Talking about #FELTAG: keynote on workforce development in Learning Technology

This week I am contributing to a conference called FELTAG 2017: Embracing Digital Technology in Further Education and I am pleased to have been invited to give a short keynote as part of the programme. My talk (slides) will focus on workforce development to maximise Learning Technology impact in three ways: first, I set out what questions we need to ask about skills and capabilities, second, I explore how and open online course can support workforce development and third I showcase how ALT’s accreditation scheme, CMALT, can help increase intelligent use of Learning Technology.

This sets out the context for the talk and draws on other things I have recently written, first for FE News in an article about Digital Skills development in the workforce , and then also on the Efficiency Exchange in a post called Accreditation fit for a (digital) purpose?

ALT Strategy Aim 3 (visual thinkery)

The ALT strategy places a form emphasis on professional development and recognition for different roles in Learning Technology and the broad range of professionals who need different levels of skills and capabilities is something I am particularly interested in. CMALT, ALT’s accreditation framework is one of the topics I will be exploring in my talk.

One of the projects I am involved in via ALT is the development of the Blended Learning Essentials courses, led by Prof Diana Laurillard and Prof Neil Morris. These open online courses run on the FutureLearn platform and the next one to launch has a focus on developing digital skills.  It’s a useful example of how such initiatives can support individual and institutional CPD across the sector.

 

As I was part of the original Ministerial FELTAG Group and a contributor to the recommendations made in 2014 the opportunity to speak about what’s happened since and how much progress we have made is welcome. However, while I can see much positive change, there are also mounting challenges not just in relation to Learning Technology, but the FE system more generally.

Using technology for learning, teaching and assessment continues to be of increasing importance and its potential grows  each year. Yet technology by itself is no answer to some of the larger, structural challenges facing learners, teachers and providers and those continue to mount. So whilst I am looking forward to being part of a conference that encourage participants to embrace Digital Technology in FE and look forward to contributing, I think it is the people, the teachers and trainers, that we really need to focus on.

Interiority in the landscape: using running to create space inside my head

Photo of sunrise over a field pathWhen I discovered that I love running it wasn’t because of the actual movement. It took me over 6 months to be able to jog gently and over a year to actually run. What I did enjoy straight away as being outside, moving through the landscape at my own pace and having time to get to know my thoughts within it. Over the past 18 months it’s become part of my everyday to head outside, mostly in the mornings, to get that time with myself  in the world that surrounds me.

Last weekend I went for a run in the fields, surrounded by butterflies and bees and listening to the sound of thousands of insects busily enjoying the sunshine. It felt like running through summer.

I try and take a picture each time, and I can track the seasons as well as my occasional encounters with cats, deer and other wildlife as the years goes on. It’s good to feel the seasons and the weather, even if that sometimes means getting very wet indeed. Running gives me time to reflect and put my own thoughts into perspective, to feel connected to the world around me and the landscape.

As the weather changes I have to adjust, putting on more layers (lots of them), going more slowly and adjust where I go as paths become wet or icy. When it’s cold running dominates my senses more. I love the moments when the whole world is silent and all I can hear is the sound of my own footsteps. Having read a lot of anthropological theories about the relationship between human beings and their landscapes it sometimes feel like I am reclaiming that relationship for myself, on my own two feet,  and with it a sense of context and belonging.

I take my running with me whenever I can on my travels and I have discovered places I visit for work on foot, but while it still feels rewarding it’s not the same. There isn’t as much time for thought when you have to check a map or get up an unexpected hill.

As I have become a better runner and as the distance I can cover increases, the rewards of heading outside have become greater. There is more to discover, more to observe and more time to feel the sun (or rain or wind) on my skin. I now enjoy the occasional burst of speed, and I’ve discovered that being organised, an early riser and self motivated are all really helpful when it comes to this hobby. Yet it’s the sense of moving and thinking in the landscape, of being part of the world and feeling it through my feet and seeing, smelling – sensing the seasons change, that gets me out of the door.

Catching up ahead of ALT’s Annual Conference

This is my busiest time of year, not least because it’s the run up to  ALT’s Annual Conference.  But however busy things have been, I have been writing and talking about all things Learning Technology and ahead of September here is a quick catch up:

Yesterday I took part in a Radio Edutalk broadcast presenting an ALT Annual Conference preview together with Sheila MacNeill and Lorna Campbell. I really enjoyed talking to the host John Johnston and his audience as Lorna, Sheila and I were reflecting together how many people contribute to making this event happen over the course of a year. I felt the same when I read James Clay’s guest post about the conference – there are so many aspects of the community getting together that I am really looking forward to.

One of the things we talked about on the show was skills development and accreditation and I have been writing quite a bit about that recently, first for FE News in an article about Digital Skills development in the workforce , and then also on the Efficiency Exchange in a post called Accreditation fit for a (digital) purpose?.

With so many new fellow CMALT Holders getting accredited just now, my own interest in developing the accreditation framework further is growing stronger and I really hope I’ll get to catch some of those sessions at the conference. There are plenty in the programme including a CMALT Zumba class. Better pack my trainers for that one!

But the last month started really with my visit to the Edtech Podcast: where I joined host Sophie Bailey as a guest on episode 76 talking about ALT,  Open Education and Star Trek. Like Radio Edutalk, the Edtech Podcast is one of the supporters of the conference this year, and as part of that community initiative there is still have more in store, so plenty more writing for me to do.

Crowns and cartographers: equality in the imagination

Photo of the book "Frogkisser" by Garth NixI have been reading a lot of stories recently and two of them in particular really inspired me: Frogkisser by Garth Nix and The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. Both are beautiful reads suitable for younger readers as well, but that shouldn’t put you off.

Both books take you on adventures, in one case following the perilous journey of a cartographer’s daughter across an unexplored floating island, in the other the footsteps of a princess who is leading a band of companions through danger to defeat evil and establish a universal bill of rights. Both books are excellent examples of accomplished, playful and lyrical story telling at its best – perfect for getting lost in new worlds of the imagination.

What they also do is to challenge the readers conceptions of established character types, such as princesses, wizards and heroes more generally. They talk of sisters, mothers and daughters – female leads are everywhere. In the Frogkisser for example, we visit the Tower of the Good Wizard, who turns out to be a young women with a preference for red boots… whilst Snow White is a retired wizard (complete with detachable long white beard). Garth Nix displays such playful mastery of the fairy tale tropes in the story that it makes you wonder where your earlier mental images came from and how they were fixed. As someone who has read A LOT of fantasy and science fiction I appreciate the flexibility and equality of stories such as Frogkisser especially.

Similarly, in The Girl of Ink and Stars, the narrative is wound around the process of reading maps, charting new territories and mapping out a lost, unknown place (saving everyone and the world in the process). The girl, our heroine, is at once capable and relate-able. She (re)writes history, shapes the narrative and her world through her work as a cartographer and through her eyes and measurements (explained in loving and scientific detail as her journey progresses) you can participate in the adventure. Stories, particularly poetic ones like this one, can create a world of greater equality, can change perceptions so much more elegantly, so seemingly effortlessly, than we can through policy or even direct action.

Like the women pioneers and activists and leaders and voices in our reality, the heroines of these stories help shape our imagination and our understanding of the world we live in. Get reading… or reading out loud to the younger listeners in your life.

Re-post #altc: my latest report to Members as CEO of ALT

You can read all my reports to Members of ALT on the #altc blog by following this link. The blog is always open to new contributors and at the moment there is also a special call for new editors to join the Editorial Team.

“Dear Members

I’d like to start this report with a warm welcome to everyone who’s joined ALT this year. It’s great to see the number of Learning Technology professionals growing across sectors and we are pleased to have you on board!

As a Member we’d like to encourage you to get involved and we are currently inviting expressions of interest for a range of different roles, including our governance, events, publications, professional development and accreditation. Following the launch of our strategy for 2017-2020 earlier this year, there are a lot of new initiatives getting underway as well, so whether you have just joined or are an established member there is, I hope, a rewarding way for you to engage.

Further particulars are available on ALT’s website and you can also to sign up specifically for Pathways to CMALT, expanding the accreditation framework.

I’d also like to use this opportunity to give particular thanks to Members who edit and run this blog. Since its transition from newsletter to blog the readership and output has increased significantly and from event reports to case studies and reports the blog is going from strength to strength. I invite you to meet the editors and consider joining the editorial team or to write for the blog.

Another important development in the last month has been around ALT’s journal, Research in Learning Technology, and our new partnership with Open Academia.

As a Member you also have the right to vote in the elections run by the Electoral Reform Services which determine who becomes a Trustee of ALT and joins the Central Executive, the committee that governs the Association. Look out for an email with details of who is standing for election and how to vote. The results will be announced at the AGM on 6 September.

As I am writing this we are also preparing for what looks like a busy Annual Conference in Liverpool in September. The largest of our three annual events, with the OER Conference in April and the online conference in December, has received a record number of submissions this year, 230 in total, which is the biggest number in five years. Full information, the programme and registration is on the conference platform.

As a staff team we look forward to supporting the conference this year and since my last report we have welcomed our new Events Manager, Jane Marsh, who will be running the event this year. We are also pleased to be supporting one of our senior staff, Martin Hawksey, through a period of research leave, and you can read more about what Martin will be doing on his blog.

Together with my colleagues and Trustees I am heartened to see our work make a difference and our community grow despite the significant challenges we are facing as individuals, within institutions and on a national scale. I look forward to meeting many of you in Liverpool and more online as we gather, discuss and critically reflect on the role of Learning Technology in our future – ‘beyond islands of innovation’.”

You can read all my reports to Members of ALT on the #altc blog by following this link.

Where my imaginary artificially intelligent friend goes on holiday

In 1995, when I first read Douglas Coupland’s Microserfs, I was fascinated by the ‘machine’s subconscious’ diary entries that cover pages and pages of the book. Outside of science fiction it was my first encounter with ideas of artificial intelligence and machines that may dream one day.

As someone who has written in their various journals near daily for three decades I was particularly interested in the relationship between what’s inside the main character’s head and the machine he confides it to.

Writing a diary or a journal is a very personal undertaking, and for many years now I find that the advantages of keeping back ups, being able to search and revisit past entries far outstrips any benefits of keeping physical records. Typing something like “Dear Diary….” into a digital interface feels a bit like having a conversation with a friend and confidant from the digital realm.  By typing, writing down my thoughts using a laptop, I’m having a very long, very one-sided conversation with an imaginary machine friend if you like.

Writing at this time of year when everyone is either on holiday or about to be, I’ve thought about where my (imaginary) artificially intelligence friend may go on holiday in the future – and I do think he (‘he’ is a he in my mind) will go on holiday, because immortality is pretty boring after a while and everyone needs a change every now and then.

Into music: how about exploring music of a particular place or time, not just audio recordings, but all records of musical expression – travelling back in history to explore the sounds of a particular people or place.

Making pottery: if in any way like Star Trek’s Mr Data, then a more tactile pursuit will appeal as a holiday activity and making something with your hands and learning a new skill could be a challenging and rewarding experience.

Sitting on top of the world: if travelling either physically or digitally to let’s say a satellite orbiting the planet, meeting up with a friend and watching the world go by (literally) could be fun.

In a spreadsheet…: or a future, more elegant version thereof. Maybe machines will build mathematical landscapes or monuments to go sightseeing in the realms of 1s and 0s. What would a souvenir from that holiday look like?

For now, I shall enjoy the sunshine in a traditional, human way, and be glad to feel a warm breeze on my skin. Summer’s here 🙂

Comedy & competition: putting a virtual race app through its paces

I was interested to read The History of the Pedometer (and the Problems with Learning Analytics) by Audrey Watters, published on 22 June 2017, in particular as this week I was putting a virtual race app to the test.

The virtual race I took part in was a paid for race, for a charitable cause, and its premise is that you can run wherever and whenever you choose, tracking your progress and then adding your results to the ‘global leader board’ – raising funds in the process. I signed up because 1) I was curious to try out the app/virtual race concept, 2) I wanted to support a good cause, even if in a small way, and 3) the idea of taking part in a race without having to physically go to one appealed to me as someone who isn’t particularly competitive and prefers running at dawn.

The marketing around the race & app was very similar to the kind of things you read in Learning Technology press releases but the reality did not quite measure up to its vision of being part of a global army of empowered fundraisers each experiencing a fun & inspiring ‘personalised’, celebrity endorsed run. Instead I came up against a lot of small, technical niggles that made using the app less than ideal and required giving it access to a lot of information on my phone before the running had even begun. The account I had to create and the data I had to share only added to this.

The actual running was supported by a prerecorded soundtrack of comedy commentary from celebrities sharing their ‘race progress’, something along the lines of “I just made it to the halfway stage – keep going!”. Personally I thought it was too simplistic to be really amusing. You could listen to your own music as well, although I failed to make that work. For runners who were more competitive and wanted to know how they were doing, the app did not deliver either. Despite tracking your progress via GPS it was unable to tell you how fast you were going, which made the whole idea of competing with the celebrity runners from the soundtrack a bit pointless. You could guess how much time had elapsed since they passed a particular time marker, but that was it. Given that the soundtrack was so limited, it seemed to me that neither comedy nor competitiveness were served well.

My 5k run was soon approaching the finish line and the end of the race was for me the most disappointing moment: a half-hearted soundtrack of cheering was interrupted by a signal and then “You can how stop running”. That was it.

When I turned to check the app I also realised that the timer had kept going, counting the minutes, although I had already crossed the virtual finish line. For a race app this seemed a fatal flaw as it felt frustrating to not have an accurate race time even for a casual participant like myself. I can only imagine what more serious runners made of this.

Having used a lot of different running apps and gadgets over the past year I think you could do a much better job building a virtual race app and organising a race – indeed I think it could be a really good experience! It has great potential. But in this particular instance neither the technology nor the delivery measured up. It was a soulless experience for me that seemed to fall flat and left no scope for the imagination and seemed to not even try to cater for or understand its users. If any actual testing of the soundtrack took place, I would be very surprised. I hope at least it raised funds for a good cause.

#RaceForLife – this year we are a mother + daughter team

In spring 2016 I started running to raise funds for Cancer Research, to give something back to those who extend my mum’s life and run my first 10k.

One year on and we are celebrating another year together by participating in a 5k charity walk. I’m also doing some 10k runs and hopefully my first half marathon later this year, but this one is something we want to do together.

Last year I was aiming to raise money, but unexpectedly running has become part of my life, something that keeps me going and that I really enjoy. There have been countless early mornings and evenings over the last year when I have been grateful to be able to put on my trainers and head outside.

Being a carer can be a full time job and I really appreciate that I have colleagues, friends and family who support, encourage and inspire me. Many of you have similar experiences and responsibilities, so all those cups of tea (and the occasional whisky), conversations and motivation are doubly welcome. Thank you. 

If you’d like to give to Cancer Research and support us – donate now.

Politics v personhood: #iltaedtech17 conversations

This week’s  EdTech 2017 Conference, the annual conference organised by the Irish Learning Technology Association (ILTA) had the theme: TEL in an Age of Supercomplexity: Challenges, Opportunities and Strategies. Some very interesting conversations have come out of the event, and you can explore the conversation on Twitter #iltaedtech17 or explore the hashtag and archive on TAGSExplorer as well as ILTA’s webpages for the programme and live streaming links with videos to follow shortly.

Last year at the event Audrey Watters gave a keynote talk called ‘The Rough Beasts of Education Technology‘ and at the time Audrey was looking at a future before the Brexit referendum or the Trump administration. One of the themes from Audrey’s talk last year that continued to resonate with me when listening to this year’s speakers was the role of machines in the future of education. Whether it’s AI, AR, VR or machine learning, one of the dominant narratives is one of inevitability, of machines taking the place of human beings, of technology dominating how we meet the challenges of our age. At the same time, there were many sessions I attended that a a focus on up-skilling and supporting staff in the deployment of Learning Technology, with the aim of building competence, confident and leadership.

Reflecting on the keynotes and breakout sessions I find myself exploring the tension between the politics of globalised, technological capitalism on the one hand and how our sense of being a person is defined by how we learn and teach on the other.

I heard of many examples of technology being used to scale up provision of teaching and assessment, to deliver content in more personalised, flexible ways, to collect and analyse data and make use of it to increase retention or enhance outcomes. The use of technology in this context is a response to solving the challenges presented by the labour market, the political climate, the shareholder – and reflects a transactional relationship between the learner and the institution that accredits the outcome. There is a sense of inevitability, of technological determinism, that points to a future in which we as human beings only find a use in education for ‘what we are good at’ or rather for what machines are not yet deemed good enough, like providing guidance or critical dialogue.

At the other end of the spectrum where a range of sessions that were focused on putting Learning Technology in the hands of the teachers and learners in more creative, empowered ways – to enhance not replace human learning and teaching. These highlighted how difficult it is to keep up with innovation and use of technology, how big a challenge it is to address ethical implications or build critical approaches while keeping pace with an ever changing technology landscape. And there were many, many examples of Learning Technology at its best: broadening access, supporting learning, transforming teaching and connecting people. One of these was awarded the Jennifer Burke Award at the conference for the #coolPE project, ‘focused on preparing pre-service teachers for the inclusive classroom in a digital era’. It showcased powerful examples of using Learning Technology to address issues like body image, bullying and confidence.

My own short talk at the conference was about how openness in professional practice in Learning Technology can promote equality. Before the conference I did a lot of reading about efforts to promote equality in different contexts, such as gender equality, pay equality, marriage equality and so forth. After the conference I thought more about how our rights are affected by the decisions of those who control the technology that increasingly shapes our understanding of who we are. These kinds of questions have been explored by writers far more eloquent that what I can write here, but it is important that events like this enable us to reflect as part of a community and continue the conversation.

Creating a #cpd #cmalt portfolio as a solo undertaking

At a recent session with a group of Learning Technology professionals we discussed how to best compile a portfolio for CPD and accreditation such as for the CMALT scheme. One of the options we discussed was to join forces either as a group within an institution or with peers elsewhere. In many instances that involves meeting up for writing sessions, progressing through the process at the same pace and sharing work in progress. There are a lot of advantages to this, but what if you don’t have that option? I wrote my own portfolio pretty much in isolation until it was very close to completion (full disclosure: it did take me three attempts over a 5 year period to actually complete it, so my approach is not necessarily the one to follow. On the other hand, I’ve learnt from the mistakes I made). So this post contains a brief overview of how to compile a CMALT portfolio as a solo undertaking.  

Step 1: I started with the structure, copying the heading structure that’s required into a blank Google doc. At the start is the contextual statement, the future plans section is last and in between are all the required Core Areas as well as a placeholder for the Specialist Area.

Step 2: I then looked at the structure and tried to write down 1-2 examples of work I had done in each section. I added no details at this stage, just enough information for me to be able to identify what I meant. It was very quickly apparent that I had a lot of examples in some sections, none in others. So I moved some around which could fit into other sections. Once I had covered all Core Areas it was easier to decide what to pick for my specialist option, basically something I hadn’t already covered.

Step 3: Once I had the structure and at least 1 example in each area, I started with the section I thought would be easiest (1b in my case) and added a description and some evidence. Once I had those, I added the reflection at the end. That’s what I did for each section in turn. Some took longer, usually because evidence was time consuming to collect or reflection felt harder. Because I already had a scaffold (i.e. the heading structure and at least 1 example for each section), working on the portfolio moved ahead at a much better pace. In previous attempts I hadn’t planned ahead and found the blank pages ahead daunting each time I moved on to a new section.

Step 4: Once all the required and the specialist areas were complete, I took a step back and started writing my contextual statement and the future plans section. That was a lot easier with the rest of the portfolio in place because the examples I used shaped what I wrote. Also, having reflected on my work made thinking about the future much more straight forward.

Optional step 5: Because I wrote my portfolio in isolation, without peers or feedback or someone to compare it with, I felt some feedback would be useful before I submitted it. I sent it to a few people and they came back with useful comments which were incorporated. I also shared it with colleagues who were directly mentioned.

Hearing about the sharing and support that groups or peers provide sounds like a great way to undertake CPD. In my case, writing my portfolio was mainly confined to odd anti-social hours and I needed to progress at my own pace. If, like me, you are on your CPD or #CMALT journey in a solo capacity, I hope this post is helpful and good luck!

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