A Gaggle of OzTeachers

At the IWB Conference on the Gold Coast today I met up with a bunch of teachers from the OzTeachers mailing list community, many of whom I have known for years but only met this weekend for the first time. What an interesting world we live in… we rounded up as many of them as we could to pose for a group photo in from of Bryn Jones’ infamous “iVan”.

Standing, left to right, it’s Margo Metcalf, Val Macauley, Bryn Jones, Mal Lee, Sue Green, Fiona Banjer and Kim English. In the front is myself and John Pearce. Kel Hathaway, Sue Burvill-Shaw, Adrian Greig and AnneMarie Loi were at the conference too, but we couldn’t find them for this photo unfortunately…

It was a great conference, and I’ll blog more about it later, but for now I just wanted to say G’day to all the OzTeach members I met today… it was great to put a face to the names!  Thanks also to all those nice people who came up to me and let me know that they either read this blog, or listen to The Virtual Staffroom. It’s really great to make real world connections.

Did You Know? 2.0

Just noticed that Karl Fisch from The Fischbowl blog has had his “Did You Know?” presentation updated to a newly revised version, thanks to some internet collaboration from Scott McLeod and a guy called XPlane who helped with the Flash animation.

Karl originally created this for his own school’s use last year and, as it mentions in the presentation, it was originally destined to be shown only to about 150 people.  However, it was shared on Karls’ blog, the edublogosphere picked up on it and pretty soon it had been distributed to over 5 million people.  Yes, we live in exponential times.  Watch it.  Use it.  Share it.  Go start some conversations…

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/pMcfrLYDm2U" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

The full story on this presentation can be found here.   Thanks for sharing Karl.

Eight Random Things

You may recall that a little game of tag went around the edublogosphere sometime last year. In this game, many edubloggers were called upon to list five little-known facts about themselves and then tagging the meme on to five more bloggers. It was a fun exercise to help share the love, and a good learning experience in getting to know more about tagging your posts for Technorati.

It seems that round two has started… Jo McLeay just tagged me for a similar meme that’s floating around the edublogosphere at the moment. Jo posted a list of Eight Random Facts about herself, and tagged eight more bloggers to help pass along the idea, incuding myself. So here goes…

  1. I spent 4 years at Art School in the early 80s, and majored in Screenprinting, Photography, Multimedia and Film/Video.
  2. In the 80s I was in a band called The Jellybabies and for a few years we played regular gigs in lot of pubs around Sydney .
  3. When I was 8 years old, I won the TV Times Sesame Street drawing contest. First prize was an above-ground swimming pool.
  4. I drove a cab in Sydney for three years, from 1987 to 1989. I also worked in the Taxis Combined radio room for 8 months calling taxi jobs on the air.
  5. I entered a rally car in the 1988 Wynns Safari (now known as the Australian Safari). It was one of the most incredibly hard but fun things I’ve ever done.
  6. I have two children; Alex, 15, and Kate, 12. They are fantastic kids and I love them heaps.
  7. This year I will run my first ever City to Surf event.
  8. And for the last 8 months, I still feel that Life Is Not Designed Accidentally.

So there you go. Eight things. Eight very random things. And I’m just noticing how many times the number 8 occurs within them. Weird huh?

So, now I believe it is my turn to tag some folk to see if they keep this going… Let’s see…

Simon O’Carroll, Neil D’Aguair, Jess McCulloch, Steve Madsen, Bryn Jones, John Pearce, Paul Wilkinson, James Farmer

There ya go guys and girls. Tag, you’re it. Have fun.

Oh yes, here are the rules, just in case you weren’t sure…

  • Post these rules before you give your facts (or after…)
  • List 8 random facts about yourself
  • At the end of your post, choose (tag) 8 people and list their names, linking to them
  • Leave a comment on their blog, letting them know they’ve been tagged

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Move those Laptops

My school bought a few class sets of laptops recently. The whole point of having laptops instead of another computer lab was so they could be used more flexibly around the school, but the obvious problem was how to store and transport them from room to room.

I’d seen classroom laptop trolleys on the market but none of them seemed to be exactly what we were after. The main laptop trolley maker in the Australian market appears to be PC-Locs from Western Australia, and although their products look ok, in my opinion they are hugely overpriced for what they are. For our 15 laptops we would have had to buy their 20 bay model, and at just over $5000 each they seemed outrageously expensive! I’d had a number of conversations with them on the telephone, but they were pretty firm on their pricing and there was no way I was going to pay that sort of money for a few pieces of welded steel and some rubber wheels, so this was a business deal that was clearly never going to happen. I even rang them on a couple of different occasions because I was so incredulous about the price and doubted that I was getting the correct quote for the unit I was looking at in the brochure. I was.

So I started to shop around to see what other alternatives existed. I found a company in Ingleburn in Sydney that made a pretty basic unit that housed only 10 computers. It was nearly $2000 and of course it didn’t fit our 15 units anyway.

I even considered making my own… I mean, I can weld, and how hard could this actually be anyway?

Then I decided to try turning to the wisdom of the crowds… I dropped a question to the OzTeachers forum asking the following question…

I was wondering if anyone on this list has any experience with portable laptop trolleys? We have a three class sets of 15 laptops and I am interested in a trolley system to share them between classrooms. So we need to get three trolleys…

I have looked at some of the products from PC Locs in WA, and although the products look ok the prices are completely over the top IMHO. Their 20 laptop trolley retails for around $5000 and seems outrageously expensive to me for what it is… (a few pieces of steel welded together and four pneumatic wheels! I’m oversimplifying I know, but I just can’t see $5000 worth of parts, labour and profit margin in it.) http://www.laptoptrolleys.com/

I saw another one from a company called Process Systems from Ingleburn in Sydney that was cheaper but looked really clunky, plus it only held 10 computers. http://www.process-systems.com.au/computer_trolleys.html

An american company called Loxit makes a nice looking unit, but they have no pricing on their website and they have not returned any of my emails to date. http://www.loxit.com/

Are there any others out there that you know of?

So, my question is do any of you use laptop trolleys, and if so what brand/type did you go with? Do you find them a useful method for storing, transporting and charging bays of laptops? Are there any pitfalls I should be aware of? Where do I find a good one at a fair price? How can I find a good quality product that does the job I need without having to take out a second mortgage, sell a kidney or promise my first-born child to the devil?

Any ideas?

I got a number of replies from people, all offering suggestions about their trolley experiences, and some even offered to sell me theirs because they really didn’t like them too much. From what I could see, there were not many alternatives on the Australian market.

I thought there HAD to be a better solution at a reasonable pricepoint so I kept looking. Eventually, through an online contact, I found a guy in Hong Kong called Marco, whose company made a very nice looking unit. We swapped a few emails and he sent me some photos, and we negotiated a price we were both happy with. It was a bit of an exercise in faith when I went to see our school business manager to tell him I had negotiated a deal with a guy in Hong Kong, but he went along with it and we now have two very nice laptop trolleys that are exactly what we were after and at a price less than half what the PC-Locs people were asking. I’m very happy with the deal, and the trolleys are really well engineered and well made.

Lessons learned through this experience….

  • Hold out for what you really want. Don’t compromise.
  • It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
  • The wisdom of crowds can open new doors for you.
  • Sometimes you just have to trust people.
  • There is a real business opportunity in well made, reasonably priced laptop trolleys!

It’s a Blogosphere. Get over it.

Found this article in a news link the other day. It seems that the growing list of terminology surrounding the “new web” (can I call it that?) is getting up some people’s noses…

“Blog”, “netiquette”, “cookie” and “wiki” have been voted among the most irritating words spawned by the Internet, according to the results of a poll published on Thursday. Topping the list of words most likely to make web users “wince, shudder or want to bang your head on the keyboard” was folksonomy, a term for a web classification system. “Blogosphere”, the collective name for blogs or online journals, was second; “blog” itself was third; “netiquette”, or internet etiquette, came fourth and “blook”, a book based on a blog, was fifth. “Cookie”, a file sent to a user’s computer after they visit a website, came in ninth, while “wiki”, a collaborative website edited by its readers, was tenth.

I must say that I quite like the term “blogosphere”, although to be fair it didn’t make much sense to me until I became a blogger myself. However, I think it describes the blogging ecosystem rather well. It is amazing the way that we who write blogs all seem to become interlinked together… My friend Simon was telling me that when I published a podcast recently about his Flat Planet Project, the site hits on his wiki spiked into the hundreds over the next few days. It really is a very connected world.

Whenever I talk to teachers about blogging with their students, the usual first questions are “How will anyone ever find what we wrote?”, and “Why would anyone read what we write?” These are obvious questions, but to ask them is a great underestimation of just how big the Internet really is and the curiousity levels of the people who use it. I don’t really know how people find it, and why they read it. But I know they will and they do. I can’t explain how and why, but I know it works. If you build it, they will come.

One of the very first posts I ever wrote on this blog was about the nature of blogging as I naively understood it at the time. One of the things I wrote back then (that I now understand with much greater appreciation) is this…

…the true worth of blogging cannot be appreciated on a small scale. A single blog post, or even a single blog, is not what it’s all about. Blogging gets it’s power from becoming a large scale ecosystem, a thriving community of people all cross linking to each other, creating connections and networks of ideas. The power of blogging is way more than the sum of its individual parts, and to gauge the power of this new medium it needs to be seen in the light of the much bigger picture that it creates.

To me, the word “blogosphere” works well to describe that concept of connectedness between bloggers. I cannot think of a better pre-Web2.0 word to describe the same thing. Besides, I’m told that Shakespeare invented many words and phrases that did not exist before he dreamed them up… If he was trying to express an idea and there was not a readymade word to adequately say it, he just made one up. In fact, he made about 1700 of them up, according to one source I looked at.

The funny thing about that early post I wrote was that it was written in response to a book I read about blogging called “Who Let the Blogs out” by a fellow called Biz Stone, (Biz was behind things like Xanga, Odeo and Twitter). Within a week or so of me posting it, I stumbled across a response on Biz’s blog where he was commenting on my blogpost which was originally commenting on his book. As a beginning blogger, it was at that point that I realised just how truly interconnected we all are through this “blogosphere” thing.

So, like it or not, Blogosphere it is.

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Simon Says the Planet is Flat

Flat Planet Project If there was ever a doubt that the tools of Web 2.o are dramatically simplifying the way we can embed digital technologies into our classrooms, let me point you towards a neat little project run by a couple of amazing teachers who decided to dabble with the possibilities of a wiki. This wonderful piece of web collaboration was put together by Neil D’Aguiar from Richard Challoner Secondary School in New Maiden, Surrey, UK, and Simon O’Carroll from Holy Trinity Catholic High School in Oakville, Ontario, Canada. It’s a great example of how something as simple as a wiki can be used to develop a sophisticated web project that works simply and easily across the boundaries of time and place. The site can be found at flatplanet.wikispaces.com.

I first met Simon when I was on a teacher exchange to Canada during 2006. We shared a workroom (and occasionally chicken wings) and became quite good mates. As a teacher of Religion, Simon was a relative newbie to the integration of technology into his classroom, but during the year he enrolled into a part-time Computers in the Classroom course. Each day after his course he would come and have a chat to me and ask questions about web technologies, and I really enjoyed our talks. It was fun to watch him get more and more fired up about the uses of ICT in his classroom, and in particular the things that Web 2.0 was making possible. We spoke about blogs and wikis, podcasting and social networking. Simon started to blog regularly, and still has a nice little blog happening at http://mrocarroll.wordpress.com/. He played with a number of different blog engines like WordPress and Blogger. Then he started to investigate wikis, playing with Wikispaces and PBwiki. He’d come into work each day and tell me about some new discovery he’d made on the web, or ask for my opinion about some new technology. It was really exciting to see the web through his eyes.

Not long after I got back to Australia, Simon wrote to me to tell me about the Flat Planet Project that he started with Neil from the UK. It’s humbling to realise just how easy it can be to start a project like this, because it is was simple as just making contact and asking for a partner, as he did with Neil. It’s such a beautifully simple idea… connect two sets of students from two schools in two countries, give them a common task and provide them with the tools to work across the web. No wonder the site was chosen as the Wikispace of the Month for April! As I look through the pages they have created, you can just tell what a great job the kids did, and from all accounts they thoroughly enjoyed working on it. You can see the positive benefits of this collaboration, and just how much more meaningful this task was because of its authenticity. This is what the new web makes possible!

I wanted to highlight the work done by the kids at Challoner and Trinity, and the great work done by Simon and Neil in leading the kids through this project. Education can be stiflingly conservative at times, so it’s wonderful to see teachers stepping out of their comfort zones and extending both themselves and their kids with projects like this. Good on you Simon, Neil and all the kids who took part!

I’m hoping to interview Simon and Neil very soon on The Virtual Staffroom Podcast, so keep that RSS feed tuned in!

Funny but Flat

A friend sent me an email with this note in it.  I had a chuckle at the intended humour, and quickly realised just how close to the mark it really was.  I made a few minor modifications to it, but here it is…

Question: What is the truest definition of Globalization?

Answer: Princess Diana’s death.

You ask why? An English princess with an Egyptian boyfriend crashes in a French tunnel, driving a German car with a Dutch engine, driven by a Belgian who was drunk on Scottish whisky followed closely by Italian Paparazzi on Japanese motorcycles; treated by an American doctor, using Brazilian medicines.

This is posted to an Australian blog site, using American technology, and you’re probably reading this on a computer that use Taiwanese chips and a Korean monitor, assembled by Bangladeshi workers in a Singapore plant.

That, my friends –  is Globalization!

I realise there are probably a couple of liberties taken with the truth there, but on the whole it is amazing when you start to think about just how global the world has become in the last couple of decades.

The point is, how do we tap into that level of diversity in our schools?   The world has become one big village, and more and more people in the world of business and government seem to know how important is is to be able to share and collaborate together in that village.  The one environment where we still forget (or ignore) this global village concept seems to be in our school system, where working globally is still largely seen as a novel approach to teaching moreso than a necessity of a 21st century education.