Making the Case for Online Learning

The FELTAG report recommends that we move to a 50% online model and I am sure a large number of educators ask “what’s the rush?” and “What are the benefits greater than what we already do?”. I could offer a number of answers, that are rather obvious, such as…

  • “What do we need to push us forward to catchup with our US cousins? another government mandate?” – It’s actually refreshing to have something worthwhile but with us ‘trailblazing’
  • “We can offer what we have to a diverse range of learners” – not to mention re-invigorate our own materials (your thinking of that colleague that has that photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopied resource!

But a recent TED talk by Daphne Koller says it all and much more whilst enticing top universities to put their most intriguing courses online for free with Coursera (cofounded by Andrew Ng). The lessons learnt make for interested observations. Daphne’s TED talk is certainly worth a watch-

What I did take way from the TED talk (given the complexity of requirements for Cousera) is that more than ever we will need Domain Experts (Educators) to organise, deliver and help develop the course materials with their strong understanding of teaching & learning but with a firm understanding of technology with the support of Technologists that can put in place the infrastructures and guide  others to what is possible whilst having a firm understanding of teaching & learning! The lines are becoming, and rightly so, blurred (no humming a certain tune please!) and we are going to be working in tandem for the good of our learners and not see technologists as a service.



Office Mix for Teachers

I’m not fully convinced of Mix, it does have its flaws, but I acknowledge it is in Beta and Microsoft are listening to user voices and opinions  – Customer Feedback for Office Mix

A great resource regarding Microsoft Mix for PowerPoint… where this PDF guide can be found and a wealth of resources to highlight its abilities and to promote among colleagues. Such as how staff development might utilise it with “PC/VDU users” or “E&D training” or college wide development for the student body (and staff) such as can be demonstrated here!



Subverting Technology


There is little that really gets under my skin (fact!) but one thing that does is those that moan about the fact that young learners will always subvert technology. Why does this get me so wound up? because it is not just the young and it is not even learners… “we” will subvert technology. Adults, and professionals, will not resist the opportunity to post obscure, cheeky or downright naughty messages on digital walls, messaging systems and collaborative technologies – it’s fun (I have done it myself).

But in the main I feel this is an excuse to not deploy tech. I don’t think I can think of any tech that has not been subverted…

  • digital walls
  • collaborative spaces
  • interactive smart boards
  • PC’s
  • paper
  • Chalk and….what? hang on,  paper?

Yes even those crisp sheets of A4 that we take for granted were chewed up, forced in a Biro and shot across the room on onto the ceiling, we persevere, we moved on. We did the same with smart boards. Yet we still use it as an emotional crutch to support our opinions that tech is disruptive. It is only if we let it be and it still comes down to fundamental classroom management – make clear your expectations, define your rules, enforce when they are breached (but appropriately) and today’s tech will be tomorrow sheet of A4!



Microsoft Showcase Classroom

(c) @GlennWoolaghan [Twitter]

Yesterday I spent the day with Microsoft looking at their Showcase Classroom. I really did not have a clear perception of what to expect other than looking at different mobile devices. So what did the day entail (and was it worth it!)?

Firstly it was free other than the cost of getting to London, Victoria and back for 10:00am – 3:30pm. A cup of coffee and a pain-au-chocolate later and we was shown a brief “Sway” presentation before the big reveal, doors slid open in our relatively small room, showing a much larger room with bright colours, comfy stool and giant bean bags. We grab a mobile device… this is going to be interactive! I pick a rugged grey “Stone” tablet with keyboard and a carry handle, colleagues pick HP tablets or Surface Pro’s – they all do the job they need to do.

We are asked to rate out the following out of four possible options: Don’t know what it it, aware, used a bit, used a lot using coloured post-it’s.

  • Windows 8.1 – its search capabilities and seamlessness
  • Yammer – social networking in a safe environment
  • Office 365 – buckloads, I even learnt about “Delve” (did you know a 365 account gives you 5 downloadable office’s?)
  • OneNote – the collaborative side utilising OneNote Classroom
  • OneDrive – limitless
  • Lync (Skype for Business) – connect to others and record sessions!

Now I was able to answer “used a lot” for all but that’s more a comment upon the organisation I work for and the projects I am involved in. I found the delivery that followed upon these technologies well thought-out and verging on seamless. a worthy day for the less tech proficient for sure. We had an outline of Mix and Sway (yes I felt an over whelming smugness) and then a hard-sell pitch for taking back-end services and pushing to our learners – progress, options, etc. (way off but lord-able goals). Finally we had highlighted windows 10 and  HoloLens.

I certainly found the day worthwhile but I took a number of key things with me…

  1. The organisation I work for are certainly embracing the tech discussed
  2. Although the room looked funky the backless “stools” were not nearly as comfortable as the “sit-in” bean bags
  3. Despite discussing how being untethered from the front of the classroom is ideal, it wasn’t applied (beyond a demonstration)
  4. A number of technologies will not work fully until we are in a 1-2-1 device position (such as OneNote)
  5. I cannot see myself bringing everything together under one platform, I am all for diversity in technology (Our D.A.V.E. intranet covers the likes of Delve and Yammer)
  6. Finally, there was a lot of discussion around learners subverting the technologies. More of this on a future post.


You Must Use Technology in The Classroom!

There is no disputing from me or anyone else I chat to about exploiting tech in regards to students being digital natives. My four year old has his own android tablet that he now uses having migrated from an iPad. He has been able to change the volume, listen to music and view photos, enter his password, delete apps (much to my wife’s annoyance) before the age of three. Now he downloads apps, renames folders (all to his name!), delights in screen casting to our two main TV’s and can hyandle his way around a Roku 3 with ease (his two year old brother is fast following in his footsteps!) and this was all before starting school in September last year. But….

How many times have we heard “you must use technology in the classroom”, a colleague asked recently “I am not a tech junkie, I am not up to speed with these things and I am afraid of them going wrong!” (certainly words to that effect). So we chatted about the obvious opening statement and that it was all too often bandied about without real on the ground discussions. I have certainly known organisations that chuck money at new systems to give the WOW factor, not all organisations have that sort of available funds. Now don’t get me wrong I am not saying that no discussions have taken place, the dark days of not allowing learners own devices (often superior to anything we could give them) to be used in the classroom environment to take pictures of diagrams, record activities and advice, set reminders for upcoming deadlines but the conversations regarding deploying and engaging with technology are few and far between if we are still having everyday well practised tutors scratching their heads to go beyond photos, video and reminders. As long as these following four points can fit a technology you will be fine.

  1. Curriculum first and foremost, tech just enhances it
  2. Seek support when you have identified a need, such as training, and practice/use it soon – you snooze you loose!
  3. Professional development should encourage existing skills to build upon, not highlight deficiencies as wlel as cover suggested plan B’s but should be easy and not attempt to turn the tutor into a fledgling helpdesk support. 
  4. Teachers need to plan for using technology in their classroom, including strategies to address things they think might go wrong (like we would for any other activity). These could be getting students to support with the tech or good old fashioned traditional methods to revert to.

Well I say “This is how you can use technology in the classroom, and not make it a headache!”. Get those digital natives to do what comes naturally to them and do the work (we only have to facilitate) or dare I say train the trainer? Some suggestions to ease you along…

No work at all (or minimal):

  • If your students have to keep a logbook – get them to blog!
  • Want to get them to write a succinct piece of work – within 140 characters, just like a text or tweet
  • Want to encourage discussion about today’s or an upcoming topic, create discussion using an obscure hashtag of your own, no need for twitter yourself. I just use my initials and some reference the learners will grasp #asctechinclass
  • Glossary or wiki on your VLE course page
  • QR codes or short URL generator such as linking to online resources
  • Online Galleries of student work such as Instagram
  • Learners using aggregators such as feedly or as information aggregators themselves by using pInterest
  • Online Galleries of student work such as Instagram


Some work required:

  • Poll everywhere, simply text wall or multiple choice questions you can set up – answers via text, tweet or on the web!
  • Quiz systems such as Socrative, you can even share quizzes with other users
  • Attendance and performance monitoring apps such as classroom dojo
  • Move from PowerPoint to Prezi
  • Podcasts (you knew that was going to come somewhere). My first attempt was simply audio recording a presentation I made of a session whereby a sick learner could catch up by following along with the powerpoint!


I hope this moves you forward 🙂