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Data … in absentia December 4, 2010

Posted by IaninSheffield in Inspiration, Teaching Idea, Tools, Web 2.0.
Tags: , , , , , ,
snow depth

How deep was your snow?

School has been closed for three days this week; quite an unusual situation for us.  I’m looking forward to exploring how much the technology we provide has ameliorated the potential loss of learning.  Initial figures from our VLE are encouraging, then there’s the Learning Platform and email traffic to consider … but that’s for a later post perhaps.  Inspired by a post from Tom Barrett, as I often am, and given the uniqueness of the situation, I wondered whether there would be any value in trying to capture a similar snapshot for our little community.

My first concern was that our students don’t necessarily have Google accounts as part of our provision, though they may of course have set up one independently of school.  In order to post on the map in the way Tom describes, I’d first need to guide them through creating an account – not impossible, but perhaps putting in place a barrier to a successful outcome.  So instead, I elected to make the data capture as simple as possible and use a Google form to collect the data.  Only two questions: depth of snow and postcode. I later wished I’d added a third field to capture some aspect of where within our school community the respondent was located – maybe year group or form perhaps. It might have provided a little information about who is likely to act on information presented in the following way.  I considered sending an email to all students, including a link to the form and explaining what we trying to do.  But then I thought it might be more interesting to embed the form in our learning platform home page and see how many students (and staff?) would take the trouble to undertake the task without prompting – another reason for keeping things as simple as possible.  It also meant I could provide the developing Google map together with the form.

You’ll by now have realised that my not so ‘cunning plan’ has a flaw. How does the data get from the spreadsheet behind the Google form into the map?  Well given the nature of the interlinking of Google Apps, I guess it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that data fom the two fields could be fed directly into a Google Map. Not beyond possibility maybe, but certainly beyond my meagre capabilities!  So the transfer was done manually, but this also meant I could ‘shift’ the locations slightly from those provided by entering the postcode into the map search box and thereby offer an extra layer of ‘privacy’ for respondents by providing a more general location for their data.  Locating the form within our learning platform also meant that incoming data could be restricted to our community; perhaps not quite in the spirit of global learning, but for our first tentative steps in crowd-sourcing data, a little more control is perhaps more reassuring.

Was it successful?  Well during the two days since the form was deployed, 75 students and/or staff posted data. I’m quite pleased with that, especially since there was neither fanfare nor publicity.  Is that it?  Although it was an interesting exercise in it’s own right, perhaps we can wring a little more learning from the data?

  • Maths: Plenty of opportunities to refer to the Data Handling elements within various specifications. In addition to manipulating the data, its veracity might be interrogated – to what extent is it likely to be reliable?
  • Geography: Are there any relationships between snow depth and location, terrain etc?
  • English: super idea posted as a comment on Tom’s post from Candace Shively
  • ICT: Data, information and databases – investigate this as a data collection method; strengths, weaknesses, errors etc.
  • Languages: for number practice, display the map large screen, click on a flake and pupils have to respond to “Quelle est la profondeur de la neige” for example.

It’ll be interesting to see where our little snow depth map turns up in lessons … and whether this type of exercise offers potential for future explorations.  Thanks again to Tom for lighting the spark.


1. Nick (@largerama) - December 4, 2010

Am particularly interested in the traffic and what outcomes there were from your analysis of students learning while not being in school (by VLE or other means)

ianinsheffield - December 4, 2010

The traffic is undoubtedly the easy part Nick and maybe even some tentative observations based on those stats. It’s of the course the last bit that’s crucial … how much and how well did they learn?

I have no doubt that the majority (all?) of my colleagues will feel that ‘remote’ learning is very much a second best. What’s more, in this case I’d agree with them. Quite simply we delivered learning opportunities that the students would not have had the chance to enjoy were the learning platform, VLE and email not there. In fact very much in the same way that turning up to cover a lesson for an absent colleague where no work has been left and it’s in a discipline with which we’re unfamiliar – it won’t be great, but as experienced teachers we can usually ‘cobble’ something together.

After working with a colleague a while ago to develop a sequence of activities for use through the VLE, she remarked ‘It’s like going back to being a trainee teacher again.’ It is! In order to deliver meaningful, effective, engaging learning by means of a learning platform, you have to completely rethink the way you manage your ‘classroom.’ You have to start from scratch … again. What worries me is that many colleagues have neither the time nor inclination to do that. And why should they? What incentive is there? An odd few days every other year when we need to make provision because it snows, or there’s a flood or an ash cloud?

Oh and apologies for going off on a rant on possibly a completely different track 😉

2. L Lewis - December 5, 2010

Sounds like we both did a similar thing. I’ll let you know how our follow up goes.

ianinsheffield - December 6, 2010

Certainly does Lynne. From what I read on your school post, are you going to be posting pupils submissions up to the #uksnow site? Which will of course give you a much larger dataset from which to work – makes a lot of sense.

L Lewis - December 6, 2010

Yes pasted them all into the website and hope to use/compare UK data in maths lesson. When the snow goes away and we’re back in school!

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