Wednesday 17 December 2008

Now anyone can start a forum or discussion group

I know moodle has a forum but I'm not so sure it's that easy to use and it certainly isn't very pretty. What is easy to use and is pretty is a super free tool providing free forums by Lefora'I managed to set up a forum from scratch in about 10 minutes. OK, so no-one yet knows about it which will take a bit longer but it needn't be restricted to one course or another and has an interface which students will find more attractive and interesting.

You can set up various categories of discussion and add gadgets, polls and the like very simply. Remarkably, it's completely free, has bags of space, no obvious limites on uploads where people wish to share files, pictures etc., and no adverts that I spotted either.

Unless I've missed something, this has to be one of the best new additions to the webtools collection for a while. Right, now to make another one for The Village to gossip in! Here's a link to the Studyzone forum if you want to see how it looks.

This discovery also came from the brilliant pbwiki educators forum which uses the same software.

Did they copy it from the internet?

I'd like to think I can spot text that's been copied from a web site and pasted into an assignment. Often all I have to do is ask the student what a particular word or phrase means and the slightly desperate, blank look says it all! The really lazy ones who don't get rid of the formatting don't deserve any feedback and even those who try usually miss something and a stray table or odd font size gives the game away.

However, for the times when I need a second opinion, an FE College I work for bought some quite expensive software a little while ago and I might have thought about being one of the first to use it. (I don't think many have. In fact I might have been the second to use it. And, no, it wasn't my recommendation.) Now, though, there's a free tool that's worth a try and may be useful for checking an odd paragraph or two that appear far too well spelled and punctuated for the urchin who handed it in. Called The Plagiarism Checker, try it out at this link. If I get some decent feedback about it I'll add it to the webtools site.

This discovery came from the brilliant pbwiki educators forum. Full of good stuff and still free.

Unfortunately, it won't catch the blighter who hands in someone else's work with the footer changed unless the person who did it first did his own bit of copying and pasting!

Wednesday 10 December 2008

1s Upon A Time

In the beginning, God created the bit. And the bit was a zero.

On the first day, he toggled the 0 to 1, and the Universe was.

On the second day, God's boss wanted a demo, and tried to read the bit. This being volatile memory, the bit reverted to a 0. And the universe wasn't. God learned the importance of backups and memory refresh, and spent the rest of the day reinstalling the universe.

On the third day, the bit cried "Oh, Lord! If you exist, give me a sign!" And God created rev 2.0 of the bit, even better than the original prototype. Those in Universe Marketing immediately realized that "new and improved" wouldn't do justice to such a grand and glorious creation. And so it was dubbed the Most Significant Bit. Many bits followed, but only one was so honored.

On the fourth day, God created a simple ALU with 'add' and 'logical shift' instructions. And the original bit discovered that -- by performing a single shift instruction -- it could become the Most Significant Bit. And God realized the importance of computer security.

On the fifth day, God created the first mid-life kicker, rev 2.0 of the ALU, with wonderful features, and said "Forget that add and shift stuff. Go forth and multiply." And God saw that it was good.

On the sixth day, God got a bit overconfident, and invented pipelines, register hazards, optimizing compilers, crosstalk, restartable instructions, microinterrupts, race conditions, and propagation delays. Historians have used this to convincingly argue that the sixth day must have been a Monday.

On the seventh day, an engineering change introduced Windows into the Universe, and it hasn't worked right since.

Reproduced from something I found on ZDNet without an author so I hope they don't mind.

Saturday 22 November 2008

Open now for free software

I've just updated the Open Education Disc in the More section of Webtools. There is a brand new selection of free, open source applications covering a whole host of things. This may have been designed with students in mind but I have to say that tutors, their families, hey, everyone will find something useful here!

There is a way to download the whole shooting match onto a DVD but you probably won't want all the stuff. I have already used a couple of the goodies there in the last week as a matter of necessity in a tight situation. HTT Copier copies web sites and a client needed a copy before an advisor with whom he was dispute removed it. It has more normal uses though - if you are teaching somewhere without an internet connection but want to use a web site then use HTT to save it onto a USB drive or your computer. Works a treat.

The other application that came in useful was VLC - a media player that seems to be able to cope with anything. There I was with a laptop and a Narnia DVD, announcing to a group suspicious of anything techy, how simple playing a DVD was on a laptop and, er, the DVD player didn't like the regional code for the DVD!! Ooops. But I switched to VLC and away we went, trouble free.

Lots more there. The best is not actually a teaching tool but you just have to get the screensavers. So much cooler than the standard Windows fare and no adverts, really professional graphics. Beautiful.

At last . . . [2]

Google have made some improvements to the look and feel of their brilliant GMail. It has worked wonderfully but looked awful. Now it can look a bit better with the addition of a Themes option under Settings. Still a long way to go before my daughter will tear herself away from the smooth looking and very well-designed MSN but a move in the right direction.

At last . . . [1]

Those of us who have been teaching in FE for a while but really don't want to go back to school and learn all the theory about someone's pyramid of a long-winded way of explaining how some people are brighter than others and so need some challenges in class (and others who arrive looking like death warmed up may need some extra attention or breakfast and probably both) have been thrown a life-line.

I was greatly relieved to discover that we could still register with IfL but now there is something called Professional Recognition which looks as though it could be a route to getting some sort of approved status through a portfolio route with various references, statements and confirmation of existing skills and previous good work in the field.

This is great news - on the surface, at least, as I have yet to discover more. I shall be attending an ACER guidance session in Cambridgeshire soon and will report back on the SVUK scheme (yes, another quango, quasi quango or whatever but in this world of regulation and paperwork I guess that's necessary if the Powers That Be are going to accept it).

Watch, as they say, this space.

Friday 3 October 2008

Wednesday 24 September 2008

Microsoft free web sites

I have mentioned this before - they're still available and certainly worth getting. Go to this link and even if you don't want a web site it's worth getting the free domain.

Wednesday 27 August 2008

Google sites

Whilst Google Pages was a great idea, it never quite took off, being a bit awkward to use with not the most intuitive of user interfaces. Google Sites looks a whole load better and my first stumbling steps seem to have produced a reasonable page or two.

Google Sites is, as with much of the best things Google do, well hidden and you'll need a Google account of course but then everyone should have one of those now anyway. Actually, I have just tried to find it again while writing this so I could give you instructions but completely failed to do so!! Oh boy. You'd think Google of all people would help you find things! Eventually I found the link by looking at my own account where all the Google products I use get listed. The link is here, at last.

Give it a try. You choose a site name - be careful as that will form part of your web site address - and then get on with the job of selecting a theme, a page layout and then you can edit the page, create new pages etc.

The ready-made templates are a bit bland but under Site settings you can change quite a lot of the elements, much like you can in Blogger, including background colours, fonts and things. You can also replace the Google logo with your own. I've only had a few minutes with this application but, once I knew what I was doing, found that it works well with some nice features that help resize images or drop a slide show of Picasa images straight in a page.

Google gadgets are simply added and now that these include some genuinely useful things rather than odd little boxes that tell what the weather is in San Francisico someone with little clue about web design can create some nice pages quickly.

There would seem to be good integration with Google documents and similar facilities for sharing content and collaboration too. Now that could be particularly interesting in education and I am wondering whether teachers will find Google Sites an easier way to share stuff than apps like pbwiki and even, dare I say it, moodle?

Microsoft have Office Business Live or some variation of those words which looks good and is also free, aimed fairly and squarely at people who want a web presence without the complications of code, servers and hosting. The two are pretty similar but I'm drawn to Google by virtue of its clever integration with my other Google activities. It'll be interesting to see how they both develop, especially with pbwiki increasingly looking to charge for their better products.

Thursday 17 July 2008

Another Review Survey Examines How Organisations Lacerate English

I'd just completed one survey from LSN asking what I thought of their web site (dreadful) when up comes another where I could really let rip. It was mostly on the subject of how government agencies communicate and even includes a list of expressions and made-up words with an invitation to rate each one on a scale from jargon to acceptable Plain English. Great! Full marks to LSN for trying and I can't wait to see the results. Well, actually, I can and probably will because I cannot remember ever getting to see any results from government agency surveys in the education sector with one or two notable exceptions from Becta and the Regional Support Centres.

I recall one that LSDA did in an effort to see how well colleges were getting on with getting staff to use new technology. There had been one survey in 2002 or thereabouts and I was involved in analysing the data received for a repeat performance two years later. A colleague and I had to conclude that roughly half the respondents had used a 1 - 5 scale one way and the other half had it the other way round. Didn't exactly make analysis easy! I refused to make any report but my more obedient associate rattled off a couple of pages of Word A4 in wonderful edu-prose that meant he got paid but no-one in the sector was any the wiser as I never saw it mentioned again.

If you haven't already contributed to this one, though, you really must. They've included a box where you can say what expressions or terms annoy you too. Some questions are unanswerable but the jargon ones are fine. They also ask things like how often would we like e-mails advertising CPD events (I did include CPD in my list of annoying terms along with almost everything beginning e- . . )so there's a great chance to say NEVER or at least 'less than once a month' please.

The Learning & Skills Network do do a lot of good work and have some intelligent people on board but few people running the show have good current experience at the chalkface and desperately need our help. This survey might just do the trick. If you didn't get one in your e-mail then try asking at if you can participate. It's your chance to kill of some initials and jargon.

Tuesday 1 July 2008

On-line surveys and poll tools

Another selection from the really useful people at Wild Apricot:

A couple of these, their favourite, polldaddy and surveymonkey are already featured on my webtools site but the others are worth adding and will, as long as they're free and reasonably ad free, be there in time for Friday's E-fair.

1. Poll Daddy

Poll Daddy is a fairly new site that allows you to create free polls and place them on your website, blog, MySpace account or anywhere online. After you sign up for a free account, you can create a poll and customize it to fit into your site design or choose one of 14 “skins”. Results can be viewed via the poll posted on your page, or you can see all the results of multiple polls from their site after you log in. Poll Daddy is great in that it provides specific instructions on how to embed the HTML code into WordPress, Typepad, and Blogger. Results can even be accessed via an RSS reader made possible by an RSS feed generated from your poll.

2. Cool Web Toys

After you register for a free account at Cool Web Toys, you can create a poll by choosing from a web poll, an embedded web chat client, or a “CoolWebOfTheDay”. The poll can include content such as word of the day, quote of the day, or any other content. As far as poll creation goes, it’s quite easy to use. You can specify size and colors to match your site! Results appear quickly and the visitor will not leave your site unless they click on “More Info”. If they click on that link a new browser window will open up and they will be on the site with a bunch of Adsense ads.


Polls generated by are delivered via a Flash widget rather than a snippet of JavaScript or HTML code. Vizu walks you through the steps of creating a poll and gives you total control of the look and feel. To create a poll, you first create the question, then choose if it’s an “opinion” or a “prediciton” poll, then choose keywords and categories so that your poll is easy to find. You can also add pictures or links to your poll. A Vizu poll on your site is free with registration.

4. Blog Flux

Blog Flux requires that you create an account on their site before you can create a poll. Once your account is created, you can then create the poll with up to five options. You also have a choice of customizing the poll's look and feel. After the visitor clicks on the add my vote link, the results will appear in place of the poll questions on your site. A unique feature is that the voting results are mapped on Google maps. The site has other tools to enhance your blog such as a button or chicklet creator, a link logger, and a page rank checker.

5. Quimble

Creating a poll at is a simple two step process. After you are registered, log-in and choose your question and create the answers. There is no customization however. Visitors who choose to click on the “Discuss this poll at” link will be taken to their site, where they will need to register as a user before they are allowed to leave a comment about the poll.

6. SurveyMonkey

SurveyMonkey is a web-based service that allows you to create online surveys. It is quite intuitive and easy to use. You can either create from scratch or use templates. Participants can go to the site to respond, or you can create a link from your site. You can add logos and banners, change colors and customize in many different ways. Basic subscribers are limited to a total of 10 questions and 100 responses per survey. The basic subscription is free. If you want to go beyond 100 respondents, and up to 1000 and gain access to many more features, there is a cost.

7. Zoomerang

Zoomerang is a subscription-based web survey tool. With basic membership, you can conduct free surveys of up to 100 people! Effective, affordable and easy to use, Zoomerang helps organizations conduct professional-looking surveys and instantly analyze the feedback. The great thing about it is that no technical expertise is needed. You can easily create, send and start receiving survey responses in minutes. They also have some deals for non-profits and offer a version with limited-features for free.

8. Survey Gizmo

Survey Gizmo has an easy-to-use interface. It requires that you create an account on their site before you have access to the tools to create a survey. Once your account is created, you can set up an online survey with over 12 different styles of questions. You can also generate multiple reports when all of your data is inputted. Finally, the connect-to-website feature is just great, allowing you the copy HTML into your site or just provide a link. I also like that it is free for up to 250 responses per month. After that the pricing goes up to $14/month for 1,000 responses. For surveys where you're expecting thousands of responses, Survey Gizmo's pricing is very reasonable and offers very good value for money.

9. Ballot-Box

Ballot-Box allows you to create a free online poll for your website. Before you can get started, you'll need to create an account. Then you can create 15 questions for your poll and each question can have 15 answers. Poll appearance are completely customizable with real-time updates and poll results. Poll results can be made private or public and also prevents users from voting twice. You can also create up to 25 polls. If you are conducting a survey, you might want to consider creating a poll with multiple questions.

10. Easy Poll

Easy Poll is an easy and effective way to make your site more interactive. Easy-Poll has a large selection of patterns and colors for free polls. They offer two sorts of polls: a yes or no poll and a multiple-choice poll. Another great thing about this poll creation site is that you don't need additional software or IT support - everything is handled and calculated on their servers quickly and safely. Two minutes is all it takes to sign up, and you can create a poll for free.

As you can see, there are many choices for poll creation, but my favorite one would be for ease of use and customization options.

On-line quiz tools

Here is an excellent selection of new ebtools I'll be adding to the site soon, hopefully in time for the E-fair on Friday!

ClassMarker is an online quiz-making tool that's geared to both educational and business traning, with both free and paid versions. Create your quizzes, and your learners or business clients take them online. There are a few nice features that I wouldn't have expected to find in a free lightweight tool like this one -- the ability to randomize test questions, for example, and to set a time limit for taking the quiz. The ReBranded ClassMarker option that lets you add your organization's logo to your quiz page and match its colors to those of your website.

The free version of ClassMarker includes most of the basic features, while a paid version ($24.95 for educators, $49.95 business) gives the ability to add feedback to correct and incorrect answers, an option to receive the results by email, and access to a range of more detailed reports as well as enhanced product support.

Create A Quiz is a completely free web-based tool from ProProfs that allows you to create your own online quizzes and tests, or choose from a library of existing quizzes by browsing topic categories and tags. You can share any quiz by sharing the link to its webpage, or customize your quiz with your choice of logo, text and colors, and embed it on your own website with a copy-and-paste code snippet. Each quiz includes a number of automatic extras such as printable and interactive versions, discussions, and suggestions for related quizzes. At the end of each quiz, students receive their marks with question-by-question feedback that shows areas of wekaness.

Create A Quiz is a fairly feature-packed free tool, but the quiz results seem to be public, not privately reported to the administrator, and I wasn't able to find a way to keep results private. Unless there's something I've missed, it is probably best to save this tool for study groups or self-testing rather than for more sensitive assessments.

Quia claims to offer "the Web's most extensive collection of educational tools and templates" -- and that may very well be the case. You can create 16 types of educational games and activities, quizzes with eight different types of questions, surveys, and other online learning tools that provide immediate quanitfiable feedback to the student or, for questions where a variety of responses are acceptable, can give a "potential" mark pending the teacher's review. The existing large library of activities and quizzes is available for use free of charge, as are student accounts. To create your own acivities and quizzes, however, you'll need to subscribe.

Quia's educational package starts at $49 per year for an individual instructor, with group discounts available. That'll exclude it from the webtools site but you can sign up for a 30-day free trial to decide if Quia is for you.

QuizCenter from DiscoveryEducation is a free online quiz maker with plenty of features, but there's no way to test it without diving in. To get started, you'll need to register with the My Discovery site and set up a Custom Classroom. Registration, however, enable a variety of privacy settings so quiz pages can be password protected for access only by individuals or user-defined groups within the online classroom. "After a student fills out the quiz form and submits her answers, Quiz Center checks the answers against your answer key, determines which answers are correct, and tallies the total score. Within seconds it produces a page that shows the results or, if you prefer, e-mails the results to you."

This is a very good free service, no question. My largest quibble is that I found the site navigation less than intuitive -- stray off the QuizCenter path and it's not always easy to find your way back there from the pages that promote DiscoveryEducation's other (commercial) products. To save time, you might want to bookmark.

QuizStar from lets you create unlimited quizzes in multiple formats and different languages, and to include multimedia files as well as images. Set start and end times, privacy levels, and whether you want to show the correct answers when students review the quiz after taking it. Quizzes are graded automatically, and the results can be reported by class, student, question, etc. You can choose to save the reports online, print them, or download as an Excel file. For ease of use, flexibility, and privacy, educators could do worse than give this tool a test drive, though it might be less useful to other organizations with a more public agenda.

QuizStar offers a 60-day free trial, but the service itself requires a subscription so it is only really eligible for inclusion if you can fir what you want to do in those couple of months! Still, worth a try!

This information has been provided by Wild Apricot, a non-profit organsational web site tool that is featured on the webtools site.

Friday 9 May 2008

A laptop for every tutor

There you go. I've said it. Took a bit of nerve but not as much thought as I'd expected. I had to write an E-learning Strategy a few weeks ago and the more I looked at what was happening the more it became clear that a simple, single action could make far more difference to bringing technology's benefits to our students. Give every tutor a laptop.

With a new building looming for 2010 we're now in that phase where it is so easy for any requests for new equipment or changes to rooms to be answered with sentences beginning "Well, when we have the new building . . . " or the slightly better but still unsatisfying "Planning the new building will take that into account . . . " That still means two whole academic years by my calculations and simply isn't acceptable or, more importantly, necessary.

The problem I have to deal with is rooms with no computers coupled with tutors having to share computers in the staff room. So even if a tutor does have a room with some equipment, he often hasn't been able to have sufficient access to a computer (when and where he wants it) to work ILT into his sessions or put materials and things on-line. Or if he is lucky and has a computer to work on, he then is unable to use the lovely stuff in a technology-bare space!

Against my advice several smartboards were slapped up in rooms but are not used particularly effectively as smartboards and the cost of the whole installation comes out at not much under £3000. It was when I realised that that could now buy 10 laptops that I began to formulate the new policy.

With 100 staff, the maximum cost would be £30,000 but a good number already have a computer and where there are 2 between 6 in a room that is only 4 new ones needed. Laptops with wireless built in are the norm these days and my initial checks have found access is feasible in most rooms so there's not much need for any cabling or IT Services staff costs which often cause projects to be jettisoned at early stages. My guess is that it would cost nearer half that and would be an instant hit with staff. I'd like to include part-time staff too but that's a bit tricky - something along the lines of laptops available for them while they're there may work if they don't all want them at 9am on a Tuesday.

We've got a pile of projectors and whatever money has been sifted away from more smartboards can go to just them instead.

Who knows, I may soon be able to get on with getting ILT more visibly used across the College as there'll be no excuse then at least for tutors to carry huge piles of paper everywhere if there's a smart ILT option available, which there usually will be.

It is so bizarrely simple. I have been saying it for years but now, doing the Strategy, it may actually happen. Now I've been saying that all this e-stuff is a bit old hat now but if an E-learning Strategy gets me what tutors want then I may keep quiet on that one for a while!

There is a lot more in the Strategy document and if anyone wants to use it to help draft theirs then I'm happy to share it, minus identifying features. I'll add a link soon.

There's only one e in education

Despite a post which I'll be publishing shortly about E-learning strategy, or maybe as a result of thinking about that, I have come to the conclusion that there's little point in the expression e-learning. It really isn't terribly difficult to talk about using technology to enhance learning and, although there could be some subtle differences if we are being pedantic, most staff understand this as ILT, which, unless you're fresh from teaching in the States, seems to have stood the test of time and is understood for what it is, learning with IT, and everyone knows IT now.

In fact, if it wasn't for government agencies perpetuating the term (and worse ones like eCPD, e-tools e-etc.,) I'm sure it wouldn't have survived this long.

The test of a good term is whether normal people start using it (reasonably correctly). All of us who live with technology and all that it offers in education know what we mean but I'm not so sure our colleagues do. They certainly would be hard pushed to distinguish it from ILT so why bother trying?

There is also a huge chasm opening up between places like my FE College and mostly private training organsations and course providers who use e-learning to mean on-line learning, or distance learning or quite specific packages of materials that deliver session materials with little tutor involvement. Indeed, the growth of these in the commercial sector is founded upon the very fact that organisations can save a fortune by substituting these 'e-learning' packages for human tutor packages and the rather more swish image that the monitor presents in comparison to the usually rather less than swish, and tending to the dowdy, appearance in the flesh of the human.

Interestingly, OFSTED inspectors at a recent visit to an FE College commented on the use of ILT and, to the best of my knowledge, made no reference to e-learning at all. Some may say they're behind the times but I reckon they've got it about right.

Friday 11 April 2008

Option 3 revisited

Some of you may remember my articles about the lack of options apparently available to staff at FE colleges who didn't have what was described as an 'appropriate teaching qualification'. Back in 2006 we were faced with new regulations that seemed to say that we all had to have one, or be working towards one, by September 2007.

I had enrolled on a course and found it a complete waste of time and was intending to do an on-line one instead with Greenwich but still knew it was going to be really tough finding the spare time to do it properly and, to be honest, I genuinely believe that I'm familiar with much of the theory of teaching and put it into practice pretty darn well, with great obsevation reports and student feedback (even when I don't bribe them!)

All that culminated in my Option 3 article which got me lots of friends and also into approximately the same volume of trouble. All I wanted was some form of recognition for years of experience and existing qualifications and a shorter, less time-consuming route to proving to the Powers That Be that I'm a reasonable bloke to run a class or two.

Well, it's been Registration Time at IfL, who seem to have persuaded some Civil Servants that they should be the sole organisation policing the regulations, and everyone has been nagged to do the honours in our sector. I approached this with some trepidation because I was wondering how on earth I would be able to register without having, or being able to prove that I was working towards, a suitable qualification.

On the site I filled in the details and put down the first course that I'd started, that being the only entry that I thought would get me to the next screen, and you needed to go through all of them to complete the process. At the end I got to the 'Hurray!' screen and was congratulated on registering which was nice but worried me a bit. So I wrote to their enquiries address to say that, whilst I had started the course and was considering enrolling on another, I was hoping that there would be another option available and didn't know what to put in the boxes.

Returning to the site later, I noticed a section that explained the regulations in Plain English. There I learned that the regulations don't require me to have any qualification at all! I had started teaching way before 2001. I have to register to record my CPD development - the 30 hours a year that we all need to do and which I have always said is reasonable, indeed pretty modest. But the best was in another section. There it announced that IfL were arranging for those with existing qualifications and experience to have some sort of accreditation and hence be granted some exemption from certain qualification modules or units. Of course, there were no further details but at least they are, to coin a phrase, working towards an Option 3. Great! Just wish I hadn't been worrying for a couple of years about it all and hoping no-one had asked how I was getting on with the 'course'.

Now, it may still turn out that I get no more than 1/4 of a unit exemption for an FAETC and various other bits and pieces I've accumulated so I shall not get too excited but knowing that (a) there is no legal compulsion to have a qualification (unless the College change my contract) and (b) I've been able to get registered with IfL with honest declarations after all is a great relief and I can get on with preparing some staff training courses. Strangely, most of those attending will have much better paper qualifications than me but they will still enjoy working with this lesser being and, most importantly, will be learning the sort of stuff that should have been in their courses but wasn't.

I must also thank a colleague at MK College for tipping me off about the fine print about ancient lecturers like me.

Monday 24 March 2008

Windows Live Writer

Just noticed this. There's a blog tool in Windows Live which may or may not be particular useful - I'll try it out and see how it compares to this or tumblr etc. later - but what may be useful is the Windows Live Writer which allows composition of stuff off-line and then updates when you do connect.

As someone who has a decidedly dodgy connection these days, this could save a lot of bad language.

Friday 21 March 2008

Kids in America

"In fact, one of the saddest but most common conditions in elementary school computer labs (when they exist in the developing world), is the children are being trained to use Word, Excel and PowerPoint. I consider that criminal, because children should be making things, communicating, exploring, sharing,not running office automation tools."
Nicholas Negroponte, Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab

So there is someone else who thinks like I do! Lots more at

In particular, I like the list of what Will Richardson, widely recognized as one of America's most progressive educational thinkers, believes 'kids' need to be now:

+ Networked–They’ll need an “outboard brain.”
+ More collaborative–They are going to need to work closely with people to co-create information.
+ More globally aware–Those collaborators may be anywhere in the world.
+ Less dependent on paper–Right now, we are still paper training our kids.
+ More active–In just about every sense of the word. Physically. Socially. Politically.
+ Fluent in creating and consuming hypertext–Basic reading and writing skills will not suffice.
+ More connected–To their communities, to their environments, to the world.
+ Editors of information–Something we should have been teaching them all along but is even more important now.

That'll be a challenge for many tutors too!

Thursday 6 March 2008

SkyDrive and pbwiki2.0

Just as I thought I'd finished getting a few examples ready for a short talk at a VLE Forum tomorrow, along come a couple of e-mails about Microsoft's new SkyDrive and pbwiki offer me a nice version of their new wiki2.0 to play with!

SkyDrive offers 5GB of free space on-line and is part of the fetching new Windows Live display design from where you can access other things like Hotmail if you must. Not only does it look good but it also seems to work well. You can upload simply, especially if you use IE7 which allows drag and drop of lots of files at once (but not a folder, apparently).

You can create folders and basically recreate your My Documents if you wish (although if you include My Pictures and My Videos I guess you'll need more than 5GB!) You can also set folders as private, to be shared with specific people or open to the public. In the shared option you can also grant editing rights if you wish.

This is some web tool from Big Blue and could provide a ready-made alternative to lost USB drives if rolled out across an institution. The proximity of the hotmail button could be a pain, though, and don't expect much by way of images as it's a strictly icon and small print area at the moment.

You can view my Public Folder via the link above. Surprised the embedding code doesn't included some personalisation but maybe it's still early days.

Pbwiki 2.0 looks like a long-awaited make-over of this so easy to use publishing and sharing area. It's too early to comment on the changes in any detail but I've spotted a few things I like already. One problem has been the invasion of space of the sidebar which now can be pushed to one side. It's also more obvious how that important section can be edited. The big change is in the availability of a range of colours and a custom option. They were never particularly hot on designs and creating your own was really only for the experts so this new approach is good news.

My first efforts are under the name iline. Feel free to comment and watch as I make mistakes.

Friday 15 February 2008

E-mail is for Old People

That was a headline in the Higher Education Chronicle in October 2006. Heavens that was 18 months ago! And I'm still trying to get colleagues to post documents and material on-line instead of those flaming Word attachments and get their use of e-mail smartened up. Must admit that I missed that headline at the time but as an old person who does use e-mail it has got me thinking.

Like many organisations, my College has the All Staff e-mail and whilst that's a huge improvement on the massive list of people's names that occupies more screen space than the message itself that used (and, oh dear, still is, occasionally) to be the way people did it, it occurred to me that I had never, ever sent one myself. I have also noticed a big reduction in the number of e-mails that I send or originate. Part of the reason is that I have managed to get out of the habit of checking College e-mail before doing anything in the morning. Initially I did feel a bit guilty and even left it for a whole day and a half once or twice and felt quite naughty!

This has come about as I have been teaching at 9am on several mornings and the classroom is on the very top floor. Even though I get in to work pretty early it is so much simpler to go straight up to the room with all my papers and the heavy laptop. I dump them there and then go off in search of caffeine and nicotine. On my travels I meet people and actually talk to them. Amazing that, talking. Much quicker than e-mail and you get instant responses too. I was initially a bit embarrassed when they'd say I sent you an e-mail but now quite openly admit that I don't check College mail every morning. Slowly the word is getting round and it's great!

Now, if I could get the College mail on my Blackberry it might be a different tale. You'll notice that I said College e-mail above. All my other e-mail arrives on my phone. I just take the phone out of my pocket and there's a list of senders and headings. Simple. If something's urgent then I see it. I'm now starting to reply to College mail from my Gmail account and hope that, eventually, colleagues'll get the hint!

So I guess I'm still an old person using e-mail but no I don't do attachments and I am doing my best to figure out and keep up with what students are using these days. Marc Prensky has another of his excellent articles on this which you can see here (a pdf unfortunately but blame Becta not me for that!) and I'm pleased to see that an idea I had a while ago of getting a student team helping out tutors with technology isn't as silly as some people said!

Minis proving popuar again

No, not the car. Nor the skirt. Much loved as they may be by girls and boys respectively, it's the mini notebook that I mean. That's lost half my readers but those that remain may remember that I have been going on about how great the little ASUS notebook seems to be. I haven't tried one yet but the whole idea of something light and small that is ready to use like almost instantly is very appealing.

Now everyone is talking about them and RM have got in on the act, promoting them heavily in schools which is bound to reach parents before long. Current range and pricing details here. You need to wait until April for the Windows version with 8GB memory and 1GB RAM but the Linux options are the ones that spin along and are cheaper. Details here.

Almost everyone seems to be impressed, with only screen size (800x480) being criticised but for a unit of about A5 size that's part of the deal really. It's not a games machine or going to compete with some dual processor 17" wide screen laptop with a state of the art video card and the Linux version won't connect via Bluetooth. Some users appear to have arranged extra GBs of memory which helps Windows speed and this would allow you to download and install familiar applications if you can't live without them. However, it's intended to provide quick internet browsing, access to text processing, spreadsheets, presentations and with an inbuilt web cam and microphone is ready to communicate with.

I find it hard to believe that no-one else is in on this act. There simply have to be a whole load of development work going on in other brands' offices and hopefully factories too. All I need to decide is whether to get an ASUS now or wait and see what the competition comes up with. And if you need an excuse, just say you're getting one for the children! But I predict that get one you or they almost certainly will before long.

Monday 4 February 2008

School 1960 vs. School 2007

Scenario: Johnny and Mark get into a fistfight after school.

1960 - Crowd gathers. Mark wins. Johnny and Mark shake hands and end up mates.

2007 - Police are called, SWAT team arrives and arrests Johnny and Mark. Mobiles with video of fight confiscated as evidence. They are charged with assault, AVOs are taken out and both are suspended even though Johnny started it. Diversionary conferences and parent meetings conducted. Video shown on 6 internet sites.

Scenario: Jeffrey won't sit still in class, disrupts other students.

1960 - Jeffrey is sent to the principal's office and given a good paddling. Returns to class, sits still and does not disrupt class again.

2007 - Jeffrey is given huge doses of Ritalin. Counselled to death. Becomes a zombie. Tested for ADD. School gets extra funding because Jeffrey has a disability. Drops out of school.

Scenario: Billy breaks a window in his neighbor's car and his Dad gives him a whipping with his belt.

1960 - Billy is more careful next time, grows up normal, goes to college, and becomes a successful businessman.

2007 - Billy's dad is arrested for child abuse. Billy is removed to foster care and joins a gang. Psychologist tells Billy's sister that she remembers being abused herself and their dad goes to prison. Billy's mum has an affair with the psychologist. Psychologist gets a promotion.

Scenario: Mark, a college student, brings cigarettes to school.

1960 - Mark shares a smoke with the school principal out on the smoking area.

2007 - Police are called and Mark is expelled from School for drug possession. His car is searched for drugs and weapons.

Scenario: Vinh fails high school English.

1960 - Vinh goes to Remedial English, passes and goes to college.

2007 - Vinh's cause is taken up by local human rights group. Newspaper articles appear nationally explaining that making English a requirement for graduation is racist. Civil Liberties Association files class action lawsuit against state school system and his English teacher. English is banned from core curriculum. Vinh is given his Y10 anyway but ends up mowing lawns for a living because he cannot speak English.

Scenario: Johnny takes apart leftover firecrackers, puts them in a model plane paint bottle and blows up an anthill.

1960 - Ants die.

2007 - Security and ASIO are called and Johnny is charged with domestic terrorism. Teams investigate parents, siblings are removed from the home, computers are confiscated, and Johnny's dad goes on a terror watch list and is never allowed to fly again.

Scenario: Johnny falls during recess and scrapes his knee. His teacher, Mary, finds him crying, and gives him a hug to comfort him.

1960 - Johnny soon feels better and goes back to playing.

2007 - Mary is accused of being a sexual predator and loses her job. She faces three years in prison. Johnny undergoes five years of therapy. Becomes gay.

Tuesday 15 January 2008

Storm in an IT Cup

Michael Lasky's article today in PC Advisor has caused a storm of outbursts from IT Support and others. Titled: 7 fun things IT support wants to keep secret, Transfer huge files, chat and surf at work, you can guess what's it's all about. Yes, what most students do but staff shouldn't.

Can't resist passing these on, purely for colleagues to be aware of what may be going on in the classroom, of course ;)

My view is that if you believe that using a particular site or application, or that some restriction placed upon your computing activity is unreasonable then you should talk to the people controlling the switch and if you can make a good case, get it changed. It is totally reasonable for IT Services or Support staff to wish to minimise any risk of data leak, trojan or virus infection or conflicts with other software. It is, however, also totally reasonable for a lecturer to want students to access a particular site that he has determined suitable or advantageous for them, to wish to utilise such methods of communication as are most efficient, read mail when away and I would always heartily back the storage of my files almost anywhere except on some of our servers which cease to function when someone switches off the air conditioning during the holidays.

Most of us probably frequently break the IT User Agreements we signed without reading. Perhaps it's time to look at them again and do some negotiating.

News from Brighton Peer

Lecturer bans students from Google and Wikipedia

January 14, 2008
Brighton Argos and PC Advisor, Feb 2008 issue

Professor Tara Brabazon, a media studies lecturer from the University of Brighton (apparently there is such an institution), has banned students from online research.

Specifically, the Prof is unhappy with the feckless, unwashed layabouts simply rehashing the first thing they find on Google or Wikipedia. (Media studies or no, she should never meet any actual journalists. The disappointment may finish her off.)

In a move that may give dangerous ideas to the good, good people at Google, Professor Brabazon dubbed her students efforts as 'the University of Google', - although I imagine the diet would be much more healthy at that particular institution. She bemoaned her students' disinclination to double check facts. Note to subs: can you check this bit?

According to Brabazon, too many students turn to the internet for easy information, hampering their development and their forensic research and analysis skills. (A travesty, when you consider the amount of 'Quincy' and 'Columbo' they must get through.)

"The education world has pursued new technology with an almost evangelical zeal and it is time to take a step back and give proper consideration of how we use it," she told the the Argos in Brighton.

Frankly, hanging is too good for the lot of them.

When I was a student I wrote essays by hand. It once took me (literally) all night - fueled only by penny sweets and Channel 5 - to plagarise a book I found at the back of the library, only to turn the final page and see the beaming face of my tutor gurning back at me. It took me the whole day find something else to copy (I missed Hollyoaks).

Kids today don't even know they are born.

Couldn't do better than reproduce this amazing bit of news posted by Matt Egan on the PC Advisor blog.

Monday 7 January 2008

2008 Resolutions (the boring work-related ones)

It's traditional at this time of year to tell everyone what we resolve either to do or not to do, presumably on the grounds that there will then be the big incentive of avoiding embarrassment of not sticking to them!

Here are mine.

1 Not to swear loudly in class when there is a huge delay for students opening Office files while applications are being 'installed' every day

2 Not to attach any documents to e-mail unless that really is the only way to share them

3 Not to feel guilty about using interactive whiteboards as little more than projector screens

4 Back up files to another drive a lot more often than when I just happen to remember and put things I'm likely to want to refer to on-line too

5 Change all my passwords to something I can remember but others won't guess

6 Just use one e-mail account for work and one for personal stuff

7 Delete any file I didn't use at all last year unless there's a really good reason not to.

8 Delete all my 2007 and older work e-mail other than contact details, contracts or really vital stuff

9 Get a decent skin for Moodle that doesn't stretch and look silly on widescreen and that isn't full of bugs that confuse new users

10 Write at least as many cheerful and positive articles as ones that moan about something.


Friday 4 January 2008

Create Your Own Academic Webpage

The blurb says " enables graduate students and professors to create academic webpages very easily." You don't need to be a professor - just have a or .edu address!

It also has discussion rooms, and a paper-tracking engine, that allows academics to track the latest papers uploaded to the web in their field.

I've just tried it out and created this page in about 5 minutes. It looks neat and tidy and may be just what someone out there is looking for. My preference would still be to use Pageflakes or Protopage or, of course, pbwiki but this really is one of the simplest I've seen. It's free and no ads.

Click here for access..