Conversations

At the moment I’m celebrating some, online, 10th anniversaries – in October 2008 I started blogging, I joined LinkedIn in November 2008 and I joined Twitter in January 2009.

These are quite special, I wasn’t aware of this achievement until I started thinking about something else: conversations. 

When I started blogging and tweeting, and connecting on LinkedIn, I was all about the network and conversations. I was building an interest and understanding of my role (learning technologist), my work place, and the kind of ‘things’ I needed to understand. Now, ten years down the road, 901 blog posts and 50,000 tweets later, I realise that my use of these systems and the networks I’ve built there, are changing. 

Back in March 2017 (“Dear Twitter. It’s not me, it’s you”) I wrote about my disappointment at changes to Twitter; not necessarily about the platform but how it is being used by the user base and my network. What started out, for me and many more like me, it was all about the conversation; the links and collaborative nature of being connected to likeminded individuals on a global scale, the ability to search and question and learn from others in different organisational and societal cultures, to connect and engage with senior or specialists ‘experts’ in the field of EdTech. The conversations and engagement I used to get in the early days of Twitter and LinkedIn have, I’ll admit, help me grow personally and professionally into the senior role I have. I would not have produced, managed, edited and published four books, nor would I have gained the peer-reviewed CMALT qualification, the invitation to be a trustee for the Learn Appeal charity, or the various accolades I’ve collected over the years.

What I get in my timeline feeds now is very different. There are fewer conversations in and around the work or collaboration. What conversations there are seem to be more broadcast approach rather than sharing. Being connected through Twitter or Facebook or other networks has obviously had an affect on us, we are all more informed (?) about world politics, the environment, culture, etc. and this is what most of my timeline is about now. That’s fine, I often add to the noise too, but my primary purpose for Twitter, etc. is work. I want to learn and help others learn about online/distance learning opportunities, be they MOOCs, SPOCs, online degrees, short courses, micro-learning, etc.

I also acknowledge that I have been part of the above problem too, which is why I’m annoyed. Annoyed at myself for setting sucked in and annoyed that I’m getting annoyed at the changes. Change is OK, I don’t have to like it or like what it’s changing to, but I should be able to step back and reassess what it is I want from my networks. That is what i am now doing … reassessing my use of online social tools, Twitter, LinkedIn, this blog, etc. I’ve already dropped a few (and not really noticed), will I drop those too … ?


Conversations are powerful learning opportunities. So why am I annoyed that social networks have changed the conversation?
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There, semi-rant over. Thanks for reading.

Thanks for Sheila MacNeill for inspiring me to blog again. I’ll try and do it more often now; it’s good for the reflective soul searching and a good way to focus and unpick my very full and random thought process. I’ve missed it.

Image source: FHKE (CC BY-SA-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)

When everything changes

Well, it’s over four months since my last blog post, and the longest gap in my 9 year blogging ‘career’. 

Why is that? Well, apart from being busy starting and defining a new role in a new industry, I’ve not really had that much to say. I’ve tweeted, I’ve connected with people on LinkedIn, I’ve travelled (and posted photos of it, like this and this and this). I’ve rested. I’ve worked hard and lost lots of sleep over it too. 

Oh, and we got kittens too! Mostly the bite or chew everything (including the wires), but sometimes they settle down and keep me company in my home office.

But what’s only struck me really in the last few days is the lack of interest in this blog. From me. I am still active on Twitter, I’m still learning about my ‘craft’ and still learning about my new role in an exciting start-up. I’m reading and writing a lot on ageing and the wellbeing of older people, it’s just not on this blog or even in the public arena. Yet. 

Let me also be honest here, it’s not just the working environment that’s changed (shared open-plan office to my spare room acting as a home office) or the industry I’m working in (UK university to global start-up, or business school to medical/healthcare specialists), the change is in and because of me. I am constantly seeing change in my attitude and approach to issues, problems, solutions, conflict, design, learning, remoteness, connectedness (is that a word?) and my general social demeanour.

Yes, tweeting is fun and hopefully will continue to be (but then again, maybe not) but I’ve always prided myself on this blog and the way it helped me network, collaborate, communicate, reflect, etc. with everyone ‘out there’. I am still reading around the various disciplines of online/distance learning, MOOCs, etc. and putting the ideas and designs to good use. I still join online courses, not so many MOOCs these days, both for personal enjoyment and professional curiosity. I am growing as an individual and a professional, and the journey ahead is all new to me, again, and exciting too.

The rest is the future. Using the skills from my CMALT journey and as an assessor I continue to evaluate and reflect on what I do, why I do it, how it can be better (or at least different), and how I can be better (and sometimes different too). I don’t want to stand still, I don’t want to be pigeonholed into one role or a ‘one trick pony’. I am too dynamic for that – I’m not being big headed or facetious for saying this, nor am I being cocky or rude. I mean dynamic in so much as forever looking forward and around me, observing and capturing, learning from others to improve myself and my work. 

Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow. (William Pollard)

Image source: Simon and his camera (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Is LinkedIn still relevant?

I have a LinkedIn account and profile – here it is: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/davidmhopkins

I think it’s OK – nothing special, nothing outstanding. I’ve put a little effort into making it what it is, making sure it’s up to date, professional, and that I have appropriate and relevant connections. I am fully aware of how this ‘shop window’ into my work can work for or against me at any time, even when I’ve been ignoring it for months on end.

Those who know me will know that I moved from Bournemouth University to the University of Leicester in 2012, and again on to the University of Warwick in 2014. I am certain that online professional persona was used as part of the interview/hiring process (let’s face it, they’d have missed a trick if they didn’t use them!) as well as my CV and application forms – my Twitter feed, my LinkedIn profile, my (under-used) Google+ stream, SlideShare presentations, published books, etc.

This is why it’s important to spend a little time keeping your profile up to date, trim the connections (or not accept those you don’t know in some way), post updates and projects, etc.

This LinkedIn Snakes and Ladders from Sue Beckingham is just perfect for anyone who has a LinkedIn profile, student or staff. Sue makes important suggestions on what will help or hinder your profile, like adding projects, publications, and a professional photo (help) or sharing trivia, posting insensitive or unprofessional updates (hinder).

LinkedIn snakes or ladders? from Sue Beckingham

My question is, do we still need LinkedIn? Are those of use who are active elsewhere (Twitter, FaceBook, Google, blogs, etc.) doing enough already, or do we need this ‘amalgamator’ that is LinkedIn to pull our work together? Do you use LinkedIn to find out about people you encounter?

Note: I don’t use the LinkedIn Premium. Does anyone?

Image source: Patrick Feller (CC BY 2.0)

Desks of doom! #blimage

In response to Steve Wheeler’s invitation, here’s my response to his #blimage request. But first, Steve explains #blimage as:

“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.” Steve Wheeler, 2015

The above (banner) image is an edited version of the challenge, an image Steve set those of us who takes up his challenge – a row of fairly old flip-top desks.

The thing is, I hadn’t thought of these for years, but I sat at one from when I started at secondary grammar school to when I left after completing my A-levels! That’s a looong time (including resits)!!

So, what do they mean to me? 

They mean sitting in silence trying desperately trying to keep up with my history teacher as he dictated our notes on the Russian revolution, World War II, and England in the time of Gladstone and Disraeli. They represent a language teacher I really really didn’t like, and using it as a shield as I wrote and passed notes to my friends. They mean leaving my textbooks and notebooks in overnight only to find them missing in the morning. They signify desperate and pathetic attempts to store notes during tests and to surreptitiously try and lift the lid to cheat.

Calculators were hidden in them during class and tests, comics were quickly thrown in and the lid slammed shut before the teacher caught me or my friends reading them. Latin books were dumped there and found there way to the bottom, never to see daylight again (the same with homework and reports). Worse was to come during puberty … ;-)

The desks were 5 rows deep in the classroom, spread across 3 pairs from one side to the other, and there was always one empty one, right in front of the teacher, you know, for the poor unfortunate sod who got caught talking, cheating, was late, messing around. Or was new.

Most of the time, in years 1 to 5 (or years 7-11 as they now are), we stayed in our form room and the teachers came to us. This is why I knew my desk intimately … every bit of grafitti, every notch or chip in the desk lid or ink well (no, I’m not old enough to have used at as an actual ink well, but I did try cartridge pens for a while: I thought they made me cool. I was wrong), and how high you can lift the lid before it creaks and groans and gives you away to the teacher.

These desks were, as I also found out in Geography, great to hide behind when you hear the whistle of the board rubber whizzing it’s way to the back of the room as the teacher tried to silence you as he drew diagrams of glaciers and truncated spurs on the blackboard.

I’ve remembered so much more about my school days from this one image. I’ve also remembered how much I hated those desks, not for what they are, but for what they now represent about my school days – overbearing, controlling, and extremely formal, leaving no room for individuals or any kind of creativity.

How I survived and made it to University, I don’t know. I think it was more to the credit of my parents and their belief in me than my teachers, or my attempts to provide the level of assignments required from an environment so alien and restrictive to someone like me who has an imagination and creative streak.

Not all teachers at this school we’re bad – I have very fond memories of a few who I was able to connect to and with on many personal levels (Mr Hubbard for English, Mr Webb for Geography, Mr McCabe for French, and Mrs Wass as my year 4 and 5 form teacher).

It couldn’t have been all that bad, I’m still here and doing alright, I think.

Right. Your turn. You can use Steve’s image for your own #blimage or one of your own – nut I’d like to know what you make of Steves image. Write your own blog post or update somewhere, and please put a link to it below for all to see?

Going home?

As a parent of two lovely and very bright boys aged 4 and 5 (or, as they like to say, nearly 5 and very nearly 6) I feel the pain of all parents who don’t think the schooling is capable of adapting to all possible levels of children’s capabilities within the defined age/year structure that children are subjected to.

My 5 year old (year 1) has a reading age of a year 3 child, and is doing sums (numeracy) of year 2 and sometimes year 3. Yet his teacher has him doing number-bonds to 10 … something he could do 2 years ago. He’s been stuck here for a year already, not because he’s not developing, but because the school doesn’t think he can do it. He brings a new book home to read every other day from school and has read it within 20 minutes of getting home, he can answer quite difficult questions on the subject, characters, locations, emotions, etc. of the story. He writes lots too. Loves it. 

It’s not that we’ve been schooling and stretching him at home … he just loves his books and numbers and puzzles and Lego and play and anything he doesn’t know. He wants to learn about everything! Same goes for his brother … if there’s a book he hasn’t read, he wants to try.

But the school can’t cope. Is the answer home schooling? What about private schools, where the classes are supposed to be smaller, therefore each child has a more personal and engaged relationship with the teacher? It’s not something I’ve thought about before, but if the school can’t offer either of them what they need, when they need it (no, he isn’t allowed to read that Red Level book because he’s in year 1, not year 3 … really?). More effort, it seems, is given to children with lower abilities whilst higher achieving children are left to their own devices … and what should they be doing, aged 4 and 5, without direction? Sit still, don’t talk, and leave your friends alone, they’re working. Right, like that’s gonna work!

As you know, I’m no slouch when it comes to thinking or trying different things. I’m no expert either. But I am a caring, thoughtful, and reflective parent who can see both his kids getting bored at school: they’re not pushed, they’re not used to finding things that can’t do, they’re not stretched. They are becoming the turned off children that Stephen Heppell talks about. The school is ignoring the passion and creativity they were born with, and the thirst to learn that Sir Ken Robinson says schools are killing. Worse than this is that, if they keep coming home frustrated and bored, they will stop liking it, start playing up in school, and become one of the trouble-makers … not because they can’t do the work, but because they could do it years ago and it’s, well, beneath them.

I’ve just read this article on Wired:  The Techies Who Are Hacking Education by Homeschooling Their Kids. Go read it, then come back.

“The Internet has already overturned the way we connect with friends, meet potential paramours, buy and sell products, produce and consume media, and manufacture and deliver goods. Every one of those processes has become more intimate, more personal, and more meaningful. Maybe education can work the same way.

Ought I to seriously think about the school (which is a good one, we moved to the area three years ago because the school was, and is good) and find an alternative schooling for them? Is taking them out of mainstream schooling the answer where we can be sure they’ll get more real-world and appropriate learning? is this only looking at the academic input of their lives, and will it effect their social development skills? There is so much to think of which, when you think about it, you don’t even consider when it’s just “taking the boys to school”.

“Problems arise, the thinking goes, when kids are pushed into an educational model that treats everyone the same—gives them the same lessons and homework, sets the same expectations, and covers the same subjects. The solution, then, is to come up with exercises and activities that will help each kid flesh out the themes and subjects to which they are naturally drawn.”

“Of course, there are plenty of private schools, charters, or gifted programs pursuing some version of what’s called student-directed learning. But most unschoolers told me that even these schools were still too focused on traditional standards of achievement. Unless every family homeschools their children—a prospect that even homeschooling advocates say is untenable—it will remain an individualized solution to a social need.”

I hadn’t heard of or thought of home-school groups before, and perhaps they are not common in the UK, but it’s worth looking in to, right?

Going home?

Image source: Patty Lagera (CC BY-ND 2.0)

I need your vote – UK Blog Awards #UKBA15

I was very surprised to find I’ve been nominated for the UK Blog Awards, 2015!

Voting is open from Monday 10th November, 2014, until Monday 1st December, 2014.

I’ve been nominated in two categories, please be sure to click on the right link below for the right category you want .. or both ;-) (PS. they won’t add them together):

David Hopkins / Technology Enhanced Learning Blog
David Hopkins / Technology Enhanced Learning Blog

The next stage in the voting/judging process involves 20 finalists will be chosen to face an expert judging panel, with the winners being announced at an award ceremony in April 2015.

Please spend a minute voting for me (name and email needed), see if we can get recognition for a non-commercial, private, passionate, professional (motivational?), and self-hosted eLearning blog. Please also share this post and your vote on social media using the #UKBA15 and #BeBold tags.

Thank you.

Background – I started this blog in October 2008 more for my own interest, as somewhere I can write my own thoughts on things I find and read, and as somewhere I can refer back to. I had no notion of blogging itself, the community at large, and the world it opens up at that time, nor did I realise how influential I would find it in my professional development, reflection, or for other people who shared my love of all things ‘gadget technology + learning’. Whilst my interest and work takes up all aspects of eLearning, Learning Technolgoy, Education Technology, Technology Enhanced Learning, Mobile Learning, Personal Learning, Social Learning, etc. this blog is where I can explore more than just what I need for my day-to-day work – I can explore wider reading and journal activities, I can report on events, I can critique approaches and ideas that others propose. I can also just have a bit of fun and share something relevant but not necessarily ‘core’ to my role as a Learning Technologist or eLearning Consultant.

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)

12 ways teachers are using social media in the classroom

This resource from Vicki Davis – “A Guidebook for Social Media in the Classroom” on Edutopia is a good starting point for planning the inclusion of social media in learning spaces.

Vicki closes by saying something very similar to what I submitted to the Mobile Learning – “Improving Learning with Mobile Technology” eBook:

“Social media is here. It’s just another resource and doesn’t have to be a distraction from learning objectives. Social media is another tool that you can use to make your classroom more engaging, relevant and culturally diverse.”

The list consists of:

  1. Tweet or post status updates as a class.
  2. Write blog posts about what students are learning.
  3. Let your students write for the world.
  4. Connect to other classrooms through social media.
  5. Use Facebook to get feedback for your students’ online science fair projects.
  6. Use YouTube for your students to host a show or a podcast.
  7. Create Twitter accounts for a special interest projects.
  8. Ask questions to engage your students in authentic learning.
  9. Communicate with other classrooms.
  10. Create projects with other teachers.
  11. Share your learning with the world.
  12. Further a cause that you care about.

What would you add (or remove) from the list to help others utilise students and their devices?

Image source: Life on the wire (CC BY 2.0)