Who worries or cares about what you’ve written?

I pose this question partly because I’ve returned to blogging, after spending 20 months only tweeting. The other part is an awareness of the quality of writing that is posted online and offline by students, academics and colleagues.

Where do I start? Julie Andrew’s would suggest at the very beginning.

When I started blogging I strongly believed (and still do) that you need an audience. See my first posting: I think you’re crazy just like me. But what should the audience care about when reading a posting? Should they be judging the author by the quality of their writing or the standard of written English. As the author should I worry about what readers think of me as they read my rantings? Well if I want to raise my profile and esteem then I have to worry about finding, keeping and influencing my audience. And to that end I need to self-edit my work. I definitely need to spellcheck it. And I seriously need to proof-read it.

So why doesn’t everyone take care with their online writing. I appreciate it when reading student essays and assignments when they have bothered to take time with their writing. As I often say, “Nobody teaches you to read bad writing; so learning to read and assess poorly written essays takes some time to master.” When I struggle to make sense of a 10 line sentence or translate the phonetic spelling I’m wondering who this student is and what they were thinking when they wrote the essay. I wonder if it was in the early hours of the morning or if they have done any reading. And I wonder why I have to read this bad writing.

But let me stop picking on my students they are learners after all and are on a journey to improve their writing. Let me turn my attention to my colleges: those who one might assume know better. The academics have been through University and have submitted numerous essays. They have written articles and reports and authored books. They have developed their skills in written communications. But these skills have been crafted in the analogue world: pre-digital. These colleagues are now being let loose on the web.

Because digital is easy to edit and amend they seem to have reduced their care in the work they post to the wide world. They give little thought to what the audience will think because if anyone comments on an error it can be removed in a moment  from the offending page on the web. But it only matters if there’s an audience.

This audience has two options: prejudice or protest. With prejudice you can judge the author as poor and assume future work as being unworthy. We do this with music, film, television and books. Obviously this will tarnish the author’s esteem and ultimately their reputation. With protest you can spend time engaging with the author to alert them to the error of their ways. But why should we care about the quality of the work when the author hasn’t; why should we be the editor?

So to my colleagues I say: “take care of what you write and learn the rules (guidelines) for writing online.” Then I won’t think less of you than I already do 😉

Digital Ignorants (Noun)

This is a play on words in reference to Marc Prensky’s concept of digital natives vs digital immigrants. I would like to propose an alternative classification: digital ignorants. In my mind, these are people of any age who refuse to engage with an aspect of ICT to improve the way they work and live.

My view might be explained by me being a geek or someone who tends to be an early-adopter of new technology. I use my ICT in numerous ways to help me do my job more efficiently. I understand the advantages that an app provides.

One aspect of ICT is the advantages the technology brings. We teach pupils the advantages in terms of speed, volume, accuracy and efficiency. So why is it that adults just won’t listen to sound reason? Why is it that when you explain to a colleague that there’s a better way of doing something on the computer and that you support it with provable advantages they just ignore you or say they prefer doing it the the slower less efficient manner?

One of my colleague used to say that ICT (and technology in general) was a solution looking for a problem. But in these circumstances it’s clear that even with a better solution to a problem users don’t want to engage in the more complex or sophisticated aspect of ICT.

I see this with my colleagues but I also see it with my students. The students don’t want to engage with the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) in a uniform and consistent way. The majority do, but a minority don’t. No matter how much you stress the importance of the VLE as a tool or explain the advantage it brings. This is one reason why I can’t accept digital natives as a universal category for young learners. They don’t all want to engage regardless of the reasons.

Perhaps I need to understand the doubters rather than the evangelists if I’m to get ideas accepted universally across my students or with my colleagues.

Wordle Muddle

Wordle: ICT-Echo
This week I was at a seminar titled Glasgow Teacher Education 2014. We were asked in our groups to think of a word that we felt represented teachers for the 21st century. Along with this word we had to think of two associated words. These were then typed into Wordle.net to produce an image similar to the one above.
This caused some amusement to those in the room who had not seen Wordle before and some were keen to use it in different contexts (their own classes/lectures).
Now as a starting activity for a seminar it was reasonably interesting, but it occurred to me to be a missed opportunity. It was also an example of style over substance.
Let me explain my disappointment with this activity. To start with each individual could write three words on a post-it and submit it for inclusion in the wordle. I myself gave the task some thought. My first choice was ‘flexible‘. The two associated words were ‘mind‘ and ‘body‘. My thinking was that a teacher for the 21st century should be flexible in mind and body. I thought about it for a few seconds and changed my initial choice to ‘agile‘.
After all the words had been submitted a word cloud was generated and the words that had the greatest frequency of use appeared largest on the screen. I scanned the screen to see my cleverly chosen words. They were the smallest and most insignificant on the screen.
Wordle had been used to select the promote the most common obvious words suggested by the group. Not the unusual or challenging words. Not the words that might challenge the orthodoxy but the words that represent it.
Now I don’t want to criticise Wordle because I can see that it’s a useful tool. My criticism is in the way it was used to cleverly re-inforce the collective opinion of the needs of the teacher for the 21st century.
But it does make me think wouldn’t it be interesting if Wordle had an inverse proportion option that pulled out the key words that were important but rarely used? Ultimately it comes down to those presenting the seminar to explore the use, meaning and choices of the participants to explore the deeper understanding.

Feel free to post your choice of words that represent the teachers for the 21st century. Remember to give the reasons for your choice.

What does it tell you when…

… a school doesn’t have a website?

I find myself using a variety of website to gain information and knowledge about the schools my students have been placed in for their school experiences.

I’ll use Google to start, although I have other regular sites that I can go to first, to get an overview. The regular sites tend to appear at the top of the google list: LTScotland, HMIe, Wikipedia, RateMyTeacher, local government. From this list the most obvious omission is the school’s website, but I’ll return to this later.

LTScotland or Education Scotland host a site called Scottish Schools Online which is a searchable directory of all the schools in Scotland. It provides basic information: map, address, telephone, local authority, web address, email, SEED number, school type and school information links.

The school information links provide statistics and general information about the performance of the school and measures of socio-economic status. These include examination results, attendance & absence data, leavers destinations and free school meal percentages.

The HMIe website provides reports on the quality of schools against the evaluation framework known as How Good Is Our School (HIGIOS). I would be surprised if their were any schools in Scotland that did not have a published report dated within the last 7 years. But I’m not planning to search through the 2826 entries to see if any report exceed this date.

A Wikipedia entry is not always there for every school. It usually takes either a dedicated alumni or member of staff to muster the time and effort to submit an entry to this site.

The local government website vary in detail and quality. Over the years accessing the details about a school from these can be infuriating. Especially in local authorities where they have been in the process of rebuilding and merging schools. The details, especially contact details, are not always kept up to date. I have found myself on several occasions (eg Stirling High School) having to ask builder or local dog walkers for directions to where the new school is. Where these website can be useful is in accessing the start and end times to the various parts of the school day. These will either be on the webpage or can be found in a downloadable copy of the school handbook which is sometimes hosted on these sites.

You might think that RateMyTeacher is not a very useful site for gaining information about a school, but you’d be wrong. I’m not talking about or interested in the arbitrary scores allocated to teachers but to the fact that the list of teachers names is available online. Not all school websites include a staff list for a variety of different reasons and it’s nice to know the name of the teacher that you’re going to meet when you visit the school.

Lastly, I return to the ommission: a school website. Most schools have a website that list the basic information and conforms to a default standard. It may list staff and parental information and course choices and pupil activities and contact details and location. Some sophisticated sites are based around blogs or contain twitter feeds. Regardless of the quality or quantity or information on the website the majority of schools have one. It’s the norm.

So what does it tell me about a school when they don’t have one? To be honest it raises more questions than answers, the main one being why?


I first encountered EduRoam on December 6th at Leeds Metropolitan University. I had just finished with a meeting and was sitting in the foyer when I thought I might be able to access their wifi to keep in touch with the chaos being caused by the weather back in Glasgow. I’d heard of EduRoam: allowing university academics and students access to the Internet using their login details at any participating institution across the globe.

So I pulled out my iPod Touch and searched for a wifi signal. On the list appeared EduRoam and I selected it. A login window appeared asking me for my University email address and details, which I duly submitted. A few seconds later I was accessing the internet: university email, facebook updates, twitter messages.

I had to wait several month for the University of Glasgow to implement (catchup) EduRoam across our campus. Previously if I wanted wifi access on campus I needed to access the flexaccess wifi (mis-named) and then login using the VPN settings. However on my iPod and iPad I struggled to either make or maintain a connection through the VPN. So when EduRoam appeared on the wifi settings I was over the moon. It made accessing the internet via wifi simple. Once set up, there’s no further requirement to login each time you want to access the internet. Now when I walk up to the St Andrew’s Building my iPod/iPad connects to EduRoam and starts to pick up my email. I can literarily be reading my emails as I open the front door.

Since the start of term I’ve been encouraging my first year B Eds to configure their smart phones to access EduRoam and to access their emails. I want them to use EduRoam to access the Internet and find answers to the questions that they have about their learning.

So imagine my disappointment when I was visiting the Jordanhill Campus of Strathclyde University for the TeachMeet event, to discover that they have only set up EduRoam on their main city centre campus. Fortunately one of the organisers of the event had anticipated my need for access to the Internet via the University network, so had arranged for guest logins to be made available. However, I was thwarted by the fact that the venue (Sir  Henry Wood Lecture Theatre) did not have a wifi hotspot. 😦

This minor setback aside I look forward to the day students and lecturers from HE and FE institutions can seamlessly go from one institution to another and have access to the wifi network and Internet. At present, according to the EduRoam access map there are 513 access points across the UK and according to Janet 15 institutions in Scotland allowing full access.

Roll on EduRoam…

Games Design Transition Project

Second day and second seminar with Charlie Love, formally of the Consolarium.

Looking around the room I can see many faces that I recognise from my travels to computing departments around the country. All are here to hear about Charlie’s experience with games design as a transition project in Kincorth learning community.

After the introduction and background he moved on to talk about, “Prototype, playtest, iterate”. Which can provide pupils with a quick fun feedback on their work. He showed an example of the plants vs zombies game to illustrate the prototype, playtest, iterate methodology.

Next he spoke about the training of the teachers involved in the project. There were two twilight sessions with teachers to train them in using games creation software, Scratch. This was also seen as a way of developing  a community of teachers to promote games based learning.

Charlie spoke about the use of Glow was vital to facilitate communication between the primary secondary sector. He also throughout the presentation mentioned and demonstrated how he and the Consolarium team had built resources to support teachers and pupil’s learning about games based learning.

He also showed some examples of games created by pupils on the topic of drugs awareness. He talked about the evaluation of pupils involvement in the project and showed a quote:

It was really good and fun but it was complicated.

Charlie brought the presentation to a close by summarising the benefits of the project: smooth transition with shared experience of using ICT and Scratch. He also, in good programming/software development style, indicated the next steps in the development of the project.

A copy of his presentation can be found here…

My final thought after listening to Charlie speak was if games design is about the creation of a narrative and that has a similarity to traditional story writing: how do we support, encourage, develop and learn this new genre of story telling?

In learning to tell stories we draw upon our reading of stories so in learning to create games we need to draw upon our playing of games.

Blogging in the primary

Day two of the Scottish Learning Festival 2011. I’ve managed to wander around the stands today, eventually bumping into a colleague from Crichton Campus, Graeme Pate and catching up with him.

First seminar was Brian McLaren, DHT at Clackmannan primary and two of his pupils describing their use of blogs. His glow blog can be found here.

Brian sums up his philosophy on learning:

Learning is a narrative with the pupil at the centre.

He then goes on to talk about how blogs can provide a window into the classroom. This is then exemplified by the primary one blog.

Then we were shown the primary six/seven blog, from 2010/11. He drew our attention to the embedded  Voki, which was launched as he described how the pupils enjoyed creating these for various blog postings. Brian goes on to make the points that the involvement in using the technology will attract an audience.

Next he started talking about blogs being used to capture teacher’s lesson evaluations. This he explains is seen as a much more effective mechanism of facilitating collection of evidence and evaluations. It sounds like the staff at Clackmannan Primary have been convinced of the merits of this way of working and are now fully engaged in use blogs in their professional working.

Another use is how the pupils are using glow blogs as a secure place for them to relate their learning journey. Cameron, a pupil, proceeded to show and tell us how he used the blog. They adapted and changed their headers to personalised their blog, using Graffiti Creator . They also learned to include hyperlinks to support the things they had written. Tags & Categories were also used to allow pupils and the teacher to filter and search for specific content. Finally he spoke about setting learning targets and evaluating & evidencing his learning. He finished by describing the positive impact of using blogs in the class.

Next up was another confident pupil called Lucy. She spoke about how she developed her awareness of target setting using the O&Es. She also showed her blog where she set and evaluated her learning.

The stage/podium was returned to Brian, who spoke about when children are given responsibility for their learning they might reasonably challenge the outcomes or target they have been set. He painted a vision of pupils selecting their own targets and expect the teacher to teach them. From what he described so far in his school this day may not be that far off.

Next was a bit of a technology list of interesting resources/websites/tools that were used in the creation of the blogs. These included Voki, Glogster Edu, Anymaking, Graffitimaker, Lego Minimizer, Prezi, Zooburst.

Next he explained that the school used ‘Big buddies’ to support and roll out peer support for other students. So when pupils want to try thing on their blog they have the support in place. And when Brian is stuck he goes to the Twitterverse.

Lastly, he makes the point that blogs are about reading as well as writing. That without an audience the blog is less effective.

Here is a copy of his Prezi presentation…

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Games Design and Blogging

The second seminar at the Scottish Learning Festival 2011 (#SLF11), which I attended saw Brian Clarke talking about using blogging to support games design.

He started by setting the scene in the primary he ended up working with. He also identified the technologies outcomes & experiences (O&E) that was the focus for the project. Net was a walk-through of some of the resources he and Charlie Love created for for the Consolorium on glow. This was followed by aspects of  ‘the games design process’.

The first aspect was games design artifacts specifically concept art. He identified the creation of characters both visually and in literature. This was connected to a O&E, which I failed to note.

Next was ‘level design’ and games narrative/plot (Lit 2-26a). This was followed by creating visual elements which was demonstrated with a short video of how to translate a plastersene model into a digital asset for the game.

Next was the creation of audio assets. Again accompanied with a video of using software like GarageBand.

Brian spoke about the process of ‘building the game’ and made the point that it connects with mathematics.

He talked about feedback issues that resulted in using blog posts for pupils to record their thoughts and the process they worked through. Then he talked about having a single blog for the project and that each group of pupils  had a specific category that allowed their posting to be tagged to each group by filtering. It allows groups to be identified and their work to be listed individually.

Some comments were displayed and I’m sure there were teachers in the room getting annoyed at the poor spelling or use of abbreviations.

Some other schools interacted with pupils providing comments on each others work.  He showed the statistics for the project blog: 29 posts 190 comments.

Towards the end of the presentation he demonstrated the Glow Consolarium and the programming environment called Scratch.

Tri-learning at Balfron High

Day one of the Scottish Learning Festival 2011 and I’ve arrived in the afternoon after teaching in the University.

After meeting a few familiar faces on entering hall 4. I wandered over to the Shuna suite to hear about Tri-learning. It is simply put a triangular peer evaluation process, where 3 teachers take it in turn to observe each other teaching and focus on a singular issue to provide feedback and the focus for discussion. It is based on the idea of learning rounds which have see a certain amount of popularity in Scotland over the last few years.

First speaker was Frank Hotchkiss, formerly of Balfron High now a DHT at Irvine Royal Academy. He outlined the background and aims of the project. He then described how the process worked from the initial pilot to wider school involvement session.

He was followed by Kate Reid, a social subjects teacher at Balfron High School. She talked about the pilot study: the staff involved and the process of the study.

Next to speak was Douglas Scott another teacher from Balfron high school. He spoke about the process from a participants perspective. He identified the benefits of observing and being observed by other colleagues. In his case he was working in a trio with a PE teacher and a Music Teacher.

He then spoke about the discussion plenary session. How the trio debriefed each other in relation to the comment sheets.

The next speaker was Sheena Boyle, a English teacher in Balfron. She spoke about the next session where Balfron is now looking at pupil responsibility for learning as a focus for Tri-learning. A new proforma was created for gathering data. A further day of staff development and involvement with the senior pupil council was used in this session. She then moved on to the issues that emerged from the project overall. Time impact on teachers preparation and non-contact time. This connected to issues regarding class cover. The issue of teachers choosing other members of staff to observe and being observed was raised.

Finally the group took questions from the audience. Firstly they were asked about the merit of this form of CPD in relation to the traditional models of CPD. The second question related to possible resistance to change from staff. The third question asked about teacher choice in the direction of the project.

Whilst I found the seminar an engaging and thought provoking experience, I’m left wondering how this process can guarantee an equally valuable CPD experience for all parties involved. I’m also concerned with what I call the external stimulus (and Vygotsky called a More Knowledgable Other – MKO) that allows teachers to see better practice.