eBooks: how do they work?

Some of my programmes are face-to-face, classroom-based, others largely online. For students on both platforms, access to sources of information and research is important. A few years ago there was a conflict between the online nature of a programme and the fact that students still needed to attend a library to access those sources. With the advent of ebooks that is not really an issue (though there will still be a huge role for physical books for a long time yet, especially as some students express a preference for hard copy and in the interests of inclusivity we can’t ignore that.)

Anyway, all of this is just a preamble to me wondering how other tutors go about helping their students use ebooks effectively and painlessly. Has anyone produced brief guidelines about how to navigate your way via the different routes to ebooks? My own college is working hard at this and access to ebooks is generally effective, but students tell me it is confusing that there are so many different publishers with different systems. How do you help your students?


Emerging from Hibernation

Google Docs v Powerpoint

After I finished my OU course looking at using emerging technology in class and as part of online learning I took a bit of a break from blogging but although it’s cold outside the elearning urge is coming back to life.

I am very keen on getting my students (trainee teachers and trainers) to produce work collaboratively. For example, one of my programmes gets them working together in class for a day, producing one joint response to some questions about how they teach inclusively. They produce a joint end-product, usually a long powerpoint either with presenter notes for adding extra detail or even a voice-over. I believe that the peer learning which goes on when the students are hammering out their joint response to the questions is really excellent.

Two students in another group were given the option of producing a collaborative outcome, and they chose to use Google Docs. I have always thought it was perfectly reasonable for me to insist on my trainee teachers using Powerpoint but I shied away from suggesting anything like Google Docs as it requires users to be registered with Google – and I know that some of my students would see that as a barrier.

I would like to hear from you if you have used ppt, Google Docs,Padlet or any other platform to get your students collaborating, whether in class or online.

Notes from the Virtual Chalk-face

What have I learned from running sessions with my eLearners in the virtual classroom? Here are my latest thoughts:

  • getting everyone to meet me in the virtual classroom for a one-to-one session before the course proper was underway helped iron out any techy problems attendance is better if we meet at a regular time each week
  • don’t go over 30 minutes
  • virtual sessions need planning
  • rather than just responding to questions on the day, it seems to work better if I choose an aspect of the current assessment task to explore in the virtual session
  • it is really important to maintain a cool, confident manner and not be put out if there are technical problems
  • it can be off-putting if I interrupt a student and we then spend several seconds telling each other to carry on. I think I should try to organise the sessions so that each student talks more and is not interrupted by me. Easier said than done! I think I should use the ‘raising your hand’ facility in the same way as the students

What next?

  • always have a slide or file as the basis of the session, rather than just talking
  • find out if I can share a page from Blackboard as well as sharing ppt and pdf files
  • decide my recording policy: my college is keen for me to record every session (I think just so that there is a record ) but I don’t want to clutter the site with recordings of sessions which are of variable value.
  • make more use of the chat pane. For example, a student recently lost the use of his microphone but could hear the rest of us, so he continued to participate effectively using the chat pane
  • get student access to the virtual classroom without my needing to be there, so that they can work on collaborative tasks
  • should I plan virtual sessions using the same pro forma that I use for classroom sessions? I often argue that effective online teaching is based on the same principles as classroom teaching so using the same pro forma would support that idea.

I would be pleased to get your comments on any of these points! We could even have a virtual meeting if you wish!


Is 90% of my feedback wasted?

Having binged on the research findings about the process of making feedback effective I have been trying to put some of these findings into practice, always tempered by the fact that most of the research is based on H.E. whereas I work in F.E.

I am grateful to @CarlessDavid for his steady stream of tweets. He goes one step further than many tweeters by adding to the basic tweet a link to a paper or source of information. That helps keep me up-to-date but I still have to adjust any ideas or suggestions to suit the world of F.E.

In recent weeks I have wondered:

  • should feedback be written or spoken?
  • what is the optimum amount of feedback? Should the tutor limit themselves to just 2 or 3 points?
  • is it really possible to turn the feedback process into a dialogue?
  • 90% of my feedback is wasted but I don’t know which 90%
  • would group feedback be (almost) as effective as individual feedback – and much less time consuming?
  • or should all members of a group be able to share each others’ feedback?
  • should we give students choice about which mode of feedback they receive?
  • how can we ensure that feedback becomes feed forward?
  • should students self-assess at the point of submitting work?
  • what mechanisms can we use to encourage students to respond to written feedback? (I encourage entries in their reflective journal, for example)

What do you think are the 3 most important elements of an effective feedback process?

No gain without pane: using chat for interaction

As part of the Open University’s M.A. module “The Networked Practitioner” I have been taking part in the online conferences with keynote speakers and 15-minute inputs from fellow students. Using Blackboard Collaborate, in its guise as OU Live, on 3 occasions 15-20 people from round Britain and further afield got together to present input and to discuss that input.

What have I learned from this activity?


  • the system certainly worked.
  • As long as individual participants had set up their own sound system correctly, we could all hear each other well and without frustration
  • Slides were all displayed without problem, having been uploaded in advance to the tutor.
  • I did not manage to upload a video clip in advance as there seemed to be a permissions issue. I would need to work on that.
  • The solution was to paste a URL into the chat pane and that seemed to give most people access to my clip.

Tutorial support:

  • the secret is for there to be lots of detailed preparation by tutor and participants alike. Our tutors Dave Martin and Simon Ball modelled excellent practice!
  • tutors offered practice sessions in advance; these were invaluable.
  • the tutor’s role is important not only for overseeing the technology but for ensuring an orderly process.
  • a calm, unflappable manner is very important, conveying the feeling that whatever goes wrong there will be a fix.


  • I firmly believe that interaction is the key to successful online learning
  • In a conference it is hard to avoid the lecture, with the audience largely remaining passive. This runs contrary to what my trainee teachers are encouraged to do.
  • ..but if I was delivering formal input I would make maximum use of the emoticons (applause etc), hand raising icon and the poll facility.
  • Bart Rientie’s use of the chat pane was a revelation to me. He encouraged us all to respond to his points in the pane and he was able to react to what we wrote immediately and frequently. He gave us choices about his presentation and we were able to indicate our preferences. Why doesn’t everyone do that?


  • I noticed that there was a tendency for some participants to engage with the content on Twitter during presentations.
  • The tweets were always professional and commented on aspects of the conference content.
  • I did the same in the first conference but found that in my efforts to make meaningful tweets I wasn’t concentrating on the presentations properly.
  • So in future I shall stick to the chat pane when I am in the audience, especially having seen its amazingly skilful use by Bart Rienties
  • The chat pane questions were all collected by the tutor and made available to the presenters so that the discussion could be continued online.
  • You may find some of these points interesting:  https://johnbaglow.wordpress.com/2016/02/16/three-steps-to-a-collaborative-learning-environmentthe-discussion-continues/


Please comment on these points! What tips for achieving online interaction do you have?


Pedants are we?

In the good old days there was a word ‘medium’ which had the plural ‘media’. Marshall McLuhan’s ‘The Medium is the Message’ is an example of that usage. We talked about the media, by which we meant TV, newspapers and magazines, music CDs and video. Then along came Facebook and Twitter which are more recent examples of media. So far so good – but now people say ‘ Social media is very influential’. Should we just shrug our shoulders and put it down to the evolution of the English language?

And have criteria gone the same way? In the grammatically correct past you talked about one criterion and two criteria. But, just like media, criteria seems to have become a singular noun e.g. the criteria for being accepted is very challenging.

Should I be worried?

Three Steps to a Collaborative Learning Environment:the discussion continues


My conference input enabled me to explore ways of getting students collaborating and in the process giving each other feedback and comment. Some interesting points were raised by the other participants and I would be pleased to hear what you think about these aspects of collaboration:

Is the resistance to collaborative approaches because of how trainee teachers are trained — or about their own educational experiences as students? Or something else? Is a change of culture needed if teachers regard feedback as a judgement?
I think that if you are not used to working in a way which means you have to comment on other people’s ideas and work, it must take a while to get used to it. What do you think?

Are schools leading the way? One delegate said: “I have been amazed at peer feedback activities. They’re in every lesson”

Should we assess feedback and collaboration as important 21st century learning skills?
I hadn’t thought of that as an argument in their favour – I was coming from the belief that peer feedback and collaboration result in more-effective learning. Do you think it is a kind of basic skill?

Do you give students a ‘crib’ for feedback? I do find that the trainee teachers need to practise giving feedback in the fairly formal setting of the micro-teach, when they feed back on their peers’ sessions. One of the reasons giving this kind of feedback is valuable is that to give it you have to have a reasonably good grasp of the criteria for judging a session; these are complex and have to be learned.

Is Padlet the best tool for (online) collaboration? I think you have to strike a balance between making use of the many new technologies and running the risk of intimidating some learners. I have had some good successes with getting students to work together on Padlet, but as I said there are many more-accomplished practitioners than me around. My main vehicle are discussion forums, online meetings and swapping slides.

How do you get your students working together with each other and with you?

Recognition at Last!

Clear evidence at last for my skills as a networked practitioner. My VW garage sent me a video the other day, showing me what they were doing with my car so I replied to them with a video clip. When I picked up the car they gave me an Oscar. I’ld like to thank the OU, my tutor Dave Martin, Simon Ball, my peers on H818, the elearning team in college…..Oscar

What do you call your students?

Have you noticed that the issue of gender identity seems to be coming to the fore? A recent BBC programme talked about the ‘gender continuum’ and looked at some of the differences between gender and sex. The programme memorably suggested that sex was what was between your legs and gender was what was between your ears. But then pointed out that it was possible to have female chromosomes and male genitalia.

Why am I wondering about this? Well, because I recently spoke to a school teacher who was in the habit of addressing her class as ‘ladies and gents’, but recently one of her pupils took exception to this and asked why she didn’t use a gender neutral term. So that is my question: how do you address your students? If there really is a gender continuum rather than clear categories is this something we need to think about?

I know that some teachers address their students as ‘guys’, which seems to have become slightly non gender-specific in the plural – but if I said I met a guy recently, wouldn’t you nevertheless think I meant a male?

What do you call your students?

Taking my own medicine.

A large part of what I am advocating in my OU project is that the learning process can be much improved if students are encouraged to work collaboratively. When this goes well, students will not only work towards a joint outcome, which in itself can be a valuable process. Along the way they will exchange information and opinions on each others’ ideas. They will express their anxieties, their wishes and their doubts and they will seamlessly and continuously move between all of these aspects of the process. They will test ideas against each other and will arrive at some sort of a consensus.

So how does it feel to be taking some of this medicine myself? When sharing my work I have had some very helpful comments about:

  • my peers’ ability to access my materials and the need for me to use platforms which are readily accessible
  • whether I was getting my message across
  • the relevance of my topic to my peers
  • passages which could have been better expressed

Does the medicine work?

On the whole, the process has been formative, helpful and has forced me to clarify exactly what my aims were. The tone of comments has been very professional. That is very important. When someone gives me feedback, I am almost subconsciously asking myself if I should be influenced by their views. Does this peer sound like someone who has similar values and experiences to me? Is it an advantage of online collaboration that such personal judgments are pushed more to the background than would probably be the case in face-to-face teaching? I think I have detected a tendency not to argue with peers’s comments. Is that a problem? I don’t think so.

And we are also doling out the medicine too. I think evaluating a peer’s work is every bit as challenging as marking and giving feedback in my role as a tutor. You are conscious that your peer shares the same anxieties as you. You don’t want to give excessive praise and you want to avoid concentrating on negative comments. At the same time, unlike the tutor who has a higher position in the feedback hierarchy, you can’t be sure that you are applying the right criteria.

Has the medicine worked for you?