I spent yesterday at the public open day of the Handheld Learning 2008 conference and the awards ceremony in the evening.  We decided to miss out on paying for conference coffee and met with James Clay for a good cup of Italian in a nearby cafe – which James being James, photographed!  Most of the afternoon we spent in a session called Pecha Kucha.  This was an open session for anyone who had a presentation that met with very strict criteria and wanted share their ideas with the room.  Each presenter was given a number and then the numbers were drawn out of a hat to establish a running order.  The rules of the presentations were – each is allowed 20 images which are to be shown for 40 seconds only,  so each presentation lasts 6 minutes and 40 seconds.  It encourages presenters to be concise, keeps the interest level high and encourages collaboration and sharing of work.  It worked really well and made for a good and interactive afternoon – something I think we might use at our own conference.

In the evening it was the Handheld Learning Awards.  This is the first year they have done this and a panel of judges had chosen 3 candidates for shortlisting in each category, Primary, Secondary, Tertiary and special needs. The vote was then done by text messaging which was a bit limiting – a choice of methods would have been better.  I was expecting a sort of low key type event with some polite applause – not at all.  There was a live band, champagne on arrival and some really good food.  Johnny Ball, the host was witty and entertaining and it was good to see Andy Black networking furiously.  The whole evening was great and we ended up dancing till late.  It was with a heavy heart I left this morning as I have work to do and couldn’t stay for the whole conference – which if it is as good as last year and last night will be great.  I’ll be there next year I promise.  In the meantime, I’m following them all on jaiku.  So well done Graham and the Handheld team – it was fab.

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Yesterday was an interesting one.  During the day as well as getting my car fixed (ouch!) I was at Accrington and Rossendale College for a day’s training on TextHelp Read&Write Gold.  This is a piece of software that helps computer users with reading and writing difficulties.  It can read text aloud, help construct words and sentences has advanced spell checking, document scanning and other tools.  Although I’ve used this for over 2 years it was good to have a more comprehensive look at the more advanced features. A few technical glitches with the network installation meant that some bits were missed out but it was a good day overall.  So thanks again Dave Foord – who did a great job.

In the evening by means of a contrast I went with a friend to see Cherie Blair speak at the Ilkley Literature Festival.  Unlike Alistair Campbell who opened last year’s celebrations, she didn’t sparkle or shine.  Although she does look much better in the flesh than her portrayal in the media, she was very much the loyal wife and had no intention of stealing Tony’s thunder – his autobiography is on the way.  She was interviewed by Francine Stock, BBC journalist and novelist and took questions from the floor for half the session.  There were no great revelations and she only really became animated when she was talking about legal cases she had won and lost.  She even managed to make her opinion of the return of Peter Mandelson to the cabinet slick and dare I say, embarrassingly unctuous.  An interesting but not riveting evening.

I spent an interesting and useful hour this morning on a Skype conference call with colleagues from all over the country.  The idea which we had initially discussed at the JISC conference in March was for an eLearning podcast but a very informal and chatty one.  It was all hosted and co-ordinated by non other than James Clay who is pretty well known on the eLearning scene and featured in an earlier post with his video from ALT-C. He did all the techy recording stuff and five of us just chatted – though apparently I need to work on my levels!  Hopefully, we’ll get a couple of 15 minutes sessions which we can publish.  We chatted briefly about the Learning for Living and Work projects which have been going on in the North West and Yorkshire and Humber and on the ‘Digital Native, Digital Immigrant’ debate which is covered in just about everybody’s blogs – see links below.  We’re hoping to do this on a weekly basis and to bring in lots of other eLearning folks also.  For those who cannot see any use for Jaiku, this was arranged and organised on there.  The final thing will be published on James’ blog – eLearning Stuff. The five of us were, as well as me and James,  Dave Sugden elearning consultant and general good chap, based in Huddersfield, Dave Foord another eLearning consultant from Loughborough (I think),  and Nick Jeans an eLearning professional from Sheffield – no online presence yet but wait for it.  Thanks guys – as the saying goes – I think it’s got legs.

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that we had just returned from Nice.  What a fabulous place and it is easy to see why the rich and famous and not so rich or famous head there.  We arrived to a rather cloudy overcast day  but at least it was warm – about 26 degrees.  The hotel was right on the Promenade des Anglais and our room overlooked the sea.

View from Hotel room

View from Hotel Room

The following day we decided to walk round the headland to the West of the town from Villefranche sur Mer.  We stepped off the train and within a few hundred yards were on a superb little beach with a diving pontoon and a swimming area bouyed off from the boats coming out of the marina.  It sort of set the tone for the whole holiday.  Walk a bit, head round a corner, ‘Oh that looks a nice beach’ swim, sunbathe, potter on a little further.  Walking in the Dales is nothing like this!

The old town of Nice is a warren of small streets full of restaurants, bars and shops.  We ate there a couple of times but it is not cheap – £7 a pint of lager!

Vieux Ville

On the Saturday we took a trip to an island just south of Cannes.  It’s called Isle St Marguerite and is just 4 Km long and about one Km wide.  It has no vehicles and is even no smoking!  The trip took about an hour and was quite bumpy across the bay.  We walked along the coast stopping every so often then on the South side found a fantastic little cove.  It was about 15 ft wide and just exqusite.  I swam out of the cove with Stephen’s camera, which is waterproof to take a photo of ‘our beach’ and will post the photos along with loads of others onto the flickr site when they’ve been downloaded.  It was just idyllic and I could have spent all day just taking photos of yet another beautiful view.  The island is covered in pine and eucalyptus trees making the air scented and delicious.

Isle St Marguerite

Isle St Marguerite

It wasn’t all sun, sea and beaches though, we did visit the Museum of Modern Art and the Matisse Museum which are all free.  The Matisse is held in a beautiful 17th century mansion surrounded by olive trees in a park to the North of the city and is worth the visit.   I also managed to get the timer to work on my phone camera so here are the happy couple on the steps of the Museum of Modern Art.

Lisa and Stephen

Lisa and Stephen

All in all a fantastic holiday the best ever!

My colleagues Margaret McKay and Craig Mill from the Scottish RSCs along with the good people at TechDis have produced a superb resource containing 40 different open source and freeware assistive technology applications which can be accessed from a USB flash drive.  As they are accessible direct from the usb drive so there is no need to install any software.  This means that a user can just plug in the drive at any computer they intend to work on.  They offer software to support those with a visual impairment or motor difficulties as well as assistance in writing, reading and planning.

They are free to download from http://www.rsc-ne-scotland.ac.uk/accessapps/. They also contain a full guide to their use and a complete series of TechDis ‘Accessiblitly Essentials

They’ve even produced a video ad for them.

A great resource and as it is totally portable is completely inclusive.  We are getting some free usb drives with them all loaded so I’ll be handing them out like sweeties in the next month or so.   A full list of the applications is here.

I’ve just come back from a fantastic few days in Nice in the South of France (more later) and while I was away it was the ALT-C 2008 – Association of Learning Technologists Conference in Leeds.  As well as the usual conference keynotes and break out sessions, they hold workshops where you actually have to do stuff.  James Clay is a pal of mine and with a couple of colleagues produced this video looking at the ‘digital divide’. Oh and it was scripted, recorded and all techie stuff done within 30 minutes – impressive.


I’d say a homage to Life of Brian, Smith and Jones and Pete and Dud with the expletives removed.  Well done guys.

My colleague Kev Hickey has been using our newly purchased video and mac editing stuff to produce a short video guide to using a digital notepad.  This is a great bit of kit ideal for use off site and away from computers and technology – and a great video – well done Kev.

[blip.tv ?posts_id=1178263&dest=-1]

Well I’m back after a brilliant four days in Scarborough.  I landed back at Leeds Bradford airport and the stewardess greeted us with the ‘welcome to another glorious August day in Leeds – it is 15 degrees outside and raining’.  This didn’t bode well for the trip but in fact it turned out to be wonderful.  After taking the train down to Castleford to pick up a car and managing to cross the new bridge, a really spectactular piece of art/engineering.  It’s hard to believe that the river there is the same one that trickles past my house in the Dales.   I arrived in Scarborough in glorious sunshine and immediately went up to the cricket ground and managed to blag myself in for a reduced rate as it was half way through the afternoon session.  Yorkshire were playing Kent and had got off to a good start.  This was the first time I was going to sit through a full four days of cricket – a bit of a test for me also.  The next few days saw the game go backwards and forwards with Yorkshire eventually throwing an easy win away and only just managing a draw.  I learnt a few lessons – when you are sitting watching a match for essentially 7 hours you need a range of clothing from shorts, t-shirts and sun sceen in the sun to thick jackets and woollies for the late afternoon hours.  The Yorkshire crowd were nothing if not amusing and friends there had a number of choice if rather politically incorrect names for various regulars in the crowd.  Some members where not afraid of shouting advice to the Captain (Darren Gough) the team and even to the PA announcer.  We stayed in a lovely little hotel called Interludes.  It is a theatre themed hotel with each room decorated in the style of different theatres – we were in Odeon so it was all art-deco and mirrors! It also had a magnificent view of the harbour and South Bay which changed all the time.

View from Odeon Room in Interludes Hotel

View from Odeon Room in Interludes Hotel

We did manage some traditional holiday stuff, fish and chips on the beach, visit to Anne Bronte’s grave and a trip to the theatre to see an Alan Ayckborn play.   S’been a fab holiday.

Rotterdam is very Dutch – well the rest of the Netherlands is too but I’m here so it holds my attention.  I got here on Sunday after a very quick and pretty uneventful flight – though a few questions come to mind every time I go through an airport.  What is it that makes people think it is fine to sit and drink pints of beer at 7 in the morning because they are going on holiday?  Why are books at airport bookshops 50% bigger than books on the high street and what is the point of handing out packets of tuc biscuits in an attempt to make you think you have been fed? 

The train from Schipol to Rotterdam was fast and smooth and sadly not one of the very exciting double decker ones.  It was great to be met by eldest daughter and once I’d dumped my bags we headed off into the city centre.  There are some intersting buildings including the cube house.

Cube Houses - disorientating inside surely.

Cube Houses - disorientating inside surely.

Yesterday I was up North to Amsterdam.  I spent the whole day there and battled round the Van Gogh museum – I was delighted to see a handful of Gaugain pictures as well as some by Millet and Monet.  Amsterdam is beautiful and there is another delicious view round every corner.

Amsterdam Canal

Amsterdam Canal

So a great day spent doing art, shopping and sitting about reading – bliss.  Oh and finally – Happy Birthday Kate! 

The Learning and Skills Council have made £4 million available for shared cost mobile learning projects which must be led by an English FE college but can include work based learning providers and schools.  MoLeNET (Mobile Learning Network) was launched last year and a number of colleges and consortia had their bids approved.  Since then there has been some very creative projects ongoing and teachers are using mobile devices in increasingly innovative ways.  They have been particularly successful in engaging diverse learners, including neets (not in Education, Employment or training) ex-offenders and those with learning disabilities or difficulties.  There were 32 successful projects in 2007/08 and they are also invited to bid for further funding.  Their success will be celebrated at a conference at the Emirates Stadium on 18 September – and yes I’ll be there.

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