Tuesday, 4 December 2012


A learner who missed a session recently said that he'd had a bit of trouble adding text to a curve - something we talked about in the class that he missed, but that was only covered briefly in the handouts.

Rather than try to explain in an email / screen shots how to carry out the task, I thought it would be much easier to do a quick Screencast.  I remember a colleague showing me Screencast-O-Matic some time ago, and I recalled how easy it seemed to be to create a simple screencast, so I decided to have a go at creating one myself.

After resolving the missing Java plug-in on my Firefox browser, I was shown a screen which simply said "Start Recording".  I didn't do any prep (other than to have a quick practice at the task myself in Photoshop to ensure I made the steps as clear as possible).  I clicked Start Recording, adjusted the screencasting window size and hit the record button.

After completing the required steps to create my curved text, I pressed the stop button, and was then given an option to upload to YouTube or Screencast-O-Matic.  I chose the latter, though I think I will definitely explore the YouTube option in the future.

I was amazed at how simple it was.  In fact, I was so impressed that I registered an account (free), set up a Photoshop channel, and even had a go at adding captions (which I then removed).

Things I learned:
  • Screencast-O-Matic is extremely simple and quick to use
  • The automatic highlighting of key actions (eg mouse clicks) is excellent
  • The sharing options are very straightforward
  • Whilst a mouse click shows, click and drag doesn't - something to remember when doing the commentary 
  • I need a better microphone!
I will definitely start using this more in the future, as I think it will be an excellent tool for all my learners. You can see the results of my first attempt below or on the link:  Adding text to a curve - apologies for the poor audio, this is something I'll improve on in the future!

Evernote (again!)

Yesterday I had a session with my Photoshop learners.  They are a group of adult learners, and the course is community based (though still part of Coleg Gwent).

At the start, I got a learner to sit at the front PC which is attached to the White Board, and we did a recap of the previous session.  This rapidly digressed and we covered some really useful, though unplanned, extras.  I was conscious of the fact that the learner at the front was unable to take notes as she was controlling the PC which everyone was watching, but then I noticed her taking a quick snap of the screen on her mobile phone.

I asked if she wished to return to her seat, but she said that she was fine because she was taking photos of all the stages and sending them to Evernote.

This then lead to a discussion about the usefulness of Evernote (and similar online resources).  I showed my Evernote account to the group - most of which is work related although the first thing that popped up was a recipe for Toad in the Hole which I'd sent from my phone, which caused a chuckle.  The students were suitably impressed.

Many of the group were really interested in what such a package could offer them, and it was great to share something which I really think is very useful.  Digression is not always a bad thing in lessons!

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Online collaboration

As you may have read here before, I'm currently in the process of data gathering for my dissertation in online collaboration and critical thinking.

I've managed to engage some of the students online, including a wikispaces page with a 'flipped classroom' activity on web scripting languages which was reasonably successful, and I've had all the group at least get onto the VLE and post a message.

A few weeks ago I set up a forum page on our VLE to discuss 'cookies' on websites.  One student engaged with the activity well, and made a couple of posts which demonstrated criticial thinking, but no-one else posted at all, which was disappointing.  I reminded the group of the activity on their next Monday morning lesson and commented on the lack of posts, at which point two other students told me (rather indignantly!) that they had made a post on Sunday evening.  Excellent news.

On visiting the forum later that day, I must admit that I got rather exciting at the fact that three more of the students had made some really good posts which were great examples of how they had extended their classroom discussions and developed their thoughts on the topic.  I think I may have even exhaled a quiet 'whoop' to myself - not because I have now got some 'meat' for my dissertation, but more because I had actually managed to get the learners thinking beyond the classroom and trying to find out things for themselves.

Funny how activities which we persue in order to develop ourselves further have such a great impact on our learners.  Would I have put this activity in if I wasn't doing a dissertation?  Possibly, but probably unlikely.  Now I know how I felt when I read their posts, I feel encouraged to continue to put such discussion forums on for my learners.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012


Over the past few weeks I've been playing with Evernote.  I've been hearing good things about it for a while, but I was prompted by a colleague in another college to have a look at it.  As I was currently in the process of applying for an increase in my teaching grade, and needed to compile a portfolio of evidence, I wondered if Evernote might be the format I was looking for.

I wasn't disappointed.  I started by creating a few short notes, just to test the water.  I added an attachment or two, and asked our campus Director (who would be reviewing the portfolio) to check that he could see the files.  Once he confirmed that he could, it was full speed ahead.

One of the most useful things I've found about Evernote is the ability to use my smartphone to take photos of all my training certificates.  Having installed Evernote on my phone, I can then upload the certificates with one click.  Now, instead of having certificates all over the place - some one one campus, some on another, some at home - I will take a snap of them as soon as I receive them, upload it to Evernote, and then I'll have a copy of it ready to access whenever I need it.

The other thing I really like is the ease with which I can create links between notes.  This means that my index can point to relevant evidence by simply right-clicking the destination note and then pasting in the hyperlink.

Criticisms are few - currently my notebook seems to take a long time to load up for a visitor - I think this is because there are so many certificates (bragging not intended!) and snaps of my classroom obs and so on - perhaps there's a need for me to optimise the images prior to uploading them (I only did a quick resize).  I also ended up paying for a premium account (£4) - but this was because I had a lot to upload within a short space of time and there are monthly limits.  This is something I plan to avoid in the future as I will upload things as I receive them.

All in all, Evernote is an excellent tool, and one I will definitely be sharing with my students and colleagues.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Getting back in the Swing

It's been a while since I last posted, but term is back in full swing now, so here's a run down of what's going on.

Teaching wise, I'm doing several Photoshop courses, a Web scripting course and my Foundation Degree in IT Security again.  Actually, it's a rather nice timetable, unlike this time last year when I was bombarded with new things to keep me busy.

Work is starting on my dissertation research, and I'm in the process of enlisting all my learners in order to gather data on whether their use of online collaborative tools can improve critical thinking skills.  One group are already on board, and I'm working hard now to build the foundations for successful online working by getting them logging into our VLE and wikispaces site, just to post a few lines and say hello.

We've migrated to Moodle 2.0 - I quite like the interface so far, but the wiki still looks hit and miss - which is why I've opted to stick with wikispaces for now.  It means the learners have an additional log in to worry about which is a pity, but I think it's an easier place to work in once they've logged in.

My main gripe so far is that in the Centres the paperwork is almost overwhelming.  With ILPs, Induction packs, Centre log ins, different Moodle log ins, and also the addition of research consent forms to add to the mix, the first few sessions can easily get rather tedious and paperbased.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

My Year in FE

I thought that as the end of term is now approaching it might be time to review what I've learnt this year.  It's funny really to think of it like that - after all, I'm the one whose supposed to be delivering the learning, but I think it could be me who's learnt the most!

Academically, I've learnt a lot.  I've added some strings to my bow - teaching a new course at Foundation Degree, a new level in Web Design, and a fair few new BTEC courses (new to me, if not to the world at large).

I've researched, read, studied, absorbed, sorted, analysed and then rewritten what I've discovered all over again, in my own words, in order to get it clear in my own head.  I've then passed what I've learnt onto my students, and encouraged them to follow suit.  I've honed my classroom and time management skills.  I now work smarter and more efficiently, because time has been so precious.  I've also developed my own academic skills as I've got through the second year of my MA - next year I will be starting my dissertation.

So reflecting on my own development, I can see a huge change in myself.  I feel much more confident in what I know (and indeed what I don't).  I don't see that the gaps in my knowledge are bad things - just gaps that over time I'd like to fill.  I know I can survive FE if I ultimately choose that path, and I know how much I've enjoyed stretching myself with the HE courses I've taught.  I've also found immense satistfaction in my Community Education activities.

It's been a stressful, challenging, but fruitful year, and now I'm looking forward to a well earned rest before it starts all over again!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Funny moments

Teaching in FE is always a challenge, and there seem to be more difficult days than easy ones.

I've had a few laughs today though.  Firstly, I quote a paragraph taken from one of my youngest FE students, who is talking about using Word's Spelling and Grammar checker:

Proof reading is good so that Michael does not make masitakes because of his bad seight and its also useful to binds curtain words to  write more paragraphs and things because it is very helpful if you are typing the same thing over and over again.

And then, from another student who is writing about the Welsh business, Braces Bread.  After having already put in his final assignment

#Fact I did not know that braces bread was a welsh company I think that is brilliant because it brings money into the welsh economy.

He went on to comment

they was the first British bread makers to sell their bread sliced which is a good thing because I’ve bought bread you have to cut yourself and I just mess it up all the time
An entertaining lot, aren't they?!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Interactive White Board

I've recently beeing working through our in-college Interactive White Board training programme.

I've found this to be of great benefit to me.  Whilst I have had training on the IWB, and had practiced using a variety of the tools that the IWB had to offer, I had not made extensive use of it in the classroom.  In fact, I thought I was doing quite well because I often get the students to come up and write on the board themselves and I've saved the odd file to put on Moodle afterwards.

However, doing the training reminded me to play with some of the more advanced features - recording the screen for example, or using the magic pen, changing the background and saving a series of pages as a PowerPoint presentation.  Having to evidence use of these tools in a real lesson made me think about how they might be useful, and I have definitely found this to be beneficial.  For example, I recently got a student to demonstrate how to add an icon to the desktop, and I recorded their actions.  I then saved this file and uploaded it to YouTube so that I could embed it into their Moodle pages.  Now they can remind themselves how to add an icon to the desktop, even when I'm not there.

This ability to extend the classroom time is something I will endeavour to do much more in the future, as it also means that those who miss the lesson, or found it particularly difficult, can revisit what was covered in their own time, and as often as they need to.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Differentiation - is it worth it?

Today I had the last official workshop for one of my Learn IT Centre groups.  I've worked hard to try and accommodate their individual and diverse needs.  I've worked at home to locate errors in pages of code to help a single learner, and researched specific add-ons at the request of another.  I know the project that each learner has produced in pretty fine detail.  In the lessons, I try to 'teach' a skill, and then spend the second half of the lesson doing mini one-to-ones so that everyone gets something they want.

At the end of our class today, I was presented with a small gift and a lovely card.  All the learners had written something personal about what they had gained from the classes, and what stood out was how much they valued the efforts I have made to accommodate each individual learner.

So, was it worth it?  Well, in the words of those infamous X-factor judges.... "100% yes".  This is not about patting myself on the back - but it's more to remind myself that we must never forget that our 'learners' are all individual people with individual needs, and every so often they let you know that they appreciate it when we remember that.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Enjoying teaching

I've had a busy few weeks.  Teaching observation one week, Estyn visit the next.  I've upped my game, there's no doubt of that, and I'm better equipped to include useful ILT, differentiation, classroom management techniques and many of the other elements that make up an 'excellent' lesson.

Now, the pressure is off - at least in the respect of being seen to be doing the right thing.  And yet, my two lessons yesterday were equally effective despite being much less well prepared on paper.  I didn't have PowerPoints, printed activities or videos to watch.  I didn't have group work lined up, with clearly defined objectives, and well stated differentiation.  I didn't write about literacy or numeracy.  I just did it.

The 'magic trick' I did with one group (which went wrong because of lack of clear instructions) proved an excellent way to revisit earlier learning on binary and parity bits, including an example of the reason it can be less effective because of where it went wrong.  The installation of a hardware device that I did with another group (which went wrong because I forgot to include a vital instruction) meant that the learners worked out for themselves what was wrong and resolved it.  Instead of giving diagrams out and explaining them, I doodled on the board, taking on board comments from the students as I went.  The lessons evolved naturally, and the skills that I have developed wove into the lesson with seeming ease.

It's reassuring to have a day when you feel like you've done things right, and your students have gone home having had an interesting and fun lesson, whilst still learning something.  Let's hope there are many more of these.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Where do you draw the line?

I had a lesson recently where I gave a presentation and encouraged discussion and input from my class throughout the session.

The class in question has a number of individuals who are difficult to engage and who find it difficult to concentrate.  Throughout the presentation, I was faced with bad language, innuendo after innuendo and some degree of disruption.  But.... and it's a big but.... the class did discuss the information required, and they did contribute to the content.

Afterwards, I considered whether I should have been more forceful in trying to stop them from using such language in class, but it was a pay off.  I didn't want to alienate them by coming down too hard, but neither do I want to be seen as a soft touch.  Where is the line between tolerance and weakness?  I think it's a judgement call for each and every case individually.  I hope I got the balance right on this occasion.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Dissertation Planning - Blended Learning

In the next few weeks I need to submit a protocol for my dissertation, which, all being well, I should be starting in September.

However, I'm struggling to decide what angle to take.  I know I want to do online learning / blended learning, but the focus is difficult to pin down.  I could work with a diverse group of students - ranging from my youngest (school leavers) in an FE setting through to mature learners in a community education setting, and look at the different levels of engagement in online learning from the different groups.  Alternatively, I could focus on a single cohort of students, and dig deeper into the individual experiences they have with online learning, and whether these are successful or not, and why.

I have started a literature review, but I think I've got some way to go with this.  So far, I have identified that Gilly Salmon's Five Stage Model forms an excellent starting point, but that less research has been done on student engagement with a specific task and that there is more focus on social engagement.

Perhaps starting with a well structured task (using the Five Stage Model) and rolling that out to all cohorts (in a relevant format) is the way to go.  This will then form a comparison of different cohorts and levels of engagement, and perhaps suggestions as to how to promote the benefits of online learning to different groups of students.

Any thoughts or suggestions would be gratefully received.  Is there a gap somewhere that needs investigating?  Feel free to comment!

Monday, 19 March 2012

Resolution Specific Web Design

Great web lesson today, discussing and trying out creating websites which use different css style sheets depending on the size of the display that the site is being viewed on.

Actually, this area of research is really interesting - it opens up lots of discussions about how far a designer should go to ensure their site looks good on a variety of devices.  Ultimately, because of all the various issues with compatibility, failings of Internet Explorer and so on, creating a full cross-platform friendly site is not as straightforward as it really should be.

One thing's for sure - my own site (which is really a very basic site to demonstrate some of the things we cover in class) desperately needs modifying itself.  It's not good form for the tutor to have a shabbier site than the students!!  If only I could stop time to give myself a couple of days to get it sorted!

Sunday, 5 February 2012

QR codes

Well I've thoroughly enjoyed preparing my next web design lesson.  We'll be reviewing good & bad web design, which I think will be interesting and offers a great opportunity for collaborative working, and then I'm going to do a session on QR codes, which I think will be great fun.

I've generated a couple of codes of my own to get the class started, but I can see great potential for this with my teenage students, who I think could be very easily engaged in a variety of ways using QR codes.  Definitely one of the more interactive aspects of ICT at the moment!!

Saturday, 21 January 2012

The Fickle Face of Teaching

It's been a mixed week for me.  On Monday I had a run in with a student.  He challenged my teaching methods, and I challenged his attitude.  We came to a mutual agreement to move forward, but it left me feeling rather despondent.

On Tuesday, I had quite productive lessons with my usually more difficult learners.  I feel we've built up a better relationship, and that we're all benefiting from this.

On Wednesday, I had a great lesson.  We had fun, we learned lots, and the students were fully engaged.  I even came away from the lesson with the next session fully planned out in my head.

This seems to be the normal way of things in teaching.  I don't think I'm alone in going from one extreme to another on an almost hourly basis.  I am constantly experimenting with what works and what doesn't, and there is always the unexpected reaction of my learners to deal with.  Whilst this makes for an interesting and challenging career, I do sometimes wish for a simpler life!

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Leaving them to it

I did some discussion / brainstorming work with a couple of my groups this week.

At some points, the discussions became noisy and even heated.  For once, I put on my own brakes and left them to it, only steering them back on course when I felt they had digressed too far from the point.

It was somewhat chaotic, but it was great to see everyone engaging and getting enthusiastic about the topic.  Far better to have a noisy, energetic (if a little disorganised) session, than one where everyone sits silently wishing the clock to tick faster.  Sometimes not saying anything gives the learners a chance to voice their own opinions.