A conversation with Doug Belshaw

A conversation with Doug Belshaw

Summary: [Guest Blogger Stewart Mader, Atlassian - makers of Confluence and Jira. His blog can be found here.

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TOPICS: Enterprise 2.0
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[Guest Blogger Stewart Mader, Atlassian - makers of Confluence and Jira. His blog can be found here.]

Recently, I had a Campfire conversation with Doug Belshaw, a teacher of History and ICT at a successful comprehensive school in Doncaster, England. Among other things, Doug writes http://teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk/, a blog filled with good ideas, tools and examples of how Doug uses technology in his teaching. We discussed blogging, his recent introduction of wiki collaboration to his Year 10 students, and the growing role of Web 2.0 in education:StewartWhat first got you using technology as a teaching tool?

Doug
Erm... interest I suppose. I saw the possibilities in other areas and thought that they could be leveraged in education.
I've grown up with computers, so to me it's a natural part of what I do. It's once I started blogging that I used wikis and blogs with students though.

Stewart
So would you say that blogging yourself demonstrated the potential specific to education & your students?

Doug
Definitely. Becoming adept with blogging software myself gave me the confidence, knowledge and conviction that using blogs with students would lead to increased motivation and learning gains.

Stewart
It's the same for me, BTW - having grown up with computers I see it as more of a necessity than a luxury or something ancillary. You've just got to be able to use technology effectively no matter what line of work you're in.

Doug
Exactly. And there's very few subjects in England where technology is used to have any kind of pedagogical impact - even in ICT.

Stewart
Wow - that's interesting to hear b/c for a long time I've thought England was ahead of the US, with an agency like Becta (where the US doesn't have any formal government agency of any kind dedicated to educational technology).

Doug
Becta is too bureaucratic
Futurelab's much more innovative - outside govt. control

Stewart
I had wondered about that when I saw that NGfL was suddenly shut down several months ago

Doug
Yep
Lots of money. No real impact.

Stewart
So then, how have your students taken to blogging? Do they see it as a novelty or do you think they grasp the deeper impact?

Doug
I think England probably is ahead of the US overall in terms of technology in schools. But then that's not saying much! ;)

Stewart
:)

Doug
It varies
Some have really taken to it, as you can probably see by a quick browse. Some see it as just 'homework on the Internet'
Actually, a straw poll I did last week showed that most preferred using the wiki.
Partly because it's collaborative, partly because more people see it, I think.

Stewart
Both points seem very valid, from what I've seen in my own experience

Doug
I'd prefer to use the different platforms for different things

Stewart
Tell me more about the wiki - what was the catalyst for introducing it to the students, and do you see it as a platform for specific work?
(referring to your last point)

Doug
I was kind of shamed into it by Kristian Still...
http//btecnationalsinsport.wikispaces.com/
His wiki is really good, and it got me thinking.
So last month I asked them to volunteer to be responsible for a page and I explained that they would need to put stuff on there which would help with their revision when they get to Year 11. We started off in class to iron out any teething problems, and now they're doing it pretty much exclusively out of lessons.
I'm a bit disappointed that some just copy-and-paste from (e.g.) Wikipedia. But we're just starting, really...
http//gcsehistory.wikispaces.com/

Stewart
Very well done! - I like your approach of tying it into a larger scope (Year) - my biggest gripe with traditional course management systems is they take a transient approach to content - it's there for the term, but gone afterward which ruins the real long-term benefit of putting work online.

Doug
Well I may not even be at my current school next year, but I've promised them that the content will still be there - both wiki and blogs.

Stewart
I think that's a key point though - no matter where you - or they - go, the content is still persistently available in one place.

Doug
Exactly. Although I'm going to have to make a decision as to when to remove the blogs from my own domain.
Something that I think people don't think about is how much better it is to have standardised text rather than handwriting.

Stewart
The problem there is many people still gripe about how it's a shame that students don't learn penmanship anymore b/c of technology.

Doug
About the only time I ever write things nowadays are comments in students' books!
I did the course I'm teaching years ago. Although my writing isn't completely diabolical, I did find it difficult to revise from the notes I'd made. Having everything relevant on the wiki and in an easy-to-read format will be a real boon at revision time.

Stewart
Yes - even deeper than the issue of quality of penmanship is the idea that what you store digitally can be retrieved and revised more easily, and a wiki takes that idea to it's natural sweet spot by letting the revision happen constantly.

Doug
True. I'm using a wiki for my thesis as well - keeps me up-to-date.

Stewart
So how do other teachers respond to technology in general, and to your use of technology? Are they as engaged?

Doug
Many within the school don't know what I'm doing.

Stewart
I think that's a tough obstacle that needs to be overcome in so many places - people who embrace technology still are the pockets of innovation and too often go unnoticed.

Doug
It's easier to talk to others in the blogosphere than others at my school - channels of communication.
It's difficult when I don't have any formal position of power within the school.

Stewart
I think that's one of the key problems - people who often have formidable "power" with technology often don't have any means within the traditional organization to properly influence others.

Doug
Exactly - dinosaurs!
And by the time we get to those positions we could be out of date...

Stewart
For technology to really take hold, I think this is one of the root problems that must be solved...
so true!
Well, to wrap things up, where do you see things going in the forseeable future with technology? Will you introduce your students to other Web 2.0. tools?

Doug
I'm going to try! I've tried Splashr, but I'm limited in what I can do by things that are blocked on our school network.

Stewart
Is it tough to get sites/services unblocked?

Doug
Fairly, and there's no questions asked sometimes
For example, YouTube is blocked, Google Video isn't. Very frustrating!

Stewart
Yet another side effect of people in powerful positions being out of touch!

Doug
There seems to be no rhyme or reason.

Stewart
Yep.
Well, this has been great! Thanks so much for finding some time to chat!

Doug
Thanks Stewart, it's been great talking to you - later!

Topic: Enterprise 2.0

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