Social Media and Me

I have been working with a colleague to create a social media website that aims to provide succinct advice to our pupils about the use of social networks, and what to do to get out of trouble. The site goes live in September and will form part of a wider social media campaign in boarding houses. The idea is to include the link on a series of posters Hannah created (embedded below). The aim is not to answer all the questions, but to provide accessible guidance on what to do if things go wrong, an overview of some of the main apps, and a few links to find out more. Continue reading “Social Media and Me”

Social Media and Me

FrogOS at Frog13


Last Tuesday I attended the Frog Conference for 2013. Frog are a modern and agile company and this event was exceptionally well organised with attention to the wider picture and the detail of delegate needs. Having been invited to join a panel in the afternoon discussing whether or not the ‘traditional’ learning platform is dead, I was treated to a hotel room and a lovely meal with staff and fellow contributors on the Monday evening. Thank you very much to Frog for being such generous and friendly hosts.

All talks and presentations will be available soon here I believe.

So, what are my thoughts on Frog and the announcements that were made? Well, first of all it is important to note that Frog made a great effort to place teaching and learning at the heart of the conference and any delegate would be able to attend presentations on classroom practice or on Frog features being used. I wanted to attend more presentations than I was able to. This is a good thing! Should there be any factual inaccuracies in this post, please let me know and I will correct them.

The good

  • Frog Moments App; text, images and video straight from the app to your frog drive. Could be useful.
  • Frog Drive App; think Google Drive or dropbox style cloud file storage. Potentially an excellent solution for managing files from iOS (Android was not mentioned) onto web.
  • Frog Play; visual grade book that records progress. Couldn’t quite see the detail but it looked to be pretty useful.
  • FrogOS sites look great.
  • Frog Store; a place where all Frog material can be shared. I think it is the intention that this will be like the app store or google play in that some stuff will be free and others at a cost. Quite how this will take shape is not clear.
  • PinPoint; this is a search engine that trawls specific services, e.g. Google images. Interestingly, Google require a payment for inclusion of the image search results because it bypasses their advertising system. Frog will pay this levy, which indicates how highly they value incorporating the rest of the web into their learning platform. Also, because everything is still linked to the web rather than downloaded as an image and re-uploaded into your Frog, Frog are able to track the usage of each resource. This will form part of a rating engine that will ultimately help teachers locate well-used (and therefore better quality?) resources to incorporate into their learning material.

The bad

  • I did not see Frog3 and FrogOS being integrated. For all current Frog schools using Frog3, the major concern is how will all the current Frog work be married with the new Frog? The platforms are written in an entirely different code. The former is not supported on anything other than Windows and Internet Explorer. I was a little disappointed not to see this but when I asked the question on twitter earlier today, the very charming Frogger, Lucy Evans, replied.
Lucy's response to me on twitter
Lucy’s response to me on twitter

 Followed by a further response from the ever-helpful Frogger James Shackley:

James' reply (tweets in reverse order)
James’ reply (tweets in reverse order)

So, it looks like it’s coming – watch this space!

UPDATE 28/6/13, James sent me this video link for Frog3 and FrogOS:

The ugly

  • Other than the two apps demoed on the day, I believe (please correct me if I am wrong) Frog does not work on smartphones despite being HTML5-based. It doesn’t quite render on the screen size as I documented here. Tablets are fine. This could be a deal breaker for BYOD schools that allow the smaller devices to be used in class. Although the two mobile apps do deliver some workflow functionality that will connect to Frog Drive, which have significant potential in incorporating smart phones into your Frog workflow.
  • I’m not concerned about this with one condition: I want there to be a notifications app that delivers your notifications feed from FrogOS onto your handset. Pop-up notifications, with the user able to switch certain ones on and off. For example, if a pupil submits a piece of work or contributes to a forum on one of my courses, I’m not sure I want to be pinged on my phone. However, if they send me a message of some sort, I want to know about it ASAP so my intervention can unblock their progress.

There was a lot of very positive chatter about Frog OS. It looks very impressive because of the simple means of creating content and contacting groups and curating learning. Should you be starting fresh with Frog, FrogOS is definitely worth considering.

The Traditional VLE is dead

I was also invited to be part of a panel discussion questioning whether or not the traditional VLE (as defined by Becta back in the day) is dead. The good news is Frog seem to have a clear understanding that trying to be all things to all users is not the way forward. Learning platforms need to be agile and provide a hub to help all users find what they are looking for in reference to the group of people they are working with. Be that, for example, a class, a year group, or a sports team. There are many ways of doing this but each school will need a hub of some sort where their users will first look for support. Equally, if you would like all your teachers to provide an online element in their work, you need to provide a platform which is set up for them to use. Also, the pupil population need an online presence: school council, student voice, eco-council, sports teams, clubs and societies. All these different groupings, in my experience, want a place where their audience will expect to find their content and communique. A learning platform, such as Frog, delivers this in a simple format to suit a broad range of users. Another reason for having a learning platform is that a teacher who has never used online tools before might well need a school-provided service to get started with. One of the Year Heads at my school was never a big ICT user but has used the launch of Frog in our school as a lever to design pages and update them weekly with news and events and advice for her year group. If the school did not employ a platform of some sort, this would never have happened. The welcome knock-on effect is her increased usage with her classes.

As Gareth Davies mentioned in his opening keynote, other learning platforms are stopping development. It might be they are falling by the wayside. Frog are not; they are growing. You can no longer pretend that the technology is working. You cannot keep telling teachers that this is what must be done. You must provide as flexible a platform as possible to enable your community to build and share and navigate their way through school and through learning. I am in no doubt that Frog are working hard to achieve this with FrogOS. I am anxious to see the integration with Frog 3 but they are working with urgency to get this sorted. I suspect it will not be a perfect solution but a transitional vehicle from the old to the new.

For each school, I think it is important to identify your core purpose for online provision and decide what is right for you. I anticipate we will be sticking with Frog in their mission to be the best learning platform. There are many ways to skin a cat. The traditional VLE is dead in as much as it has evolved into something lighter, faster, and inclusive of all internet-based things. However, this journey of evolution is not a smooth process and it will not have a destination. Right now, the best you may hope for is some stability whilst we teachers continue to develop effective methods of using the internet as part of the staple learning diet.

I have tried to include the most important things from my experience of the day but I will have probably missed a few. If you have any questions I am happy to answer them via the comments.

FrogOS at Frog13

Restrict Screen Time: Dr Aric Sigman comes to school

Yesterday, 12/06/13, Dr Aric Sigman came to our school to talk to pupils, staff and parents about various issues, prompted by some difficulties presented by the partially anonymous social media website Sigman specialises in presenting his published work around the world including school talks for PSHEEC covering alcohol, body image, electronic media (screen time), parenting and more. For our school he had been asked to cover all or most of these in a whistle-stop tour of his research. I warn you there may be inaccuracies in this post but I have omitted areas I felt unsure about. It presents a flavour of the overall presentation.

Dr Sigman at school
Dr Sigman at school

Dr Sigman is an articulate and charismatic speaker and all our audiences enjoyed his presentations and many felt inspired, or at least had their interest piqued, by what he had to say. The over-arching message he left was that, for young people (<19), recreational screen time (gaming, videos, social media) is averagely at 6.1 hours per day and should be limited to 2 hours. The argument is presented with a research evidence-base about the chemicals that are released in our brains from specific activities and that too much passive screen time that does not stimulate good brain development. In fact, it is very possible it is bad for you when your body is going through important growth stages. Among the examples of actual impact that were cited was France banning any television media aimed at <3 year olds; screen time for very young people should be kept to an absolute minimum.

I photographed many of Sigman’s slides but he challenged someone filming him to make sure it was for private use only. His concern was because, if publicly distributed, it may cause a backlash from organisations that want us to be using screens or alcohol more, not less. This made me a little suspicious. If research is robust it can withstand scrutiny and counter-research. Enter Dr Ben Goldacre (props to @simfin for the pointer) who authors and was recently invited by the Right Honourable Michael Gove MP to examine how schools might improve the use of evidence to inform practice. Goldacre appears in a Newsnight interview with Jeremy Paxman and Aric Sigman in 2009 where the latter’s report is challenged because it led to Baroness Professor Susan Greenfield, then head of the Royal Institution, making claims that led to the Daily Mail headline: ‘Social websites harm children’s brains‘. The interview is embedded below:

Goldacre grinds his research evidence standards axe regularly. This is partly how he earns his crust, so, take from it what you will.

I was concerned that there was going to be a distorted message being given to my school community. My concern was not unfounded. Sigman clearly enjoyed the fact his work is perceived by many as contentious, and he let the audience know he was being invited by governments and the like to address important people around the world. And that some audiences are more receptive than others because they serve a specific agenda.

I am not in a position to scrutinise the validity of Sigman’s claims, but I wanted to try and make sure that his message was clear. When he says ‘recreational screen time’ maybe people hear ‘screen time’ without the qualifying distinction. I felt obliged to seek clarification in the Q&A sessions. Was he only talking about screen time spent on recreational activities? He was, and added that he only meant passive screen time; Wii games employing physical actions like bowling did not count. It was important to me to make sure that the audience were very clear that screen time for learning does not contribute to this process. Sigman aligned reading a book to stimulating imagination about sensory perception in the mind. This was a complex process deemed healthy for the brain, and, therefore, ‘kindles’ (for which I think yo can substitute ‘reading on any device’ since the introduction of kindle fire). The chemical release can be stimulated from reading on a computer or working on research or an essay. Obviously, there are a lot of grey areas here (some research is watching YouTube etc.) and Sigman stipulated that recreation meant gaming, youtube and social media. He also asked the audience to imagine hunting and similar activities that caused stress hormones and cortisone to be released back in the early days of our development. Our bodies are designed to release these chemicals during physical exertion but playing the adrenaline inducing first-person shoot ’em up will cause the same chemical release whilst the recipient is relatively motionless.

Is this pseudo-science? Well I don’t really know. Sigman substantiated his claims with research. He did not permit his slides to be published but I can publish all the sources I managed to capture. This is the last of what I have to say on the matter other than a couple of Year 9 boys approached me today to let me know their Mum’s had removed their gadgets as soon as they got home. We all have to learn how to manage our screen time. I’m not convinced Dr Sigman has all the facts in his presentation. I hope he has not set fear alight in our parents and teachers. I guess a passionate and urgent message is always a danger with showmanship spotlight research presentations. My feeling is that we need more dispassionate research to unravel this evidence base, similar to that Goldacre has bothered to assemble on his website. Maybe we may see another analysis of Sigman’s work by Goldacre. After all, it seems to be a hobby of his.

Below is a sample of his quotes that I managed to note; many are missing.


Salivary Cortisol in Relation to the Use of ICT in School-Aged Children. Wallenius (?), M., et al (2010) Psychology, 2010, 1, 88-95. ‘Adolescents rarely describe gaming and surfing in the Internet as stressing activities but, instead, as a way of passing time, getting experiences, and social communication.’

The World Unplugged, (2011) University of Maryland. 1000 students in 10 countries on 5 continents. Study to give up tech for 24 hours. ‘A clear majority in every country failed.’ ‘many students employed the rhetoric of addiction, dependency and depression when self-reporting their reactions to going unplugged for 24 hours… many students also reported both mental and physical symptoms of distress.’ ‘they physically craved the actual devices themselves.’

American Journal of Drug Alcohol Abuse (2010) 10.5% change in dopamine release ‘in the caudate after playing a motorbike riding computer game.’ ‘Computer game playing may lead to long-term changes in the reward circuitry that resemble the effects of substance dependence.’

Microstructure Abnormalities in Adolescents with Internet Addiction Disorder (2011). ‘multiple structural changes’ deep within the brain. ‘several small regions in the brain were smaller, in some cases as much as 10 to 20 percent.’ Surface-level brain matter appears to shrink according to how long you’ve had ‘internet addiction’.

American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry (2009). Surfing internet – areas of the brain associated with empathy showed virtually NO increase in stimulation. ‘Young people are growing up immersed in this technology and their brains are more malleable, more plastic and changing. As the brain evolves and shifts its focus towards new technological skills, it drifts away from fundamental social skills.’

Mirroring Others’ Emotions Relates to Empathy and Interpersonal Competence in Children. Pfeiffer et al. Neuroimage (2008). ‘stimulated by face-to-face interaction.”stimulation related directly to children’s: level of empathy; social skills.’

Meta-analysis of 72 studies 1979-2009 by University of Michigan, May 2010. ‘College kids today are about 40% lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago’ ‘We found the biggest drop in empathy after the year 2000… 1) The increase in exposure to media during this time… 2) Recent rise in social media.’

Couldn’t see the source of this but here it is anyway, discussing mental health: ‘Children’s Screen Viewing is Related to Psychological Difficulties Irrespective of Physical Activity: ‘Children who spent [more than] 2 hours per day watching television or using a computer were at increased risk of high levels of psychological difficulties and this risk increased if the children also failed to meet physical activity guidelines. … Limiting computer use and television viewing may be important for optimal well-being for young people.’

Facebook Depression, American Academy of Pediatrics (2011) Guidance for the Clinician: The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families: ‘Facebook depression … develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook, and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression.’

Increase in Loneliness, Children Talking to Childline about Loneliness report by NSPCC (2010): ‘Among boys: 500% increase in calls about loneliness from five years ago.’

Computers in Human Behaviour, Kirschner & Karpinski (2010): ‘Three-quarters of the Facebook users said they didn’t believe spending time on the site affected their academic performance….’ But Facebook users’ grades were 20% lower.

Harvard Medical School (2012) did a systematic review of parental interventions on screen time: 29 studies ‘achieved significant reductions in TV viewing or screen-media use.





Restrict Screen Time: Dr Aric Sigman comes to school

Editing Google Presentations on an iPad mini – Appser

This is a big deal for schools using Google Apps and iPads. I discovered appser on twitter today, an app for editing google docs on an iPad like it was a desktop. [tweet]

Google Apps (for Education or not) are pretty popular amongst educators working online. And so, for some, are iPads. But the two do not work well together – there are major limitations. I imagine this app is exploiting new features of Google Apps and maybe they will become native soon, but until then, presentations do not play friendly with iOS. So, let’s see if that’s about to change.

These images are my first foray into editing a presentation using appser. The captions detail what is being tested. Only main features are addressed. Appser starts like Google Apps in any browser with the black bar across the top and Drive open displaying your docs. It basically behaves like the desktop version of Googles productivity suite. The images are deliberately small – the captions say what’s going on – nearly everything appears the same as the desktop/browser version.

Editing text boxes: click into the box and then press the keyboard button bottom right to show the keyboard.
Some times an error message appeared. It crashes. Each time you refresh the doc it shows that another user is viewing the document (but that’s only you a minute ago).
Inserting an image behaves the same until you have to access your camera or camera roll. All good.
The camera roll appears like this. Same as the wordpress app on iOS.
Here is the image (screenshot of google earth volcano). All good.
Image can be resized and moved with your finger.
You can rename the file the same as on the desktop version.
When choosing a new theme, the crash happened again.
But the theme did change at second attempt. And, if you touch and hold, like copy and paste on iOS, you get the sub-menu for Google presentations.
Another crash when changing the animation of the image. Did not get this to work.

Overall, this app is doing a good job. The crashes (total of six whilst making this quick pres.) mean it is not good enough to rely on yet but it is free! The crash messages are annoying and have something to do with offline docs needing to be manually reset. I couldn’t find an answer to this.

To scroll you have to use two fingers, which is unique to this app IME, and you have to remember to do it at first. At the time of writing, there are no editing features available for presentations via Google Drive or via the Google Chrome app. So, if you are a GAfE school and have some iPads, maybe you should put this app through it’s paces. I liked it so much, I wrote this.

Update: Appser was removed from the App Store in January 2013. I couldn’t find an explanation as to why. The company applied an upgrade to v2.0 and it was removed as documented here on AppShopper: It displays in iTunes as not available in UK Store but I believe this is showing similarly in all regions.

Found the company post about the removal (

We are removing Appser for Google Docs from the App Store. From now on, you won’t be able to download it anymore.

We know that some of you really loved it. We loved it, too. We needed it. But, there is only that much we can do on top of Google’s app. Appser can never become a top-of-the-line product. And what’s the point of working on it if it can never get there.

Therefore we decided it’s in everyone best interest to cease development and remove the app from the store.

On a lighter note, we just updated Presentation Note and are working on some really cool products that will launch later this year.

Stay tuned!

Alas and alack, it’s not coming back!

Editing Google Presentations on an iPad mini – Appser

Northern Grid Conference 2012: I’m coming Home

I am delighted to have been invited to present at the Northern Grid Conference for Learning and Technology 2012 in Newcastle. Twitter feed for the conference is here.

There will be lots of excellent teachers and educators presenting and sharing classroom practice. I will be talking about – and showing examples of – peer review.

It is very important to help prepare young people for online life as well as offline. My focus is going to be on using peer review as a good starting point for replying to online posts – blogposts, tweets, facebook statuses, videos, animations – by encouraging pupils to be purposeful in their approach to their peers when reviewing their work. By using online tools to peer review, we can learn how to write constructively and critically. Similarly to teaching, empty praise can be as unhelpful as heavy-handed critique. It is important to be kind, be specific and be helpful (phrases *borrowed* from Ron Berger’s three public critique rules as cited on this excellent blogpost by Tait Coles).

The drive of my talk is that writing blogposts and tweeting – and the like – are only the start of building an online profile. Online productivity only comes when you start commenting and talking to others and develop the conversation; you build knowledge together and build invaluable connections. For me, it is this conversation that is authentically redefining learning. It is the source of motivation, engagement, and ultimately ignition into outer-classroom-space.



The links for my presentation are: I will link to my presentation once it is complete.

I hope all/some people in the audience take away three things:

  1. an idea of transformation (SAMR)
  1. confidence in peer review
  1. inspiration to try this tool or similar

I’m looking forward to meeting many new faces on Friday – back in the Toon where I lived for three formative years until I was ten. It will also be a great pleasure to catch up with familiar faces. Mines a pint.

Northern Grid Conference 2012: I’m coming Home