Are social media still social?

…here’s a quote from lead educator Jean Burgess. Jean considers how Twitter has changed since 2006 and reflects on her own use of the platform in the context of changing patterns of use. In response to the suggestion that Twitter is a dying social media platform, Jean states that…

“…the narratives of decline around the place at the moment that have to do with a certain loss of sociability. And to those of us for whom Twitter’s pleasures were as much to do with ambient intimacy, personal connections and play as they were to do with professional success theatre, celebrity and breaking news, this is a real, felt loss: sociability matters.”

Some social media platforms have never felt as social as others.  I was really excited to get an invite to Google+ many years ago and, if I’m honest, I don’t use it fully.  I use it to find the locations of my immediate family, privately share photos with the family, and until the photos app became separately I used it to back up all the photos I took in my phone. Occasionally I’ll drop into some groups,but not very often. So, no, for me Google+ was never about being social.

Facebook, love it or loathe it, is about my personal social life.  I manage and participate in groups for my hobbies, organise events and keep in touch with my network of friends and acquaintances. Messenger allows me to keep in touch with people and communicate with them in a broad way from the close network of friends to people who need to contact me because I’m an assistant district commissioner for beaver scouts.  It is by far the most personally social of the social media for me, although it is being infiltrated by marketing more and more and the occasional flaming or trolling incidents that probably wouldn’t happen in a face-to-face situation but the semi-anonymity of being a keyboard warrior seems to enable some personalities to show very different sides to them.  Thank goodness for the ability to remove, block and report people!

Twitter is where I work.  It’s short and snappy and a great place to share and receive information in easily digestible formats.  Instagram works for me in a visually similar way but nowhere near to the extent of Twitter.  The social aspect of Twitter is entirely down to how you use it.  On a day-to-day basis when I’m sharing information it feels more like a news stream that something social.  Live tweeting from conferences and events adds a completely different dimension: not only are you sharing the pertinent information for those who can’t be there you suddenly have a discursive back channel with the added sociability of “fancy carrying this conversation on over the coffee break?”.  Being an introvert (not that anyone believes me when I try and explain that I’m a social introvert) it’s much easier for me to strike up a conversation via a blog, tweet chat or event tweeting than it is in person.  Once I’ve broken the online ice I’m more comfortable to talk to someone in person.  It really is no wonder I met both of my husbands online first!


So are social media less social?  I would say only if you’re not socialising.

Six, six, six; the number of the tech.

Six key trends, six significant challenges, and six important developments in educational technology are placed directly in the context of their likely impact on the core missions of universities and colleges, and detailed in succinct, non-technical, and unbiased presentations.

That’s quite a bold claim the NMC Horizon Report is making and it makes for interesting reading.

Yes, it is focusing on higher education.

Yes, it is of interest to a forward thinking FE&Skills provider.

FE&Skills is a highly competitive arena that is potentially going to be a much tougher playing field with the changes to apprenticeships, and post area review.  Independent training providers will be competing with merged and federated colleges for business from employers rather than learners.  So how do you stand out from the crowd in a competitive market?

Policy, leadership and practice are all at the heart of the change.  Whilst the trends, challenges and developments in educational technology reviewed in the paper don’t reveal much that isn’t already widely talked about in academia, you do need to ask yourself if your organisation is ready for the change.  Are the senior management team  thinking as digital leaders? Is your policy as future proof as you can make it bringing together teaching learning and assessment with accessibility and inclusion, or is the ILT strategy still an addendum to the ICT policy that lists all the technical infrastructure and has no pedagogical grounding whatsoever? Practice: are the practitioners digitally capable? Are they supported with professional development activities to further their practice using technology and given the time to develop and embed this into their practice?

Once you’ve considered this then you can look at the challenges and developments and what will be effective in making your provision competitive and appealing to learners and employers alike.  Can you tool their employees to work in the digital age?  Will you give them all the skills they need to do their job now, and have the adaptability and transferable skills that makes them an attractive employee in five years time?

It’s a tough ask in tough times.  I know that providers don’t need to worry about these things alone.  Much of my time recently has been talking about exactly the trends, challenges and developments mentioned in the report.  Although my job title says account manager I see myself more as a critical friend, guide and advisor.  If I don’t know the answer I know someone who does, or I can find out.

The digital experience: what do learners want?

Blended Learning Essentials: Embedding Practice MOOC asks an important question this week.  What do learners want?  The simple answer is ask them.

Starting today Sarah Knight and her team doing just that with the digital student experience skills study consultation events. As the event blurb says,

These consultation events are highly participative and will be of interest to those involved in supporting their learners’ digital experience:

  • Learners

  • Directors and CEOs

  • Heads of Service

  • Staff with responsibility for IT and e-learning

  • Tutors

If you want to see just how much learners are asked what they want you only need to follow #digitalstudent.  Want to ask your learners that question, then it’s not too late to join us (yes I’m at the Leicester event and probably going to Manchester too) either in Leicester on 14th April, or Manchester on 27th April.


We know it’s not easy, that the worlds of; adult and community learning, work based learning, apprenticeships and the work of ITPs can be a very different place to that of HE or the FE college which is why the dedicated account managers know the sector and they know their stuff because we understand how to overcome those challenges.  To continue meeting the needs of learners we have to ask them what they want and be responsive to those wants and needs or we become dinosaurs consigned to education history.  For the managers right through to the practitioners on the pointy end surely it’s got to be reassuring that we’ve got your back and we’re only a click away?

MOOCs and the dangers of signing up for too many

I’m a little late to the MOOC.  By late, I don’t mean I didn’t sign up for them in the early days I just didn’t complete them. Although this isn’t going to surprise anyone who saw the statistic that the current average completion for a MOOC is 15%. I participated, finally, in my first one last year. Unless you count the 12 Apps of Christmas which I did back in 2014, but that was just playing really.

I have managed to sign up for three already this year and they have all clashed.  The trouble is that I was already struggling with one ( I don’t want to name and shame, that seems unfair) as it was just so dry and boring I’m not sure I can be bothered to look at week 2.  Another just seems to be dancing around the same few principles and I don’t feel like I’m progressing, although I should throw myself into as it is the final week.

And then, there is the HELM MOOC  design e-learning that starts this week.  As fellow East Midlands Learning Technologists I already knew that the HELM team really know their stuff.  I hadn’t expected their MOOC to blow me away just as much as it has.  Part way through the week 1 activities and I think it achieves everything other e-learning/blended learning courses have somehow just failed to deliver.  Whilst this course is targeted at healthcare, which certainly at levels 2 and 3 could really do with some exciting learning resources to demonstrate just how useful technology can be to the learning journey, I do think that this works in other curriculum areas.  All it needs are a few TARDIS thinkers who can apply the principles to their own subjects and there will be some amazing interdisciplinary working.  I’m certainly going to be encouraging people to take a look at this MOOC as there’s a lot people could learn about designing and creating learning resources.

Identifying evidence of learning with technology

Any assessment in learning should be considered to avoid being assessment for assessment’s sake. Is it formative assessment that will help progress the learning journey or is it summative assessment demonstrating that the required learning is complete.  In vocational education the formative is often lost amongst the need for gathering the summative for portfolios to satisfy the awarding bodies.  Summative assessment, however it is captured, needs to be valid and authentic and whilst aromatherapy isn’t my subject area (as demonstrated in the case study)as an internal verifier I would want to see some reflection on the work and not just a colour wheel.  Ideally the reflection would involve why certain oils were selected, the properties of those oils and their interactions with each other.  I’d also want the link between how it looks like oils should interact according to the tool, and how they actually smell together, and contra-indications for use on particular clients.  This is really a reflection on their deeper knowledge and understanding.  This reflection also captures the learning process for the quieter, more reflective and lurking learners who maybe don’t seem so actively involved in the lesson but are learning in their own way.  This kind of reflection could easily be used in a portfolio of evidence even as a formative assessment as a summative assessment can ask them to expand on the learning with deeper knowledge and applying it to different clients with varied needs.  It only adds to the authenticity of the work when a verifier can see the holistic learning journey through the work of the learner with the clearly documented guidance of the assessor.

Again technology is the enabler here, these assessments could be captured differently, and the learning could be done differently.  The technology enables safe and inexpensive experimentation as the cost of materials is reduced by combining virtual oils.  I’m sure the software soon paid for itself in this instance.

What do learners think about blended learning?

Blended Learning Essentials is back with the follow up; Embedding Practice.  Week 1 and it’s time to reflect again.

The learners interviewed were really positive and excited about blended learning.  Without getting into the whole digital natives conversation (just yet) more and more learners have an expectation to use technology in their learning.  More and more learners, regardless of age, are prepared to Google it, Youtube it, TedEd it.  You name it, the list could go on and on.  Learners are increasingly comfortable with how technology has integrated into modern life and when it comes to learning it is a huge enabler.  Learning can take place any time and any where without the limitations of access to a desktop computer or enough textbooks in the library.  As long as the technology is used as an enabler, and not the focus of of the learning, and is presented so it isn’t a distraction or increases the exclusion of those potentially disadvantaged and digital excluded learners.

In my reflections I still stand by my reflections during the previous course about culture change being required to take blended learning forward.  Tonight I am taking the tablets to a different scout group and will be running a session for the Beavers, and handing the tablets over to the Cub Leaders to run their own astronomy session based on original camp activity.  Whilst the Beaver Leaders are nervous about using the technology the Cub Leaders are happy for me to sit back and let them take the lead with their cub pack.  I’m not going to make any assumptions at this point about digital capability and confidence, I’ll wait and see how the sessions go, and differ and reflect on that.

Digital narratives – story telling for learners in a digital environment

Earlier this month I attended the MELSIG Digital Narratives: (re)storying learning experiences for a digital age event which was a brilliant example of engaging practice that’s happening (mostly) in HE.  My take home from the day was to re-tell the story so it was meaningful to the other post-16 education sectors.  Much of my work and experience is with adult learners and apprentices so stepping into the blue box, because it’s bigger on the inside, here is my take on the best bits that are most transferable. dr_who_316350537

Dawn of the Unread

I’m not sure if I can actually do Dawn of the Unread justice. It really was that amazing.  Imagine you have learners who need to improve their English reading skills.  Not so difficult in the world of adult learning to imagine this scenario. Now, imagine that learner had a bad previous experience of being made to read books.  They think books are boring and really dislike engaging with text.  Even a Quick Read book is a step too far.  Now imagine that you can offer them a graphic novel (yes, I read comic books so I call them graphic novels) instead, because reading is reading right?  What if that that comic book was online so they could read it on a mobile device or a laptop?  Wouldn’t it be great if that story captured their imagination and had links to further and more advanced reading material.  How much more fun would it be if the story included gamification and encouraged more reading?  And, there’s not just one or two of these stories to leave the reader disappointed and forced back to more traditional texts too soon, at the time of writing there are 16 different comics.

I can think of plenty of learners who would have been more interested in reading a comic about zombies, Gotham or a re-telling of Robin Hood.

The best bit about this resource, isn’t the zombies, or the Dr Who references, or indeed any of the other multi-layered stories and little geeky references.  The best bit is that this is a solution that you can pick up and just share with your learners.  Inspire them, watch them go off and explore a brand new literary world.


#Phonarchem – making a lab session an event and sharing it with the world


Professor Simon Lancaster is exactly the kind of chemistry teacher you wish you had at school and wished you’d shown more of an interested in inorganic chemistry twenty odd years ago, unless that was just me.  His opening gambit is that he is interested in celebrating the beauty of chemistry in everyday objects. Simon’s tactic to engage learners and tell stories is an interesting one.  He has a hashtag, in this instance #phonarchem, that he encourages students to use.  Quite cleverly he has also created hashtag cards, physical cards like the one in the picture above, and encourages the students to take photos and tweet them to #phonarchem too.  The students start collaborating, and others following #phonarchem start commenting on the work.  A picture builds up: about the everyday chemistry that happens around us, even in a cup of tea; a digital profile of a chemistry student; what it is like to study chemistry.  Most of all learning happens.  The story doesn’t end there, using Storify Simon collates his own engagement in a range of activities including teaching chemistry.

Apprentices could do the same.  They may not work for the same employer, they might not come to the same taught sessions, if your framework even delivers  group sessions, but they could still collaborate and not feel quite so alone.  It could be a hashtag about health and safety, they could collate their own storify about safe and unsafe practices.  So, what starts as a picture of some scaffolding, some stacked boxes in an office, or some  playground equipment could develop into a piece of work demonstrating the breadth and depth of understanding around risk assessments and manual handling.  In fact, once you start thinking inside that blue box the possibilities are endless really.


Bits, bobs and digital sticky tape: using what you have to create digital stories – Charlie Davis, NTU

I participated in this workshop which provided participants with a hands-on opportunity to consider how they use the resources, digital and non-digital, that they have available to them to create short digital stories. Participants discussed how such approaches could be used in a range of learning, teaching and assessment practices.  This really was a hands on session with a quick brief and we were straight into action as small teams to retell a story using what we had around us.  Our story was intended as a discussion starter activity to get trainee teachers thinking about creativity.

It was a simple session, but I walked out of that session determined not to let the others in my group down and finish adding the pictures to text to tell the story.  How many of us hope that our learners leave the session still finishing work off?  Perhaps it is in the simplicity of the task.  Give them some tools, and let them get creative.  Who knows what your learners could create.