If you want to get FELTAG right – forget the 10%

This may seem like an odd title to a post, and I expect that some readers will find this post uneasy – but I feel that there is a need for a reality check here, and urge people to read the entire post before judging.

Anyone working in FE in the UK should be aware of the term FELTAG (Further Education Learning Technology Action Group) – who submitted a series of recommendations to Government to improve the quality of FE. There were many recommendations submitted, most were accepted (some with ammends) in the Government response but the one that has got everyone’s attention is the idea that all funded FE courses have to have 10% online to get any funding, and here lies the problem.

Speed Limit 10
Over the years I have run many training sessions or presentations on the notion of blended learning – and always start with an activity to define what we mean by blended learning. My definition is “The optimum mix of online and face to face delivery” for a particular situation. The key word there is the word ‘optimum’ – for some situations it may be 5% online, another maybe 25%, another 50% etc. There is no magic percentage that is the optimum value as every situation is different, so in only a very small number of scenarios is 10% going to be the optimum. What most FE providers are doing at the moment is scrabbling around desperately trying to get all of their courses to this magical 10% number, and as resources are so tight, there is no incentive or reason to go beyond the 10% – and this is what worries me. The purpose of FELTAG was to raise standards of education, and the report included many recommendations and actions covering the whole gambit of use of technology in teaching and learning – the 10% element was only one small part of it – however the term FELTAG has accidentally become synonymous with 10% and rather than being a quality improvement exercise it appears to have turned into a tick box activity driven by the funding mechanism that itself doesn’t appear to understand what online learning is or isn’t.

Following discussions on Twitter and other blogs, working with FE providers and talking to key individuals in this area it is clear to me that this has become the reality. Looking at the titles of various webinars and training courses being offered by different bodies, they all seem to focus on the 10% issue, rather than the potential quality issues, or potential financial gains issues.

I appreciate that most providers have small learning tech teams and many have never had, and still don’t have full SMT support – so this is a huge and real problem. My prediction for September 2015 is we will have lots of courses that do have the mandatory 10% online provision – but most of these will be of poor quality, with over stressed teachers, stability issues with the systems, and the 10% being an expensive tokenistic gesture that isn’t integrated into the whole teaching and learning process and culture. The other problem is that we don’t even know what 10% means – so some will create something that they think is 10% only to find out it isn’t, or others will go over the top investing too much time and effort artificially doing things, when in fact they may have already been meeting the 10% criteria.

So – what do I propose?

This brings me back to the title of the post. The best way to get this right (in my opinion) is to stop thinking about and talking about 10% – but instead to focus on identifying what the best mix of online and face to face each course would benefit from (and don’t try putting percentages against this). If we focus on this we will in almost all cases easily cover and surpass the 10% requirement, without it being an issue in itself. This approach also negates the problem of not knowing how big or where the financial goalposts are (and that will also keep moving) – if we provide something that is genuinely good, it doesn’t matter where the goalposts move to the provision will either be on target or easy to adapt slightly to get on target. If we aim for the magic 10% there is a risk we could miss altogether, and having to re-engineer something later on could be very expensive, and time consuming.

Firslty we need to make sure the snior managers are clear about what they are doing and why – there are various different models that can be employed when developing blended learning courses – and we need to get the right ones for the right purposes. We also need to ensure that we get staff buy in. Senior managers simply asking teaching staff to put 10% online (without any financial gain)  isn’t going to get staff buy in. A model where staff see reward for their efforts and benefits to them and the learners need to be found. Then we need to invest heavily in the staff work force – that has been identified on numerous occassions. There are plenty of opportunities available from the various support organisations involved, as well as many people like myself that has extensive experience of creating blended learning provision in FE and HE.

Some FE providers are shouting out that it isn’t possible to achieve any of this with the resources that they have – yes it may be difficult, but anything is possible if there is a desire and a will from the teaching staff to make it happen, and clear strategic leadership from above.

I have written this post as a ‘food for thought’ article. I hope that people don’t perceive this as a negative post – I am genuinely passionate about this area of work, and believe that great things can come from it, but I fear that at the moment, too many people are heading in the wrong direction – and a bit of feather ruffling will be benefical.

If any providers are interested in how I could help them with this area of work, then please get in touch via http://www.a6training.co.uk/contact.php


Image source: https://flic.kr/p/aXLEc

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CPD on Using Tablet Devices in FE and HE

iPads, Android devices and Microsoft Tablets have quickly established a place in society, and with that a place in education. Many schools are investing in such devices – some with 1:1 roll out and other with banks of devices. FE and HE has as always seen a hugely varied approach to this area of work. Some organisations have decided that if charging £9000 per year to study, to take a few hundred pounds out and buy each student a device as part of the course is feasible. Others have worked on the notion of allowing the students to bring their own devices (known as BYOD) and have actively created appropriate wireless infrastructures to make this happen. And of courses there are some who actively block the idea of these technologies being used in the classroom.

Image of a Windows TabletWhichever approach is taken (and those taking the last approach will soon have to change) – the underlying theme is giving the teaching staff the opportunity and time for staff development in this area. One of the problems with tablet devices is they are so easy to pick up and start using – this gets seen by some as removing the need for staff development. Yes the devices are generally easy to use – but to use them effectively in a teaching and learning situation does require different, possibly new, and at times outside-comfort-zone skills which do need to be learnt.

Many schools have realised (the hard and expensive way) that you cannot just buy devices, give them to staff and students and expect grades to rocket upwards – any benefits the devices bring will take time to materialise and usually only happen after well delivered and strategically planned staff development. The same is true for FE and HE, and especially if the BYOD model is being followed, as teachers have to think about the ways that tablet devices can be used in education, AND they will be presented with a myriad of different types, operating systems, apps, and screen sizes as well.

Most colleges and universities will have in-house support teams who support CPD activity for their staff, and many will have the ability the support and deliver the required CPD activities, but I am experiencing a significant number who don’t have the ability (yet) or worse still – they think can support this area of work but they don’t actually the breadth and/or depth of knowledge and experience to support this work effectively.

For the last few months I have been working with a company called The Tablet Academy, who specialise in providing pedagogic based training in the use of tablet devices (they cover Apple, Android and Microsoft). Most of the work to date has been within the school sectors, but (with my involvement) are now supporting FE and HE as well. We have put together a catalogue of specialist FE/HE courses, as a sample of possible training that can be offered – but we specialise in tailoring sessions to an organisations needs and requests.

I think The Tablet Academy’s position of being device agnostic (supporting Apple, Android and Microsoft) without having an preference or financial interest in any of them, puts us in a very strong position, especially within FE and HE where the BYOD model is likely to be a significant player.

PowerPoint doesn’t have to be passive

I recently had a heated discussion where someone was demonising PowerPoint because of the negative impact he thought it was having on education due to the often passive nature of its use, and it is true the vast majority of PowerPoint use within education would probably fall into the category of poor, with some being good, and a small percentage being excellent. In fact one of the things that persuaded me back in 2006 to go freelance, was in the space of a few weeks, I sat through 3 awful passive PowerPoint presentations about the importance of and how to do active learning.

But it is not the technologies fault – the technology is designed to do a job, and it does the job it is designed to do well. What is at fault is the people using it badly, and for that we need to go back to identify why, and it usually comes down to poor CPD for staff, and low expectations of what PowerPoint can do, which isn’t helped by many senior people in education standing up at conferences and the like and delivering appalling presentations.

In my early years of teaching, as I migrated from the then staple diet of death by OHT (Over Head Transparency) to using PowerPoint, my first attempts at PowerPoint were I am afraid what I would classify now as Death by PowerPoint, but I very quickly had one of those light bulb moments – I made a decision to never do death by PowerPoint again. Once I had made that decision everything else followed easily. I (like many other teachers) know what death by powerpoint looks like – so if I know what it looks like, if I am doing something that is heading that way, I don’t do it – I do something else. The key to me was bringing back the active elements of learning – getting the learners to do something, rather than just look at a load of pre-prepared bullet points on the screen that I talk about and expect learning to take place.

I worked on a principle of breaking my sessions down into smaller chunks of time, usually about 10-15 minutes. So I would talk for a bit, they would do for a bit, I would talk again, they would do something different, we would have a class discussion etc. It was this idea that lead me to creating countdown timers for PowerPoint which helped me manage the time for the different elements of active learning. I then discovered a really wonderful tool of the editable text box, allowing me to capture notes during a session, as part of a discussion activity or carrying out a ‘for’ and ‘against’ analysis. This saved me huge amounts of preparation time and hugely improved the activeness of the session.

I then used hyperlinking to create non-linear presentations, which has an array of uses and can be used to create some very effective learner directed resources, and there are many other things that I have done, and still do, all of which is designed to make the learning process active.

Going back to my opening statement of this post, the person I was discussing with, was all for promoting Prezi, which I don’t have a problem with as such (it doesn’t do anything for me, but I am a high level PowerPoint user) – but the issue is the same, unless staff have proper CPD and support we just get death by Prezi rather than Death by PowerPoint (only with Prezi you can get a bit of sea sickness thrown in for good measure).

When I first started working as a freelance trainer, a lot of the training that I ran was PowerPoint related. Over the years the amount of PowerPoint training I run has dwindled – I think many see it is ‘old hat’ and not needing training, which I wish was the case, but whilst I keep seeing lots of really bad PowerPoint presentations, I am very aware that there is still a need for teaching staff at all levels of education to have good quality PowerPoint training.

I am redeveloping some of my PowerPoint training sessions, one of which is titled ‘Making PowerPoint Active not Passive’ – which is introduced in the following video.

For further information visit http://www.a6training.co.uk/PowerPointActive.php

If you are interested in high quality PowerPoint training, that can be (and has been) delivered to all levels from Nursery through to HE , then visit http://www.a6training.co.uk/ for details.

Adding subtitles to YouTube videos using CaptionTube

YouTube is a wonderful resource, it works on just about all internet enabled devices, it hardly ever goes wrong, it is easy to use and although there is a lot of low quality rubbish on there (in my opinion), there is also huge amounts of really useful high quality videos that we can use in education to enhance our teaching and learning practices.

A feature of YouTube that many don’t know about, is the auto-captioning option – in other words YouTube creates a transcript of the video without you having to do anything. If you are watching a video on the YouTube page and you want to see the captions, then there is a button below the video (currently to the right of the where it says ‘add to’) which is the transcript button – this brings up the transcript as a timeline below the videos and automatically advances with the video. This can be great for learners that have a disability (e.g. are deaf), but can also be really useful to find a key point within a video.

For example I often use short sections of the excellent TED talk video of Ken Robinson talking about schools killing creativity. If I want to locate a certain section within that video, I use the automatic captions that appear below it to locate the section that I want.

Because the transcripts are computer generated, they do contain errors – and depending on the clarity of the voice and the background noise of the video will determine the accuracy of the transcript. For some reason my voice never does well with automated speech to text systems, including YouTube.

However if you do want to override the automatic captions that YouTube creates with your own ones, then this is very easy to do – and for this I use a service called CaptionTube This is a simple system where you sign in (using a Google Account) you locate the video you want to caption (which could be your own or someone elses) and then you play the video pausing it at intervals to add your captions. If the video is your own, then you can add the captions to it there and then, if it isn’t your video then you can send the transcript to them to see if they want to upload it.

The following video (by John Skidgel) introduces the basics of CaptionTube.

Here is a video of mine that I captioned using this method. This took me 12 minutes in total from opening the page to my captions appearing on the video on YouTube.

Adding Captions to a video is a simple way to increase the accessibility of a resource, as well as potentially increasing the number of people that see your video, as the contents of the captions will get picked up by search engines (if the video is set to being public and listed).

How to locate images on Wikimedia and embed into Moodle or Blackboard

There are lots of people that work in education that sadly think that Wikipedia is the work of the devil, and think that it will undermine academia as we know it, and should be banned at all costs. There are others that think Wikipedia is a wonderful source of information, and there is no point of looking elsewhere for facts.

Regardless of your viewpoint on Wikipedia (which hopefully is somewhere between the 2 extremes above), one aspect of it that is very useful, is that there is lots of high quality media (mainly images, but also videos and audio) available on Wikimedia – that can be easily (and legally) embedded into a VLE like Moodle or Blackboard.

As organisations scramble to set up online courses, the reality is that most people won’t have the time or money to generate their own high quality media – and I don’t think we need to, seeing as there is so much media out there that we can easily and legally use – the key is the academic structuring of this information and the asking of challenging and stimulating questions around this available media and information. e.g. the image below identifying a muscle in the human body – I couldn’t draw this myself, and it would be a waste of my time trying to.
Musculi coli sternocleidomastoideus

The video below shows how easy it is to find an image on wikimedia and embed it into a VLE like Moodle or Blackboard

Using Creative Commons Search to find images on Flickr and embed into a VLE

I have blogged many times in the past (see bottom of post for links) about different ways to locate and use Creative Commons images (e.g. ones that can be used without breaking copyright). My favourite 2 sources of images are currently Xpert and Wikimedia but if I don’t find what I want there, then here is another useful technique.

The website http://search.creativecommons.org/ is another very useful tool that will allow you to search different sources of media (including images, video, audio) with one of the search options being for the image sharing website Flickr.

In the past I have used a site called CompFight to achieve this, but with compfight the default settings are such that you have to tick to choose that you want creative commons, and if you want the commercial option, then you have to tick that as well, so there is a real possibility that someone could forget to tick these options, and end up with an image that isn’t Creative Commons. With the creative commons search tool, it ticks these 2 options as default, so when I am showing this technique to staff, I am now using this site for that reason.

Here is a video showing how we can use the tool to locate an image and then embed it into a VLE such as Moodle or Blackboard, or any other webspace that you can edit.

I regularly run training for organisations, in topics like this, including different ways of using the images once they have been located. For details of training please contact Dave Foord via http://www.a6training.co.uk/contact.php


Links to other posts in this blog on this topic.

Using a colour combination chart when creating resources

In my early days of teaching, and just as I was starting to get my head around the tools that were available to me (PowerPoint) – I was faced with a multitude of colours that I could choose as background or font. The problem is that certain colours don’t go very well together. Some are obvious – such as having dark text on a dark background, or light text on a light background (but I am still suprised how I often I see this mistake made), and others are less obvious like using green and red or blue and red.

Then I created a very simple tool that helped me when choosing colours, and saved myself time in the process. I created a grid where I had a variety of combinations of backgrounds, and fonts in each of the different colour combinations – by glancing at this, I can then see which colour combinations work better than others, without having to keep changing the settings until I get something that works. This grid was stuck to the wall next to my desk.

I also used this when I had a student with a visual impairment in my class. I took the grid to him, and asked him which colour combination he found best – he looked at the grid and quickly said black text on an orange background. So I quickly changed the colour schemes of my presentations for that unit (which because I had used the Master Slide was very quick to do) – and as a result of that (and other simple changes I made to my teaching) – in my sessions he didn’t need to have the note taker that he needed in all the other lessons he attended – which for him, was a wonderful experience (as well as saving the College lots of money).

The grid (which I still use) is available for others if they want to use, and can be located on my website towards the bottom of http://www.a6training.co.uk/resources_powerpoint.php. Although I originally produced this for the use of PowerPoint, this works with any technology where you have the option to change colours, and can be a really useful way of increasing accessibility of learning resources.

The video below introduces this chart.