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 @

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.

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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.


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

Social networking: The new ‘McGuffin’ in Education?


Harrison Ford refers to the treasures that Indiana Jones chases as 'mcguffins' - a treasure that fuels and drives the plot forward, but that isn't really that important to the overall story. Is the use of social networking in websites in danger of appearing in the same way? (Used under CC, by redplasticmonkey)

‘Social networking’ is the latest ubiquitous term in educational usage of ICT; right now to me it feels like it is everywhere. Controversy continues to abound regarding the issue of teachers having personal profiles on websites like Facebook and Twitter. I have very mixed feelings about whether I should make my Twitter profile private – I feel that it actually runs in direct contrast to the spirit of the site, but I am careful to exercise common sense in the messages that go up there. Likewise, I don’t consider that my facebook account is anything other than very private and flat out refuse to add students, even old ones.

Meanwhile, social networking is frequently being added to new ICT resources at what I consider to be a ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ rate. Our school is about to begin using B-Live, a careers website that has high standards of professionality – it looks great for starters, and provides good guidance and advise on progression in an accessible way. Part of the website allows students to engage in social networking – they can create avatars and social profiles that other members of the site can view. While B-Live is one of the best careers websites I’ve seen, I am unsure of the need for this type of element to the website.  Many students in my school already have their own facebooks (strange in itself, considering its minimum age tag) and myspace profiles and funnily enough I do believe that students themselves are cynical enough (oh yes!)  to notice when they’re being marketed to in a way that isn’t really useful or new to them. Why go social networking on a new site when they already have their own personal network which they see as efficient and engaging enough for expressing their own interests and socialising with their peers?

In this case (and in a few other websites I have seen that purport to have educational purpose), is there any in-depth consideration of how the social networking element of the site actually adds to the experience and the learning for students; or is it bound to just become a way in which they can wonder off task, or worse use the websites to break rules of e-safety? Are there any social networking sites for education that offer an effective use of the concept? Something devised by the UK goverment, cyber-mentors seems to me to be an admirable attempt to take the concept of social networking and use it in a positive way (only negative thing is the use of ‘text language’ on the main webpage, but hey that’s me with my English teacher hat on). Essentially the idea is that students mentor each other through difficult experiences associated with bullying. The difference is that a student could be mentoring another student from the other side of the country. I think it encourages students to make social connections and express themselves in an emotionally literate, mature way. Its definitely worth checking out, particularly if you’re a teacher in the UK.

Reflections on introducing a discussion on ‘multimedia’ within a school

cc mic phone photo by m.keefe

Photo by M.Keefe, used under cc license

This photo seems to address my mood ahead of delivering the staff inset issue. While it was nice to have a ‘loudspeaker’ to the whole school, I was very conscious (as a lowly English teacher with no other responsibilities), of making the most of the opportunity to encourage others to share and develop good practices associated with multimedia.

This is a reflection on a session I gave to the staff in my school on a whole school session, on a baking hot Thursday afternoon, fairly close to the end of the school year. My intention was simple; I wanted in a way to show that I was doing things in the classroom with multimedia. I also enlisted the help of another colleague, which I felt would help strengthen my argument that it was possible that more than a tiny minority of teachers within the school are trying to use multimedia to enhance teaching and learning.

The talk itself was based around showing quickfire examples of multimedia usage, mainly based around website used. As I have done extensively on this blog, I summarised my use of diigo with Key Stage 5 students. I felt that I was careful not to English-ify my talk and I deliberately gave quick demonstrations of sites such as wordle and freeplaymusic which I felt could have applications accross more than one subject area. I then asked my colleague to speak and I thought she did a fantastic job with a small slot of introducing the concept of ‘podcasting’ to the staff. She spoke honestly about the positive and negative experiences (the negatives were mostly about the problems with computers!) of taking such an approach. Afterwards I bought the session to a close and introduced the next stage of the session – the staff would now split off into groups to discuss how they felt about the issue of using multimedia in school. The discussion would be shaped by a series of questions that I adapated from Pan’s (1999) ‘Using technology to promote teacher action research’, a great paper which can be found (partially) on google books if you search for ”Information Technology in Educational Research Statistics”, itself an excellent book! Here are a few of the prompts:

  • Is multimedia used to impact on student learning in your classroom?
  • Do you think multimedia can be used to solve real issues associated with learning?
  • Can you name a particular student who is benefitting from using multimedia?

Reflections wondering around

So after I’d delivered the sheet and the talk, it was time to ask the staff to split off into four groups, all mixed-subject and reflect on what their own experiences with multimedia were like in our school. This was an opportunity firstly, to get out of the sweltering heat, but more importantly for me, to witness any impact that my words or my colleague’s words had produced.

I decided early on that instead of staying in the group I had been placed, I would give myself an opportunity to have a peek at what the other groups were upto. By no means did I see this as an opportunity to walk into the other three rooms and tell them exactly what they should be doing – rather I saw it as a way of observing the differences in how the groups had absorbed the short lecture they’d just been given.

One room was particularly organised and arranged themselves in a circle and were working their way through each of the prompts on the sheet by having an open discussion. Meanwhile in another room, all of the teachers went straight to computers and seemed engrossed in examining the websites on the list I’d handed out. Given the limited time teachers have to consider this issue anyway, I found myself reflecting that the different approaches of different groups was perhaps a good thing, in that it seemed clear to me that people were finding different ways to react to what had been said. I had been deliberately unperscriptive about exactly how the ‘discussions’ should take place – the only thing I had asked for is that staff take the time to feel in a final reflection on what we had done on a sheet of A4 paper, that was essentially to be their responses to the various prompts that had been adapted from Pan’s work. So, some of these responses were filled in at the end of the discussions, others were filled in after they had been looking at the various reccomended websites individually. This variety, although not wholly intended has led to interesting responses which I intend to put up in my next entry – they are interesting enough to warrant their own blog entry, I promise!

Conclusions drawn

You always build up expectations for things like this – for me it was the culmination of a year of intensive experimenting in my own classroom with multimedia. I genuinley felt like I had found interesting and engaging resources that could be applied accross a variety of subjects. Thinking ahead, one of my main aims was essentially the simple way of showing my colleagues that I knew something (hopefully) worth knowing about multimedia – I hope this will play into my hands as I begin to try and encourage collaboration with our ICT and multimedia throughout the year.

Watch this space for some of the responses from staff in future blog entry and an analysis of the implications they have for my own work and how they might reflect wider perceptions of positive and negative thoughts on the use of multimedia to promote teaching and learning.

Using freeplaymusic in the classroom


Freeplaymusic is a website that has been around for a while, but its functionality and applicability to the classroom is, I think, definitely worth expanding upon here, mainly because this offers some simple but interesting ways of developing the quality of students’ learning.



The concept is simple enough: everything on the website is free and and available to all. When greeted with music, you can either listen to a preview or download the file as an MP3.

What kind of music do you find on the site then?

For some time now, freeplay has been adding what is quickly developing into an excellent library of free, classical music (and no need to stream either, you just download it). There is fantastic stuff here, ranging from the whole suite of Holst’s The Planets, to Swan Lake. Although classical music might always have allusions of stuffiness and incompatability with the general crop of today’s students, as an English teacher I would argue that pieces of music like ‘Mars’ from ‘The Planets’ can provide interesting ways into a lesson, and not just in English. Talking about the planets in Science? Use one of the pieces of music as a plenary but don’t tell the students which planet it is; they have to write down reasons as you’re playing it for which planet they think it is.

Then there’s the eternal, slightly trendy idea that playing classical music in lessons helps students focus and concentrate. I’m not going to completely side with it; but as a musician who also happens to be an English teacher, I have frequently noticed that bringing in a musical instrument to use to play an idea or demonstrate something (always fun doing the Jaws theme on a Melodica), just helps you approach variety in lessons from a slightly fresh, engaging perspective.

Music for multimedia

The other big strength of the website is its search facility, as evidenced by the homepage below.

The 'feel' section is a great way for students to search freeplaymusic

Using the 'feel' option is a greay way for students to find appropriate music on freeplay


There are a variety of ways of searching, but my favourite is ‘feel’. Say students are working on a multimedia presentation of some kind – maybe a movie of their E-Portfolio – they could find ‘reflective’ and then be drawn to a page where free pieces of music are available. There are also no issues with copyright in using this site, which is a welcome relief. Its also good for:

  • Scoring dramatic readings of poems (e.g. having a student reading out ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ with this in the background)
  • Producing authentic sounding newscasts (lots of cheesy/over-dramatic ‘NEWS!’ type cues available)
  • Providing ambient but not over-distracting backgrounds for podcasts.
  • Scoring short narrative films students have produced.


If anyone else is doing interesting things with it, please let me know!

In other news, school is slowing down now; we have that mid-june malaise that means its time to start getting ready for September. Am very much looking forward to continuing to add to this blog and would like to take a quick opportunity (don’t worry, no curtain-call) for those people who have been leaving really interesting comments. Ta!

An evaluation of using with students

Having used diigo with a class for a period of a few months (and now said class is off on exam leave and unlikely to be using it for a few months), I feel that now is a good time to reflect on how I’ve been using it in a classroom environment over the past few months, and to try and draw a few useful conclusions about it, for my own future use and for other people who are reading.

Initial thoughts/Contents

  • Diigo – its effect on my own habits as a practitioner of education
  • Tips/Tricks/Pitfalls of using it in the classroom
  • Where it needs to go in terms of development, to work better in the classroom
  • Final thoughts


Diigo – its effect on me.

Before I begin talking about the effect its had in class, I thought i’d reflect on how diigo has shaped my own practice. I have recieved so many fantastic links from the diigo in education group in the 4/5 months I’ve been a member, but with edmodo, glogster and netvibesstill to get to grips with, I think this is the biggest compliment I can play a group where some fantastic information is shared. It would be interesting, perhaps if we shared less technocentric articles as a group, but I suspect that I myself need to do some more investigating into this area.

I would reccomend all teachers with an interest in using web2.0 in their teaching to join this group.



Firstly, a bit of context. My students were A-Level ones, so reasonably mature (16/17) and the group was small (about 9) so I was on hand to support in a very intensive way that I suppose might not be available for younger, larger classes. What follows are some general thoughts on what went well, what didn’t go so well and things that you should absolutely do to make sure students use diigo properly:

  1. Always have a print out of the students’ username and password ready. Mine forget theirs. A lot.
  2. The first few times students are using diigo and its ‘sticky note’ feature, always start the lesson by reminding them that if they used this feature then they need to make sure that as soon as they start writing a note the select the drop down menu for the ‘privacy’ feature (see below). Students need to decide if the content they are writing is to be shared with the rest of the group (and most of the time with mine, it was), so they need to find the group you have assigned them to belong to and select that.diigoshare1
  3. Highlighting is fiddly! In its current state, a few students have managed to highlight whole parts of the website, rather than just the line or two I requested them to do. I don’t think this is deliberate: It’s the same when we get frustrated on word when the highlighter goes crazy. Remind students that if they make this mistake, they can right click on the highlight and an option should come up to erase it.
  4. Keep the diigo homepage open. It sounds silly, but a lot of mine forgot to and then sometimes had to go through a few steps to get back to. Remind them to open a seperate browser or tab when using the Internet.
  5. Making use of your group’s diigo homepage.My favourite tool is still this. I love the ability to review the annotations we’ve all made on one page, by clicking on the yellow box that I’ve highlighted round the red square below. It makes for a good plenary or start to the next lesson – challenging those sticky note annotations also increases their value and the respect you pay to the feedback students leave, something that leads into our next point.diigolesson2
  6. Moderating those pesky post-it notes. There’s nothing to stop students leaving inappropriate notes , publicly, but lets not forget that as long as a teacher is constantly refreshing the group’s homepage, its very easy to keep track of the sticky notes being left on the websites that have been bookmarked. I had one instance of a student posting an inappropriate sticky note, but because I immediately saw it and immediately asked the student to remove it, it seemed to be of little interest to the other students. Perhaps a more interesting notion to consider is the moderation of the conversation that can begin when students begin to respond to each others’ sticky notes…

An example would be when one of my students began to reply to other students’ sticky notes, without any prompting me (he had been absent and was techincally speaking a lesson behind us). ‘Great!’ I thought. But I quickly realised I didn’t like the replies he was leaving. Although they engaged critically with what they were replying to, the response was always on the negative side and came accross as not well balanced. One of my thoughts for the future then is how to continue to encourage discussion within diigo, but make sure that students recognise that rules of balance and discussion ought to be recognised in the same way that I always would expect in a classroom discussion.


Where next for diigo?

I was new to the whole social bookmarking thing, I admit. I completely skipped delicious, but it seems to me that a key difference between it and diigo is that diigo has more potential for taking the links found further. I know diigo is not a wiki and I think I have already shown ways in which the group’s homepage was used more effectively, but I would like to see more usability in the forum. As it stands, the forum feels limited. A good example would be that I wanted students to follow up on posts other students within the group. They hit reply and get the text contained in that post and the ability to reply to it. Good so far. But when they click submit then their new post gets dumped right at the bottom of the thread, sometimes mile away from the post they’re replying to. My students and I found it a bit confusing and I think a stranded approach to posts (plus the ability to easily add in some tricksy multimedia like this ‘ere wp), would continue to mean that you can use diigo in interesting ways to draw out deeper learning from students.


Final thoughts

I will be using diigo again next year. With slightly tighter e-safety controls (which I suspect we will get when the next round of changes arrives), I intend to try and use it with much younger students. I like that I can easily create accounts for students and I don’t need a long list of their email addresses first. I remain most impressed by how much diigo enabled students to vocalise their thoughts about poetry in a way that gave them more security and space to do it, without feeling pressured to call out the ‘right’ answer in class. My hopes as I continue with developing the use of diigo is that others (particularly in different subjects), might discover interesting and different ways of using it for something as idiosyncratic as poetry. This in turn will lead to more ideas for everyone involved.

Conceptually diigo addresses some big problems that face students today; put simply it enskills them to use the internet in an open way, where the debates that need to be had, on things randing from validity of information to building collective knowledge as a group are interrogated.