Thursday, 28 January 2010

The Future of Learning?

Unlike some people, I am quite excited about the iPad, which was announced yesterday. A tablet computer with a touch screen will have many uses, even if it seems to be somewhat awkwardly positioned in a strange niche between laptops (more powerful, but cumbersome) and smartphones (lighter & smaller, but smaller screen). I think where it will be really useful is in education.

The iPad seems to me to be an ideal device for students: you can easily keep notes, check email, have textbooks accessible, look things up, check your schedule with the calendar, etc. You can even write essays on it. And then, because of wifi, you could submit them with the touch of a button.

So far the biggest obstacle with electronic essay submission for me has been the marking. Marking an essay electronically on a computer just does not work for me. You cannot easily scribble comments on the margins, and annotating a text file like you would a submission to an edited journal is just too much. But if you had a large touch screen on which to read the essay, you could just swipe over a stretch of text, it gets selected and a comment box appears, together with the keyboard. You quickly type your comment, the keyboard disappears again, and the annotation sits on the margin. Back to normal reading. You don't even have to sit at your desk. You can mark a pile of essays easily, even on a cramped train.

I think the universities should set up a subsidised scheme where each student gets an iPad - this would probably push the costs even lower than the current $499 for the basic model (due to bulk buying and/or educational discounting). Teaching staff would also get one, and then we will all sit in the seminars, iPad on lap, looking at texts or media together, sharing group work live on wikis, and have more interactive lectures. This would also save a lot of money currently spent on paper and toner - all hand-outs would be electronic, in colour, and multi-media capable.

This of course is all a bit speculative, as anything regarding the iPad, as I've only seen a video and some photos of it; but if it is anything like a bigger iPhone, I think this should work. But I am rather pessimistic. Such a scheme might be set up at Harvard or Stanford, but Birmingham is so deeply committed to Microsoft software and PC compatible hardware, that I don't see much of a chance for the iPad becoming the learning and teaching enabling tool it could be.

Shame, really.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Breaking the Ice


dnas2 pointed me to a blog entry on advice from the Law Society: don't clear the pavement in front of your house because you can get sued if somebody slips.

So, instead of clearing away the ice to make it less likely for people to slip and break their hips/ankles/whatever, you're supposed to keep it as is, and watch people fall, laughing at them and their misfortune, safe in the knowledge that it's not your fault?

As soon as I heard of that, I decided to clear our pavement. Much better now, and I am sure it is safer for everybody. Took me two hours, but a good workout.

I consider it a civic duty to do this kind of thing. Even if it might be the council's responsibility (unlike countries such as Germany, where you have to clear your bits of pavement or else), this doesn't help people like a friend's daughter, who spent Christmas in hospital because she slipped and broke her ankle. If everybody did the same and cleared snow and ice away, life would be much easier and safer for all.

But it isn't. From the photo you can see that nobody else in our road has cleared their pavement, presumably because it is hard work and you don't have to do it (and shouldn't do it, according to the Law Society advice). When people (usually Conservatives with a capital 'C') talk about 'Broken Britain', they don't mean that, but they should. This is the real bit where our society is 'broken' (if you want to use that word), that (pretty much) nobody cares about other people, it's everybody for themselves. Of course, that's a crass overstatement, and there are a lot of people who do, but they are presumably not members of the Law Society.

If you have an accident, your first thought should not be 'whom do I sue?' But if it isn't, then you are apparently stupid, losing out on a great opportunity to extract cash from a fellow citizen for yourself and your solicitor.


UPDATE: Just came across an article on the BBC website discussing the same issue.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

To-Do List setup and Scrooginess

Yesterday I read an article about a to-do list set up at Lifehack. I'm always keen to try out new productivity ideas to improve on the way I am doing things, so I decided to venture forth and acquire a moleskine. And I nearly fell over backwards when I found one in Waterstones: £10 for a little notebook!?!!

That is of course more than I wanted to spend. I could get a cheap copy at the office supplies shop, for about £3.99, but as I am a programmer (definition: someone who spends 4 hours writing a program that takes 1 minute to solve a problem that can be dealt with in 15 minutes without a program), that was wholly unsatisfactory. I also possess a wonderful gadget for which I can write my own programs, so off I went planning my very own productivity app.

This is partly a challenge, partly a way to think/reflect about what I really want and need from a productivity system. The things that come to mind so far are:

  • keeping to-do lists (daily/weekly)

  • keeping track of 'someday' items

  • keeping track of longer projects with next steps and milestones

  • have items with due dates (and without)

  • integration with address book (for collaborative items)

  • integration with calendar (for deadlines)

This looks like quite a neat app, if I can pull it off. The biggest challenge will be to make it easy to use. Speed of entry and ease of review are important. And the satisfaction of crossing off items off a to-do list...

I will keep you updated on my progress. Unlike previous (half-finished) projects, I will try to map this one out and plan it in more detail before starting the implementation. The actual development will be rather technical, and I'll discuss that on my other blog, where it will be more appropriate.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Getting ready for 2010

A bit late, as it has already started! But some exciting developments: I have a guest post lined up, about a topic that will hopefully be interesting to readers of this blog. Also, with the new term starting, there is lots of work coming up, and the challenge is to find strategies of coping with the workload, and sharing them through this blog.

In the Frameworks of English Discourse Analysis, essays are due in a week, and I will then find out if the use of podcasting and additional group work has made a difference. So far, feedback seems positive, but we will see...

My discipline with not having an email tab open in my browser all the time, and turning off google notifier works well. I feel I get more done, which is great. And ticking things of the to-do list is a good feeling. My plan for this year: improve on my work habits, and disseminate the results. Happy 2010!