Tuesday, October 28, 2008

2 Deaths

Over the last week, two death knells have sounded very hollow for two of my most loved technologies. On Sunday Andy's blog directed me to a blog about a blog that said the blog is dead. I was pointed to an interview on the BBC today programme where Robin Haman of Wired Magazine discuss his article on the subject,which asserts that Twitter is taking over from blogging.

John Humphries begins by saying have you started a blog yet, if not don't bother. The reason you shouldn't bother is because blogging has been taken over by journalists and the corporates. The other barrier to current blogging, which Haman apparently claims is so 2004, is that attention spans are shorter and Twitter feeds this as we only have to read and write 140 characters.

I like Kate Bevan's point about why she blogs - she 'writes things down to process things', this is one of the reasons why I blog too. You can not process things in 140 characters, Twitter as Drew Buddie tweeted to me this morning is 'an entirely different beast'. It is if you like a different genre, hey wouldn't it be great if the literacy strategy helped kids analyses the register and grammar of blogs versus twittering, hmm someday.

As a keen covert to Twitter for many months and a blogger of some two and a half years, I have been reflecting on these issues and wondered, should I close my blog? My blog has been many things at different times, it has been:

  • An exciting meeting place and a way of meeting others who have read and commented on my work, I have even bagged some friends out of it

  • A way of gaining professional credibility - I once found myself quoted at a conference by a speaker who had I had never met before, but who like what I had written

  • As mentioned it is a way of clarifying and sorting through the many thoughts in my head, blogging them helps me formulate ideas and opinions and sometimes direction, but then this is the same process I went through as a teenager back in the 90s with my numerous volumes of diaries and scrap books

  • It has also served as a voice for someone who is naturally quite shy- therefore this tool allows me to get my ideas out there, without the worry of getting it wrong

  • My blog has also been a chore at times- I have found there has been that guilty feeling when I haven't blogged for a while and my fellow bloggers have been more prolific, I have felt I really should get something out

  • My Subject Leaders Blog has become my corporate website, because the readers now trust and expect it to be updated weekly with relevant news, something that was impossible to do when I ran a Dream Weaver site, in my schools where teachers blog , some parents are now complaining that the blog for their child's class has not been updated for a week, gone are the days of the static school website, or at least they should be gone!

As a reader of blogs, I find the content is now as rich and stimulating as ever, take a look at the sidebar to see those who I read regularly. I believe what Tom Barret, John Sutton, Ewan, Terry, Simon and Danah Boyd have to say is fresh and personal, its a different feeling reading a blog entry to a newspaper article.

Twittering is extremely important for me as it provides a way of being connected to the EDtech and ICT world. Just today I was taking part in a conference in Birmingham by contributing to the Twitter discussion. With Twitter news is picked up and shared incredibly quickly, those that read the newspapers or scan BBC news post links and others read and comment, but those who have more to say on the matter will blog. I find that Twitter is a great place to gain answers from anyone or any seventeen of the hundred or so people on my Twitter network and this is very exciting. A few weeks ago I was writing some course notes on Google docs, I asked for hello via Twitter, which also synched with my Facebook status, all I wanted was some guinea pigs to fill in my book survey form. Within 5 minutes, I had all the responses I needed.

I don't believe Blogging is dead,it has just been augmented by a another form of writing. In the same way that TV has not been replaced by Youtube, though clearly it has been challenged by it and we would not write off emails or phone calls in place of text messages.

I am not sure if these ramblings answer the question, perhaps you could look @ Rory Cellan-Jones's response to the original article and make up your own mind.

But if you want to see blogs that are very much alive then check the link list in my sidebar.


But are Whiteboards Dead?

Today on Twitter, Media Snackers posted a link to this article on the 'Demise of the Whiteboard', by awarding winning teacher Phil Beadle. It caught my eye and intrigued me, as I was expecting a reasoned discussion on why the novelty of the board, maybe wearing off for some teachers and how we need to inject some new life into the IWB.

However what I found, infuriated me, others that shared my frustration ranted a similar 140 character vitriol via Twitter throughout the morning.

Before I pick apart this article let me say that the whiteboard is perhaps not as fashionable as it used to be, but I believe that it is still used extremely well by many teachers to engage and excite children, simulate process and demonstrate new concepts. All teachers could do with regular input on how to make their board teaching more interactive and teachers also need the chance to share and learn about successful and simple applications of the IWB.

Beadle's article comes from someone who has perhaps never really embraced ICT, an earlier article in 2006 hints at his Luddite stance, describing himself in a sort of 'hinterland' away from integrated technology use, and worried about getting caught in a cupboard sniffing books. He believed then that ICT was replacing books and human contact. Though this 2006 article did make a very valid point about the over use of Powerpoint and I would agree that bad PowerPoint in any LEA training session is a heinous crime and we should scrap bullet pointed slide decks along with KS3 SATs. But in his most recent essay Mr Beadle hasn't really moved on in his understanding of the potential and use of a SMART or Promethean board, he still sees these devices as just being associated with PowerPoint. For goodness sake man go and visit a Primary classroom and watch kids on a SMART Board!

I include below the most annoying and inaccurate paragraphs from today's article:

Like the blackboard, the Smart Board has its uses, although they are more limited than any headteacher would have you believe. They are great for showing photos, bringing a visual stimulus into lessons; and they show a mean DVD.

But their place at the front of the class means every lesson must have a PowerPoint presentation, and a teacher's key tool is the memory stick on which they store their presentations. The Smart Board's central positioning destroys a teacher's ability to be spontaneous.

You cannot come in any more with a couple of board markers and a handful of good ideas. "Why have you not turned me on?" screams the board. "Why have you not sat up all evening downloading pictures that would make me look as if I had some vital use? You are lazy and should be sacked."

Why can't you be spontaneous with a SMART BOARD ?- of course you can come come in with markers and write all over the thing, they just have to be the four markers that the board is supplied with though better still you can use your finger. The reason teachers don't launch into spontaneity often is fear of deviation away from a planning sheet they have to deliver, or of they are in Year Six , then they are under pressure to prepare their kids for the test. This sucks out spontaneity, not the large plastic Interactive window to the world, the whiteboard, that is screwed to the wall at the front of the class.

And no you are not doomed to always show Powerpoint on a whiteboard, it will project any application including Google Earth, versatile Paint packages and tools that let you connect with others both in the class and beyond. What's more with a boards connection to the Internet I can spontaneously research an idea that comes up in our class discussion instantly by googling or Youtubing. Rather than waiting until our library session next THURSDAY.

In his opening paragraph he describes with nostalgia the blackboard and its associated chalk dust, as if this were the good old days. It wasn't for me when I started teaching and had to learn chalkmanship!. But, I digress, it is within this nostalgic framework that he places a Mathematician in action, the image he gives points to a sort of Dead Poets Society view of teaching:

He (Alexandre Borovik, speaks as a blackboard mathematician, but his points resonate with this whiteboard English teacher: "A mathematics teacher is not just conveying information; he or she teaches to think mathematically, and teaches by example, in real time. It is crucially important to be in full control of timing and tempo of the narrative. If a lecture involves calculations, it is crucially important to let students feel the subtle play of rhythms, emphasise switches and branch points in the procedure, highlight recursion and reduction to simpler cases."

If I am modelling sentence construction or the semicolon, drawing a map illustrating colonialism in Africa, or scribing arrows outlining connections between ideas, I want to be able to do it quickly: as quick as I think; as quick as I talk. I want to be able to teach with my whole body, use gesture, employ pause to illustrate nuance, become as one with the board; become, in those rare moments of flow, both dancer and dance. Now the board dictates that, rather than pirouette, twist and enthuse, I click a frigid button.

Absoloutely agree Phil, this is the mark of a good teacher, he is first and foremost a showman, whose job it is to help students to think, whatever the subject matter. But if we have tools that allow the children to visualise concepts like 90 degree turns, bar charts, regular and irregular polygons, symmetry etc why shouldn't we use them? Drawing such things on a blackboard would slow me and the pace of the lesson down and would frankly be out of kilter with the screen bred generation that I am teaching in 2008!

What is actually stopping a teacher using their whole body when they have a whiteboard behind them? If you are clicking a frigid button, then you obviously need some work on using all the tools in whiteboard software , as when you learn these to good effect you can draw in children's attention by zooming them into parts of map, if you are teaching 'colonialism'. You can also drag words easily and madly around to create and change sentence with ease, a task which would be slowed dramatically if you employed chalk or a marker pen.Clicking on one frigid button means a very poorly designed linear presntation - probably Powerpoint - Phil you should use a range of appliactions!

I hope this article stirs up debate again about what is good whiteboard use, but I just wish it had come form someone who had used and evaluated a SMART Board properly for a while.

Dumped below is an image from Twitter of some of the discussions taking place around the article, earlier today:


John Sutton said...

Thanks for the kind comment, Anthony.

On to the whiteboard piece: very well put. Far from being a barrier to spontaneity, I find my whiteboard a real boon. Child asks question, teacher doesn't answer. In the past, that stopped the show. Via my whiteboard I can use a search engine, ask Twitter, or put the question in a blog post for the children to find out themselves later on. The key is having the internet available via the whiteboard.

Presumably Mr Beadle wanted to provoke comment. Judging by the response the Twitterverse gave the article, he got one: overwhelmingly negative!

Dean Henderson said...

Good points were raised on both sides I believe. However, one of the best aspects of IWBs are the fact that they will improve with time and new software. Word is Promethean has a huge update coming down the pipes. As long as teacher's know how to reach their kids, IWBs are there to make that engagement richer and easier.

tom wright said...

As a student I would say that Phil makes some valid points; the overuse of PowerPoint can quickly reduce the spontaneity of lessons. It also seems that the reliably of school computer systems (or lack thereof) means that it is hit and miss whether they actually work each lesson and the students often have to help the teachers figure out the basics of the system.