Spring has sprung. Make it the season of second chances

In the UK the daffodils and bluebells are in bloom and the trees are full of blossom. It is spring, a time for clearing out, getting out and about and all things new! I have a long list of new things to do and explore. Technology and apps I have not tried yet, the latest software, books I haven’t read, different places to visit. Spring is a wide open space of possibilities. I love to explore new ideas and technology, but there are so many. Which made me think – what about things that I have already explored and rejected, How many things do I miss the first time round? Learning opportunities that I tried, but failed for me. Am I less willing to reconsider technology and approaches that did not deliver immediately. What about the ideas that didn’t work out early on, that were not a quick hit? Some concepts just don’t seem to work as I expected. So in a busy world, it is tempting to just move on to the next new thing, giving no second chances.

However some things may take time to develop or take other people to see their potential. I remember seeing the first digital news editing system AVID in 1986, I loved it, but many people didn’t. Many of those people now love Final Cut or Adobe Premiere, but hated digital editing back then. They said it would never replace video tape or film. It was up to me and others to persuade them. I didn’t get Twitter when it first appeared, but my friends insisted I gave it another go, now i can’t imagine life without it.

Often it just takes someone else to explain how to use new technology creatively – to open your mind to the possibilities and to not focus on the problems. This happened to me recently with Chromebooks. Previously I had worried so much about their problems (reliance on WIFI), that I missed the possibilities. Fortunately I attended a great workshop by Bruno Reddy of The King Solomon Academy at TLAB14 that showed me I really needed to give them another look.

Children in classroom open and close Chromebooks when teachers claps hands

Bruno Reddy and the teaching staff at King Solomon Academy had seen the opportunities offered by the speed and adaptability of the Chromebook. They leveraged these benefits to create flexible and flipped working environments, where computers are speedily and seamlessly used in the classroom. The classroom teacher retains control and technology does not delay or fragment learning.

So this spring I have resolved to give a few more things a second look – sometimes you get things wrong…



Recommended links:

Bruno Reddy Maths Blog for inspiring ideas for teaching maths in an innovative a fun way


TLAB14 website for 2014 Teaching and Learning Assessment Berkhamsted Conference. (If you missed this years conference sign up for TLAB15).



The simple genius of Quad-blogging

Now by simple genius I’m not describing David Mitchell the inventor of “Quad-blogging”, though I am sure he is a clever bloke. It’s just that – Quad-blogging is one of those brilliantly clever, but devastatingly simple ideas, that anyone could have, but didn’t – this bloke did.


Quad-blogging matches 4 classes/schools from around the world. Each class takes a turn to write their own online blogs, whilst the other three classes read and comment on their material.  This allows children to have a safe, meaningful and guaranteed feedback on their writing. So they get that magic thing, all performers love , an audience!

quadblogging pixI suppose the 16 million dollar question is “Does it work?”. Well according to Mitchell speaking at the State of Now #140Conference in NYC students gaining top SAT grades in UK Year 6 at his Bolton Primary went from 9% to 60% after using quad-blogging. Which is more than impressive.

But don’t take his word for it, there is some  independent research documenting Quad-blogging on the Langwitches website

This really is a great learning tool and the good news is since Quad-blogging has seeded further innovation. Mitchell is developing new online ideas with Pass the Blog and the Multitude. You can read about the new developments in an article by Suzie Boss on Edutopia.

QuadBlogging Connects Student Writers with Global Audiences





Widening Participation in Wales

When I started looking at OpenLearn I was surprised how the Open University was using its Open Educational Resources (OER) using blended and mediated learning via a team of learning champions that the Widening Participation team had recruited and trained. Gayle Hudson described it as a simple innovation similar to that of “train the trainer”.

gayle hudson youtubeGayle Hudson

The scheme has been documented and researched to capture any learning in a paper by Gayle Hudson, Jonathan Hughes and John Rose-Adams.

Using Open Educational Resources to widen educational participation in community settings: Learning from the Reaching Wider in North and Mid Wales Project

Participation is pushed further by utillising the access capabilities of public libraries and the project blog has includes the video of an interview with OpenLearn champion Vicky Williams at Cefn Mawr library.





Yes! “Open” means “Open”

tweet put it out there

I am pretty sure Professor Andy Lane was not recorded when he spoke at recent seminar on Widening Participation and MOOCs held by the The Centre for Inclusion and Collaborative Partnerships fortunately those present were able to document some of his key points via Twitter on #WPOER.

After the event I managed to speak to him briefly about what he felt was the key innovation of the OpenLearn project – ‘that it provided stand-alone self-study materials’

youtube lane


Overall I felt letting another party use your resources requires more than a little bravery, but the OpenLearn projects showed the potential open resources have in widening participation.

“All that Twitters is told” – an open story

A few weeks ago I went to Camden for an event run by the Open University’s Centre for Inclusion and Collaborative Partnerships on:

Widening Participation, Open Educational Resources and MOOCs: In Research and In Practice

It was a fantastic day. Many thanks to everyone who spoke and those who organised the event.

I was particularly interested in hearing about research undertaken into two projects in Scotland and Wales – using the Open University’s own OER service OpenLearn. It is difficult to find good evidence-based analysis of open-learning but the Open University really is doing what it says on the tin – ‘open learning innovation and research’. Innovation isn’t much use unless the experiments and first-steps are documented and can be evaluated.

You can access the presentations and find links to the projects discussed like FutureLearn and “The Reflection toolkit” via the website on http://www.open.ac.uk/about/inclusion-and-curriculum/research-and-scholarship-community-practice/seminars-and-events/widening-participation-open-educatio

But you would get a much better idea of what happened at the meeting via e-learning expert Eleni Zazani’s Twiitter collation on Storify



Quite apt really that Eleni produced such a clear picture of the meeting by re-versioning and sharing.


I use the word innovation all the time, so it was little inconvenient when someone challenged me to describe exactly what I mean by innovation. You know “innovation” is … well …”innovation”. Do you have to describe or define it? It happens. It is new. Change, renewal, evolution. In 1963 Theodore Levitt tried to capture the concept in his article “Creativity is not enough” – he suggested that ideas and technology alone did not succeed. What was needed was the implementation of ideas and technology. How can you use something? What can it do? What can it help do better? Or differently?

1963 Levitt picture


Levitt’s article still holds true across the fifty years or social and technological upheaval that now divide us. Innovation is the ability to translate creativity into something practical, to take technology and shape it to our social needs or imagine new ways of working or behaving with it. It is the practical extension of our imagination. To take a tool and imagine new ways in which it can benefit us. Innovation requires implementation, it needs people to embrace, need and drive it. Otherwise nothing will happen.



“Ideas are useless unless used”


Levitt, TT 1963, ‘Creativity is not enough’, Harvard Business Review, 41, 3, pp. 72-83, EconLit, EBSCOhost, viewed 12 February 2013.

It must be true, ‘cos I read it in the paper didn’t you?


Lionel Bart advised caution against believing that all that you read is true. And although it might not be prudent to base all your decisions on the advice contained in popular musical theatre, it is a cautionary tune worth humming whilst you browse the Internet. Not everything is what it seems, or should all information carry equal value. Much posted online lacks objectivity and may not be based on reliable research. So just how do you sift the wheat from the chaff? Useful though it is to hum a tune, it helps to have a tool to help with the process of evaluation and critical filtering. The Open University Library service suggest using a simple tool PROMPT,  a list of criteria that form a useful checklist for any research.

prompt criteria

The PROMPT framework allows you to check information  to evaluate Presentation, Relevance, Objectivity, Method of collection, Provenance and Timeliness. PROMPT.

It might also be useful to check your skills with the interactive tutorial  “Internet Detective” http://www.vtstutorials.ac.uk/detective/index.html

Internet detective


Although sadly this JISC funded resource is failing gradually in the last of the PROMPT criteria – ‘timeliness’ because it is produced by Intute (a free online service offering help with web resources for study and research) which lost it’s funding in 2011. The Intute site has been archived since 2011 and the site will disappear in 2014. But it is still worth a look as much of the general advice is still pertinent.


Sad – but as Lionel Bart said “Fings ain’t what the used to be”


Open University Library “PROMPT – Information skills for researcher” 2013 available from http://www.open.ac.uk/infoskills-researchers/evaluation-introduction.htm

Place, E., Kendall, M., Hiom, D., Booth, H., Ayres, P., Manuel, A., Smith, P. (2006) “Internet Detective: Wise up to the Web”, 3rd edition, Intute Virtual Training Suite, [online]. Available from: http://www.vts.intute.ac.uk/detective/

Justice League of eLearning


This week was the first week of an Open University Course I am taking in Openness and Innovation in eLearning. H817 it is part of an MA in Online and Distance Education. Rather like most further education courses this first week seeks to settle you in and let you get to know other students. Throughout the week new people have appeared on my computer through our student forum. Hailing from around the world and from different disciplines and educational backgrounds. It is a bit like the start of a feature film when the characters are introduced, although the Open University doesn’t insist on super-powers or safe-cracking abilities to join their groups. Images of Sheldon, Leonard and Howard from the Big Bang Theory kept leaking from my sub-conscious, you know that episode where they all dressed as the “Justice League of America”.


The first week of an online course is a bit like the opening scene of a movie – everyone arrives to join the adventure, giving a brief synopsis of their skills and character. Indeed the benefit of Open University courses are how they combine the breadth of experience of their students with the university’s own in online learning. One of the ice-breaking activities has been to post a picture that meant something or best signified our character. My daughter helpfully suggested I post a picture of Sheldon, sadly not based my cognitive ability but my easy-going interpersonal social skills. Hence my thoughts about the Big Bang Theory leaking into my blog from my sub-conscious. I posted a picture of my cat in the learning forum, it seemed safer to come across as a mad cat lady. But I am posting this from my favourite spot on the sofa, so you may draw your own conclusions which was more accurate.


So this week was a fun and sociable time to ease us into the technology and our new learning relationships. So imagine my dismay when I found the course team had left a few  traps hidden amongst the vegetation. Whilst I wouldn’t claim to have had my mind was on fire (Seeley Brown Adler 2008), the introductory readings did light a spark.  Amongst the comfortable welcome activities were some “sit back and think” moments to send me off to reflect on my learning. Not that surprising really since the theme of the first week had been “reflective learning” using Gibbs Cycle of Learning (1988). How to use this in an academic setting is very well explained in advice given to students by Queen Margaret University.

queen margaret


What had caused me to stop, reflect and question was the suggestion in H817 that blogs could be an effective place to continue scientific and academic research and development:

“A number of researchers use blogs to share ideas during the early stages of their work so that their research can be reflected upon in a public arena. This type of ‘publication’ supports contributions from others through the commenting facility and links to other sources (Weller, 2011). Kirkup (2010) suggests that different types of blog are produced by different academics, and Minocha (2009a) and Conole (2010) refer to the lack of professional guidance for academic blogging. An academic’s discipline may affect their blogging approach (Ferguson et al., 2007; 2010) but, as Ferguson et al. (2011) explain, ‘blogs provide scholars with an environment in which to observe, articulate and refine practices’.”

I hadn’t really considered blogs being used in this way. At once the style and purpose of my blog seemed a bit small and insignificant. Last year I mused on why I blogged and how it helped me learn, using some themes from my H800 course.

blogging post

To blog or not to blog

However I can see that although I blog about my learning my blog is not an academic journal. I wondered should change to publish and share my entire learning process online? I think not. Fiirstly would anyone be interested and secondly not all learning is a social process. Indeed many research projects would be damaged if data collection were compromised by advertising or communicating the process. Some sensitive research may be open to abuse and interference or pressure. The veracity and independence of research may damaged. Similarly having all your thoughts and personal learning as a public website would not be sensible or safe. Plus information is about organising data into something meaningful. Screen-dumping everything would not be useful. So I think I will use my blog to focus and discuss key issues, a place to analyse celebrate and for those eureka moments.

However I’m thinking of creating a personal e-journal using web technology that may be useful to organise my thoughts, collect reading and research. A electronic “Bat Cave”.  After all we eLearners need somewhere private to keep our stuff.



Seely Brown, J. and Adler, R. (2008) ‘Minds on fire: open education, the long tail and learning 2.0’, EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 43, no. 1, pp. 16–32; also available online at http://net.educause.edu/ ir/ library/ pdf/ ERM0811.pdf .

Gibbs, G. (1988) ‘Learning by doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods‘, Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development, Oxford Polytechnic. London: Further Education Unit. ISBN 1-85338-071-7.



Learning with YouTube

The trouble with discussing how YouTube is used for learning is just the sheer colossal size of the beast, it is huge, I mean big …REALLY BIG! As this Infogram by TechWelkin.com based on YouTubes own figures for 2012 shows. YouTube is the third most popular website and 4,000 million videos are watched each day on the site. But does the size of the website deter or encourage its use in teaching and learning? How is YouTube being used for learning, the range of content and learning video genres. What are the strengths and weaknesses of  YouTube as a learning technology? Are schools right to block the site to prevent children accessing unsuitable content or would it be safer to promote media literacy amongst students?

Just how interactive is our use of video-sharing technology anyway? How many teachers and learners post videos? Or are we just watching the box? Is it TV on a computer?

For today I thought I would start with the facts and figures … that is if they fit on the page



Well! I was on Twitter, not messing around you understand… but having a play, in between working hard, when I just happened to notice a Tweet from Maria Popova who writes for Wired UK and The Atlantic, but who mainly finds lots of interesting stuff and puts it together on a website called Brain Pickings http://www.brainpickings.org.  I love the site because it is full of wonderful and wacky things that she has found and it gives a real boost if you are feeling tired or jaded. I think it is meant as a teaching resource, but it is much too fun to be good for you.

On this occasion she was directing people to the Explore website http://exp.lore.com ,which she edits as well, for a fantastic little film by Vi Hart about flexi-hexagons once-again-mathemusician-vi-hart-makes-math. As a result I have been making flex-hexagons all afternoon, see if you can resist?