Friday, 12 October 2012

Learning In Digital Wales 3

This is the third post in a series looking at the National developments in Wales to promote the use of digital technologies and resources for learners aged 3 to 19.
  1. Task & Finish Group Review
  2. Ministerial Response
Lots of work in the background by government officials, interest groups, practitioner panels etc led to an invitation to tender for developing an 'All Wales Learning Platform' affectionately titled Hwb.

The contract was awarded in September to Learning Possibilities
(see their News Item:

A series of meetings with key stakeholders are scheduled during the next few months to outline details of the proposed platform.

The National Digital Collection of teaching and learning resources will be accessed via the Hwb. The development of a system for unique learner IDs has been mentioned and this would provide a huge step forward in learner transition and progression.

An iTunes U channel will also be created to showcase the best courses available in Wales.

The National Digital Learning Council for Wales will oversee the direction and development of these initiatives plus other longer term plans. The council met yesterday for the first time and members include:
  • Dr Tom Crick (Senior Lecturer in Computer Science, Cardiff Metropolitan University and Computing at School),
  • Janet Hayward (Headteacher Cadoxton Primary School, Vale of Glamorgan),
  • Sue Burnett (University of Glamorgan, RCT),
  • Maldwyn Pryse (Estyn),
  • Geraint James (ADEW ICT, Director of Education, Conwy),
  • Simon Pridham (Headteacher Casllwchwr Primary School, Swansea),
  • Hannah Mathias (St David’s College, Cardiff),
  • Peter Sishton (eSkills UK) and
  • Chris Britten (Headteacher Ashgrove Special School, Vale of Glamorgan).
Professional experts and "associate members" (ie students) will also be involved from time to time. I'll post in a month or so with details of the team of 'Digital Leaders' who will work directly with schools and teachers.

Things seem to be moving quickly and so they need to if The Minister is to have a Hwb to unveil in December. I have seen the 12th December mentioned as a possible date.

I'm not given to superstition but 12/12/12 seems to have a rather eerie feel about it.
At least that gives us 9 days before the end of the 'Fourth Mayan World Age' on 21st December when cataclysmic* events have been predicted.

I guess another interpretation could be that the cataclysmic* event is happening 9 days early in Wales - hold on to your hats - only time will tell.

TGIF (only 11 more to go - possibly !-)

*note - some writers see the translation from the Mayan not as cataclysmic but as transformative (hope on the horizon?).

Friday, 10 August 2012

Not Socialising - Just Working

Somehow, I've got involved with a community based project where a number of local groups have come together to provide training events for local people. Having worked together for a while and meeting in-person every few months, they have found it difficult to keep all groups informed of what all other groups are doing.

Chatting with the people tasked to improve this situation, the main items of a wish list are:
  • a space for group members only
  • a place for meeting agendas, minutes and notes
  • a list of contacts
  • an events calendar
  • a forum for activity updates
My first thought was for Google Education; the tools, permissions and sharing possibilities seemed tailor made to solve the collaboration problems. Unfortunately a number of the groups are part of the local authority who's IT system prevents access to anything Google (other than search I presume). However, I also had second thoughts about the suitability of Google Apps for this group. I need to think this through more but I felt a more straightforward physical web space and simple tools than provided by Google would suit this group better.

An initial web search brought back a host of social networking type sites:
These sites tended to offer a range of facilities that weren't on the groups wish list and would tend to cloud the fairly basic job the group needed to accomplish.

It took a little time to find the search terms that would bring back the sort of straightforward web space with basic functionality that I wanted ('online group workspaces' seemed to provide the most appropriate results). An initial sifting left a number of potential sites:
NB: Yammer and Podio were not included in this list as they had a few too many social features and all users need to have the same email domain (ie work in the same organisation) which is not true of this group. There was also the ultra minimal option to just have a shared calendar eg which is perhaps a little too minimal.

The group are now looking at 2 sites to choose their favourite.
I like the look of this interface; it has a simple horizontal tab menu focusing on the 3 main functions of Activity Feed, Document Folder and Calendar with a vertical menus providing a members list on the left and collaboration and communication tools on the right.

The website says that Wiggio is the easiest (free) way to work in groups with an online toolkit to support group work. Perfect for private groups:
  • host virtual meetings and conference calls
  • create to-do lists and assign tasks
  • send email, text and voice messages
  • manage events with a shared calendar
  • poll your group in real time
  • upload and manage files in a shared folder.
There is a good knowledge base containing 'how to' information. There is a premium service which allows custom branding etc. The site does have a few 'flaky’ moments now and again where things work one minute but not the next (this could be explained by the web session expiring without giving the user an alert to login again).
This site looks fairly straightforward and focuses on the same Share, Collaborate, & Communicate functionality although I feel the interface is a little more crowded and 'busy' than Wiggio.

The website says this site promotes Online Collaboration allowing you to organize your day to day work, projects, information, people and files securely. A web-based online collaboration tool and project management software that enables you to:
  • Share Files
    Getting lost with too many emails? Share files and content in secure online workspaces with people inside and outside your organization.
  • Online Collaboration
    Manage projects, and easily organize your day to day work. Keep on top of your task’s and get visibility on all your stuff.
  • Communicate
    Connect with people and communicate better, saving time by letting you get work done (the important things) more quickly and efficiently.

There is a pricing plan but the free account gives unlimited users, 2 workspaces, 1Gb storage and a variety of features (details at However, on the free account, HTTPS is available on Sign in only and the online document editor is no longer available.

The other 2 sites in brief:
    This site gives a mix of collaboration and social tools. Whether this is a good mix or just a confusion of the 2 is open to debate. The website gives a flavour of the site:
    "Build forms and workflows, automate business processes, and drive social engagement with your customers & employees using WizeHive's web based platform On your own website or through your facebook fan page!"
    Zoho projects provide a number of tools for online workgroups but here the focus is very much on Project Management and doesn't really fit the needs of the group I'm working with.

Finally, there is
The site provides tools for managing a membership group rather than a work group. Although not quite right at the moment, if the group wants to engage the public by developing a programme of events for a members group, this could well provide their next step.

I'm sure that the 'Social Web' phenomenon has widened participation of people with the digital world and probably improved their digital skills hugely. Occassionaly though, all people need are straightforward work tools. We aren't all being social all of the time. Occasionaly most of us just have to do a bit of work, sometimes in a team.

TGIF - Time to be social.

Friday, 27 July 2012

BYOD: 1950, 1960, 1970 & 2012

I've been involved in a number of discussions lately around BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). In 2012 there is a movement for education establishments to provide the WiFi infrastructure for students to bring and use their own laptops, tablets, phones etc.

There are the short discussions; 'students are keen to bring their own devices' (usually University colleagues) and weighty discussions concerning issues of Health & Safety and socio-economic inequality.

Taking the principle that there are few truly original ideas, I've been thinking about my own time as a student. There have been a number of 'BYOD Moments' that passed by with little fuss (for us as students at least).

I am too young to have been a student during the 1950's when schools issued steel nib 'dip pens' and ink monitors filled the desk ink wells every morning. Imagine the outrage in the staff room when it was suggested that providing nibs and ink for student use would be stopped, students would have to 'Bring Their Own Device'. Students happily brought their own fountain pen and later their own biro/ballpoint. Although, 60 odd years later, some people still think the decline of 'penmanship' is a backward step in education.

Although schools provided geometry equipment in the 1960's, I remember at age 11 being given a rather fine box of drawing tools for my first day at secondary school. None of the school's blunt pointed dividers or compasses for me! I remember enjoying geometry (where those two things connected?) and I still have that set today (40 plus years later).

BYOD hit me at a conscious level when I was at University studying biochemistry. I seem to remember calculations required a book of log tables or later, log slide rules. When the Sinclair pocket calculator became available in 1973 it was a 'must have device' for me. I spent £25 of my hard earned student grant :-) on a 'Sinclair Cambridge'. A lot of money for a student (about £400 in todays money - see ) and for not much functionality. However, bringing my own device made calculations a breeze from that moment on.

 Looking back at the title of this post, there seems to be an obvious 'BYOD moment' in each decade that I was a student. I bet there were more from the 1980's onwards but I was a working man by then.....


Friday, 20 July 2012

Startpages Revisited - 2012

A few years ago I tried out a number of Startpages and Netvibes fitted with what I wanted to have easily at my fingertips.
Things change so I've revisited what is available to see if there is a better solution.

To save you scrolling to the bottom, my findings are in the next paragraph.
If you are new to the idea of Startpages, come back to the findings after reading the rest of the post.

Findings 2012
There doesn't seem to have been a huge increase in the number of Startpage sites over the last few years.
Netvibes still rides tall although Google have announced that iGoogle will be 'retired' on 1 Nov 2013 because they feel there is less of a need for Startpages now that web and mobile apps have put personalized, real-time information at people's fingertips (iGoogle diehards can use Apps in their Chrome browser however).

Startpage Further Details
A Startpage is a place where you can gather together all the web based sites and tools that you use regularly. Although browser bookmarks can do a similar job there are functions offered by Startpages that make them a better 'one stop shop'. Startpages offer a type of 'virtual desktop'. They have also been called Aggregators (although these are often more focused on News Aggregation), Personal Portals (often more concerned with promoting yourself to the wider world) or Dashboards (usually more to do with visual display of data).

A review in 2007 by James Mowery covered the most popular 14 sites:
  • Netvibes - the one to beat - customisation is a major strength.
  • Pageflakes - the main competitor.
  • iGoogle - not as polished as the others although gadgets are being given a big push.
  • MyYahoo - playing catch-up.
  • yourminis* - very cool virtual desktop type but flash based.
  • WebWag - clean interface but lacking customisation.
  • Schmedley - has potential but some quirks and bugs.
  • Eskobo - very fast but few features.
  • Windows Live - not as good as its main competitors (Google, Yahoo).
  • Favoor - disappointing - bugs.
  • Gritwire - more of an RSS reader.
  • Inbox - an extremely simplified iGoogle.
  • Protopage - virtual desktop - good but yourminis is much better.
  • It'sAStart - not a serious competitor yet.
A comparison of the major functional features you would expect from a Startpage is shown below:

A comparison site ( provides further information about Startpages and the following rankings (date unknown):

"Ultimately, there’s no “best” Startpage. Netvibes and Pageflakes are not short on content, and offer amazing customization. iGoogle and My Yahoo are great options if you already use those services. Schmedley and yourminis* approach the market uniquely, and some people swear by them."

In the last couple of years some new sites have emerged but with a brief look they don't seem to be breaking new ground.
The nice people at Google think that Startpages have had their day and will be 'retiring' iGoogle (shades of Blade Runner in this terminology!) towards the end of 2013. I agree that Apps running on smartphones and pads make it really easy to get to the same sort of information, links, subscriptions etc as my Startpage. However, I spend a lot of my working day on a PC and having a PC based Startpage still makes my life easier. The Google people must think so too otherwise why would they provide Apps for the Chrome Browser (

*Note - Startpages that have bitten the dust:
  • yourminis
  • schmedley?
  • Eskobo
  • Goowy
  • Live (
  • Pageflakes
  • Zoozio

**Note - If you have scrolled to the bottom of the page to see the conclusion / recommendations - you missed it - it's at the top of the page (wakey, wakey).

I've closed my Startpage, turned off my smartphone and pad - time for a break.....


Friday, 13 July 2012

Lonesome George

As if his name wasn't sad enough, Lonesome George,
the last of the Galápagos giant tortoise from the Pinta Island
died on 24 June 2012.


Friday, 6 July 2012

Learning in Digital Wales

In April I posted an overview and my thoughts on a Task and Finish Group report looking into digital classroom teaching (Find it, make it, use it, share it).

On 21 June, a written statement was made by Leighton Andrews, Minister for Education and Skills, AM setting out the vision for digital developments for the teaching and learning across the whole of Wales.
"I have now considered the wide ranging recommendations in this report and have agreed an action plan for the use of digital technology to improve performance in schools."

The statement covers:
  • National Digital Learning Council
  • Hwb
  • National Digital Collection
  • iTunes U
  • Microsoft Partners in Learning
  • Professional Development: Digital Technology and Computing
  • A Culture of Digital Citizenship

It seems that there has been a determined push from the Minister for action.
Digital Advisor and Digital Leader secondment posts have been funded and advertised (damn it - I missed the deadline!!).
December 2012 is the first key deadline for the launch of an all Wales digital learning platform (I wait with baited breath to find out which of the many stories of what this actually means turns out to be true).

Before then however, the National Digital Learning Council will meet in September - more news to follow.


Friday, 29 June 2012

eGuide Timeline

I gave an overview of our eGuide project here in a post on 1 June 2012.

Needing a bit more detail for a presentation I gave to the RSCWales' Summer conference I created a timeline which you can see here:

Many of the events have links to project related documents.

Comments welcome ....


Friday, 22 June 2012

Developing Digital Literacies

The JISC 'Developing Digital Literacies Programme' promotes the development of coherent, inclusive and holistic institutional strategies for developing digital literacies for all staff and students in UK further and higher education. One year after the start of the programme, this briefing paper explores some of the themes that have emerged so far.

The paper is available here:

More to follow ...

Friday, 15 June 2012

Digital Natives? - Probably Not!

There has been much debate over the years concerning the Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants perspectives (Prensky, 2001; Part 1 and Part 2). Originally the ideas were embraced by many teachers who felt that they expressed the differences that they were seeing between younger and older students and between younger students and teachers. As time went on, the reality of young people's lack of digital skills in many areas became clearer and a feeling grew that apart from a difference in confidence, the existence of a 'Native' was probably more myth than reality.

Research carried out in 2010 and published in Feb 2012 ( finds no evidence for Digital Natives.

The Open University’s Institute of Educational Technology put together an age-stratified, gender-balanced cohort of 7,000 students aged between 21 and 100 . There were 2,000 between ages 60 and 69, 1,000 aged 70 and over, and, for comparison, four groups, 1,000 in each, from students respectively in their twenties, thirties, forties and fifties. All were surveyed by detailed and carefully constructed questionnaires.

The research concluded that firstly, there’s no evidence of a clear-cut digital divide. Use of technology varies with age, but it does so predictably, over the whole age span. And secondly, although younger people are more likely to be positive about technology, there is evidence that a good attitude to technology, at any age, correlates with good study habits.

More to follow next TGIF.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Webinar Software - Reviews and Reality

Next week a small group of us will be trying out 4 different webinar software packages. The aim of the test is to experience the software as both presenters and attendees in an attempt to choose one package that we can all use across our different institutions. Regional staff development is the end goal.

A traditional seminar is a small group of students that meet regularly under, the guidance of a tutor, to exchange information, discuss theories, etc. The important word here is 'exchange'. The idea is that ALL of the group contribute so a web based seminar (or webinar) must allow both tutor AND students to communicate freely and to present their own work. The focus then is on software that provides a type of virtual classroom approach rather than on webcasting (squirting video onto the web for a largely anonymous and passive audience) or webchat/conferencing (a discussion using one or more of text, audio and video).

Today I will show the review sites and later I'll update the post with our experiences.

One really useful site provides reviews and comparisons of 35 different software packages. The top 10 (on 8 June 2012) are shown below;

Other packages listed include some names that will be familiar with most teachers; InstantPresenter (15 - 8.6), Skype (18 - 8.2), Blackboard Collaborate (29 - 7.4). The reviews are based on the following evaluation guide:
    1. Web conference
    2. Webinar
    3. Webcast
    1. Desktop sharing 
    2. Virtual room
    1. Web conference
    2. Audio conference
    3. Video conference
    1. Shared hosted service (SaaS)
    2. Local installation
    3. Hybrid installation
    1. Specialized solution (focus on web conferencing)
    2. Integrated solution (unified communications)
    1. Virtual classroom
Another review site ( lists their top 10 which has some similarities with the above but probably not enough overlap to provide a clear winner.
  1. MegaMeeting
  2. GoToWebinar
  3. Microsoft Office Live Meeting
  4. Fuze Meeting
  5. WebEx
  6. ClickMeeting
  7. Adobe Connect
  8. InstantPresenter
  9. GatherPlace
  10. Dimdim
A really helpful practical guide has been created by Matt Ewens from JISC's RSC South West ( which covers 11 applications and for each gives a feature list, screen shot, strengths, challenges and a price comparison chart.

From our reading of these review sites the group decided to try a practical comparison using GoToMeeting, WebEx, Fuze and Adobe Connect.

I'll post soon on the practical reality.

Until then - TGIF

Friday, 1 June 2012

Students as Peer eGuides

It is a well known fact that one constant feature of classrooms is that students will pay just enough attention to teachers so that they keep out of trouble. It was no surprise then when at a student focus group, one student said 'if you want a message to get through to students, get other students to tell them'!

The focus group was set up a couple of years ago to hear from students about the digital skills they have and how they learn to use new technologies and resources. A recurring theme was that students often don't look to teachers for advice on or practical help with all things digital. The Library and Learning Technology Service started working on a plan to enable students to help other students develop their digital skills and knowledge. Don't assume from this that we necessarily agree with Prensky's Digital Native proposition, we just recognised that students have a great influence on each other.

It was around this time that JISC were inviting bids from the 'Celtic Nations' (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - SWaNI) for their Learning and Teaching Innovation strand (Grant 10/10: SWaNI FE). Our bid was successful (along with 6 other colleges) and our PEDL Project (Peer eGuides promoting Digital Literacy) received funding for a year.
Funding Details:

Since January 2011, we have been developing the eGuide approach and although the JISC funding finished in December 2011 we have continued to make refinements and will open the eGuide Programme to all courses across the college in the next academic year.

You can get an overview of the PEDL project here:

The final report is here:

In essence, we asked course tutors to identify a student who had good digital skills and who was already seen by the others in the group as someone they could approach for help. We viewed the interpersonal skills as important, if not more so, than the digital skills. We explained the programme and the eGuide role and then provided core and further training in the essential digital tools and resources used in the college based on the results of an eGuide Skill Audit.

A similar briefing was given to the student groups studying on the same course as the eGuides where we stressed that the eGuides could help them with some digital problems but mostly their role was to direct students to the online skills portal (TARDiS - Tools And Resources for a Digital Society) or to specialist Library and ICT staff. A reflective journal, a staff mentor and regular debriefing meetings all help maintain the eGuide engagement with their role.

During the funded period, two cohorts of eGuides were trained and supported and many lessons were learnt. Some of the main lessons for others wishing to adopt a similar approach to student skill development are:

  • Ensure staff identify potential eGuides according to the criteria mentioned above rather than cut corners and ask for volunteers (a student vote would be more preferable than a free for all).
  • Two eGuides from larger course groups works well due to mutual support and reminders.
  • Regular contact of small groups of eGuides and their staff mentor helps maintain enthusiasm for the role.
  • Start the programme early in the academic year, probably earlier than you might think advisable. Students have greatly valued the early support from their peers.
  • Some recognition of the extra effort that eGuides are making is appreciated. Providing refreshments at some meetings, high street vouchers before Christmas and possibly a 'star prize' for active Guides etc.
  • Regular feedback sessions where eGuide experiences are genuinely listed to and acted upon to improve the programme further.
For the next academic year we will be providing eGuide sweatshirts.
The students themselves have requested this and feel that they could have helped in a wider capacity if they had been more easily recognised.

I remember an early meeting of the project staff where we considered doing something like that but rejected it as rather patronising.
I am often surprised what students value and want - all the more reason to keep asking them!!!


Friday, 25 May 2012

Who Do They Think They Are?

The one constant thread running through my work over the last 10 years is 'at your service'!
Because a large part of my job involves the education and training of academic staff (mostly technology but I sneak in pedagogy where I can), a lot of my time is spent supporting and troubleshooting as and when required. Other aspects of my work get squeezed somewhat by this; I get to mostly do the urgent and not the important.

One aspect that I don't give enough time to is reading around and finding people who I think it important (or enjoyable) to revisit regularly. Earlier this week I came across a brilliant article by someone that I already had on my 'People' list - I just haven't re-visited for months!

I thought I would share the list as it is now.
There is not a conscious selection process going on with this list, I just liked what they were saying.
Please do post a comment and let me know who you follow.

John Seely Brown -
Part scientist, part artist and part strategist, JSB's views are unique and distinguished by a broad view of the human contexts in which technologies operate and a healthy skepticism about whether or not change always represents genuine progress.

Stephen Downes -
Stephen Downes works for the National Research Council of Canada where he has served as a Senior Researcher, based in Moncton, New Brunswick, since 2001. Affiliated with the Learning and Collaborative Technologies Group, Institute for Information Technology, Downes specializes in the fields of online learning, new media, pedagogy and philosophy.

Jane Hart -

Jane Hart is an independent consultant, speaker and writer. She is an internationally known specialist in the use of social media for learning and working.

Stephen Heppell -

...sometimes people need a short "who is he?" for bid documents, flyers, etc. or some media quotes for conference intros. I struggle with this kind of thing, to be honest, but here's my version - feel free to chop it about any which way you like: Professor Stephen Heppell ......

Will Richardson -
This site is dedicated to discussions and reflections on the use of Weblogs, wikis, RSS, audiocasts and other Read/Write Web related technologies in the K-12 realm, technologies that are transforming classrooms around the world.

Ken Robinson -
Sir Ken Robinson, PhD is an internationally recognized leader in the development of education, creativity and innovation.

George Siemens -
George Siemens, Founder and President of Complexive Systems Inc., a research lab assisting organizations to develop integrated learning structures for global strategy execution.

Joyce Seitzinger -
My name is Joyce Seitzinger. I’m an education technologist working in higher education, passionate about improving learning experiences through emerging technologies and innovative teaching strategies. My special interests are digital curation, learning design and networked learning.

Martin Weller -
I'm a Professor of Educational Technology at the Open University in the UK. I'm into exploring the impact of new technologies for learners and academics. Recently this has coalesced under the broad, inadequate heading of 'digital scholarship.

NB: The sites above are just one point of access for each person. Mostly, there are other sites, user names etc where they display their work. The text below the image comes from the person's 'about' page.


Friday, 18 May 2012

Moodle Tool (& Pedagogy) Guide for Teachers

Last week I realised that so far in my Friday posts I haven't included probably the best Moodle handout I've ever seen. The Moodle Tool Guide created by Joyce Seitzinger a few years ago (May 2010) presents ease of use for the main Moodle tools BUT most interestingly, relates these to pedagogy (ie teaching techniques/approaches).

Most staff development for Learning Technologies focuses on 'which button to press' to get the technology to work. There is however a serious lack of resources that guide teachers to appropriate and effective teaching and learning techniques centred around specific digital tools.

There is a lot of research literature and erudite papers about 'ePedagogy' (if such a thing exists) but most busy teachers I think want advice that is more easy to engage with.The teaching approaches listed are fairly basic:
  • Information Transfer
  •  Assess Learning
  • Communication & Interaction
  • Co-create Content
  • Bloom's Cognitive Hierarchy
 However, the list is perfect for the busy teacher.

The handout is here:

The PowerPoint slide used to create the pdf is here:
(ie you can edit the PPT to create your own customised guide)

There is even a Flickr group to share photos of the guide in use (Joyce is very keen on social endeavour):

A Moodle 2 version is in development by Gavin Henrick. I'm sure for those of you who have 'gone M2' there will be lots of discussion to come. Me? I am going TGIF.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Top Digital Tips for Teachers

I was asked to provide an input to a group of secondary school teachers who are promoting the use of Learning Technology within their schools. I was given the title 'Top Tips'.  After considering a variety of tip type lists, I decided to list the principles that underpin the work I do to promote the use of digital approaches.

I started teaching secondary school science in 1978 and have been using computers in my teaching since then. I have also taught on FE, undergraduate and Masters level courses and over the last 11 years I have been a Learning Technologist providing staff development, support and advice for FE teachers and managers.

The following list has guided my work with teachers over many years:
  1. Priorities the digital
  2. Make your VLE your foundation
  3. Expect learners to engage
  4. Make digital demands
  5. Look before you make
  6. Try one new thing
  7. Join a group
  8. Review your pedagogy
  9. Give CPD time
  10. Face the fear
This list assumes that the organisation that you work for is providing adequate digital kit and web connectivity. If not, the top tip is to encourage managers to adopt a digital focus and allocate appropriate resourcing. Sometimes however, you may only persuade managers to change once a large enough number of teachers have already engaged!
  1. Prioritise the digital
    Many teachers feel that they don’t have the time to learn and use digital techniques and resources. In these cases, Time = Priority! We are all busy people but we find the time to do all sorts of things because we prioritise them. Lack of time = lack of priority.
  2. Make your VLE your foundation
    Provide all the essential, and extension, resources for your teaching and assessment over the web for anytime and anyplace access. Use your VLE (Learning Platform) on a daily basis during your teaching so learners see it in action. This assumes that there is a minimum of 1 staff PC and projector in every classroom.
  3. Expect learners to engage
    If you don’t adopt a positive attitude toward the beneficial role that digital tools and resources can bring to learning, don’t be surprised if your learners don’t engage.  If you use digital and you train your learners to use digital, your expectations will be met (assuming you have a good relationship with your students).
  4. Make digital demands
    Sometimes called ‘Blended Learning’, mix traditional teaching & learning techniques with newer digital approaches (see also 8 and 9 below). Add digital tasks, in class or outside the classroom to develop student’s digital knowledge, skills, confidence and competence. This is one crucial aspect for their future.
  5. Look before you make
    Most teachers like to make teaching and learning resources but there is a World Wide Web of ready to go resources. With effective search techniques and a list of trusted websites you can save masses of time (your librarian might also help you find eResources). Only make something new if it doesn’t already exist.
  6. Try one new thing
    There are a wide variety of digital materials, methods and technologies available. Plan to try something new each term/year and give yourself time to play, implement and most importantly review new things. Done regularly, your digital repertoire quickly increases.
  7. Join a group
    Find a local or national interest group that shares ideas, good practice, new resources etc that can be a source of inspiration and support. Once you’ve lurked for a while, become active in your communication and collaboration.
  8. Review your pedagogy
    Think about your teaching approach and how it works for preparing learners for a digital and connected world. Social constructivism seems to work well in a digital context.
  9. Give CPD time
    The points above won’t happen without some thought, training and practice. Use some CPD time to increase your own knowledge, skills, confidence and competence.
  10. Face the fear
    For some teachers, using new technologies and resources with students is daunting. There was a time when just standing in front of a class was daunting (but most of us overcame that one). Remember:
    • experience is that quality that lets us keep a sense of humour when things go wrong!
    • the idea that young people are innately better than we are with technology is a myth!
    • DON’T PANIC (and have a backup plan).
I haven’t provided links to further information above because new resources appear all the time.

However, the following links are fairly current:
Teacher resources -
Tools and Reviews -
CPD Focus -
Teachers Online - #addcym on Twitter

I hope you find something useful in there.
It is for you, the reader, to decide if this list constitutes 'Top Tips' or not (it does work for me however) and thanks to LearnTech Wales (an FE interest group) and RSC Wales (a support group) for your thoughts on the list.

Tip 11 - have good weekends - TGIF

Friday, 4 May 2012

Gaia: Stereoscopic 3D for Education

Gaia Technologies ( was  formed in 1992 has become one of the leading providers of ICT solutions to UK schools. From their headquarters in Bangor North Wales, and with operational bases in Birmingham, Manchester, Cardiff and London, they currently look after a large number of education customers.

Over the last three years or so the Gaia 3D Team ( have been developing an affordable stereoscopic 3D projection system together with a bank of curriculum focused learning resources. Using a 3D-ready projector, 3D glasses and the Viewer software, virtual 3D objects can be projected and manipulated with an impressive sense of proximity in the foreground and depth in the background. Using the viewer software, the presenter (teacher or learner) can rotate or slide an object and zoom in/out. Extra controls (setup by the developers for each object) provide further functionality such as show/hide labels, make areas transparent, animate, assemble etc.

In the software version to be released in the next few months, users will be able to customise objects for their own use by editing the labels and information panels, adding PowerPoint Files and web links and embedding external videos and images into the object's control panel. Assets can also be added to the content library directly from sites such as Google Warehouse by downloading the Collada Zip format. DIY resources can also be incorporated from many 3D authoring packages by exporting as a .ive object.

The learning content also includes a number of 'immersive 3D environments' where the user can explore an area and gather information about that time and place (eg World War 1 Trenches, London Plague, ancient Rome, Giza etc).

The team are constantly creating more objects and environments and developing the pedagogic content by working closely with teachers around the UK. Existing objects are also being improved as teachers see further opportunities from having used the resources in class.

At present, the resources are focused on the secondary school curriculum but as more FE colleges take up licences and work with the development team a wider range of curriculum topics will be available. The Gaia team are also working on new functionality and interactivity options so what you can do with the content will also develop with time.

Personal experience shows that short bursts of 3D presentation integrated with classroom activity provides the most effective mix of engagement and further study. My college has opted to trial a PC classroom based system that doesn't have the full wow factor of a large screen viewing room but does have easy transition from presentation to study I guess the ideal would be to have a room large enough to have a viewing area at one end and a set of PCs at the other - I can dream!).

Case Studies & a White Paper can be seen at

The Gaia system is based on the 'active shutter' approach where left and right images are flashed on screen at 120Hz and the glasses have lenses that are alternately clear then black at the same flicker rate and are synchronised to the projected image. The brain is then fooled into seeing a solid object that protrudes out of or sinks in to the screen. It is only the PC connected to the projector, usually the staff machine, that needs a Gaia 3D licence. Student machines use similar software with the same functionality but the object is not seen stereoscopically (ie it is in 2D).

You can download a viewer and sample content from

There are many factors to consider when making judgements about whether this is the 'next big thing' in teaching and learning. Many staff who have seen demonstrations and played with the software are highly impressed by the experience and see great potential. The whole notion of '3D Learning' could make teachers re-evaluate their materials and methods, always a good thing, and could lead to new approaches.

It is possible that 3D might become the 'stereoscopic elephant in the room' but it is the development of resources, teaching experiences and learner feedback that will ultimately decide.

I'm sure there will be many more posts on this topic in the months to come - stay tuned.

 However, I'm flickering off now because TGIF.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Find it, make it, use it, share it

Find it, make it, use it, share it: learning in digital Wales - A report from the Digital Classroom Teaching Task and Finish Group.

The Welsh Assembly Minister for Education and Skills, Leighton Andrews, commissioned a review of digital classroom teaching in September 2011. A 'Digital Classroom Teaching Task and Finish' group was set up consisting of two Primary and one secondary school head teacher, an ILT Manager from an FE college, six members of community and commercial organisations and two LEA advisers.

The group consulted widely from November 2011 until February 2012 to answer the question posed by the minister;

‘Which digital classroom delivery aspects should be adopted to transform learning and teaching for those aged 3-19'?

In particular, the group was asked to consider:
  • how high-quality, accessible digital classroom content could be developed;
  • how National Grid for Learning (NGfL) Cymru was used, and whether there was a more effective way to deliver its aims;
  • whether and how a cloud-based content delivery system (e.g. the 'iTunes University' model); would work alongside a virtual learning environment (VLE) for Wales; 
  • how high-quality English and Welsh language content could be generated;
  • how to develop Welsh intellectual property which can be used to deliver digital teaching content;
  • and how teachers might get the digital teaching skills to use ICT to transform schools.

The group published their report in March 2012 ( and video case studies were commissioned by the group (

The report's vision is encapsulated by John Putt, the Headteacher of Holywell High School;

"Learning throughout the world is standing at a very interesting crossroads and this is in the main to do with the ubiquity of access to information anywhere in the globe. The information accessible to educators and learners is vast and the potential to collaborate, co-construct and learn with others has never been so great. As a nation Wales must harness this vast open learning potential and put in place some of the necessary principles, frameworks and processes to tap into this in order to ensure a place at the ‘top’ table of learning futures but more importantly to equip its educators and young people for the exciting and creative challenges that lie ahead. In such a world learning will be more dynamic and we need to switch our learners and ourselves on to this by understanding that the ability to learn and use new skills and technologies in a collaborative way will be key to the future."

The group feel that a National Body in Wales, the name 'Hwb' has been suggested, is needed to oversee the transformation process with a team of local officers working with regional collaborative networks of school based e-Coordinators and FE college ILT Managers supporting the work of classroom teachers. A National digital repository will be created containing resources created or commissioned by the Welsh Government and its agencies, trusted sources and resources created by teachers and learners themselves. The resources and the networks of people will be accessed through a 'Hwb Portal', envisioned as a 'dynamic dashboard customised to the learner'.

Recommendations are made covering 'Supporting Teachers', 'Sharing skills and resources', 'A national Digital collection', 'External conditions for success' and 'Hwb'.

The headline recommendations are:
  1. Establish a powerful organisation (working title ‘Hwb’) to manage, oversee and develop these recommendations. Its remit will be to lead, promote and support the use of digital resources and technologies by learners and teachers, and create and develop a national digital collection for learning and teaching in English and Welsh.
  2. Establish a group, including representations from existing practitioners, as well as other bodies both public and private, to govern the implementation of these recommendations.
  3. Ensure that a substantial difference is made to educators’ digital competencies and skills, and how they apply them to learning and teaching, by prioritising training and sharing good practice.
  4. A national digital collection should be created by acquiring English- and Welsh-language resources through commissioning, purchasing, obtaining licenses, and also through actively encouraging contributions from learners and teachers.
  5. Give all users their own individual logon ID, potentially for a lifetime of learning. This will take them into their personalised user experience and will be accessed from anywhere.
  6. Ensure that learners and teachers have the freedom to access rich learning and teaching resources from anywhere, at any time and from any device.
  7. Manage intellectual property rights in learning and teaching resources to ensure maximum access by learners and teachers and create income from external licensing.
  8. Commission new resources in English and Welsh and procure national licences for existing materials and tools, to ensure economies of scale when building the national digital collection.
  9. Use existing tried and tested web-based products and services to disseminate existing and new content.
  10. Ensure that a culture of digital citizenship is encouraged and developed by learners and teachers. In addition to key digital skills, this will help learners develop the competencies and values to use digital technologies responsibly, ethically and safely, with an understanding of the security and legal issues surrounding the ‘digital space’.

My Initial Response
The report is well written with a very clear presentation of the vision, the resulting key ideas and the reasoning involved. I like the notion of the Hwb and agree with most of what is said. The report forms
an excellent summary of the main issues talked about for many years by the Learning Technology community.

A major reservation however is the balance between ‘teacher education/training’ and ‘Content collection’. My feeling is that the patchy uptake and use of digital materials and methods is not due to the lack of resources but due more to the lack of teacher skills and positive attitudes. The greater emphasis for me should be on teachers not resources.

I understand that the report has to be visionary/aspirational but there are many statements that are rather simplistic and some acknowledgement of the reality of teacher behaviour, conflicting classroom and
institutional imperatives, funding and scheduling would have helped to alert a ‘lay reader’ of the enormity of the component tasks. There is a clear feel that the group has obvious practical experience but in the absence of some level of realism, the report might as well have started ‘Dear Santa’ (or at least ‘pay for it’ added to the title).

For instance on p4, many in the Learning Technology world would agree wholeheartedly with:

“the belief that teachers and learners now live in a world where communication and knowledge are routinely digital, ubiquitous and highly interactive, and that the processes of learning and teaching can, and must, take advantage of what digital technologies offer.”

I’m sure a sizable proportion of classroom teachers would have reservations about this, especially when thinking of Monday morning, Lesson 1.

When talking about supporting teachers on p9 one recommendation is to:

“Define a set of standard digital competencies needed by teachers ...”

JISC have spent millions of pounds over many years investigating such competency frameworks with little consensus (likewise the X4L projects that focused on learning object, digital repositories and resource metadata come to mind when reading p20-22).

One could argue that I’m picking on specific details here but the devil IS in the detail.

The biggest detail of course is funding. The DCELLS eLearning strategy document from 2003/4 showed what happens to vision when funding is not addressed. I would love somebody to say that adequate funding has been earmarked over the next 5 years to make these recommendations a reality. Somehow I doubt that anybody, not even the Minister, would be able to make that promise.

One ray of hope however surrounds the ‘dashboard’. This is a great idea and probably the best place to start the transformation. The description sounds like a customised Netvibes for Welsh Education
( Some of the aggregator, communication and self management functionality will be quick and relatively cheap to setup which will allow the more enthusiastic teachers and learners to form
pioneer communities and networks to begin sharing opinions, resources, tools and methods. If WAG were to fund a Hwb team that could deliver phase 1 of the dashboard across Wales in a timely manner, the rest of
the reports visionary recommendations might then look more realistic and achievable.

Time will tell if a sustainable funding 'map' is created but for now - TGIF.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Stickies on your PC

A couple of weeks ago I posted StickPin Boards that looked at web based sticky notes. I said then I would mention software for the PC in a later post so here we go ....

Created by Tom Revell (latest version 7.1c 2012), I used this Freeware package (PayPal donations welcome) at work a year or so back and very useful it was too. Double click the system tray icon, add a new sticky note and right click for the settings.

The main menu allows you to manage:
  • the stickies database
  • individual and group contacts
  • a wide range of software options
  • backup
  • other useful functions

I liked the software and used it a lot previously but now I prefer to use web based applications for portability. Here are a few other packages that may be of interest (for one reason or another):
Looking very similar, the choice is mostly down to personal preference.
This site provides a download facility and an online manual for the main functions.
Available for a variety of windows platforms:
  • Windows 7
  • Windows Vista
  • Windows Server 2008 & R2
  • Windows XP
  • Windows 2000
  • Windows Server 2003
  • Windows 8 (Desktop)
  • Windows 95/98/ME
  • Windows NT 4.0 SP6
HOWEVER, Windows 7 has its own Sticky Notes software built in.
The development of this software stopped in 2005 although the downloads are still available. The functionality is familiar:
  • dragable and resizeable notes anywhere on the desktop
  • notes are autosizing as text is entered
  • custom font, background colour, text colour and border colour for each note
  • single or repeated alarms for each note with visual and audio alarm signal
  • hide notes until manually activated or until a specified date/time
  • minimize notes to the first line of text and restore the note size to fit the whole text
  • open URLs, e-mail adresses and file shortcuts in notes with the associated program
  • get an overview of all current notes in the note list
  • search for notes containing a specified text
  • user defined system-wide hotkeys for important functions
  • send notes to other computers in a local network
  • user interface can be translated into any language
It is the last point here that perhaps is most useful - there are 46 language packs available!

Until next week

Friday, 13 April 2012

The Friday 13 Feature - Unlucky #1

Seen as unlucky by many people (surely they can't all be wrong?), The Friday Feature celebrates superstition and classic examples of happenings that most would describe as unlucky.

You cannot get more 'unlucky' than becoming extinct!
Today we celebrate the Dodo - gone but definitely not forgotten.

First recorded by explorers in the late 1500's the last Dodo died, and a species became extinct, in 1681.

The Dodo (originally Didus ineptus) was unfortunate to have evolved as a result of geographic isolation and to have died out by direct and indirect human interference.

However, the phrase 'Dead as a Dodo' ensures it's life and fate will live on.

Also, the nice people at Dodo Towers also ensure that the Dodo will not be forgotten.
See for a tour of the towers.

You might even want to have you very own personal or academic Dodo Diary (perfect for doodlers)


P.S. Many years ago I formed the Dodo Diners Club for friends who were Biology Teachers in London. Twelve of us met for dinner on Friday 13th with a 13th place set for our 'absent guest'.
Rather fittingly, the Club met only once!

Take care out there ....

Friday, 6 April 2012

Digital Easter Eggs

This Good Friday Friday Feature covers some of the treasures hidden within digital applications, an Easter Egg Hunt of the digital kind.

Some software, web and games developers leave hidden messages or extra features in the programs they work on that can only be accessed by those who know the unusual program commands or keyboard combinations that reveal the secrets left behind. These suprises are known as 'Easter Eggs' probably because of the tradition in many countries of hiding eggs so people have to hunt for the goodies at Easter.

These Easter eggs aren't meant to be found easily. Originally, most companies would remove Easter eggs if they were found while the product was being tested. Thankfully, not all were found and some companies now encourage developers to build in features that can be found by accident or by word of mouth. Click the right spot, edit the right file, or type in the secret sequence and, presto, you'll find anything from a list of the names of the programmers who created the product to a full-blown, multimedia tribute to the developers or sometimes even a game you can play.

See this article ( for further details.

Easter eggs in the 1997 version of Microsoft Office include a hidden flight simulator in Microsoft Excel and a pinball game in Microsoft Word. Here are some more examples....

From your main Facebook account page, click on the small, downward-pointing arrow on the blue bar on the top of the window. A small menu should pop up. From there, click "Account Settings" and then the "Language" tab at the very bottom. Scroll down and select English (Upside down) or, my personal favourite, English (Pirate). Save the new setting to see what happens to your pages :-)

A little audio treat (check your speakers are working) for users of the US site.
Go to the US Yahoo homepage ( and click on the Logo's exclamation mark!
I would like to know the story behind that!

In Febuary 2002, the owner of Amazon setup a hidden page.
Go to and look at the bottom of the 'Shop by Department' and click on the 'Full Store Directory' link. Scroll down to the very bottom of the page and in the centre of the white space at the bottom of the screen is a hidden link (Use your mouse cursor to locate and then click on the link).

Google Search
The fun loving developers at Google have created all sorts of hidden treasures. Some of them work best in Firefox or Chrome and rely on you using the "I'm Feeling Lucky" search. In the old style Google, there was a button below the search box but in Google Instant, start typing the search phrase and then hover over the suggested searches that appear - a link to "I'm Feeling Lucky" appears to the right of the suggestion.

In the Google Search examples below, the IFL means you need to use the "I'm Feeling Lucky" link as described above for the best effects. Enjoy ....
  • Into the search box, type 'do a barrel roll' without the quote marks (this also works by typing 'z or r')
    An homage to Star Fox 64, a 1997 cult Nintendo game.
  • In December, type 'let it snow' for a seasonal experience.
  • Into the search box, type 'askew' without the quote marks.
    Computers can be so literal!
  • IFL - Type 'Google Grav' and then hover over the suggested search 'Google Gravity' and click on "I'm Feeling Lucky".
    NB: Use the browser back icon to go back to the time before gravity had its effect.
  • IFL - Type 'find Chuck Norris' for some live saving advice.
  • IFL - Type 'Mentalplex' for the most advanced way to search the web.
  • IFL - Type 'pacman'.
    The Google Doodle really does work.
I hope you enjoyed these Digital Easter Eggs and if you want more here's a couple of links to explore:

 I love digital eggs but I think I love chocolate ones more.
Off now to hunt for my choccie eggs, yum yum.


Friday, 30 March 2012

StickPin Boards

A couple of weeks ago I was asked if there was a more 'fun' way for student groups to post digital messages for each other (something to do with pledging activity for ESDGC week towards the end of April). This would act as an alternative to a Moodle Forum (nothing wrong with Moodle Forums IMHO).

After a look around, the leading contender and some alternatives on the theme are previewed below.

Wallwisher (
From the sticky board websites I've seen, this is by far the easiest to use. The functionality is limited of course but sometimes this isn't a bad thing - perfect for the novice / poorly engaged user.

Creating a wall involves choosing an Image, Title, Background, some Permissions, a Background and the ending of the wall Web Address (eg Note that the username is not included in the web address, handy for public use. You can then add and move digital sticky notes to a board and set permissions for private or public viewing or posting. If you allow anyone to post, you can choose to moderate all posts before they appear in public.

Wallwisher - demo play area
Sticky notes can contain 160 characters of text, a web link, an image or video. The wall has an RSS feed and web code to embed the wall into another web page. If you setup an account you can create and manage multiple walls. You can however play with a demo or build a wall without needing to login. I suspect you will create an account anyway because this solution is easy to use, enagaging and has a variety of uses even if you use other forms of group communication.

Lino (
Although second on my list for the ESDGC task in April, this StickPin Board wins hands down for the range of functionality it provides. This is a serious solution for those who need to keep on top of their sticky note addiction and lead a useful and productive life.

Lino - demo play area
The demonstration leads you through the main functions of the stickies, the board (canvas) and the two floating menus. Because of the range of functionality, Lino does need a bit more attention and playing with before getting to grips with everything. There are a number ot of mouse-over icons and menus that eluded me to begin with but mostly things are quite intuitive and easy to use. Some of the main functions include:
  • Easy to Post, Move Peel-off
  • Customise note settings
  • Rotate to a rakish angle
  • Set due dates
  • Receive email reminders
  • Layout pictures
  • Share with groups
  • Attach files
  • iPhone or iPad enabled
If you create an account, you get a 'Main' and a 'Someday' canvas setup automatically but you can create more boards with their own web address (eg You can also create Groups of people and assign them to a board - ideal for project or deadline management. The only down side is the advertising that appears on your board (I have to say very discrete advertising however).

I think this solution is well worth a test run to see what it can do for you and your groups!

Just to round things off, a couple of other web sites and PC based software on the same theme....

Share Square (
Described as a visual collaboration tool which allows users to organize and share information.
The site is in private beta at the moment and I've signed up for an invitation.

I mention this site becaus there is a free account for all email users (staff and students of the Delft University of Technology I assume - my Dutch is a little rusty). A great idea for engaging your learners.

Pinterest (
Pinterest is an online pinboard site where users can create theme based image collections of things they like or find interesting. Easy to use, a Pin It button lets you grab pictures of your favorite things as you browse the Web.

The site creator thinks that "a favorite book, toy, or recipe can reveal a common link between two people. With millions of new pins added every week, Pinterest is connecting people all over the world based on shared tastes and interests".

The result is a series of digital 'mood boards' used by interior designers and the advertising industry.
You can also add short comments and others can 'like', 're-pin' etc - a cross between Twitter and Flicker eg.

This US site was the fastest growing social networking site in 2011 with a the majority of users being female, more male-oriented pinboard sites have been created (eg and

There are some concerns in the US about how the site makes it easy to contravene copyright law by posting images without the approval of the image owner (see:

NB: The concept of 'Fair use' doesn't apply in the UK....

Great if you like that sort of social type thing.
I'm not sure my name of 'TwitPic' will catch on with users however :-)

I'm afraid I've run out of time this week so the PC based 'stickies' software will have to wait until next week - my apologies if that is what you have continued reading this far for - until next week then (it actually turned out to be 2 weeks) - (oh the suspense of it all) ....