, “We conducted a survey of 50 people over a two-week period and subjected the results to statistical analysis”, etc.); it might explain what the researchers’ ontological or epistemological views are.

The following OpenCourseWare resources (found via the very useful oercommons.org website) should help me – especially these in particular:

Some books I shall be looking for to help me with my thesis proposal:?

  • Allison, B., et al. (1996) Research Skills for Students (001.44 RES – Education Library)
  • Cohen, L., et al. (2000) Research Methods in Education (370.72 COH – Education Library)
  • Creswell, J. (2007) Qualitative Inquiry and research design: choosing among five traditions (300.723 CRE – Education Library)
  • Patton, M.Q. (2002) Qualitative Research & Evaluation Methods (300.723 PAT – Man Library)
  • Phillips, E. (2005) How to get a PhD: a guide for students and their supervisors (378.240941 PHI – Education Library)
  • Wisker, G. (2001) The Postgraduate Research Handbook: succeed with your MA, MPhil, EdD and PhD (001.42 WIS – Main Library)


My favourite lolcats

Although I enjoy geeky things, I’m always a bit wary about admitting to the fact. Lolcats being a case in point: cute pictures of cats with witty txt/geek-speak captions. However, now that they’ve gone mainstream courtesy of an article in TIME magazine, it’s OK. If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about, check out the Wikipedia article and icanhascheezburger.com. Here’s my 3 favourites:

In ur cereal Read more →

Property, 21st Century Knowledge, and Creative Commons

I have a feeling that the reason that what I would term ’21st-century forms of knowledge’ are not filtering into schools is because at their core they are fundamentally anti-capitalist. Traditionally, knowledge has meant power with access to the upper echelons being available only to the privileged and/or wealthy. The Internet (along with concomitant social trends) has changed that, leading to some talking about the world being ‘flat’.

It’s also tied into the idea of experts. Wikipedia has been shown to be just as reliable as the Encyclopedia Britannica, yet the former is edited by thousands of ‘amateurs’ whilst the latter is put together by a team of ‘professionals’. It’s certainly larger and a more valuable research for me, being always up-to-date and covering non-traditional information.

Private property is theft

(photo by antmoose @ Flickr)?

Proudhon is famous for his slogan ‘Property is theft!’ in his book What is Property? Whilst I’m no anarchist, I do believe that we have the wrong way of looking at questions surrounding the ‘ownership’ of various things. Take digital downloads of music, for example. The talk here is of ‘intellectual property’ and ‘copyright’. Nevertheless, the music industry is being forced to change the way they deal with customers and, indeed, their whole idea of the inherent ‘value’ of singles and albums due to changes in way the younger generations look at and value music themselves.?

It’s the same with knowledge. As Woodrow Wilson famously said:

I not only use all the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow.

If knowledge can reside in networks as well as groups, we need to be not just ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’, but interacting with one another and collaboratively building knowledge. Many blogs and various sources of information and knowledge on the Internet (including photos posted to Flickr) are released into the wild with a Creative Commons license. Instead of focusing on the things that you can’t do with the information/knowledge/photograph/whatever, it focuses on what you can do. The license for my teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk blog, for example, states that my work can be shared or remixed in any way you like, provided that attribution is given, it is not used for commercial (i.e. for-proft) ends, and that any resultant remixing is also released under a Creative Commons license. Compare that to the restrictive practices of the RIAA…?

What does plagiarism look like in the 21st century? Can a line be drawn between that and being ‘inspired’ by another’s blog post? Where does the collaborative knowledge which comes as a result of wiki creation fit? Are examinations outdated? ?