Title picture, wombles and circles

If the wombles had IT tools for learning

Readers who were children in the 70s or 80s, (or frequenters of Wimbledon Common) may have heard of the Wombles. They were a fictional group of furry rodent like creatures who collected old rubbish and recycled and reused it in creative ways. In many ways ahead of their times before recycling was trendy, but still a group of fictional rodents.

Then there is me at work. Fortunately my office is a bit of an upgrade to the Wombles’ clutter filled burrow; I have a fancy chair, a desk that goes up and down, a laptop with a docking station, two big LCD monitors, not to mention lots of lovely colleagues. Certainly nothing to complain about, but when it comes to IT systems and systems for delivering learning, well that’s when the clutter of the Wombles becomes more of a comparison.

Like many companies we have a hotchpotch of systems available to us, they’ve evolved over time as strategies have changed, budgets have expanded and contracted (and contracted and contracted). Some have become foundation stones of our daily work, others float around behind the scenes doing things few understand but that everyone else is scared to mess with! I don’t think we’re unusual, I don’t think we’re deprived either, but in the world of learning that I work with, technology can be a great enabler. I’m trying to change the way our people and managers see learning, away from classes and courses to support processes and reference resources. There are many great pieces of software to support and enable this shift, but for those of you who, like me, haven’t got the budgets right now, for the shiniest new kit, it’s important to remember that while we dream, there is still plenty we can do. Like the wombles we can achieve a lot by recycling and reusing our existing software in different ways, often in ways it wasn’t built for. Some of these things are dead easy to do and there is no better place than building a revolution than from the bottom up, show the people what they can do and let them fly.

In part two (coming soon and hyperlink will be added) I’ll give some examples of some of the recycling I’ve done to create great learning and how I hope to use it as a springboard for something bigger…

(Original background Banner Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash)

(Womble photo by Natalie Ingram)

Have you ever tried to show someone how to do something easy? Of course you have, you do it all the time without even thinking about it especially if you have kids. But what happens if you have 1000 people you need to show, who all have a different starting point, who all demand something slightly different, and there’s just one of you and not many other resources available to help.

That’s one of the challenges I had at work last Summer. My employer changed their email system. After many many years of the company using Lotus Notes for email we moved to Microsoft Outlook.

Illustration - thking about outlook

I wasn’t involved in the upgrade project, I had plenty of other work commitments, and therefore didn’t know all the details and thought processes, but they did have someone advising on a training plan, though in the times and the business we are in (providing services to the oil and gas industry) resources are very tight and regrettably training is one of the areas that often takes the hit. They had to therefore provide something without much budget. The end result was a training resource, published on the company intranet, consisting of tips and links to selected Microsoft training videos on their website. For comparison previous similar projects (Microsoft Office upgrade for example) included external training presentations with all employees given the opportunity to attend but this wasn’t an option this time.

Roll out day arrived and we all got down to using our new system. Of course after years of people complaining “why don’t we have Outlook like everyone else” the voices suddenly turned to “it was fine before”… but that’s a given!

Very quickly more and more people started asking me for help. I have responsibility for learning and training in a particular business unit (over 3 locations) and particular business projects (that may span locations). Having 100’s of employees wasting time not using a system efficiently is not cost effective so I started looking at what I could offer to those I am responsible for. I also secretly relished the opportunity to brush off my long rested IT teacher skills to make a difference. I organise a lot of training at work, most of the topics and software is very complex Engineering software that I am not an expert in. I try and understand but I develop training and learning opportunities in conjunction with experts who really know their stuff. Outlook seemed like a doddle in comparison. I can use it, I can learn what I need to fast, I can run some nice training to help other people use it, it’ll be easy I thought.

Then as you say in US English, I started doing the math. There was no way I had time to hold classes for 1000 students and I couldn’t provide customised learning to help different people with varying degrees of competence. I turned to a couple of Linkedin groups for help. One group “Organization Development & Training Forum (Sponsored by Degreed) gave some really good feedback with 17 replies to my post. The replies both suggested solutions and questioned my assumption.

Inspired by the input I received from many experts around the world I went for a 4 part solution.

  1. Superuser training – I trained up a group of expert users who could support those working around them. I setup 1 hour classes for these volunteers, each class was split into groups and each group had to become an expert in a particular feature or area. They then had to share their learning with the rest of the group. The classes went pretty well and everyone learnt something new as well as where to find out more in future.
  2. Superuser e-mail group – I setup an email group for superusers to help each other out in cases where they didn’t know the answer.
  3. Drop in mini training – I offered 15 minute beginners classes in various basic topics, tips and tricks. These were not so well attended but it gave all who wanted more help the opportunity to attend.
  4. Dripping of information – We had some ready made nanolessons (short series of learning presentations) available for Outlook which were made available for anyone who wanted. I also sent out a few emails with tips and tricks, links to training videos (that had always been available) and reminders of who to contact for help.

Did I solve the problem?

Honestly the answer is yes and no. The complaints about “why doesn’t Outlook do this?” have stopped. This is partly because people now know how to do what they need to do to some extent due to the training that was offered. It’s also partly down to Outlook being pretty easy to use and people supporting themselves and their peers to learn. So knowledge has certainly improved and part of that is due to the initiatives taken. But I still regularly come across people who aren’t aware of certain productivity features, so although the urgent need might have been resolved the problem is not completely solved. Of the four solutions above the email group remains almost not used, partly because it took so long to get going and I guess it was an initiative too far. In my experience not everyone is happy asking questions to a group, while most are happy asking one to one. The drop in mini training was not popular but did a job in that people had the opportunity to attend. The nanolearning also offered some support but like the drop in training I think the result is also partly psychological, as long as people know support is available they feel a bit more secure! The dripping of the information I think was the icing on the cake, the original Microsoft help videos published by the rollout project were good, but having them published on the Intranet is not good enough, they needed pushing out better and giving people that push and the affirmation that it was okay to take 10-20 minutes of the day learning to use the software, made the difference.

Is the job done? Yes for now but of course I’d like to do it even better . It was a fun problem to look into now but unfortunately now my time is better used on the other hundred problems and issues that are calling.

Not convinced that sometime the easiest problems are the hardest to solve? Try and teach my parents to use their mobile phones and come back to me.

I recently managed to fully complete my first MOOC after previous courses where I dropped out after a few weeks. The course was a very good course run by Norwegian University NTNU called Smart Læring (English: Smart Learning). I will reflect on the course more in another post but for those who read Norwegian you are welcome to read my 3000 word final assignment the title translated to English is “Are computers a good learning tool for all? My reflections and memories.”

Those who don’t read Norwegian you can try and google translate it!

The assignment reflects on some of my experiences learning and teaching with technology. It’s my first substantial piece I’ve written in Norwegian (or any foreign language) and there is no way I would have managed without spellcheck, online dictionaries and translators and of course volunteer proof readers.

It got me an A grade and I hope will be of interest to others, those interested in the topic, those wanting a trip down memory lane or maybe those in future cohorts of the course!

Er datamaskinen et godt læringsverktøy for alle (PDF 349kb)

smartlæring logo

 

A picture popped up on my Facebook feed today which has been nicknamed the “viral Rembrandt kids on phones photo”.

The original photo is from November 2014 and it received mainstream media coverage from The Telegraph in the UK in January 2016. If you want a detailed summary of the photo, story and reaction the Telegraph is a good start. In summary: The photographer took the photo below at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. He was fascinated by the sight of students sitting by a masterpiece and staring at their phones. You can click the photo to head to Flickr for his full description. Anyway what I find more interesting than the photo is the reaction. In one word “outrage”. In two words “outrage & disgust”. In three words “condescending, outrage & disgust

27 november 2014, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

So I’m biased because my specialism is integrating education and technology but from my perspective this picture shows two things. One how little most people know about learning and the school system we have today. Two how quick people are to react on social media.

For me this picture says “WOW”. Because too many kids are stuck in old fashioned school classrooms where they never go out of the classroom and only learn facts from textbooks and blackboards. The kids in the photos have been taken to an art gallery, that is a big thing in itself, art is one the subjects, in many countries, that is always under pressure because it is not a “business skill”. So these kids are out of the classroom despite the bureaucracy and cost hurdles (and they can be big), big thumbs up from me, and at an art gallery – wow their teacher is making them learn about art! Now when I was at school we took trips to museums and galleries and let’s be honest, often the highlight was the gift shop! Sometimes we got a good tour guide and we learnt along the way but not always. As an adult I visit art galleries and have done across the world but what I get out of the visit varies as I am far from an expert. The world renowned Uffizi gallery in Florence, also renowned for the length of the queue to enter, was an underwhelming and unexciting experience for me when I visited as a 21 year old. These kids are not just at a gallery but so engaged with their learning (via mobile phones) that they don’t even look at the photographer.
A quick comment on technology in the classroom. I don’t believe kids should be on their phones all the time but overall I think it is pretty rare for kids to use phones in school for learning. Of course I understand that when in a room with a masterpiece it is a shame to not look at it but it is also a shame to not learn about it. The balance is the key! There may be a problem that kids spend too much of their free time on technology, but I think they could and should spend more time at school using technology, where it brings benefit and engagement. And remember the school system most countries use is a slowly developing archaic model built to train students to be skilled to do jobs from the last century.

And my comment to the quick, judgmental and damning reaction on social media? Mobile phones and technology are here to stay as a part of our everyday lives. You might not like it but it’s a fact and you are reading this on your PC/phone right now. We need adults to lead the way to show kids when to be on their phone and when not. Let’s face it, most adults don’t do this very well. So before you criticise the kids think about the example and training we are giving them.

I am taking a course in my spare time. It’s called Smart Learning (SmartLæring) run by Norwegian University NTNU and is run as a MOOC. It’s not the first MOOC I’ve taken but looks to be the first one I may have a chance of completing!

Part of Module 5 of this course is either to write a blog post on why I blog or to start a blog. I fit in the middle. I have a blog with 78 (soon to be 79) posts but it’s 5 years since I last wrote a blog post so this gives me an excuse to reflect and hopefully to start up again.

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writer

When I started a blog it was because I realised I had interesting experiences I wanted to share with other teachers. Writing blog posts was always rewarding, not always in terms of interaction but it always gave me a space to reflect on what I had done and process what I had learnt. Then I moved.
I moved countries, I moved jobs and there never seemed a natural transition where I could just continue blogging. I think when one starts to write in public reflecting on their job they need to have the confidence that they can do so without being looked on negatively by their workplace or colleagues. When I was a teacher, I was comfortable in my school, confident that I had the support of the leadership with my innovation work and I made the time to reflect on what I was doing. I wanted to write lots more than I did but had to limit myself because of time. Then I moved to a new job in the corporate world. There were issues of what was allowed to be shared and what not, what is confidential and business sensitive information and most importantly, what will actually be interesting for other people to read! I’m a very honest person in my reflections, celebrating what went well but also looking at mistakes and what we did wrong, I didn’t and still don’t feel so confident sharing these mistakes in public less in case it looks bad to the owners and clients of the company I work in. In a way it doesn’t make sense as schools are often very data sensitive places and pupil information should be treated just as carefully as any other, but I guess I was part of a big community of bloggers who did the same thing and it was only natural to follow.

I’ve been meaning to resume blogging for the last couple of years, but 2 children (aged 2 and 9 months) don’t give me much time to sit, think and write at home.

So here’s to a new start. I have 2 long blog posts in progress but they probably won’t be finished for a while. In the meantime I will try and write some shorter insights more regularly to give some insight into what I do now.

Before I sign off the course assignment suggested to share blogging work we had done with our students. This is what my class and I did back in 2008
http://rickyict.blogspot.no/

They were a wonderful class and are all grown up now (21/22)! You can see some of the activities we did in class and some of their old blogs are still active!

Back in January when the UK shut down for a week because of snow schools leaders suddenly realised that VLEs and e-learning could be a solution to closed schools. Maybe the promise of virtual classrooms and 24 hour learning could actually keep school children learning when schools were closed.

With this in mind, alongside the prospect of further school closures, I started an open Google Document allowing teachers to share websites and ideas useful for student self learning. These aren’t necessarily alternatives to the classroom but links to share with a class when an unplanned closure hits.

I apologise it’s taken so long to share all the links. I was reminded of this long forgotten document by the snow outside my window and the UK school closures again this December.

You can view the ideas and links here
https://docs.google.com/View?id=dhnhtkkp_179chpjhjfh

Thanks to all who contributed, there are a list of names at the bottom of the document but there were many other contributors who contributed anonymously.

If anyone would like to contribute further links and ideas please message via twitter or leave a comment and I will send you the link to the document.

As well as the document I experimented teaching two 6th form classes online during the school closure. I’ll blog about this experience another time.

Thanks to all the organisers of Teachmeet Moodle. It was a well spent 5 hours or so! I have a few reflections, some on the great Moodling I saw, and some on the Teachmeet format.

Moodle Reflections:

There were some superb presentations on the day – many of which are linked to on the Teachmeet Moodle wiki http://teachmeetmoodle.pbworks.com/TeachMeetMoodle – James Michie has also summarised and linked to some of the presentations on his Blog http://jamesmichie.blogspot.com/2010/07/teachmeet-moodle.html

My top highlights were:

James Michie‘s  comprehensive but fast paced 72 slide presentation on Moodle in his school. It gave so many great example.

Gideon Williams fantastic presentation on Moodle plugins at his school

Helen Morgan’s presentation on how visuals can improve learning and participation – blindingly obvious,  so simple to implement and proven good practice.

Dai Barnes presentation on quizzes in Music (with embedded music)

and Miles Berry on how he now uses Moodle in teacher training

But of the above I have to again mention Gideon Williams – it was the second time I have met him and both his style of presentation (lighthearted!) and amazing moodling were fantastic. If you want to see a great school Moodle I don’t think there is a better example than that of Perins School

Teachmeet Reflections:

I’ve lost count of how many Teachmeet’s I’ve now attended – probably around 10 now including one I organised at the Computing at School Hubs Conference. There is always discussion about how they should be structured and this one again was very different and I think very good.  Here’s a few points of note about the structure on the day.

We started with a speednetworking session – everyone was given a table to fill in names, e-mail and expertise of other people and we went round to a whistle meeting person after person for a few minutes until we were told to move on. It was a great and simple way to network and get a good atmosphere in the room (especially as we has started at 10.30 am and there was little of the beer in the room that facilitates the networking in many teachmeets!)

We had one commercial presentation at the start – from the sponsors SchoolsICT – I think this was received well by the audience partly because they didn’t think to protest. But also because of the ethos of many Moodlers that if you are developing something to enhance Moodle then you are a good person. Personally, I thought it was a shame to start with this presentation, but I have no problem with a presentation from a sponsor – though there is an obvious red line when it becomes a sales pitch (this one wasn’t).

Time Limits were not kept to – I think some flexibility with time limits is good, some great presentation take a little more than the 7 minute teachmeet limit. But some timekeeping is necessary and Nano presentations become pointless if other presentations are allowed to go on and on. Short presentations also keep the audience attentive!

Video presentations – One pre-recorded screencast was shown – I don’t really think this is necessary as we schlepped all the way in we could have just watched the presentation in our own time. Live video presentations are another thing.

Overall, it was a very good teachmeet, it had a great friendly, informal and collaborative atmosphere. I think that’s what happens when you bring two great communities, teachmeet and moodle together.

There’s a great run of Teachmeets on at the moment – where I am just North of London there have been about 4 or 5 within an hour’s drive of here in the last month.

If you’ve not been to a Teachmeet try one out, they are great opportunities for learning, entertainment and networking and the best ones have an equal mix of each. To read about my Teachmeet Experiences you can take a look at all of my posts tagged Teachmeet.

I won’t explain the format here as it does so on the Teachmeet website – but I wanted to share my excitement for Teachmeet Moodle tomorrow and reflect a little on Teachmeet Fishbowl.

Teachmeet Moodle is the first Moodle Centric Teachmeet and is bringing together a great looking list of Moodle users – http://teachmeetmoodle.pbworks.com/TeachMeetMoodle – I have become a big fan of Moodle over the last few years, it’s one of the many tools we use in our school (A VLE on its own doesn’t do everything!) And many of my Teachmeet presentations have covered work we have done in Moodle. The sad part with Moodle and VLEs is that Teachers’ work is often locked behind passworded areas of the site – this is usually quite right as I don’t want strangers joining my class of Year 7 pupils – but it is a shame that we don’t find the time to make open copies of our course for other teachers to peruse. It’s not even that I want to download and use courses from other teachers (though sometimes I do!) but it’s getting that inspiration and seeing how other people use the same bit of software but for a very different purpose.

I shall try and report back tomorrow or over the weekend on what I learned from the Teachmeet.

A fortnight ago I attended my first Teachmeet Fishbowl in Oxfordshire. It was an interesting evening and an interesting format – it is important that the Teachmeet model doesn’t remain static though I would call the Fishbowl more of a brainstorming session – there were no presenters but a group of people sitting round a table working out a solution to a problem along with interjections from the audience and a few brave people switching in and out of the table. By the time the third session/fishbowl had started boundaries had dropped and there was no longer a real inner table and outer circle but just one big melding of minds with everyone in the circle chipping in. For me the Fishbowl was not a revolutionary format – but it is a structured way of getting people to collaborate informally (is that an Oxymoron?). It was fun, it was reasonably effective and it was fast paced and fun. We certainly came up with a large variety of ideas. As a technique I could see it working if you had a specific problem to solve and I guess the biggest problem we had is that the issues we were discussing were not issues that we had brought up ourself. The evening was also rather Primary focused with only three Secondary teachers present, but this in itself was a learning experience – there should be much more collaboration between Primary and Secondary teachers both in terms of pedagogy, school transition and subjects knowledge – we all have something to gain. 

Thanks to all those who organised and are organising or sponsoring these Teachmeets and I look forward to many more.

Often good things come at once. Sometimes they come at the same time and you can’t make them all – but yesterday the all worked out fine and I had a busy but fantastic day that I had to share on my blog!

On a normal day I’m in school all day, teaching classes, preparing for them or doing work around my e-learning responsibilities. Most of my CPD nowadays I tend to do in my own time, via twitter, online groups such as edtechroundup or evening meetings like Mirandamods. Occasionally I get to go to a course, in the daytime – a real old fashioned Inset!

This Thursday was one of those days – I headed over to the institute of education for a morning session on mentoring. This was the third installment of this course aimed at people like me who are mentoring participants in the graduate teacher programme (a method of teacher training in the UK). The course was useful and we learnt about different methods of mentoring most of which was new to me. By the time we had finished it was too late to head back into school so I’d arranged to try and teach my A-level computing class online.

I headed over to the British Library, a wonderful place to work, and it has free Wi-Fi. I sat myself down in the cafe and waited to see if any of my class would join me in an online flashmeeting. Almost on the dot the first students arrived – 3 joined from home and 3 from the school library. We had a 40 minute online lesson and it went okay. The main problem was the other fascinated year 13 students in the school library who kept on coming over to see what was going on. One even joined the lesson. Aside from these disruptions we actually got some work done. I talked the students through database normalisation using a hefty powerpoint presentation. It was hard working out if students were listening, participating or learning. I gauged this by asking questions and getting students to summarise what I had been saying. Based on the answers obviously something had got through! I did get a few strange looks from people in the library cafe.

No sooner had the online lesson finished when I got a skype call from Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano also known as @langwitches . Her 6th grade class interviewed me as part of their project on Jewish communities around the world. I’ve tried to help set them up with different friends of mine on different countries. Apparently Silvia has managed to cover every continent even Antartica! The girl who interviewed me asked great questions and I really enjoyed our 10 minute chat and meeting some of Silvia’s students. I’m very jealous of their project and look forward to seeing the results!

After an hour to kill in the British Library (which flies by when you have work to do) I headed over to the Moorgate offices of Oracle UK where I listened and joined in with the Owers Lecture 2009. The title of the lecture was “Can we reverse the decline of schools’ computing especially with girls”. The two main speakers were Kate Sims and Stephen Heppell who gave plenty of food for though. This was carried on through an audience discussion (we’d by then reformed into a circle) where we heard many points of view. I hope some of the lecture will soon be shared online by the people that were recording it. It’s well worth watching and I will add a link here if it arrives.

Overall a fantastic day – I like to think my school gets value for money when I pop out for an inset!

Download – What gets kids on a VLE and what difference does age make? (pdf 321kb)

A year on from completing my MA in ICT and Education and I’ve got round to sharing my research study. I had grand ideas about trying to get it published but never got round to it. So here it is to share with the world on my own blog. Despite being a year old I think the research is just as valid today as it was when I started. Please feel free to read, use and distribute. If you do use it for anything interesting I would love to know.

I chose the topic of virtual learning environments to investigate and I wanted to know what gets students to use a VLE and how the use varies between ages. You can read the abstract below – please do let me know what you think – either via comments, via e-mail or via twitter.

Abstract:

Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) become compulsory in UK schools from 2008. A great deal of public money has been and will be spent on them. Research on VLEs in schools is sparse and research on what makes students use VLEs even more so. This study builds on a practitioner’s observation that students of different ages use VLEs in different ways. Through focus groups, a survey and the analysis of VLE access logs, this survey investigates why students use or don’t use VLEs and looks for differences and patterns in the uses of students in three different year groups.

Analysis of results shows that there were significant differences between year groups in perception and usage, and that the youngest students were more eager users of the VLE. Communication and homework were found to be two key factors for student use. The study advises that schools take the opinions of pupils into account when designing or procuring VLEs and suggests that more research on what makes a successful school VLE would be invaluable to school decision makers who often have few experiences in this field.