Friday, 26 August 2016

Gamification.

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 Kahoot.it 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 blogger.com 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

Testing

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 https://learn.moodle.net 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.