Compromise: how often do you do it with technology in schools?

I ask this question because it sheds light on the current state of my attempts to bring about more use of multimedia in my school. This previous blog post provided a commentary on the difficulties I was having in trying to use external websites to begin a process of encouraging other teachers to use innovative, emerging multimedia.

So the title of this post is compromise. I knew that the failures with the wikis no longer working on our schools systems could easily be repeated if I choose to continue with the approach of using the kind of external websites. This was further confirmed by one of my most valued websites, diigo.com, suddenly being blocked when I returned after half-term (eventually I managed to get it unblocked with help).

This didn’t leave me with very many options. I knew I wanted to continue to push the use of podcasting in the school but the reality of knowing that there is a definite and sometimes steep learning curve involved in using this meant that I wasn’t sure it would sit with people who were sceptical / didn’t think they could use new multimedia . This ‘group’ of staff represents the point of the project I am doing – I have found it relatively straightforward and rewarding to collaborate with members of staff already proficient in using multimedia, as might be expected – what I need to do is try and encourage those who want to be proficient but don’t know how to be. On this I think the merit and point of my project stands and falls.

I found that I was struggling where to turn to know what to do next – some kind of compromise with the multimedia tools I was using needed to be made.

The VLE

For those not familiar with the terminology, a VLE is a virtual learning environment or school portal, through which students and teachers share a space where they collaborate and share resources. In principle its great – mainly because it neatly dodges all those issues associated with e-safety – the space is enclosed and only teachers, students (and parents) have access.

For me though, the VLE, or at least what existed of it for my school (we run the version by RM) a year ago was, in my own words clunky. There seemed very little in the way of ‘web 2.0’ tools – I could find no blogging facilities, for example. The thing was slow and when I tried using it with my Year 11 class last year, it frequently crashed. I dismissed it as something that was not analogus with what I wanted to achieve with the use of multimedia – I resolved not to use it as one of the tools for advocating my use of multmedia.

The RM VLE - and the 'space' that the year 11's had to revise - containing podcasts they had made for revision in class - they could then access this from home.

Present day

To give credit where credit is due, RM have made a lot of improvements to the VLE in the past year. I always kept half an eye on it – continuing to use it with Year 11 last year as they entered the exam. There were successes as well as failures – details of which you can see in this short video. What I noticed was that gradually features such as blogs, wikis and discussion forums were being added (to be fair they may have been there from the start, but I found them neither easy to find, or easy to set up).

Then, for me, recently came the neatest innovation – every time you created a course for a group that you teach, a learning space was automatically created for it as well. What this means is that the resources are there and easily accessible, but you are also given a fully customisable page for each group you are teaching. On this page you can add a number of customisable features easily – including blogs, wikis, forums, RSS feeds and document libraries – all things associated with user-generated content. At this point I began to realise that I had made an error in being so dismissive of the VLE – and actually it appeared to be coming into its own just as I was facing problems using the external websites I had been advocating in school.

This half term has therefore seen me trying to throw all my efforts into using the VLE as a tool for helping me work with other colleagues. Responses so far have been positive and currently I am working with colleagues by:

  • Using the VLE to collaborate with one teacher in setting up a blogging facility on classes learning spaces – allowing them to reflect on their learning as well as access course materials.
  • Posting homeworks that English teachers in one year group can access and set to their students.
  • Helping one teacher to set up a discussion forum for her high-ability GCSE group to encourage discussions related to exam texts in the run up to the mock exam.

Conclusions

I feel like I am getting to the stage now where I have developed meaningful collaborations with colleagues. I don’t intend to stop this process beyond the scope of this project – indeed, this blog will hopefully provide a way with me to continue collaborating with colleagues who are perhaps not even in my school. What a focus of mine must be now though, is in collecting the thoughts of my colleagues on whether they now feel more confident in using and collaborating with innovative, engaging forms of multimedia.

So in this case, compromise seems to have worked, although it is too early to tell whether the project has resulted in significant differences in colleagues’ practice. How do others feel about this issue of compromising in the use of technology in school?

Advertisements

Using Cool Iris to present podcasts, diigo and the VLE

I was asked recently to provide a talk to another school in the town where I work on how the work I have been doing relates to the concept of developling Personal, Learning and Thinking Skills (PLTS). I approached this from the angle of how I have been using multimedia to develop reflective learners – and by that I am referring to both staff and students.

This blog post therefore has 2 purposes – it shows you how to use the freely downloadable program cooliris to provide a rich multimedia presentation and also I will talk about the content of the presentation and how it reflects the practices I have been developing in using multimedia.

My presentation. You can view it @ http://tinyurl.com/ygv4glj

Cool Iris. My tools for this presentation came from these three blog posts. I was particularly wanting to use cool iris for a presentation because it enables you to switch between ‘slides’ (actually pictures) easily. I had a selection of images that I thought enabled me to frame what I was trying to say and a few powerpoint slides for moments of building on / concluding points. Cool Iris is great primarily because of how it is activated. When browsing with it installed, all you need to see is the little triangle/arrow () that lights up in the bottom left corner of an image, click it and you automatically launch the cool iris browser.

My intention was to move away from the ‘death by powerpoint’ thing that can sometimes happen when people give presentations about technology. Moreover, I wanted my philosophy of using innovative, engaging forms of multimedia to colour the the tools that I used to present my noticing (Mason, 2002) of it. I hoped this would provide a genuinley engaging way of presenting to staff who may or may not have an interest in multimedia.

Continue reading

Plans afoot with diigo and skype

Over the next few weeks in school I’m beginning to push out in some new areas with regards to using technology in the classroom. I’m beginning to feel relatively comfortable and proficient with podcasting, through the use of audacity. I hope in the future to start the process of getting other teachers in my school involved in doing this – currently I seem to be the only one.

This is only one of the elements I want to focus on playing with in my school. I remain incredibly excited about the possibilities of using SKYPE in the classroom, video-conferencing with other students around the world. I’ve noticed that a lot of the schools taking part seem to be American or Australian. Can anyone help me locate some UK schools that are doing this? It would be useful because I’m already worried about the opposition my school might have about using a webcam in school. That’s not intended as a criticism of my school either, I just feel that in British education there’s such a mistrust of these kinds of technologies. Nevertheless, I shall begin the process of delicately asking people there thoughts on whether I could be allowed to do it in my school!

Onto something I will definitely be using with one of my classes next week, Diigo. I have waxed lyrical about this website on here before; I think its wonderful and solves a lot of the problems that we associate with students researching things on the internet. So next week I’m going to get students logged on with their usernames and accounts. My page for my Year 12 English Literature Group currently looks something like this:

y12

 The group page on Diigo for my Year 12 group.

The idea is that tomorrow I will give them two challenges (once we’ve got past the logging in and installing the diigolet feature). Firstly they are all going to have to look at one specific page I have bookmarked for them on W.H. Auden. I will have already highlighted key points on the webpage using Diigolet. They must also leave annotations, using the ‘post-it note’ feature, which we then review later. Hopefully this will introduce them to the annotating features on diigo and encourage to use them on other websites they find. They then need to find a few other websites on Auden and bookmark those too, which the rest of the group will then be able to see.

I shall report back on how it goes; am really excited about it!

 

 Other things I’ve been using this week and discovering that I like them:

  • TinyUrl – ok, so I’m like *well* behind here (and slipping into the voice of one of my students), but I’ve discovered that this is a great time saver. Remember when you write a link on the whiteboard and it can take ages? Especially if you have a HTML extension on it, or lots of dots and slashes. Well TinyURL solves this problem very easily, by condensing the link into something much smaller and much easier to share with your kids. Good stuff!
  • Twitter. Having signed up and been fiddling a few weeks (ahem), jury’s still out on this one for me. Can it genuinley be used for educational innovation? This article would seem to suggest so. I can’t help but get the feeling of it being a little bit ‘cool toy’, but not much else at the moment. That said, a lot of teachers seem to be doing interesting things with it, particularly the really enthusiastic article I just pointed you in the direction of. My username on twitter is ‘andywhiteway’ if you want to add me.

Proud of podcasting and such….

While today has been a tiring week work-wise, with various commitments seeming to spill over and clash with each other, I did have a fantastic lesson today with my media studies group and my year 11 English class.

For the first time I’ve managed to successfully use podcasting in a lesson to really enhance students’ learning. I think the past few times there has always been some sort of technical hitch and maybe one or two students have managed to produce something resembling a podcast, but it has been a stressful process. My ultimate aim is to bring other teachers in the school on board with podcasting and to do this, I want to make sure the process is relatively linkable to the philosophy of ‘plug in and play’. I’m beginning to get much more comfortable with Audacity and that seems to be making it quicker for students to pick it up. Although we’re still having issues with microphones (although I hope to get hold of this at some point), everyone managed to record something and most managed to edit it. The editing was done with aid from the excellent websites freeplaymusic and soundjay, the former offering some fantastic quality instrumental MP3s. I intend to blog about freeplaymusic and the impact its had on my teaching another time – this isn’t the only context in which I use it.

My media group did some fantastic work for me too, some in class, some out of it. They were doing the usual task of filming an advert for a given audience, but some really took the initiative – one filmed a 2 minute film out of school which was fantastic. The other’s trajectory you might be able to guess from below!

img_03521