Goodbye to Glasgow IATEFL

So my time at IATEFL has come to an end.  So it is time to emerge from the SEC bubble and return to the real world.  Out from this temporary village, where over the course of a few days, friendships are made, business is done and nods are exchanged with the many faces that are suddenly familiar and unknown at the same time.

So what were the highlights.

As always the plenaries I was fortunate to attend were inspiring and thought provoking, invigorating me for another year of juggling schedules, implementing ideas andownloadd, hopefully, motivating students.

The nuggets I will store for the next few months…..

Gabriel Diaz Maggioli focused on the importance that institutions, and I would venture teachers themselves, need to look at Professional Development

“not as an expense but as an investment.”

“It is time the institutions we work for respond to our needs”

Sarah Mercer continued on this theme:  The importance of the teacher as the lynch-pin of successful learning.  A theme which certainly seemed to resonate with her audience.  At a time when fewer new teachers are entering the field and more are leaving; when education in the US appears to be up for the highest bidder, the re-evaluation of teachers as a valuable commodity to be treasured rather than an inconvenient requirement to making money in education has been a running theme this year.  But as teachers we also need to be kinder to ourselves.  To forget the single negative comment and instead focus on what we know we can do well as teachers.  Our strengths, our passions and ourselves.

And focusing on our strengths and passions, a shout out to Shirley Norton and the lovely Raquel Ribeiro.

Shirley shared her journey through moving from project management to managing changing and showed the importance of knowing your strengths whilst also exhibiting the growth mindset discussed by Sarah Mercer – I am learning every day.  Forget expensive project management courses, this whistle-stop and honest tour through what can go right or wrong should be a must-see for anyone about to implement new projects or ideas.

And to finish, the passion of Raquel.  A teacher working with wonderful imagination looking at new ways of incorporating tech into the classroom to provide her students with novelty, innovation and fun.  Whilst never forgetting the oft-forgotten teachers working witbrightonh little tech, few resources in remote or isolated areas of her native Brazil.  @Rach_Gonzaga

Thank you to all the other speakers and attendees who collectively have left me with much to think about.  Goodbye from IATEFL 2017 and see you in Brighton #IATEFL2018.



The teachers lounge or the importance of an apostrophe

lounging 4

Seven years ago I started teaching.  Armed with my CELTA certificate and minimal teaching experience, I began teaching Adult CAE evening courses at a University.  My classes began at 6pm and often carried through to 10pm.  I arrived after office hours and locked up when I was finished.  Having two young children, this was the perfect compromise.  But it meant if I needed any training on how to use the LMS, or wanted to observe another teacher’s class, I had to arrange a sitter to cover unpaid time.  So I decided if I couldn’t access a teacher’s lounge, I would be a teacher who lounged.

Now for me, starting out, working odd hours was fine.  I was eager to learn and earn and valued the experience and knowledge of other teachers; but it was lonely.  I rarely saw my colleagues, I didn’t engage with management or support staff and the daylight hours were spent preparing at home on my computer.  I wasn’t having fun – and when you are not earning a lot or working when others are playing –  that was important.  That was what gave me the energy to leave my family at the dining table and go and give good classes, to engage with and most of all motivate my adult students; a lot of whom came to class straight from work.

Adult education is often the same around the world.  Teachers work remotely, either in-company or at remote training centres, often have little contact with the main office and often have to accommodate students’ ‘real’ lives.  The teacher’s lounge does not exist for us.  The opportunity to engage with colleagues, learn from each other, and share our stresses and frustrations.

As we increasingly hired new teachers, often living and working on the other side of the country from our head office, the teaching support role became more focused on how could we motivate and support our teachers.

At IATEFL we are often focused on  building positive learning experiences for your students.…..But what of the teaching experience?  Where is the focus on ensuring teachers are having the best experience?

So how can we achieve the dream – the lounging teacher work scenario.  Well, my solution is very personal to me because it has grown out of my own experiences

Looking back on my CELTA experience.  Every night from end of the work dayto midnight I would be sitting in front of my machine  designing lesson plans and activities, writing essays and reading texts.  I was away from home; my husband and kids, stressed and questioning whether I wanted a new career in my 30s.  And then one of my fellow students invited us to join her on Facebook.  It became my lifeline – we would chat about the course – but mainly we would encourage each other to keep going, even when the hour was late and there was life outside.

So this was first leg – building a community in Facebook- the private groups.  Now it is not just used for support but also for sharing articles found online, following English resources within Facebook, dg isucssinteaching ideas and sharing a joke.

There is a field of knowledge available to be shared amongst teachers – it can come from workshops, attending conferences or personal experience.  But so much of this is not shared, but kept to ourselves.  Often not through a desire not to share but because sharing is inconvenient, requires effort or we are unsure of our audience.

The second leg was how to ensure teachers had the materials they needed to teach.  My greatest dread was getting to the office, as everyone was leaving, to find I couldn’t print handouts or another teacher hadn’t returned the audio disks, or the LMS or house-drive was down.  So I started using DropBox to store mp3 files, a pdf of the answer keys, our in-house produced readers and handouts, scans of teacher photocopiable material etc.  So no matter what happened I could open Dropbox (either online or downloaded) and have something to teach with.  As more teachers required coordinating and training and wereless likely to travel to head-office, had less notice before a class began or had problems accessing the in-house shared folders – Dropbox became the de-facto storage and sharing system.  When Cambridge changed the format of FCE and CAE, teachers were quickly able to adapt the material held to benefit everyone.  Comments and ultimately efforts could be shared.

However, we still had the thorny issue of an unwielding LMS.  Two different versions based in two different locations with slightly different set-ups and functionality.  Even if teachers are used to one version they can encounter difficulties with the other.  Sending instructions via how-to guides, video instruction or email with screenshots proved time-consuming, inefficient and ineffectual.  More often teachers would just not use the LMS but would instead rely on email, handouts and on-board information.  But face-to-face is always better than email.  Using google hangouts – now accessible by anyone with an email address – we can offer training on using the LMS and the teacher’s own class on a shared screen anywhere, anytime.  Even from your breakfast table in your pyjamas.

And of course we can’t forget that by supporting our teachers, we are also hoping to lounge 2inspire them to go the extra mile.

There is now less stress and more efficient use of the LMS.  Our courses are more blended including videos, quizzes, and support material all delivered via the LMS.  Teachers are more likely to experiment with and use wikis to encourage student responsibility for learning and writing skills.  They are using the functions on Blackboard far more extensively for a multitude of reasons, including learning analytics and grade tracking.   Classes have become less reliant on paper handouts and emails.  Our teachers are active in multiple Facebook groups with their colleagues and best of all almost never require last minute panicked emails about where they can find the most up-to-date powerpoints, reference material, or handouts for a class.

In fact, if a teacher finds out they’ve been scheduled for a new class starting this evening, within 1 hour they can be given access to all the materials via DropBox, have an opportunity to speak to other teachers teaching the same or similar course via Facebook. And receive training, help and guidance on setting up and preparing their course in the LMS via Google Hangouts.  And as our teachers become more familiar with the support tools we are using, support is coming less from one person but from our teaching community as a whole. 


The dream is in sight – The Teachers Lounge not the Teacher’s Lounge!




After almost a year of no action on wordpress. IATEFL has inspired me to begin again.  So this marks the beginning of blogs about what’s happening at IATEFL, my musings and inspiration.

Glasgow has woken to a beautiful sunrise over the Clyde.  The air is fresh, the skies are clear and the feet aren’t hurting – yet.

In keeping with today’s SIG, tomorrow’s plenary is discussing supporting teacher development.  So maybe this year will be the year of teaching support not learning support.pce-2017


Just freaked out Sinead from TDSIG with a change of presentation title – not cool!

Enjoy the blog!

Implementing Analytics

This week we are asked to map our previous barriers to implementation of learning analytics to the ROMA model.  ROMA model

This is a huge task, as the 7-step ROMA models throws up issues that can occur throughout the process, which can require years of investment and development.

“In spite of significant investment over a nine‐year timeframe, Course Signals has not yet been deployed across the entire university.”

Ferguson (2014)

For this reason, I’m going to focus on Step 1:  Map political context. Or rather: the change that needs to be managed:

Discursive change: changing how information is communicated and shared?
Procedural change: changing how something is done: how decisions are made, how learners are supported
Content change: changing written policy with regard to evidence‐based support of learners
Attitudinal change: changing how key stakeholders perceive the project
Behavioural change: making sustainable changes in the way student success is achieved or supported

Ferguson (2014)

Mapping this to the idea of communities, we can see parallels between my own questions of what issues arise from different stakeholder communities and where changes need to be implemented.

vision communities

Are enforced policies required to change behaviours or can training and education on the possibilities of learning analytics result in creating the desired and necessary behaviours for effective use of LA?  As Ferguson observes:

Educators need to be able to evaluate any implementation of analytics tools in order to use them effectively. Learners need to be convinced that analytics are reliable and will improve their learning without unduly intruding into their privacy. Support staff need to be trained to maintain the infrastructure and to add data to the system. Library staff need to be able to use the analytics to shape their practice and resources. University administrators need to be convinced that the implemented analytics provide a sound return on investment and demonstrably improve teaching and learning quality. IT staff need to put workflows into place so that raw data are collated, prepared for use, and made readily available to end users. ”         (pg. 126)

The core issue of learning analytics seems to be its scale: this is not a small project that can be quickly implemented or ‘tried out’ on a whim.  LA requires serious investment, time and resources, and commitment; on a system that until now there is little evidence makes a significant difference to the learning experience.  As a topic I find it fascinating, but big data only starts to become valuable when they can be monetised.  In an increasingly commercial higher education market – when and how will investments be realised, and what are the ethical repercussions of this?  That’s a topic for next week and the next section of this module.

Where’s my cheese?

Those in the know may recognise the title of this blog as refering to Who moved WhoMovedMyCheeseCovermy cheese? by Spencer Johnson.  A short allegorical story about dealing with change.  Coincidentally this is also the focus of this week’s OU assignment (Activity 17 – Why analytics may be ignored).

Getting educators to engage with technology in teaching has long been a discussion for debate – how can this be managed effectively?  However Macfadyen & Dawson (2012) focuses more on the reasons for resisting innovation.

Whilst titled as Perceived attributes of an innovation, there is also the underlying question- What are the risks to me?

“Relative advantage” Rogers (1995): looks at whether change will result in something “better” – but how do we measure “better” especially as the lines between formal and informal learning are continuously blurring.  And is the “better” due to the technology or students engaging due to the enthusiasm of the teacher pushing a technology? Anecdotally it is not uncommon to hear teachers describe a class as ‘difficult’ – the teacher did everything the same, but the class simply didn’t gel, the atmosphere was not constructive to learning etc.  If I engage in technology do I run the risk of overwhelming students pushing them to use technology that actually won’t gratly enhance their learning. Is it technology for technology’s sake?

“Compatability”: Does every innovation work for every group or student.  First year students may be perfectly happy and comfortable exchanging photos online, but will this work with older age groups?  And does this fit what students see as ‘effective teaching’.  With student evaluations a requirement for most courses – are teachers willing to rock the boat?

“Complexity”: Why engage in a complex system that I, as a teacher, may spend more time on than on the required task at hand?  Am I going to have to field questions re. the material or the method used to deliver it?  And again will this result in lower evalutations?

Added to this are also the problems of time, expectation to do unpaid work, and perceived incongruent teaching practices.  If as Macfadyen and Dawson (2012) point out:

academic culture still rewards faculty for verifiable teaching expertise, publication output as a measure of research success, and independent achievement.

then innovation will continue to be resisted or resented.

In the meantime, I’m off to find my cheese!  Someone’s moved it again.



The benevolent big brother

In my last post, I expressed concerns about the use of learning analytics as a tool to micro-manage student and faculty behaviour.  A tool to benefit administrators and the big publishing houses, rather than one that could benefit students.  As a parent, I do have concerns about the amount of visibility there is of my child’s activities online, but as schools get bigger, catchment areas more spread and teachers overwhelmed with the amount of paperwork they have to do, I’ve started to consider analytics from another point of view.  The utopian dream of education is the teacher who understand your child, who nurtures what is special about them and recognises that there is more to a child than what can be seen in the class.  A sort of Little House on the Prairie ideal (though hopefully without the bloodshed and tears).  Can this be supplied through learning analytics?

With this in mind, and as a requirement of H817, Week 22, this blog looks at three of the pedagogies of Sharples et al (2016), and how their goals could be realised through learning analytics.

Crossover learning.

Goal: to connect formal and informal learning.  This can also be seen as an extention of blended learning when formal in-class learning is combined with field trips, but can also include the learning that can occur in after-school clubs or internships.  In an era where 21st Century Skills are increasingly valued, crossover learning can be a move towards competency based learning, focusing on achieving goals and acquiring skills outside of the formal curriculum.

In the example of a museum trip, learning analytics data can be used to show the amount history site screenof time spent browsing, returning to, following links on external sites.  Such as, the museum’s own site, historical information sites, or specific information sites.

In an after-school activity (such as a wearable technologies class), data can be collected on how often students look at, pause, or repeat a YouTube instructional video, or do students prefer step-by-step instructions and pictures such as those provided by

Learning through argumentation

Goal: to prepare students for real-world skills of discussion and defending arguments.  Critical thinking skills, required for good argumentation, require a certain level of knowledge, as well as the ability to see both sides.  Students are often not critical enough in their assessment of the papers they read, which can often be restricted to those recommended by tutors or required by the curriculum.  By using data of student’s search patterns, links clicked and followed, and repeat visits, it may be possible for course developers and teachers to have visibility of how argumentation evidence is searched for online.  Do students know how to use search engines effectively?  What source material do they value and revisit; be it the relevant press websites, academic sources, personal opinion pieces or blogs?  And once they have done their research, do they share links, or engage in discussions – either required or self-initiated.

Incidental learning

Education has often tried to make use of personal interests of students to help students engage with learning or simply to keep their attention.  Gamification is a buzzword in education circles as a key tool in supporting learning that can occur outside a structured curriculum or formal setting.  OU uses Second Life, whilst Minecraft is busy making inroads into education.  Whilst the results of these projects are still being debated, there is still an argument for using learning analytics to gain insight into what activities students are engaged with online outside their formal learning.  However, one issue with gamification (and other incursions into private learning spaces) is that often by the time course designers have caught up, their target audience had moved onto something else?  Is this year’s (or month’s) fad: Minecraft, World of Warcraft, or Pokemon Go?

However, fast responses to big data can hep to avoid spending large amounts of money and time on activites which are no longer relevant to students.  Activities which build on asynchronous discussions via social media can be replicated on either Facebook, Twitter or Whats’ App with a minimal of tweeks.  Learning analytics can give insight into whch medium is the flavour of the month and course material can quickly be adapted to suit.  Over the long term, user online patterns can also be used to decide whether resources are being effectively targeted.  Why set up an internal blogging facility, if students prefer to use an external site, which offers them a bigger audience and the potential for larger communities to be created.

However Incidental Learning can also throw up differences between age groups and assassin creedgender.  For students who typically don’t perform well in a subject area,  e.g. History, gaming outside the classroom can be a useful tool to be encouraged.  The incredibly accurate maps, city layouts and historical back stories of the Assassin’s Creed stories could be used to support history lessons: The Medicis or the French Revolution.  Even inaccuracies can be a useful teaching device – students can be asked to find and discuss those that exist in the games.

However, whilst this can be a support for students, making incidental learning a core element of a classroom could mean there is a risk of alienating sections of a class or group.

These are only a few of the innovations in pedagogy proposed by Sharples et al, but the potential is there.

Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have a faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.

“the eye of Sauron”

Or Learning Analytics – the point at which montoring becomes the price for education.

From the the title and first sentence of this blog the controversy surrounding learning analytics comes to the fore.  Coupled with ‘big data’, the idea of Big Brother always watching becomes ever more a reality.  Like a lot of the discussion on the openness and exchange of information enabled by Web 2.0, ideas with a socially-responsible and community-building ideology can often reveal a darker more insidious side once money and control are added to the mix.  Because, make no mistake, big data is big business.

We willingly sign up to Facebook and Instagram to enjoy the benefits of easy connection forming, sharing ideas and ceating our online personas, even though we know these sites are funded by the selling of our personal information.  Be it access to our photos, offering a captive and targeted audience to advertisers, or selling our personal data onto interested third parties.  However, this is our choice.  We can choose not to sign-up, login or ‘follow’.

But when reading the many definitions re. Learning analytics on Wikipedia, there is one similarity through all.  The use of social connections to predict success or influence decision making.  Suddenly how our children work, study, access material becomes part of their required educational commitment.  Students no longer choose when to come to their teachers with problems, but rather may be ‘approached’ by teachers based on their interaction with the LMS.  In principle, this is a useful tool to ensure all students receive the support they need regardless of their physical visibility in a large institution.  However, at what point does supporting students extend to censoring students.

CAEhIRoUMAE3ptm.jpg largeAs the next generation replaces face-to-face interaction with online conversations, how should social connections be monitored for organisational policy?  And is it really a tool to benefit students or to protect or enforce organisational policy?  As seen last year in the States, providing big data collection services is big money – and for publishers, can act as the ‘watchdog’ to ensure material is protected and paid for.  This seems almost a complete contradiction to the openness and collaborative intentions of web 2.0 and learning communities.

Learning analytics does have a place – it can be used to determine what methodology students respond to, which materials students spend more time on, as well as identifying patterns of learning, development and interaction during a course.  However, as Mike Sharkey points out, institutes must be careful in how they define ‘success’ – the data may show that all students have completed a series of online exercises successfully, but real success comes when the students can demonstrate that learning in a productive manner.




Last class blues

I haven’t blogged for a while as term classes have been drawing to an end so this got pushed to the back.  I also haven’t blogged on teaching ideas specifically before – so this entry marks a return and a change of topic.

Keeping students interested and motivated for the last classes are difficult:  all their assignments are in, ‘it’s probably not on the test’ and their minds have moved on to more pressing matters – upcoming exams and finding accommodation for next year.

Little did I know was that all they needed was the promise of a Kahoot quiz (  Students not familiar with the format were immediately challenged with ‘have you not done this before’.  After a lacklustre first half of the class, the level of adrenalin in the room shot up as did some of the heads.

screenshot kahoot.pngI’ve used Kahoot before so why the blog now? Mainly to share what seemed to be a positive response to, basically, an experiment.

As part of the course in business communication, the governing systems of the US and UK are considered in very broad detail.  Unfortunately, gettting students to research this topic seems to result in an out-loud reading of Wikipedia.  A quick straw poll of the class however reveals most students would vote for Bernie Sanders.  Today’s Kahoot survey aimed to challenge students pre-conceptions of their candidate.  Based on a presidential campaign comparison site, students were presented with key issues from the heart of the US campaign.  They could then agree, disagree, remain neutral and so on. Each question had a two minute discussion when they could argue their point of view.

For me, the greatest success was how passionately they threw themselves into the discussions.  An energy not seen in more traditional presentations and in class. The final question asked, if they could understand why Americans were voting for Donald Trump.  Whilst none of the students said they personally would vote for Trump, they thought they had more understanding of why his campaign had been so successful.  (And indeed they had been surprised when their view was more aligned with Trump than Sanders).

Of course, my ultimate goal is that I have raised their interest in following politics, not only in their own country but across the world.  We shall see!  But I remain optimistic.

If you would like to try the quiz for yourself it is available at  Information on the US election candidates (plus further comparisons between the candidates is available here).

Am I a literate open learner?

Activity 24: Considering open learner literacies

Mozilla’s guide to to web literacies is indeed detailed, but in attempting to consider all aspects of web interaction it creates an incredibly complex list of literacies which many web users probably don’t, or at least didn’t, possess when they first went online.  In terms of teaching web literacies, Jenkins et al is probably more manageable.

Like Robert, I hadn’t really thought about online literacies, never mind how they might differ from everyday online activity to engaging in an OER.

Using an old school trick of how to start an essay:  Literacy is defined as:

“Competence or knowledge in a specified area”

Oxford Dictionaries Online

However we know there is so much more to it than that.  The wonders of the web, and the communities it supports means I can also find the following two definitions from Urban Dictionary

What 99.9% of is lacking.
 by Anonymous May 28, 2003
Having the ability and comprehension level enabling one to efficiently communicate with others within a specific profession.
However, a common misconception of this word defines it as having the ability to read with comprehension.
For example, a financial analyst does not have to be literate within the confines of working in the food industry, whereas a server or chef does not need the kind of literacy associated with working in the finance world.
by Anonymous January 14, 2004
So what do we need to use the web effectively?  Well terms like Transmedia Navigation and Distributed Cognition (Jenkins et al) are all very well for academic papers, but ask your typical blogger, or forum administrator what you’re talking about and they’d probably look at you blankly.  Ask them how to shut down a troll however…!  Online literacy is about knowing the world you are navigating and knowing that most users are self-taught experimenters, who are creating a new language, culture, protocols and norms as they go.
The rules can change at the drop of a hat, and censure of ‘wrong’behaviour is swift.
So here are my 6 requirements for navigating and communicating via the web:  web literacies KA
Produced thanks to a very nice, free website I found on the web.

Virtual Reality in OER

Activity 22: An open education technology

At CES, Las Vegas 2016, VR was everywhere.  Every large technology company had their own version with applications ranging from the medical to entertainment to revolutionising rollercoaster rides. 360-fly  And of course like most new technologies, the feeder companies were there – Go-Pro style cameras that allow you to film your latest death-defying base jump or cycle run not just from the point of view of the rider, but from a 360 degree, adrenalin inducing point of view.  Production of a 360 film may still require a $300 camera, but this is a fraction of what studio time can cost.

But surely this is the opposite of open education.  Big business, expensive technology and gimmicks.  But thanks to innovators working in communities like Maker Faire or Google Cardboard, VR can be used by anyone in possession of a smart phone.   A quick search on YouTube’s new 360 channel found gems such as:  Swimming with Great White sharks; A beautifully filmed representation of what would happen if Gravity wasn’t constant The Pull; as well as news articles on The earthquakes in Japan and Nepal.

This may be seen as gimmicky or just for fun; so what purpose does it serve in learning? Possibly because by enhancing our other senses, not just sight, but sight that changes with our body movement; sound that doesn’t come from speakers, but a full surround sound sensation, we can emotionally involve our learners in the material on offer. Further motivate them to engage with their learning.  Another voice, another perspective, pulling them into the story, challenging their preconceptions and encouraging them to really think about the concepts being presented.

Or maybe, just because, if you’re meant to be looking at your phone,  using Google Cardboard, while standing up, and interacting with a partner – it’s much harder to hide at the back of the class and sleep.