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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...

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:

Friday, 16 October 2020

A swan song


My final teaching commitments before I retire are fully online. I have taken on 2 groups of Business School Master's level students of Management who would like to learn some French, some are absolute beginners, some have experience or speak another romance language. This is not for credit, it is an optional course for which the resources have already been placed on a moodle course and which has previously been provided as a face to face experience. Attendance is the only criteria for assessment. There are over 100 students on the class and all share access to the moodle environment. They are not grouped in any way, all can see everything. I have about 40 of them and this week I met them for the first time in a Microsoft Teams channel I set up for our synchronous sessions. There will be 8 weeks @ 2 hours a week, all running at night. They are joining me from wherever they happen to be right know due to covid, some in Warwick, many in Asia. 

Anyone reading this with any teaching experience will be able to decode what I have just described - a highway to hell in teaching terms! A hiding to nothing perhaps. Putting to one side the pedagogical challenges of designing for this mixed ability, time poor group of students I would like to capture here some of the many issues that present themselves in the light of my rich experience of teaching with technology. 

Closing psychological distance matters.

In a physical classroom there are many techniques I use to do this. Some may call them ice breaker activities but they go beyond the "first impressions" stage in a language class. My constraints in this setting are imposed by the requirement to teach using MS Teams. This (like many of the tools institutions provide for teaching) is not designed for teachers. It is cobbled together from the leftovers of tools created and sold to businesses, often with the tagline that they are solutions to better team work. In MS Teams case it remixes a huge investment made in buying Skype (see this from 2011) with the extensive use of MS Office 365 in HEIs. Recouping return on investment whilst claiming to be a covid solution. So, once the students have their email address (courtesy of Office) they can join a Teams channel and hold meetings. So far so business like. They can even join as a guest but they will then have restricted access. However, in a teaching context where one is trying to establish a collegiate, collaborative and welcoming environment this just increases the work the teacher must do. Student names appear in the room in surname/first name order. Many of my students have very long names, meaning is is very difficult to see their first name in the participant pane, so I have to cross reference with a separate spreadsheet to avoid mistakenly speaking to people using their surname. No possible renaming as we have in zoom, no freedom for students to access under a name of their choice. Reminiscent of a public school classroom from the era of Jeeves and Wooster. So far so colonial.

Feeling at home.

The combination of a Teams space and a moodle course means that tutor time has to be invested in a guided tour. Despite already having a recorded version of this prepared before I started teaching, most had not seen it and so some serious hand holding was needed. I used screenshare to show everyone around both spaces, sharing links in the chat so they could investigate further. I designed a task in sub teams (group work within MS teams) for students to input into a notepad shared document how they wish to use our precious time together. This gave them experience of jumping into a different virtual room and collaborating together. This is do-able in Teams and by and large we got through it but it is very clunky compared to the interfaces I am used to for breakout rooms (in Zoom/Bb Collaborate for example). No quick room allocation through drag and drop, no one-stop recall message to call everyone back in 5 mins, instead I visited each room in turn to invite them back the main room, interrupting whatever they were doing to demand their presence. I certainly didn't feel at home. 

Emotions matter. 

We know that learning is positively or adversely affected by one's emotions. Most virtual rooms acknowledge this by offering a range of emoticons or reaction images which participants can use during conversations, giving a guide to the "room temperature". In MS Teams you can raise your hand and just like in school you can be ignored! It is not easy to navigate through a large group of students in order to ensure everyone feels heard. I became very reliant on good old fashioned teaching skills - namely my voice - to inject warm and welcoming vibes and encourage everyone to use the chat so I could deal with their queries. People who don't feel heard just get noisier or withdraw. Another cultural reference came to my head: Joyce Grenfell.  Those were not the days! Of course there were individuals for whom I didn't have a Warwick email address and they couldn't participate in the group activity as their guest status prevented them from seeing the subgroups. More work for me to sort out and update their details and more disappointment for them. It is lonely when you can't get through the door. 

So all in all, this term will be a challenging one. One where I am constantly reminded that my 10 years of experience through virtual exchange, although it has equipped me for anything, has failed to result in evidence informed technological provision for great teaching and learning. Plus ├ža change! 

Saturday, 22 August 2020

#eurocallgathering A meaningful mission on my road to retirement


Summer 2020 was to mark my the end of my teaching at Warwick. I plan to retire at year end and didn't want to leave the next cohort part way through their learning. These were just plans in my head, but they were of course affected by the arrival of a global pandemic - forecast for some years by experts and yet unexpected by the UK Government, which of course had their eyes only on the earning potential presented by their #brexit agenda. 

As it became apparent that we would not be able to travel easily, thoughts turned to how we could maintain some continuity in the Eurocall community which is almost entirely supported through an annual conference, already some way into planning to take place in Copenhagen. A difficult decision was made, we would not be able to go ahead. I had been co-opted to the board of Eurocall in 2018 and this organisation has a special place in my heart. 

As an early adopter of technology for language teaching and learning I had become aware early in my career that there was a group of academics who researched in this area. As a teacher, even as a head of subject I didn't have resources to enable me to join a physical conference. I read some of their work and attended local training events in Warwickshire but back then there was no easy access to information through the internet. In the 90's, when Eurocall was founded I used CD-ROMs such as Granville in my teaching. Later in my career, having moved to work in Higher Education I was able to track down Graham Davies, thanks to his ICT4LT website and twitter. I contacted him in 2010 as I had taken on a role to support staff development at Warwick Language Centre and he kindly agreed to speak to our teachers in his Second Life persona. Even with my very rudimentary skills in Second Life I was able to get my avatar to wear a Eurocall t-shirt! Warwick language tutors listened to Graham together and discussed how we could further embed technology in our teaching practice. I felt I was offering them the chance to connect with the leading edge of research and those with most experience. 

Graham and I shared a love of Europe and the need to support language learning:

Sadly Graham died 2 year later. I attended a celebration of his life in Second Life, a really moving event. He cared deeply for the fellowship he found in EuroCALL and I felt honoured to be able to pick up his legacy through working on the virtual strand blog. I felt that the challenges I had faced as a young teacher would not be going away. The opportunity to make the work of Eurocall more open and accessible to all who supported language learning was one I could not resist. For me this was personal

The idea of the #eurocallgathering event was born of the challenges presented by covid19 in 2020. 10 years after Graham had spoken to our teachers, I put a plan together to use the under-utilised capacity of our G Suite to ensure that we could still get the community together. I set up a site a hashtag and a You Tube channel and spent the summer months pulling it all together. Thanks to the support of the executive, the conference committee was able to transfer much of the planned event online. We didn't have the joy of visiting Copenhagen but we were able to share our work and and fellowship for two packed online days which will also leave a legacy behind them for others to find. 

The wide range of research which is generated by this community continues and #eurocallagathering only shows a small cross section and much of my work continues with UNICollaboration which was born out of the work supported by Eurocall. The stream is widening, as John Gillespie pointed out in his keynote 

Thursday, 2 July 2020

SEDA panel: Educational development and learning technology - challenges and opportunities.

Screenshot from my Google music app.

Since lockdown my usual gym trip in the mornings has been replaced by time spent on my exercise bike in the back garden listening to my music and making the most of the warm  weather. My playlists have often thrown up some very apposite songs which have framed my reflections on work. This coming week I have been invited to contribute to a panel discussion hosted by SEDA (Staff and Educational Development Association) and as I will have just 5 minutes I have decided to put further detail here for anyone wishing to follow up on my thoughts, which will be particularly drawing on my experience as a language educator. 

Firstly to frame my contribution please read the executive summary of this report. It is prefaced by this statement from Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI (Higher Education Policy Institute) regarding why we need to direct greater attention to language learning in the UK because:

"the decline in Languages is so great and because there is so much uncertainty about the UK’s future place in the world."

Many of us working in languages have seen the challenges coming over many years and have been pushing for greater recognition of the demands that come with the contextual shift happening in our domain of intercultural communications. Covid19 has brought this into sharper focus, revealing the capacity gap for leadership in effective online language learning and teaching in HEIs. It is not all bad news though - there are many opportunities ahead. 

CALL (Computer-assisted language learning) and CMC (computer-mediated communication) have a good deal of literature to support professional development. The rise in virtual exchange, backed by research and financial support from the European Commission, offers skills development which empowers educators  and a range of activities for students unable to travel due to the current crisis. This learning is being shared across disciplines through a new academic organisation, UNICollaboration

When learning design is applied to the "new normal" of online or blended learning it is necessary to return to first principles and re-examine what you do with your students, why and how you do it. If you are spending your summer figuring this out, I suggest starting as a student - join a mooc . Establish your own professional online identity to reduce the psychological distance that is now part of how we must live and work. An important part of this preparation includes understanding copyright and ownership of your intellectual property. The Association for Learning Technology have brought together a great set of resources to help you

Creating interesting and inspiring digital learning materials which will enthuse your learners may well include some advanced produsage. It will certainly require critical digital literacies in order to ask difficult questions of your academic technologists and question the institutional status quo. You may wish to consider working as an open educational practitioner. 

This video illustrates the size of the challenge. Time now brings a new context to this recording which includes a section about Brazil's leadership in this area before Bolsonaro. 

Take a look at your own learning, explore heutagogy and reflect on the opportunities that the digital domain and open educational practice offer to you and your students. This could be a summer of transformation.