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The Power of Technology: are we masters or slaves?

Image by mikekanuta0 from Pixabay

and how the iPad saved the day
Part 1

I love new technology (if you hadn’t guessed already) but the traditionalist in my never really disappeared. With my background being in administration with a little librarianship along the way, you can imagine how I loved my paper, my triple copies of everything and my books.

Many years ago (too many than I care to remember) I was issued with a brand new computer thingy to replace my trusty typewriter. I hated it with with a passion but that was probably down to the fact that I was given no instruction on how to use it. [Why is it that just because you can type 80 words a minute without even looking at the keys people assume that you can automatically use a computer?]

Anyway, after I persevered, finally getting to grips with the formatting tags for bold, italics etc (something I never had to bother with on a typewriter) I was a convert. Anything that made my life easier was certainly the top banana for me.

But always at the back of my mind was that little voice of caution. That ‘what if’. We were told that computers would herald the paperless office. [ Hmmm – well certainly not in my experience. In fact it, produced more. It was too easy to rethink and rewrite letters whereas if produced on typewriter they were more careful to get the first draft as perfect as possible.]

My fears were always if we were to keep everything on disk and save valuable office space by reducing the amount of paper to file away, what would happen if we had a power cut? For that reason, I kept everything in hard copy – for years.

As I got to trust technology a little more, I’ve learned to let go of my old administrative ways and little is now printed off and filed in sad looking filing cabinets. I’ve embraced technology to the extent that I would, if I could, have every gadget imaginable (I blame my techie of a husband for nurturing such compulsions). I became quite jealous when Dean got his iPad a few weeks back whereas I have a second hand Galaxy tablet – very nice but nowhere near as responsive. Both devices however, have proved to be very versatile and have allowed us to carry out tasks we would not have otherwise been able to do. More about how the iPad saved the day later.

Although I have the occasional palpitation about how all my eggs seem to be in one basket and what would I do if somehow I couldn’t retrieve them, I quickly dismiss those ugly thoughts.

Until yesterday when we were cut off from the world and the iPad came to the rescue…..

See my next post about how the iPad saved the day.

Opening up the walled garden

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6KnJPeAWog

If you have a little over 1hour and 17 minutes to spare, here is a very interesting debate from late 2009 (but still topical nonetheless) on the whether the VLE (virtual learning environment) is dead and that the PLE (personal learning environment) is the way to go for learning.

I’m going to sit firmly on the fence here. It might get a little uncomfortable at times and I can waver a little but for me certain things come to mind before we force a decision.  Perhaps we’ll be throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.

Do we really know what our VLE can do?

Have we taken enough time to investigate the functionality?

Have we exercised enough creativity in what we could do with it and in it?

Did we forget to ‘be there’ providing that human touch or have we just left our students to their own devices with merely a map to guide them through the maze of content.

Are we going to going to remain within our secret walled garden of the VLE or could we, as Dicken and Mary did in the novel ‘The Secret Garden’, unlock the door enjoy the best of both worlds?

Remember that we can easily create doorways out into the social world and PLEs with the use of links. For instance, one activity within the VLE could be to take a conversation beyond the walled garden and out into a social network where students could share resources more easily, upload photos and videos for comment and discussion and return to the VLE to post a conclusion or analysis of their ‘field trip’. Maybe you’d create a Facebook account for the course or a Twitter account using hashtags for grouping the assignment conversations (after establishing whether your audience can access these of course), the limitations are really only your imagination.

Maybe we need to invest a little more time into these creative ideas and encourage the meeting of these worlds rather than an exclusion of one or the other. It’s not always necessary to make a decision between one or another.

Another case for blending methinks.

Twitter-lingo

Copyright I L Layton-James

Did you know…

There have been 659,042 Tweets in the Haitian Creole language of  Kreyol Ayisyen within a user group of 7,468 and Cymraeg (Welsh) is the third most popular language Tweeted with 261,083 Tweets altogether between 2,729.

These statistics have been gathered by Indigenous Tweets as reported by the BBC last week.  According to the article, Indegenous Tweets is “about encouraging minority language speakers to discover each other online”.

This got me thinking about how Twitter can be used to help people learn a language.  I’ve always been told that the only real way to learn how to speak a new language is to use it – regularly.  However, speaking a new language may not necessarily help you get to grips with writing it.

What’s a better place to interact with others in a particular language to try out your skill and improve them.

Here are some ideas I’ve had:

  • Set a ‘conversation’ activity in class to practise written language skills
  • Set an icebreaker task before the course asking students to research how to say “Hello, my name is, what’s your name?”
  • As the skills increase hold regular live Tweet meets where the tutor and group will only converse in that language.
  • Encourage students to join a wider community where they hold conversations with others
  • Create a blog to post regular conversation topics giving details of the time and duration of Tweet-meets
  • Upload a copy of each conversation to the blog to discuss further

Because Twitter is just another tool by which we can hold conversations, it’s important we think beyond the prejudice and barriers and start thinking creatively on how we can harness it for learning.  Of course, we don’t want to use these tools ‘just because’ but perhaps we need to start thinking more about ‘what can be’.

Classroom trainers have been very creative in the past about how to include different tools and activities to aid the learning process.  Just think about how we introduced video and DVDs to the classroom course.  The set up little group to collaborate using flip-charts, then PowerPoint.  We’ve introduced games and adapted them to encourage problem solving. The only difference now is we no longer have to be bound by walls and have a much richer collection of tools.

Are you using a hammer to crack a nut?

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

Or do you really need the right tool for the job?

As some of you may have guessed, I’m a really big fan of social media.  I think it’s the best thing invented since sliced bread.  Now for the uninitiated, when I mention social media and in particular Twitter, the initial reaction is either  ‘oh no here we go again’ or ‘I can’t see the point in hearing what everyone had for breakfast’.  But social media is so versatile.  It’s just another conversation tool – just like the telephone.

What’s the betting that when telephones started to be installed in more homes, people just rang each other up to find out what they had done that day.  It’s a novelty thing. It’s a ” We just gotta try it out but I can’t think of anything profound so I’ll just say the first thing that comes into my head” sort of thing.  In fact, my mum still does that.  I’m not going to tell you my age but I think you’ll guess I’m not a kid any more but I still have to telephone ‘home’ every night when I travel anywhere.  There’s usually no new amazing news to hear so I just get “have you had your tea?  What did you have?”.

But of course we also use the telephone for some of the most important of calls as well as keeping in touch with our loved ones.  The same goes for e-mail.  I remember when e-mail was first introduced where I worked.  There were e-mails being sent all over the building just saying saying “hello, how was your weekend” even when we were just in the next office (or even in the same office).  It was a novelty.  Then came the policies on how to use e-mail responsibly, how to communicate correctly and all was good with the world.

What I’m seeing now though is e-mail being misused in as much as it is becoming a conversation tool.  Yes, I know it IS a conversation tool in a way but we’re seeing it being used for chit-chat again even if that chit-chat is work related.  Yet there are many more appropriate tools we can use for this type of conversation within a work environment:

Skype for example.  Here people can have real time business conversations either on a one to one basis or group.

If it’s more about collaborating on a project, what about using Google Docs and Google Buzz.

If we need to share research, discuss ideas, view and review little videos we’re planning, what about creating a Facebook Group for your team.

We are so blessed nowadays with a variety of different tools that do different things can we really look back at our current practices and say we are working efficiently?  Of course, we need time for a bit of research but sometimes, we just have to give it a go.

And that’s just what I’m just about to do now.  I’m going to create a team Facebook Group for collaborative working projects and see how it goes.  How about you?

6 ways for using podcasts in learning

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Recently I listened to the last CD of the audio book ‘The Elephant to Hollywood‘, the latest autobiography from Michael Caine. It was a requested Christmas present and I decided on the audio book rather than the hard copy or Kindle version for a number of reasons.

  • I have hundreds of books and just rarely get the chance to read for pleasure these days (something I have to change);
  • I spend a lot of time in the car or in hotels and at the end of a day’s training my eyes are too tired to read;
  • Michael Caine was reading his own book which was the selling point to me as it would certainly bring it to life;
  • I had previously bought his last audio book (then on tape back in 1993 and enjoyed that one too);

It was something that I listened too in snippets each trip I made. However long the trip, it sped by listening to his distinct tones. I laughed out loud and cried in places. I love driving anyway but looked forward to my longer trips so I could hear more.  Although at time it was clear that he was reading it because at times there was a little less fluidity to the narration, on the whole it was pretty much like listening  to the stories as if being recounted from memory with the help of notes.

When the last CD came to an end I could have listened to it all over again. I probably will because, as often happens even when listening to the radio, I zone out at times and don’t actually listen to every word.   Maybe some extract of the story sparked a memory or it took me back to one of the films. So the next minute or so the voice just became background noise.

Some weeks after finishing the audio book, I wouldn’t be able to recite it back to you or even give you details of what was said in a particular chapter.  However, certain things will trigger memories of parts of the book and they became clear in my mind again.

Then I began to reflect on my experience and thought how closely it linked to listening to podcasts for learning and what we could use them for.

 

1. Tell a story

If you are planning on a monologue, consider making it more along the lines of story-telling.  Perhaps someone could share a little anecdote about how celebrating a colleague’s birthday in the staff room complete with birthday cake and candles literally sparked a full blown fire evacuation, two fire engines and lots of fire crew.  Yes, folks it did actually happen – I was there – and no it wasn’t me!  Not only would it be an amusing story to tell but something to use as a learning discussion point.

 

2. Chunk it

Even though the audio book took a while to get through it was divided up into CDs and then chapters on each CD.

 

3. Keep them short

It will depend on the type of podcast and your audience of course but consider keeping them between 20 and 30 minutes.  This makes it easier for people to fit into their busy schedules; it’s quicker to download and manage smaller audio files too.

 

4. Have a conversation

Try and go for a more conversational style piece such as an interview or a simple discussion between two or more people.  We tune out to a single voice much more quickly which is why I think I might have ‘zoned’ out at times even though I found Michael Caine’s story-telling fascinating.  Think about why we like listening to the radio.  After all, it’s been popular for decades.

 

5. A roving report style

Why not go for more of a reporter style podcast?  With some creative writing and some keen amateur dramatics people involved you could report on an ‘incident’  where the reporter might have been one of the first at the scene. 

 

6. A quick briefing

podcasts could even be used purely to introduce the programme or provide some background behind an initiative. It’s a lovely way to get the human touch into your self-paced online programme instead of recording a video of yourself.

 

Really, if you just think about how radio is used, your podcasting world is your oyster and very easy to include in your solutions.  There’s plenty of audio recording software out there.  Try Audacity which is free.  You’ll need to also download Lame with it if you want to convert into MP3 files and it has a really good selection editing tools.

What podcasts do you listen to and how are they useful to you?

 

J.R.Hartley who?

I just had to write a little blog post about the new advert for Yellow Pages. Or, rather, Yell.com. Some of the old adverts have seen somewhat of a resurgence lately and wonder whether it’s a little like those comfort foods that have also made a comeback in these days of recession. I hear Arctic roll is back in vogue (yeah I know – beats me too, although I did rather like it as a nipper).

The advert took me back to a grandad-like, kind looking old gent, patiently trudging around all the bookshops looking for ‘fly-fishing’ by J.R. Hartley. (bear with me on this…. ). After a fruitless day, the kind old gentleman returns, forlorn, to his home where his daughter comforts him with kind words, a cup of tea and the Yellow Pages. There he let his “fingers do the walking” (don’t you just love good advertising – I can still hear that jingle in my head?) and finally hit the home run. The kind old gentleman places an order and they ask for his name “oh yes, my name…. it’s J…. R….. Hartley”

Yes all that from my little grey cells. The power of a really good advertising message – remembered often long after the product has gone. Here’s the video for full effect:

This evening I saw the ‘remake’. I’ve found it on YouTube for you (no I’m not getting paid by Yell.com) and it made me smile. Where’s this going? Well, it was the soundbite line that struck a chord…”what we do hasn’t changed – just the way we do it”.

For those of you who might know me know I’m a little like a policeman or a doctor in that I’m always ‘on-duty’. That is, I see connections with learning and new technology for learning almost everywhere. This short little advert just made me think how what we do or need to do for effective learning actually doesn’t change. We still need to analyse, collaborate, observe, read, listen, apply, reflect and seek feedback but now we just have different, up-dated, quicker, more efficient tools to do them with.