My First Cyberbully

Opening Remarks

This has been a slightly troublesome post to write, as befits the slightly troubling experience which it reports. The motive for writing this post is to illustrate a perhaps subtle approach employed by a bully.

For the sake both of protecting identities and of brevity of language, I refer to the other person concerned as “Mr Ully”. Mr Ully was the first tweeple in the slightly over 2,000 that I follow who behaved like this.

The Lead In

I was using Twitter, and had just made the acquaintance of Mr Ully, and I was going through the usual sort of exchanges that you do when engaging with somebody new. The conversation then turned to the matter of education. Soon afterwards, Mr Ully came out with this little gem:clip 1which I found somewhat confronting. It was a harbinger of what was to come.

It was a classic example of first befriending someone, and seeking to impose your own world view on them.
I have included the exchange in the panel on the right in case any reader wishes to study the exchange in detail.
Mr Ully was working very hard at undermining my confidence in my mastery of English, and seeking to impose his own understanding on me, this prompting me to tweet “has just blocked a tweeple who tried to bully me into accepting that a specialist word in my area of trade does not exist.”.
This produced this wonderful response from James Greenwood (web site:, twitter @jpgreenwood) “@philhart Wouldn’t lose much sleep over it… you were perfectly coherent.”.
As I am a mature individual, Mr Ully’s efforts got nowhere. I also found James Greenwood’s tweet to be heartwarming.

Think of the Children

I now come to the main point of this post. Some young people may lack the developmental maturity to recognise such a form of bullying and to deal with it accordingly. This is something that I will now be very much more conscious of in the future.
<end of post>

The exchange

I Want to Learn About …

A Goad

I have a small confession to make. It is this: I am thoroughly dissatisfied with the quality of educational resources on the Internet. I say this both as a learner and as an educator. But before I go on too much more with this rant, I had better define what I mean by the role of a “learner”.

What Is a Learner?

For the purposes of this post, I will define a “learner” as somebody who has a question to which they want an answer. The question can be mundane, or abstruse, or anything in between.

A mundane question could be “When is the next bus to the middle of town due to leave from here?’. A more abstruse question could be “What are good mathematical tools for modelling three dimensional surfaces, and why are some other approaches impractical?”. If you don’t happen to understand the second question, that doesn’t matter: it merely serves to illustrate the abstruseness of the question.

The first question can be answered using Web 1.0 technology, typically by going to the web site of your local bus operator. Getting answers to questions of the second type sometimes leaves me tearing my hair out.


I have yet to find an educator who is completely happy with all the existing online educational resources that are available to help them deliver a particular course. I hear instead a cacophony of complaint: “I do not have time to prepare resources to what I would regard as the miminum acceptable standard for my students (and there is nothing suitable that I can find on the Internet).”.

Using my question about modelling three dimensional surfaces as a starting point, I was initially confronted by a mass of seemingly unrelated facts: the linkages between them took a lot of figuring out. To make matters worse, different authors used different definitions for the same thing: it was only after thinking quite a lot about what these people were saying that I finally understood what was going on. A lot of time and frustration would have been saved if I had found a comprehensive online text on this subject; from what I can find, no such text exists, and I do not have the time to write such as text gratis. (I hear mutterings of “information curation” coming from readers of this post: I will return to this shortly.) I have had similar issues in another area of applied mathematics, as well as in other areas of human endeavour. You may have had similar experiences yourself.

I had heard about Web 3.0 (or “the Semantic Web”) with its promise of linking together pieces of information, so I poked around in this area. I found a motley collection of tools which, while I am sure that they are very good at doing what they each set out to do, between them offer nothing in the way of joining up the bits of information needed to answer my 3D question, and what is more to do it in such a way as to present all the information in a digestible order.

Just to make matters a little more exciting, we have Sir Ken Robinson’s prospect of individualised learning (as opposed the factory model of teaching), this aided and abetted by learners’ love affair with mobile devices.


I will take it for granted that today’s learner expect to be able to ask a question, and to receive a comprehensive, well-informed and lucid reply in response regardless of the nature of the question that they asked. So …

  1. What will it take to reach that position?
  2. Who will be involved?
  3. How long will it take?
  4. Who will manage the process? (Educators? Corporations? Specialists? Individuals? Other?)
  5. Will knowledge curation require subject specialists, or could it be automated? If so, to what extent?

If you feel inclined to respond to any of these questions, I, and perhaps future learners, will be very grateful to you.

The #rscon3 Unconference

Random Jottings

This post is my last in connection with the recent Reform Symposium conference. It is in a sense an unconference piece: it is a reflection on some of the activity that has followed the conference itself.

There has been a lot of blog posting both by participants and presenters, with comments being made on those posts being made by many. It is an opportunity for people to come down from the highs of the conference – an opportunity to reflect on went well, and to ponder what might be done better next time – both forms of personal development.

I have also seen a lot of activity on Twitter, where everybody is exchanging ideas. This is another virtual venue for unconference activity: people are choosing parts of Web 2.0 space that best suits themselves.

The organizers’ suggestion of telling them about blog posts was brilliant.

In summary, this virtual conference has all the characteristics of a conference in a physical venue.

Assessing Assessment: a Panelist’s View


This post is a personal reflection on my experience as a member of a panel fielding questions from the participants on the topic of “Assessing Assessments” at the recent Reform Symposium virtual conference, #rscon3. Readers wanting to view the recording can find it by following this link .

On Being a Panelist

I had presented another session at #rscon3 earlier that day, and felt that my presentation had been workmanlike: some of the participants had gained something from it. But being a member of a panel meant that I had to move up a gear: I did not have the luxury of having a pre-prepared presentation to work from.

The panel members covered a broad range of subject areas, from languages to technology, with a similarly broad range of students from youth-at-risk to university entrants. What soon became apparent from the panelists’ responses was the unanimity of view on the points that they addressed in common. Each panelist also offered views on other points, thereby broadening the discussion.

Three of the panel members I have not met face-to-face, and I had only the occasional exchanges with them via Web 2.0. What soon became apparent to me as a panelist was the sense of teamwork that developed very rapidly between the panel members. I found this both comforting and wonderful. It was also a completely new experience for me, both in terms being a panel member, and in terms of the remarkable bonds that can develop through the medium of Web 2.0.

I listened to the recording of that session as I was planning this post. I found that my answers were delivered in a rather fragmented fashion as I was busily organising my thoughts around the questions of the moment. It was only when I was addressing points that I had previously thought through that my speaking became unbroken. How this came across to the participants I must leave to your imaginations.


The participants were very busy in the text chat, and appeared to engage well with the session as a whole. From a personal viewpoint, I found the session to be an exhilarating experience. “Thanks for the ride!”

The Textbook, the Classroom and the Internet


My thanks go to the organisers of the Third Reform Symposium conference,
held in the last three days of July.

My thanks also go to the participants of my first session, “The Textbook, the Classroom and the Internet”. Without their hard work I would have been at a loss for words both then and now.

Structure of the Session

The session started with a lot of input from the participants:

  • What did they want from the session?
  • How did they define the Information Revolution?
  • A poll about how common text books are in comparison to 20 years ago.
  • What Internet-capable devices have they seen learners use?

The participants’ responses ranged from ideas about digital textbooks, helping students to be better learners, impact on delivery methods, and ways of using the Internet more effectively in the classroom. The response to the next slide caught me slightly off guard: the participants defined the Information Revolution in terms of its impact on people (including the wonderful “[Or is it an] information prison?”) rather than defining in terms of the facts of the explosion of information and its ready availability. The question about the commonality of textbooks drew a mixed response, with almost half of the responses saying that it was about the same, some saying that they are less common, and a minority saying that they are more common. The question the range of Internet-capable devices seen resulted in the whiteboard being almost covered with different devices.

I then asked, rhetorically, what Internet-devices would be around in five
years’ time, and followed that immediately with the assertion that any answers
would be irrelevant.

There was general agreement that being able to find, interpret and use
information will be much more important in 10 years’ time than it is today.

I then asked for a poll on the question of “Is the Internet making us stupid?”. Predictably, most people said no. I then sprang a surprise on them, saying that there was at least one serious author (Nicholas Carr) who argued otherwise, and that perhaps there was something in what he was saying, and perhaps we should be aware of it in today’s learners.

I then posed the question “How might today’s learners seek and use
information in 10 years’ time?”. This drew a wealth of responses, two of which
carried the message underlying what everybody else was saying, amounting to
“give them what they are looking for by using guided curation tools”. This was my own “Aha!” moment, as I had until that point only ideas in outline as to how to answer that question. The next slide invited participants to say how they would help today’s students learn to do that, which again drew two gems: “digital literacy”, and “teach students to develop and ask the right questions”.

The last two slides can be summed up in the bottom contribution of the
last slide: “We are the pioneers!”.

The Presenter as Learner

I find that I learn something very useful whenever I present a session like
this, and this session was no different: it was the importance of utilising the
curation of information as part finding answers to questions.

The Recording of the Session

The recording of the session can be found at .

An Experiment With Audio


I am indebted to Glenn Le Santo (web page:, twitter @lesanto) for the tweet that inspired this post. I speak of audio blogging.

Why Am I Doing This?

This post is partly a response to Glenn’s tweet: I wished to share a little bit of myself in the same spirit in which he shared himself in his tweet. It is also an opportunity for me to learn about what is involved in audio blogging.

There were the usual technical issues: I had the wrong input device selected at the start. Then I had the wrong recording level. These were easily fixed.

But what about all the “ums” and the “ahs” in all the takes? In the end, I decided that I could not be bothered with trying for “a perfect take”; better perhaps to let my own fallibility show through. After all, this was not about trying to teach anybody about anything, but more about trying to share an experience, about building social bonds.

The Recording

For what it is worth, here is what I recorded for Glenn: punting

Video Files and Virtual Presentations


I am indebted to Clive Elsmore (blog:, twitter: @CliveSir) for suggesting that the topic of this post might be of interest to other Reform Symposium presenters.

It is to do with creating video files that are suitable for using in virtual presentations of any sort, though the focus of this post will be the Reform Symposium itself.

It covers not just the technical aspects of creating and uploading videos, but also planning how to use videos in your presentations.


Video clips work best if they are less than two minutes long: a video lasting 20 minutes is likely to see your audience wandering off to somewhere else on the Internet.

Video clips are also better if they are spread out throughout your presentation. Again, five clips clips presented one after the other risks losing your audience.

As always, the two recommendations above are exactly that: they are recommendations only. There may be circumstances where a longer video clip is not just useful, but may indeed be essential to your presentation.

Video editing is something of a specialist task, and beyond the scope of this post. Ubuntu users might want to use Kino (free, use Synaptic to “get” it), while Windows users might want to use Windows Live Movie Maker (free) or AVS Video Editor (US $60).

It is better to upload videos at least 30 minutes before your session starts. That way, downloads onto attendees’ computers can start as soon as they join your session.

Preparing Your Videos

An Apology In Advance

I will apologise in advance for using numbers in this post. I know that some people are terrified by them. Unfortunately, when it comes to preparing your videos, there is simply no way around using numbers.

Total Size of Your Video Clips

The aggregate size of your video clips should not exceed 10 MB. Video clips not exceeding 2 MB work best.

The reason for this is that not everybody has a broadband connection, and even if they do local conditions may degrade their Internet connection to dial-up speeds.

File Format of Your Video Clips

Videos can be stored in a number of different “file formats”. The most commonly supported ones are MPEG4 (also known as mp4) and Flash (also known as flv). Elluminate supports both of these. For other virtual platforms, it is worthwhile checking that the file format that you are thinking of using is supported by that platform.

Frame Size

The size of an frame is indicated how many “pixels” there are across and down. These pixels are the same thing that your computer monitor is measured in. Common examples are 1366×768, 1600×900 and 1920×1080.

The frame size of a video clip has a major impact on the size of the video file. For example, by shrinking a frame from 1280×720 to 640×360, or halving both the width and the height, reduces the size of the file by 75%.

The frame size should be as small as possible, but no smaller than can be both seen easily on a computer and also show important detail. This image, for example,

spatial compression

spatial compression

shows where the number plate is no longer easily readable. This was using a factor of one-eighth, rather than the factor of a half mentioned earlier.

Bit Rate

Video information is delivered using an encoded stream of bits, and this comes at a fixed speed known as a “bit rate”. Every file format includes information about the bit rate of the video content. Higher bit rates produce better quality images.

There is an interaction between bit rate and frame size. Smaller frames need lower bit rates. If you keep the same size of frame, but reduce the bit rate, the image will become burred. The more the bit rate is reduced, the more the image will become blurred.

Depending very much on the size of the frame, a rough guide is that 1,000 kbps is usually okay, but 100 kbps may be unusable. Bit rates of 5,000 kbps and above are good for high quality video.

It is worthwhile experimenting the bit rate and the frame to achieve what you regard as an optimum result – there are no “hard and fast rules” on this matter.

Conversion Tools

There are many conversion tools that you can use to adjust the frame size and bit rate of a video file. My own experience is that VLC Media Player is the best by far. It is also free, and is available for Windows, Linux and Mac.

It allows you to adjust the frame size and the bit rate. It has the added bonus that it can also convert from uncommon file formats into both MPEG4 and Flash.

There is a wiki which is useful, and can be accessed by “Help… Help…” in the menu bar.

For people who wish to experiment without reading the manual, I suggest using “Media… Convert / Save …” and then following the prompts.

The Edublogs/Elluminate session at 23:00 UTC 28 July will include an application share so that people can see it demonstrated.

Finally …

I hope that the foregoing is useful for people wanting to prepare for #rscon3. If you have any questions or comments, please use the comment facility below; you never know, somebody else may have a similar question!

An Unpleasant But Needful Act


I recently had the pleasure of co-moderating with Jo Hart (blog:, twitter: @JoHart) and Clive Elsmore (blog:, twitter: @CliveSir) three training sessions for people who were about to present at a forthcoming Reform Symposium virtual conference. The team work was wonderful, and the attendees were terrific. In terms of helping the presenters feel more confident about using a virtual presentation tool, the three sessions undoubtedly reached the objective.

One Difficult Attendee

It is in the nature of these sorts of workshops that attendees will make mistakes, and accidentally press the wrong buttons. This happened early on in all three sessions; it is much better that presenters learn from their mistakes in this context rather than when presenting to a “real” audience. However, in the last session this carried on rather longer than usual. With some detective work by Clive, and some quick thinking by Jo, we thought that we had identified the individual who was ruining it for everybody else.

It was the same individual that had come into the e-room in a state of inebriation, and who had a tendency to dominate proceedings.

Jo took away all removable privileges from him. However, he continued to make a nuisance of himself in text chat.

I was then confronted with a very difficult decision. Was this individual indeed the cause of all the disruption? What if he really was a presenter? Should I eject him from the e-room? It was perfectly obvious that all the other attendees had had enough of whoever was causing all the disruption. He was also making destructive comments in the text chat.

In the end, I ejected the individual. Things settled down immediately. He came back into the e-room a minute or so later. I again ejected him in a matter of seconds. He did not return. The end-of-session review, and also the subsequent comments on Jo’s blog, show just how negative the other attendees felt about him.

A Review

It is never pleasant having to eject somebody from a gathering. Despite that, I am glad that I did so, for the benefit of everybody else.

If, as a moderator, you ever find yourself confronted with a similar situation, you may think of this post, and know that you are not alone. When you must, eject knowing that you are doing the right thing!

“How Will People Sign Their Names?”

The Death of Cursive Writing?

The Indiana Department of Education has, in common with 39 other states, decided that the teaching of cursive writing should no longer be compulsory. This seems to have caused a certain amount of consternation among educators. This can be perhaps best summed up in the by now hackneyed question “How will people sign their names?”.


Aren’t we forgetting something here? What is so special about people being able to sign their names? We have become so habituated to signing our names with pen, paper and ink as a means of authenticating something, such as on a purchase document for a house, that we have come to assume that it is the only means of such authentication.

Biometrics have been around for years. So have identity microchips. Biometric passports are now de rigueur. Thumb prints are unique. So are people’s retinal images. So are credit and debit cards, and many of these also have microchips. We already have diverse means authentication other than using cursive signatures. (And a quick scan of the signatures at your local post office will probably show that most signatures are wholly illegible anyway.)

So why are we still so hung up with signatures? I can imagine that people will talk about forgery. Well, cursive signatures have been being forged for centuries. “And what about legal documents?” I hear you ask. Well, I submit my annual tax returns using a digital signature, which is unique for each such return. My point is this: there are already successful electronic systems in place for enacting legal transactions.

And you still think that we need to sign our names using (please excuse the vehemence here) “a quill pen”?

e-Teaching, e-Learning


I moderated a couple of Edublogs/Elluminate sessions recently where I asked the participants what they thought was meant by some words and phrases that are relevant to the delivery of learning in a 24/7 e-learning context. When asked, many expressed uncertainty in the definitions that they had offered. Some of the definitions offered were also erroneous.

It was the juxtaposition of the two events that prodded me to write this post.

Technology: Its Impact on Teachers

Information Technology has had a major impact on the way learning can be delivered. It comes with its own ways of doing things, and a whole new language to describe those things. By way of example, learners can now be expected to use a web browser on a computer and obtain information using a search engine to complete a learning activity on a learning management system. That is four words of the new jargon in just one sentence.

An understandable reaction to this is to cry out “Professional Development!”, but from what I can see, most professional development activities provide very little of what is needed in this area. Readers are invited to review their own recent professional development, and comment on the accuracy of the preceding sentence. How many teachers would be happy to teach today a class of 20 students using a virtual learning environment, such as Blackboard/Elluminate, for example? Not a great proportion, from what I can see.

What To Do? What To Do?

Where teachers feel that they are not receiving adequate professional devlopment from their organisations, they can always “go it alone”, and seek help from other educators on the Internet. Fortunately, there is a lot support available, and much of it is free. This post describes a handful of resources – you can always ask those people to point you in the direction of other resources that will better suit your needs.


Twitter users use things called “hashtags” (more jargon!) to indicate “tweets” that may be of interest to other educators. You could, for example, send this tweet: “Does anybody know of any on-line conferences for new teachers? #edchat” and you will probably receive some very good answers.

Twitter using a web browser can be slightly hard work. TweetDeck from provides a facility to group tweets together, so that you can have a column for #edchat (educators’ chatter) and another column for #ntchat (chat for new teachers).

Reform Symposium

The Reform Symposium ( is a virtual conference held by educators from around the world. It lasts for two or three days, and it is FREE! It holds conferences every few months, and covers a wide range of topics: there is something for everyone in those conferences.

Dictionary of e-Learning Jargon

There is a dictionary of e-learning jargon. It aims to explain the jargon associated with e-learning in increasingly simple terms. It is still very early in its development, and people who are interested adding to it are invited to fill in the contact form at Other readers are invited to leave comments about ambiguity of entries or new entries that they would like to see.