Reflections on Using tablets in FE and HE assessment event

This blog post is an example of how a blog can be used for reflective practice. I am going to reflect on a training session that I recently ran, and use this reflective practice to help me improve the session for the future and help with my planning of other similar sessions.

Image of Dave Foord

Self Reflection

On Friday 28th March 2014 I ran the first FE/HE session for The Tablet Academy at Lougborough University. The session was designed to look at the use of tablet devices in assessment, and attracted 8 people from across the country.

There are lots of different people, companies and organisations offering tablet training at the moment, of varying quality and varying price (and no direct correlation between the two), so I was keen that I offered something different, something more than the very easy “look at me and how clever I am with an iPad” type session, that yes can be inspiring, but often doesn’t give people a chance to unpick bigger issues.

Therefore the main focus of the day, was to try to get the attendees to think openly about the use of tablet devices in assessment, including the issues that may arise, and not just the positives that can be brought. We also made the decision to focus on BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) rather than specifying a particular platform (e.g. iPads).

The structure of the day was:

  1. Introduction presentation.
  2. Exploring options of how tablets can be used in education.
  3. Designing, completing, then assessing an assessed activity with tablets.
  4. Bringing it all together.

Here is my reflection on each part:

Introduction presentation

I created a short presentation that was designed to set the scene, and to try to create the mindset of not using tablets to replace laptops, but to look at what tablets do that laptops cannot, and how this can be used beneficially in assessment. On reflection, I should have spent less time on this point and more time demonstrating options of what is possible with tablets. I didn’t want to spoil the next activity by giving the attendees the answers to the tasks I was about to set them, but some of the the attendees would have benefited from such examples to help make the rest of the day less abstract.

Exploring options of how tablets can be used in education

We had allocated a significant amount of time (over 2 hours) to this part of the day, which was an opportunity for attendees to explore different options of how tablet devices can be used in assessment. Because each person would have different organisational needs, roles and devices, I created 7 separate tasks (challenges) for them to look at. Each task had some background information, then a set of questions/activities for them to work through which would hopefully guide them through an exploration of that topic, with me facilitating them to unpick some of the issues. I estimated each topic to take about 30 minutes so hoped that people could explore 4 or 5 of the options in the allotted time. As it turned out the tasks took longer than I anticipated, so they only managed to cover 2 of the tasks, which was a shame. For future events, there are various options:

  1. I could shorten each topic, but then have a section for each topic which is titled “further exploration” or similar – so they could continue exploring at a later day.
  2. I could have sent attendees some pre course information so they could look at the options and possibly start some of the tasks (even if they only downloaded any required apps, and created accounts where required on them – which would have saved time).
  3. I could have been more draconian with the time keeping, forcing them to change topics if they spent more than say 40 minutes on any topic. I am not a big fan of this idea, as I need attendees to be comfortable with their explorations, and it is more beneficial for them to unpick a smaller number of options well, rather than more options badly.
  4. If I increased the time of the introduction, to include a quick demo of each idea, this would then have saved attendees time when exploring these options.

Having jotted down these possible options, I think points 1,2 and 4 above could be used together to improve this part of the session, and is what I will do next time.

Designing, completing, then assessing an assessed activity with tablets

This part of the day worked really well. Working in pairs, each pair had 30 minutes to design a tablet enabled assessable activity. They would then share this with a different pair. Each pair then had 30 minutes to complete the task set by someone else, after which they returned the work to the original pair, who had a further 30 minutes to assess and give feedback.
For this activity I was very strict with the timings, using a countdown timer on an iPad to keep me and the group focused. By setting a very specific and challenging time helped to keep people on task, and stopped the afternoon from ‘drifting’. Attendees very much got into the spirit of this activity, they had a lot of fun (which is good), they were imaginative (which was the intention) and they uncovered a few problems with the logistics of actually getting the task to the other people. The main reflection (which was also echoed by the participants feedback) was they didn’t need 30 minutes to assess the work, so could shorten this easily to 15 or even 10 minutes, apart from that I would keep this part of her he day the same.

Bringing it all together

As with any good training session, it is important that there is a chance to reflect and regroup at the end, and some form of identified action for people to do next. For this I set the task of asking people to identify the 5 Ws – Why, What, When, How, and Who for them to identify a small step that they were going to take to move their organisation forward in using tablet devices in the process of assessment. After the slightly pressurised previous 90 minutes as they raced against the clock, this made for a useful reflecting and refocusing activity. We then had some general discussions and used Socrative as a tool to reflect on the day in general.

Looking at the feedback provided by the attendees all bar one were very satisfied with the day, with some highlighting a few of the points I have made above. A few said they would have preferred the day to be platform specific (e.g. Just iPad, or just Microsoft) rather than BYOD, and a few wanted to see more examples of good practice.

From my perspective, I wanted the day to be a chance for people to unpick the real issues around using tablets for assessment, and as such I knew that people would encounter certain problems during the day, which was good, as better for them to encounter them here rather than with real assessments, however these few problems may have been perceived as outweighing the benefits of using tablet devices, which wasn’t my intention. The biggest problem that people encountered was the BYOD issue – of working with ideas that work across all platforms. Many thought Google Docs would be a good option, but discovered that these didn’t work well on iPads and sharing them was more complicated than expected. I tried to reinforce the point that in reality you use the tablet devices when they are most appropriate and use something else when not appropriate, e.g. It is perfectly acceptable for a member of staff to use a computer to create the assessment, the student to use and tablet to complete it and the tutor to use a computer to mark it.

My thanks go to the staff at Loughborough University for their support, in particular Charles Shields and Farzana Khandia.

 

Advertisements

Why I use WordPress rather than IfL’s reflect tool

This morning I read a blog post by David Hopkins on the idea of the bPortfolio replacing the ePortfolio which made me look back at my blog to see what I had written about ePortfolios in the past and came across my post about the ePortfolio conundrum from January 2010. I don’t think we are any closer to solving the problem that I presented back then, but David’s post does back this up, and is for me my reflective portfolio of choice.

Like many other educators in the FE sector I am a member of the IfL. Personally I get no benefit from being a member, and when I asked them to justify the value for money before renewing my subscription, the top item on the list was my access to the IfL Reflect tool. This didn’t help convince me as I chose not to use it, for a variety of reasons:-

Reflect is based on the tool PebblePad which some people really like, and has some very good qualities but the way it works is very personal (which is it’s intention) but by being personal it means that some people will like the way that it works, and others won’t. I for some reason fit into the category of it not working for me.

However more importantly the reason why I choose to use WordPress for my reflective practice, is I am in complete control of the area, and I can personalise it to the way that I want it to work. Also it can never be taken away from me. With Reflect, if I ceased to be a member of the IfL I would lose that area, which to me goes against the notion of Continuous Professional Development. Defenders of Reflect will tell me that I could export my portfolio if I did leave IfL, but that isn’t the same as being able to continue using it as it is, which is what I want.

There are different ways to use WordPress. I use the wordpress.com site, which hosts my blog for free me. If I wanted to (and had the technical ability to) I could download the wordpress software onto my own server and run it from there. If I wanted to switch from one to another, I could easily back up the blog, and then re-import it into the other environment. With WordPress I have so many options

  • I can write and edit entries easily from my iphone.
  • I can send an email which updates my blog.
  • I can integrate images, video, sound easily.
  • I can attach files easily.
  • I can keep the blog private, or public.
  • And the list goes on.

So it will be interesting to see if the idea of the bPortfolio (blog portfolio) that David Hopkin’s mentions does replace the ePortfolio. If it does then I am already converted.

 

Updating a blog from Flickr or email

Following on from yesterdays blog post where I talked about using a wordpress.com blog for reflective practice I have 2 more screencasts for some of the things that we can do.

The first is looking at setting up a connecting between Flickr and the blog. This is a technique that I use loads – as Flickr is a wonderful source of high quality images, which can enhance my blog posts, and once the connection is set up, is easy to use.

The second technique that I think is really useful, is the ability to post to a blog by simply sending an email. This makes blog posting really easy, can be achieved from any email connected device (including many mobile phones), and can be used by a tutor to create a class blog, that multiple people (e.g. students) can post to.

Using a WordPress.com blog for reflective practice

On Wednesday I will be working with staff at Bedford College, as they will be supporting learners to use iphones to help them keep reflective logs whilst they are on their summer work placements.

We have chosen to use wordpress.com blogs for this, as will do most that we need to do, is free, easy to set up and will work without the iphone, so is more futureproof.

I will be showing staff as many different ways that a learner can capture and send information to their blog through text, audio, images and videos, and how they can then use the wordpress app on the iphone to manage their posts, reflect on their work etc.

My job on Wednesday is to train the staff, who in turn will have to train the learners, so I am deliberately not creating any ‘how to sheets’ as these can make people too reliant on them, and as the various services that we will use change (and they do change regularly) they can become more of a hinderance than a help, so instead I have created a few screencasts using screenr to get them going, I will then as part of the days training, get them to create their own support material (using different mediums), and email this into a blog that I have set up specifically for this purpose, that will hopefully help them practice the skills, as well as giving them a reference tool for the coming months.

The first step is to set up a wordpress.com account which this video hopefully explains

Having created an account, and set up a blog step 2, is to start writing posts. There are various ways to do this, but this is one of them.

In tomorrows post, I will show how to connect a Flickr account to a blog and how to set up the ability to email to a blog.

Too busy to blog

I don’t normally do new year resolutions as I never keep them, but this year I made a promise to myself to blog more frequently, as it is now so easy from iPhone, email, flickr etc to blog on the fly this shouldn’t be a problem.

so in 6 weeks I have managed 1 post – which is appalling I know, (in my defence your honour I have got 3 half written posts on the go at the moment) and my excuse is of course that I have been very, very busy since Christmas (not helped by a whimsical decision to move house) and when faced with the time management constraints my blogging has lost out, even though i know that this is where I reflect on my professional practice. This I recognise is not unique to me at the moment and is a real issue faced by many working in education at the moment.

what is interesting is that I had a spell before Christmas of blogging quite well, but this was thanks to me spending many hours in the middle of the night trying to get little ones to sleep, and I wrote many posts from my iPhone during this. at the moment the sleep situation is better so I have lost this opportunity to reflect and I need to change my behaviour to replace that with something else.

in fact I am only writing this post because I am on train with no sockets and my laptop battery is flat otherwise I would be working in something more pressing!

m-learning – ‘the great accessibility enabler’

Earlier this year, I was honoured to be asked to do a keynote presentation at an m-learning event organised by JISC RSC-Eastern. Earlier in the day James Clay had opened proceedings with his keynote, and I was closing with mine – although I may be bias I think an excellent combination of presenters.

James videoed the session, which he has uploaded to his blog, which is great for me, as I can use this to reflect on my own presentation technique – for example due to the day overrunning slightly, I was slightly late starting, so was concerned that I went a bit too quick to compensate – however watching the video I realise that the pace was OK. I have also reduced the number of uhms from my presentation style (which used to be prevelant in my earlier days) and although I am constantly moving around – I  don’t fidgit as much as I used to. I haven’t seen a video of myself presenting for over 2 years now, so this has been a really useful exercise.

Confidentiality when using a blog for reflective practice

Following my recent post on using a blog for reflective practice I have been asked about issues of confidentiality with these ideas, and this is of course a very important area, but one that can be resolved by applying some common sense, and thinking about each case individually. Here are a few pointers and an idea of the thought process that I go through when designing or advising people on such systems.

For example if you want learners to use a blog for reflective practice:-

The first decision is ‘Do you use an in house option, or go for a free external service?’ To many it may seem obvious to go for the in house option, which has obvious advantages of:-

  • Being secure behind an organisations system
  • Being easy to set up (as may be an existing feature of an existing VLE)
  • There won’t be any advertising
  • The service is unlikely to go bust
  • Etc.

However, there is one major disadvantage of this – and that is the organisation would ‘own’ the blog, not the individual – which in many cases would mean that when the individual leaves the organisation, they would lose their blog. This for me would not be acceptable for a reflective log, as the learner should have the reflective log for the rest of their lives.

Yes there may be the option to package and export an in house blog to give to the learner, but this would almost certainly lose some of its functionality, and any links to it from other people’s blog or websites.

So I think that the external option has to be seriously considered – which brings us to the next decision – ‘Do we force the learner to have a blog?’ One thing that I think would be morally very wrong would be to force anyone to subscribe to any internet service for them to complete their studies – so any of these ideas have to be optional for the learner, the way that I would play it, is to insist that the learners carry out a reflective log, but leave it up to them how they do it – so some may use pen and paper (or at least type it into Word) – but show them what the advantages are of having an electronic tool such as a blog – and then give them confidence that you will accept just about any format of reflective tool.

If some or all of the learners like the idea of having a blog, there is a need to educate them about safe practice, appropriate use, copyright issues, confidentiality etc – all of these things being skills that realistically they should know and have in this media rich environment, especially if they are on a course such as teacher training. With just about all the web2.0 options available an individual can make things open to everyone, private to themselves, or private to a small group of people, and again these options need to be explored and the advantages and disadvantages considered. I personally keep most things open for the whole World to see, but it is more likely that people may want their reflective logs to be private, but shared amongst their peers and tutors.

People often ask me about what happens if the blog providers goes bust, or starts charging, and again this is a real issue to consider, and my line of approach is to ask myself the question – how does this service make (or plan to make) money? There are generally 4 options.

  1. Making money from having a higher level of service that people subscribe to (e.g. Flickr, WordPress)
  2. Making money from advertising on the site (e.g. Blogger, BlogSpot YouTube)
  3. Making money from selling associated items (e.g. Skype makes money by selling Skype phones)
  4. Providing a successful service that then gets bought out by one of the big boys (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft etc) – this is the model that many web2.0 tools work by, but changes in the global economic situation has meant that less of these acquisitions are taking place at the moment, so the web2.0 tools are having to use the other options of making money, which in most cases means option 1 – introducing charges for the service, in the case of Flickr or WordPress, the ‘free’ option provides enough for us to use educationally – other services will offer a free limited service to get you hooked, but then introduce charges to open up additional features, this is OK as you know where you stand, where it goes wrong is if they introduce charges for the entire service – in this case it is about exporting the content and moving to another tool.

In terms of blogging tools, Blogger and BlogSpot are both owned by Google, who then make money from advertising. Google is unlikely to go bust, and is unlikely to stop offering a free service, so I think it is highly unlikely that these tools will disappear – but you do have to accept the advertising on the site. I personally use WordPress for my blog, as I think that it looks more professional, it doesn’t have any advertising, and the way that they make money is by selling a higher level service to advanced users, and I believe that they make enough money from this that my ‘free’ blog isn’t at risk.

So to conclude – I am trying to get people interested in the ideas and thinking about the options, if someone does want to take these further, then applying a bit of thought and common sense and ‘walking’ through the options is required – but a sensible, practical solution can be achieved.