Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Back to basics with marking rubrics

I had the opportunity to work with the Sparsholt College ILT team on Nov 29 on behalf of the JISC RSC SE. They are also involved in the #jtdambassadors project, a joint project between the JISC RSC SE and JISC TechDis.

For the #jtdambassadors project, they have started taking videos of the students in the kitchens as evidence, and Mary's going to look at the easi-speak microphones for the learners to use. They will play back the videos for the learners so they can record their own description as a voiceover. We felt the 'offline' method was better as the learners could take their time recording their voices on to the easi-speak mic rather than feeling pressurised recording a soundtrack over the video. These can then be edited together using Movie Maker.

Sparsholt have a committed ILT team but elearning practice is still not as wide-spread as they would like. Our mission over the two days of training (the other day takes place 6 Dec) was to explore ways of breaking down the barriers to enable good practice to be embedded across the college.

The first barrier is the very significant IPD. (For those who don't know, IPD stands for Innovation Prevention Department.) Without a can-do person helping you with technicalities, organisations are really handicapped in their elearning developments. What ideas do you have for getting on with or around this department?

Despite this barrier, the team have managed to implement quite a few technologies. I saw some really good practice in the use of Mahara, and their vShare work is great. vShare is a video sharing site that they have installed on a College server and allows them to have their own version of YouTube. This means they can upload all the student work for assessments without it being in the Cloud. An example of some really good practice that they are developing is this: they are going to use last year's students' videos for this year's resources. So where the students used the videos last year to demonstrate their understanding of horse conformation, this year, they will use the videos to look at the retail value of the horses. It's a good way to recycle the student-created resources.

This led me to discuss assessment rubrics with them. It's amazing how a simple pedagogical tool like this can really augment what you are doing in elearning. We looked at some examples and discussed the students creating a rubric for peer-assessing each other's work. We also talked about providing the students with the marking rubric for a project as this will show them how they will be assessed by the tutor and allow them to understand how to achieve better quality work.

There are lots of resources on the web for rubric templates and how to create rubrics for assessment. Here's one resource that I'm going to explore further that gives lots of rubric-development resources for technology-enhanced lessons from On this page, there are resources on how to assess student contributions on Voicethread! (Voicethread has been a thread in my previous blogs.)

Sparsholt are also using SkyDrive significantly and finding it extremely helpful in sharing resources and for assignments. The IPD has been very helpful in getting this set up for the students. The only down side is that the teachers don't have accounts set up and have to create their own hotmail accounts to use it. It's not the first time I've heard of this practice and it really puzzles me - why would you set things up in such a way that didn't help the teachers to work with the students? It would be like creating classrooms where there is no space for the teacher to teach in.

Much of the day was spent looking at how you could work at the higher end of Bloom's taxonomy with simple tools like textwall and also the concept of moving people from the bottom to the top in a scaffolded way to help them. This may help the team to redesign their training so that those who are not so engaged with them can find a way to get on the first rung.

I shared with them the use of Voicethread to augment what they were already doing in video. We used ipadio to record some reflections and again, this was something they were very keen to adopt.

With both textwall and ipadio, they could easily embed these in their vle, allowing updates on the fly. They were keen on the ipadio app as it would allow the land-based curriculum tutors to easily make recordings outside of wifi range, then upload these when they were back in College buildings. They could also ring up with a basic phone and make a podcast recording that way.

In terms of gadgets, we looked at the Easi-speak microphone that I discovered at Treloars, and the ipevo camera that I had brought along. It's basically a usb 'webcam' with a stand and therefore lends itself to working like a direct projector. You can put all kinds of gadgets or even paper under it to project on the screen via the computer.

So what can i share with them next week that will help them to bring more staff on board with elearning? Clearly just having the tools available isn't enough to change the practice of a lot of the tutors. From my own experience, these are some ideas that may help:
1. They have just purchased a range of mobile technologies and where other technologies have not piqued the professional interest of their colleagues, these may interest some people. Same with textwall and the use of sms for learning. You just never know what technologies may trigger an idea in someone's head so having a range of tools and allowing people to adopt the one that interests them will start them on the first step of the journey.
2. Get the tutors who are doing good work to share their practice during staff development sessions - better yet if you have people who were hesitant adopters. Not all ILT practice has to be all-singing and all-dancing. The good use of a simple tool can make a great impact. The advantage is that the simple tool won't be difficult to learn either.
3. Implement a student mentor scheme where identified students have the role of helping the teacher with technologies in the classroom.
4. Use oblique methods like introducing rubrics for assessment. When it's clear to see how you might 'mark' a student's participation in a discussion forum, it doesn't seem as daunting to implement it as an activity.
5. Work on the mindsets of people. The fear of no longer being the sage on the stage can prevent people from changing their teaching practice. They stick to the transmission mode because that's where they think they have the advantage. We have to work on their mindset first and for that, I would refer you to Carol Dweck's book on Mindset.
6. Reduce the fear factor by letting people bring some technologies home with them to play with. Once they get over the fear of pressing the wrong button, it can really help to move them on.
7. Work on one person at a time. An individualised learning plan can do wonders for staff development. Starting some people off with learning to use Word or PowerPoint more efficiently (I recommend the JISC TechDis Toolbox!) or for greater accessibility can build up confidence in technology and provide a route into learning more.
8. A pincer approach from all angles so that the managers and students are involved in the picture. Build in a change of mindset as part of the person's goals for the year. Note it's not about the technology, it's about the pedagogy and the professional practice of the teacher. If the teacher has not developed his or her practice in any way at all through the year, shouldn't we be looking at this? Develop the reflective practitioner through the organisational culture. Educate the students on what makes a good lesson so that their feedback on their lessons isn't based on their low expectations from the past. Get them to design a lesson feedback rubric!

Yes, we're gong rubric-mad at Sparsholt and I think it's a good thing. I hope to find out from them in months to come how this idea has taken hold and hopefully helped them to progress their ILT strategy.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Rediscovering old friends and learning some new things

I visited some of my Jisc Techdis Ambassadors project colleges last week.

I worked with Epping Forest College as their Molenet mentor and was pleased to work with Vikki Liogier (@vikkiliogier) and Katheryn Lowe again. Since we last worked together, the college has continued to make great progress on developing their staff, with 16 e-pilot projects running in the college this year. The staff submit bids to have some technology to use and then contribute their case studies to share their experience. Their YouTube channel that I set up for them all those years ago is still being added to as a result of this method of CPD. Vikki is doing a great job of keeping the momentum going and continuing to use CPD ideas that work.

I had a productive update session with Vikki where we talked about how useful the Samsung Galaxy Note might be for some tutors who still want the ability to quickly make handwritten notes. The split screen function and the handwriting recognition is great on these devices. There's a 5.3" and a 10.1" version.

We also talked about for creating fun revision materials that can also be output as mobile resources. (I think @adamrsc has been promoting this)

I recommended for a simple quick hit for interactivity that most tutors would be able to use in class without having to spend a lot of time learning.

For tutors who already make videos, I recommended that she try This allows people to leave comments at any point in the video, creating a dynamic discussion list around the video resource.

Vikki is also keen to have more Textwalls for the teachers to use.

I spent the afternoon in Katheryn's class with her students, who are putting a video together to promote the College to other potential students. She's a lovely, engaging tutor who is keen to use technology with the learners and her idea for the project was to allow them to use some tool to storyboard the video before creating it. The learners took pictures and discussed these in class. They arranged the pictures in the order which they wanted for the video. At first, we thought about using for the learners to create the script, while advancing the powerpoint slides. However, with the varied needs of the learners, it occurred to me that using Voicethread would make more sense.

Voicethread is something I haven't used for a long time, but it's as good as ever. We easily uploaded a folder of pictures of the Canteen, for instance, and could record audio comments on each picture. You can also draw on the pictures. add text comments, or use the webcam to leave a video comment. Voicethread allows you to create a group of contacts who are allowed to comment on your thread.

In today's meeting at Treloar's, I showed them Voicethread as well for creating audio and video evidence for the learners. They wanted a good multimedia tool that would allow students using sign language to participate in the same way. Voicethread certainly allows this with the video commenting tool.

The tutors are raring to go with Voicethread and I look forward to seeing them again in January when they will have some progress to report!

At Treloar's, I was shown a great voice recorder, actually shaped like a microphone! It's called Easi-speak and it comes with Audacity software already loaded on to it.

After recording your voice, you can play it back straight away as the Easi-speak includes a speaker. You can charge it up via its usb connector and also edit and transfer the mp3 recordings. The familiarity of the microphone design makes it more user-friendly than your typical voice recorder. The fact that it saves recordings as wav or mp3 and has the editing software built in gives it another advantage. Add to that a usb connection and it's the bee knees! I've ordered one! I figure it will make a great Christmas present for my 8 year old who can record herself singing and play it back straight away. (I'm thinking I might be able to get her to practice her times tables and play them back…I can hope!)

The visits have been so productive in helping to work out what might be useful to these tutors. When you see tutors working in their own environments,  you are made aware of their needs in a way that cannot be described on paper or just over a conversation. When you are situated in the teacher's classroom, ideas are triggered on what tools might help them with a particular group of learners, in a particular learning situation and so on.

It's like trying to diagnose an illness over the phone or getting some help for your website problem by going to a company helpdesk. The staff who look after these work through a checklist and give you a generic solution. Sometimes this is enough and it is just what you need. More often than not, if your situation is unique, you have to go and see someone to get the right solution for you. Working face to face can prevent a misdiagnosis of the problem and save time in providing the right ideas to try.

So it's been a very productive week already, and then I go visit Sparsholt College, but let's save that for another blog post!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

@NikPeachey is a great guy to follow on Twitter and his Daily English Activities blog is full of great ideas and technologies to try. I came across through browsing his blog.
Here's a video I made on using Textivate:

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

rss feeds

I had a  conversation with Lisa Featherstone of JISC TechDis recently about RSS feeds and podcasts and the fact that although those of us who know about them and use them think the technology is the bees' knees, chances are your neighbour on the street doesn't understand it. They don't know how it can enrich their lives. How did we get to the point where the RSS logo is everywhere, but so few people use the technology? We didn't have that problem with email, did we?
Maybe it's to do with RSS readers. Browsers are a way into the web, we all know that, but even then, most people don't know their Firefoxes from their Googles (What's the difference? Isn't it all just Google?). They might double-click on IE to go to Google but to them, they've just gone to Google. The fact that there are different browsers is confusing. So adding RSS readers into the mix is just asking for trouble.

Then there's the whole debate about where RSS is going. Some of the big names are starting to share less : which is a worrying trend. When I was in a training session recently, teaching the teachers how to use RSS to grab content into Moodle, they loved the idea, and could also see how useful it would be in their daily lives.

So, talking about how useful RSS is, if you don't currently subscribe to James Clay's elearning stuff podcasts, why not? An example episode here starring myself and Dave Sugden: podcast #080

Monday, August 6, 2012

RSC Eastern e-Fair 5 July

I was invited to deliver a keynote at the RSC Eastern e-Fair at West Herts College on 5th July and I chose to use the title 'Standing on the shoulders of giants', partly because it was an Olympic-themed event, and partly because I wanted to acknowledge that all our fantastic ideas, tools and technologies for learning have come about as a result of the creativity and vision of others before us. We have such easy-pickings with the plethora of tools available for our use, we almost have a new problem - what to use, how to use it effectively and how do we get ready for the next thing?

The keynote can be accessed from the RSC Eastern web site:

and my slides can be accessed at

From the feedback that I received from the delegates who came to talk to me, the picture of the desire path, more than anything, really hit home the idea that we were perhaps laying down systems, structures and ways of access that weren't the ones that our learners wanted to use. There is so much that we need to learn from other areas like psychology, motivation, procrastination, flow, addiction, cognitive behavioural therapy etc. I've certainly found that my range of 'giants' are not just e-learning experts like Maria Andersen (@busynessgirl) and Tom Barrett (@TomBarrett) but also people like Martin Seligman (Positive Psychology) and Daniel Pink (and his Motivation 3.0 ideas). My list of people keeps growing as one thing leads to another and I'm loving this connected world of learning and development, so much so that I have now committed to gaining my CMALT qualification (but more on that another time).

@xlearn with @joedale
It's a real privilege and pleasure to be invited to share my musings with my peers.  And it's a real bonus to meet with one of my 'giants' in the flesh: @joedale !!

I was also very taken with the ideas of the 'cottage industry' exhibitors, Tabtoob and eScreens, who shared a stand demonstrating their simple product ideas. These people were motivated enough by their ideas that they turned it into reality and a business. We could all do with their entrepreneurial spirit rubbing off on us!

West Herts College was one of my MoLeNET colleges, so I was pleased to meet up with familiar faces like Andrew Wakeford and Charlie Williams (the latter from Oaklands College). As always, when I get the chance to find out where people have travelled on their e-learning journeys, I learn new things or get reminded of paths that I have forgotten about. I love these triggers and although I get almost too many of them on Twitter, there's nothing quite like having a real chat with real people, to reinvigorate you and top up your enthusiasm meter!!

And so it was that the serendipitous after dinner discussion (the night before the event) was like a quenching of a deep thirst that I didn't even realise I had - to reconnect face to face with colleagues who have journeyed with me for years was like reaching an oasis in a desert (Ron Mitchell @Ronm123, Alistair McNaught @alistairm, Shri Footring @shrifootring). Along with Thomas Rochford, our conversation meandered from topics like waves and oscillations to culture and teaching. It just flowed!! It would have made an epic podcast and I'm sorry to say that we missed a great opportunity to share that with anyone who might want to listen, and I didn't even take a picture! I was too immersed in the moment to digitise it, I'm afraid! But it made me determined to get more of my colleagues together in future for networking and updating sessions like this - we almost don't get enough of an opportunity anymore with the demise of so many of the national training programmes.

So a month on, and for me, the highlights of the e-Fair were:
  • the unflappable and lovely RSC Eastern staff who pulled out all the stops to organise a great event, with the provision of a diary room, QR code treasure hunt, prizes, humour, showmanship...
  • the great venue - West Herts College's new buildings looked and felt like a great learning space, very inspiring for the learners and staff coming through their doors
  • the enthusiasm of all the people running workshops, show and tells, and exhibition stands - they were so pleased to share what they knew and to expand the knowledge of others
  • the warmth and friendliness of the delegates, who gave lots of feedback and engaged with everything that day
  • the connections and re-connections with people, reminding me that there is a layer of communication that cannot be digitised and put into 140 characters or a recording.
Thank you very much @rsceastern for asking me to be there. The pleasure was all mine :-)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Desire lines

I've just been researching the concept of 'desire lines'. I was trying to find the metaphor for the way we shoehorn our learners or teachers to use the institutional systems and then complain when the uptake is low. This picture illustrates the problem so well:

picture of shortcut across grass
cc image by Alan Stanton

We have the paths that our learners and teachers are making on the internet: using Facebook, Twitter (maybe), YouTube, SMS, WhatsApp etc and usually via a mobile device. And then we have the vle, which is the equivalent of the concrete path that is laid down at right angles to how we want to 'walk' through resources, how we want to communicate, how we want to access the areas that most interest us.

How can we find a happy medium? A blog post by Steven Bradley ( gives us some technical ways to figure out some of this by tracking what people search for, click on and the paths taken by them through your site. But I think, by then it's too late - you'll already have adopted the most popular open-source or commercial SYSTEM and you're trying to bend backwards to make it do what you want (Ring any bells, those of you who worked with me on a recent project?). At least I hope you bother to try to find out what people want to do on your site.

He also shares with us how Twitter grew and developed as a result of what people wanted: Twitter users developed the hashtag, the @replies,  retweets and so on. Interesting read!

So is there a solution to our 'How do we increase the uptake of our vle' problem? You've got to start with something and then maybe use an Agile approach to developing it. (I will have to discuss Agile in another post!). Are the current systems we use flexible enough? Are we interested enough to try to flex them? Or are we just going to install it, choose the prettiest theme and demand that people use the paths laid down by default?

For those who run out-of-the-box solutions, how much of the original problem has been solved and how many new ones have taken their place? Vles have been around for a decade now, and we're still trying to 'increase its uptake by staff and students'.  People, are we asking the right questions????

Lots of food for thought. A red rag to our bull (@JamesClay) on the VLE is dead theme ;-)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Safari Reader

If u have an iPhone/iPad, and you are browsing the web on Safari, click on Reader in the address bar and see what happens :-) Not all sites are accessible though.

The Reader button extracts the main content into a text only version, with the ability to enlarge the font size further. This really helps if you are reading a cluttered website on your phone browser and you are finding the font too small, or you zoom in and find you have to keep scrolling horizontally because the text doesn't reflow. 

Sent from Lilian's phone

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Touchscreen gadgets

Just back from Singapore where the proportion of iPhone users is way above the norm in the UK (status symbol more likely than user-interface being the reason for this).
And there were many people walking around having phone conversations on their Samsung Galaxy Tabs. These look way too big to be held up against your ear, lol. Looked like a comedy phone.
However, some of my friends prefer the large screen for easier reading. Another friend had the font size on her iphone messages so large I'm sure someone could read them across the room ;-)
I must confess I now take pictures of text if it's too small and zoom in on the iPhone to read it!
One downside to all this great resolution or screen size is the way the battery drains within a day, sometimes not even lasting a day.
Maybe they can have an OS that switches to monochromatic basic texting function only to help people stay in touch when the batteries are nearly drained...

Sent from Lilian's phone

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Seth Godwin's manifesto - Stop Stealing Dreams

I've been reading Seth Godwin's manifesto, Stop Stealing Dreams, and it makes me want to send it to every educator in the country. His ideas and examples are set in America but for any country wanting to develop young people for THEIR lives and THEIR world, it's a vital read. Why are we still running a school system developed for another era?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Creating jpeg quizzes with PowerPoint

Now that PowerPoint allows you to easily save your slides as jpegs, it's a simple job to create these quizzes for mobile phones or any mobile device using PowerPoint. Just watch for the way PowerPoint numbers the slides so that you don't get caught out with slide1 being followed by slide11 (rather than slide2). To prevent this, you may want to re-number the slides slide01, slide02 etc.

Download the resources here.

My previous post on creating jpeg quizzes using MS Paint can be found by clicking here. It also contains the videos showing the quiz on a mobile phone.