Friday, 28 December 2012

The Friday Reflection

Cat thinking it's in Charge!  You
probably realise it's an old photo!

Last thoughts for 2012?

Well we all survived the Mayan End of the world, didn't we?  I hope the festive period lived up to all expectations.  Now we are in that period of reflection for most who are not returning to work until at least the 2nd of January 2013. The end of the year review not quite ready for today but then we still have 3 days left of this one to go! 

The week has certainly been busy.  I have taken the view that if I am to grow the Haverhill Online Learning Community I would need to try and interest people in the time that they might be bored with festive TV.   The time on their hands might be pushing them towards career or lifestyle choices for 2013.  Their New Years Resolution list of good intentions is being written. With this in mind I have been avoiding the pub and the once a year drinkers and committing as much to possible to the websites, blogs and Google Plus communities.

I have picked up a few members before Christmas for the Learning Community whom I am very pleased to have on board.  I have set out a calendar of events to give a bit of focus to HOLC (Haverhill Online Learning Community).  The use of Google+ Hangouts, SlideSpeech (many thanks to +John Graves for this resource) and Google + Communities within the context of the interactions between the community I hope will prove enlightening.  The Circles feature is also being used (I will have to review some of them for relevance) to not so much as fine targeting tool but a  broadcast medium.  I have noticed there are many Google Plussers in the same circles.  It would be interesting to find out how many active Google Plussers there are actually out there!

The first resources for HOLC projects have been uploaded, a "100 Grid" for Keys stage 1 and 2 Maths for parents to download for their children to use or use with them.  A SlideSpeech presentation is needed to illustrate it's use but that should be be a mere trifle, hopefully.  This fits in with the first project on the Calendar Maths for Parents Week and the Number Square page.  Later topics range from Lifestyle and Leisure topics such as Local History, Hactivate Nursey Rhymes.  The work-life balance topic focussing on a degree of cross over in wellbeing is the Introduction to Telework Week Project.  This is one of my interests as a former director of the Telework Association. I will be building up a bank of materials and using the Google+ Hangouts and Communities Group to explore this topic in the context of Haverhill, a rural area.  A follow up week is planned to coincide with one of the local trade exhibitions.

Revisiting the Online Learning Collective is a priority.  I have not yet in the busy time of the last few weeks written the Python code for the Google Course Builder Project:  Project Scratch.  I have invested in a Kindle Textbook Core Python Programmng  and am busily ploughing my way through this, along with a few diversions into Sicily with Inspector Montalbano.  After all it is supposed to be the holidays! 


Thursday, 27 December 2012

2013 the Year of the Teleworker!

The "office" at Dejavu Cafe,
Queen Street, Haverhill

Any time, any place, anywhere

Scenario: Imagine if you walked into local cafe for an espresso.  Your phablet rings, your boss is on the phone.  He/She is looking for the updated work file.  You open your docs on your phone and click the share file button and your work from earlier in the day reaches his desktop.  A few minutes later the file arrives back with comments and updates.  The proposal is approved.  You digitally sign the document and forward it to the clients.  A few moments later you have confirmation it has been received.  At that point your espresso arrives.  A few minutes later and your phablet informs you have a signed document from your client returned.  You then are able to finish your coffee.  An email to the suppliers and another day's work has been done.      

Walking back to the supermarket you spot the newly opened greengrocer.  If you had been driving you would not have had the time to stop and browse.  In your browsing of the shop, the local seasonal produce is explained and examined.  The freshness is checked.  A neighbour walks in you, discuss the parking problem associated with the commuters who park their cars in your road as they catch the bus to Cambridge.  Suitably satisfied that you both find it an imposition, especially on the rare occasions you have to have a hire car for work and cannot park it outside your house, you smile and part company.  Assuring each other that you will monitor the situation you have discussed.  You prepare to walk home. On the way you pick up the youngster from the playgroup.  They spend some minutes tiring themselves out in the local playground.  You spend your time watching, assured in the knowledge that as usual it is a safe place.  Safe because you live in your own community, as opposed to sleep there at night before you travel to another town over an hour away.

A modern fable?  Hopefully, a reality as 2013 progresses.  The cost effectiveness and effect on work-life balance of travelling to a central location to work with colleagues will be one of the major dilemmas most individuals and businesses will contemplate in 2013.  It is already happening!

The Olympics probably produced the biggest Telework story of the year, with a contribution from the Telework Association.  The UK government aware that the infrastructure of London may not be able to cope with both workers and visitors suggested people work from home.  A necessity not a choice.  The success of the advice has yet to be officially quantified but the retail industry did complain of  down turn during the Olympics which suggests people either took holidays or worked from home. Either way there were suggestions of a reduced footfall in London.

Councils have already started to look at  BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) solutions  Soon they may be advocating workers also Telework for part of the week.  

Will be adding more to the Telework Resources page on Haverhill Online Learning Community .  May your work life balance be suitably adjusted in 2013! 

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

New Year, New Challenges!

The IT Assistant asleep on the job

Jobs for today's learner have not been thought of … yet!

Christmas over and done with, New Year fast approaching!  What will be new year resolutions?  Hopefully, somewhere in this seeming unattainable wish list will be something to do with career development,  Life Long Learning and work-life balance.  End of year holiday always  a good time to review and revisit career or income aspirations in this austerity governed period of history!

This year has seen a lot of changes in Technology.  This in my opinion will go down as the year of the phablet and tablet.  Increasingly work and learning is moving to the flexible media of the digital economy.  The cost of joining this rapidly expanding knowledge economy is becoming so cheap that it is starting to become commonplace in all walks of life.  Large businesses are no longer building the must have technology on an empty playing field.  There is legitimate competition.  The promise of the  Silicon Age has definitiely arrived in the developed economies.  The catch up needs to place with developing world.  

The developing world will I believe have a greater input as they do have to contend with pre-existing infrastructure such as copper telephone networks.  The temptation to use pre-exiting technologies rather than starting from new because of the need to recoup previous investment has probably slowed the roll out of Superfast Broadband in the UK.  Only now are we seeing places like Suffolk in England obtaining the services they deserve for growth to happen or rather the contracts being signed.  Businesses and individuals in rural Suffolk still have a wait as the scheme will not be fully completed until 2015.

New years resolutions written with digital economy in mind how might you go about in a rural area to join the  change (yet to say revolution) in work-life balance choices.  I say rural area because this equally applies to   The training choice is between traditional classroom based approaches, a blended approach (combining one to one or group tutoring with online teaching) or a fully online experience.  There are many colleges and universities offering courses that come along with certification.  FutureLearn   the UK offering comparable to edX  and Coursera has been agreed and will happen in 2013.    

Non-formal free learning is a one of my personal likes.  A model for which can be found at Haverhill Online Learning Community .  Get in contact with +Philip Spalding and help expand the network of local Online Learning Communities (  

While I have a bit of time from the "day job" I will also be adding articles linked to my other interest of Teleworking!  Hope this gives at least one person the interest explore the digital economy!  


Tuesday, 25 December 2012

12 Online Learning Experiences

21st Century Education

Christmas morning up and awake a bit of time before the house erupts with bouncy spaniels and excited children (some in their first childhood others in their second).  A good time to start to list some of the educational tools and VLEs I have used or become aware of over the years.  These are the most prominent, the ones that immediately spring to mind and are in no particular order.  If I miss one that is your favourite please add a comment or Google+ article or +Philip Spalding.   This links in with the ukonlinelearningcommunities project (medium term plan).  So twelve applications for Christmas!  I make no apologies for including so many Google offerings!

1. Google Plus Hangouts

Really like this application for allowing online real time collaboration.  A normal Google Plus account allows 10 users to interact.  A Google Apps for Education or a Google Apps for Business Account allows up to 15 people to interact.  That interaction can be then be streamed to a greater audience using your YouTube Channel where they can watch and listen but not join in!  Also allows the recording of the experience for future reference! 

2. SlideSpeech

A great way of converting your presentation to a learning experience that narrates the presentation.  An example I have constructed can be found at (  More information on applications of SlideSpeech can be found by contacting +John Graves.  

3. StudyRoom

This is the study room facility used by Coursera and edX.  Our own Online Learning Community (Haverhill Online Learning Community) has secured a study room which we will be using extensively in the year as we grow our learning community.  Thanks to +Amadeus Malca for making this happen.

4. Blackboard

This is the traditional "biggy" in Virtual Learning Environments.  I have recently become an online tutor for Apricot Learning Online  who use this platform and after the training I have to say impressed with the scope of Blackboard.  Real advantages are the ability to structure personalised learning through Session Planner, speed of use and it's flexibilty.  The underlying technology is also very suitable for Safe Guarding vulnerable individuals!      

5. Moodle

This could be billed as the alternative Blackboard.  It is an opensource platform used by a few in the UK such as Oxford University for some of it's online CPD courses but has a greater following in the US.  Is best set up as a server based application, requiring downloads such as MySQL and PHP.  Personally have tried to load this to a single machine but had difficulties setting up the database first time.  Runs best on Linnux based systems, and as OpenSource is free.  Can see a lot of mileage in this one but will need to set up database properly if I am to use it in some of my commercial based activities (ie the not profit exceptions) through , the site is currently under construction and revision.

6. Hot Potatoes

A real old favourite of mine.  I have been using using this as long as it has been available, which must be at least 7 years.  Great for making small exercises quickly and saving as a HTML file that can either be added to a website or loaded from a machine locally.  First real application that allowed quick solutions to making child friendly exercises to support individual pupils in the classroom.  

7. Google Plus communities

What can I say? This is a staggering simple concept of the village green or local pub or coffee shop.  Really like the fact that technology behind the social interaction retreats into the background!  I have waxed a little lyrically  in the Blog post .

8. Scratch

The new methodology that is going to save British Computer Programming in schools?  Remains to be seen  but great programming interface.  Even features as the introduction to edX's CS50x Introduction to Computer Science 1, which I am currently working my way through.

I have also run successfully an online summer school based on Scratch.  However, that was before I discovered all the cool tools of Google Plus (but then a lot of them were not available then).

9. Google Course Builder

The potential to be the Rolls Royce solution in a moderately tech literate teacher's hands.  Have dabbled a bit in the mechanics while particpating in +Jeannie Crowley OFLC at the Bank Street College of Education in  New York's, which has now become the Online Learning Collective.  Have great ambitions to be using Google Course Builder regularly throughout 2013.

10.  Blogger

Probably my most used and useful social media platform to track my transition from traditional teaching to entering the realms of 21st Century Learning practitioner.  Have been blogging now for 2 years.  Very surprising how things have changed even in that short space of time!

11. Google Docs

The key technology for collaborative learning and sharing.  So much of a cornerstone easy to forget how important it is the development of the Google experience when other innovations such as Google Plus have come appeared. 

12. Google Apps for Business/Education

The nemesis of the web developer who has thrived on £100+ per page fees for designing static websites? Maybe! Hopefully!  The same applies for Education (Google Apps for Education).  Great tools for reducing the hammer from a platinum plated tool an insignificant pound shop (99 cent shop) variety.  This is where the threshold to true digital working and learning starts as the entrance costs have become minimal.  Looking forward to a more educated world in the next two decades!  One where everybody has access to free basic education!

Most of the above tools are free.  The time to master them is also becoming less and a lot of the operations of the tools within the applications are similar across learning platforms.

So here's to the next two decades of freely available education! Merry Christmas! 

Friday, 21 December 2012

The Friday Reflection

At the turning of the Year

Winter solstice today.  The turning point of the year when the days get longer and the new age mystics visit Stonehenge (  The promise of more daylight in the Northern Hemisphere is always an invigorating time.

I taught my last school day for the year on Wednesday and resume again on the 7th January 2013. So  17 days to catch up with all the professional development courses (edX and ALISON), development of Haverhill Online Learning Community  and  UK Online Learning Communities and become proficient with the  tools for my new role as an Online Tutor for a company in Gloucestershire   A busy festive time coming up. A lot of good activity to look forward to in 2013!

A short reflection this week as will be probably blogging and Google plussing a lot over the next 17 days.  The tasks for last week are ongoing with community expansion and development the goal. Finding an efficient way to manage all the threads is the trick that will need to be pulled off!   

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Establishing a Learning Community!

The Potential of Online Learning Communities

Online communities have arrived.  We can say that because there is book now out Online Community Management for Dummies.  When the Dummies book series produces a tome on a subject we can usually guarantee it has reached reached a large enough critical mass to perpetuate sales.  If not the activity!  It is a long way from buying a Dummies series book and creating the dream.  I have a long standing book on my shelf  Hobby Farming for Dummies, it will be awhile before it ever becomes a reality!

So there is a critical mass, of potential participants in Online Communities.  Online Communities have been adopted by many large corporations.  One blog that I have been  following recently is  Richard Millington the author has produced a number of posts that I have read with interest.  I am primarily an agricultural research scientist by training, who teaches Science and ICT in school for an income. I am not a professionally trained marketeer.  Insights such as Segmenting And Contacting Members Of Your Community  which seeks to explain how to invite, integrate and establish members of community a useful.  The application of psychology to create the community engagement rather than the Kevin Costnerism "build the field and they will come!" is a better use of time and resources.  As I have commented before in A Google plus post and blog the edX and Coursera brands have been reported as having approximately 20% retention of students to the end of the course.

The social engagement aspect of the community is the difficult step.  In a community of like minded people who are already converts to online communities building a lasting community is relatively easy as there is participation that is based upon mutual gain.  The "evangelical" phase of building a community is what Haverhill Online Learning Community and UK Online Learning Communities  have entered   There are a lot of visitors and expressions of interest.  "Converting" the interests expressed into adopters of the users of  community is the next hurdle.  Conversion rates of interest to join to fully fledged users using the Coursera and Edx example  may be between 3 and 20%.  This does pose an interesting question of how good a conversion rate do we get and what are the key factors in establishment.   Essentially what makes the people want to join to the "gang"?

A few points to ponder there as I go off to consider my "rap" lyrics to make the community go past the "evangelical" phase and into the "consolidation" phase!


Saturday, 15 December 2012

The Friday Reflection

Cold Wind of Change

Online unis and courses have finally hit the headlines in the UK.   This is obviously a reaction to the "success" of Coursera and edX going by comments made in the article about brand presence.  Success was put in quotation marks because apparently retention of students is at most 20% , have seen the quote somewhere on a site will need to find the link.  Is it a case of the shiny new toy that everybody has to have to be cool but then puts it away after a few plays?  Is it the Furby syndrome? This is the Friday reflection!

As I look further into the technologies behind the Klondike experience happening now, I am starting to think of classifying the gadgets mainly on ease of use.  High powered programming can sometimes obscure the actual time spent in preparation compared to actual learner engagement.  If it takes longer to produce than the collective time spent viewing by a learning community is it a worthwhile activity for the instructor?  Can whiteboard and marker be just as effective?

One new development that I am really pleased about is Google+ Communities.   This as I blogged about last week could end up being the major game changer for removing technology into the background and allowing the participants to take the centre stage.  I look forward to developing the experience.

Generally a week of career development and direction review.  I have worked all week in Ely about 35 miles 50 minute drive.  At the same time I have been trying to maintain the momentum of growth for Haverhill Online Learning Community and   Having been offered the opportunity to teach Science in a school in Harlow I had to make a decision of whether to pursue the guaranteed money and not carry on with online teaching interests for 3 months.  Harlow vs new Horizons?  New Horizons won since UK schooling terms of work and conditions are not worth the relatively meagre rewards for the 50+ hour weeks that  teaching has become in the UK.  Easier to use my experience for odd day here and there, be the online teacher from home, write those learning activities that inspire that a National Curriculum does not allow.   Having run a Science and ICT department in a school in Suffolk for a number of years through special measures (entered 3 months after I joined and experienced this for two years) it is easier to say have the T-shirt but don't particularly want to wear it!   The length of time in special measures was exceptional  even though Science went from 42% of pupils reaching level 4 (expected achievement ) prior to tenure to 74% within 18 months.  Pity maths was hitting 29% and English equally disappointing compared to national expectations.  This is without consultant input or massive resources.  English and Maths had the cake but the pupils didn't particularly want it!

A slight diversion into the vagaries of UK improvement there! So Blue Sky Horizons are there! However, with any learning familiarity can breed complacency.  The adoption of technology does not mean that we use the same experience all the time.  Selecting the right tool for the job is paramount especially when considering the intended outcome.

Looking back at last weeks blog  the main task was to maintain momentum for Online Learning Communities.  It has been a testing week finding the enthusiasm to go forward.  But we have got there!

Schools break up in the UK next week. Have not much booked which allows me do the training for my new role as an Online Tutor for Apricot Online Learning , a relatively new concept in UK education.  Also a time to review the yearly goals.  See how how much progress we have made in the work-life balance stakes, nda assess the Wellbeing or "happiness index".  Christmas break in the UK gives people a lot of spare time on their hands to become curious.  This curiosity I hope to hitch to the plough horse (we are famous in Suffolk for our breed of heavy horse the Suffolk Punch) and create a new furrow to plant the seeds of innovative teaching.   Will continue to develop a link with my old school where I was educated and which is now the Academy of the Year.  Look forward to a productive time before the end of the year change! 

Friday, 7 December 2012

The Friday Refletion

Is it Friday already?

Very busy week! Have been to Cottenham, Chatteris and Ely doing the "day" job.  So have seen a lot of the Cambridgehire Fens, water and Newmarket on the way to the above.  Newmarket was the only significant traffic jam while waiting for the racehorses to cross the road going out to exercise. When not working or driving I have been pushing forward the interests of Haverhill Online Learning Community   and the  I have also just cleared the hoops to become an online tutor for a company in Gloucestershire who I visited in November.  Just have to find the time to do all I have promised!   Beginning of 2013 looking good as a time for growth and expansion.

Really impressed with a new feature on Google + ; Communities.  At a stroke it would appear to enable a true community sense to be applied to the online communities set up.    I have set up the Haverhill Online Learning Community and Google + Communities to join just follow the links and click on the Visit Google Community group.  You may get a 404 error with the sites but if you follow the Contact Us tab and provide your email address (has to be a GMail account) we can get you involved that way.

Haverhill Online Learning Community (HOLC) have very kindly been provided use of a private room on StudyRoom. This is the resource used by Harvard for edX courses.  By joining you can have access to this resource where you can interact with the rest of the community.  This is a complementary tool to Google + Hangouts from the community page.  StudyRoom allows you to gather around a table, use a whiteboard, chat and generally socially interact.  The tools you choose to use are up to you.  At HOLC we intend to provide as many ways of carrying out Life Long Learning effectively as a community.

Lots of things going on but the cunning plan (reference to Baldrick from BlackAdder) seems to be coming together.  Next week will be a good test to find out how the momentum of the set up process can be mainatained as working in Ely all week.  If I have put enough of the bare bones in place it should not be too much time invested in putting meat onto the bones!  

Oh by the way the picture was designed by me for a business venture while holidaying in Crete.  A bit of a description of what was going at the time when I was a full time teacher looking for a trapdoor to vanish from that particular stage.  Still running, still have the hat but hopefully the battery is nearly full charged, looking forward to just trickle charging!