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Open Source Source June 27, 2009

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I have been approached by an author in the US who is writing a book on bartering, the book title is The ABCs of Barter and Trade Exchanges by Trish A. Truitt. The book is due for publication at the end of July at the earliest. They will also have a web site which is due to go live soon the link is: http://www.ABCsOfBarter.com The reason for the contact is that she wants to reference one of my tutorials on You Tube in her publication, I have of course said yes. The tutorial that she is interested in is my Open Office tutorial, which is just an introduction to the program. I figured that a tutorial was not really necessary as most users of the Internet would already be familiar with a myriad of word processing programmes. However Trish thought that the style was clear and concise enough to warrant a mention in her book.

We have been chatting for a while now and it was clear that she did not want to reference a You Tube link in her book. I suggested that I create a wiki and embed the video there. The result is that I have now created an open source wiki for all of my Open Source software tutorials. It is a repository of tutorials organised by application and will continue to grow in the weeks and months ahead. Indeed today I will be sitting down and re-creating the ‘addons’ tutorial that I have already created and will also create a series of Calc tutorials for inclusion on this specific Open Source wiki.

The address is: http://opensourcesource.wikispaces.com


Tipping Point for the Supertanker June 12, 2009

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Tipping Point

Tipping Point

Image by: Steve Wampler http://www.flickr.com/photos/sgw/

It has been a while since I have updated the Supertanker’s heading and you will see that we have made a 50 degree change since the last update.  The Supertanker has been making excellent headway in 2009  and this large jump reflects that fact and in addition reveals the  alarming fact that the heading was last updated in July 2008!  What has happened?  Has the captain been sleeping at the helm?  The answer is no, just busy!

What is clear from the actions of the crew on the Supertanker is that like all Supertankers, our change in direction is gathering tremendous momentum.  This is fantastic news,  there are some really interesting developments happening on the Supertanker.  Change is occurring as a result of a perfect storm of three initiatives all started in 2008.

The first was the Supertanker embarking on its ICT PD cluster oddessy.  We are now in our second year of the cluster, we have three facilitators of which I am one and responsible for ICT.  The pedagogical  input from our other facilitators has created a natural platform for integrating ICT into the classroom.  Now the cart and the horse are in the appropriate alignment and the crew are  starting to really experiment with the potential for ICT to be used as a tool to enhance student learning outcomes.

In 2008 we changed our tech support team. With our previous model of support we were in a regime that thwarted creativity and stifled initiative, in 2008 we threw off that cloak and embarked upon a more open and freer model.  It has taken time for the crew to recognise that fact and to spread their wings and experiment with the possibilities.  They now have the power to experiment with tools that they have discovered and wish to use, they can give things a go instantly.

The final strand of the triumvirate has been investment in infrastructure.  We have strived to create a level playing field in all classrooms in an attempt to mitigate ‘the grass is greener’ envy that we had before.  In previous years, old equipment or a range of different performing equipment between classes and even within classes has been used as an excuse not to use ICT tools or to even try.  With a level playing field, every class has a minimum of three computers and a digital camera, staff no longer feel as though they are a poor cousin and are just using the tools.  We have also streamlined our server room.  We have consolodated the core switch cabinet, pulling together all the various coms equipment that had previously been scattered all over the Supertanker.  We have also increased our storage capacity.

The nett result of these three initiatives is that the staff have the freedom to experiment, the pedagogical rationale and space to store stuff.  As a result we are going places, a sleeping giant has been woken, the Supertanker could yet well morph into lithe A class off shore racing machine!

Has this rapid change been hassle free?  Well the answer has to be no!  The new found freedoms have now presented me with a range of new issues to deal with and in conjunction with my IT support team we are constantly having to manage the new challenges posed by the momentum.  The first issue has been our data growth, this finds me in an enviable position.

Our data growth is currently 7 Gb per day!  This is fantastic news and I can not complain about it.  It is a very crude indicator that staff and students are using the stuff that we spent so much money and time putting into place.  It means that the digital cameras are being used and some!  It means that the microphones purchased the video cameras purchased are all being used, as the data growth is due to the explosion in multi-media files.  It also means that our 1 Tb drives purchased last Christmas are now looking decidedly small!

The other and potentially more difficult issue to manage is the lag between staff enthusiasm and staff savvy.  It is a quotient that I starting to call TCoF (Total Cost of Freedom).  Having been set free from the constraints of the previous support model, staff are now experimenting and innovating, which is exactly what I wanted.  There is a price to pay for this, and we have.  For the majority of this term we have been battling a trojan on our network that is replicating, it has been a bit like fighting the Hydra.  We are now in control and the Hydra has been slain.  What is clear is that as MS tightens up its notoriously sloppy code, the hackers are looking elsewhere for their attack vectors.  The recent Adobe security compromise is a good example, as is hijacked web sites.  Both of which dupe an unsuspecting user into downloading something that they are not expecting.  It is this savvyness that unleashed users now need to develop, but it can only develop through mistakes.

Therefore as the Supertanker continues to gain momentum, my issues and focus have in their turn changed.  I have moved  from having to cajole reluctant users to use the stuff to working with individuals to plan great integration strategies.  I have also to cope with the mistakes of enthusiastic innovators and manage a rapidly increasing data storage and back up headache.  I now have to balance momentum and enthusiasm with protection that is not draconian and restrictive.  I have to manage data and lots of it,  juggle resources and move stuff about in order to cope.  Hallelujah!

We are truly Turning the Supertanker!

The Supertanker’s H1N1 Pandemic Response June 11, 2009

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This week has been full of NZEI e-mails, Ministry missives full of  information and strategies that fall short of directives, all  to do with the potential threat of the H1N1 virus.  What has really got teachers on the Supertanker riled though is the the potential threat to their sick leave entitlement should they be ‘stood down’ for quarantine reasons in the near future.

It is clear from the dispatches from the Ministry front line that ducks are being lined up, should the expected pandemic arrive and the rhetoric from official sources is not if, but when.  We have all heard of this before with SARS but  nothing eventuated.  However, somehow this particular variant has whipped up more of a media frenzy than before.  The cynic in me thinks the H1N1 ‘crisis’ is a global smoke screen designed to take our attention away from the true crisis, the  financial free market morass created by years of  institutional greed and  global corporate contempt .  This is somewhat backed up by the statistics.  In the US, in an average year,  41 000 people die from the normal influenza virus, (go back and read that figure again).   To date the US has had 50 deaths from the H1N1 variant, not exactly cause for concern based on the previous figure, but don’t get me started on conspiracy theories!

So what has this to do with the Supertanker?

Today the lepers bell tolled in our vicinity, the dementors’ cold cloak of H1N1 has touched our wider community.  We are now a statistic on the global H1N1 map, which resembles my clustr map to the right.  The local day care centre reported its first case of suspected H1N1.  As a result several children were sent home, quarantined.  The whole unit may have been closed, but I am not sure. (12 students with the virus in Hong Kong has caused the territory to close all of  its primary schools for 14 days.)  One of the children at the unit is a child of one of the staff on the Supertanker and as a precaution both the staff member and the child have had to be checked for the symptoms, no doubt swabbed, prodded and made to go arrgh by a community nurse.  They are now at  home, whether the staff member has been stood down, quarantined or will be back tomorrow has yet to be seen.  And this brings me back to the loss of sick pay chuntering that has been raging this week in the staffroom.  About 8 of the staff on the Supertanker will be going overseas in the school holidays, mostly to Australia, the current hot spot for H1N1. As it stands if we are asked to voluntarily quarantine ourselves, if we show flu like symptoms, we will have our sick pay entitlement docked the 7 day stand down period.

The solution?  Should we be stood down for quarantine reasons, we can still teach remotely.  As those of you who read this blog regularly will know I have been teaching the students of Woodford Junior School in the UK on a regular basis for over two years.  Therefore, next week I will be running a whole staff meeting training the staff  how to use Dimdim, how to run lessons using the whiteboard, share documents and how to communicate with  the whole group or work privately 1:1 with attendees.  I will also show how to pass the ‘chair’ to other users and how to manage the audio and video functions.  Therefore, should we be stood down, we will not be losing our sick pay entitlement as we can still teach our classes, even if they have been quarantined too!  The school might be empty, but the lessons will continue.

Ulearn 09 June 1, 2009

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I have started to submit my submissions for Ulearn 09. I have decided that this year I will try to present at more breakouts than I attend. So far I have submitted two proposals and am working on some others. I really enjoy presenting.

I wonder though how useful, long term, these show and tell sessions really are? I have found that I get positive feedback from my sessions at the end of each one that I have run. I certainly have not had someone come up to me and say that I have just wasted 90 minutes of their time! I expect the average conference attendee is too polite and the anonymous paper feedback forms do not indicate dissatisfaction. However, I never hear from my audience again, despite me encouraging them to comment on my blog or e-mail me for more assistance. Do they use my tools once back in school? Are my support materials so thorough that I have dealt with every single possible query? I doubt it. So just how useful to the ordinary punter are these sessions? Is it simply a case that even though attendees leave Ulearn enthused, the enthusiasm is dissipated by the realities and restrictions of the school environment they return to? Do the ideas illustrated at Ulearn remain just that, ideas? I doubt that, but the reality must be a hybrid of the above.

Then there is the perpetual worry about pitching the session, where should I pitch it? I fear that Ulearn breakout presenters are stuck in a perpetual model of pitching their support at entry level or first time users. If this is the case, we will be forever stuck in a model of showcasing the latest idea or tools for new users, teaching skills that could be learned from 30 minutes in Google and on You Tube. We never see practical sessions at Ulearn labelled “advanced Blender users should attend” for example, why not? We never see abstracts that say “integrating Inspiration for elite users.’ If Ulearn is the premier ICT PD conference for New Zealand teachers, then I think that we need to see this kind of differentiation. Otherwise presenters like me and the plethora of other highly skilled attendees have to resort to Google and YouTube for our PD and use the breakouts as a pulpit to reach out to the yet to be converted. A perpetual beta of PD.