Saturday, 25 July 2015

My reflections on #SHULT15 Sheffield Hallam University Learning and Teaching Conference 2015

The presentations, videos, photos and podcasts from the annual learning and teaching conference at Sheffield Hallam Uni are now up…

My reflections

I look forward to this annual learning and teaching conference as it gives me an opportunity to learn about good practice from colleagues across the university and to network and develop new connections, as well as build upon existing ones. I am on the conference steering group and know exactly how much work goes into the planning to make sure that a varied programme to suit all interests is achieved. Hours goes into planning the detail and there is a huge sense of satisfaction when post event their is good feedback from attendees. The success of such an event is a team effort and beyond the steering group includes colleagues from IT, Facilities and of course both presenters and participants. 

Each year I submit a proposal, sometimes on my own and other times with colleagues. I find it very rewarding to present research or project work to my peers as I can guarantee (from experience) that colleagues will question and provide feedback on the work shared. This helps to develop ideas and is always a positive experience. There is always scope to build upon what I do, learn from others' experience and to try new approaches. 

This year there were a variety of colab sessions on the programme to choose from. In contrast to discussion papers these workshops were more hands on and interactive with activities that stimulated discussions. What I especially liked was that the sessions encouraged contribution both before and after the event, and resources being co-developed that anyone can use. My colleagues David Eddy and Collette Fegan ran a colab on Online Distance Learning – Challenges, Conversations, SolutionsDavid Smith and Graham Holden co-led a colab titled Ready, Steady, Learn! There was a definite buzz in the sessions I attended and the conversations continued afterwards. 

Throughout the conference there was an encouragement to use social media and in particular Twitter with the event hashtag #SHULT15. It was great to see so many tweeting at the event and also so many who were following the hashtag or 'happening upon it' through connections who were tweeting!

What did I (re)learn? 

  • As educators we should never stop stop learning - I came away with fresh ideas to use in my teaching and new connections I can continue to learn from and with
  • Through observing others we can develop our own presence - both keynotes were wonderful exemplars of engaging speakers who made their talks interactive with the audience
  • Talking unlocks new innovative ideas - events like these bring people together and serendipitous conversations fueling great conversations are an inevitable outcome
  • Inspiration is on our own doorstep - taking the opportunity to listen and learn from peers within our own institution is something we should all value more and celebrate

Further info on the conference

Conference website can be found here:

The keynotes for the conference were Professor Simon Lancaster and Professor Liz Barnes.

Professor Simon Lancaster

Professor Liz Barnes

Becoming the LinkedIn University: Students and staff – developing our professional profiles together

My contribution to the day was a presentation with my colleague Andrew Middleton on the LinkedIn University, a HEA funded project we have been working on.

Short Abstract

Professional recognition and identity are important to all staff and students. How each of us fosters and maintains our professional identity is problematic. In this Social Digital Age maintenance of good reputation requires a fluent life-wide engagement with professional profiling as exemplified in the idea of a life-wide “LinkedIn University”.

Detailed Outline

We report on the outcomes of our HEA Employability project which sought to promote student engagement in Personal and Professional Development Planning.

Not only is engagement in PPDP important to employability, it develops a student’s learning capability, and their sense of being and becoming. The project began by questioning where PPDP sits, challenging views of it being a teaching, learner support, or career development problem. PPDP underpins all these and, reflecting on last year’s conference, is best understood as a life-wide and lifelong habit best fostered while at university to develop the reflective graduate capable of taking care of their future. This requires PPDP to be a meaningful concept to the learner. The project has sought to ‘un-problematise’ PPDP so that the learner, and all those who support learning, embrace its importance.

Thomas (2013, p.10) says, “higher education institutions should aim to nurture a culture of belonging within the academic and social community. This should be encouraged through active student engagement, across the institution…” So while PPDP remains pertinent to teaching and learning, it comes from a life-wide view of learning while at university (Jackson, 2013a; 2013b).

The project aimed to concretise this life-wide view of learning, employability and PPDP by focusing first on the ‘presentation layer’; creating and maintaining a professional profile to present ourselves to others. By establishing good presentation practice using LinkedIn (the de facto online social media professional profiling tool) the meaning of, and engagement with, PPDP becomes clearer to the aspiring and practicing professional.

The ‘professional profile’ connects strongly to ideas about professional recognition and reputation for academic staff. A mutual interest for staff and students is now envisaged in which each models good practice and supports the other in using online social media.


An audio recording for our presentation is available on the conference website.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Buck the status quo #blimage


Thank you David Hopkins for once again putting out the challenge! Your latest image from Johan Hansson is aptly named 'Stormtrooper with a camera - The sunset'

My initial reaction was: Here's a green light for horizon scanning. Permission to go out in the wild and seek innovation and innovators! You are on a mission. Bring back good practice and stories of engaged staff and students in the art of learning and teaching. 

Explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.... Ok different film but the image inspiration took me here.

Dare to be different comes to mind

Buck the status quo

Chris Guillebeau who wrote the book 'The Art of Non Conformity' suggests that we must be: 

open to new ideas
don't accept everything at face value, but do listen and question

dissatisfied with the status quo
don't be unremarkably average - challenge ideas

willing to take personal responsibility
have empathy, be honest and support those working with you

willing to work hard life is not short of challenges

determination, perseverance and grit is needed


My #blimage challenge is to consider the image below. I look forward to responses! This is open to everyone who wants to write a blog post relating the image to learning, and then pass on the challenge with an image of your own choice. Tweet the link and include the hashtag #blimage. Check the growing collections of posts from people across the globe!


Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Reflections on @FOS4L Flexible Open Social Learning #FOS4L

This post is an accont and reflection of my experiences engaging with and facilitating FOS learning. Details of what FOS is and how it came about can be found in a previous post. In short FOS stands for flexible open and social learning and took place last week as a 5 day learning event. 

The co-learning experience

Months of planning and finally it was time to commence FOS. That said we had been promoting a community space on Google+ for participants to introduce themselves. I felt this worked well and gave me and the other facilitators the opportunity to welcome joining participants. The event is totally open with no registration required. This is to allow everyone to dip in and listen if they wish to, and join in when they are ready. 

On launch day we released the first of the daily posts containing signposts to the activities, resources and recommended reading. As the day progressed I was delighted delighted to find so many new posts in the Google+ Community and a growing collection of tweets containing the #FOS4L hashtag. Along with other facilitators in the FOS team we were keen to respond to posts and welcome new participants to the community. From experience when taking online courses myself, it is really important to build social presence. Letting people know you have read their contributions by responding to them is valued. 

Public domain image:
As facilitators it was important to work together and support each other too. Making use of social tools like Facebook groups, Google hangouts and Google Docs allowed us to communicate, raise questions and plan along the way. I'm constantly amazed at what people can achieve when we do work together towards a common goal. 

On the Monday we held an upside down twitter chat or 'question shower'. This was a new approach initiated by the wonderfully creative Chrissi Nerantzi. Now at this point I as an experienced partaker and lead for numerous tweet chats, started to feel nervous. Chrissi was taking away the structure of pre-planned questions and suggesting that anyone can ask a question, based on the suggested pre-reading in the blog. An hour of scattered questions! She assured me it would be fine... Now I have ultimate faith in Chrissi, so whilst it did take me out of my comfort zone I agreed to lead the first question shower - which was to introduce it and then let others jump in and question away. I can't say I didn't have a few worries but in the name of creativity the question shower was launched. And guess what?.... It was a blast. Questions darted all over the place, with answers galore in response. You can see how it went in the Storify below. It's worth a look!

Storify of the Question Shower on Twitter

Fast forward....

The week flew by and if I could have pressed pause or indeed rewind I would have done! My new experiences have been learning curves and I'm pleased I took some new challenges. It is so easy to get set in our ways. I was reminded that if a new innovation doesn't work then review it and see if it can be tweaked and try again. In the event you and your learners are still not happy you can always go back to what you were doing before or find something even better.

Before we knew it, it was Friday and the week  culminated with a 'giant hangout'. I truly felt as if I have been "Standing on the shoulders of giants". I feel privileged that in the short space of a week I had the opportunity of co-learning with so many wonderful educators. Informal learning and CPD doesn't need to take up hours and whatever time you invest, you can come away learning something new that you can apply to your practice. Building your personal learning network and connecting with other like minded people is in my mind the richest opportunity any educator can have - connections can be made both online and off.    

Review of the week

Below is a slidedeck that captures key highlights of the week. A huge thanks must go to our facilitators Neil Withnall, Stephen Powell, Mike Nicholson, Stathis Konstandinidis and Deb Baff. Our team of 7 come from 5 different institutions and I know I can speak for myself and Chrissi as organisers of this event, it would not have been possible without them. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to work and learn together.    

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Fortunate Learning and Learning Fortunes #blimage

I couldn't resist taking up the challenge once again when Jane Bozarth responded to Jane Hart's #blimage challenge. Above Is Jane B's chosen image. In case you have missed this hashtag which seems to have erupted today, the objective is to write a blog post linking the image to learning and to then add your own image and share with more educators. Blog posts are being curated on Pinterest by Simon Ensor. Also check out posts by Amy Burvall and Steve Wheeler who set this going! You can get the gist from my previous blog post here.

Fortune Cookies

So my first response is I see fortune cookies. What are they? Well a little look at Wikipedia tells us that...

fortune cookie is a crisp cookie usually made from floursugarvanilla, and sesame seed oil with a piece of paper, a "fortune", on which is an aphorism, or a vague prophecy. The message inside may also include a Chinese phrase with translation or a list of lucky numbers used by some as lottery numbers, some of which have become actual winning numbers

The BBC even have a recipe to make Fortune cookies!

100g/3½oz plain flour
1½ tbsp cornflour
50g/1¾oz caster sugar
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp vegetable oil
3 free-range eggs, whites only
1 tsp water
1½ tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp almond extract

Preparation method
Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3. Line a baking tray with a silicone mat. Write fortunes on pieces of paper about 6cm x 1cm/2½in x ½in.
Sift the flour and cornflour into a large bowl then add the sugar and salt and mix well. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the oil, egg whites, water and vanilla and almond extracts.
Place tablespoons of the mixture onto the silicone mat and use the back of a metal spoon to swirl out the mixture into 10cm/4in circles. Leave space between each cookie as they will spread a little during cooking; you will get about five cookies onto the baking tray so will have to cook them in batches. Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes. The outer edge of each cookie should turn golden brown and the cookies should be easy to remove with a spatula when cooked.

Place a fortune in the centre of each cookie and while the cookie is still soft and pliable, fold it in half and pinch the semi circular edges together to seal. Place the folded edge of the cookie onto the rim of a cup or glass and gently pull the two corners down, one on the inside of the cup and one on the outside, to form the classic fortune cookie shape. Set aside to cool and repeat with the remaining cookies.

Fortune messages

You can download and print fortunes from various internet sites such as the Fortune Cookie Message Archive. Who'd have thought it was such a big thing? And yet the more I read, the more I recalled vague memories of weddings including these as table favours. I'm not a fan of Chinese food (as it is served in the UK, which I understand is different to China) but realise these fortune cookies are also given out at some point during the meal. 

Reading further it would seem there is a dispute with regards to the origin, with claims that fortune cookies actually come from Japan. The New York Times shares a story about Nakamachi, a folklore and history graduate student at Kanagawa University outside Tokyo, who has spent more than six years trying to establish the Japanese origin of the fortune cookie. 

"As she researched the cookie's Japanese origins, among the most persuasive pieces of evidence Nakamachi found was an illustration from a 19th-century book of stories, "Moshiogusa Kinsei Kidan." A character in one of the tales is an apprentice in a senbei store. In Japan, the cookies are called, variously, tsujiura senbei ("fortune crackers"), omikuji senbei ("written fortune crackers"), and suzu senbei ("bell crackers")."

Cookies go stale and fortunes are forever was the title of Fine Art thesis written by David Cavaliero. It is deep and may need further unpacking. However the title caught my eye. Thinking about learning approaches, there are many examples where these may be considered stale and not engaging. The materials shared in lectures can sometimes be jaded or out of date. Perhaps though at the time they were created they were 'of the moment' and captured students curiosity to learn more. The ability to learn is our fortune. Learning fortunes can be anything from quick wins and just in time learning to deep learning and life changing. I feel fortunate to have had the learning opportunities I have had and I hope I am going some way to give this back to my students and those I learn with.  

Can we make our fortune through learning? A measure of prestige in the US is being a company on the Fortune 500 list. What did it take to get there? What's your measure of success in relation to learning? 

Public domain image:

Learning: anytime, anywhere, any social space #blimage

David Hopkins
Birmingham Airport

A few days Amy Burvall set Steve Wheeler a challenge

Steve's response: Off the rails?

Amy's counter response: Breaking bread with Steve Wheeler

The #blimage challenge then started to take off and spread across the Twittersphere. I picked up David Hopkin's response to Steve: Desks of Doom

What's all about? In short the challenge is to write a blog post prompted by the image on the theme of learning; share your blog post and include the hashtag #blimage. Want to 'share on' the fun? Then inspire someone else by sending them an image.

Unsurprisingly, David paid forward the challenge and gave us the photo above. This was taken at Birmingham Airport by David and artistically enhanced using the iPhone app Waterlogue. The photo got me immediately thinking about informal and creative learning.

Learning takes place everywhere and all of the time. We take it for granted and don't always consider the informal learning we are engaging with in our daily lives. Taking the airport scenario learning can happen through chance conversations, listening to new music, reading a book cover in the book shop, or even through your own smart phone. 

Smart learning

My smart phone provides endless opportunities for learning. Like David I have a collection of apps that can lead to creative activities; social networking apps that lead me to social spaces in which I can choose to listen in or engage in dialogue about a multitude of topics; send and receive emails, text and whatsapp messages; surf the internet; listen to music or audio books; and so the list goes on.

The wait at the airport can be a drag. The lure of the duty free shops seems to have diminished when you can check the price of an item and find it is cheaper online. Making use of the time you have can be filled with a variety of activities using your mobile phone. Granted the home journey from a holiday abroad removes the access to wifi for many of us (and don't get me started on why some airlines provide wifi and others ban it...). However even without wifi we can use our smart devices to write a draft blog post that will save and can be published once you are home; make a to do list using the Notes page or create a new healthy fitness and eating plan. 

In my job I often have to travel in the UK and this is usually by train. Access to 4G connection enables me to catch up with news both from news sites but also my PLN. It is my personal learning network that I value so much. An amazing group of people who are constantly sharing useful information through links to web pages, videos, podcasts and newly published books and articles. They are of interest and relevant because we share similar interests. I have chosen to make these connections on this basis.  

Building a PLN takes time and patience. In the words of William Hickson who is credited for popularising this proverb:

'Tis a lesson you should heed:
Try, try, try again.
If at first you don't succeed,
Try, try, try again.

My  challenge for you is to blog about a learning scenario in response to this image. I look forward to your responses! Tweet me a message when you share your post or leave a link in the comments.

Public domain image:

Sunday, 12 July 2015

A new open learning opportunity: FOS #FOS4L

I am very excited to share FOS4L which is a new 5-day open course on flexible, open and social learning for educators and professionals in higher education. It may also be of value for educators in FE and schools, and indeed students. Tomorrow is day one and the learning event takes place over one week.

Preparation for FOS 

It is such a pleasure to be working with Chriss Nerantzi yet again. Planning, new innovative ways that educators can engage in professional development has been so rewarding. Chrissi is the most creative and inspirational person I know and I have learned so much from her over the last few years. We seem to be able to spark ideas off each other, develop them and put them into practice. The creative orchestration of FOS is without doubt due to Chrissi's limitless ideas for new approaches and her playful approach to doing things differently.  

Much of our work is done remotely as we work and live in different cities. Through the use of Twitter, Skype, Google hangouts, Google docs and Dropbox we have found ways to work seamlessly. Sometimes this is in real time but often we have extended conversations, exchanging replies asynchronously. Our previous collaborations include Bring your own devices for learning (which runs again in January 2016 for the fourth time) and Learning and Teaching in Higher Education tweetchat (which starts again after the summer). The same approach was used to plan, implement and run these events. Having my own mobile devices (both a smartphone with 4G and mini iPad) make this process easier as I can utilise travelling time to catch up with messages, edit Google Docs or leave comments, and even set up a Skype or hangout conversation. I wonder now how I have ever managed without them! It really does continue to amaze me how much technology in the form of social tools has opened up new opportunities to connect and collaborate. Keeping in touch with other educators is so much easier now. Time and location is no longer an issue as we can interact when and where we wish to both synchronously and asynchronously. 

Being involved as both a facilitator and co-learner in these learning spaces has without doubt provided the most rewarding professional development. When opportunities to meet co-learners in person, our conversations naturally continue where we left off online. My personal learning network both on and offline is all the richer through developing these connections. 

FOS Learning

FOS will be using the 5C Framework created by Chrissi and myself which helps us to consider the ways we can connect, communicate, curate, collaborate and create. The first iteration of this course will run 13-17 July 2015 and is open to all educators. 

Social spaces

Twitter @FOS4L - Follow @FOS4L and #FOSchat

Google Community - join us here to get to know the community taking part in FOS

FOS for Learning site - a rich resource to build your learning experience

This latest endeavor could not happen without our supportive facilitators who are educators from other universities. A big thank you therefore goes to Neil Withnell,  Stephen Powell, Mike Nicholson, Stathis Konstantinidis, Deb Baff and Candace Nolan-Grant; plus Ellie Livermore who created the stop motion films and voice overs together with Sam Illingworth.  A special thank you to Whitney Kilgore for reviewing FOS and her very helpful feedback which has helped us make some final changes and corrections. 

Over the next week I will use this blog to reflect upon the FOS learning event both through the lens of a facilitator and also as a co-learner.  I hope you will join us.