If FE/HE is serious about supporting their learners – give your teachers mobiles phones!

Back in 2014 I wrote a blog post titled ‘If you are serious about blended learning – give teachers a mobile phone‘ This was based on a frustration of mine at the time, at how hardly any organisations were providing their teaching staff with mobile phones, even though I had been furnished with one as a teacher back in 2002.

Now that we are entering 2021 and with a huge amount of uncertainty surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic – this issue is glaringly obvious, but still seems something that decision-makers are unhappy to provide. Speaking to one colleague, (who due to his medical conditions is having to teach from home) – he is having to use his personal phone to dial into the voicemail of the phone on his desk at work, to see if any students have called him. He then cannot call the learners back as doesn’t have a work phone, so tries to converse with them via email – but the learners are using the phone as they want to actually talk to him in real-time, not have a dragged out interchange via email. In my opinion, this is simply farcical – I have suggested to him that he shouldn’t even be using his personal phone to dial into his voicemail, and the college should be providing him with a phone for this purpose.

In the past I have argued that we don’t have to provide teachers with Smartphones, we just need the ability to make and receive calls, and send and receive texts – so an old fashioned ‘brick’ phone would suffice. A few years ago, SMS texting was still the preferred method of communication by students – but this is changing as things like WhatsApp is becoming the goto tool for many – so should we support this as an official communication mechanism? I think yes. I recently had numerous dealings with Severn Trent Water over a water leak – and communicated with them via WhatsApp – much easier for me than hanging on the phone waiting to be connected, only to be passed from pillar to post once through, and I had an exact record of the conversations that took place – so no possibility for either side changing their story.

Smartphone

If we do embrace WhatsApp as a valid communication mechanism, then we would have to provide the teachers with a smartphone – it doesn’t have to be top of the range – it can be very basic, so a budget contract phone is all that is required. Once you have a Smartphone set up with WhatsApp, it is then possible to use WhatsApp through a browser on the computer – which if using it a lot, is much quicker to type into.

Some will argue that there are lots of communication channels open to learners, so there is no need for the phone option – but the phone is the most basic method of commuication – e.g. if all the others are not working for them, people still expect to be able to pick up a phone to talk to someone to help resolve the problem. As a customer, I hate it when companies or organisations don’t provide a phone number, and hide behind some sort of ‘contact us’ form – and doing the same to learners, is simply a dereliction of duty.

So please – can we get rid of the landlines in offices that teachers are never in, and replace these with organisation owned mobile devices.


Image Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/smartphone-telephone-typing-keying-431230/

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Why ‘off the shelf’ compliance elearning packages are so awful

As readers of this blog will be aware, I work in education, and specialise in areas of quality online and blended learning. When people ask me what I do – I try really hard to explain to them (whilst watching the blood run from their faces) but if they don’t themselves work in education, it is quite hard to describe, and for a lot of people, their only knowledge or experience of online learning, is the awful compliance training that they may have had to do as part of their work, or their voluntary roles within the scouts, as part of their cricket coaching award, or because they are a Governor at the local school (note: all 3 of these voluntary options apply to me!)

Lego police officer

I hate these training packages – for multiple reasons; they are in general low quality, quite often learning doesn’t actually take place, and because these are so widely used, they almost become a very low bench mark for elearning expectations which impacts on other areas of work. Quite a lot of these will force people to watch a video to the very end before you can proceed without the ability to listen at 1.5 speed, or fast forward/rewind. Others will give you options of what you want to look at on a slide, but you have to look at everything before you can continue. Some will have text appearing line by line very slowly (slower than I read), and most have some badly designed multiple choice quiz at the end where you have to get 7 out of 10 right to be marked as competent – even though intelligent guesswork alone would get you 5 out of 10, and what is really worrying is how poor most of these are in terms of accessibility.

So why are these packages so bad?

People often question why these packages are such low quality, and if you think through the market forces in play, it is actually quite easy to work out why.

Firstly it is a very crowded market – there are dozens if not hundreds of providers offering standard packages on safeguarding, GDPR awareness, Manual handling etc so each provider is trying to sell their content cheaper than the rivals, which means they have to produce them for less money to be profitable. However, the bigger factor here, is they want to create something where everyone is going to ‘pass’ the training – the reason why organisations pay for these packages, is they don’t want to run the training themselves. If they have a high percentage of people not passing the training, they then have to educate these people another way, which defeats the purpose of going down this route. The result of this is creating packages that are very easy to pass, hence the badly designed quizzes at the end of the activity. In reality, if allowed to do so, most people could jump to the quiz at the end, achieve the pass score without reading the content, and complete this piece of learning in about 10 minutes. Because 10 minutes is far too short a time for a piece of compulsory learning to take place, is why a lot of these packages have the text appearing line by line slowly, and why they force you to watch the videos in full – this is simply a mechanism to artificially elongate the training time, so when someone looks at the reports, they can see that everyone spent at least an hour doing this training package.

Another factor, is that most of these packages are created in something called SCORM (If you don’t know what SCORM is then: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharable_Content_Object_Reference_Model), which makes sense because SCORM is the ‘industry standard’ – but the SCORM technology is very old, and realistically out of date – so it almost always has a ‘dated’ look to it, is always going to create an accessibility barrier (even if what is inside the package is created well), and SCORM is designed to work on systems where people have fast and reliable internet connections – which in the workplace is often the case, but for people working at home, and potentially via the 3G/4G networks – isn’t a given, which can cause problems for the users, and for the central admins, as the tracking can be affected if the user loses their internet connection at the ‘wrong time’.

Is there another way?

Personally I believe that the foundation of quality learning is the interactions between teacher-student and student-student, which is the same for classroom based face to face learning and online learning. Online learning is very capable of using these interactions, but not for the mass produced stand-alone compliance training that I am talking about here. When I create content for clients, I try to make better use of the media available, create more challenging and realistic assessment activities, and I try to recognise who my audience is and create content accordingly, and as with all the content I create, accessibility is built in as standard, as well as things being designed to work well on mobile devices. If I can, I build in some teacher-student or student-student interactions, but that isn’t always possible. But (and this is a big but) – this all costs money to do, which is why it isn’t scalable to the mass markets.

So having lost the human interactions, we are left with the ‘automated transfer of knowledge’ approach. We could make the assessment activities more rigorous which would then encourage people to put more effort into the learning, and hopefully more learning would take place – but this would then present the aforementioned problem of more people not-completing and also raised anxiety levels for the people undertaking the ‘training’. If people are generally interested in what they are learning, then they will put in more effort to read and understand the content, however with compliance training – most people are not that interested, so they are doing this under duress as something they have to just try and get through with as little pain as possible.

Technologically, we ought to be moving away from SCORM, and towards things like xAPI (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Experience_API). This transition has been very slow, as whilst SCORM is the industry standard, most of the content factories will use this format only. It is only if enough people start asking for and demanding something better, that the industry will start to properly change.

So – I cannot offer any magic solutions in terms of the creation of these packages, what I can offer though – is that the organisations buying them need to really evaluate the use of them before they purchase. What is the purpose of going down this route? Are you wanting to change peoples’ behaviour so they are more GDPR compliant, or deal with safeguarding better – if so, then these online packages are not the solution, you need to look at hiring in a decent trainer and someone that can manage the strategic side of CPD activity within the organisation. If you are doing this, simply as a tick box activity to cover your back in case there is an issue, then fair enough – this process does that, but do evaluate the content carefully before purchasing:

  • Don’t just look at the ‘demo’ module that they provide (which will be created to a much higher standard), pick one of the other items from the catalogue to look at (if they refuse, then walk away).
  • Is this learning in SCORM format – is there a similar product in a better format?
  • Get multiple people to look at these so you have different opinions.
  • Get someone to do an accessibility analysis of the package to identify any potential problems, and what are you going to do if these problems arise.
  • Test the packages on different devices and different browsers to see how they behave.

Image Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/police-lego-policeman-law-2129860/

The basic set up of a homeworking blended learning tutor

For many years the standard computer set up for staff working in a school, college or university is computer, monitor, keyboard and mouse. I started using a laptop as my primary computer in about 2002 and could never go back to a non-laptop way of working. Other organisations were slow catching on to this, but I think the laptop has become the primary device for most educators. I have for many years been trying to persuade decision-makers to include the following in the basic set up:

  • A headset
  • A mobile phone
  • A second monitor

Covid-19 pushed teachers into working from home at relatively short notice, and some had to learn how to deliver sessions via webinar technologies. For a lot of these teachers, all they have is a laptop. Running an effective online session with a single screen is possible but it is loads easier with the second screen.

Some people don’t bother (or don’t have access to) headphones and rely on the built-in speakers and microphone. This can be OK, but isn’t ideal, especially if multiple people are talking resulting in painful audio feedback, and if there are other people in the house, everyone else gets to hear everything else going on in the house at the time. Having a semi-decent headset makes life so much easier for both the student and the teacher.

In 2002 my team leader had the foresight to provide the teachers with mobile phones. The primary purpose was to improve communications between staff, but with it being a work phone, it was legitimate for it to be used as a communication tool with learners, which proved to be brilliant. I thought it wouldn’t be long before other people caught up, but I am dismayed that even in 2020 organisations pretend to be taking blended learning seriously – but they don’t furnish their teachers with mobile phones. This is madness in my eyes, we pay for fixed landlines in the staff room, and then ask teachers to spend 28 hours a week in the classroom, so no-where near the landline. I blogged about this previously in 2014 – https://davefoord.wordpress.com/2014/06/19/if-you-are-serious-about-blended-learning-give-teachers-a-mobile-phone/ and 6 years on, I haven’t seen much progress here.

Lego person sat a desk with computer station set upIt is standard practice that employers carry out work station assessments, to make sure their employees’ chairs, monitors, etc. are in the correct positions, the lighting is within acceptable levels (light enough, but not too bright), and the windows have appropriate coverings if necessary to ensure a safe working environment. Now that lots of people are spending excessive time working from home – should we be carrying out similar work station analysis? We have probably all been on conference calls or webinars where people are perched on a stool on the corner of their breakfast bar in the kitchen, or sitting on a sofa in the lounge, with the laptop on the coffee table, or sat on garden furniture in the conservatory, as that is the quietest room they can find. I am lucky that when we bought the house we are currently in, knowing that I spend a lot of time working from home – we chose a house which had a room we could set up as a designated study. However, a lot of people don’t have this luxury and especially if there are multiple people now working from home, they will have to make do with whatever room is available for them, which for some will also include their own children potentially accessing learning online as a result of local lockdowns or self-isolation.

Not knowing how long the current Covid-19 situation is going to rumble on for, makes this tricky for employers to plan anything, but I do believe that they do have a duty to ensure that the work station set up meets basic requirements – otherwise, we risk problems in the future with repetitive strain injuries and eye problems. I am not sure how exactly the analysis would be carried out – I guess a video call would be an option, but I do think that employers should be looking at furnishing the employees with a desk if they need one, a proper office chair if they need one, and then the basic computer set up I mentioned above. This would presumably be a loan of the furniture, rather than a gift, and would have to be furniture suitable for the size of the person’s property (e.g. simply sticking a standard office desk in a van and delivering it someone’s 1 bed flat on the third floor wouldn’t be sensible). Any companies out there that make affordable, compact, and adaptable workstations for the home, should be getting in touch with education providers offering to provide the necessary workstations at a reduced price. We spend thousands of pounds recruiting high-quality staff, but we seem to be very reluctant to spend a few hundred pounds looking after them once we have them.


Image Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/despaired-businessman-business-2261021/

Now is not the right time to get rid of your Moodle

For most of the last 15 or so years, the VLE market in the UK was dominated by 2 choices: Moodle or Blackboard. Blackboard being a commercial offering which had dominance in the HE sector, and Moodle is an Open Source offering having a significant presence within HE, and for many years accounted for about 80% of FE college providers. In recent years, Google Classroom and Canvas have entered the market, and Microsoft Teams is now being used by some instead of a VLE, giving organisations a wider choice of platform(s) to use, which is, of course, a good thing, and each platform will have certain organisations for which they are the best choice, however, there seems to be a huge desire by organisations to switch at the moment – some for financial reasons (moving to a cheaper option), others are spending more to move to another system that they think is better – but I think these decisions are sometimes ill-founded, and the current situation with Covid-19 appears to be rushing some people into making decisions, and potentially very bad decisions.

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I use Moodle a lot, and I support various clients with setting up and running high-quality Moodle environments, that look good and work well. Unfortunately, a lot of providers haven’t invested the energy and passion that I do into the environment, resulting in set-ups that are often clunky, not very attractive and as a colleague of mine once described it, ‘it contained some really good stuff, but finding the good stuff was like rummaging through a badly laid out jumble sale.’

Moodle is open source, and therefore the actual software is free, but, this does not mean it is a ‘free’ VLE. To use it properly requires an investment in time – it doesn’t have to be a huge investment, but it does need someone to:

  • Identify what you are wanting to achieve and then work through the settings to get it to behave as you want it.
  • To get it to look good.
  • To identify and install the correct combination of plugins that will really make it sing.
  • You then need to make an investment in the staff using it, it is a very powerful system – but if people don’t know how to use it, it will be a bit like my washing machine that has about 160 different programs but I only ever use 3 of them.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of organisations don’t make the necessary investment in the above points. The first 3 points take very little time at all, so there is no excuse for them not being carried out, the last point is the big one which does require a real investment, which some don’t see the value of.

The consequence of this lack of investment, is Moodle is unfairly getting a bad name, which is causing people to look elsewhere – I don’t have a problem with people changing system if there is something better out there, but a change in system has to be thought through carefully, and sadly I am hearing reasons and excuses for changing that don’t sound very strategic to me – and especially with the current situation that Covid-19 has thrown up, we shouldn’t just be thinking about the here and now, but we should be thinking about the uncertain future that we currently have.

Cartoon figure followign an arrow that splits into 3There has been a significant movement of organisations from Moodle to Canvas, who are attracted by the simpler interface that Canvas offers both teacher and student, but this simpler interface is only possible because it is a significantly less powerful system. For most educators (probably over 95%), who were only using the basic features of the VLE, this isn’t an issue for them – Canvas offers them everything they need, so is great, but the 5% of ‘Power users’ will struggle not having the advanced features they have been using. One positive that may come out of the Covid-19 pandemic, is we will hopefully get more ‘Power’ users of VLEs.

I am currently working with one provider, where I have been hired to develop a high-end course for them, which we have done using their native Moodle, this course is key to a potentially very profitable area of work for them. Unbeknown to me, or my contact at the organisation, the senior management there have made a knee jerk decision to switch to Canvas, I am told because they ‘have heard everyone else is switching to it, therefore it must be better…’. The course that I have created with them, is a complex course using a mixture of activity types, plugins, and some ‘Dave Foord magic’, and it cannot be transferred over to Canvas. This means the organisation now has the decision of scrapping the (significant) investment they have made in this course (and forfeiting the future profiability that it would bring) or setting up a small scale Moodle just to support this particular area of work. I am hoping they do the sensible thing and go for the latter option, as absurd as it may seem, it will bring the most financial reward. Another colleague of mine is working at an organisation which has recently switched, and although most staff are happy with the change, there is one particular team that had been using Moodle really effectively who are now very upset with the switch, as they had invested a huge amount of time (most of which their own time) in creating some really effective learning, which hasn’t (and cannot be) transferred over to Canvas. They are getting no support or sympathy from the senior management, who are simply expecting them to reinvest more of their own time to recreate things in Canvas, and to further complicate the issue – the developments they had made in Moodle had actually made it possible for the same number of teachers to educate a larger number of learners. They are now being penalised as they have more learners and therefore more support/marking with the system to support them.

Other providers are switching to Microsoft Teams as an alternative to a VLE, which again may be suitable for the present, but lacks a lot of the features of a VLE that I personally think are essential, so this again may come back to bite people. My view is that Teams should be integrated into and be part of the VLE, not be the VLE itself.

I don’t know what the future will throw up, but I think it would be a safe bet to recognise that blended learning is likely to play a bigger part of this, and if there is going to be a lot of remote learning taking place, having the ‘right’ VLE is essential, and I think the extra power that Moodle has (that most people don’t use), is going to have significance, and for this reason, I don’t think now is a good or right time to move away from Moodle – instead invest some time and money into looking at how you can improve it. Yes, it is prudent to be constantly challenging yourselves and evaluating what you are doing and checking that the systems in place are doing what is required – but any change has to be really well thought through, you have to check what the impact will be from all stakeholders (including the entire teaching team), and make sure any such decision is being made for the right reason, and the full consequences have been thought through and all options explored first, and whilst the future is so turbulent and uncharted – I don’t think it is possible to make a fully informed decision – so holding fire for 12 months or so, seems the sensible option to me.


Image Source: https://pixabay.com/illustrations/direction-away-decision-target-2320124/

Managing ‘risk’ as teachers adapt to the ‘New Normal’ of teaching

My background is Sport Science, and within this, there is a psychological theory known as the ‘NACH NAF’ theory*. This theory identifies that people either have a high ‘Need to Achieve’ (NACH) or a high ‘Need to Avoid failure’ (NAF). Most sports people fall into the NACH camp, with a smaller proportion being NAF. However, within the general population, there is a much higher proportion of people that have NAF tendencies. One of the key elements of the theory, is these are deep-rooted and cannot be easily changed – someone who is NACH will always be NACH, and someone who is NAF will always be so. There is nothing to suggest that one is better than the other, but it is useful to be aware of this model, as managing someone who is NACH is very different to managing someone who is NAF.

Person atop a mountainPersonally, I am very much of the NACH disposition – and not just in a sporting context, but as an educator, I was/am constantly changing what I do in an attempt to ever improve and to achieve. Sometimes my changes/experiments don’t work and they fail and sometimes they fail spectacularly, but I don’t worry about the failures as long as the achievements outweigh them. If I was a NAF personality then my teaching would have been very different and I wouldn’t be where I am now. I often describe myself as only being comfortable when I am operating outside my comfort zone – I need that adrenaline and buzz to get the best out of my abilities and to keep me on the edge. If I tried to ‘play it safe’ I would simply get bored, and be utterly ineffective. The term ‘risk’ is often considered a dirty word in education – as a mountaineer, I regularly place myself in ‘risky’ situations – but this doesn’t make me a reckless person. What I do, is weigh up the risk based on the information available, identify the benefits and the threats and then act accordingly, or to put it another way, I act very safely having made a conscious decision – which is actually much safer than someone who does a ‘safer’ activity, without weighing up the risks. The same comes with my teaching – yes I may take risks by trying something new, but no-one is going to die or get hurt, and even if my plan doesn’t work – some learning will still take place, so although it is a risk – the rewards are high, and the downside is low, so they are risks worth taking.

As a classroom teacher, I was both loved and hated by management. They loved the fact that I got good results, and always performed well when observed by inspectors, but they were terrified that my maverick tendencies would result in a spectacular failure at the wrong time. They would often support/encourage my innovative work in the area of learning technologies, but at the same time kept trying to shackle me because of their fear of failure. This inability for them to effectively manage me, contributed in my decision to leave the classroom, even though I loved (and still miss) teaching.

I have often been critical of the Ofsted regime for a variety of reasons, but the biggest concern I have is the way that the regime (not deliberately) stifles creativity within the education process, and encourages teachers to ‘take the safe route’ which won’t fail – but also means it won’t ‘achieve’, rather than take a slightly more creative route, which may fail – but has the potential to massively achieve. Over a period of time, this has the effect of driving the NACH teachers like myself away, whilst keeping the NAF teachers behind, resulting in a distortedly high proportion of NAF teachers within the profession. This problem is then exaggerated, as these teachers, then eventually go onto to become the senior leaders and managers (and ultimately the Ofsted inspectors), which results in them appointing and keeping people more similar to themselves. I am not saying that people with NAF tendencies are bad teachers – many of them are good teachers, but they are less likely to be outstanding ones, and certainly not ones that will break new ground. In terms of team dynamics, if you have lots of NAF teachers, although you will never fail, there is a high risk of things becoming stale and stuck in a rut which causes problems down the line.

But we now have a problem; Covid-19 and the ‘New Normal’ that we will be operating under in the Autumn, requires a different approach to teaching and learning. Teachers are going to have to try new things, they are going to have to take ‘risks’, and they will along the way encounter failures, so the ideal workforce is one with a higher number of people with NACH tendencies who will relish this new challenge, but through the forces of natural selection and as already mentioned – we have replaced these with a lot of people with NAF tendencies, who unfortunately are the ones who are going to find this the most challenging. We therefore run the risk of losing a lot of good educators from the system in the process.

We cannot suddenly turn people that are NAF into NACH, and we are unlikely to suddenly attract people like me back into the classroom – so there isn’t a simple solution here, but the managers ought to be looking at their workforce, and identifying who is NACH or NAF, and then managing them accordingly. If you do have some NACH teachers, then give these additional responsibilities and recognition, and give them the freedom to do their thing, and see where they take you. The NAF teachers, need supporting through these turbulent times, help them identify where their comfort zone is, and how far outside they can go (I would suggest lots of small steps, rather than a single big leap). If you have a shortage of NACH teachers, then when vacancies come up, design your adverts and selection methodology to encourage those types of teachers to apply, and then look after them so they stay, and give yourself a more balanced workforce.

I have blogged previously about the difference between leadership and management https://davefoord.wordpress.com/2016/10/12/management-vs-leadership-in-fe-feltag/ and this has even more prevalence at the moment than when I wrote that post 4 years ago. The head teachers, principals and vice chancellors need to quickly get the right mix of leaders and managers working under them – and to get the managers managing and the leaders leading.

*A summary of the NACH NAF theory ishttps://www.teachpe.com/sports-psychology/motivation-personality (note this is not the same as McKelland’s theory where the Naff – stands for Need for Affiliation)


Image Ref: https://pixabay.com/photos/raise-challenge-landscape-mountain-3338589/

It is not a good idea to try and teach online and face to face at the same time

In the UK, many education providers are currently preparing for the start of the new academic year in September or October and the ‘New Normal’ that Covid-19 has created. Some HE and FE organisations, are grappling with how they teach whilst maintaining the correct amount of social distancing between students, and for many this invariably means smaller class sizes.

There are a few different ways that one can deliver the provision with this limitation of the small classes, the most obvious being high quality, well planned out blended learning. However, I am hearing from various educators, that one approach that many are considering, is to have a situation where a tutor is trying to teach a face to face class for those that are present, and at the exact same time, educate the people who are not physically present using online technologies. To me, this is an absolutely ridiculous idea, and the sooner that decision makers realise this, the better.

image of a person on a laptop viewing a video of someone teaching at a chalkboard

As a teacher and subsequently as a professional trainer, I am very effective when delivering face to face. I have also learned over the years how to become effective at delivering online learning. However – if you asked me to do both at the same time, I would be rubbish at both. The approach and methods of face to face vs online is very different (even if the underpinning principles are the same) – so to try and do both at the same time, would mean one of the following:

  • Delivering a good face to face session with a poor experience for the online learners.
  • Delivering a good online session, with a poor experience for the face to face learners.
  • Trying to find some sort of middle ground compromise and delivering a poor experience for both.

As well as the learning experience being poor for some or all of the learners, the burden on the teachers is going to be huge, and the result will be that many will leave the profession as a result – and we will lose a lot of high quality, experienced educators from the system (probably for ever). This is such an obvious and predictable outcome, I cannot understand why decision makers are even considering this approach. Financially, losing your experienced teachers, is not good – there aren’t enough new teachers being trained coming in at the bottom, and even if there were, you need a healthy mix of experience and newly qualified within an organisation to be financial viable.

When I was teaching, I taught at Loughborough College on the sports courses. We often had elite athletes in our classes, and sometimes these would disappear for weeks or months to compete in things like the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, World Cups etc. So my teaching changed so those that were missing could still learn during this time. I achieved this by designing classroom activities that could be used either in class or remotely, I used the VLE effectively as an integral part of the teaching (not just somewhere to dump the handouts and PowerPoints), sometimes even using discussion board type activities even though we were accessing these whilst sat in the same room. It then wasn’t too much extra effort for me to provide a learning experience for the students that were away. However, I didn’t try and educate both groups of people at the same time – I taught the face to face learners at one time, and the remote learners at another.

Organisations regularly hire me in to run CPD sessions for staff, and they often ask me if they can film the session. I always say yes, but recommend that they pay someone to operate the camera throughout the day to follow me around the room and then to carry out any on the fly editing (e.g. stopping the video when we have a break, or break off into small group activities) . What they usually do is simply stick a camera on a tripod at the back of the room and hope for the best. When I am running a face to face session, I am very dynamic, and I move around the room a lot – so often disappear off camera. I refuse to be ‘tied’ to a fixed position for the sake of the camera as this would seriously weaken the session for those present. I have tried using things like the Swivl (https://www.swivl.com/uk/) which is a camera that follows the presenter around the room, but it didn’t move quick enough to keep up with me, so wasn’t very successful for me. Similarly, people often ask if they can have a copy of my PowerPoint presentation (in a hope they can re-run the session on the cheap without me) – which of course they can, but out of context my presentations are often meaningless, as I use lots of images rather than text, I use interactive elements effectively, and the PowerPoint isn’t just a textual version of what I am saying.

So what should organisations do?

  • Scrap any notion of trying to do the face to face and the online at exactly the same time – I know some technology vendors will come up with solutions that make this possible, but it won’t be effective so don’t waste money going down that route.
  • Focus on the blended learning approach. Work out which elements can be delivered effectively via online technologies, and which elements require the face to face delivery – and then design the learning accordingly. It is going to be a huge challenge for people to get this right straight away in September/October, but if we use the Autumn term as a term where the tutors learn how to do this, and we accept there will be hiccups and glitches on the way, there is chance that by January, we will be getting it right.
  • Invest wisely and significantly in quality training and support for the educators, identify some teachers in the organisation who are good at this, and reduce their teaching workload so they can support others.
  • Don’t invest in a technological solution to this problem – the solution is the teachers and their time/passion/skill. Invest in them and their time, not on ridiculously expensive multi camera teaching spaces.
  • Constantly review what is happening and review as is necessary. The teachers are the experts here, and their voices need to be heard.

I appreciate my views here may be considered extreme, and apologies to anyone who is offended by my bluntness, but I have written this post in a hope that some will heed my warning, and act differently as a result. Making ‘convenient’ short-term decision, is not the right thing to be doing at the moment. Making difficult, long-term decisions, is the right thing to be doing, if you want your organisations to prosper going forwards.


Image Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/online-course-training-teacher-4727942/

Does Covid-19 create a need for new models of online learning?

My last post https://davefoord.wordpress.com/2020/07/06/emergency-learning-is-not-the-same-as-quality-online-learning/ was my first Covid-19 related post. This is my second post in this series:


There were recent discussions on various mailing lists that I am on, about the need for different models of online learning during this phase as we cope with the educational demands of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some went as far as suggesting that we need to throw away any existing models and start again with completely new ones. When I talk about models, I am talking about the mechanism or structure that are followed when designing, developing, delivering and then reviewing a ‘program’ of learning. Different organisations will use different combinations of models and ideas – some will be highly formalised, others will be more ‘organic’ and more loosely adhered to. The topic of choosing/designing the actual models is too complex for me to cover in detail in this post – what I am doing here is discussing the decision making considerations.

So the question is – do we need new models to meet the current demands?

Lego model of a person at a computer terminal

To answer this question correctly, we have to identify if the current models are working or not. If they are not working – then yes we may as well ditch them and start again. But, if the current models were working before Covid-19 then I think we would be better off using (possibly with some slight tweaking) these exiting models for three very simple reasons.

  • Just because Covid-19 has forced people to change their delivery methods, does not mean that the principles of good quality blended learning has changed, and therefore the models to create this also haven’t changed.
  • Whilst people are adapting to the new way of working – it seems more prudent to me, to embed the existing model of practice rather than create potential confusion by introducing new ones.
  • We have no idea how long this pandemic will run for, if there will be second waves, and what the ‘new normal’ will look like. But, it is highly unlikely that we will return to where we were before. So the smart money at the moment is not to focus on just the here and now and providing some emergency learning for the current students – but to look to the future, and take this enforced inconvenience as an opportunity to develop our blended learning provision.

The reason why I believe in the above points are:

  • Education (certainly in the UK) is based around the interactions between student and tutor, and student and student. This doesn’t matter if the learning takes place in a physical classroom, or an online environment – this should be the cornerstone of the learning experience and this hasn’t changed as a result of Covid-19. If there are no interactions with other people, then there is no point in a student paying significant amounts of money to study, they may as well buy a book, or simply spend their time surfing the web.
  • There is a myth that people learn differently when they learn online. This is nonsense – the process of learning is (apologies for the gross over-simplification) the formation of electrical connections in the brain connecting prior experience and understanding to new stimulus. This biological process is the same regardless of the vehicle of delivery.
  • High quality blended learning is about identifying the optimum mix of face to face and online learning, and developing both so they benefit from and enhance the other. The optimum mix is not a magic percentage but will be influenced by the subject, the students, the teacher, the resources available and logistical factors. The desire to find the optimum mix has not changed as a result of the pandemic – what has changed is the logistical factors that affect this optimum value. I blogged about this back in 2014! – https://davefoord.wordpress.com/2014/10/09/getfeltagright/

So – my opinion is that we shouldn’t be treating this current situation as ‘out with the old and in with the new’ but instead work with the bits that we have working well and develop them.

And as my closing comment, which has quite serious ramifications – to do anything else would send a message to teachers that us learning technology evangelists have been wrong all along – which isn’t going to provide confidence to the teachers who are probably apprehensive and nervous at the moment and need to trust the learning technologists more than ever.


Image Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/business-man-coffee-work-computer-4250499/

Emergency learning is not the same as quality online learning

I have been extremely busy over the last couple of years, so have taken a break from regular blogging, but with what is happening in the World at the moment, thought it was a good time to start blogging again, in a hope that my opinions will help other people to navigate through the minefield that lays ahead.


On the 23rd March 2020, the UK (finally) entered lockdown as a measure to deal with the Covid-19 crisis. Although many expected lockdown would happen at some point, the dithering of the Government and the mixed messages they sent out in the days and weeks beforehand, meant no-one knew when or what lockdown would look like, and when it was finally announced, it caught some people out, as education providers had to rapidly adapt and deliver ’emergency learning’.

Firstly, I think that school teachers, in particular, deserve a note of praise – they often didn’t have the platforms and resources available that FE and HE has (or should have), nor have school teachers had many opportunities for training in this area of work – so this was very much uncharted waters for them. Using my kids’ school as an example, I think the teachers have done brilliantly. They haven’t got everything right, and took a few weeks for them to work out what does and doesn’t work well when delivered this way, but generally, they have provided an educational experience to the learners that isn’t as good as being at school in a classroom, but given the circumstance was as good as could be expected.

There will be similar stories around the World, and I am aware of many tutors at school, FE, and HE levels who have surprised themselves, in what they have been able to do, and how effective it has been for them and their learners, and I expect that as things return to some level of normality, some of these educators will make more and better use of online learning options than previously – as a result of this, which is a good thing.

Image of a learner working at a laptop whilst wearing a maskHowever, (and this is a big however) we have to be careful, for some educators and many students, their only experience of online learning will be this ’emergency learning’ and this is a very different experience to well thought out, planned and executed quality online learning. There are various risks going forward:

  • Some people will be put off from engaging in online learning (either educators or learners) – because they may not have had a wonderful experience during this emergency learning phase.
  • Just because teachers managed to cope with delivering emergency learning often without the tools or the support, does not mean that they can continue that alongside the face to face delivery that is starting to open up.
  • The expectations of what quality online learning, is going to be warped. Some people will think that sharing a few weblinks, uploading a PowerPoint to the web and replicating the lesson by delivering it via a webinar, is good quality, and not be aware that there is a lot more to online learning than this.
  • There will inevitably and sadly be some people either losing their jobs, or choosing to leave their jobs (to protect themselves) – I expect that some of these people will set up as freelancers either delivering online learning on behalf of others, or advising/training in this area of work. If these people are skilled and good at this area of work, then not a problem, but I predict that there will be many who don’t have the skills/knowledge required – and that can be very damaging for organisations who cannot tell the good freelancers from the bad ones.

We don’t know exactly how the coming weeks and months (years?) will play out, but once the dust has settled, and we have become comfortable with the ‘new normal’, it is almost certain that online learning will play a bigger part in education than it did before, and it would be prudent for the decision-makers in organisations to be thinking about contingency plans for if this (or something similar) happens again. It is important that the online or blended learning part is given proper investment, and not just brushed aside (as we worry about the physical issues of getting too many students in too small a space, whilst social distancing). I hope that the decision-makers value and reward the people within their organisations who are skilled and capable in this area of work. I hope that they invest in high quality staff development and CPD, and I hope that they look critically at their own systems and practices and make changes (possibly difficult decisions) to make things fit for the ‘new normal’ and fit for the future.


Image Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/mask-student-corona-students-5285089/

Using PowerPoint to manipulate images: Creating soft edges

This is the second tutorial in a series on ‘Using PowerPoint to manipulate images’. For people like me that doesn’t own nor has the graphical skills to use the high end graphics packages, PowerPoint is my primary image editing tool, even if the end location of the image is going to be somewhere else (Word, Excel, VLE etc.)

A lot of people when adding images to resources will find an image, and chuck it in without thinking about how the image looks, what size it is, what other images are visible alongside it etc. If I am using an image as a ‘decorative’ element designed to break up the text and to act as a ‘memory hook’ for the learner, then one technique that I sometimes use is to change the image to have soft edges. This (as the name suggests) softens its appearance, so it blends into the ‘page’ rather than having the harsh sharp edge that makes it stand out. If someone is going to be spending a lot of time viewing a particular screen, having soft edges can be easier on the eye than the harsh edge of a bordered image.

Here is an example of an image that I have used in a PowerPoint presentation:


Image of 2 carnival goes wearing skeleton masks and hats. The image is rectangular with a hard border.

Here is the same image that has been turned into an oval and had the edges softened (annoyingly the theme that I use for this blog, puts a grey border around the image that I don’t want!):

Image of 2 carnival goes wearing skeleton masks and hats. The image has soft edges and no border.
The following video shows how easy this is to achieve, note – it is possible to edit multiple images at the same time – if you hold a finger on the ctrl key whilst clicking on the images you can multiple select those images, and then any changes that you make is applied to them all consistently.

Using PowerPoint to manipulate images: Circling a rectangle

I use images a lot in my work when creating learning resources, and that often requires various forms of editing and manipulating images. I don’t have access to the high end image editing software nor do I have the skill to use them, but I do have access to PowerPoint which can be a very effective tool for basic image manipulation.
In this example I will show how a rectangular image can be converted into a circular image. There a couple of reasons why you may want to do this;

  • It takes up less space on the resource, allowing more space for the other items around it.
  • It can be easier on the eye having circular images that have no corners compared to squares and rectangles with their hard corners.

This video goes through the steps to do this: