Whose blend? Reflections on week 1 of Blended Learning Essentials #FLble1


I am participating in the FutureLearn Blended Learning Essentials MOOC for the next few weeks, so I’ve revived my blog again as a place for short reflective posts.

As I was working through the videos and quizzes today I got thinking think about who is doing the blending when we talk about blended learning? Is it the teacher and/ or the student? Are we in danger of equating blended teaching with blended learning?

For me, one of the important aspects of using technology in teaching and learning is the control and flexibility it can give learners – to personalise their own learning for themselves. VLEs and openly available digital tools can allow students to take control of their own learning – creating, curating, remixing and repurposing knowledge in ways that have meaning for them.

I recommend you read Catherine Cronin’s blog and watch her 2014 ALT Keynote ‘Navigating the Marvellous: openness in education’ for more on these ideas.

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Why do I have my own blog?

BLOG (found on http://www.photosforclass.com/)

This week I am co-facilitating Take 5: Blogs so I am thinking about my own blog. Does it match the definitions in day one? Why do I keep it? What purposes does it serve?

It is very much an individual blog, but I do not post regularly to it. Most of my blogging is done for the Sussex TEL blog.

The main reason I keep this blog is for the times I am involved in open online courses – which tend to be of the connectivist sort (cMOOCs) where participants are encouraged to blog about their learning and comment on each other’s posts.

So if you look through previous posts here you will find several ‘batches’ of posts which relate to distinct courses I was involved in. Most recently I wrote about my digital curation practice for #BYOD4L (Bring Your Own Devices for Learning).

One day I might start blogging more on my own account, but at the moment I find that the TEL blog, my other social media involvement (Twitter, GooglePlus) and Flipboard keep me well connected with my Personal Learning Network (PLN).

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Curating: finding, selecting, sorting, reading, sharing & saving digital ‘stuff’ #BYOD4L


My understanding and practice of digital curation may not match dictionary definitions of curating, but I think ‘curating’ is the best way to describe the finding, reading and passing on (or stashing) of interesting digital content.

In this post for BYOD4L I am going to write a bit about what I do and some of the tools I use.

Curating people: Twitter lists, G+ circles and communities.

When people complain about finding too little relevant and interesting material in the social media spaces they have tried I tend to think it is because they haven’t done this first bit of curation – choosing who to include in your streams. Twitter allows you to create lists and see what people in them are posting without necessarily following them, or to sort people you do follow into those lists. In Google Plus, sorting the people you follow into circles or joining communities formed around particular topics makes controlling the types of material coming into your social media stream at any moment easy. Once you have selected and sorted the people you want to follow you can share these groups with friends, colleagues and online connections by making your Twitter lists public, sharing a Google circle or inviting others to join a community.

Keeping up with blogs using Feedly

A blog reader such as Feedly (Inoreader is also good) will pull the latest posts from all the blogs you want to subscribe to and present them to you in an easy-to-read format on all your mobile devices. Sort your subscriptions into collections and you can check out just the sort of content you want, when you want it. For example, I have collections for General Tech, Higher Education, Ed.Tech, my University and some personal interest topics.

Pop it in your Pocket for later.

When I come across something interesting on social media or while browsing the internet but don’t have time to read it, I no longer get frustrated because I can pop it in Pocket (previously called Read It Later) to read later, online or offline on any of my devices, when I have some downtime. Mobile apps and a browser bookmarklet make adding stuff to Pocket really easy and the ability to read things offline make it ideal for those times when you are travelling or waiting for people to turn up to meetings.

Flipboard for saving, collaborating and sharing.

So far I’ve only talked about finding and selecting material but curating requires presenting some of what you find for others. On most social media the selecting and re-presenting happens in a quick and seamless way, so you may hardly realise you are doing it. Every retweet is a small act of curation, as is resharing a G+ post, especially if you add a comment of your own, but those ‘shares’ tend to drift down the social media streams and are quickly gone. Creating a Flipboard magazine can be a more deliberate and sustained form of curation that can be public and even collaborative (see the BYOD4L magazine for example). Other users can choose to follow your magazines, comment, like or reflip items into their own magazines. The sharing options in Flipboard mean that you can also reshare from Flipboard to other apps.

Diigo for bookmarking.

I use Diigo in a limited way, for collecting tagged bookmarks of web resources that can be pulled up as collections of resources on a given topic whenever colleagues ask. We also have a Diigo group for members of our team where we can share items we find between ourselves.

Evernote for stashing.

Although you can use Evernote for sharing its role in my curating is as a Library – a place to store reference material to read again later or share with others in future. I also use Evernote for note-making and organising many aspects of my life, but as far as curating is concerned material that I have found on Twitter, Google Plus or in a blog (via Feedly) and perhaps read in Pocket and shared to Flipboard and/or Diigo will end up tagged and stashed in Evernote so that I can find it easily whenever I want it. I also use IFTTT (If This Then That) recipes to automatically archive all my tweets and G+ posts to Evernote.

In the BYOD4L tweetchat for Wednesday I said that ‘To me, curating means finding, selecting, sorting, reading, sharing & saving digital ‘stuff’ #BYOD4Lchat’ and this post has explained how I go about doing that and which tools I like to use for doing it. There are lots of other apps and platforms out there that will do similar things but these suit me and I hope you will find a set of tools to suit your curating practice.

Happy curating!

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Teams and Tour Guides – learning technologists’ roles and my #ocTEL questions

Brighton seafront

In week one I was fortunate to attend the Changing the Learning Landscape event on Digital Literacies at LSE. It was a really useful event, both for the content of the presentations and the networking opportunities it provided. Unfortunately it meant that I missed the live webinar on concepts and strategies and I’ve only just found time to catch up with it!

As I listened to the presentations from the vantage point of the end of week 3, when I’ve looked back at my initial aims and ‘big and small questions’ from week 0, a couple of things really leapt out at me and I’m going to reflect on those here.

First, a recap on those questions I set myself as a guide to my engagement in ocTEL:

  • How can I use my role, knowledge and experience to develop digital literacies among staff so that they can in turn develop them in their students?
  • How can I encourage colleagues to explore or try digital technology options?
  • How can I best bridge the gap between teaching/learning from a (research) academic perspective and technology?

Working in a team-based approach developing courses

As Dr Kyriaki Anagnostopoulou (University of Bath) was discussing strategies in relation to learning technologies she used the phrase ‘when we are working in a team-based approach developing courses’. Although this approach was not discussed or explained in detail it strikes me as an incredibly important and valuable way for learning technologists to work and for academic colleagues to be encouraged to try technology in their courses. It is a model which we are seeking to develop at my institution.

How courses should be designed, and by whom, is a fascinating and potentially contentious question – particularly if colleagues are unaware of concepts such as constructive alignment and think of courses primarily in terms of content. If content is what counts then of course the proper person to design the course is the content specialist, the lecturer. It is only when a course is seen as a whole learning system that it becomes possible to fully see the student, teacher, methods, assessment, resources, technologies and any number of other interlocking components. Then a team course design approach makes sense.

Whenever I talk with early career lecturers about developing their teaching practice – by making lectures more interactive perhaps, or introducing opportunities for formative feedback during the term – the concern is expressed that these learning activities will take time away from ‘covering the material’. And when asked to design a new course, even more experienced academics tend to focus on ‘what topics should it cover?’ and only move on to things like the assessment mode and the learning outcomes later. Why is that? Is it anything to do with research? How can we encourage colleagues to look at the wider learning process and join with others in a ‘team-based approach [to] developing courses’?

Answers on the 21st century equivalent of a postcard please – Twitter or the comments box!

Residents, Visitors and Learning Technologists as Tour Guides

In the second half of the webinar James Little (University of Leeds) set me thinking in a rather different direction. When discussing the choices to be made in digital spaces, James referred to the categories of digital residents and visitors (as discussed in the work of David White). I recently had cause to consider my position on this continuum (as part of a reflective writing activity following my first experience as a facilitator on an open online course) and concluded that I am mostly at the resident end of the scale.

When I talk in my big question about developing digital literacies among staff, am I implicitly talking about turning them into digital residents too? Is there some sort of implied value judgment there? Resident good / visitor bad? I really hope I don’t give that impression when I’m talking to colleagues. I have a particular interest in technologies and especially social media for creating learning networks and collecting and curating resources. I don’t really know when or how that started and how it got to be as important to me as is now, but I don’t expect everyone to have the same degree of enthusiasm!

I do, however, believe that if you are teaching at a university in 2014 you should have a basic understanding of the main functions of the most popular digital technologies and have made informed decisions about which ones you want to use. If that means that you only use a couple of things as and when you need them (as digital visitors do) then that is fine – but that shouldn’t be because you have no idea what else is out there or what it does.

The challenge then, is to use my enthusiasm and the wider ‘resident’ knowledge that has given me, to show ‘visitor’ colleagues some specific ‘tools’ that they might find useful. It’s a bit like acting as tour guide when friends come to visit your town. You want to show them all the places you love, but whether they go away sharing your enthusiasm for the place will depend on how well you match the outings you plan to their interests and needs. Your elderly aunt probably has different interests to your college pals or your teenage niece and the same itinerary won’t suit them all.

If staff are to be encouraged to explore digital technology they need help to narrow the range of options – they need a local guide. A digital resident learning technologist like me can be that guide but to give them good suggestions I need to get to know them, their interests and their needs. To a certain extent academics are knowable by their discipline (see Academic Tribes and Territories) so some general assumptions can be made about the sorts of tools that might be useful to a particular lecturer, but nothing beats sitting down and talking to him/her about their research and teaching context. It is these conversations, difficult to arrange and time-consuming though they may be, that promise so much in terms of personal engagement with technology and development of digital literacies.

To push the ‘learning technologist as tour guide’ analogy, we could consider the group workshop a bit like a coach trip. Not as personalised as it could be – we are all going to the same place at the same time and have to wait for the same comfort breaks! Workshops can be organised to introduce various tools and platforms to groups, but these need participants to have already formed an interest in the tool being discussed or demonstrated. One way to improve the relevance and engagement of a workshop is to encourage departments to work with you to plan their own ‘works outing’. In other words, organise department-based events where relevance and engagement can be improved by bringing together staff from within one department or from cognate disciplines to share their experience and practice with digital tools.

Finding time for face-to-face sessions is always a challenge, though. It is tempting to think that we can use technology to get around this by providing online courses that will offer staff the flexibility to engage with them when they want. Too often, if my experience with MOOCs is any indicator, this means when they have ‘spare time’ – which as this post has shown could be a long time coming.

Posted in cMOOCs, ocTEL, professional reflection | 1 Comment

Beginning ocTEL: Big and little questions

question marks

The open course on Technology Enhanced Learning (#octel) from ALT (the Association for Learning Technology) began its second run yesterday and I have signed up. For the next few weeks then, this blog will record my participation, learning and reflections as I read, engage and … whatever the tutors have planned for us. Posts will also be tweeted and shared on Googleplus where I hope they might lead to some wider discussion.

This first week of ocTEL has been framed as a period of orientation and that is going to be valuable given the challenges participants often experience on this type of open course. With a lot of online spaces available for sharing and discussion it can seem overwhelming if you try to see and do everything. Hopefully the time and the activities in these first five days will allow participants to get their bearings.

The first activity, which is the subject proper of this post, gets us off to a good start by bringing the focus down to what each of us wants to get from the course. By reflecting on our own context and articulating our ambitions we are able to clarify what we might need to look for as we move through the course. By selecting materials and choosing discussions I expect to be able to tailor the course to my learning needs, but unless I have a clear idea of what those might be I risk spending the time trying to take in everything – and getting frustrated and anxious in the process!

The first task, then, is to reflect on my work experience and ambitions for developing and teaching to identify the most important question about TEL or cluster of issues that matter to me.

I suppose the over-arching question – the BIG question of the title – would have to be around digital literacy. How can I use my role, knowledge and experience to develop digital literacies among staff so that they can in turn develop them in their students?

This breaks down into smaller questions:

  • How can I encourage colleagues to explore or try digital technology options?
  • How can I best bridge the gap between teaching/learning from a (research) academic perspective and technology?

Does identifying these questions help me to establish some learning outcomes for myself in ocTEL? Would doing that limit my learning in this great big open resource that could hold so many possibilities for serendipitous learning? I think it is probably too early to say. For now I have recorded what seems important to me now, but I will try to stay alert to opportunities throughout the course.

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The importance of authenticity and commitment

Fern growing on Land Rover

Making the most of the environment or, you don’t always find what you expect.

This is my last reflective post for the ‘How to Teach Online’ MOOC (or TOMOOC to its many friends). You might not know it from my abysmal level of participation but I have valued being part of this cMOOC and have learnt from it – though as I now look back on the course some of my learning has been unexpected and tangential to the expected outcomes.

One very personal time management / motivation type lesson I will take away is that trying to engage with a cMOOC (and I suspect that an xMOOC might have been different in this regard) whilst navigating through potential redundancy / redeployment and starting a new job is not a great idea. Although I read other people’s blog posts, commenting on them soon gave way to writing job applications and preparing for interviews. I think we all came to realise that to get the most out of a cMOOC you need to put a lot in and on this occasion I just wasn’t able to do that – sorry.

My second lesson relates again to my motivation but also to the issue of authenticity which came through strongly in the later stages of the course. I do not really think of myself as someone who ‘teaches online’ in a straightforward sense. I do create online resources from which I hope people learn, but that is not exactly the same thing (my earlier blog post on hybrid teaching discussed this).

I signed up for this MOOC because I wanted to learn about teaching online so that I could pass on what I had learned to academic colleagues who are doing more ‘hybrid teaching’ than I am and may in the future want to explore fully online modules. I should have known better. When I run a workshop I always offer opportunities for participants to relate the material to their own context and wherever possible sessions revolve around learning-by-doing. The tutors of this MOOC had taken a similar approach so I found myself in a dilemma. I either had to do mental gymnastics and try to put myself in the position(s) of imaginary faculty colleagues as I went through the various activities, or tackle them from my perspective in which case they were not only trickier (see above) but promised less in terms of useful lessons for the future.

At least I took something positive from approaching an authentic learning experience in an inauthentic way – knots of inactivity but lots of reflection on the importance of real, authentic, problem-based, practice-based learning.

I also took on board some important principles for teaching online, though there was no ‘great secret’ there. Good pedagogy is good pedagogy wherever it happens, but you do have to think about that context / environment and plan the teaching and learning to make the most of the environment and tools at your disposal (see image).

I have encountered lots of interesting material (which I have tagged and stored for future reference) in recorded webinars, the set readings and on participants’ blogs and G+ posts.

My PLN has been positively enhanced and I hope to carry on sharing with many of you via social media channels in the future (you can find all my links at about.me/anne_hole).

Overall then, I have learned some valuable lessons about my learning, about teaching online and offline and about cMOOCs.

Many thanks to everyone on the course team and behind the scenes and to everyone who has participated in this community of online learning.

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Building rapport – when online can help face-to-face.

pile of stones This week I’ve been thinking about building rapport in the context of blended learning where the learning technology (a VLE) plays a supporting role to a predominantly classroom based course.

In hybrid learning the role of the VLE is often seen as being that of a repository for resources. When faculty start using a VLE they often begin by uploading course handbooks, lecture slides or recordings and reading lists. I can understand that – the physical space of face-to-face classes it’s supposed to provide human interaction, discussion and activity, which leaves the online space to act as an archive and source for further study.

But face-to-face classes are changing. Student numbers are growing and lecturers don’t necessarily have the opportunity to interact with all the students on their module. A convenor may be delivering the weekly lecture while associate tutors are teaching numerous seminar groups. The VLE provides a platform for the lecturer to develop a relationship and rapport with her students between and beyond the lectures.

With the weekly face-to-face contact in the lecture theatre as a basis for the relationship, a module convenor can use various features of a VLE (such as Moodle which we use at my institution) to develop rapport with individuals and the group as a whole. Here are a few examples:

Forum: where the lecturer can introduce herself and students can ask questions related to the lecture or the module as a whole to be answered by the lecturer in an informal, friendly tone. All the students will be able to see the answers and contribute to the discussion with follow-on questions of their own. This online learning space can also be used for questions that arise in the lecture or in seminars. The lecturer can also use this forum to suggest additional useful resources.

RSS Twitter feed: the lecturer could embed their Twitter feed in the VLE and share interesting tweets with students (this might necessitate a separate professional Twitter account).

Online quiz with lecturer feedback: A quick quiz either after each lecture or after a block of lectures letting students check their learning and get automated feedback from the lecturer. This also provides the lecturer/convenor with feedback to inform lecture planning (which topics are students comfortable with, which need revisiting).

Can you think of any other examples of a VLE or other online learning platform being used to build rapport in a classroom based course?

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Am I a hybrid teacher?


My Hybrid Teacher self?

What did I do this week?

I was on holiday for most of this week so I didn’t do as much MOOC study as I could have. Notice I didn’t say should have. I try to remember that the relationships between the physical, emotional and professional / productive aspects of our lives are important and nurturing ourselves is an essential precursor to nurturing our students so I’m not going to beat myself up about neglecting the course.

I also have good authority for not getting too fixated on ‘completing’ all parts of this course. Stephen Downes who spoke at the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) Conference last week advocated viewing cMOOCs like this more as resources than courses as such. Thinking about this made me realise that my approach to this MOOC is one of selective learning and the things that I choose to focus on and what I get from them are unlikely to match exactly what anyone else gets from the ‘course’.

I did sit down on Thursday night and watch two catch-up videos of webinars I missed. (One of the aspects of this MOOC I would change if I could, would be the location – being the wrong side of the globe means that I don’t get to take part in person which is a shame.)

The aspect of Tony Bates’ talk that particularly interests me and relates most closely to my professional practice as an Education Developer / Learning Technologist working with staff teaching campus-based courses, is hybrid or blended learning. In particular, I’ve been thinking recently about the ways in which online components are becoming more integrated into campus courses. Bates referred to flipped classes but suggested that there were more possibilitie. This overlaps with some of the things I was hearing about at ALT-C last week (and blogging about in terms of  face-to-face using online tech and campus courses learning from online ones).

How might my own teaching be, or become, hybrid?

This brings me to reflect on the nature of my own teaching, which is not straightforward:

  • I run some face-to-face workshops for staff in which I try to take a student-centred approach and tailor the content to the learners’ needs. Although classroom based, these sessions are supported with online resources.
  • Far more of my work has been in one-to-one situations with staff taking a professional development course. This involved regular meetings, discussions, observations of their teaching, lots of informal feedback and ultimately assessment of their portfolios.
  • I also produce materials for a website, blog and paper newsletter and collect and curate a lot of resources that I hope lead to informal learning.

This all sounds pretty hybrid, right? But just because my practice is spread across a range of activities doesn’t mean that the learners I work with are experiencing hybrid learning.

Some clear examples of hybrid/blended learning innovations I’ve been involved in would be the use of online quizzes to provide feedback to students on a campus-based course, or the use of Student Response clickers to increase engagement in a large lecture classes. These are the sorts of innovations people like me support and disseminate, but the techniques rarely translate well to the sorts of teaching that we do ourselves, where numbers tend to be smaller and workshops are one-offs rather than part of sustained modules.

I have to reflect, then, how appropriate this MOOC is for me. I want to learn about teaching online because colleagues will increasingly need to think about how to do that, and will want advice and guidance, but I get very little opportunity to put that learning into practice myself. 

Am I already teaching online, albeit in an informal way?

I think that the answer has to be ‘no’. There may be some informal learning resulting from my activity, but can there be informal teaching? In the absence of ‘appropriate learning goals’ and designed ‘course structure and learning activities’ I don’t think that I can claim to be ‘teaching online’ as such. I do try to ‘communicate’ as much as possible and in as many ways as I can, but the possibilities for evaluation are limited so innovation is generally born out of curiosity.

I have written elsewhere about my efforts in Curating and Communicating as possible ‘e-routes to disseminating and sharing good practice among teaching staff’ but although these are intended to stimulate learning and in particular the sort of networked learning that we are experiencing in this MOOC they do not feel like ‘teaching’.

Would the things that I teach formally work online?

That is an interesting question. Many of the workshops I run are introducing staff to using learning technologies and trying to do that online would probably be unhelpful. Face to face and hand to hand interaction is really important when grappling with new equipment or software for the first time. Other teaching and learning topics could potentially be addressed through online modules, but feedback on staff development workshops over the years has consistently shown that the opportunity to meet other members of staff and share experiences has been one of the most valued aspects of the sessions. It seems unlikely that the same level of sharing and peer support could be achieved in an online context unless the topics were tackled as part of a more substantial course where a meaningful community could be established over time. 

So, is my teaching now, or could it become, hybrid or blended?

  • To the extent that the face-to-face workshops I run are supported with online resources they are minimally hybrid/blended.
  • The wealth of online and networked resources I curate and communicate to colleagues provide opportunities for them to get involved in informal online learning alongside / beyond any formal sessions they might attend, but these are not part of any structured hybrid/blended learning design.
  • Some topics that have been taught face-to-face could be taught online, but the benefits of this seem limited when staff are all based locally and sharing experiences with colleagues has been such a valued part of professional development workshops in the past.

But this doesn’t mean that I can’t understand hybrid pedagogy and the best ways to engage in hybrid / blended teaching so that students can get the best learning experience and outcomes. It does, however, mean that I can’t do a straightforward application of my learning on this MOOC and will have to think throughout about how the staff I work with can use the ideas that I encounter – nothing new there then 🙂

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Cross-blogging to G+

I’m having some difficulties embedding a G+ post here: This is about my 6th attempt…

Earlier failures were a post from a community, so here is one I originally posted publicly


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Blurring the boundaries of online teaching


Perry Samson of the University of Michigan gave a very lively and engaging presentation at ALT-C about LectureTools, the software he has developed with Echo360. The session was titled ‘Deconstructing the Large Lecture Environment Through Technology‘ and as Perry talked about students using mobile devices to make notes, ask and answer questions or just signal confusion, the potential of the technology to close the gap between lecturer and learner in large lecture classes was very clear.

He also talked about this suite of tools meaning that students, or even himself, did not have to be physically present in the lecture theatre – raising the possibility of distance learning.

And then it occurred to me that we can no longer really draw distinct lines between classroom/f2f  teaching and online teaching. Certainly where I work we already record lectures and in the interests of inclusivity it is standard practice to post lecture notes on the VLE in advance of teaching sessions. Every module has a VLE site so there is an online component, though the extent to which this is used varies.

The tools being demonstrated today were impressive, but mainly because they brought together things that we already do or could do, in one place: there was the ability to set questions and poll answers from students (as with response system ‘clickers’, Socrative, PollEverywhere etc.) and take questions from students (as with Textwall or Twitter). Students could make notes on the screen side by side with the slides (it looked like videonot.es but was practically the same as downloading a PowerPoint and annotating it). There were a few nice additional features like the ability to put a pin on an image slide,  a ‘star’ icon to mark a particular point as important and a ‘flag’ to signal confusion (enough raised flags would elicit the lecturer’s attention). The whole thing would then be available for students to save and review later.

The fact that so much of this is familiar, albeit in fragments, made me realise just how ‘online’ even our most traditional form of teaching, the lecture, is becoming and how blurred the boundaries are.

This blog post is partly a contribution to the How to Teach Online MOOC and reflecting on this morning’s session has given me a new perspective on what it might mean to ‘teach online’ at this point in the development of UK university teaching.

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