Jaws Content Management System, Jaws CMS

jaws.pngLately, we have been looking at different types of CMS available and trying to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each. It’s a tough task as you can imagine. However, for one reason or another Jaws has risen to the surface as a strong leader. It is still relatively new, of course and as such may not yet have the refinements of systems like Drupal, but it does have a relatively simple user interface which counts for a lot in my book. Sadly, the immaturity of the platform and the relative recency of its appearance means that there isn’t a great deal of useful information for those wishing to develop for it. As an example, try finding any information of any great depth about building a ‘gadget’. Sure, there is the meagre documentation and yes, there are plenty of gadgets which you could deconstruct, but what is needed is a reasonably detailed description of how these puppies hang together in the first place! Damian (Cleveratom employee no.4) has been looking into all this but it is tough one to crack. Using IRC he managed to chat to one of the core developers for a little bit of info, but not enough to get him really underway. So – does anyone have a good understanding of how gadgets are made for Jaws, and would you be willing to share it?

Three months later…

We started Cleveratom in January 2007, and we planned what we would do for it in December 2006. Matt did the review for the end of week Seven, so I am looking at what we have achieved at Cleveratom at the end of week fourteen!

This all started when I looked back in the archives to find a post in September 2004 called ‘Is there a future in it?’. At that time Ultralab had just received a visit from the Pro Vice Chanceller at Anglia Ruskin University, a man called Peter Creamer. He claimed that he was ‘not here to shut you down’, and ‘I’ve never shut a business down in my life…’. Big words, little truth.

But as a direct result of that meeting nearly two and a half years ago, Cleveratom was formed and we are now busier than ever! Having started modestly with a reasonable project based in Southend, we have taken on more and more work. To keep on top of it all we have started a project board – basically a noticeboard with bits of paper pinned to it in different categories. This was one of Matt’s ideas, and how well it is proving to work!

Right now we are engaged in an evaluation of learning platforms for Yorks and Humber Grid for Learning, working with Becta on design quality indicators for ICT, building websites for smaller clients, working with Stephen Heppell on a number of things, working with BBC Blast on the tour for the truck this year, working with Apple and a number of partners on the Digital Teacher Network… In addition, I am finding that people want me to present at conferences around the country – the last was in Kent for BSF, the next will be in London at the Institute of Education, and after that in Oxford. This is excellent work – I am delighted to be asked to talk, and I am thrilled that Cleveratom is doing so well so soon.
There are quite a few other projects we are hoping to do which are either in the planning phase or that we are waiting to hear back about, and of course there is still the never-ending stream of great, crazy and plain silly ideas which typifies the creative approach to what we do!

So thanks to Peter Creamer for his ‘vote of confidence in 2004’, without it we probably wouldn’t have found all of the brilliant things we are doing now 🙂

Of course, pride comes before a fall so very often, and whilst we are optimistic, we realise that there is a long, long way to go. The thing is, we are all ‘up for it’ and chasing things to make it happen. Long may it last!

Ultralab Downsizes, Anglia Ruskin University closes Ultralab

Is it a downsizing or is it a closure? Either way, it’s incredibly sad to think that twenty years of pioneering research activity is to cease as of 31st December 2006.

That is the date when the current staff at Ultralab (myself included) change roles – some will transfer into the Faculty of Education, some will stay within the new ‘teaching and learning’ unit headed up by Tony Brandt, and the rest, like me, will be made redundant. I have quite a bit to say on the matter, as you might imagine, and precious little of it very good.

What is good though is that the world class team that made up Ultralab are now released from the confines of a pretty narrow minded university to explore new avenues and take on new challenges. I am sure that we will do so with as much aplomb as ever, and I am actually really looking forward to building new projects and taking on new contracts.

I am certain that lots of mud will be slung across the internet in the next few weeks, and whilst Merlin John can claim to say ‘you read it here first’ (and the Guardian second), rest assured you’ll probably be able to find about twenty other accounts of the situation from ex-ultralab staff. I’ll write my own version after Christmas, when the dust has settled a little bit.

If you are thinking of working at or seeking employment with Anglia Ruskin University and have a notion that eLearning is a key way forward for education this century, then think again – the incoming Vice Chancellor (Mike Thorn) is rumoured to not be at all interested in that… paper based distance learning is more in line with his thinking, apparently.

With that, and the appalling manner in which the University has conducted this ‘re-structuring’, I for one am pleased to be out of harm’s way!

Access and Integration in Schools Conference, Coventry University

Coventry University’s Bugatti Building hosted the second annual conference for access and integration in schools. This year’s conference wass jointly sponsored by the Ergonomics Society, University of Coventry and Ergonomics Safety Research Institute at Loughborough. Speakers included Alan Gardner on backpain and the design of school furniture, developing a European standard in the design of school furniture, Pauline Hughes, CEO of the Ewing Foundation talking about classroom acoustics, Rachel Benedyk from UCL talking about ergonomics, Andree Woodcock from Coventry talking about an up and coming research project about engaging children in school design and of course myself, talking about the ‘designmyschool’ website (currently off line since 2007).

Organised by Andree, this was a delightful occasion to get people together and talk about things that really matter. There were others on the list of speakers but sadly I missed them as I got in to Coventry by train a little after the conference started, and left a little before it ended.

The intriguing thing for me was to see folk picking up the strands of what we have been doing for the last couple of years in the school design arena. If Coventry University are able to undertake a more formal research project to substantiate a lot of the action research that went in to designmyschool then so much the better! If I can help at all, just say the word…

I thoroughly enjoyed this conference, small as it was, because it focussed on things I believe are important. With so much money being spent on schools at the moment (BSF, PFI and so on) it really is crucial to get the basics right. buying chairs that are poor design, or because they are cheap is about the worst use of the money I can think of – get this bit right, make the learners able to concentrate and not squirm in discomfort, and who knows what will follow on. The same applies to tables, heating, lighting, ventilation, corridors, toilets, canteens, playgrounds, and much more besides. These are traditionally areas that architects and procurement officers concern themselves with. It’s about time they stopped and looked at what makes effective learning (and thank heavens some already do).

But beyond the millions of pounds where will we be? Are we yet again going to invest in buildings that have very good intentions but are based on our yesterdays? Or are we going to take a much braver step towards investing in learning environments for tomorrow’s learners? It really is more about meeting the needs than meeting the budgets.

Exciting Minds Conference, Manchester, Creative partnerships

On Monday this week I drove to manchester to be a panelist and speaker at the Exciting Minds conference run by Creative Partnerships. I was talking about Building Schools of the Future – BSF. As part of a four strong panel we covered a large range of specialisms. Martin from Nottingham was involved in running BSF projects there and planning ways forward for schools – visioning, basically. Abe, from Sussex was an architect who had recently completed a school extension and was focussed on sustainability and ‘green’ issues. Brenda was from Manchester and worked as BSF co-ordinator, seconded from a secondary school where she is deputy head.

A stimulating discussion from each of the panel members, it struck me that there is a huge task being undertaken by lots of schools and not nearly enough people able to support them and talk sense about the issues they are going to face. Many in the audience simply wanted answers to issues they have got, but that simply isn’t enough. We need to look ahead – beyond the next few years – to what the vision is for the school. Creating buildings for the next 60 years will simply keep us in the same rut we are now in, albeit in 60 years from now (or more likely just about 10) – we need to think far more creatively about education and how to use buildings more creatively, and look at how technology can be used to link people and places more effectively.

This is going to be a recurring theme over the next couple of years, I think!

It was delightful to meet up with author and broadcaster Michael Rosen again – the last time I talked to him was when I was a teacher about fifteen years ago. He was an inspirational influence on me then, and I used his books regularly in classes I taught. I don’t suppose he remembers me from that time, but none the less it was good to share a few words and share a common ideal within the world of education.