Same old-new!

Maybe I should have a regular Good Stuff / Bad Stuff spot.

Today’s good stuff

Several completed Key Skills, two in particular standing out for excellent use of the tools, even my current pet favourite Bubbl.

The words “I could do the blog from my home computer couldn’t I?” issuing from a learners mouth!

 Today’s not so good stuff

The ongoing battle with the recalcitrant and thirsty colour printer.  As a colleague pointed out seeing their work in glorious technicolour is motivational, and the other learners who see it also comment on how good it look.

Unfortunately”happy trainees” is a rather intangible thing to put a price tag on whereas the colour toner cartridges have a very definite and LARGE price tag!

The upshot

I’d love to go over to e-portfolios and forget the grief of endless printing altogether but in spite of enthusiasm for the idea from all trainers, that seems to recede further every time we discuss it.  The extra time it would take to experiment is hard to find, but maybe it’s time to return to the idea and try it out.

It’d need to be with one our our more confident learners as I feel that our less experienced learners need that concrete reassurance of seeing the physical results of their hard work.

I’m looking forward to our next verification visit to see what the ‘official’ word is on our using the blogs as projects. 

The latest group are keen to get stared, but as they’re a small group I’m holding off until the next large group starts so I only have to go through the paperwork once!

Commenting & KeySkills

We started discussing the use of comments today.  The group all seemed pretty savvy about spam and risks from viruses etc which was pleasing.

They did decide to err on the side of caution and enforce moderation on their comments — I suspect I’m going to have to prod people to check their queued messages.

The are still adding content to the blogs.  More slowly than I’d like as I keep having to drag in the paperwork and construction of the Key Skills portfolios and an hour and a half jsut flies by.

I wish I could get them to use the blogs a bit more in the course of the normal trinaing day instead of only touching it during the designated sessions.

Attendance continues to be poor, this week being particularly bad as a lot of our learners have no childcare over the  half term.

We’re also a bit miffed that everyone is leaving early and not using the allocated self study time.  We’re considering making that non-optional, as we’re really going to struggle to get qualifcation completed on time with the current level of absence.

To add to our woes, the next blog session was scuppered entirely by the company internet connection collapsing on us, a new intake of learners of which two dropped out before even attending induction, and the dispiriting discovery that the only trainee showing any enthusiam for using my new favourite tool Bubbl, was also the only trainee on whose PC Flash Player hadn’t been installed properly!

These things are sent to try us…

Overcoming “But I don’t know what to write”

All happy and positive again today! Managed to keep the taught session down to a quick whizz through adding links and maintaining a blogroll, before everyone had the better part of an hour to work on their blogs.

I was pleased to see a lot less copying and pasting going on this week and a lot more self-written content going up (along with plenty of spelling errors mind you, but at least there’s a proper genuine feel there. Spelling we can fix.)

Spent a lot of time with one group helping them add images, and was intrigued by the amount of time spent selecting just the right image from the Creative Commons tagged content on Flickr. A nice sense of pride in their work developing there.

A few people were struggling with what to write about, including one poor soul who’d found themself the only member of their group not absent!

I resorted in some cases to having them print out a website on relevant a topic of interest and get out pen and paper to summarise in their own words before posting.

I’ve seen a nifty tool at which looks like you can do something similar actually online, but haven’t had a chance to play with it myself yet and have a gut feeling that some of the less confident learners need something down on a physical bit of paper to give them the impetus to start in any case. The feeling of having to make it up on the fly which posting online engenders is off putting to some of them.

One tool which I did find useful for those who were having trouble thinking of what to write is the ThinkTank from the 4Teachers website.

This allows you to enter a generic research topic and depends on type of topic (history, place, person etc) narrow it down to a list of questions. This then forms the outline of your topic and gives you something to go away and research online or type up.

The learners who were keen but found their chosen topic of, say, “My Town” too broad to start off with, found this useful, as it could be narrowed down to something more specific like “If I visited this place, what things would I want to see the most? What is interesting about this place?” or “When was this place founded? Who founded it? Who settled it? Why was this place chosen?”

Two to three questions seemed about right for a single blog post.  More questions or detail could be added for a full length Key Skills Project, and I may recommend this to some of them later on.

The Copyright Discussion

I’m using group discussion work with the class a lot more than usual during this project and it’s starting to work quite nicely. They always start out a bit stilted but soon relax into it. I’m hoping this is proving helpful to them, verbal skills are often a ‘soft skill’ not really taught, and which could well be one of the things holding them back from work. If you can’t converse with your peers how on earth are you going to handle a job interview?

So hopefully it will prove helpful to them in the longer term, even though we’re not primarily a basic skills centre.

Today the discussion was on copyright and I had prepared some handouts for them to list all the things they could think of to which copyright might apply, and a definition in their own words of what “copyright” meant.

In order to get across the idea of copyright as being about “control” rather than a blanket ban on copying I asked them to make a list of things they want to stop people doing with their own work.  They came up with pretty much all the things that can typically feature in copyright statements, such as “keep my name on it” “don’t make money out of it” “ask my permission”.

I thought this was quite successful.  We came back together as a class and I clarified some of the detail and talked variously about the idea of “fair dealings” and how it various across the world — and that since the Internet is worldwide the issues of jurisdiction and potential pitfalls.

Some of the fair dealings stuff is so very vague here that I suspect a lot of it is too much of a judgment call for most of the students.   We therefore came up with some simple rules such as “don’t quote more than a paragraph of so”.  “make sure it’s clear i’s a quote and from where.” and “Link back to the original website rather than copying and pasting content.

I also explained about the alternatives, that some people have explicitly decided to allow copying and reusing of their work, and showed some examples, in particular the Creative Commons project.

I next sent them off to look up the copyright statements on a variety of websites.  I’d chosen these in advance for two reasons.  One, a good selection of different restrictions and allowances, and two, for being (relatively) short and easy to understand.

I’d wanted to get around to some practical work actually uploading images and setting up links on the blog sites but this took the whole hour and a half session so I didn’t manage that.

After the session I was playing with the WebQuest creation tools at and thought that might be an interesting way of tackling this topic next time — having them look stuff up themselves, and being able to integrate the links from a single site rather than have them type them in from a paper handout.

Online annotating

Not directly related to the blog project but I’ve just come across a brilliant web based tool I can use for the annotating texts. Spotted it on the RS Teacher blog and can see enormous advantage for the “Reading and Summarising” elements of the Communications Key Skills. It’s an element which always proves tricky to teach, and to get the learners to make a good job of and to assess!
You can copy and paste a chunk of text and then overwrite it with highlighters.

Every time you highlight, it pops up a box for you to make a note of your own and then it compiles the notes at the end.

You can have different coloured pens for different topics, e.g. One colour for dates, one for technical terms, one for interesting facts you want to include etc etc. (it gives you a default set of pens but you can rename them)

Got to be easier and more fun than messing about with felt tips and bits of paper and scribbled notes everywhere!