Learn Appeal – The Learning Capsule

At the end of 2015 I met up with Lesley Price, just a catch up to chat about retirement (unfortunately not mine), keeping busy, moving house, and The Really Useful #EdTechBook. Lesley also had something else to show me.

Whilst waiting for food to arrive Lesley plopped (only word for it) a blue lunchbox on the table and said … “try this out”. Um, OK?

Connecting to the Capsule Wi-Fi, then typing an IP address to my phone’s browser, I was suddenly connected to a learning management system complete with a choice of courses / content, interactions, videos, etc. This box had it all and, if we’d told people on tables around us, we could have all accessed and learned something new together. Right there and then! 

OK, it’s not new, per se, learning ‘online’. What is new is this approach. Inside the box are a Wi-Fi router, battery, a Raspberry Pi, and a kick-ass piece of software developed by the wonderful bods at Appitierre.

Those that can connect to the Internet are now able to access a wealth of learning opportunities literally at the touch of a button or a screen … but what about communities in remote locations where there is no mains electricity, never mind Internet access? Is the growth of the Internet, which is enabling learning for those that are connected, actually widening the educational divide with those that are not?  The McKinsey report: Offline and Falling Behind, Barriers to Internet Adoption quite clearly identifies some of the key problems.

What is Learn Appeal? This charity “offers a chance for all those who work in e-learning to combine our resources and give something back. It’s our opportunity to harvest all those creative juices to deliver a learning revolution.” Bringing together the very best people involved in learning and learning development Learn Appeal works with projects around the world to connect individuals and communities, who already have the devices to learn on/with, but not the data connectivity. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t providing the Internet where there is none; it’s providing a localisedWi-Fi network (from this little box, yes) with interactive learning management system.

Learning Capsule. Rural communities, who don’t have or can’t afford reliable Internet, could run this themselves. With pre-loaded learning materials or ‘courses’ they could learn together about solar power, clean water, farming and cultivation, soil management, etc. In towns or cities a safe and closed network for children to learn online (safe from the distractions and dangers of online predators). it only needs one person to have an Internet connection at least every now and again to connect the Capsule online and download new / updated materials or courses to keep it fresh, and the battery can be charged so easily from a solar power pack or other such renewable source (mains power if you have it).

Possibilities. The possibilities are endless for the Capsule – anywhere you want safe or reliable access to learning resources, whether full-on Internet is available or not, is possible. Just because you or your intended learners can access the wider, fuller Internet isn’t what’s important; the Capsule could be deployed for users where you don’t want them to have this (at-risk children, prisons, etc.).

Partners. Learn Appeal is already working with the likes of Barnardo’s in the UK, Complitkenya in Kenya, and is tackling illiteracy in  South Africa with M-Ubuntu, among many more projects in development.

I am happy and proud to say that the board at Learn Appeal invited me to join as a Trustee to the charity, and I am looking forward to working with them on projects and content.

Watch the Learn Appeal promotional video below, shown at the 2015 eLearning Awards and 2016 Learning Technologies event. We are looking for a whole range or donations, not only financial, but donations such as content, time, resources, networks, etc. Please check out the Learn Appeal website for more details.

Learn Appeal – eLearning Awards Video

Here are just a few examples of the excitement surrounding the Capsule:

Stephen Heppell / Learn Appeal Capsule

Asi DeGani / Learn Appeal

Debra Beck / Learn Appeal

Tanya Randall / Learn Appeal

Learn Appeal Capsule

Learning {Re}Imagined

One book I’ve added to my wish-list bookshelf, but not had the funds to get yet, is Learning {Re}Imagined from Graham Brown-Martin.

Both professionally and personally the future of education interests me: my work at Warwick and my two primary school-aged boys. I know from my experiences in both these areas that schooling and teaching does not work, certainly not for everyone. So, what are we to do?

Do we, as Graham did, encourage children to drop out and explore other avenues? Whilst it worked for him, and other successful people like Sir Richard Branson, it could quite easily have gone the other way. It’s not enough to add more technology on to old teaching methods … as Graham says, “since when did teaching become a delivery system? … but to engage in all aspects of education from the support staff and students are given, resources availability and appropriateness, to the spaces we have to work in and with.

Far too many questions, far too few answers. But, so long as we’re asking the questions, we’ve raised awareness and, hopefully, we can begin to bridge the gap between what we want (or need) and what we have. Yes?

For the moment I’ll have to settle for Graham’s tweets and engaging with him on Twitter, and now this TEDx Talk:

Learning (Re)Imagined | Graham
Brown-Martin | TEDxAmsterdamED

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)

Day 1: Blackboard T&L Conference #BbTLC2014

At the first day of the 2014 Blackboard T&L Conference I made a decision – tweet less, listen more, take/make meaningful notes, and enjoy the sessions for what they are, not what I wanted them to be.

To this end I am Sketchnoting my way through the sessions, and here are my sketchnotes for Day 1.

Keynote: Prof Stephen Heppell 

Prof Stephen Heppell #BbTLC2014

Brian Hipkin: The culture of ‘always on’ – how not to disengage in the age of engagement

Brian Hipkin #BbTLC2014

Gillian Fielding: ‘A room with a view’ for virtually anyone

Gillian Fielding #BbTLC2014

Kate Wright: Making more mobile – Aberystwyth University’s experience of implementing Mobile Learn

Kate Wright #BbTLC2014

If you want to use the sketchnotes then please remember to use the Creative Commons attribution to this blog entry and David Hopkins (CC BY-NC 3.0).

Blackboard T&L Conference, Dublin #BbTLC2014

Next week is the 2014 Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference in Dublin. The programme looks very comprehensive and has 6 streams in motion, which means it’s going to be very difficult to attend and cover all the sessions I want to attend – which means I’m going to have to be very selective about what, and who, I see.

Here’s my first impressions of what I will try and see -

Wednesday, April 30.

  • Keynote / Prof Stephen Heppell. I have met and talked with Prof Heppell on numerous occasions (at Learning Without Frontiers in 2011 and during my time working at Bournemouth University) and know that his unique perspective and style will make this keynote both interesting and hugely profound on the issues affecting education today. This is one session you do not want to miss. 
  • Track 3 / Brian Hipkin – ‘The Culture of ‘Always On – How not to disengage in the age of engagement’. If we’re to engage and keep the attention of the ‘always on’ student, then understanding them and their needs is important. This session will look at society’s use of social media and the challenges of using it.
  • Track 4 / Gillian Fielding – ‘Collaborate: “A room with a view” for virtually anyone’. Case studies are always more interesting and relevant to how I think, so this one from Salford should be good, looking at the strategic embedding of Collaborate across the institution.
  • Track 5 / Kate Wright – ‘Making More Mobile – Aberystwyth University’s Experience of Implementing Mobile Learn’. I’ve been trying to find examples of Bb Mobile Learn in use for a while (December 2013) and this might be the first time I see it in action and get to find out how & why they did it, as well as what the students think about it.

Thursday, May 1.

  • Track 2 / Jan Snijders – ‘The Matrix, connecting worlds’. Bb Implementation and use across a whole institution is never easy, so it’ll be interesting to hear how Avans University have achieved this, and how they’re taking it forward and integrating it into more than just the basic ‘file store/dump’ mentality.
  • Track 2 / Sara Preston – ‘Embedding Blackboard Collaborate in Academic Practice’. Using Bb Collaborate for more than just the basic ‘online presentation’ is key to utilising it’s vast capabilities, so hopefully the University of Aberdeen can share some practices (good and bad) at how to meet these challenges.
  • Track 3 / Lloyd Dean – ‘Using BlackBoard to Flip the classroom’. I have had conversations at Leicester about the flipped classroom, as well as delivering a workshop, so this will be interesting to hear how others are using and implementing the flipped approach, and whether the techniques can be replicated at Leicester.
  • Track 4 / Malcolm Murray – ‘Student voice: is honesty the best policy? Giving students control of TEL evaluations’. I met Malcolm for the first time at the 2013 Durham Bb Users Conference, so know this session will be informative and relevant, as well as being very pertinent to the conversations I’ve had around the issue of module and learning evaluations.

Friday, May 2.

  • Track 1 / Louise Thorpe – ‘Flipped, flexible and feedback: Blackboard client community group piloting Blackboard Collaborate to provide more engaging and innovative learning activities for on-campus students’. Collaboration for both campus and distance learning students is one everyone’s mind at the moment, with Bb Collaborate a solution being considered and investigated. This session will hopefully provide some insight into successful implementation both technically and pedagogically.
  • Track 3 / Sharon Flynn – ‘Student as Producer: Developing a campus mobile app for students by students using Mosaic’. I’ve followed Sharon’s work at Galway for a number of years, and enjoyed conversations in Twitter and in real life too, so I know this session will be informative, well presented, and very useful for any organisation looking to, or has already, implemented a campus App.
  • Track 1 / Jan-Willem van der Zalm – ‘Moving Your Mission-Critical Services to the Cloud’. Cloud services are becoming a big thing. Will this session address some of the issues and concerns universities have with this (including data protection?) or just be another sales pitch … ?

There are many more sessions I am interested in, but most are scheduled for the same time. I can only hope that bloggers like me will write up their notes and/or Bb will archive the presentations .. and maybe even record them too?

Blackboard Teaching & Learning Conference 2014 BbTLC2014