Tuesday, 17 October 2017

A return to form

A new chapter in my career is about to begin...  A short while ago I reflected upon how I felt about my career and said "I feel I have a lot of scope and mileage to ascend to something higher" and wanted to work back with my strengths. While I was waiting for further details on the development/future of my then current role, I decided to scout out other potential jobs I could progress to.  In my searches I found the role and place where I wanted to be!  Since moving on from my last two roles, I have learned that it is ok to move on from organisations when circumstances change and not feel like you have to be rooted there.  In this case I took a brave decision and not to sit it out to see what happens.  I put myself in the driver's seat and took the destination I wanted to be at.


Whilst I was in Croatia, I had seen the Senior Digital Practice Adviser role at Nottingham Trent University (NTU), which I was instantly excited of what the role entailed.  So I went ahead and applied for it and to be later invited for an interview.  Originally, I was really anxious about attending the interview and nearly declined it due to my own negative thoughts of not doing a great interview, candidate competition and dealing with the disappointment if I didn't get the job.  But I was reminded of why I applied, what I have to offer and how it was a privilege to be invited for an interview, so I attended.

Prior to the interview, I had a conversation with myself and filled my mind up with positivity and determination.  I woke up on the morning of the interview and the first thing I thought of was intending on getting the job.  I got washed, made myself look decent and set off out to Nottingham on the train.  The sun was shining all day and I had those feel good vibes surrounding me.  I felt determined all day and kept it in my mind that I was going to be the best and express myself the best I could and be offered the job.  I feel I gave a good interview and mentioned quite a few key things I wanted to bring up - but there's always things you forget to talk about.  I don't think there is such thing as a perfect interview.  For me there's always just too much experience and examples to recall and frame in such a precious timescale, and to get your best impression and efforts over to the panel.  However, I still need to work out composing what I am going to say before letting myself bubble over with passion and stumble with words!

I received a call from the Digital Practice Manager to say I had not got the job, so I was feeling very deflated.  It's always disappointing to hear this, however, I received strong feedback and that the panel had seen potential in me.  And to my unexpected surprise, a Digital Practice Adviser post came up, so I had another shot of hope at getting a position there.  This role was similar to the senior position but this is more involved at the frontline, developing academic and business support staffs’ digital capabilities in all elements of the NTU Digital Framework.  Again, I instantly connected and was thrilled by the thought of this opportunity.  Collaborating with others on ideas and challenges to create innovation, and then supporting people through the process - this is where my passion lives.  The role is a perfect fit of what I want to do, where I was wanting to head towards and more importantly I have the knowledge and skills to do it, so it was certain that I'd apply.

After the waiting game, I feel absolutely overwhelmed with happiness.  I've been waiting for this moment for a long time and to receive a call and hear those words spoken to me "I am pleased to offer you the Digital Practice Adviser role within the Digital Practice Team at NTU" just gave me the biggest smile and sense of achievement.  It means a lot to me getting this position because the role is everything that I am strong and enthusiastic about and is at an outstanding place I want to thrive in, so I proudly accepted the offer of the role.  I have so much to offer and I gave the best I could in the interview and for all of this to be accepted just brings me pure joy.  I patiently waited for this moment and it arrived, it really did and I couldn't be more happier,  It felt right, it was right and it will be right.  After the call I just wanted to shed a little tear of happiness - but instead, I instantly felt very light headed and had to go to vomit.  So you could now say I was sick at the thought of the job! 😂 This has never happened to me before, so it must have been a build up of emotions and adrenaline or something.  A few minutes later I was back to my normal self and enjoying the moment.

During the time of interviewing for the NTU job, I somehow pulled a double feat with being offered another job.  I was invited for an interview for the Virtual Learning Officer at a commercial skills, education and employment organisation where the role focussed on leading and shaping their digital learning offer.  As part of the process I had to deliver a presentation of my Virtual Learning Environment and curriculum development projects.  After the presentation I received some really good and interesting comments.  Subsequently I got offered the job due to my performance, however I knew that the NTU role was the best for me.  These two interviews especially have increased my confidence and demonstrated that I am a strong candidate to compete for jobs like my new NTU role.  I won't hesitate or doubt myself in the future if I am in this situation.  I'm ready for a new start and to bring everything I've got and more to NTU!

Restore and reflect

After my last working day I now have a two week break before starting with NTU later this month.  I'm going to use this time to refresh and prepare myself to delight future colleagues with my wisdom.  It's also good for me to take some time to reflect, take stock and enjoy the positive changes that are about to come.  I started my last day of work by purchasing P!nk's long-awaited new album Beautiful Trauma.  On the first week of my break I am attending Jisc's 'student experience experts group meeting'.  It will be good to see familiar people again and re-establish myself to others in my new role, as well as gaining some inspiration and updates to take with me.  I had also arranged an informal visit to NTU to meet people and get familiar with the place.  I'm really excited to meet the team I will be working with and will be good to put some faces to names.  On the second week I have my first trip to Scotland and will be visiting Edinburgh and Inverness.  So it looks like it turned out to be a very well-timed break!

I can't wait to get back to reflecting on what I am doing in my practices, as much of it recently has been about what I have done and achieved.  Which is good, however I've missed talking about the process of what I'm discovering, learning, making sense of and putting it into practice, which can also benefit the wider community.  I may even get back to stating some discussions on the ALT mailing list.  So watch this place and space as it's a return to form!

Sunday, 1 October 2017

WinterSummer is coming - the boys' landing

Summer is coming...  Or was here!  It's been a long time since we went away together and that was in Rome last October.  We were well overdue on a good break together.  So this adventure takes us to Croatia but with a little twist - part holiday and part stag party.

Before we met up with the other chaps for the stag party me and Gary decided to have a week to ourselves.  We divided the first week up with Dubrovnik and Makarska then up to Tisno for the Soundwave Festival to celebrate the upcoming marriage of two of Gary's friends; Daniel and Rosie.  So here is our Croatian adventure...  Our eyes weren't ready for what we was about to see.

Dubrovnik 19-21 July 2017
Gary and I got a late afternoon flight that flew over Western Europe.  As we relaxed we looked out of the window and saw some gigantic mountains with snow and small lakes on top.  When we landed in Croatia we got a bus to Dubrovnik which dropped us off outside the Old Town (Pile).  The sun was just setting at this point and we had a sneak peak of what were going to see in the next few days.  The Old Town reflected the evening sun and was golden in colour.  We then got another bus to take us to Lapad, which is the area we stopped at for the next couple of days.  We found our villa and I was amazed how modern and quiet it was.  Our room view was brilliant, it overlooked a small beach that was just past a gorgeous little strip where we had food later that night.

On the second day we got up early to walk around the wall of the Old Town. Before this we had to walk down to a little cove where the sea was. There was Game of Thrones tours so we kind of hijacked some of the talks and learned that there were many scenes filmed in this location and around Old Town. We headed to the wall and when we got there, we were smiling from ear to ear because the view was just as overwhelming, really breath-taking, just as when we first saw Rome and the Pompeii ruins. This was truly an amazing experience! You could look into the centre and see the figures of people walking around the town and market areas. On the other side you have the edge of the mountains and the lush blue sea lapping up against the ragged rocks. We then ventured up to a high point around the wall for one of our best pictures yet before popping down to explore the harbour. Gary had been recommended a vegan restaurant in the Old Town by one of his clients, so later that afternoon we ate there and it didn't disappoint, the Mediterranean vegetables were delicious.

For the third day in Dubrovnik, we island-hopped to Lokrum.  Gary had discovered there was a naturist beach here so we decided to join in!  The beach itself was beautiful, massive dramatic rocks over looking crystal waters, it was liberating to be in the sea in our natural states.  We had a walk around to Lokrum's 'Dead Sea' which was a enclosed rock pool with water from the ocean.  It was time to relax again (we are on holiday after all) so we went for long sit down in Lokrum's park where there were wild peacocks and rabbits roamed.  The evening activities involved going on the cable car that was above the Old Town to watch the sunset.  This was quite a magical experience joining the others sat along the mountain ridge waiting for night to come.

It was now time to move onto our next place, which was Makarksa.  We got a local bus which took about 4 hours.  Along the way we went through Bosnia as they own a little bit of coast. We stopped there for a short break so we seized the opportunity to get a picture, you know, just to say we've been there!

Makarska 21-23 July 2017

The next 3 days we spent in the upbeat town of Makarska.  As most of Croatia's coast is on the edge of the mountains, there is yet more steps and hills to walk up, which is where our apartment was.  On the first evening we ventured out to see what this place was like.  It was more of a holiday-maker place with lots of restaurants, bars and shops.  We found some good cocktail places and knew that we would be back later to try them out.

On our first full day we got a local bus to the very beachy Brela, Gary had found this place online and was eager to find some particular rocky outcrops.  This was like a pocket version of Greece that had a series of mini beaches.  We spent the whole day there and enjoyed the sun, sea and shale!  I have to reiterate just how awesome the coastline is along the Adriatic Sea.  This was just before the heatwave and the temperature was averaging out at 35 the whole time we were there.  It felt more like 40's though.  On our way back we waited around an hour for a bus that never turned up,  so we ended up walking 15 minutes down the road to a taxi drivers house to get back - we got back ok with the help of Google.

The day after we took a nice relaxed day to explore more of Makarska.  The morning started by being woken up by a thunder storm and heavy rain.  We started by walking around the harbour and to a nice tranquil point that overlooked the dramatic mountain-esque view.  Afterwards, we walked around the front and into the old village area.  We then made our way towards the main beach for an ice cream, we became very fond of Croatian sorbet having one nearly every day.  We saw a good view point across from when we was at the harbour, so we headed there next.  It was a nice park and had a statue on the side along with love locks all over the fences.  We had one more cocktail at the bar from earlier and then prepared for our next journey to Tisno to meet up with the stag guys!

Tisno 23 July-1 August 2017

We took an extra long  journey to Tisno which involved two buses and a taxi all of which were delaying and involved waiting in traffic, never mind we soon checked in the 'lads' apartment.  We explored the small town to get our bearings then awaited the boys' landing!

We weren't as rowdy as you would have expected, but had our moments!  We enjoyed a few morning swims in the sea and attempted water polo.  One of the main features of this next 7 days was to go to the Soundwave Festival that was in The Garden Tisno.  It was like a mini Ibiza club party on the beach, which was even better at the night.  We went there four times in total, once in the day and the rest at night.  In the day we relaxed on the shale beach listening to the tropical music.  In the afternoon we had booked to go on a reggae boat, even though we wouldn't normally listen to this music you really get into it on the boat as its perfect for those Summer vibes.  It was pretty awesome to be dancing to it in the middle of the sea until early evening.  On the evenings we went to the different stages that had a few varieties of music and remixes of modern and classic songs and there were food and drink stalls.  We had a really good boogie and joined in with the festival-goers.

One favourite day involved myself, Gary and his brother exploring the local area.  We walked around to the neighbouring Jezera, it took about a 20 minutes.  There was a stunning coastal pathway that allowed us to take in the blue sea and small islands around us.  We knew we had to come back with the guys to chill on the beach along the path and spend the day there.  The sea was really warm and much clearer than around the town area.  I couldn't keep out of it!  I even had little snorkel session around the rocks.  So many creatures and corals that go unnoticed.  Some of the guys were brave and decided to swim to another island!  They made it back after a couple of hours worth of swimming!

The whole group hired push bikes and we cycled around Jezera to find some good view points at the top of a large hill.  Then we took a route back to Tisno.  Before we took the bikes back me, Gary and his brother had them for a bit longer and cycled around the opposite side of Tisno to be rewarded with a good long downhill ride.

The group of us rented two boats and toured the surrounding areas. we stopped off in Jezera for breakfast and literally just pulled up into the harbour like we were going to be greeted. Afterwards we headed to an island that was recommended for cliff jumping. All the other guys jumped the said cliff except the groom-to-be who has a fear of water and the ever present sharks within! I didn't even entertain the thought of jumping, this was one of my rare sensible moments! We circled another island and made a make-shift water ski before heading into the Soundwave Festival beach area for a short while with the boats.

The holiday and celebration ended in Zadar when we got to the airport for a late night flight back to the UK.  Thank you Dan for letting us share your holiday stag party with you.  All my love and best wishes to you and Rosie on your wedding day next year.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Signed, sealed but not yet delivered

As mentioned in my previous post about the second proposal I submitted to write a book, I am delighted to say that it has been accepted by Critical Publishing Ltd.  This is great news and something new for me to experience and marvel in (until the pressure hits!).

The short book I am writing is tentatively titled 'Learning Technology: A Handbook for FE Teachers and Assessors'.  The reason I've kept this short is because it's my first attempt to write a book and I don't want it to be too intense, especially when I am new to it.  I can't give too much information away on the finer details of the book at this stage as it's highly confidential material.  However, the following are excerpts from what I set out in my rationale for the proposal of the book.

This book is a product that would be welcomed by further education (FE) tutors rather than reading heavy theoretical books. They require instant reminders, ideas and practical solutions that Information Learning Technology (ILT) can offer as well as essential knowledge of its purpose. The book takes readers through the knowledge and skills process of sourcing and applying learning technology tools and converting traditional learning and teaching resources into engaging and interactive online ones, in all aspects of learning, teaching, assessment and quality assurance.

This book is not a game changer nor a collection of upcoming innovative ideas, but simply and practically what learning technology and eLearning is and how to make the most of them in teaching practices. It provides a refreshing perspective on the implementation of learning technology and use of eLearning through my experience, whilst being encouraging but sympathetic toward people’s abilities and organisational challenges and pressures.

When embarking on a career in teaching in FE, or perhaps the desire for tutors to increase their practices with ILT, it can be somewhat of a challenge due to limitations in time to experiment and practice with digital tools and resources, which are often bound by the organisational environment. Or it could be that a tutor is new to the role(s), has low level digital literacy skills, lacks practical confidence or knowledge of what effective digital tools are available. For some educational professionals, it can be a challenge and often a huge pressure to include and embed ILT effectively into new or existing practices.

I feel the learning technology/eLearning publishing industry is lacking an easy pick-me-up book that gets straight to the point of what it is about, what it can do and ultimately why it is important for both tutor and learner. FE is under pressure to deliver high quality online learning to its learners due in part from mounting competition from alternative providers. However, enabling downloadable resources on a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) as a knowledge repository is not enough to satisfy the eager and curious learners of the digital age.

Some tutors may well know what learning technology and eLearning is and how it can be used, but often it might just be enough to get by. Interestingly, in this digital age learners may know more about the advances of ILT (although less able at its practical application to learning) that can leave the tutor feeling low in confidence. Tutors need to be supported in the wealth of free and paid for digital tools and resources that are available as well as harnessing what learners can bring to their courses through their own devices and experiences.

ILT should not be seen as an add-on to enhance a lecture or presentation, Information Communication Technology (ICT) affordances need to be accepted and understood on how its potential can best be exploited to increase enjoyment, engagement and enlightenment for both tutor and learner. ILT should not create more tasks or take up more time if used correctly and effectively, it should lead to positive impact for all involved – and this book will simplify this.

After my proposal was approved, I had to complete a sample chapter which was successfully approved.  This means I can commence writing the rest of the book with a potential release for Summer 2018.

Nervous?  Very much so.  Excited?  When I feel I am getting it right I am.  Can I actually write a book?  People thought I wouldn't do well after school, do I need to say anymore?  Who cares you're writing a book?  Me.  It's expressing the knowledge, skills  and passion I have developed over the last few years to help others through narrative/book form.  I'm giving back all I have acquired and reflecting on my own expertise in the process.  Plus, I said I would like to write a book (as mentioned at the end of my MSc student profile video) and now it's happening.  Will I embrace the highs and lows ahead?  Of course - it's a new area that I am bravely embarking on and I welcome the journey I will take with it.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Reflection of winning - a year on

Since winning the Learning Technologist of the Year Award 2016 last year, I thought it would be good to reflect on my experience of winning and what happened afterwards.  I asked myself the following brief questions and made a few comments on my feelings and thoughts.

How does it feels to be an award winner?

I still feel enormously proud of winning the award.  I don't think the feeling will ever go away.  I was up against tough competition from other exemplary individuals and leading teams from other universities and organisations.  It's just wonderful to be recognised for the efforts and milestones I was brave enough to make visible to everyone.  I now feel more recognised in the learning technology community and I feel a sense of worth that has strengthened my professionalism.  It has enriched my career that evidences my enthusiasm, commitment and dedication to learning technology and eLearning.  Winning this award has inspired me to continue my enthusiasm and move forward with my efforts that will hopefully bring further possibilities throughout my career.  My award now has a place in my home that sits alongside my two graduation pictures; teaching (DTLLS) and Technology Enhanced Learning MSc and the certificate.  As I walk by I still take a glance and think, wow, I actually did this.

This is an award that doesn't just only celebrate what someone or a group of people have done, but the passionate efforts made towards innovation that impact on the education of others.  I'm overwhelmed that I was narrowed down to the individual winner, it's incredible and always will be to me.  I put huge amounts of effort into developing my professionalism, my role and the organisation that I worked for that benefitted from all of this.  Which became eventually became a stepping stone to move on to a new chapter.  All of this was achieved because I am dedicated to the quality of my professionalism and my own education towards learning technology.  What you put in you definitely do get in return and it resulted in this.

What happened afterwards?

After the awards I was mentioned and appeared in a few articles that were published both locally and nationally.

I was invited to deliver the following presentations with ALT and Jisc.  I feel I was invited to these due to my increased profile from winning the award.  This is good acknowledgment by the community by wanting to share my achievement and journey in hope to inspire others.  I was also invited to assist in the development of a future Blended Learning Essentials course.

I received many warm comments from the community on Twitter upon the night of winning which I can look back on from time to time.  Thank you again to those who reached out to congratulate me.

I later got asked if I wanted to be part of the judging panel for the 2017 entries.  I immediately said yes to it.  I was able to read through this years entries and see the amount of enthusiasm and effort others have put into their work and careers in learning technology.  It was a good feeling to be a part of the decision making of the future winners achievement.  There were many outstanding efforts that clearly show the impetus of the awards scheme.

At the time of winning the award, I thought it would put me in good stead to getting the learning technology manager position at the organisation I used to work for, but sadly I wasn't successful and had no progression opportunities, so I decided move on with my knowledge, skills and experience to apply into a new context and take on a brand new challenge in the commercial sector.

I undoubtedly added this achievement to my CV and LinkedIn profile as it is a major achievement in my career.  For the job that I am in now, I got invited to an informal visit and chat to the organisation, then got given a task to explore and create an eLearning activity.  Following this I was invited to a formal interview online.  One of the questions they asked me was "can you tell us more about the award you have won?".  The award was a focus of discussion and allowed me to detail the work I had done to achieve it.  I think this was a strong aspect they saw in me and the award reflected that.  I was offered the job and progressed over to the commercial sector.

I started writing the book I had mentioned recently, with the recognition of this award I'm hoping that this publication is welcomed by the learning technology community and to raise it's awareness when released.  After all, it was an ambitious project that I mentioned in my award entry.  I can say this will soon be achieved and completes the cycle that is illustrated at the end in my award presentation!

What has changed since winning it?

Since winning I feel my professional profile has increased.  The articles and social media posts have all contributed to 'who is this person and what is he about'.  I also feel a sense of dignity where I must live up to my achievement.  Because I am an now an award winning professional, I feel I have more reason and impetus to continue my high quality efforts and endeavours.  It's like a pressure, a good pressure and feel I need to be more involved somehow.  Plus I don't know who I may be inspiring, so I need to maintain the stature of the award.

I feel like I still have plenty of room to progress into a position that reflects my worth so to speak.  I constantly think how I can stretch myself by continuingly applying and challenging my strong and core abilities.  I suppose the feeling comes from the long years I have invested in myself to get where I am today.  That might sound very pretentious but when you have been fully engaged and involved with your professional development from very little education as I have, you do hope for something with greater meaning.  Reminiscent from my reflection last Summer, yes we don't live to work, but work to live.  However, to me a job is something you just do and a career is a job related to a specific area or a series of jobs relating to that specific area.  It's important to choose the right career and one that you enjoy doing as you'll feel like you're not working (on occasions).  ‎😉

I recently renewed my CMALT where I outlined some future plans where I am taking my learning technology career, however I feel I have a lot of scope and mileage to ascend to something higher.  That may not be realised for some years yet, but its the sense of knowing where I could be.  I know it's all about what I want and where I take it but I feel I have somewhat lost my direction a little bit on where I am heading.  I was really focussed and determined to get the learning technology manager job in my last organisation to lead on digital change.  I have a lot of entrepreneurship in me and it would be a huge waste not to use this gift.  I'm still aspiring to be some sort of digital leader, may that be leading an organisation and supporting people for digital change or ensuring that an organisation's digital learning offering is industry leading.  I do know that I want to work to my strengths that consists of rationalising, strategising, analysing, structuring and designing for learning technology/eLearning implementation and supporting and developing others in the process and application.  However, occasionally it may feel like being on a road trip across Route 66.  You run out of petrol or get a puncture and then you're in a bit of chaos.  You either get it fixed or check into a motel and feel a bit of a loss.  But the main purpose is to get the car fixed and carry on with the journey.  In fact it's very much like planning a journey.  Where do I want to go next?  What am I going to take with me?  What do I want to see/do?  How will I get there?  When will I get there?  It feels like I am searching for a plateau where I can feel a sense of ease in my career and know a destination has been reached.  We can create anything we want, so it's important to get to the root of what you want and pursue it head-on.  I'm looking forward to what the future will bring.  Perhaps it would help to build connections with people that are on the same positive proactive vibrations as me.  It would be good to speak to others for some alignment, so if anyone reading this would like to chat to me, please get in touch!  It's always good to talk and make new connections.  😀

Why should others submit an entry?

As I said recently for potential 2017 candidates;

"I went on to win this last year, I strongly encourage you submit an entry that demonstrates your most impactful/innovative practice!  Make your efforts visible!"

If you're not sure on what you could submit, look at what previous candidates did and think how your own practices could be presented, if not better.  Another starting point is revisiting or doing CMALT.  To me this is an essential aspect of professional development that enables you to undergo a reflective process of your current practices, to develop further and identify new directions.  This can help you identify the things you have done recently or a few years back or even identify new pathways you can go down.  Putting in an entry is a good way to be visibly recognised nationally and internationally for your efforts. So don't hesitate, just create!

Thank you again to ALT,  the wider learning technology community and those who have been very kind and supportive throughout my professional development.  It's seen, felt and ultimately recognised.  👍

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Bits of eLearning pieces

As my last role was more focussed on line managing, training, assessing and developing the Digital Learning Design apprentices.  I didn't create as much eLearning as I'd have liked to as I was directing the apprentices in creating it.  I have since been doing a very hands-on role where I have been expanding my creative skills in learning design and exercising my technical abilities using a range of tools.  I feel now is a good time to share some of the things I have been creating in the last few months in this role.

This role has been good to exercise my knowledge and skills of using and creating learning content in Moodle.  H5P is a new tool to me that I've had the pleasure of exploring and developing eLearning content with.  I've had broader use of Articulate 360; Studio, Storyline, Rise and Replay.  As well as exploring the use of bootstrap functions and the Lambda themes in Moodle courses.  I've also extended my enthusiasm for learning design by strategising new approaches to designing distance courses and online learning content.  I'm currently leading on the development of transforming our main blended courses to be fully online.  I also have side projects of designing a short online course preparing learners for online study, as well as continuing my development of a new Moodle module template for higher education.


Below is a rough video demonstrating some pieces of work I have done in a variety of projects.

Bringing something new

The following are new methodologies I introduced to the organisation to help with learning design and evaluation processes.

Events attended

I've been able to keep myself up to date and benchmark my learning technology practices by attending the events below.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Digital Learning Design - from apprenticeship to permanent job

The whole purpose of the Digital Learning Design qualifications was to create and up-skill an eLearning workforce.  An overview of the apprenticeship I designed and ran is shown in this video from 2 minutes 23 seconds onwards and a brief overview of the qualifications are here.  Maybe not all apprentices pursued eLearning or learning technology careers afterwards, but this proves that these courses have ignited the apprentices creativity and been able to apply it into an educational context.

In my previous learning technologist role in further education that included line managing, training, assessing a small team of apprentices and leading on internal verification, which led to me winning the Learning Technologist of the Year Award 2016 and other internal and external awards that the team were recognised for.  Since I moved on I have kept in touch with some of the apprentices.  Some asked for references for when they applied for jobs and I also sent them jobs they could potentially apply for.  But as I managed the apprentices, apprenticeship and qualifications I am keen to see how they have progressed on in their early careers and how the apprenticeship has impacted on their careers and development.

I remember it well when I completed and moved on from my business and administration apprenticeship many years ago.  It's such a scary but exciting feeling that you're going into (usually) your first proper job.  The looming anxiety of working with new people, adapting to a new working environment and knowing how to approach your new seniors.  It's one of those early moments when you realise you're an independent young adult.

I have chosen Brad and Sarah as I know they have continued to work in the eLearning industry and I developed them from the first year we ran the courses from the Level 3 diploma.  They then progressed onto the Level 4 extended diploma for another year.  I interrupted their busy schedules to ask them the following questions and these were their responses.

Brad Brown Lang
Sarah Jones
What is the role you are doing now?  What kinds of tasks do you undertake?
As an instructional designer, it is my role to create engaging learning materials for online students, consisting of a range of multimedia such as graphics and videos, as well as interactive content.
Instructional Designer, I develop online learning resources for students completing online degrees using video and audio which I edit together to engage the learner as well as using other forms of media.
What was your biggest challenge going into the workplace?  Did you feel equipped and ready from the apprenticeship?  If so, what were these?  If not, what would have helped you to be equipped and ready?
The biggest challenge for me were not knowing how well I was going to adapt to the new environment and team. I felt as though the apprenticeship had given me all of the skills I needed. This included technical skills like using programs such as the Adobe Creative Suite, Adobe Captivate and Moodle. However, these also included personal skills such as being able to work more effectively as part of a team, improving my time management, and presentation skills.
I'd say the biggest challenge was moving into a bigger office than previous. I felt ready from the apprenticeship as I could use my knowledge and skills straightaway from what I had learnt and I barely needed any training.
How have you used the knowledge and skills gained from your L3 and L4 apprenticeship?  Was there any particular parts of the apprenticeship that enabled you to use them instantly?
Although I am currently using different programs from what I used during my apprenticeships, they were very similar to each other, which meant that I was able to familiarise myself with the programs pretty quickly, along with a few pointers from my colleagues along the way. Also, the fact that I am already very familiar with 'chunking' is extremely useful, as in my current role I need to break down large chunks of content into smaller and more useful parts. Both of these I feel helped give me a nice smooth start in my role.
I use my video editing skills everyday which I learnt on the course as well as what I learnt about how to keep learners engaged in the content I am producing by using a wide range of media. 
Are there any choices you have changed since doing the L3 and L4 apprenticeship?  Has it met your aspirations or not?
I feel that both of the apprenticeships I completed did meet my aspirations. I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent working with my colleagues, as well as learning all of the valuable variety of skills along the way. I feel that without taking part in those apprenticeships, I would not be where I would be now.
When I first started the apprenticeship I wanted to be a Graphic Designer but since doing the apprenticeship and since starting the full time job I definitely want to carry on being an instructional designer.
What future plans do you have for your career?  Is it still in eLearning?  Is there a particular role you are aspiring to do?  Any areas within the company?
I hope to continue being an instructional designer for the next few years at least, however if at some point in the future any jobs arise that would allow me to progress further into the industry such as managing a team of designers, I may give that a try.
I want to carry on doing e-Learning design and instructional design and hopefully move higher up by being a head of learning technology in a company. 
What successes have you had in your job roles since starting them?  Any recognition or feedback from your colleagues and your manager?
One success that I have had since starting my new job is that I have been able to quickly produce content of suitable quality fairly quickly, this was due to the knowledge and skills I had learned during the apprenticeships previously. My new manager has mentioned to me in a meeting about how relieved he was with the quality of my first couple of projects.
My current manager and some colleagues often give me great feedback on my work. I would say a great success for me was passing my 6 month probation.

The qualifications have proved to be well-aligned and valuable for instructional design and have supported the apprentices well in securing a full-time permanent job doing it.  The qualifications have also equipped them with creative, technical, communicative and organisational skills as required for this type of role.  The range of software and instructional design techniques I introduced have also proved useful to them by allowing them to hit the ground from the start and demonstrate their worth.  The qualifications have opened up career pathways and allowed them to aspire into senior roles in the eLearning and learning technology industry.  I'm very pleased to see they want to continue in this industry and direction.

Seeing these positive comments about the quality of their work just makes me feel very proud of them.  Knowing how they both started off on the Level 3 course on a career pathway that was new to them, to the young independent adults they are now.  Just marvellous!  They've reached what we hope of all our learners which is independence in life and a prosperous career.  They're now confident and making their own informed choices towards building their futures.

I'm very proud to have been a part of their journey and developed them as I have. I quickly evaluated, monitored and coordinated their abilities so that I could facilitate their strengths and transform their weaknesses.  However, they had their own unique ambitions, motivations and determination to succeed in this multi-skilled job role that is instructional design.  When I supplied Sarah and Brad's reference for their current job, it was nice to hear feedback from their now manager telling me how employable they are and that it is a credit to myself.  I feel like this is nice recognition for the efforts I did to ensure they were industry ready.  I'm looking forward to see how the rest of their careers shape up in the future.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

eTutoring - Models for facilitating online discussions

In early 2015 I was studying two modules on my Technology Enhanced Learning MSc, one of which was eTutoring.  From sharing a part of my eTutoring work in the post 'An experience of facilitating an online discussion' (which I received a distinction), after looking through some of my work I've decided to share the accompanying essay (which was graded a B).  It would be a shame not to share it as I really enjoyed the subject of eTutoring - in fact it was one of my favourite pieces of work during my Technology Enhanced Learning MSc, but not forgetting my eLearning package evaluation, ePortfolio and dissertation!  Here is a presentation I made taking excerpts from the essay component of the eTutoring module I did.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Blended Learning Essentials - a summary of curation

I've known about FutureLearn's Blended Learning Essentials course for some time, but I haven't been able to do them until now.  I heard that they have been very successful and read lots of positive things about them.  Since I completed my Technology Enhanced Learning masters last Summer, I haven't done any other formal learning as such.  So I think I was due to participate and learn something new or reinforce things I may have forgotten along my journey.

The course proved very valuable for me as you can see I have taken a lot of knowledge and practice from it.  The first part of the course ran for 5 weeks from February to March and included a variety of topics from the theory of blended learning, to designing it then delivering with it.  The second part of the course ran in May for 3 weeks and explored the practical aspects of implementing blended learning.

Originally this post was in two parts to coincide with the courses, however it made sense to do it as one and delay it until I completed the second course.  In this post I present the interests I have curated during the study of each course and summarised my understandings into categories.  This was a good exercise to review what I have acquired during each week and think about how I can use it.

Blended learning

Blended learning is a mix of traditional and digital technologies that are combined together.  Both learners and teachers use their time more effectively to achieve more.  Because of its flexibility, it can also make a positive impact on those learners that are hard to reach.  There are five benefits to blended learning; flexibility, active learning, personalisation, learner control and feedback.

We use computers (websites, software) to input data into them which is the content (information) which then becomes interactive for learners to take control of.  Such as self-completion of activities or embedded videos for example.  The activities we create can also give feedback on your decisions, which is personalisation.  Blended learning is useful for enabling active learning where learners can do things the same time the teacher does - making their own sense of the actions as it happens.

There are three simple ways to use blended learning; problem-based learning encourages active learning, using real world scenarios, social learning and applying knowledge to new situations; social constructivism is learning as a result of social interaction and collaboration with others; constructivism through learners constructing their own knowledge and meaning through experience.

Blended learning allows you to use a variety of open tools and dip in and out of different types of learning strategies and experiences.  Open tools can be organised into categories in the context of learning outcomes; multimedia production, presentation tools, collaborative writing tools, reflective tools, collaboration tools, interactive tools, social tools.  You will still have the traditional teaching aspects but you have the appropriate technology within that to enhance and support it, and capture and present material in different ways.  For example the flipped classroom is useful for flipping the activities to the classroom with the instruction at home.  Communication is highly important as it enables the need to check and confirm thoughts.  It awakens internal processes that only happens when a learner is interacting with people in their environment and cooperation with peers.

I found the vocational pedagogy very interesting that was located in the City & Guilds 'Culture, Coaching and Collaboration'.  There are six outcomes of vocational education which are encouraged to be used as the basis of vocational learning and teaching.  These are identified as routine expertise, resourcefulness, functional literacies, craftsmanship, business-like attitudes, and wider skills for growth.  Alongside this are ten dimensions of decision-making.  Each end of the attributes below represents a different option of delivery for learning and teaching, encouraging some variety in practice.  Digital technology can be used to experiment with these learning and teaching practices.

Facilitative > Role of the teacher > Didactic
Authentic > Nature of activities > Contrived
Practice > Means of knowing > Theory
Questioning > Attitude to knowledge > Certain
Extended > Organisation of time > Bell-bound
Workshop > Organisation of space > Classroom
Group > Approach to tasks > Individual
High > Visibility of processes > Hidden
Virtual > Proximity to teacher > Face-to-face
Self-managed > Role of the learner > Directed

Curriculum design

The traditional method of curriculum design is to identify the learning to be understood and the sequence of activities that need to be undertaken in order to achieve it.  Curriculum design is the same process for blended or wholly online and should always focus on pedagogy.  These days activities need to be more engaging and interactive which needs to involve the student having ownership of the process of it.  If using a student-centred curriculum (contributing to learning materials and creating content), multimedia production and sharing will be essential.

Curriculum design relies on a structure - instructional design allows us to review how each topic will be taught, what sequence, what methods and tools are going to be used and the outcome.  It's an outcome-focussed process that looks what learners are expected to learn and change as a result - what couldn't be done at the beginning to what they can do at the end.  Designing the assessment (formative, for and of learning, summative assessment) first is a good way of defining the learning outcomes.  It's useful to consider whether the assessment is digitally based or not and aligning to the learning outcomes, curriculum content, learner needs, and the pedagogy.

The instructional design process D(define)ADDIE model demonstrates the value of the iterative design – test – redesign – implement-evaluate cycle. It helps you focus on the importance of considering inclusivity, accessibility, flexibility and usability when planning for implementation.  Define is the link to curriculum design and identifies what is going to be delivered.  Analysis looks at the audience (learners’ needs, expectations and requirements) and how they will or are likely to react to the learning process.  Design takes the information obtained and allows you to create and deliver the learning in a form that is engaging and interactive.  This includes the course sequence, learning outcomes, activities and assessment.  Develop enables you to make your learning design a reality such as the resources, learning activities, and tests.  Implement is about putting your learning design into action ensuring it I accessible, inclusive and usable.  Evaluate allows you to assess whether the learning design was effective or not in meeting the learning outcomes.  Overall instructional design is an iterative process that questions what and who is it all for and did it work and what can be done to make it better in future.  It also ensures that you make the best of the digital technology.

Digital technology

When using digital technology, it should be used to add value to existing teaching practices.  It should enable you to move from one space to another seamlessly due to the open nature of the online learning tools.  A main purpose of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) is that learners will engage in more learning time because they are actively involved in the tasks producing and interacting with content, which leads to technology-supported independent learning.  Digital technology can make a significant impact where there is a clear need to make improvements - pedagogical challenges and problems.  However, we need to think about the people we are going to use digital technology with so that we don't exclude anyone.

Synchronous occurs in real time, not just discussions but creating something as well.  Asynchronous is not in real time where people join in at different times - which provides a benefit in thinking before contributing.

The main benefits to digital technology are; time and place - enables education to offer greater flexibility.  Online resources and activities allow learners to learn at home, at work or when travelling, as well as in their designated place of learning; pace of learning - the learner accesses and uses the digital resources under their control; variety of learning modes - learners can do individual, group work or blend their own digital, physical and social learning; content focus - learners encouraged to follow their own online searches to relevance; differentiation - diverse learner needs can be met through assistive technologies and open educational resources to meet learner’s needs; the educator’s use of time - distribute time in different ways to deliver whole class, small group, individual support, across face-to-face and online learning.  It's much easier to get around a computer than it is a textbook.  With a computer you're connected and can search and change things.  Computers save and record work and progress, plus you can access things as much as you need and at your own speed.  Digital technology does or helps to produce evidence of learning.

Learner data

When a learner interacts with a digital system, tool or resource, they leave a digital footprint.  There are opportunities to collect data on individuals or groups which can be used in various ways to improve the learner experience.  This is also referred to as ‘big data or learning analytics’ which enables educators to collect, analyse and report large datasets to identify any patterns and trends of their learners.  Therefore this data can be used to inform a learners own progress, learner activity, behaviour and preferences on how they learn and interact with digital content.  Data analytics should not only be used to capture what student have done or are doing, but it has scope to inform and improve online learning design, online learning interactions, assessment needs and digital marketing of online courses and provisions.
Data collected for improving learning outcomes can derive from performance on tests and learners’ online engagement in discussions, questions, or even comments in focus groups and surveys.  The key questions to ask are; what data to collect, what implications there are for collecting data, and how to interpret and use the data.  I made this comment at the recent MoodleMoot; "Perhaps focus on promoting learning analytic tools to learners to encourage managing their own learning = independent learning."

Culture change with digital technology

I found this interesting and reassuring to know as it reminds me of what I experienced and lead on in my previous role at a further education college.   To enable and manage culture change with digital technology in an organisation, the following pointers are useful to consider.

  • Assess whether blended learning is where it should be - challenge the current culture that exists
  • Specify that senior management need to be involved by modelling (at the beginning), setting the direction and supportive otherwise it will depend on the motivated enthusiasts to lead it all
  • Listen to issues that teaching staff have and work through it with them to build confidence
  • Discuss good practice with curriculum staff but allow time for leaders to model the use of it.  Failure of this will stymie the culture change process
  • Planning and delivering staff development needs to aimed at leaders not just curriculum staff - develop enthusiasm
  • Harness the enthusiasm and create an environment for learning where progress can happen
  • Create an environment that is not just about technology and the latest gadget but about making learning more effective
  • Enable the environment to be encouraging, rewarding and risk taking - something I was in the process of
  • Include early adopters and keep them a focus in the process.  Get the early majority and the late majority will join.  But always expect people that won't want to engage
  • Identifying the reluctant and guiding them back to the direction (imperative) set by leaders and innovators
  • Ask the reluctant 'how could we make this easier for you?', 'what in this could save you time?', 'where will you get the time back?'
  • Invest time to sit and show people the impact and possibilities of blended learning and digital technology.  Ask what they want and what they are comfortable with (learners too)
  • Explain how digital tools and resources can be helpful to their practices.  Ask how they are going to make an impact in their curriculum and pedagogy
  • Explain blended learning as you can't force people to use digital technology without understanding the pedagogy for it
  • Raising confidence with digital technology in the classroom can alleviate many issues of engaging in innovation
  • Get managers to make digital technology part of a conversation.  How are teams and individuals using it in their practices?
  • Ask learners what is working well and not well for them
  • Plan and run workshops, presentations, one to ones, formal and informal meetings, coffee mornings, twilight sessions for people to talk and share about their good practices
  • Be proactive and follow up how people are getting on with using digital technology - they might hit a problem and be put off.  Work with them on a solution - problem-based sessions might be useful
  • Identify and celebrate successes and promote them.  Others will see the benefits and be inspired to try in their practice and share with others in their department
  • Accept that changing culture won't happen quickly or over night - little wins can be a key to bigger wins

The above guidelines embolden what I did for my masters dissertation where I presented the argument of how a further education college's eLearning strategy lacked direction and articulation of pedagogical change in a digital age by not having underpinning pedagogy running through it.

The following are other key factors to consider when making a culture change with digital technology; leadership, vision and strategy, developing staff buy-in, using champions, reward and recognition for staff, working with students and other stakeholders, using evidence to support change, providing a supportive environment, developing skills and providing a robust technology landscape.

To achieve effective change the following stakeholders are useful to bring together to collaborate; teachers and trainers (design, develop and test new digital pedagogies and technologies); teaching support staff (online learner support); learning technology specialists (support innovation and digital awareness); media and technical specialists (quality resources and tools); library staff (source online resources, tools and services); IT staff (technology purchases and infrastructure requirements); marketing staff (promote online and blended learning courses); leaders and managers (support and champion change); students (develop change and provide feedback).

eLearning resources

  • Course map - very useful for laying out the sequence and activities of an online course.
  • Quick poll - asked my attitude towards blended learning if I was convinced of it or now and how much I use it in my practices.  Good to start off that reflective thinking and how I may approach the course material to come.
  • Crib sheets (how to's') - available to download at the end of a topic or module
  • Video case study crib sheet - can be used for Improve International and 5m Publishing H5P Moodle activities
  • Typeform - a new digital technology to try out.  Whilst not free it is a good way for learners to be questioned/surveyed and responses are saved.
  • Typeform reflection questions asking my attitude towards blended learning and how often I use it in my practices.
  • FutureLearn course design could be implemented into our Moodle courses.  Activities structured around the course map, transcripts can be put under the video along with crib sheets.
  • Linking back to correct/incorrect answers from a quiz to content/resources in Moodle
  • Matching pedagogy to digital technology exercise - selected approaches from above and decided from the example activities which was most appropriate to implement.
  • The VLE should be used for interactive activities and learner-generated content.
  • OERs can be used for student experience, digital literacy, recognition, marketing and external relations, efficiency.
  • Storytelling techniques can be used as a process of trying to get them to treat the course as a quest so they're actually discovering new facts as they go through.  It becomes an adventure for learners rather than a sequence of activities.  Moodle lends itself very well to digital storytelling as it allows the use of rich media like animation, video, podcasting, as well as the written narrative
  • Using a basic structure like Moodle you can use it to build a storyline of the course including where learner control is and a clear end point where they can clearly demonstrate what they've learned.
  • Communicate with learners a day before a new week so they know what is coming up and can be prepared and have the right frame of mind for it
  • Blended Learning Essentials Moodle Hub - good for pre-made Moodle activities
  • Different types of learning in action through; acquisition (reading, watching, listening); inquiry (investigate and compare); discussion (exchanging ideas with each other); practice (putting concepts into practice in an exercise with feedback); collaboration (participating and exchanging); production (producing something)
  • Moodle Workshop for peer review as a form of active learning - review at least 2 other learners’ drafts, score them in terms of the criteria, and provide constructive comments
  • Jorum, Khan Academy, Merlot, The Excellence Gateway and OpenLearn - good for OERs

Taking it forward

Talk about excellent timing!  In my organisation we are at the start of reviewing it's strategy for evolving it's blended and distance learning courses.  This is an excellent time as the knowledge I have just acquired and refreshed on will be very useful to feed forward in the conversations I will be participating in.  The blended learning, curriculum design and digital technology knowledge will be useful to shape a strategic vision and purpose of what we want to achieve.  A well-thought foundation will be discussed and agreed in which we can build upon.  Learner data and eLearning resources will be considered in the learning design process, when deciding on the best and appropriate ways to deliver the digital content.  The culture change with digital technology is useful for engaging and supporting change in the organisation.  It was a firm reminder of the work I was carrying out in my previous job in further education.

I have also been using some of this material in other conversations and learning designs I am working on.  This will be a solid post to refer to from time to time when I need to go to the core of blended learning design.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Digital inauthenticity - the rising epidemic

When it comes to making informed decisions you have to be proactive.  I'll briefly discuss some points you can consider when making informed decisions relating to the information via social media or any websites.  This post is inspired through personal observation of social media that I have been seeing a lot of recently.  This is useful for everyday life such as work and study when searching material on the internet.  By no means is this a politically charged narrative nor am I a politics enthusiast, however this also very useful for making educated political voting decisions.

The rise of social-hungry-attention-seekers and 'fake news' has been amplified more than ever through social media.  Everyone is allowed to make an opinion and the freedom to express themselves whichever way they like, as I am doing now.  So you could say at this point you may ask why should you believe this?  But you should as you know it to be true if you look deep enough.  A lot of this can relate back to early literacy skills - English to interpret and analyse others tone of communication; reading, writing, listening and speaking.  Is it expository, persuasive, narrative or descriptive?  Like marketing, some write their articles to a targeted audience and tap into your existing preconceptions.  Which make you want to agree with them, which could then eventually lead onto the inappropriate use of propaganda.  Organisations pay people to follow them or employ people to go on social media to generate interest and sometimes troll for reactions.

I see a lot of posts written by non-professionals claiming '10 things you should do to make a better relationship...' or 'these daily ingredients that are slowly killing you...'.  Even worse, I see a lot of memes written with clumsy information on and people believing and reacting to them as if it's true.  It's subjective and unreliable rubbish and we can be just like vacuums sucking it in.  Are we really 'Chained to the Rhythm'?  It's a rising epidemic and it needs to dealt with.  Imagine that all of your life choices were informed by these unauthentic articles.  Scary isn't it!  Ask yourself, who are you responding to, them or yourself?

A lot of this stems from a post I wrote many years ago 'Evolutionary not revolutionary?' where I said; "technology is our greatest invention and I think it will be our greatest killer".  If we do not learn how to adapt to this epidemic positively and effectively, it could result in a huge outbreak of social separation and divide, which has actually been happening for some time.  When people have claimed the end of the world years ago, I've always thought it's nothing to do with a asteroid on a collision course with earth, nor any ancient calendar etc.  I believe it's things like this where humans will just implode on themselves and societies and communities will be so disconnected and divided it will be hard to recover.

Most of us have become somewhat lazy and believing what is laid upon us.  It takes effort and time to search for information and even the truth.  However, we must make effort to learn true facts.  Here is a few points to consider to help inform yourself when searching for authentic material:

  • Read and share the information if you only feel they are credible enough
  • Be aware of trolls. Some people find joy in putting out misinformation and comments to provoke others into anger or to create intentional negative reactions
  • Avoid being drawn into unrealistic and catchy headlines.  It's usually 'click bait' to gain more views to their websites.  If it looks and sounds unreal, it most likely is. Be suspicious but in moderation
  • Investigate the source of the information.  How legitimate and genuine are they?  What is their reputation for accuracy like?  Do they have a background in that subject that allows authenticity?  Are they experts and qualified in this area?  What organisations are they attached to?  Check the language, spelling, punctuation and grammar they use - if it's flakey they cannot be professional
  • Look at the website address/Uniform Resource Locator (URL) closely to see if it matches or belongs to the same company.  A webpage could be an excellent clone of the real webpage but the URL will give away its identity
  • Review the images used.  They might look authentic but if you look closely they could be manipulated or doctored and be taken out of context.  Search for the image to check it's authenticity
  • Check the dates and reporting of the information.  It could be old and reused information or the actual event is out of timeline.  If it's not being reported by other trusted sources then it's unauthentic and unreliable
  • Distinguish if the information is for humour.  Again check if the source is a known parody or comedy establishment/personality, it might just be for fun - like April Fools

Overall, consider if the information is true, helpful, inspiring, necessary or kind.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Evaluating Technology Enhanced Learning

I've been in my new job role for 5 months now and as I work with a range of universities on developing their undergraduate and postgraduate distance learning courses.  I wanted to introduce an effective Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) evaluation process and to increase the quality of the learning activities, experience and overall online learning environment itself.  By proactively seeking to improve the way our online learning is presented and delivered, I understood more about the programmes and the students enrolling to them.

I took it upon myself to investigate appropriate ways of evaluating Technology Enhanced Learning using a really useful guide by the E-Learning Development Team at the University of York.  This came after the success of my efforts of researching and reporting on learning design, which is being implemented into my new organisation as a result.

This little report was a very complex task and I didn't want to over complicate it (which it did at one point), so I brought in the LearningWheel to help me simplify what I was trying to do and generate further ideas.  The following is a video of the visual report I produced and sent to my colleagues at the University of St Andrews to introduce the process and to start a discussion around it.