Saturday, 31 October 2015


Watch this video by Stephen Downes on PLEs, in which he clearly describes the difference between PLEs and VLEs and the pros and cons of each. Make a note of the key points he mentions

  • The difference between the learner-centred PLE and institution centred VLE are clearly shown although in reality, the two can combine with a central VLE and each learner having that as one node of their PLE. 
  • Our institutional approach is to put a stripped down service at the centre, essentially the identity management/ profile/ directory system with a few core tools such as email and recommended third party ones - and allow the learner to build their PLE from a portfolio of suggestions and ones they discover themselves, linked together through that identity management. The key is to make the single sign on between all the parts fit together. This is like the LMS Collab diagram shown in the video although perhaps more stripped down.
  • The problem highlighted - that people may not have an account to the LMS to join the collaboration environment is a desirable feature in a school setting - where ensuring that the people within the learning community are known and managed. for a school the PLE-Collab model would contain many risks to mitigate against.
  • Again the argument presented about LMS Federation is very real for some contexts (such as HE or Adult Ed), but where we need to know who is engaged in learning and collaborating with who - and that identity needs to be managed by a trusted source, a strongly federated approach is not optional. We operate a federated network with 30+ sites, each managing who locally is who and granting them access to the wider (M)PLE (managed personal learning environment).
  • A PLE-Network (or federation) is an exciting, flexible approach for contexts where trusted relationships can be managed in a robust way (my tutor introduces me to person A so I trust them, that person introduces me to B and C so I trust them). Such networks could become massive with a low (but finite) number of 'bad connections'. It would be dangerous in a school context for pupils but wonderful for staff development and other processes where eSafety were lower priority than agility and freedom.
  • Ownership of data is clearly an issue and the way that the institution owns the learners data with an LMS both a blessing (allowing response, validation, accreditation) and a curse (lock out, privacy). Models like Open Badges where the institution can award against a trusted identity, but the data then resides outside are really exciting approaches in this area (at this point I really want to go back and rewrite several earlier posts to mention Open Badges). Within our own approach most of the data is decentralised within the services connected to by the learner (which on ending their course they can transfer to a personal account) but that data which we are responsible for sits on our system.
  • The argument that in a PLE you have better control of your data is wonderful but flawed. It depends on the knowledge of the individual. I would contend that there will be at least as many, if not more, cases of data breach and loss through a model where the individual is left to their own devices. I prefer that approach for myself, but to characterise institutions as irresponsible and untrustworthy when they are likely to be competent and are legally accountable, to me comes over as a cheap ideological jibe rather than a pragmatic and realistic position.

I'm being unfair on Stephen Downes in the above. The video provokes and informs and in reality whether we like it (as learners) or not (as institutions) this landscape of people with their own rich PLE (which of course is much more than just a "Learning Environment" - it's a social, entertainment, business one too) is the future. The challenge for institutions is to be ready with a structure that allows people to connect into their offer on fair terms. Another good example of where learning will be transformed (like it or not) rather than institutions themselves transforming learning.

This is how our organisation approaches a mix of PLN and LMS - the core is identity management - to work with a member of staff or student we need to be able to be confident who they are and what their role is - as much else as is practical is distributed to other services, many of which allow the user to make their data portable - so for example if a member of staff leaves us they can transfer their Google Drive documents to another account, but anything stored on our own file servers remains with  us.

Click on diagram to expand

Friday, 30 October 2015

Key challenges in terms of using technologies in an educational context

Despite the potential of technologies to support learning, there is a gap between the rhetoric and reality; technologies are not being used extensively. Write a blog post describing what you think are some of the key challenges in terms of using technologies in an educational context. Also provide some examples of policy interventions that can be put in place to overcome this and how they might have an impact on actual practice.

There are a wide range of challenges to using technologies in an educational context, whatever the age range or level, in large part because of the competing priorities, political pressure and accountability frameworks designed without taking account of the changing world we work in and the inertia always found where people are busy and under stress.

In the table shown below I've set out the principle issues and attempted to put alongside the factors that can mitigate against them.

Click on the image to open the table as a pdf file

Leadership support appears frequently within the table and it is in that area I think I've gained the most from this week's reading and study. I found the 4-Quadrent Approach for thinking about innovation and leadership (Salmon 2005) in this week’s reading especially valuable as it helped me to frame how I view supporting development in a more focused way.

I've shown a revised version of the model below, using my own wording to better relate it to the way I'd anticipate using it in practice.

Click on table to view full size

In the top left quadrant we are dealing with well understood models for teaching and learning and considering the core tools that need to be available all the time. Change here will be measured, governed by clear processes and with priority for resources. Most of the activity will be around renewal and improvement of things we understand and training will be mainly induction for new people and refresher as versions change.

The bottom left quadrant is where practitioners seek to apply those tools in new ways of working. There may be a difference in scale, in the kind of use, meaning small amounts of targeted support and training, but they will form a small part of a wider project.

The top right quadrant is where we seek out new tools that may one day be useful for all areas and allow smaller projects to experiment and innovate. The underlying model remains the same – we understand what ‘good’ looks like, so we can quite methodically try something, review it’s effect and decide on it’s value. Training will generally be very localised, and usually self-administered by the team that are leading on the work. Much of this area is about getting out of the way and letting people try things out for themselves.

The bottom right quadrant is the hard stuff. Genuinely transformative change, bringing in new practice and applying new technologies in that area. It is the highest risk and most expensive area of activity.

In the conference I'm preparing to prepare our strategy for developing ICT in our schools, I think this kind of model will help us to focus on:

  • What are those core things we need to iterate, refine, maintain, and what elements are now past their prime and need to be abandoned?
  • What projects are likely to mean we need to look to use those core tools differently, and how will we train and support that?
  • How can we create an environment where new tools can be discovered and trialled, and potentially incorporated into the core in a sustainable way?
  • What transformative projects are on the 3-5 year horizon and how will they interact with tools we do not use at present?

Key Emerging Technologies in Schools

Read the chapter by Conole et al. (2007) ‘A critique of the impact of policy and funding on practice (Conole, Smith et al. 2007). The paper considers technologies up to 2000, provide an updated table from 2000 to the present time (using the template below), indicating what you think are the most important emergent technologies, how they are used and indicating any key policies or funding opportunities associated with your sector.
Complete the following table and post on your blog

I have probably not followed the brief exactly as was intended, as I became far too interested in piecing together "a Brief History of ICT in Schools Since 2000" which will probably annoy most people who worked in the field either because of my opinions or my omissions.

I found it hard to name technologies that were 'the most important ones' because many to me seem just too obvious (I really didn't want to put in "laptops" for example, but in truth - without getting all sniffy about it, laptops, WiFi and digital cameras probably ARE the most influential technologies of the last 15 years (and of those only WiFi even got close to the time period in question).

Things like Scratch though are I think really interesting and important technologies not just because of what you can use them for in the classroom, but also because of the change in the marketplace they represent - the source of the software, the motives of the people creating it, the means of delivery - all are genuinely new and neither the first nor (I hope) the last.

I resisted the temptation to put ChromeOS etc in there because that just seems too geeky.

So here's my table.


Since producing this I've thought further and I think I have missed out one critically important technology, not just for its immediate application but also for the model it represents - Open Badges.

I think the decentralised way it operates - representing a framework of standards rather than a service is interesting (although frustrating in practice as I am still searching for a usable way to plug it into an LMS for under 13s).

For Open Badges my row of the table would have been:

2011, Open Badges, allow an organisation to publish digital awards against  the criteria they choose and publish, backed by the reputation and trust in that organisation.

I would love to see a model where a federation of groups could use Open Badges to create an assessment economy. I might have some awards through professional development at work, some credits from the University, one for a contribution I made to coaching a local football team and finally one for work I did with an Industry partner. Each would have the weighting and value afforded by its source - but the portfolio, and how I chose to present it would be mine.

Policy Drivers for Significant Change using eLearning

Please download the Report entitled 'ICT Leadership in Higher Education: Selected Readings, edited by Sanjaya Mishra from the website
Have a look at the Table of Content page and select a chapter that you find interesting and is related to ICT policy perspective. Read the chapter with a view to examining the key policy drivers that may have an impact on implementing technology-enhanced learning initiatives in your work context. Try to draw on from your professional experience. After you have read the chapter, please write a blog post elaborating your ideas.

The article I chose (perhaps a risky choice considering the likely readership of this blog) was CHAPTER - 3, ICT and eLearning in Higher Education: Policy Perspective by Palitha Edirisingha

I found the chapter fascinating when comparing the landscape presented for Higher Education with my own experience working in the schools sector, and touching on policy whilst at the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust. Rather than follow the chapter section by section I'd like to present a few themes for comparison.

From 0.1 to 1.0 to 2.0

I had never seen table 3.1 presented on page 19 (originally from Laurillard (2006)) and found it a useful way to set out the way tools have replaced each other. The author suggests changes since the last decade could usefully be added - but perhaps as a new column rather than a continuation down the page? Many tools developed in the last decade themselves will go on to replace the predecessor 'immature' technology. For example "cloud storage of documents, available anywhere" replaces the new technology of "local hard drives" which itself replaced "paper." That may well be a useful future exercise.

One of the hardest policy challenges an institution needs to face is recognising when a mature technology, in which it has invested heavily and drawn good results from, is no longer the best possible approach.

For example the school that implemented Moodle a decade ago. They no doubt will have battled with it to make it work for them, to get staff using it and to get to a situation where many of their courses, and business processes were structured around it. Consider the tensions between continuing to invest and develop that system versus abandoning it and instead using simpler, more modular, multi-vendor but inter-related tools instead.

From Funding to Practice

We now operate in a world where technology without a doubt is having a profound impact on learning and the culture of learning. The question must be, has that change happened primarily as a result of strategy and policy, or as an unintended consequence of a massive societal transformation brought about by the adoption of low-cost computing and communication technology?

The chapter sets out some changes in the wording of policy documents from HE, and I was struck in particular by the move from terms like embed and transform (as a consequence of the policy one supposes) to appreciate the potential and make a normal part of. This is very similar indeed to the schools landscape in the same years in the UK, and reading the narrative presented helped me to consider that.

Consider the proposition that an agent within a network of organisations wishes to get significant funding to support an eLearning initiative. A vision statement along the lines of "we will use this funding to continue with the same approach to pedagogy but we will make some incremental improvements thanks to using new technologies" would be far less likely to prosper than one aimed to "transform pedagogy and shift the whole learning paradigm."

Yet the reality is that the project will take technology that is predominantly designed for a consumer or business setting, project manage its implementation with considerable effort, risk and expense, and then present it to an audience of practitioners who are still being expected to deliver essentially the same programmes against the same accountability framework. That audience is not seeking transformation they are seeking improvement.

Real change requires system redesign (Hargreaves et al) - reconfiguration of the underlying building blocks of how learning is managed and organised, and technology (whether as a result of planned and funded development, or a necessary response to context brought about by technological development)  provides a uniquely powerful tool to do just that.


Similarly, I had not seen the 4e Model to promote Leadership Innovation before (Salmon). Previously I had used the Growth Share matrix to think about how different approaches within an institution could have a life cycle, and need different approaches to management and evaluation at different points in that life. 4e, if I understand it correctly, is a useful tool to do something very similar, but to engage leaders in thinking strategically about change both in tools and approach.

It may not be what Salmon intended (and with apologies to the author if I'm misrepresenting), but my reading would be

This may not be how it was intended to be used, but as I plan for a conference in my own organisation for December, I find this way of presenting some of the changes we could plan for a useful one to help use consider how to best focus effort, mitigate risk and plan for scale.

Within the University of Leicester story, it was the simple things like ensuring all staff would have a consistent experience in every teaching room, lowering the pain threshold to adopt core technologies in their daily work that were most likely to have the greatest and fastest return on investment. I wonder what mine need to be for the next 5 years as technologies go through a period of deep change making things like computer laboratories, previously a mainstay, look quite quaint.

Key Policy Drivers

I've managed to respond at some length to the chapter without perhaps engaging with the question - the key policy drivers. From my reading of the article, translated to my own experience that would be:
  • Change as something we set out in a vision and drive towards versus change in response to unstoppable external content. That isn't necessarily a negative - adapting intelligently is both a necessary survival trait and, when the values and vision for the institution are at the heart of it, a more pragmatic approach.
  • Recognising the core tools and investing to ensure they deliver, so reducing the thresholds for change for the organisation to engage. 

A Useful TEL Article

From the book Designing Instruction for Technology Enhanced Learning (Patricia L. Rogers) there is a particular chapter by Lorna Uden (p161 onwards) that I've found really useful.

In the chapter (Designing Hypermedia Instruction) Uden considers some of the problems and concerns associated with using hypermedia. For someone that has always been an enthusiast for hypermedia this came as a genuinely new way of framing the problem.

Early in my teaching career I saw systems like Hypercard, !Genesis on the Acorn Archimedes, Gopher and the then very new World Wide Web and to me they seemed to offer a really obvious, exciting alternative to desktop published content. I even followed up a visit to Leicester University Open Day by trying to build my own hypermedia system using what was then the new Microsoft Access database, creating what turned out to be a great proof of concept with little practical use.

Several times I put together mini-stacks of content for topics of work for my students that compiled all the learning materials and tasks together. The exercise usually took 2-3 days of intensive effort, allowed me to really get my head around the work we would be doing, they key concepts and questions and the pace needed. In particular, it made me plan various routes and think about differentiation in ways other than simple extension/ substitution.

Positive as it was, on none of those occasions did I see what I hoped for - a group of learners seize the opportunity to self-direct... the material became the backdrop for the topic, I as the teacher found myself setting the waypoints in every lesson and pretty much using the stack of hypermedia as a glorified meta-worksheet. On each occasion I moved onto what with hindsight were more efficient (and more constructivist) approaches.

So hypermedia for me (to date) has been much more about my own learning, my own planning, than it has been about that of my students. Far more effective have been efforts to use tools like blogging to have the learner construct the hypermedia.

Uden puts forward some reasons why learners find working from hypermedia a barrier to learning before setting out good design practice. In particular one concern stands out, cognitive overload.

Cognitive overload is caused by the need for the reader to frequently pause, make decisions about whether to follow links or not, track back and generally build their journey through the material, whilst also taking notes. It represents an increased overhead on the learning process, a distraction from the content itself (perhaps, especially important in an objectivist approach). My own experience as a reader is that hypermedia is extremely useful when I already have reference points and a particular line of research in mind, but I have felt, and observed this type of overload response in practice.

My main interest in hypermedia (now) is as a vehicle for constructivist work. Having the learner construct hypermedia as a way to engage with an area of study. The article goes into a ideas around how to break down concepts, relate them and present them that I hadn't considered in such a structured way before and is something I'll return to when I am next seized by the urge to produce a base of learning materials for a block of learning.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Evaluation, reflection and communication

Write a blog post choosing two technologies and how you have appropriated them into your practice. Choose one technology that has not had a significant impact on your practice and say why.

Online document Creation – such as Google Docs

For a long time I’ve been frustrated by the model of things like Microsoft Word where you write something, send it to someone and – well you lose control over it other than the fact that you still have your copy. Using Google Docs I’ve worked with primary classes to have pairs and groups work together on documents, but more usefully, give peer feedback on a piece of writing before a teacher sees it. This works in a number of ways

  • It motivates the writer to speed up – to get the feedback and meet the deadline, it also motivates them to write better as there is a real audience (see also blogging below) 
  • It improves their understanding of the assessment criteria – having to look at what is required for a piece of work, and give feedback to someone stretches the student and helps them better understand what ‘good’ looks like – and apply it to their own work. Feedback from all abilities of student was that they got better at things as a result of giving feedback and the more they did it as a routine, the more it helped them.

Google Docs doesn’t make this possible – you can do it in loads of ways – but it made it simple, quick, free and made it possible to do it on demand and from home.

Beyond the classroom I've found the same approach (which is little more than a Wiki done in a more user friendly way) invaluable for project planning, meeting agendas and minutes and working with colleagues.


Another obvious choice would be blogging – writing for a purpose for a real audience. The fact that the text being written would be seen by people other than the teacher is hugely motivating, and blogging gives the school a nice simple way to achieve that safely, without spending a huge amount.

Learning Journals such as Tapestry

Tapestry is one of the simplest, most revolutionary tools I’ve seen. The idea is simple – take a set of early learning goals, each with a tag. Take a set of children and give each a tag. As the working week goes in the early years setting take hundreds of photos, audio clips and videos of learning happening and tag them with the learning goal and the people so that:

As a team leader I can review evidence for the group of a particular goal (moderation, session planning, assessment records, professional development, appraisal).

As a practitioner I can review progress for a particular child to plan, review, assess, record.

As a parent I can share the progress of my child in a much more real and rich way.

Choose one technology that has not had a significant impact on your practice and say why

Interactive Whiteboards

I was one of the first teachers I know to get an IWB – as I was “good at IT” I got one through a grant-funded piece of work. At first the wow factor made it really powerful, and the ability to recall and review previous lessons and share with students by email was brilliant. But it ultimately still involved standing with my back to a group of teenagers for extended periods, and was not always easy to read from the back of the class or reliable to use and… progressively it became less and less interactive. Not everyone was always that keen to come to the front, so it became more and more just a tool for me as a teacher and it didn’t make me any better as a teacher.

I stopped using it other than as a projector, and haven’t missed it after moving on. I have seen good teachers really make IWBs work – especially blending pre-built material and games in with their own materials – I think they can be a huge labour saving device, but those benefits don’t need the big touch sensitive thing on the wall, there are far better ways of achieving the same end.

Reflection and Communication

Add two videos which you think exemplify the nature of new technologies and/or their implications for learning
The first video I've chosen is from  Roger Nixon is a teacher a Wheatley Park school – I picked this presentation  which I watched at BETT (and Roger’s school have already moved on a long way in the 2 years since) because of the way he has taken something free, that students would recognise as such an obvious way of doing things, to replace traditional ways of working in the staffroom. The fact that instead of just talking about it he does it also makes me feel happy to recommend it!

My second choice is both more 'strategic' and less directly relevant to the content of the week's work, but I think it is a good choice nonetheless. The clip is from TeachersTV about System Redesign because I think that simply expecting technological change to ‘transform schooling’ is naïve and likely to lead to a few years of pain and lost opportunities (OK, I think it IS leading to a few years of pain and lost opportunities). This film shows a number of schools rethinking how a school can be, and if you watch it the number of opportunities to apply all the exciting technological solutions to make a difference is staggering.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Some thoughts on Tablets and Mobile Devices

Frasier Spiers is a very interesting writer on the application of mobile devices in education and this blog post I think is worth sharing.

My favourite quote:
We are not trying to build the paperless classroom. It's not even clear that that is the correct goal.
What we are trying to do is make computers as easily available as paper.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Response to videos

"Watch Michael Wesch's video 'The machine is Us/ing Us'. Despite being from 2007, this is a good video, which provides a good overview of the key impact of the Internet and its origins.
Watch the 'Social Media Revolution' video which shows the importance of social media in today's world. 
Consider the following questions: 
  • What has been the impact of the emergence of the Internet over the last twenty years?
  • Are any of the statistics in the Social Media Revolution video surprising to you?
  • How has your own use of technologies changed in the last five years or so?
  • What do you think are likely to be key technologies that will be important in Education in the next few years?"
Both videos initially caused me to react with a certain degree of cynicism. Having suffered through "Shift Happens" at so many poor presentations over the years (not through any fault of the video, more from the expectation that it could justify all kinds of (sometimes contradictory) arguments without too much critical response) I found myself bristling a little.

After watching them more than once I decided that actually "The Machine is Us" is really quite inspirational - and yes, prescient, but I never got past the Fatboy Slim soundtrack to "Social Media Revolution" and the sense that I was being pitched to rather than being informed.

What has been the impact of the emergence of the Internet over the last twenty years?

That is a broad question to answer in a few hundred words without dropping into platitudes. The impact of the emergence of the internet is clearly significant in many areas of life, but the extent varies massively from sector to sector. 

Within some areas it has already had a transformative effect (eg the travel industry). I can remember having to drive to a travel agent in my lunch hour at work to book an overpriced air travel ticket from a choice of one at the agency down the road not so long ago, now that whole industry is completely different at every level (except that moment the plane takes off).

In others (eg secondary schools) the effect is notable but the observer might say only superficial.

Lack of access to the internet is something that would cause huge issues for any UK school in 2015 (but would have been barely noted in 2000) although the fundamentals of how the organisation goes about its core business remains more or less the same. Just as the moment of taking off in a plane is more or less the same as twenty years ago, so is the reality of most students sitting down for a lesson.

But while the school timetable could be said to be only “mildly enhanced” by the internet, most business processes that surround that activity have been completely redesigned and there are examples within the education landscape of much deeper and more transformational change that the internet makes possible. 

Are any of the statistics in the Social Media Revolution video surprising to you?

The stats like the ones shown in the video are always impressive when you first look at them (indeed it’s almost a cliché to quote numbers in this way as people selling social media products try to scare the life out of people with money in old markets, this is very much an exercise in persuasion - "surrender and join us!").

How has your own use of technologies changed in the last five years or so?

More and more of what I do now is based on mobile or cloud technology. I’ve gone from using several devices, mostly owned by my employer and not always what I would be most effective with, to a few that I choose to use myself – my employment provides the login, the backend, the system, the information but I bring the device.

In particular I find myself sharing and working live on documents as part of bigger projects much more and working alone on a piece of work as an individual, honing it down and finally issuing “the good version” hardly ever. Work has become more collaborative, more asynchronous, more iterative and less about the final version.

What do you think are likely to be key technologies that will be important in Education in the next few years

I think a lot of technologies heavily invested into in education need to be critically reviewed. The large interactive screen at the front of the classroom represents a huge investment to provision and maintain, far larger than the cost of good connectivity for a school for example. To justify its use requires not just a real investment in ongoing training, but also a commitment to a particular model of teaching and learning for the lifetime of the system.

I believe the key technologies are the ones that will allow teachers and students to work on whatever device they choose to (owned by them or by their school) and share on whatever medium they need on demand (big wall screen, 3D printer, photocopier, their friend’s screen).  Importantly they need to be agile and discardable - in the sense that the best tool to use now is not a career-long commitment, it is something that I may well be able to move on from within only a few years.

Things like online collaborative spaces – like Google Apps for example (or Blackboard) are high return for low cash investment. That brings with it new challenges for education - managing identity, movement of their intellectual property from platform to platform, repurposing and redesigning material for new uses - and the flux of constant change.

Week 1 - Critical Thinking Stimulus

The Machine is Us

Social Media Revolution