Class Skype – a great way to speak at schools

It was wonderful to take part in a Skype call with Middleham Primary last week to talk about life in the polar regions. The wonderful Catherine Monaghan is doing wonderful things with her Year 3 & 4 class to bring learning alive for the pupils, amongst other things they are building an igloo in the classroom using old milk bottles, which looks amazing… the kind of teacher I wish I’d had.

Using Skype to talk to a school is something that I have done when on expedition, but never when I have been in the UK. Normally, I have gone into schools to talk directly to classes. It was a great way to interact with young people, without having to take a long time out of the ‘office’. Talking to schools is one of the highlights of my job, but the travel time to and from schools limits the amount of schools that I can visit. So, if there are more schools out there who would like to have someone who has been on expedition speak via Skype to their class, then I would be delighted to look at how we can make better use of this technology when the team is back in the UK.

Catherine put up a wonderful video of the class reflecting on what they had learnt and to my surprise I have also become a scientist!

I like to think that I am getting better at polar and ocean science, thanks to the wonderful support of Helen and Ceri, who have held my hand through being a novice a year or so ago. I even have a ‘beaker’ (polar slang for a scientist) award to prove it.

A great use of technology and thank you to Catherine (Mrs M) and Class 2 at Middleham for a great Skype chat and also to Al Humphreys for helping to put it all together.

Social networking – contacts or content?

The rise and rise of Twitter (a micro-blogging tool) has brought into sharp focus a division or shift in the social networking or web 2.0 landscape.

If web 2.0 can be categorised as online conversation, whether that be through the written word, images, video or a mix of the three, do we join these conversations based on who they’re with or what they’re about?

Contacts or content?

The difference is most notable when comparing a service such as Facebook and something like Twitter. Facebook replicates real world friendship and contact groups, whether professional or personal. Although some people gather ‘friends’ as those they’re life depended on it, the convention seems to be that I need to know you before I allow you to be my ‘friend’.

Conversely with Twitter, the friendship aspect is taken away. I can become a ‘follower’ of someone’s Twitter feed (the list of short comments or ‘tweets’ that are made and posted online). Becoming a follower of their feed does not make me their friend. It means that what they are saying is interesting and I would like to know what they have to say. It may be that I know this person in the real world and know that they are interesting, but there is much more opportunity to take the ‘contact’ aspect out of Twitter and keep your relations based on your interest in the conversation.

NEW Geo-blogging for gappers

Digital Explorer has developed a new course specifically designed for Gap year students on overseas projects and expeditions.

The course focuses on the use of free services such as blogger, youtube (or schooltube and teachertube), flickr and google maps, but takes these further and looks at how these can be used more effectively for creating a professional record of a gap expedition or project that can then be used for a variety of purposes, as well as looking at the use of technology in remote locations.

The course is ideal if you are looking to:

  • Create a multimedia record of your Gap Year
  • Involve family, friends and sponsors in your project or expedition
  • Have an online project or expedition CV for future funders
  • Use your Gap Year as an educational opportunity and share it with pupils and teachers at your former school

The course runs for a half-day on Wednesday 28 January 2009 and costs £55 (incl VAT) and can be booked with the Royal Geographical Society.

New School Environment Project video

It was very exciting to run a pilot School Grounds Project at Eastbury Comprehensive School. We used many of the same techniques that we have employed on overseas expeditions – digital media, blogging, geo-tools (Google Earth and Google Maps) – to investigate the School Grounds and then take action to make a difference to the school environment.

This pilot wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Google UK and especially Kate Hammond and Liz Ericson. Also many thanks go to the pupils and staff at Eastbury Comprehensive School, who were amazing, enthusiastic and talented. Special thanks to Tracy Knight and Ruth Owen for their help and support.

This amazing film was made by the wonderful Jonny Madderson of Just So Films. Thank you for all your hard work.

Continuing thanks to Mark Thackara at Olympus for the great pupil-proof TOUGH digital cameras, that we used for photography and video during the pilot.

As always thank you to Marjan who makes sure that everything just happens, somehow, though still not quite sure how.

Live from Antarctica


For two weeks, renowned polar explorer, Robert Swan will be relying solely on renewable energy as part of the E-Base Goes Live project. The team are now in place posting daily video and images. Next week they will be conducting a series of live video chats with pupils globally.

As part of the website designed and built by the Digital Explorer team, I have put up a project suitable for 11-18 year olds on the site.


6 points for (expedition) blogging for the classroom

I have been thinking about what makes excellent and engaging blogs from the field, both from my experience setting up the site for the Offscreen Student Expedition 2007, looking at other expedition blogs for the classroom such as Cape Farewell, and planning what changes to make for the next Offscreen Student Expedition in 2008, bringing 8 young people from the Arab world to the UK in July next year.

These are some inital ideas, please let me know what you think.

1. High quality digital journalism
Today’s web-users are more discerning and sophisticated than ever before, returning only to sites that both provide high quality information and can relate their stories with appropriate, timely and professionally produced digital video, images and writing.

2. Integration of online social networking tools
Web-based social networking tools, or Web 2.0, can be integrated to increase user interactivity and provide the necessary platforms to create and cultivate an engaged online community.

There are a host of free services out there and it would be a shame if you did not make use of the likes of YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, Skype, SightSpeed, tubemogul, Brightcove, etc. (thank you to Rick for the last two)

3. Fit-for-purpose educational content
If you are developing content for the classroom, make sure that you are in touch with pupils and teachers. They are the ones who will be able to tell you if the content you are providing is relevant and if the look and feel of your site is engaging for a youth audience.

4. Cutting-edge expedition communications
Updating a website from the side of a mountain or the middle of a desert is theoretically pretty simple. The difficult part is making sure that there are as few problems as possible when you are in the middle of nowhere and making sure that you produce content on time. After a hard day’s expedition, do you really want to cut a short digital video and upload content ready for the morning assembly back in London? Planning how and when digital content is going to be created and updated is essential for a good blog.

5. User-based navigation
Navigation and user-interface need to take into account end users’ requirements and design needs, rather than just the organisation’s preferences alone.

6. Best practices in appropriate moderation processes
Original content submitted to websites or blogs by the spectrum of users must be moderated in a timely and responsible fashion. This ensures that users establish and retain trust in the organisation, and prevents inappropriate content from appearing on websites.

Digital Explorer wins web award

The Digital Explorer – Offscreen Education collaboration for the Offscreen Student Expedition won the Best Blog in the 2007 Web Marketing Association’s WebAwards.

The judges commented that the site was a “Fabulous idea! I can see the possibilities this opportunity can open up to the communities all over the world.”

So many congratulations to the team involved: Ciara, Chris, John, Rick and Marjan!

Google Maps – blogger vs.

It should have been a great day for educators and expeditions. Google Maps announces that a new function, meaning you can embed a Google Map in your very own website and add points, including video and images.

Digital Explorer Blogger test site

Above is an example from Digital Explorer’s test blogger site, showing a map of the Atlas Mountains with placemarks added, highlighting Jbel Toubkal and other places.

Sadly, neither of the two free blog services have the perfect solution. If you try to use, WordPress cleans the javascript, meaning you can’t see the map. If you use blogger, you lose all the flexibility of pages vs posts. A wordpress blog could have it’s homepage set simply to a map page.

It would radically simplify web communications for expeditions and fieldwork.

When a decent solution does appear, I will let you all know.

For now:

  1. if you use blogger – you’re fine, but bug the blogger support people to have posts and pages like
  2. if you use – you’re up the creek until the powers that be make changes – lobby them!!
  3. if you host your wordpress blog yourself, there are some plug-ins that will help out – the best one is at the Remote Sensing Tools blog and does not require any messing around with APIs and the like

Good luck, and let me know if there are any neater solutions out there.

Example Google Maps blog post

View Larger Map

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