TeachMeet is an informal gathering of those curious about teaching and technology. Anyone can share great ideas they’ve trialled in their classrooms, ask important questions or simply sign up to take part in learning conversations. Both Primary and Secondary teachers are welcome to take part in an informal and fun meeting. You can come along to chat, meet new people, or give a seven minute talk, a two minute nano presentation or lead a conversation.

Tim and Moby Explain

Teachmeet is a meeting of uh well Teachers. I’ll leave it to  Tim and Moby to explain further technical details. I’d like to know if you are interested in joining me make it happen. Date, Time Venue, Publicity etc?

Passing notes on the IWB back channel

As an Interactive White Board (IWB) newbie and the  mercenary Ed Tech man, I thought it a good idea to master the newly installed giant touch screens to prove my learning tech credentials.

It’s quite common to call IWB’s Smartboards, but that’s like calling a vacuum cleaner a Hoover or a spreadsheet program Excel.  You are advertising  the brand name for free.

George @veletsianos kindly brought me up to speed with his IWB lecture. Mining for independent research on IWB reveals little. General consensus amongst the gurus is that this technology give teachers a clever (and expensive) surface with a range of presentation options. Improvement in results (especially in maths) have been reported, but those improvements seem only temporary. The other angle from the research was that IWBs doesn’t do that much for developing a constructivist learning environment. Thus far – not a pretty picture.

Anecdotal accounts from teachers tell a different story from the  research and I found examples of practice (especially at primary school level) extolling the virtues of the technology. It’s clear that teachers that are comfortable with IWBs are enjoying the opportunity to interact with the data and resources in front of the class.

Sadly, all my pre-research came to naught, as I discovered that while the screen and projector had been installed, the IWB had not been calibrated and the software not delivered. So instead of using any of the boards to instruct (we have a choice), I put the BACK into back channel, turned the class round with their rear ends facing the IWB, took up @injenuity ‘s challenge, let go of my PowerPoint and handed out my notes.

Students were introduced to the back channel concept and encouraged to open their laptops, connect with their phones and use their Twitter accounts, the #ukznav hashtag and participate in “note passing” during the lesson.

Things that I learned

I saw a few whispers but no scribbled notes passed around during the class. Perhaps my students are too kind for the salacious gossip associated with notes. Or maybe they did not see the need. A back channel usually requires a bigger class than I had. It’s hard to pass notes electronically when the teacher looms large.  A back channel is suitable when there’s a sea of faces and a wealth of ICT devices.

When using the back channel it’s useful to have an application (such as Todaysmeet) that aggregates your classes Tweets in realtime. I entered our #ukznav hashtag in Twitter’s search and had to ask Pravesh to refresh the page.

It also requires practice to present content and respond to short messages on the back channel. I found it difficult to work through my material and reply coherently to the points projected on the IWB. Doing this in front of a large class that were back channeling properly could be quite scary.

It’s certainly an experiment that I’d like to repeat. With  a choice of projection options I might land up using the data projector and the IWB. I might even mix channels and embed a coupe of Tweets into the PPT presentation. As always, I’d be interested to hear of what you thought / think of these ideas.   Comments are yours.

Recipe for a connected educator

Give your teacher a computer, preferably a cheap one, install  software and other learning technologies and then when they complete your introductory course (with gold embossed certificate), reward their efforts with a voucher for a months free Internet connection. Simple – we’ve got a connected educator.

Or maybe not. I’ve set up a straw man proposal, and I’m kicking Aunt Sally around to make my point. Digitally effective teaching and learning is often hampered by access and resources. Computers break, software can be expensive, internet access (here in South Africa) is expensive and, most importantly, training for teachers that share the same interests, have the same skill levels or are interested in the same outcomes is seen as a “once off event”, not an ongoing process.

Don’t frame these problems as a Digital divide – the hassles we’ve mentioned are not a permanent. They are perceptual, temporary  or environmental. I call these problems digital dongas.  A technological ditch, caused by erosion of opportunities, experiences, skills, and knowledge. With attention, time and conversations with affected educational communities, this scarring can be stopped or maybe even repaired.

So if you are interested in getting teachers connected, stop the reductionalism. Solving issues of technological access will not create a connected teacher. The conversation needs to move forward to focus on the participation skills required for teachers to benefit from the technology. Find opportunities for teachers to contribute and to develop the their competencies and social skills needed for involvement. Recognise that each institution has a set of dongas and then begin working in collaboration with with schools and the teachers to bridge or start repairing the gaps. Remember though, bridging digital dongas is a process, not an event. A one-time teacher training workshop does not count as  effective professional development. Start thinking more about the teachers on-going, relevant professional development, and how you can support that process.


Phillipa and Ryan are a little puzzled

Frustrated students are starting to doubt the future of progress. For the past two weeks I’ve inflicted a Mobile code hunt on their them, in attempt to demonstrate that mobile phones have potential outside the walls of the classroom.  They’ve sat, squinted and swore for an hour trying to figure out how to download a QR code reader to their Mobile phones so that they could find the answers on a QR code.  This morning, of the 20 students, only one managed to download the reader (the other students phone models did not support the code or they had no air time). While it was clear that many students were adept at managing their phones and could work around a small screen, the problem of a common platform made me doubt the possibilities that mLearning holds for whole class learning. The range of different phone models makes it extremely difficult to supply instructions on how to configure the phone.

mLearning certainly holds enormous pedegogic and practical potential.  But whether the phone has the ability to act as “a classroom in your pocket” will depend on the degree of uniformity amongst phones. The wide variety of phones amongst students meant that nobody was able to assist each other, as each had a different phone. Background of the mobile phone owner will also play a part in their ability to master the tool. It was interesting to note that students that had some business or other experience beyond the classroom were able to make better use of their phone.

Ah well, back to the drawing board, more prototypes, more thought is required.