The power of YouTube for creative writing in schools

I picked up a link to this YouTube video from Twitter. This is a poem written by a 15 year old, as part of their school work. This is very, very clever, and this is the sort of creativity and genius, that education so often drives out of people.

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Do you issue staff with laptops or desktops?

I have just responded to a post on a discussion list about the pros and cons of giving teaching staff laptops rather than desktops, and seeing as the laptop model was one that I used about 6 years ago in a team, and is the only way that I can personally work, I put together a few pointers for other people thinking about this, which I will share here

  1. Make sure the staff have a docking station, so that when at their desk they can connect their laptop to a proper keyboard, mouse, etc. (health and safety) Dell do a very good set-up where the docking station is an adjustable stand, so you use the monitor of the laptop as your screen, but the height can be easily adjusted.
  2. In terms of insurance, it generally isn’t worth insuring laptops, as the excess is usually higher than the value of the item. With insurance some home insurance companies will cover work laptops, some won’t – I certainly had a member of staff have a laptop stolen from home, and their insurance paid up without too much hassle (which surprised me) but some home insurance policies won’t cover something that you don’t actually own.
  3. Give people decent bags for carrying the laptops – I would now recommend laptop rucksacks, as much easier than the cheap ones that often come with the laptop.
  4. If all your main teaching staff have laptops, then one problem this does present is the part time casual staff who only teach a few hours each week, won’t have a computer to use when they do come in and want to print out their notes – so you do need some desktops dotted around for them.
  5. In theory if staff are using it for personal use then it becomes a taxable perk, but how you differentiating what is home use and what is private use is very hard – as almost anything that one does at home, could be classified as learning how to use the computer/internet and therefore part of their job.
  6. One thing to decide is whether to allow the computers to connect to peoples networks at home – and this is something that needs careful thought – we did allow it, which meant that staff could use them effectively, but it did cause a few problems with conflicting settings, staff downloading stuff onto them that they shouldn’t etc.
  7. Think about your rotation policy of new laptops – if you get a batch of new laptops who do these go to – the new members of staff, or the existing staff (who then pass theirs onto the new staff) – again just needs thinking hrough, and consistency is the key.
  8. Lifespan – a laptop used by teaching staff will probably last 2 years, whereas a desktop might do 3 years – so there it is the more expensive option, but is cheaper than giving everyone a desktop and laptop, which often happens.
  9. Colour coding – Although some people made fun of my system, I was managing over 70 laptops within the team, so I set up a colour code scheme using electrical tape – I had 6 colours of tape, and by using combinations of 3 colours, I could create numerous unique combinations (e.g. someone may be red, white, blue, and another person may be yellow, yellow, green). I then put tape around each separate piece of kit – e.g. the laptop bag handle, both parts of the power cable, the mouse ….so if cables get muddled then it is very easy to repatriate them with their owners, by matching the colour codes to people.
  10. Provide a Kensington lock with every laptop (give them one key, and keep one yourself, for when they lose theirs), so staff can lock them to a desk when not attended – however you need to educate people as to what to lock it to – I have often seen people wrapping the cable around a table leg, but forgetting that you can lift the table up to remove it!

Do you issue staff with laptops or desktops?

Frog – a learning platform that has impressed me

Today I went to visit the people at Frog who had contacted me after one of their staff had read an article on my blog which mentioned their product, and I have to confess that I am very impressed with the system. I went there thinking that Frog was a VLE, but looking at it (and in particular the new version which will be released in April) although it is an environment in which learning will take place, it isn’t based on the same model as other VLE systems, in that this is based more on social networking principles (a bit like facebook, but limited to people inside the institution), and is certainly not just a resource dumping ground. Some of the features that impressed me in particular are:-

  • It pulls timetable data out of the school MIS system to populate calendars in the system
  • It can be used by tutors to control internet access in a certain room in real time
  • It is possible for tutors to create their own learning resources, by dragging and dropping Frog blocks – a bit like adding widgets to Google Home Page
  • If someone produces a combination of blocks, for a certain purpose, they can package this up, and share with other Frog users so that they can use it
  • It looks very clean and similar to other web2.0 sites, rather than the often clunky appearance of other VLEs
  • It integrates many school systems into one place, embedding the tool into a teachers practice, rather than having it as a separate ‘bolt-on’ system
  • It has a parental access system – so schools can give parents access to certain information about their children
  • If a school wants to integrate with other systems, and the other systems are prepared to talk to the people at Frog, then they this can be sorted

Another area where I think that Frog will do well, is they have identified some of the problems that the new Diploma has thrown up, in terms of students from different organisations needing access to systems at other consortium providers, and have built this into their system, with things like a Moodle plug in, allowing people on Frog, to access an area on Moodle at another provider, this way of working I think will become very significant in the coming years. So all in, I was very impressed, and I think is a huge step forward for learning environments.

Frog - a learning platform that has impressed me

Frog

eCPD programme gaining momentum

I am very lucky to be working on the new eCPD programme an initiative commissioned by LSIS, and being run by BDP Media. The first cohort of ‘Proffessional Development Advisors” (PDAs)  is being trained at the moment, equipping them with the skills and tools to help an organisation move forwards with the strategic approach to eCPD, something that all providers should be doing, and hopefully this programme is a timely intervention that will help organisation tackle embrace this issue.

Last week the official launch event (organised by ALT) took place in London, and was an amazing event, as last Thursday there was chaos with travel due to the snow, yet over 170 people (out of 190 expected) still made it to the event, and loads more accessed it online. The event had an excited buzz about it, and I have only heard positive comments from people that attended.

On Tuesday I attended the launch of the showcase projects, which showed an interesting array of  work – with 8 such projects being funded £2000 each. There will be a second round of funding for more such projects,and the programme is looking for projects from a wide range of providers in particular 6th form colleges, work based learning, adult ommunity learning and Offender learning, if anyone is interested, then details can be found at http://ecpd.bdplearning.com/ecpd/news_details.php?id=68

But from my perspective the best part is the interactions between myself and the PDAs that I am supporting, as there is a real excitement out there from them, and that is what it is all about.

Podcast – snow and e-learning

After a break of quite a few weeks, I was involved in another panel podcast, hastily arranged and recorded to discuss the topical issue of the disruption to education caused by snow, and how e-learning could paly a part (now and in the future).

The podcast can be found at http://elearningstuff.wordpress.com/2009/02/08/e-learning-stuff-podcast-012-its-snow-joke/

Snow man

Snow man

Finding Creative Commons Images on Flickr

Flickr is a wonderful resource for people in education, as there are millions of high quality images that can be used, most of which are released under something called creative commons, which basically means we can legally use them.

Today I was introduced to a couple of new websites, that will help with the finding of these images, and then date stamping them to show that the image had an appropriate creative commons licence at the time that you found it.

The first site is called Behold and is a very simple page, where you enter your keywords, tick the box next to ‘free to use’ and search. It will search Flickr for images that have been tagged with your seach term, and show them as a gallery, if you click on a desired image, it then takes you to that image on Flickr. This is very simple and quick and saves having to use the advanced search feature in Flickr.

The second site is called ImageStamper With this you create an account on the site (in the usual sort of way) and then having found your image on Flickr, you pop the URL into this site, and it will record for you your search and the licence agreement at the time (so if in the future someone changes the creative commons licence, you have this as evidence that it was available for you to use at the time that you used it). Obviously common sense is still required, as some ‘commercial’ images are sometimes uploaded to Flickr without the owners permission, but this simple system will make it very easy to record and log any images used from Flickr.