Microsoft Songsmith free for Education

September 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Digital Era, Product Reviews 

Last week I wrote an post about an innovate piece of software called AutoCollage. This photo montage tool came out of Microsoft Research Cambridge and is an excellent piece of software which is free to all schools. Well it seems that the educational giveaways just keep on coming from Microsoft with another of their research products, Songsmith which has been made available to education for free from this morning.

Microsoft Songsmith lets you create a complete song without any knowledge of music. You don’t need to know any of the complexities of chords or melodies, you simply sing into your computer and Songsmith will work out the musical background. Sound interesting? Take a look at this demo which shows how Songsmith works.

As the officially least musical person in the world I showed this product to two people who I consider experts. One is my wife who has a music degree and thought the tool would be pretty good in a school environment for  quick compositions. The other is @steveturner93 a Generation Y wanna be musical guru who has just started at our Sixth Form. In typical teenager fashion he went straight to the real demo site- YouTube- and watched 6 or 7 videos on Songsmith. He then had a go on the demo site which can be found here. In his own blog he has just done a review in which he says ‘from ages 5 to 14, this could be a great part of music lessons, teaching students how to use: Tempo, bass, beats, layering techniques and quality finishing.’  You can read his full review here

Songsmith now available free to education on the Innovative Teachers Network

If you work in education and want to use Songsmith it is absolutely free. You can get a copy by joining the Innovative Teacher Network. This site is a great resource in itself for teachers and highly recommend joining. You can also get a free copy of AutoCollage from there which is well worth trying.


The Social Media Revolution and teenagers

September 6, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Digital Era, Online Learning 

Earlier today I posted a blog on The Social Media Revolution and wrote some thoughts on why we need to adapt to the changes that currently are and increasingly will affect the way we communicate and interact. The Social Media Revolution is a crucial change in society which has a major impact on our role as teachers supporting students in a learning environment. Most of the people reading this blog are likely to be focused predominantly on the Online Learning aspect of schools and the impact of Social Media is most profoundly felt in this area. So the other question which I wanted to raise today was how are teenagers responding to The Social Media Revolution?

I thought it might be useful to put together a few resources of different depth which I have been reading and viewing. These cover the impact of Social Media on teenagers from three countries: UK, Australia and the US. For a light bite take a look at this short YouTube video from Melbourne Australia where off the cuff interviews took place on the street asking teens how the use social media. Turn the volume down to avoid the evil music intro.

At the end of the summer one news item caused a media storm in the UK which the Guardian called Twitter is not for teens. This article covered a 15 year old called Matthew Robson who was asked to write a research article on how teenagers consume media. The full text of his research can be found here and although it is not shocking and a total surprise at the same time there is some really good information here.

Finally, from the US I have recently been watching an excellent lecture by Danah Boyd discussing her research on patterns of use in social media by teenagers. Although this is 40 minutes long it is well worth taking some time out when school has settled down to watch this. If you are time poor then pick up the education theme from 29 minutes.

The Social Media Revolution and impact on schools

September 6, 2009 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Digital Era, Online Learning 

The summer is now officially over as schools have had their influx of students and next week is the first full week back throughout England. One of the biggest changes we are experiencing at Twynham school is managing a large increase in our Sixth Form over the last 3 years and we are close to approaching 400 17 and 18 year olds enrolled last week. One of the big challenges I think schools face with all students aged 11-18 but especially those of Sixth Form age is making online learning relevant. One of the things I have been talking a lot about with colleagues within school and across the country is constant evolution. The things we used for Online Learning two years ago are unlikely to still be relevant today.

At the heart of all this thinking about the need for evolution in Online Learning is the idea of The Social Media Revolution. Over the last two years the Internet has undergone a massive transformation which has changed the way teenagers live their lives. At the moment there is a great video doing the rounds, created in the ‘Shift Happens’ style called The Social Media Revolution. It is very unoriginal of me to stick it on my blog and jump on the bandwagon but if you havent seen it then it is well worth a look.
The Social Media Revolution is already having  a profound impact on how we engage with students and how they learn. Those entering the many 6th Form institutions around the country this week joined secondary schools in the same year YouTube and Facebook went live. Having started teaching ten years ago the students I had to teach how to use Microsoft Word then bear no resemblance to the near Digital Natives who spend their life sharing music and videos with each other whilst playing video games with people all over the world. Thinking a further 5 years from now my 6 year old nephew who I have blogged about here and here will be joining secondary school for the first time this week. They are pure digital natives who have only ever sat at a computer in a Web 2.0 world. The Social Media Revolution is coming and in fact is already here. How will you respond?

AutoCollage for school events-parental engagement

September 2, 2009 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Digital Era, Product Reviews 

One of the Microsoft tools which I have been wanting to test drive for a few months is AutoCollage. This product came directly out of one of the Microsoft Research Labs in Cambridge and uses a range of sophisticated technology to recognise faces and pick out the most interesting bits out of a collection of photos before blending them into a photo collage. Clearly this has huge potential in education with schools taking hundreds if not thousands of photos a year from trips, extra curricular activities and special days which then need organising in some way to be displayed.

This Bank Holiday weekend was a perfect opportunity to test AutoCollage with a group of photos. The Bisterne Scarecrow Festival was starting and when my nephew and niece found out there was a Peppa Pig Scarecrow there was no stopping them. Off we went on an 4 mile tour of 28 scarecrows sites taking photos of each one, most with my nephew in. When I returned home I downloaded the trial version of AutoCollage and pressed a button with the following result.

Click to enlarge

The image above was my first attempt with AutoCollage and in only one click I had a great result. When I looked there were actually 44 photos so a quick tweak on the AutoCollage interface to specify the number of photos you want involved produced this:

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

AutoCollage looks like a fantastic product and I am planning to use this on our SharePoint site alongside the picture gallery. I think it will be particulalry useful on the Parent Gateway to keep parents engaged in the many activities and events a large secondary school runs. The really good news is AutoCollage is absolutely free if you are using it for an educational purpose. You can go to the Innovate Teachers Network to download it now.

Teenagers can blog. So how do we harness it?

July 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Digital Era, Twynham School 

As many of you know I am a big fan of twitter (you can find me @mikeherrity) and wrote a post on the value of it for teachers a while back which you can find here- To Twitter or not to twitter?  Now the ultimate dilemma for me on twitter is the arrival of students I teach. I managed 3 blissful months before the first one followed me and now there are at least 20 in my followers, mainly from the 6th Form. In the end I have decided on a policy of not blocking but not following back to avoid being rude but at the same time not encouraging them! That is I do not follow students except one who is the topic of my blog today.

The one student I do follow is slightly different in that is mum is my boss! As Head of History she has tended to to bring her son on the Battlefields trip regularly and he has somewhat entered the realm of ‘responsible adult’ even though I have taught him GCSE History. A while back this young man started blogging and every so often I would check out what he is writing. I did ask for permission from mum and indeed the young man himself before blogging about him.

My own experience of encouraging Secondary School students to blog has been really poor and I am sure that they way I have set it up is in large part why it has been largely unsuccessful. At the same time I have looked around to see what teenagers write in their spare time and found very little, almost all of which is fairly limited. I have therefore come up with a standard line which is ‘students cant blog’ and use it regularly (probably in defence of my inability to encourage students to blog). Reading Stephen’s blog yesterday made me realise they can, just not in the way I expect or initially wanted them to. A warning before you go to the blog (if you wish to) that it does contain some profanity- not the point of my exercise but it shouldn’t stop me blogging about it.

Go to the blog here

Click to go to this blog site

The thing that strikes me is students are perfectly capable of expressing their opinions and this is where blogging would be really effective. I think it could particularly be used as a tool for Student Voice to find out what they are really thinking. I can also see a use in looking at contentious events in History and asking students to update their blog with an argument, supported by evidence. Stephen’s view on the ability to listen to music in lessons is one we have been grappling with in the Leadership Team and he makes a fairly robust argument on why we should let them.

Tim Berners-Lee and the coming of digital natives

July 11, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Digital Era 

A while ago I wrote about my experiences of watching the change in children as they moved from being digital immigrants when I started teaching 10 years ago to those who are now in primary schools and are definitely digital natives. If you didn’t read the article about my 5 year old nephew and his use of technology it is still the third most read blog post and can be found here Digital Natives coming to a school near you.

This week we have been celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the World Wide Web and the man who created it, Tim Berners-Lee has been speaking to the BBC. His short presentation is worth a look especially the Q and A looking into the future of the web.

Another interesting piece from today is the BBC news programme Click. In the second part on BBC iPlayer (sorry if you are outside the UK but the International version will appear here soon) there is a section on the future of search on the web and the coming of what is known as Semantic Search. There is also an article here on the BBC about the future of search. Hopefully all of this is really useful if you are in education and heavily into Online Learning and Web 2.0. It would be good to hear your thoughts.

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