DEMOS identifies teacher need for more professional dialogue and reflection

A new 28-page DEMOS report, DIY Professionalism, looks at the future of teaching and identifies a need for more space for professional dialogue and reflection. Perhaps what we’re seeing with educational blogging is that latent demand finding an outlet, enabled by the emergence of easy-to-use blogging tools?
DEMOS don’t consider the role technology might play, preferring instead to make analogies with water-cooler conversations.

The water-cooler has become a powerful metaphor as a central junction box in the hidden wiring of workplace conversations. It’s where events’ real significance is worked out. To support the skills and confidence DIY professionalism demands of staff and to connect up their experiments with professional roles and protocols,teaching needs more of these kinds of conversations.Conversations around the water-cooler require three things; a place to meet and talk (the cooler), shared experiences and rituals to talk about (an un-missable television programme, the Christmas party) and a sense of connection and recognition. As we have seen, teachers today lack something of all three. The focus of school reform on the ‘what and how’ of delivery has limited spaces for professional dialogue and reflection. (DIY Professionalism, John Craig and Catherine Fieschi, May 2007 Page 25, link )

Educational blogging can clearly enable these conversations in a way that meets some of the DEMOS requirements:

  1. a place to meet and talk
  2. shared experiences and rituals
  3. a sense of connection and recognition

The report includes many useful proposals that could help with development of our on-line community in East Lothian.

Student Quotes Work Well on Yester P7’s Benmore Blog

Yester Benmore blogYester’s P7 class, on last week’s trip to Benmore, provide a good model for how to get the student’s voices onto the blog without too much time being lost to blogging. They used short quotes from many pupils, which went down very well indeed with their audience.

We’ve already seen from Law Primary P7’s Loch Insh trip that regular blog posts can be hugely popular with those left behind. Their first post from Loch Insh got 69 comments, for example.

Evidence is building up that this wasn’t a one-off. Longniddry Primary, for example, have successfully blogged trips from Ardmay and from Barga in Italy.

Today I noticed some exceptional feedback on the Yester P7 blog which I thought worth pulling together. Michael Purves and Lucinda Stuart did alternate posts of photos and news. Each “news” post included quotes from large numbers of pupils. This post, for example, Benmore, Day 2- Tuesday 22nd May, includes 20 pupil comments. Maybe this way of including contributions from such a large number of the pupils was a factor?
Here are some extracts from comments left which relate to the blog.

  • … Huge thanks to Mr P and Miss S for giving you all such a great time.We love the blog!link

eduBuzz Server Back in Action

The edubuzz server had to be rebooted this morning, and is now working normally. This was the first reboot since October 2006.

First thing today, before 7, we still had a very heavily loaded server, but it was still working. Plan A was to try and find out today what was causing that, but we’re on to Plan B now as the server was rebooted at about 10.40am. This followed failure of the name (DNS) server. If you’d tried to access the site before the reboot, your browser wouldn’t have been able to find it.
I’ve had a couple of emails asking if it’s sensible to plan for classroom use. As far as we know, the service is back to normal, and performing much better than last week, so there’s no reason to change plans.

The good news is that the server load is back to sensible low levels, although it has only been back up for an hour. Unfortunately, because of the reboot, we still don’t know exactly why the server load became so high. It could have been visitor workload, or it could have been some kind of fault. Hopefully server log files will offer some clues, but we don’t know yet.

Please contact me, or leave a comment below, if you notice any further problems.

The eduBuzz server’s getting busy…

The dedicated server hosting the eduBuzz WordPress Multi-User blog system is now spending a lot of its time quite heavily loaded, although performance hasn’t been noticeably affected. Right now, for example, the CPU load is at over 90%, and it’s nearly midnight.

Working on it yesterday from Tranent Primary School, on a very slow network connection, we hit some problems with sessions breaking. WordPress displayed a screen saying, in effect: “you can’t connect to the database – maybe your password’s wrong?”

I guess these were due to time-outs occurring, perhaps due to the combination of server response time delays coinciding with network delays. Once the network speeded up, everything went back to normal.

eduBuzz blogs – Flickr Gallery plugin removed

This plug-in let eduBuzz users work with their Flickr photos from inside WordPress. Unfortunately, though, it disabled normal upload of files.

Perhaps it was developed for an environment where upload of photos wasn’t wanted, and the idea was that users would store all their images on Flickr?

Twice in two days I’ve found people with problems uploading files, and in both cases they had activated this plug-in. I haven’t time just now to dig into the details, so have removed it meantime.

ACfE Inter-Authority Conference

As Dave Cain has already mentioned I had an opportunity today to do a short talk on eduBuzz to an inter-authority group working on developing A Curriculum for Excellence in Scottish Borders, Midlothian and East Lothian.

We’re already using an edubuzz blog as a place for sharing information between the 3 authorities involved in the project. The idea today was to give people a better idea of how easy these tools are to use, and to show some examples of how they’re being used to support the kind of collaborative network we need to build for ACfE development.

We looked at examples including:

  • how easy it is to create a new WordPress blog at
  • how publishing to the web is now as easy as sending an email
  • an example of a student’s blog showing what an interest-based project might look like
  • an example of a busy blog-based school web site from Law Primary School
  • a blog which supports an ACfE curriculum project, Active Learning Partnerships
    • (more on this is available from Barry Smith at Preston Lodge High School)
    • this site is maintained by a number of contributors from a range of agencies
    • we saw how it uses video to capture learning experiences such as rock climbing , an approach which led to increased engagement of participants
  • briefly, how an aggregator such as Bloglines can enable monitoring of a large number of blogs from one screen

Midlothian’s Innovation Centre was a good choice of venue and had fast, reliable internet access.

Please leave a comment if you’d like to get involved in helping build the ACfE inter-authority network, either by keeping a blog of a project in your authority, contributing to the existing site, or just finding out more about what’s possible.

Can Farnborough’s Extended Project inform Extreme Learning?

This week’s edition of the BBC Learning Curve included a short piece about the piloting of “Extended Projects” at Farnborough 6th Form College. Our Extreme Learning projects aren’t aimed at that age group: but it was good to hear from some people who have direct experience of this new approach to learning.

The program is currently available on Listen Again here (this piece is between about 19m 40s and 29m 30s) and due to be repeated at 23.00 today on Radio 4. The interview is also on the college’s site as a stand-alone mp3 file (9MB). Click on the Audio mp3 icon to listen. Link

Key features:

  • The pilot involved S6 students, working on 5000-word projects during summer months.
  • 120 or so started, and about 70 completed their projects.
  • The projects were bound into proper books, like dissertations.
  • Response was astonishing, with unselected students asking to take part.
  • The dissertations were presented by Sir Mike Tomlinson, who recommended extended projects for schools.

The projects combined 2 A-level subjects. This was compulsory, and was seen as important in teaching students about the difficulties associated with subject boundaries. The research projects were described as “excavating the area in between” subjects.

The projects weren’t graded. Although the links below discuss grading arrangements, it sounds like the decision was eventually made not to grade the projects, but instead to provide a subjective response, including good feedback. They wanted students more than anything to be proud of their work. The variety of projects described probably made the development of grading criteria more trouble than it was worth. Perhaps this was because the students involved were using the projects to supplement their A-levels? In that context, perhaps formative assessment, to guide future learning, is more appropriate?

Students saw coursework as unchallenging by comparison. These projects clearly weren’t a soft option. The HT interviewed claimed the rigorous projects developed resilience and stamina, but admitted that a number of students had found the projects depressing at times, but had come through that.

Don’t “over-specify” the projects. This advice came through strongly, particularly regarding time allocation.

Those on content-heavy courses were most prone to drop-out. Examples given were chemistry and biology, where the coursework content was huge.
What ideas could we learn from this?

We haven’t spent much time thinking about how we might recognise the achievement of an Extreme Learning project.

  • Perhaps some sort of professional publication could be created, in a similar way to the Farnborough dissertations, and presented to the student? A professionally presented CD or DVD with a copy of the project web site on it could be done at moderate cost, and be a useful part of the student’s portfolio.
  • A formal presentation ceremony is perhaps also something we could consider; it could help build confidence.

The Farnborough College site includes these other links

eduBuzz gets RockYou plugin

RockYou logoRockYou is a web-based tool for creating dynamic, eye-catching photo slideshows. Not surprisingly, our primary schools have spotted it, and we’ve now installed Jia Shen’s plug-in to enable embedding of RockYou slideshows in blog posts or pages. The plug-in’s entry in the plug-in menu describes how it’s used.

You can see it in action over on the Pencaitland Primary blog’s Spring Fair post.

In class, I have to power down

David Puttnam, in today’s Guardian Education asks why it is, despite children having been quick to grasp the joys of new technology, schools are lagging so far behind.

At a recent digital education conference in San Francisco, one of the more memorable remarks quoted came from a child: “Whenever I go into class, I have to power down.” That roughly translates as: “What I do with digital technology outside school – at home, in my own free time – is on a completely different level to what I’m able to do at school. Outside school, I’m using much more advanced skills, doing many more interesting things, operating in a far more sophisticated way. School takes little notice of this and seems not to care.”

He refers to a recent Demos report, Their Space (81 pages, pdf). This report, supported by the National College for School Leadership, includes a whole range of ideas that could help inform eduBuzz developments, for example this from Chapter 4 , “Start with People not PCs, How schools can shift investment”:

This chapter has laid out a set of changes that when taken together add up to a shift in values: a shift in terms of the kind of investment that is needed to reach the potential for change in the system, and a shift in terms of the kinds of skills, experiences and relationships that schools value. Shifting schools’ value systems in this way will create more meaningful learning experiences for young people, and also more active and engaged learners. It will also enable schools to reconnect the currently disparate parts of young peoples’ lives – in school and out of school – and enable them to transfer knowledge and skills across a whole range of experiences. But finally it is important because by building on young peoples’ interests and enthusiasms, and doing it in ways that are going with the grain of their lives, schools will succeed in effectively providing all young people with a set of tools that they can use far beyond their formal learning experience.

How can the web enable improved parental involvement?

Partnership with ParentsSocial software looks set to play an important part in enabling a step-change in parental involvement within East Lothian schools. The 2006 Parental Involvement Act places important new duties on education authorities, which are explained on the Parentzone site. These duties include:

Education authorities have a duty to ‘promote involvement of parents in school education’.

Education authorities are required to develop a ‘strategy for parental involvement strategy’ and in doing this they will have to consult with parents, pupils and any other interested parties.

Susan Guy is now completing that consultation in East Lothian. From her work, it’s clear that social software, such as eduBuzz blogs, has the potential to play a major role in supporting new parent involvement arrangements. We’ve been looking at what such a blog site might look like, and how it might work. A useful source document has been the Partnership With Parents document (30 pages, pdf file) issued by HMI as part of the How Good Is Our School series.

The idea is, in Primary Schools, to use a class web site (blog) as a focus for parental involvement at class level. Such a site turns out to be ideal for providing the kind of information, and level of interaction, that parents want. There’s a skeleton “framework” site at showing a possible model. Over the next couple of weeks we’re planning to develop the idea with the Pupil Council at Dunbar Primary. We attended their meeting today and showed them examples of what was possible, and their reaction was very positive. They also enjoyed leaving a few comments on the Law Primary site, such as this one and this one!