Happy Birthday Blog

Just realised that today marks the anniversary of my first blog post, and I was reflecting on the changes it has made to my life in that time. The original motivation for starting the blog was to take myself through the process of setting it up and go through the various stages of development, so that in turn I could take others through the process and prove that the technical bits were just challenges to be overcome rather than insurmountable barriers ( I was already convinced that here at last was a tool to put learning, and writing in particular, in the hands of the learner). I have to say in that respect it has been fun – if at times very frustrating – and I am learning a new language as I go – the language of posts and inserts, tags and categories, uploading and embedding, not to mention wikis, wordles and widgets.

In terms of developing literacy skills, there is no doubt in my mind that creating blogs and wikis in the classroom, and making full use of Web 2.0 technology, most of which is free and far less technical than many teachers imagine, is the way forward for learners and teachers, allowing them to make links within the school and out to the wider world. What better motivation to write creatively and accurately than to know that your peers, the most critical audience of all, are reading, watching and commenting on what you produce! What better motivation to write than to know that what you are writing  isn’t only being read by one critical adult, and it isn’t coming back with a grade on it? As someone somewhere once said, the best motivation is self-motivation. Incidentally, if you want to see how blogs can be used in the classroom, have a look at this one from Australia, or this one from Perth Academy in Scotland.


Recently, signing up to Twitter and developing an expanding network of friends and colleagues with common interests, I have added a new dimension to my social networking and opened up a whole other world of possibilities, enlisting in what Mike Coulter has referred to as “an army of researchers”. I’d like to thank all of them for getting me this far, especially those listed in my Blogroll (and who would have thought I’d ever say that a year ago!). Look forward to talking, sharing and working with you for a long time to come.


Reading in the Digital Age

The term “digital literacy” is freely tossed around in educational circles at the moment, and there is an assumption that its meaning is abundantly clear – it’s the ability to use computers and watch films and switch on an iPod and upload a video to YouTube and things – isn’t it?  Well, not really, I don’t think. In Proust and the Squid, Professor Maryanne Wolf quotes the contemporary scholar John Mc Eneaney who contends that,

 “….the dynamic agency of online literacy challenges the traditional roles of reader and author, as well as the authority of the text. Such reading requires new cognitive skills that neither Socrates nor modern educators totally understand. We are only at the beginning of analysing the cognitive implications of using, for instance, the browser “back” button, URL syntax, “cookies”, and “pedagogical tags” for enhancing comprehension and memory.”

In other words, while as language and literacy teachers we have always felt uncomfortable about separating listening and talking, preferring to think of them as part and parcel of the same interactive process, it may be that moving into the age of the internet, and particularly with the advent of Web 2.0, we will have to think of reading and writing, not as two discrete activities, one passive and the other active, but as two elements of the same creative process. Not only that, but the development of reading itself takes on a whole new, non-linear meaning, as the learner moves back and forth through the text, flicking from one text to another making connections, or interacts with several texts simultaneously.

This amazing video from Michael Wesch, Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University, captures in 5 minutes the full implications of Web 2.0 for learning and teaching in general, and the way in which we are now learning to read in particular.


Monkey Business in Orkney


Do I Have To?

Resting up after what was a fantastic couple of days at the Orkney Learning Festival in Kirkwall Grammar School,  despite the horizontal rain! This was my first visit to Orkney and all the stories about the hospitality of the Orcadians had clearly been understated. There was a real buzz about the festival and I am very grateful to folk like Emma Taylor who, in her seminar on blogging and Rafi.ki made me aware of bunnyhero labs, where I adopted mickey the monkey as soon as I was able to have him downloaded – what a great way for kids of all ages to enliven their webspace! (check out Mickey in his new home on the other side of the page). Thanks also to Tim Geddes (Broadcasting on the Internet), Russell Mason (Web 2.0) and Andrew James (Scran) whose excellent seminars I was able to take in while I was there. There were other benefits to the visit too in the amazing seafood at the Ayre Hotel and the best Indian food I have ever experienced in the Dil Se restaurant, which has an unfortunate claim to fame as the scene of one of the most famous murders in recent Scottish history, when on the 2 June 1994 a masked gunman walked in to the restaurant and shot the manager at point blank range. It took until just over a week ago to secure a conviction for the murder, which was racially motivated. The trip was eventful to the end as we took off into headwinds of over one hundred miles an hour and swayed and bumped into Glasgow airport just over one and a half hours later. By this time I was feeling a bit green but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.