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Data … in absentia December 4, 2010

Posted by IaninSheffield in Inspiration, Teaching Idea, Tools, Web 2.0.
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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.

‘snow joke! December 1, 2010

Posted by IaninSheffield in CPD, Management, Musings.
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my car under snow

Look like I'm gonna be digging!

Having worked at my present school for almost 6 years, this is the first time we’ve been forced to close, in this case due to the weather.  Advice was posted on our website encouraging our students and staff to make use of our Learning Platform (Sharepoint) or VLE (Moodle) to provide continuity of learning, especially for students preparing for exams in January.  It’s a great step forward that staff unable to get into work can still  communicate using their school email, can access their storage area and those which are shared with colleagues and students and now can even work on their reports in the IMS … all from home.  Similarly students can do pretty much the same.  This is all good.

Our next step however needs us to be in the position where such provision is planned and simply an accepted part of the service we provide.  During the severe snow earlier in the year we didn’t close, but not all students and staff could get to work (many travel long distances) and following the #ashcloud problems, it struck me that we perhaps needed to explore how we begin the step forward. I began wondering whether we could undertake a planned, partial closure day where some students and staff stayed home, some came into school, whilst we still delivered a full day’s programme.  An absolute raft of tools exist to support us in doing that, so the technology is in place, but there’s a few things we still need to resolve:

  • the people issues.  Both students and staff are still at the start of their journey in providing/utilising online resources, whether synchronously or asynchronously.  A PD opportunity perhaps?
  • quality of learning issues.  Although a gathering body of research is showing that at it’s best, online learning is no worse that F2F, we’re unlikely at our early stage to be able to provide that level of effectiveness.  Then again something has to better than nothing and the greater our experience becomes, the more effective we’re likely to be.
  • equity issues.  Recent surveys indicate the great majority of our students do enjoy good access to the Internet, but how do we provide for those who don’t?
  • technical issues. Although the tools exist, we just don’t know what the effects on our infrastructure would be of potentially 1000 students accessing resources at the same time. (And actually since we share a platform with our 20+ sister schools, the demand could be even higher depending on the vagaries of the weather!)
  • ‘political’ issues.  It’s my undestanding that as a school we’re legally required to be open a certain number of days each year.  Whether a planned closure of the type I’m advocating would constitute a ‘closure’ isn’t clear … there doesn’t really appear to be precedence!

I checked the VLE access logs a short while ago and the first student logged on at 8.03 this morning – that’s before a normal school would start.  As I write this at 19.09, there are still five  students on there working, long after school would normally have closed.  And I haven’t even checked the logs for our learning platform yet!  Maybe there’s a message there for us?

So the weather has indeed been no joke and in fact will doubtless continue to confound us for a few more days yet, but ‘every cloud’  (ash or otherwise) as they say – perhaps this will give us the impetus we need to address these important and potentially exciting matters with renewed vigour.