Ollie Bray wasn't born in Scotland. But his years here as a geography teacher and depute head have given him some of our talent for self- deprecation.
"I don't pretend to be an expert in this topic," he said when he stood up to speak at a recent Handheld Learning conference in London. "But I've had some success in using ICT and social media tools in an education context."
Which is precisely why Mr Bray is now national adviser for emerging technologies at Learning and Teaching Scotland, and why a large audience had come to hear him speak.
Social media have several things in common, he explains: "They are primarily about communication. They are open, allowing access to a wide audience. They challenge traditional models of communication. They are normally built from the bottom up."
There are strong reasons, he argues, why schools should be interested in tools with these qualities: "For a start, social media such as blogs, wikis and podcasts give students a sense of audience and encourage collaboration - which produces better output and increased student pride."
Then there are the opportunities they offer to use real data in real time, creating "live" lessons and powerful contexts for learning. "Google Alerts, for instance, can be used as an early warning system if someone mentions your school online. They're also a great way to track student achievements.
"Many children take part in activities outside school and some are really impressive. Google Alerts is also a vital study skill we should be teaching young people, so they can do their own research."
But it's not just study skills that benefit from proficiency with social media, he believes. Employability also gets a boost, because businesses want to hire people who can use the internet in creative ways.
"ICT in schools should no longer be just about writing letters in Word or drawing graphs in Excel. The ICT curriculum needs to move on, using social media as successful businesses have done."
Social media also support very effective CPD, using a self-regulated, drip-feed model, rather than the old sheep-dip approach.
Mr Bray has learnt a lot more from his personal learning network in recent years, than from listening to conference presenters, he says. But all of this demands a new way of working, so teachers might need support.
"I suggest they start with accessible websites with obvious links to CPD, such as Slideshare and Teachers' TV," he says. "They can rate presentations and programmes and leave feedback, which gets them into the social and personal aspects."
But probably the most pressing reason for schools to adopt the new media with enthusiasm is, he argues, that they become more deeply embedded in popular culture every day.
"We need to ask why devices such as mobile phones are banned in schools. Are they really phones any more or powerful mini-computers? Good teachers use good tools. Social media are not going away. They should be in every teacher's toolbox."
Social media in schools:
http:olliebray.typepad.com olliebraycom200910social-media-in- schools-handheld-learning-conference-2009.html
Personal learning networks:
Tools of the trade
- Pupils can write a cross-curricular, collaborative Wikipedia article about their school.
- Law Primary in East Lothian has a whole-school blog cited as good practice by HMIE: http:edubuzz.orgblogslaw
- Twitter account and school webcams at Saltash Community School in Cornwall: www.saltash.netmain
- Live video streaming of school events using Qik: http:qik.com
- Girls practise dance routine using laptop and YouTube:
http:olliebray.typepad.com olliebraycom200906youtube-in- schools.html
- Parents post comments on school's wall wisher page, "a great example of a whole community involved in children's learning":
MY BEST CPD
HEATHER MACKINNON, Nursery assistant, Strathgarve Primary, Highland
When we were spring cleaning, we came across a strange-looking creature called a "Bee-Bot". After finding out what this electronic beastie was, I signed up for training with the council. What was useful was finding out what it could do to help nursery kids learn number work, programming, taking turns, increasing positional language through conversation. After the training, I returned to school motivated! The best use I have made of it is in storytelling. We read Goldilocks to the kids, then we drew the map she followed and they programmed Bee-Bot to walk the route and "taste" the porridge. They loved it!
CAROLYN MCINNES, French teacher, Eastbank Academy, Glasgow
My favourite was a French immersion course in Lyon, with Le Francais en Ecosse. The tuition was exceptional, and targeted language skills, contemporary French issues and cultural background. Activities ranged from poetry to the subtleties of the subjunctive; from the political system to a Petanque evening on the banks of the Rhone.
ANNE LINKLATER, Principal teacher, Skelmorlie Primary, North Ayrshire
I attended a three-day council course on Critical Skills for primary, nursery and secondary teachers. It was very hands-on, active learning, and you got to meet lots of people and talk about what's going on, and ideas for Curriculum for Excellence. It has changed my teaching hugely, even after 32 years. You can get the children to work with you as a team. They are very much part of what they learn and how, even to the extent of sitting on the floor if that helps them enjoy the experience.
MARJ ADAMS, Religious studies, philosophy and psychology teacher, Forres Academy, Moray
One of my most memorable was at the Northern Lights Conference in Findhorn. It presented cutting-edge educational wisdom and experiential learning. The highlights were Playback Theatre, which acted out the thoughts of the audience in an improvised and dramatic manner, and Mythodrama, a journey on leadership skills through the vehicle of Henry V. I'll always remember two Forres Academy pupils opening the conference by singing "Colours of the Wind". It was very moving and the words still inspire me.