Abstract for my conference session

Three Steps to a  Collaborative Learning Environment: a module for teachers and trainers in the post-16 sector

This conference session will be of interest to anyone engaged in the teaching and learning process. It is designed for trainee teachers in the Further Education sector and in the post-16 sector in general but it looks at issues of pedagogy which go to the heart of teaching at any level.

Effective collaboration through openness

We will consider the impact of some aspects of openness on teaching and learning. I shall argue that implementing Weller’s “open state of mind” is perhaps the most relevant aspect of openness in the context of teaching in the post-16 sector. It is implicit that students and teachers will need to deliberately implement an approach where they are happy to be open about their methods, where they encourage their students to feed back to them about the learning process and where there is an understanding that the teacher is also a learner.

Have you considered the implications of an environment which encourages sharing of comments on each other’s ideas and work? Would such an approach be universally popular and effective? What are the pitfalls of expecting students to collaborate and be open with each other in this way? What has been your experience of sharing drafts on H818? Feel free to exploit the backchannels! Contact me on Twitter @JohnBaglow or in OpenStudio or on johnbaglow.wordpress.com so that your views can be incorporated in the conference.

Effective collaboration using technology

The Initial Teacher Education (ITE) module will look at how a range of technologies can play a part in the implementation  of a collaborative learning environment in the classroom and online. For example, students can collaborate using discussion forums, video conferencing, wikis, online bulletin boards and a host of other platforms. Peer feedback can use the same vehicles and can be almost instantaneous if necessary. There is great scope for achieving a sophisticated and nuanced feedback approach which makes use of screencasts, podcasts, online written feedback and online tutorials. There is the additional benefit that trainee teachers become familiar with these new technologies whether or not they adopt them.

Tailoring your approach to your students’ needs

it is fair to say that the student body which my trainees will be teaching is much less homogeneous than that at a university. For example, a colleague reports that written feedback, whether electronic or not, is invariably perceived as rather intimidating by his BTEC students. They much prefer oral feedback, whether face-to-face or in a video clip.

So whether you are a practising teacher who is keen to increase student engagement in the learning process or are just interested in finding out more about how technology has increased the options for introducing an open outlook in education, this presentation is for you.


Accessibility Issues

I am in the process of completing the ‘poster’ we are producing for our OU course but I seem to be spending a lot of time making the 2 minute powerpoint accessible:

  • despite my best efforts I have failed to add any Alt text to the images
  • I can’t remember what is considered best practice as regards fonts for accessibility
  • I have added a transcript of my narration simply by using a text box at the bottom of each slide. Is there a better way of doing this?
  • I have used Arial Unicode as my font as I remember reading once that it is best for students with dyslexia

I think I need to do this more often to learn the ropes. At present it is disproportionately time-consuming.

One step forward….

Much as I like my Mac, using it to produce materials for my online teaching has meant that I always have to remember to convert my files to Word and PowerPoint before uploading them to Blackboard. And also, it has not always proved easy to access students’ work when it is on PowerPoint. In particular, sound and presenter notes can be elusive when accessing them on my Mac.

But now my elearning colleagues in college have taken pity on me and have helped me download Office 365 Education so that now I can produce and access files more reliably.

There seems to be no getting away from the fact that most students seem to use Word and Powerpoint, and universal access to materials is surely a basic prerequisite of online learning.

The next job for the elearning wizards is to help me decide which apps are most likely to be universally accessible. For example, using Padlet recently I found that not all students could access it, and of those who could, not all could add a comment. Using screencast-o-matic for screencasts works pretty well but sometimes students can’t hear the sound – but that could be because they haven’t got sound set up correctly. The same issue can arise with synchronous online tutorials.



A la carte or fixed menu?

I think I am moving to a more nuanced position about how my students can get the most out of the online eAward. Although I do firmly believe that use of a range of online technologies contribute to the students’ learning experience I am learning not to be too dogmatic. In other words I am more relaxed about letting the students pick and choose from the menu of resources, activities and technologies.

•  For example, we have 3 ebooks on the VLE (Blackboard) and I encourage students to dip into them. One student has bought a print copy of one of the books and has suggested that in our pre-course information we give students the option  of buying the book

• Mind you, I am still trying to devise ways of increasing participation in the discussion forum. Some students say they feel discouraged when they see that a thread is started by a student who writes a scarily impressive post which they feel they can’t match. A suggested solution is for me to nominate a different student to start each thread. Let’s see how that works!

• the à la carte approach to online tutorials has had mixed success. It enabled students who were a bit nervous about the idea simply to opt out. I am going to hold sessions at fixed times each week, rather than letting students choose the time.

• ..and to return to my hobby horse of how best to give feedback to students, my own experience and the students’ own views are very much suggesting that an à la carte mix is the best way forward. For example, maybe oral feedback (synchronous or recorded) has immediacy and can be more subtle with its use of body language and tone of voice, but written feedback is more convenient and less time-consuming for the student if the feedback needs to be referred to more than once.

I wonder if online learning actually gives the students more à la carte choice than would be possible in a face-to-face setting.

Back Channels

Exploring the Association for Learning Technology website and catching up on this year’s annual conference has turned out to be more interesting than I expected. I wonder how I can make use of some of the features with my own work.

  • is there scope for me to build up a library of my own YouTube videos? I don’t make ‘presentations’ as such though. Maybe I could video snatches of my sessions?
  • the buttons linking to Twitter etc. This might help get to the people who are missing out on my fantastically interesting blog posts. How do I add these buttons?
  • really interesting is the page of links to blogs which comment on the conference. But some people do blog at excessive length, I think. Get your point across!
  • the ALTC monthly community call is a good idea for networking.
    Actually, I don’t go to conferences any more. That is partly because my college has a strong programme of in-house CPD and also because I work part-time now. I shall make more effort to engage with online resources like these from ALT.

Changing my mind about mind maps

I have long been quite sceptical about mind maps, partly because I remember finding them very fiddly to produce and also because they didn’t seem to repay the time spent on them.

That may be about to change. I have produced a mind map using Goconqr (formerly Examtime) which seemed pretty intuitive and which I think has actually helped me get an overview of the assessment requirements of the H818. I think it is possible that I shall be able to use this mind map to plan my work more systematically, keeping an eye on the many factors I need to bear in mind.

I don’t know if I shall be confident enough to use the facility which enables me to attach files to each node (box) of the mind map. In theory, that would be a great way of organising my bits of paper and files – but it remains to be seen if I go for that!

If you are interested, here is the mind map:


PEST analysis of my topic

I have never done a PEST analysis before – and after reading this you may well conclude that I still haven’t! In the time available I have just chosen a few sources of information and comment which perhaps throw just a little light on the wider context in which my study of feedback and collaboration in the teaching and learning process in Further Education.

  1. FE and its political and economic context:The paper LSIS makes the point that to underline its value to the economy, the sector “must broaden its approach”. This is largely in the context of local employment issues and catering for local needs but there is one aspect which it could be argued is in step with the idea of using online technology for increasing student interaction: “the young people of 2020 will have been brought up in environments which are “strongly participative” and “knowledge is becoming more participative”. I would see that as being in step with some of the characteristics of what I have been examining.

We are told “The more-for-less drivers are strong.” What are the cost implications of a feedback approach which encourages collaboration and uses technology to achieve it?

The OfSted FE Handbook stresses the importance of a range of features of effective teaching and learning such as:

  • the use of technology in assessment
  • the extent to which learners understand their progress towards their learning goals and what they need to do to improve
  • how well progress is recorded in feedback to learners
  • learners’ understanding of what they have to do to improve their skills and knowledge, which is checked and reflected in subsequent tasks and activities.
  • marking and constructive feedback from staff are frequent and of a consistent quality, leading to high levels of engagement and interest.

This does at least reinforce the idea that an effective feedback process is seen as important.

2.    Schroeder et al.(2010) take a broad look at the strengths and weaknesses of using social software in further education. Their list of software includes many of the vehicles used in online collaborative activities, such as discussion forums, blogs, video conferencing, podcasts and videocasts. They suggest that improved learning, enhanced communication between students and tutor and the building of social relationships are among the advantages. Weaknesses include what they call workload issues such as waiting for the contribution of others and  perceived limitations in the quality of interactions.

Buddery (2011) The further education and skills sector in 2020: A social productivity approach. London: Public Services Hub at the Royal Society of Arts, and Coventry: Learning and Skills Improvement Service, LSIA, 246.

Schroeder, A., Minocha, S. and Schneider, C. (2010) ‘The strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of using social software in higher and further education teaching and learning’, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26(3), pp. 159–174.


Openness is a state of mind

I am finding that my feedback practice and my thoughts about it are changing by the day. Here are some of my latest musings:

  • I think I have got past the point of feeling (subconsciously) that if I use flashy technology then my feedback is bound to be effective
  • my eureka moment of a few weeks ago is still going strong. The idea that feedback should permeate a course, rather than being an occasional event and should be tutor >student and even better student>student,  is dominating my thinking about my own teaching
  • is feedback anything to do with the openness agenda? I believe that in the widest sense of the term it certainly is.
  • some students resist the idea of expressing their thoughts openly. As Weller says, “openness is a state of mind”.
  • the H818 course is giving me the opportunity to examine my own state of mind: we are commenting on each other’s drafts
  • …and I can see that it is not as straightforward as I have argued in the past. On my teacher-training I sing the praises of peer assessment because it requires the students to understand the topic and to have an insight into the assessment criteria
  • ….but I am finding that some of the feedback I am getting is making me realise that my peers’ understanding of the criteria is different to mine. You could argue that that is the exactly the point of peer assessment.
  • For example, one peer suggested that I had too few references. That has got me thinking.
  • Another suggested that I should take more account of students who may not share my enthusiasm for wall-to-wall feedback. Good point.
  • And 2 peers thought my language was a bit too chatty in places. The problem there is that I try hard to avoid pompous language; perhaps I go too far in the other direction

My reason for taking H818 is mainly to engage with practices which I can incorporate into my own teaching. There is no doubt that this peer  feedback process is contributing to that process. So I am happy!

Not so fast!

My enthusiasm for audio and video feedback received a bit of a reality check today. I thought I would impress my students who have just completed an assessed task on the subject of assessment and feedback by giving them feedback using a screencast -o-matic screencast. I think the process of producing the screencasts went well and the combination of text highlighting and my supportive comments seemed to me to be very effective.

That may still turn out to be the case, but one student who had already expressed a preference for written feedback, has written a reflective journal entry extolling the virtues of written feedback despite my enthusiasm for the asynchronous video cast. She says she had to watch the video twice to take in my points and to be able to make a note of the ‘feedforward’ points which I included. She feels that written feedback would be more convenient to revisit in future.

She also made the point that I assumed that all the students would have the facility for watching a video clip – but surely any device, whether PC, laptop, tablet or phone would enable a student to hear, and usually watch, a video clip?

Maybe I should go along with the idea of offering students choice of feedback modes.