Staffrooms

picture of a small coffeeI first read about this back in February in the Guardian, but thought it was just a journalistic way of filling up the print inches and therefore thought no more about it. Then, yesterday’s Sunday Times seemed to imply that the removal of a requirement to provide staff spaces in schools was now a fait accompli.

Not to have somewhere to go and simply ‘chill’, in any occupation, must be dire.  Even now; self employed and working from home, I have places around the house that I can go to for a change of environment.

Teachers especially (remember that teachers do not ‘work with’ their peers, but with completely different age groups), need their ‘break’ space.

Over and above their role as chilling space and change of environment, staff-rooms have other important socio/academic functions; not least the chance they offer what for many are the best opportunities for sharing and collaboration with colleagues.

Without staff-rooms, how would young/new teachers seek informal advice and guidence? How would all appropriate personnel become aware of the recent death in little Johnie’s family? How would practitioner’s ‘cascade’ newly learned techniques and skills?

We throw away these informal, collaborative places at our peril. It has been tried (and failed) before.

Read: The Social Life of Information by John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid

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How big is the web?

It never fails to surprise me how much bigger the web has got every time I look at it.

I use the web for all sorts of things, but mostly to see how its many features might help learners to learn and teachers to teach. I try to work from a position of ‘what is it about THIS site that can/could/will enhance the learning process?’ I deliver workshops that underpin this basic use, but at some point during each workshop, I tend to realise that there is such a lot more that could be effectively used. This week’s workshop in Fareham, for the RSC-SE was no exception.

Over summer, I’d been commissioned to build a Web 2.0 Moodle ‘course’ that informed practitioners and managers about the benefits that Web 2.0 could bring. This had been a huge undertaking, which resulted in five Moodle sites, each one dealing with a different aspect of basic use. As far as I know, this course, and others built over the summer, are being launched at the JISC Advance RSC-SE ‘e’ Fair.

My Fareham workshop had been arranged to introduce the Moodle sites and to try out the staff development exercises that each course possesses. The five pages had evolved as I began to map out exactly what we could do with Web 2.0. Throughout my development, I tried to underpin the course with three core Web 2.0 uses: communication, collaboration and sharing. With these three as my bedrock, I expanded into five main themes: Web 2.0 overview; Blogs, Wikis and Microblogs; Creation; Storage; Social Networking. Each section of the site contains information, advice, lists of sites and services and case studies. Some features, such as Xtranormal and Screenr, are modelled as a matter of course.

I’m really proud of the work and hope that the sites are successfully employed all over the south-east. My remit was to make the course downloadable by institutions, and as a result there is no built-in requirement to use forums etc., or any form of assessment, as these would need to be set up locally. Nevertheless, even as they stand, the five pages are a powerful collection of Web 2.0 I.A.G.

So, back to Fareham: I had to combine ‘storage’ and ‘creation’ as each of these is a huge subject and needs more time to complete than we had available. This, the third session of the day, was less successful then it could have been due to difficulties with the Internet connection but it wasn’t until the final session, Social Networking, that it occurred to me that rather than modelling the Moodle staff development activities, we could have done more exploration of what’s out there and discussed usage. To fill in time lost earlier, I showed iPadio and Screenr to the group and was immediately blasted with lots of ideas for use (whereas creating media and uploading to YouTube and Flickr had not rung any bells).

And there hangs my question: what else could I have demonstrated? What else would have rung their bells and got them excited about Web 2.0 use, whether it be storage, creation or whatever?

What might I have missed when building the Moodle course?

File storage and e-Portfolios

One of today’s topics of discussion was file sharing and the use of various facilities to create personal e-Portfolios. The e-Portfolio aspect of this discussion is certainly something that has taxed me for a long time and one that I have had a few goes at creating.I used to use e-Snips (http://www.esnips.com) http://grab.by/57O0 (Screen shot) and to promote it as “my own VLE” but over the years it has become unsuitable for use due to the way it has evolved. It now has a tremendous amount of adverts http://grab.by/57Oo (Screen shot) not all of which are appropriate for use in an education setting. So, although it is there and although it offers up to 5 gigabytes of free storage (with sharing options), I choose not to use it. This is a real shame because it used to be the way I easily shared files with colleagues and people who had attended sessions I’d delivered.

Instead, I now use Dropbox (https://www.dropbox.com/) for storing most of my files. The benefit of Dropbox, is that I can access my files from any computer I use, provided it is connected to the internet. Where one has the software downloaded and installed on computers (I have mine on my Mac, my XP machine and my Vista machine) even the internet isn’t needed. Files altered or added to the offline version are synchronised between all machines as and when they do go online. If we like, we can share individual folders on Dropbox (which I have done on several occasions) for all sorts of reason. I have a folder I share with my wife, because it’s easier for us to share particular documents that way (easier than email or saving to external media); I have a folder I share with colleagues when working on collaborative projects and an further folder I share with my iTQ assessor. Furthermore, I have the Dropbox App on my iPhone – which allows me to view most of my documents pretty much anywhere T-Mobile allow me to have a connection! This is my real portfolio now.

To make the portfolio have more value and to stop filling up the 2 gigabyte free space, I also use YouTube http://www.youtube.com; to store video and http://www.flickr.com to store images. This saves room because each of these services provide embed and share codes which direct the viewer back to the hosting site – meaning that the portfolio document need only contain the code (URL).

Other facilities I’ve used are Scribd (see in use https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2010/06/09/building-vles/) for presenting word processed files online and Tiny Grab (see http://grab.by/57S7 for example) for sharing screen shots.

Use of these facilities makes my working life, my social life and my learning life much easier, whenever I have a need to share or access any form of digital documentation. They could easily be put to effective educational use if only institutions were able to agree on an acceptable use policy.