Dead heading

Recently my Following/ Followed tally has leapt. I am now following over 900 people. Its not much more than a year since I started on Twitter. Two recent events have led to this significant growth #ukedchat and #gtauk.

I read occasional Tweets from people saying they are pruning their lists, I do wonder why?

There are some people I do not follow though I have the chance. There are some people I do not allow to follow me. There are some I very diplomatically stop following. To fit into these categories you either have to seem to be a complete airhead/ to be a spammer/ or to use immoderate language or views. Other than that I will happily follow or allow to follow.

Pruning is an activity from the garden, its about keeping things cultivated and tidy, or to encourage new growth. It doesn’t apply to Twitter – who knows when suddenly a flower will bloom andimpress, who knows when a seed cast into the twitterverse will germinate in a new form. I want to see it when it does

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To VLE or not to VLE that is the question

thanks to  dolmansaxlil flickrstream

There was a time recently when a school was going to be 'BSFd" and as part of the bargain it was given a VLE. Generally speaking these were from a 'menu' of approved VLEs and involved a lot of 'suits' being involved in the process. Well, whatever you think of the process, with the new ConDem Government that's a thing of the past. Also a thing of the past is the centralised control of schools – now that will happen by default and schools can and may increasingly choose to go their own way. 

I recall my first misgivings about VLEs – and don't get me wrong the one I use is very good and getting better all the time – at an open Source Conference last summer where a question was flung at the audience – 'What do you use when you want to find something out – your VLE or a web search engine?' No-one admitted to using their VLE. 

So what's a VLE really for, honestly?

  • To share resources?
  • To share news?
  • To share assessments?
  • To enable learning? 
Have I missed anything?

Ok, now lets think about the time, and expense involved in developing and running one – whether its an 'off the shelf' which has all the development work done for you and you 'merely' have to learn how to use it, or something Moodleesque where you can do it yourself, but the enthusiasts commit vast amounts of their lives to the project. Either way its a lot of work – and what's the end product? How well is it adopted, how much impact does it have on the learning, how rapidly can it evolve to changing circumstances? 

Ok, lets turn to the wider world, how many organisations have their equivalent of a VLE? Most stick with a key set of software tools – a suite – and that's it. 

So what's with this idea of a VLE? What's it for? To what extent do we have them because they are a 'good thing' and everyone else has them, and anyway… errr……look they must be good because we have paid a lot of money for them and you only get good things if you pay a lot of money.

If we want to enable learning, surely the key point that underpins anything we do, then are there alternatives? Let's face it there have got to be – because in our current economic distress every penny is going to count.

So, if my list above covered the main things, how do they square up?

  • To share resources? – Diigo, Delicious, Google Apps, Blogs, Wikis,
  • To share news? – RSS readers? Twitter? School Facebooks?
  • To share assessments? Mmm yes, they have to be sort of secure don't they, but again I'd argue Google Apps can hit most of this
  • To enable learning? The nature of most of the VLEs I have seen actually hinder learning. 
We are also moving from Web 2 into Web 3 – the personal web. How does a carefully structured offer of a VLE fit with this, and with the personalisation agenda? Yes I know Mr Gove doesn't see things that way, but heigh ho – that's life. Canute's followers reckoned he could command the tides!

So, what could we have? How about a personal VLE – there are numerous 'wrappers' that will give you an landing page on which numerous gadgets, widgets, flange brackets and assorted wonders can be located…. and off the learner can go, with their own learning toolkit in front them, organised to suit themselves and as they have ownership, changed by themselves to suit their circumstances.

And in case you see this as total anarchy I am suggesting, well, maybe – but if a learning organisation (aka school) was to recommend a 'balanced diet' of tools but left it up to the learners to select their preferred tools – and expected them to be able to articulate  their choice this could be interesting.  

Downsides? You cannot easily police personal choice, you cannot quality control it. People use different software – well actually they do anyway.

Lets encourage people to use the tools of their choice – the process is theirs. Their outputs will have to be accessible to a wide audience, but they are already – jpeg, wmv, pdf etc etc.

Lets go for something that offers a centralised suite of software – that all integrates together, that is cloud based, that is free. And lets encourage learners to develop their PLE (Personal Learning Environment) 

Hmmm, I wonder if there is such a thing out there already – G***** Apps? I wonder what schools could do with the money they didn't spend on a VLE?

And don't get me started on mobile devices saving schools money – I said, don't get me started!

thanks to placbo's flikrstream

PS. My own PLE is Google Chrome, which opens with 8 tabs each of which is a key tool for my use. It uses Chrome Synch so it does the same on all of my devices. At its heart is Google Apps with cloud storage of an unbelievable amount for a tenner a year!

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The Common Pursuit – Collaborative LitCrit in Google Docs


W.B.Yeats: The Tower Stanza 1

A few weeks ago I was asked to do a Lit ICT session at the CLC. The other day I was watching the #GTAUK Twitterstream and in a backchannel chat said i'd been doing some stuff and maybe some English departments might be interested. My own background is I began my career as a fresh graduate out of York University and up until 9 years ago was still teaching a fair proportion of Englit. I have 'escaped' some of the formulaic approaches of recent years, but am aware that the ability to engage with a text, and to constructively debate it is a skill that has survived the dissected, chunked, 'fast-lit' drive in curriculum. (Okay you know where I stand). 

So, off I went and had a think. The students arrived to be put into teams and given a poem (this is GCSE poetry from other cultures stuff) as a Google Document that one shares with the rest on the team. They are in teams of four. They are asked to agree a different text colour for any annotation they do, so each person's contribution is identifiable fast. Google Docs has revision history but the visual colouring is a faster way of seeing work in progress. They are then asked to insert footnotes in their individual text colours.

As the footnotes get added synchronously by the team members the collective critical response builds. 

By also using the comment facility, others can also add their views, ideas, questions, responses.  Example here:

The logistics of this can be played with, the key is by combining footnotes, comments and colour a whole range of responses, and responses to responses can be developed. Its also perfectly possible for the teacher – or anyone else shared into the poem text to add comments – so there can be prompting, correcting, questioning and assessing going on in a live session. 

And of course it does not have to be live. The beauty of the Google Apps running through any Learning Platform means its shared 24/7 – so it could be done as homework, or over a longer period, and not just with a single class… in a single location.

The basic idea for this was 'borrowed' from an excellent BECTA piece on Wiki Wars which saw the vastly improved engagement of boys in particular by collaborative lit work of this nature. 

Interested, has that got you thinking? Share your thoughts folks! 
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