How are you engaging with students in exceptional conditions?

A few staff made it to our campus today; me being one of them! This is not the first time this year that snow has disrupted the routines of education, but have those routines changed as a result?

I have noted the level of activity in our VLE, which appears to be relatively high and comparable to any other weekday. However, I am uncertain of the activities that students may be following whilst unable to get into college. I suspect that most are collecting resources from Moodle (exercises, reference materials, etc) and following some associated task. How many though, are engaging in learning activities together, online?

Of course, when it snows, it’s pretty likely that students of any age will be outside having some fun. However, the policy of most organisations (including the one I work for) is that learners should remain engaged and continue the learning process. Whether this actually is the case is very difficult to say. With regular disruption to education over brief periods this year, we should now be well equipped to prepare learners for the different approach we all need to take to our learning routines. We should be confident that even when not on campus, flexible and creative approaches to learning can be adopted should any exceptional situation come about.

Are you, or any of your colleagues using VLE facilities and other learning tools to engage with learners online? Do you schedule online activities at the same time you would normally be teaching the group? Do you make yourself accessible online at specific times for students to contact you, and if so, by what means?

I don’t teach, but I am intrigued to know how you are ensuring continued engagement with your classes.

FOTE10 and what I learned from Joe Dale

I remember this time last year really getting enthused by the vast number of resources available through the growing medium of Twitter. I could connect with a seemingly unlimited number of people just like me who were exploiting the benefits of new technology for the benefit of education. These gracious individuals were forming communities of sharing, building their expertise by connecting with others and sharing their experiences, knowledge and resources.

Whilst exploring this fantastic new service, I also stumbled upon a couple of events. Initially, the Association of Learning Technologists conference, and shortly after, the Future of Technology in Education conference. What I noticed first about the ALT-c conference was that apart from being a bunch of really clever folk, they were openly prepared to challenge accepted norms in order to promote development and change for a better future.

As the FOTE conference approached, I was becoming a little anxious. Me, an IT Manager, attending a conference organised and delivered by a bunch of really clever folk whom I respect greatly. But was this going to be an event where I felt comfortable?

So the day arrives, and having arrived at senate house i still feel a little unsure about my place at the conference. Not to worry. I soon felt right at home thanks to an opening session from Microsoft that really seemed to be a plug for the Microsoft vision of things to come. Trouble was, this vision seemed to be very generalized, rather than adopting an educational perspective. I have great respect for Ray and the Microsoft Education team, particularly for their work in promoting the resources available to education via the Microsoft HE and FE blogs; somehow it missed the spot for me, though.

On went the schedule through more products and technologies which individually were really great, but ultimately they were all ‘just tech’. This wasn’t what i was expecting from FOTE. I was expecting talk of new teaching techniques where technology is involved, changing learning styles and how we accommodate the with technology, blending technology with learning. I wasn’t really getting a message here other than ‘here’s some more great technology’.

Enter Joe Dale. I think Joe is a very brave individual – and I congratulate him. Joe agreed to present to the audience his experiences of technology as a teacher of modern foreign languages. As the presentation began, Joe explained some of the tools and techniques he has employed in his work with colleagues and students (most notably Twitter) which has helped Joe establish a wide personal learning network. Around half way through Joe’s presentation, some negative comments were evident from the audience, listeners were not entirely sure why some of these basic tools were being explained to a group of experts. To be honest, so did I.

The event closed and I went home – getting most of the way there before the train ground to a halt at a nearby station leaving me stranded in the rain.

The following day, I began to reflect on Joe’s presentation. I realised that Joe had done a fantastic job. He had illustrated what we should all be focusing on. We spent a whole day hearing from other presenters about some really interesting and leading edge technology, but where were the needs of our everyday staff and learners? Well, thanks to Joe telling us his story, it’s clear that many might be some of the skills held by those staff could be lower than we might assume. Joe has already been on a learning journey, made considerable steps toward becoming a teacher who broadens his student learning experience with newly available technology. Sure, his presentation was an unusual mix of colors and screenshots, and maybe it wasn’t quite 10/20/30, but the message for me was loud and clear: despite all the new stuff, we must help our staff and learners identify the right tools, and integrate them with the curriculum. I really can’t return from a conference about ‘the future of learning technology’ with a bunch of new tools or technologies and some glimpses into the future. Useful as these ideas and concepts are, I am expected to break this down into meaningful and understandable additions to the learning experience. I did expect more of this from the conference.

Couple Joe’s presentation with that of Matt ‘all we need is love’ Lingard and perhaps you have a winning formula. Spread the learning technology love among teachers and support staff. Listen to our learners and consider their generation and their needs. Add to this the awareness that Joe has conveyed to us through his work with colleagues in a number of organisations, and maybe there is a new future in truly establishing learning technology as something that staff from all areas of the organisation – particularly the curriculum – can be comfortable with. More importantly, comfortable enough that they become confident in further developing their own skills and techniques, and confident enough that technologists like us will embrace them and their needs.

Well done Joe.

Could our Learning and Development programme offer more?

Earlier this year, the third and final (for now) meeting of the ‘Exemplars’ from Becta’s Technology Exemplar Network took place. Among other subjects, we discussed the outcomes from our mini-network events and open days held earlier this year to kick-start engagement between Exemplars and the Participating Providers with whom we have been partnered.

We had an open discussion with no other agenda than discussing technology in relation to teaching and learning. The conversation began with a comment from South Devon College’s Becky Barrington who asked ‘how do you maintain staff attendance in your learning and development offerings?’. Becky elaborated by explaining that she has been involved in delivery of learning and development training for some time, and has recently come to the conclusion that teaching ‘the technology’ may not be the most effective approach. Instead, Becky has shifted her focus away from teaching application skills. You know the ones – Word, Excel, PowerPoint – the somewhat predictable staples of the classroom.

A shift in direction has been made, focusing now upon enabling staff to effectively apply available tools in the classroom with desired outcomes in mind. This is in distinct contrast with a “here’s how you perform with ” approach. The general assumption being that with the new approach, outcomes of greater benefit to the teacher and (more importantly) the learner become achievable. The same view was echoed by Sandra from City and Islington, who added ‘we’re not offering that IT stuff any more!’, instead focusing upon ILT needs.

A number of other simple and effective ideas emerged from the conversation, although the discussion did tend to focus upon technical aspects of the classroom, rather than teaching and learning. Full credit for all this to those who participated in that conversation:

  • use a ‘just one thing’ theme
  • post a ‘what’s coming next week’ reminder somewhere prominent
  • drop into classrooms regularly to kick start ILT usage, and find out what works (or doesn’t!)
  • adopt a flexible planning approach and listen to staff availability comments
  • ensure that the trainer enters the classroom to witness the impact of delivery!
  • focus less on training in technology and more on building learning practice with technology