Learning to Tweet or Tweeting to Learn?

After initially being sceptical I have now been bitten by the Twitter bug and hence my lack of blog posts recently. I think part of the reason is Twitter is easier than blogging. You provide a short snapshot of what you are doing and click update – that’s it. It’s interesting to view your timeline after a week just to see what you have (or have not) achieved.

 Another huge dimension of Twitter is the community and interaction aspect. During the holidays I happened to see a tweet about an online webcast (#wttw) and 10 minutes later found myself taking part in it from the comfort of my own home. You don’t come across things like this on Facebook.

I’ve seen various groups talking about using Twitter in the classroom – most of the ideas seemed to be pie in the sky thinking. So I decided to act upon it – bringing the pie down from the sky. So my class now has their own Twitter account – @ClassroomTweets. We manage this in class by having one of our classroom computers running the ‘tweet’ page so that class members can type what they are doing or thinking throughout the day. There are a few simple rules – tweeters must not mention any child’s name or respond to any messages or replies to tweets ‘from the outside’ without either myself or my amazing teaching assistant Elaine being present. It’s extremely interesting to read as the class teacher. For example, I’ve learned that my class only class a ‘literacy lesson’ as the time I am teaching from the front of the class – they believe the time they are at their desks working isn’t classed as ‘literacy’ or indeed a lesson.

Let’s see what else I can learn from reading tweets…

Rise of the new literacy practices…

One of my favourite television series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles has finished its current run in America. The general word on the internet is that the show won’t be renewed and the current season was the last. I find the reaction by fans on the internet to this news to be very interesting.

Obviously there are various postings on forums providing a voice for the renewal of the series. Online petitions and Facebook groups are also appearing left right and centre. These seem to be the norm when internet users have an issue to voice their opinions on as part of a community of fans.  With a simple Google search you can find an online petition or facebook group for practically anything.

More interesting is the way in which YouTube enters the equation. One user has created a video which shows the stunning final scenes of the season with messages around the edge. The messages urge viewers to speak out for a third season by writing to the studios, signing a petition, following a link to a wiki, pre-ordering the DVD, contacting the show’s advertisers and emailing studio executives directly. The contact details are played on a loop around the video. Nearly every type of communication is utlised in trying to save this show.

So from the serious plea to the slightly bizarre; here is another video of Hitler’s (yes Adolf Hitler) reaction to the cancellation of the show. I initially thought this was purely a joke but it is a serious retaliation towards the Fox network. Someone has spent a lot of time planning and making this video attack towards the studio. It’s really strange to watch but just shows how web users are using different channels to voice their opinions and air their views. It’s clear that the internet allows us to make our voice heard in new and diverse ways, to a much larger audience than in the past. But what effect will it have?

My emails to the studios were sent this afternoon.

Fighting the Web 2.0 battle…

I have been enjoying the new series of The Apprentice on BBC1, which has at its core the need to be proficient with communication, language and literacy. If you cannot communicate effectively, for a range of purposes and audiences, you quite simply fail. Above is a picture of Margaret Mountford, one of the senior advisors, who is dismayed at her team’s lack of ability to articulate a simple sales pitch.

Margaret portrays exactly how I feel after a week of fighting a very fierce battle with the school website and trying to set it up to allow children to submit content in a safe and controlled manner. I’m all for freedom of speech and creativity, but eSafety is a huge issue which cannot be ignored.

Joomla (the content management system) runs by a set of rules and procedures. Typically what I wanted to do wasn’t allowed or possible according to these rules. So I decided to purchase an extension which, in theory, would allow the creation of different rules for teachers and pupils. So the plug-in was installed and it conflicted with a range of other plug-ins that were already on the system. Therefore over the past week I have been doing the Mountford hand on head, slumped on the desk expression on an increasingly daily basis. After many (and I really mean many) hours of experimentation and changing settings there is only one problem remaining (which requires recoding by the company I bought the extension off). The systems are now in place for the children to add their own content, blog posts and soon images. It has taken some doing but it is there – a completely personalised system for the school, which would have cost about £6000.

 I breathe a sign of relief and move onto the next battle… end of Key Stage Assessments.

Joomla Juggling

I’m still working on developing four websites using the Joomla content management system and things are starting to get complicated.

 The UKLA Learning Today website needs to be finished, packaged up and moved to a different server. The MLI website needs updating with more guidance and information about research and I must remember to keep blogging after the Easter holidays.

The most complex problem I am having is with the school website and the Web 2.0 practicalities of access for pupils (everything always sounds better when it is just an idea!). It turns out trying to create an extra user group for children to use with its own set of rules isn’t as easy as I originally thought. This is where Joomla really falls short of its rivals like Drupal (which I incidentally started to build the UKLA site with). The good thing about the Joomla community is that there are normally extensions (open source and commercial) that take account of its downfalls and extend its functionally. Que the purchase of JUGA and a rather complicated installation. Of course the installation hasn’t worked, naturally, and led to many hours of playing with settings and changing code – with little success. Que a log to JUGA technical support and a response saying they don’t know what is wrong either.

How about I draw a website with a pencil and paper and ask for annotations… still user-led but obviously not as interesting?

Changing formats…

I’m really pleased with how this blog has turned out and I definitely think that moving it away from the main MLI site gives it a unique identity and more scope so that I don’t always have to talk about literacy theory. I also think it looks more like a blog now!

I have taken the opportunity over the past few days to relax and catch a breath. I wrote previously about watching a few films over the holidays so that I’m not neglecting my own literacy practices. So last night I signed up for a 3 month free trial for an online DVD rental service, which also includes Blu-Ray.

It’s typical that when a format like DVD starts to become standard, and you build up a huge library of titles, that a new format is released. Having got a 40" Full HD LCD Television I felt the need to invest in Blu-Ray last December. I now have over 20 blu-ray titles. The quality is generally amazing with newer titles like The Dark Knight. However with older films such as Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers the quality really isn’t that much better than DVD. So are we changing format for changing sake? Some say that DVD and Blu-Ray will co-exist. Maybe this format change is different and more of a format supplement (Blu-Rays are discs afterall). However one thing is for certain -Blu-Ray is here to stay.

Out with the new… and in with the old?

Over the past few weeks I have had tremendous amounts of work to complete and little time for reflection. It isn’t until you manage to catch a quick breath that you realise how you miss appreciating the little things in life. I have just finished watching the ‘100 Greatest Scary Moments’ on E4 and I remembered my love for horror films. I have been so engrossed in researching and understanding children’s popular culture and literacy practices that I have been neglecting my own. I can’t remember the last time I sat down to watch a decent horror film at home. I only ever seem to have films playing in the background while I am at a computer working. So I have decided to dedicate some time in the holidays to watching three films on blu-ray I haven’t seen before.

I have been working hard on developing the new school website – an immense project in itself with Web 2.0 possibilities allowing the children to create and shape the site. While doing this I have forgotten about the MLI website and this blog. After thinking recently about where I want the Multiliteracies Learning Initiative (MLI) to go in the future I have decided to have a bit of a redesign and realignment of this blog. The blog is now more of an independent entity as it really represents my views and my life rather than that of the MLI members. So I’ve therefore spent the evening redesigning the layout, updating the core Joomla system and components and giving it a more general literacy and ‘life’ feel to it. I’ve also made the URLs and site contents a lot more accessible and easier to navigate.

I’ve chosen to stick with Joomla for blogging. Although its not a dedicated blogging platform I am blown away by its potential and I’m really enjoying learning how to use and develop the system for my school and the MLI. Plus I don’t want to have to learn another progamming language or set of rules when I have too much else on!

I’m trying to put work-related things to the back of my mind for the next few days. I am going to reclaim some time for me. I have movies to watch, family to see and friends, who I just don’t see enough of, to meet up with.

UKLA International Conference 2009

I will be presenting at the UKLA International Conference in July, held at Greenwich University. I will be speaking as part of a symposium with Lynda Graham, Angela Colvert and Jackie Marsh about teachers and children shaping digital worlds. Here’s my abstract:

Multiliteracies and meaningful learning contexts in the primary classroom

Martin Waller
Primary School Teacher
Lead Researcher for the Multiliteracies Learning Initiative

Digital technologies provide a range of modes of meaning, which allow learners to communicate and share information in a range of diverse ways for different purposes and audiences. During this presentation I will report findings from ongoing action research in my Year 2 classroom. Multiliteracies, multimodality and critical literacy are at the heart of our curriculum through projects centred on meaningful learning contexts with real-life purpose. Influences of popular culture are embedded in what we do through projects based on film, animation and other new literacy practices. During this presentation I will share work based on a Japanese anime where the children in my class created their own storybook world using digital technologies. The children subverted the original text to incorporate elements of western fairytales and produce their own ‘cross-cultural’ film text. I will also talk about the innovative structures I have developed to aid children in their multimodal analysis. In turn this has had deep effects on writing achievement as the children reshape, reconfigure and combine modes to make new meaning with real audience and purpose in mind.

 Hope to see some of you there!