Monday, 29 June 2009

Men in Mac?

A little bit of insane fun. It's been a long day after all.

Here's a great advert, featuring an unsuspecting French employee and a trans-galactic Mac book.

MacBook transforms and ... well just watch it's AWESOME!

Should words be obscene and not heard?

BBC NEWS | UK | Obscene stories or free speech?

An interesting tale from the blogosphere that should make us reflect on what is public and what is private when posting online.

British civil servant Darryn Walker has escaped prosecution for a story he published online, that described the kidnap and torture of pop group Girls Aloud.

His 12 page story was seen by the Internet Watch Foundation last year and a prosecution brought under the Obscene Publications Act.

However, Mr Walker's defence team argued successfully that the act of reading his material on its own would not cause someone to replicate what they had read, and they argued that although it was in the public domain, his article could not be found unless someone was searching specifically for it.

You can read more here but it's a timely reminder that we should never assume anything we place online is 100% private and secure.

The sense of power provided by anonymity, sitting at a PC in the comfort of one's home, can't protect us from the hurt and offence our postings may cause; as Darryn Walker found out to his cost.

Mobile Tech and the Incentive to Learn

 I came across this story in a roundabout kind of way.

Droga5, an advertising agency, has recently won two prestigious black pencil awards at the D&AD awards. The first was for its viral video campaign featuring Sarah Silverman, 'The Great Schlep', which was used to empower and motivate older Jewish voters in America to vote for President Obama in last year's election.

The other award, which is what interests me more, is for a radical educational program currently being tested in New York.

The Million Motivation program sees students from the most deprived backgrounds being issued with adapted Samsung mobile phones. These can't be used to make calls during the school day, but come with a range of learning apps integrated into the phone.

What makes the program most interesting though is the way the contract for the phone operates. Rather than pay with cash, students earn air time and the ability to get downloads via hard work and good behaviour. The more 'points' a teaacher gives out the more time the student can talk, text, web browse, and so on.

There are , of course, always risks related to these sorts of incentive based programs, and the Digital Journal has a good article that outlines the scheme and delves into these. Principally, there's the risk that doing anything for something leads to skewed intellectual and moral values regarding the benefit of study.

On the other hand, with drop out and failure rates as high as they are amongst disadvantaged groups in the Big Apple, anything's worth a shot. Academic support is provided by Harvard University's newly founded Ed Labs, that's looking for scientific solutions to educational problems, taking an analytical R&D multi-disciplinary approach. The results of their various projects should make for fascinating reading.

In the meantime, we shall have to wait and see what benefits or hindrances the Million Motivation program brings. Let's hope, for the sake of the children taking part, it works. 

Something old, something new - Walkman V iPod

BBC NEWS | Magazine | Giving up my iPod for a Walkman

I just read this great story on the BBC, in which a 13 year old is given an old fashioned cassette-based Walkman to use for a week.

Terrifyingly, it's been 30 years since the first Walkman was released by Sony, changing the landscape of personal and portable music for ever.

The article is well written and entertaining. It'll make some of you feel distinctly nostalgic.

Read more here.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Status and the interference of authority

Now that I'm the Head of ICT as well as Media my mind has turned to the fantastic challenge of making e-learning an accesssible and powerful learning tool for both teachers and students.

I came across this hard-hitting and thought-provoking blog post by Scottish educator John Connell

John takes a firm stand, to say the least, regarding those within education who in his view are impeding a radical shift in what education means and how it should work.

Even if you find John's ideas too revolutionary for your liking he's well worth reading - passionate, committed to raising standards, and able to offer clear responses to complex issues.

Twitter, Mobile Learning, Africa, and a whole heap of big ideas

Right, I'm going to attempt to draw some threads together here.

First up, a fascinating story, with accompanying video, all about how an American professor is using Twitter to get real time feedback and asynchronous comments during and after her History lectures. Read all about it here

I've noticed that only a few of my Media students have engaged with Twitter (or maybe they have, they just don't want to engage with me!). Still, it's something I'm going to try with my sixth form Media students come September.

I noticed in the video that a number of students were using iPhones and other smart phones. I got a Samsung Omnia at the end of last year and I love it. Running off Windows Mobile I can sync with Outlook, watch BBC streams live when I get a 3G signal, and best of all, pick up Word, Excel and Powerpoint documents from students and colleagues when I'm out and about. 

I also run Skype off it, play movies and generally use it as a good tool for taking notes and gathering ideas. In that vein I'm quite excited by the ways new smart phones are developing. For example, HTC's Hero, using Google's open source Android operating system, seems to be taking the Web 2.0 criterion of 'collective intelligence' and allowing users to tap into that on the phone. It's possible to select someone from your address list and see their details, Facebook postings, Flickr uploads, Twitter tweets and so on. As someone who resides in numerous spaces online this is an attractive option. 

Educationally, I can see the potential for it being harnessed to improve informal and formal learning opportunities. Students could harvest ideas and search engine entries into a format that will allow information from a range of sources be assimilated and presented in meaningful ways. This could be distributed to friends, peers, teachers and learning groups, in order to drive projects and assignments forward.

All of which ties in with this week's topic on H800 Technology Enhanced Learning, the MA module I'm taking at the Open University's Institute for Educational Technology. I've been preparing some ideas on the use of mobile learning in Africa, since my school, Berkhamsted, sponsors Sandi School, a developing school in the Eastern Cape. As Head of Media/ICT I'm keen to help the school explore ways of bringing e-learning into the curriculum. So, here are some articles that I read which I hope you'll find interesting too.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Sky gets limited?

Media students always seem to baulk at the idea of studying numbers, yet understanding the business models of production, distribution, and exhibition are crucial to anyone contemplating entering any of the creative industries.

News breaks that OFCOM, the UK media regulator, is planning to cut the prices that Sky, Rupert Murdoch's satellite outfit, can charge to third parties, like Richard Branson's cable-based Virgin Media, for hosting Sky channels like Sky Sports 1. 

This story is a classic case of how the media operates in what is often tantamount to a strange act of parasitic content sharing and money shifting.

The linked BBC article covers the finer details well, so I won't attempt to repeat those here, but do have a look at them.

The headline issues are as follows: 

  • Sky paid a fortune to the Football Assocation et al for the rights to show football.
  • In addition, there are production costs for filming, editing, promoting and commentating on matches. This is a cost Sky picks up. 
  • It recuperates some of this cost via in-match advertising plus the monthly subscription fees it charges to viewers. So, there's a clear relationship between production and exhibition, in terms of Sky itself, which not only produces the content but owns the satellites, dishes and decoder boxes that allow people to watch its content.
  • However, in order to maximise viewers, avoid claims of monopolizing the market, and recoup more of it initial outlay, Sky effectively distributes itself, reselling and distributing its channels with other media outlets. Virgin Media is a good case in point.
  • This creates an interesting symbiotic relationship between Sky and those who appear to be its competitors. Although it may seem to fly in the face of business orthodoxy, Sky is not giving away its content, nor is it diluting its brand. It is expanding its distribution channels by re-selling itself, at a profit, to companies serving non-Satellite based markets.
  • The risk in terms of having its wholesale prices cut, as OFCOM wants, is that the price for various channel packages will fall to a point where Sky is only just covering its costs. For a business, especially in a recession, this is bad.
  • However, if seen as an opportunity, given the right marketing mix Sky could see subscriber numbers rise, and in turn be able to charge more for advertising; except, we're in a recession and advertisers don't have any money to spend in the first place.
At the moment Sky's response is to say it will mount a legal challenge. However, it seems possible that OFCOM will have its way. Maybe Sky knows this, but hopes the cost of dragging out a case might be less expensive than seeing re-sale prices plummet at the bottom of the recessionary economic cycle. You see, the world of business media is complex, inter-connected, and central to what we get to watch.

Still think the numbers game is tedious? Think again. It drives the majority of decisions affecting all aspects of what we see, read, hear, and watch. 

To put it another way: I may not be an engineer or any good at DIY, but I can still appreciate the genius of engineering when I peek under the bonnet of my car and note the many complex sequences that occur, allowing me to get from A to B in comfort and ease.

Where reality gets in the way

So, let me begin with an apology.

This last month or so has been exam time for me, when students get ready to flee the nest by sitting their final year secondary school exams and move on to university, or in the case of my year 12s, get the first part of their A levels sorted, ready to move into their final year.

What this means is that I get overloaded with coursework portfolios and the attendant administration that accompanies them. Allowing for revisions I estimate I read and marked over 100,000 words. I've also had the joys of assessing Year 12 work that's now submitte in the form of blogs and DVDs with extras. Managing all that data has been unexpectedly complicated, in terms of tracking and collating information. We'd thought paperless would be swifter, but making the adjustment has been trickier than we'd anticipated; which goes to show that deploying new technology in learning environments never progresses as you imagined it might.

In amongst all of that I also took 30 eleven year olds to Italy for a week on a Classics tour. Using a Samsung NC10 laptop and a nifty mobile broadband USB stick from 3 Mobile I kept a daily blog. I managed to blog from within the Colosseum and the top of Mt Vesuvius. Interestingly, this year the parents wrote back to me, leaving messages for their kids and questions about where we were. 

In that time we've had Lord Carter's Digital Britain report, looking at ways to expand digital take up in the UK, and suggesting that possibly the BBC should be top-sliced and share its licence fee with commercial competitors, in order to maintain regional news, for example. Not surprisingly, the BBC responded negatively to the suggestion, as did the Liberal Democrats, who struck a chord for all who believe in an independent public service broadcaster. At the same time the Corporation has disclosed the size of its senior staff's salaries and their expense claims. All I can say is that there seems to be a lot of people claiming over £200,000 a year, which is surprising for what is effectively a public sector employer. 

Elsewhere in the world Iran has tried free speech and Twitter was there to keep the lines of communication open. The usual rules apply - be wary of the unfiltered and unverifiable information that Twitter can spew out. Nonetheless, it still makes for fascinating reading. 

Meanwhile, the Head of the BPI, the British music industry body has said Napster should have been engaged with, rather than taken to court. It's a good example of new tech and alternative practices being feared because they were unknown. Lots of similar attitudes exist within education, with staff fearing what hasn't been explained properly.

And finally, the tragic and premature death of Michael Jackson at 50 saw the internet grind to a halt, and BBC soap East Enders show speed and agility when it rapidly added a scene that included reference to this major cultural event, ready for broadcast on Friday night.

All in all it's been a busy six weeks and I've been busy too working on plans for our school's VLE, testing new kit (digital SLR upgrade, audio recording kit, HD camcorders that record to 16gig SD cards) and a whole lot more.

Now that the students have finished I hope to get back to writing and sharing.

All the best,