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

Early problems in collaborating with multimedia

Part of the difficulty about being a reflective practitioner is that its often easy to post stories of your successes on here; often its not so easy to discuss and try and pick apart what’s not going so well. Stay with me: hopefully there are lessons here that maybe lessons for you if you are thinking about trying to change the use of multimedia in your school for the better…

A brief recap for those who are first timers to this blog: My aim is to work with other colleagues to encourage them to use new and innnovative forms of multimedia. If they use them with their students: bonus. If they don’t – I might still judge what I am doing a success, mainly because of reflecting on how developing my own Personal Learning Network (PLN) through this blog has improved my use of multimedia in the classroom. Will Richardson writes (see bottom for ref.):

“While there is no doubt my classes were in many ways profoundly changed by blogs and wikis and the like, the bigger truth is that the transformation in my own personal learning practice is what informed my work with students.” (Page 8 )

This is how I feel about the potential of engaging multimedia to enhance the practice of teachers and underpins what I am trying to do at the moment.

What follows is an account of some of the things that have gone, err, wrong since I started trying to change things…

September-October 2009

  • I was using wetpaint to develop two wikis for school; one is for teacher reflection, the other was the development of a sports website for the school where the PE staff could provide out of school access to resources for students and allow students to contribute to the website. Unfortunately over the summer, wetpaint upgraded their service, leaving my school, which still uses Internet Explorer 6, unable to access the website properly anymore – they are virtually useless at school. This is a real shame; I have spoken to the IT technician at my school and he thinks it’s unlikely that we will be upgrading IE anytime soon, nor is it a decision that is in his hands. So, at least for a while, its back to the drawing board for me with these two small projects! I would appreciate any suggestions people had…
  • Inset – I was originally hoping to give a town-wide inset on using podcasts, wikis and blogs (there are 5 secondary schools in the town where I work). This would have been a fantastic chance to show some of the things I feel I have learnt from using these 3 different multimedia , but unfortunately I have found out that the session will be run in another school, by others. There is little I can do about this and instead I have resolved myself to attend the meetings (which have now been seperated into ‘podcasting’ and ‘blogs/wikis’) and make sure that I take advantage of the fact that there are going to be other colleagues from other secondary schools who clearly have an interest in this area – and see if they are interested in collaborating.

So, technically speaking, my ‘project’ should be finished (as if I’m ever going to stop doing this kind of thing now!) by around February, so the clock is certainly ticking. Still, the chance to reflect in this blog and hopefully develop strategies to build on difficulties should ensure I still have plenty to write about.

 

Recent Links worth checking out:

– Those who have been interested in my work exploring the use of diigo in the classroom may also be interested to read Katt Blackwell-Starne’s blog. She is planning to use diigo over the coming year to investigate if it can help improve students’ writing to specific audiences.

Doug Belshaw writes a series of excellent posts about how to use Cool Iris (a fantastic multimedia tool) for presentations; one for beginners, one for advanced. Well worth checking out.

References:

Richardson, W, (2009). Blogs, wikis, podcasts and other powerful webtools for classrooms. London: Sage LTD.