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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

When consultation actually does work

Day 2 of Masterclass Coordinators Summit in Stirling

Today there were further discussions on the role of the SSDN. The group were addressed in the morning by Rosetta McLeod who was quizzed on various issues. I suspect all of our questioning over the next 2-3 months will ease, as a great deal of questions will have to be answered if timescales are to be adhered to.

I find it hard to believe that we are still discussing the name of the SSDN! I obviously looked blank at one stage, as I was asked what I thought. I hope my reply that I’m not remotely interested in what it’s called was taken in the correct light. I couldn’t care less – it’s the functionality and it’s publicity that I’m far more concerned with! Ask any teacher about ACE and they will tell you broadly what it is. Ask them about SSDN and they have no idea. The ‘Scottish Schools Digital Network’ will be the delivery mechanism for ‘A Curriculum for Excellence’. The scope of this change for schools has hardly been touched upon. And I think some people should be very, very concerned. We are now approximately 10 months away from rolling out training, and I suspect that between 60-70% of our machines will not be able to cope with the requirements. That’s not to say anything about the network, which I’m not even going to start here.

We had proof today that consultation does work. The VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) of the SSDN will have huge power. Hopefully after the discussion today, CPD training materials will be designed with this in mind.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Through a child's eyes

Today was day one of the Masterclass coordinators summit in Stirling. To be honest, I always find these events a bit flat, as it often feels as though we are a sounding board for future LTS ideas. It is a great opportunity to catch up with people from all over the country though, and it’s always interesting to hear what people are up to.

Discussion (as with all national events at the moment) centred around the SSDN. Principally, how training/mentoring for the SSDN will be taken forward at national and local level.

I suspect we are in for considerable change.

I certainly hope that those in elevated positions don’t take our cynicism or negativity too seriously though – I suspect our sometimes negative reaction to proposals/comments comes from a genuine desire to be taking the project forward and after so much discussion to now be so close to actually using a digital network in our schools for the benefit of children’s education.

Discussion after dinner proved, as ever, to be as valuable as the discussion during the day. One comment sticks in my mind from these discussions - I’m not taking any credit for this one, as I’m more than happy to attribute it to Ian from Edinburgh. All too often we look at technology with the eyes of adults and we are missing the point. We look at the screen of a smart phone and think it is too small and would rather everyone had access to a laptop – children don’t. They don’t bat an eyelid about the small form factor of a smart phone. Video on a mobile? Bring it on – perhaps it is us yet again that need to rethink...

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Just because it can, doesn't mean it should...

Apparently, an 8 year old clam-shell machine could run OSX if it has it's memory upgraded.

Just because it can, doesn't mean it should.

An 8 year old machine will still have an 8 year old processor. So even with more memory, it still processes information at the same rate that it did before. The new operating system will of course tax the processor more, as it is asking it to do more things. The result will in fact be a machine that seems slower than it was before any alterations began.

Add to this fact that you will have spent around £100 for the memory and associated work (at least - this figure doesn't include a battery charger and battery that after 8 years of charging will need replacing - true figure closer to £300!) and you have got to wonder whether it is worthwhile or not.

If you are sticking with Apple, a Mac mini is around £300. An eMac is around £400. It would be brand new, covered by a warranty and should be perfectly acceptable for the next 3 years.

A lot of people will change their car every 3 years.

The present trend in use of technology in a classroom favours interactive technology. This would mean 1 computer, 1 projector and a whiteboard/tablet. A computer is just something you use - just like a text book or a piece of equipment.

Within the next five years, we won't need to type anymore. If you are not sure about this, this blog entry wasn't typed - it was spoken.

We need to move away from the notion of each pupil needs to have access to a single machine. There are times when this may be true. In the majority of instances, this isn't. Last session I worked with P5&6 in Salen primary to make PowerPoint presentations. We had one computer and a whiteboard. They hadn't seen the program before, but within 20 minutes, they were collaborating with each other, and figuring out collectively how to use the application - with only one machine (that they were using) in the classroom.

Small logical steps.

1 new machine in each classroom.
1 projector to allow everyone to see.
Interactive technology - once confident, and only should it be needed.
A good network connection.

Anything beyond that is a bonus.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Chufty Little Mint Balls

In so many ways this is going to be similar to a previous post, so I'll try and not repeat myself. If you haven't read my advice about equipping a classroom, then click here.

Today I visited Garelochhead Primary to help them out with the installation of new SMART Boards. It is wonderful to see Head Teachers and schools investing sensibly in technology - so many of our schools have machines that they are nursing along that are simply not good enough.

So what did I see today? New machines, new projectors and new interactive boards. Congratulations Garelochhead - you now have the tools to do the job! Now if only the network met the quality of their hardware! But when the SSDN appears, there are now classrooms ready for it.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Choices, Choices, Choices!

Today was a meeting with John to discuss a number of things – primarily work to date, plans for the next few months, SSDN and BETT. Great showing John all the brilliant things we saw at BETT, and great that it’s not me that has to make the difficult choices!

VC with Islay at 4pm to hear about the plans afoot in Islay High and the newsroom project happening across the islands. This is such an exciting , innovative project in which the pupils in schools create short video clips of news stories. The clips will then be sent to the secondary school, where the pupils there will edit them if need be and upload them to a dedicated website to be streamed over the net. More on this in the future I am sure!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

When tackling Office, start with Word

Twilight in JLB looking at Access. This was session 1 of 2. I love the fact that Access and Filemaker put databases in context. It makes us realise where AppleWorks left off.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

'One Giant Leap for (wo)Mankind'

Months ago I said to a group of Head Teachers that it was best to focus on taking small, logical steps with the replacement of technology in schools. It’s wonderful to see advice being taken, and significant progress being made, and I am so pleased!

Tonight I was in Roseneath for a twilight concerning using an interactive whiteboard. The school don’t actually have one, so I took one to lend to them. We spent quite a bit of time looking at the simple things such as how to connect things together, and how to make simple use of the ACTIV Primary software. By no means rocket science, but by buying new machines and projectors, the Head Teacher has radically changed the potential use of ICT in the school.

For those of you remotely interested, my advice is really simple, so here goes:

1. Make sure you have at least one computer in a room that is less than 3 years old.
2. Having met condition 1, purchase a projector to be used with this computer in each classroom.
3. Think about adding interactivity into your classroom – this could either be an interactive whiteboard or a wireless graphics tablet. Not sure which? Get your teachers to have a go, and see which they prefer. Some people do not like iwb’s – a graphics tablet is £500 cheaper – that’s another computer or a projector.
4. Give up buying CD-ROMS. I don’t care how good the sales pitch is.
5. Log every time the network is down. Pretty soon, this will be the most important thing we have in schools. Let the Help Desk know when it doesn’t work. After all, what right do any of us have to complain about lack of connectivity if we do nothing when it doesn’t work? Any time I have logged a network failure, it has worked again within 5 minutes.
6. Learn how to search the internet. I’d rather waste 20 minutes searching for a resource, than 2 hours making one that someone else has already done better anyway.
7. Share. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Someone doesn’t like what you have made or changes it? What’s the best thing that could happen? You manage your job in 35 hours?
8. Become ‘Fearless Learners’ – after all, your kids are. It is extremely rare for a computer to blow up. It may freeze, but I’ll let you into a secret – you just switch it off, and then switch it back on again. You may have lost your work, but you’ve probably learnt a valuable lesson about saving things.

Ok, so not quite the Eightfold path, but it’s a start.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Mistakes are not treasures!

ICT Steering Group in Oban today. After the trip to BETT a few things have become strikingly clear.
1. We need to focus our attention on preparation for SSDN.
2. Our schools need to know what this will mean, and what they have to do in preparation.
3. Our network needs serious attention, not just by our technical staff, but by our elected members.
4. I would estimate that around 80% of the computers in our schools will fail to meet the minimum specification for the SSDN which we have been led to believe is similar to the spec needed for BBC Jam. Want to know what this specification is? Click here. Refresh of machines, and upgrading of the infrastructure needs to be the priority.

Incidentally, 4 hours in a car for a 3½ hour meeting. I need to make more use of VC.

Friday, January 13, 2006

The wrong people to be at BETT

It’s not actually until now that I realise today was Friday 13th. Oh, well…

The big conclusion today was that we were the wrong people to be at BETT. Attention QIOs – this is a ‘must do’. You control budgets and have curricular remits. We don’t. We can recommend until we are blue in the face, but it is all of you that need to see these things.

What was good?
Dartfish – analytical software for PE. Absolutely brilliant.
EducationCity.com – beautiful interactive online content which we must investigate for all of our schools.
Sahara bright orange projectors. Un-nickable, aledgedly.
Macs in Our School – makers of the most well thought out, priced trolleys for holding laptops.
Apple iLife ’06. I think I am developing a ‘love-hate’ relationship with Apple. On the one hand I get increasingly infuriated by compatibility problems, on the other I get bowled over with their foresight – fundamentally they seem to be asking the most important question in relation to ICT – what do we use a computer for? Shame the market share is only about 2½%. Does anyone remember Betamax? It was ‘better’ too.

What wasn’t good?
About 4 hours in Heathrow. For the world’s largest airport, it is the worst place to spend any time.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The irrelevance of brand loyalty

Another day walking around Olympia.


Immersive Education – Media Stage. Saw this 2 years ago, and continue to be astounded by it’s potential.

Espresso – absolutely brilliant online content that could be stored on CDI cache boxes. Now, if only we had CDI cache boxes…

BBC Jam starts at the end of this month – they were looking for schools to sign up for a ‘bar code’ storytelling trial, which looked brilliant. When John Russell was telling us ages ago about what was to come, he was right to be excited. Having had a quick sneak preview of content, I can’t wait for the end of the month (oh, and broadband for all our schools to make use of this content?)

Atomic Learning – better than anything we could produce because of their team of people creating content – after all, why are we all reinventing the wheel? We are wasting time and more importantly taxpayers money (ie mine!)

Incomedia - Italian web design creation software (only for PC) – quite brilliant and simple to use. I wonder if Intuitive Media went home early any day?

iCanAnimate or iStopMotion brilliant!

New version of SMART Board software (9.5) for both Mac & PC will be out in March. It was being demonstrated, and looked very good (until they bring out version 10 for PC a year before the Mac version?)

NEC plasma screens seemed to be all over the exhibition halls – they look very good and seem reasonably priced. They also had an exceptionally short throw projector - £2-3K, but great for less shadow and confined spaces.

What wasn’t good? Macromedia/Adobe monumental disinterest (there’s a recurring theme emerging here!)

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Sworn to Secrecy

This was day one of BETT in London. First of all, I didn’t get down to BETT last year which was a shame, so I was adamant that I would get down this year. Unlike last time when I wandered around like a sad loner this year Maggie came down to London with me. Click here to see what she had to say about the whole experience.

And the award for today’s sales pitch goes to… Promethean! Congratulations Trevor! Congratulations for making me feel like a complete idiot later on in the evening when I realised what had happened to us! “If you have a spare 15 minutes, we’d like to show you our ‘future technologies room’. Now I must ask you not to divulge anything we show you in the next 15 minutes to any of our competitors”. “OK” said the sheep from Argyll. How special we felt (– how ‘intellectually challenged’ we felt later) to be shown the future. I did promise, so I won’t say what was in the room, but the future does look bright – and curiously orange!

What else was good on day one?
Wacom A5 bluetooth wireless graphics tablet – fantastic, and a cheap way to add wireless interaction into the classroom.
RM are selling the InterWrite Classpad for £260. This provides the same functionality as the Wacom, but has it’s own whiteboard software.
I almost can’t believe I’m including this, but Clicker 5 – the ORT stuff is really good, but it is unfortunately expensive to upgrade from Clicker 4 – shame, as LTS got this for every school.
I’ve always liked Granada Blackcat software, so it’s no surprise I liked the Literacy Activity Builder which makes attractive interactive quizzes really easily – a bit pointless looking at it though, as we in Argyll are surgically attached to Apple.

What wasn’t good? Macromedia/Adobe monumental disinterest.

Apologies Maggie – I know in the evening you are meant to switch off from work!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Lights, Camera... Action!

Notes? – check.
80 mile round trip for delivery? – check. Tonight’s course is PowerPoint – does anyone actually have PowerPoint on their computer?

Monday, January 09, 2006

New Year, New Agenda?

Don’t be ridiculous! It’s cards! Cards! CARDS! And what, ironically is iMovie HD part of? iLife – Or in Scots – Aye Right!