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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!

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We had a really good day yesterday at Haydock Park Racecourse. So actually no horses just a course, but it was a lovely venue with brilliant views over the track. The subject of the day was ‘Choosing and using an eportfolio’ and it was well attended. The keynote speaker was Graham Attwell from Pontydysgu – Bridge to Learning and was just superb. We got some really good feedback on the day and I ran around getting some audio feedback so will hopefully get a vox pop together giving a flavour of the event. It was also great to see some delegates from Specialist Colleges. My colleague John Dalziel did a couple of the workshops and produced two eMagazine supplements to go with them – Using Free Tools and Personal Development Planning. One free product that he used was Tiddlywiki, something I use all the time for recording and reflection.

The night before was memorable, as always with a team night out and we won the pub quiz, but had to trade the prize of 8 pints of beer (at 11.30 at night after closing time!) for a bottle of wine.

Penguin books have launched a new initiative to tell six different stories in six weeks, using Google maps. Yes I did write that. The first one is available now and is called The 21 Steps – a homage to The 39 Steps by John Buchan. “One minute, Rick Blackwell is sightseeing at St. Pancras in London; the next, he’s caught up in a conspiracy that takes him far away from home. Rick needs to use all his skills to find out why a dying stranger seemed to know his name – and to stay alive”.

It’s an interesting exercise and I enjoyed it. On the longer journeys, my screen didn’t update quickly enough, but that is more likely a fault of my PC rather than the technology and be patient in Chapter 4 – you do get there eventually.  There will be six stories altogether, the next one will be available on Tuesday 25 March. This would make a great tool for teaching and learning.

The BBC reported last week that many schools were failing because of the high numbers of children showing ‘signs of dyslexia’. A study by Hull University said that dyslexia was a major cause of failure. Why this is news is still a cause of frustration to me, though I don’t know why, I face it every time I go into a college. I’m told on a weekly basis that ‘Oh we have a very thorough assessment and if they are dyslexic we do …’ Most experts would say that dyslexia is not a hit or miss syndrome. You don’t either have it or not have it. Like Autistic spectrum disorder, it is a continuum which in severe cases needs specialist teaching and intervention. However, what is not acknowledged is that small changes in teaching methods would benefit all learners with or without a diagnosis of dyslexia. The report states that up to one in five pupils could be affected and so the Government is piloting a scheme to train specialist dyslexia teachers. If one in five is affected then all teachers should be trained to deal with this ‘disorder’. If the numbers are in fact one in five then it is probably not a disorder but just a variation of the norm. Understanding the needs of dyslexic learners should be part of all teachers’ professional development and an integral part of initial teacher training. A simple start would be to allow electronic access to the lessons – but there again I would say that wouldn’t I, as an elearning adviser.

Why didn’t we have stuff like this when I was at school. You can download it here

It’s been a busy couple of weeks getting ready to hold a conference last Monday in Manchester.  The venue was the City of Manchester Stadium (home of Manchester City Football Club) and I was mortified to discover that the keynote speaker we had booked was a season ticket holder at the other club – United.  She was very gracious and only made a passing reference to their six nil drubbing of Newcastle at the weekend.  The day went well and was well attended and it was interesting for us to have a different audience than we are used to.  We members of the ‘elearning circuit’ for want of a better phrase, tend to talk to the same people – the converted as it were.  We talk to ILT managers or other advisers, consultants etc.  This conference was for learning support and senior managers from FE colleges in the North West and it became clear early in the day that we were making assumptions of knowledge that wasn’t there.  TechDis were fantastic as always, stayed for the whole day and just added their expertise along the way.

These things don’t happen overnight and thankfully we have a fabulous events organiser and a great team who all helped out.  Thanks guys.  Looking at the evaluation forms yesterday it seems the main complaint was – there wasn’t any pudding.  As the first to complain if the food isn’t good I can understand this, but if that is the main gripe, it must have been ok?

Last week the rest of the team went to a meeting in South Manchester. I had to stay in the office so instead of missing out on my words of wisdom, I did my presentation via Instant Presenter. We have a corporate account with the site but had not used it much before. Surprisingly, it went very well. When I’ve used if before, it has been to an ‘audience’ who were all sitting at an individual computers. This time it was on to a big screen with speakers and a microphone. One real disadvantage, is that when set up like this you get no feedback at all and it is really disconcerting just talking into a cyber silence. When it is linked to individual pc’s the participants can use a chat facility at the bottom of the screen so you do get some response. But all in all it was a successful trial and we are going to do it again for subsequent meetings if one of us cannot be there in person.

I went to look at the City of Manchester Stadium as a possible event venue yesterday morning. As always, I parked at one end of the stadium and the conferencing facilties where right on the other side. Although the stadium is now the home of Manchester City football club (I didn’t see Sven!) the conferencing facilities are not in any way jingoistic or football orientated. As part of this search I had telephone Old Trafford, of Man United fame, and stopped the conversation within about 2 mintues. The ‘hold music’ consisted of football songs about Man United and bits of commentary on games. I interupted his sales pitch with – ‘There is no point going on with this conversation, that music has annoyed me and I think the attitude will alienate half of the people we want to come, so sorry’. Anyway, the City of Manchester Stadium, where the Commonwealth Games were held seemed to be smart, slick and hopefully we’ll have a successful event there.

I took a half day’s leave in the afternoon and went to Haworth of Bronte fame to hear a talk by Margaret Drabble the novelist on the influence of the Brontes on her work. She was very good, funny and certainly knows her literature, or so I thought. I went with a retired professor of English Literature, who is a Bronte researcher. ‘Well she was wrong about that bit of Wuthering Heights, it was in the January 2 months before the baby was born that, that happened’. Somtimes you can know too much.

The Queen and Prince Philip celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary this week. I remember their Silver wedding and I’m pretty sure we all were given a day off school for that; things were different in those days and we were much more deferential. I’ve just finished reading Alan Bennett’s ‘The Uncommon Reader‘. What a smashing if very short read and I would love to think of her Majesty really being just like that, though it’s unlikely. I would happily read Alan Bennett’s shopping lists he writes so deliciously.

I visited a college early in the week and saw some fantastic creative and imaginative teaching with some very complex young people. It was a delight to see and I’m going back in a week or two, to get some video and possibly audio for a podcast and a case study. It’s been one of those week’s when I think, I really love my job, which is a luxury not many folks have, so I’m feeling a bit smug.

Yesterday I was at a day’s project management workshop as sort of joint host. It was on the theme of elearning, and was expertly delivered by John and Clive from JISC Infonet. It was held in the refurbished Refreshment rooms of Carnforth Railway Station which was the location for ‘Brief Encounter‘ filmed in early 1945 starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard. Although there is a lot of information on the history of the station the main theme of the visitor centre is a homage to the film. I wasn’t able to resist the temptation of speaking with a clipped British, don’t move your lips, accent for long.

Apart from high speed trains on the West Coast mainline thundering past every 10 minutes or so it is a lovely location and the building has been very tastefully restored. There is the original refreshment room, souvenir shop, with Brief Encounter playing on a large tv, and the Furness Room which is available for hire and the main rooms have 1940’s music playing softly in the background. An added bonus for me was I could catch the train there from my local station and I can recommend the cakes.

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