Wednesday, 7 December 2016

The 12 Apps of Christmas

For the second year in a row we at the university have run The 12 Apps of Christmas within our Moodle site. (You can only get in if you have access to our Moodle site, sorry about that). However I wanted to share the list of apps from last year and to where we are today.

I also have to say I have very little to do with it, my colleague Tom (a different Tom) designed and produced the idea and while we all contribute ideas, he takes them and writes them up in his jovial style.

So back in 2015 the 12 Apps were:

There are some really fantastic tools there that you may already use, but others that you may not have heard of. Again, I have to give credit to Tom for finding and resourcing this list. 

It's always amazing to think how creative we are as a world. There are so many things that are available from every walk of life. Creative education is one of those things. There are so many things that can help your life as an academic or student that you don't know exist. It's hard to filter which are actually good and which are less useful but these are decisions you as the user will have to evaluate. 

So 2016 is here and almost over and the list so far is as follows:

A great range of tools and apps that are not all focused on your academic life, but can enhance it in different ways. 

Friday, 25 November 2016

Engaging with others

My training sessions are usually well received, and in part that is due to the size of the classes that run. I am never over subscribed, and classes are small enough to almost be individual one to one sessions (and some are).

Recently I have had a visiting scholar attend my sessions, who was almost mortified that I was running a session to just her. She felt she was wasting my time.

When I started my training sessions 5 years ago, I tried running them less frequently to increase engagement. All that happened was that I would only have 2 people attending and 25 complaining they could never get on the session they wanted. So now we run it very frequently for smaller groups but I am able to engage with each individuals needs and problems.

It may not be the most efficient of training plans, I understand this, but actually I think I am providing a service to academics that they appreciate more for the individual nature that it brings.

Engaging with people is what we do at the university, we may not be a typical customer facing service like a shop but we provide a service that benefits our customer, the student. I occasionally have student facing sessions, but my customer is the academic and at times academics are reticent to engage with the technology that is at their finger tips.

I like the fact I can engage with them on a smaller scale as it makes the transition for them easier. They are not so overwhelmed, and are able to get me to adjust the speed of the training according to their level of understanding.

Engaging with the academics who are reticent is something that I feel is a growing part of my training life as many realise (although not always agree with) is that student expectation as a customer is much higher. They are after more for their money and want to feel that the service they are receiving is valuable.

Engagement is always a goal we try to achieve, and every year we find some students that do and some that don't. It's refining our ideas and processes each year to increase the service we provide and never thinking we have it perfectly worked out because as soon as you do, that's when it goes wrong again.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

The world is changing

Today sees Donald Trump named as the President of the United States.

I'll just leave that there.

I am not a political genius or academic. I do however consider myself political. My wife would just call me opinionated, so it's two sides of the same square right?

I was very afraid of Brexit both personally and from a working perspective and while things are looking uncertain and I am sure in the next few years will unveil themselves. Today I am still here.

The same at the moment can be said for Donald Trump.

I was convinced all along that he never wanted to win, but was trying to lose, in style while putting the political elite to their own sword and being the business man he is, making money on the way. The trouble is he has now won. America voted and it appears to be as close as Brexit was.

I can't say what will happen, I am not the right person to ask. This is not really relevant to a technology skewed blog, but it is a big event in world history and blows anything else I might write out of the water.

All I will say is if he follows and succeeds with his rhetoric the world could be a little darker than it was yesterday. 4 Years is a long time in politics especially if things are going wrong. All I can say is that we are a more connected people today and technology and education to me are always going to be strong drivers in helping people to change their own future and that of others.

We are split on many things but we can agree that going forward technology can help deliver interactive and intelligent learning. All we can try to do is work together and look at what the real problems are within our own knowledge and try to fix what we are lacking.

Education is important and I hope that post Brexit and Trump people don't lose sight of that fact.

Maybe it's the fact we don't have the same monumental things like space travel to aspire to. We need to look for our next big endeavour and give everyone something to aspire to.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Preparing a new session

Tomorrow I am running a new training session to help academics look at the technology behind running a Distance Learning Course.

The main problem here is that there is such an extensive list of what you should or could use, I have to try to help narrow it down so that you buy what's best for you scenario.

A little back story to me, and that is I have "fallen" into my training role as a career. I love it. The thing is I started working in radio and through my university years and had a short time working in real radio stations. You soon find as an 18 year old though there are few positions and even less money. I then worked my way into a sixth form college (actually during the radio work) and developed my self as a media technician at college level to where I am today as a technologist at a university (there's ten years of in between but that is pretty much irrelevant).

The reason I give the back story is that I came to training through my love of talking (some would say of hearing my own voice but that is overly simplistic, I am sure other people like hearing it too!) So when I come to develop a training session, I find that I am not always doing it traditionally, but personally.  What would I like to know, what would I like to get from this session and I try to develop it from there. I guess this a natural evolution of any learning and I find that each time I do a session it evolves and adapts to each audience and as things change.

The session tomorrow will focus on the tech, but also I want to investigate how individuals may approach their own ideas and feelings about distance learning. I hope to learn from them as well and apply that to the next session. Arguably the first few sessions will be the weakest, but then confidence is a big part of any "performance" as confident people will bring the crowd along with them.

A good academic knows their material, of course, but that does not mean the lecture is engaging. A lecture is engaging because of the person doing the session and I expect the frequency they have done a session. Granted, some people are better at faking this confidence and not letting the nerves show through but when you have a full grasp of the subject it becomes easier to ride the real confidence to a good session.

As you can tell I have diverged from the title, and I am pretty good at that in person. It's how my brain makes random connections that just flow from one point to another and again that keeps a session (and this blog) spontaneous. That's fine in person, less so for a blog I should self edit on. However I like the idea of entertaining through this as well and not just having it a dry and factual blog, although I hope some of the posts do also inform about certain subjects.

To conclude, I will take tomorrows session and adapt and find what works to be useful to everyone. I will keep learning myself about what the requirements of each audience are and find the best way to structure it  to be a slick and interesting session. For tomorrow however, I have an idea of where to go, we shall see if it the correct way.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Digital Privacy

I did a session for an academic on setting up and using a blog. It went reasonable well, although I'm not sure many students really cared for the idea.

In this generation, blogging seems a mildly outdated method of communication. Although there are many great blogs out there that people read on a regular basis, actually having something to say regularly is hard.

What I did was a rough straw pole of students in the class room and what I found was that no one ran a blog. However many of them used Twitter, so essentially a micro-blog.

From what you hear anecdotally students don't use Facebook anymore, it's an outdated social network. However nearly every student in the class does have a Facebook account with a nearly the same number using Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Snapchat being the favoured preference of all of them despite having multiple accounts.

This then brings me onto the next part of the talk I was giving and that is the privacy of it all.

When writing a blog, posting online and even to Snapchat a notoriously private and instant medium things can stick around forever online. I've friends who teach in schools where kids send inappropriate images over Snapchat thinking it is gone but actually these images can be captured using other 3rd party apps, and then you as the sender lose control of where it is going.

I asked the class who used Myspace and I think I got a few blank stares to what it even was. That was my point. What you are using today may not be what you use tomorrow, I know I have forgotten my Myspace details and can't reset it. I now have something online I have no access to, luckily there is nothing bad there, but still people forget parts of the web exist. They still might come up on a search in a few years time that have a negative impact on a job application. Drunken photos are fun to look at and post, and again you may have no control over how they are viewed but they may stick around longer than you realise.

Always set your privacy settings, and even if they are set to be open make sure they are because you want them to be. With all social networks you can lock down access to other people and have them restricted from public view and I would suggest doing this for the more personal areas of your digital life. Make sure you keep your personal life private, however open you are in real life.

Digital Privacy is a very important part of 21st Century life and it is not going away. Make sure you are on the right side of it and are happy with everything that is happening from your own accounts. You have that level of control, just some sites don't make it all that easy for you to find.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Smaller subjects to keep on Bloggin'

I have been trying to keep my thinking cap on to get big subjects to talk about, and today was sent 2 resources that look great for helping academics to produce digital materials.

This is a very good way of keeping things on track. I had not thought of making my blogs smaller as well. Doing posts on small sections of elarning, and at times just providing links to videos. When you are doing a regular blog these can be just as relevant as trying to write about bigger ideas or themes.

Next week I am delivering a lecture on blogging and the software to use. I have 30 mins to fill and not sure I can as it really is just sign in, set up and ta'dah there you go. OK, so this is an over simplification and I know that. However teaching people to blog is to highlight that what you need to do. That is to write, find something that you are working on or with and document it. It's a diary, a journal and a good blog will get people interested in what you have to say.

So I think I will use this page as an example of what I am doing, and look at what others are doing in the world of educational blog.

Back to the main point though, the two sites I was sent are

Technology Enhanced Learning for You and 1 Minute CPD

I think on the days (of which there are may) I have nothing to say, I do have resources I can post.

So today is a short post, but I suggest you take a look at what others are doing, and remember while we are working in our own little bubbles, actually there are a lot of people like you who might be doing the same thing. It's always worth looking for open resources and wondering how you might be able to use them, or help them with support.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

It all starts with a great idea, it falls due to lack of engagement

Since moving offices, which we all were reticent to do, but had no option to stay; the team has actually taken on a new lease of life. We are in open plan, which has positives and negatives but it has opened up our communication (thanks to being able to talk to each other, but also using Slack). We are trying our hardest to share ideas and share work loads like we never have before. 

It is liberating to actually go from apprehension of the change to a real buzz to be where we are. I know there are plenty of quotes about change and the fear of trying new things but actually most times when you do force a change you get something from it that you never knew was going to be there. I mean it sounds obvious when you write it down, but when it plays within your own head space you like the comfort of knowing what today brings and what tomorrow will be like. Security is a comfy blanket we can wrap our selves in and ignore the inevitable change we must one day make. 

So this leads me to the title. We are now having great ideas for projects and developments between us. For me this blog is an example of a piece of work that I want to try to do. I am finding the daily side of it near impossible to complete but I can do regular. Once or twice a week is fine really when you have a small amount to say!

We are trying to do some larger scale things within the team, but require us all to take part, and over a long time. A group blog, where we all write and don't just leave it to one person. We take an idea one person has but see how it can fit into all of our strategies. My next goal is to get a regular Youtube video rolling out but again it requires a few things to be ready first and actually fits in with the rest of the team who are looking at increasing our profile as well as seeing best practice from around the whole university. 

It's true that a good team can work independently of each other but it must also be able to rely on each individual part to take up the slack of where you might fall down. 

When I had a Saturday job in a shop the manager would get his hands dirty too, and work doing the "grunt" work if it was required. You felt happy to be doing that work if the manager did it too. He didn't do it every day. That's why you pay Saturday staff, but it gave me a sense of value to be part of a team that all contributed to the final goal. 

I get that where I am now. I feel that the team (for the most part) all want to work together. From the top down we are all aware we have a "cause" of elearning and digital technology. We can all be part of something that improves the lives of the students and staff we serve here are the university.  

Monday, 3 October 2016

Back to Work.

Holidays are nice although the inevitable happens. Today, here I am, back to work. It's been a crazy morning trying to catch up on emails and then trying to fix a system that has fallen over.

Some days you wonder why you go away.

The training program is back on for me after the summer hiatus where I was able to focus on a range of other things, this blog included. This afternoon though it starts again, and it makes you realise that when a busy period is underway and you have a few other jobs you want to do, it pays to prioritise and manage your time well.

The problem comes where you have an important task but you have to still do daily work that suddenly seems less important.

The start of term is a big time for new staff to get training and is very important to them. I fully appreciate the need for them, but with a system falling down and trying to get it up right again, you want all the time you can.

Saying that, I have done all I can now, and am waiting on the company to let me know what I need to do next. Just like I found while queuing at Peppa Pig world while on holiday, I am impatient.

You want to get it all working asap, then know that you can still offer a good service.

So while it's great to be back at work. It's really nice to be on holiday!

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Perseverance. Following the steps.

We have had a new system installed and at the moment it doesn't work every time as well as we would have hoped. With room setups being different for the same system it can get a little bothersome however I am not as yet here to disparage the product.

What I am here to talk about is perseverance and trouble shooting.

Today we were trying to find why a microphone levels were low and getting the balance between internal and external inputs.

The ceiling mic was quite low (in volume) and it went into one box that is basically a noise gate and compressor. The next in line is a USB pre-amp to get the mic into the computer.

It was a question of setting levels to a set position and recording a test, then retrying it with the levels changed higher or lower on each device to find the best sounding option. Then it was a look at the levels the compressor and gate were set to, and while the noise gate worked really well to tune out the room noise while the presenter was not speaking, it does sound quite strange having a harsh stop after a presenter stops talking. It sounded like the presenter was being cut off as there was no ramp down or up from the background noise to the speech.

It's this process of following the wires through each connection to make sure each step is working, and if there is no sound, where is the fault. Is it one of the boxes or maybe a wire. You keep chasing and this gets infuriating.

This can be applied to learning about anything. Find the process and stick to it. Follow the steps through the research process and find the weak point in the chain. Test that point and make sure it fits to what you need. That sounds a little less like learning there and more like rhetoric, where you change the facts to fit the theory, but that is not what I mean. If the weakest point is causing problems, then don't just ignore but look at the why. If it needs to be removed but the final out come you were hoping to get to also has to change so be it.

From my audio example, it is a little more fixed in a right or wrong position. If a wire is broken replace the wire as the end goal is sound on the recording. The bit where a changeable mind set might apply is the Noise gate and compressor here. They either make too much difference so need to be removed, or not enough difference to warrant being there in the first place. If it is removed, what conclusions can be drawn and how can the final product be improved after this. Maybe a new device, but that costs money. Maybe a new approach, that takes time. That is the factor here, especially in teaching spaces at this time of year. Room availability limits how much we can "play" around with the system, so a methodical look at what you need will be the best option.

Today I have drawn new conclusions that I want to test, but I need again to persevere in that to make sure what I think will be the best option and what the actual end result are are yet to be tested. If that doesn't work, I will have to talk to others and get new ideas and information to make sure what we are doing is adding value to the teaching and learning as a final product.

Have an idea, test it, retest it and keep looking at how it can be improved.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Customer Service in IT

At this time of year the University is busy! It's freshers week and people are settling into their new life as a student or lecturer.

It's a busy time for us here as the TEL and eLearning team as we try to help those eager students get onto their courses and units.

We help as best we can and answer as much as we can. I am not normally required to do this as there is a very capable team who manage it all year round, but when it gets busy I have no problem throwing my hat and hand into the ring and doing what is needed.

It is our job to make the students feel like there is a support structure that they can rely on. In many ways we have to make the academics feel the same, we want to keep engagement high, and poor support will not help that. Making the student feel as though they can turn to the central team will only reinforce to them they made the correct choice in the university.

However, you do get some odd questions.

I was asked about a students induction lecture that they had missed not 10 minutes before. I had to pass them off to their admin team and hope they could help.

This just highlights that when you phone a help like or support center, the person on the other end of the phone may not know everything you think they do.

I have to admit, I am one of the worst for this. It's natural to assume that they know more than you, and should know everything you are asking. Unfortunately this won't be the case. As I found, I knew that inductions were under way, but a specific one for that student is nothing to do with what we offer.

Providing customer service while not working as in a direct customer service role is tricky. While trying to assist a variety of people, there are so many facets to the university. It can be hard to try to find the right place to forward the call to, and then you get into that large organisational hole of being pushed about. You want to make sure that the person is not too lost, but sometimes it can happen and you have no follow up unless they eventually get pushed back to you.

We are lucky we don't function like many "call centers" and we get very, very few "angry" customers as we are more an information hub to the VLE and learning systems than we are call center.

With my training I try to help the academics before they get these problems, but occasionally they get the concepts and then need help again (which is fine!) so we are the after care as well.

This time of year us fun, and helps you get a good idea of problems that people are having. It is a good day when you help more people than can't!

Friday, 16 September 2016

Webcam testing

So for the last few days, Shaun and I have been developing a new training session regarding Digital Tools in Distance Learning. At the moment that has been playing about with webcams.

I am going to do full reviews of the cameras in terms of use and ease of use, quality and features. For today however I want to mention it's not as easy as I had thought it might be.

I will clarify. It was easy to plug them all in and get them working for a conference call. That was fine. Which is a good base line start.

The problem comes when trying to record them do something like a video blog. Now I understand that actually a mobile phone these days is actually the easiest and best way to do it. The problem comes when you know you should be able to do something, so you persevere just to prove you can.

With Windows 7 there is no built in application, although for Windows 8 and 10 I seem to think that changed. I downloaded Windows Movie Maker for free and it worked but the output quality was not great.

You can use the default camera software which is fine for the Logitech and the Microsoft cameras but for the cheaper unbranded cameras there is no option.

I tried VLC which is meant to work, however even following all the "simple" instructions on how to do it, I kept getting issues and it turns out it was recording it but not to where I expected and the quality was not great.

The two that we found worked best are VirtualDub and  OBS Studio (Which stands for Open Broadcast Software). OBS is used mostly by people who are streaming games on services like Twitch but will also allow for just a recording of a webcam.

VirtualDub is my favourite of the two, once you get in it is simple and while it might take a little bit of poking around to get all the settings correct, it is a quick solution to the problem and so far has worked with the two webcams I tried without issue.

I will, as I say review each camera independently and put up videos of the quality, but just to start it was a great step into the session and what I need to know. It's the sort of thing that seems easy enough to do on the day, but this shows all the problems that might come up and it's good to have them now to make sure the academics are prepared for what might happen. As I have mentioned before, any barrier can sometimes be the smallest excuse to stop trying, but we did that leg work this time so that we got frustrated on their behalf.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016


It's that time of year where it gets busy. I may have to admit defeat with the daily posts, but try to put out quality over quantity.

That being said, a short thought for the day is around Slack. A group messaging and work flow tool. A colleague suggested it and today is my first day trying it out.

I have felt more productive already! It allows me to dip in and out of projects I am working on and get a group involved or at least informed straight away.

I will do more on it later to see if the day one high keeps on going, but I can really see this helping our little team on track of some projects where we might have been working separately before.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Getting academics on board with Technology

This is a short one, but I have just been playing with our range of webcams in preparation for a new training session and a few web videos on the particular kit we have.

Trying to record the webcams using a Windows 7 machine has proved  more problematic that I first anticipated. I downloaded a few free options (as YouTube has pulled this feature of recording direct to itself).

In the end I was able to use the software from the camera to do it.

Trying other options either were very complicated (I'm looking at you VLC Media player) or just a very poor quality output file.

This brings me to the title. I need to find the easiest and simplest way for an academic to use this kit (depending on their use case).

If it is hard to do, they switch off and dis-engage from even attempting it. I know this is a gross generalisation, but I was getting frustrated and if I did not enjoy this sort of problem and academic (or really any other normal human being) would have just given up.

Kit needs to be easy and simple to use, setup and provide no barrier to production. It is my job to try to find that fastest route and depending on budget find the right solution.

Until I have been through all the kit properly I have no more to add today, but I want to win and find a few options to recording a webcam that I can then add to YouTube in the hope more people can use it both in and out of an educational environment.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Inspired by...

Who inspired you?

Inspiration can come from everywhere and anyone. Are you inspired by a famous person, a friend or relative. If it is a famous person, do they know they are famous? That sounds odd to say, but there are gradients of fame. I used to work in radio a long time ago, and people will have known my name (my 15 minutes are up!) but I would never have said I was famous (and I'm not). Other people may have thought that because I was on that medium, I was. (Still, really not).

With YouTube becoming essentially a range of TV channels all of its own, people are finding fame on the web through "non-traditional" methods. They did not have to get network approval or fight for funding from studio bosses. Many start as podcasters who have turned on a camera. Other people are still making a living from Podcasting. Some Podcasters like Kevin Smith, have left behind the life of film making fame to have a much more open and free form of art that they alone control.

This is all very tangential to the title, I get that. However it plays to my inspirations. Having started in Radio I now see podcasting as a much more free outlet to that side of me. The problem I have is wanting a co-host but finding a friend who has the same rotational time frame that I have to do it. Although it works for the Bugle with John Oliver based in NY and Andy Zaltzman based in the UK.

It's easy to be inspired by famous people as they are more directly "in front" of us but sometimes the personna that inspires is not the real life person behind the mask. This can be a problem, but not one for today, or this blog.

I am writing this looking at educational inspiration and people like Sir Ken Robinson who delivers key note speeches that are engaging and funny. Some border on stand up routines (part of that comes from the confidence to just talk to people), but each has a strong message surrounding education and what can be done to improve it.

There are people driving forward educational technology and I am trying to find my place in that market. I know I have confidence to talk to most people and don't mind public speaking. It's really looking at how to focus myself on a technology that I can deliver and expand for others. What can I do to help you? That is what I need to ask, and I try to on a regular basis for the academics (and others) around me. It's at times not getting scared of people that inspire you, because if you send most people an email they will reply and may even work with you on developing your question.

It is good to be inspired by friends and family, because they are around you the most and are your support structure and motivation to do better in your life. I am constantly in awe of my family for so many different reasons (on so many levels) but it is the hard work you see some people put into making your little part of the world a better place.

I think that is a good place to start. If you can try to make something around you better in even a small way, then you may inspire someone else to try something that may exceed your original act, and if they do, don't get jealous, look at how you can improve yourself again. It's amazing how programmers who are given 2 days off real work  to work on anything they like, can sometimes surpass the original long term project they are working on. A persons creativity is a driving force to improvement and if they are inspired in what they do it will only improve the work they do.

Allowing students to push their own learning goals because you inspire them is a great idea. So I would suggest we all look at who inspires us and why, and then look at how that inspiration can be passed on to others. You never know where it might lead.

Thursday, 8 September 2016


This post is to look at Nearpod, a service that is used to enhance the current teaching model.

Firstly I must put that I am not employed by Nearpod and have no affiliation, other than being a point of call to them for our licences within the university.

The reason I put this in, is because whenever I deliver a session involving Nearpod it comes across less like training and more like a sales pitch. It is easy to talk positively about something that you actually believe has benefits.

The reason I like Nearpod is it changes the focus of the presentation of a traditional PowerPoint from the big screen at the front, to that of the presenter and the device you have in front of you. The presenter can become a part of the audience, and move around but still lead and direct the session without being tied to a PC at the front of the class.

Nearpod has 4 licences that start at nothing for a Silver licence right up to a District the larger organisation licence.

(Click the image to get the full page).

There is quite a jump between each level, however that relates mostly to class sizes and storage of each presentation. I think that the basic interactions that you are able to use are great for getting information from the student and making the class interactive. 

The basic features for this are a text fill response box, quiz, poll and draw tool. The features that are available over this allow for video and web content, a few other game interactions and note taking on each slide for the student. 

From this Nearpod, you can see that I had an existing PowerPoint that I have added a few interactions to, allowing the presenter to get information about the class, as well as testing the understanding for the lesson. This is a very quick example, but as you progress in a lesson you can really push the learners to think about what you are talking about and get them to demonstrate understanding quickly. It can be used to test and examine understanding from a previous lesson and allows the academic/teacher to then examine what has been missed before leading the class further into new material.

With the Gold licence (and above) you receive the ability to set "homework" (like the embedded presentation above). This gives the student the chance to explore the presentation at their own pace and either be prepared before a lecture, or revisit the previous lectures materials. A presentation could be set up as an interaction before the one that is delivered in class.

Nearpod also has a marketplace that has a range of subject specific presentation lessons that range from free to a few dollars (usually about $2.99). The market place is very school heavy and the materials are not as advanced as would be needed within the HE sector (it is also quite US-centric as they are a US company). However this is still a fantastic service.

I find that this is particularly useful tool for academics who are trying to get the students to engage and take and active role in class. Where once people would not put up their hands for fear of a wrong answer, Nearpod makes the sharing of answers anonymous. Although the teacher knows who has replied and with what answer the student is never focused on and made to feel stupid because although the teacher may share a wrong answer, this will be shown to demonstrate common misunderstandings or areas that need work and the specific student is not the center of attention, it is the answer that is important.

If you are curious about Nearpod, I would suggest you sign up (you can do it with Microsoft and Google accounts so you don't even need to fill in any forms). Give the free version a go and you may even find that it alone will be enough to suit your needs. If not, they are very helpful in sorting your specific needs out and are constantly developing the service in terms of reporting and classroom features.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Gamification - Part 2

OK so this post isn't from me, however watching Ian Livingstone talk at the AltC conference about learning and his experiences creating analog interactive games that then helped engage students. The development of critical thinking through game play and applying that into game design and game making.

Monday, 5 September 2016


It's nice to get away. Depending on your job, it can be nice to come back. I mean I know no one really wants to come back to work, but it's good to come back to a place you enjoy.

I have had a week off. As you may notice from the lack of blog posts for the week. So my head at the moment is just getting back into work mode. I have a report to write, a training session to develop and the fun task of deleting all the spam from my inbox.

I will then for the rest of this week be chasing my tail to produce a series of blog posts. I am going to get into the podcast series a little more and look into copyright.

So for today, this short post is just to remind myself what it is I do here. Try to get back into the flow of writing (nearly) every day and then looking at how I can best plan to be prepared for this!

I think this is the future challenge. Getting myself organised on a more daily basis for content. Making sure I know what each day will bring and write accordingly. Research a few key subjects and start to more focused in the writing.

This is the second start in to my blogging journey but I have a glimmer of light at the end of my tunnel as I have another holiday booked in two weeks time....

Friday, 26 August 2016


Gamification is a large area of research that many people are invested in. There has been an element of mis-information or misunderstanding behind it. I am not the person to explain, so that is not the purpose of this post. That being said, I see the merits of it, but appreciate that where I started with gamification is not the entire story.

I was inspired to write this from playing Her Story. An immersive thriller, available on Steam for about £5. Having worked in the Criminology department of the university I thought this idea would be a fantastic lead into critical thinking, analysing evidence and methodically working out something from nothing. However it is just a game and it's not taking an element of a course and applying game theory to it, allowing for development on understanding, it is just an enjoyable game.

The initial reviews of the game I read were all very positive, however reading through the list of reviews on Steam, they start to show some negative comments about the games length and design.
How long should a game be is a tough question. There are some short games that spark imagination and feel longer because you are lost in the experience. There are others that need a large investment of time and energy to complete, that people lose interest with and eventually reject. I found this with the game Final Fantasy 7 on the PlayStation (original). It was a large game, but I had no interest in the Role Playing Game mechanics and despite its plaudits and acclaim it was not for me.

Transferring this model to a classroom or learning environment, it's not just about how long it takes to do something, it's about how it can capture the imagination of the participant. With the interest in a subject, a person is more likely to invest their time to develop their knowledge. It may mean looking at one piece of information and designing a few task or activities around it to capture a few learning styles.

So why would looking at making a game or applying game theory to learning be appropriate?

Well, the reason games engage their audience (be it computer, board or sport activity) are because they offer something to the participant.

Firstly the chance of a reward, by engaging with the game you get some reward or sense of achievement for completing it. I can see why there is a desire to gamify learning, as you get very little gratification from reading a 50 page document. While the information contained within the document is important, if you could some how take element of that and create an interactive activity it could help retention? It's about the story, and in this instance a case study is a great starting point for starting an experience for the student to "participate" in the scenario.

Secondly, a range of goals. They can be both and long short term. This ties to the first point with the chance of reward. If you achieve a mixture of short and long term goals, you will then receive the final reward. Playing through Her Story, this is used extremely well. You have to find the narrative through the short video clips and it's trying to piece those together to gain understanding. Your goals are to find the pertinent information and then get the reward of understanding the events in the game. Through your material, is there a narrative thread that can be split into tasks. The tasks engage the learner to piece together the process. Each task when pieced together helps bring clarity to the more complex whole of the subject.

Thirdly, the sense of competition overall. If you play football, you want to beat the opposition. You also want to be the best player on the team. You want to demonstrate your value to the community you are participating in. This is the same in the classroom. Using tools like that allow for a short range of questions to be answered through a smart phone, tablet or computer, you can get the class to compete against each other. The competitive nature of the student is peaked and they want to be top of that leader board. It gives the student a comparison to their peers. The nice thing about Kahoot is that it only shows the top 5 to the class, but on your own device you see how far behind the next person you are and it is a real driver to do better. Used regularly this competition drives people to improve each time. To improve, the student will need to look deeper into the subject that you may not have the class time to look at. It's that almost tricking the student into wanting to learn more, so they get a better sense of achievement. With this it can also be how you phrase a question. Arguably the good students are always going to be top of the table, but looking at what areas the weaker students may actually excel in might be an avenue to explore to engage them in the desire to achieve more.

Lastly (and I know there could more details I could cover), FUN. Games are fun. I have always played board games with my family and friends, I have always loved video games for their immersive nature and chance to escape into other worlds or stories and I have occasionally kicked a ball in the park, although I am not really what you call a sporty type. Learning can seem boring. It's only in my later life that I saw the value of education, and I was lucky I had a good family and support system in my life I was able to get through my complete apathy to the learning part of school. I was really just a typical boy and maybe in that generation where it was a "traditional" mode of learning. Here is the book, read it, learn it, exam, you now know this! That model does hold merit for certain learners and certain situations. Having worked with a few "certain" mindset academics though they miss the value of any other model. They see anything out side of the student getting a real book from the library, reading it and then learning it as spoon feeding.
Learning should be fun, and for someone like myself, I always learned more in school when we did a fun activity. I will always remember the day in my physics lesson we did pressure with two syringes, one large and one small. Push the big syringe and the little syringe moves a large amount, switch the process and the inverse is true. This did devolve into a class room battle, but it was fun. OK. Bad example, I'm not sure I could tell you any major physics theory or law from it. But it was a fun day!

There is a line between the two examples. Making an engaging activity that might have a narrative or story path. Offering rewards for the learners achievements. These both can benefit a wide range of learner types. If you have to research something through a traditional learning method to then apply it "in-game" you can blend the learning process through the range of activities. Actively engaging the learner is not spoon feeding them knowledge, it is empowering them to develop it.  If a student engages with the subject matter they will undoubtedly research it more in depth themselves. I always worked harder in my Media and Film Studies class because I was invested and interested. I now have a greater interest in History than I did at school so am more prepared to do the reading that I was then, not that I am actually studying for anything history related at the moment.

I have more research to do on this subject and will try in the future to write again on working game theory into academic, but for now I think that it is a good idea to at least consider how your material can be adapted to another format. What can you do to add activities into the material? Do you have a case study that reinforces what you are trying to get across? How can that case study be generalised and applied to the students learning outcomes? It's also worth noting that you should also consider the fact the material can't be adapted. Sometimes the large 80 page document needs to be just that. There may be no better way of presenting the information, or should there be. It can take a major review of your courses and units to what can and can't be produced in another format, one that will take time. So start with just one, small piece. Test yourself and try to be as dispassionate as possible with your work. It is easy to get attached and be reluctant to change but don't take offence to others ideas on what you can do to improve or develop your work.

“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” 
― George Bernard Shaw

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Style over substance

This is a short one today, that I will hopefully revisit at some point. At the moment, I am just putting down place holder ideas really. Scratching the surface of subjects that I am going to dig into at a later date.

I will start with the fact that I am not a designer. I fall into the category of I know what I like and think look good. Here starts the problem with style over substance. As with anything design related, from an educational resource to a piece of art in a gallery, there will be things you like and things you don't. As a non-designer I get funny looks from the designers in the office who tell me my idea is outdated or very (insert year here). Designers then fall into two categories themselves. The first is the designer that tries to follow trends and keep up with current fashions, the second is the designer with the skills to produce work (that I can't) but they, like me produce dated material.

The difference between me and the dated designer is that the designer can still produce something half decent, really polish their work to the vision in their head, where my work stops at a skill level and may be a good idea, may not be, but it still does not look like a finished piece.

No we hit the next problem in education. The academic vs the designer and producer. An academic may want to produce an interactive solution, but using what they see as "futuristic" that in reality is actually now behind current design trends or fashions. It may look nice online, but actually it is not accessible as they first thought. Reading material online is a new challenge students face and actually making it as friendly as possible is the key to engagement. That does not mean the resource should not have interactive elements or be made of a range of tools a designer can conceive of  but the academic should see that the designer is not trying to destroy their vision of progressive learning materials. The designer is not trying to make your day worse, the developer is not trying to cut a corner to save time, they are thinking about your material and the best way a student can approach it. That way may not be yours.

Developers and designers need input and suggestions, this will help them focus and target the sections of your material that need to really pop out for the student. This does not mean though that once they have produced something you should go through it and try to redesign it from the ground up. You have "hired" an expert to help where you can't produce what you want.

That's also not to say you shouldn't get opinions from others, but try to ask advice from people that are not just going to give you the answer you want to hear. It's tempting to say all the people ask think the same as me, but you did not ask people that you thought might give you a differing answer. Ask your kids, ask a friends kids. Ask students on your course, ask students on other courses that don't understand your material, but do know how they approach learning. Ask colleagues from more than just your department. It's easy at times to forget in HE we work in a very large organisation that are made up of people who also have some fantastic and creative ideas you should be sharing.

Your work will speak for itself, and good academic work is invaluable to us, the developer and designer as you know more than we do about your subject. Just don't forget that we might know ours and although we are against part of your suggestion we are not against you in wanting to produce something truly engaging and excellent for your students.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

A Google Institution - What does that mean?

I am now part of a Google Institution. What does that mean? Well, from the back end I have no idea. For me, it just means my work email is run from Google and I get loads of extras. This blog for instance is on this is owned by Google, so when I sign in to Google I can use this blog without another login to remember.

Part of the benefit is the range of tools I as a worker within the establishment have access to. Now I would have this through any old Google account, but the feature is there are no limits. My Google Drive is unlimited in size, so I can store and work with any other member of the university on a document and the size is irrelevant.

Google Drive is a fantastic tool, and has made so many previous problems like version number and who is meant to make the next amendment a redundant issue. You work together and share the version. You can jump back to any point and frankly it is brilliant.

The thing I have found useful is as our email addresses are not @gmail they are our own institutional ones. So when it comes to signing in to trials or educational profiles, you don't need create new profiles you can just use your work one as a Google single sign on. (It depresses me how many are now also Facebook sign ons, and for those that don't use Facebook it means another account).

Google have thought hard about what people need, not just in business or education but in general. The mail system, the calendar, the shared documents the list goes on. It makes everything that little bit more seamless. It makes your working process a little better, and I know that is nothing you can't do as an individual user of a Google product, but to know that any student that turns up can access the same things as you. They have easy access to the Chromebooks that they might use in class under our domain. They can also do single sign on to other sites without having to use their own personal accounts. If you have ideas to use a site the student would not normally want to sign up to they can use the gmail sign in from the institutional login.

There will be loads behind the scenes that I don't get to see that relate to what else we get being part of the Google Institution. (I know there are certain problems we encounter that relate to staff and students being on different domains to share certain things. This is being adapted and fixed so that in the future it is no longer an issue.) From where I am though being part of the Google machine works very nicely. I know there are many concerns for people about using products from the big companies but sign up through work allows you to limit the amount of information you provide them. You can remain but a singular name in the multiple fields of data you can use. It is a fantastic product as it all connects together so well. Each element saves you time elsewhere, as once you might not have been able to open a version from your Word document on my computer or something may not send to well. If you have an attachment to an email that is too large, it just shares it from your Google Drive. These are all things that are Google specific but as they are all part of my institutional experience, I can see how this has become the future for large organisations that want a simple solution to get people working together.

Monday, 22 August 2016


This is just a quick post today due to need else where. I thought however it would be worth a note for anyone producing or working with a Virtual Learning Environment, testing.

With our annual upgrade to Moodle just around the corner, before we do it we test. As a central department we all down tools and get stuck in to making sure everything in the new version works and trialing new tools and features.

Testing is a great thing to make your final product to the learner a seamless and smooth experience. It becomes more obvious to the end user that something has not been worked on when they actually find it hard to learn or access materials.

Outside of education we see this happen more commonly these days in Video Games, many seem to be rushed out for a release date but are full of bugs or problems that are then fixed and patched as the game is played. The consumer essentially becomes the tester.

This can happen however quite easily, even if you have a team of testers. Real world experience and interaction is sometimes no match for a test of the system. From my small corner of testing I have created the base outline of a resource and then tested it with a dummy student and for the most part it all worked perfectly. This however might not be the case when 35 students attempt to upload an assignment, or reply to a forum.

The testing process is necessary but also can be fallible. Small areas can be missed and this could then negatively effect an academic deciding that they will try something new this year. When it fails for them, or they get negative feedback from the student, they give up. Decry it as useless and without merit.

As a tester, you do your very best to make sure nothing is missed, although the chances are it will be. It is then my role as a trainer and out going people person to try to smooth over that bridge and help highlight that these things they are finding as a problem are nothing more than part of their own learning curve. They are going to find it hard to escape the technology the "fear" so to try smaller tests of their own to become familiar with a small group of students. Get the students to suggest ways they would like to us the system. Students are a strong willed and focused bunch even if they seem apathetic and lazy. It's a front.

For now before I deviate even more into unsubstantiated conjecture, I will suggest that you look at your lesson plan for the year, look at the system you are going to use and test it as best you can, and see if it stands up to your expectations. If it does, test it again with a 3rd party who will have different view and focus to your own. If it still goes wrong, then learn from that experience and it gives you something new to test next time around.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Social Media

It consumes us. It drives us, some of us to distraction. Social Media is everywhere today and it's working its way into the way some people teach. I run a session called Social Networks for Teaching and Learning that looks at how you might use different networks within teaching. What is the merit? Where is the value?

It's always interesting to hear the experiences of academics and if any like me don't use certain networks.

When presenting this session I have to admit I don't use Facebook. I deleted my account years ago and have been able to maintain my absence. The part I promote is Google + as a replacement within the institution. It may not be the best social network but we and all our students have access as we are a Goggle institution. It will fill in for Facebook quite nicely. It means that if an academic wants to use a Facebook group and someone like myself does not want to sign up, well Google has us covered.

This sounds awfully promotional and I promise you it's not, so I will stop this line of questioning and move on to the idea it that it has taken over our lives. Photos of each other bombard our phones a lot more than we ever used to see. Where once you would return home with holiday photos, people can see you have your holiday while they are still at work.

Here is the line though. Engagement. We all engage somewhere with some form of social network. My father uses WhatsApp which is a social network but a very private one. It was funny when he joined Twitter for about a week, then just asked why do I need this. I had to reply, you probably don't.

Within teaching, the social network is just another tool in the arsenal of things you can try. It might not work for you and may be a huge waste of your time and energy. For another however it may engage the student and develop their understanding. It will depend on how you approach it and how you can make that approach work for your style. I always tell people it is not about the particular network that makes the difference it's the application  of that within the correct framework. If you try to shoe-horn it in, it's just not going to work. The disparity is too jarring and no-one, teacher or student alike, engages with the product and can put each party off using it again.

It is also a distraction in class, out of class. We are distracted by our phones and screens. We follow things that interest us and distract us at the drop of a hat. While writing this my my twitter accounts are going like crazy and sometimes you think, OHHH Shiny new post.....

We have to consider how useful social media is, how it can inform us and inspire us. It is a place that we need to remember can be a dark place and I hope to have more on that another day.

For now, I shall leave you with the weekend and according to the BBC Weather App it's going to be wet here in the UK on Saturday and maybe reasonable by Sunday.
Have a great weekend. 

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Support - For everything really.

So yesterday, only 6 days in was the first day I didn't post to meet the personal goal of a post every day. It's actually quite tough to think of something for each day, but that is not an excuse. So not wanting to make it two days in a row I am writing to day about support.

I wrote about reflection on personal goals and your own work so today I am looking at support. The ability to reflect can rely on the support structure you have. This blog is something that I will raise with that in mind.

I had a very productive PDR (Personal development review) yesterday and where sometimes these things can feel awkward, if you feel comfortable with your reviewer it is the opposite. It feels like an informal chat and venting session about the things you can encounter at work.

I talked about my desire to blog every day, and my manager supported that and encouraged that. Encouraging me to enlist help from others in terms of subject matter and content, to keep working on this and other projects that other bosses would think are not a great use of your time. A great boss can see the merit in all your ideas, and while they can't always support them all, the give you the opportunity to at least explore them and see if they can fit into your current goals and objectives.

It works the other way to, its about being selfless sometimes with your time and skills to others. If you can offer support and be approachable to members of the team and organisation. There are people I work with who are almost too helpful. It gets to the point where they should say no, but don't seem to be able to. Others go the other way and try to close themselves off to others. Arguably both have some merit, not every one is great at interacting with others and maybe they need to behind the "firewall" of people like me that can talk, and talk and then talk some more. That does not mean however they can't be supportive. It can sometimes just be rude. Things have a habit of working themselves out though, as when they get in trouble people are less inclined to help or support them as much as they would another member of the team.

This is a line in management we see in all walks of life. Some managers will give orders and instructions that will be completed but to the letter of the request, and no more. Other managers, the supportive managers, will have much more productive staff. People will be more willing to do the task, and add more (where appropriate) or try and offer extra solutions or fix the problem and then offer future proofing of this. Support plays a big part both ways in our educational and working lives.

Some personal relationships can be considered toxic as one side takes more from it that the other and in some cases to the real detriment of the other party. I have a fantastic family for which I am lucky. I also have a fantastic working life and work family. I never hate going to work, only that I hate to leave my real family at home. The support I have in both environments is what makes that true. I try to pay it forward to both circles of my life, and we will have days where that is not the case. We're all just human after all.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

What do I need to podcast?

This one is actually pretty easy to answer. You need a computer with internet access, that will allow you to upload the audio file for people to hear, it will also allow you to download free software to edit and produce a podcast if you don't have any.

After a computer you will need a microphone. Depending on your budget and requirements for audio fidelity (quality) you can go a few different ways.

The most basic would be a headset with microphone:
Very Cheap! and I expect pretty poor quality.

USB Headsets by SenheiserMicrosoft or Logitech would serve you well and provide you with a reasonable quality. I don't own any of these three so can't provide an audio example, but with headsets they tend to have a bit of background hiss and be OK for short audio clips but would become hard to listen to for a long period of time.

What I would suggest is you get what you pay for, so something like this would be a good buy to test it and see if you commit to the proper series of podcasting. I would not suggest using it for all that long, but would be great in a classroom setting to use for activities with kids where the quality may not be the most important. Similarly this would be a cheap full package to try out, but I would not suggest you use it for long for a professional sounding recording (again I have not actually tested it, but you do get what you pay for!)

These two Blue (it's the brand not the colour) are what many YouTube broadcasters are using for their video commentaries. The Snowball 1 and Snowball 2.

My first selection of videos I did I used the M-Audio Vocal Studio mic which I learned actually was for musical vocal performance as the input was very low and had a lot of background noise as it was not expecting quiet voice over levels, but actually full singers belting out a song, which is much louder. It's a good mic and I used it for a podcast I was part of years ago

A microphone that gets great reviews is the Blue Yeti. There is a Pro version at £100 more but depending on what you need to get will depend on how much you want to spend.

The next mic is the Rode NT-USB a fantastic mic used by many professionals for voice over work. The other similar option (and the one I use now) is the Audio Technica AT2020+. For the price they are super quality mics that would produce a great podcast or voice over recording.

However if you are planning on recording more than two people sat together you may need to get into more expensive solutions which would either this USB option where you are able to add more microphones to daisy chain and get more sound coverage (also more chance of back ground noise).

The difference in the two style of mics is the most are directional so pick up what is in front of them, the Soundtech option will pick up a wider arc of noise, but that as I say will pick up more background sounds and ambient room noise which might not be the best option.

You can spend more and get a mixing desk and use multiple mics that are directional. This Audio Technica is the same as the AT2020+ except it is not USB and needs to connect to an XLR lead. These don't just connect to a computer so an audio break out box or mixing desk is required. This Lexicon Alpha Studio would do just that. However Focusrite are considered slightly better but more expensive. For £205 they do a nice little bundle to get you started. They also do a range of products and allow for more microphones. As I mention full mixing desks are also an option and these seem to offer USB connections, and multiple microphone inputs.

This is a lot of what you could buy but the short answer to the question about podcasting is you need a microphone and something to record the sound from the microphone. How much you spend is really down to you. In another blog post, I will look at how best to set up to podcast. The short answer there though is somewhere as quiet as possible.

Monday, 15 August 2016

A day of thought and self reflection

Academically speaking this is a good thing. We should look back at pieces we have written and work we have created and analyse it. What would I have done differently, better. What could have been improved or was it as good as I thought it could be.

With the Summer rumbling on nicely (enjoying the weather here in Portsmouth at least) the depressing thought for teachers is that they have about 2 to 3 weeks left before returning to work. Academics may be in, some taking much needed rest, others preparing for new courses that might be starting.

The rest of us lucky enough to take leave outside of the school holidays are sat at our desks looking at the beautiful blue sky.

Why then do I need to self reflect. Well, in this case it is more like procrastination. I set myself the challenge to write every day and today I have very little to say. I have ideas, but I need a little time to get it right before I write it.

So reflecting on lasts weeks bold move to blog every working day, I am thinking it is a good thing still. I could have waited and been more prepared, had more content ideas ready to roll but that is just putting off what I felt was a good thing to start. I have put irons in pies (or something like that) regarding my next phase of becoming a more 21st Century blogger and actually get content for the YouTube channel so when I start back in January I have something ready to go and not chase my own tail to getting something ready that month.

During my degree, I had to write reflective reports and at a point you think they are a waste of time, or pointless to the real work you might be doing as the degree. This was wrong of me, and to any students who may read this, try not to think it either. The reason is for my first semi-rushed assignment I got a 67 (for those that don't know 70+ is a first in degree terms).

That was agonisingly close. Just think what I could have done if I had actually applied myself a little more. That is where my reflection started and where I learnt the benefits of looking back at my own work, my own time and my own efforts as something I could change. If I had gotten a 45, I would have probably stayed my old "typical boy" learner and thought I passed, I couldn't do much better so lets just keep at this level as that is an easy trap to fall into. What I would suggest to anyone getting a 45 is look at why you got that. You are doing a degree, you have the ability to absolutely astound yourself. I would never get accepted on a degree doing Mathematics or Physics because my base level is poor, but if I did Learning Technologies or Film I would appreciate the subject and have the understanding to apply myself to achieve more.

You too can achieve more if you try and actively look back at where you didn't. No one is holding you back except you and you excuses, and as this blog shows, if you just start typing something will come out. The difference between this and doing my degree is I will let this sit unchecked on the web because it really doesn't mater much if people read it or don't. If it was my degree, I would reread it. Check it. Get my academics to check it. Rewrite it at least once and actually with my second assignment it got rewritten about 4 times. I got a 74 for that one. A few points difference I know, and yes you can argue we will always top out our own ability at some point but that doesn't mean you should not try to overachieve, overachieving is not ac crime, despite what the cool kid at school tried to tell you. Don't listen to that voice. They are wrong, and yes it took me 34 years to work that out, but I got there and so can everyone.

Self reflection is that light bulb you turn on to thinking, I can do better. I can be more. I still can't do maths, too many numbers!

Friday, 12 August 2016

Podcast - What does it really mean?

With the growth of Distance Learning courses and the ease of which people can now produce their own audio recordings and YouTube/video clips what does it mean to Podcast?

This is one of my (semi)irrational bug bears. The term podcast. 

A quickly Googled definition is:

"a digital audio file made available on the Internet for downloading to a computer or portable media player, typically available as a series, new installments of which can be received by subscribers automatically."

So my bug bear is the idea that a single mp3 or digital audio file is a podcast. It, for me, is not. It is just that, an audio recording. A singular piece of audio that can be of an interview or monologue, a fake radio program, really anything but it is just a one off snap shot as it was created. 

To me a podcast is a series. Now this can come in a few forms, it can be weekly or it could be monthly, heck it might be twice a year, but to me for it to be a podcast it would be a continuing series around a theme. 

I listen to podcasts now while I drive, rather than listening to the radio and my favourite podcasts are

The Bugle - an hilarious weekly conversation between John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman. A satrical look at the last weeks news. However there are two feeds for it as it started as a Times online podcast (iTunes) and eventually became its own entity

How Did This Get Made - A podcast that watches the worst movies in the world so you don't have to. The trouble is afterwards you want to. The movies are the ones that are comically bad, or over the top stupid rather than being just plain awful. 

Movie Fights -  Is a podcast of a Youtube video where people argue over topics surrounding films, so examples might be Most influential film of the year, biggest oscar snub, or best moment in a film. Each episode contains 5 rounds plus a speed round where you are limited to quick fire answers. It is fun and loud and not for every one but still a good listen. 

I also listen to two BBC produced podcasts (basically the collection of the old broadcasts) in More or Less, a show that looks at the numbers of the previous week and tries to find out if they are quite as they seem (this is a strange one for me being a person that "hates" numbers, it's more that I have a very poor grasp on even the most basic mathematics). The other is the comedy science show The Infinite Monkey Cage, a look at science through the eyes of both scientists and comedians and answers the science questions that you did not know anyone was asking. 

So what does that tell you? Well not much other than I don't really subscribe to any educational podcasts or ones to do with work, they are more self interest. At work I have the Jisc Podcasts bookmarked to listen to, and I am sure I will get around to it. The reason is more to give me ideas for my own future projects and what real people in education talk about. 

Some people listen to podcasts for work, around subjects that they need to develop their own understanding of a subject. Others like me listen for fun and to wind down after work. There is no right or wrong really here other than to say that all these podcasts are regular series. Stuff like the BBC produced shows run weekly for a limited period of time. It may not run all year like Movie Fights or The Bugle but it is a series while it is broadcast. 

So what does that mean for you? It's a tough question to answer because it's personal, however I would suggest when you talk about producing a podcast do you really mean a podcast? Do you want to just produce an audio file? That is fine, I am not knocking your output as such, it's more the definitions. (It's an exceptionally petty argument I know!)

Podcasts are actually harder to produce as part of the series mentality because it is something that you have to work on regularly and have something worth saying. A good one for most people would be the monthly release, it gives you time to work out your subject. 

In future blog posts I will look at how you can produce a podcast and what you might need to make it sound professional. 

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Learning With Moodle - MOOC

A new MOOC course has started this week to help all abilities to learn and develop their Moodle compentancies. Just log in at Create an account and take part.

So far I have completed week one with three weeks left. If you want to see the course overview please click here.

Each week it will get gradually more difficult. Week one "getting started" is looking at the basics of adding blocks and documents and setting up the course. Week two is "Getting Involved" looking into course materials, images and media and engaging learners. Week three "Making the Grade" looks at assignments and quizzes and how to view the gradebook (where the marks are stored for the learner to access) and the final week, Week four explore the advanced features and re-using courses.

The great thing about this MOOC is it is short and achievable. I have attempted MOOCs in the past that have run for 7-10 weeks, and even with the best intentions it is easy to give up and get distracted with other daily activities. With this 4 week course it should maintain interest and keep the learning on a curve for those who are true beginners.

So far the sense of community is truly global, with people from every part of the world taking part and already asking and answering questions.

It has a range of tools used in the course from just reading materials to a quiz to check your knowledge and understanding of what you have just read. There is a live chat and a live "classroom" session available. The classroom will run this Sunday the 14th August using a tool that plug ins into Moodle (so not a default to every Moodle install) called BigBlueButton.

This is a short post to highlight that it is now running, and would be a good opportunity to learn and check your Moodle knowledge.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Falling at the first hurdle

Not wanting to fall at the first attempt of doing a blog post everyday, I have two posts I need to research a little more before I publish them, so I am building materials for this.

The next two posts will be Podcasts, a few thoughts I have on them and a Moodle training course I think anyone wanting to improve their skills should do.

It is a MOOC run by the Moodle team and helps people who consider themselves beginners.

I will release that one tomorrow.

I think that even on the days I don't have anything I will attempt to put a few words up (excluding weekends) to maintain it as a daily ritual.

This is a great tip for any writer. Write. I have heard it said before that you need to write something, however bad it may end up being just to try to write through any blocks you may have or hurdles you think are in the way.

Not everything you write will be worth reading. Take this post for example, but it has kept my hand in for day two of this experiment and will help me to remember to do it again tomorrow. The hardest ones for a blog that is work led, will be the holiday periods where you focus on family and life outside of the work bubble.

So till tomorrow, here is a little video from Birmingham Cirty University.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

The long journey starts with a small step....or something like that.

So looking up the actually quote for the title and it reads,
"The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step". Lao Tzu.
The sentiment is of course to achieve anything you must first try. Stagnation and reluctance will hold you back and keep you from achieving anything at all.

Like most of my life and blog attempts they are with the best intention, but frankly slow and fruitless. In a training session I deliver on Social Networks for teaching and learning, I bestow the virtues of blogging as means to develop an academics online profile, create a persona that when Googled can be a means to showing standing in the world. Many conferences have "celebrity" speakers who are in one respect who they are because of blogging. That's not to say they don't know their subject mater, of course they do they are experts in their field but because they are self promoting and active in their pursuits they are now publicly recognised for that fact. There will be a host of others who are just as knowledgeable as them, but they may not be as renowned.

I guess it depends on what you want and what you are comfortable with accepting. If you are happy to teach your subject, and keep your head down and get through the day then all the best to you. Keep fighting the good fight of improving the education system and whatever level you are working at. For those of you who want to push yourself, try writing it down. Another quote from Lao Tzu reads,

"When you are content to be simply yourself and don't compare or compete, everybody will respect you." 

Well, try telling Lewis Hamilton that...I again however get the actual sentiment. If you are trying to blog for fame and fortune you are probably in the wrong game, however if you do it for yourself you never know what may come.

The reason I write this (as I feel I may have gone of on a major tangent) is that I tell people to do it while not actively doing it myself.  It's easy to instruct others in what is good practice, or what you should do to improve yourself, it's quite another to actually do it as well.

An example I always give to academic colleagues is Steve Wheeler a very proactive and knowledgeable blogger and educationalist. People always say, I can't be like him. I ask why not. You may have a different subject focus but you have a subject. You have something you can talk about, especially if you are writing a research paper. Write about writing that paper, the daily changes of focus or problems you encounter. You know more than you think, and lots of people are more interesting than they give themselves credit for. While I may not find what you do interesting, someone does. You may find my writing boring, painful, interesting, humourous or uninspired. Well it's like the argument for TV that causes offence. Change the channel. This world of ours is full of so many things, it's big enough for the both of us.

This is my first step to writing something every day about what I might know a little about. If I find anything interesting I will sign post it (it won't be Harvard APA or anything, but I'll provide a link). I am going to attempt to become proactive and produce something. I don't know how long it will last, it may even fall down tomorrow, but maybe I need to be that negative to try to prove myself wrong.

Good luck with your writing, recording or whatever you choose to do today. It's sunny somewhere.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016


So, as with most things, I started this blog with the best intentions. Nothing has happened for quite a while. 2016 is the turning point where I want to be more proactive to writing and creating content.

So to start that off. We have a new Youtube channel which will be populated with content soon. If you have ideas for playlists or videos you might like produced please let me know!

Digital Learning Portsmouth