Engaging with our communities – the role of social media


We held a meeting last week where we explored the potential of weblogs to assist the community planning process – based on the edubuzz model -although not necessarily using the same platform.

Community Planning is a process which helps public agencies to work together with the community to plan and deliver better services which make a real difference to people’s lives.

The aims of Community Planning in Scotland are:

1. making sure people and communities are genuinely engaged in the decisions made on public services which affect them; allied to

2. a commitment from organisations to work together, not apart, in providing better public services.

There are two further key principles in addition to the two main aims outlined above:

3. Community Planning as the key over-arching partnership framework helping to co-ordinate other initiatives and partnerships and where necessary acting to rationalise and simplify a cluttered landscape;

4. the ability of Community Planning to improve the connection between national priorities and those at regional, local and neighbourhood levels.

As we discussed the potential of weblogs it became apparent that this might just be a vehicle which could be of some real use.  If we could encourage key figures and other members of a local community to keep a weblog where they would reflect upon local issues and stimulate a dialogue within a community, the likelihood of planners and public services to take account of these opinions would be greatly enhanced. The old ways of questionnaires, focus groups, community conferences, canvassing do not enable a substantive, two way, on-going dialogue to take place where ideas can be shaped and developed over a period of time.

I know how I am being influenced by being able to read the weblogs of teachers, parents and children – surely this has some possibility for community engagement?

So how might such a scheme work? Let’s take a community like Tranent.  If we established an area where the weblogs of of the community could be accessed and new members could participate we would begin to build up a very rich picture of the strengths, opportunities and needs within the community.  Officers and elected members could engage with this dialogue and perhaps even have their own weblogs to make the decision making process even more transparent and interactive. 

I know some people might feel very threatened by such a suggestion, as it appears to almost encourage anarchy by handing over the “airwaves” to the public – yet surely that is what community planning is about? – a transparent enagagement with the local community to the point where people eventually (it would take some time) begin to believe that they do have a voice and that it is listened to. Even more importantly those who do make the decisions can explain the thought process and reasoning behind decisions – even those decisions which are unpopular (see example).

Last observations:

  • A councillor recently described how no one had attended any of their surgeries in the last four weeks. 
  • Another councillor described how few people had attended their surgeries over a three year period. 
  • East Lothian Council have started to hold some council meetings in the evening to be more available to the public – very few (less than 10 have attended in any one evening) .

Perhaps it really is time to explore alternative vehicles for community interaction?

Leadership Dilemma 3 – Public Service and Web 2.0

In East Lothian we are expanding our edubuzz community at an exponential rate – with the intention of creating a place where people learn from each other by opening up an interface between users and providers and between the professionals at all levels in the organisation.

So at this stage in it’s development it might be worthwhile exploring a hypothetical leadership dilemma arising from the use of social media in the field of public service. 

Here’s the dilemma:

The local authority has set up blogging platform and parents are starting to use it to give an insight into their perspective on education.  A parent writes something about the teacher of their child and describes an incident that happened in class which their child had described over tea. Other parents leave comments about the blog post and share their concerns about the teacher and the fact that the same thing has happened for years and that the headteacher – despite complaints – has never done anything about it. 

You are the controller of the blogging platform. What do you do?

Edubuzz Open Meeting


We held an Edubuzz Open meeting this afternoon.

We made some key decisions:

Make use of the Edubuzz blog as the front page to the site as opposed to the current page (which we would aspire to in the future) –  we felt the current front page did not enable people to easily understand the purpose and background to Edubuzz, nor did it allow for easy access to blogs of particular interest, nor enable them to set up their own blog with ease.

Promote the edubuzz platform to teachers through: more direct promotion to Head Teachers – Ronnie Summers will make a brief presentation at our next HT conference; and more direct delivery sessions, such as Teach Meet, in schools; develop the Extreme Learning format which requires access to the platform; encourage blogging by probationers and students.

Organise a Saturday conference in the Autumn, probably at Musselburgh Grammar School.

Encourage a support more parental blogs

See Tess Watson, Lynne Lewis, Ollie Bray , Stewart Meldrum and Dave Cain for further insights

Agile Software Developments


One of the delights of keeping a Learning Log are the comments and suggestions you receive from other people.

And so it was when Kenneth McLaughlin left a comment on one of my recent posts.

Kenneth pointed us in the direction of Agile Software Developments:

The modern definition of agile software development evolved in the mid 1990s as part of a reaction against “heavyweight” methods, as typified by a heavily regulated, regimented, micro-managed use of the waterfall model of development. The processes originating from this use of the waterfall model were seen as bureaucratic, slow, demeaning, and inconsistent with the ways that software engineers actually perform effective work.

I was fascinated to read about the Agile model of development as I think it corresponds, in many ways, to how we are trying to take things forward education in East Lothian.

Without access to the Learning Log such a link could never have been made and an opportunity of reflecting upon our practice would not have emerged. It’s this kind of lateral engagement with other fields of study and enterprise that can help education to break free from some of the more traditional development models which have so singularly failed to bring about productive change.

Extreme Learning – on the point of breakthrough??

We held our latest Extreme Learning meeting on Thursday.

David Gilmour and myself have been working on the idea of on-line templates for learners to use as a framework for their Extreme Learning projects.

As I’ve previously explained the template concept proved to be too restrictive for learners; technically too demanding for teachers to support; and limiting for those learners who wanted to set up their own project outwith the school setting.

As a consequence of these concerns David and I had been exploring the idea of a “toolbox” which learners could refer to for support but which didn’t limit their options in any way. We had also spent some time trying to work out a way in which we could tie in the four capacities and the curricular areas together into some form of formative assessment matrix.

On Thursday we took these findings and ideas to the group. After some discussion and small group sessions we came up with the following:

    • Templates are too restrictive – but we need something to provide support for learners;
    • Projects must be derived from research questions
    • Projects should require learners to actively demonstrate elements from each of the capacities
    • Rather than a “tool box” (“kids don’t use tool boxes any more”) we need a “skills box” – which through accessing simple icons could provide different levels of assistance and demand – “a bit like progressing through the levels of a computer game”
    • The idea of providing assessment outcomes would be a turn off – “translate outcomes into challenges”
    • The initiative becomes the “Extreme Learning Challenge” where people try to get to the higest level they can.
    • “Chunk” up the project development and let different people work on small manageable parts – if they then work we can gradually start to link these together – thanks to Kenneth McLaughlin for his link to Agile Software Development. Some chunks might work within a particular subject area e.g. maths, others within a particular age group; others focussing upon a particular capcity.
    • Target a few people who want to learn this way in the first instance.
    • Assessment must be formative
    • Seek to engage a number of schools in this development to create a momentum within the authority – and beyond.
    • “We don’t need summative assessment” – summative assessment is used to provide a shorthand way to show that you can do something – “I’ve got an ‘A’ in Higher Maths (I don’t by the way!) – so I must have some mathematical talent”. However, if I have projects which other people can look at for evidence of what I can do, then the need for summative assessment of projects is not longer required. 
    • Their projects become part of their e-portfolio.

Linking with something I came across yesterday I wonder of we could build something akin to the Productive Pedagogies  into the  challenge elements – particularly in relation to depth of knowledge and understanding, and connectedness.

Our final decision as a group was to meet again for a whole day but this time with the most important group – who have so far not been involved in it’s development – the learners themselves. We intend to set up a session where representatives from our group will bring pupils from their schools/groups. By engaging with the learners themselves we hope that we can begin to shape our ideas up into something which can make real difference to the learning process .

I wonder of there’s a games designer out there who might like to help up on this one?

Greetings from Sydney!!


I was delighted to receive a comment from Vince Campbell a school principal from Sydney, Australia. As readers of this blog may be aware I’m an avid follower of the curricular developments taking place in that country so it was particularly gratifying to think that we might have something to offer our colleagues in Oz. 

Greetings from Sydney, Don. I have been following your learning log for some time now with a great deal of interest and it is proving a great source of learning for me. I also read many of the blogs on your blogroll – some great work going on in East Lothian.

It’s this type of contact that reinforces the power of the web by enabling people to come together to share practice and experiences. I look forward to following Vince’s progress and learning more about education in his country.

Exc-el Parental Roadshow


We held an Exc-el Open Group meeting this evening.

We discussed the permission forms which parents will be asked to sign to enable their children to participate and have their images displayed on school websites.

Christine – AKA guineapigmum – suggested that it would be good to speak to school boards about blogging/use of images/learning through the web.  The idea quickly developed into a Parental Roadshow which we intend to offer to each cluster group in the summer term. 

We thought me might be able to link this with the associated developments surrounding the Parental Involvement Bill

The evening might look something like this:

  • start with a presentation by teachers, parents and children relating to how they use the web.
  • Followed by a “come and try” session.
  • Rounded off by an opportunity for questions and answers

This might prove to be a popular event and enable schools to draw more parents into involvement whilst also reinforcing  cluster identity.

Who wants to go first?

Safe and outstanding practice


I’ve had a query from a teacher about the use of the web for educational purposes and the use of photographs including children.

Here’s what LTS have to say on creating and maintaining a school web site:

How safe is your website?
When creating a website the school is responsible for the care and the safety of every child. They must make sure that no child can be identified or contacted through the school website or as a result of someone visiting it. There should be no personal details such as names, e-mail addresses or telephone numbers. Try to put up photos of groups of children rather than an individual and don’t put their name beside it. You must get permission to use pupils’ photos or work, or to have their input on the website.

From this, we conclude that the main issue is that children must not be *identifiable*. The people who thought faces were unacceptable, We think, maybe made a wrong assumption about what this meant. It’s not the same as *recognisable*. As long as individuals aren’t identified, there’s no reason why faces of groups shouldn’t appear if parents accept it.
There may, of course, be cases where recognition is a risk – say if a family is in hiding. That’s a separate, and unusual, issue addressed by parental permission forms.

Today we’ve also checked what the “world’s largest internet safety organisation”, wiredsafety.org have to say on the subject. Their advice on use of children’s photos on web sites is here:

“So I recommend that a school use photos of children only after they get the parents’ consent, & only in groups of five or more. I also recommend that they not identify the children by name, only by the group: “Ms. Smith’s fourth grade class” or the “Volleyball Club,” for instance. This makes perfect sense when you think about it. We’d never let anyone post our child’s photo on a highway billboard, would we? We need to think of the Internet as a giant billboard posted on the largest superhighway in the world. If we wouldn’t allow something about our children to appear there, we shouldn’t allow it to be posted online.”

Bottom line is, they think the same as LTS.

In education, we have a duty to balance risks against educational benefits, just like we do when we take our children on the roads. In this case there is good evidence that publishing photos on the web has educational benefits, such as improving engagement, encouraging parental/family involvement, and improving school/community links.

We also have a duty to help children develop their own internet safety knowledge, by learning how to manage those risks. At primaries in particular, there’s an opportunity to teach these skills at an early stage, before they start using MySpace, Bebo etc. This is an increasingly important life skill.

An excellent example of a school web site can be found at the Pencaitland Primary School site. It is an outstanding model of the kind of practice LTS and wiredsafety.org are recommending and the staff at the school are to be congratulated for such leading edge and responsible practice.

Thanks to David Gilmour for helping with this post. We are working on detailed guidelines for schools.

Bloggers’ Code of Ethics


I came across this interesting Bloggers Code of Ethics from The Online News Association 

I’ve tweaked it a bit but it seems to capture almost everything for me, particularly as it sets out integrity as the cornerstone of credibility. It suggests that “Bloggers who adopt this code of principles and these standards of practice not only practice ethical publishing, but convey to their readers that they can be trusted.” Perhaps with a little modification for those of us involved in education it could help us shape our practice?


Be Honest and Fair
Bloggers should be honest and fair in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.
Bloggers should:
• Never plagiarize.
• Identify and link to sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability.
• Make certain that Weblog entries, quotations, headlines, photos and all other content do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.
• Never distort the content of photos without disclosing what has been changed. Image enhancement is only acceptable for for technical clarity. Label montages and photo illustrations.
• Never publish information they know is inaccurate — and if publishing questionable information, make it clear it’s in doubt.
• Distinguish between advocacy, commentary and factual information. Even advocacy writing and commentary should not misrepresent fact or context.
• Distinguish factual information and commentary from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.

Minimize Harm
Ethical bloggers treat sources and subjects as human beings deserving of respect.
Bloggers should:
• Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by Weblog content. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.
• Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.
• Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of information is not a license for arrogance.
• Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention.
Be Accountable
Bloggers should:
• Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.
• Explain each Weblog’s mission and invite dialogue with the public over its content and the bloggers’ conduct.
• Disclose conflicts of interest, affiliations, activities and personal agendas.
• Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence content. When exceptions are made, disclose them fully to readers.
• Be wary of sources offering information for favors. When accepting such information, disclose the favors.
• Expose unethical practices of other bloggers.
• Abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.