Monday, 25 July 2011

Scoop.it! Useful "curation" tool

I have recently begun using Scoop.it! It's a useful tool that enables you to set up Web pages that gather together links on a specific topic. Scoop.it provides a facility for you to "curate" information on your topics by trawling the Web and finding links that you may wish to add to your topic pages. The links are then laid out attractively like the page of a magazine: http://www.scoop.it/

I have set up two Scoop.it pages:

Computer Assisted Language Learning
http://www.scoop.it/t/computer-assisted-language-learning

Virtual World Language Learning
http://www.scoop.it/t/virtual-world-language-learning

And I follow other people's pages on related topics. As well as being useful for setting up permanent resources, Scoop.it could be used by students for creating one-off magazines.

QR codes in education: Why all the fuss?

The Web is abuzz at the moment with blogs on using QR codes in education. I am not going to give a detailed explanation of what a QR code is if you don’t already know. Suffice it to say that it’s a bit like a barcode but looks different and has a wider range of uses. The Wikipedia article on QR codes gives a good summary of their historical development and how they have been used, particularly in industry. These are examples of a QR code and a barcode that I generated:


QR code of the ICT4LT website. Generated by http://www.qrstuff.com/


Barcode containing information about Graham Davies’s gender, age, weight, height, location
 and value in US$! Generated by http://www.barcodeart.com/

Although QR codes have been around for some time, namely since 1994, it is only recently that they have attracted the attention of educators. Joe Dale’s blog posting (21 July 2011), for example, outlines some of their potential uses in teaching foreign languages. Joe describes using QR codes to:

• launch an mp3 file,
• play a video,
• visit a website and answer comprehension questions,
• engage in a treasure hunt,
• answer questions set by the teacher using QR code voting.

I have to confess that so far I am not too excited by the current interest in using QR codes in education. It’s not a new idea. Back in the 1980s I attended a seminar in Denmark at which Peter Looms of Danmarks Radio demonstrated how a barcode reader could be used to locate resources for language learners on an interactive videodisc and how teachers could create their own lessons by photocopying, cutting and pasting previously prepared barcodes to create activities for students. The barcode reader was used to jump to a particular frame or segment on the videodisc, not unlike the way in which a URL or QR code is now used to jump to a particular website or part of a website. See:

Pinfold C., Fox R. & Looms P. (1994) “Barcoding a Japanese language videodisc for secondary schools”. In McBeath C. & Atkinson R. (eds.) Proceedings of the Second International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, Perth, Western Australia, 23-28 January 1994: 436–442. Available at
http://www.ascilite.org.au/aset-archives/confs/iims/1994/np/pinfold.html

Using barcodes in education did not catch on. CD-ROMs and DVDs replaced interactive videodiscs and the advent of the Web in 1993 brought about radical changes in storing and accessing educational resources.

The main problem with QR codes is that you need a device and an application that can read and interpret them – in the same way that you need an appropriately programmed barcode reader to read and interpret barcodes. The difference is that devices and applications that can read and interpret QR codes (I use my iPhone and the Qrafter application) are in common use by the general public. But pointing an iPhone at a QR code image – and you may need more than one shot to read it – waiting for your phone to boot up a Web browser and then render the page to which it is pointing seems to need a lot of additional time and effort. And if you wish to create your own QR codes you need to know how use another application. Maybe I am just getting old, cynical and unimaginative. I have been playing around with technology in education since I began using language labs in 1965 – which were not as wonderful as they were cracked up to be – and now I have to see a real need for the use of technology with evidence that it saves teachers time and produces better learning results.

However, I have found a good use for QR codes. My wife Sally was watching one of her favourite cookery programmes on BBC TV last week. I was half-watching with her, but I am mainly interested in the results of cooking and not the process itself. My eyes lit up, however, when the TV chef began cooking a smoked haddock pilaf that looked particularly tasty. Sally thought she would like to try it and wondered where she could get the recipe. At that moment I spotted a QR code flash up, all too briefly, in the corner of the TV screen. As we were watching the programme on our Sky+ Box I was able to rewind and freeze the screen so that I could point my iPhone at the QR code. Bingo! It worked first time and sent me to http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/smoked_haddock_pilaf_84768. Using Qrafter on my iPhone, I emailed the URL link to Sally so that she was able to click on it in her email application on her computer and display and print the recipe. We enjoyed an excellent pilaf the following evening. Now that’s what I call a sensible use of technology!

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Languages ICT website to close on 25 July 2011

The Languages ICT website, which was set up and maintained by CILT and ALL, is due to close on 25 July 2011. The announcement of its closure appears on the Languages ICT homepage. If there are materials at the site that you find useful grab them while you can! There are many PDF and video files that can be downloaded.

This is another example of a useful site being abandoned as a result of the lack of available funding. We have seen this happening many times, especially since the current government took over. Having said that, websites that depend on national government or EC funding are often short-lived. Once the funding period comes to an end they are unable to sustain themselves, so they get out of date and are finally abandoned. Teachers TV is a typical example, although the videos can now be streamed from other sites where they are archived: http://www.tes.co.uk/TeachersTV and http://www.teachersmedia.co.uk/

When the ICT4LT website was initiated with EC funding in 1999-2000, it was made available in four languages: English, Italian, Finnish and Swedish. After the funding period came to an end it was sustained as a labour of love by the five original partners, but the Italian, Finnish and Swedish versions were not kept up to date and have now been abandoned. I took the decision to take over the English-language version and to keep it going. It requires quite a bit of work as links keep changing or disappearing and new developments in ICT take place every day. Nevertheless, the site is reasonably up-to-date and includes information on ICT developments that have taken place since the funding period came to a close, e.g. blogging, podcasting, Web 2.0 applications and virtual worlds. Income from a few discreetly placed advertisements more than covers the costs of paying for the broadband connection and Web space is donated free of charge by my daughter Si├ón, who is a graphic designer / Web designer. So there are ways and means of keeping a project going. The site receives an average of 12,000 to 13,000 visits per month – “real” visits, not visits from bots and search engines:

So what happens to dead sites? Sometimes their resources are archived on new or existing sites, but there is a huge Web archive, also known as the Wayback Machine, that keeps records of earlier versions of websites. It is not 100% complete, but I have often found it useful in tracking down resources that I thought had disappeared into oblivion.