Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Hwb Launch Today!

Today Hwb, the all Wales learning platform was launched!

We've just written a post over on our work blog highlighting how we believe Hwb and Hwb+ can support the work we do with schools.

My initial thoughts on the Hwb website are that it has a very clean, clear and easy to use interface with a 'Microsoft Metro feel'. Resources are easy to find but at present it seems like only a selection of resources have moved from NGfL Cymru to Hwb. I'm sure that further appropriate resources are in the process of being moved. Discussion forums are available in the Community section which are open to Hwb+ registered users. All in all it's looking very good.

Education Wales, which was launched at the same time as Hwb, is basically an area on Apple iTunesU that is hosting video and other digital content for Wales. One of the highlights for me is the access to some clips from the BBC TV programme "The Story of Wales". The only slight reservation I have at the moment is that I believe some local authorities block the use of iTunes in schools. I'm sure this can be overcome.

In January, approximately 35 schools from across Wales will be trailing out the Hwb+ learning platform in their schools. This will be shortly followed by phased roll outs of the platform to the remaining schools in Wales over the next two years. Exciting times in Wales!

Hwb - Towards a Digital Future (Welsh Government website)

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

All Change - Six Months On

Six months since my last post, good grief where did that time go? Well it's certainly been a busy time.

School improvement support has changed radically across all (most?) of Wales. In the South East where I work, all five local authorities (Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Monmouthshire, Newport and Torfaen) have combined school improvement services into one regional consortium called the Education Achievement Service for SE Wales.

"The EAS has been created by the five local authorities to raise education standards. By working together as part of an integrated service to support and challenge schools effectively, enhance front line services and make the most of the available resources, progress will take place quickly and effectively."

Unlike the 'culling' of education staff that occurred in the formation of some of the other consortia across Wales, the EAS retained the staff who moved from each of the local authorities. I now work for a 21st Century Learning team - five people in total. Two people full time, and three part time, basically this works out as 2.5 people in the team. That's two and half people to cover 266 schools across the region! As you can imagine much of our time has been spent trying to develop new approaches in how to work effectively with schools. What has become very clear is for the team to become far more strategic in the way to support schools. Most of our work so far has involved talking to headteachers, SLTs and ICT coordinators about how ICT is used across the whole school, for management & organisation, internal communications, L & T, CPD, assessment, etc. We feel that engaging in a conversation with the lead people in a school will eventually have greater impact on the way new technologies are used in a school and more likely to become embedded practice with the whole staff. That's not to say that we won't be working with individual teachers but experience has shown us that a school doesn't move forward in its effective use of ICT if the head and senior leadership teams are not fully behind it. I'm sure you can think of lots of current examples where the head teachers are certainly driving ICT from the front.   

Working across the five authorities have also given us quite an insight into the regional differences in ICT provision in schools, which are to say the least, stark. How this inequity happened or was allowed to happen is deserving of a blog post of its own. Also remember that we are a curriculum ICT team, IT services to schools (corporate) have stayed in the five local authorities. So a question that has arisen is who is writing and supporting the educational ICT strategies in each authority? There appears to be a void. Do we have to support five different strategies or try to develop one for the region? Is that possible? This leads me quite neatly onto Hwb.

In the immediate future I'm really looking forward to the Hwb and Hwb+ learning platform roll out. The team have attended a couple of Hwb meetings with Welsh Government over the past month or so, and I'm 'chomping-at-the-bit' to try the Hwb+ platform out to see what's possible. I think there is going to be some great opportunities to work across the region supporting this national strategy. More on Hwb in my next post.  

Monday, 14 May 2012

You'll Get What You've Always Got?

I’ve recently watched a couple of videos made by primary schools, demonstrating how they used iPads across their schools. I was particularly interested in seeing how the children were using them during a lesson. After watching for a little while, I noticed that many of the apps that were being used were basically digital versions of resources that the teacher would have traditionally used without the iPad or other technologies. For example, a 'whiteboard' that allowed the children to write down a sum and the answer and then to show to others; foundation phase children drawing letters on the screen; children playing matching games; drawing on the screen or reading books. This is not necessarily a criticism, just an observation. After watching, I started to reflect on how I've often seen technology being used by teachers. It reminded me of the experience of working on the 'interactive whiteboard initiative' some 10 years ago across our authority and the relatively rapid take-up by schools and teachers of this technology. Very rarely do I now come across a primary school that doesn't have IWBs across the whole school.

But why did this particular technology take hold in schools so quickly? My belief has been that teachers took to this technology because it basically allowed them to teach the way they had always done (teacher at the front of the class, children looking at the board). Yes, we can make our lesson introductions more 'whizzy' with images, video, web links, simple interactivity and sound, but basically I can still pick up a pen and write on a board as I traditionally did before IWBs. IWBs were not a disruptive technology in the classroom, in my opinion it allowed the status quo to continue, where one technology substituted for another. Technology changed, but the teaching approach didn't. Learning and teaching continued in the same way as previously, relatively unaffected or transformed by the new technology.

I realise that comparing iPads with IWBs is a little unfair as one could be seen as a 'teacher tool' whereas the other is technology placed directly into the hands of the learner, but the idea I feel holds true. Even when technology can be placed in the hands of the learner, in the primary school classroom it is still the case, that it is the teacher who generally directs the learning for the majority of the time and decides how and where the learning takes place and what resources are available for the learner.

Are iPads going to revolutionise learning and teaching as I've heard some people claim? Or perhaps this is the wrong question and we should be asking, are the apps used on the iPad going to help to revolutionise learning and teaching? This is the new technology for schools and the take-up is growing rapidly across our authority and across Wales. I recently talked to an Apple distributor who told me how difficult it is to keep up with the orders for iPads coming from schools. Which means there is a large demand, and like the IWBs, schools, teachers and learners don't seem to feel threatened by the iPad and are excited by the large catalogue of apps available to them. Teachers can plan learning activities utilising the resources (apps) available, hopefully enhancing the activity. The iPad doesn't appear to me to be a disruptive technology to education in the way that it's currently being used by most schools. Therefore like the IWB, the status quo continues in a class, we are substituting one technology for another. Learning and teaching carries on in a similar way as before, but now in a classroom that has bright, glossy 'things' instead of the older, heavier, black or grey 'things'.

It reminds me of the saying: "If you do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got."

Interestingly, Janet Wozniak from Apple recently spoke at the Learning Through Technology conference. According to this article in the TES she commented that schools should be wary of substitution - doing the things they have always done but channeled into technology such as the iPad - as this added nothing to teaching and cost more. 

With my local authority hat on I think it's time to find and highlight those examples of teachers and schools from around the world who are truly transforming educational with technology. Transformation which is based on sound educational research.


Friday, 4 May 2012

Mobile Phone and Games Console Filtering Links

Yesterday I blogged about the European internet safety report, and in particular how children might safely use mobile phones and games consoles to access the internet. So I made a trawl of the mobile phone and gaming console websites to see what each of the companies say about filtering internet access for young people and parental controls. I've listed below links to the relevant parts of their websites. A very useful task, for instance, perhaps naively I didn't realise that the various mobile phone networks have been unable to filter Blackberry handsets. Quite a potential problem considering the numbers of young people who use a Blackberry. However, the Orange website does say that by July 2012 something will be in place to filter these devices if needed.

Photo from Flickr user Pauly
This could be a useful list to share with parents?

Mobile phones:

O2 - Mobile phone and age verification  / Block or unblock 18+ content

T Mobile - Content Lock

Vodafone - Content Control

Orange - How can I block mobile content?

Tesco - Parental Controls

UK Safer Internet Centre - Smartphones

Gaming Consoles:

Xbox - Parental Controls

Sony - Playstation Knowledge Centre for Parents

Nintendo DSi and DSi XL - Parental Controls

Nintendo Wii - Parental Controls

Nintendo 3DS - Parental Controls

UK Safer Internet Centre - Games Devices

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Internet Safety Report

Internet safety report - Articles - Educational Technology - ICT in Education A quick summary by Terry Freedman of a new report entitled "European Strategy for a Better Internet for Children". Interesting that Terry picks up on part of the report that has started to concern me. That is the issue of how children safely access the web through mobile devices and through gaming consoles. What filters or controls are available for parents on these devices? If they are there are many parents aware they're there? Definitely something for me to look more closely at.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Using ICT Appropriately

I'm currently spending some time finding articles, publications and research on how ICT 'raises standards' and it's turning into quite a fascinating activity. This has sprung very much out of one of my last blogs about embedding ICT. In it I wrote about the need for a school to remember to ‘look back’ to evaluate what has been done in a school, what was successful or not, to learn from this before moving the whole school forward. Well I’m now doing the same thing. I’m looking for some clarity, reminding myself what benefits ICT does bring to the learner, the teacher and for the school. I’ve been doing this job for 10 years and I guess what I’m trying to do is de-construct what I believe I know about ICT and rebuild it on firmer foundations.

It really has been fascinating. The same benefits keep appearing and also the challenges, the main challenge being that it seems to be very difficult to prove that the use of ICT has a direct correlation to the raising of standards. Most of the benefits appear to be about motivation, enthusiasm, engagement, personal learning, parental engagement and organisation and management. One particular publication from Becta (Inspiring Learners: Discover how technology can inspire learners to achieve more, Jan. 2010) caught my attention. On pages 4 and 5 they listed how using technology in practical, active and creative ways will:

  • help improve their learning and achievement
  • engage them in their learning
  • make them likely to perform better in national tests
  • help them become more creative and independent in their learning
  • improve their speaking, listening, reading and writing skills
  • help them to gather and share information and experiences
  • help them grasp difficult concepts in curriculum subjects
  • make them more likely to stay in education after 16

The more I read this list, the clearer it becomes that you obviously don’t necessarily need to use ICT to develop any of these aspects. ICT can help, but so can other approaches. As an example, I watched my daughter over the Easter holidays carry out a geography Yr. 9 homework task. She had to come up with questions she wanted answering about Antarctica, carry out some research to find the answers and finally present this information back for her teacher. For about 6 days she worked for a couple of hours daily on this project. She sat the table with A3 sheets of paper, coloured pencils and paint, and put together an interesting and visually stunning presentation on Antarctica, with no sign of ICT. She was engaged, independent, highly motivated (no nagging from mum or dad!), extremely creative, and was gathering and sharing information in an appropriate way. 

Not a computer in sight!

The point I’m trying to make is that perhaps we (I’m) guilty of sometimes ‘over-egging’ the place of ICT in education. In my defence I have always talked about using ICT when it’s appropriate. For my daughter this was the most appropriate way for her to present her work. For her classmates it might have been completed on a leaflet, a poster, a video or on pieces of A4 paper in a folder. 

You can obviously be highly creative with ICT, however there are so many other ways in which some children will want to show their creativity. No matter what we would like to think, not all children will find ICT tools as the best way to demonstrate their creativity. It’s about us remembering to allow children the option to sometimes decide for themselves how they want to appropriately present their work. Painting, drawing, sculpture, dance, drama, playing an instrument or singing, writing stories and poetry are some ways in which children would like to demonstrate their creative talents. Dare I say....many of these are a lot cheaper to support and develop in a school than expensive ICT software or kit!!   

Friday, 27 April 2012

Not Surprising?

Just read an article on the BBC website entitled "Facebook: Parents 'help children break age limits'". It's not that surprising. During esafety sessions that I've carried out with parents of primary school children, some have said they have done this very thing. What is equally concerning in the article is the issue with young people and 'sexting' - the sending of explicit images to their boyfriends or girlfriends. An urgent need to talk with young people about dangers associated with these behaviours? How do you and your school approach these issues?

Thursday, 26 April 2012

LMS or Should We Say MS?

I read a very interesting blog today from Ray Fleming titled "Do You Really Need A Learning Management System?" What interested me most was the chart showing the use of different components of a Learning Management System (LMS). It's the first time I've seen some evidence of something I've believed has been happening. The chart on Ray's blog shows that components most used in a LMS are:

  • Documents posted 60%
  • Announcements 52.5%
  • Grade centre 47.3%
Then quite a drop off in components used such as:
  • Discussion board 12%
  • Assignments 4.9%
  • Blogs 3.8%
  • Wikis 1%
Sadly it looks like the powerful e-learning tools such as wikis, blogs and discussion boards are being under utilised by teachers. I'm not particularly blaming teachers here, I'm guessing it could be more of a problem with a lack of training put in place to support them in the effective and appropriate use of these systems. 

Image from Flickr (Vickel_N)

So, not really much of a Learning Management System, more of a Management System where documents are stored and the head teacher makes announcements to the school! Bit of a waste of money don't you think? 

John Putt - Launch of Digital Classroom Report

Headteacher John Putt from Holywell High School, speaking at the launch of the Digital classroom report.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Launch of the 'Digital Classroom' Report

Should have posted this up earlier, better late than never :-)

Here is the chair of the group Janet Hayward speaking at the launch of the report in the Senedd.

Embedding ICT Practice - The Forth Rail Bridge?

We currently have working with the foundation phase team a teacher who is on secondment with us until the end of the summer term. During his visits to schools he’s been quite surprised by the lack of basic ICT skills and confidence in some teachers and especially with LSAs across the foundation phase. Perhaps this has something to do with the lack of explicit ICT in the foundation phase documents or maybe it’s because Estyn rarely seem to refer to ICT in their inspection reports - I’ll leave those contentious points for another post, but maybe it's just that some schools have underestimated the part ICT can play in the foundation phase. He has very good ICT skills himself and is extremely confident in applying these skills in the foundation phase setting, demonstrating how to create videos, animation, recording audio, and the benefits in using various pieces of educational software and equipment. The schools he has worked with have really appreciated the training and advice he’s given and there’s lots of good work now being produced by these teachers and support staff after his sessions with them. However, as with all things in school improvement the only proof of how effective these sessions have been is to see what those schools are doing next year, and the year after. This was the crux of our recent discussion and of this blog; how does good ICT practice get embedded in a primary school?

My foundation phase colleague suggested that what was needed was to keep going regularly back to these schools, doing the same thing again, and again, and again. This sounds like the ‘painting the Forth Rail Bridge’ analogy, the job is never finished. After 10 years of working in school improvement that’s what it sometimes feels like. You do end up talking and doing the same things. I guess it’s the nature of what we do, talking to new teachers, new coordinators and new head teachers who may have new school priorities. New technologies regularly appear, but there always seems to be the need to go ‘back to the basics’ with some staff. 

One of the purposes of what we do is that a teacher or school should at some point take on the responsibility themselves to spread the good practice throughout the rest of the school and perhaps more importantly embed it into what they do? For example, we used to take Apple iBooks around schools to carry out Garageband or iMovie sessions with classes. We’d soon find that some schools wanted you back the next year and the year after. Those schools obviously valued these sessions, but our hope would be that they would then invest in these technologies themselves, use it regularly, develop the skills and confidence in the teachers to use this equipment in their lessons, and embed it as a tool in their practice. Many did, some didn’t.

The conversation soon turned to ICT resources. In most of our foundation phase classrooms you’ll see a variety of ICT technologies, Easi-speak microphones, Digiblue cameras, Tuff-cams, Bee-Bots, microscopes, talking points, etc. and like most things to do with ICT they are not an inexpensive resource.

He commented that schools have much of this type of equipment but that many of the staff had little idea how to use them effectively, and the equipment can sometimes be found gathering dust on a shelf or in a drawer. I think this may be a common problem with many ICT resources across the whole school, not just in foundation phase and also I believe a particular problem with ICT more than with any other subject resource. As well as specific training needs often associated with a new piece of equipment or software, there is the confidence issue in the teacher effectively using the technology in the classroom. Schools across this authority and many others across Wales devote a large part of their school budget on a huge variety of ICT technologies. As a head teacher I would want to know that after making a considerable investment in ICT, the technology was being used to its fullest and having a positive impact on learning and teaching in my school. If it wasn’t I’d like to know the reasons why and what we could do instead. I wonder how effectively this is being done, or if it’s being done at all in some schools?

Another comment by our colleague was that many of the staff didn’t know the range of software that was available to them on the school network. Talking to a group of NQTs recently it became quite apparent that the majority of them have never had induction given by their school on the ICT equipment, software and services that are available to them. But it’s not just NQTs who might have this issue, from my own observations there are plenty of examples of more experienced teachers being unaware or perhaps forgotten what’s available to them. Therefore a school spends thousands of pounds a year on a computer system that is not being utilised effectively by some of their staff. If I was a school leader I would again be questioning why this is so. But I do sometimes wonder whether the school leaders know that some of their staff are not fully aware of what’s available to them and how to use it effectively with their pupils? 

The above observations lead back to my original question, how does good ICT practice get embedded? For what it's worth, here are some of my simple thoughts on this issue. This isn’t rocket science, and I’m certainly not leading on new educational thinking. There has been much written by far more learned people than myself, about e-mature and ICT embedded schools, but it's still worth looking at for a 'refresh' :-) Engage your school in the NAACE ICT Self Review Framework as a strategy to help embed ICT across your school.

  • Conduct a complete ICT audit, look at what you already have in your school. What’s being used and what’s gathering dust on the shelf? Share together as a staff examples of things that are being well in the school and find out what the issues are surrounding the equipment that may be gathering dust on a shelf. This audit needs to be on a continual cycle as you purchase and evaluate new technologies.
  • Conduct an annual staff skills audit to find out the gaps in staff skills, and also to recognise where the strengths in your staff are. Exploit those strengths in training, support and mentoring of others. Through an annual audit you should be able to track how effective training and support provision has been that’s been delivered to staff over the previous year.
  • Refer to and evaluate the impact of ICT equipment, resources and software in teachers’ planning files.
  • Make reference to ICT equipment, digital resources and software in any schemes of work. In my experience if it’s referred to here there’s a greater chance a teacher will make use of it.
  • Don’t unnecessarily burden all your staff with a mountain of software, and a plethora of digital devices. I would personally much rather see a school where all the staff have a couple of pieces of software, tools and equipment which is firmly embedded in their practice, and that the school has a vision of where they would like to go next.
  • Encourage a culture of experimentation. Let the staff try things out; what works, what doesn’t work with my class. Evaluate it, share your experience with others, set up PLCs - we all learn something by failure as much as we do by success.
  • Have a couple of minutes at the start of every staff meeting to share together any examples of good ICT related practice that you’ve done or seen, or share a website that would be useful or a particular digital teaching resource you’ve seen. ‘Pockets of good practice’ in a school need to be shared with everyone.
  • Before buying ‘the new shiny thing’ think about why you are buying it. Have clear in your mind the purpose of this new bit of kit, or service. What need is it filling, problem it's going to address or what it offers that’s better than another resource (digital or otherwise) than the one we currently have? Think about the training implications for your staff. Are all your staff confident to use this new technology? Focus on the equipment and tools that effectively work for the learners and staff in your school, and when you do move to new technologies do it because you believe it will ultimately be of benefit to the learner.
  • The head teacher and senior management have to develop and believe in a whole school vision for ICT, remembering to include all staff, pupils, governors and parents in developing this. Can ICT be fully embedded in a school if the whole school is not on-board with ‘the vision’? In my humble opinion I don’t believe it can be.

I think that there maybe something in the Forth Rail Bridge analogy and embedding ICT. It is about constant evaluation and review of ICT technologies across the school, teacher skills and learners' needs. Maybe a school doesn't have to go right back to the beginning each time to paint the bridge, hopefully they've moved the whole school forward. But it is a good idea to remember to revisit past areas before rushing on with a new layer of paint before the ICT is firmly embedded.

A couple of links that may be useful:

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

What Happens in an Internet Minute?

Very much liked this infographic. Amazing the amount of data being transferred and this will only grow. Found on this website. Showed my 17 year old son and interestingly he wasn't that amazed by it, "3000 photos a minute to that all??"

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Find it, make it, use it, share it: Learning in Digital Wales Report

On Thursday I attended the launch of a report from the Digital Classroom Teaching Task and Finish Group at The Senedd in Cardiff. Entitled "Find it, make it, use it, share it: learning in digital Wales" the group's report set out what they think Welsh Government and many others should do to introduce, embed and promote the use of digital technologies to enhance teaching and learning. The group was set up by the Leighton Andrews, Minister for Education and Skills, as an external task and finish group to consider which digital classroom delivery aspects should be adopted to transform learning and teaching for those aged 3 - 19.

Leighton Andrews, Minister for Education and Skills

In particular the group was asked to consider:
  • how high-quality, accessible digital classroom content could be developed;
  • how National Grid for Learning (NGfL) Cymru was used, and whether there was a more effective way to deliver its aims;
  • whether and how a cloud-based content delivery system (e.g. the 'iTunes University' model); would work alongside a virtual learning environment (VLE) for Wales; 
  • how high-quality English and Welsh language content could be generated;
  • how to develop Welsh intellectual property which can be used to deliver digital teaching content; and
  • how teachers might get the digital teaching skills to use ICT to transform schools.

I personally believe this is a very exciting document for all involved in education in Wales. Overall there are 10 headline recommendations which if implemented by the Welsh Government I believe will move technology for learning and teaching in Wales into the 21st century. Recommendations are made throughout the document, some of the highlights for me include:

  • the teaching of digital competencies and applications in initial teacher training, postgraduate and other programmes and in continuing professional development
  • encouraging teachers to become members of professional bodies such as NAACE or ALT
  • using a variety of means to encourage teachers to support one another and share good practice, including an annual Welsh Digital Learning and Teaching Conference

Why am I particularly interested in these? Well I guess it's because being a school improvement ICT advisor most of my time is spent with teachers, developing their confidence and skills in effectively utilising technologies in the classroom and across the school. Any recommendations to government that include agreeing on ICT competencies in both new teachers to the professions AND existing teachers and senior management has my backing completely. I'm also very interested in how we can encourage teachers to support one another and share good practice. Our online ICT professional network network area has attempted to do this for several years with varying success. Looking ahead our intention is to have online tools at the centre of the new IAS (Integrated Achievement Service) in SE Wales that will allow for active collaboration, sharing of practice, discussion in a social environment. The challenge is in encouraging the majority teachers to engage in this type of 'social learning'. I like a challenge!  

For further information and comment have a look at these websites:

Merlin John Online - 'Hwyl' and 'Hwb' digital plan goes to the Welsh Assembly
BBC Wales - Digital learning system for Wales recommended by review
Welsh Government - Independent Review of Digital Classroom Teaching Task and Finish Group
Welsh Government - Video Case Studies
NUT - Comment on the Digital Classroom Report
Wales Online - Facebook and Twitter should be used in schools as learning tools, says new report


Wednesday, 28 March 2012

ThinkQuest ( Video

After mentioning ThinkQuest in my last post I thought I'd post this video we made a couple of years ago about how ThinkQuest ( is being used across our authority.

Saturday, 24 March 2012


Another day spent looking at web based tools, this time it was Schoology. Schoology is according to their web site "is the ultimate way to manage lessons, engage students, share content, and connect with other educators." It's seems to me to be a combination of online elearning tools, course management in a Facebook type interface.

From what I can see it's a free service for individual schools to use, but there are costs associated if we wanted to run and organise this from the local authority. I really liked the look and feel of the interface. Easy to use, clean and some very useful tools. Some of the features are probably aimed more at secondary schools but I think it could still be used very effectively by KS2 pupils too. 

Why am I looking at this? Well, the online tool that we have been promoting across Newport for the last 7 years or so has been ThinkQuest. ThinkQuest is a free, online teaching and learning environment developed by Oracle and run by their educational foundation. It allows teachers and pupils to interact and collaborate with each other and with schools and pupils from across the world. I personally felt this was a fantastic tool to extend opportunities for learning with children, especially with primary school aged children. 

Several of our primary schools are active users of ThinkQuest and we used it with some success as the communication and collaboration tool in our recent British Council funded project between schools in Newport and Leuven, Belgium (see my earlier post about this). However, ThinkQuest have recently been in touch to say that they are closing down, according to them there are now many freely available tools out there that do similar things to ThinkQuest and they are going to close. So that is the reason we are now looking for something to fill the void that will be left in a years time. It's a shame that they are going, and I've yet to see a system as primary school friendly, and that can link so easily with other schools around the world as ThinkQuest, but that's where we are and the search will continue.

Friday, 23 March 2012

The Search for Social Interaction Tools

Spent most of the last couple of days trying out ELGG. For those of you who have never heard of it, ELGG is an 'open source social networking engine'. We are looking at different tools that will allow various groups of users to interact. The eventual aim is to find a suitable tool that will allow the creation of communities of practice, something along the lines of our current online ICT coordinators network. This particular community has been developed in Moodle over several years, and has worked well for us. However we now feel that there are better tools out there for the social interaction that we require.

We have also gone back to look at Joomla for developing our web presence, and 'plugging in' suitable interactive tools. It's interesting to note that a popular social interaction plugin for Joomla, which has everything we need, doesn't have a moderation tool which would be essential to building up an open community that we require. We've emailed the company to see if this is something that is in development.


Thursday, 22 March 2012

iPads in the Classroom - Discussion

iPads in the classroom improved T4L - ICT - TES
Quite an interesting discussion on the use of iPads in the classroom in the TES ICT forum. Suggestions given on apps that schools are using. Also comments along the lines of "you can add all the bells and whistles but makes very little difference unless the teaching and learning is good and to make a change you need to change the style of teaching not the equipment!"

Friday, 16 March 2012

Voki Animated Avatars

A colleague pointed this website out to me yesterday. Voki is a free website that allows you to create animated avatars for use on websites, blogs, and from what I read can be embedded into Powerpoint too. Haven't checked it out fully yet but it is aimed at teachers and students. The website announces "Create speaking avatars and use them as an effective learning tool. Motivate students to participate, improve message comprehension, introduce technology in a fun way, utilise Voki as an effective language tool.." There are lesson plans on the website and ideas on how to use Voki in the classroom. Reminds me a little of Crazy Talk which another of my colleagues loves using in the foundation phase classroom.

As they say on 'Blue Peter', "here's one I made earlier"

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Google Chromebooks

Still interests me...

A 'Cleaner' YouTube

I spent the last two days working with my literacy advisory colleagues and a group of primary school teachers. This working party was looking at the use of the 'moving image' in the primary school classroom, devising some ideas for teachers in using BFI DVD resources and also other film clips. There was also quite a lot of discussion about the use of YouTube around copyright, comments, adverts, and general use in the classroom. I could talk about the copyright issues all day, so we'll leave that issue to one side for a moment and concentrate on the other areas of discussion. Our authority is quite forward thinking when it comes to YouTube and therefore all schools have access to it unless individually a school wants it blocked. But I do realise that in many local authorities across Wales YouTube is blocked at the local authority level, stopping schools having access and this has become quite a discussion point in recent meetings I've had with colleagues from across Wales. The issue that the teachers were talking about today was the problem they have with inappropriate comments that can appear underneath the videos and the related videos that appear alongside the it. Is there anyway to get rid of these? Well there is. I remembered that some time ago I downloaded an extension to my Safari browser that stripped YouTube of related videos and comments, giving it a very clean, minimalist look.

A 'Cleaner' YouTube Page
I'd forgotten where the extension came from but a quick Google search pointed me in the direction of 'A Cleaner Internet'. Here you can download extensions for Chrome, Safari and Firefox web browsers. Works wonderfully well on my Chrome and Safari browsers, however I'm not aware how well this would work over corporate managed networks, but I am going to speak to our 'techy' guys to look into it. Could be a solution teachers are looking for?

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Do You Get The Digital World?

Read this tweet from our Education Minister, Leighton Andrews this morning:

"Question for today - do subject advisers in your LA get the digital world? Tweet at me or email me Leighton dot Andrews at Wales dot"

Now, how shall I start answering this? Should I even bother??

For balanced perspective I hope to see follow up questions from the minister over the next couple of days asking:
Do teachers get the digital world?
Do schools get the digital world?
Do parents get the digital world?
Does Estyn get the digital world?
Do politicians get the digital world?

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

E-Safety - Sound Advice

Spent this afternoon at a primary school presenting an e-safety talk with both teachers and then separately to parents. The content of each presentation is adapted to the needs and experiences of each group but does initially follow principle of a balanced view of the internet. Highlighting the enormous benefits ('biggest library', communication, collaboration, publishing, commerce, etc) it offers to users with the obvious concerns and problems that arise too (cyberbullying, inappropriate content, copyright, viruses, etc.)  You never seem to get a large group of parents together for sessions like this but I always enjoy talking with them and getting their views and opinions on e-safety. A fairly usual response is that "my children always know more about computers and using the internet than me!" Finishing the session with ways in which they can help and guide their children when using the web. Much of it centring around talking to their child about their use and what they do when online, becoming involved. Realising that this is a lot easier with primary school aged children, becoming much, much harder as they get older - speaking from experience as a parent of two children in their teens! Also shared with them a really good video produced by CEOP called "The Parents' and Carers' Guide to the Internet."

The teachers session too began with the pros and cons of using the internet, however the last part of the session focussed on resources teachers can use to help teach children about internet safety, along with time to reflect on their use of the internet and how to stay safe and remain professional online. It was therefore sad and disheartening to see this evening a report on the BBC Wales News website entitled "Facebook drinking posts teacher Elizabeth Scarlett reprimanded". A report about a 50 year old primary school teacher who was reprimanded by the GTCW over comments about drinking and parties appeared on her Facebook page which were viewed by pupils. She used Facebook to

"freely discuss her favourite pupils, she talks about the best site to buy sex toys, her sexual preferences and talks about alcohol with an 11-year-old."

She believed her Facebook profile was "set to the highest possible setting" and didn't realise that everyone could see her comments. 
It's interesting to look at teacher union advice on the use of social networks:
similar advice from them all making sure your profiles are locked down to friends only, don't befriend students or past students, don't talk about pupils or your work, think closely about your online friends - do they include parents and if so might this put you in a compromising position? Sound advice I would say, you wouldn't want to be in the position of teacher Elizabeth Scarlett would you?? 

Monday, 6 February 2012

Virtual Violence II - The Real Impact of Cyberbullying Revealed

"Beatbullying today publishes Virtual Violence II: Progress and Challenges in the Fight against Cyberbullying - an in-depth study of the state of cyberbullying amongst children, young people and teachers in the UK.
The report is commissioned by Nominet Trust and in association with the NAHT. It will be unveiled in a hard-hitting Panorama documentary airing on the BBC tonight (Monday February 6th, 2012) and reveals that cyberbullying, as a weapon of choice amongst the nation's youth, is showing no signs of dissipating, with 350,222 children – or 1 in 13 – experiencing persistent and intentional cyberbullying, with just under a quarter (23%) reporting that the bullying lasted for a year or more, and two in five (40%) said that it lasted for months or weeks. These findings closely mirror Beatbullying's first Virtual Violence study published in 2009.
Looking at the long-term effects of cyberbullying, Virtual Violence II reveals the detrimental impact this kind of abuse can have on a young person's wellbeing, with:
• 20% of children and young people indicating that fear of cyberbullies made them reluctant to go to school
• One in five (19%) reporting they experienced reduced confidence and self-esteem
• 14% living in fear for their safety
• 5% resorting to self-harm and 3% reporting an attempt of suicide as a direct result of cyberbullying."

Sunday, 5 February 2012

BBC Click 28/1/12 - Multiplatform Storytelling

Did you see this programme? I was particularly interested in the first section of the programme which looked at multi-platform storytelling or 'trans-media' (isn't that a horrible word?) Basically it's how a book or story grows into something much bigger through the use of websites, social networks and mobile technologies.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Google Family Safety Channel - YouTube

Another resource for Safer Internet Day 2012 on 7th February. Here is Google's YouTube Family Safety Channel. Could be a useful resource to share with parents?

ICT For Education Event - My Thoughts Part 1

Had a little time to digest what I saw and listened to at the ICT For Education event yesterday.

First up, it's good to attend an event where the focus is on education and ICT in Wales. Perhaps I shouldn't say ICT, this was much more about technologies for learning and teaching than curriculum ICT - no mentions of 'programming' today. Too often I attend meetings and conferences where the focus is primarily from an English education system. And while this isn't too much of an issue, references to Ofsted, Academies, Free Schools and Michael Gove, while interesting, don't have a daily influence on my life as an ICT adviser in Wales. That's not to say we don't learn from what happens across our border, far from it, what I am saying is that Wales needs to learn from its neighbours, take what has worked well, learn from others mistakes and form this into something unique for Wales. That's why an event like this is important, it's a chance to bring together teachers from Wales and share what's happening here, as well as pulling in people like Fraser Speirs from Scotland to influence, inspire and question how we currently do things. To me that is what's important, that we start the conversation here in Wales, looking at what teachers and schools here are doing, asking questions, forming opinions, moving ourselves forward, getting the best out of technology for our learners. Secondly, it was wonderful opportunity to catch up and meet people. In fact, met several friends and colleagues I hadn't seen for about 14 years!

I'm not going to talk about everything from the day, I'm going to try and pick out the parts that particularly interested me. Damian Donnelly who is an ICT coordinator at Amman Valley School (who I believe is also currently out working for the LA) gave a presentation on entitled "Using Web 2.0 to Support Online Collaboration".

Damian Donnelly talking about ELGG
Much of the presentation was focussed on ELGG, an open source social networking tool which was being used to support student voice and facilitating online collaboration. My colleague and I were very interested in this as ELGG was something we looked at several years ago. However it now appears to be a much more dynamic, customisable tool, and I can see why learners (and teachers) would enjoy using it. It does have that 'Web 2.0 feel' about it. What's also of interest to us is that Damian is using it alongside Moodle course management system, and Mahara e-portfolio system - again both open source products. Moodle has been used across our own authority for about the last 8 years or so we are interested in the integration between all these systems. Looking to the future we would be looking at these three tools as possible services that could be offered across the new Consortia to schools...we shall see.

Hannah Mathias is the information learning technology development manager at St. David's Catholic College in Cardiff. She presented a session looking at the use of Soundcloud in her school.

Hannah Mathias discussing the use of Soundcloud

According to their website, Soundcloud is "the world’s leading social sound platform where anyone can create sounds and share them everywhere. Recording and uploading sounds to SoundCloud lets people easily share them privately with their friends or publicly to blogs, sites and social networks." What I was particularly interested in was the way users could comment on a piece of audio. The uploaded file appears as a wave, click on the part of audio that you would like to comment on, and a text box appears and your profile picture appears under that part of the wave. 

Embedding a Soundcloud file into a CMS (Blackboard)

Files can easily be uploaded and it was demonstrated how this can easily be done from a smartphone app for example - record the audio via your phone and then upload. Yours truly was actually selected by Hannah to read from a piece of text into her smartphone which quickly appeared on the Soundcloud website. The audio files can then be shared, if required, via Facebook, Blogger, Twitter, etc. From an educational point of view these files can be embedded into Moodle or another CMS system (see video above) and then your course or lesson designed around that file. To me it looks like a much better option than the way Moodle traditionally handles audio files, and something that we would like to look at in more detail. At St. David's 6th form college, Hannah is currently working with her English department on using Soundcloud with poetry studies.