Thoughts on teaching, technology, learning and life in an era of change.

Archive for August, 2007

Message from Thailand-Burma Railway Centre
August 29th, 2007

I received a thoughtful email from Terry Manttan at the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre. His email reads as follows…

“Hello John

I just came across your web site and found another interesting personal story of the railway.
I am not sure if you got to visit our Museum when you came to Kanchanaburi in 2003 as we had only opened in January of that year and were not well known. We are located next door to the main War Cemetery in town and are now getting around 90,000 visitors per year including quite a number of ex PoW railway workers and many of their relatives, mostly from the UK, Australia and Holland.

Attached is a little introduction and you can also have a look at our website, listed below.
We would be grateful if you would consider adding a link to our site on yours as another means of helping connected people find where they can come for information.
Thanks for your efforts in helping keep the story alive.

Best regards


Terry Manttan
Centre Manager
(Next to the main Kanchanaburi War Cemetery)
73 Jaokunnen Rd.,
Ban Nua,
Kanchanaburi, 71000

I shall add this web site to the links page on my web site. The web site is most informative and well illustrated. It also includes a rich set of links and resources.

Firefox Download Helper
August 29th, 2007

The other day I posted about the Cosmopod plug-in for Safari that allowed you to easily download and convert embedded video files in a web page. There is a similar solution for Firefox although the video files are downloaded as is, for example, .flv files. It is a Firefox add-on called Download Helper. It will allow you to easily download video files from YouTube.

Now, if you would like to view the files using Quicktime Player I suggest that you download and install the Perian Quicktime plug-in. As their opening screen states… “Perian is a free, open source QuickTime component that adds native support for many popular video formats”.

The Illawarra
August 26th, 2007

I live on the Illawarra coastline, south of Sydney, NSW. The Illawarra is flanked by the Pacific Ocean to the east and the Great Dividing Range to the west. You can gain a feel for the area by consulting the Google Map below.

Photographs taken around the region can be explored in the Illawarra Galleries.

Creating learning experiences…
August 26th, 2007

Konrad Glogowski has written this amazing post concerning the creation of learning experiences in his blog of proximal development. He describes developing an environment where learning can take place via the appropriate use of technology and the nurturing of a conducive environment. The aim is to immerse the student in the learning so that they have an opportunity to become experts and contributors. He describes the five stages that sets out his emerging approach based on his classroom practice and the work of his students. The steps involved discover, define, immerse, build and contribute. Read his full account here as my own brief description fails to adequately describe the richness of Konrad’s post.

Information technology in the real world at school
August 24th, 2007

Blogs, wikis and similar web based apps are handy tools for teachers and students to employ as part of the teaching and learning experience. Blogs are reasonably easy to set up and publish. Wikis are easy to get going as well. What preceded all of this?

Back in 1993 I was working with Apple HyperCard and developing stacks for use by my students in both History and Computing Studies. My students began building them as well. The HyperCard stacks were always satisfying to produce and to share however they reached their use by date by the end of the 1990s. Apple stopped supporting HyperCard and other tools like Oracle Media Objects also bit the dust. HyperStudio seems to have run its course. Does it still exist? I have transferred the contents of some stacks to the web, in particular Prisoner of War.

In the past I also worked on the development of multimedia CD-ROMs. They were excellent products. They all sit in my filing cabinet now. None of them work on Macintosh OSX. I think they will function with Windows XP. They just seem too “big” now. Cumbersome. Like encyclopaedias.

The web came along and I started producing web sites using Claris Home Page and, later, Dreamweaver. Finding the time to develop web sites to support my own immediate needs and interest seemed quite difficult. I found myself building web sites and eLearning materials for clients and the boss. I also found that I was devoting a great deal of time teaching others to do the same. I rarely had the chance to practise what I preached.

Learning Objects became the “in” thing back in 2001 or so. The idea goes back to 1992 with Wayne Hodgins at AutoDesk. I attended conferences, workshops and the like however the hype never seemed to match the reality.

I began to devote time to teaching educators how to employ tools such as digital photography, digital videography, blended learning, and the like as part of their suite of teaching and learning strategies. I recently returned to the secondary school classroom to work with students at the coal face and see if I could employ some of the techniques and tools I had worked with in the tertiary and corporate worlds. Teaching at school affords additional time in which to research and experiment.

Working with tools like iMovie and Photoshop proved relatively easy in the classroom setting but building reasonably decent web sites with the students did not seem realistic. By and large there are limited opportunities to really sink one’s teeth into worthwhile information technology projects with students. The day to day life of a teacher is taken up with a diverse range of commitments and distractions.

The information technology projects developed by teachers and students seemed to be haphazard and lacking a life of their own. The projects would just end up on a backup server or CD-ROM. I would observe students work on a digital video project for weeks on end and then there would be a flurry of excitement as the end product is shared with the class or even the entire school. And that would be the end of it. The video project would be burnt to DVD, stored on a hard drive and seemingly forgotten.

Thinking on this it is apparent that if one is to work with the students to develop an information technology project and thus contribute to developing their own understanding of the subject, as well as the understanding of the others, then a number of criteria need to met. The process should allow students to develop a product that meets the following criteria…

  • The application of the technology should match the desired, specific
    curriculum outcomes
  • The tool’s learning curve should be short or non-existant
  • Development should be seamless for the students
  • The projects created by the students should be easily customisable
  • The projects should be interoperable
  • The projects should be re-usable
  • Subsequent cohorts should be able to pick up the projects and run with them

Creation of the project should be seamless for the students. It is the understanding that is important. The tool should not get in the way of the process. The last few years have seen the advent of several tools that can actually assist teachers and students to met the criteria listed above…

They include Comic Life, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Flickr. These tools are easy to use and readily implemented. Some of these tools are a subset of Web 2.0. Perhaps Web 2.0 can provide a platform for the realisation of the promise made by Learning Objects?

The projects that can be developed through the use of these tools can be shared with future cohorts and redeveloped. Products developed in any of the tools listed above can be linked to or embedded within any of the others. Numerous possibilities exist. I shall store this idea in my brain for the moment and blog on this later.

During the last 14 or so years I have found myself teaching other educators how to employ these tools in the classroom. Sharing these tools with other educators have served to crystallise a range of ideas that I would like to experiment with in my own school.

I have begun sharing the tools with students in Years 8, 9 and 11. The projects are underway and I hope to see some results by the end of the term… stay tuned for part 2 of these thoughts…