This blog has been asleep for a while; think I need to give it a prod and wake it up… I haven’t posted for a long time, but I’ve wanted to reflect on a few things. I’m coming to the end of a few projects I’ve been working on and I was back somewhere I hadn’t been for a decade the other day – it’s got me thinking about a few things.
Blogging is a great process for reflection, and looking back on one you haven’t posted on for a while is a good way to evaluate how things, and you have evolved.
Edtech: a new maturity?
When I started blogging, I was a teacher trying out lots of new things. Around 2010 there seemed to be a lot of those new things – educational technology was all about the shiny new toys you could use in class – and perhaps a slightly too uncritical approach to them, having said that, looking back on the old posts, I don’t think I went overboard on the ‘shiny but flawed’ toys. There’s quite a focus on using Moodle and Smartboards, which probably reflects my context working in Further Education – I still use them fairly regularly, but am a lot more aware of their drawbacks.
Interactive white boards/Smartboards can still be useful, but do probably focus a bit too much attention on the front of the class, rather than what learners are doing. I’m happy to use them, and experiment with them – but I’m not sure I’d be happy to pay for them if I was in charge of a budget.
I still use Moodle regularly with my students, and while it looks rather old-fashioned and is probably not an application many learners would choose given the option, it does have its uses. I posted about using forums, and I think I still agree with what I wrote then. Like wise the ideas in this prezi: Moodle ideas are still relevant. However, I’m now much more aware that it’s really important to think about the design behind Moodle courses and how that impacts on the ease of use for learners. This prezi: Learner-centred Moodle is from a training session that I delivered at the college I work at – and I should probably turn it into a blog post soon. Having worked with a lot of community learning provides as part of the English My Way project, it’s interesting to see the alternatives that they are using – I think there’s a potential project to be done looking at the use of Whatsapp in community learning – and another one on whether we should just use Whatsapp instead of Moodle…
I do feel that there seems to be a bit more maturity around the idea of technology in learning, and that it is starting to be seen more for it’s genuine uses, rather than for it’s novelty. I do wonder if the way that we’ll know things have settled down will be when we stop talking about it as technology and just focus on learning, which can be supported by any tools from chalk to tablets, etc.
UX? LX? Design for learning
The importance of good design for online learning is something I developed while working as a co-ordinator for ESOL Nexus. A key part of the project was our piloting process: we tried out new activities and lessons on real learners and used the feedback to refine what was produced. It was interesting to see how our approach to online activities was refined through the project, and how we learned to make the most of the authoring tools etc, that we had available to use. Some of these lessons are nicely set out here: https://malarke.com/2015/10/23/shiny/ . This was a great project to work on and it’s nice to see that the website is still getting widely used.
Around the time that I started working on that project I somehow stumbled across the idea of ‘User Experience’ (UX) and realised that it probably had some relevance to what I was doing. I ended up following this blog religiously, even though it’s not about fields I work in: http://www.currybet.net/ – It’s a bit old now, but there’s still a lot to learn from it. I’ve still only got an idea of the basic concepts, but if you want to find out more, have a look at this post (and related webinar) from ELTjam: We need to talk about LX
Projects: applied digital literacies
Having said that about digital activities, I now teach teenagers more than adults and as a result, my own teaching has moved away from ‘activity’ sites. While I’ve been able to encourage adult learners to develop autonomy in seeking out online sources as references for them to do reinforcement work, this is a lot less motivating for teenage learners.
The approach I really like for these learners is using projects with them, (not just online – but it is a useful aspect). I did write something on that back in 2012 – Learners selling themselves: Functional Skills for Construction, but I’ve had the opportunity to do this a lot more often recently. I really like it because it puts the technology aspect in the background – tools that are used, are used for a purpose, and so it allows you to develop genuinely useful digital literacies in learners. I’m presenting on similar things at the NATECLA Conference in Nottingham in July – tickets still available 😉
Informal teacher development
Speaking of conferences, I’m still very interested in the idea of teachers leading their own development. I started blogging when there was an explosion of teacher blogging, probably fuelled by the shiny new thing that was Twitter. I wrote a guide about using Twitter for CPD: Twitter for educators and I still think most of it is true. Twitter has suffered a bit from its growth, and I’m not sure that there’s still quite the same level of engagement and discussion that there was, but it’s still worth exploring if you haven’t yet.
Blogging in general has probably dropped off quite a bit as well (or maybe it’s just me….) I was collecting a list of blogs but it’s so far from being up to date, I’m not sure it’s worth updating. If you do want a massive list of Education blogs – I can recommend looking here: The Echo Chamber blogs spreadsheet. It is still a great medium for reflection and there are a few blogs that I follow closely.
Teacher development was a very big part of the work I did as part of a small team on English My Way. Rather than a formal accredited training programme, we provided people with online CPD modules: English My Way CPD modules and then, (possibly referencing the design/UX points raised above) produced a series of bitesize CPD videos, showing practical hints for the classroom:
We also encouraged teachers to work together to build up peer networks, observe each other and reflect on their progress. It was a really interesting project to work on, and you can find more about our approach in this webinar: English Agenda – Blending professional development
Has informal teacher development changed much since I started blogging, probably only by magnitude, rather than degree. There are a lot more resources available, but the basic principles remain the same. Online collaborative approaches may be slightly different, but not by much. Now let’s see if having started blogging again, I can keep it up….