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Lee and Sachi LeFever at Commoncraft have produced another cracking video explaining how social media works.  As part of our job we spend a lot of time trying explaining to people how and why Web 2.0 works and there you go –  they’ve done it in all of 4 minutes. Watch and enjoy – or you can download it here.


There is an article in the Guardian today which states that Skipton’s High Street is in the final for the accolade of Britain’s Greatest Street. It is in competition with the Portobello Road and Kensington High Street in London. I can’t imagine how they are going to judge it – they have virtually nothing in common. Skipton’s High Street is dominated by a market for four days of the week. One of the highlights of the year is Sheep Day and part of the high street is in fact called Sheep Street. It does have a nice church at the top and a pretty magnificent castle behind that. More info here.

I’ve just finished reading a fastinating book by Tim Butcher. Subtitled ‘A Journey to the Broken Heart of Africa’ it tells of how he managed to re-create the journey of Henry Morgan Stanley from the Eastern shores of Lake Tanganyka across country to the Congo River and then down the river to the Atlantic Coast.  Stanley (of Dr Livingstone I presume fame) was a journalist with the Telegraph newspaper and could see the commercial potential of this vast un-mapped country with a wealth of natural resources.

The Democratic Repubic of Congo is unique of all countries on earth in that it is evolving backwards. Stanley claimed sovereignty of the country for the King of Belgium, King Leopold (the king only not the Belgian Government) in 1879 and then began one of the worst colonial regimes imaginable. By 1964 when independence came the Congo river was navigable between the two main sets of cataracts, there were railways and roads but they had been built at a price to the local population.  Various regimes have been in power since and a five year war in which millions were killed, finished in 1999.

The Congo has since literally returned to its roots. One leg of the journey, about 1,000 Km is done in a traditional dug out canoe.  At one point, as he is travelling through dense rain forest in which he cannot see the sun for the tree canopy, his foot catches on something in the ground – he scrapes away the earth and it is the remains of a railway line. There is no indication at all around him that a rail track ever went through the area. His journey was truly of epic proportions. He has empathy with the people who helped him and the plight that they find themselves in; one contact asked Butcher to take his 4 year old son along with him, as there was no prospect for him in the Congo.  Mostly this is a highly readable account of a journey which should have been impossible but he managed it.

I wrote a few days ago about the work being done at one of the Specialist Colleges in the North West. I’ve written an article for our newsletter for it so thought I’d post it up here as I’m quite excited by it.

“Langdon Lecturer prompts new National Project

Langdon College is an Independent Specialist College in Salford in Manchester. They are part of the successful ‘Mobile in Salford’ bid for MoLeNet funds along with Pendleton, Eccles and Salford Colleges. Langdon are the smallest college in the North West with 17 students who primarily come from the Manchester and London Jewish communities. As part of their commitment to providing an ‘inclusive multi faceted extended curriculum’, they are using a number of mobile devices to enable learners to more successfully transfer the skills they learn in college to both the college residences and their own homes.

The college has bought a range of equipment to trial, including Samsung Q1 touch screen tablet PCs, Asus Eeepc, iPods and portable DVD players.

David Foden, the Independent Living Skills lecturer is leading the way, providing video instructions on basic cooking techniques. The learners access the instructions through an interactive PowerPoint© slide. The page is divided into grids with either symbol or verbal instructions. On pressing the relevant square, the video loads and the learner can follow the instructions on the screen. Each task has been broken down into its constituent parts so that it follows a simple and logical sequence. So the first instruction is to wash your hands, followed by putting on an apron etc.

By having these instructions on mobile appliances, the learners can take them back to the residences where support staff can ensure that they follow the procedure then have been learning in college. Similarly, when the learner goes home for the weekend or half term holiday, they can show their parents or carers how they can make their own lunch. This will allow the students more independence as they tend to become deskilled when they return home as things are done for them. The learners now have ‘homework’ to do in half term to make at least one simple snack meal of beans or cheese on toast.

One downside of this work is the time it takes to make the videos and the interactive Powerpoint © presentations. David was sure that there were other lecturers in Specialist and Mainstream colleges doing much the same thing and wanted a way to share his videos. He approached the RSC North West who contacted TechDis. John Sewell, Senior Adviser for Specialist Colleges at TechDis commented ‘short video clips are a great way of showing how to do things and the way that they have been put together by David Foden at Langdon is great. So great it needs to be shared; these clips take time to produce so it makes sense to share. We aim to put together a national resource to do just that’.

The RSC NorthWest will be working closely with TechDis to ensure that this national resource is set up and maintained. David has kindly offered to be the first to share his work. We will be contacting colleges in the next few months with details”.

The exciting bit is the last bit – along with TechDis we are hoping to both set up a TeacherTube account for video sharing but also create a portal using Xerte to add accessibility features to the videos.

We work in an old building at Lancaster University.  One of the other teams that work in our building are the Cumbria and Lancashire Online Education team. They set up a webcam inside a bird’s nesting box earlier in the year and now a couple of blue tits have taken residence and are busy feeding their 5 chicks.  The BBC have reported on it and you can see the amazing live images from the link here. Thanks Kev for the information.

It’s been a busy week with lots of visits to learning providers and we’ve seen lots of really innovative and imaginative use of mobile devices. On Wednesday, colleagues and I went up to West Cumbria for a meeting and spend the afternoon ‘playing’ with lots of the new kit that the college had bought with the ‘Learning for Living and Work‘ funds. Unfortuntaely the Wii’s were in use in the classrooms but we did have a go with the digital movie makers and the Tony Hawk headcams (these are usually used for skateboarders but did the job well). They are a great bit of kit for recording evidence of achievement in the workplace. They use the same software as the digi-cams so the college had managed to negotiate a half day’s training for 40 staff. I was delighted to hear they made sure that it was curriculum staff who had the training as well as the learning support staff – as ‘this technology is not just good for learners with disabilities or difficulties but for all learners’ – hurrah – someone who has seen the light. but I would say that wouldn’t I.

At the end of the week, I went to a Specialist College in North Manchester where I was fascinated to see the progress they’d made using mobile technology. They are part of a consortium which won a MoLeNet grant (yes that is the correct spelling it stands for Mobile Learning Network) and have invested heavily in some impressive kit. The Independent living skills lecturer has made some videos of recipes and instructions in a very clear and ordered way. Using an impressive Samsung handheld touch screen PC the learner can navigate their way round the instructions via an interactive PowerPoint page. The instructions were set in a grid showing either a symbol or word depending on the learner’s ability and tapping the square launched the next bit of film. Even better the learners can take the device from college to the residences or even home and practice their skills. As usual the big draw back of all this is the time taken – unfortuneately we haven’t worked out a way of cloning staff yet!

Although the Samsung was impressive, they will probably be using the small Asus eeepcs for most of the learners. These are fab small computers with a 7″ screen, but with no moving parts and with a Linux operating system. They are so fast it’s unbelievable and you are typing within a minute of switching on and at £200 worth every penny complete with speakers, webcam and wifi!

I posted a few weeks ago on the TED prize winner Neil Turok’s vision to find an African Einstein with the setting up of 15 advanced centres for Mathematics and Science based in Africa.  He donated his £50,000 prize fund to Aims – the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences, which he founded.

Professor Sir Stephen Hawking has made the journey to South Africa to launch the project today, along with 2 Nobel laureates in Physics, the Head of NASA and the South African Education Minister.  The British Government have declined to provide funding so the organisers have turned to high-tech entrepreneurs and scientists to back the plan.  The complete TED talk is here and well worth taking the time to watch.  There is also an interesting article in the Sunday Times today.

We heard this week that there are an estimated 13 million surveillance cameras in Britain. One unsigned band from Manchester decided to use them to their own advantage. They played their set to cctv cameras all over the city and then wrote to the companies asking for the footage under the ‘Freedon of Information Act’. Although not all of them replied, they had enough to produce a great looking video and for free. Cheeky, creative and good music.

In my daily commute to the office I have to drive through the village of Wray about 12 miles from Lancaster. Actually it’s full name is Wray with Bottom so there’s bound to be some eccentricity there. I nearly vered off the road last week when I realised that every other house had some sort of guy or scarecrow in the garden or by the roadside. When I saw this, I did slow down.

The sign by the road said ‘Sir Edmund Hillary conquers Everest’.

It is the annual Wray Scarecrow Festival – of course. I looked up the village and as well as being the first wireless hotspot village in England they also host maggot races! One of the photos in that previous link is captioned ‘Ladies Day at the Maggot Races’. How fantastically essentially English it all is.  There is even a game to swat last year’s winners.

You thought the Simpsons lived in Springfield – well you were wrong. More photos on the BBC website are here.

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