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#BobTaughtMe January 9, 2016

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings, Uncategorized.
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You might not have heard of Bob Sprankle; a warm-hearted, informative and informed educator who passed recently. Tributes to Bob have rolled in over the weeks and have been curated by Wes Fryer on the #BobTaughtMe page.

I recently watched this moving, but joyful video from some of his friends:

Although I never knew or even met Bob, I thoroughly enjoyed and learned a lot from the Seedlings podcasts he hosted with Cheryl Oakes and Alice Barr. Here then are my thoughts on what #BobTaughtMe.

2015 Festival of Social Science November 11, 2015

Posted by IaninSheffield in PhD, Uncategorized.
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Marginal Notes

Yesterday the ESRC Festival of Social Science came to town; well OK, it’s been running for a couple of days now, but yesterday was the first events that I attended.

What can data visualisation do?

At the Showroom, this event arranged by The University of Sheffield provided four provocations on different topics, followed by a panel discussion of some of the issues raised. Alan Smith opened the batting by making ‘The Case for Charts,’ questioning whether charts were often used simply to break up blocks of text.

By Anscombe.svg: Schutz derivative work (label using subscripts): Avenue (Anscombe.svg) [GPL (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl.html), CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons Using a bar chart from a UNESCO report entitled “Gender Parity Index …,” typical of the kinds of charts we often encounter in reports of this nature, Alan showed how it could be quickly amended to improve accessibility, ease of…

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My approach to Twitter September 1, 2015

Posted by IaninSheffield in Twitter.
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Recently Ben King asked (in the second of these two tweets) :

for which I initially had no answer, but then concurred with Ben’s suggestion. My thought was that I don’t manage to follow so many people; it’s just the way I do things. I guess Ben was asking as a follow up to an earlier tweet in which he mentioned having to undertake a ‘cull’ to get those he was following down to a more manageable 200. I’ve seen a number of folks mention this in the past, but it’s not a task I’ve ever felt the need to perform, which then set me thinking …why?

When I was first introduced to Twitter back in 2009, the strategy I adopted was quite simple. Follow anyone from whom I might learn something. So initially I searched out a few people about whom I was already aware to see if they were on Twitter. If anyone followed me or I saw a retweet which included someone new, I then applied my basic criterion and if the person fulfilled that, then I followed them. The way I would establish whether they were ‘interesting’ would be to check their Bio first to see whether they had an interest in education, then confirm that by reading through their recent tweets.

As things rolled forward and I moved beyond the n00b phase, I became slightly more discriminating and elected not to follow people who were ‘touting’ something (a product or themselves) or people who were so prolific in their tweeting that they would have swamped my timeline. I also rarely follow back companies or people who are completely off topic and just occasionally I block accounts – they often have avatars featuring women with … limited wardrobes (never men interestingly!)

Although I’ve never felt the need to undertake a formal cull, I do occasionally unfollow. That’s usually if someone’s tweets become too extreme or evangelical (political, religious), if they become disrespectful to others or if they become too spammy and spend too much time off topic (education, learning etc).

I’m conscious however that I’ve perhaps skirted around Ben’s question, so returning to that. To some extent I guess it’s down to the way I access Twitter. I rarely use data on my smartphone (which I rarely have with me anyway!) so 24/7 access and feeling the need to respond to every notification has never been an issue. I tend to spare about 15 – 20 minutes a day using my tab at home on wifi checking and responding to my Twitter stream, plus the time it takes to make a post or two (I’m far from prolific). If I’m away from home or at work, then I hardly ever check in. Occasionally I participate in a #chat, so that would be an hour, but then I’m focused on that alone, rather than the rest of my stream. I guess the clue is in that word – ‘stream.’ I see it as a continual flow of information which I dip into fairly regularly, but much of which passes unseen. I’m OK with that. I don’t feel the need to be obliged to respond, though will do when it’s appropriate. Where sources of information and ideas are so important that I don’t want to miss a thing, I’ll subscribe to their RSS feed and pick that up in my reader, where I skim everything and read what stands out.

For me, the priority is to seek out the diversity of views provided by an eclectic international mix; from different curriculum areas, different sectors (primary, secondary, tertiary), teachers, advisors, learning technologists, even a couple of humorous parody accounts for amusement, but no celebs (apart from Brian Cox & Jim Al-Khalili!). It’s important to me to enjoy a wide variety of views, including those with which I disagree and which challenge my conceptions. The flip side of adopting such a broad church is that the contents of my stream are not always relevant – I’m not particularly interested in who’s got pole position in the next GP, how many people followed or unfollowed you today or that your baby’s just puked down your shirt, but they are the human side of the 140 character snippets and help in providing the context from which connections can evolve. I accept that my stream may be less ‘tight’ than Ben’s, but will allow me to delight those serendipitous or unexpected gems which the wonderful people I follow regularly share.

New ventures August 30, 2015

Posted by IaninSheffield in PhD, Twitter.
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flickr photo by colinjcampbell http://flickr.com/photos/cjc/3577600379 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

It was a strange feeling as I left school for the last time on Friday. Not sad at all; I’m moving on to something I’ve been keen to do for a while. Not with any sense of pleasure either though; I enjoyed my time both as ICT Development Manager and Head of eLearning at Sheffield High School, made some good friends and helped see through some substantial changes. Strange instead because the school was quiet, as it invariably is with staff and students on hols. There was no hullabaloo, no fanfare; thanks had largely been exchanged at the end of summer term (Some people had been really kind in expressing their gratitude for the help and advice I’d afforded them; very touching). So I finished my day’s work, handed in my laptop and ID card, said cheerio to a couple of people and left. Simple. Quiet. Bit like me really.

I’m minded to look back at the technology in the school when I was appointed at the start of 2005 and to consider some of the changes we embraced to exploit some of the affordances new technologies offered. But hey, if you too were in schools during that time, you’ll already be well aware. If not, by all means have a wander through the six year back catalogue of posts here which reflect on many of the issues we faced. I read a comment or quote recently which said something along the lines of ‘There’s no point looking over your shoulder at the past; you can’t go there.’ Whilst history scholars might baulk at that, I have to confess to subscribing to that view and prefer to look forward. I certainly reflect on and endeavour to learn from what has passed, but I’m energised more by a sense of agency and ability to effect what is to come.

So what is ‘to come?’ I’ve secured a studentship to undertake a PhD at Sheffield Hallam University, full-time, within which I’ll be researching teachers’ use of social media to support their professional learning. I was struck some while ago by the number of people on Twitter claiming how potent it was in addressing their professional developments needs. Could that be true? Each time I hear the sentiment repeated, I wonder how a 140 character medium can possibly do that, yet am well aware of the positive effect it has had on my learning. I intend then to tease apart the issues involved, establish significant factors and shed more light on if and how this is being achieved. There’s little question that a good many people feel that their professional learning is enhanced by Twitter and other social media; what I’m keen to find out is how.

This blog has always been a place to reflect on issues related the use of learning technologies in schools; I hope to continue to do that. I do however need a new place which focuses solely on my new area of interest, so to that end I’ve set up ‘Marginal Notes‘ where I’ll be reflecting on my research endeavours. I need to provide a little more background in order to set the context from which my research arose, but I’ve found the need to begin documenting my studies, even though officially, I’ve not yet begun. If you have any observations or comments, do please share them.

So the next three years of my life are in some ways mapped out, and yet I know I’ll be exploring (for me) completely new ground. ‘The way less trod’ has always appealed.

When scrawling leads to learning July 24, 2015

Posted by IaninSheffield in Uncategorized.
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On opening a book borrowed from the library, I struggled to stifle the resigned exhalation reserved for those irritations caused by someone’s thoughtlessness.

flickr photo by ianguest http://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/19355566994 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

I have no problem at all with adding notes to a text that highlight significant sections, query your own understanding or indicate emerging themes. Quite the contrary in fact. So if you buy a book for your own personal use, then you have every right and very good reasons to annotate away until your pencil is no more than a stub. However, if that book comes from a library collection and will be borrowed by subsequent readers, then surely it is no more than considerate to erase your jottings before returning the book? Or am expecting too much and reverting to type as a ‘Grumpy Old Man?’ (and that’s rhetorical!)

As I inspected the notes to see why on earth the writer couldn’t be bothered to undo their misdeed, I found myself drawn into their comments and highlights, asking why had s/he underlined that sentence, what had that phrase been labelled as ‘important‘ for and why did they ‘disagree‘ with that section? In some sense I had begun to participate in a brief discourse with a fellow student on certain aspects of the text, albeit a uni-directional one. I found that I was interrogating their assertions, sometimes critically, often in agreement and occasionally wondering why they had (apparently) not noted an issue that seemed obvious to me. Perhaps there was value in not erasing sidenotes, but actually in adding to them? Sacrilege!

Unfortunately there’s a technical impediment here; that of space … there isn’t enough. For one student, sure; two perhaps or three at a push, but even with an overly generous typesetter, it’s unlikely to extend further than that. Unless of course we happen to be reading a digital version. Ebooks often have the facility to highlight and annotate text built in and if the ereader has Internet connectivity, then the highlights and annotations of the community of readers can be read by all … without fouling up the legibility of the page! Whilst it may not be the dialogue into which an online book club might enter, surely it constitutes some form of asynchronous discourse between readers which might assist one another’s understanding or challenge (mis?)interpretations.

The few instances I’ve seen in some ebooks have been less than helpful e.g. “9 people have highlighted this.” But perhaps that’s simply because we haven’t yet become sufficiently digitally literate with this new medium to exploit its potential … or the ebooks where I’ve witnessed that behaviour haven’t lent themselves to discussion. As a teacher working in financially limited circumstances and given their expense, I spent a lot of time endeavouring to ensure the longevity or our textbooks. Writing in them was … not an option! Had ebooks been available, I wonder if I’d have been brave enough to encourage my students to share their digital annotations, queries and opinions. Doubtless I’d have ended up with a few digital equivalents of hand-drawn male genitalia, but maybe that’s a price worth paying for the potential benefits, especially given how much easier it would be to identify the culprit … possibly!