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  1. A message for posterity
  2. The wiki train timetable
  3. 7 questions to ask regarding whether education technology improves learning
  4. 7 reasons not to swear in blogs
  5. A too-robust approach to spam
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  7. Search ICT and Computing in Education
  8. Prior Mailing Archive

A message for posterity

I have decided to take up the #Blimage Challenge. See the end of this post for more information about it, but basically it’s to write a blog post based on or stimulated by an image someone sends you. Steve Wheeler has made the picture below available.

 

The best thing about these desks is the graffiti. I don’t usually condone defacing things, but when I look at the desks I see a slice of history – history that nobody will really know about, but which is there all the same. Let me explain.

That graffiti didn’t write itself. People, presumably school kids, did it. Someone has carved their name: K Ha…. Who was or is K Ha…? Did they make a success of their lives? What happened to them? Is there anything to show that they existed, apart from their name carved on the desk?

My fascination with such minutiae of life is not confined to names carved on desks. Case in point: there’s a photo of Marilyn Monroe at Grand Central Station. Look closely, and you’ll see a man in business dress. Who was he? Did he know that Marilyn Monroe was there? Did he go home and tell his wife? Or did he only realise when he saw the photo? Did he see the photo?

I have some home movies taken 40 years ago. In one of them, there was an American car driving in front of us. That was (and is) unusual. Who were the people in that car, and where were they going?

I suppose it’s all about mortality and legacy: once you have shuffled off this mortal coil, will there be any evidence that you were ever here?

And if there is, who would know?

Read about the #blimage challenge here: Blimey, it’s blimage!

 

And here: The Blimage List
If you fancy taking part, here’s an image you could use as a stimulus:

An alleyway

 

    

The wiki train timetable

I wrote the following article back in 2005. I’m sorry, but I still hold the same views.

Questions for students: What are the checks and balances available to ensure that crowd-sourced information is reliable? It can’t be the wisdom of the crowd, because it’s likely that the “crowd” is the in-crowd, resulting in a groupthink situation. So what’s the answer?

"Wikipedia contains so much information that I'm prepared to use it despite its occasional mistakes."
(Part of a posting in an internet forum)

Imagine a train timetable catalogue created along the same lines as Wikipedia. This is how it might work.

Crowd-sourced timetable anyone?

1. Anyone who thinks they know when and where the train stops on a particular line could create a page containing its timetable.

2. Anyone who fancies creating a fictitious timetable could do so -- as long as they were a registered user.

3. Anyone who wasn't a registered user could ask a registered user to create the page, and then edit it...

4.... or make up a name and register and then create it.

5. True timetable pages might be amended because people think they are false or contain errors.

6. False timetable pages might not be amended because people think they are true, or simply do not notice the errors.

7. There is no way of knowing which are the true pages and which are the false ones.

8. Consequently, sometimes people miss their connection or end up in a completely different place to where they wanted to go.

9. But they continue to use the WikiTimetable despite its errors because it contains the timetables for so many journeys.

10. People who use the WikiTimetable are told that they need to check the information they find in it with another source of information (such as the official printed national rail timetable perhaps?)

Would anybody seriously consider for a moment using such a timetable to plan their journeys?

And what of the wiki textbook? If British Airways announced that it was discarding its pilot training manual and replacing it by a wiki textbook that anyone could edit, what would be likely to happen to sales of tickets on British Airways flights?

Self-portrait with coloured pencilsFor more articles like this, plus news, commentary and freebies, sign up for my ezine Digital Education. Great content, longer articles, book reviews, competitions, news, comment and guest articles.

    

7 questions to ask regarding whether education technology improves learning

Does education technology improve learning? The intuitive answer to those of us involved in education technology is “of course it does”. However, the evidence from research is not conclusive. I think the reason is that it’s actually very difficult to carry out robust research in this area. As the impact of education technology has often been a topic for discussion in the Naace and Mirandanet mailing lists, I thought it might be useful to try and clarify the issues as I see them.

But is she learning better? Photo by Woodleywonderworks https://www.flickr.com/photos/wwworks/

The question “Does education technology improve learning?” naturally leads on to a set of other questions that need to be addressed:

What education technology?

The question as stated is too broad. A computer is not the same as a suite of computers. It’s not even the same as a laptop, which is not the same as a handheld device. Software is not the same as hardware, and generic software, such as a spreadsheet, is not the same as specific applications, such as maths tuition software.

What other factors are present?

Education technology doesn’t happen in a vacuum. What is the environment in which the technology is being used? How is the lesson being conducted? What is the level of technical expertise of the teacher? What is the level of teaching expertise of the teacher? These and other factors mentioned in this article are not stand-alone either: they interact with each other to produce a complex set of circumstances.

What is the education technology being used for?

What is being taught? There is some evidence to suggest that computers are used for low-level and boring tasks like word processing, in which case comparing technology-rich lessons with non-technology-rich lessons is not comparing like with like. On the other hand, technology can be, and often is, used to facilitate exploration and discussion. Since these are educationally-beneficial techniques in their own right, the matter of validity needs to be scrutinised (see below).

How is the impact of the education technology being evaluated?

There are several ways in which this might be done, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. For example, in-depth case studies yield rich data but they may be difficult to generalise from. Also, there are three other problems. One is that it is difficult to conduct experiments using a suitable control group, because no teacher wishes to try something which may disadvantage a particular group of students. Another is the so-called “starry night” effect, in which case studies focus (naturally) on the successful projects whilst ignoring all the ones which either failed or were not believed to have deliver the same level of benefits. Finally, there is the danger of all kinds of evaluation study, that the methodology itself may affect the outcome.

What exactly is being measured?

This is the issue of validity, already touched upon. Are we measuring the ability of a teacher to conduct a technology-rich lesson, in which case it’s the effectiveness of the teacher rather than the education technology that is being weighed up? By implication, it may be the quality and quantity of professional development which is being measured. It may be students’ home environments that are inadvertently being evaluated, or student-staff relationships.

How much is education technology being used?

I suggest there may be a difference between schools in which education technology is being used more or less everywhere, and those in which it’s hardly being used at all. In the former, presumably both teachers and students would be accustomed to using it, there would be a good explicit support structure in the form of technical support and professional development, and a sound hidden support structure in the form of being able to discuss ideas with colleagues over lunch or a cup of coffee.

Is there an experimenter effect going on?

This is the phenomenon whereby the results of a study confirm or tie in with the expectations of the people or organisation responsible for the study. This is an unconscious process, not a deliberate attempt to cheat. I’ve explained it in my article called Is Plagiarism Really a Problem?

Conclusion

My own feeling – backed up by experience --  is that in the right set of circumstances, the use of education technology can lead to profound learning gains. However, rather than falling into the trap of arguing whether education technology is “good” or “bad”, we need to move the debate onto a much sounder intellectual basis.

Further reading

I’d highly recommend Rachel M. Pilkington, “Measuring the Impact of Information Technology on Students’ Learning”, in The International Handbook of Information Technology in Primary and Secondary Education, Springer, 2008, USA.

An earlier version of this article was published in 2010.

Self-portrait with coloured pencilsFor more articles like this, plus news, commentary and freebies, sign up for my ezine Digital Education. Great content, longer articles, book reviews, competitions, news, comment and guest articles.

    

7 reasons not to swear in blogs

It seems to be depressingly more and more likely to find that a blog article which looks promising is peppered with swear words – or one particular swear word that is repeated ad nauseum. I think that writers of such blog posts are making a grave error. Here are my reasons.

And no swearing either

It’s unpleasant to read

I have a thing about swearing. It’s one thing to blurt out a swear word in frustration or when you’ve just caught your finger in the door, but when the swearing is being done in a controlled manner it is very unpleasant to listen to. A few weeks ago a neighbour came to our house and, for some reason, had decided to include a swear word in every sentence, for no apparent reason. It really was on the tip of my tongue to ask her to leave. I value my personal space, and I don’t like to have it polluted by inappropriate language. I feel the same about reading matter. The last thing I want while I’m eating my breakfast is to have a read a stream of foul language. I tend to stop reading at the first errant word. It’s frustrating, because I obviously wanted to read the article.

It makes the writer unrecommendable

Perhaps you are not bothered too much about the experience of the reader. A good writer will always put the needs (or presumed needs) of the reader first, but in today’s narcissistic age many writers write in order to put their own stamp on the world and to demonstrate how clever, important or fearless they are. If you are one of those writers, then you may as well stop reading this article now, because everything I say will fall on deaf ears. But if you do  care about how others perceive you, then think about this: if you pepper your articles with swear words, it makes it impossible for anyone to recommend your blog.

As a case in point, there is absolutely no way that I would recommend a swearing writer on my website, or in the lists of resources I give out at the end of my courses or talks. On very rare occasions I have cited a particular article, with a language warning, but that is very much the exception to the rule. I have two reasons for this rule: one, if I find the swearing unpleasant, why should I subject someone else to the same experience? Two, I would be worried that it would suggest a lack of good judgement on my part.

I can’t be the only person who thinks along these lines. If that is the case, then people who swear in blog posts are needlessly restricting the scope of the word of mouth that tends to increase a blog’s readership.

It’s unprofessional

We’ve all met the boss who thinks it’s macho to swear in meetings, or the colleague who swears all the time, but most professional people don’t behave in that way. Why would you behave that way online?

It’s potentially career limiting

Everyone these days looks up job applicants online, regardless of any laws prohibiting that on the grounds of fairness. So if you’re a headteacher and you discover that an applicant for a teaching post thinks it’s OK to swear in blog posts, would you employ him or her? I am sure that it would at least raise a question mark where there was not one before.

If the person who is writing is a consultant who does public speaking, I’d be reluctant to approach them to give a talk in case they swore during it. (When I was a teacher in one school, a guest speaker, presumably thinking this would be a good way of ingratiating herself wth the kids, swore mid-talk. There was a deathly silence, followed by polite applause when she finished her speech. The headteacher said to those of us near him, “I’m sure she will go on to carve out a great career as a speaker – but not in this school.”)

It implies that the writer is inarticulate

I pride myself on having a decent grasp of language, and of knowing how to find the right word or phrase when I’m not sure. Unless you are clever enough to use swear words to great humorous effect then resorting to the use of swear words indicates – to me at any rate – that you have a limited vocabulary. There’s nothing wrong with that, but why advertise the fact if it happens to be true? Or suggest it if it isn't?

Do you want to be listened to?

I’ve been in situations where someone is raving and shouting, turning the air blue with their language, and the only effect is that the person or people they are shouting at try to get them off the premises as soon as possible. I am pretty sure that such behaviour does nothing to get your point listened to or heard. In fact, it seems to suggest that you have a pretty weak case if the only way you can present it is through bad language.

What is the call to action?

The expression “call to action” is a piece of jargon applied to blog posts and other types of publishing. It means, what do you want the reader to do after reading your article? I tend to have a call to action like “Please comment on this post” or, more usually, “If you liked this article why not sign up to my newsletter?”.  But it’s a useful question to ask: what do you want the reader to do after reading your article? Do you want her to commiserate with you? Do you want him to angry too? What? I suppose what I’m really asking is: what is the point of your article, and even more, what is the point of the swearing?

Conclusion

Even if half of your potential readership doesn’t mind swearing, that means that half of your potential readership does. Why risk alienating loads of people?

I think my remarks about swearing apply to thinly-disguised swearing or implied swearing too. I will, however, make an exception. As someone who was an avid reader of MAD magazine in my childhood, I still like the way they depicted swearing: @*#?!!. I think that gets the emotion across, but with a dash of humour!

Self-portrait with coloured pencilsFor more articles like this, plus news, commentary and freebies, sign up for my ezine Digital Education, for great content, longer articles, book reviews, news, comment and guest articles.

    

A too-robust approach to spam

I was reading recently that something like 47% of emails are spam. I can believe it. I get the whole range: offers of Russian brides, Viagra, genie bras, news that a previously unknown relative has left me tons of money and messages exhorting me to open the attached document or confirm my security details. All this would be quite funny on one level, but it makes downloading and then sifting through email that much more difficult.

So I decided to do something about it.

Spam Wal, by Freezelight https://www.flickr.com/photos/63056612@N00/First thing I did was check my spam filter settings online (ie not in  Outlook on my desktop, which is filtered at a low level). I discovered to my horror that it was set at zero, ie no filtering at all. I could have sworn I set it ages ago, but still. I set it to Medium.

Next, I went through all my emails from the past week (during which I was away and actually managed to refrain from checking my emails for nearly the whole time!), and deleted about 80%.

Then I deleted the contents of the Spam folder.

Finally, I emptied the contents of the Deleted Items folder.

What a fool. I should have left the emails in the Deleted Items folder until I was absolutely certain that I didn’t need any of them.

Being completely paranoid about not seeing important emails, I have them automatically forwarded to Elaine. Good thing I did: she had espied one offering me work. One that, as you have probably guessed, I had permanently deleted.

Well, I found and retrieved it in the emails copied to Elaine, so that was OK. But of course, I now have to trawl through all of those emails just in case I accidentally deleted other important emails.

Lesson learnt? To do things in stages. Next time I will delete the spam emails, but not permanently until I’m absolutely sure I haven’t deleted something important.

The funny thing is, that’s exactly what I usually do. I think on this occasion, faced with a couple of thousand emails about genie bras and Russian brides etc I did the computing equivalent of running amok. Like a crazy, deranged person I slashed everything in sight until I had only a few hundred emails to look at.

Oh well. It’s all experience.

(“Experience is merely the name men give to their mistakes.” – Oscar Wilde)

Self-portrait with coloured pencilsFor more articles like this, plus news, commentary and freebies, sign up for my ezine Digital Education, for great content, longer articles, book reviews, news, comment and guest articles.

    

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