Reflections on 2010

Looking back (as we are apt to do at this time of year) I see that it is almost twelve months since I first blogged about the accessibility functions of the iPhone. [Link to first blog] Since then, a lot has happened in the digital world. That blog post had dealt with my then recent introduction to the Apple iPhone 3GS and how to operate the accessibility features. Since my post, Apple have launched the iPhone 4 (with iOS4) and the iPad, both of which have increased and improved accessibility features. See: https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2010/09/28/iaccessibility/

The iPad has been a real game changer. Unimagined (in its eventual form) in January 2010, it’s difficult now to imagine how such a tool had never previously existed. It is in no way a laptop replacement and cannot cope with some of the tasks [See earlier iPad post] even a netbook could cope with – yet it is becoming an increasingly important actor on the educational stage. This site by Ian Wilson is worth a look if you’re interested in learning more about the iPad in Education: http://www.ipadineducation.co.uk/iPad_in_Education/Welcome.html.

As the financial crisis continues to bite, many trusted and familiar Web 2.0 provisions have begun to teeter. For example, NING, the D.I.Y. social networking site, following years of adequate free provision started to charge at the end of summer 2010. I’m certain that this wasn’t a problem for too many educators but it was a harbinger of things to come. By December Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia was appealing for cash on every one of Wikipedia’s information pages.  Delicious was also under threat from its owner Yahoo! [See news of this] and although there was a form of retraction; the writing is still on the wall – even for this hugely popular and widely used site.

If we take the time to read figures, many such giants of the Web 2.0 world are feeling the pinch. Even Flickr, another Yahoo! provision, despite having a well supported ‘paid for’ membership, is seeing more competition from mobile-based tools such as Instagram and several other App-based photo sites (which will in time come under threat themselves).

Some people say that even Twitter will die – [See James Clay’s blog]

None of this is a bad thing, unless we invest time, effort and/or money into individual sites and provisions. I hope to expand upon this in a future post. Maybe I’ll title that ‘stick to basics’?

Happy New Year to everyone. I hope the financial crisis (caused by reckless banking) does not strike you too hard and that your wishes all come true. 🙂

NLN Materials

… should we let them be put out to grass?

Recently, JANET (UK) and LSIS announced that funding to continue the NLN Materials service (www.nln.ac.uk) “in its current formwouldcease at the end of July 2011.
See
: http://www.ja.net/company/news-2010/nln-materials.html.

They went on to announce a survey, which would be designed to identify the options and find out users’ preferences about the future of the NLN Materials.
See the survey at
: http://www.excellencegateway.org.uk/page.aspx?o=308657.

The survey will close on Friday, 28 January. I must urge anyone reading this to “make sure your voice is heard”.

I remain a passionate supporter of the materials and was one of the original team of NLN ILT Subject Mentors recruited on half-post secondments back in 2002.  Although funding had been allocated for 30 mentors, Becta (who managed the project) never managed to recruit quite that number. Nevertheless, many of those NLN mentors are still out there, working in colleges or like me, independently (one even manages a JISC RSC) trying to encourage their colleagues to realise the potential of ILT, or e-Learning as we now call it.

Our roles were never to ‘just’ promote the materials themselves. We showed teachers and sometimes learners, how the materials could become part of a lesson or how they could be used as self-study materials. We even came to show how if disaggregated, they could be a flexible source of personal learning development. The use of the then infant VLEs was also encouraged. We would often be the only source of training for the Interactive Whiteboards that were being fitted willy nilly at that time. Very few managers had the time to train staff in IWB use and as many of the NLN materials lend themselves easily to being used interactively via IWBs we fitted in well.

Time passed, funding changed and the materials moved over eventually to JANET and Xtensis – where they have been admirably managed for about four years now. As that time passed, the mainly schools-based vocational Diplomas have emerged and there has been much interest in the materials from schools. As a large body of NLN material is vocationally orientated, they lend themselves nicely to use in schools, where materials for Diploma were initially pretty non-existent. I know from personal experience that the materials are liked and appreciated by school teachers and learners alike.

I know that many of the learning objects are now looking a little tired or dated and that many more have never really functioned without a lot of work by institutional technician teams, but these are in a minority. Some could be ditched if the money cannot be found to repair them – the problem is usually with plugins for older versions of flash or shockwave. The others still have some relevance, if the user is creative.

So come on, let’s hear it for the NLN materials.

Fill in the survey (link above) and support their continuation in whatever form works best for the wider community. Let’s not hide them away. ACL and WBL have it hard enough, let’s keep the ‘stuff’ where everyone can get at them.

Quote from survey page 1: “If you have any further questions about this survey, please send an email to Bob Powell, Excellence Gateway Programme Manager, LSIS (bob.powell@lsis.org.uk).”

Cooking Brussels Sprouts

My friend Jon Trinder has a Love/Hate Brussels Sprout map at http://www.ninelocks.com/sprout/, showing all of the responses to the ‘sprout war’ on Twitter [send Tweet to @jontrinder and include the hash tag #uksprouts, add the first half of your postcode and say whether you LOVE or HATE Brussels Sprouts]. Why not have a look and join in over this festive season?

I have provided John with a few simple recipes, which appear at random at the bottom of his sprout map page. Here they all are in one placeMerry Christmas.

Basic Sprout Preparation

Lightly wash the sprouts in cold water. Peel away any dirty or damaged leaves. Trim the stalk (which may only need a ‘shave’).

For most recipes, where the sprout is served whole, it is then advisable to cut into the stalk, to allow more even cooking. Catering students are taught to cut a shallow cross ‘X’ into the stalk, I have always found that a single, reasonably deep cut is enough.

Basic Sprout Cooking

To boil sprouts: You will need a bowl of iced water and a pan of boiling salted water (and your sprouts)

Take prepared sprouts and drop into boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes. Drain the sprouts and place immediately into the iced water until cold. Drain again. This can be done at a quiet time in the day, to save time later. Set aside. When needed, drop the sprouts back into boiling water for up to one minute, drain well and serve (with a knob of butter!!).

Sprout Recipes

Shropshire Sprouts:

Clean and prepare the sprouts. Cut the sprouts into quarters (top to bottom) and cook (sauté) with some small cubes of smoked bacon in a little butter. This should take about five to ten minutes. Remove sprouts (keep warm). Turn up heat and brown the bacon. Drain off the fat, add bacon to sprouts, top with shaved Shropshire Blue cheese – serve.

Sprout Soup

Take half an onion, half a leek, a stick of celery and chop them up roughly. Cook slowly in 50g of margarine or butter (a bit grand!), about five minutes. Add 200g of chopped uncooked sprouts and cook for two more minutes. Add 50g flour and cook two more minutes, stirring all the time. Add 1 litre vegetable or chicken stock and bring to boil. Stir, stir, stir. Season and cook for about 30 more minutes. Now place the soup into a food processor, or use a hand blender (nuke/blitz/whizz). Now adjust the taste/flavour – all being well it will also take a little milk or (preferably) cream. Serve.

Sprout Tourangelle

Now, this is a tasty change. You will need to cook some basic recipe sprouts but first: Make a simple white sauce. Use whatever recipe you prefer, but I would use 50g margarine, 50g flour and 500ml milk to make a bechamel. When the sauce is ready add 2-3 cloves of peeled garlic and leave for 20-30 minutes to infuse. Keep the sauce (and garlic) warm by placing the sauce over (or in) a pan (bath) of lightly simmering water. When ready, remove the garlic cloves and add the sauce to the cooked, drained sprouts. Of course, if you were particularly fond of garlic, you could crush it and cook it in the margarine as the sauce is being prepared. This adds a strange texture to the sauce – but there you go – your choice.

Another way to make the sauce would be to take a quantity of double cream (as much as you need), add the garlic and boil/simmer for 5 – 10 minutes before you need it. This should thicken the sauce and infuse the flavour. Very rich though.


Other ideas:

Take your basic recipe (cooked) sprouts and toss them in some butter with some shelled walnuts. Just long enough to warm the walnuts.

– Add some diced, fried, crispy bacon to the above (or miss out the walnuts?)

– Slightly scary but – why not try puréed sprouts? All sorts of flavours could be added to the ‘mash’

– Sprout bubble and squeak?

Enjoy.

Snowy Wales

What an unusual and interesting few days we have had.

Sharon and I had originally been invited to Steven and Rosie’s for Christmas: just the four of us with a turkey and lots of trimmings. However, this arrangement had to be altered early in December so we decided to come down and spend time with them a week earlier as Sharon would finish work at lunchtime on Wednesday, in plenty of time for us to set off.

Readers of my Saturday Walks blog will know that we stopped off at Karen and Dave’s en route and that we eventually arrived here at Ty Llwyd on Thursday 16th December. Our plan was to return home Sunday 19th or Monday 20th at the latest. This became impossible because of the weather.

Our problem wasn’t the snow that fell heavily on Wales over Thursday night and Friday, but the lane outside the house, which was like an ice-rink. Everyone around Ty Llwyd has 4WD cars and trucks and as a result we were able to get out on Saturday with Steven in his Subaru, but our Ford Focus didn’t have a chance on that surface.

Since Saturday, the road had worsened as tractors, Utes and trailers have driven up and down the lane, moving sheep and feed up around. As it is 1.5 miles to a main road, in either direction and as the top road wasn’t all that clear itself on Saturday, it was with some trepidation that we set off home on Tuesday morning. As suspected, the Focus went about 10 yards and ground to a halt so we had to continue with Stephen towing us up the hill with Rosie’s 4WD Frontera. Half way was as much as it managed before falling foul of the ice. Luckily, a farmer had seen our plight and offered to tow us with his tractor, which was a hairy but successful trip.

So eventually, we got off and on our way home. As we left Aberystwyth and begun to climb into the mountains a light snow started, which made the final drop down towards Newtown fairly hairy too. Nevertheless, from the Red Kite Café, through Llangurig and up as far as Welshpool we saw some of the most beautiful scenery we’ve ever seen. At first the mountains were just brilliantly white, but as the tree line became visible, especially on the lower roads, a combination of hoar frost and snow had made the view even more spectacular. Thank you Wales.

Once home, we found pipes blocked and a topsy turvy central heating system. But we’re on with all that! Isn’t it surprising what a few days of sub-zero temperatures can change?

Twitter Stuff

I ‘unfollowed’ a few people on Twitter the other week.

It’s not something I’m proud of as they are well respected professionals for whom I have the greatest admiration. What’s more they have not acted in any unprofessional way and usually I enjoy reading their varied and various posts.

However, some of their posts at that time were beginning to drive me mad.

I believe that social media is whatever we make it. Actually, I believe that we are still evolving social media and the ways in which it can be used.  We are still making the rules, although ‘rules’ is probably not the right word for where we are right now.  I enjoy Twitter for all of the reasons I’ve discussed before; varied communities of practice, water-cooler discussions, information, communication, fun etc, (yet I dislike Facebook intensely).

Twitter being limited to 140 characters, is an ideal way of giving and receiving information: no fluff – just comment and links. Managing the links can be difficult and many go by without being looked at as there is often just too much information to log or absorb. Nevertheless, I feel comforted by the information flow as I know that when necessary, there is always someone there to help. I like to feel that I help others too, when I can.

However, I have no wish to be treated to minute by minute, blow by blow updates of T.V. programmes I’ve no intention of watching.

I don’t watch much T.V. (well I do, but not the ‘big bruvver come dancing on a dessert island for xyz-factor vote for me UK’ type of T.V.) so I don’t really want my Twitter stream filling up with accounts of some crap that is probably being watched by millions anyway. If I was bothered about the T.V. programme in question, I’d watch it!

Fair enough, if it’s something like the Eurovision Final, because I can see the fun in exchanging comments about the song, the dress, the announcer etc. (not that I do it). Also fair enough if you’re Tweeting to say that you’re looking forward to ‘xyz’ or that last week’s episode was ‘blah blah blah’ but not a running commentary. Please not. Generally if it’s on T.V. and it’s on any one of the five main channels (and probably any of ten fairly universal others) I can watch it if I want. I promise that if I do watch it, I will not comment on everything that happens.

If you want to talk to someone while the T.V. is on – get a family, or a telephone – but please don’t Tweet me!

Another problem at the time was with all of the daily ‘this that or other’ Daily Papers that began to flourish over summer. Some mornings my Twitter Stream would fill up with just TOO MANY updates. So culprits had to go. I still receive and read the ACLJohn Daily – it’s OK; it’s enough!

So, what I need now is a special Twitter plug-in/procedure that allows me to filter Tweets with certain words or #hash tags. Anyone have one of those?

Qatar

I’ve been thinking about Mobile Learning again today.

I was asked if I’d be interested in proposing a workshop for a ‘Shaping the Future’ event to be held in Qatar next year. Well yes I would, but what is it they are looking for? To me, a workshop is something which participants can become involved in – but I know from previous experience that working in different countries can present interesting challenges when it comes to using technology.

So, do I need a mixture of easy hands-on and discussion? If so what’s easy whilst remaining valid?

I’ve always been of the opinion, with all uses of technology, that the basics must come first. Without an understanding of aerodynamics, a pilot cannot fly an aeroplane and in the same way, unless a teacher understands the basic theories of learning and how to adapt them, he or she cannot hope to accommodate mobile or ‘e’ learning.

Mobile learning means many things to many people. Sometimes we have to dissect the two words.

  • The device itself may be mobile.

Tools such as cell phones, handheld games machines and handheld media/entertainment devices can all be utilised for learning activities. These devices are fairly ubiquitous and very few learners do not have access to at least one.

  • The learner him/herself could be mobile.

Learning often takes place outside the classroom or in the workplace itself. School based learners might be asked to conduct some ‘homework’ research, which would utilise both his or her mobility alongside the device’s mobility.

  • The learning activity might be mobile.

The teacher may plan activities that take learners on an exploratory tour of local features or local history, using GPS/Internet enabled tools as a guide. They may employ ubiquitous 3G connectivity to share resources on or from the Internet.

So do I start with the basic assumption that the participants understand basic learning theory? Or, that they understand the various connotations of the word mobile? I suspect that the old adage ‘to assume is to make an ASS of U and ME’ should rule here!

I will therefore consider a proposal which assumes nothing, expects a lot and prepare myself for a lot of stress 😉

Quote:

I try to fix all of the session’s activities, tool-use and techniques to Blooms Taxonomy. This is the taxonomy of thinking skills which aims to raise learners’ achievements through simple knowledge acquisition, comprehension of that knowledge and its application (lower order thinking skills – LOTs) – through analysis, synthesis and evaluation (higher order thinking skills – HOTs). There are lots of reasons for doing this, but my main reason is that Bloom’s is a recognisable theory, one that should/would have been addressed during Initial Teacher Training (ITT) and therefore be an understandable foundation we can build upon.

I suggest to my participants that each learner will progress through the taxonomy’s stages at varying speeds and with varying success; often having to return to a previous level (in a cycular fashion – which fits nicely then, with Bruner’s spiral curriculum model: e.g. “Curriculum should be organized in a spiral manner so that the student continually builds upon what they have already learned.” from: http://tip.psychology.org/bruner.html) where they begin their learning journey again. I emphasise that ‘they‘ the teachers, trainers etc. ARE THE experts at this and that ‘they‘ are the creators of activities designed to allow learners to climb (cycle?) through the levels.

I iterate, time and time again that the ‘m’ technique and the ‘m’ technology should be the tool and not the master.

From a previous Blooms Taxonomy post: https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2010/02/18/blooms/

Full Stops

This won’t be a long post, I just want to share something I learned recently.

Yesterday, I visited my friend and colleague Lilian Soon at her home. We were discussing the potential for supporting and delivering the new iTQ in Accessible practice across our region. Part of this discussion was to compile a proposal for the local Regional Support Centre.

During our discussions, and whilst compiling the proposal on a shared Google Doc, Lilian remarked that we should really put full stops at the end of our bulleted lists, as this helps screen readers to know what they were reading and therefore to make the whole list (of bullets) clearer to the ‘viewer’. Aesthetically, I’d always thought that bulleted lists looked better without full stops or commas, but the minute Lilian mentioned screen readers – I ‘got’ it.

This is a prime example of how small changes to practice, often quite irrelevant to most people’s thinking can make significant benefits to the way in which learners access learning. That’s it. that’s all I wanted to say: put full stops at the end of your bulleted lists, to make screen readers function better.

UPDATES:

I forgot that Lilian (in a Tweet of her own yesterday) and then @petejbell (quoted) in a Tweet today said: “Y11 pupil suggested “why not make full stop same colour as background?

Also @didaw said on Twitter: “otherwise screen readers won’t catch a breath!”