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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.

Being online – Dinosaur poo? June 20, 2015

Posted by IaninSheffield in PhD, Twitter.
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I’ve begun preparing for starting my PhD in October later this year. Whilst scouring the Web for articles, papers and other resources I’m keen to explore, a video on virtual ethnography bubbled to the surface. (Writing the research proposal and application, preparing for interview, then the initial forays into the field following confirmation that I had been successful have all contributed to me being less prolific on here than I might have preferred. Apologies.)

During the presentation, a suggestion by Jen Ross, brought me up short; that nowadays, it’s unlikely that we can ever truly be considered to be offline. After my initial reaction of what a ridiculous notion, I began to wonder if that could possibly be true, yet swiftly acknowledged that of course it was.

From the moment we first interact with the Web, as opposed to simply browsing it, we commit ourselves to a perpetual online presence. That might be making our first online purchase, opening a bank account, creating a social media profile or beginning communicating using email. We then become one tiny node in this vast network of people, devices and interconnections. But are we present? One might argue that unless you are at your keyboard or holding your smartphone/tablet and actively engaged in online activity, then how can you possibly be online? I’m not online whilst having a shower, enjoying a meal with friends or out on the bike, and yet … I could be streaming audio from Spotify whilst shampooing my grey hairs, snapping and posting to Tumbler a shot of our group at the table or sending my current performance directly to Strava. But since my smartphone is rarely even turned on, I don’t actually do those things.

The more I pondered, the more it became apparent that whilst at any particular instant, I might not be consciously engaged in online activity, I am still nevertheless online. As a blogger, podcaster, tweeter etc, my digital tracks mean that others have continual access to my thoughts and jottings. They can comment on that alluvium, provide feedback or enter into dialogue, if not in real time, then asynchronously. When I come across the online trails of other people, I feel I am offered a window into their thinking and a glimpse of who they are … or at least, who they portray.

‘Being online’ then perhaps brings into question the notion of presence; if we set to one side our analogue thinking and issues of temporality, it’s more about visibility, connectedness and what we leave for others to find. Whilst temporal displacement means no scientist has observed a dinosaur, we can still hypothesise about their diet by examining their fossilised droppings. Our online ‘droppings’ (an apt term if you’re a regular reader of In the pICTure!) mean we are indeed continually online and because of temporal proximity, available to exchange ideas and information and discuss issues.

These ideas were cemented home for me when I came across this post by Terry Heick, celebrating the life and work of Grant Wiggins who passed recently. Terry noted:

His work remains. His writing is always available–here, in his books, on his own blog, his twitter account, and more. When your work is thought and you leave a record of that thought, then your work never stops. Even when you ultimately have to.

Computing in School. Is the time nigh? October 20, 2012

Posted by IaninSheffield in CPD, Musings, Twitter.
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The other night I attended a local CAS Hub Meeting  at Sheffield Hallam University; the first I’ve been to. Attended by an eclectic mix drawn in the main from ICT teachers and leaders from local schools, but also including colleagues from HE, PGCE students and representatives of companies in the digital sector.

After an introduction from Phil Spencer, Simon Humphreys whisked us through an introduction to the Network of Computer Science Teaching Excellence:

… a closely knit national federation of university-led local school networks … A central goal of the local networks is to build a sufficient capacity of expert schoolteachers with the competencies and capabilities necessary to support the development of other computer science teachers.

Phil then took us through some of the robotics projects the recently established South Yorkshire CAS Hub had undertaken in conjunction with local schools. The evening hospitably drew to a close with a few nibbles and the opportunity to network with other attendees.

What was serendipitous though was when I got home and checked in on Twitter to find an ongoing discussion along the same lines as that which I’d been listening to barely an hour earlier. I think I’m right in saying it started with this from Neil Winton:

and blossomed to include John Johnston, Charlie Love, Rob Hill and Richard Anderson who touched on the value of coding in the curriculum, the skills associated with coding and computing and the dearth of computer scientists in the UK employment market. Although I chipped in briefly, I don’t have an agenda here. As ICT Development Manager in school, my responsibility is to ICT across all subjects (and beyond!) and my disposition towards it stems from the potential it offers to encourage, enhance and extend, promote and enable learning. That said, I’m only too well aware of and sympathetic towards some of the serious issues surrounding Computer Science, like the marked decline in numbers of students studying Computing in school and subsequently in higher education and the shortfall in the numbers of CS graduates available to fill jobs in the IT labour market.

There is a push then from organisations like CAS, the BCS, NAACE, from Government and from teachers in field to address the problem. That’s good. I support that and will lend my shoulder where I can. There’s a recognition that the shift of emphasis towards ICT during the past decade has left the teaching workforce denuded in people with expertise and capability to deliver Computer Science. That too is being addressed with Government incentives and through the efforts of CAS.

In support of the case, it’s often rightly argued that studying computing or coding is of value in itself, providing an ideal opportunity through which to develop logical thinking, critical reasoning, problem solving and being creative. These skills can be introduced as early as Key Stage 1 using devices like Bee-Bots and continued through school using applications and initiatives like Scratch, Kodu, Small Basic, Code Academy and more. I wholeheartedly agree with these propositions … yet have a nagging worry at the back of my mind – one of equity. It’s the same one I have when we put on open evenings where departments/faculties showcase their subject in order to help(!) students choose which subjects to study. If you’re a good enough teacher, then you ought to be able to ‘sell’ your subject, highlighting the unique aspects which help it stand out from the crowd and make it worthy of inclusion in a curriculum (whether the narrow one chosen by older students or the broad one imposed(?!) on younger students). I’m certain an equally compelling case could be made whether it’s Psychology, Latin, Economics, Media Studies, Politics, Anthropology or Sociology.

So I guess my point is, are all subjects created equal? Or should some subjects, like Computer Science, be more equal than others?


Signing your life away? March 27, 2012

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings, Twitter, Web 2.0.
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cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by Judy **: http://flickr.com/photos/judy-van-der-velden/5396290870/

Last night I fired off a tweet providing notice of the latest post in my #366Web2.0 series. As it happens it was about Flixtime, an online application providing functionality similar to that of Animoto. Shortly afterwards a colleague replied asking:

Are the films created the property of Flixtime like Animoto? Is flix ok to use for pupil photos?

Well there are two things there I guess, so in the order they appeared:

1. This is a very valid question and one we perhaps ask ourselves all too rarely as we sign up for ‘free’ online services. How many of us take the time and trouble to read through the Terms of Service and simply put a tick mark in the checkbox saying we agree to them? On this occasion since I’d been prompted, I went back and took a look. Five and half thousand words later, I still couldn’t really answer the question fully. The ones at Flixtime aren’t particularly abstruse, but they’re still largely written in legalese, a language just fine and dandy for lawyers in a courtroom, but hardly accessible for an ordinary member of the public. I suppose I can consider myself reasonably well read, so how would the ToS appear to a 13 year old or to someone with learning difficulties? Yes a company has no choice but to protect itself from possible litigation, but is it reasonable to expect that a potential user will have read and understood over five thousand words of legally-oriented terminology? Here’s a sample from Flixtime’s terms:

This Agreement shall continue in perpetuity unless terminated in accordance with this Section 13. Flixtime at any time may terminate this Agreement in its sole discretion, including, without limitation, for breach by you of any of your representations, warranties or obligations under this Agreement.


I wondered if others were similar. Here’s a few words from YouTube’s three and half thousand:

14.3 You agree that if YouTube does not exercise or enforce any legal right or remedy which is contained in the Terms (or which YouTube has the benefit of under any applicable law), this will not be taken to be a formal waiver of YouTube’s rights and that those rights or remedies will still be available to YouTube.


And from Prezi’s four and half thousand words (which to be fair appears somewhat less inaccessible):

When you upload User Content on or through the Service, you represent and warrant that, with respect to all User Content that you upload, transmit, publish and disseminate through the Service, (a) you have all the rights and licenses necessary to use, reproduce, publish, display publicly, perform publicly, distribute or otherwise exploit such User Content in connection with the Service (and to grant to Prezi the licenses set forth in this Agreement);


And let’s not even think about PInterest!

Anyway, in answer to the original question, this phrase from Flixtime’s terms might help:

You hereby grant Flixtime a royalty-free, worldwide, perpetual license to use your Submission for the purposes of providing the services contemplated hereunder.

Which suggests to me that Flixtime is at liberty to use your stuff, but doesn’t become the owner … however I’m more than happy to be corrected if my interpretation is too loose!

The second point is perhaps a little easier to answer … possibly!

2. “Is Flixtime OK to use with pupil photos?” I’d suggest requires pretty much the same answer as “Is it OK to post pictures of pupils on the Internet?” I’d guess that most (all?) schools have a policy regarding the taking and use of images, so that should be the starting point. If the policy doesn’t specifically discuss posting images, then a re-write might be in order. As do most schools, we post heaps of images of students on our official school website; we want people to be able to see students enjoying their time with us and we feel it’s important to recognise and celebrate student achievements. But we do so following guidelines which parents are aware of and have agreed with. Are sites other than the school website covered by the same terms? Should they be, or are they different?

Me? Well I’d be inclined to play safe and try to arrange my activities so that imagery used does not require inclusion of students, if I know the output will be posted to the Web. That way, the issue never arises. Or is that being too paranoid?