Surfer Dude vs. Shark! #blimage

After the experience of my first #blimage post (Desks of Doom), and I saw the amazing challenges and responses, I couldn’t resist getting involved again. There have been many new challenges that I have an idea of what I would respond with, but it’s the ‘shark attack’ challenge from Phil Denman (Everything is not Awesome) that I wanted to follow up with.

But first, if this is the first time you’ve come across #blimage, here’s a brief summary of what it is. In short, Steve Wheeler (@timbuckteeth), in conversations Amy Burvall (@amyburvall) and Simon Ensor (@sensor63), started the #blimage challenge, which is:

“a confection of Blog-Image. (Yes, we are now in the age of blim!) You send an image or photograph to a colleague with the challenge that they have to write a learning related blog post based on it. Just make sure the images aren’t too rude. The permutations are blimmin’ endless.

So, my response to Phil’s challenge. I couldn’t resist simply as it uses Lego. It’s a funny set-up of shark chasing surfer dude … and for me it’s the representation of our attitude to the VLE and the student(s). For me the VLE is the shark, and the surfer is the student. 

Why? I’ve always believed the VLE we use is designed to elicit profit and control from the contract over efficiency or usefulness. Yes, in recent years the large VLE vendors have got better at listening to what the users (schools, universities, administrators, learning technologists, students, careers, etc.) want or need from it, and have started to add the functionality and flexibility people like me have been blogging about for ages. But I still see the VLE vendors playing catch-up to what is happening in the classes, schools, and universities. I understand the business model and the need to control the development cycle of a product, but if your users are trying desperately to help you make a bettere product then listen to them and act on it!? Does it really take years to fix basic functions that don’t work properly, or intuitively? Do they really need to have a predatory approach to customer relations or contract negotiation?

The surfer dude, the student? I see this element of the image as the innovative academic, learning technologist, the administrator who want less control and more flexibility, as well as the student who has more freedom to use different systems and tools according to what they want to do, and how they want to do it (the free-spirited surfer!). Whilst the basic premise of a controlled and safe online ‘walled garden’ for students to engage and interact with each other, and us, is a good idea, if it’s not used beyond the simple and predictable file store, then it’s users will go elsewhere for their collaboration, engagement, interaction, information, etc. They will become more reluctant and wary of the ‘shark’ and look for mores opportunities in the ‘free’ systems.

Will the shark catch the surfer, will the VLE ever catch the changing education landscape and provide the environment everyone wants? Well, there’s the big question … !

There, that’s my second #blimage challenge. Thanks Phil. For anyone else wanting to get involved, you can use Phil’s image, you can use mine from my original post (Desks of Doom), or you can use this one I’ve just found (yes, it’s Lego again). The only stipulation is that your response is learning related, and you pay-it-forward with your own challenge.

Light flare #blimage

Johan Jonsson (CC)

Banne image source: Andrea Esuli (CC BY 2.0)

Reading: Digging Deeper into Learners’ Experiences in MOOCs

One aspect of working on MOOCs is that there is no clear way to measure it’s success. Do you use the stats and logs that indicate clicks and time-on-page, or look at the nature of the conversations and/or comments made?

That’s why this paper loaded to by George Veletsianos piqued my interest – is there something in here that can help me understand the metrics we need to use in order to measure the learning and/or success of a MOOC?

“Digging Deeper into Learners’ Experiences in MOOCs: Participation in social networks outside of MOOCs, Notetaking, and contexts surrounding content consumption.”

Unsurprisingly the authors highlights the lack of literature around MOOCs that look into the metrics of MOOCs that are not captured on the MOOC platform (EdX, Coursera, FutureLearn, etc.), notably the social engagements, note-taking, and content consumption. Something I’d not considered before is the “availability of large-scale data sets appears to have shaped the research questions that are being asked about MOOCs.”  It’s something I’ve wrestled with … are we asking the right questions about a course ‘success’, and do we have the right data to start with? I think not, on both counts. I would love to know more from learners on a MOOC, but the response rate on post-course surveys are typically low, typically completed by the ones who finished the course and enjoyed it. It’s the learners who signed up and didn’t visit the course, those who did visit the first step but then left, and those who dipped in and out that I really want to hear from. They have as much to say about the course, it’s content, it’s delivery, and it’s ‘merit’ as those who completed.

The paper concludes, rather disappointingly, by saying that “researchers need to dig deeper, and use an array of methodological tools to do so. Separately or together, each research method can lead to pragmatic suggestions to improve open teaching and learning through social, pedagogical, or technological approaches.” I shouldn’t be too surprised with the conclusion as there isn’t a good metric to define a MOOC or online courses’ success – it depends on what you define as the success (numbers of learners enrolled, numbers of learners completing, passed assessments, duration of study, post-course questionnaire, course reach, etc.)

Veletsianos, G., Collier, A., & Schneider, E. (2015). Digging Deeper into Learners’ Experiences in MOOCs: Participation in social networks outside of MOOCs, Notetaking, and contexts surrounding content consumption. British Journal of Educational Technology 46 (3), 570-587

Image source: Gabe Rosiak (CC BY 2.0)

What makes a good online learning experience?

Is it possible to define the qualities of what makes a good online learning experience, or a good MOOC? Is there a check list we could have pinned to the wall which we could use as we design and build our courses?

Here’s a few items I think the list needs, feel free to add your own ideas in the comments field below:

Presentation: Is the student able to relate to the subject and the presenter / educator? This is not always easy as the platform (Blackboard, Moodle, FutureLearn, Udacity, etc.) often controls how the materials are ‘presented’. Even with these constraints you do have options on designing your materials and laying them out in ways which make them easy to navigate or interact with. 

Accessible: Yes, there is web accessibility, but there is also ‘how easy is it to find your way around the materials’. Are there signposts in place at different points of the course to extra reading, areas for interaction and engagement, contact details, schedules, assessment points, etc.?

Interaction: You will probably have specific pinch-points in the course where you have designed and expect interactivity, but remember that students may want to interact or comment on other resources as they work their way through your materials. Consider adding functionality to enable students to do this (a dedicated forum for questions,or comments on each step?) and that someone from the course team will monitor these areas and is ready (and able?) to reply where necessary.

Connection: Remember that your students are not only geographically dispersed, but will have a range of learning styles, backgrounds, and availability. Not everyone can join your online chat or webinar at a certain time every week (it’s likely they work and have family commitments that take priority), just like they may not be able to access materials due to firewall issues. Distance learning students often say they don’t feel connected or part of the University or course because of these distances, so think about including some getting-to-know-you or group activities, give them opportunities to meet each other (virtually) and grow their own learning network (PLN).

Build for online: Re-using the same materials and design for an online course that you teach face-to-face will probably not work. Your existing materials and activities are designed with you as a focal point, where you can introduce, explain, highlight, and support students in a real-time environment. Online, things are different. Students will access and interact with the materials and each other asynchronously, therefore there will be delays between posts, requests, etc. of days or even weeks. Providing a link to a resource (PDF, PPT, etc.) should not be done even with face-to-face students (contextualise it, explain what it is and why they need it) and it’s even worse for learners at a distance: introduce each step and resources, explain what it is and why the student needs it, and provide an action to it (read, discuss, critique, analyse, share, etc.) to give it meaning.

Platform: Know what functionality your platform has (Blackboard, Moodle, FutureLearn, Udacity, etc.) and what you can use, where, and why. Consider each tool you’ll use to present materials as well as ask for engagement, and be sure the students have adequate instruction to use them if they’re new. Don’t use every tool in the box for the sake of making the course seem ‘modern’ or ‘interactive’ if there is no reason to do so. At the same time don’t ignore the tools available to you, just because you don’t know what they do – go find your Learning Technologist (or equivalent) and work with them during the process of designing your course – they’ll help you think about different tools or techniques available, explain what benefits they can offer you and your students, and help you implement and support them.

Value: For some this will be value of resources, for others it’ll be quality of videos produced and used. Consider each stage of the course, each resources you’ve included (core or recommended) and think about whether it is adding value to the learning experience, or not. If it’s going to cause a distraction, drop it. if it’s interesting but tangental to the learning journey, then consider moving to an area that students can go if they want more information.

Visual elements: Don’t forget that images or diagrams  (infographics?) can help showcase an idea, concept, or theory just as much as words can. Not everything need an image, but something that could link or help structure the course materials may well aid students and their understanding of the subject.

Journey: The learning journey should not just be about getting from the start to the assessment (and passing). There should be goals set at different pinch points where students can show understanding or critical evaluation of themselves and the materials. I prefer courses that don’t have exams (that’s because I always did badly under exam conditions) and alternative ways of assessment should be explored. Admittedly there are restrictions on what you can and can’t do with assessments that are possibly based on the platform, programme, or QAA (Quality Assurance Agency), but we shouldn’t stop thinking about improving and enhancing the learning journey and learning experience with different assessment methods.

Time: Do you make resources and materials available all at once or release them over a published time frame? Do you allow students to work ahead of the rest or keep them back so they engage at the same time as everyone else? Do you have objectives or webinars that require synchronous learning; what do you do if these don’t meet with individual and personal schedules? Do you provide alternatives?

Testing: Never underestimate how much time testing your course should take, and always get someone who has not worked on it to try it out. Test links, embedded media, tools, logins, interactions, assessments, etc. from both the view of how the students will view and interact with them, and how the course team (academic and administrative) will support your students.

What makes a good online course?

Image source: Kristina Alexanderson (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


The question I didn’t want Google to help me with

“The need to know the capital of Florida died when my phone learned the answer.” Chiveta

This is so true and, then again, so annoying. I find myself going online to find the answer for too much: imperial to metric conversion, place names, spellings, etc. It’s become too easy to rely on a search engine algorithm to get an answer that ordinarily I’d know, or at least be able to work out with a little time and brain power.

Which is why I am so proud of myself – this weekend I figured out something quite trivial without the help of Google. Yes, I finished the task off by using Google to find the name I didn’t know, but I used my slowly deteriorating grey-matter and did it myself.

Here’s why: 

I’ve started watching Daredevil on Netflix, and one actor that appears in the third or fourth episode looked familiar. It’s not a face I’d seen for quite a long while, but something about him resonated with me. After a further three episodes I was starting to remember the subtitles of the way he spoke and some other minor visual cues from how he held his head, frowned, speech and how he spoke, etc.

Wilson Fisk / Daredevil

Then it hit me … Full Metal Jacket! Private Pyle.

Private Pyle / Full Metal Jacket

Now I can use Google to find the answer –  the actor is indeed the same, and what’s his name? Vincent D’Onofrio (IMDB) and, as it turns out, has been working very hard between Full Metal Jacket in 1987 and Daredevil in 2015.

Here’s why I found this exercise important – I know I rely on online tools too much. There are too many jobs I could’ve worked out given time and energy, but I was lazy and searched for it. I may or may not be a typical Internet user and/or searcher, but I acknowledge my limitations here. I’ve also found search results to be frustratingly vague or, in some cases, wrong. You need to be good in analysing the results you’re shown in order to filter what you don’t need from the results you do. This can be difficult if you don’t know what you don’t know but sometimes, like above, it’s enough to figure it out for yourself.

For me this was as much about trying to work it out for myself as it was about doing something the hard way. yes, Google would’ve been quicker, but certainly not as much fun!

Interview with Terese Bird, #EdTechBook chapter author

The Really Useful #EdTechBook, edited by David HopkinsAs part of a new series of posts, I will be talking to authors of The Really Useful #EdTechBook about their work, experiences, and contribution to the book. In this seventh post I talk to Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and SCORE research fellow, University of Leicester.

DH – Hi Terese. How does the use of technology, in all its various forms, affect your day-to-day working life?

TB – Really, I do my job on the strength of first social media, and second mobile devices. I remember when I was being interviewed for my job at Leicester back in 2009, I was asked how I stay on top of developments in the field, and I said, “Twitter.” Even before I had any smart handheld devices, I was regularly using Twitter to learn from others in the field of learning technology and tech innovation generally. Even on extremely busy days, I can take a quick skim through Twitter, retweet a couple of things or put a couple of things on Not only have I learnt from the blog post or news item, I have shared it, and often get some response on it — so in 20 minutes or so, I have done valuable horizon-scanning, learning, and networking in my field. I find other social media sites valuable as well: Pinterest,, YouTube, Flickr, Slideshare, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Recently, Mendeley has figured in hugely for me — I love that I can get references and papers just right within the app, share references, write my own notes and annotations, and add material into my bibliography from the browser. As for mobile devices, the funny thing is I do not own a smartphone. When the iPad came out, I just felt that was what I needed in terms of both portability and screen real estate. I didn’t want to compromise with the small phone screen, and also I found it was cheaper to have a PAYG dumb phone that costs £10 just for calls and texts, and my iPad for everything else. I’m still not really tempted to get a smartphone. I am a bit tempted by the Apple Watch, though.

For other aspects of my job, I use my iPad for most meetings, note-taking, and email while on the job. Because my iPad is usually at hand, I can make very quick replies to most emails. I use my MacBook Pro and a 27” iMac at work for iMovie, iPhoto, Audacity and Quicktime especially to put together materials for our university’s iTunes U site. For everything else, for most documents and some research software, I use the university PC which is very handy in the way it’s set up, I must say. I appreciate the Windows environment; I’m not a total Mac addict. I appreciate Android as well, especially when I was trying to get Google Glass set up at the Medical School. Google Glass — impressive, but I can’t envision trying to use it personally, only for professional use I think.

Your question is about technology in all its various forms. I think I will bore everyone to death if I mention all the forms — lecture capture software and hardware, webinars and the paraphernalia to get them working, Skype, voting systems in lectures, Google drive and all the Google tools, don’t get me started on all the apps. I listen to the radio on my iPad and read books, I have a Bible app, iBooks, I listen to podcasts, I use the Blackboard app as both an instructor and as a student — I’m studying International Education as a distance student with the University of Leicester and Phil Wood the instructor gives us iBooks of all the learning material. I’d better stop there!

DH – It’s quite obvious that all these different technologies, and not just the hardware, have made you more flexible and more dynamic in your working practices. All you have to do, if you want to see how important technology is to students, is wait in line at the coffee shop or watch them when they’re together to see how prevalent their use of mobile devices are. For me the biggest question is are we doing enough to engage them on these devices, do we stop them from being distracted from push notifications from different sources and networks when they’re in lectures? If we are somehow able to utilise their attention and their devices, are we being unrealistic with the level of engagement that academic staff (as well as students) will need in order to keep up with them?

TB – I like these questions — they’re not simple. ‘Are we doing enough to engage students on these devices’ is related to the question ‘are we being unrealistic with the level of engagement that academic staff will need in order to keep up with the students’ To answer this, I’ll begin by saying that I’m increasingly seeing social media as mainstream media. As television was to my generation in my youth, so is social media to young people today — quite pervasive, potentially addictive and therefore laden with cautions, but ultimately it is a significant means of communication and networking and it is not going away anytime soon. So it is both silly and futile for educators to ignore social media. But I think students need someone to discuss with them or teach them ways of using social media for their learning. This doesn’t have to be the academic who teaches them content of their subject — it might make more sense for this to be taught as a learning skill like academic writing and study skills. So, alongside your writing session you would have a session on ‘social media for independent learning’ or something like that. Some students won’t really need guidance on this, but some students really will.

As I’ve been helping our Medical School to embed iPads into undergraduate student training, I’ve been amazed at the students’ ability to figure out ways to learn better, more efficiently, more socially, and in ways that are frankly more fun using the iPads than they did without the iPads. Maybe they figured these things out themselves because they are highly-motivated students. But I think everyone is different, and some students really will benefit from some guidance in these areas.

Now for the more vocational, you would have ‘social media for business’ and ‘social media for marketing.’  These could be covered by the careers services of a college or university. And why should we do this? So that students can cultivate good habits of using social media for personal lifelong learning, and networking to serve their professional purposes. This includes the skill of determining good versus bad online sources and also curation and knowledge of which medium is good to communicate which kind of message online. I suppose these are aspects of ‘digital literacy.’ And alongside this, we need to somehow discuss or at least flag up with students the social media troublespots — things like addiction to the notification, addiction to the ‘like’ (this is more of an issue with young pupils), and admitting that in fact we cannot multi-task so that when it’s time to focus on an assignment, it is best to shut off the electronics. Similarly if the lecturer is not encouraging tweeting during her lecture, then maybe it’s best to ask students to switch things off during the lecture or for part of it. Nothing wrong with that! Perhaps we should also be discussing things like online radicalisation, porn addiction, trolling, and other things which adults need to consider in their own behaviour. Again these would not be things covered by the academics but more by the ‘study skills people’ and these could be the learning technologists.

Interview with Terese Bird, #EdTechBook chapter author

DH – Your chapter is about the student-led innovation in mobile learning; do you consider enough is being done to include the student body in the different aspects of their education? By this I mean more than just the individual classroom activity or learning resource, but the wider progress along the route to the qualification, and the design of the qualification itself. If the inclusion of ‘students a co-producers’ works in the classroom or lecture theatre, what about in the meetings that determined the structure, requirements, and technology they will need to work with?

TB – In my work at the Medical School, we are listening to the student voice by means of surveys and other online feedback, informal meetings and class observations. This is unofficial, and it is so valuable: I could not do my job without it. In the university generally, most if not all of the main committees include students. It was because of a student petition that lecture capture technology was adopted. There are other changes the university is considering for which the student voice is actively being sought. Even still, I think students’ input should be sought more. At these meetings, sometimes the student’s role is a bit observational and maybe rubber-stamp-y, as opposed to really integrated into the decision-making process. Maybe that is down to the individual committee or student; at any rate, I would like to see more healthy and constructive rabble-rousing on the part of students.

DH – I’ve read in a few places recently that children/students, who have been classed as Generation Z (born after 1995), are starting to push back against the technology that previous generations have adopted and embraced (Bloomberg Review: ‘Will Generation Z Disconnect?’). Do you think we’re doing the right thing, in Higher Education, in advancing our understanding and use of mobile technology if the students of the future (2-5 years hence) are going to shun the devices and online networks? Do we need to be more considerate and more understanding of the role technology takes in the process of learning?

TB – A Learning Technologist must always be a horizon-scanner. We need to keep up on consumer trends (because consumer devices will find their way into HE classrooms in students’ backpacks) and societal trends, how is communication evolving and where is it going. Academic communication should happen in the media and methods of the present world, and should not insist on happening in the media and methods of the past world. At the same time, we should evaluate what we do, and put it to research in some form, so we can see what students are thinking, whether any interventions help them or hinder them.

The Bloomberg article is interesting because as I look carefully at the survey findings, I am not sure we can conclude that Generation Z is turning away from tech or internet commerce/communication; indeed, the article refers to this generation as ‘overconnected.’ Yet they would prefer to get together with friends in person rather than online, and would prefer to ask someone for a date in person than online. This is very welcome news, by the way! The article doesn’t give similar findings from teenager surveys of the past, or of other demographic people in the present, so I’m not sure how this can be said to be a trend of revolution against technology. And also, as students, these teens would need to consider the professional and academic need to communicate with someone whom there’s no way of meeting in person. Regardless, though, learning technologists and all academics need to be continually sensitive to the student voice, and again that’s why we need to keep dialogue with students about how they’re learning. And there comes a time when we don’t need to be using a certain system or method anymore; it’s important to be able to recognise that. At the same time, we need to stay on top of tech developments which might really solve problems we have in HE, in ways we might not even be able to imagine at present.

DH – Considering the time and effort taken to get new technologies adopted and implemented in HE, do you think we have the flexibility and imagination (not individually, but institutionally) to say “we don’t need that anymore”? Are we individually brave enough to say to the powers-that-be that something we fought hard for is no longer needed or relevant (I’m pretty sure most HEIs still have an overhead projector for acetates, somewhere)?

TB – I don’t think I have yet been in a situation where I have fought for an innovation and it has run its course and it’s become clear that it’s time to retire it. I think that when that happens, it happens sort of naturally. For example with the overhead projectors, even tho they were easy-to-use and almost never failed, they gradually got replaced by something that just looked better: PowerPoint on a better projector. So making that decision should not have been that difficult because it was happening naturally, gradually. Now there is another case: the case of something innovative being purchased but never really used very much. That would be the infamous case of the interactive whiteboards purchased in many UK schools in the past decade. They didn’t really get used because they were not easy to use and the people making the purchasing decision didn’t take this into tconsideration. To avoid putting all eggs into a basket that doesn’t work so well, I recommend the following remedy: try one as a pilot, evaluate, and work with the learning technologist throughout the process. Is it now time to close the door on interactive whiteboards? Perhaps. Aside from them being difficult to use, if one cannot throw an iPad image onto the whiteboards, then they’re kind of obsolete.

DH – Thanks for your time Terese. Terese’s chapter for the #EdTechBook is called ‘Students Leading the Way in Mobile Learning Innovation’ and looks at what, and how, the student’s are using their own personal devices, and what (if anything) we can be doing to utlise and maximise their interest and passion for being networked and mobile.

More news about The Really Useful #EdTechBook will be posted here and other social media platforms, using the #EdTechBook hashtag. Please follow and join in for news on the book’s development as well as each individual author’s own interpretation of the process and their own chapters.

Image source: Dave Stone (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Skills & Attributes of today’s students

What a lovely way to demonstrate the skills and attributes of today’s learners (thx to @suebecks for sharing):

Skills & Attributes of today's learners

While some of us look to the skills, some to the technology, and maybe even some to the individual, it is clear that somewhere there needs to be a generic and ‘global’ view of the learner, the (learning) climate,  and requirements for the world in which they are being prepared for. No one skill is more, or less, important than another, but it may take priority over others at different times or in different circumstances.

If anyone has already got this sussed, drop a line below and show, please?

NB: There is a CC licence on the image, and link, but I’ve not been able to find the original. If it is yours then please let me know and I’ll put the appropriate attribution!

Header image source: Philip Howard (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Here’s my eLearning pet peeve. What’s yours?

Tom Khulmann, on the Rapid E-Learning Blog, regularly writes on techniques and tips for eLearning success. Recently he wrote about a discussion thread happening on the Articulate community site about pet peeves of eLearning professionals. In his reply he outlined not only some of the more recognisable pet peeves from the community (e.g. “the words ‘can you just’…?”) but his own personal favourite: locked course navigation.

Mine … well, the list is long and there isn’t one single thing that stands out from the rest, but if I had to name one pet peeve over all the others I’d say it was apathy. With the rate of change and advancements in technology there really is no excuse for the apathy that exudes from academic circles on the use or implementation of a ‘modern’ (read ‘up to date’) use of technology to enhance learning experiences. 

I have met and worked with many people over the years who are involved in designing or delivering eLearning, we have had many many discussions (some positive, some not) on ILOs (Intended Learning Outcomes), student experiences, learning journeys, etc. For me the direction was to find out what all of this meant to the learning, and to see if there was something I had in my learning ‘arsenal’ which could offer efficiencies or enhancements, whether it was time and effort needed from staff or students (or both).

I have met my fair share of apathy on the way – those just point-blank refusing to consider anything beyond their own tried and tested (old?) methods. I am not saying they should change. I am not saying their way is wrong or outdated or inefficient. I am saying that a point-blank refusal to take, for example, negative feedback on board and consider the student’s learning journey to improve the learning materials is obstructive, not just for the module, but for the course, department, and, more importantly, the student success.

As I always say, never implement a technological solution for the sake of it; it must be appropriate to the learning need and a careful and considered implementation (support, training, examples, tested, etc.). There are pedagogical and personal reasons why someone would not want to record their seminars, for example, or why summative assessment and group work may not fit together, but at least consider the alternatives before digging a hole and burying your head in the sand?

So, what’s your pet peeve as a Learning Technologist?

Image source: Amy McTigue (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Attendance vs Activity

The issue of teacher pay, pension, and working conditions is in the public arena again today as UK teachers go out on strike: “Thousands of pupils in England and Wales will miss lessons on Thursday as members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) walk out on strike.” – BBC News

And again the thorny issue of parents being fined when they take their children on holiday during term time is linked to the lost day(s) of teaching from the strike action -beautifully summed up in this News Thump (spoof news site) article: “As it is, when my child misses school I’m endangering their education and liable to a significant fine, but when they miss school due to a teacher’s strike it’s ‘in their best interests and helping their long-term future’.”

As someone who works in education, and a parent with children in early years schooling, I sympathise with both sides. But what I want to comment on is the issue of parents being able to take their children out of school for a family holiday during term time. I am sure that there are instances when it is not a good idea, e.g. before exams. But surely there’s something both the parents and the school can agree on for the benefit of the kids?  

If you look at it form the children’s perspective it’s more than likely an amazing opportunity for learning that the whole class can benefit from, not just the ones being taken out?

Here are some thought:

  • Mediterranean cruise

A two-week cruise around the Mediterranean? How amazing is that? With stops in different countries and cultures the kids could have a mini project to bring back to school and share/present. They could collect pictures, guides, etc. of famous places, learn 5 new words or a new phrase each day from the different languages they encounter, video themselves chatting with a local (buying bread, ordering lunch, etc.). Bring back a menu from a cafe from each place they visit and compare design, language, pictures, what people eat, what’s available, etc..

  • Road trip

Doesn’t matter where this is, Scotland or US Route 66, each town and district has it’s own tourist traps or local sites of interest. Different forms of transport and why – camper vans, UVs, motorbikes, buses, etc. What changes along the journey – between towns, districts, countries? Did you shop for food or catch your own (if so, how and what)?

Attendance vs Activity

  • Camping

Whether it’s at a New Forest campsite, the Australian Outback, the Grand Canyon, or deepest Mongolia, there is an experience for the children. Learning about fauna and flora, learning about what’s safe to eat / touch and what isn’t, learning about cooking and preparing food, learning about siting the tent and fire, etc. are all new experiences in a new location.

  • Beach holiday

Even a simple beach holiday has potential for children to learn about the culture and country they’ve travelled to. Package holidays will have day trips to local sites of interest … so go on them, work out what they are and what kind of activity can be used and brought back to the class when you return. Different beaches have different types of sand – why? Are there cliffs or a gentle slope to the beach – why? How did the beach / inlet / harbour form – and why?

Oh, and there’s nothing wrong with taking school work (books, activity sheets, homework, etc.) in your luggage for the evenings. It may not be popular with the kids but it’ll also make sure they keep up with what the kids would have doing if they’d still been in school.

You’ve probably noticed I hadn’t mentioned technology so far? If you go away you’ll probably have a camera with you, if not smart phone. You use them on holiday for family pictures and video so why not have a purpose for a learning or classroom activity? Film and document something, keep a video diary, etc. But what about if you have reliable Internet access? Oh, how amazing! Use Skype to call the class and show where you are, what you’re doing, who you’re with. Live blog the theatre. Upload pictures and video to your class blog and get students at home to direct you on what they want to see tomorrow. The possibilities here are endless.

Obviously these activities can be aimed at something that matches to the subjects or themes the children are working on at the time of the holiday, but instead of punishing parents why not engage with them to make the time away from the classroom better and more stimulating for the children by bringing the world to life around them. And when they return they can share their experiences with the whole class / school so it means something far more important to far more people.

I know that in the coming years I will want to take my boys on holiday and, with finances very tight, doing this during term time is the only way to get somewhere different and far away. I will be open with the school and I will tell them what I’m doing. I will also expect them to help me utilise this experience so both my boys, in their different classes and at different ages, benefit from the time away. If possible I’ll also love the idea and opportunity of doing something to enhance the class they leave behind for the week or two.

In short … parents should not be fined or punished for taking their kids away during term time. Every journey those children take has something that could be used in a learning experience, we just need to work together (parents, schools, education authorities) to find it and make the most of it!

Please let me know what you think, what you’ve done, and how you did it, below.

Update: It seems there are two barriers to this ‘approved absence’ I have talked about – school attendance records and school league tables / Ofsted inspections. Children are either marked as in attendance or absent from school. These figures are used in the school league tables and as part of the Ofsted report. If, and this is a big if, the attendance record could be updated to include, say, up to 10 days per year approved absence (for medical appointments, holidays, etc.) without impacting the league tables and Ofsted reports then could this work? If there is a way to not necessarily encourage absence but not punish it either, and a way that includes the school in the activities and helps build community spirit around the school (let’s face it, if the school is going to fine or punish parents it’s not going to create a caring or giving community is it?) then would it work?

Image source: Death Valley Camping (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

5 Tips for engaging your students #eLearning

A handy ’5 tips for engaging your students in eLearning’ infographic – something to print out and stick on the wall as a handy reminder of what you/we can do to make it easier for students to get the best out of their (e)learning:

  • Keep it interesting & relevant
  • Keep it organised and uncluttered
  • Keep it interesting
  • Keep up to date
  • Make it engaging & interactive

5 Tips To Engage Your Students in eLearning

The associated descriptors are slightly, for my taste, light on details and helpfulness but it’s a good start. If you can keep these five ‘elements’ in mind when creating or maintaining your learning materials & resources then it’s a good place to start.

For example: “5. Only add interaction that are necessary, such as links, videos, or file downloads” … I can see why a link or download is an ‘interaction’ but for an online learning experience I’d say these are essential. The interaction comes from inclusion of activities where the students has to read and reflect on something, perhaps individually or as part of a group. Interactions between the students is what makes a valued and lasting experience, not an interaction with a hyperlink to a website, video, or PDF download.


Student asks “Why am I here?”

This article by Austin Fitzhenry asks a simple question: “can students teach their lecturers a thing or two?”

  • Go read the full article on the Times Higher Education website, it is very good, extremely well written, and full of thought provoking comments and observations that need consideration if we are to improve the relationship between ‘teaching’ and ‘learning’.

Below are a few sections that caught my eye for one reason or another: 

“The question “Why am I here?” often strikes in the 73rd minute of a droning lecture. Don’t misunderstand – I love lectures. But only if the person delivering it knows how to allow learning. And yes, I do mean “allow”, for academics don’t create learning – only the student can do that. Unfortunately, most if not all lecturers are crippled by misunderstandings about their students and ill-founded assumptions about education itself. If we can filter the mud from the Pierian Spring, then they will have far less frustration in their lives and students will stop wishing that they were somewhere else. So one afternoon, after a particularly frustrating day with my professors, I sat down and wrote my lecture to them. I pray that they are taking notes.”

A student’s lecture to professors

On challenging the student -
“Have you ever wondered why your students aren’t more interested? The answer is likely to be that they are bored. What causes boredom? Slow or irrelevant lectures, those that don’t connect the dots, or that focus on details at the expense of context. Students are not being challenged. Their sense of exploration is cloistered. You may say that your students can barely keep up as it is. In most cases this is not true. Your students are capable of far more than you give them credit for. Yet most professors have a compulsion to teach at the lowest level among the students. During the introduction to one course, my lecturer explained the level of maths he would be teaching: the same maths that is routinely taught in middle school. I went to a senior academic in the department to ask if I could skip it. My request was refused. “You have to understand: many of the students here can’t do basic arithmetic,” he said. “We have to adjust for that.” My chin hit the floor. Is it not equally unfair to above-average students to teach below their level as it is to below-average students to teach above their level? We need to re-examine our priorities. Is university about making everybody feel good about themselves, or about delivering high-quality education?”

On encouraging creativity -
“Some lecturers don’t bother to teach things that won’t be in the exam. They are letting their students down. The best professors range widely across their subject while also making clear what their students will be expected to know in the examination hall. This approach ensures that students are able to apply their learning in the real world, as well as stimulating curiosity and learning. Stay focused on relaying knowledge and understanding, and the test should take care of itself. Last year I was talking with a fellow student about an unusually challenging assignment, and he joked: “Wait, I have to come up with something on my own? I actually have to think?” But it’s not a joke. Many students spend all day, every day, being spoon-fed. Those that get fed up drop out. Those that don’t usually become complacent. Intellectual flabbiness sets in. Ultimately whether or not they succumb is up to them, but their lecturers can help them fight the disease. Without exercise, the creativity muscle atrophies. Take every opportunity, large and small, to let students create something.”

On required attendance -
“Allow your students to be adults by recognising that if someone doesn’t want to learn, they aren’t going to learn. Requiring attendance is absurd. Every student entered college of their own free will. Let us decide what we want to do with that choice. This goes for texting, eating, or anything else in class. As long as it doesn’t distract others, just chill. Taking responsibility for the responsibilities of others creates adults who have never had the chance to mature. At 18 we’ve just finished a couple of decades of being told what to do, and have finally gained independence. We will judge whether your material is too basic, if it’s just repeating old ground or if it’s little more than busywork, and decide for ourselves whether to attend. The test results at the end will speak for themselves, and if a student can master a subject without even attending class, they should be applauded, not punished.”

Image source: Storm of the Century (CC BY 2.0)