Sunday 16 August 2015

Building confidence takes time: Learning from Elks and Aesop's Fables #blideo

Public domain image: Pixabay

#blideo - a new blogging challenge

Steve Wheeler has raised the bar and taken the recent #blimage challenge (blogging about an image) and given myself, David Hopkins and Amy Burvall a video to blog a response to + find a video of our choice and pass on the challenge to three more people.

In recent years I've found the confidence to take on many a new challenge. These include giving keynotes at academic conferences to trekking 103km across the Sahara Desert to raise money for charity. Ask me a decade ago if I could do this and I would have said "Not a chance". 


My immediate response to Steve's tweeted challenge was one of excitement. An opportunity to reflect and write. The tweet led to a blog post and a short video. I watched this and my reaction was totally unexpected.... 

I was taken back to my days at secondary school and then even earlier. This challenge had provided me with the stimulus to focus my thoughts and yet I was experiencing mixed emotions and these were coursing through me, taking me back and forth through various episodes in my life. The video was evoking memories I had not visited for a very long time. The elk that was left behind became me and took me back to two memories where I too felt abandoned. One is sports day and the other is being left handed. But first, if you have not already, watch the video.

1. School Sport Day

Girls Hurdles by Marie

This is where the video first took me back in time... The hurdle race

For reasons I've never understood, I have poor coordination skills - catching, throwing, kicking, jumping... I'm hopeless. Many a bruise I collected attempting to get over a hurdle never mind take part in a race. I felt the pain of the final elk. The one left behind. That was me on Sports Day. Never picked for the school team and although secretly relieved there was also a sense of rejection, not feeling good enough. Over the years I tried hard to find a sport I could participate in - at school it seemed that you had to have something to be part of a gang. I persevered taking tennis lessons, and even left handed golf coaching on the putting range. However despite patient teachers it wasn't to be. And there opens another issue - being a left hander... 

2. Being left-handed

In the late '60s we were taught to write with a fountain pen. Well we were taught to do write right handed... Anyone left-handed who has tried to use an ink pen will know that as soon as you write more than a word your palm has a habit of brushing over the writing and wet ink smudges... Smudges were not accepted. Many a play time was missed as I had to repeat a piece of writing.

Kristina Werner

Finding my niche

Before you worry that I went through school traumatised, I can assure you I didn't. I found that non-competitive sports were far more enjoyable and went on to collect many certificates for swimming and live saving. The biro was a preferred writing tool (less smudging) and now I tend to note take using a pencil with attached rubber, as well as using a keyboard and storing notes electronically. In terms of practical activities I enjoyed art, and applied this creative side to the classes then called Home Economics or Domestic Science. I excelled at cooking and baking, creating handmade menus and glowed with pride when I was given the school prize at our Leavers Ceremony. 

Reflecting on these aspects made me think of the Hare and the Tortoise. There is a tendency for many to think life is a race and if you are not in there first then you've lost the opportunity to shine. Yes we have to learn a range of skills but a) we don't have to excel at everything and b) some will take longer to develop. Key to this is giving learners a sense of self-belief to build confidence.

The Hare and the Tortoise - Aesop's Fables
A hare boasts to the other animals about how fast he can run. When none of them responds initially to his challenge for a race, he taunts them that they are too scared even to try. When tortoise speaks up and takes on the challenge, the hare scoffs that he won’t even waste his time racing the slowest creature in the world. Eventually though, he agrees to the race in a week's time.
The tortoise spends the week in training, but continues to move very slowly, and the other animals wonder if the race is a good idea. Nevertheless, there is a large crowd of animals on the day of the race.
The race begins and the hare roars off, while the tortoise plods along slow and steady. Deciding he is so far ahead the hare decides to have a sleep in the sun. However, when he wakes, the tortoise is nearing the finish line and takes an unlikely victory.
BBC School Radio

Helping our students find their way 

Going back to the video, the elk that was left behind made it in the end. In the space of time it had taken him, the others had galloped across the next field and at first seemed out of sight, until you realise a small group were waiting. Peer support and encouragement is a vital part of our learning experience. My students don't always value the importance of group work until later on. There are frequent moans that someone in the group is not pulling their weight. Yes there are the 'free-loaders' but often when I question if they have spoken to the person to find out why, they have omitted to do this. I think as a tutor I also play a role in getting to the bottom of issues. Shyness is something that comes out time after time. Ice breaker activities to help the students get to know each other can help to break down perceived barriers. I'm going to re-visit this next semester and prioritise this.

So to conclude, thank you Steve. The video has taken my thinking on to new directions!

My #blideo challenge  

I would like to extend the challenge to anyone who wishes to respond. However following the rules set, here are the names of three people I nominate to give this fun and thought provoking activity a go!

  1. Chrissi Nerantzi @chrissinerantzi
  2. Whitney Kilgore @whitneykilgore
  3. Joyce Seitzinger @catspyjamasnz 

And my chosen video.

Saturday 15 August 2015

The collaborative #LearningWheel led by @DebMillar24

A few weeks ago I was included in the Tweet below and introduced to an amazing and ever growing resource that has contributions from educators across the UK. It's called the Learning Wheel and there are a number of these 'wheels'. 

When I took a look at the Prezi Deb Millar had created, I was immediately enthused and recognised this was a valuable resource. The #LearningWheel focuses on four key areas. 

  • Learning content
  • Assessment
  • Communication
  • Collaboration

The Learning Wheel is described as a simple graphic to help bridge the gap between traditional teaching methods and contemporary digital learning content and resources via four modes of student engagement and three modes of delivery. 

Examples of completed wheels include How to use Twitter, Blendspace, QR Code, Moodle and Assistive Technologies to engage students.There are also contextualised wheels which map curriculum content to individual resources and wheels. Examples include How to use Twitter to engage learners studying subjects such as Maths, English Language, Illustration, S and PE, Graphic Design, Hairdressing. Education Studies and ESOL.

The Learning Wheels are focused at FE learners but there is much that will transfer to both schools and higher ed. 

However my engagement didn't end there as I was invited to contribute to a new Learning Wheel. How could I say no! Tweets went out to ask other educators to collaborate and contributions came pouring in. The collaboration to build the 'arms' of the wheel all took place in a Google Drive. The latest wheel is titled 'Using a range of OERs/DRs for FE level Research/Library'. It can be viewed on Google Drive

Deb has done a sterling job both crowd sourcing contributors but also in the fab way she has acknowledged each individual who has collaborated by sharing ideas, both on the poster itself and through Twitter. It just goes to show what can be achieved when many hands pull together. 


I am sure this latest release won't be the last! Be sure follow Deb on Twitter @DebMillar24 and #LearningWheel.

Sunday 2 August 2015

My keynote at eLearning 2.0 Conference (2015) #elearning2

I was invited recently by Chris Evans (Brunel University) Jennifer Killham, (University of Cincinnati, USA), on the recommendation of Steve Wheeler to give a keynote at the annual eLearning 2.0 Conference at Brunel University in London. This was exciting on two counts - one the invitation itself to keynote and two that Steve had put forward my name. I then discovered the second keynote was Mark Childs. I'd met Mark at a previous conference and have a huge respect for his work. I felt both honored and in awe at being billed alongside Mark. 

Dr Mark Childs is a freelance academic, working for several universities and learning organisations in the UK, USA, South Africa and Croatia. Since 1997 he has worked on nearly 40 technology-supported learning projects as an evaluator, manager and principal investigator, predominantly in synchronous online communication. In parallel to this he has had posts in academic development at Wolverhampton, Warwick, Coventry and Worcester Universities as well as running staff development sessions in Singapore, Oman and Ethiopia. His PhD in Education in 2010 was on learners’ experiences of presence in virtual worlds and he has written and edited several books in this field. 

Now whilst this was not my first keynote, a feeling of self doubt enters your mind when faced with preparing a 30 minute talk followed by 15 minutes questions. What if my talk doesn't appeal to the audience? What if I pitch it wrong? Will the audience gain anything from what I say? Will it align with the conference theme and others interpretation of this? 

The theme of  eLearning 2.0 Conference (2015) was “The Paradigm Shift: Refocusing on the Student”. This educational paradigm shift is fuelled by the unprecedented access that students now have to information coupled with a view of learning as a constructive process consisting of selecting, organising and integrating information. Sessions in the conference programme aimed to explore both technology-enhanced learning and social media technologies. With this information I explored online identities and the discord between social and professional. 

My talk commenced with an activity that got all the delegates on their feet with the instruction to turn to the person in front or behind them and 60 seconds each to shake hands and introduce themselves, stating who they were and what they did. Such introductions are carried out many times as we meet new people in work and social situations, and yet online many do not make good use of the space there is to introduce themselves by writing an informative bio. Online we do not have the same visual cues we have when talking face to face. To be effective communicators online our messages need to be clear, and consideration needs to be given to our 'online voice'. Just as we learnt that emailing in capitals is akin to shouting, we need to develop our communication skills in social networking spaces. 

My talk went on to consider the blurring boundaries of professional and social communication, the importance of building an online reputation and developing a professional digital presence. Leading by example ensures that as educators we can go on to help our students build their online presence and see the value of digital connections, in preparation for placements and attaining graduate jobs. I shared examples of giving students the opportunity to interpret guidance on 'managing your digital footprint' and 'using social media responsibly', by creating short animations and films. Such artifacts not only help the students creating them to develop a range of skills, they are items that can be included in their own digital portfolios. The film clips can also be used as discussion points with other students and indeed colleagues. 

Question time after my talk was vibrant and continued into the coffee break and even over lunch. I was reassured that there is much yet to talk about this topic and by having these shared conversations we can start to tease out insecurities and worries relating to digital connectedness and look at how we can make more of this in a professional context for mutual benefit.  

The conference was billed as a collaborative space for educators, students, researchers, entrepreneurs, and policy makers to share their eLearning classroom successes, as well as new developments in their research and the workplace. Delegates were not disappointed and there were plentiful opportunities to network and chat between sessions. The event had a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere - credit to the wonderful organisers Chris and Jennifer.