I tried out the Find My iPhone function on MobileMe today, and even sent a message from my laptop to the phone. It has an additional function that allows you, remotely, to wipe all data from the phone, returning it to factory settings — I didn’t test that function.
Mashable reported recently that the function had been used successfully to catch some iPhone thieves in Pittsburgh. This might be more difficult to achieve in a rural area such as the one in which I live, given the larger size of mobile cell (the circle in the image has a 3 or 4 mile radius. After a few minutes it refined my location to within perhaps a 2 mile radius — still too wide to be really useful, perhaps? Still, it’s good to know it’s there in case it is ever needed.
Of course, if I can track my phone when others nick it, who might be able to track me when it is in my possession?
Postscript — The simplicity of the Find My iPhone function is laudable — however, it does not make up for the increasingly flakey performance I’ve been seeing lately from the webmail interface for MobileMe mail. It decides to refresh the inbox randomly, often when I am half way through writing an email, which I then have to start again. It also seems to be losing touch with the mail server more often than in the past, and certainly more often than is acceptable. It all works fine from within a client, but I like to be able to use the web for my mail when I can. I do not see any of these sorts of problems with Gmail.
Click the image for a (slightly) more readable version.
The above ‘provisional taxonomy of weblogs’ is taken from the second edition of Lankshear’s and Knobel’s book: New Literacies: Everyday Practices and Classroom Learning (note the interesting change of subtitle from the first edition, which was ‘Changing Knowledge in the Classroom’ and which Amazon still quotes).
My blog would probably come under Hybrid:Personal:Targeted, although ‘targeted’ is an overstatement in my case. I would be interested to hear from others about where they think their own blogs might appear in the taxonomy, and does the taxonomy miss some blog-types?
Afterthought: — Is a blog taxonomy even helpful or necessary at all? What purpose does it serve, if any?
Lankshear’s and Knobel’s book, by the way is a thoughtful and detailed introduction to the broad and fractious debate around the extension of our understanding of literacy in the context of digital technology, network effects, social technology and Learning 2.0. I intend to come back to the new edition on the blog with a more detailed description, but let me offer a taster here, with approval:
.…the more a literary practice privileges participation over publishing, distributed expertise over centralized expertise, collective intelligence over individual possessive intelligence, collaboration over individuated authorship, dispersion over scarcity, sharing over ownership, experimentation over ‘normalization’, innovation and evolution over stability and fixity, creative-innovative rule breaking over generic purity and policing.….…..the more we should regard it as a ‘new’ literacy.
So, James (son of Rupert) Murdoch thinks that, in the regulated world of public service broadcasting, the customer does not exist. He believes that the expansion of ‘state-sponsored journalism’ is a threat to the plurality and the independence of news provision which are ‘so important to our democracy’.
Murdoch (son of Rupert) is a key player in the global media monster that owns Fox News (a part of Fox Entertainment Group, fittingly) and who, were the BBC out of their way, would soon turn Sky News into the UK equivalent of that fair-minded, liberal, Palin-loving news channel. And we all know how important Fox is to American democracy!
The arguments put forward by Murdoch remind me of the nonsense we’ve been hearing from the USA about the NHS — he probably stopped just short of accusing the BBC of being ‘socialist’ because he knows that such ridiculous epithets only work with the loathsome right across the pond.
And well done to Robert Peston for taking this idiot on in such a forceful manner! I hope many other equally-forceful voices, from inside and outside the BBC, make themselves heard in this critical debate. Peston noted in his Richard Dunn Memorial Lecture in Edinburgh that:
For me, the blog is at the core of everything I do, it is the bedrock of my output.
That understanding from Peston of how things have changed demonstrates very nicely why the likes of Murdoch are getting desperate in their search for a workable business model for news: nothing to do with the BBC and everything to do with inevitable network effects of digital technology.
Let love go, if go she will.
Seek not, O fool, her wanton flight to stay.
Of all she gives and takes away
The best remains behind her still.
I was invited earlier in the summer by my friend and erstwhile colleague, Stuart Campbell, to attend the launch of his book RLS in Love. Unfortunately, I was stuck in a field somewhere in Suffolk on holiday at the time, and was therefore unable to go (although the whole thing has been captured on YouTube). By way of redress to Stuart for missing his big moment, therefore, I want to take the chance to let others know about this book that is both a superb read and a genuinely lovely thing to hold in your hand.
Stuart has been a reader, admirer and collector of Robert Louis Stevenson’s work since long, long before I came to know him. He must have by now, I am sure, one of the most complete collections of Stevenson first and early editions anywhere in the world, and he has been a diligent and enthusuastic researcher into all-things-Stevenson for longer than he himself probably cares to admit.
I worked with Stuart when we both joined the new West Lothian Education Department in the mid-90s — we soon discovered that we shared a love of books, and of second-hand books in particular. Stuart was always much more discerning in his choice of books than I, and, having had experience himself of the second-hand book trade in the past, was able to teach me lot about the nether world of old and rare books. On my treks to that old-books-nirvana of Hay-on-Wye, he would usually ask me to look out for one or two Stevenson titles on his behalf. I don’t recall ever being successful in finding something of interest to him.
Stuart started his career teaching English, and his love of language was manifest from the moment I met him. Stuart, even in the most mundane and functional of settings (of which there are many when you work in a Scottish local authority) nonetheless always expressed himself with just a little extra thought given to his choice of words. When Stuart spoke to you, you simply had to pay attention, otherwise you risked reaching the end of a sentence and having to ask him to repeat himself
And so we come to his new book. Stevenson’s attitudes to love, to women and to sex might surprise those who know him perhaps only through the likes of Kidnapped and Treasure Island. Stuart quotes Stevenson on the first page of the book:
I wish I had made more of a religion of sex.
An interesting attitude at any time, but all the more intriguing when said by a mid-to-late-Victorian Scot!
In three lucid and elegantly-written explanatory chapters, Stuart takes us through what he terms the ‘three main stages of Stevenson’s emotional life’. It is a fascinating journey, and Stuart’s deep knowledge of the man’s poetry and of his sheer human complexity gives us insight after insight into the life, the events, the philosophy and the passion that lay behind the words. Most of the remainder of the book comprises an anthology of the poetry itself, divided into those three emotional stages. The final section is a set of notes, poem-by-poem, entitled Origins and Insights. Oh, and there’s even space in the middle of the book for some photos of Stevenson and of the people and places that were important to him.
Sandstone Press, based in Dingwall, has done a brilliant job of producing RLS in Love. This hardback book is genuinely a thing of beauty: a stunning dust jacket, beautifully bound, printed (in Perpetua) and covered in black board with author and title elegantly embossed. And, they are on Twitter!
It is natural, when we read something, to focus on those parts of a text that interest us most. The comments on my previous post on this subject — Time For A TeachMeet Alternative? — amount to a very stimulating discussion of the issues that I raised. However, I was interested to note how many of the commenters focused on issues that, while important, were not what I regard as the central one.
Many commenters, understandably picked up on the issue of the ‘echo chamber’ effect, namely the potential for TeachMeets to become gatherings of the converted. Tom Barratt, however, pointed out that the manifest evolution of the TeachMeet concept, the attendant growth in numbers turning up at the events, and the real changes in practice happening as a result, indicated a genuine grass-roots advance taking place (Ian Hallahan and Nick Hood made very similar points). As Tom wrote:
.…the ongoing success [of TeachMeet] is surely an indication of grass roots change. Real transformational change. Change in the way that teachers perceive CPD, in my opinion that is very important – and not to be overlooked.…
However, while I think the echo chamber is an important issue (and I agree with Tom, Ian and Nick that there are definite trends that mitigate its worst effects), I don’t think that this was the central point I was trying to make. At the risk of merely repeating something that was not clear the first time I wrote it:
.… the key restriction, I believe, is the insistence that all presentations should be based firmly in classroom practice.….
Some commenters did pick up on this core issue. Ewan McIntosh recognized, I think, if not the absurdity (the word I used and for which I was taken to task, most generously, by Jaye Richards and by Nick Hood) then at least the not-wholly-appropriate aspect of seeing people who have long left the classroom behind standing up to offer advice to classroom practitioners.
But even this was not the central point! The core issue, for me, was this:
If we restrict ourselves to discussion of what is happening in the classroom, we immediately limit the possibility of questioning whether the classroom itself should even exist in its current form or at all, and whether the school that surrounds that classroom is the best, most humane and most effective way to ‘do’ education in the changing context of the 21st Century. In other words, by accepting the core guidelines of TeachMeet as the starting point, we hinder our own scope for seeking societal or global alternatives to the status quo in formal educational organization and curricular structures. Piecemeal change becomes the order of the day rather than wholesale transformation.
You talk about “genuine systemic transformation”. TeachMeets are never going to achieve this.…
Leon Cych picked up on an important aspect of the question when he wrote:
I feel that if TeachMeets aren’t going to just become a self-congratulatory hermetically sealed meetup then parallel activity needs to happen outside of and then interact with other communities. Surely if everyone is into emergent communities then they need to evolve at some point rather than produce new inflexible orthodoxies of protocol.
Many commenters were happy that continued evolution of the TeachMeet concept (and it is great to see that no one, despite Leon’s words above, seems to regard the original as an untouchably pure concept — all are prepared to see it change) would offer enough variability and breadth of possibility to deal with the limitations of the original. It is a self-evident fact that many TeachMeets have already shifted at least parts of their focus beyond the classroom.
Continued evolution of the concept might well deal with my central point (and Ewan’s DreamMeet idea, of deliberately reversing some of the TeachMeet ‘rules’ occasionally, is a one that deserves to be given a chance to blossom). Nonetheless, I would like to identify a few willing souls who might be interested in getting together, virtually or f2f, to play around with some ideas in order to come up with some alternatives (but not replacements) for TeachMeet, one or more (or many!) formats that would offer real opportunities to discuss the big questions at the systems level. A similar grass-roots development in this ‘big picture’ area, such as we have undoubtedly already seen with reference to classroom practice within TeachMeet, would, I believe, be an important addition to the Learning 2.0 landscape.
Some good ideas have already been mentioned by the commenters on the earlier post. Con Morris, for instance, felt that ‘a good old-fashioned debating format’ might offer scope for inserting real ‘perturbation’ into discussion. Peter Schneider suggests we look at the great work being done by Julie Lindsay, Vicki Davis and others with the ‘flat classroom’ concept. Tom Barratt, who isn’t sure that we really need to look for an alternative, nonetheless suggests that we ought to look at the variety of ‘unconference’ types already in use out there.
All in all, the earlier post certainly pulled in a mass of valuable comment. It would be great to see discussion continue around the fringes of the next few TeachMeets on some ideas and possibilities for either evolving the TeachMeet format or developing alternatives will happen, or more likely both!
It is an incredible demonstration of how the ‘real’ and the ‘virtual’ can now interact, to the extent that there is an undoubted blurring between the two. Project Natal is a development for XBox from Lionhead Studios and it shows once again just how innovative the games industry continues to be. You think the Wii is cool — watch this!
The potential of this kind of technology for education is simply mind-boggling.
I had the pleasure yesterday of sitting in on a conversation with Dr Mona Mourshed. Mona is a partner in McKinsey, based in Dubai, and leads their education practice covering the Middle East, Asia and Latin America. Mona was the joint author (with Sir Michael Barber) of the highly regarded report(downloadable PDF) published by McKinsey in September 2007 entitled:
How the World’s Best-Performing School Systems Come out on Top
I have made extensive use of this report in a number of my talks and presentations over the past 18 months or so. The simple conclusion of the report is one that is difficult to argue with: that the best schools’ systems are those that have the best teachers. Countries and regions such as Finland, Singapore, South Korea, Ontario and others recruit teachers from the top echelon of graduates each year, they pay them well and they create and maintain a culture of inclusion and quality throughout teachers’ careers that imbues the whole school system.
Of course, the report offers many additional insights — some obvious, others less so, some hard to disagree with, others debatable — but it is well written, concise, very well referenced and will be useful, I believe, for many years to come. While I believe that there are other factors at play in each of these schools’ systems, and while I have some objections to the basis of the TIMSS and PISA benchmarks, both of which tend to put these countries and regions at the top of their rankings, it is a delight to see an authoritative report that sets such store by the quality of teaching as the basis for good schooling.
Mona was kind enough to give me a hard-copy of the report before she left, although I did have trouble fitting this stylish, huge, heavy cardboard-bound document into my bag for the flight home.
The TeachMeet concept is a wonderful thing. To quote my own words (in the interests of minimizing wheel re-invention):
That small group of far-thinking Scottish educationists who came up with the idea of TeachMeet knew what they were doing when they established the basic form and function of the concept: an informal gathering of equals designed to give a platform to everyone who wanted to be heard, a firm foundation in the practices of teaching and learning, an opportunity to teach others and to learn from others in a mutually supportive, non-prescriptive atmosphere. It promoted a recognition that we are all learners all of the time and, critically, a further recognition that no one has any more right to be heard and to be listened to than anyone else.
So, TeachMeet has been, and is, a roaring success — the list of TM’s that have taken place, or are still to take place, in 2009 alone demonstrates this clearly: ASN/SEN, Havering LA, BETT, Borders, Islay’s Edu2020, LeadMeet, Student Edition, Midlands, LearnTech Wales, Scottish Learning Festival (and this is not an exhaustive list). The small group of friends and colleagues who created TeachMeet should be proud of what they started.
I believe that the time has come, however, to think of an alternative to TeachMeet — not, I hasten to add, as a replacement, but to stand alongside TM as another way of getting people thinking, learning, playing and working together to change education, in circumstances where the particular strengths of TeachMeet are not so appropriate.
Let’s look at the organizing guidelines for running a TeachMeet event:
It’s an unconference, meaning that control is distributed amongst those taking part — no central direction of speakers or of specific topics, participant-driven
Talks last, at most, 7 minutes each
It is — foremost — about classroom practice — is it happening now in a classroom somewhere?
Speakers volunteer, usually via a wiki, and are selected to speak as the event happens, in random order (and if there are too many, some may end up not speaking at all)
No use of Powerpoint / Keynote and the like, except in Pecha Kucha style
No product-selling, even by sponsors (of whom there should, ideally, be more than one)
Participants, whether speakers or lurkers, should be able to get online, ideally by wifi
Extend the scope of the unconference through a backchannel, or a number of backchannels, including video-conferencing, SMS, Twitter, whatever
Tag everything so that coverage does not disappear into the ether
The simplicity of this set of dos and donts has been the bedrock of TeachMeet’s success. Certain aspects of the simple principles, however, do place certain restrictions on what TeachMeet is able to achieve in the round, and the key restriction, I believe, is the insistence that all presentations should be based firmly in classroom practice.
It is a restriction that, by its very nature, will diminish the prospect of topics and themes that question the broader aspects of how our societies establish and maintain the arrangements by which formal education is delivered to their populations. If we restrict ourselves to discussion of what is happening in the classroom, we immediately limit the possibility of questioning whether the classroom itself should even exist in its current form or at all, and whether the school that surrounds that classroom is the best, most humane and most effective way to ‘do’ education in the changing context of the 21st Century. In other words, by accepting the core guidelines of TeachMeet as the starting point, we hinder our own scope for seeking societal or global alternatives to the status quo in formal educational organization and curricular structures. Piecemeal change becomes the order of the day rather than wholesale transformation.
It is also an inescapable fact that not everyone who attends a TeachMeet is a classroom teacher in any case — many have been, like me, teachers in the past, but it would be absurd in the extreme for someone in my situation, for example (almost 15 years since I last took a class in any formal sense), to offer hard-working, dedicated classroom teachers any kind of teaching advice that would be at all relevant or appropriate to them.
Now, the simple fact is that this particular guideline has been breached in practice during some TeachMeets — I certainly heard some great discussion at the Edu2020 meeting on Islay that went way beyond classroom practice, and the imaginative LeadMeet in July, organized by Con Morris, by definition, took discussion beyond the classroom (although, of course, I know that many critical aspects of leadership in the classroom were discussed too).
A lesser problem with the TeachMeet concept, although one that matters a lot, is that they do tend to attract people of like mind. Most presentations given at Teachmeets are offered as sermons to the converted — differences aired tend to be in the detail rather than in the core ethic or philosophy being espoused. I agree with the short tenet I once heard from Sir Robert Swan, the polar explorer and yachtsman, when he said that: ‘any team that is thinking the same, ain’t thinking’. It may be comforting and pleasant to find oneself amongst friends — and given the attitudes, ranging from indifference to hostility, offered by so many teaching colleagues to those who are trying to change practice in the classroom — this is an understandable thing to want to do. For this reason alone, TeachMeet will continue to thrive in its current form — and rightly so. If it helps colleagues to charge batteries, to learn innovative classroom practice from others of like mind, and to let them know they are not alone in their classroom endeavours, then that has to be a good thing.
But it is a simple fact that real change — genuine systemic transformation — will only happen in education when a majority of those involved in the whole enterprise of formal education begin to recognize the deep-seated issues and problems with our increasingly desperate attempts to make an 18th / 19th century model work in the 21st century.
For that reason, I believe we need to come up with a form of event that takes some of the core democratic and participant-driven principles of TeachMeet, but which permits discussion to range far beyond the bounds of classroom practice and, crucially, which also attracts people of strongly divergent opinions to take part and to engage. I offer no particular framework for doing this, since it would be helpful to hear some debate around the idea first.
Do we need an occasional alternative to TeachMeet?
Does such an alternative already exist, one that is genuinely participant-driven?
An American law academic who, I believe, teaches in Glasgow, but whose name I did not pick up, was being interviewed on BBC Radio Scotland last week, before the decision to release Megrahi was formally made known. The discussion centred around the contrasting approaches to justice found in Scots Law and in the US judicial system. Her basic point was that the notion of ‘compassionate release’ was simply not recognized in US law. The interviewer asked, finally (I’m paraphrasing): surely you’re aware of some cases where prisoners in the US have been released early from life sentences because they were dying?
The answer: “Good Lord, no.…” and the mirthless chuckle that accompanied her answer immediately pointed up the dilemma that faced Kenny MacAskill as he pondered his decision.
I believe that MacAskill made the right decision and, surprisingly for a politician in office, for the right reasons. Basic human decency and the quality of mercy should not be contingent on base diplomatic, political, economic or religious reasons, and neither should decisions in Scots Law be swayed by heavy-handed attempts to ‘influence’ from the USA or elsewhere, or even on fears of how the decision might be abused by others for their own particular political ends. MacAskill’s performance in the media as he tried to explain his decision was undoubtedly wooden and over-rehearsed; his crass reference to a ‘higher power’ merely put his own religious beliefs in an unfortunate light; but the core human decency in his decision stands.
The truly distasteful aspect of this affair is to be found, not in the decision by MacAskill, but rather in the repellant behaviour of those who are now busy trying to turn the decision to their party political advantage. Tom Harris MP was to be found on Twitter on the evening of the decision asking crassly:
Are there ANYSNP supporters who disagree with what MacAskill did today?
On the same evening, Iain Gray, leader of the Labour Party in Scotland, was quoted in his party’s Campaign Briefing, distributed to party members:
The Lockerbie decision is wrong: Parliament should be recalled. Scottish Labour has criticised the decision to release the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi.
Labour leader Iain Gray, MSP, said:
“If I was [sic] First Minister, Megrahi would not be going back to Libya. The decision to release him is wrong. He was convicted of the worst terrorist atrocity in our history, the mass murder of 270 people.
“The SNP’s handling of this case has let down Scotland. Kenny MacAskill’s conduct has damaged the Scottish Justice system and, in turn, Scotland’s international reputation. This whole sorry affair shows the SNP as unfit when it comes to the tough decisions of government.”
The thought that Gray could ever be First Minister is enough to make me think of burying my party membership in a deep hole somewhere, digging it up again only when we start to promote genuine talent to the leadership instead of small-minded apparatchiks.
On TV and in the press, we already have such people, from across the parties, pandering to the US administration, throwing phrases such as ‘pariah state’ around, hoping to eke footling inches of political capital out of a decision that demonstrates the core decency and humanity in our justice system. That Megrahi, and those who undoubtedly helped him, showed no compassion to the 270 people on Pan Am Flight 103 is a self-evident fact. That there are many who are horrified that such a man can be freed is wholly understandable — I have no argument with those who hold that view.
But that there are some who will now seek to use the decision for paltry and piddling party advantage in the Scottish Parliament, and beyond, is truly sickening.
Postscript — Even Tom Harris MP has written that: “I actually believe Salmond and MacAskill when they say there was no ulterior motive. Still a bad decision, though.” Why then would he seek to use such a difficult decision for petty party gain?