Monday 30 December 2013

Defining 'Personal Learning Networks'

Image credit: mkhmarketing

I was inspired by a blog post written by Eric Sheninger (who tweets as 
@NMHS_Principal) where he defines what a personal learning network means to him:

"A PLN provides leaders with resources, knowledge, feedback, advice, support, friendships, and is a catalyst for self-directed learning.  The ability and ease to now engage in conversations with like-minded practitioners and world-renowned experts provides a meaningful and differentiated model for growth to improve professional practice.  For me, I love being able to ask a question on Twitter and then return hours later with an array of responses from all over the world. I also love being able to filter content based on my interests from a variety of information sources to one convenient location." 
I too have developed a wonderfully rich personal learning network; connecting with educators from all over the world. For me Twitter is the place to go to learn, providing links to a huge array of interesting topics as well as a space to engage in interesting conversations. Very often these lead to opportunities to collaborate and communicate face to face or via Skype or Google Hangouts. I also get great value from reading the blog posts of other educators. Discussions follow by using the comments section, providing the chance to question or indeed challenge viewpoints. Below are just a few I would recommend you take a look at:

The next most useful tool I would say is LinkedIn. I often hear people say that whilst they have a profile they don't bother updating this or look at the updates of others as they are not looking for a new job. LinkedIn is far more than a 'job site'. At the very least it is your very own 'rolodex' of professional connections.

Image source: Wikipedia

LinkedIn allows you to connect with individuals, join groups and follow companies. It is an excellent way to find and engage with topics that interest you. Equally it is another forum you can share with other your own work and research. Each time I present at a conference I upload my slides to Slideshare and then add the link to my LinkedIn profile. I also have a blog about Getting Started with Social Media and add a link to my latest post as an update on LinkedIn. For each of these, readers may and do leave comments, providing me with feedback.

Facebook also provides me with opportunities to learn. Whilst my personal space is somewhere I interact with family and close friends; the use of groups and pages has opened up many new channels I am constantly learning from. 

The social media tools (of which there are many) are wonderful spaces we can connect with others and share information and conversations. The very fact that this can be done both synchronously (real time) and asynchronously has broken down previous barriers of time and distance. The openness allows us to listen and learn from each other. The sophisticated search facilities each provide, enable you to discover so many interesting things you may never have had the opportunity to happen upon otherwise.

What are you favourite tools that connect you with your personal learning network?      

Saturday 21 December 2013

Edublog Awards 2013

I was thrilled to be nominated this year as a Finalist in the annual Edublogs Awards for the Best Individual Tweeter category. Forty educators were selected and then voted upon by the community. I'm pleased to say I made it to 2nd place! Huge thanks to all those who took the time to vote for me.   

The Edublog Awards is a community based incentive started in 2004 in response to community concerns relating to how schools, districts and educational institutions were blocking access of learner and teacher blog sites for educational purposes. Going forward the use of other social media has also been constrained.
The purpose of the Edublog awards is to promote and demonstrate the educational values of these social media. A key feature is that it provides a rich resource for educators providing ideas on how social media can be used in different contexts, with a wide range of different learners. For me personally, I have been introduced to many new educators and sites who I may not have come across otherwise. If you've not yet had a chance to take a look, I recommend you do.

Here are all the categories:

Sunday 29 September 2013

Searching for an alternative to 'personal brand'

For some time now I have been struggling with the term 'personal brand'. In presentations I give on building a professional online presence, the concept of 'brand' filters in, within the context of making a mark and standing out from the crowd. It is important to consider connectedness between professional profiles on the social networks and websites we create to share our writing, portfolios, work, achievements etc. Having a username and photo that is recognised is important as is a consistent bio. To some degree a consistent style can be helpful to others to visually link one profile to another. Is this distinctiveness branding? 

define: Brand
Noun: A type of product manufactured by a company under a particular name. Verb: Mark with a branding iron.

Here's my definition: A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer. 
A brand's value is merely the sum total of how much extra people will pay, or how often they choose, the expectations, memories, stories and relationships of one brand over the alternatives.
An excerpt from Seth Godin's blog post on the definition of brand  

Godin associates brand with a product or service. It could be argued that as professionals we may provide a service of some description or indeed a product, but as an Educator it doesn't sit comfortably with me. I reached out to my connections on Twitter to get some thoughts.

I did immediately warm to the idea of personal marque and yet when I looked at the definition for this it still has close links with brand...

define: Marque
A brand of a manufactured product, especially a model of motor car 

Kirsty offered professional identity and this was echoed by Brianne when I asked the question of my LinkedIn connections. Chrissi suggested profile and Barbara value proposition

What are your thoughts? The importance of developing our professional online identities are clear. How we refer to this, at least for myself is cloudy. I welcome your suggestions!

Thursday 19 September 2013

Embedding ALL of your Slideshare presentations in your Blog

For some time now, I have been uploading presentations I have given at conferences to Slideshare. In the last couple of years these have also included invited keynotes and bespoke workshops.

From your personal page on Slideshare you can now embed ALL of your presentations in the format below by grabbing the embed code (see top right corner) This is an excellent way to share your work as readers can look though whatever you have uploaded directly from your blog. Alongside PowerPoint slides you can also upload PDF documents, infographics and videos.

You simply copy the code and then within your blog, select the HTLM editr screen and paste. Save your work and go back to the Compose editor screen and there you will see the interactive Slideshare collection. 


Sunday 21 July 2013

Changing the Learning Landscape

I was recently invited to give a talk for an interdisciplinary webinar on the use of social media in HE. The webinar was in 3 parts with around 30min for each speaker. I was delighted to be speaking alongside AnneMarie Cunningham who has used social media in medical education extensively. 

My own talked focussed on the use of social to develop our own online professional presence as educators. 


We are living in an age where many of us are now ‘
always switched on’. The rise of the ubiquitous use of mobile technology and open access to Wi-Fi-free zones has changed the way we communicate - forever. We use mobile technology for work, to organise our home life, our social life, to shop, enjoy music, films and photographs. All of these activities have the potential to make our life easier and more enjoyable. However there is a concern that we risk information overload in our quest to manage the growing amount of information, in particular through social media. How can we juggle all of this and possibly leverage social media in a professional context?

My talk will look at how through social media you can develop a professional network that will not only help to separate the signal from the noise for yourselves, it will also provide the mechanism for others to find you and your work as a professional in your field. By developing a professional online presence and network of connections, you will have the potential to open many new channels of communication, opportunities for collaboration and creativity BUT you will also find the means to filter only what is important to you.  
  • Medical Education and Social Media - Anne-Marie Cunningham, Cardiff University (04.10 mins)
  • Professional Online Presence: Separating the Signal from the Noise - Sue Beckingham, Sheffield Hallam University (43.20 mins)
  • Grief or Glory? Using and implementing an e-portfolio in work place practice - Gareth Frith, University of Leeds (1hr 19.09 mins)

Below is the presentation slides which are also available on Slideshare

Monday 20 May 2013

Spreading the word: The ripple effect of Slideshare

Last week I led a Twitter Mini Masterclass at Sheffield Hallam University with my colleague Joe Field and posted my presentation slides on to Slideshare. I was thrilled to receive an email from Slideshare to say it had been selected to be featured on their home page.


Slideshare Tweets
Slideshare also tweeted a link to my presentation via @SlideShareToday and @SlideShare. At this point in time my slideshare had 196 views. 


In the space of five days my slideshare has had over 3.5k views and 29 downloads, 14 shares on Facebook, 36 via Twitter and 15 via LinkedIn. 

You can track this data on Slideshare each time you upload a presentation. (More in depth analytics are available via the Pro version). There is also space for viewers to leave comments; a very useful opportunity to receive feedback on your presentations. 

Once you have uploaded your presentation slides you can choose to share your work through your own social channels and grab the embed code to display the slide deck within your blog or website.

Steve Wheeler, Associate Professor at the University of Plymouth uses SlideShare to share his keynote presentations that he gives all over the world.  One of his most popular slideshares to date was an invited speech given at the Learning Technologies event in 2012, which has currently had over 54k views. (I would recommend following Steve on Twitter as @timbuckteeth). 

I've often thought it is a shame that conference presentations are not shared beyond the event and conference website. Using SlideShare enables access to a far wider audience and good use of tags will help viewers to find your presentations via the search facility within Slideshare. Accompanying or subsequent papers and documents can also be added as PDFs. 

I give all of my work a Creative Commons licence which means viewers can download and share with accreditation but cannot use commercially. 

I think it is suffice to say that sharing your work in this way is undoubtedly an additional and very effective way of disseminating your work. Whilst I can't expect every presentation to be featured the possibility that it might is a bonus!

Sunday 12 May 2013

The best blogs on MOOCs, cloud computing, mobile learning, social media, digital pedagogy and more.

The EdTech online magazine has recently released a list of 50 must-read higher education and IT focussed blogs covering the likes of MOOCs, cloud computing, mobile learning, social media, digital pedagogy and more. The list was chosen not by the magazine but by the readers who were asked to submit thier favourite blogs and then vote on the submissions. I recommend you take a look!

I was pleased to see a number of bloggers I follow, but especially so when I saw David Hopkins who blogs from Technology Enhanced Learning Blog and tweets as @hopkinsdavid. 

Congratulations David!

This is someone I have had both the privilege to learn from and with. His blog is both informative and inspiring, but it was through Twitter that we first developed conversations on topics of shared interest. He encouraged me to write my own blog on social media, one I had initially set up just to demo blogging to my students. 

Our paths have continued to cross and through Twitter and blogging I continue to learn from David and many other educators who are freely sharing resources and thoughts (often provoking and inviting to be challenged). Through our mutual interest of digital identity and the use of social media by students, David and I went on to plan and prepare a presentation on Digital Footprints for the annual PELeCON elearning conference in Plymouth in 2011 (an event I would recommend you keep an eye open for - Led by Steve Wheeler @timbuckteeth). 

What has become clear is that it is through social channels such as Twitter, that have enabled our learning communities to grow. Because of the sheer volume of information passing through on a daily basis, I often come upon gems that interest me via those I consider as essential members of my personal learning network. It is these signposts that help to bring posts and tweets to my attention, alongside the serendipity of simply dipping in and out of the social channels. The use of re-tweeting and sharing tools to post links of interesting and valuable information, is one of the amazing positives of social media; creating a ripple effect that reaches far beyond your immediate connections. The use of comments within blogs enable rich discussions to both learn from and debate. Very often these have introduced me to new educators, increasing my network of connections. This in turn has highlighted opportunities to join webinars and MOOCs such as #ocTEL the Open Course in Technology Enhanced Learning led by ALT the Association for Learning Technology.

Within the comments of the EdTech blog post sharing the top 50 list of higher education IT bloggers, recipients of the award paid their thanks. David Hopkins went one step further adding this in his comment:

I was thrilled to be included as one of the people David values as part of his personal learning network. I can also agree 100% with the other names he mentions, as they too are valued by myself. I have also over time had the pleasure of meeting each of these people face to face. Prior to I have followed their posts having been introduced to them virtually through my own connections. Developing conversations online meant that we had already gone though the intro stages of meeting new people, so on meeting face to face for the first time, our conversations simply continued. 

The moral of this post? Value your learning community and share their contributions with others.

Had the likes of David and many others not shared information about their own networks, mine may still have been a very much smaller community to learn with than it is now.

Saturday 11 May 2013

Light bulb moment and have seen the light: Getting Google Glass

I have to admit that for some time I have been sitting on the fence, racking my brains as to how I might find a pair useful. Would I really want to look up out of the corner of my eye to view what I could more comfortably look at on my laptop, PC, iPad or even my phone (dependent on where I was and which if these were available at the time?

This video however completely changed my view and was the catalyst for all sorts of ideas forming in my head. Physics Teacher/Glass Explorer Andrew Vanden Heuvel takes a classroom on a virtual field trip into the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland.

In Andrew's blog one of his reflections was:
 "It’s not about the technology.  
As an online teacher, I frequently say, “It’s not about the technology, but what you can do with it.” We have now reached an inflection point in the evolution of technology where each new advance means we see technology less and can do more with it. What a tremendously exciting time to be in education!"

I then watched the official how to guide on getting started with Google Glass. I've missed the boat to apply to be a Glass Explorer but I've put my name down to stay informed about it. 

I still have slight reservations about when and where the glasses can and can't be worn, however I guess we had similar thoughts about people using mobile phones with cameras in public spaces. The glasses allow you to take pictures and video as well as access the internet. 

A company in America put out a ban ahead of Google Glass even being released, putting this image on their Facebook page. Will others follow suit? We will just have to wait and see. At the moment we can't even buy a pair.

Friday 10 May 2013

HEA Computing Seminar: Professional Online Presence

This week I attended and presented at a seminar led by Dr Thomas Lancaster (@DrLancaster) at Birmingham City University. This was the second in a series supported by the Higher Education Academy. I was invited to present when I met Thomas at the STEM HEA Conference. Also there, was Mark Ratcliffe, HEA Discipline Lead for Computing.

The day commenced with a talk from David While on professional development with a focus on what academics need to learn about what is happening in schools. What skills will they bring in to university? Whilst ever increasingly tech savvy, are they ready to apply those social media skills in a professional context. My experience says not following numerous conversations giving guest lectures to university students on developing a professional online presence.  

Thomas then went on to provide a context for the day and proposed programme outline. His first talk was about how we should go about constructing a professional presence.

My contribution was looking at how we can develop connections using social media as part of our professional learning networks, but also looking at some things to consider in relation to the impact our digital footprint can have. 


Thomas went on to give a second presentation. The focus was on strategies that academics could use to add content to their blogs and social sites, increase the reach of their research, gain publicity and benefit from the wider possibilities afforded through social media.

The discussions there after were about how social media has opened new communication channels to people we may never have met, as well as opportunities to collaborate. For some the use of social media in a professional was still relatively new so having the time to raise questions and put in to practice some new skills was useful. 

Throughout the event participants tweeted using the hashtag #heaprofpres. To collate these tweets Thomas used Storify, providing a record of the event and reactions to it. 

This is Water

This is a very inspiring speech given by David Foster Wallace to Kenyon College's 2005 graduating class. The video below is an animated version which has had over 2 million views.

One of the key messages he tries to give to the students is this:

The value of the totally obvious...
It isn't really about the capacity to think, but rather the choice of what to think about. 
It's worth a listen and for that matter a watch. The use of the animation brings it alive.

Saturday 27 April 2013

100 People: A World Portrait

I came across this infographic again and felt compelled to find out more about its origin.

The milestone of the world reaching 7 billion people inspired a group of people to further previous research about the people in our world. They have spent the last five years asking students to simplify complex statistics by introducing us to the people that represent their part of the world. Using media this project is helping to illustrate information about where people come from but also the challenges people face. The project focuses a lens on ten areas of critical global concern that affect us all: water, food, transportation, health, economy, education, energy, shelter, war and waste.

If the World were 100 PEOPLE:
50 would be female
50 would be male

26 would be children
There would be 74 adults,
8 of whom would be 65 and older

There would be:
60 Asians
15 Africans
14 people from the Americas
11 Europeans

33 Christians
22 Muslims
14 Hindus
7 Buddhists
12 people who practice other religions
12 people who would not be aligned with a religion

12 would speak Chinese
5 would speak Spanish
5 would speak English
3 would speak Arabic
3 would speak Hindi
3 would speak Bengali
3 would speak Portuguese
2 would speak Russian
2 would speak Japanese
62 would speak other languages

83 would be able to read and write; 17 would not

7 would have a college degree
22 would own or share a computer

77 people would have a place to shelter them
from the wind and the rain, but 23 would not

1 would be dying of starvation
15 would be undernourished
21 would be overweight

87 would have access to safe drinking water
13 people would have no clean, safe water to drink
The harsh reality is that today there are still people who are dying of starvation or are undernourished; that so many do not have a place to shelter them; and that clean and safe water to drink remains such a problem. How can we change this? How can technology and social media help to bring people together to solve this? 

One man interviewed said "All the people in the world need to get together and speak with the same mouth. If people learn to speak the same language, in the same way. They could care about each other and there wouldn't be so many problems." Video and images are a starting point.

To find out more about this project visit:

Sunday 14 April 2013

Professional Personal Learning Networks

This article in Teach Thought (which I recommend you follow) provides an excellent list of tips and ideas to get started or develop your personal learning network. These inlcude

The article also includes a list of resources. I was both surprised and thrilled to find that a presentation I had given with my colleague David Walker was included. This presentation was given at the Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA) Conference. 

Using social media to develop your own personal learning network from Sue Beckingham

Social Media has played a huge part in developing my own personal learning network. Some recommendations I would make would be to:

  • Ensure you create a clear bio that says what your areas of interest are and include a link to your blog, LinkedIn profile or website.
  • Upload a photograph of yourself. People find it harder to engage with an egghead or other default avatar.
  • Don't be frightened to just listen to conversations in social media channels initially, but do go on to raise questions or respond ones raised.

Further information about getting started with social media can be found on my Social Media blog at I'd love to hear your comments on any of the posts on there. 

Saturday 13 April 2013

Standing out in the #ocTEL crowd

Two weeks into the #ocTEL MOOC the mass of emails, tweets, Forum entries and now posts in the Google Community have grown like wild fire. I think the key advice I have taken on is that there is no way you can engage with all of it, let alone read it. Some of the messages are repeated in the different channels, so picking your favoured channel or two seems the best coping strategy. Simply reading other people's posts however is fine to start with but to really engage then you also need to join in the conversation to get the most out of it. Last week I joined the first webinar of the course which commenced with a poll asking how many people had engaged with the tasks set. The majority hadn't. My advice would be to give blogging a go. It is a useful way to collate information and reflect upon it. If you don't feel you are ready for publishing publicly, then create a private reflective blog. (You can select this option from settings).

Getting your voice heard 

For me I have found that Twitter is a great way to engage with a learning community and where a hashtag is used you can quickly see who is tweeting. For this course #ocTEL is being used. By searching for this hashtag in Twitter you can bring together all of the tweets in one stream. Start by listening to what others are saying and then jump in and reply to comments made, raise questions or simply retweet a useful tweet so that your followers can also read it.  

Other tools to view who is tweeting include Martin Hawksey's TAGSExplorer which visualises the tweets that include #ocTEL.

Another example is the twitwheel which shows interactions between tweeters.

I recently read an article in Inc titled 'Self Promotion: 6 Ways to get Noticed'. The caption below made me think back about my initial steps interacting online. Worried I would say something that others thought was daft, irrelevant or uninteresting. Say nothing at all and you are the wallflower; talk just about yourself can quickly sound like me, me, me.   

Effective self-promotion lies somewhere 
between being a wallflower and a flaming narcissist. 

The author's suggestions can be applied to the way we communicate using social media. 
Let your results speak for you
Promote others
Talk about what you believe
Admit your failures
Decide what you want to be known for
Put yourself out there

I know I have enjoyed reading both tweets and blog posts where I have felt I have seen the personal side of the author. This can still be done in a professional way - many worry that the personal and professional blurring of our online interactions is a bad thing, but this depends upon what you share. One rule of thumb I tend to follow is that if you wouldn't want your boss or your Mum to read it than don't broadcast it.  

Tuesday 9 April 2013

#ocTEL - An open course in Technology Enhanced Learning

Well here I am with great intentions of slicing off enough time to engage with a new MOOC. I must confess right from the start that despite great intentions I have never been able to sustain the commitment needed to complete a MOOC. This in no way reflected on any of the courses; it was simply at those times life took over - home, work, formal MSc study and the unexpected...

The MOOC I am starting this week is being run by the Association of Learning Technologists and is titled the Open Course in Technology Enhanced Learning or for short ocTEL. Further details can be found on the website and there's still time to join in! Having learnt an awful lot from people in the ALT community I'm really looking forward to getting my teeth into this learning opportunity. I think what I realise now is that I'm not alone in  not being able to keep up with all that is presented within a MOOC, in fact in this one it is actually pointed out that it is practically impossible to do so!

Week 0: Induction Activities

Introducing myself

I work at Sheffield Hallam University in the Faculty of Arts, Computing, Engineering and Sciences as an Educational Developer and Associate Lecturer. I have to say that despite not being a learning technologist I have loved taking the opportunities to play with new tech and where appropriate include this both in my own personal learning and in teaching. The recent advances in technology have meant that it is so much more accessible. You don't have to know how to code to be able to create a website or blog, or a techy to take a photo or record video or audio and post this on your blog. I've found this empowerment of becoming a producer not simply a consumer of resources really exciting. I am also studying for a second Masters degree - MSc Technology Enhanced Learning Innovation and Change so am looking at both innovation and barriers to implementationMy research interest is in the use of social media with a focus on higher education, digital identity and online presence. 

My big question about TEL

I think this has to be how can we evidence the value of technology enhanced learning most effectively. Does it have to be measured in a certain way? What would that entail? 

Given the many excellent examples of good practice I am coming across there are clear indicators it is working and yet there seems to be a minority rather than the majority who are embracing new innovations. Is this because there is not enough time or support to introduce these new ideas?  

Secondly I'm looking forward to sharing new ideas about how people are engaging students in distance learning - what new activities are they using to get students to interact and participate with each other.

Exploring and experimenting

I've tidied up my inbox and organised a weekly digest of emails via the jisc-list. I can skim these but won't get to all of them. A regular user of Twitter as @suebecks I have contributed to the conversation and find the succinct messages there are more appealing. The forum discussions are where I think we will be dipping in and out of, with some having more personal appeal than others. It's good to see a variety of ways people can communicate.

What I am hearing:

The introductions by email have been fascinating and it's clear we all have different skills to bring to the table. It's going to be a busy and noisy environment to learn in but already we can see people reaching out to answer questions, suggest useful resources and also challenge ideas. 

Reasons people say they are joining the MOOC
  • want to enhance learner and tutor engagement using new technologies
  • keen to learn about best practice in TEL
  • interested in student perspective when embracing new technology
  • also involved with other MOOCs
  • looking for a more effective medium for teaching
  • I remain extremely interested in distributed learning (distance, online, notes taped to a rock and left by the third fence post to the south of the duck pond, mobile etc) and the idea of a Learning Society. 
  • I'm far more interested (especially in research terms) in the pedagogy of online learning and particularly how meaning is socially constructed in the classroom. However, I've decided that I need to to know more about the technology and that's why I'm here ... 
This is the value a learning community will bring - sharing ideas and trying to solve issues

Concerns people are sharing
  • my use of TEL is basic - we have a VLE and use video and podcasts
  • steep learning curve
  • concern through previous experience of MOOCs it will be overwhelming
  • information overload - number of emails as JISC filters not been set
  • students wary of online posting through fear of public exposure
  • Am sort of overwhelmed by all the emails I've been getting this afternoon
People usually know more than they think, and where they are stuck this is the place to reach out and ask. It's all part of the learning experience.

Tech speak, jargon and acronyms!
  • I try to keep technical terms to an absolute minimum in order to encourage teaching staff that they need not fear TEL. You don't after all need to be a mechanic to drive the car.
  • E-learning is inclusive of, and broadly synonymous with technology-enhanced learning (TEL), computer-based training (CBT), computer-assisted instruction (CAI), internet-based training (IBT), web-based training (WBT), online education, virtual education, virtual learning environments (VLE), and digital educational collaboration. 
  • TEL - What do I mean by enhanced?  How do I measure it - qualitatively or quantitatively?  
There are some interesting questions coming up which may not be answered immediately but as we grow as a group this collective body of people will no doubt get around to each one in time. 


As a starter here is a list of acronyms used in higher education I've been collating in Google Docs. Feel free to add to this open list.


To aid my memory (which is currently overloaded!) these are some links I think I'll find useful to refer back to: