Friday, 24 October 2008

'ICT but'

Outdoor learning is rightly becoming more important in the Scottish curriculum. Firstly because Health and Well being is now a shared responsibility in the new Curriculum, so taking learning outdoors is more important and secondly because traditional subject teaching is changing. Traditional subject teachers are increasingly expected to collaborate and share their knowledge across subject devisions: what better way to start than with out of classroom learning, in rural or urban landscapes. Sharing authentic tasks in relevant contexts and offering experience of real life problem solving to pupils.
It is too often the case though that when we say outdoor learning that does not include using computers because they can be seen as things for playing games on or at the very least not good for your health. In other words educators often think 'ICT but'. I think ICT but nothing, when it comes to outdoor learning. Derek Robertson is pushing the boundaries and has debunked the idea of 'ICT but.....' in teaching with computer games . He won an award at the Handheld Learning Conference in London recently for just that. Teachers may need alittle more encouragement for connecting up subject specific learning, learning outdoors and using ICT. We Should explore and exploit technology for this purpose, using: handheld devices, cameras and mobile phones. ICT is for communication, collaboration and for connecting with the outdoors. There are so many choices for how we use technology for outdoor learning that it is silly to say ICT but.... unless you do not have it. Geography teachers have a special role to play here , in schools, by developing new approaches to teaching and learning outdoors, integrating technology and sharing that learning indoors. Geographers have always taken a special interest in ICT, information systems and collaborative enquiry. Take a look at the SAGT conference program, and Ollie Brae's blog.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Glow training in LTS Dundee

What if the Scottish Learning Festival came to Dundee the city of discovery and educational innovation? Dundee is a leader in gaming technology, scientific research and educational excellence.........
On May 27th and 28th Dundee LTS staff took part in mentor training for Glow, in City House in the centre of Dundee. With my colleague Karen-Anne MacAlpine, we made a number of Glow presentations and facilitated several workshops over two days.
This training was different from the mentor training we usually organise for Local Authorities because these mentors had a different role based need. The context was not teaching and learning; more administration and communication. Mentors are always asked to think about their role and to create a Glow group which is authentic and relevant… so on this occasion our demonstrations were modelled with an administration focus: planning and hosting a fictitious event with a Glow group for the Dundee Scottish Learning Festival “This festival will be coordinated by an experienced Learning and Teaching Scotland team on floor 9 of City House, including Derek Robertson from the Consolarium and it will feature a number of Dundee schools who have been leading the way in developing the use of Glow in the classroom.” “It will be in several locations in the city centre: the Dundee contemporary Arts Centre, the University of Dundee and ….”
Glow is practical and flexible. This context demonstrated that the tools in Glow can be used to support 'other' roles. It is a small leap of te imagination to see how Glow could expand to support administration and cross service collaboration in a Local Authority for example between librarians social workers and teachers. for example, Glow meet was demonstrated as a very useful administration tool for recording minutes of meetings and inter office communications. Marratech audio and video files can be kept in a documents store next to a meeting room, on the same page, in a Glow group. These files can be coded to restrict access or made available to all members of the group, any time anywhere.
Glow groups were shown to be an excellent office tool and equally good for supporting social events in interest groups such as a book club.
Glow like Dundee is on the Global stage. The George Lucas foundation in San Francisco recognises that Glow is an “ambitious and practical tool” and that Laurie O'Donnel is one of the 'Daring Dozen' educational leaders around the globe. Dundee is also recognised as an intelligent city: a smart place to promote better education and host The Scottish Learning Festival.

Monday, 5 May 2008

A visit to the Gruffalo's Cave

Since January we have been reading The Gruffalo by Julia Donalson and Axel Scheffler, to my children age 2 + and 3+. The Gruffalo is my son's favorite animal/ monster. Most recently my daughter has also been listening to Peter Pan at Nursery school, which has led to much talk about and pretending to be pirates in our house. If you visit us just before bath time, around 7pm, you are most likely to hear me shout 'bath time' followed by either 'pirates are coming' or 'here comes the Gruffalo'. Both are quite effective in getting my children to move upstairs towards the bathroom or their bedrooms.
After many readings, much pretence and some enactments of the Gruffalo story , I thought it would be good, in the way that some Geography teachers do, to have a trip to a Gruffalo Cave. For all you nursery teachers out there, I know that most Gruffalos live in Swedish forests but did you know?...
There is word of one living in a deep dark cave in a remote cove on the NE coast of Scotland, between Auchmithy and Arbroath. Dont ask me how he got there or how long he has been there. Perhaps he swam ashore after his ship was wrecked in a storm on the rocks, or sunk by pirates?
This is the story of our trip to the Gruffalo's Cave. We walked down into Seton Den through a dark forest until we could see the sea. We climbed down a steep grassy slope to Carlingheugh Bay and on to the beach. We searched in the sand and in the pools of sea water at low tide for signs of the Gruffalo. We looked for his cave in the red sandstone cliffs on the north side of the bay.
We searched and searched, we clambered and climbed until we saw two huge caves in the cliffs, quite close to the water.
After eating our sandwhiches and checking our torches we decided to see if the Gruffalo was home. We went into the cave with Louise in the lead, walking carefully so as not to trip in the dark and asking in soft polite voices: 'Hello Mr Gruffalo, can we come in... we are friendly and nice'. We asked several times but never saw the Gruffalo. We think he may have left by the back door but we do not know for sure! louise shone the torch everwhere but there was no sign of him. So went back towards the light and climbed out of the big dark cave into the bright sunshine. We went to look for crabs in the rocky pools instead. Lucas who liked climbing on the sandstone boulders more than Louise, discovered he was more scared of seaweed than the Gruffalo or the dark cave. Louise was scared of nothing except not wearing pink!

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Between the sea and the mountains.

I attended a well organised event in Aberdeenshire today. It was organised by the Local authority E-Learning Development Group and their Glow Key Contacts: Brian Conn and Anna Rossvoll. Thanks for a great day. Embracing New Technologies for Learning was the title of the event but the name in lights was Glow. It was very successful, not just because it was in a a great new school with excellent facilities but because the keynote speakers were inspiring:
Bruce Robertson, DoE Aberdeenshire;

Tim Rylands;

Derek Robertson (and Tim), Learning and Teaching Scotland;

Tim said this was the best way to pose for a photo based on advice given to him by his sister who is a professional ballet dancer? What about Derek?
Richard Stroud, Councillor, Chair of the local Education Commitee and member of the Cairngorms National Park Authority .

All of these key note speakers had strong messages for the audience of three hundred+ teachers. Glow is the future of education in Aberdeenshire. Bruce Robertson described his bold vision and commitment to Glow. He outlined his investment in technology and people to facilitate better learning experiences for all in Aberdeenshire.
Tim Rylands fired up the audience with stories of his imaginative teaching approaches and how he integrates e-learning to enhance learning experinces in the classroom.
Derek Robertson, my colleague from LTS, reinforced what appeared to be a team message by describing technologys and computer based games that can be used to support the teaching of literacy, numeracy and much much more in schools. For me Derek is at his best when he argues for using technology to promote social inclusion and when he gives concrete examples of how to encourage responsible learning with technology. As usual Derek entertained and easily convinced the audience.

I was very pleased to see councillor Richard Stroud show video clips of the Cairngorms National Park, some were made by pupils from schools surrounding the Cairngorms mountains. He was clearly excited and enthused by the potential of Glow to support education about the National Parks. His messages were from the heart, as a councillor, as a mountaineer and skier, and as a resident in the Cairngorms National Park. He talked about this special mountain environment, highland culture, the local economy and issues of sustainability.
I recognised a colleague in one of his video clips. It was Bob Downie, PT Geography from Websters High School in Angus. I used to teach Higher Geography with Bob and remember taking pupils to Corrie Fee in the early 90s to look at such things, as footpath erosion and glacial landforms. It is interesting to think that in my new role as a Glow National Facilitator in the National Site and in particular of the National Parks Glow group, I have the opportunity to make new connections between and with teachers across Scotland: using a Glow group to bring together teachers and pupils to learn about the special landscapes, landforms and landuses we have in our National Parks.
It was great for me to chat with Richard at the end of the day about using the Cairngorms for climbing and ski touring. Unusually, I had time to speak with presenters, organisers, attendees and participants at this event. I had time to chat with a physics teacher (and Glow mentor) in the main hall. We talked about Glow, curriculum for Excellence and our subject areas. The topic of conversation was about managing the content in our subject areas and refocusing teaching for CfE. For example should geography give up content to Scienceeg:tectonic plates, weather and planets? And if this happens, what should Geography centre itself on? There is a great deal of thinking and talking going on, about Glow, about educational change and new technologys, across Scotland but it most obvious in Aberdeenshire today. It is increasingly obvious to me that teacher conversations will soon be seen in Glow, about Glow and for innovation in schools.

I am looking forward to going back to old Meldrum, between the sea and the mountains, in two weeks time when I am delivering a second lot of mentor training to Aberdeenshire Glow mentors. I am also looking forward to mee ting with Cairngorms National Park Authority in May, to collect ideas for designing the National Parks Glow group, sitting in the National Site and Interdisciplinary area. This group will improve communication and collaboration for the National Park Authorities and school projects across Scotland. Aberdeenshire is taking a lead in supporting and using this Glow group. More local authorities will soon want to get involved not leats because, like Aberdeenshire, they too have boundaries and connections with Scotland's National Parks.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Connecting Glow, AifL and CfE

AifL Fringe Event Saturday 08/03/08
On the train from Dundee to Edinburgh Waverly, I had time to read through my Glow presentation and focus my comments for the Associated Schools Groups of teachers I was about to speak to. I was aware that quite a few teachers in the audience may not have seen Glow in their Local Authority. The Edinburgh Conference Centre (ECC) is just off the Royal Mile, next to the UoE (formerly Moray House). I was invited by Rosemary Delaney (AifL) and Myra Young (AifL), to this, my second AifL Fringe event to talk about networking, collegiality and collaboration with Glow.

The ECC was easy to find; only a stones throw from where I spent many hours reflecting on educational and organisational theory in the late 90s. I was very interested, at that time, in new theorys about literacy, intelligence and social constructivist approaches to learning. I was studying, then, part time for an MSC Ed in Edinburgh. Edinburgh has agreat national and international reputation for educational research. Those high standards can also be seen in the three national programs, Assessment is for Learning (AifL), Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) and Glow. These three big programs are still quite new to schools (Glow more so) and they have yet to be welded together in by working teachers. If this work is successful, they (classroom teachers) will take Scotland back to the future of educational change. Change that is not just based on financial investment but also on value shifts. A move to ideas of teacher autonomy and collegialty, and a change in ownership of learning from teachers to pupils. Teachers are increasingly expected to be much more reflective: to use good question techniques and to encourage questioning in young learners. Part of this new autonomy is effective justification for actions: teachers must justify their thinking with reference to good educational theory.

Professional autonomy and collegiality are central to the success of AiFl, CfE and Glow. AifL is essential for Glow because it needs the same teachers to embed new (digital) practices in schools. Glow is a means to digitally upskill teachers but most importantly, Glow will assist teachers with other changes in Scottish education. Glow can provide improved access to information for teachers and learners in a time of accelerated cultural and social change. That does not mean it should be used as a place to stuff facts and figures. Glow will support the communities of professional learning that will be central to the development of AifL and CfE.

My presentation was about using Glow, and the communication tools in it, to support professional learning by creating professional knowledge through collaboration between classroom teachers. I talked briefly about the context, functionality and purposes of using communication tools like Glow messenger, Glow user search, discussion boards and Glow meet, the web conferencing tool. The room was full of teachers who wanted to push forward changes in Scottish education, and they were eager to get their hands on new tools to do the job. It was obvious that Glow would be in demand and that my colleagues in the Glow team can look to these ASG teachers for good examples of how to use Glow in the schools.

I stayed for the AifL and CfE presentations that followed. there were some excellent insights. I enjoyed listening to Carolyn Hutchison(AifL). Her messages about assessment and in particular her emphasis on values, 'we value what we assess' message, were powerful. Dan Mcginty (CfE) was here with a team from CfE . I gained most from a presentation about Literacy and English Outcomes. Parallel outcomes and multimodal text were two particulary useful ideas for me ( I will leave you to find out more for yourself ). I hope to inject these two ideas into my Glow/CfE presentations at future Mentor training, because they assist me in welding ideas of digital literacy, literacy across the curriculum and embedding ICT into our new approaches to teaching and learning. I enjoyed working with my LTS colleagues from floor 8. I like the way the AifL team model what they say and adopt an intelligent collegial approach. I am now looking forward to my next collaboration with AifL................. ?

Monday, 3 March 2008

The John Muir Trail

It was great working with Glow mentors over two days in East Lothian last week. There was as you might expect; a wide range of backgrounds and a mixture of accents in the room. I heard Welsh, Scottish, English and American accents. East lothian is a small and rapidly changing local authority. It has a highly developed learning community in its teachers who have a vision to translate the potential in Glow for e-learning, into exceptional learning experiences for children. There is such a high standard of digital literacy among staff in this authority that it constitutes an advantage in digital and educational capital. This is a geographical area with a rich mixture of old and new. There is mix of coastal and market towns, such as Musselburgh, Haddington and North Berwick which provide room for an expanding commuter population and retirees, on the edge of Edinburgh.
I was in Prestonpans, almost in view of Aurthur's seat to deliver mentor training. Over the two days I demonstrated how to plan, create and populate a Glow group. Having taught Intermediate 2 Geography and People in the Landscape, it was an ideal opportunity to draw on my classroom experience and to use Glow to model something I could not imagine until recently. I was now able to show how a Glow group could be used to enhance teaching and learning: for example in teaching difficult concepts such as, wilderness, conservation, beauty, and conflict. John Muir (1838-1914) was born in Dunbar and became the father of the National Park system in the USA. It is ironic that Scotland did not have it's own National Parks until 2002. Some would say we have been been just as slow to integrate ICT into schools in Scoltand. Many English schools have been using online learning spaces more extensively and for longer. However, Scotland not only has the largest and most spectacular National Park in the UK, with the Cairngorms NP, it now has the largest educational intranet and most connected national educational system, with Glow.
East Lothian will very soon be exploring the possibilities of accessing emerging technologies in Glow groups and building on their digital experience with edubuzz and bloggers such as Tess Watson, Don Ledingham and Ollie Brae. These teachers are part of a confident teaching community who do not fear the exponential growth of information or new technology. East Lothian mentors started to create a variety of interesting and useful Glow groups which could offer new ways of being creative and participative for teachers, pupils and parents. These are exciting times in East Lothian. I hear there is a plan (watch this space) to create a Glow group and use it to assist with an existing exchange between schools in the USA and East Lothian. To connect a school in Dunbar, the birth place of John Muir, with a school in Yosemite Valley, the first National Park in the world, using virtual learning tools that can be found in a Glow group: The John Muir glow group?

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Glow on Harris and Lewis

I Recently I had the pleasure to work with Glow mentors from the Western Isles in Tarbert on the Isle of Harris. On the drive south from Stornoway to Tarbert, I recognised scenery from a previous visit. I had spent three weeks camping on the machair at Valtos and Cneep fifteen years before. That visit had given me a valuable insight into a local community and a crofting township. As the car meandered past a landscape full of small lochs and climbed over the mountains into southern Harris I recognised the remains of black houses next to modern bungalows and traditional one and a half story houses dotted along the roadside. I wondered, how many people live with their family history and community archaeology in daily view, in their garden, as they do on the Western Isles? These strings of houses look very isolated... but if you get involved in local conversations, or as I did, visit a local cemetry, it soon becomes clear that these communities are connected, to each other and to distant places around the globe. People here have a local and a global sense of place not least because of their connections with and across the Atlantic.

Everyone should visit the Outer Hebridese to enjoy the landscape, at least once: to see the warmer colours, whiter sands and open spaces with no trees. As I approached my destination I shifted my thoughts from Cneep and Valtos to Tarbert, and work. From the backseat of the car, I overheard my host, Hamish, telling my colleague: "the local council are moving to Voip".
I thought, ah crofting township, and asked: "where is that?" There was alot of laughter; because as you well know Voip is not a gaelic name. It is a protocol!

During my two nights and two days in Tarbert the weather deteriorated and connectivity was interrupted but training went ahead without pause. Technical problems were replaced with opportunities for discussion. It was great to be involved in local conversations. Here was a group of people who could see the potential of Glow and were talking about how it could be used to

overcome traditional and current problems in schools. Mentor training includes workshops in using a range of communication tools such as Glow Meet (video conferencing) and how to apply these in an educational context.

It was clear that these mentors were talented teachers with excellent technical support and a good sense of what technology can offer. Add to this certain local advantages: small average class sizes, high expectations of formal education and strong communites and then it is not difficult to see why this is such a good place for Glow. Here are the building blocks for successful 21st century learning and teaching, where the emphasis will be on creativity, connecting and collaborating.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Platforms, Pedagogy and Personalisation

I went to BETT in Kensington Olympia last week for three days to enjoy the show but also to take notes about 'learning platforms' in England and more generally, advances in the
'personalisation' agenda south of the Scottish border.
There were plenty of companys ready to sell a tested learning platform and the seminars were full of presenters addressing the issue of personalisation in learning.
In the halls and stalls my first stop was the National Education Network stand.

Jim Henderson LTS, described to me some of the very useful resources available across the UK, through this network. Glow is at the top of the board: a Scottish solution with more to offer than many of the English based platforms. I lso saw Glow at the RM stand in Olympia 2. This where I saw a Alfred Wegners's tectonic plates in motion on an amazing globe.

I moved on to take a closer look at some of the learning platforms,VLEs and content behind this network. There were a number of stands offering useful information about personalisation and learning. Here are a few that I intend to revisit online:

The National Education Network
Department for Education and Skills
Student Voice

Fronter (see London Grid for Learning)
Gaia Technologies Plc

Netmedia Education (Espresso group)
Clipbank (Espresso group)
I also went to some seminars and found two very interesting speakers.
Personalising Learning-whats in it for me?
Bernie Zakary, Becta
“emerging technology is agnostic: it can reinforce traditional teaching or be used for self paced programs of learning”
“learning platforms are like car dashboards”
“teachers have a responsibility to design learning programs: personalising for the learner, with the learner and by the learner”
“every child should have access to an online learning space”
“teachers need more information about LPs and what to use first (functionality)”

Ten steps closer to the ICT pedagogy we need.
Ralph Taberrer
DCSF (keynote)

“In the UK,we have high standards in ICT and pedagogy but do not get all the benefits we should (improving life chances)”
“Other countries in Europe, are doing better with less technology”
The Ten steps (I think) are:
1. Self review and improvements in school management of technology.
2. More consistency in quality of teaching with technology.
3. Understand young people and their digital literacy better.
4. Allow learners to publish more often in school time.
5. Give parents more access to the school.
6. Remove artificial separations between formal and informal learning
7. Give clear advice on what to learn and how to learn.
8. Make the most of new technology; content and devices.
9. Provide an education service which is customer focused and personal.
10. Invest in change.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Santa in France

As usual our ski holiday over Christmas was excellent. Even better because there was good snow and sunshine all week. This was great for my children who are just beginning to discover the fun of skiing. It is great for me helping them to do that.

As usual we exchanged presents on the 24th so we can all ski on the 25th. But this is the first time I have had to explain about Santa.

The children were asked to hide in their bedroom because Santa was coming over the hill (the headlamps of a piste basher were seen from the balcony). Santa was fooled into thinking all the children were asleep and was happy to leave the presents, on time. Not only that but he assured us that he had left some in Scotland at our house on the way to the French Alps. Two Christmases, brilliant!
I must check the route on Google earth.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Christmas Future

Christmas is a time to be with your family. Before my children came on the scene I would spend the days between Christmas day and New Year mountaineering in the Scottish Highlands. Withdrawing from people to the wilderness of the Cairngorm Mountains. It is a distant memory but I still remember my mother saying "people should not be allowed to go into the mountains at this time of year, it is too dangerous!". And of course every year we read stories about mountain rescue teams and deaths in the mountains. We feel for those lost in the dark, cold mountains of Scotland. They are mixed feelings and our fears are often heightened by the bright lights and warmth of Christmas.

Paradoxically we admire those who go to the mountains or who are able to withdraw voluntarily. We also see the ability to survive in adversity, to be physically or emotionally tough as a great asset. It was no surprise to me to read an article in the Guardian newspaper about 'great survivors' this Christmas. People who had survived extreme circumstances: such as plane crashes in the Andes Mountains. Experiences such as these are super 'real'. Survivors never forget. In a society where we are becoming more fearful of risk, riskful events seem to be more interesting to us. In a society where we are becoming more middle class and more connected we are more fearful of being disconnected or left on our own.
As we pad towards safety we occasionally look over our shoulder to see a trail of lonely footsteps in the snow. Have you seen Sean Penn's film Into the Wild? Not to be confused with The Call of the Wild, also a recently released film about adventure in Alaska. Sean Penn relates closely to the main character in his film, Chris McCandles:

It is a role, you suspect, Penn's younger self would have fought tooth and
nail to play, a character whose wanderlust and extreme attempt at
self-determination he identifies with wholeheartedly. 'Chris was a kid in search
of a place to belong,' he says, 'a place that would accept him as he was. His
quest was a quest for goodness and purity. It woke up some stuff in me, for
sure. I totally support his decision to go outside the comfort zone, even with
all the risks he took. The way I see it, whatever it takes for you to be truly
alive in this life, short of intentionally hurting someone else, you have to

I often think about the type of character Chris Mcandles is and am sure that there are many other young men and women like him. He is certainly not alone in his need to escape. Guy Grieve talks about his more recent experience in the wilderness of Alaska:

Three years ago I took my life into my own hands and travelled into one of
the most remote wilderness regions on earth with the intention of living there
for one year. For some time my family and I had been trapped within an all-too
common scenario, living separate lives while I commuted hundreds of miles each
week to a job I hated, in order to pay a mortgage for a house that we could not
afford. Our family life was crammed into the weekends, and was fraught with the
tension of pretending we were happy, when in fact we were screaming for escape.
Through the week, I only ever saw my children asleep, as I left before they got
up and returned after they were in bed. On a good night, if the traffic wasn't
bad, I might just fit in a bedtime story. Then Juliet and I would cram down a
meal together before we collapsed into bed, ready to start the routine all over
again the next day.

Also, have you seen Will Smith in the film I am Legend? This is the third film of this story by Richard Matheson (1954) the last being the The Omega Man with Charlton Heston (1971). The story is basically the same; an individual survives against all odds. There is violence and there is lonliness. This is a film that revisits our darkest fears and basic strengths, as with 'Into the wild and Chris Mcandles'. It is not back to nature but it is a film about being lonely 'it's all about the unsettling silence, not the noise'. The type of silence Mcandles would have been comfortable with.
There also some key differences between the remakes of 1971 and 2007. The 21st century film is different in that the main character is reconstructed. In the same way that Sean Penn reconstructs a view of Ian Mcandles by describing him as a travelling philosopher, so too is Will Smith's character reinvented. He is very different from the previous 1971 character in that he does more than just survive he looks for a solution; a biological cure to a viral plague. He wants to be more than a survivor he seeks to be constructive and participative.

The winter months are a good time to reflect on risk and loneliness as integral parts of our biological makeup. In an increasingly digital and soft skills world how will this hardwiring evolve? This brings to mind that great science fiction film, 'Bladerunner' because it is about digital loneliness. The loneliness of a high spec short life military robot who is about to die. He has fantastic memories of battles in outer space and has led an exciting adventurous life. He has no real family only the painful realisation of the value of living and sharing.