ISSN 1470-5524

Practical advice for colleagues who use, teach, lead or manage information and communication technology (ICT) in schools.

7 June 2011

For Subscriber

In this issue

News and views

Quick looks

East Sussex County Council Re-Define IT Service Delivery To Schools With Centrastage

Didactic teaching or discovery learning?

My bookshelf (book reviews)


Contact details


News and views

Prize draws

To avoid the situation where I pull a subscriber’s name out of a virtual hat for a prize, and they turn out to not want it, I thought I’d ask people to let me know if they wish to be entered. The prize I’m offering this time is a premium subscription to Xobni, which is an email add-on to help you organise emails and contacts (“Xobni” is “inbox” backwards!). The draw will take place at 10pm UK time on 13th June 2011, so please contact me by then if you wish to be entered, quoting your first and last name in the same style you used to subscribe to the newsletter. This may be found near the top of this newsletter.

Scholastic access

Scholastic has kindly offered subscribers to Computers in Classrooms free access to the Spring editions of Nursery Education Plus and Child Education Plus.

Nursery Ed PLUS –
Child Ed PLUS –
To use the Access Code just select the ‘Get started...’ box on the right hand side and enter ‘6DC8CA’ for Nursery Ed PLUS and ‘986252’ for Child Ed PLUS.

Guest posts

I’m always interested in having guest bloggers, including students. I like the idea of guest blogging on other people’s blogs too. Julia Skinner and I, and Zoe Ross and I, have written for each other’s blogs. Please take a look at their fantastic blogs, which are always full of useful and interesting ideas and information. Do get in touch if reciprocal guest blogging is something that might interest you.

Vital discussions

I’ve been asked to continue to keep Vital’s secondary (high) school ICT Co-ordinators’ forum going until the end of July, and to run some more weekly discussions online. The first of these has been scheduled for Tuesday 14th June at 19:00 British Summer Time. Why not join us? The discussion topic will be: is the role of ICT co-ordinator still relevant?  I thought this might be an interesting topic to thrash out. So, come along for half an hour or so next week. Use this world clock time converter to find out what the time will be where you are.

You can listen to past discussions by locating them in the Vital Teachshare Archive.

And don’t forget to join in the forum discussions too, where I’ve posted the same question!

Flat Classrooms

Lisa Durff writes:

We’re looking for  Expert Advisors (I spend 10 mins about three times during wiki creation), Sounding Board classrooms to peer review (typically this is accomplished in one lesson), and/or Judges (takes 2-5 minutes to view each video and about 5 minutes to review/rate it) for the Flat classroom projects. This project needs you now. -> Look here for the sign-up form:

Judges and Expert Advisors for Flat Classrooms and NetGenEd Projects.

I double-checked with Lisa recently, and she tells me there are openings for people on the FCP11-2 project. This is the Flat Classrooms Project for the second half of 2011, and if you’re interested in signing up as an expert advisor, judge or member of the sounding board team, just head on over to the project’s web page and add your details in the appropriate place (you may have to ask permission to join the wiki in order to be able to edit it). You’ll find more information about these roles by clicking on the links down the left-hand side. The project itself is based on Thomas Friedman’s book, The World is Flat, and covers such topics as “How the worldwide web has changed the world”.

I have recently finished judging some of the videos for the NetGen project, which is based on the recently-published Horizon Report.   I had been invited to take on the role of “meta mega judge”, which meant that I had to look at all the videos that were awarded 1st, 2nd and 3rd places by the other judges,  in each of 6 categories. I then had to decide on the top three plus an “Honourable Mention”. You’ll find the results of all these decisions on the NetGen videos page. (Check out the video called History Maker, which is an enjoyable vision of what Augmented Reality may be like in the classroom of the future.) I enjoyed looking through the videos, and seeing what youngsters think, and are capable of producing. I also enjoyed being able to offer some suggestions for improving their work even further, should they wish to continue exploring their topic. So I would say this is a very worthwhile activity to get involved with if you can.

Switched-on ICT

The Switched-On ICT project I’ve been involved in, which makes ICT for primary children really interesting and exciting, is now available for Key Stage 2 pupils (7 to 11 year-olds). See Switched-On ICT Revisited for more information, and details of how to download a sample copy. There is an informative review of the work published so far: ICT Plans, by Ian Addison.

A question about the website

I’d be interested in your opinion about something regarding the ICT in Education website. What do you think of the idea of a landing page? At the moment, the Home Page is a sort of index of articles, just like most blogs. That is to say, there are a number of article summaries featured, and you can go from there to read particular articles that you think seem interesting. The page changes, obviously, every time I post a new article. A landing page would be be a static page which would have an “About this website” section and links to the articles. It would be good for first-time visitors, but what do you think? Would it add an unnecessary extra step to getting to the articles, or be useful?

Please let me know what you think. Please note that unless you specifically ask me not to, I may publish your response with attribution to you.

Wanted: geniuses

Yesterday RM launched a new competition for UK schools. Called “Genius on a shoestring”, the blurb says:

We're looking for big thinking, even on a small budget, or more impact for less money. Your innovation enhances learning within the curriculum. It motivates and empowers. Its success can be measured and evaluated. Ideally there's more positive change to come. And you're happy to share your project with RM Education and the wider community of teachers and school leaders.

With a national prize of £5,000, and a regional prize of £1,000, it’s worth entering! The submission takes the form of a 2-minute video. Here are the details of the genius competition.

Blogs and blogging

An academic research study into blogs and blogging has been published. I particularly liked what the study says about bloggers’ influence:

Weblogs or blogs can be described as a form of personal, easy–to–manage Web sites with content presented in reverse chronological order (Schiano, et al., 2004). Bloggers are also frequently described as influential agenda setters. For instance, blogs have been found to have influence on media coverage of politics (Ashbee, 2003; Sweetser, et al., 2008; Wallsten, 2007) as well as facilitating communication among individuals (Baker and Moore, 2008; Hodkinson, 2007) and organizations (Kelleher and Miller, 2006; Sweetser and Metzgar, 2007).

Building a thinking room

An interesting article called Building a thinking room was published in April. It discusses the effects of ceiling height and wall colour on creativity and work. It reminds me of when I visited Pearsons publishing a year or so ago. Our guide said, “Let me show you our ideas room”. This turned out to be a plain room with white walls and white comfy furniture and, if my memory serves me well, a single painting on the wall. Very relaxing, and certainly a far cry from the sort of open plan, manically active spaces that seem to be de rigeur these days. I asked a proponent of such areas how the kids and teachers cope with the noise from other areas. He replied, “Oh, they get used to it.”

No, they don’t. And even if they do, why should they have to?

Spaces should be designed according to the purpose for which they’re intended to be used. Vast open plan areas are great when you’re running an activity that involves students working in groups and then coming together or interacting with other groups. They are hopeless for housing different classes working completely separately from each other.

iPad-only mathematics course

The state of New Jersey is planning an iPad-only algebra course, according to an article in eSchool News. The course will use an algebra application that gives instructions plus immediate feedback on answers given. Sounds like a good use of technology and the principles of assessment for learning. I have reservations though. Some years ago, when integrated learning systems were all the rage, it became very apparent to me (and this was later confirmed in a report), that they worked most effectively when they were used as one component of a course, rather than the sole component, for around 15 minutes at a time, with subject specialist teacher involvement, and for teaching skills rather than higher order thinking. I don’t know enough about algebra or this particular application to know if such considerations apply, but I think they are worth bearing in mind.

Quick looks

The ISTE Conference

Something I’d really love to do, but prevented from doing by work commitments, is attend the ISTE conference again. I’ve been twice, and I have to say the experience is amazing. I have a bit of a vested interest in that I’m an ambassador for ISTE in the UK, but that’s an unpaid position and I haven’t been asked to promote the conference, so please bear with me while I rave about it for a few minutes.

These are what I found to be the benefits of attending:

This year the conference takes place from 26th to 29th June, in Philadelphia. If you can’t make it physically, you can take part remotely.

Professional development during the summer break

Shelly Terrell has written a great post entitled What Will You Learn this Summer? 26 Professional Development Resources. In it she lists several interesting-looking blog series (including my own 31 Days to become a better ed tech leader), live events and free online classes. If you’re worried about getting rusty over the summer, you need this article!

Shelly also has a great series called the 30 Goals Challenge. It’s a good source of ideas for improving your practice and extending your knowledge. Shelly has been recording video versions of the 30 goals, and I think if you were to watch one or two of these with your colleagues that would make a basis for some good team discussion and professional development.

UNESCO report

There is an interesting report from UNESCO on Learning, Innovation and ICT. Its recommendations include:

Definitely worth a look, especially as it draws on the experience of several countries. Download it free  of charge.

Big Ambition materials

Philippa Brown writes:

I run the BigAmbition website (, which is the student-facing website of e-skills UK, the Sector Skills Council for Business and IT. We recently added some teachers online learning resources to the BigAmbition website that are free to use. The resources are for 14-19 learners and were developed often with help from IT industry employers. They are mapped to a range of Key Stage 4 and 5 qualifications (ie 14 – 19 year-olds) and include two multimedia projects for building a website with multimedia content, a set of 13 units that take students through the project lifecycle and how to manage a project, and a set of three units based on the John Lewis retail lifecycle. In addition there are accompanying supporting guides and curriculum-mapping documents that can be downloaded for free. Teachers must register on BigAmbition to access the content but again there is no charge for registration.

I replied to Philippa’s email about this to say that I’d had a quick look and it seems to be very text-based apart from a few audio recordings. I asked if there are there any more types of resources, such as video or a more immersive environment. Philippa’s colleague Sue Nieland told me:

… I agree with you that it is heavily text based. Mostly this was due to budget and I’d have liked to included more audio, voices etc.  That said, the multimedia materials have more interactivity, and there are Flash-based activities in those and Camtasia-produced information presentations. So we made some attempt to address that.  The project management stuff is very text based, but it also has a lot of embedded downloadable resources, so there’s quite a bit of pre-written materials to help teachers deliver what is a heavily text-oriented topic.  And there’s nice Flash interactivity around the roles of project managers in one of the first resources in this set, which tries to give the students ‘voices’ of people to help deliver the messages. The Organisations and Technology topic does have a Flash resource that is a virtual tour of an organisation, where students can explore different floors of the building, going up in a lift (elevator), and finding out about the roles of different people are how they use technology.  (Ed: I’ve looked at this and it’s pretty cool!)

The Technology in Retail was a bit different. This was driven by our relationship with John Lewis and was originally built to accompany work experience that they were considering at the time. Now things have changed – they decided they couldn’t offer the associated work places so we decided to put something up there that could be used to demonstrate how a familiar sector (shops) use technology. 

I’ve looked at the materials and they seem both useful and engaging. I discovered a slightly annoying part of a unit on retail, which reads:

(for more information watch the biopic video of Jane, a buyer for John Lewis, in the Processes in the Retail Lifecycle unit)

I think a link should have been inserted, especially as it’s not obvious which unit that is. On the whole, though, I like this stuff. It’s arguably more slanted towards business than ICT, but to my mind it’s a rich source of ideas and information about how technology is used in real businesses. One way of countering the perception that ICT is boring is to make it as practical as possible, in the sense of relating what students learn in the classroom to what happens “out there”.

The multimedia section is worth exploring, and all of the topics are supported by useful material, such as a curriculum mapping document and a student log document. If nothing else these will save the teacher a lot of time and effort. Do check out the links given above.

Youngsters designing learning spaces

Research Machines (now known simply as “RM”) ran a competition in which youngsters could design their own learning spaces. Take a look at the top three entries. The videos explain how the pupils went about their project, and what the outcome was. Very interesting.

Teaching resources for Business Education

The Vital website now has a PDF entitled Top 10 free education resources for Business Education and Economics. There is a similar sheet for ICT. You might like to check out a load of other subjects, listed on the Subject and Special Interest Portal page.

Non-interest declaration: I’m doing some work for Vital (see above), but have not been asked to promote resources.

East Sussex County Council Re-Define IT Service Delivery To Schools With Centrastage

This is a sponsored article.

The Schools ICT Services division of East Sussex Local Authority supports 194 schools. During 2009, East Sussex Local Authority began a strategic review of all ICT Services including those provided to schools. An extensive consultation process with schools was undertaken, to better understand the ‘customer’ requirements from an IT service point of view; members of the school ICT support team at East Sussex also visited other Local Authorities to see how school ICT services were being delivered elsewhere. This process ultimately led to a complete re-design of school IT support services within East Sussex.


Whilst East Sussex had good ‘buy in’ from schools into their IT support services, the nature of the services had hardly changed over time. In addition the service delivery itself was resource-intensive, based as it was on a ‘reactive’ approach to IT-related problems, and on-site school visits by a technician once a fortnight. Feedback from the schools also indicated that the services could be improved – schools wanted better value for money and a predictable cost for their IT support. In essence schools just wanted their IT to work.

The East Sussex team believed that with the appropriate use of technology, IT support to schools could be transformed from a reactive model to a proactive one, delivering better services more efficiently. The ultimate objective was to reduce IT downtime in schools and increase customer satisfaction, for a single, predictable cost to schools – a ‘Premier Service’ that would meet the joint challenges of schools’ increasing reliance on IT and the budget cuts brought about by the UK’s Coalition Government’s deficit reduction plan.


A key element of the project hinged on finding the right IT management technology that could underpin the new IT service delivery model. The team at East Sussex knew that unless they could gain complete visibility and control of the supported school IT environments, providing effective support would be impossible. They also recognised that there were thousands of manual, repetitive IT tasks being undertaken across East Sussex schools under the old support model – if these could be automated, or circumvented, the efficiency savings would be enormous.

Kris Scruby, ICT Deputy Schools Services Manager, reviewed and compared a host of IT management solutions and after a period of testing selected CentraStage. “CentraStage is designed specifically for IT service providers, and it gives us centralised visibility and control of every device in all our supported schools. We have been able to automate and streamline large parts of our IT support, evolving our new support model to better meet the schools’ requirements. With such pressure on budgets it was a key factor that we are able to purchase CentraStage on a pay-as-you-go type model, allowing us to adapt our IT service model over time without huge capital investment” explains Scruby.


The schools ICT support team in East Sussex have transformed the way they deliver IT support to schools. The results are compelling:

Shirley Hamilton, Assistant Director and Head of ICT at East Sussex explains, “By undertaking this review, we have been able to radically change the historic nature of ICT Support Services in our schools. This has bought about an improved quality of response and enhanced proactive monitoring. Additional remote services have increased our green credentials.”

About Centrastage

CentraStage is an IT management platform with a difference. Designed to be simple to set up and manage, highly scalable and very cost effective, CentraStage offers audit and asset management, monitoring, deployment and device configuration, remote support, and reporting through a fully web-based platform.

For further information, please contact or

If you are interested in sponsoring an article or advertising in Computers in Classrooms, or on the ICT in Education website, please contact us.

Didactic teaching or discovery learning?

According to a study reported on by The Economist, 4 and 5 year-olds not told what could be done with an unfamiliar object explored it for longer and came up with more ideas than control groups who were shown, to varying degrees. The Economist states:

The researchers’ conclusion was that, in the context of strange toys of unknown function, prior explanation does, indeed, inhibit exploration and discovery. Generalising from that would be ambitious. But it suggests that further research might be quite a good idea.

Does this imply that the advocates of discovery learning (and their associated preference for “guide on the side” to “sage on the stage”) are right? My thoughts are as follows:

What do you think?

My bookshelf

Review of The Copywriting Scorecard for Bloggers

The aim of this book, written by Darren Rowse and Glenn Murray, is to help you write better blog posts. However, “better” in this context refers to generating more visitors to your blog rather than “just” improving your writing skills. The idea is a simple one: why not identify the key elements of successful blogging, and then provide a tool by which to measure how a particular blog post has done? That’s exactly what the book aims to do.

The book is structured very well. The reader is provided with some useful advice, such as “Know your brand”, and invited to complete a questionnaire about the blog as a whole, with questions like “Why would readers want to read your posts and not get their information elsewhere?”. Why indeed? If you yourself can’t answer that question, you can hardly expect the world to beat a path to your blog. Other questions are also useful, such as “Who is your typical reader?” and “Why should readers trust you?”. These are thought-provoking questions.

It’s a pity in a way that the authors don’t say anything about how to find out who your audience is. After all, you can know who you’d like your audience to be, but without gathering metrics, how would you find out? Like other aspects of the book, this section might best be regarded as a starting point. I’ll return to this theme in a moment.

There follows a questionnaire to complete before writing each post – for the first ten posts anyway. After that, presumably, the questions should be second nature. The questions are pertinent, such as “What will your readers NOT want to see in this post? (E.g.Slang, clichés, 10-tips, discussion of last night’s dinner, criticism of competitors)”. That’s quite interesting and useful I think.

Then comes the meat of the book: a whole series of recommendations, each of which carries a mark. The idea is that, like the quizzes you find in popular magazines, you rate your blog posts, to see how well you’ve written them. Now, paradoxically, while the suggestions are good, the scorecard itself is the weakest aspect of the book, for a number of reasons, which I’ll explore now.

The authors say:

If you write a post and you’ve followed every recommendation, and avoided every pitfall, your post gets a perfect score — 100 points — and will most likely be quite engaging and effective.

I have to say I beg to differ: I think such a post would sound horribly contrived. It would be hard to do anyway. For example, one point is “signal your professionalism” while another is “Lead with the important stuff”. So I might want to write something like, “As an inspector of ICT in schools, I think the latest Government proposals blah blah blah.” The important part of that sentence is what I think of the proposals, but if I don’t establish my credentials first, why would anyone bother reading that far? But even if you could get around these sorts of objections, I think the best writing comes from avoiding formulas – or at least, by “mixing it up” a bit. For example, one of the suggestions is to get straight into the subject, yet one of the reasons people like some people’s writing is that they will often start off with something apparently unrelated to the topic. People like the way they gently lead into the topic, and the feelings of curiosity it arouses in them – which is why they keep reading. Now, that technique would become tedious – formulaic – if applied to every post. But so would simply diving in every time. In fairness, though, the reader is advised to break the rules and be flexible!

The scoring system is flawed because, like most such systems, the questions which are worth a given number of points are implicitly assumed to be equivalent, and somehow comparable. For example, why is signalling your professionalism given the same number of points as checking your keyword frequency with a word cloud? So for this reason alone I’d say use the scorecard as a checklist and an informal check on what you’re doing, but don’t take it too seriously in terms of scoring.

This was reinforced for me by the scores I obtained. Because I didn’t read the instructions, I had to do it twice! The first time, instead of giving myself a mark or a zero, I gave myself parts of marks. For example, I sometimes use a word cloud, but not always, so I gave myself a mark of 1 out of 2. I gained a mark of 77%, which led to my being advised to focus on clearing up grammatical errors. Well, I’m sure that if someone were to go through this article with a fine toothcomb they might find one or two errors, but I would suggest not many. It’s one of the things I try to pay close attention to, along with using correct vocabulary and style.

I then went through it again, and scored 41%. I was advised to look at the 2-point errors. I suppose this makes sense, because they’re less daunting to try and correct than the 3-point errors!

To be honest, I “misused” the scoring card on both occasions, because it’s designed to be used for individual blog posts whereas I applied it to my blog as a whole. If you do like the idea of scoring your blog posts, I suggest using the electronic version of the scorecard, because this is interactive and therefore a great time-saver.

Apart from the scoring, the other weak aspect of the book is the section on grammatical errors. The authors pull out a few of the most common ones, but really these 17 suggestions are no substitute for a proper style manual. I actually think a couple are too dogmatic. For example, “different than” is said to be wrong for the most part, but it’s not wrong in the USA. Also, the authors say you should use the spelling convention (British or American) expected by your audience. But in blogging, you have an international audience, so you have to, I think, take the majority view. For example, on the ICT in Education blog I write using British spellings, whereas on the Technology and Learning blog I write in American English.

You might think from all this that I would recommend not buying this book, but you’d be wrong. I think it’s an essential guide to all the things you should be mindful of when writing for a blog. It contains over 60 suggestions, each of which is succinctly summarised. You can use it as an aide-memoir, something to dip into at random, or as a starting point for further, more in-depth exploration. It sits on my virtual bookshelf alongside the OED and other reference works, and is easier to use for a quick look-up than trawling through blog-writing websites for the information. The price of the book seems high at $29.99, but then you are paying for a blog veteran’s expertise in a very conveniently packaged form.

I’d recommend it on a personal level, to help improve your blog-writing from (mainly) a search engine point of view. I’d also recommend it as a resource to be used in the classroom. You could use it as a starting point for activities, such as, referring back to a point I made earlier, how might the students find out who their audience is? You could also use the book’s recommendations as a starting point for collaboration with your literacy colleagues, and for discussion with students. For example, what makes a blog headline effective, and what makes a magazine article headline effective, can be quite different, as I explore in the article The basic rule of blog headlines.

Like all simple ideas, the Copywriting Scorecard for Bloggers has both its plus and minus points. Although I don’t much like the scorecard itself, I do like the book as a whole. The good points definitely outnumber and outweigh the others! And let’s face it: I have reviewed it here from an educational perspective, which was not its intended audience o purpose.

Further information about, and to purchase, the Copywriting Scorecard for Bloggers:

Review of Building Parental Engagement in Schools

Let's be honest: many teachers probably see parents as a necessary evil. After all, who is the expert in a school? The teacher, of course! Parents can be tolerated if their involvement amounts to a couple of ten minute interviews at parents' evenings, and to help enforce school discipline.

A more enlightened attitude leads to the professional educator acknowledging that the parent is, almost certainly, a better expert when it comes to their own child. In such cases the parent may be thought of more as a client or customer, in these days of pseudo-business language creeping into the school lexicon.

In a sense, though, you could argue that while the latter, hopefully more prevalent, way of thinking is more welcome than the former, it is merely a better aspect of the same phenomenon. That is to say, the paradigm which sees the parent as there to be “done to” rather than “done with”, in which even consultations with parents are discussions about what the school wants.

Now, I don't wish to put words into the authors' mouths, but it seems to me that that is the nub of their distinction between involving parents and engaging them. Engagement puts the parent on at least an equal footing with the school. Whilst parental involvement is about how to get parents signed up to school values and projects, engagement is more to do with finding common ground, of finding projects that the parents, the community as a whole, have identified as being necessary and desirable.

The book has a number of plus points. It features inspiring case studies, but it also puts great store by practical advice: this is not simply about having a vision. It also includes an extensive resources section. Unusually, the case studies are varied, and at least one should strike a chord with the school community or parent liaison officer.

On the other side of the balance sheet, the book has one or two confusing sentences. For instance, was the Sacramento parent visit training 3 hours long or 4 hours?

More seriously, all the examples and resources are from the USA. Now, the principles described can be applied, with some adaptation, to anywhere probably. However, any educators outside the USA will have to do their own research to find out their national equivalents of the agencies cited -- and, indeed, if they even exist. This is a pity because it limits the potential usefulness of the book. On the other hand, restricting the size of the book has ensured that it not only inexpensive, but manageable: I read it and made notes on it in just a couple of hours.

A serious (from  my point of view) omission is the lack of reference to the use of Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs). In the UK, and parts of Europe, one of the key potential benefits of a VLE is to enable parents to become engaged with the school. This is at an early stage in many schools, with the VLE being used to enable parents to see school notices, their child's timetable and examples of the child's work. In more advanced schools, parents can comment on their child's work, and view the teachers' comments. I was rather hoping that this book would offer some practical advice for going up the steps of this particular ladder. Alas, the book doesn't cover it at all. In this respect, I found it disappointing.

Nevertheless, all is not lost. One case study that will be of interest to ICT/Technology Co-ordinators is the Home-School Technology programme. The UK has enjoyed a national home access programme, but this was largely about providing individual families with hardware and internet access. The scheme described in the case study was about that, but in one respect went further: it encouraged families to communicate with each other via their computers, and for family members to help each other.

It may be that the challenges addressed by the case study project are too particular for the solutions adopted to be applicable very widely. In particular, poverty and poor English is not known to be conducive to high educational engagement and attainment. But I know there are localities in the UK where the same unfortunate circumstances exist, and the schools in such areas may well benefit from reading this case study even if the others were ignored.

On balance, I would say that this book is worth reading. The general principles put forward make good sense, and the Technology study alone makes it good value for money for the ICT leader.

To purchase the book, click here: Building Parent Engagement in Schools, by Larry Ferlazzo and Lorie Hammond


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