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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...

Saturday 27 April 2024

Staying on board


My teaching career began in the 1980's and, as I have mentioned on this blog before, I was an early adopter of technology in language teaching. The Internet was not widely used in education for some years to come but my professional teaching career was to be hugely shaped by it's birth. I lived through the "advice" which came our way, some of it helpful, much of it erroneous and lacking in awareness of the contextual realities of teaching in the 20th Century. The 21st Century picture is not hugely different. Change is never easy, the future is "not very evenly distributed" The video remix above is just one example of the issues educators face with the challenges of working in the digital domain. Legal and ethical issues as well as practical choices continue to make the teaching ad learning environment one which requires collaborative effort, critical awareness and co-operation. I consider myself to have been fortunate to find and participate in great networks to support my understanding of learning technology such as EUROCALL and ALT. I was fortunate enough to be able to research and publish in my academic field whilst working at the University of Warwick.

I am no longer employed in schools or University, having retired at the end of 2020 after 30+ years but I don't feel able to step away completely at this stage. I continue to offer my skills, such as they are, to organisations such as EUROCALL as a Trustee and member of the Executive, and to the not for profit UNICollaboration . I am also proud to be able to contribute to the voluntary work of Future Teacher 3.0 and #LTHEchat.  The continuation this offers has enabled me:
  • to maintain a sense of belonging
  • to keep my knowledge up to date
  • to enjoy fellowship with kindred spirits
I write this post to share the changes I have experienced since retirement as they may be of interest to others. 

Firstly, as I no longer have an institutional affiliation, I have of course lost access to some of the privileges I enjoyed as an academic staff member. Most significant of these is access to academic publications which live behind paywalls. As I favour open publishing I am glad that I can still read the work of those who share openly. 

Secondly, as a pensioner I examine my budget regularly and no longer use Microsoft products. Expensive licences are not justifiable for personal use, I prefer to pay less and get great value from Google storage and Chromebook use. I use my more limited means to support great folk such as Bryan Matthers and his Fabulous Remixer Machine  to campaign for greater fairness and sustainability and to maintain my own websites. 

Finally, I use my knowledge and skills to help newer practitioners make informed choices and to warn of the dangers of technological evangilism. I do so by sharing openly on my blogs and through maintaining curations such as my Tool Parade dynamic document and my Pearltrees account. I worry that education has a shorter memory than ever before as experienced teachers are considered to be too expensive and retention is now a huge issue. Never mind the impact of AI on our sector! 

I guess I won't be around forever but at least I can leave a digital legacy.


Wednesday 24 January 2024

The future's bright...

Trees burning in a forrest fire


                                        Image by Ylvers from Pixabay

Some of you may remember the tag line of a telecoms company that went:
The future's bright, the future's Orange

I have been reflecting on my participation in the Future Teacher 3.0 network and the connections between the future, the orange flames illustrated here, the nature of forest fires and technology are all coming to my mind. I last wrote about the impact of Future Teacher 3.0 nearly two years ago.

Now I wish to reflect more urgently on the nature of this network and the resources it provides. Urgently because time is running out, we are (if you hadn't noticed, let's face it our government hasn't) in a global climate crisis. We are also at 90 seconds to midnight on the Doomsday clock.  The orange future is upon us like a forest fire. Education is urgent, must be accessible to all, sustainable and free from bias if it is to help humanity to face the future. Importantly, it needs to be trully sustainable. 

How does Future Teacher address this urgency? 

  • the resources it contains offer a comprehensive digital snapshot of technology enhanced learning in 3rd sector education spanning many years. We can learn from the past to better face our future
  • the community it has created over 7 years is vibrant and supportive. You can connect on our LinkedIn group we have recently moved away from the burning hotspot of X formerly aka Twitter. We are better together.
  • The shifting sands of technologically "enhanced" teaching and learning bring big challenges and a need for critical thought. We have to watch our step.
  • As educators we have a responsibility to ensure access for all, push back against bias, exclusion and discrimination. We must keep our eyes and our hearts open. 
Urgent action has been happening in Future Teacher 3.0 over a prolonged period thanks to a small group of committed individuals who got together supported by a little European funding and decided to keep going after the funding finished. That activity is captured on the You Tube channel with subtitles added to increase accessibility for all because it matters. We will be reflecting on the latest series of webinars shortly because urgent action in a crisis is best when it is based on informed, intelligent decisions rather than unthinking knee jerk reactions. I am very proud to a be team member and to be able to contribute in a small way by recognising through an open badge the work shared freely by others. 

If we can incorporate these resources into our teaching communities we have the possibility of the hope of a better educated, more sustainable way forward in education. The growth that often we are told follows forest fires, pushing up from the grass roots.

Snowdrop by Teresa MacKinnon CC BY

Saturday 7 January 2023

Anti-social social media?


TAGS explorer image from 2017

New Year, new ways of connecting to explore. I have invested many hundreds of hours over the years in developing my use of social media channels in order to inform and amplify the causes I support, notably :

 language learning and teaching (I was Communications rep for UCML for some years), 

european language networks (I still hold a communications role for EuroCALL)

open education (curating on open practice and through the Open Ed SIG) and

virtual exchange (communications for UNICollaboration - a not for profit organisation) and many other projects such as the #knowhow one in 2017 (illustrated above). 

My use of Twitter has been fundamental to all of these roles. The open nature of the platform enabled me to make connections and build a network. I became proficient at using tools such as TAGS Explorer and Wakelet to curate tweets and provide insights against hashtags which could inform strategic direction for these causes. The networks and connections have made a real difference to my professional and personal life. 

Image from Pixabay CC0

I am very used to internet based tools changing and even disappearing (remember Storify?) but the latest changes on Twitter are without doubt challenging. Musk's impact on the company, the workforce and the integrity of the service are very worrying and often inhumaine. I have covered several bases therefore and, with the help of other open education practitioners I have extended my use of both Discord and Mastedon. Clint Lalonde's blog post is helping me find my way on the latter. He is a wonderful example of the importance of being an open educator - taking the time to log what you learn really helps others. It is a selfless act undertaken out of care. 

The openness of social media has been vital to the visibility of connections such as this, likeminded educators have been able to share wisdom. Sadly we only hear about the more negative aspects of openness such as the use of platforms to spread false discourse and harmful abuse. I have always maintained that we need to be present in such environments in order to understand how they work and call out abuse. In much the same way as bringing light to dark environments in physical spaces. 

I recently attended at #socmedHE22 conference hosted at Northampton Uni by the lovely Hala Mansour where I was able to share my #openbadges work and meet up face to face for the first time in ages with old and new friends for the first time since the first lockdown.  My second attendance at this small but likeminded grouping. Many friends have been contacts through #LTHEchat another vibrant network of open practice which relies on Twitter as a platform. It is clear that many years of interaction will be lost if we all decided to leave en masse. Not something I can bear to contemplate so I stay and curate my Twitter feed with a vengeance to block and mute the voices I cannot tolerate. 

As many uses of social media become "mainstream" parts of organsational communications strategies there will no doubt be further attempts to monetise the content and control the discourse and so those of us who work (unpaid of course) to uphold social justice will have to continue to consolidate our networks, amplify our influence to counter the voices of the powerful, wealthy 1% and treasure our values. Currently I am experiencing Discord and Mastedon as places where this can happen. I hope to see that further through the OER23 conference backchannels too. Once platforms move behind paywalls more people will be excluded from participation and the existing inequities are further widened. I am therefore placing a call to arms for those who are active in this space to consider the ethical implications of their actions. We have much to lose. On a personal note I will also continue to support and advocate for the work of the Internet Archive as a means of protecting years of recent history mediated through social media platforms. 

Monday 7 November 2022

Use your ears!


Often when teaching language I have told my students that they have just 2 ways to help their brain do what it is wired to do - acquire language. Teachers can find lots of original and fun ways to teach language but it is the learner's brain that is best placed to figure out how to produce language well, it will go on doing so throughout their future, beyond the classroom, if they give it the chance. 

Despite there being 2 ways to help the language learning process by letting examples of usage in, many spend far too long only using one of them. What are the two ways? 
  • through the eyes: eg.reading
  • through the ears: eg.listening
The "captioning effect" is well researched, a powerful way of combining both forms of input. It was my desire to facilitate listening opportunities online that first brought me into contact with Mark Childs at Warwick University many years ago. He supported my plan to run a professional development session on the importance of voice. I used a digital recording of a baby crying to open the session. That got everyone's attention and how they begged me to make it stop! I think it proved a point - human beings are touched at a very deep level by the souds we hear. Voice is powerful and too often we use our ears selectively as we get older, tuning out the voices we don't want to hear. Older language learners have to reconnect with the often uncomfortable feeling of listening. 

This week I am delighted to be back working with Mark and another friend I have met through ALT, Jane Secker. With my #LTHEchat hat on, I am happy to say these two fab folk will be leading this week's @LTHEchat. And the focus is upon podcasting - a great way to use your ears. I am a fan and have been listening to podcasts for many years, using the old Juice podcaster back in the day.  I love to listen to a comedy podcast before I go to sleep, more recently I have been inspired by the wonderful Pedagodzilla, enjoyed the 25 years of Ed Tech podcast , been interviewed for the Education Burrito and there's another interview on my work with eportfolios coming soon. These are just a few of my many subscriptions now on Google Podcasts. Digital technology has made it so much easier to catch up on conversations at a time and place that suits us. We have come a long way since the days of endless buffering online. 

I embedded listening into my teaching from the early days. When I started teaching we used a reel to reel tape recorder to play audio in class, I later prouced personalised cassettes for students and found it greatly increased their engagement. Since all went digital I have used Soundcloud and digital recorders to provide audio and oral opportunities for my learners and indeed for many purposes. I was an early adopter of audio feedback and when done well this is really appreciated by students. 

So is listening to podcasts just #podcrastination? 
Well, if you want to learn and time is, inevitably, short why would you only use 50% of the resources available to you? 

My latest podcast on #eportfolio use is available now 

Monday 21 February 2022

Future Teacher 3.0: Reflecting on impact

wise owl

Image by Chr├Ącker Heller from Pixabay

This year sees a new venture added to my retirement activities. An unexpected invitation came from the UK Future Teacher 3.0 team and this was too good an opportunity to turn down. The small UK team are an absolute powerhouse, a great example of how much can be achieved with the right blend of experience, and expertise and a shared commitment to inclusive practice in teaching. Lilian, Alistair and Ron have orchestrated monthly webinars for teachers in HE and FE since 2017 firstly as part of an Erasmus Plus funded project but now unfunded and undaunted! I have had the privilege of contributing to several sessions over the years and I really value the network and the resources they create as OERs. 

Using an open source tool called Xerte they are able to create reusable learning objects which include interactive content and are media rich and accessible. 

I have used the Tool Savvy resource from the 2018 webinar series several times as part of my work on tool choice for UNICollaboration and it is so good to be able to focus minds on key questions when choosing authoring tools. Xerte also means that our trainees can learn about tools whilst using one of the best examples available. 

So this is a network that lives the values of its originators, in the same way as we in #virtualexchange like to "walk the talk". So you can see why I was so excited to be asked to join the team this year. 

Of course, one of the bugbears of doing anything at the "bleeding edge" is that new tools and approaches are constantly being developed but the FT3 UK team have even turned this to an advantage! The second iteration of webinars was Reactivated -bringing new ideas to enhance the earlier recordings and this current series is Reflected, where the focus is on building upon what we have learned through reflection "because future teachers never stop learning". 

In my final years at Warwick I led a course for final year students who were considering teaching as a career. Central to my course design was both virtual exchange and reflection. We used an open source tool Mahara as a private reflection space and students were able to keep private journal posts every week which could, if they so wished, be used as part of their assessed eportfolio. This process of regular reflection incorporated into the course design helped to establish the importance of reflection to those working in time constrained and often demanding roles in teaching. Taking time to take account of how you are feeling and to, over time, develop a picture of the direction you wish to take - these things are so important in life. Sharing some of these thoughts with others can also help to strengthen your professional network and can even lead to unexpected outcomes such as new connections. 

I'm not great at sticking to routines but I do use my blogs to think things through and it has been helpful over the years. Reflecting through writing on a diary or a blog can really bring my thoughts into focus and help me find a way forward. I look forward to reading reflections from others who have been part of the Future Teacher network.


Monday 10 January 2022

Fair Use or Misuse of open badges?


Screenshot of point of "badge" issue 

Over the weekend I got a notification on Twitter that I had been awarded a badge. Those who know me will know that I am usually enthusiastic about collecting badges, especially those which help me to keep track of the events I have presented at or recognise new skills I have worked to master. This one was odd though. It claimed to be a fake english language teaching certificate, TEFL. 

English is my first language but I have never been interested in teaching it. I loved learning other languages and chose to specialise in teaching French and Spanish. So where had this badge come from and why had it come to me? 

Intrigued, I followed what links were available. The badge had not been issued to my email address so it didn't exist as something I could accept (or rather reject!). So why did it bear my name? I queried the twitter account which had sent the tweet. I am writing this post as a record of what I discovered but I have removed the details of the "issuer" to spare his blushes, since he has now apologised and I can only accept that apology with good grace. Having engaged with the twitter account in question I also contacted the VP of the platform which had been used, someone I have interacted with before online and who I have always found to be trustworthy. I am grateful to Nate Otto for his prompt engagement. 

Here are some screenshots of the interactions that followed (read below in reverse order). The details of the "issuer" have been redacted for the reasons I outlined above. He has since removed the tweets to me and I have blocked him from my Twitter connections. 

Having asked why he had targeted me with this badge I did not feel the reason given added up. He claims the badge was a parody. I can understand wanting to poke fun at credentials which don't stand scrutiny but I enjoy parody and didn't find this at all funny. He said he wanted to parody diploma mills (I don't believe there is much open badge use there actually). I would totally agree that credit, credentials (micro or otherwise) shouldn't be issued without robust evidence that they are fit for purpose and that the construct behind the criteria for issue need to be clear. If anything, this act was demonstrating how not to create and issue open badges. 

I advocate the use of open badges as a means of open recognition and micro-credentialing. I have used them extensively in European projects to ensure that participants have a way to prove their engagement and expertise in virtual exchange. I have also enjoyed collecting and issuing badges through the open recognition framework which exists. I have researched, written and presented on these activities. 

Nate pointed out that this so called badge issuer had put my name on a badge without my consent. My feminist instincts had already kicked in, this was an act of micro aggression. It was encouraging to see that the platform owner was ready to examine this activity. 

Despite the "issuer" 's apparent contrition, I see he still has a fake badge invitation on his twitter feed. The link leads to this wikipedia page

Is this "having fun"? Are those that are interested in open badges are suckers? Not my definition of fun in the midst of a pandemic I'm afraid. Maybe my sense of humour (which is so subjective don't forget) has been blunted by the knowledge that we need experts to help us escape covid 19.  Perhaps though this experience is a timely reminder of how we must always question critically how technologies are being used. Now that's something I can get behind. 

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.