If a picture is worth a thousand words…..

The Imovie workshop at Newman school.

The imovie workshop took place at Newman school.  Jack showed us a film about the work that he does with children from Newman school, and discussed elements of literacy that he develops using film.  Jack’s famous quote is “If a picture is worth a thousand words, then what is a moving picture worth?”

We at the workshop learned it was worth that a lot more than you think… we saw how children blossomed under Jack’s tuition with the help of the video camera. We could see how they planned (“storyboarded”), filmed, performed, edited, and produced excellent material that was interesting and informative.

The participants of the workshop included teachers from the DeFT team, a member of the Hallam Partnership team, students, colleagues and staff from Newman.

We all enjoyed the relaxed, informal atmosphere and benefited from Jack’s enthusiastic hands on approach.  One participant stated that he “really showed how literacy can be taught in an exciting way”. We all thought that we would have liked to have a longer session to experiment with the equipment, and some suggested a follow up session to which they would invite colleagues and  fellow students.

All in all a successful workshop!

You can get a glimpse of what we were up to in this video.


Old yellow eyes

‘I drew a line, I drew a line for you, Oh what a thing to do, And it was all yellow….’ (Yellow, Coldplay)

I have been thinking about what digital literacy means to me. In some ways DL is not a cline: I don’t think it is possible to claim that one is ‘a bit digitally literate’ for example. We tend to see this in black and white, don’t we?. And this is not an aesthetic treatment of DL, it’s not chiaroscuro, for example. No, it’s black or white and I think it does matter, Michael!. I wonder about the way we think about these things and how it does resolve itself into competence and performance camps. This is an educational ‘treatment’ of ways of doing and being. In terms of children’s art consider two responses to the child who shows the teacher a painting of a house. The first teacher says ‘that’s interesting, tell me about it’; the second says ‘what a lovely house but you have forgotten the windows’. Which of these responses is teaching the child to draw? And is this different to teaching the child to see?

Richard's tulip's

Whose picture is this?

I was encouraged to ‘look’ at Richard Johnson’s excellent workshop recently. We were drawing the tulips. ‘Can you see the blues … look closely in the folds … see the reds, a kind of orange in the shadows … and see there the purples’. I looked. I looked really hard. I carried on looking  But blow me if I could only see yellow. It was all yellow! Am I deviant? Was this the ‘king’s new palette’?

Basil Bernstein talks about an acquired gaze and how important this is in education (‘truth is a matter of an acquired gaze; no-one can be eyeless in this Gaza’ (1999, p.165). I prefer to believe that this is not something we are born with, although I can be convinced that a social gaze can be acquired from a person’s status position, his social category, and possibly gender and race. What I am surer about is that gaze can be cultivated; that is a social disposition acquired through education and enculturation. And if we can be shown the underlying structure of things we can acquire a ‘trained gaze’.

To be able to see Digital Literacy for what it is I need to be able to look more closely at it. This goes beyond seeing how it is described and manifested, and how it is treated. I need to see the underlying elements that shape its form: what ‘being good at digital drawing’ means for example, and how it is constructed. David Hockney has been interested for some time in how drawing is made in a printing machine, and how we become invented by our technologies. In attempting to draw the tulip I was of course drawing myself.

Basil Bernstein (1999): Vertical and Horizontal Discourse: An essay, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 20:2, 157-173

Budding Artists

Last week we had our first workshop held in the Owen building at Hallam University that was delivered by one of our partners,  Richard Johnson from the Sheffield Children’s Festival.

Twelve people attended the workshop including Bjoern Hassler from the Cambridge based ORBIT project, Chris Bayley from Bradfield Dungworth Primary, Jack Todhunter from Newman , Kate Cosgrove from Mundella, and Tom, an eight year old expert that just popped by.

Richard had set up the room so that the tables and chairs were grouped together around vases of brilliant yellow tulips that seem to lean anxiously out towards us. Each person had access to an ipad perched on an easel.  As there were a couple of people who had no previous experience with ipads,  Richard introduced the session with a short explanation about the features of the ipad, and how to use the brushes app.  After this, we were given instructions in stages as to how to ‘paint’  tulips.

Richard said ,”I will show some simple steps, but you need to bring your own creativity and style as well.” He explained that the ipad is a lovely media for children because it is intuitive-  “there is nothing in between them and the canvas- apart from a bit of technology!”

Just as he had at Mundella school, Richard shared three artist’s tips: to find out about them, and how they went down with the children, you will have to visit the comets blog

The silence in the room was tangible. Everyone was concentrating very hard, performing to the best of their abilities!  When we had finished we learned how to “play back” our pictures in order to see how we had created them. You can see how Jack Todhunter’s mind worked as you play back the story of his creation here.

The feedback was excellent.  Everyone agreed that the session was useful for their professional development, and that it was helpful to their work on the DeFT project.  A few participants commented on how they appreciated the practical ‘how to’ ipad lessons, while others stated they enjoyed learning art techniques which can be applied to ipad apps.

The only criticism was that the lifts were not working in the Owen Building, and everyone had to walk up 8 flights of stairs to get to the seminar room.

Jack Todhunter took a video of Richard Johnson demonstrating some of the features of the ipad-.

Buddying up with ORBIT

On Wednesday, we had a very productive meeting with Teresa Connelly and Bjoern Hassler from ORBIT (“Open Resource Bank for Interactive Teaching”), our “evaluation buddy” – the idea emerged from a joint phone call with Lou McGill where we started talking about synergies between the projects. Once again, the meeting demonstrated the value of a rather revolutionary concept known as actually talking to people face to face and exchanging ideas. The meeting also helped us to see that despite the fact that we cover different discipline areas (the majority of DeFT teachers are in English or media while ORBIT focuses on science subjects) we have much more in common than we initially thought. The commonalities are mostly related to pedagogical approaches as ORBIT team are very keen in identifying examples of what they describe as interactive lesson plans and as we went down the list of DeFT case studies, it turned out that most meet the interactivity criterion. Speaking of face-to-face meetings, Bjoern had a chance to meet some of DeFT teachers who were participating in a training event on that day and exploring the creative applications on iPads (more about that to come in a separate blog post). As a result, the ORBIT team will invite some of the teachers to share their lesson plans, win-win!

Yet another satisfactory outcome of the meeting was a joint strategy for sharing evaluation outputs – Nicky and I were introduced to the wonders of kanban tool, a visual project management application and will soon be developing a joint ORBIT-DeFT kanban board where we will jot down evaluation questions that would benefit from a more collaborative approach. This will be in addition to our project evaluation strategy where our evaluator, Julia Gillen, is working with us alongside the project and gets to participate in project meetings via the wonders of Skype (not to mention that we get to play the “pass the iPad” game so that she can see who’s talking…); so far her feedback has been invaluable in helping us identify key issues and questions for the project. The DeFT team also had a go at filling in the questions in the evaluation and synthesis tool and we are hoping to revisit these, maybe with the help of ORBIT when we pay them a visit in August.

Digital big melt: News from Winterhill

I have just come back from my visit to Winterhill school in Rotherham and I am very impressed with their progress on the case study where teachers and students are producing OERs for Magna Science Adventure Centre and are exploring the use of  QR codes in that context. The work on resources is in full swing and there are some great examples of incorporating OER creation within the curriculum, with students and teachers bouncing off creative ideas and working collaboratively. I first had a chance to talk to Chris, an art teacher who is working with year 9 and year 10 students exploring the creative potential of OERs. As part of their BTEC Diploma in Art and Design, year 10 students have visited Magna and took some photographs in the water and fire pavilions, drew field sketches and on that basis are now creating artwork which is informed by futurist paintings. As the teacher emphasised, what the pupils really appreciate about the project is that they are involved in a real brief for Magna and working on resources that will hopefully resonate with the future visitors and enhance the exhibits. At the same time, this case study is a great example of incorporating OERs within the curriculum and fostering collaboration between the students since in true spirit of re-use and repurposing, year 9 students are Photoshopping the pictures taken by year 10 class to create slideshows accompanied by soundscapes representing an industrial theme (see picture above for a sneak preview!). Even better, the soundscapes are created with freesound, a collaborative database of Creative Commons Licensed sounds.

I then had a chance to talk to year 8 English students who shared with me the poems and the short impressionistic writing they have created on the basis of their visit to Magna and also told me about the plans to interview a steelworker to create additional resources for the project. I was quite impressed about the range of creative ideas them kept bringing up as to how they could enhance the content, I must admit I sorely regretted not being able to record that conversation but I am hoping to go back shortly and to continue talking to the students and the teachers. Hopefully the students will also accept the invitation to share their perspective on the project through this blog and tell the readers a bit more about their fascinating work.

Sharrow goes to Heeley City Farm

Sharrow School’s visit to Heeley City Farm

Nursery children at Sharrow School have been practicing their digital literacy skills.  A couple of weeks ago, they experimented with digital cameras: learning where and where not to put  fingers when taking pictures, and how to make sure that the object you are photographing is on the other side of the camera to you!  In preparation to their planned visit to Heely City Farm, they took pictures of some model farm animals laid out on green ‘turf’.  Many of the children were learning English as a second or third language, and this was an exercise to extend their English vocabulary.

Some children were amazed to see the animals displayed on the viewfinder.  “Look a sheep and another sheep look!”  cried one enthusiastic paparazzo pointing urgently to a cow, and then its image on the viewfinder.  Another child confided quietly to me that her mother used to have a camera, but her sister put it in the bath, and that it doesn’t work now.  I wondered if she really did have a sister.  Meanwhile across the room another enthusiastic photographer was keen to announce her news:  “I’ve got a camera in my house.  I’ve got a video in my house”, when I asked her what else she had, she told me she had daisy boots!

Soon the children were becoming quite adept with the cameras: figuring out how to switch functions from taking pictures to viewing them, learning how to select and chose their subjects. Later they uploaded their snaps to the Sharrow farm blog, and talked about them to Zubida and Alice, who typed up their comments for readers to share.

Then it was the day of the visit.  Children, parents, technicians, governors, and members of the DeFT team all trundled up the hill armed with digital cameras, ipads, bananas and raincoats- just in case.  The farm is a half an hour’s walk away from the school, and mostly up hill; but there were no complaints; the children managed very well. The aim of the visit was to give the children first-hand experience of farm animals, and to develop their speech and language skills.  It soon became evident that the preliminary work they had done with the cameras had paid off, as they were all quite confident when handling them.  Parents brought their own cameras as well, so everyone had some way of capturing the event.  The staff at the farm, and the animals were welcoming, and after a bit of sustenance the children were eager to explore.  They were fascinated by the animals, and were given the chance to handle and stroke them.  They all had the opportunity to use the cameras to select and capture images, which they seemed to do very well.  Some of these pictures were of animals, although I was with a child who was enjoying taking pictures of his own feet!

Jackie and I were amongst those who had charge of ipads.  We positioned ourselves next to animals and asked children to draw pictures of them. The children were really interested in looking at and touching the animals, it was a windy day, with bright sunlight, so I found it quite a difficult task.  The pictures children did for me were rushed, and I felt that the ipad was not the best technology for the job, although others might have had a different experience.

During the next few weeks, Jackie will be going in to school to help children and staff upload these images onto the school blog together with children’s stories, where you will be able to share their experience.

all photos taken from Heeley City farm website

Summer the Goat

American Educational Research Conference

A couple of weeks ago, Julia Davies, Guy Merchant and I made it all the way to Vancouver to the American Educational Research Association annual conference.  Despite the 12,000 attendees and many many symposia, I couldn’t find any evidence of research related to OERs. Maybe this is interesting in terms of general awareness of OERs: of educators’ understandings about what they can be or of how they could be used.  I did attend some symposia however which were relevant to our focus on digital literacies and which seemed to resonate with some of the DEFT case studies.

Ricarose Roque, Deborah Fields, Joanna Siegel, David Low and Yasmin Kafai described how young people had engaged with the online Scratch community in their paper: ‘A Clubhouse of Their Own: A Role-Playing Game Society in Scratch Programming Community’. They described how teenage girls had used Scratch to program their own digital artefacts – about Warrior Cats– which they then shared and discussed within the Scratch online forum. The team noted how the girls used this site to construct gender identities that differed from those they felt were available to them in other contexts. Scratch had been developed at MIT to provide easy access to programming – of digital stories, games, art, music- and a social space for young people to share what they had created. I was interested in how these young people had appropriated Scratch- the programming opportunities and the site. For me this was another example of how young people recruit available resources to their own purposes and it raised questions about how such resources are mediated in school environments: how can children and young people make resources ‘work’ for them if opportunities are ‘closed’ due to time constraints, restricted access, prescribed tasks, etc? In another symposium – ‘Beyond Words: Action and Animation in Young Children’s Reading, Writing and Playing’- Karen Wohlwend’s presentation considered the closed nature of many Apps designed for children; she emphasised the need for open-ness to enable children to follow multiple pathways- positing the idea of ‘play as a counter-practice’ and giving Sissy’s Magical Ponicorn Adventure as an example of an App designed by a 5 year old child.

On the other end, how do we frame students’ engagement with digital media as educators?  Erica Halverson -in her presentation, ‘What makes a youth-produced film good? A youth audience perspective’    cited  Julian Sefton-Green’s argument (in ‘Evaluating Creativity: Making and Learning by Young People’)-that we romanticise what we see as students’ creativity and consequently side-step evaluation and critique. Suggesting that we lack criteria to evaluate new media and keen to devise criteria that were firmly located in notions of audience, Erica Halverson described how she asked students to watch and rate a series of short films. She then used their reasons for their ratings to arrive at criteria to be used for future evaluation. Of course, as she recognised, the resulting criteria for what makes a ‘good’ film are situated – resting on established notions of genre and narrative –  but she argued that this very situatedness was valuable in generating evaluative discussions.  Two of her evaluative criteria related specifically to ways in which films seemed to fit with expectations. She distinguished between films which for students were ‘deal-breakers’ (they went so far away from what was expected/hoped for that they didn’t want to watch) and ‘rule-breakers’ (which departed from usual conventions but were still intriguing in some way). Erica Halversand suggested that these evaluative criteria might provide useful starting points for discussions with young people about their own films.

Another symposium built on the work of the Space2Cre8 project at the University of California and New York University, led by Glynda Hull.  (Here she is on New Literacies). Space2Cre8.com is an enclosed social networking site designed to connect young people from around the world. At the moment, young people from various countries are participating including England as well as India, Norway, Australia, England, South Africa, Taiwan, the U.S.A.  The project has enabled young people to engage in a variety of digital production activities- including  video making, music making, animation- and in sharing what they produce within an online international community. The project is raising interesting questions about the different kinds of resources- cultural as well as technological- available to young people in different locations and about how young people make sense of what their peers in other countries have produced. Tracey Wallace’s presentation- ‘ “We Put Our Swag All Over It”: Negotiating Local and Global Identity Online and Offline’ – explored how participating students constructed who they were – both on and offline- in relation to their local neighbourhood and described how these identities ‘thickened’ when invited to engage with others through Space2Cre8.com .