Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Postman's progress...

Do postmen deliver?

Yes! Everyday, they sort mail, deliver bills, brochures, and the odd postcard (becoming rarer) pretty reliably to the right door.

To reduce postmen to such a role however is to do them a disservice. Postmen have also often played an important but unheralded part in bringing human presence to the needy and lonely in our communities. Pat your postman on the back;  his days as an unpaid social worker are sorely counted.

In this age of climactic economic crisis, politicians have grand plans for our faithful posties. . .They are now also to  become...ECO-WARRIORS! They are on the front-line fighting for our planet's survival. Thanks to the latest techological advances their rounds are now becoming electric.

Out the noisy, smelly, polluting combusion engine, in the shiny yellow rechargeable minivans!

Progress indeed!

This is what first struck me when I came across the shiny yellow rechargeable minivan parked on my way to attending the conference Cyberlangues at the cinema in Marly le Roi last week. So impressed was I, I forgot my haste and I took three photographs of the thing.  This aroused the curiosity of the proud postman pilot of the aforesaid vehicule.

"Zero C02 emmissions! La Poste engages itself to provide a responsible mail service!" The slogan on the side of the van boomed out, accompanied by the World Wild Life Fund panda, in logo.

We started talking, Marcel and I, (we shall call him Marcel) about his new van.

"It's great fun to drive", he said, "Would be ideal for an older postman, or on certain rounds. But for me," he added, "I prefer a bicycle."

I looked perplexed, wasn't this yellow dream progress?

"You see with a bicycle, I can go right up to the house, put the letters in the box and have time to chat with the people. Oh yes, and  it used to keep me fit! With the minivan, I have to get out of the van, open the back, get a basket, walk to the house, post the letter, go back to the van, put the basket in the box, close the back, get into the driver's seat put my foot down on the accelerator and rush to the next stop. It's slower than it used to be on a bike.  I don't have time for people any more..."

"The managment only measure the number of letters  I post and how  fast I do my round...."

Do teachers deliver? 

Well, children are sorted into categories, their letters are checked and they are pretty reliably sent to the appropriate destination.  Children who are difficult to put into boxes get left in sorting offices or are sometimes lost in transit.

To reduce teachers to this role, is maybe alienating but it makes economic sense. After all the public expects a reliable education service which will take their children to the right employer's door.  Global competition, means that we are obliged to make sure that our rounds are up to standard.

Shanghai standards are the criteria by which our universities, for example, are to be assessed. Proud is the university president who can claim his entrance into this universally accepted top-performing league! Such educational institutions win a glowing stamp of approval.


It has come to our notice that French education is lagging behind the UK in the integration of shiny modern technology into the classroom.  The measure of this lag? The number of Interactive White Boards in classrooms. These are shiny, impressive, expensive (now out of date) replacements for the outdated chalk and blackboard . Catching up with the AngloSaxons is surely a must.

Progress indeed for some!

Certain universities currently pride themselves on their "personalised learning" allowed by  sophisticated "Virtual Learning Environments". Students follow cleverly defined, scientifically evaluated routes towards their final stamp of approval. I myself was able to share in the communicative satisfaction of a colleague at Cyberlangues who described this modern process.  She glowed with her university's recognition at Shanghai.

Didn't we feel impressed!


Elsewhere, thanks to political demand, iPads are flooding into the Corrèze, these new saviours of National Education, are to be touchy/feely digital satchels for new flashy digital textbooks. Brilliant, innovative, brave measures...

Do politicians deliver?

By which criteria should we evaluate their progress? Are we only interested in speed, economic efficiency, competitive performance? Wouldn't individual postmen on their rounds, or particular teachers in their specific classrooms not be better judges of the tools necessary to better perform their difficult tasks?  Shouldn't we be taking the time to stop, to  look, to listen, and  to talk, together?

How should we evaluate technological progress?

Do politicians deliver (what we want)?

Are we going to continue to allow politicians and people to stamp on the lonely, the needy, on the misdirected on their way to career success?

Shouldn't we be educating our children, to analyse 'progress' more critically? (I am just asking questions. I am just a teacher.)

This post arrived to your screen only thanks to Marcel, the critical postman.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Why EVERNOT(E)...? (Remember Everything)

I don't know about you but I never lose anything.

I know exactly where everything is.

I have never lost my keys, my passwords, or my notes... as far as I can remember.

Ever looked for technology to help you organise your chaos? Well, I did.

First I invested a PC with my text documents, my Encarta encylopaedia and my time in a marvellous digital diary which was perfect.

As soon as I left the house I had to jot the contents of my schedule down on the back of an envelope and transfer my stuff onto a floppy disk.

To do list: 'Don't forget to remember the envelope!'

Then came a PDA  or Avigo, as we called it in my home, which sychronised my faithful digital diary in a portable monochrome form. Finally I was able to know where I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to be doing; when I remembered to synchronise the thing. The Avigo was accompanied by  my easy to forget USB key.

More recently, I have been delighted with Google Applications and bathe in the sea of  tranquility somewhere over my netbook, PC, any other PC's or Macs and around my smart iPhone. USB keys I now lose unthinkingly. Who needs keys in the clouds? I am so blasé now.

There are of course no clouds in the clouds.

Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook, Zoho, et all intermingle (or not) above our heads in a fight to be at our service. So much of their service is free. Flickr, Yahoo!

How does one find what one is looking for in the clouds? How does one select the best cloud to entrust one's life?

Well personally, I don't put my trust in any one (particularly not me).  I have invested much in Google, quite a lot in Apple, very little in Microsoft and just recently a tiny share in EVERNOTE.

EVERNOTE is my current favourite helper. I admit to being enthusiastic. Present in every device it seamlessly takes my bits and pieces (those which are not in my diary, my presentations, my class notes, my links, my photos, my videos)  wherever I am and keeps them to be shared with whoever after. This friend trips through operating systems, in and out of Twitter and Facebook, recording text, photo, sound and location. It understandstands that a smartphone can complement a PC, a PC can converse with an iPad.

This my friends is the future of my digital environment. I have servants at my beck and call who are comfortable wherever I am, in any context, in any social system, discreet, un-demanding of my attention, close to hand and almost, like me, entirely free(ish).

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Le Retour de Mickey L'Ange...

It didn't work! Failure, total failure! How could they possibly understand so little? How might one come back after such a fiasco?

Thursday 25th August I was busy at Cyberlangues a grouping together of language teachers from all over France. I was due to 'animate' a workshop on the use of Smartphones and Tablets in the language learning classroom.

Everything was in place. The colleagues were there, in number, in the room and in other regions and other  countries following the events on Twitter and on Adobe Connect. The tests were almost conclusive. Nothing could go wrong...

Then it did.

First apparent problem was my own ambition.

 I was curious to learn how far one could go with the different spaces and tools linked to us at the same time: netbook linked up to video projector with a document camera pointed at an  iPhone and/or the people in the classroom,  microphone plugged into the netbook and speaker to transmit/exchange the sound from participants all over the world via Adobe Connect, chat enabled in Connect and Twitter stream, Adobe Connect app on iPhone to act as portable terminal for the participants to exchange with the other partipants coming from the UK, India, and France. The iPad (1) would be projected, after the netbook, with an AV adapter - excellent but limited to particular apps. Marvellous! I had just the app: Popplet. Great for presenting complicated ideas visually.

You understand  all of this with difficulty. I can almost hear the hesitation between the commas and the colons.

Well, I did try to make it simpler.

I had promised myself not to include the participants from around the world via Adobe Connect. Then I got taken up by my enthusiasm and that of the others; marvellous people from my PLN (personal learning network) on Twitter.

Frankly, I blame them!

Without them, I would have been unable to have so much to talk about, so much to share, so little fear for ridicule, so little reason to doubt that the game is never over....until it is.

Then even worse, I didn't do what had been on the advertisement for the workshop.

The lady from the Ministry apparently kindly, pointedly let me know that she was rather disappointed that we didn't actually get to touch the touchscreens and the myriad of applications behind the glass.

The teachers, after all were there, in number, to get to grips with IOS (or perhaps Android) in the classroom...

Ah yes...The teachers were apparently non-plussed by my introduction.

A snapshot of a painting attributed to Michel Ange (my spelling). What was the connection between my workshop on iPhones, iPods and this painting I asked ambitiously?

Well we tried reproducing the gestures, together, bravely, physically. I must thank the brave members of the workshop who did what I had begged: 'Get up and Move!'. Well they all did except @KedemFerre, (a rebel) who spent his time looking at my website and the lady from the Ministry who reminded me that her wheelchair dependence was an obstacle to such pedagogical innovation...

The teachers were confused.  I include myself in this category. @chrisjaeg asked @warwicklanguage, via Twitter, whether  @sensor63 was always disconcerting so? Others admitted to being elsewhere..(I didn't)  Some had clearly not been looking... carefully. Their fingers touched (on the painting there is a space between God and his Adam). Others looked at me, the ceiling, the others, anywhere anxiously. What on earth were we doing? Was it ok to stand up and be ridiculous in front of the lady from the ministry?  What about the applications?

Touch is not just tactile Mickey!

An Italian painting, it was, I was assured by Michel Ange (by an Italian teacher to be accurate).  Creation, a part of the Sixtine Chapel's ceiling. I learnt! The rest, I was obliged to find for myself, thanks to Google, Wikipedia, and Twitter.

Mickey Ange had a father. He was unhappy that his brilliant son chose to be a ceiling painter. Mickey the son rebelled. Thank God he did! Without his Genius, our world would be a worse place.

Of course this story is almost completely untrue!

He painted the ceiling with the help of his anonymous apprentices.

This article, owes much to @timbuckteeth, @warwicklanguage, @w2YAdavid, @Wagjuer the confusion of the participants present, my children and my wife and childish curiosity.

The lesson I learnt.

A tool is only useful when it is wielded with others and its product witnessed by others who might embellish its failings with their feelings, reactions, and presence.

Education is this new century with these new tools has more to do with love than with legend...