I’ve spent a lot of time this past week trying to find ways to show people how Twitter can make their work life easier/simpler/more fun. I’m not sure how succesful I’ve been. Social Media is a drip drip process that has to be worked on. You can’t become an aficionado overnight. But here are a few thoughts.
The Social Tweeter
I got the first year undergraduate students in my Digital Journalism class to create their Social Media portraits so I could get a better idea of how they use different platforms – if at all.
The vast majority use Social Media a lot, mainly Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. But they’re using it almost exclusively to keep in touch with friends and follow celebrity news (it’s not called SOCIAL media for nothing.)
A few of them are blogging or following other people’s blogs.
Soundcloud is quite popular for sharing music they’ve made and finding other people’s music. There were one or two Pinterest users who said they liked finding cute DIY ideas they’ll never use!! There was also one Reddit fan.
There were a few who didn’t have a Twitter account or who did have one “but then realised they didn’t need it.”
So the task is to get these students to realise they already have the skills and experience (in most cases) to use social media like a real journalist. What they now need to do is crank it up a bit and find out how they can use social media in a more sophisticated, more professional way. But it’s hard getting people to turn their favourite social platforms into yet another work thing!
I decided to try to amaze them with the power of Twitter as a search tool! Don’t just google “Salford” when you want a story idea or an interviewee. See how much deeper you can get with a really well filtered Twitter search! So I started by showing them a few of my favourites – Followerwonk which is a great way to search Twitter bios, Listorious, a useful people search and list directory and Trendsmap which is a fun way to search local Twitter trends. Then I hit them with the big one – search operators! This was totally new information for every single one of them. They had no idea you could interrogate twitter so closely. I handed out copies of the list of operators (one between two to encourage collaboration) and then gave them some Twitter Tasks to perform. It’s based loosely on Sarah Marshall’s MozFest social media training session but I’ve simplified it into a bite-sized chunk which I think works better with students who may need a bit of convincing about all this kind of stuff.
The tasks gave the more advanced Twitter users plenty to keep them busy whilst I went round to each individual student (I had about 17 in each class) starting with the ones who were less experienced. The social media self-portraits were really useful in finding out who might need a bit more support early on and who would be able to work through the tasks independently. I was able to spend a few minutes with each student getting them started, answering specific questions, gently encouraging. I made sure to explain to them how these techniques could help in real journalistic scenarios and, crucially, help them get their assessments done.
Interrogating Twitter in this way really was a revelation to them so it was great fun for me to be able to share this stuff.
My colleague, Alex Fenton, who shares the teaching on this module, used another approach with the class the following week. He got them all to send out one tweet using our module hashtag #DigiJourno. Even this was new to some of the students. They were encouraged to retweet the most interesting/relevant ones. Again, it was a nice, bite-sized chunk of Twitter that slotted into the theme of the session without overloading anyone. It’s very easy to put people off Twitter for life by drowning them in information! I’d tried to introduce lists and Tweetdeck but that was probably a step too far at this stage and was definitely off-putting to some in the class – although the more adept twitter users immediately saw the benefits.
And it was a revelation to the students to find themselves in a university class where you were actively encouraged to spend time tweeting!!
The Reluctant Tweeter
Away from university, I found myself discussing twitter on two separate occasions last week with friends who work in the media making radio programmes (not news programmes so they wouldn’t describe themselves as journalists). Both had had bad experiences with twitter. One had been ordered to tweet by a manager but there was no thought-out strategy to this so the producer was left confused about the aim of the tweeting. She’d missed the one training session available. The other friend had been on a training session but it had seemed boring and irrelevant. Unsurprisingly, they both felt very negative about twitter and saw it as an extra workload being imposed on them.
The upshot of these conversations is that one of the friends is coming round for coffee one evening next week and I’m going to try to persuade her that it’s worth giving Twitter a second chance. Again, I think advanced search is the way to her heart. Show her how Twitter can help her find fantastic programme guests then all the rest will follow! You’ve got to make it relevant to people’s work life otherwise they just see it as an extra, time-consuming task they just don’t want to do.
I am genuinely excited by this challenge! I’ll let you know if I win her over. Then I’ll use that success story to work on Friend #2. Ideally, I want to spend a day at work with her putting her favourite contacts into Twitter lists…..
If you have any tips for teaching Twitter, I’d love to hear from you.
So today CodeClub volunteers and enthusiasts from around the Greater Manchester area got together at the fabulous MadLab in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Some of us already knew each other either in Real Life (they’d visited our CodeClub in Mellor) or through Twitter or the NW community forum on the CodeClub website.
What we discussed
It was all very informal. Anne (my fellow Mellor volunteer) and I talked about our experience setting up CodeClub and answered questions about how to go about it and how the projects work. The CodeClub website is a bit sparse on these details and this can make it all seem quite daunting. In my experience, it was really useful to reach out to other CodeClub volunteers around the country to pick their brains. But ultimately, every school is different so you do just have to take a leap of faith and accept there’ll be a few niggles along the way. But I think it’s good that we now have this little supportive community to help each other out and share experience.
It was really interesting to hear how other people had got involved and why we were so committed to giving up our time to this project!
We definitely want to meet again! We only scraped the surface today by the time we’d introduced ourselves. We want to talk about how we can spread the word to other schools or encourage more developers to get involved.
But CodeClub is only the starting point. The group of volunteers in MadLab today had so many good contacts/ideas/projects they were already working on which all tie in with the CodeClub ideals. For example, Steven Flower – who kindly set up today’s meeting -organises U18 events at MadLab and is involved in Young Rewired State and CoderDojos. I’d love to encourage some of our CodeClub kids to come along to a big event like that. And my daughters too!
We also loved this cheeky chap….
He’d hitched a ride with Dr Andrew Robinson from the University of Manchester who has been doing great work promoting fun projects using Raspberry Pi. His tweeting chicken even caught the attention of ITV news! He’s been writing worksheets to help children build these projects themselves and there’s a whole set of YouTube videos which are really fun to watch (Disclaimer- no hamsters were harmed during these demos, Andrew says 🙂 He’s also taken these projects into schools.
To be honest, it’s beyond my capabilities (unless I devoted a SERIOUS amount of time which I just haven’t got) but I’m really hoping my far cleverer fellow volunteers at Mellor would enjoy taking CodeClub in this sort of direction in future. The first step would be to encourage the children to attend events at MadLab where this kind of fun stuff is available to play with. The second step would be to arrange sessions to train volunteers how to do something simple with, say, the robotic chicken. They could then have the confidence to try it out with their own CodeClubs.
DJ Adams did a great job noting down web resources for all the different stuff we discussed and he’s started a Delicious list with it all which should be a useful resource. Thanks, DJ!
Maybe we’re being a little ambitious but that’s no bad thing. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do if we’re to create a new generation of computer programmers. And if we can’t do it in Manchester, then where else?
What’s the point of 2013? It’s the year AFTER the London Olympics. It’s the year BEFORE the Tour de France comes to Yorkshire. It’s a year without focus or excitement.
So, having accepted that 2013 will be sad and meaningless, we need to create our own individual methods for getting through what will seem like an endless 365 days. There’s no LOCOG any more to do this for us.
My advice is to set yourself a January challenge. With luck, it’ll take you beyond January and into the latter stages of February. Then we can regroup and think how we’ll get through the rest of the year.
My January challenge is to collaborate on writing a chapter of a book about teaching with team projects in Higher Education. It’s being edited by Dr Janice Whatley from the Salford Business School at the University of Salford. My contribution will be a tiny part of the overall book but it’s still a challenge. I’m very new to academia and the demands of academic writing. I’m hoping to learn lots from the people I’m working with on this chapter.
Our chapter will explore a session we participated in during the PGCAP (Post Graduate Certificate in Academic Practice) Core Module in the Sep 2012 semester. We formed action learning sets which worked together to “flip the classroom” as we explored different learning theories. Each action learning set was asked to investigate a particular learning theory (in my case – experiential learning). Our challenge was to check the relevant Wikipedia entry for inaccuracies and gaps and add our findings to the specific page. We did that pre-session. Then the whole class came together and mind-mapped our learning theories to present to the rest of the group. Q & As followed as we challenged and sought relevance for each of the learning theories.
I found editing wikipedia really exciting! Could I really delete something without the whole internet collapsing?
I was then hoping to go to a Manchester Girl Geek wikipedia edit day to learn more about writing and researching for wikipedia because women are under represented – but other work stuff got in the way. Can we have another one please?
But back to the book chapter. I’ve not done collaborative writing before and I’m intrigued to see how it works. I’m used to “owning” what I write and then letting a second pair of eyes see the finished project and make what adjustments they see fit. Collaborating on a google doc is a very different process. Will it make me more self-conscious about what I write? Will I be intimidated by the quality of my colleagues’ work? How will I feel when somebody re-writes my work? Will I ever dare to re-write my colleagues’ work beyond simple proof-reading?
So far, I’ve volunteered to look at some of the literature on using technologies for collaboration and how to make groups work. I’ll be starting with Laurillard, Wenger, Conole and Jenny Moon.
My main challenge is how to get any meaningful work done whilst my daughters are off school…..
We’ve had about ten CodeClub sessions since we started in September so now seemed like a good time to reflect on how it’s gone, what the children have learnt, what we’ve learnt and what we might do differently.
We decided to start off very small so we just had eight Year 6 children in the club – two girls, six boys – as well as the offspring of our volunteers who were younger but joined in.
Sadly, one girl and one boy have dropped out. The girl dropped out because she wanted to do lacrosse with her mates instead. We clash! I don’t know about the boy.
We’re also going to lose another boy when he moves school in January. He’s sad that there isn’t a CodeClub at his new school so I’ve told him he should ask for one!!
We now have a team of 6 volunteers! Not everyone comes every week but there are usually three or four of us there. It seems a ridiculous ratio but the kids actually keep us pretty busy! I’ve no idea how clubs manage with just one volunteer. I guess the kids just learn to be patient!
So now that we’ve found our feet, we are feeling confident enough to expand our Code Club. Letters are going out to Year 6 and Year 5 parents asking if their children would like to join CodeClub next term. We’ll need to plan how we manage the different levels but I don’t think it will be a problem. For example, it might be best if I, as the non-developer, stick with the newcomers whilst my more expert colleagues challenge the children who’ve been with us since the start. We’ll see what the uptake is anyway.
HAVE THE CHILDREN LEARNT ANYTHING?
Definitely, yes. They are much quicker finding their way around Scratch than I am, for a start. Surprisingly, perhaps, they seem to have no problem with the concept of a variable. They’re happy setting up timers and scores.
We asked them at the start of last week’s session how many now have Scratch at home. All of them now do and they use it. Most of them have also shown Scratch to someone outside CodeClub. This is great!
And they were very positive about what they’d been doing, what they were now able to do and liked making games they could play. They compared CodeClub to school ICT classes. We definitely came off best in the comparison! They said ICT classes were “boring” and “pointless.” That’s such a shame.
BUT, as luck would have it, their Yr 6 teacher walked in just as they were moaning about ICT and she suggested they show the rest of the class how Scratch works. I wasn’t sure how serious she was but, sure enough, in their next ICT class a few days later the CodeClub children were asked to show everyone else how Scratch worked. I heard this from one of our very excited CodeClub members! The teacher also suggested doing an early CodeClub project in an ICT class. YAY! It’s great for our CodeClub children to feel a bit special and even better that other children are able to see their enthusiasm and new skills. The coding revolution has started!!
WHAT’S NOT GONE SO WELL
Some of the CodeClub projects have been better than others. The children’s favourite (and ours!) was fish chomp. The game was fun and the challenges seemed to be pitched just right. Fruit Machine, however, was not popular and didn’t work well. I’ve passed our feedback onto CodeClub and was told they would look into it. I’ve not heard back. But, on the whole, the projects have been interesting and varied enough to keep the children’s attention.
A couple of weeks ago, I decided to take an extra week to do the What’s That game so that the children could work on the challenges. It was a disaster! The children were not interested in the challenges, they were bored and most just started playing games from the Scratch gallery rather than making their own – a definite CodeClub no-no! So, just because I find the challenges interesting and useful it doesn’t mean the children agree.
So in future it’s one project per week unless the children clamour to carry on.
WHAT ELSE HAVE WE TRIED?
We are keen to enter the University of Manchester’s school animation competition. It’s a national competition and already 570 schools have registered. Closing date is March 2013. We have posters around the school!
So last Monday, we decided to have a break from CodeClub projects and talk about animation instead. We asked children about the difference between games and animation. We got them to think about how they could use Scratch to create animations. They had lots of good ideas!
We also had a guest speaker! Another parent at school is a bona fide animator and has done work for Cbeebies amongst many other projects. So he talked to the children about his job and showed them a showreel of this work. They thought it was really cool!! Then he talked about creating characters and the importance of storyboarding your ideas.
We then asked the children to draw their own storyboards for an animation they could do on Scratch. Perhaps predictably, the boys concentrated on bombs, explosions and guns! (I have daughters so this is alien territory to me.) The girl did a story about a fish!!
So, keen to move away from the apocalyptic blood and gore scenarios the boys were coming up with, I’m going to suggest that next week – the last CodeClub before Christmas – they create an animated Christmas card on Scratch. Surely, that’ll force them to stick to cute and fluffy?? No?! Anyway, to inspire them, some of the volunteers are going to make their own animated Christmas cards. We’ll demo them at the start of the session and challenge the kids to do better.
Maybe a future plan might be to bring in some Raspberry Pis and get the children playing around with them? Lots of logistical problems to doing that, of course, but definitely something to think about.
Maybe the school would consider investing in some Pis…..?
WHAT DO WE THINK OF CODE CLUB?
We’ve really enjoyed CodeClub although it’s been a learning curve for us. Sometimes it seems chaotic and noisy and that worries us sometimes. But in the midst of that, the children are actually making the games and enjoying the process.
It’s great being part of a national movement with ambitious aims. We like to think we’re “doing our bit” to promote coding in schools!
The projects have introduced a good variety of concepts and built on the children’s skill and knowledge each week – without them even knowing it, probably.
We would like to move away from just creating games every week which is why we’ve introduced animation. We’d also like to explore interactive games/animation. We’re hoping the CodeClub developers will introduce that into future projects. If not, we’ll just go off piste every couple of weeks and try something different. But we’ll still keep coming back to the CodeClub projects as our basic activity.
UPDATE: Clare Sutcliffe – one of the CodeClub founders – read this blog and confirmed that, yes, there will be animation projects in term 2. Hooray!
SPREADING THE WORD
As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, we’ve created quite a bit of interest in other local schools and a couple are planning on starting their own CodeClubs in January. I must check in with them and find out how they’re getting on.
We also seem to be a major attraction on the CodeClub tourism route! Several people from schools around Greater Manchester have paid us a visit before going on to set up their own CodeClubs.
Gradually, CodeClub enthusiasts from around the North West are finding each other on social media and the CodeClub forum. As a result, we’ve arranged to have a meet-up in Manchester’s MadLab on 13th January. We’ll let you know what we get up to!
So, thank you very much to all our wonderful, enthusiastic CodeClub members for making it such a worthwhile experience for the volunteers. And thank you to Linda and Clare for coming up with the crazy idea in the first place and making it happen.
Let’s keep working at it in 2013 to help make that 25% dream a reality!!
Here are some quick thoughts about how it all went and what I learnt from doing it.
1. Children don’t just follow the project step by step to get it to look exactly like the one in the example. That’s what I’d do. Instead, they go by circuitous routes, stopping to explore and experiment. (I’d probably do my experimenting at the end once I’d made sure I’d completed the assigned task and gained my pat on the back from teacher. I’m SO old skool!) So they didn’t want to call their cat Felix and their mouse Herbert. They chose their own names. And some chose a different background. At first, I heard myself saying, “let’s all keep to the same script for now.” But I couldn’t think of a good reason for sticking to the script so I chilled out and let them experiment and personalise.
2. They are noisy! Much noisier than we’d expected. But when I think about it, all the noise was centred around the task in hand ie creating something on Scratch.
And amongst the noise you can hear words like “cool!” and “awesome!” when they can see what they’ve achieved and want to share that sense of accomplishment. That was a lovely feeling.
3. We’re very lucky to have such enthusiastic, patient volunteers. Maybe the children become more autonomous as they progress through CodeClub but for the time being, they do need quite a bit of support and they like to ask questions. So the volunteers have to work pretty hard.
4. The children wouldn’t leave! I kept telling them we’d come to the end of our time and they needed to save and log off but they just ignored me and carried on. Then when their parents came in to collect them, they wanted to show off what they’d done. So we might need a better plan for ending the session! Setting the fire alarm off?
We’ve had some positive feedback already so I think they’ll come back again next week.
I’m looking forward to finding out if they’ve been playing with Scratch at home and what they’ve come up with.
I should add that we’re getting total support from the head teacher and his team at school which is why we’ve been able to get up and running so quickly with CodeClub.
But above all, I’m grateful to Clare Sutcliffe and Linda Sandvik, the two amazing women behind CodeClub. Their hard work and vision has enabled me to turn a vague pipe dream into a reality – with very little effort on my part. The CodeClub they’ve designed tells children that programming is not something they should be scared of or sneer at. It’s fun, creative and can be learnt.
Degree level maths is hard. But we don’t use that as an excuse not to teach Key Stage 1 children basic arithmetic.
Similarly, coding is hard at the upper levels. But there is an entry point which enables children to understand the fundamentals. Above and beyond that, it’s their choice how far they take it. But without an entry point, they’ll always see it as scary and inaccessible.
CodeClub is a great place to start.
This really tested my commitment to turning myself into a techy.
RaspberryJams are events taking place monthly all over the country (even globally) as a way of supporting and encouraging people to get the most out of their Raspberry Pis – those little credit-card sized computers which cost about £25. I’ve had one for a few months now and it was still sat in its snug, foam box doing nothing because I just didn’t have the confidence to start tinkering.
So, I decided the only way I was going to start playing with it was to go along to a jam.
This was about as far out of my comfort zone as it was possible to get whilst still being in a breathable atmosphere. The attendee list showed that I was the ONLY female signed up and I knew I was going to be the class dunce.
To drum up the courage to walk through the door of MadLab, I went across the road to the LOVELY Home Sweet Home cafe for an espresso. The window seat on a sunny Saturday morning is a fantastic place to people watch as the Northern Quarter wakes up to the weekend. I also like a cafe that tweets back!
On the whole, absolutely not. I was really impressed by how generous people were with their time and equipment to help me get started. Even the keyboard I’d brought with me decided not to work properly (wouldn’t do S or T at all, pretty good at J.) so I had to borrow one of them, plus various cables. I am extremely grateful to all of you, especially Dave who copied the operating system onto my SD card!
And as it turned out, I was NOT the only woman! Hello, Dawn!
It was great to see lots of dad there with their 10, 11 yr old sons. But where were the daughters?
I really liked the way the event was set up as a sharing experience. Everyone was asked at the beginning what they wanted to get out of it and what they were able to put in (nothing, in my case).
1. I finally found the motivation to take the Pi out of its box. An important first step.
2. Got the OS copied onto the SD card. Thanks, Dave!
3. Got my Pi connected to a screen, mouse and keyboard and saw it spring to life.
4. I borrowed an SD card with OPENelec’s XBoxMediaCentre so I got my Pi to play TV programmes from iPlayer onto a screen – which is something I definitely want to have a go at myself at home. I want to be able to do it myself because I think that would give me a great sense of achievement but I’m worried I’ll get frustrated and just find somebody else to do it for me! But the Jam has made me feel I could give it a go, I know where to find the information and I could probably go to the next Jam and get some help if it all goes wrong (sorry to bug you, guys!!)
5. I started to make a shopping list of equipment I need. This will end up costing more than the Pi
6. I met Simon Walters (@cymplecy). He’s an ICT technician and network manager in primary schools but he also teaches children REAL computing. He had a small gang of 11 yr old boys utterly absorbed in using Scratch to programme a tiny set of traffic lights. Even better, he takes the time to blog about the stuff he’s doing with his RPis.
I have to admit, I left after a couple of hours because I felt I couldn’t absorb any more and I wanted to go away and digest what I’d learnt. I may go back to the next one – if they’ll have me! (I was definitely a taker rather than a giver)
But I’m pleased I didn’t stay in my window seat at Home Sweet Home. That would have been too easy.