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It’s my penultimate sarcastic article for this term, where today I’m looking at something very familiar to a lot of us. It’s very pertinent

Sharing Large Files without Killing your Inbox

I get this a lot, I am forever having to wander over to the IT support guys, cap in hand, with a tear in my eye to beg for a bit more inbox space because someone’s emailed me a 1.2Gb video file and now I can’t actually send or receive any other email. Now with most emailing this isn’t usually a problem, if you’re sending messages across the interwebs then you tend to get an error and you rethink your strategy. but when an email goes across an internal system – like most of us have – then we can end up with us using email as a file storage area.

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Sending any file larger than a few megabytes via email. If it’s getting above 4Mb do please have a think if there’s an easier way to do it. This could be a video, a zip archive of all the work for Y11 or just a REALLY huge PowerPoint file. Regardless, it fills my inbox with files that I sort of need but also are ridiculously huge.

sarcastic

I’ve just finished recording a lesson observation with my iPad, I’ve saved the file to my computer and I want to send it to one of my colleagues for a critique. Great! Very forward thinking! But there’s one problem, how do I get this file to them? I suppose I could stick it on a memory stick and walk down but come on! We live in the 21st Century so I’m going to send it through the internet.

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So how best to do this? Well all other files I send by attaching them to an email. That’ll work right? Yeah, there we go, it took a while to attach it but now I click send and… boom! Done!

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The biggy is that you email dissapears into the ether, it’s far too big. Your recipient never sees it and sometimes doesn’t know they should be expecting it so you might as well not have bothered.

Or, you could be more unfortunate and you end up clogging up some poor person’s mailbox with your huge file sizes. This means that person’s having to scour their emails for the ones with the biggest attachments that they can delete lust so they can send and receive messages again.

These files take ages to upload and download again, fill up massses of bandwidth that we could be using for other things and sit, unloved, taking up space in our email for an age.

If you ever need to move email providers then copying over these huge files will be a massive problem! They may not even transfer over. (Guess what we’re doing on Friday?)

There’s also another issue in that people start relying on their email client as a place to store their large files. People often moan that they’ve run out of space on their email server but have several emails of a huge size that they ‘need to keep’. If it’s that important to you make sure you download the file and save it somewhere!

doitright

Okay a few choices here. First always check the size of the file you’re trying to attache before you click send, you can do this very easily in Windows. Right click on the file and go to properties, if the files is bigger than 3Mb then consider using one of the other methods.

If it’s a file you need to send then consider using one of the websites that deals with sending big files between people, a site such as www.wetransfer.com will let you upload your large file and get a link to it sent to the intended recipient. This is great because I still get it in email, but the file is just presented as a link. Fantastic!

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There is a problem there too though, because as great as that is we can’t guarantee that emailing sensitive information is being done within our data protection regulations. One thing to look at would be in using your school’s Google drive account; you just log in with your school email and password and can upload and share a file. Even better here because we’re using our school’s own system so we should be on safer ground with transmitting sensitive data.

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Have a good think about the format though, in our example the video would be sent just to be watched. We don’t particularly need the person to keep the video so where do we normally go to watch videos reliably online? YouTube is your answer here; you can upload and secure a youtube video in the same way you can a Google drive document, if you’re using your Google apps for schools login then this is even better as you can share it with people just on your domain. It won’t show up in searches, no one will accidentally stumble across it but you can share the file in an efficient and easy manner with your colleague.

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Above is a real example of our department’s secure storage of recorded observations, shared only with the oberver and observee so they can be referred to if needed.

 

If you’re using your inbox as a storage area for coursework submission, important files or the like then make sure you move those things out of your inbox and onto your local folder as soon as you can! If you need to have a certain set of files available to you at all times you may need to look at a solution like Dropbox or OneDrive (i.e. SkyDrive) or even using the Google Drive sync application with your Google apps for schools log in. Just remember that if you are keeping files in the cloud that you should be careful about sensitive files and data going outside of your School’s data protection policies. Using their provided tech, like Skydrive or Google drive usually makes this a bit safer.

conclusion

One of the worst things you can do is email huge files to people. It’s pretty much the same as, for a laugh, ordering a shed to be delivered to someone who lives in a flat because they once expressed an interest in gardens. It’s not neccesarily a bad thing to do. but it reeks of bad taste.

So please stop and think, if your attachement is taking a long time to attach then is it too big? Is there a better way to send your file?

There probably is. If not then you’re getting IT wrong, and you probably need my book…

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Welcome again to the always sarcastic, sometimes helpful, weekly whinge about people getting things wrong in IT. This week I’m taking a bit of a break from moaning because I think that I managed to adequately vent in last week’s monster 3200 word article (thanks for the positive feedback by the way), so instead I’m tackling something a bit more fun. Cool stuff that you can use!

Why not try?

There are loads of great online tools to help you with your teaching and learning, here are just a sampling of some of my favourites which will let you get immediately improved engagement and reduce your workload significantly, all whilst being free!

1. The Differentiator

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Based at http://byrdseed.com/differentiator/ this website is all you need to create useful, differentiated learning objectives which include all the hard work like suggesting the Bloom’s taxonomy command words to use, suggesting a series of tasks for you (meaning that you can do things other than PowerPoints and Posters!) and even suggesting types of content that you can set. This is suitable for any subject lesson and not just one in a computer room.

You can customise it to your hearts content so it works just as well for me setting a target about floating point arithmetic, as it does the Art department setting work about David Hockney.

I love it, you’ll love it, and it takes a lot of the hard work out of setting a bunch of differentiated objectives than if you were simply typing them up by hand.

 

2. Edmodo

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I’m sure most people know about this, but edmodo (www.edmodo.com) is fast becoming my favourite online tool. It’s basically a much neater way of doing a VLE, and I’ve gone from being a complete Moodle fascist to becoming a bit cold on Moodle to the point where I think it’s not really suitable for purpose anymore.

If you want to collect and mark work online, set homework, quizzes, assignments and engage your students in a meaningful and straightforward learning dialogue then you can do so quite easily through edmodo with minimal fuss. It’s free to sign up for and use and, I feel, matches the style of a normal classroom lesson much better than any VLE ever has before.

What I like most about it is the fact that it is built for the Facebook generation, with plenty of notifications and a timeline of events so if you set work then all the students in your class get emails to tell them. If work is submitted to you then you get notified too! It’s got a great mobile app – when my car broke down the other day I was able to set work using edmodo from the side of the road and even marked a few before I got in.

If you’ve tried VLEs (like Moodle) before, and not been that excited by it then edmodo is for you.

 

3. Bloom’s Stems Question Generator

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Available from the John Cabot Academy Moodle page (http://moodle.cabot.ac.uk) and using the Lesson Toolkit menu button gives you buttons for all the question stems from Bloom’s taxonomy. When I’m questioning students in lessons I will use these to select random question stems and construct questions based on the ability of the student I am asking.

This takes a lot of the fuss out of having to remember all of the Bloom’s Questions whilst allowing you to develop your questioning skills to mastery level. It also allows students to create their own questions of differing levels with little prompting, they love the random nature of it and if the question isn’t perfectly appropriate to the situation then just click the button again. Score.

 

4. LessonNote

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LessonNote (www.lessonnote.com) is an iPad app that allows you to make a meticulous record of your lesson observation. I love this, nearly enough to pay for the premium version but the free version is ace, you start a timer and then every note you take about the lesson is timestamped. This gives you a clear record of what happened in the observation when you’re discussing or feeding back with colleagues. As well as this you’ve got the ability to take pictures, create seating plans, make note of transitions between types of learning activity and even reference the students directly in your notes.

This is the number one tool in my lesson observation arsenal, it really allows you to engage with the learning in the lesson and have a copious log of what happened to review later when you create the write up. It’s also a really nice document to refer back to and remind yourself of everything that happened in the lesson even when circumstances conspire to schedule the feedback for a few days later.

 

5. Easel.ly

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This brilliant browser based tool (www.easel.ly) allows you or your students to create those fantastic infographics without fuss, and end up with extremely professional end results. We had tried to incorporate inforgraphics into our lessons for a long time before we discovered how easily this website could be used to engage students with the dryer facts and figures that they need to learn in our lessons.

This is great for visualising analysis of exam results, showing students population or PSHE data, or even looking at stats for characters in a book being analysed. It’s great for us as Educators to knock up an interesting visual aid with minimal fuss, helping engage our students and even allowing for some implicit differentiation for students with literacy or numeracy difficulties. Students also have a lot of fun in building this sort of thing, because it’s a nice creative way to display understanding – and they’ve very popular on the inter webs so have a bit of geek-chich too.

conclusion

So there we go, five interesting tools that may be worth a punt over the next few weeks. Give them a look, spend ten minutes with them and see if they’re something you’d like to use in your lessons – if so then great, if not then don’t be put off because there’s an entire internet of content there for you to use as you see fit!

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This week I’ve been inundated with messages from colleagues who see the standard of emails being poor. Not from students, no – from other staff! You may have picked up on the passive aggressive undertones to previous articles on email behaviour from me; that this is one of my biggest pet peeves, I get so much email in a day that I see poor practice that would make your hair fall out (that’s my excuse anyway) so let’s try and address a number of issues.
This is a longer article than normal, and outside of my usual format – but for the best, I hope.

How to Write an Email like an Adult

One of the big problems with electronic communication is that whilst most of us were taught how to write a letter when we were at school, very few of us are of the age that we were taught to write an email. This is a problem for the way we communicate with each other, because most people have learned to communicate electronically with their friends using Facebook or text messages and now we’re sending messages to other professionals that make us sound like we’re about fourteen.
Worse still is that we’re showing this poor practice when we communicate with the students, and guess what? Not only do they think that type of communication is okay and replicate your behaviours but they don’t even think you’re cool because you can finish a sentence with LOL! What they think is that you’re trying to be hip. Guys, as Huey Lewis says – It’s hip to be square – so let’s tighten up our email style and demonstrate this practice to the students.

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1. Use a descriptive subject line

One thing that makes me want to scream is people that send email without a subject line. Why would you do that? You know we’re all busy. If you’ve not adequately described your email in a short sentence beforehand then when I’m scanning which email to action next by title alone then yours is likely to be ignored. I’ve grown fascist in my own ways and students who send me emails without a subject line get the following message from me:

Which is very sarcastic, but you know me by now. The students do too. I will not action anything they have sent me unless they can be bothered to write me a proper email. Unfortunately you can’t really do that with staff…
It’s also worth remembering that the subject line of your email shouldn’t be the content of your email. If you send a message to a group of people with the message in the subject then in most cases, and most email programs, will just cut off your message half way through. Because of this titles should be short and sharp, with the content (however little it is) in the main body of the email itself. It certainly helps those of us with mobile devices as otherwise we can only see the first five or six words of the title.

 

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2. Spell check your email

This was the one thing that colleagues hammered me with email about. People do not check their email for spelling before they send it. It’s really simple to do too. Click the spell check button, then you change any problems. In most email clients you can even force this to happen when you click send, so that you always have a nice spell checked email going out. Check the preferences of your email client and set this up as soon as you can, then you’ll look less like a prat when people are reading your hastily written emails.

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3. Fonts

Arial. Size 12. Done.
Seriously though, you’re a professional so think very hard about your choice of font, colour and style for your communication. People read a lot into your presentation of your communication and if you’ve got size 20, bright green comic sans text then I immediately jump to the conclusion that you think you’re being cute and don’t know a thing about professionalism. Fonts are a very subjective thing so it’s best to stick to something that’s easy to read and looks professional. Fonts like Helvetica or Arial are great for reading on a screen as their lack of serifs (the pointy bits) make them look better on normal computer screens than fonts like Times New Roman.
It’s one thing to send a charming, overly bright, layout to very, very young children but as soon as someone becomes discerning this splattering of your personality becomes grating; especially if you’re not a design expert. Does the style reflect the content of the email? Imagine receiving a notice of expulsion in bright pink Comic Sans. They style implies a lot. What of other professionals receiving these emails from you? Do you think they appreciate having to claw through all the animated gifs and bright red text for the important technical information you’re sending them? The answer can be seen by every book ever written because you never see a professionally published book that’s written in comic sans.

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You might be wondering about our students with additional needs. Isn’t a fun font better to engage them? Shouldn’t we make the font huge just in case they can’t see it properly? Well first of all, what you consider a ‘fun’ font can be interpreted in a lot of ways; comic sans, for instance, can be seen as demeaning and derogatory to students with learning difficulties because “that’s a kid’s font”. There’s also no need to set your font to a ridiculous size because you’re concerned about people with visual or reading issues being able to access your content. This is a computer. Students with those issues should easily be able to turn on the accessibility features of the operating system and zoom in or colour overlay things themselves. The key thing for you is that the font is sensible and readable, don’t concern yourself with the size because they can sort that out for themselves!

3. Write it like a letter

Because it is. Email. Electronic Mail. It’s meant to be just an electronic delivery system for letters, so if you’re writing a letter make the slightest of nods to the format you should be adhering to. Do not write it all on a single line, don’t launch straight into it and do not every simply not even bother writing your name on it. These minor deviations from the message you are trying to deliver turns an informal email into one to take notice of, it gives you enough time and breathing space to process it as well as it being seen much more like a communication that matters.
Our students and our peers are trained to see most electronic text based communication as transient, what forms of communication tend to be massively informal and inconsequential? Facebook chat? Text messages? Yeah, and neither of those is written like a letter. Centuries of work on the letter writing format shouldn’t be lost because we’ve stopped using pens, it’s like that for a reason: to encourage the reader to engage with the text and understand the weight and importance of the message. As educators we need to model these behaviours and styles to students and colleagues who are being bombarded with the most informal text based communication they can get, by doing this we can help to support literacy and keep our culture alive for another generation.
Start with a greeting (salutation), Hello, Dear Sir, whatever – a nice friendly one is ‘Hi David’, a sterner one could be ‘Students’, and a proper formal one could be ‘Dear Mr. Morgan’. Whatever you decide is appropriate for the situation make sure you do it, launching straight into an email makes you look more like you couldn’t be bothered rather than the honest truth which is that you were rushing. The greeting is a great place to engage your reader because they can tell how personal the email is, writing ‘Hi Johnny’ at the top of an email let’s Johnny know that this is specifically for him and not just a mass email to your class.
Write the content in paragraphs, make sure it reads properly and makes sense. It’s this bit that holds the content that you are communicating so make it good.
Finally, end with a polite closing so that the person reading it knows that you have finished and that they can ignore your enormous signature bit, you know, the bit with all the quotes in it? A polite closing can be ‘Regards’, ‘Cheers’, ‘Peace out’ – whatever, just make sure it’s appropriate to the person you’re sending it to. You wouldn’t say ‘Love and Hugs’ to your boss, or (hopefully) not to that Year 8 class on a Friday.

4. Is it really urgent?

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If your email isn’t really an urgent matter than needs to be dealt with there and then or else someone could die, then why not leave that urgent button alone?
Please. Leave it alone.
Only ever use it in a real urgent situation: for instance, I went to print something for a meeting and suddenly my pinter was out of ink. I needed that print out for the meeting desperately so I sent the email to reprographics using the urgent tag and lo and behold it was done for me. Urgently. That’s what that button should be for, not for every single email you send.
It’s a bit like the boy who cried wolf, if you make every email, no matter how inane, seem to be ‘Urgent’ then when you do have cause to send an urgent email people will ignore it. If we over use the urgent tag then it loses all its power.
So think; is it really urgent?

5. Signatures

I know my email signature is a bit daft, but you know what – it’s concise and is obviously different from the rest of my message. Is yours? Most people’s email signature is a list of contact details, a pretentious quote about something-or-other and then a reminder not to print out the email to save the environment. Seriously, who prints out an email? What are they, insane? You’re wasting space there – you really are – all your signature really needs to be is some offline contact details just in case the person you’re conversing with has to make immediate contact with you or can’t seem to get an email message to go through.
Is your quote relevant? Will anyone receiving a message from you think anything else other than “well, THAT’S pretentious” – because that’s not the opinion you want to elicit from anyone when you’re asking them to do you a favour or turn in homework. I’m naturally pretentious but I don’t use signature quotes for that very reason. Well, I say that, but I once used “See, I can have a pretentious footer quote too” – David Morgan, as mine. But it was probably offensive.
Look at it this way; is your email signature bigger than most of the emails you’re sending out at the moment? When you look through your sent items is a sentence of content being overwhelmed by fifty lines of interesting and amusing quotes? Finally here, DO NOT put your email address in your signature. If they’re received an email from you then it’s hard coded into the email itself and they’ve already got it!

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6. Textspeak

 You are likely not a fifteen-year-old girl. So why would you write like one? Sure, the odd LOL can slip out when we’re writing because we probably use it a lot in text messages, but it’s not appropriate to use every line in an email.
LOL, by the way, means Laugh Out Loud (not lots of love) and is an interesting societal tick as it doesn’t actually mean “I just laughed at that” – it’s really a nice concise way of illustrating that you recognise something is funny without having to say so. I like LOL, it’s got a real world function not filled by anything else in the virtual world.
What about shortening words? O rly? w8 a sec. This is infuriating, it really is. The only reason that we invented textspeak was because we had to fit entire sentences into the 120-something character limit of a single text message, when that disappeared it was habit, but still quicker when you were typing on one of those old phone keyboards. No one I know really uses textspeak any more because now we have full keyboards on our phones, and certainly if you’re sat in front of a full keyboard you have no excuse for not typing the words out properly.
My Dad does though. My father. Mr Morgan senior. Because he thinks that’s cool.
That’s what you look like when you use textspeak, someone trying too hard to be cool. Ignoring the fact that if you use it you’re modelling a behaviour that we’re all trying to suppress in schools for literacy reasons. If it’s a proper email, one worth writing, then just tap out the extra few letters because you’re not really saving any time, all you are doing is making yourself look like you can’t write a correct sentence.
We’re professionals, communicating with other professionals, members of the public and modelling best practice behaviour for students. We need to show that in every way, especially with the language we use in our communications.
You have dignity and respect. You don’t want impressionable people to think that you are stupid.

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7. Sending files

I’ve covered this in

previous articles

, but sending files in an email is a bit of an art. Size and type of attachment are important, most emails over 2Mb in size do not reach their recipients as they’re too big so sort that out first, the type is important because if you don’t select carefully then the recipient may not be able to open the file at all. One thing I would remind you is that if you’re sending a file then you still need to add some content to the email itself, even if you’re just saying “Here’s that file you asked for”, because that’s just courtesy. You probably wouldn’t drop a file on someone’s desk without popping a sticky note on it to say it was from you, so make sure you do the same with email.

8. Quick emails

 I can see the rolling eyes from here. You’ll be thinking ‘well, that’s all well and good for him, but I’m busy, sometimes I don’t have time to write a full email’ and yes, fair enough, I’ve sometimes been tapping a keyboard as I’ve been trying to leave the room for a meeting. It does happen. There are there solutions to this:
* Take your time, if an email’s worth sending then it’s worth writing well.
* Write it on your mobile device and send it from there, you can always do a draft on your phone and tidy it up later if you need to.
* Apologise up front, “Sorry, having to send this quick. Can you send me that data please? “ – because then I know you’re rushing and will happily forgive you many of the sins expressed in this article.

9. Elipses, Symbols and Smileys

 What’s an ellipses? Well … is an ellipses. Highlight it. It’s a single character. What it is not is three full stops. Or four. Or five. Email shouldn’t replicate the pauses you make in natural conversation because that’s what a comma is for. An ellipses should represent you trailing off as if to make a point and should be used sparingly, if you litter your email with ellipses then your message reads like thinking is a little difficult for you. If you want to use an ellipses then do so; but please use the correct symbol and not three full stops! To get to the ellipses simply press alt + 0133 on windows, or alt + ; on a Mac.

There are myriad other symbols that people misuse, from the type of Quote marks they use, to replacing the word ‘at’ with an @ symbol. It’s even possible to include the degree (°) symbol really easily, in Windows have a look through the character map before you try and make up similar looking symbols because we’re striving for accuracy, and you have a wealth of symbols at your disposal. They all have a meaning and a use. Why not check out this brilliant guide to symbols on the computer to become as Picky and pernickety with it as I am! 

http://www.creativebloq.com/typography/special-characters-121310119

Exclamation marks are another thing. This symbol ! means that you’ve exclaimed something, you’re making a big deal of it. Four of them makes it seem like you’re trying to make something seem more exciting than it is. You only need one exclamation mark. Please, just the one.
Smileys are great for expressing emotion in a message, a quick 😉 illustrates that you were joking or trying to be amusing, but just like textspeak if you over use them then they come across as you trying too hard to be cool. I know you use emoji and smileys when you’re texting, and you probably spam Facebook with them, but use them sparingly when conversing with colleagues and more so when using electronic communication with students. That way a smiley has more impact, it isn’t just noise in a message to be ignored because ‘Miss always uses smileys’. We also implicitly teach students what a formal email looks like so they don’t start emailing their future bosses with things like “not coming in today, am ill ;p’. Would you try doing that with your Principal?
Also, try not to use the poo emoji. It’s very hard to forget once you’ve seen it.

10. Proof reading

 The number one thing you can do before you click that send button is re-read your email. Does it make sense? Does it read properly to you? Proof reading is not really an IT based skill, but it’s something you should do because email is such a quick way to respond to someone that you can benefit from slowing down a little and checking that you’re sending what you want to send. More than this, it’ll give you time to reflect if your angry and intensely sarcastic rebuttal to something was warranted or if you’re simple feeling tech-rage. There’s nothing worse than ending up in an email argument simply because you didn’t proof read your email and it sounded angrier than you meant it to.

conclusion

So, that’s it. That’s most of all there is to being a professional when your using digital, text-based communication systems. Especially if you’re working with email, students and colleagues; because your electronic persona is summarised more succinctly in the presentation and style of your written communication than ever in today’s world. It’s much better to sound a bit more formal and well thought out than the general populace because, It is hip to be square.

If you’re still treating email like a text message then you’re getting I.T. wrong. And if you are then maybe

you need my book

. Which is good because

it’s on sale

and was

recently reviewed by Teach Secondary magazine

!

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It’s another week of sarcastic top-tips to improve your teaching and learning through technology. Innovation through technology, you could say. That’d make a great motto for a car company…

This week is a very practical, but almost simplistic way to add more technology to your lessons. You don’t need every student to be sat there with an iPad to make use of technology in your lessons, you just need imagination!

Sustainable Use of Tech in the Classroom

One of the most difficult things to do in your lesson is to introduce a fantastic new piece of tech; be it an app, device or service; and make sure that the students both engage with it and produce the work you want using it. Let’s be honest here, why would a non-ICT teacher really care about using tech in their class? Maybe one reason is increasing the range of possible teaching and learning activities available to them, but it can be a scary proposition that instead of students working on paper they work on a computer.
The key skill to acquire is how you can sustainably introduce and use technology in your classroom as a regular occurrence and not the one off special lesson that ends in stress and lost learning opportunities.

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Gearing yourself up for a new unit of learning – you’re thinking about all the different activities that students could be doing in order to consolidate and present their learning. You’ve done posters, newspapers and scripts galore; but now you want something different, so you look online – maybe you search twitter – and find something cool.

This online cool thing is amazing and you really want to use it in your lesson, maybe you find an IT room or you take turns on the equipment in your room, but the students eventually are working on the cool online thing, struggling to make things work and taking a lot longer than they normally do for a similar activity. You grow disillusioned. You cancel the topic or only half-heartedly mark the work produced. The students never again see that really cool thing that you saw all that potential in, and next time you have the thought to do something cool and online you simply don’t bother. Retro is best, yes?

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I’m teaching Oxbow lakes in Geography and I think if I see another poster of lake shapes then I’ll blooming scream. So I’ve found this really cool website where students can create narrated videos and share them with the world, it looks amazing and I’ve seen some other teachers on twitter raving about it, I must use it.

So I do my lesson starter, introduce the concept and start the students on planning their videos whilst the first to finish end up on the computers we’ve got starting to record. Problem is that the students are being really silly and recording daft things, they’ve got ‘comedy’ introductions and are using memes on screen. Some of them are stuck with using it, or there’s an error that makes them lose their work and they can’t recover from it.

Suddenly I’ve got a backlog of students asking for my help with the learning whilst I’m desperately struggling to show the students on the computers how to effectively use the software, everyone’s getting a little disenfranchised. I know, let’s call a halt to this as it’s going south and I’m losing the kids. I’ll set it as homework, there done, let’s move on.

A week later and students all seemingly had problems doing it at home, fair enough – it was going wonky in the lesson, let’s just assess their plans and move on. Next year I’m back to doing posters.

problems

  • Students associate digital work with an easy out; you know as well as I do that most students will find any excuse to justify their poor decisions and so whenever a non-ICT teacher launches into something a bit techy and new for them, the student can feign idiocy and get away with doing less work
  • Students associate digital work with messing about and having a laugh, fine in moderation, but when their only experience of creating digital content outside of an ICT lesson is that they get to stick in lots of in jokes because the work will never be marked anyway, then their ability to engage with the medium diminishes
  • You’re doing yourself a disservice to introduce something exciting and new and give up on it too quickly. I’m sure you remember back in September when you had to train new students up in your expectations and classroom behaviour? That took more than one try, so why give up on digital work?
  • The reduced variety of your possible outcomes, all students get a bit sick of posters and it would be nice to have the extended variety afforded by digital technology.
  • There’s a problem even accessing the hardware to make it in the first place, realistically, so you need to plan ahead and around that. Does it need to be done in lesson time? Can it be done in lesson time?
  • All work should be treated equally, if you accept that there could always be a technical hitch with digital work then there always will be. We wouldn’t accept a broken pen as an excuse for traditional work not being handed in, so why do we accept the digital version of that excuse?

doitright

The key to this is patience, willingness for things to fail first time and commitment. I’d do exactly as I’ve done here but in the case where I’ve got limited in-class tech then I’d set the digital work as homework, doing a quick demo of it on the board (taking a few minutes of lesson time to show it off for the first time) and allow students who finish their planning for it to have a quick start on it whilst we wait for the class to catch up.

Intervene in silliness and be very pro-active about how important it is to engage with the learning, remember – to the student you’re teaching them about the software at the moment and you need to remind them that that’s not your job – all you care about is their ability to explain the content of the lesson using this slightly-more-fun medium.

Set expectations that you expect the work in on a date without exceptions, and when that work doesn’t come in then be merciless in your acceptance of excuses. Sanction those that didn’t do it regardless of the reasons because they will start to realise that digital work is the same to you as traditional work and will start to assign it the same importance in their minds.

Here’s the killer – no matter what happens make sure you use that same lesson format again with the same class within the next month or two. You’ve given up some of your lesson time to teach some of the usage of the software, time that could have been used delivering your content. Why repeat yourself? Students have now all experienced using the software and should be able to create better content using it with less help.

Show them Outstanding examples of the work produced last time, make a big deal of which pieces are showing off the content of the lesson better than others and make sure to keep stressing how important it is that content is king!

 

hints

  • Whatever technology you introduce into the lesson, if you need to use some of your lesson time to show them how to use it then make sure to use it more than once. Get some return on your investment and soon maybe students will be able to churn out fantastic videos and interactives that show off the content as well as they can construct a poster for the same ends.
  • Be consistent in your approach to digital work as you are with your traditional work, don’t accept excuses, mark it to the same rigorous standards and don’t get wowed by fancy technical feats; it’s always content that is king. Students need to remember that.
  • If you haven’t got the resources in your classroom for all students to be making the digital piece of work then make the planning for it a part of the assessment, and set the digital work as homework. Even if the student has to spend some time in one of your school’s computer labs then they can get it done, there should be no worthwhile excuses that can be made – homework is homework regardless of the medium.
  • Make sure you’ve had a quick play with the digital or tech resource before the students so you are reasonably happy with what it can produce as well as in the simple use of it. You don’t need to be a tech expert, but you will need to at least demonstrate quickly how it works. These students understand how to learn how to use technology because they’ve had to do it all their lives, if they’ve learned Facebook then they can learn something productive!
  • Don’t feel the need to be a tech expert. No one expects you to. You’re an expert in your own subject, remind the students of that when they ask and encourage them to help themselves. Why not nominate a member of the class to become the classroom ‘Genius’ and let them explore and train up on the software so that they can be the first port of call for troubleshooting? They have much more free time to do this than we do and you know there are students in your class that will love that responsibility.
  • It is important that you make this model sustainable, don’t do anything that runs you ragged or makes you move too far out of your comfort zone. If you’ve suddenly become an ICT teacher you’re doing it wrong; make sure the students know they need to solve their own problems, and that those problems will not form part of any excuse you’ll accept. Don’t feel the need to apologise for this, or any lack of proficiency with computers that you may have, you’re an educator, an expert in your area – you’re allowing the students to use something cool, it’s up to them to work out the specifics of how they use that.
  • Use the best of the submissions as examples, so next time students try to raise the bar. Can you share the content with the school or wider learning community? Then do it!
  • I once had a group of Y13 Computing students say, “Sir, can’t we just use paper?” after I binged on cool new learning experiences with them. Students don’t always need something new and flashy every week, that’s why reusing the cool things you’ve used before is good. Students get a second crack at something, and this really cool new thing becomes just one more tool in their arsenal.

conclusion

The type of sustainable use of technology in the classroom depends upon the amount of resources you have available and your tech-savviness. More than anything, though, technology needs to be used to support teaching and learning of the content you want to deliver. It should not be shoe-horned in to any lesson for the sake of it. So you need to develop a way of working with technology in teaching to diversify the variety of activities you can offer students to expand on their learning and ideas.

If you ever find yourself running around a lesson, baffled by the tech and the learning falling apart because of it then  you’re doing IT wrong, and if you are, maybe you need my book… which happens to be on sale!

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It’s the first week of the new term and I’m back with my weekly dose of sarcasm masquerading as an informative email to improve teaching and learning with technology.

This week I’m sharing something that’s a very small thing, but that makes a massive difference to your professionalism as an educator, and your thoughtfulness as a human being.

Don’t Share Editable Documents when you don’t need to!

I want you to stop and think, any time you are sharing a document with someone, as an attachment or uploaded to a website; is the software you built it in free and ubiquitous? If not then you should not share the document as it stands, I’ve spent what seems like days of my life trying to convert formats of files that I’ve never heard of that turn out to be simple text stored in an archaic format. Please think things through before you click send.
Not everyone needs, or wants, that PowerPoint file!

wahtyoudowrong

Attaching a PowerPoint file to an email and clicking send. That’s lovely, you’ve sent me something useful. Problem is that I opened the file on my phone and what I’m seeing looks nothing like the original, and text is overlapping, images are in the way of important information.

Honestly, it’s unreadable. So now I need to get to a computer, with a compatible copy of PowerPoint, in order to open the file you’ve sent me. I’m probably not going to remember and realistically all that lovely content you’ve sent me is now lost to the ages…

What if you’re putting a letter to students up on Moodle, edmodo or on your website? Is it a good idea to write that word document, get it all styled up and simply published to the web? Well… no. It’s not. This relies on everyone who wants to read the letter having a compatible version of a piece of software that costs the best part of £100 installed simply to see some text you’ve written. Worse still is the fact that now I’ve released an editable version of our official letterhead to the public, so anyone can very easily make a formal looking, headed letter with whatever content they want.

So no. It wasn’t a good choice.

sarcastic

My students are going on a trip, we’re taking them to the National Computing Museum to see Colossus. It’ll be cool. I’ve written a letter in Word, which I’ve had put into our School’s letterhead format and I’m ready to print them out and distribute them.

I’ll also need to put them online though, and maybe it’d simply be easier if I emailed them to the parents and put a copy on the website. Easy! I’ve got the word document here on my computer, I can click attach in my email client, find the file and – hey presto – everyone’s got a copy.

That was easy. Right?

problems

  • If the people trying to view the file are doing so on a mobile device, then you are running the risk that your carefully created document will look absolutely awful. People will forget to look at it on their computers and the message that you are trying to send will be totally lost.Here’s an example of a recent PowerPoint sent around by an unnamed member of staff, and what it looked like when I tried to read it on my iPhonephoto
  • People may not have the same software as you, or worse, have a slightly different version meaning that they either won’t be able to open your file at all or, once again, it’ll be mangled and look awful.
  • If we put any of these barriers in people’s way then they are unlikely to engage with the content we are sending out, be that an announcement of a trip, exam results or homework assignments.
  • Making the raw and editable files available to everyone is not always the best idea, in most cases this is irrelevant to what they need to do with it; quick tip: if the person receiving it doesn’t need to edit it then do not send an editable document
  • Allowing editable files to be accessed by anyone defeats the point of having a formal style that cannot easily be copied. If we send the students editable versions of our letterhead then we make it easier for them to be able to take those and adapt them to suit their needs; now I’m not saying that this isn’t possible anyway, any student with half a brain can copy your house style – but it is much more difficult if you haven’t got a copy of the letterhead in Word format sitting on your hard drive!
  • Editable documents are not designed for reading – just think about it, does a book you read have a flashing cursor? Is the top of your kindle showing the formatting toolbar when you’re reading your way through the latest Discworld adventure? No? Then why should anyone have to deal with all that distraction when trying to read your content?
  • Simplicity is hard, and going to the extra effort to make a non-editable version of your document might seem like a pain, but if you think about it then do you even need to send it as an attachment in the first place?

doitright

Two choices here really. The first, and most simple is to simply copy and paste the content of the letter into the email, or the webpage. Reduce the amount of clicks that a user needs to make to read your content and they’re more likely to read it.

Realistically though, you’ve spent ages formatting that letter so that it looks ace, let’s simply turn it into a PDF file and send that out. That’ll keep your formatting, images and tables exactly as you want them!

PDF (Portable Document Format) is something you’re bound to have come across already, it’s an uneditable, locked  document that looks the same on any device that it’s opened on. Think of it as an electronic print copy of your work, and by turning your letter into a PDF you ensure that everyone and anyone can open and read the document that you’ve sent and know that they’re seeing exactly what you’ve designed and not some awfully rendered aberration.

hints

  • Most computers, mobile devices and even eReaders have support for PDFs as standard, but even if they don’t then Adobe provide the reader software free of charge for every platform in the world. Because of the ubiquity of the format you can practically ensure that anyone receiving a PDF will be able to read it.
  • If you’re wondering how to create a PDF from a document then you have two options, if you’re on a Mac then any print dialogue box will have a PDF button in the bottom right so you can literally click File -> Print -> PDF to create one. You can also install a PDF printer, which works just like a normal printer but gives you PDF files as output, this is such an easy win and simply adds one button click to your letter writing/PowerPoint making workflow. If you’re on Windows I’d recommend CutePDF as a great little PDF printer.
  • PDF files tend to be much smaller that the documents in editable form, this is because they are designed to be portable and compressed unlike many of the standard document formats which are built to keep the quality of the original elements the best that they can be. This means files load and send much faster.
  • The nice thing about PDFs is that they’re electronic representations of paper, so you can expect everything you see to be exactly what the user sees; or what they print out if they decide that they prefer reading off that too.
  • Why not just forgo the attachment altogether and just send the content in the email as plain text? Unless you’ve got complex images or lots and lots of content with diagrams then often you’re better off just slapping it into an email or webpage.

conclusion

No amount of me whining here will stop people posting fully editable, huge files in emails and on websites, and it won’t ever stop people sending me documents in Microsoft Works format that I then have to spend half an hour converting just to read. However, what I might be able to do is get you guys to think twice about how the format of the documents you produce reflects on your professionalism and what you expect the recipient to do with the document.

It’s easier, better and fancier all around if you only send editable documents to people who actually need to edit them!

So please, use a PDF instead of a PowerPoint and put the content in the email instead of attaching a word file.

Otherwise you’re doing IT wrong, and if you are, maybe you need my book… which happens to be on sale!

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Welcome to the festive-fifth in the weekly series of top-IT-tips, where I layer sarcasm upon a genuine desire to  to get everyone using technology to enhance teaching and learning.

For the last passive-aggressive article before Christmas I thought I’d tackle something seasonal.

Don’t use Computers as End-of-term entertainment

This is a bit weird, as I write this whilst all my students are engaged in competitively playing video games as part of our Community day activity; I’m not disparaging the practice of games on computers, or even students using them as entertainment – you can structure valuable learning activities around games – what I am crusading against is the end of term practice of “You’ve finished your work, so find something to do on the computer”.

wahtyoudowrong

Allowing students that have completed work to entertain themselves with whatever they can find online, with social media sites being blocked by most schools this normally translates to students ending up playing flash games whilst all around them are focussing on the work at hand.

This seems like a good idea initially, it gives the students something to work towards, the “if I can get my work done faster I can go on games!” attitude is something that does actually work to motivate students to complete the work at hand. Well yes, but students do end up rushing the work to get there and this builds an unrealistic expectation that they can ‘go on games’ whenever they happen to have finished some work. You may think this is harmless in KS3, but students’ expectations are solidified in that time and they expect to still have ‘game time’ in KS4 and KS5.

All I’d ask is this, in a normal lesson would you allow them to go and do whatever they wanted when they’d finished their work? Students tap dancing and playing tennis next to people furiously trying to finish an essay? No? Then why do we find an exception when we sit in a computer room?

sarcastic

It’s nearly Christmas. Students have worked really hard and there’s only a lesson to go. I know, I’ll be nice to them just before the holidays and anyone who finishes the work from last time will be able to go on games. This is great as the next piece of work they’re starting is quite fussy so I need to explain in in detail, and then they’d forget, so I’d have to do it again when they get back from the break.

Better just to do that, surely. It’s the end of term, they’re only watching videos in other lessons, aren’t they?

problems

  • Yes, it works as a nice incentive, but what are you incentivising? The practice that completing and handing work in quickly leads to rewards? Is that something we really need to be encouraging? When I’ve seen students being encouraged with this practice in the past the end result is rushed work of a worse quality than usual
  • Students are much more focussed on the end result of them completing the work than the actual work, and if you’re counting on them remembering or embedding the concepts from your lesson then I’m afraid it’s not going to happen. They’re going to remember how close they were to beating level 6 on Mario instead.
  • If you use this as an incentive more than once then students will come to expect it, in fact at the end of term if you actually need to get work done then you’ll face a lot of resistance from the students who are used to, and expecting to, play games for the lesson.
  • Students forget there was any work in that lesson, and will begin to associate the end of term with simply playing games and enjoying themselves, meaning that they will start to switch off much earlier toward the end of term than they would otherwise.
  • Students playing games always disturb the concentration of those around them, because whilst little Jimmy is enjoying another round of Space Invaders poor Johnny is labouring away on his coursework but being distracted by flashing lights and furious tapping of the keyboard
  • The students’ experience of using a computer is that there is a reward of games at the end of it, meaning that when you intend to use a computer for proper academic work the student is more concerned with speeding through it
  • Students don’t realise there’s anything wrong with playing games when work is done, so often when they complete a piece of work will immediately leap onto a game rather than improve, critique or seek out new work. I have had many conversations with students asking why they thought it was acceptable to play a game rather than ask what to do next. It’s frustrating!
  • Students often attempt to multi-task with a game and work at the some time, an impossible task
  • Students always want to ‘do this on a computer’, as they expect games as a reward, therefore perfectly acceptable and useful non-computer based activities will be seen as ‘boring’ and ‘pointless’
  • Students are spending part of their lesson not actively learning anything. They have little enough time being taught as it is so why not use the time effectively?

doitright

Why not just start the new piece of work? Yes you might have to talk through it twice, but students will at least be learning right up until then end. If you want to be nice to them then don’t give them any homework, come on, we’re teachers – we should teach!

Okay, so actually you want something a bit more festive and fun, then why not let the students access pre-selected educational games? There are plenty of websites that pass content quizzes off as video games where students have to answer questions to build up enough points to play a few minutes of Pacman, and that’s totally cool, as students are still learning or being assessed.

Honestly though, if you’ve thought through your differentiation properly then you should have a never ending, exciting task for your high ability students to be engaged with – a task that’s open ended enough to last you if that student has completed all of the work they need to have done. Relying on games to keep your students going needn’t be a thing you have to use.

Now my students are working right up until the end of term, they’re not switching off and when they go to their next lesson then that teacher will benefit from the students still being in work mode. I’m stopping holiday creep (where students switch-off earlier and earlier) and demonstrate an extremely positive work ethic. Without them being used to playing games then they won’t expect it, and if they don’t expect it you can teach more ensuring the student gets the most benefit from their time in school.

hints

  • Simply never allow students time on games if they’ve ‘finished the work’, it leads to bad habits and expectations of frivolity when work is the important thing
  • Always plan for differentiation by making sure that there’s always an open ended extension task that allows early finishers to extend their knowledge on your subject rather than improve their hand-eye coordination in Doom
  • If you are being nagged by an entire class for games as a reward then only ever concede to educational games, ones that you have pre-approved; if you’re a hard nut for not playing games then they will love this small concession and still be learning things
  • Students need to always be focussed on where we are, and what’s coming next; so by removing the end of term games from the equation then they are always preparing, at least mentally, for the next challenge
  • Computers will be seen more as work devices when the students are in school, and you will have to do less policing of student’s ‘entertaining themselves’ because they’ve ‘got no work to do’
  • Attendance remains higher toward the end of term because the time in school is not seen as a waste of time; remember, they’ve got better games sitting at home!

conclusion

I’m no Scrooge, but letting gaming into you lesson without an educational reason is going to impact negatively on your students learning and your ability to set taxing, entertaining lessons towards the end of the term. Over time this holiday creep will write off entire weeks of time. If you aim to stop that now then you’ll have much more in the way of usable teaching time when you need it more.

Students that are not expecting to go on a game when they finish their work will be more likely to extend and stretch their learning, improving their attainment in the process. You’ll also find it easier to manage the computer classroom for the rest of the year because expectations will be that the computers are for working and games are frowned upon.

So try being a gaming miser, and don’t use it as an incentive, because it’s unsustainable.

Otherwise you’re doing IT wrong, and if you are, maybe you need my book…

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Welcome to the fourth in the weekly series of top-IT-tips, officially the world’s most sarcastic effort to get everyone using technology to enhance teaching and learning.

This week I’m tackling something deep seated in our culture.

Stop Low-Level Plagiarism!

It’s a common problem today that students genuinely think that ‘doing some research’ involves a quick google search and then pasting the contents of a wikipedia page into a PowerPoint. If that’s homework then you probably have enjoyed reading the same copy and pasted article multiple times, but this low barrier to entry in the world of plagiarism leads to students going on insane binges of copy-pasting that ends up in everything from A-Level essays to work submitted as part of government dossiers.
Students have a major problem with low level plagiarism, and this leads to a poor attitude to the seriousness of the issue that is becoming more and more of a concern the further they get through school. In fact, stopping plagiarism in Universities is big business, with a hugely expensive software solution called Turnitin being by far the industry standard. So, if they’re working so hard to identify students who plagiarise work then shouldn’t we be doing more to change the attitude to it’s younger brother – simple copy-and-pasting – in our own classrooms?
How can we get the students used to not plagiarising any of their work, and why would we want to?

wahtyoudowrong

Letting the students get away with doing very little work when completing researching or ‘writing a report on’ type exercises; and not taking the time to identify when work is being simply copy-and-pasted off the internet in any form. Students start to get a little lazy with this and eventually you find that you’re telling a year 10 off for doing the exact same thing in their GCSE coursework.

What we’re really doing is reinforcing the idea that homework is quick, easy and requires very little engagement of cognition on the part of the student – and then they really do have a valid argument when they ask us, “What’s the point, Sir?”

sarcastic

I’ve set some homework for Year 7 to go off and research ‘Operating Systems’ and to come back with at least a page of research about that topic that we can use next lesson.

Screen Shot 2013-12-13 at 13.10.46

Well, students did do that. They all did a quick Google search and copied and pasted the information from the wikipedia page entry, so when they turned up in the lesson they had nothing different to talk about, more than that; it turns out none of them have actually read past the first line… frankly this was a waste of time! I mean look, they haven’t even had the decency to remove the links from the text. 🙁

problems

  • No one has actually done any learning, or anything other than mechanically type some stuff in. Really, all they’ve done is the modern equivalent of finding a book, photocopying a page and handing it in
  • If all your students are using the same resource to work from then they are going to have a very one sided view of the topic at hand
  • Wikipedia is not exactly a definitive resource, unless you really want to find out what happened in Breaking Bad S04e08 in tremendous detail, because it can be updated by anyone, no expertise required
  • Without the cognitive process of even the olden days methodology of ‘copying from a book’ then the information has not even entered the students brains once! They will really have no recollection of this in a days time
  • It breeds a culture that students just have to stick their question into google and not analyse the result, this means that students take this attitude with them throughout KS3, into GCSE work and beyond.
  • The content is at too high a level for the student, and chances are if you select a random word on the page they will not be able to define it
  • High level thinking skills are certainly not being utilised, let’s be honest, neither are lower order thinking skills. I’m not even sure typing the exact question and copying and pasting the first page result into a word document counts as conscious thought. We could probably train cats to do that.
  • Students don’t see plagiarism as a big deal, they build bad habits and end up writing entire essays without really engaging with the topic
  • Students get frustrated when future work requires them to engage their brain or use more than a few seconds of their personal time
  • Students have no concept that merely copy and pasting someone else’s words, or changing a few here and there, doesn’t actually count as their work

doitright

Instead of setting a task that is just called ‘research’, I’d be better placed to explain what I mean by this and what I expect. Finding information, and copying and pasting it is acceptable as long as it’s referenced and they have summarised it in their own words afterwards. Why not set the primary task being to evaluate how trustworthy or accurate the source they have found is and justify that? Let’s steal the idea of primary and secondary sources from our friends in the History department and get the students to really think about where they’re getting things from and what value they’re adding to them.

Screen Shot 2013-12-13 at 13.14.14

I’d also take this work in electronically. Get them to email it to you, use Moodle or use Edmodo – it’s up to you – but the point of this is that I’m going to copy and paste the entire thing into a google search and see if it matches anything already out there – if it does google very kindle emboldens all the text it matches. This is the poor-man’s-turnitin but it works, and if the student has copied and pasted more than about a third of it then they’ll get it back with a big fat zero on it, asking them to do it again.
The key to this is being more prescriptive with the learning you want to take place with the task, explaining clearly your expectations for a student in evidencing it, and demonstrating they you can identify when they’ve tried to take the shortcut to success.

Screen Shot 2013-12-13 at 13.15.28

hints

  • Why not set this as one of your first homeworks in September, then take the class apart for their plagiarism and make a huge deal of it. Better yet – catch them early and do it on the first lesson in Y7. Students will learn to identify low level plagiarism with not getting the work completed to the appropriate standard and stop doing it.
  • You only really need to make a big deal of this on the first occasion, an entire class shamed through the simple art of the ‘copy and paste into google’ technique shows them how easy it is for you to be able to identify any copied work. You may need to follow this up on occasion but once they know that you’re no fool then they’ll step into line
  • Really make sure students are aware that the work should take them time, and that the point of the exercise is to see what they can learn from it, not just who can do the best google search
  • Do the brilliant embarrassing thing of asking student to define some of the complex, eight-syllable words they’ve undoubtedly submitted to you
  • Have sanctions in place for plagiarism, sanctions that you’re using and effectively demonstrating to the students that you care about it and will not tolerate it
  • Make sure you do this in KS3, sure it might not be externally assessed but this is where we are building the skills for their successful future education
  • Call it plagiarism, call it cheating, make the language you use more impactful when decrying it than calling it ‘copy and paste’, ‘cause that sounds cosy and nice
  • Try a real software solution to this, packages like viper (http://www.scanmyessay.com), The Plagiarism checker (http://www.dustball.com/cs/plagiarism.checker) and more are completely free to use. They show you statistics for how much is copied and even show you the links to the original works they were copied from, this is really nice for presenting to students or even parents!
  • Get the students to use this software too, if they can see what they need to do to transform a work into their own then they are developing the analysis and synthesis skills they need to succeed
  • Get parents involved in persistent offenders, if we’re spotting this in subjects as varying as drama and mathematics then we can see patterns and read more into a students’ attitude to work than we could otherwise
  • I used to do something a little naught many moons ago, and when I set a research task on something like ‘Operating Systems’ I’d sneak into wikipedia after the lesson ended and put something random in the article for the topic, like ‘Any student with this line in their work will do an after school detention with me’, lo and behold most students ended up with that copied into their homework! The look on a students face when I returned the work with that one sentence highlighted was amazing! It’s very difficult to do nowadays though as the wikipedia guys are changing it back and banning you in a few minutes. Sad times for sarcastic teachers.

conclusion

Make an effort to seek out and identify this poor practice and the students will engage more in your lessons and homework, because once they realise that you’re not just wasting them time in setting them donkey work tasks, but rather that you’re endeavouring to improve and extend their understanding, they’ll be much more on your side. You’re also going to benefit from the students realising what a big problem plagiarism is and wipe it out whilst it’s still at a low level and not going to mean a major lot of rewriting for an externally assessed piece.
More than this, thought, make it obvious that as a teacher you too live in the 21st century and Google is more your friend than it is theirs!

Otherwise you’re doing IT wrong, and if you are, maybe you need my book…

This is a first draft of a brand new levelling poster and system that combines the new national Computing curriculum model for KS3 and KS4 with our schools change to GCSE grades instead of levels (here, an H corresponds to level 2, G to 3, etc.). I am hoping that you either steal it and do what you want with it, or help with some constructive criticism on the level descriptors, these have been created based on both the curriculum and different Bloom’s levels to develop the students as learners as well as great Computer Science practitioners. Continue reading “Computing Levels Giant Poster”

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Welcome to the third in the weekly series of top-IT-tips, filled to the brim with sarcasm galore, in an effort to get everyone using technology to enhance teaching and learning.

A big hello to Mr. Wilson this week, who used last week’s tips with some of his students, and he promises me that their PowerPoints improved!

This week I’ll be tackling something most people are either unaware of, or take for granted.

Classroom Management for Computers

You’ve been there too, students are trying to use a computer but, lo and behold, it’s not working. This can be easily fixed by improving some simple, non technical, classroom management skills.

Most people are really, really poor at managing the computers in their classroom, even though they can manage 30 teenagers with ease. You may have one, ten or a hundred computers, but making sure that the equipment in your room is ready to be used is something that everyone can benefit from.

The most common causes for down-time of Computers in the classroom is caused by teachers simply not applying the same rules and routines to the computers as they would any of the other materials in their classroom, so, for the sake of the children and our put-upon techies, let’s stop getting this wrong!

wahtyoudowrong

Letting your students fiddle with the computers, and not making them put it back the way it was at the end of the lesson.

This can be as simple as a student moving the machine to be closer to a friend, or even taking cables out all over the shop to get the computer they want working again, and leaving it in that place before they leave.

You may not log an IT problem because you’re busy, or you don’t need the machines that lesson, or perhaps you teach in their once a week so surely someone else will report it?

Even simply leaving the keyboard and mouse out and strewn across the desk cause problems. It’s basically just sloppy use of the equipment, but not dealing with it is the issue here.

Why might any of this be an issue? Well, whatever a student tells you they do not understand how to fix the machines better than our techies. In fact, most of their so-called ‘fixes’ might make the machines work for a lesson or two, but end up causing cascading errors and problems through our entire IT infrastructure.

The sloppy use of the equipment, moving it about, swapping cables, changing mice because they ‘don’t like that one’, means that cables and connections are being pulled and damaged, leading to the machine seemingly breaking on a regular basis.

sarcastic

I’ve let little Johnny in, and he’s sat at a computer. Problem is his friend, little Jimmy, is sat a little bit further away from him than he’d like. He shifts his computer close to Jimmy so that they can talk and work at the same time.

I don’t intervene in this because this seems like a pointless battle, why should I get Johnny all riled up over moving a stupid computer? He’ll do some work at least.

It get’s to the end of the lesson, and I’m busy getting students to put books away, organising homework and trying to run a plenary. I dismiss students who have sorted my equipment out for me. That’s fine, but Johnny and Jimmy have left their machines in that classic Mary Celeste way, keyboards are absentmindedly left about, mice are stretched to breaking point and the computers aren’t back where they came from.

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But that’s fine. It’s a computer. They’re robust. Right?

problems

  • When you show concern over your resources, but not the computers, then students are more likely to treat them badly
  • Damage can accumulate bit-by-bit, meaning that things like buttons falling off computer screens, or mice that don’t work are not noticed
  • The students develop the attitude that, “these computers are pants” and treat them worse still, making them the excuses for not doing work
  • Computers end up breaking and being out of action more often
  • Your teaching starts to ignore the computers because you can’t rely on them actually working, you and your students lose out on interesting learning opportunities
  • Faults are not picked up and reported, meaning that you’re waiting around with a broken piece of kit long term
  • Students attempt fixes themselves, swapping cables, changing hardware, etc. that causes bigger problems on the network. Don’t forget, this is a big system being maintained by professionals, a couple of kids who are ‘good with computers’ can’t match that
  • Computers start being health and safety nightmares, what with all the cables hanging out of them all over the place

doitright

Simple. Intervene. In this case I’d warn them about moving the computers and sanction appropriately if need be. I’d keep my eye on them throughout the lesson, looking not just at them but the computers to check that they are being used appropriately.

At the end of the lesson I would ask them to make their workstations presentable and wait to be dismissed quietly by their chairs, before dismissal I would make a quick visual check of the computer, get the student to correct any obvious problems, then send them on their way.

Simple.

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hints

Think of the computers, and treat them, like any textbook, like any other piece of equipment you want to use.

When students sit down at a computer, intervene and sanction them for moving or fiddling with the equipment. If it’s broke, then log it with IT support and carry on with your lesson. Wait for an expert to come along and fix your problem.

At the end of a lesson make it part of your routine to not dismiss anyone sat by a computer unless it has been put back to the state it was in at the start of the lesson, being: Screen off, mouse tucked back in, keyboard pushed back or stowed away (depending on computer) and finally do a quick visual check to make sure everything looks right.

You might not be a computer genius, but you can easily tell if things look a bit wrong, and get the student to sort out what they’ve done wrong or at least log a call with the techies to come take a look.

Log any problems as and when they become apparent, no matter how trivial. If the techies don’t know it’s broken then it’ll never get fixed.

Log problems in any room you happen to be in, even if just for a single period a week. If no one’s logging problems then they’ll never get fixed and your ability to use the technology will diminish.

conclusion

Take ownership of the tech in your room as if they were chairs, books or tables. We need to get involved in teaching the students to respect the equipment so that we can rely on it from day-to-day.

So next lesson, make them sort out the equipment before they leave.

Next time, intervene if students are trying some do-it-yourself repairs.

Or you’re doing IT wrong, and if you are, maybe you need my book…