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.


Plans are afoot

There are plans afoot for the workshop sessions for the participants of DeFT.  Richard Johnson will be leading a session on how to capture creative moments on ipads using the brushes app.  We will all become budding David Hockneys as we experiment with the various features of the app, and Richard will be giving us tips on what (and what not) to do with children in schools.  He will have come hotfoot from Mundella Primary School, where he is working on the digital bloom project which is part of the Sheffield’s Children’s Festival.

We are also planning to put Jack Todhunters skills to good practice. Based at Newman Special School  Jack is planning to run a workshop on video editing.  This is a useful skill, and it will enable us to add creative and informative clips to our websites and case studies.  Jack has already done extensive work with Dr. Emma Moore with her Linguistic and English students at The University of Sheffield. She has seen the value of the work he does with younger students and realises that his approach lends itself to work with adults too. Jack says that if he doesn’t turn us all into experts on imovie after 20 minutes, we can throw stones at him…


Action at Base Camp

While Anna and Richard are off in Cambridge 2012 delivering a paper about the early findings of our DeFTOER3 project, things have not been static at base camp.

Today I am delivering 5 ipads to Kate Cosgrove at Mundella Primary School.  Kate wanted them early so that her children would have a chance to become familiar with some of the features of the brushes app. before Richard Johnson from the Sheffield Children’s Festival comes in next week to run a workshop with her class.  Inspired by the Hockney murals, they will be using the brushes app to produce their own masterpieces for the Children’s Festival.

I am also delivering all but one of our ipods to Jim Hildyard at Winterhill Comprehensive.  He will be using them with his children to develop resources that will be linked by QR codes to displays at Magna Science Adventure Centre.  We don’t know what these resources will be yet- they might be historical or scientific insights that his children have researched- or they might be artistic creations inspired by the magnificent displays at Magna.  We will have to wait and see…

I said all but one of our ipods… the last ipod, (number 14 on the list) is with Rob Hobson, from Halfway Junior School who has spent his Easter holidays experimenting with GPS, QR codes and geocaching.  He is planning a spectacular event at his school that will be created by his Y6 children when they have finished working hard to get through their SATs.

And this is just a glimpse of the action….. watch this space…using the brushes app on the ipad

Digital literacy metaphors we live by

Talking about digital literacy

That team meeting the other day wasn’t just a chance to experience the “gold level ” sandwiches (catering-speak for food that is edible as opposed to designed with cardboard fans in mind), but first and foremost to plan our project meeting for teachers and PGCE tutors which took place on the 9 February. We’re now in the process of busily writing up the notes, following up on suggestions, reflections and action points but as far as first impressions go, it seems like all the planning paid off and we are quite pleased with how the day went.

The location at the Crucible Theatre – certainly helped boost our creativity, and set the tone for the day as we spent quite a lot of time discussing the metaphors of space in relation to digital literacy. Interestingly, a number of our partners schools have chosen to develop a case study where the starting point is a physical space that they plan to augment/annotate with OERs which can be accessed via the wonders of QR codes. For instance, Jim Hildyard from Winterhill High School is planning to pilot the use of QR codes in partnership with Magna Science Adventure Centre to showcase student-produced resources about Magna exhibits. Rob Hobson from Halfway Primary is looking at tagging Heathlands parkto create an adventure trail for his pupils where they will interact with QR codes placed on the park grounds. Both mini-projects are a great example of how enhancing digital literacy skills of pupils helps widen their horizons, both in a literal and a more abstract sense – the students will come away inspired by engaging with initiatives embedded within their local communities, but they will also get a sense of what is possible via digital means of engagement with literacy. Thus, yet another way of looking at the purposes of digital literacy is that of signposting/guiding; and one of the teachers commented yesterday of how myopic the pupils can be when it comes to their engagement with digital space and it is only by enhancing their skills in that area that they become more confident in venturing further out.

Metaphors related to the world of filming were quite abundant as well, not surprising given that a couple of the cases focus on the use of visual media in the context of digital literacy. Jack Todhunter from Newman School, who has a wealth of experience in using film when teaching English and creative media, brought up the concept of out-takes in the context of digital literacy, arguing that very often, the emphasis is on showcasing polished performance via digital means. However, it is the false starts and blind alleys, the bits and pieces which end up on the editing room floor that contribute to the learning process; at the same time, revealing and exposing these out-takes can leave teaching professionals feeling exposed and quite vulnerable. This ties in with some of the questions about releasing teaching materials openly – from my experience of working with academics on two previous phases of the OER programme (C-SAP pilot and cascade project), the biggest obstacle to sharing more openly was the fear that the resources are not “good enough”, not polished enough. Striving for high quality is certainly a good thing, after all, issues of quality assurance come up repeatedly in the context of OERs, but how do you make sure that the richness of the practitioner’s journey is not lost when the world is presented with a shiny OER?

After the core team meeting

Last week, deep in the bowels of the Science block at Hallam University, we had a DeFT core team meeting.  Although at first only a few members of the team were able to attend, in the end everyone was there: Julia Davies, Jackie Marsh, Guy Merchant, Cathy Burnett, Richard Pountney, Anna Gruszczynska, and me. We had the best sandwiches that Sheffield Hallam could offer (there were whispers that they were ‘gold’ level), and sat down to a working lunch.

Richard outlined the agenda for the afternoon: the main subject of the meeting was the schools’ case studies, and the meeting with the teachers on the 9th February.

As discussion points, Anna introduced a theoretical mapping activity using the JISC Digital Literacy Anatomised diagram and the Futurelab framework to identify areas of digital literacy we may be covering.  She also presented a location map of the schools. We found that inadvertently we had chosen schools that formed a ring around the city centre.  It was decided to invite one more school situated at the centre of Sheffield.

We then shared news of case studies from the schools.  The energy and enthusiasm that sparked round the room was quite uplifting.  This was the first opportunity team members had to get a full picture of the range of different projects the schools were involved with, and it was a valuable opportunity to share ideas and experiences.  It was felt that it would be a good idea to provide the teachers with the same opportunity on the February 9th project meeting.

Thoughts went to dissemination, and Guy mentioned that the team will be presenting at the UK Literacy Association conference as well as at the Cambridge OER2012, and Richard confirmed that the workshop focusing on OERs for teacher education is being planned with Sara Younie and Sara Jones involved with the “Digital literacy and creativity” project and will take place during the ITTE conference in July at Oxford University.  The Sheffield Children’s Festival is on the horizon with thoughts of emulating Hockney’s work on ipads…although nothing is set in stone yet, there are exciting plans afoot!

New year update

I hope everyone has had a good Christmas break, and is enjoying a happy new year. This is an update of what has been happening within the DeFT team since the meeting of the 8th December… We have been busy. Thanks to everybody’s flexibility and cooperation we have now established dates for the preliminary visits between participating teachers and the core team.The link tutors, and Anna or I, are looking forward to seeing all the teachers before the end of January.
We have also been contacting the PGCE tutors from Sheffield Hallam University and The University of Sheffield, and have been hearing about the exciting developments that will contribute to the project. One of our partner tutors has filled us in on the ways her PGCE students are using blogging to help pupils develop writing skills. Another has described a mini topic that he arranged with his students involving film, cemeteries and poems (!) He suggested I should meet with some of those students to get their perspectives on how they feel it went. He mentioned (amongst other things) his involvement with Rawmarsh CLC, http://www.rawmarshclc.org.uk/. This is a city learning centre that is exceptionally well kitted out with exciting up to the minute technology. Anna and I will be visiting there the end of the week to find out if they have any resources to share with us, and whether they are interested in becoming involved with the project…
I have had a very productive chat with Sheffield Hallam’s own expert information specialist who gave us a useful outline of an information literacy framework presented through the lens of digital literacy… He also offered useful suggestions on how to catalogue resources for the open textbook for teacher education that we are aiming to produce as part of the project. I have been keeping an eye out for various resources related to digital technology and open education resources that have been recommended by partners and twitter contacts.
Anna and I have found an interesting venue for our next team meeting: a room that presides over the square between the two Sheffield theatres. We expect that the Crucible’s function room will, with its quirky features and open aspects, inspire us to reach even greater heights of creativity!

Standing at the starting line …

It is now a whole week since the first DEFT team meeting at the Mercure Hotel in Sheffield. Way down in the cellar I wondered if we would need to keep coming up for gulps of air, but maybe it was the caffeine that kept us going, or maybe it was the energising  nature of everyone’s  ideas –  the day flew by and I, at least, learned a lot.

Life style coffee and the digital tools required for work

The team includes experts from many areas – teachers of Media; of Film and Digital Media; people who have used new technologies to enhance their literacy teaching; to make learning more interesting; we have bloggers and film makers; teachers and teacher educators; we have ‘digital enthusiasts’ – and this last includes the full team.  We are all also interested in developing ways of helping teachers and student teachers become more confident in using new technologies; to learn from younger users and to improve their school learning experiences. This is a team of people who make things happen.

We talked about all sorts of STUFF, airing issues and rehearsing and developing debates around Digital Literacies and the place of new technologies in people’s everyday lives.  We mentioned how a lot of what young people do at home with new technologies is often more exciting and innovative than how these technologies are used in school; but we also talked about how some young people were not involved and how everyone can benefit from being guided by well informed teachers or peer mentors.

I was  struck by a teacher colleague’s words when he talked about how new technologies enable youngsters in his Special School to talk more – that having a digital camera in a child’s hand made it easier for that child to discuss what he was doing and why. The camera opened out possibilities for developing relationships with new people. I had not considered this before; much is talked about in terms of extending non ‘meat space’ interaction – through virtual activities – but here we found out about how digital technology can extend communication possibilities  in ‘meat space’ as well.

We discussed what we might mean by Digital Literacies, thinking about the ways in which we can use new technologies to publish for wider audiences; to work on texts together; to comment on other people’s texts and to co-author things even when in a different time and space. It is easier to produce texts with sound, moving images and to link texts together.

Whilst we said we were less interested in taking a skills /technicist approach to teaching about using new technologies – wanting to avoid a focus on the ‘how to’, nevertheless, we all acknowledged, there is a necessary period where one does have to get to grips with new technologies and interfaces before one can use them confidently.  This was expressed as being the ‘instrumental stuff’ that can get in the way of the ‘new communication stuff’. We also agreed that in learning about the technical possibilities, we also learn about the social affordances of many new media.

The word ‘creativity’ was used a lot and we wondered if we needed to define this – and  whether there was sometimes an intimidating aspect behind the notion of ‘Creativity’ – something that has become something to aspire to at all times.  Can good practice exist without things having to be rated as either more or less ‘creative’?

As the day moved on (- and we felt alternately re-fuelled and somnambulated by our large lunch  -)  we talked more about the importance of involving young people in the projects we develop and to engage them in the research process. We talked about doing projects that could not be done without technologies – something totally new. But we also felt it was important to blend the old and the new ….. But one thing was also sure. We knew that we could benefit from continued collaboration.

There were of course worries about parental permissions, online risks, access to social networking sites and so on. Partners from YHGfL were able to talk to us about how they can help schools in this regard however. They have a hos of ideas and resources to share with the project.  Our partner from The Sheffield Children’s Festival excited us with what he had to say about how we can showcase our work next June – July 2012.

Many of us were inspired by Smart Assess (yes that’s right) who have all kinds of ideas for brightening up school websites and Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs). Most impressive for me was the determination to make such learning environments REAL  (RLEs)as opposed to virtual. And equally important is the work done by Learning Connections in making learning interactive through Digital Technologies – with a director who is happy to work with any of our project schools in making their projects work.

We are all set at the starting line with ideas and support; we are at the ready to get going on new projects… the DeFT core team will be there in support and are excited to run. So we will be visiting schools in January and then coming together again on February 9th 2012.

Here’s a video of the day!

Mercure Hotel, 8th December 2011