Saturday, December 12, 2009

Digital Literacy in Action

I've been running the Digital Literacy project for a couple of weeks now and have been really encouraged by the level of engagement from the year 9 students. As usual it has not all been plain sailing but I think both the students and I have learnt plenty from it.

As per my previous post I have written a group project around the theme of Swine Flu. The Pigs Didn't Start the Swine Flu YouTube video ( with many apologies to Billy Joel ) had the desired effect of grabbing the student's attention. I went through the project and explained that I was introducing tools and skills that they would need to complete their Personal Project for the Diploma in year 10.

I decided to split the class into 4 large groups - these were randomly selected and then tweeked to make sure that I did not have any very weak groups. I allocated students to a group and their group Etherpad via a Word document and logged onto each of the Etherpads so I could monitor what was happening online. For my first class I gave them a blank Etherpad with the instructions to read through the tasks themselves and answer the following questions:

  • Who your team leader is going to be
  • How you are going to divide up the work
  • How you are going to plan your time
  • What your success criteria for the project are
  • How you are going to make sure that everyone contributes to the project
  • How you are going to communicate with each other
  • How you are going to document and organise your findings
  • How you are going to present your findings
I had created a Google Site to support the project

The blank Etherpad however proved to be too great a challenge and the chat side of Etherpad was seeing much more traffic - much of it non work related. They also seemed to have difficulty establishing what tasks needed to be allocated.

For my second group I made a couple of refinements. Students spent the first half of the lesson working on their own creating mind maps on or Mindmeister so that they understood all the topics to be covered. For the second half of the lesson they worked in their teams on Etherpad but this time I put the questions on the Etherpad for them. This helped them to structure their discussions and they were much more productive. Google Sites had also just released templates, including a project wiki which was ideal for the students to create a collaborative website

Each team allocated a person to set up the wiki and invite the rest. The room went quiet as they concentrated on communicating online. I was talking to one student about the wiki and he said 'I'll have to ask the team leader on Etherpad if I can set the wiki up'.

Both groups have worked well on the project. However they have struggled to allocate work among themselves. With both groups I have had to get the groups together at the front of the class to go through who was going to do what. I think is was important for them to go through the process of trying to organise themselves even it it was not successful this time. If students don't get the opportunity to try they will never acquire the skills they need to work collaboratively. Once roles had been allocated they were able to organise themselves on the task and monitor progress. Here's an example of one the Etherpads

Here's a screenshot of one of the wiki sites ( still work in progress )

We have not finished the project yet but it has proved a good vehicle for teaching a wide range of skills such as effective internet searching, checking sources, summarising information and presenting the information. The next focus will be on making sure that all sources have been referenced ( the group are using Delicious to keep track of the sites they have used ) and that the information has not been copied and pasted. It's a challenge to the students not to just take information from the first site that answers their questions and think that they have finished.

I had my last lesson before Christmas with one of the groups yesterday and had intended to allow the students the second half of the lesson to do some Christmassy animation on Scratch. However I looked up and there was only five minutes left of the lesson. The students ( and I ) had been so engrossed in what we were doing the lesson was almost over. Yes there had been some students wandering round the room but when I checked they were talking about the work to other students in their group and helping each other. Apart from one incident when a team got sidetracked picking avatar pictures for their profiles on the wiki they were self motivating and fully engaged on the task. I even had students calling me over to show me the work they had done. If I can get the same level of engagement with my other group next week I will be a happy woman going into the Christmas break.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

If Life Gives You Lemons

No sooner have I stopped ranting about Delicious pulling the rug from under educators by changing their sign-up procedures, which effectively barred their use in schools, than I've got a new issue to get all hot under the collar about. 

It was reported yesterday that Google had acquired AppJet I read the report with mild interest last night, not realising the full implication of this. Logging onto Twitter this morning there was no missing it - Google had murdered Etherpad No new pads could be created and existing pads would disappear at the end of March. Yet another tool I had introduced this term and written into SOWs had gone - and yet another rewrite ( and I hadn't actually got round to the last one ). Maybe I would have been better sticking to the National Strategy SOWs. 

I've tried out Google Wave with @whatedsaid and others and it was fun but very confusing and the thought of trying to use it with a class of 30 year 9 students just doesn't bear thinking about in its current manifestation. Added to which I do not have any invites, just an account so not an option.  

Twitter as usual has been full of suggestions for a replacement, Dabbleboard and Twiddla I had come across before, Scribblar and BeWeeVee were new to me. There is already a plan in place for an Edupad collaborate development for a replacement.

Early investigations indicate that there may be an issue with BeWeeVee as it needs Silverlight - may require a re-image of all the curriculum PCs. Concerns have been raised the the graphics content of Dabbleboard and Twiddla slow the response time which is an issue when using in the classroom. I need to go through a systematic evaluation as I did recently to find a replacement for Delicious.

Bigger issue is the disruption to students in having to move them from one application to another. My students appear to much prefer certainty to uncertainty - they want me to tell them what to do and not change what I say.

Which got me thinking. Am I not supposed to be getting students to think for themselves and be able to evaluate different applications? Maybe this is an opportunity to give my students a chance to evaluate applications for themselves and decide which application is the best to use in the classroom. It might also help them to appreciate that they need to be adaptable and accept change.

So tomorrow I need to put together a lesson which takes my students through the same thought processes that I've gone though with Delicious and Etherpad and will doubtless go through numerous times in the future with other applications. I will get them to try and set up a second Delicious account so that they can see the issue for themselves and then get them to compare the functionality of Delicious and Diigo. Next I will set them the challenge of finding a replacement for Etherpad - they can use the suggestions I've come across and / or find other online collaboration tools. We can then have a debate on which application becomes the 'official' replacement ( or whether we need to have a single recommended application ).

At the risk of appearing very Pollyanna tonight - If life gives you lemons - make lemonade.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

E-Learning CPD Newsletters

Vic Jenkins and I have been working on a series of newsletters for staff which aim to highlight Web 2.0 technologies which can be used in the classroom. Jo Rymall has also contributed her design skills to improve the layout and create a logo for the newsletters

This was our first newsletter

Newsletter 1 5Jun09

The aim was introduce staff to a range of different tools, starting with quick wins - 'If you only try one thing', moving on to slightly more involved examples 'If you liked that, why not try this' and finally onto more challenging tools and resources 'If you are the adventurous type'.

The newsletters have gone down well and have increased interest in Web 2.0 tools considerably.

Developing Digital Literacy

I've been working for a while on a scheme of work for year 9 to improve their digital literacy. This was prompted by a conversation with a drama teacher at school who was concerned that year 10 Diploma students seemed to have very little idea about how to research effectively or present their results. As the ICT KS3 co-ordinator this concerned me as we were obviously not equipping students with the ICT skills they needed for KS4 study.

Looking round for ideas to structure a series of lessons round I came across this video:-

The DISCOVER model seemed ideal for what I had in mind:-

  • Define
  • Inquire
  • Search
  • Collect
  • Organise
  • Verify
  • Express
  • Reflect

I needed a project that I could build round these steps. Last term I tried a group project based around students researching where in the UK their family could move to. They had to look at jobs, schools, house prices and recreational facilities. My hope was that given a large amount of information to find, process and present they would have the opportunity to work in a team and try out the tools and techniques I was showing them. The results were very mixed to say the least. Analysing what problems had been several issues were evident:-

- The topic - moving house - was not impersonal enough for the students. Rather than seeing it as a research project they looked on it as deciding where they wanted to live and included criteria such as where their grandparents lived or where they had been on holiday
- They soon got bogged down in details - looking at individual houses to live in rather than researching areas and general housing markets
- I had allowed them to choose their own groups and this had resulted in fairly small groups and some very low ability groups who were unable to access the project without considerable support.
- I ran the project in the summer term when students' motivation and engagement tends to wane.
    So over the summer holiday I had a rethink. I needed a different research topic, one that students would be interested in but which would not have the same level of personal involvement as the moving house topic. Then I came across this site from Google:-

    A whole set of lessons and resources focusing on researching swine flu and similar outbreaks. Topical and loads of different aspects which could be researched. On materials covering research techniques I came across another gem from Google - an excellent resources with a series of presentation on search techniques:-

    This video was an attention grabbing starter:-

    This time I have decided to select the groups myself and have divided the class into four mixed ability groups of 7 or 8 students. 

    In line with other year groups and courses this year I have set up a Google site for year 9 and have added this scheme of work to it. Still work in progress but it's starting to take shape.

    Year 9 Google Site

    The unit has also been given an added focus as this year I am part of a team delivering the Personal Project element of the Diplomas which requires each student to complete an independent research project. The unit will give students the opportunity to develop the skills they will need to complete this project successfully.

    I will be documenting how the unit progresses and develops over the next few weeks.

    Monday, November 23, 2009

    Web 2.0 v VLEs part 2

    This post is a continuation of my previous post on Web 2.0 and VLES prompted by a detailed comment posted by Nick Sharratt.

    First a couple of caveats – the views expressed here are purely my own views and not those of the school that I work at – we still have a VLE and it is the official platform for delivering resources and submitting work online. My blog is deliberately anecdotal – I am a classroom teacher and my blog records what is happening in my teaching practice.

    As someone who was until 5 years ago a project manager for a major retail bank I have had plenty of experience of the requirements of the data protection act and also of dealing with ‘business critical’ systems. The eighth principal of the data protection act, for instance, is not a blanket ban on holding personal data outside the EU, rather a requirement that countries outside the EU have adequate protection for individual’s personal data ( it being assumed that those within the EU already do so – not sure with RIPA this is actually the case in the UK anymore ). Thus when I was working for the bank I was part of a team moving data processing to sites in India.  Banks took the approach of making acceptance of overseas data processing a requirement of opening an account. This is also the case with regards to Web 2.0 applications where the terms and conditions ( which I know everyone reads in detail ) will contain a clause to cover the service provider. The argument with students under the age of 18 is whether they are in the position to give informed consent to this.

    The approach that we have taken is that students give only the most limited personal data to web 2.0 application providers. Many of the applications we use do not require any sign-up ( and hence any transfer of personal data ) e.g. Etherpad, Solvr. Others require name and email address – for which we insist on students using their school email address e.g. iGoogle, Bubbl-us, Mind Meister. For reasons of e-safety students are not allowed to add identifiable personal data to any of the sites we use.

    Use of web 2.0 is limited to disposable documents. If the document needs to be kept it is downloaded and stored locally. This also applies to the submission of coursework. Where work has been submitted e.g. on Edmodo it has been draft versions for feedback and refinement. Final versions have to be printed off as exam boards still require hard copies. There is therefore no reliance on these tools for business critical processes. This contrasts with the use of VLEs to submit work. Had I been relying on our VLE when it was taken down without warning over Easter all of my coursework would have been inaccessible at a critical assessment time. Furthermore our VLE provider attempted to end our contract earlier this term. Again this would have resulted in my losing coursework and resources. Yes it is possible that a web 2.0 site is taken offline but from my experience so far it is far less likely that google will cease to do business than that my VLE provider will pull the plug.

    In my previous role I was often in the position of rolling out new systems and liaising with users re development requirements. Had I treated people with the indifference that has been shown by our VLE provider I would have been sacked. You cannot develop a system with a take it or leave attitude towards the user. My experience so far has been that VLE development has been driven by what the provider wants to develop rather than what the user needs, a situation which would not be tolerated in a business environment. I would say that in my experience of researching alternative VLEs the Frog VLE has proved the exception to this – from all reports they appear to be very responsive to their users needs.

    Your point re a lot of the issues being management issues is correct. However these issues have not been resolved in six years – longer than many of our students have been at the school – this is not acceptable.

    However my main objection to VLEs is this gated community attitude to online access. We need to prepare students for life outside school. The minute students leave school they lose access to the VLE and all the associated tools. Web 2.0 tools are for life, not just for schooltime. 

    With regards to the amount of time required to get to grips with the Web 2,0 applications either the application is intuitive to use or I don't bother - I just move onto another application - I am not tied financially or contractually to trying to make something work. Hence two years ago I did not use google sites because it was not easy to use - now it has been developed further I am using it with relish. Yes I may be naive and rogue but I poured my energy and enthusiasm into the VLE for 2 years with very little to show for it. Now I feel I am finally getting somewhere and a making a real difference to my students learning.

    Sunday, November 22, 2009

    Web 2.0 v VLEs

    I've tried a couple of titles for this post. It sounds rather confrontational which isn't what I want but in the end it summed up the post. I was originally just going to talk about google sites and the breakthrough they have proved to be for me this year. But I kept coming back to the reasons I have ended up using google sites and thought that was the more interesting story.

    Right from when I first started teaching, getting on for 5 years ago now ( where does the time go ), I was very keen to use a VLE to deliver my resources, set assignments and utilise functions such as discussion boards and quizzes. If I'm honest it appealed to the geek in me. This was the shiny new future and that  was what I wanted to use.

    My first experience of a VLE was very positive. I was on placement at City Academy, Bristol, a wonderful place and very inspiring - yes this was why I wanted to be a teacher. They were using a VLE called Angel which I found very intuitive to use. As a student teacher I was able to post resources and do all those things that I'd read about. I was also helped greatly by Chris Macintosh who showed me the possibilities and opportunities of the VLE and provided me with endless inspiration.

    So I went to my second placement as a convert - VLEs were the one true religion - anything else was heresy. Only I wasn't allowed to post to the VLE as a student and most of the experienced teachers were less than enthusiastic about our platform ( which will remain nameless for professional reasons ). I was puzzled - why would anyone not want to use a VLE? Anyway I ended up staying at the school as an NQT and was fully committed to getting stuck into developing all my resources on the VLE.

    Reality started to bite fairly early - class lists were not transferred from SIMs until over a month after the start of the Autumn term. I was only able to see my own classes so when a colleague was off I couldn't post resources for  her class ( this became more of an issue when I became the KS3 co-ordinator - how was I supposed to post resources for all the KS3 classes? ). The interface for building resources was very clunky, it was built on blocks of text and there was no way of inserting images. A year in and suddenly you could insert images and the resources started to look a little better. I threw myself into producing resources a new course preparing year 9 students for Diplomas. The year group was split into 9 groups and 3 learning strands so there were two other teachers teaching my strand. The VLE seemed the best way to share resources and initially it worked well. I made sure I had all 9 groups on my profile so I could post work for the current 3 groups and start to prepare resources for the next 3. Then we swapped to the next groups and all the resources disappeared. The VLE could not cope with groups changing and it took quite a while to retrieve submitted work and resources.

    Numerous other problems ensued but I continued to battle away. The final straw came  at Easter when the system was taken down for the whole of the school holiday without warning. I was furious as I had a large amount of work to complete in time for the start of term. When the system was finally restored all my existing resources had been corrupted - all images distorted and line spacing all over the place. I couldn't even repair the resources as the rich text editor had disappeared. When I complained the company were totally indifferent and even suggested that I had training issues. They lost me then and I haven't used the VLE with my classes since.

    But I still needed something to deliver resources and communicate with my students. I found Edmodo ( see previous post ) which gave me the communication tools but not the means to deliver the resources. I had looked at google sites a couple of years ago but it seemed complicated to use - and to find! This summer I had to start writing course material for BTEC Level 3 ICT and thought I'd have another look at google sites. The application has changed out of all recognition and was now exactly the tool that I had wanted the VLE to be. I could embed presentations and videos. I could link in a calendar and use all the gadgets from iGoogle. In less than 3 days I had a complete unit online and this time included gaining an understanding what the unit content entailed. Here is the end result ( unit 1 ):-

    Bouyed up by this success I have transferred all my resources to google sites. The rest of the department has followed suite and we are now working together to get all department resources online. This week I even used the sites to add pages to support cover lessons.

    Our VLE has just been relaunched and I'm sure it is much better than when I was struggling with it a year or so ago. However I now find that I am ideologically opposed to the concept of VLEs in general. The idea of a 'gated community' has never appealed, whether it be rich people or old people and the idea of having an enclosed space within which students interact online does not make sense to me. When they leave school they lose access to the VLE and all the associated tools. Surely it is better to give them experience of tools that they will be able to continue using outside the school gates - social bookmarking, collaborative tools such as Etherpad, Edmodo, Bubbl-us etc, google sites to create their own websites and hopefully, if I can get it unblocked, Blogger or some other blogging tool to enable them communicate with a wider audience. The only remaining advantage I see for a VLE is the reporting to parents - but this is not something that we are using anyway at the moment.

    If it was just that a VLE is a neutral entity that you can either choose to use or not I would not feel so strongly about the subject. The problem is that it is not neutral - it takes up enormous resources in terms of money and time that could be better used elsewhere. It also colours people's perception of e-learning so that they equate e-learning with this cumbersome, clunky application that does not meet their needs. I am doing a lot of staff training at the moment and am having to 'rehabilitate' the term e-learning after 6 years of the school struggling with a failing VLE. Such a waste of potential and enthusiasm.

    Steve Wheeler has written a couple of excellent posts about VLEs:-'e's)

    Not much more I can add to them

    Thursday, November 19, 2009

    Experiments with Edmodo

    I came across Edmodo about 6 months ago. It was described as an educational Twitter site which is a little misleading. Yes you have the ability to post messages but there is much more to it than that. It is getting close to a VLE but without all the baggage. You can set assignments, have discussion threads, set up RSS feeds, post links and conduct polls. You can set up groups for each of your classes and entry to the class is via  class code. This gets over the issue I have encountered with some VLEs which link to SIMs where students can only access the materials if they are on the classlist.

    I trialled Edmodo first with our IT lab - a small group of students who test out web 2.0 applications after school. Feedback was positive - for a start it was not blocked by our filters and the students liked using the application. Now I needed a context in which to introduce it.

    The opportunity came with a project for year 9 which focused on Social Media and how it is changing such things as how companies interact with their customers, how news is reported and how governments control information. I had a series of case studies and questions for the students to think about. Edmodo seemed a good way of getting all the class to contribute to the discussion. 

    I started by setting up some questions and polls and soon realised that I would have to post them in reverse order as most students would start at the top of the page not the bottom. I am a firm believer in allowing students to use back channels providing they are also working on the task set so set the ground rules that students could post one comment to the whole group but should use direct messaging after that to communicate with individuals. However I soon realised that students do not have the option of direct messaging. All communication was to the whole group. I soon had trouble tracking the posts I had asked students to respond to as they all posted comments to each other and there was not an option to filter on my posts. The images they were choosing as avatars was also causing concern. It was proving difficult to control the physical class in front of me at the same time as the virtual class online. I also discovered that while I could post comments to individual students the students could only post to the whole group.

    However when I struggled through the smog of chatter I was getting some good work. I used this story as a case study lost phone ( as detailed in Clay Shirky's book - Here comes everybody ). Here are some of the responses:-

    The poll function also proved useful

    A quick refinement - post your questions as alerts - you can filter on them and find the responses easily. More fundamental refinement - I set an end of unit assessment as a google form - one of the questions I set was what ground rules should there be for using Edmodo in class. Fairly honest and sensible rules proposed:-

    Only use it for the work set not as a messenger.

    no swearing or bad words.

    I think there should be the rule that you should use it for working not just for havin a random chat not about work

    dont be silly

    I think that the chat should be sensible, nothing rude or Inappropriate and must have something to do with the work in class.

    Only go on it when told, and be given a topic to talk about to save friends from usin it as a catch up lesson on gossip!

    People shouldn't be able to be mean to people on it.

    not say it if u cant say it to the person face

    Use it for work purposes and dont bully another student, dont chat too much.

    The last post is probably closest to my own feelings. I do not see the point in using Web 2.0 / social media technologies and trying to ban students totally from using it as they would if they were not at school. I use Google chat at school to gossip - not in lessons but sometimes in meetings - it keeps me sane. It is unrealistic to expect them only to use these tool to stay on task - some back channel is inevitable and not unacceptable.

    So today my daughter was off school sick and I had to stay home to look after her. I had 3 hours of year 13 working on OCR Applied ICT units 9 and 14 - project management and web design, two hours of year 11 BTEC Certificate and two hours of after school - a mix of year 10 and year 11 BTEC ICT.

    Here was an opportunity to test out Edmodo as a means of communicating with students remotely. The year 13 group were started by my HoD and quickly logged on. Positive communcation:-

    They were totally at ease with the communication channel and were soon using Edmodo to clarify tasks :-

    I even caught students not returning to class on time after break:-

    All in all it worked well as the poll showed:-

    So buoyed but by this success I sat there waiting for my year 11 group to log on...... and waited ......and waited......

    After half an hour I phoned the office - help - why was nobody logging on? A colleague kindly popped round to my class to find out what was happening. My carefully written and planned cover lesson had been communicated as 'get on with your course work'. Once the students had been told what they had to do I got a sudden flood of posts and queries:-

    This was a far bigger group - 26 as opposed to 6 for year 13. Also a younger groups so more behaviour issues:-

    More mixed than year 13 but overall a positive experience - the poll highlighted the advantages and the pitfalls - with all the posts on the site I missed someone's posts:-

    So conclusions:-

    • Set some ground rules but don't make them too prescriptive
    • Don't expect all students to behave like angels - doesn't happen - or alternatively I'm a crap teacher and can't control my class
    • Be pleasantly surprised by what students are prepared to reveal when they are typing online rather than putting their hand up in class - we have had students who have jumped from level 4 to level 6 - partly subject matter but also being freed by the medium.
    I've been at home with my sick daughter but this has been a good teaching day.

    Saturday, November 7, 2009

    Goodbye To Delicious

    It is with a heavy heart that I have this week decided to stop using Delicious as both my own personal bookmarking site and for the students I teach.

    Delicious was my first introduction to web 2.0 technology when I was doing my first teacher training placement back in 2005. A teacher, who was to become a good friend of mine, sent me a link to his Delicious account. A list of websites - I was mystified. However I soon got the hang of it and became a convert, particularly as I began to build up a network of people with whom I shared links. Any time I was lacking in inspiration I could dip into what others had found. Anything I was enthusiastic about I could post to others.

    A natural development of this was looking at how Delicious could be used in school. Firstly we set up a school Delicious account that several of us could post links to. This helped to collate ideas for the e-Learning newsletters we had started to publish and it was hoped that it would encourage more staff to create Delicious accounts and access the pooled resources.

    I did some early trials of using Delicious with students during pre-Diploma lessons two years ago. Through this I got a better understanding of the issues involved. The students couldn't add the buttons to the toolbar and I was stumped at first as to how to bookmark without them. Once we had got round that the mechanics seemed OK but the students had little idea about what they could use the tool for. I needed a better context within which to introduce it.

    Last year I started to put together a scheme of work around the concept of Digital Literacy - how to equip students with the skills they needed to find and process data ( more of which in future posts ). One element of this was keeping track of the sources they found during their group project. So now we had a context but the results were still a little patchy.

    The breakthough came this year. I began developing google sites for each of my year groups and courses to deliver the resources and lesson plans. I made each site public rather than invite only so that it would be easy for students to log onto the site. When I introduced Delicious the first site they had to bookmark was their google site. After that they could ( within reason ) bookmark any other site that they were interested in and post sites to other students. There was a bit of confusion while students tried to work out the user names of their friends. However they very quickly worked out that the only people bookmarking their google site were students in their year group at the school. By clicking on the number denoting the people who had already bookmarked the site they had a ready made list of all the user names for the year group. Also as each tutor group were introduced to Delicious at a different time all the user names for the group were together. There was real excitement in the room as the students swapped sites and videos. 

    This also provided me with a means of moderating the accounts. I set up a moderator account on Delicious and bookmarked all the google sites. This then gave me the same list of all the accounts so that I could do spot checks and make sure that no inappropriate sites were being shared around. I did however find that I had to bookmark each site twice. The URL for the home page changed depending on whether I had just loaded the site or returned to the home page after viewing other pages on the site.

    Delicious has also proved ideal for keeping track of sources for coursework. Students have got into the habit of bookmarking sites and using the notes box to document where there have used the information or image. This has been far easier to get them to do than keep a sources table  in Word.

    So half a term in and all year 8, year 9 and KS4/5 ICT students have a Delicious account. Then disaster strikes. Delicious, which has been taken over by Yahoo, changed their login procedures so that a Yahoo profile is now required to set up a Delicious account. My HoD was worried that students needed to be over 18 to set up a Yahoo profile so I checked it out. I was relieved to find that if I set up an account with a date of birth suitable for a year 7 student I was still able to create the account successfully. However on checking the terms of use for Yahoo I came across this:-

    Yahoo! is concerned about the safety and privacy of all its users, particularly children. For this reason, parents who wish to allow their children access to the Services should assist them in setting up any relevant accounts and supervise their access to the Services. By allowing your child access to the Services, they will be able to access all of the Services including, email, message boards, groups, instant messages and chat (among others). Please remember that the Services are designed to appeal to a broad audience. Accordingly, as the legal guardian, it is your responsibility to determine whether any of the Services and/or Content (as defined in Section 6 below) are appropriate for your child.

    This prompted a discussion within the department as to whether our acceptable usage policy and filtering policy covered us for this. Before reaching a decision I received a phone call from a friend teaching at another school. The  login procedure had changed again and you now needed a parent to verify the account by typing in their own Yahoo profile id before it could be set up. The use of Delicious in class was blown out of the water. I tried Tweeting my PLN to see if anyone had a workaround and found that there were others with similar concerns. So I tried posting to the Help Forum on Delicious and received this response:-

    As a Yahoo! product we’re committed to supplying the best level of support and as many benefits to our users as possible. While we weren’t happy about it, we knew that there would be a limited number of negative side-effects to this change and unfortunately some of your students fall into this category. There is no work-around for this, a Yahoo! ID is required to access the site for all new users.

    Having said that. This shouldn’t be the end of your experience with Delicious. Assuming the links you need to give your students is public; you can still save bookmarks to an account you own, assign a unique tag and add notes as needed. That way you can just give your students the link to get to the content they need, i.e. . There are so many ways Delicious can be utilized by schools without needing to create multiple accounts, in most cases one will do. Utilizing tags, comment and tag descriptions can be a great way to distribute information to a large group. They can also be used year on year so that the same content doesn’t have to be sent to new users each year. Yet still allow you to delete and replace with new content when the content found on the link is no longer pertinent. If you need anymore ideas or suggestions on how to do this contact me at sdavison (at) , I'm more than willing to pass on ideas I've collected from other teachers and government agencies.

    I was very unhappy with this response. I do not want my students to be passive consumers of links that I have found. I want them to get into good habits of attributing their sources, setting up networks to share resources and organising their work using tags. A couple more exchanges ensued but the basic answer was 'tough'. There is no workaround.

    So I have spent the weekend reviewing alternative social bookmarking sites. Toolbla was recommended via Twitter. This is a nice looking interface but relies on folders rather than tags and is only open to 13 year olds and older. Digg, Stumblupon, Faves and Clipmarks were all discounted due to the same age restriction. Eventually, following other recommendations from my Twitter PLN I have settled on Diigo. It has no age restrictions, it uses tags and allows users to set up networks. Importantly, as we have already started with Delicious, it allows you to import all your bookmarks from Delicious with the tags intact. Even better is actually has features that Delicious does not have. You can highlight sections of the website, add sticky notes and save the entire page in case the original ceases to be available. 

    Now 'all' I have to do is rewrite all my resources and help documentation to refer to Diigo instead of Delicious and migrate all the students over to the new system. 

    An End to Procratination

    I have been thinking about starting this blog for well over a year now and always seem to find distractions or reasons for inaction. So I thought I's start this first post by reviewing why it is I want to write a blog in the first place.

    Without a doubt the single greatest inspiration for writing a blog has been Tom Barrett, in particular this post . One of those light bulb moments. I'd come across google forms and thought that they would be good for replacing the questionnaires that students have to print out and get filled in by hand. This post made me think about the wider application of the web 2.0 tools I had started to come across. By the time I'd read the back catalogue of Tom's posts my head was buzzing. Set me off on a course that has seen me get ever more deeply involved in incorporating web 2.0 technologies into my teaching practice and sharing best practice with other teachers in my school. I am now involved in delivering e-learning training and am going through the AST application process.

    Blog posts such as this one made me want to start to contribute to the blogosphere rather than just lurk and take ideas without contributing but a blank page was just too big to fill.

    So I made a start with Twitter. 140 characters - I can manage that surely. Had to steel myself for that first post but nothing terrible happened as a result. Again other people's blogs provided me with help and encouragement. Another post by Tom Barrett and this one by Kapil Bhatia, helped me to get started.

    Through Twitter I came across more and more blogs and my RSS reader began to fall into disuse. Good blogs were recommended to me and I could spot when favourite blogs had been updated. Soon I really needed the advice from Dean Shareski in this blog post . Information is a river not a reservoir - you don't need to consume it all. If it's a good idea it will come past again.

    As it did in this post which I read long after it was originally posted by Melanie Holtsman. It helped me to see that I am working my way through a process and that I can't start the revolution in one big bang. I'm currently up to step 7 I think.

    So thank you to all those people whose blogs I have read and been inspired by. Procrastination over - I've dipped my toe in the water. Watch this space.