Monthly Archives: December 2008

and so this is Christmas….

… and what have we done, another year over…

No, really, seriously, what have we done??

This is the downside to this time of year. The student work has all been marked and filed away for a fortnight, the classroom’s locked up and everyone goes there merry way for a little while. The self-reflection on achievements (or lack thereof) for the year kicks in.

Now, I’m not going to bore you with my own self reflection but this time of year make me wonder. Time just marches on and on and relentlessly on. It’s 2009 in a few weeks, the end of the first decade of the new century. Back in 2000 did you think you’d be where you are now – and I dont mean up to your elbows in holly and tinsel literally right now.

What’s changed for me is the connectivity. Back in 2000 there was no Facebook or MySpace, no electronic chatrooms. The only people living abroad that I knew were relations or friends who had emigrated. Now, electronic tools keep me in easy touch with the world at large, I’ve got e-friends who have come to be important to me, yet I’ve never actually met them.

What’s next??  What will the next 3 or 5 or 10 years bring?

There you go, something to ponder while you relax after over the few days off work that’s called Christmas.


Dolls are for girls, lego is for boys – or so todays Guardian would have use believe.

Result – girls develop communication skills and emotional literacy, boys develop technical skills. There are far more educational and skills development opportunities built into male toys than the pink ‘fluffier’ toys for girls. But how do the children opt for their preferred toys  in the first place?

Is it a natural choice?  If placed in a room full of genderised toys what would a typical male or female child opt for? Do parents consciously or unconsciously orient their offspring to gender matched toys? Does marketing influence parents (and well-meaning aunties!) into buying gender matched toys?

The study quoted seems to place the decision for matching gender-based toys with the parents. Parents conservatively believe that boys should be physically involved with a toy, constructing something or being active with the toy. For girls, the orientation is towards care and nurturing.

Apparently, this push isn’t limited to humans, female chimps show a preference to dolls and soft toys while their brothers prefer toy cars. I’m assuming that the chimps can’t be influenced by marketing or conscious social stereotyping, so what’s that about then?

What about gender-neutral toys? Lego’s biggest market is boys aged 5 to 9 years. But they also have a range for girls (isn’t a lego block a lego block, whether it’s pink or blue?). Apparently, girls and boys play with lego differently, and their choice of what to construct with the lego reflects that.

What do the children themselves think? My nephew is getting a Kung Fu Panda themed product for Christmas this year, while my niece is getting a Dora-the-Explorer themed product. If I accidently swapped the labels, I could be certain of having a niece and nephew not impressed at all with their auntie. Why?

Dora is an intrepid young explorer, travelling the world, having wonderful adventures. Yet, she is a girl and doesn’t have the required macho qualities to appease a young nephew who is attracted to the bumbling though dream-filled kick-ass panda.

Dora sounds a more inspiring character to me, but given that I’m a female….

Kung Fu Panda

Kung Fu Panda


Dora the Explorer

Dora the Explorer

Oooops on yesterday’s post

Yesterday, I waxed lyrically about the web 2.0 socially connected student pursuing active learning. Apparently, the student in the youtube vid is a minority accoridng to the this study from Scotland. Here’s some detail from the student interviews (my comments in italics) –

  • Mobile phones prevalent but some old generation (these are students, they can’t all afford to have the latest gizmos)
  • No one accessed internet via the phone (perceived high costs) (did I mention that students are not high level earners)
  • Limited use of laptops (how does a students work hours breakdown – in-class time, part time job, homework, sports and hobbies, computer use is just one aspect)
  • Low use and awareness of PDAs (even I cant justify the cost of a PDA)
  • Low use of digital cameras (“I’d loose it or break it”, “I’d never print anything off it”) (most phones, even the older ones, have a camera. Good that they’re not printing anything, there’s too much paper in circulation as is)
  • VLE used as a repository of course materials (nothing wrong per se with this)
  • Students don’t fully understand the potential (“technology-rich environment”) and are happy with current way VLE is used (not entirely my experience)
  • Inconsistent use of VLE by lecturers confusing to students. “the lecturer went on WebCT religiously every single night to answer people’s questions, so he was really good at doing that, but I think that’s the standard we all through everybody else would follow.” (Point taken , inconsistent use is a problem and causes confusion. On the other hand, keeping VLE interactivity going is difficult and time consuming for lecturers)

  • Students prefer to use their own tools to contact peers. (Students enter college fluent in Bebo, it works for them, so why should they change or see a need to change).
  • “I never use forums and stuff like that because sometimes you just go on and it’s like months old and they just stay up there forever and nobody visits them”. (rule number 1 of web site content management – if your stuff’s out of date and stays out of date then you can’t have a reasonable expectation of an audience)

Never heard of:

  • blogs (not my experience with my students)
  • social networking sites MySpace/Bebo (not my experience with my students)
  • Google Scholar (not my experience with my students)
  • Wikipedia (not my experience with my students)
  • podcasts (not my experience with my students)
  • Mobile proved popular for ; organising meetings for group assignments, collaborating on group projects, supporting each other during exams, recording lectures, text messaging vs email (this is encouraging, very suggestive of strong cohesion and closeness in a group)
  • IM vs discussion fora; “There’s a lot of people on the course and I wouldn’t really speak to everyone. I would only speak to only about six or seven people so I just keep them on MSN”. (I take it back about my comment on the last bullet. Goes to show, the bigger the class the less they feel like a cohesive tight community)
  • Wikipedia: Passive rather than active use (students don’t actively contribute to Wikipedia ). I have used [Wikipedia] quite a lot but I thought that was a sort of authorised thing and then somebody pointed out to me that people go and edit it themselves, so I sort of veered away from it after that because I wasn’t too sure really how accurate the information would be”. (good to see students being critical about what they read on the internet)
  • Blogs and SNS viewed primarily as recreational tools, not suitable for learning. Students view blogs as a personal diary rather than a personal web publishing tool. (this is how students are first introduced to these tools and how they have started to use them. Sometimes students don’t see the conceptual leap until it is pointed out to them and they are encouraged to take up the challenge.)
  • Students look to lecturers for cues. “If [lecturers] found a way for everyone to use them then it would be quite good” . “If they taught us a bit about it before just saying go and do it”. (see last bullet about needing to give the right nudge at the right time. If you build it, they won’t necessarily come)
  • Collaborative forms of learning (and tools) viewed less beneficial than lectures. “I am not really bothered by what other groups are doing. I know what my group is doing and sometimes I think something else might be quite conflicting or put us off course… we work with case studies so we might take a different approach to it than the other group and for everybody to share their knowledge might cause confusion or make it harder”. (this is rather worrying, a key aspect of education is to realise that there is no right perfect answer. Debate and discussion about differences of opinion can open minds to alternative ways of thinking and enhancing one’s knowledge base. It’s worrying that this might be seen as confusion forming)

We hear so much about students using social networking to enhance and expand their interactions with their friends, and why not. Bebo and Facebook and the plethora of them out there are achieving something valuable – if not, why would people spend so much of their spare time on them?

I’m particularly interested in how the tools can be used to support learning and education. Here’s an interesting example. The key is Connectivism – the idea that we learn by interacting with others to form our own knowledge.  The learning takes place in a socially networked environment – with emphasis is on the student being active in their own knowledge creation.

It’s a far cry from the transmission model of learning where the all-knowing teacher comes in and talks for an hour and then leaves again. First of all, there is no textbook. Instead web 2.0 tools are used to source and manage the incoming knowledge. A synopsis –

  • Google Scholar (and college online library) to find articles

  • Bookmarks them on Delicious

  • Find other people who have bookmarked the same articles, lots of mutual intra-sharing

  • Search for blogs on the topic – with an open mind reflecting that blogs aren’t always the hard cold facts, make some comments on them, manage the plethora of blogs with a reader

  • Write it up in own blog with space for others to comment

  • Other sources of interest –  Itunes U gives access to top professor’ ‘insights without having pay for them, email these top guys and a response is sometimes forthcoming – people love to share their expertise and it cant hurt to ask

  • Final product could be a video or an audio or text, on a wiki perhaps, so others can learn from it and enhance it

On a scale of 1 to 5 how far removed is this from your experience of school / college?  It’s light years away from my student learning. Welcome to the 21st century.

Time was when the knowledge was either embedded in books or in the heads of lecturers / teachers. But now, the internet has expanded the sources of knowledge significantly. Tracking down and managing those sources becomes a significant part of the learning.  The important thing is that the student is at the centre of this knowledge management process.

They have to actively search out and sift through sources of knowledge, actively processing it as they go. Result – there is a better chance of some of this content sticking, as opposed to the “in one ear and out the other” mode of sitting passively in class.

So, if this is all so wonderful why isn’t everyone doing it?  Why are classrooms with teacher at the top of the room still hugely dominant in our schools and colleges?  Ok, the shift is so dramatic, it’s too big a jump to make in a single leap. Old institutionalised ways of doing and thinking are hard to shake off. But it does make you think………!

What is says in the papers

Here’s todays technology bit in the Irish Times –

Youtube is growing up. The headline says “Youtube pulls risqué videos to chase profits”. Interesting to see how this unfolds. While there’s a lot of rubbish on youtube, it’s got a lot of good stuff too. It’s an excellent example of  bottom-up user driven content. This growing up might cut out a lot of the rubbish, but it could also impose heavy handed admin on the user community – all in the name of looking good to bring in advertising revenue. I don’t think this is a good idea.

The Microsoft Yahoo buy out is on again. Apparently, it would take the might of both of them to take on Google.

On the subject of Google, their latest popular search terms log has been released. Of interest:

  • Bebo is the numero uno search term in Ireland.
  • You tube is in the top 10 twice (as youtube and you tube, and further down asutube).
  • Facebook is the fastest growing term – indicating interesting things for the bebo vs facebook competition.
  • A Polish social networking site is well up the list, proving that the country is still attractive to the Eastern Europeans whatever the economy.
  • The politicians list was topped by N Sarkozy with Bush (not Obama! He was only number 7) coming second. Mary Harney is the highest ranking Irish politician. Where’re Bertie and the Brians?
  • Co Donegal has the monopoly for the word ‘cheap’.

Christmas pressie gadgets – numero uno is Sony’s eBook Reader. Now, there’s a present I would love to indulge in (hint hint).  I held off on these for ages waiting for the products to settle down and so avoid compatibility problems. Looks like Sony are winning the game.

Interesting article from Danny O’Brien on British ISPs censoring parts of Wikipedia. Yes, in agreement with Danny, there’s internet content we all wish wasn’t there. But blocking sites or parts of sites is both a legal minefield and very difficult to implement properly. Censorship often backfires – drawing attention to the banned object.

Did I mention the Sony Book reader….

Sony Book Reader

Sony Book Reader

Language, like everything else, has to evolve

Language is changing, whether we like it or not. Like lots of other educationalists I cringe when I see text-speak in an academic piece or work.  I don’t even like to see dis-emvoweled emails. Tech speak, once the domain of the geeks only, is invading our everyday speech in strange and unusual ways. Should we be worried?

Am I behind the times, not keeping up with the evolution of language, or am I right to protect my interpretation of good English?

Here are some of the newer examples of the evolution –

  • To refer to someone as “404” is the new way of saying they’re a bit slow. When a webpage goes awol and can’t be found, you get the 404 error message. So, someone who’s forgotten something or is a tad clueless about something is a 404. Marginally, less cutting than saying someone’s stupid…?.
  • Even send a text message without checking the predictive text? Apparently, lots of us don’t and the predictive text becomes the real thing – you want to say “cool” but end up with “book”. A book is now cool, and only right and proper too.
  • Here’s one I’m not keen on. Using the number of letters in the words of a well-used phrase to shorten it. The example: “I love you” becomes 143. Saying I-love-you is saying something profound to someone, “143” just doesn’t cut it for me.

U cn mk wht u lk of 8 bt i dnt lk it

Net ways to hit target

The headline on todays IT In Business from SPB is …. Bye bye blogs, hello Bebo!. The exclamation mark is all mine.  It’s all about marketing’s very tricky jobs of getting us finicky (and in-a-recession-so-not-spending-money) consumers to spend some money.

Thing is, marketing is tricky business. I know because I used to work in it (it was a long time ago), You try something and an exact measurement of how and to what extent it works is actually hard to measure.

The latest is that blogs are not the way to go. Engaging with the customer (called EWTC) for short is to be done through social networking sites like Bebo and Facebook.

The SPB tells us about the experience of Pat the Bakers (yup, the bread guys) and their adventures on Bebo. It seems to have given them a lot of interactive exposure (as opposed to the passive experience of watching the cheery guy on their tv ad telling us to wake up early), and it cost them a mere 1.2% of their advertising budget. How much of the 1.2% and customer interactivity can be turned into actual sales. Hmm, it cold be good!

Pat the Baker

Pat the Baker

Even if the sums cannot be computed, the relationship marketing can only be good. Building brand awareness is a big part of selling units of your branded products. The direct contact with customers is there to be used. An example is given by Brendan Hughes of FBD Insurance on exactly this. Personal contact with an irate poster initiated by Brendan turned a negative into a positive.

The human touch is never going to go out fashion. Now, we have tech tools to enhance that touch and organisations can be closer than ever to their customers. It’s a case of figuring out how to do it constructively.

Now, if only we could convince the 65% of orgs who block employee access to these sites to see the value…..

Lefties not so hot

A new survey from Bristol University tells us that left-handed pupils fare less well in tests than do their right-handed classmates. The tests in question, which may be beside the point, are the British national curriculum tests (SATS) and IQ tests. They surveyed over 10,000 children – enough to have some significance.

On behalf of lefties the world over can I say hang on here a minute!!

What about the “Lefties think faster” idea. Lefties have faster connections between the left and right hand hemispheres of the brain producing faster response times, and so can use both side of the brain more efficiently that righties. Makes logical sense.

Yet, its a righties world. Ask any lefty if they can scissor Christmas wrapping paper in a straight line and without jagging the paper? Tin cans have to be opened backwards. We can have some wonderful (oh, alright, dangerous) fun with power tools. But dont get me started on the “let me write the invites, you look so awkward with the left hand”.

Apparently, every one in 12 of us is left-handed.  This includes some impressive figures down the ages – Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Ludwig van Beethoven, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Benjamin Franklin, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein,  Charlie Chaplin, John McEnroe, Martina Natratilova. They seem to have done alright, no slow thinkers there.

Ned Flanders - the most famous lefty of them all

Ned Flanders - the most famous lefty of them all

Society has become more accepting of us. Time was when to be left-handed was a condtion to be fearer and a habit to be broken. Go back a generation and primary school teachers had the job of forcing lefties to write with their right hand. Now, lefties are allowed the full expression of their leftiness.

But its not all roses. The vast majority of dyslexics are left-handed (I know I have seen stats on that somewhere reputable).  Left-handed females are paid significantly less than right handed females, but left handed males are up there on a par with their righty brothers. Given that females are paid less than males to start with, that’s not good at all.

Us lefties, particularly lefty females, need to club together and defeat this inequality. C’mon now Sisters!!

getting to grips with new fangled technology

The one thing we can all be sure of that things change. It’s the only certainty in life. Thing is, sometimes when things change we’re thrown. We see the new technique, method, object, concept, and struggle to make it work for us. Often, we look back on that struggles and wonder how the heck did we make such a song-and-dance about it.

This vid’s been viewed a whopping 1,300,000+ times on good ole youtube and there’s a reason why. It’s absolutely spot on at illustrating the wah! factor of getting to grips with something new.

Often, new stuff involves changing mindsets – which can be very challenging indeed. When a person gets so entrenched into an idea or a way of doing something it’s hard to change, even when the simplicity of the concept or skill is totally obvious to someone else.

In a hundred years time, will we look back at the start of the computer revolution and have similar skits about how difficult it was for non digital-natives to adjust to a computer world?