Etopia - Mapping the World WE Want

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Etopia (Click to see full size image)Prague Workshop: Report by Dew Buddie

Towards personalised learning: implementing the philosophy

A CPD event examining the role of ICT in building partnership projects

There is no doubt about the fact that one learns more in the company of friends than one does in isolation. So it was that a four-day conference to celebrate the 10th anniversary of MirandaNet proved to foster such creativity amongst like-minded individuals, that no casual observer could have failed to have been impressed.

It would not have been possible to have picked a more beautiful location for the conference than the city of Prague – a city exuding history from every pore, yet with such buildings as ‘Fred and Ginger’ showing it had creativity itching to be expressed. Somehow that seemed apt for what we as delegates set out to do during the course of the conference – to try to be creative in the ways in which ICT could be used with more traditional educational tools to enhance learning and make the world a better place.

The slightly dark location of the conference – the Technical University – belied the warmth of the welcome we received from our hosts. This set the scene for what was to be an extremely friendly conference. A series of ice-breaking games allowed us to express how we felt the world could be made better and the roles we felt could play in helping that come to pass. It was clear that many of us viewed the Digital Divide as an important issue that needed to be addressed if we were to provide truly equitable learning experiences for all young people on the planet. Perhaps Seymour Papert/MIT’s $100 laptop may go someway towards this – it was felt this was a tool that educationalists would need to harness in future. Many delegates wanted a world of peace and harmony which allowed children to live fulfilling lives, in addition to a world that, given the current global warming debate, was actually in existence in 50 years time.

To this end, Andrée Jordan’s Peace Room project is an outstanding resource which makes all participants take stock of their lives and pay careful consideration to members of society who have made major contributions to the world around them. Based on a discovery she made in a visit to South Africa, Andrée has specified a resource (realised by Francis Howlett) which provides a real challenge to young people. What is more, the challenge is the same for all students regardless of their country of origin. This task can be undertaken by pupils from all over the world and it is possible for pupils from all over the world to play a part in the nomination of new individuals to the Peace Room.

It was stimulating to see the work being done in other schools which showed how all delegates are using ICT in various, exciting ways to support Learning and Teaching within their establishments. The splendour of Prague seemed to stimulate ideas amongst delegates with many splinter groups forming to feverishly discuss new concepts as they were conceived. A visit to a fantastic classical concert one evening served to get the creative juices flowing with a flourish.

The ethos of Etopia permeated the whole conference as delegates strove to develop new ways that ICT could be used to aid the learning experiences of young people across the world. Dr John Cuthell led the conference with a firm hand ensuring that the aims and objectives were always at the forefront of our minds. Christina Preston lent proceedings her inimitable stamp!

As representative of (courtesy of a generous stipend from Oracle) I was able to show delegates ways in which various forms of ICT-based community or VLE could be used to foster and encourage collaborative work across borders. It was extremely rewarding to receive generous feedback from fellow delegates following my presentation. The ThinkQuest competition also offers able students the chance to work with students elsewhere in the world on collaborative projects which challenge and inspire.

A visit to a Prague school put the Etopian concept into context, by showing the delegates a scenario in which they would put into practice all of the plans and ideas that they had. It was clear that these schools teem with teachers and students who have a thirst to collaborate, to share and to learn.

Ultimately, what I took away from the conference was an agreement to lead a UK-based project for all Etopian member schools. This project will develop over the coming months into something that all UK member schools (covering the widest possible range of ages, abilities and circumstances) will be able to hold up as a beacon to other schools to show how we can let students work together.

As a spin-off I submitted an application to the NESTA Futurelab Call for Ideas on behalf of Mirandanet/Etopia, a project called FilmAgora. We believe that as children adapt to the collaborative culture of ‘Working the Wiki Way’, there is huge demand for them to be able to collaboratively edit more than just text. Therefore we propose to create a Wiki tool that allows people of all ages and abilities to be able to take a piece of video and edit it collaboratively using the principles normally associated with editing text in a Wiki. The version history can then be used to revert to a previous version if unwanted edits are made.

There are a plethora of video editing packages which are available to run on computers – there are a range of YouTube video ‘repository’ sites on the Internet and there are many forms of text-based wiki tools. Our proposal suggests a combination of all of the best elements of these resources to create a standalone facility to allow collaborative video editing online for users regardless of nationality, ability, accessibility or age. In other words it is all inclusive.

It may seem ambitious but this tool is aimed at users of all ages. We want to create a customisable skin or interface that will suit the needs of the individual whether in terms of simplicity for young children, language for non-English speakers, accessibility for people with disability or functionality for more skilled users.

It is important that this tool be made available freely to the global community so it must be made Open Source so that others may feel free to run with the idea and add bolt on elements to add further functionality at a later stage.

The desire to exploit underused mobile devices drives our ambition that the resource must be platform independent so that it can work as well on a mobile phone as it does on a PSP or a high spec PC.

The project will support social constructivist theory as the users will be able to discover what each other co-collaborator has contributed to the project. We see a community being created where people can collaborate on video making tasks irrespective of whatever normal restrictions may stand in their way – such as age or accessibility.

At a designated point the film clip can be ‘closed’ and then seen as a finished film.

It is the wiki nature of this tool and the fact it is housed on the web that sets it apart form other tools that are currently available.

Users can upload new clips of their own for individuals to start editing, or they can work on pre-existing clips made by others.

The system will keep an ‘attribution log’ to show the names of everyone who has contributed to the finished film and this will be shown in the ‘credits’ section.

This is a resource that can be used anywhere that Internet access is available – at home, at school or on the move.

It may be used for leisure where a user puts on a video clip that they would like others to edit with them. It may also be the case that teacher can set a project whereby a class uploads and multi-edits a video that becomes a class project.

So we look forward with interest as to whether the application is short-listed for the next stage in the process.

Drew Buddie

See also a summary of the ICT and Strategic Concerns debate.


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