Category Archives: Learning Technology

My #EdTechRations outtakes

I recently wrote a post about contributing to a new book edited by David Hopkins called Emergency Rations #EdTechRations .

Not everything I wrote made it into the final version and I wrote quite a bit about how I work in addition to describing the things I can’t do without. So below is my contribution with additional comments and images that shows what it looks like as work in progress.

When I wrote the intro I thought about what makes certain things indispensable to me and why.

As is becoming increasingly common, my place of work can vary a lot from day to day and mostly I work on the go, between meetings or on the way to give presentations. I don’t often meet the people I work with  in person. Instead we communicate virtually. Still, I have to be able to collaborate effectively, so most of the technology I can’t do without helps me to keep in touch and to work together.

I try to find a balance between being contactable and getting space to think and get things done. So while I do have a smart watch, phone or laptop with me most of the time, I often switch all notifications off or enable flight mode.

Chromebook & Google Apps for Education

For about two years now a basic Toshiba Chromebook has been my constant companion. Bought initially to provide short term support during large events I have ended up using it for everything.

As a piece of kit it certainly has its limitations, but for me, there are significant advantages: to start with it is cheap, robust and data is not stored on the device so I cannot lose it. It starts up quickly, it is easy to use and provided you either learn or know how to use the apps it runs it delivers a great user experience. I have learnt some short cuts that really make a difference and the support documentation online is constantly growing. I am very partial to the mobile devices I have running iOS because I prefer the user interface, but on the laptop ChromeOS does a good job and is constantly improving.

Having limitations in what I software I can use has also had two other benefits: first, it has made my work more collaborative as practically everything I work on is shared. Secondly. It has forced me to take a simpler approach to complex tasks. I like the elegant simplicity I have become accustomed to.

I use as many different operating systems as possible because I like to keep in touch with what iOS/MacOS, Android and Windows feel like. Google Apps for Education help me switch between different devices and operating systems (nearly) seamlessly. Becoming more expert at using and administrating GAFE has had the welcome additional benefit of enabling me to support colleagues across the organisation better. I have also found it a useful tool for supporting professional development, such as building a shared, open CMALT portfolio .

I have written quite a bit in this blog about CMALT (you can see a list of previous posts here). One of the things I wish I had was a better way of recording evidence of professional development on the go. I have tried all sorts of apps and forms, but haven’t found anything that really fits the bill.

Headset, mobile data storage, power packs

Other bits and pieces that I usually have somewhere in my bag are a headset or headphones, a variety of options for data storage big and small and also at least one power pack to charge up mobile devices. I am not very good at carrying around the right kind of adapters for various things, so I rely on being able to plug in my Chromebook and everything else has to survive the day without top up. I am not choosy about which particular make I have as too often these small items get borrowed by co-presenters or colleagues and end up to need replacing.

Reading some of the other contributions to the book I was inspired by how much others think about the kinds of technology I described above. My shopping list has grown considerably since. These are often small essentials that can make a big difference.

The other things I reflected on was the non-digital items I have included. Obviously educational technology doesn’t have to be digital, but most of the time that’s what we seem to end up talking about. I am still glad I included things like pen, paper and shoes… .

Pen & paper

However much I use my watch, phone or laptop, I use pen and paper every day and it is something I could not do without. It doesn’t matter what kind of digital technology I have at my disposal there are always times when putting pen to paper is my first choice. Drawing, sketching, writing – there’s no substitute for me. I have a green Moleskine notebook that I take everywhere and solutions to some of the most complex things I do at work start life as a scribbly drawing on the pages of that notebook marked clearly by the uneven movement of the train.

Business cards, flyers or other printed materials

I  work with many people who are skeptical about Learning Technology or indeed technology in general. No matter what the context is there is always someone who prefers to have paper in their hand. So in that instance all of the digital technology I carry around can be useless and I have to have some form of paper back up. Business cards or printed postcards or flyers can be useful here. They are also a good alternative for when the technology or connectivity let me down. And you never know who you might meet on a train.

Shoes…

However much I work virtually, walking places is a major part of my working life. Sometimes it is simply between one room and another within a conference venue, on other days it is through a new city. My watch or phone might be measuring the distance or help me navigate along my route, but clocking up the miles is hardest on my feet. Shoes that are still comfortable 12 hours into my day and get me as fast as possible from A to B are essential. Shoes can say a lot about a person. They are part of making a first impression, everyone sees them when you stand on stage or at the front of a lecture theater. Just like stickers on a laptop or pin badges on lapels shoes can make a statement about who you are and where you are going.

Did I miss anything? Some apps maybe, stickers, pin badges like my CMALT badge for example… 😉 and I think there may be a whole section to be written on umbrellas – a technology four thousand years old that I cannot do without.

Collaboration in practice: Contributing to Emergency Rations #EdTechRations

This week saw the publication of a new book edited by David Hopkins called Emergency Rations #EdTechRations. This is a volume of contributions from dozens of individuals across sectors and below is a short description of  what the book is about:

“What’s so important we can’t leave it at home?”

This book is a collection of 40 world leading teachers, academics, influencers, critics and practitioners who have answered the question “have you ever walked out the door to go to work, the shops, the gym, etc. and realised you’d forgotten to pick up your smartphone? And then turned around and gone right back for it?

It was fun to contribute my own emergency rations and I enjoyed having a writing challenge of a different kind for a change. Seeing the finished product drop through my letterbox and leafing through so many different contributions, mostly written in words, but also drawn and illustrated, made me reflect on what a productive collaborative effort this has been.

A lot of the work I do is collaborative and I know first hand that getting a large group of people to produce something specific for a specific deadline is no small task. We used a range of platforms from Slack to Google Docs and Twitter along the way and I learnt a lot from reading and commenting on drafts of colleagues and then going back to review my own.

In the end what I included only represents a small part of the content I ended up writing, but the other bits will end up in blog posts or journal articles over time.

A big thank you to David for pulling everything together!

For my part, I am going to use this experience to set my sights on more writing projects in future, both collaborative and individual. It’s been an inspiring experience to see collaboration in practice.

The Future of Education in the House of Stairs…

I am looking forward to participating in the OEB Midsummit in June. Speakers have been invited to provide a quote about the future of education and you can read what others have written already on the event’s website (click on a speaker’s name to see their quote).

Whilst I was thinking about what I might say, I read through what the others have written and one quote from Audrey Watters is “I’m afraid that the future of education will be built by people who read dystopian science fiction novels and liked the “innovations”.” That made me think about books I have recently been reading by William Sleator. I am only familiar with his young adult novels and one book in particular has stuck in my mind for the past 20 years or so: it’s called House of Stairs and was published in 1974.

When I read it as a young adult I was most interested in the individual characters, five 16-year old orphans, trapped in a seemingly endless space that is filled with white stairs. The stairs become their world, the landscape in which they negotiate each other and themselves. As their struggle to survive intensifies their relationships do, too. At the end of the book [spoiler alert…] they are rescued. Yet despite the relative safety they find themselves in, their experience alters their behaviour and lives irrevocably. Some resist, others comply, and all pay a high price. It is not a happy ending and the vision of a dystopian future where even the most basic of rights and choices are beyond the characters’ control stayed with me.

Reading it again recently I thought less about the individuals, although the story is still gripping, and more about those in charge. Those who watch over their experiment as it comes to its gruesome conclusion. The powers that be (political or economic) have needs that this experiment must meet and the fate of the young protagonists is only incidental, it is revealed, to the wider effort. They have no agency, no say over their fate or future.

To be able to think, analyse and reflect is empowering. Having agency, having the power to determine the shape of things to come, seems to me to be a purpose of education. In the House of Stairs only extreme resistance offers the chance to exercise your own will, to have any form of agency.

I just hope that the people Audrey Watters is talking about don’t have the same bedtime reading as me.

#edtechReflection: getting started, reflecting on failure & other ideas

In the previous post I talked about how the aspect of professional practice I have most conversations about is reflection. Whether it’s discussing how useful it can be, questioning how you can safely reflect openly with others or how to get started, it seems to be a key topic for many. For me it’s become clear how important a part of my professional development it really is and so I want to share my approach in the hope that it might prove useful or indeed prompt others to do likewise.

I have included tips for getting started, reflecting on failure and reflecting in the first person as well as developing reflection as a professional habit:

Have a look at the slide deck below and do send me your thoughts or feedback:

You can also access the slide deck together with my CMALT portfolio at https://goo.gl/44I4Bd .

#CMALT 1 year on: #edtech reflection & professional practice

It’s been nearly a year since I gained CMALT accreditation and I have been using the start of the year and involuntary free time caused by a severely sprained toe (which causes more mischief than I would have imagined) to look back at my CPD activities over the past year. There are three things I learnt I want to share and in the process I have come to make this slide deck on reflection.

What I have been up to CPD-wise: I have continued to use my CPD log to record activities over the past year and from that I have discovered that it’s quite difficult to keep track of these things. The log prompts me to record courses or blog posts or conferences more readily and usefully highlights the need to record/back up evidence. One course I took part in removed access rights quite quickly after it ended, making it difficult to record much of the experience retrospectively. Similarly, informal learning or development has been harder to record unless I write a blog post or personal reflection on it at the time. The kinds of things I have recorded meanwhile paint a picture of interests explored and ideas that I have had, which provides me with insights I didn’t have before (and hopefully should make it easier to update my CMALT portfolio when the time comes).

Finding gaps: keeping a log of my CPD and writing things down has also led me to find gaps. Areas in which I haven’t done enough or thought I did more than I actually have done. One such area for example is publishing beyond my own blog and making more of an effort to find time to attend conferences I haven’t been to recently. While it’s a bit late to make new resolutions for this year I aim to do better in the coming year.

Reflection: the aspect of professional practice I have most conversations about is reflection. Whether it’s discussing how useful it can be, questioning how you can safely reflect openly with others or how to get started, it seems to be a key topic for many. For me it’s become clear how important a part of my professional development it really is and so I want to share my approach in the hope that it might prove useful or indeed prompt others to do likewise. I have included tips for getting started, reflecting on failure and reflecting in the first person as well as developing reflection as a professional habit.

Have a look at the slide deck below and do send me your thoughts or feedback:

You can also access the slide deck together with my CMALT portfolio at https://goo.gl/44I4Bd .

#23things: taking a “flaneur” approach to discovering digital knowledge

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Illustration from Walter Benjamin’s Passagenwerk http://margininversi.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/walter-benjamin-i-passages-di-parigi.html

The Flaneur is one of my favourite figures, in particular in the writing of Walter Benjamin whom I discovered as an undergraduate. I was, and am, interested in the Flaneur as he is a useful device for exploring a city, for thinking about how urban life changed during the industrial revolution and beyond it – and because of the idea that walking with a tortoise as a fashionably slow accessory/pet one could discover the pace of observation. The Flaneur discovers the world at his, and I think it is a predominantly male, pace and directs his gaze where others may not even glance. I was thinking about this because I have been finding that my own engagement in the 23 things of the course by the same name has very much proceeded at my own, slow pace, sometimes on my own and sometimes in company. That is because I am taking part as part of a team (and I have written earlier posts about our approach) as well as spending time exploring some of the things that I have a particular interest in.

As a team we are in the middle of block 2 of course content and in our weekly team meetings talking about the course has become a useful focus point for discovering common questions, exploring interests and discussing areas for professional development. We, as a group, continue to benefit from the course as a joint venture in learning new things and that in itself is extremely useful.

But beyond our common participation I have been having a look at what the next few weeks of course will bring, what things I might discover… and to return to the Flaneur, I feel very much that there is a host of wonderful things waiting to be discovered in the arcades of digital knowledge before me. One topic in particular that I am interested in is Digital Curation. Not something I am overly familiar with and also a topic that encourages us to explore Tumblr, a tool I don’t use as yet.

So, #23things, while the first 12 things have been very rewarding to encounter and discover so far, I am looking forward to the next 11 even more. With my trusty tortoise at my side I shall proceed at my own pace.

#23things: (algorithmic) transparency and diversity

This week on the #23things course that I am participating in together with my colleagues I read an article on diversity, described thus:

Can computers be racist? Big data, inequality, and discrimination– An excellent article, including video of a lecture given by Dr. Latanya Sweeney, on how big data can perpetuate and exacerbate existing systems of racism, discrimination, and inequality (see this week’s full text here)

I found the article really stimulating not least because I am interested in the growing movement behind public interest technologists (link to the full article). One paragraph in particular caught my eye, specifically a recommendation on how we may overcome the bias in relation to inequality inherent in big data practices:

Pressing for “algorithmic transparency.” By ensuring that the algorithms underpinning critical systems like public education and criminal justice are open and transparent, we can better understand their biases and fight for change.

It’s a recommendation I think makes a lot of sense, but I have come across many instances where this isn’t the case. In many cases only the expert developers involved in creating the system really understand how it works. That leads me to consider where efforts to make algorithms underpinning critical systems more open and transparent will meet the growing expertise professionals in for example education need to have in order to approach the technology at their disposal in an effective way.

Yet while the article has certainly prompted me to think and read further, it’s also reminded me that even the simplest or most commonplace technology can create problems. #23things uses examples like exploring accessibility features on mobile devices or the use of emoji/bitmoji to get us thinking about wider issues and those are easy to relate to. Anyone who like me functions as tech support for family members for example has likely been grateful that a mobile phone’s text size or colour contrast adjusted to suit the needs of elderly users. There is a huge spectrum of issues that opens up before you when you start focusing on accessibility and diversity.

For me, these two of the #23things are a useful reminder that this is an essential part of what we do every day and that there is always a lot of room for improvement.

Group, Action, Technology, Learning, Empowerment, Future… FELTAG inside out

FELTAG Revisited
CC-BY-ND @BryanMMathers

This talk is for the FELTAG 2016 conference taking place on 28 September 2016 in London. Having given plenty of talks about FELTAG in the past few years, I have been pondering what I really want to say to my audience in twenty minutes. Part of being the opening keynote is that you get to speak first and help set the tone for the day, but looking at the agenda of what’s to follow, it feels a bit like every case study and best practice example  imaginable will be well covered. In addition, I had a conversation recently with Bryan Mathers about Revisiting FELTAG, and the resulting visual thought which I have linked to in this post (and which was published here) , made me think about where we go from here – what does the future hold for FELTAG? I hope this talk will help us find the way.

View of Westminster Abbey
CC-BY @MarenDeepwell

Westminster Abbey:  where it all began for me was in February 2013 when I was the new chief executive of ALT and was invited to represent our members as part of this group convened by Matthew Hancock, who was then  Minister of State for Skills and Enterprise in BIS. The picture shows a foggy morning view of Westminster Abbey as seen from the meeting room in BIS where we met. Subsequently I have been part of FELTAG’s cross-sector successor ETAG, the FELTAG Coalition, our own FELTAG SIG, FELTAG panels, responses, updates, its evolution and most recently I revisited FELTAG with Bryan Mathers. But in February 2013 there was only one thing about FELTAG that I was interested in: firstly I was trying to figure out the “G”, namely who the other members of the group were, their aims and vision. Many of them are in the audience today, but others are no longer directly involved. As a group we stopped convening formally as soon as our recommendations were finalised in late 2013. But once the original group had done its work came the time for action. The “A” that gives FELTAG its power.

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FELTAG Report (2014) http://www.feltag.org.uk/

Teachers: The original report included ambitious recommendations and  a vision that demanded a change in culture, in thinking. It was as radical as was possible at the time, but what followed in the Government response, progress updates and so forth was not, at least in my view. However, it is extremely complicated to try and operationalise change in a rapidly evolving technological, social and economic context and  even harder to devise robust drivers for change through funding and inspection mechanisms that hold so much sway across the sector. So trying to define in quantitative terms what progress should be made was in some ways a logical next step. The infamous 10% online learning quota requirement comes to mind here.  This particular recommendation about bringing the workforce up to speed was meant to recognise that teachers play a key role in the intelligent use of Learning Technology, not machines.

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Source: Hack Education http://hackeducation.com/2015/08/10/digpedlab

Technology: Yet while we may have thought a lot about teachers, about people generally, the technology quickly took centre stage. It was clear to all that there is a consistent disparity between different providers across the country, some struggling with providing basic infrastructure while others are investing heavily. At the same time various threats technology embodies became more pronounced as we read about the automation of jobs, the power of big data networks, the might of the technology companies. At times it seemed as if instead of finding ways to empower and support people in learning and teaching, Learning Technology could be a fast track to restructuring them out of the business of education all together.

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Conflict: It think this quote from David Noble from his book Digital Diploma Mills captures the conflict at the heart of the FELTAG recommendations perfectly. It juxtaposes the potential of technology to scale up, reach out and increase output with the power of human agency in learning and teaching, and with the importance of the teacher, support staff, managers or governors. Further Education is passionate about its learners.

Now I have thought about the first three letters (G, A and T), I want to turn my attention to the “L” in FELTAG. L stands for Learning. And for Learners (all of us). It’s at the heart of what FELTAG was and is about.

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Source: YouTube Clips from ALT https://youtu.be/V_a9En4YgH8

Learning Myths: One of the challenges we face in Learning Technology is knowing how to make the best use of it. It’s the “what works and what doesn’t work” dilemma that is hard to answer. However even if we take technology out of the equation, keeping up with what we know about learning and how we learn best can be challenging. Lia Commissar from the Wellcome Trust recently illustrated how high a percentage of UK teachers still believe in learning styles. The answer to her quiz questions as the one in the picture above is “not true”. Highly recommended viewing.

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The business of learning: I suppose in many ways the crux of the matter is that as an industry Further Education is faced by challenges from many different directions. There is little continuity of strategy or support, competing demands from employers, government agencies and not least a growing base of learners at all stages of life. Fitting what is essentially a messy, individual human experience and life stage transition into a business-enterprise model using technology can often result in a drive to standardise interaction and provision, a wish for being able to predict what happens next, when and to whom. Cue the rise of learning and learner analytics.

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Sheila MacNeill speaking at the OER15 conference. CC-BY-NC ALT

Empowerment: If we compare the power the technology industry has and the pace of technological innovation to what we have, you might get the impression that we like using new gadgets and spend more time online than anywhere else, that we hear about the rapid pace of change, the rise of the machines, the arrival of artificial intelligence… but it can feel like we don’t have a lot of control over our destiny. But that is not true. At some level the forces we feel at work are all in the power of people like us, indeed some of them sat in the room I described earlier, on that damp February morning in 2013 with a view over Westminster Abbey. They were there at the invitation of a Government Minister and represented not only industry and education sectors, but policy, funding, media and other interests. The action I took as a member of the group was to take responsibility to empower those within my sphere of influence to meet the challenges Learning Technology poses head on, together and – importantly –  in the open. Sharing, collaborating and helping each other. As a professional body the Association I serve facilitates, represents and supports this growing community.

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The future is always just beyond the horizon: This quote and the others I have used in this talk I came across while reading Audrey Watter’s excellent Hack Education blog. It’s full of thoughtful and thought-provoking thinking about the future. And it reminds me frequently that each time I read one of these predictions about the future of education(al technology) I am sad to think that people are going about their business, waiting for the FUTURE to arrive and never taking action to make their vision come to life in the here and now. I think for me FELTAG was about that. Coming together to make a stand. We wanted to draw a line in the sand beyond which the future was actually going to materialise, finally. Not just for some, but for everyone in Further Education.

It has been over a century since Thomas Edison predicted the demise of books in schools and his predication has failed to come true. It’s also been over three years since that first meeting of the FELTAG group. We are now beyond FELTAG, we are finally living the future that’s always been just beyond the horizon and that’s a lot of responsibility for each of us.

P.S. Take action. Join ALT.

23 things & coding… new open course adventures

Recently I have been writing about setting up a new CPD log using Google Apps for Education. After a couple of busy weeks (at ALT’s Annual Conference) I have been searching for a new open course to try for this autumn. I really enjoyed my experience taking part in the Digital Scholar course and now I am ready for a new adventure.

So, first up and already underway, I have registered for the 23 Things course from the University of Edinburgh. Recommended by a colleague on Twitter I found the course a really inspiring proposition.

While there are quite a few familiar topics, I hope it’ll be a good opportunity to keep up to date with current practice and find new tips and ideas. I might also see if any of my colleagues might join in and utilise the course to help us provide some internal CPD. One aspect of the course I am already finding really useful is the community blog.

Another new course I have signed up for gets underway next month and is run on FutureLearn for the Open University: Learn to Code for Data Analysis. More of a challenge given what little I know about this but it’s definitely an area I am keen to develop in. In addition to what looks like a great course tutor team and content, the course also runs on a platform that I have worked with myself and I am keen to experience another course as a participant. Judging from the hundreds of enthusiastic posts in the welcome forum, I am certainly not the only participants who is looking forward to the course getting underway and not the only novice either.

CMALT CPD Log: tracking professional development using Google Apps

Since gaining my CMALT accreditation in February, I have been struck by how much of a difference it has made to me (and I am not just saying that because I work for its awarding body…). As well as providing useful evidence for my work day to day, it’s made me take a more focused and considered approach to my Learning Technology work. Part of it is developing a habit to reflect, about learning to pause and take stock before moving on to the next thing. I’ve also started being a peer assessor for other candidate’s portfolios and that has been an interesting process in itself, making me feel more connected with other professionals working in the same discipline.

As the portfolio has to be updated every 3 years (as explained here) I’ve been considering how I am going to track my own activities. Three years is a long time and I think I would dread having to compile everything in 2019. So, like other CMALT Holders before me, I have tried to devise an approach to help me keep everything in one place and link easily into my portfolio that I built using Google Apps for Education.
CMALT_Log

Main aims: keep a running log of CPD activities, make it as easy as possible to log these, keep the format linked to my portfolio so that I can transfer content at the review stage and keep evidence.

First steps: I set up a Google sheet and a form initially, but found that I didn’t like it because typing longer text into each cell didn’t work for me and the form felt too impersonal. I wanted to give myself the flexibility to add reflection and expand the format whenever I want. So I started a new Google doc instead, with a table, free text sections and an appendix section with guidance from the ALT website. I also set up a folder for additional evidence to be stored.

Collect evidence or risk loosing it: it became quickly apparent that a lot of evidence I was logging is contained in my blog. As I now host that on my own domain (thanks, Reclaim Hosting 🙂 I feel that this works even in the long term. However one course I participated in this summer has published my work only behind a log in. So I took screenshots of the key information and stored them in the folder in case I loose access in the long run. Certainly the process of logging the evidence was the reason why I did this – otherwise I don’t think I would have.

Where’s my CPD heading? As well as aiding reflection and encouraging me to keep my work properly backed up colour-coding different categories of CPD (e.g. events, blog, course… etc) made it very clear what I have been focusing on and areas in which I could do more.

Tags, categories, images… couldn’t I do all of this in a more elegant way? I am sure I could. There are apps out there that would certainly make it look and feel a lot more glossy. If you have found a way that works for you, I’d love to see how it works. For me, sticking with the same format as my portfolio works for now.