Category Archives: Imported

{Year 3} [Seminar] Monday 22 Oktober (notice)

On Monday 22 October at 0900 I will deliver my seminar,

The Very Image of A Book*a computational approach to the class novel.”

I regret that I cannot provide a specific summary of my presentation at this time, but I do hope that it will prove a worthwhile stimulus for debate and discussion (time permitting).

Those who wish to participate in short practical activities will require the use of a basic mobile phone or other BYOD-type appliance and a Google account. For those who do not use Google or Gmail (I Salute You) – or do not wish to use their personal accounts – several temporary Google logins will be provided.

Interested parties, peripheral lurkers, and fellow travellers are welcome to attend and participate.

{Year 2} [Session End] Surviving Fronter; and Harris Burdick: The Trail Ends Here (reflection)

This penultimate post about my Fronter project is a continuation of my progress report on Fronter, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, and pupil feedback. I hope to revisit this discussion after the next part of my placement.

Here, I will discuss iterative development of my VLE room based on reflective thoughts about the school and the pupils; peer feedback and formative feedback from our tutor.


Containers Are Go

The first thing I did based on Helen’s feedback was to remove any containers and modules that had no existing purpose and make sure that every container in the welcome area led somewhere. My original idea of have a couple of mysterious blank modules (Another Mystery… but not yet) as a way of inviting pupils to create new modules themselves (a podcast was one possibility that the group was excited about) is something I might return to when I go back to the school next term.


Emergent Learning Forums

I created a new module called Pixels Talk, which is an open forum for the pupils to discuss all things related and unrelated to the project. Helen had noticed that one of the pupils had asked another about how to import images (emergent learning?), and this type of exchange would be more noticeable to other pupils in a forum designed for open communication unrelated to a particular learning outcome. So I did that.


The Disappearance of Google

I also created a new module called The Disappearance, again based on Helen’s advice to add some extra challenge for gifted and talented pupils as an extension activity. I have attempted to integrate Google Maps into Fronter without much success so I have temporarily inserted an image as a stimulus to enable my pupils and I to leave Fronter (yes, we’re leaving!) and explore Google Maps as a resource to support my visual literacy lesson.


Feedback Automation and Functionality

Going back to my original series of lessons in the VLE, I was very happy with the results I achieved in such a short time with the pupils; all credit is due to them, not to me or my room design. I think the fact that the Mysteries of Harris Burdick is such an excellent children’s book may also have something to with it. I did spend time on the forums giving each child personalised feedback; I enjoyed this very much and the processes epitomised everything I love about teaching. I considered developing automated feedback processes as a way of improving efficiency. One option was to include one or more tests with closed answers that could be marked by Fronter, but I decided against tests simply because of the aesthetic of tests in Fronter.

If you have used tests in your room you will know that the visual feedback you get when you submit your test is very poor indeed. I have completed some tests in rooms created by colleagues and I was disappointed by the way my results were reported back to me. There is no dynamic feedback; answers appear in a bizarre shade of green that you have to squint at to perceive…  — no thanks.

I have found a way of slightly automating feedback though. I can cut and pate standard responses, but I’m not sure my pupils would like that very much! If there was some secret process in Fronter to make feedback and testing more enjoyable, then I’m sorry to say I missed it.


Smart Device Access to Fronter

This raises a question about Fronter’s ability (or lack thereof) to alert the teacher of pupil activity and for pupils to receive immediate updates from the teacher, say, to and from a remote device such as a phone or tablet dashboard. This type of functionality is now becoming the norm, rather than the exceptional bonus. It is something that must be improved by Fronter and Pearson if they expect Fronter to survive.


From Textese to English

The way the children used SMS language and then shifted to standard English for shared writing (while keeping smileys) shows that they were experiencing the tension between their creative impulse (composition) and self-imposed discipline (transcription). I had mentioned this during the lesson. Telling pupils that textese and chatspeak is not appropriate does work if they want to write. But they have to want to write.


It’s All About The Book

Informal learning was assured by the fact that each pupil had their own copy of the book to take home, and the forums were always available for them to enter their responses and homework. Sometimes the forums were buzzing – and that was gratifying to see. But the key artefact in the learning process was the book, not Fronter. Fronter’s role was to support the learning and enhance digital literacy, but the touchstone was the book itself. In that respect, both the book and Fronter did their jobs, but the book went beyond the call of duty. It seems to me that the process of blended learning through VLE and supporting children’s book worked well. One result that I was very happy about is this amazing piece of work, which I feel deserves to be mentioned in support of the blended approach:



Pupils used the brainstorm forum to brainstorm vocabulary they thought went well with the book. But Fronter does not handle the mapping of ideas very well. The idea is surrounded by frames, commands and pictograms. The ideas get lost in Fronter's poor visualisation. I will try to use another mapping tool next term.



Fronter: The Final Analysis

Clicking the back button on Fronter is a little like playing a slot machine. With this essential dilemma in place, using Fronter becomes an exercise in continuous incertitude.

Initially, we see the basic benefits of Fronter:

  • It works very well as a portfolio of evidence for the trainee teacher and school
  • It offers a basically good communication matrix in the form of multiple forum styles
  • Good reporting helps monitor pupil activity and engagement
  • By offering a basic suite of services, it keeps teaching and learning focused and centralised, closed off from much of the weird nonsense on the internet
  • Fronter introduces children to the rigour of a good corporate knowledge management system and in doing so, prepares good little knowledge workers of the future (this may not necessarily be a benefit if you agree with in Ken Robinson about changing paradigms)
  • Fronter works well as a repository of pupil knowledge (knowledge management), but not as a tool for knowledge transfer (learning management)


When we attempt to reconstruct the functionalities we expect from Web 2.0, we run into problems:

  • No batch processing of setups and replications
  • Switching between edit and view is time-consuming and irritating
  • Containers can have a background colour, but no background image
  • You can't see what you're doing… Where's the save button?

  • Inability to move containers to other pages (unless they are archived) in the way Ajax will allow. I found myself trying to drag the container around the desktop or at least right click the container to bring up a menu which might suggest options like archive, move or what have you
  • When using forums, only really workable and graphically sane format is the conversation – the others don’t make sense to me
  • The ‘Fronter metaphors’, that Fronter is a ‘digital school building’ with ‘rooms’ as classrooms is a poorly executed, because the entrance hall does not feel like an entrance hall. It look and feels like a typical ‘Sharepoint’ type user environment. And the room is a box that says ‘Room’ on it. Am I missing something?
  • You could contribute to a forum or someone could respond to one of your forum posts; and it would be days before you notice because Fronter does not offer a basic functionality of most forums the RSS or email alert
  • Fronter does not offer semantic recognition of text, so the tests are purely arithmetic
  • The fact that such a common test an arithmetic test cannot even be created with a methodical layout. The type of multiple choice layout for the questions, answers and results is firstly non-mathematical, and secondly so poorly laid out as to be almost invisible for a child with limited eyesight or poor spatial perception. One might argue that algorithmic or vertical layouts could be created by the teacher,  but isn’t one the supposed qualities of Fronter that it takes way the drudgery and tedium of test-setting? Not only test tedious but they are unattractive. There is no discernable benefit other that the MIS advantage but I would rather enter my own results into spreadsheet than keep using Fronter for arithmetic tests.
  • You cannot expect to teach pupils to a high standard of visual and digital literacy when the very tool that is prescribed for use across the school system is of a poor standard from a visual (aesthetic) and digital (functional) perspective.
  • There are no design template built it, you have to do things over and over again. Why is not possible to copy containers? Fronter is neither powerful enough for experts, nor simple enough for amateurs; it straddles some bizarre netherworld of frustration and obviousness.


Some things I have learnt while doing this

Many of the Web 2.0 tools we take for granted, such as wikis, blogs, microblogs and mobile apps have demonstrable benefits in the classroom. Fronter could include these tools as part of its toolset, but it does not do so in a persuasive or convincing way.

So the obvious response is to move away from Fronter and work with these tools outside the borders of the school VLE – but then we run into well-documented e-safety problems.

So we can stick with Fronter, and stay ‘safe’ (even though many of our activities will have led our pupils outside Fronter) or we can seriously discuss the need for a new a paradigm: the web itself is bigger and better than any VLE; we just have to be careful about which tool we employ for particular learning objectives. Fronter makes the choice very easy, but the process of excellence and creativity too difficult. I would rather choose a bit more difficultly at the initial choice-stage and have an easier time being creative with the tools that are out there.




Buckingham, D. (2007) Beyond technology: children's learning in the age of digital culture. Oxford: Wiley

Carr N. (2010) The shallows: what the internet is doing to our brains. New York, NY: W. W. Norton

Gillespie et al (2007) Learning and teaching with virtual learning environments. Exeter: Learning Matters

Richardson, W. (2009) Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin

Salmon, G. (2002) E-tivities. London: Kogan




{Year 2} [211 Session 3] Numpty Physics for the Generalist (argument)

Failure is good!

The key to success for an IT generalist who cannot immediately see the benefit of a game (Numpty Physics) is that she needs to experience the frustrations and failures of the in-game physics.

Once she has understood the pedagogic benefits of the problem solving scenarios — and how failure and frustration can be constructive incentives — then she will be hooked. And physics will seem more real.

Being "hooked" is not a negative state of mind. "Hooked" is what allows the gamer to continually reassess the problem (the game) until the problem is solved. Then the reward is the feedback, the next level, the increased difficulty and frustration (how can increased difficulty and frustration be rewarding?). And yet difficulty is what we crave in games, but not necessarily in the classroom.

Even the generalist, who does not have time for games, must acknowledge the the persistence and determination of the gamer as habits she will want to nurture in her pupils.

This is only the beginning of game-based learning. From Numpty Physics we can travel to any number of game universes which can catalyse classroom learning, whether for cross-curricular themes, groupwork, focused creativity, programming and other important "skills of the future".

Play, enjoy, learn, teach. That's the Tao of Gaming.

{Year 2} [Session 13] Granny Cloud, Interdependence, and Video Confidence (2004)

“Teachers need to be aware of potential resistance to video conferencing from pupils and have to be able to provide an environment and preparation that is encouraging and sensitive to this.”

Becta, 2004

This is always the issue. “Gaining stakeholder confidence and assuring buy-in” is what it was called in my project management days.

There are several ways in which video conferencing (VC) could be piloted in a cautious school, risk-free and with benefits that parents and other stakeholders can immediately appreciate.

This would depend on the school and require a certain amount of planning and preparation — for which teachers do not always have time.

Initially, we could rely on institutions like Janet to provide materials and tokens of trust. We could also send out examples of good practice in other countries.

Monika has raised some interesting ideas about pupil buy-in.

The key is to model a successful project like Sugata Mitra’s Granny Cloud. It is simple but smart. It makes the entire idea appealing and personal. This could then be adapted to the needs of our pupils, perhaps by working with schools in North America, where the time difference would allow parents to supervise an evening session in the assembly hall with the pilot class and, say, the Montreal class. Parents seeing the “magic” first-hand would be that much easier to convince of the merits of interschool VC learning.

Finally, the issue comes down to a question of control. A: how much control is actually constructive before the effects become destructive? What are the legalities of a school communicating extramurally with another institutions and individuals? Do the parents have a say or not? B: What is the ethos of the school and the teaching body? If it is not conducive to innovation, then it will not happen on the basis of a lone voice in the wildreness.

Conferencing is, by definition, a social construct and can only be promoted by the group. The final question is:

Are we “with it”?


“The new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village.”





{Year 2} [Session 13] The Blue Skype Thinking Conference (reflection)

Are you there, caller?

We have been able to imagine the video call since we became comfortable with the phone, which wasn’t actually that long ago. The history of video conferencing (VC) technology is a complex one and from what I understand a financially vested one. For this reason, the high definition, luxury telepresence systems are prohibitively priced, certainly from the edtech complex perspective. Did anyone see any at BETT?

And yet, basic lo-fi video calling is freely available through Skype, and the “conferencing” functionality is very cheap.

I have had no experience of VC in the classroom. It is not something which is easily proposed, not only due to technological barriers, but because there is an issue of child protection, safeguarding and privacy which makes the prospect rather risky unless it is a guaranteed win.

Infrustructure Enhancement

For this reason, solutions provided by VCFL, Janet, and Mina Patel seem like a good option for schools. The environment is safe, centralised and policy-approved. The methodology is geared toward schools and teachers who are curious but cautious. In this sense, Janet will cater to the needs of a general audience.

How can this benefit our classrooms?

The Skype's The Limit

I can imagine three ways in which VC could be useful and exciting in the classroom. This was reinforced to some extent by Mina’s presentation in this session.

1. Bring other worlds into the classroom

Even a basic VC tool such as Skype is the perfect way to make this happen. A geography lesson about Kenya can be enlivened if a comrade schoolteacher in Kenya is willing to go to the Maasai Mara and Skype-cast it to my classroom. And we could do the same for him or her.

We know that Skype is now available on most mobile phones and this will only increase as other tools such as Google Talk evolve into video chat and beyond. This will also reduce or dependence on expensive infrastructure-based VC systems.

2. Connect with experts

As Mina pointed out, we are only a phone call away from some very passionate people from the world of art, music, technology, sport. Video-based interviews, question and answer sessions and inspirational speaking would work well in the classroom.

3. Connect with other pupils in the global village

As pupils work with each other on homework, projects, and tasks in micro learning communities, they can also explore the macro community of the global classroom. The idea of scale applies to people as well as things. They could work in a different with different classrooms across the world. These skills are important and will continue to be so.

Toward an open and free platform?

To me, the VC language is weird. Why do we still call it video “conferencing”? A conference, to me, suggests busy people in suits in a large room, which means business deals and money. I feel that the grassroots technologies of Skype and and other VOIP startups will change the landscape radically. When I was living in Bangladesh a few years ago, Skype was banned and blocked for several months because the state-owned system, BTRC, couldn’t accept the idea of free international calls, never mind video calls.

Learning communities and Skype

Since Skype, again, is the language of the youngest learning generation of digital natives, it is logical to assume that the collective will assimilate Skype and authentic and genuine learning communities, like Sugata Mitra’s Granny Cloud, will grow around the available technology. I am trying to find a classroom in Bangladesh that has Skype capability for an eventual field practice experiment. I am hopeful that it will work because the technology is free and available. I will also contact Janet to ask about how I could do this. I will post more updates on this project next year.




{Year 2} [Session 12] There’s a Good App (Inventor) for that (2012)

Enhance 34 to 46

Depending on how accessible the particular app creator software is for the primary schoolchild, the Apps For Good project has enormous potential for transfer into the primary classroom. There is no reason why the audience should be restricted to secondary school and beyond.

Go right

The key is making apps that contribute to the social good. Any small child can socially construct the idea of a greater good, a public good and social justice. Indeed, small children may well have more utopian ideas than older children, informed by the general goodness of the books they read and the media they consume than older children (without wanting to generalise). So the idea of making apps for good stands for younger children. They also like apps and use them. Why not make them?

The idea of moving from using apps to creating them, taking on the role of the App Inventor in a design context and thinking through the entire process in the rational model is a valid and important process for primary school learners (and educators).

Wait a minute

Before we even consider the constructionist theory involved in actually making the app, we can enjoy the benefits of the enquiry (why do we need this app?), the procedure (how will we make this app?) and the result (here is our app – try it!).

Track 45 left

Children can become App Inventors as long as we have develop coding languages that suit the children. With the recent developments in Scratch and Kodu – and this is only scratching the surface (no pun intended) – the language is accessible and fun, and leads into the Papertian territory of acceptable falsity and the risk-free experimentation (psychosocial moratorium) of James Paul Gee.

Apps are not only a good idea for our classroom, they are essential. It doesn’t really matter if the children don’t succeed. There are many intrinsic benefits associated with mathematical thinking, logic, linguistics, and other conventional curriculum concerns. I love this idea. Everybody wins – and this is also a social good.

Now enhance 15 to 23

Of course, as my allegiance to Google grows ever more inexorably toward devotee status, I should point out some of the deeply subtle, intellectual and delightful Easter Eggs of the Google nomenclature.

We know that Google and MIT are involved in the App Inventor project. Miles Berry gave us the definitive demo of MIT/Google’s App Inventor and I cannot see why a young scientist would not get to grips with it. It isn’t that much more complicated than BYOB or StarLogo. The added benefit is the functionality of telecommunication commands (text, tweet) that children will intuitively understand – and as Berry’s Ball-bearing III demo showed, you can be hooked in less than ten minutes.

Nexus-1 Android Intelligence

But I digress. Google is inventing more than apps. It is inventing artificial intelligence. We cannot guarantee Nexus-6 replicants by 2019, but Google is already at Nexus 1 (Nexus One) of its Android portfolio.

It cannot be mere coincidence that the two key words in Google’s mobile intelligence lexicon, NEXUS and ANDROID, are direct connections to the genius of Philip K. Dick, who wrote Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which of course, gave us Blade Runner, the ultimate expression of the cyberpunk future. The Wall Street Journal was impressed enough to pick up the story: Nexus Name Irks Author's Estate, and it also blogged on the topic – both news items are worth reading.

Which of course, is another way of saying that science fiction is at the centre (the nexus, if you will) of the most important source of progress in educational technology: Google and MIT, which will one day be known as the Tyrell Corporation (allegedly, maybe).

Which makes me realise that we are all app inventors for good – a truth so awesome it needs its own soundtrack.






{Year 2} [Session 12] “A Thousand Dreams That Would Awake Me” (reflection)

Parallels between future (Web) and past (Art)

Regrettably, I could not attend this lecture due to my placement at the National Gallery, but I have watched the video (it would be nice to get the slideshow on Slideshare or something!) and found interesting parallels between Darren Savage’s renaissance philosophies of predicting future (where we are going) and exploring past (where we have come from). This made me realise that there were parallels (for me) between this lecture on the future of the Web for schoolchildren and my week exploring the history of art with schoolchildren at the National Gallery.

This parallel can be discussed in the Connectivist style: how the mind connects images and ideas (in the real world, and the digital world, to the internal mind world). The problem is that everyone’s mind is infinitely different and the way Connectivist theory explains neural connections is apt here, because modern man is retribalising and thinking more alike than ever before. I will not attempt to qualify this, but only say that that pupils are individuals with complex and unique thoughts.

Let me provide an example that makes a connection between this lecture and history. I liked Savage’s use of the Shiny, Shiny, Shiny, Boots of Leather commercial spot from 1993. I haven’t seen it for years (it was huge when it was originally broadcast) and I could not remember the product (which says a lot about advertising), But Venus in Furs by Velvet Underground has the image of a 60s artistic renaissance, not just hippie stuff, but genuine artistic history (connection: Andy Warhol); the film was directed by Tarsem Singh, who makes commercials and motion pictures in what can only be described as a “painterly” way (see The Fall, and Immortals, which connects to paintings, which connects to the National Gallery (and paintings of Venus, not in furs obviously, but still very sexy.) Postscript: I found out it was Tony Kaye, not Tarsem, that did the film, but he also did American History X, which is historical enough for me to justify the neural connection.

In Darren Savage’s idea of using context to provide a platform for enhanced learning, say, in which we “sell” our learning “brand” and offer a “vision” to our pupils, perhaps the history of art is a brand? This works because the children live in a world in which marketing and advertising form a huge part of their sensory input, and we can “capitalise” (to use an apt metaphor) on this by layering this Connectivist network with things we want our pupils to learn.

Making culture sexy for the people (future/past connect 1)

The idea of “liking” and “sharing” and “tweeting” or indeed “retweeting” has an analogy in the way private patrons would ask painters to refer to other works (mashup) to up the ante of the portrayal of the human body, to “compete” (as it were) and gamify paintings: two Florentine merchants may have competed to have the sexiest portrayals of their mistresses within the confines of acceptable taste. Failed paintings were often burnt and great cost and regret. Successful paintings were the talk (the tweet) of the town. This social context of gamification can be paralleled with the modern marketing techniques of placing attractive idea into the hands of patrons — in this world, millions of them – and see immediate benefits and analytic rewards. In the Quattrocento, it might have taken several months before the idea of Merchant A and Merchant B playing a social game around sexy paintings to become part of the cultural language (to “beat the drum”, McLuhan, 1962). In this world, it can take minutes or hours to create a meme such as Mr Splashy Pants (which I have not heard of) or a movement such as the Arab Spring.

With such speed and expediency available to us, Savage correctly points out that as teachers, we can use memetics to cause an idea to spark, the Gilly Salmon wants it to, but much faster and with more palpable results, sooner rather than later. Just as well, because most kids today don’t hang around for tangents.

Super-wide cultural convergence (future/past connect 2)

Everything is available to us right now, immediately. We don’t need to wait for anything anymore. Just looking at the extremely erudite and wide-ranging inputs from Mr Savage’s presentation, we can see just how much cognitive energy is available to modern audiences in less time than you need to digest it.

This super-wide convergence was not always as accessible as it is now (certainly not to the many illiterate and poor people of the time), but take for example, Holbein’s The Ambassadors. There is a wide range of influences, ideas, inputs and contexts in just one paints that measures 2m by 2m. In a sense, the painting is a super-connected artefact. It is cognitively huge. Symbolism and detail (which I do not have the time to go into here) have their own memetic qualities, going viral into the mind of the literary person of the time.

Chomsky on how it just happens by itself

"Most problems of teaching are not problems of growth but helping cultivate growth. As far as I know, and this is only from personal experience in teaching, I think about ninety percent of the problem in teaching, or maybe ninety-eight percent, is just to help the students get interested. Or what it usually amounts to is to not prevent them from being interested. Typically, they come in interested, and the process of education is a way of driving that defect out of their minds. But if children['s] [...] normal interest is maintained or even aroused, they can do all kinds of things in ways we don't understand"

(Chomsky, 1992)

It seems counterintuitive to reliquish control, but I think that we need to seriously consider this. There are many connections to be made: too many to simply “teach”. Mr Savage has shown us a comlex and mystifying future, one in which the pupil will change the rules. Maybe we should listen to Chomsky,  McLuhan and Savage, and let them get on with it, in their own way.




{Year 2} [Session 11] The Future of the Web 2.0 is Dead. Long Live The Web 3.0! (2010)

Are we “with it”? Marshall McLuhan Asked Us Once

It is seductive to agree that the “VLE is dead” (perhaps, in Fronter’s case, it is). The VLE however – and depending on your definition – is not necessarily dead; perhaps it is just sleeping. Even a lowly book is a VLE if you want it to be. And the ultimate VLEspace, the third web, is waiting in the wings. What is Web 3.0 and what does it have to do with games, learning and us? There are many conflicting definitions because like any embryonic idea, it doesn’t know what it is yet. Jane McGonigal might argue that 3.0 is a game: the gameful web, or the ludic web of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I like this idea because I love Jane McGonigal and enjoyed her book very much. Any argument which proposes gamification and video games as a way of saving the world gets +5,000 hope from me. In many ways, Jane McGonigal is perfect. Some experts may disagree with her and point to other definitions and concepts of Web 3.0 (see below).

Marshall McLuhan famously asked us in the early 60s if we were “with it”. Or were we still in the age of the book? Now we are still in the age of Web 2.0, but McLuhan understood, maybe in advance of many of today’s experts, that the web is just a construct of “tribes” (affinity groups or communities of practice) who are “with it” (networked) and “beat drums” (tweet). By claiming there was a difference between an adolescent and a teenager (in terms of media), he glinted and hinted at the idea of a digital native. McLuhan anticipated Web 1.0: maybe we could dedicate Web 0.0 to him. In fact Wired Magazine (in 1992), then a fledgling paper-based product, named Marshall McLuhan as its patron saint. Wired went on to become the go-to place for everything web.

Year Zero

This is the year that our beloved Secretary of State for education has called for the deletion of the curriculum for ICT (eduspeak for IT) and a wiki for a new curriculum. Perhaps this is a new phase of eduspeak; or perhaps it is a genuine change in the way we do things, and a possible way of teaching Web 3.0.

Either way, it is an exciting time to be training for schoolteaching. As we prepare to educate “retribalised” human beings, there may also be a shift back to the “literary man”, the human who sits alone with his own point of view. Jimmy Wales, as an objectivist and an individualist, is one of those people. I am excited about using the tools and tactics of Web 2.0 with the children who are about to create Web 3.0. We still do not know exactly what Web 3.0 is yet. An intelligent web? A semantic web? A new hard infrastructure? Tron, Minority Report and Psychohistory?

The calendar has been reconfigured and we are now entering a new age in education, computer-based learning and communications. Web 3.0 is just around the corner and the slate has been wiped clean for us to rewrite the web of learning as we see fit. This is amazingly powerful and exciting.

My feeling is that Web 3.0, as McGonigal so eloquently writes, is a game. I recently began reading Cory Doctorow’s novel about games, communities of practice, digital natives and the economics of the future. In Doctorow’s eyes, McGonigal’s ideas have developed into hard economic reality. Of the 20 largest global economies, 8 of them are games.

It’s only a matter of time before the children we are educating begin to apply for jobs in the future iterations of Warcraft, Second Life (Third Life?) or whatever 3.0 digital economy lies ahead.

It is strange to look back at Marshall McLuhan who was so clear in his ideas about what was in store for us. The spirit of the 60s lives on!



{Year 2} [Session 11] Web 2.0: A Place to Learn, Teach, Meet (reflection)

McLuhan: The Medium is the Message

One essential, basic (jargon-free) definition of Web 2.0 is one in which we talk about the web as a medium, a virtual place where we meet, talk, learn by both consuming and creating knowledge; not just as readers, but as writers (read-write web).

So we can read wikis and write them, watch YouTube videos and create our own, teach lessons and sign up for them.

Web 2.0 is an integral part of the new teaching community, the tribal community that is “with it”, as Marshall McLuhan posited.

I joined the Web 2.0 tribal, "with it" community of Teachmeet is a somewhat unplanned and haphazard way; but that can be a good thing. I saw the information in a blog; read it; thought, “Yeah, why not, I have some cognitive surplus to spare right now”; signed up for it on a PBwiki; got some feedback on Twitter; planned my ideas in a Notepad; created a presentation on Prezi; and met People in the Real World.

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Web 2.0 was not just the medium, it was, in some (McLuhan) way, the message too.

What is Web 2.0? And what does it mean for this community?

Teaching children about the web and information technology is actually about using and creating the web and information technology. They are all intertwined in what can only be described as an actual web.

This, I feel, sums up the message of this module: Web 2.0 is not only a resource, it is a responsibility. When you are supporting learning communities in the web, everything is interconnected, like a spider’s web: how to find things, use them, make them; how to talk to one another, establish policies of acceptable use, courtesies and politeness; how to be safe and responsible; how to learn, how to teach, how to learn by teaching (and vice-versa); how to choose between modes of safety and versatility, openness and privacy.

The Case for Choice

Which toolset would I choose for my classroom? I spend a lot of time thinking about this; it’s one of my pet-ruminations. I have had the benefit of using both modes of provision: the Web 2.0 model (which I will call Google) and the VLE-type model (which I will call Moodle). Google and Moodle are not specifically referenced. Google could just as easily be a non-Google array of web tools such as wikis, blogs, media-sharing sites and pupil-generated sites. Moodle could be Fronter or any prescribed infrastrucuture. It puts the case rather bluntly to throw Google and Moodle into the ring for a smackdown: each has its benefits and drawbacks, and comparing them is like comparing backgammon and chess.

Nevertheless, I have to choose between Google and Moodle. Which would I use for my classroom? Which of them provides the advantages I want for my pupils, and fewer frustrations and disadvantages?

Moodle is tailor-made for teaching and learning. It is safe, free, easy to use. It offer multiple learning tools. Google is perhaps not as safe. It is easy to use but large and complex. It is not designed for education (strictly speaking).

Considering the relative merits, and the risk of using either, I have to choose Google. Why choose Google over Moodle?

Google is what the children are using, They speak Google, in the McLuhan sense. They don’t, or don’t want to, speak Moodle, unless Moodle is all they have, in which case they quickly adopt the language; and then where do they go? Google is as future-proof as any product can be in the fast-moving world of the web. Google will only become safer and more customisable over time, allowing me to protect my pupils’ privacy and safety to my liking, while teaching them to personalise and customise their learning at their own pace. It is infinitely scalable, and allows my pupils to determine their own level of commitment. Nothing is forced on them. Google is synonymous with informal or stealth learning. BYOD is easier with Google than with Moodle.

Ultimately, I want freedom; for myself in how I implement the technology, and for my pupils in how they employ it. This is my model for the self sufficiency which will enable them to become the future citizens of a digital economy, not as consumers, but as creators. Only a worldwide landscape (Google), rather than a provincial landscape (Moodle) can teach them this. Lockdown may be safer, but it is not an education.

Freedom is my most important criterion; I acknowledge that many will disagree with this, and that's fine. Even within communities and tribes, McLuhan discusses the literary man in his own corner.




{Year 2} [Session 10] Byron: Safeguarding Catastrophises Risk (2011)

Professor Byron opens her keynote speech with the refreshingly marvellous admission that she may well feel uncomfortable with the word ‘safeguarding’: it catastrophises risk in a way which is unhelpful.

I feel that this echoes the feelings of the many technophiles and technocrats among the greater community of educators who are struggling to maintain some sanity in an increasingly (distastefully) fear-mongered vision of child safety in a world of ruthless Internet predators – media, which it should mentioned, capitalise on the very same web resources for their own market domination.

In the context of the web, safeguarding is fear-mongering. As Byron points out, it muddles the efforts to improve and enhance the learning experience of children in cyberspace. It is no coincidence that the Department of Education wants to completely reform computing and IT education. My inference, from current affairs and Byron’s closing speech, is that there is a disproportionate risk-aversion (fear) on the part of many teachers to truly engage with the web: this has resulted in strange Catch-22 quagmire of attitudes: The Khan Academy is heralded as a revolution on mathematics teaching but it is inaccessible in schools for the very reasons that children need the Khan Academy. Outmoded and archaic attitudes to e-safety can only be defeated by a new paradigm of Internet-inspired genius which is only available on the… (blocked) web.

As a respected clinician and academic with a solid background in Socratic analysis of the issues, professor Byron is well positioned to speak authoritatively on the subject, being only too aware of the actual risks and dangers from her own influential eponymous Byron Report (which is a keystone for the risk/reward debate) and the peripheral misconceptions perpetuated by the media (social networks are responsible for child suicide, etc.).

E-safety will always be a sensitive issue for parents, children and practitioners because there will be a wide spectrum of attitudes to e-safety from total lockdown to total freedom.

Byron calls to parents to exercise their judgement and customise their cyberspace in accordance with their values, their own particular and personal feelings about what is right for their children. For schools, the approach is not so easy. Too many expectations to manage, and an often naive and ill-informed attitude to perceived danger. We are still getting to grips with how children deal with the Internet. It may well prove to be a little too simplistic to classify parts of the web as 'safe' or 'dangerous' or 'there be dragons here'.