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EduBlogs Awards – My Nominations
Nov 24th, 2012 by H-Blog

The nominations for the 2012 EduBlogs awards are open, and for the first time ever I’m (almost) organised enough to make some nominations. If you haven’t heard of the awards, you can read a bit about them here, and if you want to make nominations yourself, you can find out how to by going here.

I stuck to what I know, so haven’t made any nominations in areas I felt my opinion would be uninformed! Even so,  I had a pretty tough time making them with so much good stuff going on. For what they’re worth, my nominations are below.

 

  • Best individual blog: If you’re a teacher who enjoys getting their class outside, or wants to get their class outside, then you really want to be reading Juliet’s blog. She will keep you bang up to date, help you avoid problems before you had even thought of them and give you everything from big outdoor learning ‘events’ to everyday stuff that you can do outside. Outstanding. http://creativestarlearning.blogspot.co.uk/
  • Best group blog: I am constantly amazed by the community that has grown up around pedagoo, and was blown away by the TMSLFringe12 event. Amazing stuff from Fearghal, Kenny, Neil and a huge community of pedagurus http://www.pedagoo.org/
  • Best new blog: I still can’t quite believe that this is a new blog, but there you are. These young people are doing amazing things, and I know the University is very proud of them. CPDStrathclyde Originally at https://sites.google.com/site/cpdstrathclyde/our-blogs and now http://cpdstrathclyde.co.uk/wordpress2/news-and-reviews-2/
  • Best class blog: I have only recently discovered the Acharacle Primary school website, but have been so impressed by it. If you want to see the sort of website we should all have, visit it on a desktop machine.  This is my favourite of the blogs  http://p4-7eblog.weebly.com/p4-7e-blog.html
  • Best student blog: Another recent discovery due to his invention of the #pupilfriday hashtag on Twitter, his blog is even more impressive. I see a bright future ahead for this young man. http://jamiehalvorson.wordpress.com/
  • Best teacher blog: Had a few outstanding candidates for this one, but in the end Kenny Pieper just shaded it because so often I feel that he is hitting the nail exactly on the head. Plus, I love the title of his blog!  http://justtryingtobebetter.com/
  • Most influential blog post: Fearghal’s stuff is consistently thought-provoking, but this post which flew a bit under the radar (possibly due to the time of year) seemed to speak directly to me! http://fkelly.co.uk/2012/01/good-practice/
  • Best individual tweeter: Another category I really struggled with, but Derek just shaded it. As well as keeping you right up to date with the things that are going on in GBL and indeed the wider education world, Derek doesn’t forget that social networks are social as well as networks, and is happy to get involved in music discussions, general banter and most importantly Dundee United related tweeting as well. Take a bow @derekrobertson
  • Best twitter hashtag: If you don’t know why, click on the link.  #pedagoofriday
  • Best free web tool: I have used this free resource all year, and the pupils love it. They have an app now too, for iOs with an Android app due very shortly. I’m getting to the stage where I might even start paying the $49 a year for Premium Membership so I can organise my lists & my pupils. Tell me it’s not as good as writing your word list out three times….. SpellingCity.com
  • Best educational use of audio / video / visual / podcast: John and David have built a remarkable resource in EduTalk and Radio EduTalk. You can listen while you are doing other things, making it very easily accessible, and yet it always makes you think. I don’t mean to be bossy, but if you haven’t checked it out already, then you should. EduTalk/Radio EduTalk
  • Best open PD / unconference / webinar series: Still inspiring teachers, growing, attracting attention and spawning clones – TeachMeet
  • Best mobile app: Drill number facts while killling zombies. What could be better? If it was free? Well, it is! Nice one. Math v Zombiez
  • Lifetime achievement:  Andrew Brown

So what do you reckon? Could you do better? Well, on you go then!

 

A blunder through OpenBadges
Nov 21st, 2012 by H-Blog

For the last few weeks, I have been looking into OpenBadges as a possible way to recognise achievement and act as a pupil-friendly way of building e-portfolios or profiles. Originally I stumbled upon OpenBadges after being impressed with the badge-awarding mechanism in Edmodo – the social learning network that I had been hearing loads of good things about from Alan Hamilton, Drew Burrett and Charlie Love, amongst others. I saw a huge amount of potential for such a system, but felt to utilise it to its full potential, any badging scheme would have to be compatible with fronter, our school’s VLE/MLE of choice. Being unable to find any details on Edmodo itself as to whether this was possible or not, I got in touch with their very helpful support team who told me they would be delighted for me to display the badges elsewhere, but that there was no actual mechanism to do so. This sent me – naturally – scurrying to Google looking for an alternative. After a very interesting (but ultimately fruitless) diversion through the Peer to Peer University I found out about the OpenBadges project, but could not seem to work out how the badges were issued. Someone pointed me towards the WPBadger and WP Badge Display plug-ins for WordPress, and these look like they could be decent solutions if you were running WordPress. Which we weren’t. Life seemed determined to keep OpenBadges and I separate from each other. And that’s when I found ForAllBadges. Initially, the site seemed tricky to navigate, but once I actually added some people to it it began to make a lot more sense! There are 3 levels of school user – pupil, teacher and adminstrator, for the moment I’m going to focus on the administrator experience. When you log-in, the home page is called “The Badge Board”. This gives you a list of pupils, with the recent badges they have been awarded beside their names (see below). 

ForAllBadges Badge Board

A drop-down menu entitled “Working with”allows you to choose which class is being displayed, whilst clicking on any of the badge thumbnails opens up a pop-up window with the details of that award. Clicking on the “Display Badges” icon in the right hand column takes you into that user’s Badge Journal, where badges awarded are displayed in the order they were awarded with the most recent at the top. The Badge Journal is also where each individual can control which of there badges get pushed to their Backpack, but more on that in a bit.

 

Award details pop up

Award details pop up

ForAllBadges Badge Journal

ForAllBadges Badge Journal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to the Badge Board, the “Manage Participants” option allows you to add pupils – either individually or as a group through a neat wee “import roster” trick. The “Manage Badges” option takes you to a screen displaying all the badges you have set up, and is where you can create new badges or change the badge settings. Creating a badge is very easy – when you click on Add badge a form appears (see below) and you simply complete the form and attach a picture and your badge is created automatically.

Adding a new badge in ForAllBadges

 

Further adminstrator options are available by selecting the drop down menu in the top right hand corner of the screen, where it says “Admin”. From here you can manage classes (add or delete classes, assign teachers to classes), manage school user accounts (add or delete teachers or administrators) or adjust your own account settings (Email address, password). The whole site is very easy to use and user-friendly.

Of course, there would be little point in awarding badges if there was no way to display them. I had been thinking that a WordPress blog might be a good way to display badges. Whilst I have not yet got the WordPress Badge Display plug-in working, Dave Lester who created it has assured me he will give me all the assistance I need to get it up and running properly. In the meantime, I had found a site called BadgeWidgetHack which creates some HTML allowing you to display badges. I cut and pasted this into a text editor in my sidebar, and it worked. Or at least I thought it worked! The esteemed John Johnston, far wiser about such things than I am, quickly spotted that the BadgeWidgetHack code was limited to the most recent 3 badges you had earned. Quicker than I could say “Whit?”, John had the code hacked and a new improved version displaying more (all?) of my badges available.

This was all looking good for displaying in WordPress, or anywhere you could edit some HTML, but as I was to find out that was not to be the case in fronter. Whilst you can embed code, it is currently very limited as to where you can embed code from. My solution was looking like setting up a WordPress blog for each user, getting the WP Badge Display plug in working (hopefully) and then displaying this web page inside fronter.

Fine as far as it goes, but it sounds like a lot of work for someone.

Luckily, before I started building these blogs, it occurred to me that we already had a webpage showing the badges for each user that we could display inside fronter – their Badge Journal page from ForAllBadges. A quick test to check it would work (it did) and suddenly I had a working badge system, from issue to display. In theory at least.

Whilst I was trying to think of a small-scale project we could use to test-drive the system, serendipity took a hand. I was talking to a colleague, who as well as being a PE teacher at the school is also my fellow rugby-coach for the P6 boys. He mentioned that he was looking for a way to provide more meaningful and memorable PE feedback to the boys. Any comments he gave them tended to be during drills or in game situations, and he felt this offered little chance for the boys to reflect on his feedback and to improve their performances as a result. I thought that badges sounded like they could be a good fit for what he was hoping to achieve, and he thought it sounded like a good idea.

Setting up the ‘live’ system highlighted a few other issues. First of all, I found out that an Administrator on ForAllBadges could not be assigned to a class, and so I used my school email account to set myself a ‘teacher’ account and a non-school email to set myself up as Administrator. Secondly, although adding pupils individually to ForAllBadges required an email, it turned out not to be required if you added them by batch. As we wanted each pupil to be able to see their own Badge Journal but not everbody else’s, I had to create a hidden room for each pupil in fronter which was only accessible by themselves and their teachers/coaches. A ‘Trophy Room’ link in the Rugby Room on fronter takes the pupils to a name board – click on their own name it wil take them into their own trophy room (Badge Journal), click on anyone else’s name, they get the ‘no permissions’ message.

Unlike the teacher/administrator view, when a pupil is viewing their own Badge Journal, there is an option under each badge “Send to Backpack”. This refers to the Mozilla OpenBadge Backpack, the ‘central repository’ for any OpenBadges awarded to you, regardless of who issued them. Mozilla describe it thus:

 

        ForAllBadges send to backpack

The Backpack is your main interface for collecting, managing, grouping and sharing your badges. When you earn badges on participating OBI issuer sites, you can push them directly into your Backpack. You can also import badges stored elsewhere into the Backpack. However, these badges must be OBI compliant as well.

  

 

 

The Backpack itself is totally user-driven, and needs no input from the badge-issuer whatsoever. By visiting the OpenBadge Backpack page, anybody can create their own Backpack using only their email address. The system Mozilla use for this is called Persona, and it is a pretty neat piece of software. You can read more about it here.

Once signed into your BackPack you can accept (or decline!) badges, and use a simple drag interface to arrange your badges into groups and decide which of them you wish to be available for public display.

System wise, that’s about it. Whilst it took a wee while to get things up and running, that was mostly due to the false starts and dead ends. Since finding the ForAllBadges site, everything has been relatively painless. Adding, removing or changing pupils, teachers or admnistrators is straightforward and quick. Creating badges is similarly quick and easy, whilst awarding a badge as a teacher can be as simple as 2 clicks of a mouse. I was concerned about the badges being ‘lost’ to the pupils once they no longer had access to their school email accounts, but a quick chat with Doug Belshaw eased my fears as he assured me that the backpacks will be federated, and as such are flexible, ‘portable’ and future proof.

I am very excited to see how the project is received by the pilot group, and am very hopeful that it will strike a chord with them. Should it prove to be a success, I think the badges could be an invaluable tool in profiling/creating portfolios. I look forward to finding out.

 

The Keyboard Shortcuts Cue-Cards (Iain Hallahan Remix)
Nov 17th, 2012 by H-Blog

As part of the Inclusive Technologies for Reading course, we were asked to come up with a remix of the keyboard shortcut cue cards we had been provided with. I grouped the shortcuts round the themes I would have put them in, as well as tweaking some definitions. I also took the opportunity to embed the cards into Slideshare, and am interested to see if the Open Dyslexic font I used displays. Have a look and see what you reckon!

 

Roll up, roll up – get yer top quality CPD here……..
Nov 14th, 2012 by H-Blog

As the explosion of activity on this blog recently shows quite clearly, I have been taking part in an online CPD course being run by Dyslexia Action and the RNIB. It is called Inclusive Technologies for Reading, and has been designed for teachers, parents,  support staff or pretty much anyone supporting people who have difficulties accessing text due to a print impairment. They say that it is also suitable for ICT professionals who have not had specific training in inclusive technologies.


The course is being developed for commercial purposes, so this pilot programme is a good way to get some quality training done for free. Already, I have been impressed with the delivery of the course, and the focus on free and inexpensive technologies that can really make a difference. The course was developed and is being run by Load2Learn – an online resource for downloadable curriculum materials in accessible formats- which has already been affectionately dubbed OverLoad2Learn!

But why am I telling you this now? Well, it turns out that if you are interested in taking part, it’s not to late to register. You can join until the 21st November (that’s next week!) if you are interested. Could be an ideal opportunity for established teachers looking to develop their skills, student teachers looking to widen their learning or probationary teachers looking for something a bit different for their CPD portfolio.

If you are interested, click here to register. Maybe see you online sometime!

Shortcut Shenanigans
Nov 14th, 2012 by H-Blog

The last week or so of the Inclusive Technologies for Reading course has seen me working on Structured Documents. As well as attempting a strctured blog post previously, this has also seen me creating documents with structure using Word. Now, having used Word for years, I thought I was a bit handy with the old shortcuts, a bit of a keyboard ninja. Turns out I had not a clue as to some of the keyboard-wizardry you could get up to. Have a look at the video below.

 


I don’t mind admitting, I was totally gobsmacked by how much I didn’t know!

 

Harvesting your own CPD
Nov 11th, 2012 by H-Blog

K325- The venue for TMStrathclyde – image from University of Strathclyde

I recently attended my third(?) TeachMeet Strathclyde event; the first hosted by CPD Strathclyde – the Next Generation, and the first since the big move from Jordanhill to the John Anderson campus in Glasgow’s city centre. It was a bit of a strange TeachMeet for me, as it was held in K325 in the John Anderson building – a room that I spent much of my Undergraduate time in while I was at Strathclyde studying for my BA; most notably listening to Brian Bett delivering the Basic Psychology lectures. It was certainly a bit strange to be presenting in there, and just to heighten the tension my name was last out of the fruit machine, so I had the whole evening to work myself up into a frenzy. A bit of tech trauma as I tried to get my Prezi up and running added to the anxiety levels, and as I began talking I was very close to having an actual freakout. Added to that, the evening was running a wee bit late, so I felt that I rushed a bit and the presentation suffered as a result. I thought I might be able to fix this with the video, but the 5 minute recording limit on Jing mean that what I’ve ended up with is a real gallop through some of what I said. The screencast didn’t pick up the subtleties of the animation as the Prezi advanced either, so it can look a wee bit jerky, but here it is anyway.

Despite my anxiety, the TeachMeet was a great event. I saw some really great presentations, and thought the panel discussion was pretty good too – with some controversial questions and some even braver answers! The new CPD Strathclyde committee did themselves proud, and it was nice to catch up with some of the old guard too, like Morven, Susan and Paul, as well as BEd course leaderAmanda Corrigan who was telling me how proud she is of her students for organising such events (and rightly so!).

In the end up, I got quite a nice round of applause, Omar told me my presentation was inspiring and Graham Donaldson gave me a mention in his summing up, so I must have been at least adequate! Have a look below and see what you think.

(original Prezi is available here)

Why you should be using Delicious
Nov 9th, 2012 by H-Blog

 

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Introduced to del.icio.us

I have been using Delicious since my PGDE year in 2006, when I was introduced to it by David Muir during a lecture at Jordanhill (the same lecture, incidentally, where I first heard the “It’s not about the tech, it’s about the teAch” quote). Back then it was known as del.icio.us which proved difficult to remember sometimes, but has since come to be known (and live at) the somewhat easier delicious.com. I have been introduced to many, many things since then – some of them have stuck, some of them have vanished but Delicious endures, despite some (often hamfisted) rebrands, redesigns and relaunches. But why? Well quite simply, it does what it does simply, quickly, easily and well.

 

But what does it do?

You know that thing where you say “Oh yeah, I found a great website about that and saved it in my bookmarks….but that’s on my computer at home…” so then you spend 10 minutes looking for the site and trying to remember what it was called before giving up entirely, turning the computer off and reading a newspaper instead? And then you sit simmering, thinking “If only I could get to my favourites on every computer….” Well that’s where Delicious grew from, and that was its basic functionality. Find website, bookmark website on Delicious, access bookmark from any internet-access computer (yes, back then there were some computers that weren’t!!!). It was liberating, like being able to carry your computer about in the palm of your hand, just before you could carry…. well, you get the point…..

 

That’s a lot of links

Let’s call just being able to access your bookmarks from anywhere Phase 1. After a while, same as with the bookmarks on your computer, it gets to the point where there are so many that searching through the bookmarks becomes almost as much of a pain as searching on the internet itself. That’s when you need Phase 2. Delicious was the first place I saw Tags being used, and I was pretty impressed. Providing you took the time to tag a link when you saved it, it became pretty easy to find by searching the tags. What was that money website I saved with the great SMART Board game? Tags – money, smartboard, game and have a look through the handful of links you have left. Brilliant.

These are mine, I tell you, mine!!!!

Another thing I noticed about Delicious was that unlike too many educators in the world who are hoarders rather than sharers, everybody using it seemed really happy to share. They would say things like “Oh yeah, if you look on my delicious under numeracy you’ll find….” or “Check out the resources I have tagged ‘amazing'” and if you did, you could see all the goodies that they had found. Meaning you didn’t have to find them yourself. Another idea I came up with at this time was having class/school delicious accounts. These could then be tagged with teacher name, class name, subject name, topic name or even more specificaly with things like pupil initials or even ‘p7homework’. This meant that pupils and parents could have access to the most up-to-date and current set of links available which were searchable using tags. Imagine clicking a link in an email and then adding tags p7, maths, hw, JS to find the sites James Smith in p7 has to investigate for his maths homework. And if you find a new, better link in the meantime, just bookmark it, tag it and the same link he already has wil allow him to find it (unlike when you printed out that pageful of links, sent it home and found a killer website the next day….)

 

Web 2.0 and beyond

Of course, that all seems so old-fashioned now. But back then, even just four or five years ago, it was cutting edge. And then the social media revolution came along. Quietly at first and with little urgency, but with the promise of total devastation that the small pebbles that start an avalanche carry. First of all the bookmarklet allowed you to save a link with the press of a virtual button. Plus you were able to import favourites from your computer(s?) to Delicious.As Twitter and Facebook burgeoned, Delicious adapted too. Now if there was someone you knew using delicious, you could ‘follow’ their stream of links (allowing you to steal the good ones for yourself!). People invented ways to link their Delicious, Twitter and Facebook accounts for ease of use. I signed up to a service called packratius which harvested any tweet in my stream which had a weblink in itand tagged it ‘via: packratius’ as well as any other hashtag in the tweet. Sounded like a great idea, turned out not to be – my delicious was soon overrun with packratius tagged links, so I changed the settings to opt-in rather than opt-out saving, meaning that any tweet I favourited with a link the link would be autosaved, or any tweet I tweeted with the #pr tag would be saved too. And after some pressure from users, the option to export your links was added too.

 

Today’s Delicious

Nowadays Delicious doesn’t need packratius or similar to link to a Twitter account – it has the functionality built in. If you go to set up a Delicious account, you can use your Twitter account or your Facebook account as well as the traditional “sign up by email” option. Just remember to check those settings – are you going to be an opt-in saver or an opt-out saver? Delicious themselves have a bit of a how-to guide on this, and I will be trying to shoot a screencast to show these features over the weekend to add to this blog.

Visual Stress
Nov 7th, 2012 by H-Blog

Over the lst few months I have learned a lot about many things, including visual stress. Visual stress is said to possibly affect up to one in 5 of us to some degree, and can make accessing any sort of text very difficult. I gave a talk on this at TMHighland, and have produced a screencast of the talk. Click the link below to see a demo video showing some of the types of distortions that are experienced.

 

Visual Stress – Sample distortions

Inclusive Technologies for Reading – #ITR12
Nov 5th, 2012 by H-Blog

Some of you may have noticed that my blog posts  – which were infrequent at best – took a nose-dive into the non-existent category last year. This was due to a number of factors, starting my new job and moving house being two of the lesser ones. The main reason, as it turned out, was the very demanding but exceptionally rewarding PGCert in Dyslexia & LiteracyI undertook through Dyslexia Action. I can honestly say that it is the hardest study I have ever undertaken, far outstripping the demands of my PGDE (Primary). Now there’s a sentence I never thought I would write!!!! After such an intense year, I was looking forward to a bit of an easier year, and the chance to focus completely on my work in school.

Unsurprisingly, things didn’t work out like that!

As many of you know, I am fairly active on Twitter. As is fairly common, I saw something appearing in my stream that really caught my interest. Dyslexia Action and the RNIB were looking for volunteers to pilot an online course they had been developing called Inclusive Technologies for Reading. This course will be a commercally-offered course, and the chance to take part in such high-quality professional learning for free proved just too tempting for me and so I signed up.

The course architecture is fascinating. Having used a number of learning platforms over the years – First Class, Glow, Moodle and now Fronter amongst others – I am finding this new platform that wee bit different. From what I can gather, it has been designed specifically for the course and has a real social media type ‘feel’ about it. As a result, I am finding it far easier to navgate than I have found Glow in the past or the exceptionally-bewildering Moodle that I had to fight my way through last year. Have a look yourself.

 

The course content is similarly fresh. Collaborative Google Docs, Live ‘webinars’, Discussion Boards,  Link Repositories and Twitter Socials are hardly cutting edge in the tech-world, but it is refreshing to see them front and centre in a method of CPD delivery.

As it is with the web-engagement. the ITR12 course virtually forces participants to use Twitter and also to blog reflectively. This ‘compulsory’ aspect of the course will be a great device in helping other teachers to engage through such media.

The result on here, of course, wil be some semi-regular postings, as well as the creation of the #itr12 tag in my blog categories!

Looking for teachers to SMILE!
Mar 23rd, 2012 by H-Blog

Got an email through from Anne Forrest at Steljes/SMART the other day with information about the upcoming SMILE project (Social Media In Learning & Education) from European Schoolnet. Looks very interesting and exciting, but in a rare moment of honesty with myself I have decided that the timings are all wrong for me and that to take this in would fall into the ‘biting off more than you can chew’ category. That, of course, may be different for some of you, so here’s the link if you fancy investigating!!!!

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