Reviewing use of tech in my classroom this year. I think it has been a slight mistake to think first about the network rather than local. Bandwidth limits made Airdrop more useful than external means of sharing. Next session I think I’ll be depending less on external stuff.

In early October my school had a visit from Google Expeditions. I’d been contacted to see if I would be interested and jumped at the chance.

Google Expeditions are a 3D VR ‘experience’ using google cardboard. I’d tried a few mobile apps using cardboard before but not in a classroom setting.

The plan was we would choose Expeditions that would fit into our learning.

On the day Kostas from Google turned up in Banton having traveled on public transport with the whole kit in a backpack. This consisted of one tablet, one router, a set of android phones with a google cardboard for each phone.

Expeditions are a set of several 3D VR ‘images’ that can be looked around. The images are broadcast from the tablet ( or a phone) to other devices on the local network. The Tablet is handled by the ‘leader’ the phones by the ‘explorers’. The leader controls which image/space the explorers see. The leader’s non-3D view includes some notes and discussion points.

table leader view

The devices need to be connected to the same network but they do not need to be online. The scenes are ‘served’ from the tablet. The tablet does need to be online at some point to download the scenes in preparation.

When in a space the explorers can look around by turning their heads or bodies. Moving forward and backwards has no effect.

The leader cannot control where the explores look in a scene but double tapping will show the explorers an arrow pointing to the object tapped (we saw that explorers would always follow these arrows).

We had chosen a couple of Expeditions that would fit with out learning, but did have the chance to explore quite a few.

in the box

The pupils were very engaged immediately, the images are surprisingly ‘hyper real’ and the experience of turning round or just moving your head was delightful.

We collated some pupil responses on the class blog: Around the World in a Cardboard Box.

I’d chosen the spaces we looked at at fairly short notice, one did not really fit with my expectations the other was linked to a topic we had not then started. So for the point of view of linking into the learning and teaching I hadn’t planed well enough. From the point of view of exploring potential new technology and giving the pupils a glimpse of the near future.

I’d also feel that the resources might be a bit more valuable after the initial excitement had died down and the pupils used the system more than once.

So how would we use this past an exciting but brief test. Although the kit is relative inexpensive a class set would still be an major resource for even a large school.

I suppose it could be a share resource for a group of schools or local authority.

I wonder too if it could be used on a smaller scale, with less devices. At the end of last month I was talking to Will Tuft on Radio #EDutalk about ‘The immersive classroom’, this involves setting up classroom experiences, for example the aftermath of a hurricane, with props and tasks. I wonder could the cardboard be part of some such class. For example a group of ‘divers’ could take it in turns to put on the googles and explore the sea.

It could also just be used by a few children as a time.

I wonder if as well as the obvious exploration angle if it would be a rich resource for writing.

All in all an interesting experience, it will be interesting to see how this type of technology develops.

‘Points & grunt’ or ‘eloquently instruct’

A couple of weeks ago Oliver Quinlan was a guest on Radio EDUtalk. The thing that stuck in my mind the most from the episode was this idea. Oliver has now written a bit more about it on his blog.

The command prompt allows you to use the power of language to interact with a computer. In comparison, clicking around in a  desktop environment is akin to pointing and grunting. Getting people to do things by pointing and grunting is OK at first, but as children we naturally put in the effort to learn how to move beyond this to get things done quicker, more precisely and more elegantly.

‘Points & grunt’ or ‘eloquently instruct’ – Language & computers – Oliver Quinlan

I’ve often struggled to explain, even to myself, why I enjoy using the terminal application. This is the best elevator pitch I’ve heard.

I am no command line expert, but I end up using it for small things or interesting experiments most days. I guess my first exposure was on the introduction of Mac OS X in 2001. Af first it was something to use occasionally for system settings that could not be done in other ways. Slowly over the last 15 (eek!) years I’ve used it a bit more and slowly learned. It is not something you need to be an expert to get use from. For example Batch Processing MP3 files is probably not eloquent but it saved me a huge amount of time.

For most of the time I’ve been using the terminal I though of it as a somewhat old fashioned process. It is now fairly obvious that it will be in use for some time yet. This week the news that Microsoft is bringing the Bash shell to Windows 10 brought that home.

It is worth mentioning that there is an amazing amount of information on using the command line on the web. I can’t remember when a search has failed to help me learn.

Elsewhere Oliver recommended Conquer the Command Line as a good resource to getting started. From the MagPi Magazine available as a few PDF.


Featured image: my own, grabbed with LICEcap.

My raspberry pi, was having problems. For a while it had sat on the windowsill happily posting images to tumblr day and night on skypi and broomhill sky’s, it served up a small website itself too.

At some point it stopped working. I rebooted the device a few times, turned if off and on again, then left if for another day.

I had a bit of time on my hands on Thursday so decided to story it out. Since the device didn’t seem to be working at all, I could not connect to it via ssh and it was not serving the website I though I’d better just start from a clean install. So this is what I did.

  • bought a new SD card.
  • downloaded a new image from NOOBS for Raspberry Pi
  • wiped the card and copied the files over
  • moved the pi to the living room and hooked up the to and a keyboard
  • booted the pi and went through the initial setup
  • shut down the pi to prepare to move it back to the windowsill where I planned to connect via ssh and redo all the server and script stuff to get it working.

At that point, while the pi was still hooked to the tv I though I’d give the old card a final try. Of course it booted up straightaway!

I then took the pi with the old card back into the other room and connected to power and ethernet. Back to the Mac and tried to ssh on. Fail, check the website that sits on the pi, fail.

Finally I took the Ethernet cable out of the powering plug and put it back in again. Everything started working properly.

I do not know how many times I’ve repeated this sort of routine expecting the worst and skipping the obvious. I do hope I’ve learnt my lesson but somehow I doubt it.

it is seldom about technology designers’ a priori plans for a technology, and more about users’ unexpected practices with it. That, to me, is the most fascinating and useful basis of research inquiry.

via Brief statement on ‘Digital Wisdom’ | Ibrars space.

I love ‘unexpected practices’ it is why we need flexible technology in Learning and Teaching.

My favourite use for word when I was teaching primary 6 was as a poor man’s vector editor, Sandaig Otters » Seeing Stars, and I’ve often been surprised by how pupils and teachers bend unsuitable software to their needs.

If I Had a Hammer by derekbruff

Another post before I start the new post of ‘glow product owner’ in January. This should let me look back and think ‘how naïf’ or let other folk say, ‘but you said…’

The last post was a few thoughts on security and passwords, I used the example of a link collection and presentation as something that would not need to be password protected.

This is the sort of task that is fairly central to online learning. As a frequent task it should be one that is carried out with what the Michael Russell called ‘agile, open, best-of-breed systems’.

Collecting and Sharing Links with Glow

Here is how I would do this in the ‘old glow’ using my browser as efficiently as possible.

I am presuming that I’ve already got a glow group set up.

  1. I’d add a weblinks webpart to the page. If I’d used a weblinks list in the group before I’d create a new list (Advanced Settings->Create->Weblinks), and place that on the page.
  2. Leaving the page with the list open, I’d open a new tab and visit the page I want to link to.
  3. I’d copy the link.
  4. Return to the Glow page, click new Link
  5. Paste in the URl and write a description.
  6. Click Save and Close.

I’d repeat the process until I’d finished. At a later date if I fould a new link, I’d go back to glow, navagate to the page and add that link.

Collecting and Sharing Links with

I consider a best of breed system for collecting bookmarks, it is a service I pay for, but there are other free alternatives, for example: old timer delicious and new fangled pinterest. (I like pinboard because it is simple, text-based and cleanly designed.)

Here is one way to share a set of links with pinboard.
Visit the page you want to link to.

  1. Click the pinboard bookmarklet.
  2. Fill in a tag for the bookmark in the window that pops up.
  3. Click a button and the window closes and the the bookmark is saved.
  4. To share the links either give a link to the page for that tag on pinboard: Pinboard: bookmarks for johnjohnston tagged ‘glowscotland’
    Or add a javascript snippet to a page (old glow use the xml webpart, blogs used a widget, wikis etc have ways to add code).

Here is the last 5 links I’ve tagged glowscotland:

Comparing Systems

I might be a little unfair comparing the old glow sharepoint site with pinboard, but I *think* the process is the same in 365.

Glow gives the advantage of only needing one system, one username and password for both the presentation site and the saving system. A bit of research or training is needed to know how to set up a weblinks webpart. The process is a bit more labour intensive.

With pinboard you need another password. A bit of research or training would be needed to set up the account and to add the JavaScript widget to other systems. The process is very flexible, and can be adapted. It is quick to create a list of links, and much easier to edit the list or add more links to it on the fly.

Pinboard links are not behind a password they can be shared freely (or kept private). I can easily create new sets of links just by tagging. I can use pinboard links with other systems to do other things.For example: I tag comments I make with @comment those links are auto-tweeted using ifttt (yep, another system, another password). Pinboard has an API so can be incorporated into other systems easily.

Giving Choices

What I hope glow will give to learners and teachers is choices from a extensive and powerful toolkit. Some of these tools could be integrated with each other, some will have hooks to connect them up and some might just work by themselves.

The previous version of glow got bogged down by being static, and the skills need to use it were not particularly relevant in other online space. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to work on implementing Mr Russell’s vision of agile, open, best-of-breed systems.

Happy New Year!

This post is one of a few where I’ve been thinking of glow:

And a year ago I blogged: An Excellent Adventure

Mozilla Webmaker

Webmaker moz

Mozilla Webmaker seems to have improved a lot since I last looked. In Doug Belshaw’s Things I Learned This Week newsletter, recently, he pointed out that thimble now supported JavaScript, I went over to lok and found that the site now lists your productions:
Search – for johnjohnston. I knocked up a couple of quick JavaScript examples: 5Dogs & flipcard, the later being an old one.


OpenShift by Red Hat, this is pretty amazing:

OpenShift Online is Red Hat’s public cloud application development and hosting platform that automates the provisioning, management and scaling of applications so that you can focus on writing the code for your business, startup, or next big idea.

What that means is you can easily and cheaply (first 3 free), set up websites with applications. It is pretty geeky for a teacher but there are plenty of instructions, and they work.

I gave it a quick test last week and managed to get a ‘server’ up and running with etherpad is short order: Etherpad Lite. Not sure what I’ll use that for, but I can delete it and start something else if I get to the max of 3 apps.

Openshif wp map

Slightly more useful, on an email list I am on someone asked how, using iPads, could a set of pupils construct a resource with a map and pins with images, text and video. I though this could be done with
WordPress a plugin and google maps. OpenShift allowed me to test this very quickly:

  1. Set Up a new app
  2. Installed WordPress
  3. Added the MyGeoposition plugin
  4. Added some posts and used the plugin interface to add positions to these posts.
  5. Knocked up a quick google maps page to display the blogs RSS, which now had geo info.
  6. Added that to the blog

Here is the blog and the map.

OpenShift made it practical to turn a bit of simple blue-sky thinking into reality.

I am not suggesting that everyone should dive over to openshift and start playing. You need a slight friendship with the terminal, at least have heard of ssh and git (I’ve used ssh a we bit setting up the piratebox and a raspberryPi, heard of git). If you do, the possibilities for trying things out are wide open.

I want to help empower our learning community to design, hack, build, collaborate, remix, share and explore in all sorts of ways. In essence, I strive to contribute toward building a learning community that is open-source, accessible and inspired by principles of DIY. Is the iPad the best platform for cultivating such an ideal?

from: The Digital Down Low: Some critical questions about iPads and 1-1 learning

Along with some other interesting other ones questioning the idea that ipad 1-2-1 is a good idea.

I do not think that we, in the UK, are yet in a position where there is an overwhelming belief in the iPads as a good thing in the classroom.

I do think that iPads are a good tool for some aspects of collaboration, remixing, sharing and exploring. They are, in my opinion, excellent digital story telling devices.

I wonder how many school with more open devices are doing much in the way of DIY hacking and building. There is a lot of online discussion: eduHacking · but I don’t think much penetration into mainstream has happened yet.

I do believe that we are seeing some extraordinary effects in iPad 1-2-1s. Some of this my be the novelty effect, but there seems to be something special by having ubiquitous instant on, easy to access computer power in everyones hands.

It may be that the collaborative and creative environment that 1-2-1 ipad use seems to foster will grow into a desire for the complex making that Matt Montagne wishes to foster. This may lead to interesting apps or a demand for more open devices.

An introduction to Apple’s Hypercard. Guests include Apple Fellow and Hypercard creator Bill Atkinson, Hypercard senior engineer Dan Winkler, author of “The Complete Hypercard Handbook” Danny Goodman, and Robert Stein, Publisher of Voyager Company. Demonstrations include Hypercard 1.0, Complete Car Cost Guide, Focal Point, Laserstacks, and National Galllery of Art. Originally broadcast in 1987.

HyperCard: One of my favourite things.

Technologies for Learning Workshop

Yesterday I attend the Technologies for Learning Workshop which was intended to

form part of the initial exploration work contributing to the potential development of a Scottish Government Technologies for Learning Strategy.

The invite came out of the blue a couple of weeks ago and I was unsure what to expect. As I approached the venue Twitter let me know that I would see quite a few folk from the ScotEdublog world and when I arrived It looked like a TeachMeet crowd. The event was nicely organised by the IFF folk who started off three main segments of the day. The discussion was more wide-ranging than I expected and there was less nitty gritty about the workings and interface of glow than I expected and a good deal more looking at larger questions. Thankfully there was not the expectation that conclusions were made as I left with questions rather than answers.

Fearghal Kelly, Technologies for Learning Strategy, Andrea Reid, Trust « Interim reports and Neil Winton, #ediff « If You Don’t Like Change…, have already blogged some reflections and David Gilmour has posted photos of the whiteboards on flickr Technologies for Learning Strategy Workshop

I am certainly the wrong person to try and give an overview of the day. I usually find myself focusing on trees rather than the woods and this workshop was viewing the forrest.


One of the trees was related to both the workshop and the wider online community. Near the end of the day a lady, whose name I didn’t catch but was someone from the government end rather than an educator, expressed doubts to the value of twitter. During the day a lot of tweeting using the #ediff had gone on. It was suggested that this was rude, to the presenters and of little real value, due to the quality of some of the tweets. Con Morris, CPDScotsman, robustly defended twitter explaining how it saved a stream of links, pass references to other participants and allowed people to join in from a distance. There were a few folk who did join in from afar so I think Con proved his point.

I didn’t tweet much during the day, but one I was struck enough by some thing Pat Kane was talking about to fire out a tweet:

john johnston

@playethic hacking&play good. Facebook&gaming less so #ediff
Fri Oct 15 11:59:03 +0000 2010 from Twitter for iPad captured: Sat, 16 Oct 10 14:40:29 +0100

Pat caught my attention by talking about the difference between facebook (“relentless processes of inclusion, exclusion and meritocratic struggle”) and the hacker culture (“subverting technology till it breaks, so that better tech can be built”) which he compared with the difference between gaming and playing. Quotes from Pat Kane’s CalMerc column at Thoughtland.

This caught my attention because I’d been reading Charlie Love’s post: A social network for Education?. I liked this post so much I’d read it 3 times and nearly printed it out to take to the workshop. I’ve had a long standing dislike/distrust of facebook and a preference for a loose network (delicious, flickr, blogs, RSS) and this post started me thinking that I have missed a lot of goodness that could be gathered from a social network for Education. Pat’s points were a interesting take on this.

I am not reaching any conclusion just mulling over, so was surprised by this tweet from Derek:

Derek P Robertson

johnjohnston @playethic Please clarify what you mean by gaming not being good. In what educational context is this being framed? #ediff
Fri Oct 15 11:59:03 +0000 2010 from web captured: Sat, 16 Oct 10 15:47:40 +0100

given Derek’s role as Guardian of Games Based Learning in Scotland I suppose it was easy for him to reach the conclusion that some games bashing was going on.

Derek P Robertson

johnjohnston Yes hopefully. Disconcerting to see such tweets from this event. Clarification would be very helpfu as gbl good in Scottish ed 15 Oct

to which I replied:

john johnston

@derekrobertson sorry to disconcert. Struck me as interesting pt. Game are subset of play?
Fri Oct 15 14:23:10 +0000 2010 from Twitter for iPad captured: Sat, 16 Oct 10 17:27:59 +0100

The conversation then continued through the evening:

pat kane

@ewanmcintosh @johnjohnston @derekrobertson Play‚?Game. Play’s more than contestation/teamwork. It’s mess, mocking, mimicry, free ideation
Fri Oct 15 20:17:56 +0000 2010 from Twitter for iPhone captured: Sat, 16 Oct 10 17:30:00 +0100

Derek P Robertson

@theplayethic @ewanmcintosh @johnjohnston Agreed but contestation can be with oneself and not with others – a self-improvement agenda.

and again this morning:

Fearghal Kelly

The message I took from it [not sure if intended one] was that we need to think carefully about the learning not just the game? #gbldebate
Sat Oct 16 09:47:16 +0000 2010 from web captured: Sat, 16 Oct 10 17:35:07 +0100

And many more.

Interesting (to me) points about twitter:

  • Even experienced tweeters can misunderstand each other/
  • I probably got a better discussion than I intended by my tweet being seen a critical of games (it was not intended to be).
  • Tweets can really stimulate discussion and thought.
  • As the conversation goes on, loses tags and become more distributed it is harder to follow, I stopped getting included in replies and the gag dropped off.

At the meeting yesterday one of the ideas was to challenge all preconceptions, eg does Scotland need an intranet?, will we need classrooms and more. Having Pat Kane speak and Ewan take part provided some vital/interesting disruption. Challenging games based learning or any other type of learning went with the flow of the day. I can see how it might be if you look at it through a games visor. Pat’s idea of play gives us an ideal of learning that we will almost always fall short of.

Some Gaming Thoughts

A lot of games in school is used for drill & practise and there is a place for that, other uses embed gaming in a more complex learning scene (Endless Ocean using the Wii for example). Derek has provided us with lots of examples of all sorts.

The other aspect of gaming that I’ve found more interesting is game making, this might give more opportunity for Pat’s play than playing games. Derek’s consolerium team have been providing a ton of resources for this It could be seen as hacking (in Pat’s positive sense) which I find compelling. In own learning the things I’ve enjoyed most (? most productive) have been amateur attempts at hacking.

An amateur hack

While thinking about this post I realised that I wanted to quote quite a few tweets. Twitter provides a tool to do this: Blackbird Pie – Twitter Media I was under the (wrong) impression that this used iframes (I was wrong) and the live tweet and I wanted static html, so I made my own I also figured out how to make a javascript bookmarklet for the first time.

To my mind spontaneous self directed play is an ideal to keep in the back of our minds while we do a bit of drill & practice and muddle towards CfE.

Thoughts from the day

Important questions raised:

  1. Do we need an intranet/use google apps
  2. Security (a lot of the current came from LAs) can we have a sliding scale. IMO the recent additions to glow are addressing this
  3. How does Scotland organise training/CPD

Questions I though could have done with more coverage:

There was talk of the need for better broadband across Scotland, but I feel hardware is more of a problem. until recently I would have agreed with the general opinion in the room that we will end up using the pupils own devices, but I’ve recently read: Fraser Speirs – Blog – Run What Ya Brung which raises a lot of questions perhaps the most important being: It (the idea of pupils using their own devices) assumes that teachers will be aware of the differences between devices and able and willing to plan around or overcome them. . I’ve seen examples of ‘byo’ working, but wonder if it is scalable in the light of the varying skills of teachers.

There was the assumption that glow 2 would work better than glow 1, I would have liked to discuss how this would be done. not necessarily in nit picking detail (I’ve done a bit of that ) but on how the nit picking would be organised. with glow one there was no mechanism for feedback to be taken into account quickly, or for detailed beta testing. I hope glow 2 will have perpetual beta built in.


I am afraid the above is a bit of a muddle that does not reflect much of Friday. I’d recommend interested folk to read:

and check the #ediff twitter search.

Update 18 Oct 2010

Talking about it isn’t good enough / But quoting from linking to it at least demonstrates / The virtue of an art that knows its mind. // Seamus Heaney : Squarings (edited for post;))