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Current Projects

Ultraversity Graduates

A wonderful day, celebrating the success of so many Ultraversity graduates which took place today at Chelmsford Cathedral. The setting within the Cathedral is beautiful and memories flooded back of 7 years ago when I was celebrating my own degree in the very same space.

Today will be memorable, not least because I had the opportunity to talk face to face with several graduates after three years of communicating in an online environment. Seeing so many happy faces celebrating their degrees in a formal setting is something I will remember for years to come. Today, brings to a close a very special chapter in my portfolio of work - designing online tools for a degree programme where students built a degree around their practice in the workplace through action research. A fabulous project.

For many, this will be the start of a new chapter in their lives.

Congratulations and best wishes to everyone! Read more on the Ultralab site.

Ultraversity Team Talk

Mark, Greta and I (pictured from left to right) met today to discuss progress with Ultraversity's new Cohort 4 community / portfolio space. This is a new venture using the Plone 2.1 content management framework - configured 'out of the box'. We believe Plone has far more to offer than just managing content. Plone's major strength is the permissions and workflow model which underpins its operation. Understanding this rather complex model is a major feat in itself and probably demands a better user interface to be more useful. I dream of building a permissions model using a drag and drop Flash interface where users are moved into groups structured as Venn diagrams. Do Venn diagrams have any limitations?

Interestingly, Stephen Powell and I reflected on the complexities of Plone, and after some discussion, arrived at the conclusion that you can't have it both ways, simplicity and complexity, which sounds a bit daft. What I mean is - having a tool that can be understood and used by the masses, yet powerful enough to provide a solid set of permissions that is capable of niche and specific demands.

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Navcon 2K4: Learning with ICT - the Distributed School

On Friday morning, (the morning after the conference dinner!) I presented a session with Richard Millwood on 'Learning with ICT: the Distributed School'

We used SubEthaEdit to share the names and backgrounds of the people who came to listen. Having outlined our proposal for the Distributed School, participants then simulated the live video connection between the three sites. This activity stimulated people to discuss and think about what the learning might look like in the Distributed School.

Here is the document that participants collaboratively wrote using SubEthaEdit. Each group took on a location around the world. Text has been copied and pasted as written by participants.


  1. The need for a global curriculum
    structure.. so groups of schools agree of what is taught, to whom and when
  2. Teacher competency... being able
    to handle this sort of teaching and learning... also the relief teacher situation
    - how comfortable are the back up staff going to be to build this expertise?
  3. Preparation time.. collaborative
    teaching takes planning time.
    International education - new mode of teaching where teachers take on shift
    work if operating across countries.. Parents doing work for their children..
    need for some sort of ID device to prove that Mary is actually operating the
  4. New assessment methods ie: assessing
    work that is produced electronically
    Discipline issues - Would students really be responsible for their own b/h?
    Need to be on same platform technologically... otherwise huge delay in possible
    in communications.. Collaborative peer assessment (ie:email document outlining
    standards, group negotiate and assess). Virtual surveillance of schooling..
    Parents log into monitor what students are doing.
  5. Capturing learning - issues around
    building a structure to capture students' learning... think of the parent
    who demands to see Johnny's exercise book... ie: need for huge amounts of
    data capturing capacity
  6. Social interactions... eg: Physical
    education ... how will this be addressed? Building in social interaction time
    in a face to face mode.
  7. Hardware/software/power - Need
    for a local power generator to back up the power
    New ways of learning -
  8. [Traditional model of schooling]
    Possibility to use tech to offer expertise in a particular subject area not
    already offered by the school

important stuff

  1. getting sense of community [using
    technology socially before using it formall]y
  2. how to get past the 'legal duty
    of care' that means schools block things like chat components - how to manage
    this? [urban schools key issue]

working doc:
serious planning issues [coordination so all on same lane]?
how teacher participation happens?
fluency of conversation?
incorporating chat effectively? [merging different technologies for a better
fit for flow of conversation
getting sense of community [effective connection across sites - or even within
schools - f2f communication is essential how to facilitate that effectively
- establishing protocol
how to manage cummunity across time zones? for 'lesons'
how to get past the 'legal duty of care that means schools block things like
chat compnonents - how to manage this? - how do we manage where kids go?
how to break the content is fitted to the class model?

Technoogy issues -l
philosophy - curriculum issues
pedagogy different teaching practices
length of school day - routines/structure. Time zones
how would you choose partners
What is the key point of chosen schools

- different teaching practices
cultural aspect
Cultural activities/kapahaka

compatibility of software/hardware
common platform for sharing
security /safe learning environment
quality of assurance of programmes being delivered - accountablity
teacher driven/child driven
face to face capabiity- real life experience
technological support
adult supervision
Facilitator to oversee cluster
Board of trustees?

Edit CSS Stylesheets in style

When HTML first arrived on the scene, we all learnt the language and doggedly typed the code into basic text editors. I remember evenings spent working with SimpleText - back then this was all very novel so we stuck with it quite happily. A few months later, WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editors saved people stacks of time and empowered those who had not yet mastered HTML.

It seems quite natural therefore that a whole heap of stylesheet authoring applications are now available to make the job of creating and editing stylesheets a breeze. Hal pointed me in the direction of CSSEdit by MacRabbit, which seems to do the job nicely.

I am currently building the database driven website for the Design Council project which is called, rather uninterestingly, Online Metric. Suggestions for a better project name on a postcard please....or, if you prefer, comment on this post. Oh, it might be hepful for you to know that the project is about developing an Online tool for schools to self-evaluate aspects about the school in terms of lighting, furniture, atmosphere, canteen etc. Where appropriate, suggestions and resources will displayed so the school may address these areas.


Stepping Stones school

Mark and I spent the day at Stepping Stones school, Hindhead, Surrey. This is a new school built in and around a disused church specifically designed for children with Hemiplegia (see Hemi Help). As you might imagine, much of the church has had to remain in place, including the wooden stage area and stone work, which adds real character to the character of the school.

Mark and I have been working on this new school project for the last 4 months or so and have seen the school develop tremendously during this time. They are now very very close to completion of Phase 1. The children's facilities are fantastic, multi-function rooms cater for children cooking, design & technology, physio-therapy, research, and quiet/collaborative work spaces.

The outdoor area provides a mix of sunny/shady spaces with tables for eating outside, spaces to play, explore.

I met the two pupils - both were absolutely delightful and were very excited about their first day at this new school. They couldn't wait for the computers to arrive.

Ultralab's role has been to identify and specify the technology, (computers, wireless, printers, scanners, networking) for the school. More work to do yet!


Telecommunications in Tasmania

Stumbled across a rather useful document relating to the development of Telecommunications in Tasmania.

Tasmania are just a bit keen to create the third 'cluster' for the Distributed School so thought I'd read up a little about their current capacity to supply broadband to rural areas.

...handy, Telstra are onto it already!

Video conference with Tasmania

Not sure when my feet last touched the ground...

Last week I held a video conference with ministers, policy makers, principals stationed in Hobart and also simultaneously with West Coast Principals in Queenstown. Slightly bizarre video conferencing with two locations. You only ever see one site at any one throughout most of the conference I observed people in Hobart. It isn't until someone speaks (or coughs even!) at the other site that the video swaps to the other site...rather neat.

I talked a little about the outline proposal for the Distributed School - Tasmania are a really great bunch of people, very keen and interested in the prospect of building a school joined up by lots of cool technology. They asked lots of questions and gave some critical feedback which is very welcome, especially if this proposal goes ahead with a cluster in Tasmania and the other two here in the UK.

...very exciting!

Timelapse Movies from Pirate BBC Essex studio

For those of you who missed the action in the Pirate BBC Essex studio on board the LV18, or those who just want to be reminded of some great moments, here are some timelapse movies.

Timelapse Movies from LV18 studio

Pirate BBC Essex on AIR

The past few days have been fraught with activity in Harwich. This morning (Saturday 10th April 2004 at 9am), Pirate BBC Essex went LIVE on air, beginning with Ray Clark.

After much experimentation and tweaking, webcam images are now streaming live on the Internet. We are using EvoCam to capture images on board the LV18 and from Ha'penny Pier. Images are captured and uploaded periodically, one set every few minutes, another set every hour.

Take a look at the Pirate BBC Essex website for TXT messages and full size webcam images, plus, take a look at images from the past 12 hours....

You can listen to Pirate BBC Essex on 729, 765 & 1530 MW or, as a LIVE Real Audio stream (you'll need to download the Real Audio player)


Why lollipop? Don't ask, cos I don't know...someone referred to the Pirate Lightship at Harwich as 'Lollipop' - maybe it's the colour?

Cool day, met loads of great people, most of whom from JLA Computers. I managed to get quite an insight into the workings of the company - they go well beyond just installing wireless kit! They know their stuff - that's for sure.

Apart from the wet and windy(!) weather and the seriously 'high' seas, the project is well on track for LIVE broadcasting from Saturday 10th April, make sure you tune in and login to the Pirate BBC Essex site.

Hotseat tool revisions

The success of the Hotseat tool just makes me want to make it even better. I spent some time last night making some revisions, thanks to Andy Roberts, Linda Hartley, Sarah Hackett and many other people who used the hotseat tool over the past two weeks.

These are the revisions:

  • I have implemented a better hotseat 'page navigation' menu which displays the number of pages depending on the number of questions posted, e.g. page links don't appear until more than 10 questions, then gradually increase with 20, 30, 40 .... questions. The next hotseat, with Maria Phillips was made available this morning to researchers. I can't believe that at the end of the day, 10 (9 actually) questions have been posted already! Come on, I need another one just to see if the new page links work!
  • Many researchers requested that the responses made by the hotseat guest are listed in a colour that will distinguish these from other participants. You should notice that the Hotseat guest now posts responses in a lovely shade of green
  • I have added a note above the 'Add a question' text box, encouraging researches to phrase their question in the first 20 words. This will enable me to build a navigation menu of questions so that you can browse and jump straight to the question and responses. Most people have adhered to this - so be ready for when a summary of questions is available.

Lots more still to do, suggestions on the back of a postcard....alternatively add a comment here.

Pirate BBC Essex wireless link

One of our biggest challenges in this Pirate BBC Essex radio project is getting a broadband Internet connection to the Lightship anchored half a mile from the Harwich pier. The crew on board the lightship need to receive txt and email messages, as well as stream a webcam video to the Internet.

So a wireless link from the exhibition room to the ship would be just the ticket. Luckily there is a line of sight between the pier and the lightship. Wireless CNP has jumped in to help by loaning us the wireless equipment.

Big thanks go to Wireless CNP.

Matthew Eaves and I intend to make a trip to Harwich to test out the link next week sometime.

'The Link' deserves a plug...on air

Pirate BBC Essex Radio station is soon to go 'on air' - all our efforts are now focused on developing the software which will enable members of the public to TXT message or email the radio presenters whilst on board LV Eighteen, the Lightship from which the broadcast will be made.

We needed to obtain an SMS number and a mobile phone. We went to a number of Mobile phone shops in Chelmsford, asking for "mobile phone numbers which are good for broadcasting on air."

Luckily, many people were keen enough to help us out, they dug through hundreds of numbers, until we found the one, well... sadly it wasn't available so we settled for the next best number. We cheekily asked if they'd lend us a phone for the duration of the Pirate radio broadcast, and in true British style they provided us with a Nokia Picture phone - cool huh!

Our first plug goes to Adam Jamieson & Russ McIntosh at The Link in Chelmsford, cheers guys.

Hotseat Tool development

Ever had that sudden urge to get something done?

I developed a hotseat tool in just a few hours one evening and what's really nice is seeing it in use in such a big way. It went live on Monday, it's now Wednesday and has had well over 100 entries from the Ultraversity Researchers. So cool and hugely rewarding.

Pirate BBC Essex Radio Station

ULTRALAB and BBC Essex Radio are working together to celebrate 40 years of pirate radio of the Essex shores, to bring you the BBC Essex Pirate Radio Station. The station goes live in April, broadcasting on medium wave frequencies from LV Eighteen - a former lightship owned by the charity Pharos Trust.

The plan is to transmit a wireless signal from Ha'penny Pier in Harwich to the lightship using wireless base station transmitters. This will allow the radio presenters to receive SMS text messages and emails on board LV Eighteen. We also intend to run two webcams, one streaming pictures of the ship from the pier, the other streaming images of the presenters on board to an Internet website.

There is a sizeable crew already formed, including BBC Essex Radio presenters, Steve Scruton, Ian Wyatt, Tom Warmington, and from ULTRALAB....Matthew Eaves, Jonathan Furness, Alex Blanc and Tim Ellis.

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