Podcast: What’s in your #EdTech bag (#EdTechRations)

Nearly two years ago I was invited to appear on Vicki Davis’ Every Classroom Matters podcast to talk about self-publishing books and to give advice to teachers and educators on what to do and how to do it. Last month I was again invited by Vicki to appear on her new ’10-Minute Teacher Show’, this time to talk about our choice for technology we choose to buy for ourselves, for own use and our own bags/pockets. This follows up on my last book, the ‘Emergency Rations #EdTechRations: What’s so important we can’t leave it at home?

David Hopkins, author of Emergency Rations #EdTechRations: What’s so important we can’t leave it at home?, talks about the educational technology that educators around the world carry in their bags and pockets.

In the podcast Vicki and I briefly discuss bags, pockets, cables, charging, devices, technology, connectivity, connected lives, and many many more EdTech-relevant things.   

Listen to the podcast on the link here – What’s in Your Edtech Bag: Trends and Tools from Educators and the World – or on the embedded player below:

It’s not a race

Two tweets have stood out for me this week that I want to connect. One from Seth Godin (my tweet, his blog post – please read it). Seth is “a teacher, and I do projects”. The other tweets was from Alejandro Armellini, Dean of Learning & Teaching at the University of Northampton.

Here are the tweets. 

Why, I hear you ask, these two? Well, for me, they both link back to the same thing … the appropriate and considered approach to using and implementing new technologies or new systems for learning. That learning can be a classroom, a library, online, coffee shop, etc. It doesn’t matter.

Seth wrote about giving up when you get behind, about never reading as many books as someone else, about website traffic so just give up:

“Should you give up?
There are people who have read far more books than you have, and you will certainly never catch up.
Your website began with lousy traffic stats, in fact, they all do. Should you even bother?
The course you’re in–you’re a few lessons behind the leaders. Time to call it quits?”

Linking this to Ale’s tweet, about technology enhancing learning. About the default setting of always looking to the new, the shiny, the different, the ‘cutting-edge’ or ‘leading research’ in designing and delivering meaningful or quality learning. For me these two are linked … we should not always look ahead at new ideas, ideals, or technologies, just as we should not always look back at try and stay 2-steps behind everyone else. We, the learning technologists, the instructional designers, the learning and development managers, the content delivery teams, should look both forward and back – learn from our journey to date (successes and failures), learn about where we are, learn about where we could be going.

More importantly, we should also be learning about how to get there. How do we take an existing course, module or unit and make it better. Who defines what ‘better’ is? Who decides whether it’s to strip out an activity because it didn’t’ work (was it the activity or the students? Let it run again and see if a different cohort has a different experience) or to update an activity because it relies on ‘old(er)’ technology. How do we decide what to take out or leave in? Do we rely on our knowledge of what is pedagogically ‘sound’ and ignore what the students didn’t ‘like’? Is liking an activity or it being popular enough of a motive to keep it in the course if it’s not getting the results? 

Ultimately, we (faculty, learning technologists, instructional designers, etc.) have to make many of these decisions based on our experience of what works (or not), and of what is good pedagogical practice (or not). New technology solutions, be they hardware or software, should still be rigorously tested and trailed to make sure it fits the learning, the policies for 3rd party tools, data compliance (who mentioned GDPR?), etc. 

It’s not a race. We’re not trying to do something before someone else does, or we shouldn’t be, and we’re not trying to beat someone to the finish line … in fact we’e all got different ideas of what the finish line is anyway. The key is and always has been to find a good use of technology that fits the intended purpose or intended learning, that is appropriate for the audience and their technical competence, that is appropriate for the time for study and subject to be studied. 

Let’s not rush to force technology, of any strand, into the learning. It’s better to understand both purpose and implementation, work on the foundation to build a solid stable solution upon, get them both right and the technology will take a backseat for the actual learning.

Image source: Chrissy Hunt (CC BY-NC-ND-2.0)

The moral bias behind your search results

Awesome video, thought I’d share it here for you. From 2015 …

“Search engines have become our most trusted sources of information and arbiters of truth. But can we ever get an unbiased search result? In this thoughtful talk, he (Andreas Ekström) calls on us to strengthen the bonds between technology and the humanities, and he reminds us that behind every algorithm is a set of personal beliefs that no code can ever completely eradicate.”

TED Talks: The moral bias behind your search results

Awesome little PowerPoint tip

If you’re a regular/power user of PowerPoint you’ll have learned a number of shortcuts and tips to help you get the most out of it. Standard keyboard shortcuts work across all operating system applications, such as Ctrl-C (copy), Ctrl-A (select all), Ctrl-I (italics) etc. 

Hint: If you don’t use keyboard shortcuts it saves a lot of mouse action (and, for me, RSI in my wrist from relying on the mouse too much). Use these links to learn (more) about them – Windows or Mac. The difficulty comes when, like me, you have to switch from one OS to another on a daily basis .. your fingers get used to the action and position on one keyboard then have to almost re-learn them later that day for the other OS. How annoying!

Anyway, back to the PowerPoint tip … If, like me, you have to work with other people’s PowerPoint files, the great thing about them is that the author can record or embed audio narration on the slide. That’s great, until you need to ID (a term I’m learning, which  means to ‘perform instructional design work on the resource’) the slide from a static experience of watching or listening to the presentation to an engaging learning experience.

Here’s a tip I’ve learned about stripping the audio out of the PPT file … from here:

  • Save the PowerPoint file as a PPTX file.
  • In Windows explorer change the file suffix from ‘.pptx’ to ‘.zip’.
  • Extract the files from the ZIP file.
  • Open the extracted files. You should find a folder called ‘media’ in the folder called ‘ppt’.
  • Et voilà … a list of audio M4A files from all the slides that had audio recorded on them.

This isn’t the end of the story here though, as the file names for the audio files are just simple ‘media1.m4a’ and ‘media2.m4a’. You will still need to revisit the slidedeck and change the filenames so they either reflect the slide they have been extracted from, or another meaningful naming convention that you use. You may also find it useful to work on the audio files to either clean them up and/or change the files to MP3 format … I use Audacity for that kind of stuff.

Image source: Frédéric BISSON (CC BY-2.0)

Improving your (Blackboard) course

Here are a few of my initial thoughts on finding myself a Blackboard user again after a four year absence. These are based on my recent experience in picking up on courses designed by others, co-designing courses with Keypath colleagues and eight years as a Bb user and those memories of how frustrated I used to get with Bb! Think of this as a check-list for your course.

  1. Descriptions – There is no reason why a folder, file or activity does not have even a short descriptor available. It takes such a short time to write one, so do it. Give the student a reason to click the title (no, ‘click here’ does NOT count!). What is the file or folder about? What do you expect them to do with the information or activity when they click the link? Put the link contents into context of the course, unit or week subject. Give them a purpose!
  2. Naming convention – Adopt a naming convention for your files and folders, and stick to it. Ideally this should be used consistently across the whole course or programme, not just your own modules. Think about the file or folder or activity in isolation … which looks better: ‘week_1.pdf‘ or ‘Accounting1.pdf‘ or ‘MD001_Week_1_Acocunting_Introduction.pdf‘. 
  3. Dates – If you’re re-using a Bb course and have rolled it over (see, I’m getting right back into the terminology here!) then please, please please check and re-check any and all dates? This is one reason why I never liked to use dates for adaptive release on content as this would make the rollover such a massive job, with a very real scope for some adaptive release settings to be missed. Get it wrong and students won’t be able to see or use your course. Also double check the grade centre for any and all dates. If in doubt, delete previous assignments and start from scratch.
  4. Links – Check all links, and not just to see if they work. Check they go to the right website or webpage and that it is still the right page/site you need (check for errors too). If you link to other Bb or institutional pages these are also available to your new students; either they need permission or you should move/copy the page to somewhere where they can access it.
  5. Formatting – Use the textbox for formatting your text, don’t rely on formatting copied across from Word. In fact, make sure you don’t by pasting any copied text into the HTML aspect of the textbox, which will not copy and formatting, then using the formatter for all formatting. Nothing annoys me more than seeing changes or inconsistencies in font, font size, indents, bullet or lists, etc. A little bit of attention at the start can improve your course no end.
  6. Contact – Are the right details available for the academic teaching and administrative teams? Have any changed? Can you put any extra content here like the time a student should expect a response (24/48 hours?), weekend or out-of-office replies, etc.?

Improve your course with images, descriptions, videos, assessments, interactions, etc. More here
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  1. Images and graphics – Use images and graphics carefully, make sure you attribute them properly, load them to the course content collection to be sure they’ll copy across in rollover. if possible always talk with your friendly ID or LT, they’ll help either find them images or design new ones for you ;-)
  2. Video – Consider video. Whether you record your own (with or without professional support) or use one of the many that are available online (YouTube, Vimeo, TEDTalks, etc.) but be sure to check the owner and copyright status of the video. If user ‘jonny5alive‘ loaded a BBC news item then odds are it wont be available online for very long. If the video is from the legitimate BBC account, then it’s a good one to use. This is not just about copyright, it’s also about making sure the video is less likely to disappear mid way through your module and you have to scramble around trying to find an alternative. If nothing else, record a short module intro AND a short intro to each week/unit. Not only will this be something you can reuse next year, it’ll also be a way for your geographically scattered students to engage with you and build a relationship. I’ve written more about videos in learning here.
  3. Activities – Whether your module space is for purely online learning & delivery, blended learning or your campus-based students, you can still make use of the Bb course area for activities or, if not the activity itself, explanatory and help guides to help students find and partake in the activity.
  4. Assignment – As with ‘dates’ above, check and re-check all aspects of the assignment submissions, especially how and when it’s available. Check with the academic and admin teams about grades, feedback, etc.

All the above are iterative stages to creating a working, competent, consistent, relevant and engaging course/module space for the students.

Image source: Domiriel (CC BY-NC-2.0)

Blackboard. Again

It feels like I’ve come full circle, that the last four years didn’t happen, but I’m back as a Blackboard (Bb) user again. 

My new role with Keypath Education, an online program management partner, has me working as an Instructional Designer in their course design and development team on programs for their partners. Specifically I’ll be working on the Aston University projects, and that means Blackboard. Again.

So. what’s changed? Well, I’ve obviously heard of some developments through my networks on Twitter and LinkedIn, as well as a visit (or two) to the Durham Blackboard Users Conference. My last real ‘user’ experience of Bb was at Leicester, who are still Bb users as far as I know, and it was a confusion of templates, webdav folders, Institutional vs faculty vs module vs school content, tool availability, library services. I still can’t believe the opening page a student sees is, more often than not, an empty screen of possibility – such as wasted opportunity (yes, I know you can change the opening page for a module, but so many didn’t and still don’t). And don’t get me started on the grade centre or course calendar or announcements! Or those discussion fora/forums.

So, is it any different now? I think it’s too early to tell but the interface hasn’t changed, the underlying infrastructure is the same, the method for displaying and cataloging the courses and content is still not very user friendly, error messages are still not informative or helpful. Yes, I am a little critical, but it’s only through highlighting these issues or opinions can providers such as Bb take on board the view of the user or administrator and work to fix or improve their product.

I apologise in advance, I will become a Blackboard bore again, I will ask lots of questions, and I will pester you all with Bb tales, tips and hints. And I hope to see some of you at Bb events again soon (I missed you)!

More again soon.

Image source: Aileen G S (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

GDPR and your blog

On May 25th, a new set of rules and regulations comes into law for UK and EU online data. This is GDPR … the General Data Protection Regulation.

  • This isn’t going to be an all-out or in-depth analysis of GDPR or what you need to do, but it hopefully will get you thinking and acting on your own blog in time for the May 25, 2018, deadline.

In short the new GDPR regulation will “give citizens of the EU control over their personal data and change the approach of organizations across the world towards data privacy.” (codeinwp.org). This may be just a European initiative but it has a global reach, as it is all about the data collected that makes the user identifiable, whether the data is within or outside of the EU zone.

“The GDPR applies to data collected about EU citizens from anywhere in the world. As a consequence, a website with any EU visitors or customers must comply with the GDPR, which means virtually all businesses that want to sell products or services to the European market.”

In reference to the ‘data’ that is captured, it is split into two distinct types of data .. personal data or processing of personal data. The difference, in terms of my blog, or your own blog is this, taken again from the codeinwp.org website:

  • Personal data – “any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person” – like name, email, address or even an IP address; it is better to think that any piece of data can be considered personal data.
  • Processing of personal data – “any operation or set of operations which is performed on personal data”. Therefore, a simple operation of storing an IP address on your web server logs constitutes processing of personal data of a user.

Regarding your WordPress blog, there are a number of plugins available that are supposed to check (and fix?) your installation and let you know if you are compliant or ‘needs attention’. 

As I run Disqus commenting system on this blog (of which I’m questioning it’s merit, more later) I have to check that this too is compliant. Whilst I am not capturing nor storing the data on my blog, users who make and leave comments are clearly identifiable, therefore I need to demonstrate GDPR compliance as a processor of data. Disqus themselves are working on the implications of May 25, and are publishing their findings and actions as we get closer to the date (this from May 9 – Update on privacy and GDPR compliance).

It is a big worry to those running a self-hosted blog, and it should also be for those running any kind of blog or website. If in doubt, find out more about GDPR and how you think it will affect you.

Further reading on GDPR and blogging, bloggers, microblogging, etc.

Image source: Dennis van der Heijden (CC BY 2.0)

Learning Technologists as Project Managers too

As I work my way through job boards and role profiles in my effort to avoid my recent redundancy and the impending doom of an empty bank account (yes, really) I have found a lot of roles being advertised with headline grabbing titles and/or impressive requirements. What I’ve also found is there is sometimes a narrowness in thinking, from both employer or agency, in that people can and should be pigeon-holed into a role because of the title. If your title is one thing (LT?) then that means you can’t be considered for a role as an ID. Yes, there are differences, but there are also similarities which can be greatly enhanced by crossing disciplines, and this cross over can benefit both individual and employer with fresh ideas, fresh perspective and fresh enthusiasm.

What I’ve also seen, and this is the reason for this post, is that Learning Technologists* (LT) are also very effective project managers. Here’s why. The quotes are taken from jobs being advertised today for project managers in engineering and finance companies:

“As a project manager it is your responsibility to deliver projects on time and in budget, by planning and organising resources and people.”

Obviously, yes. An LT is required to work with multiple teams from academic, administrative and IT perspectives. Often the estates teams can be involved if it means new kits needs installation, as well as legal and HR if contracts need signing. Not to mention what happens when you need to dig into the data the system collects, where it’s stored and the data protection (and GDPR) issues that follow. Sometimes the LT is at the heart of this making sure the work is done and everyone involved has the necessary information to hand in a timely manner.

The thing is, we LTs often don’t know about the budgets or wider timelines involved, other than start of term or assessment dates. But this doesn’t stop us working to deadlines and strategies that have defined and immovable timelines. Damn, we’re good!

“Select, lead and motivate your project team from both internal and external stakeholder organisations.”

Sometimes the ‘team’ may just be you and the academic colleague who wants to do something they’ve never done before. Sometimes you may be experienced at this task, or it’s new to you too. The stakeholders here may be other staff who need mentoring or training on something new, they could also be students who need guidance on new assessment criteria or group working parameters. Again, it’s up to you to manage, “lead and motivate”.


Unleash your inner project manager
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“Planning and setting goals, defining roles and producing schedules of tasks.”

The timeline could include a new cohort of students, the NSS survey, release of module/unit materials for online learning, scheduled meeting, fixed reports, annual budget review, etc. It doesn’t matter the actual purpose of the goal, role, or schedule of tasks, the LT is at the centre and working with others to ensure nothing slips and everything works.

“Report regularly to management and the client.”

However the report is structured it doesn’t matter if this report is verbal over a coffee, written via email or other social channel used, or a formal document presented to a board or committee, the ‘client’ will have contact from the LT on the status of the work and progress. A good/great LT and project manager will also make sure delays and timeline slippage is reported well in advance and any impacts taken into account.

“… first point of contact for any issue or discrepancy arising from within the project before the problem escalates to higher authorities.”

As above, the LT is this point of contact on any work he/she undertakes. Whether the work is consider small or ‘incidental’ or a full-on VLE review with institutional impact, the LT is fully aware of the impact to themselves and those involved.

Project management is defined as “the application of processes, methods, knowledge, skills and experience to achieve the project objectives” (APM) and a project manager is “typically to offer a product, change a process or to solve a problem in order to benefit the organization” (Project Insight).

Working on implementing a new VLE or LMS for your department or institution? Chances are you’ll be working with a dedicated project manager or someone who’s acting in that role. Initiating some training on new tools or design or assessment criteria or rules around lecture capture … chances are you’ll again need to plan ahead for delivery of the training, resources to support it, room bookings or webinar time/space. See … you’ll need to employ project management techniques to make sure it happens when you want it to, how you want it, and where you want it.

Sounds familiar? It sounds like work I’ve engaged in for years now. I just didn’t know I could add ‘project manager’ to my list of skills too!

* Note: When I say Learning Technologists, I also mean Educational / Instructional Designers too.

If you’re interested, I’ve found this series of 15 journals (free download) from Product Focus, really useful introduction to project and product management. You’ll have to read your own skill and projects into the words, but it’s all there if you want it.

Image source: Judith Doyle (CC BY-ND-2.0)

Reading: TEL strategies from the perspective of disruptive innovation

This, from ALT Research in Learning Technology:

The publication of institutional strategies for learning, teaching and assessment in UK higher education is practically ubiquitous. Strategies for technology-enhanced learning are also widespread. This article examines 44 publically [sic] available UK university strategies for technology-enhanced learning, aiming to assess the extent to which institutional strategies engage with and accommodate innovation in technology-enhanced learning. … The article argues that sustaining innovation and efficiency innovation are more commonplace in the strategies than disruptive innovation, a position which is misaligned with the technology practices of students and lecturers.

After being called ‘disruptive’ before I was drawn to this paper as I don’t believe the disruption is in the traditional sense of someone sitting at the back of a classroom being a distraction or taking up too much time of others. No, this ‘disruption’ is more about the desire to think about the work, the technology, the learning, the students, etc. in a different way or from a different perspective. Once something is written in a policy or set of guidelines, it becomes the providence that is recommended and thus ‘normal’.

Being disruptive is, for me, just about understanding the policy or guidelines and thinking “Hmm, is this in our best interest? Is this still valid? Can we still innovate and improve our teaching, our students, our work?” This, from Flavin and Quintero‘s conclusion sums it up (emphasis my own) …

The examination of UK HEIs’ technology-enhanced learning strategies indicates a willingness to adapt on the part of universities but a disinclination to disrupt. Universities can describe themselves in their strategies as innovative yet, in practice, they are often ameliorative, more likely to pursue sustaining or efficiency than disruptive innovation.

Flavin, M. and Quintero, V. (2018). UK higher education institutions’ technology-enhanced learning strategies from the perspective of disruptive innovation. Research in Learning Technology, [online] 26(0). Available at: https://journal.alt.ac.uk/index.php/rlt/article/view/1987 [Accessed 2 May 2018].

Image source: Fio (CC BY NC-2.0)

Change the title, change the work?

Have I had it wrong all these years … is not been about me being a Learning Technologist (LT), I’ve actually been an Instructional Designer (ID) instead? Bear with me here …

I’ve been looking at opportunities on job boards (more on this another time) and have been looking at the requirements and roles for Instructional Designers. There are more of these around that LT or senior LT roles. Based on the role profile and job description, it got me thinking; “Well, that’s what I’ve been doing isn’t it?” Here are some of the descriptors and requirements that are asked for on an ID position, and how this mirrors the work I’ve been doing as an LT

“This role will be creating high quality new learning programmes for [name here], being the designer of the blended, engaging and interactive learning programmes to address specific business needs.”

“Creative, direct and concise. Good with technology. Great communicator, especially with clients.”

“Analyse base content and current study materials to identify the best way to present the content online.”

“Consider the range of instructional media available: video (face to face, voice-over PowerPoint), interactions and questions to recommend the most suitable for each instructional need.”

All the above have come from current ID roles being advertised. All this is precisely what most LTs I know are doing, and what I’ve done many times before too, yet you can be compartmentalised into a role by title, not by merit?

Let’s contrast this with similar descriptors from LT roles currently being advertised …

“Design and Development of e-learning content.”

“Undertake a range of activities to advocate for digital learning and its associated technologies.”

“The LT is expected to work proactively to identify potential resources for the [name here] and to plan and manage the development of varied e-learning material, including video, webinars, self-paced interactive resources, and [VLE here] activities.”

“Provide leadership and support for the development of innovative and effective teaching and learning practices using information technology.”


Learning Technologist or Instructional Designer ... or both? #edtech
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Do you see the similarities here? The only difference is that the ID role requirements are for commercial/corporate employers, and the LT ones for universities. Same role, often similar responsibilities and management duties (team and self), but different ‘sectors’. Of course, there are many differences in the roles that mean there are clear distinctions that warrant the different titles, and that’s fine – LTs may be more limited in scope in what and how they deal with, LTs may look after a tool (VLE, lecture capture, etc.) rather than a department or programme or academic group, etc..

But, for myself and those LTs I know and have worked with, we are much much more than this. We engage, advise, collaborate, curate, anticipate, lead, mentor, showcase, develop, design, implement, consult, etc. All these things are appropriate terms for both LT and ID roles. Yes? Perhaps it’s more to do with context … in my more recent roles and work I am so much more than an LT … I am now manager of an entire organisation’s learning platform, how it works, why it works and who it works for (internal and external). I ‘manage’ all aspects of the relationships between organisational parties with interest in the training as well as all external stakeholders, whether they are course participants or suppliers or accrediting bodies or potential clients.

According to the definitions in the ID role profiles above I have a more ID background and approach than LT, and have been since my 1st day in an LT-titled role, since I learned about my craft and stopped blindly following convention of the (enforced) VLE module structure and thought about making the learning more engaging and inclusive. It’s not about using the tools provided, it’s not even about finding new tools, it’s about using appropriate tools at an appropriate time for an appropriate motive to further the learning opportunities.


ID or LT? It's about using appropriate tools at an appropriate time for an appropriate motive to further the learning opportunities #edtech
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So, are you an Instructional Designer or a Learning Technologist. Does the title/name given to your role even matter? Perhaps the difference here is time … what was once two distinct roles have now merged in outlook and intention and can be seen as the same, depending on which title the organisation prefers?

Image source: Olle & Agen (CC BY-SA 2.0)