Sunday, 10 May 2009

The Future Pace of Change?

A great video that highlights the incredible speed with which our world is being swamped by digital data, and the pace at which new communication technologies are reaching global market penetrations of 50 million users. The shrinking timelines are quite terrifying, and reminds me of Marshall McLuhan's coining of the phrase, 'The Global Village', back in the early 1970s. How true his observation has come to be, how swift the rate at which people all over the world can join real-time communities of shared interests and values.

There's mileage in using this video, I think, within teacher or student presentations that look at how the relationship between audiences and institutions are changing rapidly. There's also some use here if the video were to be incorporated into a presentation about issues surrounding Distribution.

If you use the video do let me know how. I'd be interested to hear from you.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

The End of Cyberspace?

I came across this fascinating presentation about where the online world might evolve while browsing There are some interesting ideas contained within it, plus the joy of seeing how Prezi's non-linear presentation format makes absorbing information so much more pleasant.

Swine Flu closed your school? Go online!

We've been chatting this week at Berkhamsted about how we'd cope with a flu pandemic.

Now, the school's had an emergency plan since Bird Flu threatened to wipe out the known world a few years back. What's changed since then is the wide range of free online learning tools that can be used to keep students and teachers in touch with each other, should schools themselves be physically shut.

Back in February when heavy snow shut us down for a week, we created a Facebook group and sent work out. It might not have been pretty but it did function and kept the information flowing in the right direction.

We do have Moodle as our virtual learning environment and that's what we'll use should Swine Flu necessitate a full closure.

However, there are some interesting free online tools that may be of interest, and certainly are ones that I would look to use as complements.

One problem with a VLE like Moodle is that it's great for offering up asynchronous content, but it's not so good for providing the real-time interaction that makes learning fun and engaging.

Here are two solutions:

  1. Dim Dim is a great online collaboration tool, that allows a teacher to host a learning session where participants can see/hear each other, make instant text contributions, and use an on-screen whiteboard. Images and documents can be loaded onto the whiteboard and annotated by the teacher and students. Dim Dim also offers instant feedback functionality with thumbs up/down icons. It's a great way to bring real-time interaction to life online. Dim Dim is free for up to 20 participants.
  2. Cover It Live does something similar but can be embedded into an existing blog, Wiki or website. As a complement to material you may have prepared for students to download and work on, CIL allows you to run live, moderated blogging. Users don't need a password, or an invitation. It allows live and pre-loaded presentation of weblinks, YouTube videos, still images, plus some excellent real-time polling tools, so ideas can be tested and audience feedback shown visually. The end chat can be archived and played back, thus making a reusable resource. This is something I've discovered only recently and intend to trial shortly. It's being used by large media outlets and range of other business companies. It's use in schools seems to be limited, but I found a great presentation about using CIL and similar tools, in what's known as 'back channelling' here. Thanks to Scott H. Snyder for putting it together.

One final tool that I've just come across that looks fantastic is Prezi, a Hungarian presentation tool that takes the idea of sharing multimedia information and turns it on its head. I can't begin to describe how it works, so have a look, have a play, get hooked, get students using it, and change how you think. I intend to do all of the former in the near future. Once you've seen it you'll see what I mean.

Re-viewing data in online environments

One of the issues that interests me is how rapid digital developments might change the way in which we use data and multimedia information in all its forms for educational purposes.

In the broader scheme of things there are fascinating developments taking place in the wider technological community that will, I believe, impact on how we can convey meaning and analysis to our students.

Here's a video example of a Microsoft developmental idea called Sea Dragon (thanks to Michael Rosenblum for mentioning it on his blog):

On a less practical yet interesting note for Media Teachers, here's a fun way to deconstruct YouTube videos into streaming film strips, that change every time a shot change is detected. 

Finally, I've written before about Wordle, the free online tool that creates Word Clouds. Now it's possible to extract key words by frequency. I was doing some training with the Religious Studies department at school a couple of weeks back, and my colleagues went crazy for this facility. They realised they could take passages from the Bible, or as one did, Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech, and pull out the most commonly used words. It made for some fascinating results.

As one teacher pointed out, this is a great way for students to see easily, quickly, and visually how words are used to convey meaning, and indeed to see the essence of a text, by taking a reductionist and minimalist approach to it, and using that as a starting point for further discussion.

So, there are changes afoot and there are options available now that educators can use to make information dynamic and appealing to Net natives, as well as providing useful complements to traditional methods for encouraging independent thinking and reflection.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

The 100th post is all about books

So, after nine months of blogging I've reached the magic one hundredth posting. It's been great sharing ideas on how media technology is influencing and affecting education.

My one hundredth post, perhaps appropriately, is all about books, and where technology might be taking us. I've been conscious for the last year that the possibility of 'digital ink' reaching into schools and classrooms is getting ever nearer. 

Several developments have caught my eye:

Firstly, Amazon has updated its digital book, the Kindle, and is launching a new version that can display large format text, like newspapers, without the need to scroll. More information can be found here.

At the same time observers are starting to wonder how the art and consumption of literature itself might or could evolve as more consumers move to the digital domain.

The NY Times ran a great interview last month with Bradley Inman, the founder of VOOK, a new service that aims to combine a wide range of social networking tools and online facilities to create new interactive literary content. The article goes further, exploring what all of this might mean for readers used to accessing information from a trusty book. It's a great report and well worth reading.

Meanwhile Steven Johnson, writing in the Wall Street Journal, has produced an excellent piece on the impact ebooks will have on the way in which we consume the written word. Unsurprisingly it's a long article, but again it's very insightful and a good review of how preconceptions of the past may not hold true in the near future.

What does all of this mean for those of us in education? In the immediate future probably not a great deal. But I suspect that within two to three years we'll see companies offering large discounts to schools who bulk buy e-readers. The advantages are numerous - cheaper updates for new textbooks, since revised editions can be downloaded, easier integration between official textbooks and teachers' own materials, and the ability to search for information with greater speed and ease. Linking ideas together, synthesizing them, and producing a considered response, all key attributes in the modern wired world, may be coming to a digital classroom handout sooner than you think.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Media speculation, social networking, political agendas

There's been rather a lot of hot air spewed into the ether recently about the risks of using social networking sites and the harm it can do to students.

As I'm in the middle of marking A level coursework and preparing my Media students for their exams I've watched but not commented so far, as I wanted time to make a considered response.

Thankfully, the excellent Bill Thompson has done it for me, writing on the BBC website.

His informative and factual report analyses the data that's been used by the Press to suggest that Facebook use can result in lower grades. The article makes for fascinating reading, not least because it highlights the degree to which media outlets can become quickly hostile to communication methods that threaten existing and future audiences.