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One of the most enjoyable and inspiring books I have read this year has been Sir Ken Robinson's "Out of our Minds"  and my ref...

Monday, 27 September 2021

#innoconf21 continued

This post is a continuation of the keynote I prepared for #innoconf21 to acknowledge the many details I would have liked to say but didn't have time to include! 
I used Vevox to garner information from participants during my presentation so I will use the data submitted anonymously in response to my questions to make sure that the participant voices are heard. This is an extension of the approach I took to my keynote which was to open the process so that the recording showed the interaction which would often be left "behind the scenes". 

As you can see in the first image above, the participants had a range of experience of using technology for teaching with over 50% saying they had little or no experience of teaching using online tools prior to the pandemic. Immediately this impacted on my keynote. Seeing this I was immediately very aware of how tired these people must be. Rethinking your usual teaching style and reframing it through computer mediation takes time, to do it whilst juggling a global pandemic is exhausting. As Laura Czerniewicz says in her blogpost :
"the classroom has been made strange"

Despite the exhaustion, they were engaging in an online conference, eager to find out more about mastering the skills necessary. The response to the next question showed lots of experimentation has been happening. 

I see here a mixture of institutional tools such as the VLE Blackboard/Moodle and relatively new internet Zoom and Padlet. Also some references to hardware such as ipads, phone and a router, things that may not have featured in the vocabulary of teaching tools for some until recently. After lockdown many had to get familiar with these pretty quickly. In such a situation, when a technologist tells you to follow a few steps and use this "solution" it is easy to be left with the impression that there is magic in the technology that solves your problem. It was this very mindset that was questioned on the arrival of CD-ROMs years ago, showing the dangers of succumbing to the WOW factor.  I was eager not to further feed this myth of "solutionism" which remains rife in this space. 

I believe that the current pace of change in technology has outpaced the capacity of practitioners, especially if they are isolated and not part of of a helpful Community of Practice. That thought was illustrated when I asked about professional support networks:

Unsurprisingly given the emergency situation we see informal support coming from friends, colleagues and even partners. Social media looks like it has provided a connection to colleagues now disconnected physically. However the immediate emergency has passed so how are we best to proceed in a world which may yet undergo more changes? I would propose that joining an appropriate expert network would be a good first step. Let's get good quality information to ensure that we build on the initial "magic" with greater understanding of what is actually going on in the background. As I tweeted later:

If we are to carve out something using technological tools that carries our values and priorities we have to be more confident that we understand what we are doing. There is a risk that otherwise our work will be carved up. 

Such great work is already happening in languages, driven by practitioners who love to learn and who are willing to collaborate in order to create great learner experiences. I shared examples on our padlet board of produsage (using extracts from media to create exciting learning opportunities) and virtual exchange (international collaborations between practitioners and students). Wider adoption of innovative assessment techniques such as blogging, wikipedia editing and eportfolio use would also be welcomed as they provide meaningful ways of acquiring skills which will shift the balance from students as consumers to students as producers of knowledge. See links document. 

Connecting with folk already doing these things, according to what you think you can change this year will be a useful shortcut to build upon their expertise. My experience of these folk is that they welcome those who take an interest in their work. They are generally open to human centred approaches, we all need to be if we are to sustain our influence and our role in the future of language teaching. It really is in our hands. We need to bear in mind that great carving takes time, Google tells me that even experienced sculptors can take up to 80 hours to make a relatively simple piece. So identify your priorities for the new term, get informed and connected and then make your own masterpiece. 

Recording of my keynote. 


Thursday, 16 September 2021

#InnoConf21 keynote. Carving a better future from dark matter.



I'm very excited (and a little nervous) about my next challenge. I will be opening tomorrow's #innoconf21 which is hosted by Reading University with a keynote which will address the use of educational technologies (edtech) in language teaching. I am very grateful to the organisers for giving me this opportunity to curate resources, reflect and present my insights into the work of language teaching and I hope that by the final plenary we will all have a clearer vision for how the next 5-10 years of language teaching could look. 

Here is the abstract for my keynote:

Carving a better future from dark matter. 

A dramatic turn of events beset our lives in 2020, a global pandemic. Everyone had to face a new and daunting reality that touched every aspect of our lives, both personal and professional. Our working lives faced huge disruption and, in order to continue to function at all, we all became more reliant on technical “solutions” to connect us to each other. For some this was a continuation or extension of familiar territory, for others this was a new endeavour. For all it brought huge challenges, long days and complicated negotiations with students and colleagues. The “pivot online” revealed many areas of university teaching which were unresolved, from “delivery” to assessment. Intensive innovation was the order of the day and such rapid change is not without pain. As we face an emerging reality in which ongoing disruption is likely, how can we be better prepared for a more positive future in which our processes and pedagogies support learners and staff alike? 


In this keynote, I will not shy away from the very real challenges we face.  I will however offer hope for a more sustainable future for language educators through collaboration beyond our usual hierarchies and borders. 


In my preparation I have drawn on the work of many people, curating a padlet wall of resources which includes links to additional sources for those who want to dig deeper. I will be inviting participants to join the conversation in the zoom chat and also respond to some shared questions through the vevox poll. My slides will be shared online tomorrow morning, look out for the #innoconf21 tag.

The pandemic has of course been hard for everyone. Many are now gearing up for further challenges in coming academic year. As I stand on the sidelines now I am hoping to use this platform to inspire and support my colleagues.

In keeping with our focus on shaping the future for modern languages I would like to encourage all participants to arm themselves with the tools to carve out their future, both individually and collectively so we can sustain our important role in connecting the populations of the world for the huge challenges hurtling towards us. Use the force!


Thursday, 3 June 2021

#JuneEdTechChallenge DAY 1: The VLE in my life...


This is a great initiative from ALT, encouraging the open sharing of our different learning teach contexts throughout June through social media. Although I may not be able to keep up the pace every day I was reassured by David's tweet!

Day 1:

The VLE in my life - well there are multiple VLEs I have used over past years and as I have now retired it may be expected that I no longer have to use VLEs, but I do (mostly Moodle/Mahara/Google workspace/Canvas/Blackboard/Ning). I was responsible for procuring and implementing a VLE in the Language Centre at Warwick University back in the day, it was based on Moodle and Mahara (a mahoodle no less!) and was called Languages at Warwick. The focus was upon creating course spaces which encouraged interaction. I wrote about the development in this book chapter. We were ahead of the institutional curve by several years and when Moodle finally became a central initiative our platform was "dissolved". My colleagues still tell me though they are glad they had access to their own VLE prior to the wider implementation as they upskilled as a result. 

Moving to a central VLE came with some serious losses though. We had previously been able to create "managed holes" in Languages at Warwick courses in order to admit students from other institutions to participate in our virtual exchange initiatives. This was lost and we relocated this work to our Google Suite over which we still had control. Virtual Exchange is a proven approach to online learning which helps to build capacity for online teaching, supports interdisciplinary and intercultural learning and thanks to recent research through projects such as EVOLVE and EU initiatives involving the academic organisation (soon to be not for profit org) UNICollaboration , has gained significant traction. We were at the forefront, but faced with lack of institutional support we moved into the wilds. There we found personal learning networks (PLNs) and created personal learning environments (PLEs) of our own. 

VLEs have their place, they are private, institutional spaces generally. However, real life requires knowing how to navigate not just the private, secure digital spaces but also the broader "wilds" beyond. That journey requires greater critical expertise, a form of digital fluency which ideally comes with a deeper understanding of digital ownership, profile management, appropriate behaviours... a whole raft of "soft skills" and expertise which is best acquired through activity alongside others, a community of practice. My situation is very comparable now to that of Sheila and I was so delighted to read her post and see her use of the French word "dérive". I have described my journey through learning technology in the past as being that of a "flaneur" , wandering through online spaces to see how they affect my interactions, how communications change, who feels uncomfortable, who is excluded. This has become central to my critical digital practice, focussing on open educational practice using social media spaces for example. 

Being able to flow between spaces is a huge advantage. This water feature created with recycled television screens captured that feeling for me. Each VLE needs to suit the needs of those who are using it, it needs to make us welcome and protect what is dear to us. Otherwise we just move on and find our own spaces. The challenge now before all institutions in the post pivot era is to co-create spaces which are suitable for today's needs. Sustainable, equitable, welcoming, accessible, fair spaces. It should allow for continued learning beyond the institutional experience: portability of resources and acquisition of knowledge and skills to address online intellectual property confidently. This is more than any one VLE can offer. Like Sheila, I am keen to continue this reflective journey and I'm thinking about what I could contribute to the next #SocMed conference...

Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Demystifying Open



Image by Pexels from Pixabay

I am delighted to see more educators engaging with OpenEducation or at least taking a greater interest in things "open" but I think it would be helpful to have a sort of beginner's guide to the many forms of open which are relevant to educators. I do not profess to be an expert in all things open but, as chair of the Open Education Special Interest Group and as an open education practitioner, I feel I could contribute a little to demystifying some of the terminology which comes under the banner "open". Here goes. 

Open Access:

Probably the first term most academics engage with as it relates to academic publishing. Essentially this is a category of publication which is accessible to anyone rather than being restricted to those who are registered with a university. Some publishers require APCs (article processing fees) in order to make publications available to a wider public. For more detail see Jisc's useful guide.  Librarians are often experts in this area. 

Open Source:

A term that applies to computer software and how the coding has been created. Open source software is usually created by a community and the source code is shared openly so that developers can build on it. Contributors to open source are not always paid, some do the work as a passion project. There are many examples of open source software which practitioners may encounter such as Moodle, H5P and others. Here's a more in depth article which explains why open source is helpful for teachers and learners.  

Open Educational Resources:

Often referred to as OERs, these are resources which are shared openly on the internet usually under a Creative Commons licence. UNESCO provides information here about the origins and place of OERs in education.  Many practitioners and institutions create OER as part of a mission to broaden access to learning, such as these from the University of Edinburgh.  Practitioners often share their own resources, known as Little OER (Weller,M) through sites such as Slideshare or social media free of charge, expressing their sharing preferences through a Creative Commons licence. 

Open badges:

Open badges are digital artefacts which can be created and issued to recognise participation or activity according to the criteria defined by a badge issuer. They are made up of a digital image which has hard coded data "baked in". Open Badge platforms build on a shared standard which enables portability of badge display for earners and, when used in a learning context, can allow the creation of an ecosystem of badges to support educational aims. Here's the handy badge wiki site to find out more. 

Open educational practice (or praxis):

OEP, or the act of working openly as an educator, may include creating and sharing OER, using social media to connect and collaborate with learners or other practitioners online, maintaining a digital profile which is visible to anyone online and curating digital resources. This is an emerging activity which is described in more detail here (Cronin,C) and is clearly connected with achieving the aims of open education. 

There are other "open..." terms in use out there - for example open data, open pedagogy but these are related to the ones mentioned above so I think this may be enough for a primer! However, here are some additional resources  should you wish to know more. 

The OER world map. 

The recent OERxDomains21 conference has many recordings and resources available openly as part of the #OpenCovid4Ed pledge. 

Open Education is a route to addressing the many inequalities suffered by our populations around the world which have only deepened during the pandemic. 

Monday, 22 March 2021

AULC conference 2021 #AULC2021: What can open badges do for you?


The slides shared above were part of a presentation for ALT NE (the North East regional group of Association for Learning Technology). I add them to this post as they provide some useful resources for those who wish to know more about open badges. A recording of the presentation done by Deb Baff and myself is also available on my You Tube channel. 

For the AULC conference Mirjam and I will share how we used open badges in a language learning context. Knowing AULC as I do, I am sure there will be those who would like to try out the technology and the point of this post is to support you in doing just that. Go for it!

Collect a badge. 

We have all managed against all the odds to do all we can to protect each other from a global pandemic. Now you can get recognition for playing your part in making the world a safer place.  
In the slides above, at slide number 12 you can scan a QR code on your phone and pick up a Socially Distanced badge. Or you can simply go here to claim it.

You can display your badge using a free Open Badge Passport account. Just make sure that you have your email address/es in your profile and then follow these instructions to share on your website, social media accounts or make a page for curating your badges. There's more on this You Tube tutorial made for the Open Centre for Languages and Cultures

Design a badge.

If you are thinking of creating badges for issue to your students there are many things to consider. These are summarised in an article I've written on Innovative Pedagogy published this month.  

Of course you can do your thinking using traditional technologies such as paper and pens but I couldn't resist sharing a badge planning tool with you thanks to Bryan Mathers and his Fabulous Remixer Machine. The Badge Bloom was useful when communicating our badge ecosystem for Erasmus Plus Virtual Exchange. You can see our badge bloom here.

I have set up a private gallery where you can share your badge ideas with each other and get inspired. The most useful part of engaging with badges is the conversations we have together about what we value in our teaching and learning. To create your own remix just click on the example given and change the text and colours to your heart's delight. Save your creation as a new remix on the gallery. You can comment on those of others and share your ideas on social media. 

Let's embrace the affordances of the internet as creators and not merely consumers.  

Tuesday, 19 January 2021

Collaborating openly when the doors are closed.

I'm revisiting this post made in 2017 during an open course called #BYOD4L which took place in Google + (remember that??) as a result of a suggestion that arose from a twitter musing:


Sheila's tweet quickly coalesced into a blog post and brought a group of us back together again to plan a proposal to #OER21

Since I wrote the Collaboration post in 2017 many things have happened. 

The Erasmus Plus Virtual Exchange initiative lasted 3 years and has had a huge impact as you can see in the reports hosted here.  UNICollaboration.org has been the lead partner on HEI work, delivering recognition through an open badge system based on a collaboratively produced competency framework and providing research into the impact of virtual exchange. This research has been further enhanced by the work of the EVOLVE project  which has shared outputs openly under Creative Commons licences to help HEIs deliver training and support for practitioners and internationalisation officers. So a good deal of concrete support has been available free of charge thanks to the European Commission over the past 3 years or so. 

More recently I retired from my role at Warwick but I am very happy to report that the Clavier virtual exchange continues thanks to the depth and personal engagement of our collaborators. Clavier is now in its 10th year and continues to work as a large scale opportunity for both staff and students to learn together. We celebrated with a badge of course!

The UK withdrew from Erasmus, a decision which shocked many around the world. A decision which has been called out by UK language communities.

The voices of the language community speaking out about the decision to take the UK out of Erasmus Plus:


So many doors can close at many levels: personal, institutional, political, financial.  How does international collaboration continue when doors close? 

Here is what I have learned over the years. 

  • Collaboration can overcome barriers if the purpose of the collaboration is shared and valued by those working together. Clavier has outlived loss of budget, loss of senior management support, even time constraints because we support each other. 
  • Working openly helps strengthen collaboration. Choosing tools which are not dependant upon institutional finance and methods which make sharing activity safe but open leads to many unexpected additional opportunities. 
  • You can learn lots if you are open to learning from others (including your students). Treading the trickier path described above meant getting a deeper grasp of the technologies we used, sharing critical digital wisdom, listening to all participants and being willing to try new ideas. 
  • Celebrate your victories and hug your communities (virtually of course). Virtual Exchange is a hybrid, tougher than the "pure bred" systems which favour either all face to face or all online learning. These strengths have been of great comfort to virtual exchange practitioners during the current pandemic. 
Personally, the Clavier, UNICollaborate and EVOLVE communities have been hugely helpful in advancing my work in virtual exchange but these collaborations go much deeper so I need to acknowledge here the support, inspiration and collaboration gained from participation in these many open online communities of practice:

these networks have all been part of my professional and personal development and more importantly perhaps individuals within them have been the key to sustaining my progress whatever happens. Impossible to acknowledge all the individuals but worth saying a huge thank you to all who have worked with me in any way. Some of you have moved on to other careers and opened new doors. 

Collaboration and working collectively touches so many lives and brings so many possibilities that doors are no longer relevant. We've all gone open plan!

Sunday, 13 December 2020

on e-portfolios


Over the years I have used eportfolios for many different purposes. Prior to the ALT Winter conference 2020 where I will be a panel member talking about e-portfolios I think it would be useful to draw all my explorations and activities into one place. This will be a post with lots of links but I hope also to summarize the rationale for looking to eportfolios in my work. The image above is taken from the Mahara #MUM (Mahara users Midlands) group which now resides in mahara.org

Firstly, it is important to distinguish between a portfolio and an eportfolio. There are many professions which expect to see a portfolio in order to recruit. A typical portfolio in this context (photography, modelling etc) would include examples of the work you are most proud of. A curation which shows your talents and expertise. An e-portfolio can also be used in this way of course. An electronic version of the same. This is how I used mahara for my CMALT assessment and subsequent review for example. The beauty of a digital curation is of course that it displays multimedia evidence wrapped with contextual narration. It reflects the fact that much of my activity is online and open. Display of my open badges also tells the story of my activity. So for me an e-portfolio is the logical choice. 

My rationale for supporting e-portfolio is more that just encouraging folk to "show off" however. An eportfolio is a very useful personal collection tool. By default, using Mahara the pages and collections you create are visible only to the user. This makes it a "domain of one's own" a space online (as I presented in ALT winter conference 2016) which can be used to collect your work, a space to reflect upon your experiences of online or blended learning which may for example have happened in a more formal VLE space. This is the approach we adopted in Languages@Warwick mahoodle and in the EVOLVE training co-laboratory. This store of personal reflection and evidence can easily be curated, selecting good examples which can then be shared more widely. There is an economy of time and effort gained in this approach and the results I've seen in our Assessed e-portfolio for language learning summarised in this e-book for example bear witness to the power of this approach. The eportfolio owner can acquire vital digital literacies (management of IP/copyright, permissions and online visibility) which improve the quality of their online presence. I have written extensively and openly about the process of forming a construct for assessment, leaving the documents available openly on scribd. A more recent final year module I created, Developing Language Teaching was 100% eportfolio assessed. A fact which was fully appreciated when lockdown arrived this year. Using their eportfolio as a private space throughout the course encouraged students to evidence the evolution of their development over time. Some extracts are included in this recent presentation for the MaharaHui2020 conference. 

Finally, I have also used an eportfolio shared space (Mahara group) to support shared research such as in the case of the WIHEA #knowhow project. Shared pages allowed us to collaborate and view each other's research and then decide together where we should investigate further. In a project such as this where staff and students in different roles had limited time to get together the shared group space mediated our interactions, saving time and allowing us to collaborate remotely. The digital artefacts we stored there were then easily accessible for us to create a digital poster for dissemination at the end of the project.  

My conviction that eportfolios can be a really useful tool for staff and students alike has several key contributing factors:

  • Deep thought and reflection require private space and time as well as mediated discussion. We provide for both in the physical world, I believe we need to provide digital spaces with the same affordances. Especially in a pandemic.  
  • Ownership is a crucial conversation in the digital domain. Legally there is too little protection for the rights of the individual who creates online, the industry would prefer us to all be consumers. There is much to do to increase understanding of Creative Commons licences.
  • The assumption that all academic work should reside on institutional platforms to which you lose access at the end of your course or contract should be challenged. The possibility to export and retain your work should be supported. 
  • Designing assessment which use e-portfolios is a really useful collaborative activity. For a practitioner it requires questioning what we value and empirically investigating how best to achieve that learning. There are of course disciplinary differences but sharing your construct openly can inspire others. 
  • Learning is not a tidy, linear process. It is full of twists and turns. Making that explicit through reflection can help us come to terms with the challenges we face and find better strategies. 

Here's the recording from the ALT Winter conference 2020: