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?