Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Too much? Too fast?

Mousetrap, original image uploaded to Flickr by peprice

When Mark Prensky talks of the Twitchspeed Generation being bombarded with 100 images a minute on the likes of MTV , is he advocating that this is acceptable or a good way to inform young people?

Just because it is done, does it make it desirable? That's my question today.

I think of my own kids watching TV or being entertained and realise just how irretrievably different they are to me when I was their age. Take the game Mousetrap, for example - actually, to be honest take ANY board game and if they take it out of the box more than once a year of their own volition, then they deserve a medal. As I recollect, Mousetrap was a treasure trove of delightful bits, and half the joy was setting the board up - despite the eternal frustration of the cage falling on its on.

I was ecstatic to receive a Mousetrap for Christmas and loved playing it. My own kids got a set a Christmas or two ago from their beloved Auntie, but each time they got it out of the box, I'd find them 10 mins later with it in the box again - Euan saying 'This game's just TOO MUCH effort'. They prefer to play with the diver in the bath, the steel ball has joined their GeoMag playset, the cage holds a fearful T Rex in Euan's model Jurassic Park (itself a plastic representation of Euan's very favouritistist PS2 game) and the mouse can be found in Shona's zoo - in other words they have REPURPOSED the contents to suit their more diverse interests (there's gotta be a future Blog post in there somwhere) because that game is just too slooooooooooooooooooooow paced for them.

But is this good? Or are my two, like all other children, missing out on life in the slow lane? I can't imagine them sitting down as wedid in the school holidays watching badly dubbed German tv shows - remember White Horses, Belle et Sebatien, Robinson Crusoe and Flashing Blade? Yet when I sit them down and sit with them, they do become engrossed in HR Puffnstuff and The Double Deckers. Throughout all this I am left with that feeling that they are missing out.

Anyway, I was talking with a friend last night, someone whom I have known only a short while, someone to whom small things are a big deal - like just going outdoors. And she was cutting herself up about making a fuss of simply going to the local shop.

Without saying too much about what happened, suffice it to say I felt she was very very brave in getting to the shops and back without seeking support from anyone. I told her to be proud of what she’d achieved, instead of being hard on herself that she’s made a fuss in the first place.

So it occurred to me that this ‘Twitchspeed’ analogy of Prensky’s could be applied to our daily lives. For now, with things happening so fast and furious around us all, we tend to overlook the small achievements or small things that we do and we then tend to make a big deal if the whole thing doesn’t turn out as planned.

I see this in my lessons when a pupil is upset when I tell her that such and such a word needs a capital letter, or if a font is hard to read, whilst praising her for the rest of what she has done. She will focus on the small negative comment instead of being buoyed up by the praise she has received. I know its only natural, but it means we miss the bigger picture.

Why am I writing this now? Well it’s because this is becoming more prevalent in my lessons than used to be the case and I am sure it’s because young people want to succeed in every capacity without room for failure, as a result of say, such failure not being rewarded in computer games – when you don’t progress unless you succeed in the linear pathway to the end goal (in most standard games). Compare this with the likes of Second Life which has no goal, it’s not a game after all, yet you can just do what you like without feeling you have failed to achieve what you set out to do.

I don’t know if that makes sense, but I think if we adopted an approach that we congratulated ourselves on each little achievement then this world would be a much happier place.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Using Blogs for Self-Evaluation

Coursework plays an important part in most examination courses. Traditionally pupils have worked on coursework and have either recorded their progress in a ‘write-up’ or else have required teacher observation to acknowledge examples where objectives have been achieved. Therefore there are occasions, particularly in large classes, when a teacher may not see a pupil achieve an objective and the pupil may not mention their actions in their ‘write-up’. So, a group of RMS ICT students were encouraged to use Blogging tools to keep an online diary of their progress during the 12-week production of a piece of ICT coursework. The facility also existed for them to carry out self-evaluation.

Godwin-Jones says: “Blogs are well suited to serve as on-line personal journals for students, particularly since they normally enable uploading and linking of files. Language learners could use a personal blog, linked to a course, as an electronic portfolio, showing development over time. By publishing the blog on the Internet, the student has the possibility of writing for readers beyond classmates, not usually possible in discussion forums.”

Free blogging tools, such as www.blogger.com, are affordable and easy ways for schools to provide their students with online journals. A feature of all blogs is that entries can be made ‘on the hoof’ as and when the blogger decides to do so. Add to this the fact that all blog entries are date and time stamped and you have evidence that can be used to show that a pupil has completed or attempted a particular task that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. Further enhancements such as the ability for others to leave comments, or to include screenshots or other digital images, means that Blogs become a very powerful evaluation tool.

Coursework in ICT requires students to write account of their progress. In one case, the student has to state if they have had a problem and how the problem was ‘handled’.

Here is a case where a student was not observed to have had a problem, nor did she write about it in her coursework documentation. But by including it here in her Blog, she was able to obtain the marks because she had shown that she had handled a problem.

“Last week I came across a huge problem, my write up had saved itself under a temp document. This had caused me quite a few problems before hand as it kept making me loose my work, which meant that I had to keep re-writing it, which wasted time. Last week it deleted it's self and I had to go and retrieve it. I have now managed to save it as a word document and hopefully everything will be ok now. I am now working on the section called ‘Implement’, this is where I analyse my presentation.”

This is a common occurrence in coursework tasks – pupils do not get credit for work they have done because they were not seen to do it by their teacher. In this case the URL of this student’s Blog was sent to the Moderator who could see the date and time that the student encountered a problem and how they dealt with it.

Harry Chapin wrote a song called ‘Flowers are red’ explaining how students can be penalised for not presenting information the way the teacher wants. It seems like there is a prescribed and acceptable format, that, for example, coursework has to be written in a formal style. Yet this rigidity may not suit divergent thinkers who may want to express themselves in a more creative way.

The use of Blogging tools has ensured that pupils can write about the work they are doing, but in their own way. So whilst this student is indulging in social discourse in a form that is not acceptable within a GCSE coursework, she is able to show the progress she has made in a style that is totally individual.
Blogs are being used by women more and more and this has empowered them to be able to express their opinions in ways that have never been possible before. Kahn and Kellner describe the success of Blogs as a “revolution of everyday life”. Wiley states “why would we put learners in front of the most advanced communications system of all time and not have them communicating?” – this goes some way to addressing the potential of Blogs as educational tools. Merriam-Webster chose ‘blog’ as word of the year for 2004 as “the word that people have asked to be defined or explained most often over the last 12 months.”.

This is more than a passing fad.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sand and Witches

Hansel und die Hexe, image originally uploaded to Flickr by _bel_

I was never very good at French at school, but that didn't stop me wanting to be a translator for one short, foolhardy period of my life. In other words, I used to think I was good. So good in fact that I felt I could make up my own words...

One day we'd been set a task of translating a 500 word passage of text. Pierre was going on a school trip, and we'd to translate his exploits from English into sensible French. And I was doing swimmingly. In fact I had effortlessly translated all bar one word: 'sandwich'. I looked in my English/French dictionary and could not find 'sandwich' listed there. What was I to do? Well this was 25 years ago - no Babelfish web translation service to rely upon (although I had read about a babelfish in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy at the time!). In fact we had only one computer in the whole school and we only got to see the teacher use it if we were 'good boys and girls'.

Anyway, I remembered what I'd been shown in German classes, that in that language they append one word to another in order to make a bigger word. So thinking myself clever, I came up with: the word for 'sand' and the word for 'witch' to get la sablesorciere.

Needless to say this tangential thinking was SO ahead of its time it did not go down at all well when my teacher marked the work!

Yesterday, I received this email from the moderator of one of the Flickr groups that I belong to:

"What is wrong with you ? ...
What is wrong with you people ?
How hard is it to take a part in the group task ?
It takes only a minuet !
It doesn't ask for food or money !
You asked only to express some responsibilityto the group and to be active in that task.
see more in this link:...."

And I was stunned as I don't normally receive such terse or rude emails. Ever. Not even from my pupils! So I thought, 'what the hecks' this all about?' and I followed the link to a discussion that has now been removed (more of that later) telling me in what I perceived to be bullying tones, replete with graphs and the like, that I had obligations to make the group the biggest on Flickr by recruiting more members.

Well I was a wee bit miffed by this, and, so it would appear, were others. The result was that people voiced their anger in droves, leading to the removal of the offending graphs by a moderator, and an apology form the group admin who had sent the original email.

The point? He is Israeli and English is not is native tongue. As a result what he thought was a jokey encouragement in Hebrew, when translated into English became a very rude and arrogant message. It was interesting that a moderator in the group had ultimate faith in the admin that she initially refused to believe he could have caused furore, and then single-handedly defused the situation through compassionate words and encouragement to 'give it another chance and see what we can make out of it...' For many people it was not good enough to maintain their membership of the group. But me, I thought of 'sand and witches' and realised it is all too easy to make mistakes when writing in another tongue. So I cut him some slack.

My ultimate thought though, is that although I largely agree with Thomas Friedman's notions that 'The World is Flat', as long as incidents like this show that language separates us, after all as some people interpreted what was intended as '[trying to]...tried to motivate members to take part on the group task.as you know, i'm not English speaker ... it sound like joke in Hebrew ...' as 'way out of line', 'hasseling (sic) people ', 'I am in tears, it is not a language problem, it is harassment' and I could go on, then there will always be peaks and troughs to be coped with in the world.

Perhaps, in a way, this is evidence that there is danger in assuming the world is flat, just because we speak another language we think we can communicate in it, or that because someone write in our language we assume they know what they are saying! In this case we all interpreted the email as being very rude, without even stopping to think that he speaks Hebrew as his native tongue and that it might have lost something in the translation (one need look no further than the list of Chinese film titles to see how this can lead to bizarre outcomes).

I'll leave the last word to the Moderator of the group who said 'Now we can get back to focusing on the the things that really matter. FUN! ' Hear hear!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

UK National eTwinning Conference 2007 - Being an eTwinning Ambassador

The first session on the Sunday consisted of inspirational advice from current eTwinning ambassadors, Otso - a talking bear and John Warwick as he has never been seen or heard before.

Ann Jakins told us that eTwinning has changed her teaching relationships with pupils. It's always humbling to hear fellow professionals speak in such terms as you know that such a statement is not made lightly. She said that languages are no barrier in such projects and it leads to pupils getting more accurate perceptions of another country than the ones they may obtain from the mass media.

There are 25 Learning Together ambassadors and these people are charged with 'spreading the word' to other schools around the country by showing best practice in eTwinning and Comenius. Amongst their responsibilities is the running of twilight training sessions in schools for interested teachers. The British Council can fund all aspects of such sessions, apart from cover costs.

George Glass pointed out that eTwinning is important because every teacher and student involved shares the FUN - he pointed out that eTwinning is the most fun he has had in 30 years of teaching.

It's clear to all who have not yet become involved in eTwinning that this is a very project to enable schools to provide students with a curriculum that is relevant to the 21st Century.

We heard from teachers from Gymnazium Spitalsksa in Czech Republic who are eager to forge eTwinning links with the UK. We were encouraged to look to see if our home towns were twinned with other European towns as such links having been established may make it easier to work with schools from those towns.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

eTwinning Podcasting Workshop

The room is full of aspiring broadcasters itching to learn about Podcasting from Nick Folk. He's told us the aim is to produce a small podcast by the end of the session. Loudblog is the first tool we are shown and it seems very easy to upload your podcasts to there.

We get a chance to listen to the podcasts created during the earlier workshop and they are very very good. I wonder how many of that or indeed this group ever thought they'd be worldwide broadcasters by the end of the day.

The inimitable Audacity is a starting point for the next part, most of the group have used this package before, so Nick is showing us how to use it quickly. Nick makes Audacity seem so easy to use - I wish I could have his style when trying to show my students how to use it.

We've got a wee while to create our own project which I look forward to uploading onto the Internet later.

I find it incredible that podcasting is now so de rigeur to many teachers. It's down to free, easy to use packages like Audacity that this has become possible.

National UK eTwinning Conference, Nottingham 2007

I'm writing this whilst sat in John Warwick's excellent workshop in which he is showing us how to use Flashmeeting.

Despite the vagaries and limitations of the NCSL network he was able to show the way this low-budget alternative to video conferencing (the only tool required besides a PC is a webcam/microphone) can be used to bring schools together.

John is promoting a pilot using this tool with schools (Flashmeeting is produced by the Open University) and there are currently 130+ schools signed up to use the tool so far.

Getting involved is simple as we saw for ourselves. You become an authorised user by registering and once your application has been approved (by John) you are set to use it. The excellent and easy-to-follow interface is where you go next and book your session - selecting date, time and duration. and number of participants.

It's fair to say that the workshop group were enthralled throughout John's session with all delegates clearly seeing the application of this wonderful tool. To see collective lightbulbs of enlightenment going on above the heads of those present was a really great moment. The mark of a good INSET session is one which leaves you inspired and eager to try something for your self. This has definitely been the case in this session.

This looks like a resource I definitely will be using in my school over the coming months.

Contact John: john.warwick@stlukes.herts.sch.uk for registration access to the Flashmeeting vc tool.