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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.

Where have I been? May 24, 2009

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Where has the time gone? It has been ages since I last posted. The Supertanker has been one huge whirl in the last few weeks, so much so that I have not had much time for the blog. I have been writing, researching, creating and problem solving to such an extent that there has been little time for anything else.

I have been very involved in a project which should be very interesting when it goes live later in the year, more on that when it does so. I have also been building websites, designing website concepts for range of people, including myself. Somehow it is so much harder to act as creator and client, one is hard to satisfy and the other finds it hard to get creative inspiration from the other!

So lots on and a trojan on the network that is proving troublesome to remove. Anyone else finding that the Ministry CA v8.1 release is letting stuff walk through in realtime only to be picked up by the drive scan when it is too late?

So I am now back in the saddle and will fill in more of the details as and when I can. Meanwhile look at the updated Flickr stream to the right!

Rocketdock – Mac bling for Windows March 11, 2009

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I was trawling through some sites the other day and I found this wonderful bit of bling for Windows machines. It is a shameless copy of the Dock on a Mac. It is a free download from rocketdock. I have installed it on my computer at home and have found it to be fully editable and using it has cleared up my already empty desktop of icons and its popup ability enables me to quickly get to my stuff and favourite programmes really quickly.

I love it.

Remote lessons with Dimdim and Skype March 4, 2009

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After a break of over 6 months, the tohatoha collaboration has gone live again. The break has been forced upon us because of a series of events beyond our control. Helen’s class had their summer vacation and no sooner had they come back in September, when Helen had a car crash that ensured that she was at home recuperating for the majority of term 1 in the UK, then it was our southern hemisphere summer holidays and the rest they say is history! So after a long break we are back.

Last night was the first time that Helen and I have put into action something that we have been working on for a long time. We used a free meeting service called dimdim. This little tool is fantastic, it not only enables each member of the chat to see and hear the meeting organiser, up to three other members of the meeting can also be audio contributors too. However the particular features of dimdim that I like are that a whole class of students can log in to my meeting or lesson and I can not only see who has logged on I can chat with each one of them either publically or privately via the text message options. Better yet I can also share my desktop with the entire meeting, so that I can demonstrate how to use any program that is on my computer and in this particular instance from a distance of 12 000 miles away!

Last night we used Skype as the audio and video bridge and dimdim as the “interactive whiteboard.” I ran two lessons with two different classes and the final lesson ended at 00:14 NZDST. Today I am pretty tired! In one of the lessons there were 33 individual students plus Helen all logged into the same meeting and although there was a short delay between my actions on the screen turning up on the screens in front of the students, the delay was not long enough to affect the lesson flow. At this great distance I was able to teach students how to import live data into Excel with ease. Lesson two is next Wednesday starting at 22:00 NZDST so if you wish to join the meeting/lesson and see how dimdim could work for you, let me know. You can see how the lesson looked from a UK perspective at the tohatoha blog.

I know that dot com February 24, 2009

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One of the crew of the Supertanker has just come back from a course and has been shown this fantastic website:  http://iknowthat.com There are hundreds of activities to choose from and within each activity there are leveled examples to suit most students.  I particularly like the thinking skills section with the widgets.  In these activities you have to make a marble run that ensures that the marbles hit their targets.  On each level you are given a certain number of parts to make the run and succeed, some good problem solving comes of it!

The students will love it.  I am already finding them addictive myself.  Thanks Grant for sharing.

Learning @ Schools 09 – Unconference session February 23, 2009

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I will be attending this year’s conference in Rotorua with 15 members of our cluster, 9 of whom will be presenting their own sessions, considering that we have only been going a year, this level of contribution back to the clusters is phenomenal.  I will not be presenting this year as I will be sherpherding and supporting 9 very anxious individuals as they make their first forays into presenting to their peers.

I will however be running an unconference session on the Friday morning.  The venue has yet to be allocated, however to make it interesting I have invited Helen from the UK to join us to add an international perspective to our discussions.  The session is intended as a sharing one, where ideas and web2.0 resources are shared with the group.  I also intend it to be a problem solving session, where attendees can also ask if there are any online tools, software, freeware etc that could be integrated into some aspect of their teaching and learning environment.

If you are in Rotorua and want to come along, please register here.  If you are not in Rotorua and you want to attend, please join the Skype discussion.  You can find me at dakinane on Skype in your request to become one of my contacts please quote this session, so that I know you are a genuine contact.  The session is timed for 90 minutes from 9:30AM NZDST Friday 27 February.  It would be great to have you join in.

See you then.

International Student Collaboration February 20, 2009

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By MELANIE VERRAN - East And Bays Courier | Friday, 20 February 2009

Following on from the success of our assembly this week we held our mufti day today to raise money for the victims of the recent bush fires in Australia.  The biggest irony of the day was reserved for the weather, it rained heavily all day!

Our endeavours last week made it onto the front page of the local paper here in Auckland.  Today was intended as a right of reply for the students at Serpell to join in with our assembly.  The staff at Serpell have been battling all week with, what seems from this distance, draconian filtration rules for access to the Internet.  It seems that these rules are non negotiable  and are centrally set. My experiences this last two weeks with the Victorian web filters have left me with the view that I am glad not to be working in Australia as an ICT specialist, as it seems that  the vast majority of the Internet tools that I consider to be crucial to integration, collaboration and relevant to student learning are barred from my colleagues over there.  Just how does Education Victoria think that its students are going to collaborate with students beyond its boundaries when Skype and Mogulus are barred?  How does it expect its teachers to be innovative, connected and collaborative with e-mail and MS office as their primary tools? How are students to research current events and scrutinise them from local, national and international perspectives when You Tube and Google Images are universally blocked?  The pen pal method of communication is passe and even if it is with e-mail, it is still a forced and distant form of communication when compared to the immediacy of video and audio.  I know that the Victorian Government does have a good video conferencing network , but as I have said before, video conferencing requires two sets of equipment and limits partnerships to those that have the expensive equipment in the first place.  With a $50 webcam today I broadcast our assembly live to our online tv station and recorded for offline viewing, however this video will not be able to be viewed by those that it was intended for, because Mogulus is blocked from Victorian Schools.

It had been our intention to set up a video call via Skype so that the students in Serpell could be seen and see us in the school hall as they shared their views. I am assured that a tech has been working on getting Skype installed and working on one machine in Serpell, he has been at it for over a week and can not get past the Victorian firewall…  Video was off today.  In the end we were sent a slideshow that the students had created, and through my Skype out account we called their land line and via our PA system we could hear each other and they talked us through their presentation and video.  The most powerful part of the whole assembly was at the end of the presentation when students from the Supertanker were questioning their peers in Australia.  With such valuable exchanges being experienced by both sets of students, it still leads me to question why the Victorian government would want to make this so difficult to achieve?  Do I want to continue to build a collaborative e-bridge between Serpell and the Supertanker?  The answer is unequivocally yes, but I am painfully aware that if it were someone else trying to bully their way around these draconian filtration decisions to get students to collaborate, they would have given up long ago and to the detriment of the students.

Our mufti day raised $1900 for the Red Cross appeal in Australia a phenomenal amount for a mufti day and especially one that has taken place so early in the term, with all the associated expenses of the start of the year and the current financial climate.

You can see the assembly from our perspective by visiting the Supertankers own TV station (http://mogulus.com/mpstv) and clicking on the “On Demand'” button at the bottom of the viewer and you will be able to select the Assembly video.

You can also see the interviews conducted by the Serpell students here.

Vocaroo – Voice recorder February 17, 2009

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Vocaroo user interface

Vocaroo user interface

I found this little utility called Vocaroo the other day and while it is not Voicethread, what I love about it is its simplicity.  It is such a simple interface that even the youngest student can be freed from the tyranny of typing and is able to share their thoughts simply and quickly.  The screen dump above is what you see as soon as you enter the site.  There are no complicated log ons, just click to record.  Once recording has been done, you can then either listen or re-record, these options are really large button icons, so no hunting for options.  Once you are happy with your recording there are then two options.  One option is to insert hyperlink so that it can be sent in an e-mail or the other option is an embedable widget that can be inserted into a blog or wiki etc.

I used this tool with a class of year four students yesterday.  They had never seen it before, but with its simple interface I taught four students how to use it, record their own voice and then embed the code onto their wiki page.  I then got these four experts to then tutor individual students how to do the task I had just shown them.  The end result is that within 45 minutes 90% of the class had recored and embedded their poems, thanks to the ease of use of Vocaroo.  I also now have four experts who can teach how to use this tool.

Vocaroo enables students to share their thoughts, pose questions, give considered responses really quickly.  I think that this tool can enable the momentum of ideas of the moment. Vocaroo is  a really good tool that has been well thought out, without pretensions of being anything else.  “It does what it says on the tin.”

Integrated Connections February 13, 2009

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The Supertanker has endeavoured to be partnered with several schools over the last few years.  We have connections with schools in Singapore, with Woodford Junior Schools in Plymouth, with Sandi in New York and with Serpell School in Victoria.  Our connecton with Serpell has been the longest established and the least technologically advanced, it seems that the nearer we are the less likely we are to resort to web 2.0  technology to communicate.  In Serpell’s case this is probably more due to the draconian filtration policies of the Victorian government. Simply put it the Victorian policy is one of impediment and not one of enabling,  I could go on about that, but will refrain.

Serpell school is not where it says it is on Google Maps, check out my post related to my November visit to Serpell.  Serpell School is however on the eastern fringes of Melbourne, nearly where Google Maps says that it is.  As we settled back into our new year we have been re-establishing our links with individual staff members at Serpell and starting to plan our collaborations for this year.  Then the fires started.  Several members of staff at Serpell have had a close shave with the fires, but thankfully none have suffered any kind of loss.  However in the wider staff and student population  there are many who know of others who have not fared so well…

In the spirit of partnership and collaboration we on the Supertanker have decided run a mufti day next Friday to raise money for the disaster appeal and send it directly to our friends and colleagues at Serpell.  To kick start this initiative, we ran an interactive assembly today that really put the events in Victoria on a personal scale for the students on the Supertanker and gave focus and relevance to what they will be doing during next week and beyond the mufti day.

The following was played at our assembly:

Our assembly had many elements, we had Google Earth running on the big screen to put our location in relation to Melbourne into perspective.  We then changed the scale and using this Google Map we zoomed in and identified some of the fires in relation to Serpell School.  After this we then showed the aboves videos from YouTube to give a visual impact to the whole proceedings and culminated in a Skype call to the Principal of Serpell school.  This call was played via our PA system so that all could hear.  Several students took part in the conversation and Tom’s question “What can we do to help?’ literally took the wind out of the sails of the Principal at Serpell. Pulling all this information together into one session illustrated to many of the crew of the Supertanker the power of the Internet to pull information together in such a way to make distant events relevant.

Next week we will have yet another interactive assembly and this time the students from Serpell will be sharing their experiences of recent events with us.  All of this will be recored, re-mixed and re-published on a blog or wiki that we will be creating with the staff and students of Serpell school.