Category Archives: blogging

#blideo – You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!

Well I have been avoiding this whole #blimage thing, but even not entirely, as a certain person who shall remain nameless, let’s just call her Bex, wanted to borrow this image for #blimage.

Then, that David Hopkins, decides to write a blog post, not using images, but a video clip, another hashtag, #blideo, and then decides to challenge me (and Julian Stodd, and Terese Bird) with this clip from The Italian Job.

I have to admit my first reaction was to ignore it and dismiss the challenge. It’s not as though I’ve not done these before, back in 2008 I was challenged by someone called Steve Wheeler on a meme called Passion Quilt.

Right. It’s an interesting challenge and looks a little like a chain letter, but here goes. Mike Hasley, of TechWarrior Blog, has laid down a challenge for me and 4 others to add to a collection of photos that represent our passion in teaching/learning. I have to tag it ‘Meme: Passion Quilt’ and post it on a blog, Flickr, FaceBook or some other social networking tool with a brief commentary of why it is a passion for me.

That Doug Belshaw challenged me in 2011 to write 500 words on the purpose of education. There was also an image challenge with that too

So for this challenge I need to look at the video clip, and what it makes me think of, professionally or personally. As I said I was going to dismiss it, but hang on a minute…

The Italian Job 1969

The Italian Job is one of my favourite films of all time. I like it for a lot of reasons, it’s also the same age as me. I am surprised it didn’t make my cinematic advent calendar I did in 2012.

It’s a classic British 1960s crime caper. It’s got Michael Caine in it, as well as Noel Coward. Yes it’s full of cliché, yes it’s rather sexist and does have a fair few unfair stereotypes in there too, the Italian Mafia and Camp Freddy are examples of this. Having said that, if you can forgive a film of it’s time, this is an enjoyable romp through 1960s London and Italy, with a great script, photography and cast.

The story tells how Charlie Croker gets out of jail and plans a heist of Chinese gold that is been delivered to the Fiat factory in Milan. The film has a classic chase sequence as the three Mini cars are filled with gold and driven across Milan, with the Italian police in pursuit.

The Italian Job 1969

The film ends with the cliffhanger clip shown above, showing that despite a successful heist, crime doesn’t pay…

From a professional perspective, what does this clip mean for me?

Well what the film shows is a robbery, but an expertly planned and executed h, one that takes into account a range of issues and the plan mitigates these. The success is dependent on the planning and planning down to the smallest detail.

“You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!”

From checking how the Mini cars would perform with all the gold in the boot, the amount of explosive to evading the traffic jams.

“If they planned this traffic jam, then they must have planned a way out of it.”

The Italian Job 1969

In addition there is a lot of preparation to ensure the success of the plan, from people to resources, to computer programming.

However as the clip shows, despite all the planning resulting in success, one slight mistake and success is on the cliff edge (literally) with the prospect of it going either way. Despite all the careful planning, innovative thinking is required if disaster is to be avoided.

I am a great fan of careful planning and good preparation, when it comes to teaching and learning. When I was a teacher I would plan out the entire year in advance, including lesson plans for each lesson. Alongside these I would prepare the majority of the resources required and these would be printed in advance and stored ready for use. When I “discovered” the internet, for some courses I created my own “VLE” and the scheme of work and resources were available for learners to access and download. On the site were additional resources, links, news items and a discussion forum – this was in a time when not many people had internet at home.

However what was also important was having the space to be innovative and responsive to accommodate unexpected events and issues. In addition there was space to allow for topicality and for ideas from the learners. When opportunities arose, they were grasped (as there was the flexibility in the planning to allow for this) and not ignored because we had to stick to the plan.

If you think of the impact snow can have, or service failure, having the space and the initiative to adapt is critical to take account of these unexpected million to one chances that happen nine times out of ten.

I know speaking to teachers over the years, that many don’t like this approach, they see planning as inflexible and doesn’t take account of what happens in the classroom on a weekly basis. So as a result they don’t plan. They take a more ad hoc approach, though this can work for some people, often it can result in core elements been missed or rushed.

Good planning does not mean rigidity or lack of flexibility. Having a plan doesn’t mean there isn’t any room for innovation. No effective planning, will build in room for innovation, will be flexible and will allow for topicality and spontaneity. In reality an ad hoc approach usually results in a bland approach falling back on using the same methodology,

We often do things because we have always done it that way. We take the same route to work, we go the sandwich place for lunch, we choose the same thing from the menu when we go out to lunch.
I recall an apocryphal story about the Royal Horse Artillery who have not used horses for a hundred years, but still have five people for each artillery piece, four to fire the gun and one to hold the horses. The essence was that we do things because we have always done them that way and sometimes the reasons for doing it this way have actually changed or disappeared, but we still keep doing it.

Doing everything last minute, usually means doing everything the same way every time. Planning allows for innovation, creativity and the last minute cliffhangers.

Just going back to the Italian Job, if you didn’t know, a few years ago the solution to the problem was “discovered” in a 2009 competition.

In addition to that competition, according to a making of documentary, the producer Deeley was unsatisfied with the four written endings and conceived the current ending as a literal cliffhanger appropriate to an action film which left an opportunity for a sequel. The documentary describes how helicopters would save the bus seen on the cliff at the end of the first film. The grateful gang would soon discover that it is the Mafia that has saved them, and the sequel would have been about stealing the gold bullion back from them.

So as this is #blideo in theory I have to challenge someone with a clip, well here’s the clip, as for the challenge, well that’s open to everyone.

Top Ten Web Tools of 2013


This is the sixth time I have compiled a list of the top ten web tools I have used during the year. I am finding it interesting looking back over 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 and 2012 which tools I still use and which have fallen by the wayside. My 11th tool would be Delicious, which I have started using more, but certainly not as much as the other tools listed below.

10. Dropping one place to number ten is Speakerdeck. I replaced my usage of Slideshare with Speakerdeck in 2012, and in 2013 I continued to use Speakerdeck as a platform for sharing my presentations. It drops a place, mainly as I did fewer presentations in 2013, so as a result used the service less than I did in 2012

9. Dropping one place from 2012 is WordPress which is number nine. I still use the blogging software for my blogs. I like the flexibility it offers and it certainly works for me. However as I did less blogging in 2013 than in did in 2012, though still a useful tool, I was using it less. I still think the only thing that is missing for me is a decent mobile client or iPad app.

8. Flipboard falls a couple of places to number eight. The main reason it falls is more down to Google than Flipboard. Google retired Google Reader and I was using that service to feed Flipboard. Though I did manage to import my Google Reader subscription into Flipboard, I am finding it slow to refresh and of course much more difficult to add new sites to the feed. I do need to spend some time working out how to maximise my use of Flipboard as a news reading tool, as when it works well, it works really well.

7. Climbing three places to number seven is Evernote, the online note taking tool. Since changing jobs in the Autumn, I am using Evernote more than ever. A really useful tool for making notes and syncing them across devices.

6. Instagram drops three places back to number six and I know that part of the reason was that in 2012 I used Instagram everyday as the main way of posting a photograph a day. I didn’t do that in 2013, so used Instagram less. I did try though and improve the quality of my images in 2013. I have decided to return to the photo a day thing in 2014, so will now be using Instagram much more than I did last year.

5. Dropping three places to number five is Flickr. Whereas in 2012 I added 1300 photographs to Flickr, in 2013 it was a measly 635. I also used Flickr extensively for finding photographs for the blog and for many of the presentations I gave this year.

4. Climbing three places is Chrome, which is now my default browser on my main computers. Even though I use it a lot, I do use it alongside other browsers such as Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer. What I do like is that I can now sync my browsers across different computers and different devices. Using the Google Nexus 7 I can now see and open the tabs I was using on the iMac or the laptop. I also like how I can do the same with Chrome on the iPad. Great when you want to refer to a site, but either can’t remember the URL or how you got there.

3. Climbing one place to number three is the Twitter. I use Twitter almost every day for checking out news, links, travel reports and interesting stuff. I certainly don’t have the conversations on there that I have on Google+, but when they do happen they are useful and interesting.

2. Dropping one place to number two is Dropbox. It isn’t social, but I use it every day and in some cases all day. Dropbox is a fantastic tool, in the main because it works! It was interesting switching to a Windows PC for a few months in the new job how my usage of Dropbox stopped and I was using an USB stick of all things! In the previous nine months though I did use Dropbox extensively and it was a really useful tool. It just works, to the point it is transparent and it never gets in the way of me doing my stuff, which is as it should be.

1. In the top spot for 2013 is Google+ climbing four places from number five. There are two core reasons for the rise of Google+, mainly more people used in in 2013 than they did in 2012, but in my new job it’s an integral communication tool for sharing links, news and views across the group.

So that’s my top ten web tools for 2013, what were yours?

You’ve been quiet!

Regular readers of the blog will have noticed that things have been a little quieter than usual with me posting a lot less.

The main reason for this is that I have for the last week been attending the JISC Innovating e-Learning Online Conference 2010 which has been taking place in… well online as you might expect. I am going to write a more evaluative piece on the conference later.

I was the conference blogger at the conference so as a result I was posting a lot of blog entries there instead of here… Most of the blog entries on the conference blog (which is not available to non-delegates) were about the conference itself, however some were on more general web and e-learning issues. These will be expanded upon and published later on this blog – so you won’t miss out.

Running a conference blog has been fun, if exhausting, but I’ve had a lot of nice positive comments back from people, so well worthwhile.

A conference blog is something that you sometimes you see at other conferences, but I certainly would recommend that other conference organisers think about having a conference blog for their conferences.

Socially Acceptable

In a recent blog post I mentioned the impact of Twitter for me at ALT-C.

Overall from my experience, Twitter has really added value to conferences I have attended and made them more joined up and much more a social affair. It has helped to build a real community, especially at ALT-C.

I first went to ALT-C 2003 in Sheffield and to be honest found it quite a souless affair. I didn’t know many people and it was “quite hard” to get to know people without dropping into conversations over coffee, which can be challenging Though there were elements of the conference that were useful and interesting, I decided not to attend ALT-C 2004 even though it was in my own backyard in Exeter.

I did go to Manchester for ALT-C 2005 as we had just done a project for JISC called Fair Enough.

As a result we had a poster and I ran a workshop entitled Copyright Solutions. The workshop was a catalyst for social interaction and as a result I made a fair few new friends. Also having been part of a JISC project and attended programme meetings, events and conferences the circle of people I knew was growing. ALT-C was becoming not just a positive learning experience, but was also becoming a positive social experience too.

Having had a really positive experience of ALT-C I decided I would go to Edinburgh for ALT-C 2006, where I ran a variation of the copyright workshop again and had another poster.

This time, there was an ALT-C Wiki, which sadly due to the demise of no longer exists. What I do recall of the wiki was that it would allow presenters and delegates to post presentations and discuss them. What was sad was how little it was used by anyone… no one wanted it. With over six hundred delegates only six people contributed. I did put this down to the 1% rule initially. I was also one of the few people blogging the event as well (on my old WCC blog). I was surprised with the fact (and maybe I shouldn’t have been) that six hundred learning technologists were not using the very technology they were presenting on.

However in 2007, things were very different, again not huge numbers, but certainly very different to the year before. ALT-C 2007 in Nottingham was a real sea change for the online interaction and was for me and others the year that blogging changed the way in which we engaged with the conference.

Steve Wheeler it was the first time I really met him was at this conference said

It’s a strange world. The entire ALT-C conference it seems is filled with bloggers. Not only are they blogging about the conference, they are blogging about blogging. The bloggers are even blogging about being blogged about, and blogging about bloggers blogging. Here am I, like an absolute idiot, blogging about the bloggers blogging about bloggers blogging about each other.

Haydn Blackey also said

I know I’m not finished yet, but so far I can reflect that blogging live from conference makes me pay much more attention to speakers than is my common practice.

This is something we might want to think about in regard to Twittering at a conference.

But it was David Bryson who really caught the blogging atmosphere in his blog post and his slideshow.

…wandering around it was interesting to see how glued or involved folks are when working with a computer the common phrase “Do you mind if I use my computer when you are at a table” which we can interpret as something along the lines of “I don’t want to be rude but I am not going to talk to you but commune with my computer” or words to that effect.

The main reason for this I believe was not that people weren’t blogging before, but it was the first time that we had an RSS feed of all the blogs in one feed. This made it much easier to find blog articles on the conference and as a result the bloggers. It did not mean people were hiding behind their laptops, on the contray it resulted in a more social conference.

Importantly and this is why I think ALT-C 2007 was a sea change (and especially a sea change for me) was that these social relationships continued beyond the conference. We continued to blog, talk and meet well after everyone had flown from Edinburgh and were back home.

So when ALT-C 2008 convened in Leeds there was an expectation that there would be more blogging, but it would be more social.

There were though two big key differences between 2007 and 2008, one was the Fringe, F-ALT and the other was Twitter. I had used Twitter at ALT-C 2007 and I think I was probably the only person to do so…

F-ALT added a wonderful new dimension to ALT-C by enhancing and enriching the social side of ALT-C and adding a somewhat serious side to conversations in the bar. It allowed people to engage with others in a way that wasn’t really possible at previous ALT-Cs.

It should be noted that it was at a F-ALT event at ALT-C 2008 that I proclaimed Twitter was dead… well what do I know!

Now just to compare at ALT-C 2010 there were 6697 tweets, in 2008 we had just over 300 tweets! There were only about 40-50 people using Twitter. But it was an influential 40-50 people. As it happens most people at ALT-C 2008 were using either Facebook or the then newly provided Crowdvine service.

Like F-ALT, Twitter allowed people to engage in conversations that otherwise may have happened, but more likely wouldn’t have. Both F-ALT and Twitter allowed ALT-C to become more social, more engaging and more interactive.

ALT-C 2009 in Manchester really gave an opportunity for Twitter to shine and this was apparent in that nearly five thousand Tweets were sent during the conference. Twitter was for ALT-C 2009 what blogs were for ALT-C 2007. At the time 633 people on Twitter used the #altc2009 tag, more than ten times the number of people at ALT-C 2008 and more than the number of delegates. Twitter was starting to allow ALT-C to go beyond the university conference venue and engage the wider community. This use of social networking was not just about enhancing the social and community side of ALT-C but also about social learning. The success of the VLE is Dead debate can be placed fairly at the door of social media in engaging delegates through Twitter, blog posts and YouTube videos.

ALT-C 2010 in Nottingham for me was as much about the formal learning as it was about the social learning. An opportunity to learn both in formal and informal social settings. I was concerned slightly that the use of Twitter by certain people and FALT would be slightly cliquey. However no matter how cliquey people think it is, it is a relatively open clique. This year it was very easy to join in conversations using Twitter and then meet up socially, quite a few people I know has never been part of the ALT-C family (first time at the conference) and are now probably part of the clique.

As Dave White said in his invited talk (let’s just call it a keynote) talked about the eventedness of the physical congregation of people at a lecture or a conference. It is more than just what is been presented it is the fact that we are all together physically in the same place. I suspect a fair few of us could recreate that kind of social aspect online and I have seen this at the JISC Online Conferences (another one this autumn) but for many delegates it is way too challenging.

There is something very social about meeting up for something like ALT-C and even in these difficult times I hope we can continue to do so. Here’s to ALT-C 2011.

100 ways to use a VLE – #14 Writing a blog

I is writing a blog!

Though you may be reading this on my blog, for some practitioners and learners using a blog is an alien idea and they may not even know what a blog is, or what blogging means.

A VLE can be a quick and easy way for practitioners and learners to start blogging and learn the value of blogging.

A blog is an abbreviation of web log (weblog) and to put it simply is a log of commentaries, observations or reflections that is placed on the web.

Maintaining a reflective journal, thoughts about assignments, or writing notes about lessons; these activities can all be done on a blog.


Not everyone has the confidence or the technical ability to start a blog.

Now I know that starting a blog is a piece of cake, however that may be easy, it is not necessarily such an effective practice for a complete class, curriculum area or a whole college.

Some institutions may consider putting a WordPress MU Server for blogging purposes. However this may not be an option for all colleges. If a WordPress MU Server is put in, then you can link to college systems to ensure that every learner can create their own blog.

Though one issue is not just technical confidence, but also confidence in what is being written. It’s one thing to write a reflective journal and be very open, it is a fundamentally different thing to post those reflections on an open blog for all to read. A learner is likely to be less open if they know everyone, their mum and their employer is going to be reading it. So you might want to close it off to just the learner (or learner group) and the tutor. This requires a modicum of technical confidence; can we assume that every learner can do this?

So though blogging systems such as WordPress or Blogger are great tools for individuals, they don’t really scale with groups or whole colleges.

This is where the VLE can come in.

It’s already configured with logins for learners, so that’s one job done, learners and staff who already use it have a familiarity with it as a tool.

You can use included blogging tools, but for some learners even a discussion forum might be a useful starting point. Advantage of built-in blogging functionality will be (hopefully) that it generates an RSS feed.

Blogging has real potential to enhance and enrich the learning experience of many learners; the VLE can be the right tool for some practitioners in introducing the concept to their learners.

Regardless of the above, if learners want to use other tools such as WordPress, Typepad, Blogger, instead of using a provided blogging tool on the VLE, then practitioners need to consider how they are going to incorporate these blogs into the learning activity. An obvious route is to use RSS feeds from these blogs.

The VLE is not an ideal blogging tool, but for many practitioners and learners it can be a useful and scalable blogging tool.

Photo source.