X Ray Goggles – Literacy and ICT through Hacking and Remixing

Another great takeaway from the NAACE Hothouse, was the talk on free Mozilla tools by Doug Belshaw. His was a hands-on session which began with the line go to webmaker.org and choose your mission. As someone who has delivered a lot of talks and training I was reminded of how valuable it can be to just have time to play and fiddle.

Doug showed us three free Mozilla tools and this post looks at just one of those, X Ray Goggles.

In brief,this tool allows you to remix existing websites. Or to put it another way you can swap images, texts and other elements for your own text and images. You can see some daft example I made using the tool in the gallery below:

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So what!

I think there are a number of aspects to this tool that excite me. And that goes beyond just the playfulness of remixing, which all of us have done since first taking scissors and glue to a pile of magazines and paper  in infant school.

It’s all about the Code Kids

Unlike some generator style sites or apps, users of X Ray Goggles will need to get their hands a bit dirty. There is no simple drag, drop and upload your photo  (which we will instantly resize) interface. Pupils and teachers will need to do a bit of head scratching with image sizing, though only just enough to avoid pixel stretching and distortion.

When you activate the X Ray Goggles tool on a site, you can click on any element and view the source in a slightly more digestible way than viewing the whole site. This way it becomes clear what relates to what, this then can surely act as a good introduction to understanding HTML and CSS, or perhaps build on a students growing understanding of these mark-ups.

I also like the idea that now we can now allow children to more easily analyse the underlying code, we can now deepen their  analysis and understanding of a website. As teachers we need to get better at looking at how websites are put together and draw up success criteria for what makes a good site and what is more of a turkey. Primary teachers do this very well with paper based texts already. Ok secondary colleagues will pick apart website already, but primary we should do this too, particularly if we have blogging and google sites tools freely available to create our own. And so if we are analysing a web text , we can now look at bit deeper. Just as we might highlight grammatical issues to children in a big book, lets also begin to show how a picture, hyper link or text is coded.

A tool for publishing

A commercial tool like Purple Mash has lots of newspaper style templates for children to type up stories such as a dinosaur invasion or their own school sports day. These look great on display and do give children attractive canvases to publish their work. However, as children get older you could present them with something more challenging, why not get them to write-up a news story by beginning with an existing page from the BBC News site? They could alter the images by using urls of pictures hosted on the school blog or website or even commercial commons pics. When changing the text, they have at least got an existing article to look at first, in order to get a reminder on the conventions of the journalistic genre.

Hacking existing sites also brings a greater level of authenticity to a task too, which is always more effective, this and the challenge of working directly with html or css makes me keen to get this in the hands of my Key Stage 2 pupils.

Some ideas to explore:

  • Can I customise google.co.uk to include an image of me rather than their logo
  • Create a BBC news article about an event in school such as sports day, a snow day or something fictitious
  • Change a tourist board website to include content about your local area
  • Choose and customise a page on either ebay/an estate agent or amazon.co. uk to write advertising copy/ persuasive text to sell items made in class or homes from a particular historical period

This like the other Mozilla tools is constantly evolving and improving and eventually there will be a mash-up site for users to post their work to, in the meantime then it’s hit the print screen button. I am sure we do have to be careful with copyright when creating these remixed pages and so I would be careful what you publish on your blog and website, but don’t let that dissuade you from jumping in and using the goggles.

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