Boring ICT

As I suggested in my previous post, last week was a cracker. Two days out, working with practitioners and both days 100% successes.


On Friday I presented a workshop for Glynis Frater of Learning Cultures at the National Railway Museum (NRM) in York. The course had been discussed and planned almost a year ago, but getting enough participants to make it viable has been a challenge, so there was some relief that we were able at last, to deliver it for the first time in such a wonderful venue. We’d been let down at the last moment by our original venue choice, so we were lucky to be able to secure the NRM at such short notice.

The workshop had been designed to “introduce or update teachers and other practitioners to the real power that ICT holds to engage learners” and I first planned to show participants (remind them of) some of the interactive features of MS Office. Features such as forms and comments in Word, ‘IF’ statement quizzes in Excel and drag and drop in PPT

Then I wanted them to explore the huge potential of mobile learning (mobile in the sense that the the learner, the device, or the activity could be mobile), Web 2.0/social networking and accessibility/inclusivity. I’d also planned on working with them to explore their use of VLEs – but none of those attending actually used their VLE because each one was an authority wide installation (authority controlled) and (I’m told) unusable, which is a sad reflection on VLE use in schools.

All of those attending were Heads of ICT in their secondary school.

Yet, they’d never used forms or comments in Word before, never thought of teaching ‘IF’ statements by asking learners to create an ‘IF’ based quiz and had never seen ‘IF’ statements embedded within ‘IF’ statements. Interactive text boxes in PowerPoint were a mystery to them.

As a consequence, they were overjoyed to be shown these new (to them) techniques and came up with some good ideas for using each one. It did however reinforce my previous statement from an earlier post, responding to Michael Gove’s inference that ICT was boring …

What is really required [..] is a commitment to teach teachers (all teachers, all sectors, in-service and pre-service) how ICT [..] can be taught in exciting, encouraging, effective and efficient ways. ‘e’ learning?

Initial Teacher Training should, instead of simply requiring trainee teachers to use PowerPoint, include the effective use of modern and emerging technologies for both teaching and learning.

There was some resistance to the mobile side of things and a little nervousness to the wider applications of Web 2.0, but all in all the participants had a great day and left us full of praise. They loved Wordle [also see my previous Wordle post] and Tagxedo.

What we need next is more teachers from the wider curriculum, not just heads of ICT – the more the merrier. See Learning Cultures web site for event details.

Enaging with Moodle

I’ve just had a cracking week.

Just for a change I’ve had two days ‘out’ working with real, live practitioners, which is what I miss the most these days, because that’s what I’m best at.

On Wednesday, I was asked to work with colleagues from the RSC YH at New College, Pontefract, where they had set the entire day aside to begin college-wide development of their new Moodle 2 installation. Luckily Brian Coughlan (at the college) and I are old acquaintances and he was the one designing the event. We chatted prior to the day and I accepted the job of working with what looked like being the largest group – the beginners.

The college had previously had a Blackboard installation, which hardly anyone used. They had predicted some trauma with the move to Moodle, but that hadn’t happened. However, because of the huge difference between the two VLEs, very few people were using Moodle either and certainly not to great effect. That had changed by the end of the day.

Two other groups (intermediate and advanced) were being attended to by RSC personnel and I was helped by Daniel from Barnsley College – which made my life a lot easier once we got started. I first addressed my group saying that ‘if you ONLY put some resources onto your course today – you can be happy. However, if you put up some resources that are engaging and interactive and/or use the VLE to make sense of your resources – you learners will be happy!

I then showed them Moodle and explained the ‘blocks’. Then I explained the ‘course’ and showed them the ‘settings’ block. And then we looked at ‘topics’ and ‘labels’ (and their associated icons). Then I said ‘go‘. 

Given the day’s results, it is obvious that there had been a lot of pent up creativity in the college because they simply ‘got it’. The questions that most colleagues asked were pertinent and aimed at making their resources more engaging and interactive  – which was brilliant.

  • Where the teacher could only contemplate a resource being uploaded, we were able to discuss using ‘labels’ to help the learner make sense of the resource.
  • Where the teacher could see beyond simply uploading we investigated ways of making the resource more engaging before they uploaded (and subsequently used labels as above).
  • Those who were ready to go beyond these stages were shown ‘book’ and asked to investigate the use of forums. (Other features were being discussed in other workshops and I’d agreed with Brian that rather than go everywhere in Moodle, I’d concentrate on getting everyone ‘on’ and active).

It has been a long time since I worked on an event with so many participants where there was not one sour face, at all, all day. Well done Pontefract.

I’ll discuss my second day out later (and post the link here when ready).

Differences in the English Language in a Post-Cultural World

Guest Post

Regular readers will be aware that I have occasionally presented ‘Guest Posts’ on behalf of colleagues.  I’d like to introduce yet another Trans-Atlantic contribution.

This time the post is by Angelita Williams [see by-line below].  We would both welcome your comments to this special Guest Post, especially as the differences between our written languages is such an issue (especially for me!!!)

Differences in the English Language in a Post-Cultural World

I know; the title of this post is quite a mouthful. Not to worry though; I plan to take this topic in stride, offering first a brief history of American English and how it has differed from British English. As for the “post-cultural” idea, I will in essence be describing the evolution of the English language in the midst of the uprising of the Internet as a primary communication tool, particularly for international correspondence.

Brief History of American and British English

Aside from natural differences in dialect and culture that occurred between the isolation of these two English speaking countries, one of the first “active” catalysts which has differentiated American from British English is Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language.

Make no mistake, Webster was a politically charged revolutionary aiming for American independence from British culture. While this may seem a bit extreme or xenophobic even for our modern, melting-pot standards, do remember that Webster’s dictionary was published just over a decade after the War of 1812. And at this time, most nations were much more filled with nationalist pride than our modern day standards (particularly in America … despite what our Republican party may have you believe).

To be honest, most of Webster’s dictionary involved hair-splitting differences, notably in spelling (such as color rather than colour or center rather than centre or defense rather than defence). Some innovations never even caught on, like his spelling of tung as opposed to tongue. While many of these changes were discrete, I feel that they opened the doors of divergence between the two dialects. Also, I find it interesting that these differences have become more noticeable now that text has become the most popular communication tool online (a noticeable jump from previous mass media such as television or radio).

Since that publication, most changes between the two dialects have been due to natural variations of usage trends and connotations of various words. There are few words with completely different meanings between the dialects; more likely, there are words with both multiple shared and different meanings between the two. For example, the word “fall” means “to descend” in both languages but also means “to become pregnant” in British English and “autumn” in American English.

Post-cultural English?

Before I dig into this idea, I would like to disclaim that this term is entirely made up by myself and stems from the idea that an unofficial standard English has developed through mass media and the internet. For a good time, this spoken standard was American-favored, as American media has left its mark in Europe and the rest of the world for quite a few decades in the late 21st century. As demonstrated by the guardian, Hollywood still has a strong influence over British culture.

However, what are we to make of the English language as it appears on the internet? The memes, the multitude of abbreviations (“wut r u up 2?”), and, most importantly, the slang that passes for the English language is beyond puzzling. And it is also incredibly hard to track or even assess on a holistic scale because every site seems to have a wide variance of what it views as acceptable language. Take, for example, Hipster Runoff as opposed to Wikipedia. Or, for better measure of how massive amounts of people use English on the internet, compare Reddit and 4chan.

While perhaps none of these sites (with maybe the exception of Wikipedia) have set any sort of standard for an online dialect of the English language, they do all seem to have self-contained dialects that also share odd similarities, an online community dialect so to speak. And it is difficult to tell which country (if any) is responsible for these trends in online dialect. If anything, I would say that it’s not necessarily one place as it is one range of age (mostly young adolescents but as old as mid-twenties) from which these trends in internet language originate.

If I am to see any good come of these trends in online communication (trust me, I cannot see many), it would be that those exhibits of language encourage advocates of thoughtful, well-versed words such as myself (and I assume many of you readers) to cling tighter to our written roots. For every online community filled with shallow, poorly executed thoughts, a community like this one has an opportunity to emerge and demonstrate the English language as it should be. Whether American or British, the most important aspect of English in its online form should be quality and clarity.


This guest post is contributed by Angelita Williams, who writes on the topics of online courses.  She welcomes your comments at her email Id: angelita.williams7

Picnik killed by Google

I woke this morning to the news that Google was killing off another superb tool in another (forlorn?) effort to get folks onto Google+

Picnik will now go the way of Jaiku, Etherpad etc. on April 19th 2012.

They wrote:

Since joining Google in 2010, we have been creating editing magic in Google products while continuing to keep Picnik awesome. But now we get to focus on even awesomer things. Picnik will be closing on April 19, 2012.

Picnik is (soon to be ‘was’) one of the better online productivity tools available for free. I know that ‘free’ is a dirty word in the corporate world but there is always an ‘upgrade’ facility if users want to get their hands really dirty. The site allowed users to upload photographs and to carry out basic edits such as cropping, ‘red-eye’ and recolouring. It wasn’t ‘Photoshop’ and it never set out to be, but those using Picnik could do just enough to make their images usable without needing a degree in media editing.

Google have killed off other promising tools in their effort to catch up with Facebook and Twitter – Jaiku (before its time) and Etherpad to name just two.

Just how many social networking tools do I need? Google+ hasn’t set my world alight and I seem to be managing quite well with Facebook (despite my intense dislike) and Twitter. And Flickr, and so on.

For alternative photo editing sites try: to name just two.

Teaching ICT

After all of the fuss surrounding Michael Gove’s speech yesterday [Published in the Guardian] I wondered what it is he was trying to say.

First of all let me say that I haven’t read the speech in any great depth, I only skimmed through it; the man and his policies makes me cringe, so I find it hard to read beyond the dogma and understand the core issue. I have however, seen and read comments by my peers – who I know and trust.

And, they seem to be mixed.

The banner headlines would appear to be something along the lines of “Briton should get rid of ICT teaching because it is boring”, and “Briton should teach programming languages because they are far more interesting“. If it wasn’t Gove that was saying this, I’d probably agree – to a point.

ICT teaching in this country has been boring for a long time, it’s surprising that it has taken so long for HMG to realise that. Even when I was teaching in college (remember, I taught Catering – but I also taught IT to caterers), ICT teachers were simply passing out Fofo tasks and assignments that held the interest of no one. Back then, I tried to make the work more interesting by getting learners to make Wordsearches (creating tables, formatting cells), posters (importing images, formatting etc.) and job applications (real life skill) before we had to deal with the more mundane, qualification dictated, boring stuff.

So getting rid of all that is a must. Nevertheless, word processing is a life skill, so it shouldn’t be ditched just because it’s taught in a boring way. Word processing skills include the use of spell-checks and the understanding of a modicum of grammar – both of which are required for communication throughout life as well as in all types of social media. Spreadsheets and Presentation software are also used in all kinds of industry and on every University (H.E.) course. Neither Industry nor H.E. will be very happy if they suddenly have to start teaching basic ICT to recruits, especially because it has been thought to be ‘boring’!

As for the programming side of Gove’s argument – I can go with that, but only to a certain extent. He’s obviously been impressed by something he’s seen at MIT, but for goodness’ sake stuff like this has been around for years and years. Seymour Papert was playing around with Lego years ago and there is still a body of teachers that can easily subscribe to his methods. And (just to wrap up this part of the argument) what good is programming to a kid who wants to be an accountant, a plumber, or God forbid, a chef?  Get real Gove.

What is really required and what has been required for at least ten years is a commitment to teach teachers (all teachers, all sectors, in-service and pre-service) how ICT (or IT, or ILT – whatever you want to call it) can be taught in exciting, encouraging, effective and efficient ways. ‘e’ learning?

Initial Teacher Training should, instead of simply requiring trainee teachers to use PowerPoint, include the effective use of modern and emerging technologies for both teaching and learning. Using mobile devices, using social media, using games etc.

Information, Communication and Technology for use in a 21st Century world.

There are enough examples out there Gove – just look.