What’s in a name?

What’s in a name? As the Bard once said.

Well, quite a lot really, and the way we name and describe ourselves online can be a soul searching exercise. What to say? What not to say? How to condense it into 160 characters and so on.

I’m talking about writing a bio on Twitter.

Like with most things, the internet is not short of a plethora of sites peddling advice on the subject: Advice that is typically not suited for your circumstances, because it falls under the pseudo celebrity sphere, is just too asinine or downright inappropriate. Twitter bio generators and the like all tap into the lazy internet culture of finding a quick response to a question that really deserves more consideration and nuance than a simple Google search can provide.

Seriously, don’t bother with them – unless you are happy with phrases like ‘social media ninja’ or with witty references to coffee, then go right ahead…

A social media ninja - yes, another one.
A social media ninja – yes, another one. Image available on Pixabay under a Creative Commons licence.

Don’t get me wrong – I like ninjas and social media (I like coffee too) and if you follow my blog and are reading this I’m guessing you probably like them as well – along with lego, making lego ninjas a win-win (hence the photo choice  above).

And that friends is the issue – Twitter bios that fall back on these types of memes risk subjugating us all into an amorphous blob of nothingness that no longer transmits any kind of message.

So what’s the answer? If you’re like me, you’ve probably spent too much time thinking about this too and are suffering from paralysis by analysis… I don’t pretend to have the answers and I’m certainly not going to tell you what you should write on your Twitter bio, but I will tell you what I ended up doing.

I ended up writing something that was personal to me. It’s not particularly witty (nor have I tried to be) or earth-shattering in any way, but if you have met me you will say (I hope) “Yes, that sums Scott up in 160 characters.”

 

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Tools to promote learning (#5 Socrative)

I’ve often heard the phrase “We don’t have time!” during staff development sessions where staff are encouraged to embed technology into their practice. Without wanting to get into the argument of whether this is a perfectly justified response or whether it hides a range of other issues that are not technology related per se (like anything else, it will depend on context), I wanted to flag one tool in particular that can save time.

Finding time Continue reading Tools to promote learning (#5 Socrative)

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Activities to Promote E-safety

Promoting e-safety in the Further Education and Skills sector can be a bit of a tightrope walk – you’re caught between ensuring the wellbeing of your learners and allowing them the freedom of expression and experimentation in online spaces that allow them to learn and develop as individuals.

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Image available on Pixabay under a Creative Commons licence.

The affordances of technology offer so many possibilities both to learners and teachers alike that it can often be difficult to know where to start when addressing a topic like e-safety. It’s perhaps understandable then (although by no means excusable) that the conversation about e-safety in some cases doesn’t even start. “They have had all that at school” and “They already know how to use social media” are just some of the assumptions I’ve heard from teachers over the years.

But how do we know what they know if we don’t ask them?

Introducing a topic like e-safety is not about being a guru on all things tech and social media – we have to dispel that idea straight away. In fact, it’s that very mindset that puts a lot of teachers off and makes them feel that they can’t discuss e-safety with learners, because they perceive the learners to inherently know far more than they do about such things.

Get the basics right and you’re all well and good: It’s about providing an environment where learners can have a full and frank discussion about how they are using online spaces to raise awareness about the benefits and potential drawbacks of navigating those spaces, so learners can make informed choices for themselves.

In my experience, these two sides are equally valid and it’s important for any discussion around e-safety to have that sense of balance. If you stray too far into the potential pitfalls the discussion can become overly negative and an unexpected consequence of this is that learners are scared off from even exploring the technology. Does that help them? Does that make them more savvy users of technology?

One way to ensure that balance in the discussion is maintained is to facilitate activities that introduce both the benefits and the potential pitfalls of navigating online spaces. One activity that I have employed to help with this is to split the learners up into small groups and to give them the following matching exercise. The idea is for the learners to match the appropriate statistic to the right statement. Of course, the statistics themselves have been chosen in advance to try and cover a variety of e-safety issues, but they have also been chosen on the basis that they introduce some of the positive reasons why learners might want to develop online identities, as well as the potential pitfalls.

It’s important to note that the statistics and statements in the activity are intended as a starting point to any discussions that follow. By simply having the learners work in small groups during the activity that will inevitably lead to much discussion between learners on many of the issues included and I’ve also added some further discussion points that the teacher could flag as well to encourage learners to think more deeply about how they naviagate online spaces safely and responsibly.

Of course, this is just one possible activity, but for me the strength of any activity is one that helps learners to share and surface their own concerns. It’s only by doing that that we can ensure any activities to promote e-safety are relevant and tailored to the needs of the learners.

 

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Gaming on the Go with Pokemon Go

So, people are going bonkers for Pokemon Go, according to a quote from a recent article on the BBC website “Even pornography, an enduring internet fascination, has been overtaken by interest in the app.”

Surely it can’t keep it up?

In a recent article in The Telegraph even the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn came under fire for capturing the Pokemon known as ‘Krabby’ whilst playing the game in a London park. Personally, I think it’s a good thing and I wish more politicians were in touch and kept up to speed with emerging trends in technology. Of course, I’m not suggesting they all furtively tinker with their smartphones during Prime Ministers Question Time, but if they happen to be out walking in a local park, then why not?

Pokemon Go2
Not a Pokemon in sight!

If you’ve not tried it yet Pokemon Go is now available on both Android and iOS in the UK. You create a personalised avatar in the mobile game and explore the world around you by visiting points of special interest that digitally overlay the real world. You discover these points of interest by using your phone’s GPS and camera, as they’ve been geotagged to specific locations. These digitally geotagged points of interest include places of cultural interest in the real world (such as historic buildings, works of art, etc), virtual gyms where you can train or, more often than not, Pokemon pocket monsters that you capture by throwing balls at to gain in experience and levels.

weedle
A pesky Weedle round the corner from my house.

Capturing the Pokemon monsters involves a certain amount of manual dexterity (you have to throw the ball just right to make a capture), but if you do the monster goes into your Pokedex – it’s a little bit like a digital badge collection, which incentivises the player to capture the other monsters.

According to the BBC article there are real health benefits as a player using the app for 43 minutes a day can expect to burn off as many as 1500 calories a week for a woman, or 1800 for a man.

It does of course pose potential health drawbacks too, as with any game that makes use of geotagged digital objects, players need to be aware of their surroundings when playing the game, especially in urban environments, as you don’t receive bonus points for falling down open potholes or walking into an oncoming double decker, regardless of however many Pokemon pets you’ve captured… The game does come with the usual disclaimer warning players to be vigilant and the NSPCC have produced some tips and advice aimed at parents for keeping their children safe whilst playing the game.

Like many other players, I was curious to see how much of my local area had found its way into the game and was surprised to see a growing number of landmarks in my home city of Sheffield had already been geotagged with the pesky Japanese pocket monsters. Reports are similar too for other major cities across the UK.

It’s easy to see why Pokemon Go has become so popular so quickly, as it really is a trailblazer for augmented reality mobile gaming apps and it will be exciting to see how this develops. Given the recent developments in UK politics I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Pokemon Go craze caught on across all the political parties too. In fact, perhaps we should even have Pokemon pocket monsters standing as members of parliament.

Krabby for PM?

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Tools to Promote Learning (#4 the iMovie app)

“I do enjoy making videos, even though they are long days and very hard work.

Tanya Tucker, American country and music artist.

Without doubt, making quality video is a painstaking process, and I can’t deny – to do it right takes time. Having said that though, there’s something very enjoyable about crafting a short video; editing the scenes, adding the music and so on, that makes it very satisfying. I don’t know whether that’s the creative, geeky part of me talking or it’s something else, but making short videos for others to enjoy can be immensely rewarding.

That’s why I want to talk about the iMovie app for iPhone/iPad – it allows you to indulge those creative impulses and takes much of the pain out of the process.

I first took an interest in the iMovie app for reasons that weren’t anything to do with education. I was on holiday with my nephew and he was monopolising my iPad for his own personal amusement (as usual) whilst I enjoyed a bit of welcome peace and quiet.

Without any encouragement from me he started dabbling with many of the apps and before I knew it he was making short videos all by himself, adding transitions, special effects, music, and so on. Of course, he wasn’t about to get any phone calls from Steven Spielberg, but they were pretty impressive efforts nevertheless – for an eleven year old!

Since then I’ve been exploring some of the features of the iMovie app in more detail and have been creating my own short videos for a variety of different audiences.

Last weekend I had the pleasure of indulging my inner-geek by attending a Steampunk event at the Papplewick Pumping Station (arguably Britain’s finest Victorian Water Works). As you can imagine, these Steampunk affairs are a frivolous (and very enjoyable) exercise in sartorial flamboyance and excess – the perfect opportunity for a bit of videoing!

Anyway, here’s my short video from the day which captures a popular favourite at Steampunk events – the tea duel.  I’ll discuss some of the key features I employed using the iMovie app after the video below:-

Before you start your project, most people are likely to have all their video clips on their iPhone rather than an iPad, if you do have both and the video is all on your phone you might want to transfer your video files to your iPad first using Airdrop (it’s a little easier to edit the video on a bigger screen).

Now, to some of the video editing features and techniques available through the app which I found particularly useful:-

  • There are lots of special effects you can apply to the look of your video, depending on your subject matter. You may not want to change this at all, but for my video I’ve gone for the ‘Silent Era’ effect, which is perfect for creating a sense of time and age.
  • About twenty five seconds into the video I’ve superimposed one bit of video over another in order to show the inner workings of the pumping station. In this article Jeff Carlson, author of iPad and iPhone Video: Film, Edit and Share the Apple Way, explains exactly how you can do this in the app.
  • The Ken Burns effect (a type of panning and zooming effect) is really handy to apply to still images to create a sense of atmosphere. I’ve used this at the start of the duel to zoom into the faces of the two duellists.
  • iMovie comes with a range of sound effects that you can embed into your movies easily – perhaps too easily… However, a word of caution, although it’s simple enough to include songs from your iTunes library you might not want to if you are sharing your videos widely and don’t want to fall foul of copyright. One work-around I employ is to use the mic icon whilst editing a project in iMovie to record audio through your device whilst playing music from another source, such as tracks on SoundCloud, which have been labelled under a Creative Commons licence. You can search for creative commons music on SoundCloud here.
  • You’ll notice in my video there’re some close up shots of the combatants eyes as the duel reaches its climax (this is a bit of a homage to my love of spaghetti westerns – there’s a very similar scene at the end of Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly). This is achieved by a really nifty feature in the iMovie app where you select the video clip and click on the magnifying glass icon and can then zoom in on the clip by pinching it with two fingers. This is very handy to know if you have a video clip, but you want to focus on one specific section of it or cut out anything that’s superfluous in the shot.

Zoom

  • Add closed captions to your video to make it more accessible to those with hearing impairments or speakers of other languages. Although this isn’t a feature of the iMovie app itself, it is nevertheless something you can do very easily after uploading your finished iMovie project into YouTube (read here for details).

One final footnote on kit, it’s worth investing in a tripod, it really does make a difference. You don’t have to pay the earth – I have a GorrilaPod which cost me twenty pounds on Amazon and is a must if you are doing video interviews one on one.

Whether you create the videos yourself for your learners or, better still, have the learners create their own videos on a subject that interests them, video production involves a whole range of creative skills that can motivate and inspire learners.

Continue reading Tools to Promote Learning (#4 the iMovie app)

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Tools to Promote Learning (#3 Screencast-O-Matic)

As free screencasting tools go, Screencast-O-Matic is my favourite. It features as number 27 in the Top 100 Tools for Learning poll of 2015 and is an easy way to create fairly short screencasts (15 minutes or less) to help reinforce key topics with learners. Continue reading Tools to Promote Learning (#3 Screencast-O-Matic)

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Highlights from the Xerte Conference 2016

Yesterday I attended the Xerte Conference 2016 (#Xerte16) at the University of Nottingham to hear about how Xerte has developed since the transition to the Apereo Foundation and the release of v3.0 and then v3.1 of Xerte Online Toolkits (the full programme from the event is available here). Continue reading Highlights from the Xerte Conference 2016

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