Saturday, 4 February 2012

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.

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