A weekly blog on lessons learned by PDNorth Events Lead, Lou Mycroft
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about all the events we have in FE – more than we ever used to, or I lived under a rock at Northern College (possible). Since Twitter, they have become a lot more transparent. I love following the hashtag when I can’t physically attend and I get frustrated now if an event doesn’t have a hashtag! Breaking the ‘fourth wall’ of closed events allows for diversity and in particular the voices of those who can’t afford/can’t get free of work/are not empowered to be there.
So as we begin to close on the workshop presentations for #PDNorth2020 I’ve been thinking about two things:
- How do we open the workshops up even more effectively to amplify voices in our sector who go unheard? More than ever, with uncertainty ahead, behind and under our feet, it feels important to let new thinking in.
And, given the steep learning curve of the past weeks,
- How can we support workshop presenters to create inter-active workshops in a digital space?
I’ve been dropping into various events and I’ve seen some great practice (and some terrible practice too). I don’t think it’s just me who is finding that screen time is exacerbating my short attention span. Like other ADHDers, when I find flow and focus I can be in it for hours, but there’s something about Zoom which makes that harder to hold onto. When there’s something for me to contribute – a mentimeter, perhaps, or responding to a question in chat, I can pull myself back into the conversation. It needn’t be anything fancy. This is about relationship building, to hear new thinking and ideas.
I’ll report back progress in a fortnight and I’ll tweet those questions out too. I’d love to know what you think.
Book here for the CPD exchange: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/pd-north-virtual-cpd-exchange-tickets-101550022852
Cathy Clarkson from our CPD exchange (Yorkshire & Humberside) talks about the impact practitioner research has had on her own continual professional development.
I’m no stranger to practitioner research. It’s formed a valuable part of my CPD throughout my career, with the support of organisations such as the NRDC, LSIS, SUNCETT, EMCETT and the ETF*.
I was involved in a few of the NRDC projects. I really am a child of the Skills for Life agenda and it seems crazy how critical we were of it at the time. My first foray into practitioner research was with the ICT Effective Practice study. I was one of the nine practitioner researchers, working with the fabulous people at the Institute of Education. Whatever happened to webquests? Just one of those technologies that comes and goes, although the underlying principle of guiding students through the complexities of the internet seems even more relevant today.
I took this model of collaborative action research to my MA dissertation, which I was fortunate to piggy back with an NRDC practitioner-research grant. The Lancaster University tutors were amazing, and the mentoring I got from tutors at Leeds Mets and the Institute of Education was invaluable. The Action Research Network is still viewed through the rose tinted glasses of nostalgia by the Dewsbury College gang. With the MA under my belt, I managed the application for the college to become a Cambridge-approved centre offering both the CELTA and the full DTE(E)LLS – the only place outside of London offer the ESOL subject specialism. Because of this, I managed to secure a grant through the Creative Routes project and with this money bought a set of iPads to be used by our DE(E)LLTS trainees to support their CPD. The highlight of this project was a trip to Morocco to run a workshop for IATEFL and MATE where the post-it notes we’d brought were more novel that the mobile technology.
With the demise of NRDC, LSIS picked up the baton of supporting practitioner research. With support from the SUNCETT team, the theme of emerging technologies continued in my practitioner research as I looked at what we could find out about iPads by working collaboratively with tutors and students from different curriculums. I learnt that I couldn’t answer the question about how to use this emerging mobile technology in the classroom, because I had been focusing on how the technology supported independent study out of the classroom. This led me to apply for an EMCETT grant to explore the question of mobile technology in the classroom. I brought my (now aging) iPads together into a class set and I worked with my beginner ESOL group to find out what this technology had to offer in the classroom. We explored ESOL apps of varying quality and I got some insight into the differing opinions on what 16-18 year olds thought were good or poor apps. My next project, once again supported by EMCETT, broadened this question into other curriculums. I worked with other tutors, who worked with their students, to explore how a class set of iPads could be used effectively.
It may be no surprise reading this, by the end of the year I was pretty tired, I needed a break from practitioner research and I needed to get a little more control of my work/life balance. It’s one thing to get the grants and the college to promise the time, but the reality is that practitioner research eats in to your life. Of course this doesn’t mean that I stopped trying new things. Not at all. It just meant I stopped writing about it, I cut back on blogging and Tweeting although I still ran some sessions for NATECLA for a short time.
In the summer of 2018 something changed. The universe realigned and the stars pointed me to an EdD, which is basically a taught PhD. This has given me over a year since I started the course to get a feel for what I want to study, and today I have submitted my proposal. I am also dong an OTLAEnglish project, funded through the ETF. It is very interesting doing these projects simultaneously. It feels very different doing a doctorate to doing any other practitioner research. I am both intrigued and scared by the philosophical nature of research. It has taken me about the same amount of time to write my EdD proposal as it has to do the entire OTLAEnglish project. But the start/finish notion of these projects is deceiving. The EdD isn’t just starting, it has started and I can already feel the messiness of engaging in action research. The OTLA project isn’t finished, the report may be written but the activity continues.
Without funding from organisations such as the NRDC, LSIS, and ETF I’m not sure that I would be taking my EdD now. I certainly could not have done these projects without the support of the people working with the organisations who provide the funding. The money is of course always welcome, but as we found out in the Action Research network, a group of willing tutors with a rota of baking, can create the time and space needed to be able to reflect on changes made in the classroom. I would recommend anyone to look for funding opportunities, particularly through the ETF. Twitter is a fabulous place to find out about these things and there is a growing base of FE tutors chatting and sharing. Going to conferences is also useful, look out for a local teachmeet, FEbrewed and the upcoming ReimagineFE conference heading into its fifth year. There are also the regional Professional Exchange Networks (PEN). Internally you could hunt out your Advanced Practitioner, who I am sure will be more than happy to support you in developing your own practitioner research project or find some like-minded colleagues to create a Research Space to talk about your practice – don’t forget the cake.
- CELTA – Certificate in Language Teaching to Adults
- EMCETT – East Midland Centre of Excellence in teacher training
- NATECLA – National Association for Teaching English and Community Languages to Adults
- ETF – The Education and Training Foundation.
- LSIS – Learning and Skills Improvement Service
- OTLA – Outstanding Teaching, Learning & Assessment programme (ETF)
- PEN – Professional Exchange Networks
- MATE – Moroccan Association for Teachers of English
- NRDC – National Research and Development Centre for adult literacy and numeracy
- SUNCETT – University of Sunderland Centre of Excellence for teacher training
- AP – Advanced Practitioner
- CPD – Continual Professional Development
A colleague asked me about digital resources for teaching English so she could support one of her exchange groups. They were looking for resources with low impact on workload but positive impact on learners. I thought I’d reformulate my reply into a blog but then decided that sharing my email reply would be just as authentic and play with the traditional lines of a blog post. I hope you find some or all of it useful 😊 ~ Chloë
Oh goodness – where to begin 😃. I’ll be as brief but as informative as possible:
Please recommend our screencasts via our PDNorth Youtube account. There are lots more to be added from an English & Maths PoV over the coming months too, from the OTLA Digital folks. Our screencasts have an element of practical ‘how to’ but most importantly they include pedagogical uses (and limitations) from real life experience in the FE classroom/training room/library!
I would fully recommend the Padlet* screencast which focusses on approaches and strategies as I detail a range of uses from personal experience in ESOL, English, Food Safety and Digital training contexts. Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCa3XL5tqV6TwbirjbXbRM5Q?view_as=subscriber
One of the latest blogs on PDNorth is about Screencasting* and that again includes my experience of using it for ESOL/English with some practical examples and suggestions. Read it here: https://pdnorth.org.uk/pd-north-blog/
Shaping Success Courses
Perhaps signpost practitioners to the digital approaches / multimedia webinars we have via Shaping Success (£25 per person or free if they fit one of the freebie criterion)? These webinars speak about specific websites / apps and how they can be used to teach English &/or Maths but these require a little play time to explore. We also encourage people to think critically about using digital in the classroom (ie not just for sparkles!). More info:
Average bog standard websites can be really useful for English teaching to explore comprehension and navigation whilst using websites they may already use (or need help being able to use). These days job applications are all online / shopping online is more convenient / accessing transport timetables etc so embedding personal digital skills and digital literacies with everyday websites is
An example of one ESOL lesson I did (at an FE college in a computer room): Students accessed an Excel spreadsheet (quick one I made) on a Padlet and downloaded it. It had a ‘shopping list’ of 15 items on it for which they had to find and price up at Asda / Tesco / Sainsburys online. Then they worked out the total etc to see which one was the cheapest. At the end they uploaded their document to the Padlet so I had a record of their work (also useful for RARPA). Okay, I’m using Padlet, Excel and 3 websites there but they also wanted to know how to use Excel and upload/download/add an attachment so I incorporated that into the session too. It took me minutes to make the Excel document and add it to a Padlet so it wasn’t a burden on my time (I know this is a real concern with digi stuff) and I reused the document / Padlet with other classes. However, you could just do a paper version of the Excel Sheet and learners could access the supermarkets on their phone (if they have access to one).
I highly recommend using a blogging website when teaching English. Particularly reading. The one I used originally a few years ago was Blogger* but issues with that included needing a Google Account/Email address which was a barrier to many of my learners. I ended up turning to Edmodo* as that ticked lots of boxes and has a familiar interface (it looks like Facebook with similar functionality). I’ve gauged from colleagues though that Edmodo hits it off with ESOL learners
better than English.
Specifically ones that come with the phone and don’t rely on learners downloading things/using their space. For example: voice recorder is great for recording themselves before writing an essay. Or recording a convo and transcribing it. Also good for practicing pronunciation (ESOL).
However, I wonder from your email if you mean very specific resources that have already been created…? If so, I recommend: The British Council / British Council
NEXUS (ESOL), One Stop English (ESOL), Film English (ESOL + ELT), English My Way (v low level ESOL), BBC Skillswise and of course: the Excellence Gateway!
I know it’s easier said than done, but I truly believe in the importance of sharing with colleagues who you work with. Many departments/organisations don’t do this (especially if tutors are 0hrs or don’t work together physically etc) but it really does help to lighten everyone’s load if everyone shares something. Infact this reminds me of a quote (by George Bernard Shaw) that Sue shared with us which I think helps to sum up the purpose of PDNorth tbh:
“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples, then you and I will still each have one apple.
But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”
Hope this helps – let me know 😊
* If you would like to use platforms like these, I’d recommend introducing them at the beginning of the year and using them regularly in order to increase user experience and recognition. Don’t waste time introducing a ‘flavour of the week’ because most of your lessons will be taken up with the initial ‘getting to know you’ stage of a new platform. This will frustrate your learners, increase your workload and decrease the teaching/learning time significantly. With any digital elements of your TLA ask: Could I get the same result easier without the tech aspect? What (if anything) does the tech aspect add to the learning?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- These are published in various places, please contact email@example.com or @loumycroft if you want to read some more.
- A set of processes which enable people to do their best thinking. See Nancy Kline, More Time to Think (2009).