Friday, 3 February 2017


My move to full time HE last year caused a blip in my use of technology in the classroom. I had a few wobbles and wasn't sure if it was appropriate to use all those tools in my new setting.

I've recovered from those feelings now and am beginning to build these activities up again, and in some ways, I've learnt from that blip. Returning to using technology after a brief gap has made me realise just how useful these tools can be.

I started with a firm favourite of mine - Poll Everywhere - because I am confident in its use and it's familiar territory for me, something which was reassuring when introducing it in a new setting. I set up a few recap questions, and the results were really useful for formative assessment.

I dabbled with Kahoot, but the class I was with found it just too tempting to use inappropriate names, so I'll probably leave that for a while.

I tried Plickers for the first time. I needed all 63 cards available for this particular class, so giving them out was a bit of a headache - I will need to work on that. However, using the cards was incredibly easy, didn't rely on the students having devices to take part, and collecting the results was pretty instant and very informative.  If I can just work out the best way to distribute the cards I can see this becoming a regular feature.

Finally, I've had a go with Socrative. This was also a really effective tool for checking that learning had taken place and I will definitely use this again.

What I've enjoyed most about all of these tools is that I'm getting something back from the learners. Lecturing in HE is a different beast to FE - partly because the classes are considerably larger and also because I generally tend to see less of the students overall, so being able to review the results of these 'fun' activities after the students have left is really valuable and means I can revisit those topics they didn't quite grasp. It also means that students are much more engaged because they actively have to respond, and whilst I haven't specifically asked for feedback from them on whether they enjoy doing these activities, there is no doubt that they brighten up and seem keen to do their best - all of which has got to be better than falling asleep staring at PowerPoint slides.

I'm looking forward to expanding my use of technology in my new role - I know that done right it will be a great addition to the learning environment.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Microsoft OneDrive - Sharing Folders

Most of the time I think Office 365 is pretty good - keeping shared documents in one location in order to make sure we are all working from the most up to date version, for example.

However, there are some things within OneDrive which are mighty annoying.

Organising Shared Folders

Firstly, sorting the 'shared with me' files and folders seems to me to be very flawed.  This morning I seemed to be able to sort my shared files and folders into alphabetical order, making it somewhat simpler to find the folder I was looking for.

This afternoon that functionality seems to have disappeared.  I can sort by date, but not by title.  Perhaps that's just me having a dull moment.  I will try again tomorrow.

Moving Files from my Personal Drive to a Shared Folder

This would appear to be a real design flaw.  I'm working on some leaflets that need updating.  The folder has been created by another member of staff and shared with our team.  They are graphic heavy, so need to be downloaded into Word to work on for full functionality.  As they are works in progress, I want to save them into my own area so I can check them all when finished and then return them to the shared folder.

This cannot be done.  Having saved my updated version into my own OneDrive, I now have to download them one by one to my computer, and then re-upload them to the shared area.  This seems to me to be totally illogical.  A quick Google search confirms that this is indeed the case, and that there is no way to move a file from my own staff OneDrive into another OneDrive folder that has been shared with me.

Come on Microsoft, this seems like a simple ask!!  A drag and drop function would make this a breeze.  I'll keep my fingers crossed for an update soon!

Monday, 4 April 2016

To grade or not to grade??

Over the past few months I have been involved in graded (and ungraded) lesson observations.  For 45 minutes to an hour, I sit in a classroom and watch the teaching and learning that is taking place.  I have a form to complete which prompts me to look at various things such as classroom management, evidence that learning is taking place, assessment tracking, lesson planning and so on.

What I've noticed though is how staff behave at the end of the observation, when the lecturer and I start the feedback session. I always start by asking the lecturer 'What do you think went well?' and 'What didn't go so well?'  More often than not, this is followed by a somewhat garbled response - understandable - the lecturer is relieved that the observation is over and is anxious to hear my views, not dissect the lesson themselves.

But what really happens is this:  if I grade the lesson as 'Excellent' (a grade 1), then the lecturer thinks 'Yippee - I did it, I am an excellent teacher, and you can now say anything you like because it doesn't matter because I'm already excellent';  if I grade the lesson as 'Adequate' (grade 3) - or worse, 'Unsatisfactory' (grade 4), the lecturer doesn't hear anything I say beyond that, what they have heard is 'despite your best efforts, and the sleepless nights you have had in the run up to this observation, you are still only adequate at this job, mediocre at best.  They are now thinking, 'what is the point, I've worked this hard to just be adequate'.  They do no hear my advice or suggestions for improvements, they do not listen to the good elements that I highlight, they hear instead a barrage of 'adequate', 'reasonable', 'satisfactory', words that are damning by their mediocrity.

I once discussed a grade with a lecturer who I felt had missed a number of opportunities to stretch and challenge the students.  The lesson was - dare I say it - 'adequate': learners were achieving at a level that was expected of them, but they weren't going the extra mile.  At the end of the observation I sat with the lecturer and told him I was not sure whether I was going to give him a 'good' or an 'adequate'.  He told me that he would hand in his notice the next day if I gave him the lower grade.  He asked me how he could face his colleagues with an 'adequate'.  We chatted for a long time that day, and I gave him his 'good' in the end, because I could not see any benefit to him or his students if he left, and because it was a borderline decision anyway.  I discussed with him the shortcomings of the session, and I highlighted his strengths too.  Did giving this lecturer a grade encourage him to do better?  Did it make him think deeply about the way he taught the lesson?  I very much doubt it.  Without the grade at all, he might just have listened to my observations and feedback and reviewed how he was engaging with those learners.

The same is true for students.  I've observed students scroll through a marked, annotated assignment right to the end to find their grade.  If they've done well, they turn to their friends with a whoop and then ask them what they got.  If the student did badly, they scowl and move on.  It is very rare that I see a student sit and digest all the comments and feedback I have given them on an assignment, and then use this information to improve their next piece of work.

I once tried an experiment.  Initially I gave the learners their written feedback as usual for an assignment.  When we started the next assignment some weeks later, I asked them to review the feedback they had from the first assignment and then told them to write a point or two about how they would respond to this feedback in their second assignment.  I got them to write this point as the first line of their next assignment.  It was met with some confusion ('why are we doing this?') and some suspicion ('what is she getting at?'), but it at least got some of the learners to consider how they might improve on their previous grades.  This is something I think is worth adopting as regular practice, and it would certainly be interesting to research the outcomes of such activities to see if it has a positive impact on grades.

One thing I can say is that I really enjoy giving lecturers feedback on their lessons.  I find that the experiences I have had throughout my teaching career give me a good insight into what is effective and which tools might enhance a lesson, and I am very enthusiastic about sharing these ideas with staff.  I really don't like giving lecturers a grade.  Some colleges are already moving away from graded observations and discussions I've had with these colleagues suggest that after an initial period of uncertainty from staff, the consensus is that these observations are more effective in that staff get more out of the process than just receiving a judgement.  Perhaps there might be room for both?

Useful Reading

There are some excellent insights into Feedback and Assessment (mainly from a student / teacher perspective rather than lesson observations) on the UKEdChat pages, and a very good research article by Ruth Butler (rather old now from 1988) called Enhancing and Undermining Intrinsic Motivation: The Effects of Task Involving and Ego Involving Evaluation on Interest and Performance.  Finally there is an excellent piece of research by John Hattie and Helen Timperley (2007) entitled 'The Power of Feedback' which is well worth a read.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Adobe Document Cloud

I've discovered Adobe Document Cloud and what it offers me in terms of PDF documents.

This week I have been away from my desk carrying out lesson observations. During the observations, I write notes on a standard form.  I give my feedback to the tutor concerned, take a photo of the 2-page form on my mobile and then leave the form with the tutor.

I then upload the photos to my Evernote account, and in the past, I have waited until I've been at my desk to download the files, convert the two pages into a single PDF using Acrobat, and then email them to our Quality department.

Recently though, Acrobat was removed from my desktop PC, so I was looking for a way to convert two separate JPEGs for each observation into a single PDF.  I discovered Adobe Document Cloud did exactly what I wanted.

I already have an Adobe Creative Cloud account.  By going into the Document Cloud, I can Create PDFs by dragging and dropping the JPEGs into the browser.  I can then combine the two PDFs into one by selecting them and giving them a new name.  I'm pleased at how easy it is.

I could probably send the JPEGs from my phone directly to Creative Cloud - so that's the next step to investigate.  I love it when things just work!!

Saturday, 12 September 2015

New beginnings

Next week I will start a new (albeit temporary) role as a Teaching & Learning Mentor.  I'm exciting at the prospect, as well as being a little nervous.

Applying for - and subsequently getting - the job have made me think a lot about what the role of a Teaching & Learning Mentor should be.  As a lecturer, I look to my campus Mentor for support with lesson plans in the main.  I'm pretty competent when it comes to technology for learning, so this is not something I need a lot of support with.  But when it comes to lesson observations, I find it handy to be able to chat through my lesson plan with someone else who can give me suggestions or point out areas that I have not explicitly included.  I guess it is useful to hear an objective point of view on what I have put together.

Today, I read the Guardian's Secret Teacher post on inset days (Guardian, 2015).  I agree with the author that there is nothing worse than sitting in training which feels less than relevant, whilst thinking about all the prep and / or marking that is sitting on your desk, whilst trying to control the building sense of panic about when you are going to manage to fit it in.

Last term, I was involved in putting together an inset for a specific group of staff.  One of the things I was determined to do was to ensure that during the session, staff would complete something tangible which they could take away and use in a lesson.  We did this by including a brief introduction, and then four activities - short 15 minute group sessions which introduced a teaching tool or technique and then gave the staff an opportunity to begin planning their own take on the technique - something that would work for them and their learners, and that they could take away at the end of the session.  As an example, my session was on the use of online collaborative forums as a way of developing higher order thinking skills.  I explained the purpose of the forums and briefly some of the technicalities, and then I got the group to think of a forum topic that they could use within their own subject area.  Once they had done that, I asked them to think about how they could drive the online discussion forward to develop those critical thinking skills that we so desperately want our learners to have.

Feedback from the session was very good, and as a team I think we did a good job of making use of the time in a way that the staff felt was productive.  My post now will be to replicate that productivity every day, with every member of staff I interact with.

There is definitely a need to bring staff together to plan and to disseminate information, but how we do that is just as important.  We are telling teachers that they need to be less didactic and more interactive, but that's not always how inset sessions run.  Perhaps now I have an opportunity to lead by example.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

So much to learn, so little time

I found this post from this time last year which I never got round to publishing.  The subjects may have changed, but the principle still remains!

Sept 2014

I've re-connected with my piano.  Last week I had it tuned, and just before he left, the piano tuner played a short but beautiful piece of music on it.  I sat in the other room and listened and it reminded me how much I love playing the piano, and how much I miss playing it.  So I've started playing again.  I picked up a piece of Chopin that I've tried to learn once before, and practiced, and it's been a joy.

What I need now is lots of time to practice.  But wait, I don't have lots of time.  In addition to getting back to the piano, I'm also two weeks into an online Mobile App course, learning about the ins and outs of Android applications, Eclipse, SDK's, Java and XML.  I'm really enjoying the course, but it's very hard with so many system tweaks and downloads, and complex programming and packaging.

And then in a week's time, the Introduction to Guitar Playing starts on Coursera.  I've already delayed starting this course twice because of lack of time, but I think I'd love to be able to play the guitar, and apart from a couple of chords and one short piece, I've never really dedicated much time to it.

I'm also getting to grips with MIT App Inventor for one of my modules at college - that's great fun too, and I'm looking forward to getting the learners enthused about what they can do with it.  I'm writing lesson plans for my Website Production class - next week it's client and server side scripting - that'll take a while to put together.  Soon, I'll be joining a Preparing to Teach class, so I'll need to refresh my memory on learning styles and theories for that.

I'd also really like to get to grips with a bit of Visual Basic programming, so that I can tinker further with my home automation system, getting lights to turn off after a certain amount of inactivity in a room - but I've never done Visual Basic before so that's proving quite challenging.

And of course, I'm trying to allocate a bit of time to training my border collie for his agility classes - we're even planning to enter a competition next month.  Gardening, housework, taxi driver for three kids, and I'd like to have a go at making my own bread without cheating with the bread machine.

Life for me is about learning.  I love learning.  If I don't know something, I google it.  If I don't understand something, I read about it.  If I want to get better at something, I practice it.

Now if I could just stop time for a hour a day of dedicated learning, that would be perfect.  There is so much to learn, so little time.  Perhaps a course in astro physics is what I need...

Monday, 29 September 2014

Something Different

This year I have a Level 3 tutorial group.  Much of what we need to do in tutorials is admin based or building up personal skills - not something many IT students are particularly enthusiastic about.

As something completely different today, I decided to do a general knowledge quiz.  I thought it might be good on a number of levels:

  • getting the learners thinking early (ish) on a Monday morning
  • giving me a better understanding of their existing general knowledge
  • encouraging them to start thinking beyond assignments and criteria based learning and into news (both technology and general news), common sense and life skills
Questions included one capital city, one cooking, one health, several news (politics and sport) and a few other IT based questions.  Learners were asked to work independently, and I tried to generate a bit of a sense of competition to encourage them to do better than their friends.  At the end of the quiz, learners swapped papers for marking, and scores were given by way of hands raised in score boundaries.

The learners all took part, and all engaged really well.  It was fun, but with some serious elements in - after all we should really all know at what temperature water boils, and how long to cook dried pasta. 

Personally, I also really enjoyed it as it seemed to bring about a good, friendly banter in the classroom, and I awarded a Merit badge to the learner with the best score at the end.  It felt like a good activity to bring the group together and to get everyone focussed, and it is something I will definitely do again.