Monthly Archives: July 2013

Why do people think Blogs will transform education?

Will blogs transform education? Should every teacher have a blog?  What about every student?  Is this a case of pushing the tool not the pedagogy?

I blog, I enjoy it and I think it helps me get my thoughts in order.  Despite not having a particularly large audience (double figures on a good day, treble figures once when I got lucky with re-tweets) the comments I get tend to be thoughtful, helpful and expand my understanding.

However does this mean that every educator should blog? Well this week I saw a blog post from Steve Wheeler who says he is

on a crusade. I want to encourage as many educators as possible to engage online

Steve is associate professor of learning technologies at Plymouth University and knows his stuff, if you look back over some of his recent posts you will find a number of reasons to blog.  On the evidence of Blogging improving your teaching I found this nice bit of research
Redesigning professional development: reconceptualising teaching using social learning technologies” which showed that using blogs not only helped staff with their professional development but also greatly increased the chance that they got their students to use blogs in their learning.

Moving onto the importance of students having a blog – I have posted about this before and the post contains links to research on the benefits of Blogs so I wont repeat it.  What I will say here is the importance of students owning a blog, it is their learning and they should take it with them (although for those worried about security you might want to take a gradual process, starting out anonymous or within the vle – again I have blogged a bit about this here (its a bit of a ramble)).  The aim should be that students should end up blogging in public – In this post by George Couros “5 Reasons Your Students Should Blog” the 5th reason Digital Footprint is a compelling reason for student blogs to be public.

So is it about pushing a tool?  No! this video is what it looks like when someone is pushing a tool

Dont get me wrong – I love G+ and I have done a coursera course, but the video is about what the tools can do, not about education. (Oh – if you dont use G+ then its worth watching 4.40 to 9.40 to see why G+ might help you)

When I say everyone in education should blog, I am talking about the action not the tool, I am saying everyone should think/reflect, write those thoughts down and share them with people that are interested.

José Maria de Medeiros - A morte de Sócrates, 1878

It is not a new idea, in fact Socrates said “The unexamined life is not worth living” – this was in response to the threat of execution, where (to paraphrase hugely) they said “go elsewhere and shut up and we wont kill you” his response can be paraphrased as  “Id rather be dead than shut up!”

So if it is not the tool can we expand what we think educators should do?  Is it in fact not just “All educators/Students should Blog” but “All educators/Students should have a Personal Learning Network” – I think that it is (here is a good post on how to develop a PLN) and that a blog should be a central part of that PLN.
UPDATE found this post about how sharing publicly makes you think harder

So will blogs (PLNs) transform education?  I think they might if enough of us fight hard enough.  So about that crusade, Steve Wheeler – I am off to put on some chain mail because I’d rather be dead than shut up!

How I work

Current gig: Learning Technologist, University of Bristol
Current mobile devices: Galaxy S2
Current computers: Work – some subpar generic box, 2 screens though! Home Decent Laptop

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? Doesn’t have to be tech.
Google+, google maps, the camera on my phone, my phone

What’s your workspace like?
Big desk 2 screens (I need 3!), small laptop for meetings, some post-its and despite my best efforts bits of paper

What’s your best life hack?
Cycle to work – its fun, its healthy and it the kind of exercise that you cant get out of (I have to go to work or I will get fired)

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?
Spreadsheet (tried and trusted)

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without?

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?
Explaining things in simple terms

What do you listen to while you work?
Nothing or TED talks

What are you currently reading?
The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett

What’s your sleep routine like?
Go to bed late, sleep like I dont have a care in the world, wake up early refreshed

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see ______ answer these same questions.
Ken Loach

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? 
For every event there are 3 versions

  • what you think happened
  • what they think happened
  • what actually happened

You would be amazed how often that has helped 🙂

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Be nicer to people, even the stupid ones, because we all have stupid days.

Teaching using a VLE #7 Let the students drive!

After a couple of years of teaching you will probably find that your VLE course space is done, tidy and complete and needs only occasional updating by you…..  I am afraid that this means it is time to let go, give up control and let the students drive the learning – worse this will mean lots of hard work for you.

Tc tacoma 4On the plus side – if you do this right your students will learn more, study harder and probably think you are a fantastic teacher!

So how do we do it?  First lets get the tools out of the way, it doesn’t particularly matter what you use or how it works (although it should work fairly reliably! – see Gliddon’s Heiracy of TEL) but here are some categories

Sharing information – rss feeds, twitter hashtags, social bookmarking etc.  These are ways in which your students can say “Hey I found this” and share it with the group.  This is entry level co-creation.

Sharing thoughts – twitter, social networks, blogs, video blogs.  This is the next level up students can share not just things they have found but their thoughts and reflections on them and the course/topics

Co-creating – wikis, google docs, any online tool that allows multiple editors.  At this point the students are making things together, each persons thoughts and edits,  adding to/changing/refining/building on the thoughts of each other

So there are lots of these tools available, your vle will have some and you should be able to link out to more.  The question is not particularly about the tools, what you need to do is look over your course and think of places where students could contribute, think about what kind of contributions they might be, think about how that enhances their learning.  Then select a tool that is a good fit for what you want to achieve.

Start with just one or two areas – a small project or a small defined goal are good starting points.  If it works well start opening up more of your course to student contributions.

Research – I always try to tie what I say to research, but in this case I am going to open up the blog post to contributions from others – if you can find any research that covers the benefits (or lack of benefits) of letting the students be co-creators of knowledge then please post below.

To get you started here are the results of a search I did on google scholar.

Get your game on! Why do teachers think gamification is a good idea?

I dont know if you have noticed but there are a growing number of people messing about in class, and the strange thing is the person starting it is often the teacher…

This splits into 2 areas

Using games to learn

Codex Manesse 262v Herr GoeliI was reminded about this as this week we have a school kid on work experience with us and he was interested in the learning potential of games.

Now years back I was using simple maths games with my students, one of my favourites being a fighting game where your fighter punched the opponent if you got the question correct (In my adult math class we had a tournament and in one round someone got upset that he lost even though he answered all the questions correctly because the other person also did and went first – he was 42!)  A quick google finds lots of math games (this one is a bit addictive).

For slightly more advanced games there is one called Portal that is great for learning physics.  And when I was talking to the work experience kid I said – “I bet you could use Sim City to teach a few things”, later I found out I was not the first person to think this and and entire lesson plans are based around

You might want to try a few games, in your class but if you want to push it further try this video to see just how much games you can fit in one classroom

Making learning a game

People are naturally competitive and even simple things can get them competing, a leaderboard showing what position and points you have vs your (anonymous) classmates get students retaking tests to get their score higher and move up the leaderboard.

Want to try something a little bit more complicated – how do you make Geography really interesting? Use Zombies!

Or use a combination of badges and XP to show students that they are actively working towards something, as described by a teacher I met though a mooc who wants to gamify his next class 

Speaking of Badges, these might just be the next big thing in learning (Im thinking in staff training/LD more than in traditional Ed, but I think traditional Ed will get there).  I was thinking of digging up some research to support my points, then I found this fantastic bibliography of Badges (its going to take me a while to read up!).

So why are badges so good?  Its the proof of small things and with Mozzila’s Backback you can take them with you.  Do a one day course on customer care? Badge!  6 month management training course at work “I can Manage Badge”.  The fact you can take them with you and they are backed by the issuer has the potential to transform learning and Development.  If a University staff member attends my “Collaborative Learning” course, that badge can be used at another University to show they know how to encourage online working.  Similarly compliance training – if I have done a data security/manual handling course at one Uni, I probably dont need to immediately do it again if I go to work at another Uni.

For a more detailed discussion of Badges and how these fit in with learning and assessment try this post by Funny Monkey

Returning to the learning – badges will become motivators, decide what you want your students to achieve/aspire to and make badges for that.

And the work experience kid – well here is what he thinks

Teaching using a VLE #6 Video for Muddiest Point (and flipping)

Adding video to your VLE is easy with modern kit, it frees up class time, allows you to repeat concepts your students struggled with and can be a starting point in transforming the way you teach.

So we covered audio in the last lesson and pretty much everything we said for that also holds true for videos.

Again you can free up class time by taking one “thing” from your lecture and making a quick video about it.  If making a video aim for about 5 minutes.

2010. Донецк. Карнавал на день города 003

Maybe getting the film students to help me with my 5 minute video was overkill

You can take videos easily using your smartphone OR you can get a video camera and setup a simple shot (this can work well when you are using a board to explain something – which for a lot of educators will be firmly in their comfort zone 🙂 )

One of my favourite video ideas is the concept of “Muddiest Point” where you take a “point” in your class that students either didn’t understand or misunderstood and then make a quick video covering that point.

The way this is often done is to have post-its on the desks and any time a student doest understand something they write on a post-it, you take in the post-its at the end and anything that appears a few times you make a “Muddiest Point” video. Because the first time you explained it is was “As clear as Mud!”

Here is an example I made earlier today

There are lots and lots of ways you can use video in your course, it really is worth having a play around and seeing what suits you.  If you want to really see how much you can use this to transform your teaching then watch this TED talk (worth a look even if you already know about flipped classrooms)

Finally just to give you something to aspire to here is a short video from the “History Teachers” – see how much info is crammed into the 4 minutes (I wish my videos were this good)

Teaching using a VLE #5 Sounds like learning

One of the things I used to run into when trying to get teaching staff to experiment with teaching and see how tech could help was the “Curriculum”.  Basically on a 10 week course they would have a couple of 100 “things” to tell the students and so they would give a lecture that covered all the “things” for that week, they had told the students, their job was done – they didn’t have time in the lesson to experiment because that would mean they didn’t have time to mention all the “things”.

Now I must admit that I don’t run into that problem anywhere near as often these days, but if you are wondering how to free up some time in your face to face sessions one of the easiest is to look through your session and choose 1 “thing” to tell your students outside of class.


Then you simply record an audio file and put it on the VLE, your students can listen at a time that suits them.  This should free up about 5 minutes to do something a bit creative with your students.

This audio file I recorded talks about some of the things you should consider when making  your audio file.

Some of you at this point might be wondering about the technical “how” of recording some audio – if you have a smart phone or a pc headset then you have all the kit you need.  The internet can tell you how

  • “how can I record my voice” returned over 300million hits on google
  • Audacity is an open source free software allowing you to record and edit sound
  • In this case I used Audio Boo (because they have an android app as well as a webpage – so I can use either my phone or my desktop)

As with all advice I try to link it to educational research showing a benefit to students/results/learning outcomes.  You can see some research into short podcasts here and here  and the affects of pre-lecture podcasts here, you can easily find more materials yourself using google scholar.

And remember – try to make your new spare 5 minutes fun and interactive!  If it goes well (or horribly badly) why not share it with others in the comments below.