Tag Archives: technology in education

The problem with curating

There was some kerfuffle this year over the issue of students designing posters. Students in a short case study I wrote on blended learning participated at a stage of the case study with multimodal poster design (Glogster.com), incorporating research data, classroom annotated notes, videos, images and frameworks of syllabus knowledge.

The activity ticked the ed-tech boxes: collaborative, active, creative – students were mobile: out of the classroom compiling data, returning to the PC workshop to put it together with an enthusiasm that was uncharacteristic of that group (who were resitting English GCSE students).  The tasks were authentic, as students made observational studies of language in ‘real world’ contexts, conducted Vox Pop interviews and surveys and posted the results on to ever-growing posters. At some point, a pause in this fervour was required where enough content was accumulated. Perhaps it came too late as the students surveyed their work with confusion.

Curating – a  buzzword born of the culture and transposed to the classroom – is fashionable and fits with ideas of educational technologies, whence a central inquiry (as in Sutra’s – misguided- SOLE theory) has a plethora of sources cloistered to it from distributed hubs. Unfortunately, when the fun stops and essays – threads of thought structured into balanced perspectives, summaries and conclusions – begin, synthesis of so much disseminated knowledge becomes complex and students can easily revert to complancency.

This is the problem with, say, Padlet, as I see it. Students happily suspend details in documents of pretty colours and fonts.So much copied text, so many links, random photos and screenshots – but …so what?

The pixel becomes a postage stamp, the stamp becomes a poster, the poster becomes a quilt; as the whole grows, so the fine-grained nuanced detail simultaneously shrinks.

Revisiting such documents reminds me of a drunken night in China when I was 22. Staying at a hostel, myself and some other travelers were invited by the owner (via a bottle of scotch and several cans of paints) to create a mural on his cafe wall. Earnestly and diligently we obliged, becoming fevered in our endeavour, thinking ourselves like Boticelli creating a timeless fresco, painting late into the night before retiring to bed. In the morning… woah, the results were …like regurgitated whisky graffitied in technicolour on a subway wall. I can still recall the owners crestfallen face as he walked in, before he saw the funny side. Then invited us to leave.

Image result for botticelli fresco creative commons

Yet I admire the watching the attention to detail and energy which students have spent in constructing posters and padlets, but there is often little purpose in process and content becomes extraneous. It’s difficult sometimes to still such enthusiasm. I’ve learned the hard way that cognitive dissonance is easily embedded in such content-heavy activities; students quickly become disorientated when trying to make sense of what has simply become a critical mass of information. This disorientation is (partly) what I call Social Media Fatigue, which has problematic consequences on self-esteem and sustained effort.

This is not to say there’s no point in curation activities. Representations of webs of information does not necessarily enable a schema, but can draw attention to salient detail where highlighted – selective curating. Mayer has written extensively of the cognitive impact of multimedia on memory, but a problem is Mayer takes a view of the learner as passive receptacle to multimedia information being presented to them as inducted. Mayer also frames his research entirely on long-term memory over other paradigms. Would the architecture involved in the active process of constructed content (by students) produce different results, especially where guided with proper signalling principles as instructed in a staged, rather than ‘throw-everything-at-the-wall’, process? Some recommendations for curating follow.


Recommendations that follow the bit before

  • Curation is a method of archiving, but need to come with packaging instructions – as much for the signposting help of visitors as for those revisiting the collection at a later date and needing organisational pointers. A focused headline of what content is to be about will train the student’s attention of what to include.
  • This might include ‘think-aloud’ activity accompanying students curation: e.g.students recording voice-overs, explaining what they are posting and why as they post the content. Audio recording can be done with Padlet or Explain Everywhere, but is too often an underused feature. “I’m posting this link as it includes a helpful example of how to apply the prosodics framework in other examples of analysis. I can use this in my own essay” and so on.
  • Co-curation is another approach, where the teacher either posts first or guides what they want to see. This reduces redundant material, resulting in a specific structured approach, which reflects the desired ordering and organisation of content. For example, if the canvas is destined to support an essay, it may reflect a mapping of ideas, with systematic directions. “Open a dialogue box and show which quotes to include in paragraph 1 as Steinbeck characterising Lennie. Accompany with matching depictions of Lennie from stills of the film to illustrate your quote. Now open dialogue boxes containing alternative quotes representing Lennie.”
  • A poster that becomes a mindmap of curated knowledge, research and ideas can be reordered by students into an essay structure or presentation, like one of those old-fashioned toy puzzles. In Padlet, structure can be reorganised easily through slide manouevring. Making it look more like the finished article of a staid-old essay can help improve selection of content for the final product and mastery of editing.

Image result for slide puzzle game creative commons image

  • Size is important, so students vote-up what they perceive as the more important content and reflect this in larger boxes, or by use of colours to highlight significance. However, use of space and continguity on the curation canvas is highly important for navigation, so care must be exercised that the visual organisation is not disorientating where different sizes and colours are used. Arrows and/or numbering linking content should also help with ordering.
  • Scale-back and edit: revisit the padlet or poster and be judicious of what is extraneous, what can be treated to the magic bin symbol. This can result in a healthy debate of ownership of purposeful over pointless content.
  • Navigating rich textual information is not straightforward, so summaries of highlighted information (while superficial to undertones) are helpful for curated content, with links to further information provided that explain (in audio recordings) what can be found and used in those sources.
  • For long-term memory fanatics, testing of what was embedded as content into the poster or padlet is a feasible means of reinforcement, sort of like those old games where you put objects on a table and remove one and test observation and recall, but digital. As a starter: “Let’s recall what we have on our padlet so far.” Again, it would be worthwhile focusing students’ attention to ‘why’ certain content was on the poster – what is the link to the central question?
  • Finally, one of the affordances of such technologies as Padlet is it’s collaborative functioning, so named labels of curators contributions will enable some analytics of who did what. I tend to think smaller groups help, rather than whole class creations which can be messier.

I think there is something in this post of overcoming other aspects of Social Media Fatigue – that of the ‘copy-and-paste’ approaches that students take, which sees a lack of interaction with ideas and knowledge where ‘content’ is separated from process (both practical and internalised definitions of the word). Better understanding of how students use and respond to content is the key to successful learning (and teaching), rather than simply churning information over like topsoil. Clearly, there are more undertones to this, involving questioning and rich discussion. This post hasn’t sought to address that, which requires a more complex dialogue.

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Filed under Curating, education, English re-sit, FE, Learning technologies, Padlet, Uncategorized

Mythology as professional and sector development

Nice TES FE article Dan. Measured, clear, well written. Some comments that have evolved into a full post:

 Myth 1: not quite clear on why this is represented as a choice between types. I can only speak for my subject, but English GCSE teaches subject knowledge and generic skills – certainly critical analysis, which you say can’t be ‘taught’. What do you mean by ‘taught’ here? If I take it as ‘engaging in sustained and repeated conversation drawing on knowledge to review texts’, much as we did in revision classes just last night, then is a form of teaching not supporting the activity – via questions, by reference back to supportive reference materials containing knowledge? Well, if not teaching, isn’t a learning of how to analyse occurring – especially the more often we have that conversation? Similarly, ‘creativity can’t be taught’. Really? Oh no, I think you use the word ‘instruction’ – well, possibly then. Different to teaching, instruction, isn’t it, since the latter is an imperative verb – an instruction as a form of command. Did George Martin teach the Beatles how to work a studio? Yes and no. He may have instructed them on what to do with a mixing desk, which they may have been able to repeat on some dubious solo albums later down the line (as knowledge). Did he bring a certain skill in his methods as part of the studio conversation – something far more difficult to observe and measure but comparable to inspiration? Certainly. Just why is ‘inspiration’ so often cited as vital to teaching in those ads on TV? Is an Art teacher just an instructor or do they inspire and enable creativity? I’d call the latter ‘teaching’: measurable, transferable, replicable, generalised – mythic – or not.

Myth 2: in English GCSE there are units – separate, it seems, but the overlaps between them are routinely made clear, so there is a constant double-loop of knowledge ‘acquired’ or ‘transmitted’ between units – and how it is applied. Not sure if this equates to ‘blocks’ as you see it here, but your point is definitely sensible and looking back and forth in the present seems a better way to synthesize objectives.

Myth 3: I’m curious what defines personalised learning here? Own pace? Choice of subject or modules? Personalised feedback? Not sure I get it, ‘personally’ speaking. Secondly, are you drawing evidence results from schools? I would say that that’s an uneven and uneasy comparison – after all, pupils undertaking 8- 10 subjects in schools, say, is very different to college students undertaking 3 subjects, where more personalisation can be afforded – and is arguably more necessary and required (Leese, 2010, Bingham and O’Hara, 2007). Indeed, don’t OFSTED approve of mutliple activities taking place in classrooms, rather than one steamrollered practice?

Myth 4: As above, ‘student control over learning’ is ambiguous: do we mean the curriculum content and outcome, or the methods? And as above, it most certainly requires a degree of maturity, which perhaps Hattie has not accounted for when looking at schools studies. I would argue that to change any current paradigm of ‘submission to transmission’ to one more self-determined and Heutagogical in nature (I concede that this itself is arguably a myth and ‘buzz term’) there may need to be more onus placed on student control over learning – obviously not on a dramatic holistic scale, but it is already happening (See FELTAG or the Futurelearn Blended Learning course, for great examples utilising technology). It doesn’t mean students are left in a void; in fact, it’s often virtually the opposite. The methods may be less standardised and more innovative, so may not have an evidence base – yet. It doesn’t make them myths.

You quote the ETF at the end of your article, “Evaluate and challenge your practice, values and beliefs.” Lovely stuff.

Are we as professionals afforded some opportunity for innovation that allows that to happen – rather than subscribing to or being prescribed with what is tried and tested?

Yes, evidence informed practice, but within the syllabus and classrooms, intervention and agency helps to shape our professional identity, our own teaching autonomy and perhaps even the sector much more. That may certainly be better than FE trying to replicate effect sizes and methods from school contexts where the variables are far different.

Here’s a myth, but one I buy into: school-leaving FE students are at a threshold of adulthood (Salisbury, J., & Jephcote, M. (2008), whether university, apprenticeship or employment, and require a different form of teaching and learning than what operates in schools to make that transition more challenging and more easy (Kirkpatrick and Mulligan 2002; Lawrence (2005). Challenging, so that different educational experiences and expectations are grounded habitually and easier, so that the transition into those transcended ‘real-world’ domains (or university) has less abrasion (Askham, 2008). FE is the bridge and must look less and less like school-based institutional practice, otherwise (I propose) aspirations for those whom school has been an unpleasant journey will atrophy.

This is a much wider and more complex argument than I’ve summarised here, but we know that many FE students are disengaged, peripheral or at risk of becoming NEET. Many want to go beyond what the curriculum teaches them. In order to aspire to this as institutions and promote greater self-efficacy in students, I would argue that some self-determination is possible, negotiated as it is with a college department, but I don’t mean wholesale: just  more akin to coursework options. This can be enabled and fitted to curriculum objectives, so that, for example, a Horticulture or Motor Maintenance student is able to specialise more in an area of their greatest interest with stronger formative assessment and feedback throughout the process, rather than on the basis of summative assessment, which is often what this evidence approached research is based upon.

“To refer to some of these methods as myths may come as a surprise to some – but it shouldn’t. It is widely recognised that nothing is conclusive when it comes to education; something can work for everyone and everything can work for someone.” – Here, Here.


Askham, P. 2008. Context and identity: Exploring adult learners’ experiences of higher education. Journal of Further and Higher Education 32, no. 1: 85–97.

Bingham, R. and M. O’Hara. 2007. Widening participation in early years degrees: ‘I realised I could, and would, do this – and I have!’. Journal of Further and Higher Education 31, no. 4: 311–21.

Kirkpatrick, A., and D. Mulligan. 2002. Cultures of learning: Critical reading in the social and applied  sciences. Australian Review of Applied Linguistics 25, no. 2: 73–100.

Lawrence, J. 2005. Reconceptualising attrition and retention: Integrating theoretical, research and student perspectives. Studies in Learning, Evaluation and Development 2, no. 3: 16–33.

Leese, M. 2010. Bridging the gap: Supporting student transitions into higher education. Journal of Further and Higher Education 34, no. 2: 239–51.

Salisbury, J., & Jephcote, M. (2008). Initial encounters of an FE kind. Research in Post‐Compulsory Education, 13(2), 149-162.

Unicorn Rainbow Puke by fumalcon is licensed under the Creative Commons – Attribution – Share Alike license.








Filed under education, FE, Learning technologies, Pedagogical practice, Uncategorized

Conversation is not Dead – using threads for discourse

This may go against the grain of those versed in dialogues and rhetoric based on classical systems, but debating – as far as I can see it – is dependent on the ability of people to frame contributions synchronously. A huge affordance of Technologies for Learning is the asynchonous: being able to self-edit and convey exactly what we want to communicate carefully. This is helpful, since it saves time and tangents in discourse, where others deviate by leaping on mistakes made by some in articulating points succinctly.

Discussion threads, such as wall posts, around VLEs or MOOCS or on Twitter, tend to be asynchonous, people can return to them and they are continuous. This helps let people in who cannot think on their feet and who may be shy to contribute in oral discussions. Threads can have impact on inclusive practice via mobile dialogue sustained over time in continuous dialogues through social media. A theoretical formula for online discussion threads aimed towards learning goals follows that arises originally from Habermas Theory of Commuicative Actions (1981), which categorised communciation types in how we negotiate the social world.

Warren and Wakefield‘s Learning and Teaching as Communicative Actions builds on Habermas’ original premises:

  • Normative actions – best understood as ‘norms’ or regulated behaviours, conduct, or what a teacher outlines for correct procedure and expectation, i.e. ‘no swearing in the thread, keep contributions focused and/or responsive to others comments, challenge but justify providing further information where possible, etc.’. A contract of obligation and agreement is established; though fairly standard, if negotiated with students, this can have empowering and equalising functions.
  • Strategic actions – directions of what to do phrased as imperatives (i.e. ‘submit proposal by Friday’) from teacher to student group. According to Warren and Wakefield, they are framed with two resulting options: Accept/Reject. These actions reinforce the authority of the instructor in a sense, since if the imperative is accepted, then the student recognises it as ‘useful’ to their objects. In my analysis of social networks for learning, these are the primary responsibilities of a teacher, but more advanced students can support the context, activity and peers by issuing clarification, reminder notifications, or tips to others on how best to be organised or complete work.
  • Constative actions – this is where dialogue forms into discussion threads, with members posting ‘claims to truth’ which can lead to rejection and counter-claims, aimed at realising the negotiation and constructive critique of theoretical understanding between agents in challenging validity and providing evidence or further discourse. An instructor should have a discrete presence, acting as mediator as required and helping to summarise or seek clarification; this is probably served best where an instructor begins by posing truth claims, i.e. ‘Romeo and Juliet are responsible for all the subsequent violence in the play’.
  • Dramaturgical communicative actions – individualised expressions of what Habermas labelled Lifeworld: the internal realities of member agents. In Warren and Stein’s (2008) view, these may take shape as creative materials arising reflectively from the dialogue, framed around subjective experience but integrating and applying what has been discussed into multimodal literacies (posters, poems, art works). We may possibly see these as User Generated Content in other formats and prgrammes, or as assessable objects arising from Activity.

Much of this is based on classroom practice and the actions appear limited. I would add to this by recommending a Problem-based real world communicative actions approach, particularly in FE, vocational or HE, so scenarios become the context for discussion, i.e. for teacher training ‘the use of social media enables greater differentiation with summative assessment of programmes of study’ as a truth claim, but accompanied by a list of profiles of learners with tangible difficulties, such as students with dyslexia, second-language learners, students wishing to personalise assignments, those who have difficulty with attendance, etc.

Further, inclusivity to this could be enhanced through applying the Thinking Circles restorative practices, particularly in early stages with the promotion of all members to make a formal greeting, response , contribution or by acknowledging the presence of all members, in line with the first stage of Gilly Salmon‘s model of e-learning, so that discussions don’t become galleries of disrespect, like the House of Commons (based very much on the Oxbridge models of ‘He who scoffs loudest to the shrillest jeers’). This can enable curation of discussions by members themselves, rather than the teacher, and encourage the confidence of lurkers or ‘legitimate peripheral participants‘ who, in an oral classroom discursive context, may become frozen as spectators to others dominance.

Wakefield and Warren – Learning and Teaching as Communicative Actions: Social Media as Educational Tool, from Using Social Media Effectively in the Classroom, 2013, by Kay Kyeong-ju Seo (Routledge).





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Filed under Communities of Practice, Learning technologies, Mobile Learning, Philosophy, Uncategorized

The point of Educational Theory -my tuppence worth

A point of research is often cited as ‘making the ordinary seem extraordinary’ – to this, a value judgment of my own educational research. An observation of a lesson, a reflection of how we teach, as we start to unpick what we did and why is the beginning of research.

When undertaking my PGCE, I valued the baseline of theories that I now have ingested – and in some cases rejected in the grand ‘belief network’ of experience.

To my surprise, during my PhD I have come to find Educational Theory informative and (briefly hesitates over keyboard) fascinating. For sure there is often a poor fit with the reality of the classroom (especially when we try to shoehorn HE learning models into schools), but I remain open-minded to knowledge, rather than fatigued by the everyday struggles of working in FE classrooms with its complex issues: institutional, personal and attitudinal from young students. I refrain from rejecting wholesale this poor fit in applying the conceptual to human behaviours, as if students were mice, by trying to be reflexive and spontaneous in my actions, as well as cognizant of the literature. I also recall that Educational Theory fits into broader schema than the instrumental or determinist of what to do in a classroom and/or how learning works.


To start, let’s be clear about educational theory, which Newby (2010) differentiates from Research theory (whatever the discipline). Education theory is concerned with:

  • Child development
  • Learning
  • Leadership
  • Curriculum design


“…it aims to be generalisable , whereas research theory is specific to a particular type of problem or approach” (72: 2010).

Education theory shapes our understanding and can be tested and fall into two types:

  • Normative theory – how things could or should be organised or what goals should be achieved
  • Explanatory theory – how things work (e.g Vygostky).

How does this affect procedure?

  • Theory testing as the goal
  • Theory development as an outcome

Apropos to methods, that is a separate issue dependent on many things, including the view of the researcher, but to place the locus of all theory only within scientific approaches is disingenuous and potentially reductive to a singular theorem of reality, known as ‘truth’. Within this avenue, learning in every shape and form becomes measurable, which in my mind is scandalous (but each to their own and as you do).

One problem, two paradigms:

  1. Quantitative: ‘the level of motivation in Group A is higher than Group B.’
  2. Qualitative: ‘the level of motivation and the motivational drivers are different in the two groups.’

Educational theories to the problem might look at ‘why and how and what works’…before or after the fact. Vive la différence.

Mind your privilege

The knowledge and experiences that a researcher who proposes educational theories brings to the field are pertinent, which can help to shape (or distort) their research, whatever the paradigm. Sometimes a hunch is worthy of exploration and credited as such by research centres. Sometimes theory is necessary because so little is known on a subject (see field of Technology Enhanced Learning), so whether it have practical utility is besides the point as we come to understand it’s properties and others develop it.

Perhaps ‘explanatory theory’ (above) can better be described as a ‘model’, that is: a representation of reality.

Here Educational Theory develops value by being more broadly informed, not just by the cognitive and Psychology, but other social science studies: anthropology, cultural practice, linguistics, history, etc. This is because education theory is more than about the school or classroom and we don’t want to reduce Learning (as a nutrient to growth and vehicle for processing experience) to ‘what works best’, lest learning loses any sense of the playful, the creative, the experiential, the imagination and (why not?) the pointless and the plausible (since sometimes important things are learned by accident, rather than resulting from negotiated coercion). Otherwise Learning may become framed within some stultifying paradigm in a hideous dystopian regime of terminal-evaluation, behaviour management and control orchestrated as a political football.

Educational Theory – so what’s the point?

Many teachers become teachers because they are curious and creative problem-solvers. Their curiosity may be nullified by this (hypothetical) regime. Theory can, I’d argue, give oxygen back to creativity by illuminating possibilities and purposes. In my 6-7 years of teaching, I’ve become more institutionalised the longer I have worked, become gradually more preoccupied with targets, achievement and retention. Studying my PhD – resident in much Educational theory, both good, bad and indeed obscure – has helped emancipate me from that narrow paradigm.

It’s reminded of the broader remit of Education, not just 3 objectives a lesson and plans and assessment and who’s stolen the Whiteboard pen, as much as the social, interpersonal and intrapersonal values (I’m particularly enlivened to this in teaching adults, who might otherwise be disenfranchised). Theory also reminds me that I was very heavily defined in what I did by the cramming of methods in a ridiculously short 1-year PGCE. Because evidence has it that we teach the way we are taught to teach, theory provides a metanarrative.

Some pragmatic Educational Theory

Now, to cite some ‘useful’ classroom educational theory, how about Habermas’ Theory of Communicative Actions; this posits that instructors pose ‘truth claims’ which are accepted or rejected by students, so that they participate in constructive dialogue based on their Lifeworld agency.

True or False statements (and answer ‘why’):

  1. Educational Theory facilitates reflection in educators
  2. Educational Theory generates criticality, as educators may respond agreement of disagreement
  3. Educational Theory is perpetually static, because knowledge and the nature of reality never changes
  4. Educational Theory reminds us that there is a broad, informed history of research that validates our professionalism
  5. Educational Theory is not just about the sitting still and behaving in the classroom and outcomes, but about society, Governance and Power, community networks, parenting, literacy, etc.

And finally, here is Garrison and Anderson’s (2001) Community of Inquiry model: a theoretical mapping of online learning experiences that has distinctly informed my research, and which I hope to add to.




*I concede of a problem with models: as representations are not the actual thing, but an imitation seeking consensus. I find comparisons and analogies a little unhelpful sometimes, because in some respects we start to move away from the ‘actual’. Yet, on the other hand, like metaphors in literature, they are useful as comparisons and to create likeliness and comparison for difficult, complex and abstract things. Here qualitative research becomes the fuzzy area, so disregarded by truth-seekers.

That’s my own paradigm for my PhD in Technology Enhanced Learning. In honesty, I am too concerned with language, experience, relationships between factors and meanings – and too abject with numbers to lump with quantitative approaches. I seek how and why, but all teachers have different approaches.

Yet I have tried to stay grounded with my research, leaving aside the philosophy and focusing on the practical values derived from it. Now in my final year I learn that these conceptual philosophies transcend the practical, which still remains key, because as we observe and study we start to see the metanarratives of power, politics (and everything is political), ideology, personal positionality of the researcher (‘mental models’). These are set aside as far as possible, but they do inform what we do. No educational theorist whatever the paradigm is not shaped by their privilege; so we return to language as our best representative tool to translate what we learn.



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Mobile learning for FE praxis

mol“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” T.S.Eliot

(For case study, scroll to bottom of page. Theoretical preamble precedes…)

Mobile learning has become a vogue term, often misappropriated as the use of devices in classroom settings. This is the premise of Jocelyn Wishart’s article for the Mobile Learning journal I edited across the last year with Dr. Ben Bachmair of Kassel University. Jocelyn proposes mobility on the grounds of Sharples (2007), who conceived of it as closer to a verb – mobile, as in activities in the field.

I tend to agree. According to Ben’s 2010 forecast of its potential (written with Norbert Pachler and John Cook) mobile learning is the interrelationship of artefacts accessed and produced by mobile devices that is not necessarily derivative of formal education, but of cultural practice. This positions mobile learning in line with Sharples (2007) view: the assimilation of informal learning contexts negotiated through cultural reference points.

To my understanding and hopes, mobile learning is active and in the field; the classroom is a static residence where reflection can be constructed. The mobile device is a communication vehicle between and within sociocultural systems and structures.

All very high-falluting, but yielding greater potential to what can be done with devices when considering Situated Cognition (Seely Brown), which is based around real-world contexts as more authentic ways to learn than being stuck in a classroom – which is, I’d argue, really quite ‘ersatz’. I for one recall endlessly staring out of the window, distracted. This served to inform several years of travel in my twenties, in erudite hunger for meaningful experiences in the real world, rather than seeing it out in some office. I suspect many students want the same. Maybe mobile learning, in FE/HE, can support one’s assimilation to the world, after so many years of institutionalisation.

A firm understanding of pedagogical theory can support practice (as praxis).

Collaborating with Ben, we devised a template for presenting Mobile Learning scenarios based on Activity Theory, with a practical focus on purpose (object), ecology (real world context), agency and meaning-making (human capacity to act on the world) and technology needed to orchaestrate activity. In the counterpoints to culture, I consider the use of other figures, as relevant to learners recreational mobile uses: in short, ‘experts’ (not necessarily teachers) in the field.

I wonder about the final one: is there a gimmick-value to technology?  It should probably only be used when it allows for extra affordances, which can be numerous. Further, it may replicate real-world  use, particuarly for skills training, like in FE.

Cochrane  has critiqued the straight transference of classroom learning pedagogies to  mobile devices, which seems a little harsh. Keith Turvey presents a new paper exploring some of the emergent difficulties and questions regarding the Mobile Complex. Importantly, he draws on research from the Higher Education Academy and how schools negotiate the ever-changing world around us. The problems (opportunities) are:

  • learner empowerment;
  • future-facing education;
  • decolonizing education;
  • transformative capabilities;
  • crossing boundaries; and
  • social learning.

It will be of importance that new teacher training fits or reflects the possibilities afforded by mobility as the most ubiquitous tool of this era. Some evidence tells us that we teach others in similar ways to the way we learned to teach ourselves, so it is no bad thing, surely, to train others (as FurtherEdagogy has recently done, among others) to become au fait with mobility. Whatever the definition, mobility is here.

I think FE is strengthened in the UK by some freedom afforded it to embrace more innovation, which is encouraging as a sector. All of the above may seem quite high-minded (and just skims the surface of my research) acadamese, but these ideas are ripe for simple translation.

I finish by presenting a short description of my own mobile learning scenario with AS English FE students, using the template Ben and I designed:

(1) Headline and date –

Global influences on evolution of English Language mobile investigation, 17th June, 2014

 (2) Keywords

Cultural agency, Smart Phone Data collection, (digital) literacy

 (3) Author/s, copyright holder, facilitators (e.g. ‘teacher’), participating institutions (school, university, company etc)

(Left intentionally blank here)

(4) Time and place of realisation

 Liverpool docklands and Museums

(5) Leading education ideas and plot of scenario

 Inquiry-based approach with a talk (conducted as filmed interview following prepared questions by students) with museum curator discussing the changing regional accent.

Students then explored the museums recording photographs of curious language use throughout from the archives in the exhibitions and around the ports and docks. As records these artfacts were brought back to the institution later and uploaded to the class social network for discussion and further exploration in subsequent lessons and in discussion threads online.

(6) Learning aims and objectives achieved

This was a two-fold approach, consisting of preparation for A2 English language coursework choices, so was preliminary information-gathering. Content deriving from the trip (interview segments with the curator; photographic evidence from the museum) could be incoroprated into the subsequent research projects of the unit, which may explore Language Change or Regional Divergence.

It gave the students an insight into practical research methods and tools that can be used for these (phones as dictaphones, video cameras, cameras embedded into them, as memo-recording devices), as well as user-generated content they could drill further into, regarding etymology of the words and the influence of the docks on the English language.

(7) Target group and its views regarding the scenario

AS English group – all keen, naturally, having a sparkling, inspirational teacher! Lost notes from the day now, but their input was impressive, working without direction and stimulated by the visit (as many had never visited the city – despite its proximity).

(8) Institution of learning and curricular context

FE tertiary English

(9) Mobile devices or other technology deployed


(10) Cost and men/ women power, steps and necessary time for realisation

No cost for the museums, small costs for the travel, 1-day for the trip – extra time needed to disseminate results and construct further activity.

(11) Main results of realisation with main positives and negatives

Collaborative problem-solving between members over uses of equipment, curatorship of knowledge and communicating ideas, details of the talk and recollected vignettes of things they saw to the social network; project-based ideas stemmed from it in terms of research ideas for the coursework. An interesting result was the increased activity within the social network we use, as domain of activity. Beforehand, students waited for the teacher to post first, but this lead to some ownership and responsibility on their behalf and an increased sense of engagement and community of practice through the group. This was a shy group and they became emancipated and enagaging on the trip, asking the curator questions confidently and trying Sushi for the first time.

There may be some doubt regarding the ‘real-world context’ and ‘meaning-making’, but if compared to textbooks, videos in the classroom of guest speakers (at best), then I think this form was preferable to the students. Is a museum a more authentic representation of the real-world than a classroom? Regardless of obsessions with history and tacky souvenirs, I would have to say ‘yes.’

As Kierkegaard said: Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” A conscious action necessary to learning is reflection; not best activated in the same environment day -after-day. Wherein the physical trip, situated in the memory and online in the network via their mobile artefcats, helps to contextualise the experience and stimulate reflection to events and conversations, beginning on the bus home and stretching to classroom-based discourse, if you like, or don’t bother if you didnae.

(12) Available report and artefacts (photos, videos, texts, images)

Not available here. Somewhere in the (mobile) cloud…!

“All that is mobile, melts into ether.” – Me.








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Web 2:0 (a little bit of task 4)

I’m a bit behind with posts and responses to the forum of my course (was in Budapest for my birthday at the weekend), but I’ve been immersed in the subject of digital technology in education for weeks now. I’m split between recognising it’s value, and opposing the endorsement of wholesale subscription to these forms for educational curriculum.  I also can’t keep track of what I’ve read in physical paper/book format. If only I had made a clear bibliography, or – if only I had some sort of history catalogue that archives every source I have looked at recently…(I’m inferring the history button on my laptop in a witty, sardonic kind of way here).

You see, without question the potential of technology in education is great. So, while I have recently sneered at the idea of YouTube university, or disparaged the idea of Quest2Learn (http://q2l.org) I have also recently discovered podcasts (at last), and listened for hours while driving to fascinatingly incomprehensible lectures and interviews on the CERN project. But read a book on Quantum Physics? Me? Not this confused Luddite.

What concerns me is linked to Nicholas Carr’s opus ‘The Shallows’ – a speculative hypothesis about the impact of technology on our brain power. Sure, kids can multitask, or – according to the ‘Confronting the Challenges’ report which describes the new skills that new media provide – ‘negotiate’, ‘appropriate’ and ‘use judgement’ (are these exclusive to new media?). But can they bake a loaf of bread? My feeling is that we are trying to justify and intellectualise these new tools, and framework their capabilities within fashionable thinking – to be hip, to be sophisticated with their potential, and to ensure we still engage with new generations interests – and why not?

Well, one reason. It’s called education for a reason: it’s not play. It’s something a bit more formulaic. I’m a bit of a liberalist in educational approach, but I scoff at devising schooling systems based around games culture. On my PGCE, one teasing question posed to us among the varying ideologies of education was ‘should we make learning fun? Should we dumb-down and make it easier to engage with things?’ Sometimes I think not, (and not only because I went to a dreary old-school state comprehensive). There is a value in hard-work, in investigation, and Google, Wikipedia, and every other tool is in danger of standardising, whereas we should be enriching our scope and approach. Yet for this same reason, we should embrace every tool at our disposal, be they books or blogs, poems or podcasts, seminars or (that’s enough alliteration…)

Where is the gestalt moment, the epiphany of ‘Eureka’, when we can click a button and think we have arrived at a (Wiki)answer to our question? Wherefore discovery?

My old Media programme manager said that to get kids to imagine and understand the socio-economic consequences of digital media today you had to work backwards, to get them to imagine life without the tools they are accustomed to. This I encourage, and build on: we should sometimes switch off all this new stuff, to diversify and open our cognitive ability to the old forms, which have worked perfectly well up to now. For this reason I’m in agreement with Ohler, who urges student self-reflection, evaluation and questioning of the worth/value of these forms…is this because they are so common-place? Did teachers of the past encourage learners to wonder if libraries and blackboards were so useful…..o brave new world….

Illustrated with images from the Communications Department library of the University of Salzburg.ImageImageImageImage

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Blogging like a beginner – a tour of Salzburg by iPod

Apropos of an essay on this here blog format…

I am trying to post according to students, to be on their end of things – as if they were being instructed to use the form.

From Fielder (in Downes): “These tools offer a new and powerful toolkit for the support of collaborative and individual learning that adheres to the patterns of contemporary information-intensive work and learning outside of formal educational settings.”

So, I decided to take my iPod out into the city and record my everyday environment in image form. I’m not sure what my intention is, but I’m interested in Herr Bachmair’s lecture where he took the kids out with cameras. I’m wondering how I could do something similar with students, to incorporate learning outside formal educational settings. What value does this have? I’d better act like one.

Well, I also want to try to evaluate whether what I am doing meets any of the new skill sets outlined in Confronting the Challenges (MacArthur Foundation)…so it’s a little experiment and I’ll see where it goes, and try to draw dynamic educational values from the activity. I’d appreciate any feedback, or reflection on supposed ‘educational value’ of merely uploading images.  Firstly, I’ll give you a wee tour of Salzburg.. by virtue of the CTC paper, I imagine this activity can be linked to skill sets such as ‘simulation’, play, and – tenuously perhaps – distributed cognition.

I have done this in an arbitrary and  spontaneous way, so it may not be particularly meaningful – however, I am fairly sure of how students at  BTEC levels would respond to a similar instruction to ‘go out and record your environment and interpret it’…and this is the task I’ve set myself…

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