Image: Some rights reserved by kaktuslampan

I submitted an article for my school’s weekly newsletter recently, published on 24th August here and it is reproduced in its entirety at the end of this post.

Since writing the article, one of the websites I promoted has disappeared. As of September 5th, Google decided to shut down Google Fastflip along with its entire suite of Google Labs products (experimental software).

There’s a word of caution in that – software can come and go, and we as educators have to work with that fact. The thing is, we’d understandably hope we are choosing the right ones for those we rely on for our students’ learning … ones that are going to last, ones that are going to be supported, ones that we can convince our colleagues and students to learn to use without serious setbacks such as its sudden disappearance. But how can we be sure?

And, how much do we need to worry about it? Just how attached to one piece of software should we become given that available technology – as a whole – is inevitably developing and improving all the time. I can think of several examples of software which I invested untold time in when I started teaching, spending long hours of my evenings developing interactive resources around, yet it is now virtually redundant – partly because there are far, far better alternatives out there now.

For example, I would never stubbornly haul some of the old mapping software I used in 2001 out of the depths of my hard drive, and force it upon my class, just because I worked so hard with it and it once had pride of place on a scheme of work. Not now that my students could use things like Google Earth! And, still, I do not regret what my class of 2001 (and I) gained from that old software back then.

How do we get the right balance between being appropriately cautious and still getting the most out of a potentially useful piece of software? I think I stalled on twitter for too long, dismissing it as a flash in the pan, but now I am a fairly committed user, and wonder why I wasn’t using it for longer. Yet, in the same light, we ought not to waste unproductive time seeking out the latest technology bandwagon to hop on, at the risk of not embedding it into our students’ learning in any truly considered and meaningful way. On this theme, I enjoyed this post by Seth Godin, pointed out to me by my colleague John. Check Godin’s use of his wonderful phrase ”drive-by technorati”.

Luckily, in this particular case, Google Fastflip wasn’t really much more than a pretty news aggregator, and there are plenty of other ways to gain that kind of information … this one just happened to be very immediate. But there will be countless stories out there in the world of education, and in other spheres, where software we have advocated, invested time and energy in, believed in, carefully built learning opportunities around … suddenly vanishes or becomes dated to the point of incompatibility. It begs the question … how does this stark possibility impact on our collective efforts to keep pace with new and exciting technologies in the pursuit of better learning?

The original article …


One unfortunate and long-lasting stereotype of Economics lessons has been one of very academic, technical analysis often delivered through dry and un-exciting text books and traditional chalk-face lecturing. As an Economics teacher who started teaching the subject while the new interactive, networked Internet (known as “Web 2.0”) really began to take off, I would be among the first to challenge that view of the subject.

My students over the past seven years have really benefitted from the instantly accessible, multimedia resources at our fingertips. We have quickly searched for images to demonstrate concepts and examples (, watched engaging, animated videos to deepen our understanding (see, for example, this excellent youtube channel –, explored interactive datasets ( facilitates this very well) and browsed the latest worldwide publications on key economic developments. Try searching for updates on inflation here – – and you can’t fail to be impressed at the usefulness of readily accessible media.

However, like so many of my colleagues, I believe that true, deep learning comes to light when we move from being – to use Economic speak –consumers of content to producers of content. So, students in my classes have created their own interactive posters to summarise a nation’s economic health (using, developed memorable cartoon summaries of supply side policies (using, and created their own animated videos to demonstrate some of the trickiest concepts with great success (using for example, a combination of Microsoft Powerpoint and to record the ‘movie’, complete with their scripted voice-over).

The most efficient, exciting and meaningful production of content can happen when we work together, sharing our ideas and allowing others to respond to them. Online technologies facilitate those aims brilliantly. Students work together on the same documents using the entire suite of Google Docs ( ). They have published their work through Google Sites ( which is a simple way to publish the finished documents in a portfolio website which they themselves manage.

More recently, my students have begun using a very sophisticated online journal known as a ‘blog’ (such as those hosted on Such publishing gives the student a potentially global audience to their work, something which adds layers of significance far beyond the traditional fortnightly exchange of exercise book between student and teacher. Through these interactive technologies, students are able to peer review and peer assess each other’s work, be it through direct amendments to the documents or through comments in response to one another’s work on their blogs.

Authentic and purposeful feedback is vital to any learning, and the need for as timely feedback as possible is met by a host of technologies, including those which allow students to share their more spontaneous questions and observations through an online ‘back channel’ which is essentially a web page tracking live comments posted by all class participants. For this, my classes have used both and to good effect, such as providing suggested enhancements to each other’s videos as we all watch them on the ‘big screen’.