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Before any ‘point and click’ IT training, do this first

rich picture - aargh

This really happened – and that’s good.

It’s a simple principle, usually overlooked when it comes to any kind of staff development involving technology.     Ask people how they feel about it.   First of all.  Before Logging in.  Before you hand out the notes.

<- Say it with a picture

Sit in a group, face to face and let each person have their moment to say really, how they feel about how technology affects their role.   Let them draw what they feel – as this tutor did. Trust me, it works magic.

This week, a potentially abrasive two hours of point and click Moodle training for a Sixth Form College in a packed (let’s not say sheepdip) staff development day, turned in to a fabulous peer development session – starting with each tutor, of about twenty,  frankly sharing their relationship to Moodle, based on a drawing each had done : happy/unhappy faces, images of isolation, confusion, needing help, seeking direction – others had confidence, happy students and so on.

Listen, and Listen again

The senior tutor was the scribe and recorded a valuable checklist of takeaway actions to solve – many about simple things like logins and access.   Arms became unfolded, resistance lowered, interest grew.  Every participant felt acknowledged, felt heard and learnt something unique  that they would never find elsewhere: how everyone else is affected by the technology in trying to perform their role.

Context is everything

So much of IT training is delivered outside of people’s working experience and context. Peer learning is so much more vivid and engaging.  Four tutors in this group emerged as clear leaders – and they led the rest of the session, Showing and Telling about their context and how student assignments were set, uploaded, marked … and we just about got on to some pedagogy, which is really what Moodle is supposed to be for,  once the basic admin is all sorted.

Social Age Learning

Much is now told of how the Digital age is giving way to the Social age – where it is the connections between people that matter – see what this by looking at the wonderful Social Age Safari:


The greater risk is NOT taking a risk

It takes courage to step out of our comfort zone and take risks and even more so when we do it during a high stakes situation when staff development time is pressured and results expected.   Taking this peer-led, coaching approach to IT training has always worked for me.  Honestly.

I trust that these tutors personally and together will go on to develop their own experience in a way that will keep rewarding them – in a way that my ‘powerpoint and handouts, point and click session’ would have been long forgotten.

Instead I was free to go round the small groups asking about their experiences and aspirations – and didn’t do a single minute of Moodle training in the whole two hours   🙂

I hope the buzz of shared purpose is surviving the rest of the staff development week.


enough eLearning, time for Digital Capability instead

This map above, from the far-sighted Doug Belshaw, is an example of how the simple idea of Digital Literacy,  (its come a long way from ‘being able to use a computer’) unpacks into contexts and capabilities – it is hard to find an area of contemporary life for which it does not apply to a learner, a teacher, a worker, a manager, a citizen, a pensioner, a child, me and you.    It is about what you can do rather than what it is.

Every student should come to learning with a plan that includes a ‘line of sight’ to employment

Employers are vocal in wanting to employ students with the right match of personal-ability attributes and capabilities on top of the qualification, and students need to be able to demonstrate them.   Geoff Rebbeck and Pete Chatterton’s urgent 2015 study for Jisc makes a clear appeal for enabling students to Tweet employers, share Google Hangout sessions with live workplaces, build and curate their own ePortfolio as a beacon for who they are and what they can do and much more.

Less eLearning, more Vocational Technology and Structural Technology

So a student logs in to Moodle and finds their course handbook, that week’s assignment, notes from the last class, a video to watch, a discussion forum and a quiz.   OK, so that’s elearning done.   What about the rest?  They want to learn about the technology used in the field they want to work in – the drones used by horticulturalists, the micro cameras in a car’s engine and explore how they can use Faceswap app on their phone in Hair and Beauty.  Equally they need to communicate, do business, navigate processes, handle administration and behave just like they will in the future employment.
This shifting balance from technology for delivering learning to vocational and structural technology has to be reflected in school and college budgets.

Build and Manage a Digital Reputation

Just like it is important to learn joined-up writing and road-safety to ensure future success, for everyone their presence online – what comes up when they are Googled – is something they can curate, foster, manage, grow and celebrate – a competency which must be learned, and colleges must teach to all learners and staff. It is helpful to think of e-Safety more as a matter of education rather than exclusion  – effectively managing risk rather than institutional blocks and a long list of don’ts.

Digital Capability and Capacity

Capability of what students and staff can do, and the enabling role of managers that shapes their Capacity is the topic of a short survey of 13 assorted post16 learning providers, which offered a regional snapshot of where we are at, May 2016.

One provider has a principal 100% behind the idea that elearning is now defined as Digital Inclusion and is witnessing the flourishing of digital capabilities enabling learners and tutors to reach out, make connections, launch ideas, gather an audience, authentically engage and build relationships inside and outside their place of learning and on into their future direction.

Others however are behind.  The ability of learners to do all these things is subordinated too far under the main task of their learning goals, the restrictions of the infrastructure and classroom culture and the message that this is to do in their own time.

In the survey:

  • 2 out of 13 incorporated digital skills into quality processes and observation
  • 3 out of 13 had anything to say about using technology to build employability skills or as an opportunity to engage relevant employers.
  • 6 out of 13 encourage tutors to develop skills through putting routine processes online while offering 1 to 1 support and encouragement.
  • 12 out of 13 are disappointed that tutors do not engage – whether through time, seeing the purpose, confidence or management focus – and that learners are, as a result, missing out.


So what do we want to see?

  • change in curriculum to more enquiry based e-learning
  • capture and demonstration of new employability skills
  • managers as enablers
  • students as change agents
  • expectations amongst students in the purpose of technology in their relationship with FE and Skills

This list, based on an excellent ALT conference session by Geoff Rebbeck and Peter Kilcoyne, is picked up again in a free ETF/Jisc  Professional Development webinar for tutors, May 24th 2016



Help your Computer Manager not to say no

Don’t shoot the messenger – help your IT manager be the good guy instead

This week I had the great honour of chairing the 38th Academic Novell Admins forum.   Out of the window of the beautfully appointed Vernon Harcourt room, St Hilda’s College Oxford, an enraged Canada goose launched a seemingly unprovoked attack on two swans dreamily intent on swanning down the river Cherwell.  Similarly surprising, seemed the view from college IT managers round the table  – whether for the academic wanting to share research data via Dropbox or the finance manager hoping that the expensive data centre can be replaced with a cheaper online alternative –  the Cloud is not, and may never be, the answer for academic IT.

The point at issue is an old one, views can be entrenched, but they say, while Google or MS365 is ok, even a bonus, for low risk, low sensitivity data like student email, no Information Security officer, can sanction moving important or sensitive data into someone else’s computers, whether owned by Amazon, Google, MS Azure or anyone,  if they don’t know the postcode, and especially not outside Europe.   And the exponential and profligate use of storage means it is hard to isolate the data that needs protecting.  Controversial and provoking, there are supporters and commercial forces on both sides and its complicated.  Never mind that.

There is a more basic issue arising here.   What do organisations do after the Computer (manager) says no?   Think of deflating all that goodwill from students, teachers and admin staff, from those who feel IT exists to stop them doing what they need to.

Three ways in which we can all help:

  1. Please tell our masters in their language : The oldest and surely wisest view round the table came from Joe Doupnik (has his own entry in the history of computing ) – that we cannot be prophets in our own land.   We, the IT and elearning community, have rich experience to offer – but it is our hardpressed masters, grappling financial expediency and market-change, who need to decide the balance between cost saving and investment in the face of disruptive technology.   External input, without acronyms, at the strategic level reinforces the view presented from operational staff.
  2. Security decisions need to be corporately owned: IT managers often sound grumpy and dogmatic usually because they are organisationally isolated.  Specialist input needs to transform the collective view and enable curriculum colleagues to design their delivery feeling safer rather than thwarted by simple ultimata, and in return, underwrite the responsibility for the decision.  This ‘wants and offers’ approach ensures both sides can use their expertise to greatest value supported by the organisation.
  3. Coaching not telling: having sat in many such boardrooms, witnessing many such exchanges between competing expert voices, it is clear that organisations make the best use of their precious, shared face to face meeting time, by attending to the dynamics of meeting.   Recent excellent advice has been to plan meetings like teachers plan a lesson – to maximise the potential for all participants.    In this case, a simple appreciative technique, round the table, where every participant could offer a simple takeaway idea from the meeting that was important to them, promoted the clarity and value, rewarding everyone’s participation.

Can a Round Table session help your colleagues ?   Please do get in touch  julian.bream @

* goose attacking swan image owned by YouTube user asoke11


Blended Learning – a Shared Responsibility

Attending today’s Heart of Worcester College authoritative conference on the subject of roles, it is welcome to see the strong message that success in blending technology with learning only comes about when all staff are empowered, whatever their role – it is not to be left to the eLearning manager (if there is one), the IT manager or the good people in the library.

Particularly encouraging is the recognition that staff who look after IT and staff who look after other staff who teach with IT can be enabled to speak each others’ language, see each other’s priorities and work as a team, both equally valued.

Heart of Worcester College’s last five years of  focus on culture change, investment and innovation to deliver Scheduled Online Learning and Assessment – where learners are timetabled to go online and follow resources that stretch their research, collaboration and independent learning skills have produced results – cost savings (even after teaching hours cost reduction has been reinvested in resources and support), and a noticable improvement of passes into merits.

Two current Sports science and Public Service learners spoke convincingly that they value the opportunity for independent learning that helps prepare them for going on to learn at University level, and – if the resource exciting enough – will go home and keep researching online, really persuing a new interest.    Face to face learning still valued of course – especially on Monday mornings, they recognise the benefit of a live teacher getting them focused and working.

Peter Kilcoyne, eLearning director at the college, who’s patient championing of the independent, online learning capacity in the college and across the Further Education sector, sums up the required formula for any learning provider to succeed, summarised here as:
Success =cross-college; partnership; time-tabling and handholding; CPD and planning

Wishing them well for another 5 years.

  • Try for yourself at  login as guest
  • The college is at the heart of a growing consortium of colleges sharing and developing resources specifically for FE – the Blended Learning Consortium – contact 

resisting the lure of new gadgets

Let’s remember that technology is about people

The World’s Leading Learning Technology Event’ hits town next week.

I’ll be visiting Bett 2015 at London’s Excel Centre to catch up with the latest innovations for education. Along with some 35,000 visitors, I’ll be wowed by new eLearning solutions and ways to transform education with innovative platforms.

But let’s not forget: it’s the Non-Gadgety Challenges that will improve our use of educational technology.

I’ve heard this, time and time again, from Further Education and Skills managers and practitoners all over London, at countless workshops, communities of practice and discussion sessions.

They want to see a cross-organisational approach, and better understanding of each other’s specialisms

It’s hardly surprising.

And now, the ‘foremost community of IT leaders’,  the mighty US Educause,  endorses the human approach. In their list of 2014’s top IT issues  they urge everyone to take responsibility, not just techies, so their top ten technology issues start with people issues:

* an Organisational Approach is top, so learners are not disadvantaged by silos and empires.

* a partnership between IT leadership and institutional leadership – so management can both understand and support.

* better support for curriculum staff AND IT staff comes next – again, let us first learn how to use better what we’ve got.

If this is the view from across the field of North American Higher Education, then they have caught up with something known by every London FE or Adult learning provider I’ve spoken to, particularly when confronted with a pile of shrink wrapped, project-funded gadgets that are apparently about to transform learning and teaching.

* Next comes Big Data – making use of what we know about people as the act of learning creates its digital footprint.

Relegated to 7th in the list of technology issues is the first gadget issue – the desperate need for more WiFi and broadband to manage the explosion of personal devices.

The last three are the usual suspects of every learning provider organisation’s todo list:

  • explore the potential of online delivery
  • scale up IT procurement in the hope of reducing costs – and put it all in the cloud
  • keep the whole setup safe and free from danger (er… see above)

So what does this tell us?

Teachers are disenfranchised by rapidly changing gadgetry.  We all are – I’m marooned inbetween phone contracts and a locked handset right now.  And Windows 8 interface made us all struggle.

People want to feel connected to each other. They also recognise the changing role of the techie, no longer mainly providing desktops on desks, now tasked with managing identity and broadband as people take charge of their own devices.  And hopefully being freed up to help explain more how these things work.


So let’s make 2015 the year we really grasp what lies behind the way we use technology for education, and focus on the people involved.    See you at Bett 2015 on the 21st Jan.