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Audience Engagement

My thoughts and learning as I prepare training on alternatives to ‘death by Powerpoint’.

By Nicki Berry, PD (Y&H) Digital.

I have to confess that of all the Microsoft Office applications, PowerPoint is probably my least favourite. I used it briefly as a primary school teacher, many years ago, but quickly switched to Smart Notebook and ActivInspire when interactive whiteboards became the norm.

I can’t really pinpoint what it is about PowerPoint that turns me off. It might not be the application itself, but rather the way I’ve seen it used. We went through a phase of every child in a class of 30 doing a presentation about their holidays, complete with flying, whizzing and cheering items on each and every mouse click. Even adult presenters can have a tendency to put too much on each slide, sometimes with poor text/background contrast, and then just read it to the audience, as though we are incapable of reading for ourselves.

So my heart did an inward leap for joy when my boss recently asked me to prepare and present a one and a half hour session on alternatives to PowerPoint for engaging an audience. My audience will be senior managers, who give presentations on a regular basis as part of their work – a potentially tough group to try to downsell PowerPoint!

Anyway, I’m going to give you (and them) a brief glimpse of some alternatives.

Microsoft Sway

I first used Sway, whilst studying for my Master’s with the Open University. We were discussing whether Wikipedia is an acceptable study tool (let’s not get started on that here!) and here is a presentation I made for one of our tutorials.

There are advantages and disadvantages to Sway. The biggest disadvantage, which Microsoft much surely address eventually, is that is cannot be used offline and cannot be exported, so if the Internet goes down, you could well be stuffed! Also, branding is more difficult than it would be with a traditional PowerPoint presentation, though it is possible to adapt colour schemes and fonts used.

The advantages are in some of the features that make it look that little bit more modern than PowerPoint. It can be presented in slide mode, like a traditional presentation, or by scrolling vertically or horizontally. This makes it good to share for ‘after the event’ viewing, as it is easy to find the section you want, quickly. I particularly like the way that images can be stacked, allowing you to click on them and shuffle through, just like a stack of cards. From an accessibility point of view, it is great because you can switch easily to ‘accessibility view’ and it automatically changes the presentation so that visually impaired users can view it through a screen reader more easily.

Socrative

When presenting to an audience, I think many of us have that worry about whether anyone is actually listening, engaging with us or understanding what we are talking about. This is where some kind of quiz can be handy.

There are various quizzing tools out there but I like Socrative and find it fun and easy to use. You can set up a quiz or survey to engage your audience during a presentation and then get them to interact on their own devices (or you could provide some). It works on PC, laptops, tablets, phones… pretty much anything that is online. You show the question from the front, it sends to their device and then all the answers can be seen, with various options on names, anonymity and so on, on the screen. When working with a group, particularly in a training situation, my favourite is to run the quiz as a race. I generally get a member of the audience to choose what type of character we will race as (unicorn, space ship, etc) but I was writing this in December, so reindeer seemed like the only real choice!

Question Screen (on individual screens)
Answer Screen (shown on the board at the front)

One advantage of Socrative is that only the presenter (teacher) needs to have an account (free option is more than sufficient for my needs) and the audience log in using the presenter’s room code. So you don’t have to try to get your group set up with their own accounts.

I also really like the fact that all the results can be stored, exported and used later on to inform further training. When I’ve used this for tutor training, I can easily see who might need further support and who has really got the hang of what we’re learning, so could support others.

Twitter

This one can be a little risky, so it’s only for the brave, in my opinion. It is based on the concept of back-channelling. So first of all, what is back-channelling? Well, it has always existed. Back-channelling is the communication strategy that we use to let a speaker know that we are listening and following what they are saying. So it can be as simple as just nodding, smiling or saying, “Aha!”

Using Twitter, the idea is to engage your audience in live discussion and get feedback, questions and comments on your presentation as you go. Depending on the nature of the audience, it either works well or falls flat. If you’ve got a high proportion of those kind of people who like digital multitasking… the ones who are going to be on their phone, checking their Facebook while they should be listening, and can probably pull off a reasonably convincing ‘I’m paying full attention’ face whilst they do… they can be lulled into a middle ground, where they get to do social media and listen and interact, all at the same time. Just decide on a hashtag – #mysession – and ask your audience to post questions, feedback, quotes they liked and what they are learning/will use back in their day job. It’s worth checking that your intended hashtag isn’t already going viral with something else though first.

Why do I say it is risky? Well, not everyone will agree with what you are saying. They might post negative comments or ask questions you don’t know the answers to. You need to give some thought to how you would respond to these. I generally try to be quite open, but set some guidelines at the beginning.

Sometimes the conversation can be all friendly and pleasant like this extract from an online conference I attended in 2016.

Sometimes, though, the feedback and questions can be more challenging, as some TV programmes have found.

Finally, of course, if you’re going to use social media for something that really matters, it’s worth considering that not everybody will have an account. I generally put out a warning in the pre-course blurb, saying that we’ll be using Twitter and it would be helpful if they could create an account.

What’s the big deal about Screencasting?

By Chloe Hynes (PDNorth Social Media Comms)

I first heard about Screencasting about 5 years ago during a small action research project being carried out at work between a few colleagues and myself. We were exploring ways of giving learners feedback that’s individual to them, personalised and not following the ‘one size fits all’ department wide approach of the time. One of my colleagues decided to use Screencast’s which was an absolute game changer for me and opened up a world of tech used right in adult learning.

So, what is Screencast-o-matic?

Screencast is a program that allows you to record (visually and audibly) your screen. It also allows you to record yourself by webcam either at the same time as your screen recording or just you on your own.

You can record as many screencasts as you like for free but the maximum is 15mins.

You can upload to your own Screencast account, Youtube or download as a video file and do with it what you like!

Screencast-O-Matic have a tutorial video that shows how easy it is to use. To access go here: https://screencast-o-matic.com and click ‘Watch Our Video’.

To visualise what a screencast looks like, here’s one I prepared earlier…



A little comment about money

Before I get into the thick of Screencast approaches and issues/considerations, please note that this blog is exploring the FREE version of Screencast which I believe most practitioners would be accessing. However, there is an Educational paid for version with many more bells and whistles to play around with including video editing and full integration with Moodle and Google Classroom etc.

For solo payment plans (that detail all the features you get), see: https://screencast-o-matic.com/plans#solo and for the team, go to: https://screencast-o-matic.com/plans#team

Using Screencast with learners

The colleague I mentioned above explored using it whilst giving feedback to learners on their written work in Word. Our learners were ESOL learners so listening to your tutor’s feedback for some was much more productive than trying to read hand written notes. The audio feedback allowed our learners to go back and rewatch/relisten which they can’t do when they receive feedback in class (unless they record you). He originally trialled this with our highest learners who were Entry 3.

I also had a bash using this same technique but with the lower levels but instead of recording Word, I would scan in a piece of their handwritten work and save as a PDF. Then, I would create a screencast highlighting/ circling/ underlining certain parts and talking through their work. I found for the lower levels it was best to also film my face as I spoke so learners could see my facial expressions and my lips moving. For all learners it was a good way for them to get used to my accent and my voice as their teacher complete with regional inflections!

If you and the learners have the technology, a really good way to reuse a video like this, could be for learners to transcribe what you’re saying by adding subtitles on Youtube (or writing a script on paper).

In any classroom use of screencast, consider how you can reuse the video you’ve created so you’re economical with your production time. Even better is if your learners like using it, they could create their own. For example:

  • Ask learners to walk through and complete a mathematical problem on their screen. This can be added to a revision bank used with by learners in the class.
  • For literature explorations : ask a learner to describe a passage, highlighting phrases/sections on the screen as they go to highlight figurative language etc. You could create a reaction video or just notes (for the whole group) – but the main brunt of this activity is providing the learner with time to think and verbalise their thoughts before committing to paper.
  • After a learner watches your feedback they redraft their work and make another video to you explaining how they have improved it.
  • Ask one learner to watch another learner’s video and ask them to transcribe it or interact with it in some way.
  • Make videos with wrong information in or missing information (like an audio version of a cloze task/gap fill) that you can reuse with other classes.

Using Screencast with colleagues

I’ve used Screencast with peers and colleagues mainly to visualise how to use specific technologies whether in the classroom (e.g. Padlet above!), organisational (e.g. Google Drive) or personal (e.g. how to add a signature to an email). Since working with the PDNorth team, I’ve began to curate these in a more organised fashion via the PDNorth Youtube. Similarly, I’ve heard about PDNorth professional exchanges who’ve created screencasts as the APs in their organisation to share on their Moodle with their colleagues. Another group made a digital learning wall in the staffroom with QR codes to Youtube videos and screencasts.

Whilst screencasting in this way and for this purpose is great for staff CPD on the go / in your own time, it’s always better if the workload is shared. Whilst this is easier said than done in practice, there’s always something you can learn from a colleague and there’s always something you can share with another.  

Screencast considerations

-You only get 15 mins! However, I think any more than this would be too long anyway and you’d lose your audience. — Whilst you can pause and resume, if you make a mistake you can’t edit it out.

-The close captions/subtitles process isn’t user friendly.

-You need to download a recorder which may not be possible on work computers depending on your system permissions.

-Depending on how you use it: it could just have one time use.

+ / – If using for feedback: it may be easier for the tutor to verbalise and show what they mean than write it down and it may be the best way for the learner to receive that feedback. Likewise however, tutors may find it more time consuming than writing written feedback and the learners may not give time to watching the video, not have the technology to do so or may ignore it completely.

+ It doesn’t require wifi to record (once the recorder has been downloaded).

+ You have a choice of where you can upload it. Including the ability to download as a video file and share/upload however you choose (rare with free apps).

+ simple and easy to use meaning a lot of our learners are able to get on with it.

+ It can be a reusable and recyclable resource.  

+ It’s so personable!

+ It can be used by teachers and learners alike. I’m sure there are so many more ways than what I’ve tried out and I’d love to hear about all the other ways that Screencast-O-Matic has been used!

#HaveAGo

Dipping into Digital

A story of two digital “dinosaurs” foray into blogging and other digital unknowns!

 

A couple of members of the PDNorth team (Sue Lownsbrough & Petrina Lynn) have begun a journal detailing their journey navigating digital literacies from personal to organisational/work to classroom/training use. They cordially invite PDNorth members to follow them on their journey…

To read more, click the link above!

 

Square Pegs & Round Holes: Finding your fit in education

by Vicky Butterby

Member of PDNorth: North east & Cumbria

 

When I was 25 I was adamant I was leaving the teaching profession. I was working in a large secondary school where I taught over 300 different young people each week. The pace was intense and my entire day was mapped out, from who I taught and when, to the time I ate my dinner. Building relationships was also difficult, I felt like I didn’t know my learners and that they didn’t know me. I saw other staff members fleetingly in the staffroom, but most of the time I felt isolated and alone, watching the world from my classroom door as an endless sea of people passed by me.

Many people I’ve met and worked with tell me that school wasn’t for them. They tell me they hated school because of its rigidity, its rules, its routines. They tell me that they ‘didn’t get’ their learning or that their teachers ‘didn’t get’ them. Over the years I’ve come to accept that school isn’t for everyone, and that includes its teachers too!

I fell into community learning by chance. I had left secondary teaching and begun working for the local authority as their Healthy Schools lead. When my role was made redundant, I was offered an opportunity to become a community youth justice teacher, supporting young people who offend to re-engage with learning. Additionally, I was asked to teach an evening course in criminology for Access to Higher Education students. Suddenly I was in a whole new world, a world where building relationships was everything, a world where an hour a week with a young person really mattered, a world where supporting adults to grow in confidence and achieve their dreams of university study was a core aspect of the job. I loved this new world!

Instead of churning young people through a system, working in community learning has enabled me to help people become excited about their learning, to help people enjoy their learning, to help people realise they are capable of learning and that they can achieve great things. When I work with young people who offend we structure our time together, we have cups of tea when we want, we take a break when we need it. These seemingly small things have made a huge difference, to my learners and to me. Working this way has allowed me to work collaboratively with my learners towards shared goals. As a result, each teaching moment feels as though it has both point and purpose.

When I was 25, I thought I hated teaching. I thought I was a rubbish teacher, that I wasn’t cut out for the job. Ten years on I’ve realised that it was the school system that wasn’t cut out for me, not me who wasn’t cut out for teaching. Hundreds of highly qualified, deeply passionate people leave the teaching profession every year. For some they will have left because teaching wasn’t the right job for them. I wonder however, how many excellent teachers leave because they haven’t yet found their fit? Community learning carries with it an ethos that aligns with my values and my personality. I work at a place where I feel inspired by what unfolds around me, where there is always hope and where nobody is forgotten about. Community learning is my fit and I’ve met many other square pegs along the way who tell me community learning is their fit too. Teaching is such an amazing career, but only if you’re in the right place for you.

This article is dedicated to Grace. Grace began her learning journey on our Study Programme, completed her Access to HE diploma, finished undergraduate study at Teesside University and is now in the process of applying for her Master’s degree. Grace is just starting to realise she might not be that rubbish at learning after all! The determination, growth and achievement of community learners such as Grace continually reminds me why I love teaching in this sector. 

Teaching within the community – It’s not all about grammar!

by Colette Butterworth

 

Why is teaching English in the community so important?

As a teacher of English to members of the Muslim community, I deem teaching the English language within the community to be exceptionally important.  If students are unable to communicate by using the English language in the UK, this becomes a barrier to their inclusion within the social environment. The students value being included in a British setting and being informed of our British values and customs.

So, if it’s not all about grammar, what is it about?  Most of my students are mothers of children who have been born here in Manchester.  Their children go to nursery and school in Manchester.  Their children therefore speak English to their friends and teachers but at home they speak the native tongue of their parents.  If there is a problem at school, these mothers do not have the confidence to speak to their children’s teachers.  If they have a health problem, they often ask their children to translate at the doctors or dentist.  These mothers therefore need to overcome the barriers of exclusion within their society.

Teaching in the community is not simply about building grammar techniques and structuring language correctly; it is about building confidence.  Not only confidence in speaking and listening skills, reading and writing but also in their ability to jump on a bus, speak to a doctor, buy something in a shop and help their children with their homework.  All this, without their husband or their child translating for them.  All this, on their own.  Finding their confidence, autonomy and independence is just as important as gaining an entry level qualification in English.

The students work together to improve their spoken and written English. As their teacher, I would  like to allow them to become more integrated into the society they and their children live in.  I build their confidence by employing activities so they understand the importance of communication, whether it is by sight, sound or touch.

The group have been out on a trip to the Manchester Museum where they had great fun looking at the poisonous frogs and exhibits from their home countries.  We then took the bus into Rusholme and they ordered their own food in a highly recommended kebab house.  Across the road was a sweet shop where they all showed me their favourite desserts.

The students in my community group are of a variety of ages.  They all speak the same language and most have children.  They have varying abilities.  Some have never been to school before and some have high level qualifications from their own country.  However, in this country, my students are confined to their homes because they are relied upon to look after the house, the husband and the children.  They are so committed to their family they feel uncomfortable when leaving the house.  For these students, this session is the highlight of their week.

We are currently planning a cookery day.  I will be showing them how to make a Victoria sponge and they will be showing me how to make samosas and biryani.

So, it’s not all about grammar, but it is about confidence building, having fun and doing things the students have probably never done before.

Teach Like You Mean It

by Susan Keenan,

PD (Lancs) TLA

 

I have recently joined a North West Professional Exchange Network for Teaching, Learning and Assessment. Our first meeting was fascinating as we discussed the common issues and challenges of working in FE. One of our topics of conversation focused on how important it is to look after teachers working in FE and help them maintain their professional confidence as they work long hours with a large groups of learners and ever decreasing budgets. Retaining and recruiting FE teachers is a huge challenge.

Since that meeting I’ve been reflecting on my own career, with many years spent in FE.  My teacher career has been fascinating and diverse; I’ve taught in primary schools in Manchester, a secondary school in Ghana, many years in prisons, I’ve taught unemployed adults, teenage FE students and trainee teachers. A wide range of different and fascinating settings, but in all of this rich experience there have been commonalities of ‘when it’s worked’ and ‘when it hasn’t. This of some of the key learning over my career that might just be of interest to teachers in their own practice.

Be authentic – When I first started teaching I observed and worked with loads of great teachers. I thought if I did exactly what they did then that would be the key to success. It wasn’t. I learned that you have to be ‘you’ in your classroom and you can only really find your teaching ‘you’ through practice. Some days were howlers; I got frustrated and demotivated. With practice and experience came confidence and the beginnings of my professional identity.

Enjoy it – This life is precious and too short to spend time wishing you were somewhere else. I’ll fully admit there have been times in the classroom where I’ve wanted to be lying on a beach miles away, but the best part of the job (and there’s a lot to the job) is the classroom teaching. The learners in your class of any age have stories to tell and potential waiting to be unleashed. To teach is a privilege and it’s easy to forget this. Find the fun; it is contagious.

Get rest – This is said often but it couldn’t be more true. There is always something else to do when you are a teacher, you never get to the end of your list. You need to stop, go home, go to the pub, get exercise, go dancing, spend time in the outdoors. It really is time well spent and ensures that you are healthy and well. One of my questions to myself when work is piling up is ‘Will the place burn down and anybody die if I don’t get that finished today?’ If the answer is no, then it’s probably something you can leave for a while.

See other people – At one stage of my life I lived with teachers, worked with teachers, spent my social life with teachers. This can be great; it provides you with a supportive network of friends who understand your job. But it can also become all-consuming and perhaps make you a little insular with a very teacher focused view of the world. Spending time with people who do other jobs gives you a sense of perspective on your own world and gives you some new, refreshing topics of conversation.

Know what you’re talking about – but you don’t need to know it all – I’m a big believer in evidence based teaching and being credible as a teacher has a very high effect size according to Hattie (2012). I get this, learners get this. I get frustrated when I’m in a training session feeling the trainer doesn’t know what they are talking about. Learners need to feel confident in you. They are wanting something out of the class or course, whether it’s a qualification or the stepping stone to the next stage. But you don’t need to be an expert in everything, it’s impossible. One of the keys roles of a teacher is to facilitate learning. Some of my best lessons have been the ones in which I’ve done least. Show the learners where the information is and then let them rummage around in it for themselves. They’ll make their own meanings from this and you can help them process and discuss this.

‘Get your teaching pants on’ – sometimes, you just don’t feel like it. You’re tired, you’re not motivated, you’re worried or distracted. The learners are there, they’ve turned up with some expectation and so you need to ‘turn up’. I like the metaphor of getting your ‘teacher pants’ on. There are a bit like WonderWomans or Supermans – they give you strength and presence, they help you to go in there and generate some energy and enthusiasm. My colleague and I use to work with a trainee teacher who we likened to the character ‘Sadness’ from the film ‘Inside Out’. This teacher had so little enthusiasm or motivation we felt depressed within five minutes of observing their lesson. Breaking news: the learners didn’t enjoy it either. Teach like you mean it, you can take your teaching pants off later and lie on the couch.

Do smile before Christmas – In fact smile a lot, it is not a sign of weakness. Learning and teaching are great; they are what makes us who we are. I am a parent as well as a teacher and my kids have had some brilliant teachers who smile, laugh, are interested in them and are helping them to become who they are. They’ve also had some grumpy, tired, demotivated ones too. It may be cheesy, but the teachers who inspired, and continue to inspire, me are the ones who made it fun, let me explore, knew their stuff and had some passion for life.

I’ve worked with trainee teachers and experienced teachers who have some brilliant ideas and energy, but many get worn down with the relentless pressure of the environment they are in. Teaching is a brilliant job but too many people are leaving. It’s a crisis for our children. New and aspiring teachers – look after yourselves, you are valuable and precious. Wear those teaching pants with pride but make sure they go in the wash at weekends.

Using ‘Job Sheets’ to Get Prisoners into Maths & English

By Barry Hartle, Instructional Officer –  HMP Haverigg

From meetings with Claire Collins (PDNorth Exchange Lead) and Dave Everett (my manager) on the idea of introducing embedded learning maths and English into the workshops I was asked if I could develop ways to engage the prisoners to improve their maths and English.

With prisoners not wanting to engage in education, I came up with the idea of developing work related job sheets that didn’t look like an education test sheet.

The sheets had:

  • A pictorial cover sheet of the finished product or the equipment the prisoners were going to use to complete the product they were working on.
  • No more than five questions on maths and English; this could have consisted of three maths and two English related questions, the variations could be any, all English or all maths etc.
  • A feedback section for the prisoner instructor. I also decided to change the naming from prisoner and instructor to employee and employer, so the prisoner could take them when they were discharged from the prison.

 

To engage the instructors on this was difficult because they were thinking: “more work added to my work load?!”, but after having a meeting with all the instructors, I explained that the job sheets would be based on  information they gave to me on the products being made in each workshop and that it would be me designing the job sheets as I was their pen and paper =This seemed to get full approval.

We now have four workshops delivering the job sheets with very good feedback from the prisoners and the instructors. With the  prisoners who say they can’t do maths and English: the instructors are able to say to them, that they have answered questions at certain levels. This with the possibility of encouraging them to take up education and at the moment we have a good success in doing that.

This is an ongoing development making the sheets at different levels to show progression of their maths and English. For us here, this was the way to go. The idea is there and could be developed in other areas.


 

 

 

You can download Barry’s Job Sheets (and other task based learning resources) for use in your own workshop by clicking the image to the right:

 

Power of the Network

by Gail Lydon, newly appointed PDNorth Regional Lead for Yorkshire & Humberside

 

My goodness – nothing stays the same for very long, but it all looks so familiar!  That’s what it feels like working in post 16 learning.  Constant change, but we feel we have seen it in another guise before.  There is something comforting about the familiar though and when I was asked to lead on the Professional Exchange Networks (PENs) in Yorkshire and Humber I heard myself saying yes.  Why did I do that!??   Well one reason is my previous experience of networks and how much I have learned from them.

 

I have been teaching since 1996 and some of the most important learning opportunities I have had have been through networking of some kind or another.   Working with my colleagues on projects; safely discussing what was happening in my classroom and carrying out peer observations to develop my practice.  Although much is familiar (funding and learner motivation to name but two), I think we could argue that the restraints we work under are tighter than ever.  But we love teaching and care for our learners so what to do?

 

My husband is a massive music fan and Jimi Hendrix is a favourite.  One quote of his (Jimi’s not my husbands) is “in order to change the world, you have to get your head together first” (if I haven’t got the quote quite right I hope both of them will forgive me).  I get my head together by talking to my colleagues and friends.  Refreshing and challenging my thinking and it is fun.   It doesn’t mean I always get it right but having the opportunity to discuss issues with colleagues is always a powerful learning experience.  But so many of us don’t get the opportunity to network.  Many of us are now working remotely and can feel isolated.  This can also be true even when working inhouse because there just aren’t the structures to support face to face time with colleagues.  Staff rooms have often disappeared and lunch times staggered.  Networks allow us to interface with colleagues in other organisations too.

 

I guess you will want to know what the PENs are all about before you sign up?  These Networks are about enabling teachers and middle managers to not only share their knowledge and skills but to develop those skills further.  PENs are there to support you to investigate some aspect of your practice and perhaps try something new; add something to your toolbox of skills.  There is plenty of online support between sessions: Twitter chats, screencasts (just ask) and other CPD opportunities.  The four meetings are facilitated by a lead from PDNorth but the focus is driven by the members of the Network.  Your membership, your participation is what will drive the Network. What would you like to share?  What would you like to investigate further?

 

I do hope you will get involved with the PENs, come with us and share your expertise, the sector needs you.

FAB – Opening the Arms

by Lou Mycroft (PDNorth Digital Lead)

 

Some years ago, I was part of a team running digital CPD for educators. We were consistently struck by the same thing – for every person enthusiastically getting their phone out at the front of the class, there was another sitting at the back with their arms folded (sometimes glaring at us). Later, one of us asked if we’d managed to get through to the ‘Folded Arms Brigade’. The name stuck and FAB was born.

 

We wanted to understand what was underlying some educators’ resistance to bringing digital into their practice. With support from the ETF’s practitioner research programme we ran a series of action research projects between 2014-17. We used Thinking Environment interviews to dig deep into what limited people’s engagement with digital and tested a series of interventions to try and get educators over the hump.

 

Our findings led us to the FAB (Folded Arms Brigade) Model of Digital Resilience:

We have used the FAB Model consistently since, in one-to-one ‘digital nursing’ (see below) and in group training sessions. It is not an artificial construct. It fell out of what people told us about how digital made them feel and react. The point of FAB is digital agency: getting people to the point where not only do they feel fluent in a single platform, app or device, but they have faith that that they can carry some of that fluency over to the next programme, app or device.

 

For any given digital challenge, each of the four FAB elements needs to be addressed in turn; of course an individual may be working on a number of digital challenges at once.

 

 

 

1.First Principles

Interviewing digitally resistant educators was a humbling experience. We had not realised how powerfully jargon blocked individuals from pushing on. One educator told us they couldn’t make sense of the word ‘icon’: “that’s something you worship in church.” Another said they had painstakingly rewritten an important document because a colleague had “saved it to the cloud. I mean, where is this cloud?”

As human beings, once we feel excluded from something, the defences go up. We learned to invest time in exploring language, before going onto devices.

 

2. Purpose

Many of the educators we interviewed got stuck at this stage. They did not have, could not figure out, or were not willing to admit a purpose for what they were being asked to do. Resistant feelings often channelled into panic at this stage. We spoke to people who lacked confidence around the simplest digital processes at work, but who said breezily, “I’m on Facebook all the time.” Facebook is one sophisticated platform, even for the unwary, so the issue was never about capability. It was about each individual finding in each platform, app or device a purpose which was meaningful to them.

No purpose = no point.

 

3. Support

Standard digital support did not get a good press in our research. Whether well-meaning colleagues, IT technicians or the grandkids, the majority of educators we interviewed had bad experiences of asking for help. Reflections ranged from, “they went too fast for me” to “they made me feel stupid”. Whatever good intentions, it was evident that the ‘knowledgeable expert’ could be counter-productive.

We tested the concept of the “digital nurse”, a different blend of know-how and empathy: a digitally confident individual who doesn’t know everything (but knows how to google) and knows they can figure things out if they push on through. Later research really brought home the power of digitally nursing in groups – rather than one-to-one – to avoid creating dependency.

 

4. Fluency

 

We defined fluency not as knowing everything, but as knowing how to get by, a bit like getting around on holiday with conversational French. To be digitally fluent means pushing on through, following FAB processes and knowing how to get help.

Once ‘FAB’ fluency is established in one area, digital confidence can be applied to other programmes, apps and devices. Transferability is not 100%;there are new First Principles to explore and Purposes to establish, but the individual is on their way up in terms of their digital agency overall.

 

The later projects identified five additional FAB principles:

 

  • Apply active language

 

Simple stuff, but if you say, “it won’t let me in,” you’re maybe giving up, whereas, “I can’t get in” gives you the chance to try again.

 

 

  • Challenge limiting assumptions

 

Fitting with the Thinking Environment approach to interviews, which is all about identifying and overturning untrue limiting assumptions, we encouraged participants – and ourselves! – to identify resistance and take a few moments figure out what might be happening.

 

 

  • Become a digital nurse

 

As we have seen, digital nursing is about knowing just enough, and about knowing how to bring ease to digital learning. One of the joys of this work is in seeing educators digitally nurse one another – not as experts, but as critical friends.

 

 

  • Go the long way round

 

We learned that one thing nervous educators quickly learned to do was bookmark, which of course means that once a bookmark was lost – because of an upgrade, or switching to a new device – the source was also lost. Going the long way round means using a search engine or typing in the URL until a neural pathway is formed. Combined with good password ‘hygiene’ (using a phone app such as Keeper), this proved to be a powerful principle for developing digital confidence.

 

 

  • Use your own device

 

Learning to harness the power of the ‘computer in your pocket’ – away from organisational firewalls – affords educators with a glimpse into what might be possible – and the chance to explore ways of making the possible safe.

When we stumbled over FAB we had no idea of where it would take us. Education is awash with ‘models’, many of which turn out to be the Emperor’s New Clothes when you try to apply them to real-life. FAB really works. Please do get in touch if you want to explore how it might work for you.

 

Footnotes

  1. These are published in various places, please contact loumycroft@loumycroft.org or @loumycroft if you want to read some more.
  2. A set of processes which enable people to do their best thinking. See Nancy Kline, More Time to Think (2009).

Encouraging Learner Autonomy

By Anthony Dunne 

PD (Mersey) Maths

 

There are many challenges to be faced when delivering GCSE maths in an FE setting. The time constraints, the apathy of some learners repeating a course they deem pointless or worse, a qualification they fear they will never gain. Ask yourself the question, if you garnered these perspectives, what type of learner would you be? I can answer this with confidence through experience; I was that learner. Me and French were never friends. I felt as though it was pointless (why learn French, they learn English don’t they?) and I was terrible at it. Worst of all my teacher thought the best way to combat this was through shouting and creating an atmosphere of fear. For me this was the worst thing to do. I would down tools or even worse, simply miss the lesson entirely. This is where an empathy for learners who say they ‘hate’ maths has grown from; I know what it is like to dread a subject through a mixture of fear of failure and futility.

 

This led me to the question; how would I have wanted to be taught? Have someone attempt to shout information into me? Or, another way? There is of course no precise other way that will work 100% of the time. If there was, I wouldn’t still be sat in my office typing this article, I would be sipping a beer on a beach enjoying my millions for finding the philosopher’s stone of teaching. However, what I did do this year was a little different to my approach in the past, which resulted in a more engaged cohort and lessons that were more relevant for the learners, namely increasing autonomy for the learners.

 

I am not a fan of buzz words or clichéd phrases, but increasing a learner’s independence should be the principle value of their time at FE; preparing them for employment or higher education. If I can contribute to this in any way, this will be a transferrable skill of merit. So, what did I actually do? The college I work for split our students into two main cohorts; new enrollers and returners. New enrollers are given two lessons per week lasting 90 minutes each. Returners have one lesson for two hours. To maximise this time, I made it clear as early as possible that learners were in charge of their own maths journey. Journey being the operative word; they knew their starting point, they knew their final destination and they all had the right directions given to them. It was up to them to choose the right path. To aid this, every lesson had a theme. Objectives depended on the area which they wished to focus upon. In conjunction with an assessment given to them every six weeks, a choice of three topics, with ramped difficulty within each subject, was given. It was up to the learner to choose what they believed they needed to work up on, with me facilitating and what their objectives should be by the end of the lesson. As they have set their own target, chosen their own work, this autonomy almost acts as self-motivation and competing against themselves. The learners go from passive to active and differentiate themselves.

 

Whether this has a significant impact upon their results will be seen in the coming weeks, but for now, attendance was not the problem it has been in the past, subjectively learners commented they preferred this style and believed they gained from each lesson and perhaps most important for the long term, they enjoyed maths. Whilst this can’t be given a grade, perhaps we sometimes lose focus on what should be important for learners.