Saturday, 16 April 2011

'Networking' and #ukedchat

Being somewhat of a tech geek, to me 'networking' used to mean fiddling around computers, manually setting  TCP/IP controls so that the cables that I'd spend hours routing around the house would start doing what I wanted them to. Now however, networking has a much more profound professional meaning to me. It has been said that 'It's not what you know, but who you know', and as true as it may seem, it's not until you realise that you know the exact person that can help you solve a particular problem that it clicks.

PELC11 gave me an ideal opportunity to start networking. I've mentioned in my round up of the conference some of the 'education celebrities', pardon the expression, that I met and talked to, but it was the locally-based attendees at the conference that I am most likely to forge productive professional relationships with. James Edwards, for example, who is an ICT and Business Studies teacher at Community School. James showed some much appreciated enthusiasm for our project, and gave us some great ideas and tips. One thing I have come to realise through talking with James is that whilst Primary and Secondary teaching may seem completely different at first glance, the underlying principles are still very much the same. Things that are useful resources for primary teachers can still be useful for secondary and vice-versa.

Another very useful (and again, secondary) contact I made was Dan Kennedy, an ICT teacher at The Grange School in Christchurch. He has created a unit of work based around Kodu, which is some software that I'd like to try using with primary children, and the enthusiasm he has generated with his students sounds incredible. Will definitely look for advice on where to go based on what he found did and did not work.

Whilst I may have made some very useful contacts in the 'real world' as it were, my discovery of Twitter has lead to finding a number of useful contacts that I have never even met before. It seems like an odd concept, how can you judge how useful a contact someone is if you've never met them? How did I even meet them in the first place? Enter #ukedchat.

Every Thursday night, between 8pm and 9pm, my Twitter feed is abuzz with the tweets containing a certain hashtag. #ukedchat has been a staple Thursday night appointment since I stumbled across it a few months ago. It is entirely open, anyone can join in and share their opinion, or just sit back and watch the discussion unfold. Each week, a topic of discussion is decided upon, and from 8pm the conversation starts to flow. Whilst I was unable to attend this weeks discussion (damn you, full-time job!), I was able to attend the session on Thursday 7th April, enticingly (and considering my attendance at PELC11 at the time, relevantly) titled 'What to do with teachers that don't tech'. Whilst the discussion was moving along nicely, I thought it to be a bit one sided. Surely teachers that don't tech won't be on Twitter discussing it? So I decided to play devil's advocate to some extent. I may not have agreed with some of the points I was putting forward, but the extra comments I was getting back proved to be much more useful. I always think that argument generates more interesting discussion that agreement, the back and forth really fleshes out a topic rather than skirting over some of the more contentious issues. Just thought I'd let everyone that may have disagreed with me know that it was my comment you were disagreeing with, not myself!

I have been questioned recently what the point of my blog is. Why post what you think about things? I guess I just want to show other people what opportunities are out there and why they should take them, so I best summarise what I'm trying to encourage people to do with this post.

Firstly, get out there. Meet people. Socialise. The more people you know, the more opportunities you create not just for yourself, but for others you may know too. Someone may come to you with a project that you might not be interested in, but you know someone that would be that would be grateful for the opportunity. Case in point, I wanted an ECS specialist to help out with resources for the site, but I didn't know any. But if I didn't know someone that knew a particularly enthusiastic student that would love to be a part of the team, then I most likely wouldn't have @trainieteacher as my able deputy and in turn, I wouldn't have had some of the amazing opportunities and contacts that she brings to the table.

Secondly, get involved in #ukedchat. Even if you just sit back and watch the discussion unfold, the unpicking of a topic by teachers, education professionals and even students proves to be a very useful Thursday night for your professional development.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

TeachMeet - PELC11

"What is a Teach Meet? It is an informal and enjoyable gathering of those curious about using technology for teaching and learning. Anyone can share great ideas they've trialed in their classrooms, ask questions or simply turn up and soak up all the great ideas and enthusiasm.

The main part of TeachMeet is hearing stories about learning, from teachers and other education professionals. This is a chance for education professionals to hear ideas from each other, a chance to hear real narratives of practice that makes a difference. It is about being engaged and inspired by our immediate colleagues and gaining a whole bucket load of networking to boot!" - 

Dan Roberts (@chickensaltash) was kind enough to chair the meet, and he used the list of topics from the sign up wiki in a random generator in order to make it more interesting. Dan was a very entertaining host, and I'd like to thank not only Dan, but Vital and GCSEPod for providing 'refreshments' that definitely helped with the nerves of presenting for the first time!

I'd been interested in going to TeachMeets for a while, but work commitments had made it difficult. However, PELC11 provided me with the opportunity to not only attend, but present too. But what would I present? In actuality, the answer was obvious - I wanted to present the Student Teacher Resource to a wider audience including teachers and professionals from across the country, and get as much feedback as possible in order to take the project forward. However, there was something else that I ended up presenting in addition.

For the past few months, we've had an ICT module with Pete Yeomans (@ethinking). Pete is obviously a fan of Monty Python, as every so often during his lectures, he'll play a clip much like the Spanish inquisition, these clips appear when completely unexpected, but seem (at least in some respects!) to relate to what he was talking about. The scenes ranged from the 'Spanish Inquisition' sketch, to the 'What have the Romans ever done for us?' scene in The Life of Brian, but there was one glaring omission that I had to ask him about. For those that haven't seen the opening sketch from 'The Meaning of Life', go and watch this clip from YouTube. Whilst you're watching, see if you can relate any of the things the surgeons do to how ICT can be (mis)used in the classroom. Anyhow, I talked to Pete about why he'd never shown this clip, and he suggested I present my thoughts on how the scene relates to bad ICT at the Teach Meet. So that's what I did! Simon Finch (@Simfin) took this photo of the slide that I used to talk about why showing an Monty Python clip was remotely relevant, and the feedback I got was great! 

I'd only just got my first TeachMeet presentation done (or in the words of @chickensaltash, lost my TeachMeet... ahem) when the generator picked myself and Becy out to present the Student Teacher Resource to the others in attendance, and so back I went. Whilst I'd unfortunately misplaced the basic presentation I had, I thought quickly to just show the actual website and ask Becy to navigate whilst I talked about the various features, handing over to my able deputy to get involved too! The feedback from the audience was really useful, giving us points for development to head towards. @ethinking also had something to say, deciding to announce to us and everyone that there are some very interested parties that want to support us. It was a pretty big moment to know that we'd done something that could become so big. I want this feeling more!

Getting back to my seat and reading the Twitter feed from #tmpelc11 gave me a grin as wide as the nile. The feedback was really great - really gave me a sense that I'd made an impact in a positive way, which relates perfectly to teaching.

I'm really beginning to get a sense of confidence when I'm presenting now, in much the same way that my confidence in front of a classroom full of children has developed over the years. I've noticed I like to be quite animated, to walk around the room, using hand gestures to convey extra 
information about what I'm saying. Several people that I talked to afterwards, such as Steve Wheeler, Russell Prue and Pete Yeomans said that I came across as very confident. Now I'm starting to feel it too.

I think I've caught the bug however, I want more. I want to share more, I want to meet more people and I want to see new ideas. I also want to thank everyone in attendance for the kind words, support and feedback (and wine). It was a brilliant experience. They say nobody forgets their first time, I sure won't.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

PELC11 Day Three

One thing that has been mentioned to me is that I've missed out the Teach Meet at the end of the first day. Don't worry, I haven't forgotten, I just think it deserves it's own blog post because it was a bit of a milestone event for me. I'm taking a similar approach with something else I like to be involved with, and that's #ukedchat, which I'll talk about later. 

It does need a quick mention however, as it lead to a fantastic conversation I had with Russell Prue when I greeted him in the morning. The topic of #ukedchat on the eve of day two was 'What to do with colleagues who don't tech'. Knowing that Russell is a keen ICT evangelist, and particularly outspoken, I asked him his opinion and I was very glad I did. Sufficed to say, it was a subject he was clearly passionate about (which I could tell for reasons I won't go into!), and through the course of the conversation he really made me think about the wider issues involved, which was exactly what a good conversationalist should do. Pete Yeomans joined in had a similar point of view, echoing much of what Russell had already said, and between them they shared a lot that I found to be particularly insightful. Was an incredibly useful 10 minutes, and one of the things that stands out most from the entire conference.Russell also pointed me in the direction of and I suggest everyone else check it out too.

I would like to take the opportunity, whilst I'm talking about the last day, to say that Russell proved to be an incredibly influential figure during my time at PELC11, giving a lot of advice and feedback and really giving me a boost in confidence both professionally and personally when doing so. His outspoken and to-the-point opinions were exactly the sort of thing I can see a lot of student teachers finding engaging and entertaining in a world of roundabout ways of saying things, so I hope that at some point he can be convinced to get involved in some respect with the other students at the university.

Anyway, the first session I attended was by Lynn boyle (@boyledsweetie), the title of which was 'Creating a Community of Learners: Engaging Online Learners Online'. The title alone caight my eye, this is something that relates heavily to the Student Teacher Resource - creating a community online. The seminar was about how Lynn used Adobe Connect to host a 'webinar' with her students to discuss any issues, which occurred on a weekly basis at the same time (the Monday Surgery). She mentioned that up to 70% of students didn't want to show their face, a barrier that with the STR project we are hoping to breach - more anonymous comments means less fear when asking for help. One quote I took away was that 'Current online learninv relies too heavily on self-instructional text, failing to promote human interaction'. After the seminar, I managed to have a chat with Lynn about the STR project, and have potentially made a link with Dundee University to get their students involved too. Seeing as the theme of my day three summary seems to be gratitude, I'd like to thank Lynn for the feedback and the webinar is a concept I think could be merged with the ukedchat concept to create something that would provide great benefit to student teachers.

The other part of this session was from Steve Wheeler and Manish Malik entitled 'Of Cloud Learning Environments, Personal Learning Environments and Virtual Learning Enviroments: A Student Perspective'. Whilst I think that the ideals presented at the beginning and the discussion of the various areas of learning via Web 2.0 technologies were useful, but I think that there is a problem limiting students to a single set of apps, in this case Google Apps, to use in their PLE. I'm in no way choosing Microsoft over Google or anything, I just think that the achieve a true PLE, students must make their own choices in the software that they use.

The final keynote speech was from Shelly Terrell, entitled 'Causing Ripples: Education transformation through social media'. It was basically about how social media can be used by educators and students alike to share their ideas, their successes and their failures. This was something that resonated with me personally and professionally - I'm very open with sharing the things I have, and with the Student Teacher Resource, I am aiming to provide a new way for students to share their ideas. The presentation was endlessly quotable, for which I will be very thankful in my next few essays, I'm sure! One website that she introduced that is worth a look is The most important part that I took away was towards the end - she posed the question 'How do convey your message effectively?', dividing the question into 'Who is your audience?', 'Is it visually appealing?', 'What stories and examples do you share?' and I think most importantly of all, 'Does it convey your passion?'

Finally, the conference came to a close with a panel discussion, unfortunately the subject of which I was unable to note down because my old tablet PC decided to run out of juice. Ashamed to bring paper and pen to an elearning conference, I sat at the back reading through the comments on Twitter and speaking to Russell and Dan Roberts at the back of the room, which was highly entertaining I must admit! One of the more hilarious highlights of the conference was the fact that Dan (@chickensaltash) managed to break the terms and conditions of Twitter by tweeting too much, too often, and got served with a short ban. He evidently did not learn his lesson, as he got hit with another ban a day later. My twitter stream was an awful lot quieter (and less entertaining) without his presence. One quote I did take away from the panel was from Pete Yeomans (@ethinking) who said 'If you aren't making them uncomfortable, you aren't doing it right', which I thought was a definite Yeomans-ism!

I managed to chat to Shelly afterwards and thanked her for the keynote, mentioning that I've created something that I drew a lot of inspiration from it that I can apply to our project. It was great to speak to someone so influential and Shelly was very friendly and approachable. We had a brief chat about Edchat, going back to my participation in #ukedchat the day before, which she was involved in the creation of. It was great to speak to someone so enthusiastic and passionate about what they do, really inspirational person.

When I finally got home, I noticed that Shelly was hosting a webinar on using mobile phones in the classroom, which I thought would be quite interesting, so I attended. She used Adobe connect to talk to the room and i thought she generated some great ideas to use in the classroom. Unfortunately, Mr Gove would have very different ideas, but I would rather not voice political opinions (no matter how agreeable!) on my blog.

One final point of note - I've only been on Twitter for a few months now, and although I could see the benefit from the consumer side of things, I never really experienced the to-ing and fro-ing that goes on once you get more involved. This week at PELC11 has given me a great chance to do just that, and I am now using Twitter more than Facebook. Whilst I've been at work since 10am, I managed to checked Twitter on my phone to find this mention...

If you don't know me, I'm a pretty modest person, so for someone to give me such a comment is quite flattering - Thank you! Hope you don't mind that I mention you in one of my 'great reads', Alex. If anyone does want to get in touch, by all means leave a comment below, or contact me via Twitter (@JCBarrington)