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Developing the home-school relationship using digital technologies

Developing the home-school relationship using digital technologies

The following is an extract from the recently published handbook entitled Developing the home-school relationship using digital technologies written by Futurelab‘s education technology senior researcher Lyndsay Grant, looking into the use of web applications by the our Modern Languages Department at Nottingham High School.

Nottingham High School is an independent boys’ school for ages 7-18. In the modern foreign languages (MFL) department, the use of internet tools and applications to support learning is prolific. The activity is spearheaded by José Picardo, head of languages at the school, who fervently believes in:

“making education compatible with the needs and expectations of students through the effective use of technology”.

José uses Edmodo as a closed social network in his classes to set work, provide access to resources, present work, discuss and communicate – both amongst students themselves and between students and teachers.

“It acts like a mini VLE, but it’s not as verbose as a VLE – it’s a lot less school like and students nag other teachers to use it.”

The significant use of interactive technology in the MFL department started as “a reaction to kids’ use of Web 2.0 tools” which, according to José, was especially motivating to pupils in an all boys’ school. Alongside Edmodo, a range of Web 2.0 applications are used such as Xtranormal (creating 3D movies from text), Glogster (create and share multimedia posters), and Go Animate (animated cartoon maker) to support teaching and learning in both the classroom and at home.

The school also recently created a blog (using simple blogging site ‘Posterous’) to accompany a trip to Germany. Students made a video each day and uploaded it for parents to view and comment on.

José sees many advantages to using Web 2.0 tools. They can be more accessible as they are free to use and available on the web (not all students had access to PowerPoint or Microsoft Office at home for instance). Tasks can be started at school and finished at home or vice versa.

A further advantage is that students can collaborate or contribute to the same piece of work, comment on each other’s contributions and have conversations around their work and there is then a record of these conversations to refer back to.

The use of web applications such as GoAnimate and Xtranormal in school was quite a challenge to begin with, as the school’s internet safety software automatically deemed them ‘unsafe’ and blocked access to them. José also found that children needed to be educated about not giving too much information away online.

The full handbook explores key issues around home-school relationships and aims provide school staff with a framework in which to consider how schools can support the home-school relationship. This essential handbook provides a clear vision for home-school communication using technology and it can be downloaded here.

A different way to communicate with colleagues

The internet stopped being just a collection of hyper-links connecting static bits of information a long time ago. Today the internet is not so much about storing information as it is about communicating and sharing knowledge in ever more efficient ways.

Static websites from academic sources, although still important, have, over time, given way to personal publishing platforms which allow anyone with something to say to, well… say it. Knowledge is increasingly becoming crowd sourced. No longer the few impart knowledge to the many. The many can, for the first time, teach themselves very effectively.

But we have had to develop new skills to be able to access all that wisdom available on tap on the Internet. Not least is the ability to discern – there is lots of information out there, some of it useful (some of it is always useful to somebody), you just need to know how to sift through it to get to what really matters to you.

This is why the Social Internet has become so successful: groups of people have clumped together, generally because of some sort of affinity or shared interest, and have started communicating and passing on information that matters to them. Social and Personal networks, fora, blogs and microblogs have become the narrow end of the funnel through which a maelstrom of voices vying to be heard is poured, resulting in a steady flow of meaningful and relevant information.

More and more people are becoming aware of the power of belonging to a network: each individual member contributes a small part, so that the resulting body of knowledge is much greater than that which any individual member could have amassed on their own. Sharing has almost become a selfish act – sharing is the price you pay to reap the rewards of invaluable collective knowledge.

We in education refer to our specialist networks as Personal Learning Networks, of which Twitter is undoubtedly the reigning monarch. Partaking in such a communist, collectivist approach to sharing knowledge has resulted in great personal gain: being linked to leading thinkers in the field of education has certainly sharpened my understanding and has helped focus my own thinking in ways which, literally, I could not have thought of before.

There remains the fact, however, that there are still many people out there who are completely oblivious of this sea change in the way we are communicating and passing on mind-boggling amounts of information (I say we, since you are likely to be reading this blog through a feed reader or have linked here from Twitter or a forum). Many of those people are colleagues of mine.

Aware then of the power and potential benefits of sharing information and good communication among colleagues, I set out to create a private environment into which we could all dip when the need arose to either make announcements or put up notices, as well as when we needed to access information or even when we sought inspiration or resources for a lesson.

irismessenger-logo-greybgeperspIris Messenger, grandiosely named after the messenger of the Olympian Gods, is my attempt to create such an environment. Using the fantastically versatile WordPress platform, combined with the brilliantly simple P2 Theme (with some tweaks to the code), I have tried to provide a Twitter-like means of communication with simplicity and usability as its main features. I wanted to ensure that this system was technology-averse-teacher proof.

Iris has a an interface that allows users to publish information without the need to log into the admin back end, just like Twitter and unlike standard blogs.


Iris does however take advantage of that most useful feature of blogs: tags. Tags allow posters to index the information as they input it, thus allowing easy retrieval of relevant information later. This allows other users to access information which is only relevant to, say, French or Year 10, by simply clicking on the appropriate tag on the side bar.


So far, Iris has been well received by most of my colleagues and is, in the absence of a VLE, thriving. Below are some screen-shots of sample postings showing how Iris has been used so far:




My colleagues are great people and I am very proud and lucky to work with such talented teachers. It does not escape me, however, that some see me as some sort of angel of doom that heralds the end of the good old days as I attempt to modernise the teaching and learning that goes on in our department. Nevertheless, I do hope that this newfangled way of communicating among ourselves proves to be useful to us all.

What do you think, is this something that you could see working in your department? Why or why not?

A Guide to Annotating using Diigo

This video is also available on Podomatic. You can subscribe to this series of video podcasts in iTunes.

Diigo is a social bookmarking site that allows teachers and students to share interesting and useful links on the internet. I recorded this guide to show my students how to use one the most useful features Diigo has to offer: Annotations.

Annotations allow you to comment directly onto web pages. These comments can then be saved permanently and used by teachers to share hints and pointers with students, but also by students submitting their own thoughts and work as annotations to their teachers.

Follow this link to have a closer look at what Diigo is and what it does.

I hope you find this guide useful.

Twitter: are you being taken for a ride?


Twitter is being abused. I’m not talking about spammers or celebrities, who we know use Twitter as a means to achieve self promotion. I am talking about people like you and me, with similar interests and expertise (education in this case), who are followed by many but only choose to follow a tiny proportion back.

My complaint, whine – whatever you want to call it – is that by not following back most of their followers, these people are, wittingly or unwittingly, taking advantage of their followers’ willingness to share, participate and converse, whilst putting in evidence their lack thereof.

What does it say about them if, in their Twitter bio, they extoll the virtues of sharing, learning and exchanging views on education but are only prepared to do so with a minority of educators, those whom they presumably deem worthy of their following?

What does it say about them when they ask for our help in Twitter but, by definition, are unable to help the very people who went out of their way to offer help? Think about it, you helped them gladly but, if they don’t follow you, they would have never picked up your request for help. You could still be waiting for help which would never come.

On occasion, when I have voiced my displeasure publicly, often on Twitter, it has been pointed out to me that I may be behaving selfishly by expecting to be followed back.  However, in my view, it is they who do not follow back who are being selfish, because they take but seldom give.

I often wonder what makes an educator, of all people, think that it is OK to draw a line in the sand and say that’s it, no need to learn any more – there is nothing I can learn from him, him or her, which is effectively what happens when they opt to not follow back fellow educators.

This puzzles me because, the most amazing things I’ve learned in my life were unplanned. They were the things I didn’t set out to learn. The magic of discovery made me realise that, in order to start learning, you must first realise that you don’t know what you’re going to learn or, indeed, what you need to learn. In order to continue learning you must then realise that there is always plenty left to learn.

Ignorance, on the other hand, is the certainty that there is nothing left for you to learn.

I don’t claim to know the reasons for the sort of behaviour I decry in this post and, although I may appear to be claiming the moral high ground,  I am only pointing out what might be construed from it.

There must be other reasons why people opt to not follow back those who might be considered their peers, arguably the very people from whom they can learn the most. These reasons have escaped me and I would very much appreciate it if you highlighted them to me in the comments below.

Photo by *Muhammad*

Post Script: This post has elicited a great response, both agreeing with and challenging my understanding of Twitter.  I am very grateful for such wonderful contributions. I am slightly concerned, however, that, as the comments thread gets longer and longer, many of the points covered in the discussion below are beginning to be repeated, which is not surprising, given the number of comments a new reader needs to catch up with. Therefore, I would politely request that new comments are contrasted against existing ones to avoid any further repetition.

#EdTechTips on Twitter


Hashtags are exploited by Twitter users to mark key words in a Twitter update. Twitter automatically hyper links the hash tagged (#) keywords to a set of search results highlighting all tweets containing that particular hashtag or key word, allowing people to easily find and aggregate tweets related to the subject in question.

Most of the people that follow me and I follow on Twitter are involved in education in one way or another, but I am particularly interested in the effective use of technology in education, so following lots of people allows me to access a vast pool of knowledge and expertise in this field. However, the more people I follow, the more difficult it becomes to keep track of all the tips, good advice and experiences which are constantly being shared in Twitter.

So why not use hashtags to group all those relevant tips about using technology in education? Why not agree on a common way, a convention, to tag all this good advice so it remains easily accessible to all Twitter users, not just the people you follow?

Why not use #EdTechTips next time you share expertise and good practice on Twitter?

What do you think?

Do you know of a teaching and learning resource you would like to share? Please do not hesitate to get in touch.