Friday, 31 October 2014

21st Century Spelling


Spilling had never bin maw impotent

Spelling has never been more important, as my example above attempts to illustrate. In an age dominated by screens, misspelling is tantamount to an admission of idiocy—but the ways we teach spelling needs to evolve to take advantage of the unique affordances and challenges of spelling in a screen environment. Please note that none of the words in the title are actually misspellings, but mistakes they are, and a right twazzock you will look if you spell in a way that is overly reliant on proofreading tools as a safety net. It's time we took account of the fact that in a world dominated by screens the ways we teach spelling needs to evolve to take advantage of the unique affordances and challenges of spelling in a screen environment.

These days the likelihood of interacting with others in a digital environment is an extremely commonplace scenario. Even more critical, people who misspell in these environments are generally assumed to be less intelligent, less articulate, and despite their possible intelligence/experience, their perspective will be dismissed or demeaned if it is littered with misspellings. It has never been more important to master the ability to spell correctly. Unfortunately most schools, despite the criticality of spelling in the 21st-century, still rely on 19th century strategies to teach spelling. This really does need to change. So, with that in mind...

Critical considerations:

  1. Make direct connections between spelling and handwriting, the actual physicality or skill of the formation of the letters as they are literally connected is meant to reinforce the way the sounds are connected, and builds a visual reinforcement. The idea is to combine physical visual, oral and aural practise to reinforce the feel, the shape and the sound of a word.
  2. Children (and adults) can only spell words they know, sounds obvious, but so many of the spelling lists that are used with students contain words they do not know, so could not possibly be able to spell, other than through guesswork, which leads us to...
  3. There is a much greater validity to the skill of being able "guesstimate" in a TELE (technology enhanced learning environment), and ‘phonological awareness’ is more essential than ever, as an accurate phonetical estimation is relied on by computers to substitute for a correct spelling. A student who cannot phonetically 'attack' a word is unlikely to be able to approximate something that a computer can correct. Related to this is the critical importance of being able to spell the first half of a word correctly, most modern computing devices can now auto complete a word if a student is able to spell the first half of it correctly. Apple's 'QuickType' in iOS 8, and apps like "SwiftKey" utilise this approach very effectively, and the power of Dictation (speech to text) has never been greater, but it will still struggle with homophones (same sound different spelling and meaning). An alternative approach in a 'spelling test' context is to award 2 marks to each word, one mark for being able to spell the word phonetically correctly, or for spelling the first half correctly, and 2 marks if the word is perfect. 
  4. Stop using spelling tests for whole classes with lists of words, this is a nonsensical approach, considering the sheer quantity of words in the typical English dictionary, somewhere in the region of 400,000 words. The words that children learn should be unique and curated from their own literacy life, related to their own writing, reading and speaking, and viewing and listening experiences, or related to specific vocabulary that they are using/used (not will use) in a current unit of study.
  5. Wordlists curated by students should be seen as a source of vocabulary expansion, not just for spelling. Becoming a personal thesaurus/glossary that they should review regularly when writing to enhance the richness of their prose; use it or lose it.
  6. Listening matters just as much than looking, if not more. If you can see the word before you spell it, then you're not learning how to spell, you're practising short term recall. Listening is also essential for checking spelling, now computers have the option to speak any word you can type, select the word and have the computer read it out loud, is this the word you were trying to spell?
  7. Less reliance upon "spelling rules" which are very rarely consistent, and in many cases can lead to a great deal of confusion. Like when students are asked to note the position of a certain vowel in a word and its impact upon other vowels or consonants within that word, also using acrostics like 'big elephants can always understand...' you get the idea, and of course they only work for one word… Instead focus on more reliance on building familiarity with the way words look and the way words sound, so 'look say cover write check' still works well as a useful skill/drill practice, but with fewer words, more often. This is strongly related to the student's reading life as a synergetic enabler in their spelling life. This becomes a context where students are encouraged to see words as 'friends' and building a large community of 'familiar faces' ie, the more they see these words the more likely they are to be able to spell them, or arguably just as important in the 21st-century, to recognise when the word is not spelt properly, ‘it just doesn't look right'.
  8. Skill drill tasks (practise makes permanent) should also be related to an activity that reinforces their comprehension of the meaning of the word, so ideally students should also invent (not copy) a sentence that uses the word, or even better, more than one of the words in the same sentence, that clearly demonstrates that they can use the word/s with an understanding of it/them. For some students it might be better for them to make an oral recording of them speaking the sentence rather than writing a sentence, if the writing is a challenge to reluctant writers, as the focus is on understanding meaning, and oral recall can be just as effective for building meaning, this is especially important with homophones.
  9. More recognition of the kinds of spellings that are particularly relevant to a screen centred writing environment, this means a greater emphasis on distinguishing between words with similar sounds and different patterns, homophones, homonyms, homographs.
  10. Making smarter use of digital tools to facilitate this kind of practice, while spelling games that are built on skill drill using pre-set wordlists are useful, but you should also encourage spelling drills that are built on individually curated wordlists. However these kinds of Apps are not very common, but at least one that does this very well is Squeebles SP.
  11. Use a word processor to spell check, before using a teacher. This could be a simple as a notes app on a mobile device) to enable students to check spellings without the tedium of using a dictionary. Then the teacher reviews the spelling for careless mistakes, or more likely mistakes resulting from misconceptions about phonetics/word structure. Students need to be empowered to build habits of capturing/collecting words that they know, but cannot spell in their curated lists. The point is, it is better for the student to attempt to type the word in a text application and have the computer suggest corrections than it is for them to try and search for it in a dictionary. While the latter is still helpful, the former is a better cognitive process for learning the spelling of a word, and is also more relevant/likely as an activity or skill set in the 21st-century. Very few adults look up words in a dictionary, most rely on the prompt given by the computer in a word processing environment.
  12. Encourage students to learn how to use the "define" search term in Google, effectively turning any Google search window into a handy Dictionary, eg - define: magnificent
  13. Digital technologies are changing which words are traditionally understood to be "tricky" words/spelling Demons/sneaky spellings… so for example any word typed in a text environment will automatically switch the 'ie' in a word like receive, but will not be able to distinguish between homonyms.

Squeebles Showcase

Squeebles Spelling - multimodal drill and practice
I'm not usually one to emphasise a tool, but from time to time a tool emerges that has affordances that are ridiculous to ignore, Squeebles Spelling is one of those. Digital tools like Squeebles can transform spelling practice by making traditional equivalents pale in comparison, consider the following:

Flexibility


Click to see Squeebles in action in 2BSc! 
Kids can 'masquerade' as a parent or teacher to curate their own lists, careless errors are mitigated by the built in spell check—obviously this feature is not activated when they are actually practising! Alternatively, there are a wide range of built in word lists to choose from that cater to all skill levels.

Multimodality and meaning

It's not enough to spell a word, they need to know how it sounds and understand the meaning. In Squeebles kids can record the sound of the word, as well place it in a sentence, eg "Pear. I like the taste of a pear better than an apple. Pear." Better still make it fun by having the kids make up silly sentences, as long as it shows they understand the meaning anything goes! This makes the activity aural and oral - this way the kids say the word, hear the word, and see the word. 

Immediate feedback - differentiated

No need to wait for a teacher to collect in all the spelling tests, then wait a few days to get them all back, even then, actually acting on the spelling errors is a chore, never mind tracking these over time. Squeebles provides immediate feedback, but even better keeps a record of any errors in a collection called 'Tricky Words' that reflect the words that this individual is struggling with.

Motivation

Last and maybe least, Squeebles 'gamifies' the successes into mini games, so kids feels a tangible sense of reward, over and above the real reward—improved spelling.



Saturday, 25 October 2014

The 3rd Barrier of Tech Integration




There are barriers to effective integration, that's probably not a surprise.

The amount of barriers described varies, but probably the most useful summary that made was by Ertmer back in 1999, who helpfully simplified these kinds of barriers by categorising them into two types:

1st order barriers

External (first-order) barriers to technology integration are described as being extrinsic to teachers and include, “lack of access to computers and software, insufficient time to plan instruction, and inadequate technical and administrative support” (Ibid).

2nd order barriers

In contrast, internal, (second-order) barriers are intrinsic to teachers and teaching, and include, “beliefs about teaching, beliefs about computers, established classroom practices, and unwillingness to change” (Ibid.)


It is generally acknowledged that first-order barriers can be significant obstacles to achieving technology integration, yet the relative strength of second-order barriers may reduce or magnify their effects (Ertmer et al., 1999, Miller & Olson, 1994). Since different barriers are likely to appear at different points in the integration process, teachers will need effective strategies for dealing with both kinds of barriers – but perhaps most critically it is the barrier of belief that is most important. As Ertmer wrote subsequently (2005), “If educators are to achieve fundamental, or second- order changes in classroom teaching practices, we need to examine teachers themselves and the beliefs they hold about teaching, learning, and technology.”

Marcinkiewicz (1993) noted, “Full integration of computers into the educational system is a distant goal unless there is reconciliation between teachers and computers.” (p234). Cuban’s observation (1997) supports this: “It’s not a problem of resources, but a struggle over core values”.

So, here we are, in our 5th year of our iLearn, the TEL (technology enhanced learning) revolution that began at UWCSEA in 2010/11, and I'm wondering, how far have we come?

I'd say a long way, in fact I'd go so far as to say that the process has been kind of linear, it's been a process of working through the barriers:

First overcoming first-order challenges associated with learning how to use the actual hardware and software, distribution of devices, sharing, managing, distributing et cetera.

Then, the most significant challenge of building belief moving from, OK, now I know how to use it, but am I convinced that I really need to? And how often? Who with? Why?

I say 'kind of linear' because, clearly, achieving technology integration is a multifaceted challenge that entails more than simply acquiring and distributing computers. Although different types of barriers require different types of strategies to overcome (Ertmer, 1999) we should not try to eliminate one barrier before addressing another, like Scrimshaw (2004), any barrier can be addressed by more than one strategy, and some strategies are likely to effectively address more than one barrier.

But I'd say in our 5th year, we have largely overcome these two barriers, so, job done? No. You see there are critical, third order (and hopefully final) barriers.


Really? Yes.

3rd order barriers

Tsai & Chai (2012) describe a third type of barrier, a lack of problem solving capacity when using digital technologies, they describe these powerfully in terms of ‘design thinking’ where the ability to “re-organise or create learning materials and activities” and adapt these accordingly (ibid, p1058) is seen as necessary to overcome a ‘third-order’ barrier of a lack of ‘design thinking’.  

Design is my background, and I immediately see its relevance in this context. Any designer of any worth knows that the tools are merely a means to an end, they are tools for solving problems in unique ways. If you'll permit me to remix Wikipedia's definition of design thinking a little:

"Teachers who use digital tools seamlessly to accomplish goals and enhance learning environments, by using digital tools as a set of primitive components, to satisfy curricular requirements, subject to constraints. They have a strategic approach with digital tools that allow them (and their students) to achieve unique expectations. These tools frame their specifications, plans, parameters, costs, activities, processes and how and what to do within legal, political, social, environmental, safety and economic constraints, in achieving learning objectives."

In other words, the affordances, the transformative qualities of digital tools become a natural aspect of their practice, losing their initial opacity, and becoming transparent/invisible as tools for meaning making, as transparent as the tools that preceded them, tools like pens, and paper, and protractors. 


Design thinking breakthrough

Teachers who have overcome the 3rd barrier effortlessly accommodate digital tools as and when needed, who use the elements that make these tools unique, elements I describe using the acronym 'SAMMS'. Elements like the situated nature of digital technology, the ability to leverage access to processing power and information, the mutability, and multi-modality of these tools, and the power of working with them within social networks, networks as small as that of the classroom, to that of a grade, a school, a region, or even the globe—the world wide web. All of this, as regularly and as seamlessly and as naturally as breathing.

In this context the creative repurposing of tools to transform learning is ubiquitous, viewed through the lens of frameworks like RAT and SAMR, replacement is rare, amplification is common, and transformation is so common, it is often taken for granted, that is when it is invisible, assumed, the new 'normal'.

Design thinking

'Design thinking' results in practitioners who regularly synthesise the current state of technological knowledge, incorporating new findings, and delineating new dilemmas. A high degree of technological pedagogical knowledge (TPK) (Koehler & Mishra, 2009) is foundational to this final stage—a profound understanding of how teaching and learning can change, when digital technologies are used effectively. This knowledge of the ‘pedagogical affordances and constraints’ of a range of technological tools as they relate to various disciplines with “developmentally appropriate pedagogical designs and strategies (ibid)”, is precisely what gives the 'designers of learning experiences' a capacity to succeed where others have failed.

Sandholtz et al (1997) foreshadowed this decades ago, when describing 'levels of integration', from entry to adoption, adaptation, to appropriation, where the teacher is fully confident in the use of computers and integrates the technology regularly into daily routines. But the highest level, the level where 'design thinking' is required is the level of invention, where teachers, "experiment with new ways of networking students and colleagues and use project-based instruction and interdisciplinary approaches." (p53).

We need to creating a culture of "design thinking" where teachers not only use technology but become creative at repurposing it to better cope with the unique requirements of their various curricular areas. This is the 'RAT challenge'—finding ways for teachers to regularly, naturally, habitually use digital technologies to create learning experiences that would be inconceivable with traditional technologies. 



References 

Cuban L (1997). High-tech schools and low- tech teaching. Education Week on the Web. Online. Retrieved 10 February, 2004, from http://www.edweek.org/ew/vol-16/34cuban.h16 

Ertmer P A (1999). Addressing first-and second-order barriers to change: Strategies for technology integration. Educational Technology Research and Development.

Ertmer P A (2005). Teacher Pedagogical Beliefs: The Final Frontier in Our Quest for Technology Integration? ETRandD, Vol. 53, No. 4, 2005, pp. 25–39 ISSN 1042–1629.

Koehler M J and Mishra P (2009). What is technological pedagogical content knowledge? Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 9(1), 60-70.

Marcinkiewicz H R (1993). Computers and teachers: Factors influencing computer use in the classroom. Journal of Research on Computing in Education, 26, 220–237.

Miller L & Olson J (1994). Putting the computer in its place: A study of teaching with technology. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 26(2), 121-141.


Sandholtz J, Ringstaff C, & Dwyer D (1997). Teaching with technology. Creating Student Centered Classrooms.

Scrimshaw P (2004). Enabling teachers to make successful use of ICT. Becta. Retrieved 6 March, 2006 from http://www.becta.org.uk/page_documents/research/enablers.pdf   

Tsai C & Chai C S (2012). The “third”-order barrier for technology integration instruction: Implications for teacher education. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 28(6), 1057-1060.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Five Filters of Failure & a Scale of Scepticism




It's not the unrelenting torrent of information that I find troubling, after all, how many books are out there, never mind films and TV shows? How many articles, journals, newspapers, magazines? How many hard copies are holed up in folders, files, cabinets, archives and dusty basements all over the planet? Many I am sure, and yet no one ever complains about this sheer weight of data, I've never heard anyone complain,

"Dude, I just don't want read another book, there are just way too many out there, like, y'know? Like, if I read one a week for the rest of my life, I still wouldn't come even close, y'know?"

And yet, so often I hear this pointless observation made about the web, so yeah there's a lot of data, that's nothing new, the 'information revolution' proceeded the 'digital revolution' by at least a half a century—World Wide Web 1989, Libraries have been around for a lot longer... But even in 1945 library expansion was calculated to double in capacity every 16 years*, if sufficient space were made available... so there's been a lot of data for a long time; all we need to do is learn to deal with it. Literally.

So, the fire hydrant image below, while clever, I relate to more on the level of tech tool overload. Seriously, every gathering of tech types I ever attend is dominated by tech tool talk, new Web 2.0 tools, new gadgets, widgets, scripts, plugins, apps, features, software suite, usually accompanied by a lot of references to them being AWESOME.




Larry Cuban uses a list to help articulate this tension in his seminal publication 'Oversold and Underused' (2001) which reads as follows:
  • Is the machine or software program simple enough for me to learn quickly?
  • Is it versatile, that is, can it be used in more than one situation?
  • Will the program motivate my students?
  • Does the program contain skills that are connected to what I am expected to teach?
  • Are the machine and software reliable?
  • If the system breaks down, is there someone else who will fix it?
  • Will the amount of time I have to invest in learning to use the system yield a comparable return in student learning? (p170)


Cuban L (2001). Oversold and underused: computers in the classroom. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

So imagine my delight when I stumbled up on the most magnificent scepticism dial, or what I prefer to call... the Scale of Scepticism.




In order for me to assimilate a new digital tool to the point of actually recommending it to teachers to use with students, it has to have passed through my own series of stages, along the lines of:

Stage 1 – utter scepticism (yeah, whatever)
Stage 2 – cool reticence (arms folded)
Stage 3 – emerging realisation that, actually, this might be worth a closer look (sitting up)
Stage 4 – mild interest, even emerging (muted) enthusiasm (leaning forward)
Stage 5 – semi-excitement (standing up)
Stage 6 – fervoured, obsessive exploration (squeezing through to the front)
Stage 7 – passionate commitment and desire to talk to everyone about it, to the marked irritation of, well, everyone (evangelistic zeal)

The only problem is I needed something more succinct, more ... manageable, I could feel the threads of my sanity slipping, and I needed something simpler to accompany my next foray into techdom.

And thus emerged ... 5 Filters of Failure, now these were mainly conceived in the context of iOS devices, due to their increasing presence in my school, these have somewhat preoccupied my mind of late, but I do believe these 5 filters can be applied more generally:
  1. Do this require me to do the same thing more than 5 times? Like tedious account creation for each student? Do kids have to sign in/create an account to use it?
  2. Is it transformational? Yeah, it's cool, but does it radically change what I can do? Is it too similar to something I already use?
  3. Does it have pedigree? Reputation. How long has it been around? Is it tried and tested? Is it likely to be here in 4 weeks? 4 months? 4 years?
  4. Is it well designed, simple to use? Can kids use this independently? Can Teachers work it out on their own? Is it intuitive?
  5. Can the content be exported/shared easily? Can the App save to camera roll? Export to a universal format? Does it require web access to function, so if WiFi is sketchy the activity fails?


Dealing with the Deluge
This set of filters is essential in the management a phenomenal proliferation of digital tools. On, literally, a daily basis, more tools with funky and not so funky names emerge into a market place already filled to overflowing with a veritable cornucopia of competitors. If you're fortunate, your school hopefully already has a dedicated tech integrator to stand between the teacher and the tsunami wave of digital applications, utilities and all sorts of 'Apps' boasting their pixelated promises to 'save you time' etc.


And if you don't? Then by all means ignore these 'wonders of the web' until you do. Yes, sometimes lurking in the sludge of similarity (and revolutionary? not really...) is the odd golden nugget of greatness, but it's not going to terribly affect your teaching to miss out on those. If that is not an option for you, then arm yourself with these filters and, like the prospector who wades through the mediocre, seeking to route out all except the most worthy, you can then bring the odd truly terrific tool triumphantly back to your team. Not that they will be as excited about as you will be. Yet.




Now it doesn't have to fail all 5 filters to fail, but the more filters it fails, the less interest I have in taking it seriously, I can honestly say that all of the tools I rely on currently all pass at least 4 of the 5 filters. Will these filters change? Absolutely, I'm constantly reconsidering/tweaking/adjusting them—like the cornucopia of competing tools they are designed to filter they need to be flexible; after all there were four filters of failure only a year ago.

  1. Setup requirements
  2. Similarity
  3. Reputation/pedigree
  4. Simplicity
  5. Ease of Export 



These are my filters
There may be many like them, but these are mine.
The question is... What are yours?


 *Rider (1944). The Scholar and the Future of the Research Library. New York City: Hadham Press.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Keeping Pace with Technological Change - Futile, or Fundamental?


For many teachers that I encounter in the day-to-day of teaching digital technology/tool integration, the answer to this question, is something like—

Futility

Why? Because they hear of, or read things like this:
"Technological Knowledge (TK) Technological knowledge is always in a state of flux—more so than content and pedagogical knowledge. This makes defining and acquiring it notoriously difficult. Keeping up to date with technological developments can easily be-come overwhelming to time-starved teachers. This also means that any definition of technology knowledge is in danger of becoming outdated by the time this text has been published." (p 398)

Judith Harris, Punya Mishra, and Matthew Koehler (2009). Teachers' Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge and Learning  Activity Types: Curriculum-based Technology  Integration Reframed. Journal of Research on Technology in Education 393 Copyright © 2009, ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education)

Or...

"...the rapid rate of technological change ensures any knowledge gained about specific technologies or software programs would quite quickly become out of date" (p 151).

Mishra P, Koehler M J and Kereluik K (2009). ‘The song remains the same: looking back to the future of educational technology’, TechTrends, Vol. 53, No. 5, pp.48−53.

These kinds of quotes highlight an issue that has been bugging me for a while, the gist of it goes... "What? Learn ICT skills? What's the point? It all changes so fast, by the time we learn how to use one application it will be obsolete. So, why bother? which usually translates as ... "Let the kids do it, but ME? Me, I'm sticking with tools that I know from the 19th Century."

If theres's one thing I've learned about digital tools/technologies since I first started using them in earnest in the late 1980s, it's this:

... in truth, it's the beginning of nothing.
And nothing has changed
Everything has changed.
David Bowie - Sunday
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

So digital technologies develop at a pace of change that is impossible to manage/keep up with?

Really? How?

How much has the way we USE digital technology really changed though? Speed, capacity, availability, yes, but use, not so much... Anyway, the same could be said of planes, trains, automobiles - more capacity, greater speed, more availability than ever. Changing capacity is not the same as changing capability.

If we reflect back to the ‘dawn’ of TEL in school in the 1990s, there were five overarching domains of computer use:

Text | Image | Audio | Video | Data
Text, image, audio, video, data. A sixth, ‘control’ was a core element of the ‘IT curriculum’ back then, but proved more difficult to integrate successfully. Ironically, two decades later, based on the recent alarmist rhetoric around a dearth of ‘coding skills’ it would seem control is back, albeit with a slight name change.

So, back in the 1990s when I first started teaching with computers there were 5 domains* of computer use, and here we are 2 decades later, and what do we find? The domains remain the same, the skills have evolved, but not much, and the conventions and tools? Identical, to the point of being nonsensical to this generation... A floppy disc icon to save? Really? An hour glass for wait time in Windows?

The truth is change in Tech happens more slowly than you might think, sure there are people out there attempting to, for example, rethink the design of the ubiquitous save icon, but these conventions have over two decades of embedded use, people like you, people like me, and even the generations who never used floppy disks know what the save icon means, despite its incongruity—so to say change is relentless, in this context, is nothing but  misleading.

http://dribbble.com/shots/506722-the-save-icon-redesign 



CDs and DVDs are now almost obsolete, arguably with the recent advances in voice recognition, keyboarding could be next, but they're not dead yet, they are still hanging on... When digital tools change, they change gradually, incrementally, and obsolescence, while inevitable, happens sloooowwwllly.

Even 'professional' applications like PhotoShop evolve very gradually, with key conventions remaining virtually identical:


Nevermind the day to day icons we use for navigation...



Granted, computers are getting smaller, while their capacities grow larger, along with their processor speeds, drives are smaller [physical size], yet bigger [capacity] and faster than they've ever been, but all these changes do is make what we've always done EASIER, not OBSOLETE.

Big Difference

Change in terms of ICT skills are far from relentless, in fact, if anything, they are relentlessly, frustratingly, languorous... The domains are the same, and the core skills are virtually unchanged after 2 decades of relentless computer use, design and development.  Think about it for a minute—mouse skills? Keyboarding? Even overarching conventions like drag and drop, desktops, drop down menus, clicking on icons to give commands... Here's some skills from a document that was used by a school I worked at in the year 2000, see anything that is obsolete? Not much.

'IT Works' (Folens, 2000) 

And that's about the only out dated reference I found in the entire scope and sequence, other than a reference to CDs and Laserdiscs, that was about it...  So are the core ICT skills that are a prerequisite for success in the 21st Century changing too quickly to bother to learn, or teach? No. But there HAS been change, oh yes,  I'd argue the biggest change is:


Ease of Use

It's never been easier to use ICTs, or to learn them. Time was, to edit video, you'd need a specialised machine, dedicated hardware and software, designed for professionals, with a learner curve steeper than Mount Everest. With advances in internet speed and connectivity from dial up to BroadBand,  a lot more can be done online than before. But they are the same things! Thumb sticks have replaced floppy discs, but they are still 'drives' that are inserted, read and written, and ejected, and ... lost.

Not. Any. More.

With the advent of 'Web 2.0' all four of the five domains can now be practised right in a web browser, no software installation needed, and they are (by and large) free. Video is a little tougher to edit 'in the cloud' but it's coming, YouTube already provide basic editing tools, and services like WeVideo.com are pushing back the boundaries of web based idea editing every day.

Instructions vs Conventions

The problem here is is not with the tools, it is with the teaching—teachers who focus more on instructions, or specific software, than overarching conventions and procedures. Don't teach kids how to use 'Word' teach them how to word process. Don't teach them how to use 'Safari' teach them how to browse. Again this is nothing new, we wouldn't think of teaching 'Harry Potter' as teaching 'reading' we might use a text like Harry Potter to observe overarching conventions and concepts—it's the same for ICTs.

Classic icon conventions—any change here is purely aesthetic.


Focus on conventions not instructions 

Catch up vs change

The fact is that many, maybe even most teachers pretty much ignored the tech revolution that gradually unfolded since the 90's, it hasn't actually changed much in those intervening couple of decades, but the fact remains that 20 years of cumulated skill is a lot of catching up to do. THAT is the problem, not the rate of change, the considerable amount of catch up required. Catch up and change are not the same thing.

So let's stop whining about the futility of learning ICT skills and get on with it, they've stuck around since their inception, I dare say they'll be around for a little longer. The question is not WHY learn ICT skills but HOW? A subject I have written about here.



Mode vs Medium

I am not saying that digital tools do not present a unique challenge, when compared to their traditional counterparts, say... a pencil or pen and paper etc. Regardless of change, the sheer AMOUNT of digital tools is overwhelming, and increasing at exponential rates every day, to an extent that completely and utterly dwarfs the range of options and tools that would have been available to a teacher even 10 years ago. But, and this is worth repeating, I would still contend that regardless of their proliferation, the vast majority of the 'revolutionary' tools on offer stay well within the comfort zone of the 5 domains I have outlined above (6 if you include control/coding). Sure they might dress the context up a little more effectively, or introduce a clever mechanic, say ... touching instead of clicking, but the fact remains that while the mode may have changed, the medium has not. The same transferable conventions, the same iconography, the same procedures remain, regardless of the form factor of the device, the speed of the processor, the storage capacity, or indeed the sheer availability of these machines in recent years.

Dealing with the Deluge

So, the time invested in mastering or at least embracing core ICT skills and conventions are as relevant as ever in the face of this onslaught of pixelated promises. What is also important is to have an effective filter to manage the phenomenal proliferation of digital tools—on, literally, a daily basis, more tools with funky and not so funky names emerge into a market place already filled to overflowing with a veritable cornucopia of competitors. If you're fortunate, your school hopefully already has a dedicated tech integrator to stand between the teacher and the tsunami wave of digital applications, utilities and all sorts of 'Apps' boasting their pixelated promises to 'save you time' etc.


And if you don't? Then by all means ignore these 'wonders of the web' until you do. Yes, sometimes lurking in the sludge of similarity (and revolutionary? not really...) is the odd golden nugget of greatness, but it's not going to terribly affect your teaching to miss out on those. If that is not an option for you, then arm yourself with some effective filters and, like the prospector who wades through the mediocre, seeking to route out all except the most worthy, you can then bring the odd truly terrific tool triumphantly back to your team. Not that they will be as excited about as you will be. Yet.






* If anything at least one domain that has been and gone is back and currently experiencing a renaissance - computer coding, anyone?

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Easily Rename/resize Loads of Files



As we are increasingly relying on Google Drive storage for storing our files, we are also increasingly reliant on search rather than digging through folders to find our files.

For search to work, you need smarter file names, unfortunately, most of the time, especially with images, we get a load of files called something really unhelpful like IMG456789.jpg not exactly the most searchable of names.

With a geeky Application on your Mac called Automator you can set up a workflow to rename a load of files with a few clicks, and if you really dig it, you can even use a similar process to use Automator to set up other workflows, like I have another one for scaling images to a set size.

Don't be put off by its geekiness, you set this up once and use it forever!

Here's a short video tutorial I made to show how this works:




Here is the set up as written instructions, so hopefully I have all the 'learning styles' covered.

  1. Open Automator and create a new workflow file (press Command-N or choose New from the File menu). Then choose Service from the window of available workflow types (this option will look like a gear).
  2. Adjust Service inputs - so be sure to choose "files or folders" from the first drop-down menu at the top of the workflow, and then choose Finder from the second menu. 
  3. Drag the Rename Finder Items option from the action library (to the left of the window, under the Files & Folders category) to the workflow window. When you do this, Automator will issue a warning that this action will alter existing files, and provide you with an option to add an action to first copy the files instead of altering them. At this point click Don't Add.
  4. I would tweak it here and choose 'Make Sequential' from the drop down menu.
  5. Under options click 'Show his action when the workflow runs" so you have the choice to decide what and how you wish to rename the files.
  6. Save - name it something like 'Rename Files'
  7. Now whenever you go to the Finder, you can select a group of files or folders, and then right-click them and select your workflow from the Services submenu of the contextual menu.

Batch Resize Images

The same technique works for images, just use the 'Photos > Scale Images' workflow:

Click to enlarge
Or you can Google and install the R-Name App.

Yosemite Update

The good folks at Apple have heard my cry, and added this feature automatically with an right/side click - about time!