Friday, February 27, 2009

Building a toolbox

Pic originally uploaded with CC licence to Flickr by Austin ampersand zak.

I asked my Personal Learning Network on Twitter to suggest to me the 'indispensible IT tool' that they are using in school. In a 15 minute period I had 29 suggestions from 20 different people - and THAT ladies and gentlemen, shows the potential of Twitter to be much more than a microblogging facility for the vainglorious.

Anyway, here's the list (attributions at the bottom) and I'll flesh this post out as the weekend develops (as this will be used as a resource at the conference I am attending).





CPS Student response systems












Random Activity Generator

Nintex Podcast Server


Google Reader








I am truly indebted to the following Twitterers who helped me compile this list:

@lynnehorn @mariefrance @mikeherrity @iusher @dughall @porchester @gr8ict @andywallis @noeljenkins @twowhizzy @skinnyboyevans @markw29 @loisath @jrichardson @rcurrin @adamsutcliffe @dannynic @stevebob @carolrainbow

Friday, January 02, 2009

Dotsam & Jetsam

Queue, image originally uploaded to Flickr by gadl.

I went shopping for some ski wear for my son today - he's going on a school trip to Bulgaria in February. It is hard enough to get him out shopping with me at the best of times, bless him, but on this occassion I figured it was one of the last chances I'd get to have him out and about with me before he goes on the ski trip. So out we went, braving the post-New Year sale hordes.

To set the scene a little, I want to be more restrained this year and less impatient, both when driving and in my general life, but I feel that we now live at such a pace and we are used to things being done NOW that when one has to queue for a long time - particularly in a shop - it's something we are just not used to these days.

We were unfortunate to be in a queue that took us over 20 minutes to move just 3 places (oh how I hate people who return 7 bags of clothes to the one shop to get their money back!) and I found myself thinking that one of my resolutions was going to bite the dust on the 2nd day of the year. But I persevered and eventually we left the shop with our bargains.

This made me think about the speed I am not only used to my personal life being lived at, but also the pace at which things occur in my classroom these days. It seems now that in the ICT classroom, rapid advances made in the subject mean that no longer are children having to be told 'this is a mouse and this is a printer' as I used to do in week 4 of Year 7 about 10 years ago - yes, SERIOUSLY! Now we're making slideshows within the first couple of weeks of term.

Although this has to be a good thing, it still means that pace of lessons and my expectations of what my pupils will produce has moved on at an almost exponential rate. In some cases, I'm sad to say, it seems like the 'fun' has gone and been replaced by 'If it's Tuesday this must be Belgium'-type moving from one tool to another. Add to this, me introducing the class to 'yet another cool tool' and the problem is compunded.

It's got me thinking all day about whether I need to readdress the way that I introduce new tools in class and find way to ensure that all skills learned are retained and that pupils get the chance to take stock of the new tools that they have been introduced to.

I know the feeling personally, as I can get overwhelmed with the plethora of fun, useful and interesting new Web 2.0 tools and sites I come across every day. And to this end I find myself as big a culprit as any of creating Dotsam - "The wasteland of abandoned Web sites ... that their creators have ignored for months or years but which remain accessible."

As if to illustrate this I found myself, thanks to people I Follow in Twitter, in the space of 3 hours today, I had:
  • Summarised my hopes for 2009 at 'Year in a sentence' from which I then found out about:
  • Xtranormal - a site that lets you make videos from text - yep you read that correctly!
  • Ten minutes later I had contributed to a wiki, my dream line-up for the film remake of classic 80's cartoon series, Thundercats - Tom Waits as Jaga anyone?
  • Which in turn has led me to Grupthink - a fab site for polling opinions
  • I was encouraged to contribute to 'The Power of Less' - a great forum that gets you to suggest a small change you want to make in your life to effect a big change within you. I chose one of my resolutions - to better care for my psoriasis
  • Which in turn led to a very challenging response from a moderator that made me dig deeper into the reasoning for chosing such a focus
  • I was further challenged to pledge how I would be greener in 2009, and I said about refusing coathangers & carrier bags (2 days down & still practicing what I preach).
  • And signing up gave me 100GB of free file storage from Filedropper

And all of that was done in the space of THREE HOURS this morning, and I was able to act upon it all as I am on holiday.

So, if this is what I did in only three hours today, imagine what opportunities we face daily and which we maybe let pass us by or we never return to (see Dotsam above).

Thus I feel privileged to have been able to make the most of these opportunities today and I thank my PLN in Twitter for bringing these to my attention today ( dogtrax broadus lewiswebb ).

Today's Bob Dylan song is 'When the Ship Comes in' which is apparently "a sprawling epic allegory about vanquishing the oppressive "powers that be". " And I can think of no more appropriate song to have listened to, on the day that I made use of some amazing opportunities to use technology to broaden my horizons far beyond the mundane.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

A Guid Ne'er to ane an' a'

Original image 'Writing Resolutions' originally uploaded to Flickr by Tojosan.

This is the start of my new regime to write blog posts on a far more regular basis. Part of my motivation to do so is the encouragement I have received from others on microblogging site Twitter -its always motivational to see other people doing something that you want to do in the same way.

And therein lies my first tale of serendipity for the New Year - perhaps one that augurs well for 2009. I was looking for a photo to illustrate this post, and searched 'creative commons' photos on Flickr, and the picture above was the first one I saw - but I simply could not believe my eyes when I saw that the person who had uploaded the picture was Tojosan, the same Tojosan that I follow on Twitter! What are the 0dds of that I wonder, that of the 44,000 Creative Commons photos tagged 'resolution' in Flickr, the one I picked should be one uploaded by someone I know, someone that I didn't even know had a Flickr account?

Anyway I digress, the purpose of this post is to outline my plethora of resolutions that I REALLY want to achieve this year. There are many, but I am determined to succeed this year if I can.

My New Years Resolutions for 2009
  1. To stick to my resolutions
  2. To follow a much more rigid and rigorous lifestyle, I've been too lackadaisical for too long
  3. To apprecaite the lyrics of Bob Dylan more by listening to different Bob Dylan song every day
  4. To walk to school each day
  5. To use no carrier bags in shops & leave all coathangers and other reusable packaging items at shops
  6. To read a book, watch a film, and listen to a new CD each week
  7. To do a random act of kindness at least once a week
  8. To teach my own children something new each day
  9. To improve the quality of my photography
  10. To comment on each Blog post I read
  11. To create a podcast of 'Wee Free Men' by Terry Pratchett
  12. To speak to my own children each day (whether or not they are staying with me)
  13. To meet all of the school-based targets I have set myself (see a future Blog Post)
  14. To make a machinima with my son
  15. To take better care of my psoriasis
  16. To go to bed with an empty email inbox as first pledged by Bill Thompson
  17. To respond immediately to emails
  18. To visit a town I've never been to each month
  19. To establish MirandaMod as a leading model of unconferencing
  20. To curb what bad language I use
  21. To have a far more positive attitude no matter how I feel about something
  22. To ensure my THREE major goals relating to Moodle are met this year (see future blog posts)
  23. To pay all my bills and handle all important paperwork immediately
  24. To pass my Grade Two singing exam
  25. and... To sing 'Hallelujah' to the whole school
  26. To phone my parents twice a week
  27. To be less wasteful of food in the home
  28. To allow no one to upset me or to belittle my achievements
  29. To DO rather than just SAY I will DO.
  30. To start what I fi........nish ;-)

Phew... that's a long list but one I want to meet and I will be disappointed in myself if I don't. Let's see how I get on.

Todays Dylan song is 'Song to Woody'. This was one of the first songs Bob Dylan ever wrote and whilst being a sort of prayer to Woody Guthrie, it includes words that could be so apt for the way the world is at the moment: "...I wrote you a song, 'Bout a funny ol' world that's a-comin' along. Seems sick an' it's hungry, it's tired an' it's torn, It looks like it's a-dyin' an' it's hardly been born".

How could a man as young as Dylan was at that time, write lyrics of such timeless poignancy? It's a lesson to us all!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Cyberbullying & Internet Safety

Pic originally uploaded to Flickr by slambo_42

This blogpost is intended as a resource for parents, pupils and staff and came from the excellent PHSCE evening for parents recently organised by Ms Tina Duff. It supported the strong approach to these topics by the school's senior leadership team. Cyberbullying and Internet Safety have been the subject of whole school assemblies and are part of the IT curriculum taught in KS2 and KS3 when pupils are given their own blogs and encouraged to use social networking tools to support their learning in class.

Will Gardner of Childnet International - an organisation that 'helps to make the Internet a great and safe place for children' - was the guest speaker. He said the goal of the organisation was to 'PROMOTE the positive and to RESPOND to the negative' aspects of young people's usage of the Internet.

He quoted the work of Marc Prensky in stating that part of the problem for parents regarding young people's usage of technology, comes from the Digital Native/Digital Imigrant idea. Prensky's excellent resources help guide parents about how to discuss the use of technology with their children, to be collaborative when issues arise, instead of authoritative. In this he suggests young people have grown up with technology all around them and therefore find it so easy to absorb, use and adapt to new technological tools at a pace that can frighten and concern adults who had little technology at their disposal when they were children.

Will Gardner's talk used selected data taking from the 'Children Go Online' report produced by the LSE. It is a very extensive document, but anyone interested in this topic would benefit greatly from downloading the document.

In the UK:

  • 93% of all children have their own PC
  • 8 is the average age for a child to have their first mobile phone
  • 1.4 million children own their own webspace
  • 2.7 billion searches are carried out on Google every month - so are children now asking Google instead of their parents?

Parents and children use the Internet in radically different ways: parents tend to use it for email & research whereas children use it for instant messaging, blogs, chatting, playing games and meeting friends.

Parents and children differ in their opinions of each others expertise:

28% of parents think their children are beginners


7% of children say they are beginners.

The Internet has developed radically in recent years to the point that the rise in collaborative and social networking tools has led to the phrase 'Web 2.0' being coined.

Web 1.0 is now seen to to be where the internet was used for DOWNloading, consuming content, most sites were corporate and all media was separate. Now though, with web 2.0 the Internet is used for UPloading, cretaing content, many sites are personal (like this Blog) and the media is connected.

Children are confronted with a dichotomy - at school their Internet access is supervised and highly filtered whereas at home it is largely unsupervised and unrestricted. [At RMS we take care to ensure that our filtering system observes our in loco parentis responsibilities, but we also encourage girls to take a repsonsible attitude towards their use of tools and sites that they access. In particular they learn ways to ascertain the veracity of websites.]

The LSE report stated that:

>30% of children said they had never recieved instructions in school about how to use the Internet [something that could NOT be said by any pupils at RMS]

>79% of children said they used the Internet at home without supervision.

Now although some adults feel intimidated by a perception that children know more about the use of computers and the Internet than they do, the truth is that adults have an important weapon in their armoury. That is that they are able to show young people that KNOWLEDGE is not the same as WISDOM. In other words, children may be quick to pick up techniques and skills, but they do not necessarily understand how to behave. And from this stems many of the problems relating to Cyberbullying and Internet Safety.

It has never been easier to create personalised content on the Internet:

  • music
  • photos
  • videos
  • text

Parents need to be aware of this and children need to learn how to do this responsibly.

What risks do children come up against?

  • Commerce - many sites contain advertising or malware. 73% of adverts on the Internet are not labelled as such, many are subliminal - such as those that result every time you do a Google search.
  • Content - anyone can write content but it can be: biased, offensive, racist, illegal, invalid. 57% of all children have accessed pornography accidentally. Four in ten children usually trust what they read on the Internet without triangulating to ascertain the validity of the content.
  • Contact - which can be inappropriate, lead to cyberbullying or be used for grooming. It is this aspect that attracts most notoriety or press coverage. Although only 7% of parents think their children have been approached inappropriately on the Internet, 1/3 of children say they have been.

Because a mobile phone is as personal as a diary to a young person, it is hard for a parent to see what is on the phone, because it is portable, it can be taken anywhere and is always on - therefore the person is always accessible.

What can parents do?

  1. Keep the benefits in mind above all else
  2. Install Spybot to search for unwanted programs on the home PC
  3. Be careful what sites you as an adult visit if your children use the same computer
  4. Create a family email address and use it for all online forms
  5. Set your web browser to enable popup blockers
  6. Talk about what to do if a child sees something they don't like
  7. Teach them to be critical of content
  8. Use child-friendly search engines - for example use Search Safe within Google to prevent unsafe images appearing,. But this story shows how dangerous relying on this sort of thing can be so don't rely on this only.
  9. Use your browser tools to enable the history of the sites that have been looked at and spot check the sites your child has looked at every now and again.
  10. Don't overreact when undesirable content is found etc.
  11. Get involved online -tell your child who to talk to if they are embarrassed about what they have found.
  12. Encourage a balanced use of activities such as MSN or social networking sites, switch off after a certain time, but realise web-enabled mobiles can be used if you have a WiFi connection in the home - so extend the turning off to include mobile phones.
  13. Make your child aware of the consequences of giving out personal information.
  14. Keep the PC in a Family room.
  15. With regard to phones, all parents should know how their child's phone works as utilities like Bluetooth can be used in ways that are hard to believe.
  16. Agree the sort of content you are prepared for a child to download.
  17. Make sure they do not become bullies.
  18. Decide what is an acceptable bill.
  19. Save any abusive messages.

If you have any issues relating to the misuse of mobile phones then you can contact:

  • Commercial issues, such as premium lines and ringtone subscriptions.
  • Content - if any illegal content is see.
  • Contact - if your child is approached by someone inappropriately.

Other websites with tons of resources are:

Cyberbulliyng is specifically the use of technological devices to deliberately cause upset to someone.

It can include:

  • Threats
  • Hacking
  • Name calling
  • Harassment
  • Manipulation
  • Exclusion
  • Public postings

There are a range of tools that can be used an parents should start to pay close attention to what pupils have on their social networking sites. Encourage good use of these sites, perhaps by joining yourself and becoming a friend of your child - make it a requirement if they want to use those sites.

Tools that can be used for cyberbullying are:

  • Phones
  • Instant Messaging
  • Chat
  • Email
  • Webcam
  • Social Networking Sites
  • Video-hosting (Youtube)
  • VLE's
  • Gaming

A video that shows this in harrowing style is this one, [at RMS many of the pupils have been shown this, and those who have seen it have agreed it makes them think about the issue] which could easily be a topic of discussion at home one night between yourself and your children.

What make Cyberbullying such a menace is:

It cannot be escaped, as the video shows, it is endured 24/7

  • There can be a mass audience watching the victim suffer or
  • There is a perception of anonymity
  • The traditional profile of bully/target can change - as seen in the video
  • There are no age or size dynamics now - a bully doesn't have to be the biggest
  • Some cases start of unintentionally, which is why Netiquette should be learned and observed by all users
  • Evidence can be good as it can be more evident, so it needs to be kept, not deleted.

In the Byron report, commissioned by Gordon Brown, Dr Tanya Byron voiced concern that 'when children talk about bullying they don't really differentiate between online and offline. It starts in the classroom and by the time they get home it's all over someone's MySpace page'. A simplified children's version of the report can be found here.

Advice for children :

  • Respect others
  • Think before you send
  • Treat your password like your toothbrush
  • Use tools if necessary - block & unfriend
  • Do not retaliate
  • Save the evidence - don't delete it

Report it - make sure you tell the police, the school, the ISP, the company if video on YouTube and check the terms and conditions of any offending organisation.

The evening ended with the audience asking questions and parents thanked the school for arranging the evening as well as voicing gratitude that the SLT and PHSCE & ICT departments treated the matter in the high-profile way they do.

Meme: Passion Quilt

I'd like to thank Theo Kuchel for tagging me with the Passion Quilt Meme and I'll do my best to fulfil the requirements and hope those I list below might try to respond like I have done.

This picture was taken by myself of my daughter playing with a Playstation. And I call it SOCIAL NETWORKING WITH A DIFFERENCE. The picture is special to me because of what it shows.... and the circumstances behind it being taken.

My then 5yr old daughter and 10yr old son had been playing on their PS2 and my son decided he wanted a break, but Shona didn't. Euan came through to chat to me and to use the computer, whilst Shona stayed playing on the PS2. She kept shouting through to Euan to play with her, but he was having way too much fun on the computer to go back and play with her.

All of a sudden I hear thudding and jumping and running from the other room so I go to sneak a peek at what she's up to. And camera in hand I took that pic.

You see she and Euan had been playing with their PS2 & EyeToy, which they had set up for 2 players and the reason she was shouting to Euan was because she wanted to still play with someone. When he wasn't having any of it, she resorted to someone she could rely on....her favourite toy, Lamby, which you can see held in her hand.

The reason her arm is held high is so that Lamby can appear in the camera and hence be part of the game she was playing and if you are observant you can see Lamby's face on the screen.

Shona was having a whale of a time playing with Lamby and moving her (Lamby is female) in front of the camera.

So, I see this image and the story behind it as a metaphor for the 'friends' that social networking sites have us connect with. In a way Shona showed that her social network, her brother and her favourite toy, were equally valuable in the game-playing and that if she couldn't have her first choice to play with, she could have her second choice.

I believe this sort of improvisation shows the ingenuity prevalent with many children these days with regard to the use of technology, and helps back up my faith in Marc Prensky's 'Digital Natives' argument. It's this willingness of kids to improvise and try things out that gave rise to the Hole in the Wall project, a stimulus for The One Laptop per Child Project.

The same sort of thought processes occured to me to be behind Johnny Lee's brilliantly inventive use of the WiiMote to create amazing tools making hi tech gadgetry more affordable. Furthermore Dave Eggers' brilliant, and inspiring TEDWish acceptance talk shows the same sort of ingenuity when using a Pirate Supply Store, or Spy Store as 'fronts' to his amazing inner city education program, 826 Valencia. And ultimately Eggers worldwide project should beckon to us all to do what we can to 'shine our light on a young person to let them see how good they really are.'

What touched me most about Shona's improvised gaming was her insistence and excitement that Lamby had won many of the events they had played and she promised me she 'hadn't let Lamby win'. Bless!

I might add to this Blog post later but wanted to get my response online to show Theo I was up to the task. I'd also like to thank Theo for helping stimulate the Blogging Gland in me to start working again.

The Rules

  1. Think about what you are passionate about teaching your students.

  2. Post a picture from a source like FlickrCC or Flickr Creative Commons or make/take your own that captures what YOU are most passionate about for kids to learn about…and give your picture a short title.
  3. Title your blog post “Meme: Passion Quilt” and link back to this blog entry.

  4. Include links to 5 folks in your professional learning network or whom you follow on Twitter/Pownce etc.

And so I ask the following people to repsond if they have not already done so:
Merlin John

Amy Palko

Daniel Needlestone

Vicki Davis

Liz B Davis

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, 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 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!