Last week I was involved in a MoLeNET ‘boot camp’. The premise was simple: we all get together and thrash out pedagogical issues which are to be included as part of a resource/activity creation tool, which is being developed on behalf of the MoLeNET community.

We spent two days sat around our laptops in a smallish room at the excellent Novotel in Leeds. Although this post isn’t about the food, it would be a crime to mention the hotel and not mention the food. As always the lunchtime buffet was a delight, with a huge variety of seafood, cold meats and salads to start with and the usual carvery type fayre for mains – but served up in an interesting way. The first day we also had bacon sandwiches (with croissant, ham, preserves and fruit), which was a delightful surprise. Thank you Novotel.

Anyway – they also brew a passable (not great, but passable) coffee. And there’s the rub: we were all free to get tea and coffee whenever we liked. Each morning we had a selection of biscuits to soak up the drink and on both afternoons we were presented with a selection of cakes and buns. So the tables in our small rooms gradually filled up with the usual long meeting detritus.

So let this story be a warning to everyone – cakes crumbs and coffee do not go well with laptops.

We’d almost finished our two-day meeting and I was returning from the bathroom to begin packing up, when a cup of coffee was accidently knocked over my (I still think of it as new) MacBook Pro. I think I went into an instant ‘oh it’s only a keyboard’ form of stasis. It had never seemed a big thing before, keyboards on college machines had always been the cheapest of the cheap and any lasting damage from spills could only be caused to the PC itself, often hidden right away under the desk or sat at the back of the desk – a fair way from potential damage. But the Mac (or any laptop) is much more vulnerable than that – potentially £1,200 of vulnerability.

Luckily, the MoLeNET Mentors are such a stellar team that they instantly sprang into action. Instructions were being shouted from all over the room: the main one being ‘remove the battery’. I’d already pulled the power cable and the machine was by now being held upside down so the ‘remove the battery’ instruction was probably a laptop saver, as I would not have thought to do that. Paper towels and serviettes were coming from all over the place as colleagues rushed to help and the mess was eventually cleaned up. Apart from one person’s ashen face, my otherworldly stasis and an upside down MacBook Pro with an overwhelming smell of coffee, things soon settled down to the normal goodbyes and see-you-laters.

I was advised not to use the machine again for a minimum of three days to let it dry out completely, before being allowed to cross the fingers of one hand whilst turning it on with the other. All the advice was coming from people I trust; long-term Mac users, so my stasis would continue into Sunday – only 48 hours, but my fingers WERE already very tightly crossed.

When I finally turned on the MacBook Pro, it worked. I opened as many windows as I thought fair and breathed a slow sigh of relief when nothing ‘blew’.

Then, later, I noticed that the keys were sticky. We’d wondered whether the coffee had had sugar in it, but not knowing whose it was made that impossible to know – I’d hoped not, as the sugar would have made it nigh on impossible to fix without some kind of surgery. But all of the keys eventually came unstuck and now, 24 hours later, they seem to be working fine.

I’d looked on the Internet for sticky keys advice and two helpful addresses were sent to me by Simon Finch on Twitter: and Apparently you can carefully lift off the keys (which I didn’t do) – James Clay suggested cleaning them with baby wipes; Mick Mullane said cotton buds and distilled water. In the end I loosened the sticky keys by tapping them and then blowing compressed air across the keypad. I’m sure that this practice is frowned upon as it may move debris into more corruptible areas of the machine – but it worked for me.

LATEST NEWS – somehow, the video-out slot has become faulty. I’m not sure yet whether the coffee is responsible but at the moment, the only way of connecting to an external source is to keep pushing the plug right in – sadly there’s no way of keeping pressure on.

So three things to say as I wrap up this post:

· There are many sites out there aimed at helping you in times of technological stress:

· Thank you to all those of you who volunteer to help people in need – Simon, James, Mick – thank you.


Don’t leave coffee (or tea, or biscuits, or food/drink of any kind – and while we’re on it – all pets, young especially – but older are not immune to walking all over the keyboard) anywhere near your laptop!


I can’t make my mind up whether or not to be irritated by all the ‘Top Ten’ lists I seeing bandied about inside my community of practice, or to just ignore them.

It seems that many of us in Education like to pontificate about what we see as the Top Ten best things since sliced bread, or the definitive list of requirements for one thing or another: but not all of the authors/bloggers take the trouble to add the one necessary justification – ‘in my opinion‘.Having said that, I think my real issue is with the way the lists are passed around Twitter and the like.

I see countless ‘Top Ten’ lists being tweeted and then RT’d (re-Tweetedlook out for that in the next edition of the Oxford English dictionary) but I wonder how many colleagues take the trouble to read the blogged lists before re-tweeting. Because some are absolute drivel.

Some authors follow their own strict advisory guidelines and use the term ‘I think/believe/consider’ – whatever: but others are just too definitive. It would be unfair to list the one that broke my camel’s back of silence today but it concerned ‘tips’ and ‘effective video’. Fair enough – it was a good post and it was re-Tweeted a lot of times, many people re-Tweeting already re-Tweeted posts.

My worry started when I wondered how many re-Tweeters had actually read the article. I did, and I enjoyed reading it but if I’d been the first person to pick it up and re-Tweet the address, I would have wanted to add my comment, which would have been (given the 140 character limitation) “enjoyed this but only concerns ‘push’ teaching“. I might then have posted a comment on the blog (at the time of writing this no one has commented on the post itself – but I have done so now) and hoped that the ‘science’ of effective video could take a step forward.

So – please enough with the lists now AND if you’re going to re-Tweet something like a blog post, please try to expand the discussion by commenting on the RT or on the blog itself. Otherwise we simply end up with a list of lists that mean nothing.

True Grit

Well, the snow finally looks like it might be leaving us. Maybe only for a while, but it will be nice to see what’s underneath again.

I’m not sure exactly when it started to snow, but I had to postpone my visit to Sheffield on 18th December because the slight snow fall had turned to ice and I couldn’t get out of the village. I could, just, but it took and age and the journey wasn’t worth the risk.

The snow was deep and crisp and even throughout Christmas and then it came again. We had about nine inches each time (not exaggerated – I measured it with my trusty – now rusty – blue metal ruler) and then this week we had a final daylong fall of very fine stuff that caused the most problems. Our road by this time was not gritted. This caused me to postpone this week’s trip to Newcastle, partly because the trains to that city were intermittent at best – cancelled at worst.

However, this isn’t a whinging note: I think that Kirklees Council have done a sterling job with the gritting – given that we’ve had a month of what appears to have been the worst winter snow in thirty years. I heard somewhere (maybe I read it) that Kirklees had bought in extra stocks of salt/grit this year and it showed, as the roads were kept pretty clear for the best part of this extended period of bad weather. Of course the side roads were not kept too clear – but then they never were!

Thirty years ago I lived in Golcar, just across the valley from where I live now and for two years running we had to dig ourselves out of the estate. Great fun it was as well; two or three hours digging to make sure we could get out the following day and then off we all went to the pub. None of us seemed to consider NOT going to work during that period. And my own children had a great time playing in the snow with their mates too (so did I).

I have two distinct memories of snow when from I was (much) younger. As a child in the fifties (time passes so slowly when you are very young), the snow seemed interminable, very deep and so much fun. I vaguely remember the milkman’s float having chains on the wheels and those neighbours lucky enough to have cars, changing their types in winter to ones that gripped – these might have been chains too, I can’t recall, but people certainly seemed to get about. Then in the sixties, as a young teenager, it became even more fun with sledging and snowballing and making huge snowmen. We used to make super glass-like icy slides down the footpaths too – brilliant but very deadly. The householders used to throw ash from their coal fires over these to prevent anyone from killing themselves (we hated them for that).

Ash was the grit of the day then: a virtuous circle of fire >> warmth >> useful waste. No big holes in Cheshire.

Well done so far Kirklees Highways Dept. Not so well done Kirklees schools – you have VLEs!

And not so well done Kirklees whatever the bin-men department is called. December 9th was my last gray bin collection. Tut tut.

Mobile WP test

Coffe and cakeHaving had my problems with WordPress this last week or so, I’m surprised that I feel impelled to try out the WordPress App on my iPhone. But here I am tapping away (portrait) on the screen.

As readers of my earlier posts will know, I’m quite a fan of the iPhone’s onscreen keyboard so this isn’t much of a challenge – especially in landscape, which is what I’m on now.

WordPress seemed to return to normal last night and I was able to delete the errant code that was showing on my ‘Back to work’ post, which I think was well received.

Well – that ‘sort of’ worked.  I’ll have to try harder – Iost some of the post somehow. This is written online.

I’ll get it right one day.


This is just a test

For some reason, I write on the html page and have no code! Then I click on ‘Visual’ and the code appear (on both html AND Visual)

I’ll just try a picture too:

Nup – that doesn’t work.

Maybe I’ll have to try another blog tool because this is now unreliable

Back to work

(I’m posting this via Posterous because WordPress is playing up today. I’ll re-arrange the pictures when I can)

Returning to work this week has not quite gone as planned. The snow that came just before Christmas didn’t really go and then at the beginning of this week it returned with a vengeance.

This time however, it came in waves and eventually covered the whole country.

Sitting behind my desk and watching Twitter reports come in from all over has been an interesting experience. Some local councils have taken to announcing school closures on Twitter which for many has been a real boon. Some still use phone/text ‘trees’ to inform staff and students of closure and others the local radio. The more enlightened use all methods.

There has been some debate about how soon schools (etc) closed “too soon” say some, “not early enough” say others – so what is the right answer?

Well, I wonder if there isn’t just the one answer but certainly, just because the school closes – learning doesn’t need to stop. How many institutions are set up and prepared for closures like this? Not as many as there should be, I’ll bet. Last year, when snow brought the country to a stop (albeit not for so long as this year) we discussed the possibilities on James Clay’s e-Learning Stuff podcast [Linkfull URL at bottom of page] and noted that there are many options open to teachers and learners alike. Ideally, the institution would have prepared contingency measures for staff and learners (with the collaboration of staff and learners) to follow. This issue was also raised by Col Hawksworth this week on his MindMug blog.

But how many institutions actually have the foresight to prepare in this way?

With no contingency in place, my wife sent texts to her learners and told them that ideas for work would be posted on the Moodle and that she would be there – on chat – during the class time. But no one came. There is no culture amongst the learners (in Sharon’s case full time nursery workers/managers who were probably too busy with extra children anyway) to visit online learning activities at times like these.

So, how do we change that culture? How do we prepare our colleagues AND our learners for ‘snow time’?

I believe that we have to get them all thinking about the use of audio and video for instruction and assessment as a matter of course and to use online collaboration tools as part of their day-to-day college, school (whatever) life. We need to wear the technologies and associated techniques like comfortable coats!

There are plenty of choices out there – either paid for or free, and it only takes a little imagination to use them.

[the list is taken and adapted from Jame’s podcast notes – with thanks]

· which can be used to send the same message to various micro-blogging and picture services.

· Spinvox a service which converts audio into text. Allows you to phone into your blog, convert voicemail to SMS, and much more.

· Audioboo and iPadio are both simple tools to make podcasts, by just using a telephone.

· Dim Dim is a free to use online conference and presentation tool.

· Elluminate another online presentation tool

· Instant Presenter as used for the MoLeNET and NIACE online conferences and activities.

· Oovoo which is an alternative to Skype and can be used for four way video conferencing.

· Ustream is a online video broadcasting service.

Also see James Clay’s ‘Top Ten Tools of 2009‘ for more useful tools.

Last year’s e-Learning Stuff podcast.

iPhone 3GS Accessibility

iPhones have a unique screen reading capability.

This can be very useful for those who are blind or visually impaired. I was very impressed when I first saw this demonstrated at the Apple offices in London. As soon as I’d got my own iPhone to play with – I checked it out. Apparently, all of this works with the latest version of  the iTouch too (but not the 8gig version)

Basically there is a VoiceOver function and a Zoom function.

These can be accessed by clicking on Settings >> General >> (scroll down now) >> Accessibility.  See the image flow below to check your progress.

Screen shots of setting up accessibility functions on iPhoneThe VoiceOver and Zoom functions cannot be used at the same time.

Things to remember when using VoiceOver:

  • To navigate the phone whilst VoiceOver is active, you have to change the way you ‘touch’ the screen. To activate an App or an instruction, you have to first of all tap the required function and then double-tap to open or activate it.
  • To scroll up and down or to flick right or left you have to use three fingers on the screen.
  • When the phone has closed down (i.e. there is no active screen) it is reactivated by touching the home button. The VoiceOver function defaults to read out the time (always present on the opening screen), so you know immediately where you are. One tap at the bottom of the screen tells you what to do next – double-tap to unlock – and the phone opens at whatever screen you were last on and tells you which that was.

Try going to Safari and opening a web page (try a BBC news page). As you tap through the news reports the voice over function will read back the text.

The Rotor

By rotating two fingers (your finger and thumb) on the screen as if you were turning an actual dial, you can change the way VoiceOver navigates the text.

“For example, a flick up or down might move through text word by word. But when you choose the “character” setting, each time you flick up or down VoiceOver will move through the text character by character — perfect when you’re proofreading or editing text.”
From downloaded 04/01/10


Entering text

Writing text can be a real trial. You have to ‘tap’ each letter to select it and then ‘double-tap’ to use it. This can be hard work with the small on-screen keyboard for sighted users, so it could be very difficult for those without sight. As a sighted user, I got into it fairly quickly but it’s a very slow process and quite frustrating. It would be interesting to hear what others think?


Although most pages can have their size increased by using Apple’s unique ‘pinch and spread’ function – not all respond to this. The Zoom function is therefore quite useful for some sight impaired users as it works on all screens.

Once the function is turned on, you just double-tap with three fingers to activate the toggle. Drag three fingers around the screen to move the magnified image. It is suggested that another double-tap will allow the user to increase or decrease the size of magnification – but I’ve been unable to do that (doh). (Added later — To increase and decrease the level of magnification, you must do a three-finger double tap, keeping your fingers on the screen after the second tap. While keeping your three fingers on the screen, move up to increase magnification and move down to decrease magnification. Lift your fingers off the screen when the desired magnification level is reached. From – below)

See also:
(Report on iPhone Accessibility function use)
A list of Apps that work with VoiceOver

For much more help – visit:


Although most pages can have their size increased by using Apple’s unique ‘pinch and spread’ function – not all respond to this. The Zoom function is therefore quite useful for some sight impaired users as it works on all screens.

Once the function is turned on, you just double-tap with three fingers to activate the toggle. Drag three fingers around the screen to move the magnified image. It is suggested that another double-tap will allow the user to increase or decrease the size of magnification – but I’ve been unable to do that (doh).