The Access Network
WP Cumulus Flash tag cloud by Roy Tanck and Luke Morton requires Flash Player 9 or better.
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.
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…..
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.
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….)
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.
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.
Last week, I read this interesting blog post from Kevin McLaughlin Entitled “Switching off the interactive whiteboard for good”. It revisited the argument that IWBs have been a huge waste of taxpayers money, and should be replaced with alternative technologies. The post generated a large number of comments, and even caused Kevin to go over his bandwidth allocation, reminding me of an earlier IWB-related post to this blog, which remains to this day my most commented upon blog post ever! Matthew Pearson then posted a robust defence of IWBs, which again provoked debate in the comments and on Twitter – including the (rather amusing) retitling of Matt’s post as “Interactive Whiteboards Are Awesome, It’s Just People That Suck”.
Whilst I find myself agreeing with some of the concerns other educators may have about the (over?) hasty roll out of IWBs in UK schools, and have no issue with their listing of alternative tools that they could have spent the money used to purchase IWBs on, I feel that this is a different debate to the one that they say they are having. If people want to have a theoretical, philosophical or even ideological debate about whether there should have been such hefty investment to put IWB hardware into UK schools, then I am quite happy to sit back and listen to that debate – I might even bring popcorn. My own views on that issue are not fully developed and probably rather ill-informed, and I think I could probably learn quite a lot from sitting back and listening to people who do know what they are talking about debating it.
That is not the debate that people are having, although it seems to be the debate that they think they are meant to be having. The money for the IWB hardware has been spent, and the hardware is hanging on a wall, being wheeled round on a stand or carried round in a bag. At this point, whether such large investments should have been made or not becomes irrelevant, or at the very least stops being part of this debate and becomes part of the other debate described above. From a pragmatic point of view at least, where the investment came from for the boards or if it should have done so or not doesn’t matter one iota. The boards are here, so should we be learning to use them more effectively or turning them off for good as Kevin suggests?
Having read both his post and Matthew’s as well as the accompanying comments on both blogs, I find it hard to reach the same conclusions that are being drawn by many of the people involved regarding the use of IWBs in classrooms – namely that they have no future in classrooms, have had no impact on attainment and should be turned off for good to be replaced by a ‘better’ way of doing things, using different technology. Apart from anything else, the logic behind this argument is flawed – the money that has been spent on IWBs is gone, we cannot go back in time and ‘unspend’ it and choose something else instead. And even if we could, should we? Kevin mentions in his post that
Occasionally you will meet those in teaching who use their boards as an interactive learning tool, creating content that engages their class. But this is not the norm
Surely then what we are saying here is that a tool has been provided with which teachers are able to create engaging content for their classes, and that they are simply not doing so? Why, therefore, should taxpayers be willing to provide these same teachers with a different tool? A blanket rollout of IWBs has not worked, why would a blanket rollout of iPads or slates or netbooks fare any differently? From a purely financial point of view, it makes no sense. Why waste – and let’s make no mistake here, that is what we are talking about – a perfectly good resource? Surely you owe it to your pupils to find ways to make good use of all the available resources, including IWBs? Looking at the comments made by pupils in Kevin’s post (the ones used as a reason for ditching the IWBs), it strikes me that they are not criticisms of the IWBs themselves as much as criticisms of how teachers are using the boards, so surely just finding better ways to use the IWBs is the answer?
And there are better ways to use IWBs. Bill Ferriter argued in a comment on my previous post that it is not necessary to buy an IWB to achieve some of them, and that is true as far as it goes. But here’s the point – if the board and the accompanying software has already been bought and provided for you, why would you want to use something else to achieve the same aims? And perhaps more importantly, if the hardware and software had been provided for you, why aren’t you using them? If you have a pedagogical reason, then I’m going to be okay with that, but if it’s because you don’t know how to use them? Shouldn’t you be finding out? And to suggest you want to replace the IWB with a new piece of technology instead? If a maths scheme or a set of books had been bought and the teachers were not using them to best effect, would the answer be to buy a new maths scheme or different books? Of course not – the answer would be to provide training for the teachers so that they can utilise the tools and equipment they have to best effect.
And so it is with IWBs. Teachers need to be given the opportunity to see and show what IWBs are capable of, and perhaps more importantly need to be given time to generate ideas and content that are relevant and useful in their classrooms. Having been working in a school which uses SMART Boards, I know for a fact that SMART are very good in this regard, having trainers who can come to your school and help deliver training for your staff and answer questions that are directly related to the resources they are wanting to make. As far as I am aware, there is no cost to the school involved for this above the purchase of equipment. There is also no cost involved in downloading Notebook to your computer at home to create resources there, providing you have your SMART product key. SMART also run content creation seminars, where teachers who know a trick or eight using Notebook will create content that can be tailored to (in our case) the Scottish curriculum and made available on their website to download for free.
In these times of shrinking budgets and cost-cutting, it seems to me that these services would make a lot of sense to schools that were trying to find savings. The equipment is already there – we’ve all seen it hanging on walls, often not being used properly (or at all?). The expertise is there – you only have to look around classrooms, trade shows or the internet to see that. Perhaps it is the inclination that is missing – the drive to share and the willingness to allow yourself be shared with?
But there are signs that things are changing. The increasing popularity of TeachMeets and similar CPD events where educators are learning from other educators is encouraging, as is the continued activity in CPDMeets. Perhaps if there were opportunities to learn from colleagues who were already using IWBs effectively (TeachMeet IWB anyone?), and perhaps the chance to work collaboratively on resources that enabled the IWB to be used as was intended - interactively with engaging content – then the desire to rip out all the IWBs and throw the on the scrapheap would be somewhat lessened? After all, just because they shouldn’t be used for everything doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be used for anything…..
The logo for one of the latest incarnations of TeachMeet: TeachMeet Student Edition Glasgow 2010
As you will know from my previous blog post or from following the #tmtwt responses on Twitter I have been doing a bit of research into TeachMeet, the model of CPD where teachers learn from other teachers. To begin, this involved having a trawl round the internet looking at the history of TeachMeet which proved fascinating (I even found it has its own Wikipedia page!).
One thing that became clear as I was looking at the history was the pivotal role played in the development of TeachMeet by Ewan McIntosh. In a moment of gallus bravado on Twitter, I asked Ewan if he would be willing to have a bit of a chat about TeachMeet, and to my delight he agreed. I tried to come up with a way to record the call, for notetaking purposes and perhaps to put online somewhere, but as anyone who knows me will testify, my tech skills are not the best. However, by enlisting David Noble‘s help we managed to come up with a solution using iPadio to record the audio from the telephone call. Despite me being in Glasgow, David being in Fife and Ewan being in London (plus the additional complication of Ewan being on a train rushing to Luton airport to catch a flight!) David managed to record the interview and save the audio in a way that meant Ewan’s contribution was audible. The interview is up on the EDUTalk website here, and Ewan’s contributions are easy to hear, even above the trains and planes. My questions are a bit quieter however, and while they are somewhat less important than hearing Ewan’s contribution, I thought I would list them here and they could be read whilst listening to the interview by anyone who wished to:
Ewan was inspiring to listen to, and addressed many of the TeachMeet questions that have been getting talked about recently here and elsewhere (for instance, on John Connell’s blog here and here, during TreeMeet and by those organising TeachMeet Falkirk and TeachMeet Northwest) including the two big issues of the echo-chamber effect and the tech-focus question. No spoilers on here though, you’ll need to listen to the interview on EDUTalk to find out what he had to say.
Once again, I need to say a big thanks to Ewan for taking time out of a busy and less than tranquil day to talk to me, as well as thanking David for his audio-techno wizardry in getting the whole thing sorted out.
This is intended to qualify as my quickest blog post ever.
Recently on Twitter I have been collecting people’s feedback and thoughts about TeachMeet using hashtag #tmtwt. It has made fascinating – and inspiring – reading. Tonight I got a chance to gather it all together to make it accessible for those not on Twitter (and to make sure I can keep it!). I have saved a draft version to Slideshare, and am going to embed it below.
All comments gratefully received.
The other week, in the middle of some severe essay trauma, a tweet from the inspirational Neil Winton of Perth Academy came floating by in my Twitter feed (I had Brizzly running in a background window, and was clicking in and out of it to give myself a wee break from writing. Or to distract myself from writing, whichever you prefer). One of Neil’s tweets catching my eye is nothing unusual, but this one really grabbed my attention.
Strong words indeed. But a viewpoint that appears to be shared by an apparently increasing amount of educators – I have personally spoken to a sizeable number of teachers who have no interest in and no time for Interactive White Boards, or anything connected to them. In fact, at times it appears to go beyond having no interest – there appears to be a genuine animosity towards IWBs from some quarters that can at times border on the evangelical. On the other hand, of course, there are a number of teachers who appear to believe that Interactive White Boards are the saviours of the universe, and the one true path to cosmic enlightenment.
Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between?
Now, I think it’s only fair to make two confessions up front, namely that:
1) I have a fairly positive attitude towards IWBs, and have been known to leap quickly to their defence if I feel they are being unfairly maligned.
2) My personal experience using IWBs is exclusively limited to SMART Boards
Following the link in Neil’s tweet I found myself on a blog that I’d never seen or heard of before – intriguingly titled “The Tempered Radical”. The post in question was entitled “Wasting Money on Whiteboards…” and I started reading with a ready-to-be-offended attitude. The blogger, Bill Ferriter, started off by telling us how he had ‘given away’ his board as he had found it ‘basically useless’. However, the majority of his post – and indeed the comments following it – seemed less inflammatory and fairly well-reasoned (Bill also followed up his original post both here and here. Well worth a read, if you get a chance). I think, however, that the target of Bill’s self-confessed rant, as well as that of many of the critical comments in response to his article, was misplaced.
In the main, both Bill’s post and the comments it generated had major issues with what we might call blanket rollouts – that is to say schools or local authorities (districts) that decide to install a specific number of IWBs into schools and classrooms regardless of whether they are wanted or what impact they might have on the learning and teaching there. As well as the actual costs involved, Bill points to the opportunity costs – what could have been purchased with the same amount of money. Whilst these are valid points, surely they have nothing to do with IWB technology itself, but rather are to do with how our schools are being funded and administered? My own school uses SMART Boards, which has proven to be problematic as we are part of a “Promethean authority”, that is to say that all the schools within our authority are meant to use Promethean IWBs rather than any other brand. A decision has been taken somewhere, using some kind of criteria that is perhaps not educationally based (would it be fair to assume that cost might come into it?) that every school in our authority then has to accept, regardless of what they feel is best for them educationally speaking. Surely this is - to use Neil’s words – counter to CfE? That is perhaps a rather large discussion, and should be saved for another time and place.
Reading the reactions to Bill’s post, as well as the Twitter Edchat about IWBs he mentioned in his post, it was interesting to see that a number of people were responding with the tech-neutral position that I was inclined to adopt myself. That is to say that IWBs (or indeed any technology, technique or tool used while teaching) is not in itself either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, rather it is how the teacher goes about using it that causes it to ‘become so’. In the case of IWBs, when I first saw one, it was being used purely as a large monitor with regular Microsoft applications, which could be touch controlled as well as mouse controlled. Not exactly the epitome of interacivity, yet some teachers were making very good use of it just like that. The next time I encountered an IWB it was being used as a large touch screen monitor, but for more web-based bespoke learning and teaching applications, and once more some teachers were making a very good use of it. My own personal use of an IWB in the classroom started during my probationary year, and tended to follow the large touch screen monitor approach spoken about above. Occasionally, we would use the IWB to write on but that was about as far as it went.
So, to review. Valuable as a teaching tool? At times, and for some teachers/students. Embedded in classroom practice? Again, perhaps for some teachers/classes, but only in limited ways. Worth the money? Hmmmmmm. Doubtful. I remained to be covinced as to exactly how useful a tool these IWBs were.
And then I started working in the school I’m in now.
Talk about an eye opener. On my very first visit, I saw more being done with their SMART Boards than I ever had before. When I started my job, I got to see a number of different teachers in a number of different classes using their SMART Boards. All sorts of weird and wonderful things were happening, and the children were all so engaged. I couldn’t believe my eyes, and even asked them what software or application it was that they were using, and how much it had cost. They just looked at me like I was stupid.
“SMART Notebook. It comes with the board.”
I couldn’t believe it. The same software that I had only ever used if I was looking to write something on my IWB, and you should have seen the things that it could do. And for children with a huge range of additional support needs. Children who just couldn’t make the conceptual leap between clicking a button or pushing a switch and something happening on a screen were able to make that connection because they could touch the screen and cause the reaction that happened on it. Notebook activities could be highly personalised for individual classes or even pupils, using text, sound, video, animation or web content all from one ‘document’. And the pupils were driving the IWB activities forward too “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do this, or that?”.
I began pottering with Notebook myself, and by now have achieved (I hope!) some level of competence with it. During this time I have used my SMART Board and Notebook software to deliver learning activities across all curricular areas. I have used it to collaborate with other teachers and other classes, and have even helped pupils use it to work together. I have used Notebook to administer moderations for SQA Access 1 and 2 units, as well as using the built-in recording function to create a video record of the moderation that can be used as evidence. I have created content that utilises the SMART Response ‘clicker’ system (formerly Senteo) to collect and analyse data, and have helped our Pupil Council start using this technology to cast their votes anonymously.
Now, the question behind this is why have I used Notebook to do all these things? Firstly, because Notebook is easy to use. Once you learn to use it (and I mostly taught myself) it is intuitive, quick, easy and versatile. And I still feel like I’m only starting to get to grips with it, especially as it continues to develop. Secondly, ease of access – it is on virtually every computer in our school, and is available to download for use at home for SMART Board users (a product key is provided for this purpose). Thirdly, and probably most importantly, is because the pupils I work with absolutely love working on the SMART Board. They find it hugely engaging, and are far more willing to ‘have a go’ on the SMART Board than they are on a more traditional paper-based jotter or worksheet task. Does this mean that the SMART Board is the only teaching tool I use? Of course it doesn’t, and neither does it mean I would keep using it if it didn’t meet the needs of my pupils (for instance, I found another way to deliver a set of activities that had been planned using SMART Response last year as the class were unable to make the connection between the clickers and the board, and also found the interfaces too confusing). And if they took the SMART Board away tomorrow I would still be able to teach. But that’s hardly the point - I would have to be a fool not to take advantage of such enthusiasm from the pupils wherever I found it.
Now, you may have noticed that I have answered a question about IWB hardware by referring to IWB software. This was no mistake, and I make no apologies for it, because I truly believe that the software, its functionality and what it enables us to do with the IWB are at the heart of the debate about the role that the IWB has to play in the modern classroom. Back on Twitter, someone else summed it up in a far more elegant way than I could ever have managed.
I think that sums it up in a nutshell. When it comes right down to it, the IWB will make no difference in class on its own, whether it’s in one room, ten rooms or every room in a school/district/country. It is, after all, just a tool, and the impact of any tool on learning and teaching comes down to how it is used. Whilst I have had the privilege to witness some absolutely fantastic work being done with SMART Boards both within and outwith my school, and have also been lucky enough to take part in a Content Creation Seminar with some extremely talented colleagues from across Scotland, I have also witnessed some work where the IWB has added nothing to an activity, and indeed in extreme cases where it seems to be getting used in an almost tokenistic, gimmicky manner. The IWB is not to be blamed for the second observation any more than it should be credited for the first – each teacher, each class, each pupil, each situation will call for a different approach and it is up to the skilled and professional educator to adjudge best what that approach should be. Solutions should not be ‘forced’ upon a practitioner, pupil or school any more than they should be withheld from them.
Finally, then, we come to my response to Neil’s original tweet and Bill’s original post, and it’s quite simple. Don’t blame the board. IWBs are only a tool, and it is us who make them what they are and not the other way round. IWBs will neither entrench nor challenge traditional orthodoxies, it is up to each one of us to do that, and to decide how to deal with the technological hand we have been dealt to our pupils’ best advantage. To use one of my favourite quotes from a wise man: “It’s not about the tech, it’s about the teAch…”
So, shamed into action by Alan Hamilton and his bright shiny new blog (and this post in particular) I thought I would have a bit of blog reflection myself.
Whilst I have to confess that it all seems a bit of a whirlwind now, 2009 was a big year for me professionally. I finished the Postgraduate Certificate in Educational Support from Strathclyde University and began the Postgraduate Diploma. My confidence in class had grown with my first year in the sector under my belt, and I felt I was just starting to get a handle on my class when it was time to move class again! This time I found myself in our ‘integration unit’ at the local high school, with the older pupils from our school who can handle that kind of an environment. This meant more SQA Access 1, 2 and Core Skills units, more college days or the pupils, and more organisational challenges for me. The addition of the ASDAN Transition Challenge to our repertoire was also to provide challenges. I contributed in a small way to organising at least 3 TeachMeets (and a very successful BeerMeet) and also presented at 2 TeachMeets, one virtual and one actual. I also managed to find myself on the school ICT Quality Team, tagged as the school Glow expert and on some Glow training. Phew.
I managed to write 13 blog posts last year – in reverse chronological order:
Multitouch mayhem – finding our way around a SMART Table
SLF09 Post 2: TeachMeet – is there a time to break the the rules?
SLF09 Post 1 – Presenting on the SMART Table
Building Glow Communities – Social Studies
Catch Up Post – Part 2 – #weather_me
Catch Up Post – Part 1 – Teachmeet Student Edition
And now, in a break from your scheduled programming….
Smart Table Activity Toolkit – Hot Spotting!
Introducing our Smart Table
TeachMeet hits the Borders
The Impact of Academia
New Year’s Resolution
While that’s an average of more than one a month, in reality there were months with nothing doing on the blog. Plus, there was a lot of good stuff that never made it to the blog either. Put that together with long blog posts, and it might just be a recipe for disaster.
So this year it’s going to be different. Answering Alan’s challenge, this post was to outline my ambitions for the year ahead.
1) Write a post on this blog at the very least once a month. I’m also going to embrace shorter, snappier posts for the issues which don’t need to be too indepth, and try and widen out what I post about.
2) Related to the above, I am going to try and publish a ‘phlog’/podcast/audioboo on the EDUTalk website at least once a month as part of the EDUTalk365 project. I already have one for January under my belt, and have spoken to David Noble about theming this round my adoption of the ASDAN programme into our practice, and linking it with ACfe.
3) Continue to get actively involved in real, quality CPD. As a TeachMeet and Twitter evangelist, I am hugely excited about the amount of opportunities they continue to offer me through the network of contacts I have built, and the support and help they offer each other.
4) Not really education related, but if I put it up here then I’ll have to stick to it or live with the shame. Now the sciataca is gone and the tendons are back in shape, build my fitness back up with the first two targets being a Sport Relief mile and a 5k. The “Couch to 5k” iPhone app and BMF should help with this.
5) Complete and pass the Diploma in Educational Support. A great opportunity that has been given to me, I am determined to pass it, despite the difficulties it can cause with regards to free time, etc. My first module is complete and the essay in (although I fear a resubmission may be on the cards :-s ) the second one is proving even more challenging, but I’m learning so much too.
That’ll probably do for just now – I’ll maybe look back after 3 months and see how I’m getting on.
Been meaning to talk about this for a while now – have found it very exciting, and of obvious value for classroom use. We’ve had a lot of fun on our SMART Board with this.
Basically, what we’re talking about is a weather map with weather symbols on it, just like you see on the TV weather forecasts, but located on a web page. Sounds pretty dull, eh?
But that’s where the genius starts.
This isn’t some remote, static weather map that all you can do is look at it. This weather map relies on YOU to tell it what the weather is like.
Initially, the only way to send information to the map was from a Twitter account. By tweeting following the format #weather_me <location>, <weather keyword>, <comments> you could send your real-time weather info to the map. And that was good.
The format was fairly precise to follow. A misplaced comma or using a non-keyword to describe the weather, and all your good work was undone. During the last week of term, I used my Twitter network to try and cover the map in real-time weather info that they had supplied, and to a certain extent we succeeded. The only problem was that many of the tweets weren’t correctly formatted, and although I could see and understand them they weren’t recognised by the site. ReTweeting them provided a quick work around, and we certainly managed to cover the map in symbols (mostly sunny ones as I remember), but the downside of that, as pointed out by Kenny, was that I looked like I had colonised the whole of the British Isles. Given that the Tweet on the map that my class were most interested in was their own, this would have taken away somewhat from other classes who had Tweeted weather, and also prevented my class from finding out about other people who had been Tweeting from looking at the map itself. Also, it meant that people HAD to have a Twitter account to use the site, which given the blocking issues in schools could sometimes be too much to ask for.
Fortunately, the extremely technically gifted Matthew Tullett from twelve20 was watching and learning.
He tweaked the site in a number of ways, including the ability to send the weather from the site itself. This opened it up to anyone to use, not just the Twitterati. As long as you have a location/postcode and an internet connection you can use the site.
Really looking forward to using it in the new school year, and I am hopeful about building a network of educators/schools who will regularly supply weather info – after all, it’s so quick and easy. I think Alan was looking to help set something up, although I can’t remember off the top of my head if it was really him or not! Sounds like his kind of thing though, so it probably was! :-p
Only 2 things I was thinking would help improve the website:
1 – An area on the website form for a name, so that you can tell people who you are when using this interface (obviously when using Twitter, this is done by using your Twusername)
2 – Some of the symbols are difficult to see against the map – maybe make them a different colour, or give them an outline, or make the map a different colour?
Small tweaks I am sure you would agree.
Go on – try it here now (you are looking for the “you can add to map here” link on the right hand side). And it’s not just users in the UK, the map can go global too just zoom out.
For those of you who are only here for the SMART Table lowdown, I’ll apologise now. In fact, you can skip this whole post, and I won’t even be slightly offended. This post is not about our SMART Table, it’s about something that we have had for longer, and which I hadn’t even thought about blogging about until last week. A Twitter account, specifically the Twitter account that I set up for my class.
One evening last week, can’t quite remember which, I ended up fielding quite a few questions about my class Twitter account (on Twitter, naturally enough…) and figured it might make some sense to do a quick blog about it. So here goes!
I had been thinking of setting up a class blog for a while, but was becoming increasingly frustrated with the very negative response I kept getting – specifically that “anyone could see it”. Whilst I had thought that was the whole point, I hadn’t realised how protective we had become, and the class blog is on hold, for now. In a daring compromise manoeuvre, I managed to get permission to set up a class Twitter account providing the updates were protected. Figuring it was a step in the right direction, and as such a good start, I agreed, and @IMSLewis was born.
A snapshot of our Twitter page
Originally, I had intended to use this as a way to keep parents in touch with what was going on in class as well as giving the pupils an insight into social netwworking in a reasonably secure environment. I had hoped that other classes in the school might be interested in Tweeting too, and that we could connect with each other over our 3 campuses. In my more ambitious moments, I even pictured an @IMSchool or @IsobelMair account that could ‘follow’ all the other classes, providing an aggregated Tweet-feed that might be an almost real-time school blog. After all, everyone would rush to embrace this new technology, right?
Stop the sniggering at the back. As the more astute amongst you will have no doubt surmised, the reality turned out somewhat differently……
Blip 1 – Parental response
I’m still a bit shocked by this one. Without going into too many details, let’s just say that the response was ‘lukewarm’. I don’t know if it was because as a protected updater, parents would have to jump through a few hoops to follow us, or if the response would have been similar had we been ‘open’. The parents who did sign up were soon interacting with the class, and benefits could be seen, but overall this has been a disappointing area of the Twitter experiment.
Blip 2 – Access (ours)
As a ‘social networking’ site, Twitter has fallen foul of our Net-Nanny (Hello Websense!!!!) on a number of occasions. Annoying, particular when you are trying to establish the use of the site as part of the class routine. We have also encountered some ICT issues with faulty laptops, intermittent web access and the like which has impacted on our ability to use the site as we would have liked, particularly recently when our Tweeting has almost dried up. However, any new initiative is likely to suffer similar teething problems, and I am glad to say they haven’t managed to kill us off just yet!
Blip 3 – Access (others)
Whilst we were suffering access issues, some of our intended partners were suffering similar, or even worse, problems; in 2 cases these proved insurmountable and they had to pull out of our project.
Highlight 1 – Teacher response
If I was shocked by the (lack of) parental response, I was stunned by the response from other educators, many of whom were very interested in what we were trying to do. Special mention must go to Ollie Bray, who agreed to link up with the class through Twitter as they worked on their rain forest topic. The class really enjoyed being in touch with Ollie as he provided an ‘expert’ voice on their topic, and his assistance in discovering tree-kangaroos was invaluable! The sense of connection that the class got from communicating with someone as they travelled around Europe was also very worthwhile.
Highlight 2 – Mobile Tweeting
On a school trip to Amazonia, through the medium of mobile phone technology, the class stumbled onto a brilliant discovery – they could tweet from anywhere, making it an instant way of recording thoughts/events. It was also a handy distraction at some fraught times for some of the pupils, the familiarity of ‘updating our Twitter page’ helped calm some overexcited pupils!
Highlight 3 – Twitpic
Our most recent discovery, one that helped us share our rainforest artwork, was that sending pictures of things by Twitter can be FUN (providing you are careful about the pictures sent….).
Overall, whilst the Twitter experiment has not quite panned out the way I had originally hoped, it has been very worthwhile. The pupils have been quite taken with it, and in at least one case it has been able to engage a child at home in a way that has not been possible previously. The directions the Twitter account has taken itself in have been most valuable, and have offered up another range of possibilities for investigation. Parents have now been asking how to follow us, so our audience is expanding, and starting to feature more of our original ‘target’ audience. And the ideas continue to flow. Shall we follow the astronaut-Tweeter? With almost all of our parents now supplying an e-mail address, perhaps I could set up accounts for them and remove an obstacle to their participation?
Who knows. One thing, however, seems to be sure – our Twitter adventure will continue – providing we get that laptop sorted……
Having been shamed by the amount of blogging being done by colleagues, friends and former pupils, I have resolved to make a real effort to blog more often this year. In fairness, last year’s blogging was undone by a double whammy of regular edublog-outs and my discovery of Twitter but hopefully this year will be an improvement.
Have been reading and hearing a fair amount of negative stuff about ACfE recently, and am becoming increasingly worried that like some highly-powered, finely tuned, precision-engineered Formula 1 flying machine with a clodhopper at the controls it is going to be left stalled on the grid. The saddest thing about that possibility is just how many people working in education will be secretly (and not-so-secretly) delighted if it does. There are so many people I meet who never mind not having the inclination to make ACfE happen, they actually have an inclination to make it NOT happen. As a reasonable newcomer to the profession, this is my first real insight into such professional inertia and, well, conservatism. Has been a bit of an eye-opener, actually.