Arbeitslos 2013I have found this post quite difficult to compose. The subject matter is completely alien to me and I had to think long and hard about whether or not I should write it. I am doing so in the hope that it’s personally cathartic, as I don’t really expect any of the circumstances to change any time soon.

For the first time in over thirty years I find myself without work.

The last time this happened was in 1982 when, following several hard years of self employment a previous recession forced me to close the business I was then running. At that time we sold our delightful semi-detached home and moved into a fish and chip shop. This was good accommodation, but living ‘over’ the shop isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. A fish and chip business wasn’t the most lucrative to have at that time either as all of the local businesses and mills were also closing – but we were able to keep a roof over our heads and to feed the kids.

It was following this experience that I moved into Education, starting as a part-time chef-lecturer at Dewsbury College.

I became self-employed once again; seventeen years later in 2005, when my ‘e-Learning Manager’ post at Dewsbury was made redundant. Since then, until the middle of 2011 it was ‘rock and roll’ – I was as busy as anyone else in this business and, I like to think, just as equally respected. Since the summer of 2011, things have slackened off remarkably. Without work given to me by the redoubtable Lilian Soon (at Leeds College of Music) and by LSIS (directly and via various routes), I would have struggled much earlier. I have had other work – not to mention that provided by TechDis (for whom I do still have some residual bits of work) and one of the RSCs, but now that LSIS are no more and the JISC are also tightening their belts, there is nothing on the horizon at all.

I know that I’m not the only one as I’ve seen several status updates on Facebook and on Twitter from respected, often eminent e-Learning gurus – saying the same thing: where is the work?

It would seem to me that at this time; when colleges are being forced to re-think the way they operate due to massively reduced funding streams, that the creative, thoughtful and effective use of e-Learning would be most necessary – but there’s no evidence of that.

I spent a full week in a college last month delivering ‘basic Moodle training’ (17 x 90-minute sessions) to as many of the staff (teaching and non-teaching) as could make those sessions – almost the entire staff body. And, that’s a good thing – but there is no cross-college, management inspired plan to back up the basics with anything more advanced. Yet, with just a little more guidance, some input on ‘other tools’ and a modicum of ‘this-is-how-to-make-online-work’ – next year’s intake mightn’t be faced with meaningless lists of files – or the scroll of video death*.

Cartoon image, courtesy of another college will soon move into a new build. As far as I’m aware, there will be no (or much reduced) physical file storage there and everyone will ‘hot-desk’. But I’m not aware of any training being delivered to help staff to cope with the necessity of storing online or of the benefits and challenges that this will bring.

After talking with other ‘e’ friends, some of whom are in a similar situation to me, I feel that much of the ‘e’ progress we have seen (and been party to) over the last 10-12 years is in danger of being lost – or at the very least stalled. Which is a real shame, because learners still need to be well taught – but nowadays in less time and with less face to face guidance.

So, although I’m fairly sanguine about my personal future – I do feel for those ‘e’ colleagues who have families to support. I just need to sell my house (it’s been for sale on and off for over two years already) and any immediate pressure will be off – but the reason for it not selling is much the same as the reasons for reduced funding across Education – and I don’t want to fall out with anyone by going into THAT!


*Now that I’ve shown teachers how to ‘embed’ videos in ‘labels’ (also in ‘Book’ – but that’s a step extra) I expect there to be a repeat of the days when teachers first saw PowerPoint and immediately adopted that – for everything, for ever! Leading to the original ‘death by …’.


Cartoon image, courtesy of
Main image original courtesy of [links to original]

Who checks the checkers?

Once again this week, I’ve heard of F.E. teachers receiving less than good lesson observation reports, because of their improper use of technology. Tut tut!

Apparently, each of the teachers in question hadn’t used the interactive white board (IWB) that was installed in their classroom. For goodness sake!

Why is it that lesson observers think they have to point out defects in the use of technology, when they patently haven’t a clue what they are talking about. If they HAD half a clue what they were talking about, they might first ask ‘is there a reason why you did not employ use of the IWB?’ and anything short of ‘I didn’t see it there’ might be considered a fair enough answer. Why would you use an IWB to teach PowerPoint, or how to fillet fish? Why?

I know a teacher whose use of ILT once got marked as less than satisfactory when in fact she had half the class working on PhotoStory3 presentations and the other half preparing blogs. It was the lesson observer who needed a kick up the arse, not the teacher in question.

I’ve always said that ILT, information LEARNING technology should be exactly what it says – IT (information technology) that surrounds and supports LEARNING. It should not be used simply because it’s there. Where the use of technology is planned and applied appropriately, it can enhance the learning process; even ad hoc use if applied appropriately can have the same result. But the use of technology for technology’s sake is evil and should be wiped out.

Who checks the lesson observer’s ILT competence? Who checks the checkers?

Moodle 2 and so on

I’m just coming to the end of a longish period of time, working with a great team of ‘e’ people.

Since June this year we’ve been working on a Super Moodle for a College in Leeds. The team was put together and managed by the wonderful Lilian Soon.

Now that the work is gradually coming to a close and we’ve begun to reflect upon the outcomes, we have realised that all VLEs could be like this – if only colleges and university departments had the vision to set such a thing in motion and if staff (academic and non-academic) could comprehend the benefits.

We’ve used Moodle 2 at the core of this development and integrated lesson capture tools like Adobe Connect and Panopto. Panopto has a plugin called Unison that allows video and audio to be uploaded ready for streaming to the user a’la YouTube. Mahara is integrated to allow easy portfolio building by learners – but which also allows easy sharing and collaboration by all. Xerte too, is incorporated – giving staff the opportunity to easily create interactive, accessible multimedia resources. There have been other more technical developments as well – but far too clever for me to understand.

At the college, they wrap all of this up in a fairly seamless learning environment. Whatever you think of ‘naming’ VLEs (and this college does have a ‘name’ for theirs), it has worked – because all of the various non-Moodle integrations have been skinned to have a similar look and feel – all down to the careful planning by Lilian and her team.

My part in all this has been quite small (on the huge scale of things) – I’ve worked with various staff to prepare them for using the end-result and to help them build both on-line and in-line learning pages.

Furthermore, I’ve been involved in the generic preparation and training of staff for use of ILT/e-Learning and with the preparation of extensive on-line ‘help’ and training materials for all users. I’ve learned a lot about Moodle 2 and those many peripheral tools.

But most of all, I’ve learned a lot more about what a learning environment can be – if we put our minds (and expertise) to it. Well done Lils, Ron and everyone else. (Contact any one of us if you want more details)

Evaluation of e-Learning

I was recently asked how I might evaluate the use of e-Learning. To be fair the question took me by surprise, as it wasn’t something I’d given any thought to for a number of years. To me, the answer is self-evident.

I suggested that we couldn’t evaluate e-Learning in any quantitative way and that differentiating it from good teaching and learning was a folly.

I did suggest that if we took ‘it’ all away and then measured the gap that was left in modern teaching practice it might quantitatively answer the question of how much ‘e’ was used, but not how well or how badly it was used, which I think was the questioner’s point.

The problem we have today is that e-Learning tools, techniques and technologies are used all of the time and in every school, college, workplace and university. All teachers now embrace the use of email; many of them use it with learners. All teachers expect access to some form of computer in their staff room, whether that is a personal laptop or shared PC. They might also expect to see a LCD projector in their room. Fairly often, they will use a PowerPoint Slideshow as the backbone of their lesson; this might even be made available to learners via a VLE or less so but increasingly via some sort of Web 2.0 provision. But how do you evaluate all that use and more importantly, how would you separate its use from every other teaching and learning tool or technique used? And would we assess the learners’ use or the teacher’s?

Without going into the use of emerging or mobile technologies how many current classroom activities are 100% e-Learning? And, how many of those e-Learning tools, techniques and technologies employed are well thought out, user friendly, accessible and pedagogically sound? Some may say that this is the reason for undertaking an evaluation, but my reply still stands – how do you separate ‘e’ from the rest?

Let us work towards a universal understanding of how learners learn (and this changes much slower than the technology changes) and then how to choose advantageous tools and techniques which address those learner needs: in and out of the classroom. Then, let us evaluate the whole caboodle – not just ‘e’.

After all, who ever evaluated the use of pens and pencils when slates became outdated?

See this .pdf file.

Strategic decisions

I’m not attending ALT-C this year for pretty much the same reasons that I often ‘don’t go’.  It’s also a lot of money to pay out at this time, when the income stream looks bleakish. Luckily, I have a fair bit of residual work (work that is either paid for or wraps up the odd contract) during September so I have enough to occupy me anyway, without having to traipse off to Nottingham.

One of the main reasons I’m not going is that I went last year and last year’s visit reminded me of why I don’t need to attend ALT-C every year. On the plus side, there is a lot of networking which is for me the main benefit of attending and number one reason TO go. But, apart from the odd break-through, the sessions seemed to be pretty much updates to what was said the year before or extracts from someone’s Doctoral Thesis process being delivered to sympathetic audiences. There will often be the outcomes of projects too, but as the submission date is way back in winter, many of these (given the nature of emerging technologies) are out of date by the time ALT-C attendees get to hear them.

This does not mean that any of this is has no value, it definitely has great value and to those attending (in the main) any one session could be the spark that ignites a change in their teaching and learning practice.

However, despite the fact that many of those attending and delivering sessions are THE experts in their field, gurus even; I’m not altogether sure that the ‘talk’ is being translated into ‘action’ in the field. Certainly not universally.

Not in F.E. anyway.

Over the last five years my role has taken me into many colleges of further education (F.E.) and allowed me to meet many more practitioners at a variety of events and workshops. During those years, practice HAS changed as more and more practitioners become aware of the difference well thought out and delivered, pedagogically based e-Learning can make. But as I’ve stated, this is not universal.

Last week I asked the Twittersphere the following question:

“Why do strategic decisions made by college SMT rarely make their way down to the troops to be coordinated? In fact do troops ever get a say?”
It received one reply:
“..coz what the top wants is often very different from what the bottom needs? And Nope.”

Why is that so true? Whatever happened to effective communication?

A number of things prompted my question. For example, the institutional rollout of a new operating system must surely be a strategic decision. Surely it is not one that is made by any one party. Therefore, if strategically dictated, proper information, advice and guidance must have been set in place. One assumes (hopes?) so.  I wonder how often the strategy includes pre-installation information to key stakeholders such as departmental managers and course leaders? And how much effort is made to inform them of the consequences (unusable ‘specialist’ software originally supplied with ‘project’ money or development, similar software needing updates). Where this information is supplied, how much support does the stakeholder get?

And (this is probably the crux of my post), how much thought is given to the strategic development of effective delivery via technology. During these straightened times, when institutions could save money by implementing well thought out, pedagogically based blended learning solutions – how much thought has been given to an appropriate staff development strategy? I suspect that many teaching colleagues will have been told that they must have their year planners and induction materials on the VLE – job done.

But the job isn’t done and every year, this is underlined at conferences like ALT-C. Yet …

Despite everything, I suspect that I will be watching ALT-C events via Twitter and checking out any recommendations from trusted friends. I will not be following via Twitterfall though!

‘Virtual’ – an environment for learning?

Well, it’s been a while since my previous post, which received an unusual amount of (quite positive) attention. Many thanks to everyone who contributed and to James Clay for tweeting the fact that he was reading it!

I’ve considered the online replies, and the comments I’ve received from people who read the post and told  me personally that they enjoyed it. Furthermore, I’ve begun to work with some a secondary school and the practitioners who are building their own first VLE.

I feel that some development of this discussion is required and today’s post is aimed at prodding more response.

In her first comment Louise Jacobson directed me towards her own (February 2010) VLE blog post which drew her reader’s attention to a book chapter she’d written back in 2008. I think it is an excellent stepped approach to VLE development and one that can perhaps be measured: whereas I see my own 4-stage model more as a roadmap; each stage a means of guidance rather than a target in itself. Some institutions do in fact take a more stepped approach to VLE development, as I am reminded by Ellen and whilst I think that this can be a good idea, there is always the danger that the ‘level’ becomes the goal, rather than pure and simple pedagogical interactivity and engagement.

I do agree with Ellen, and perhaps all my contributors agree, that the first stage is just to get something on there! But it’s where to go from there and how quickly (and how much corporate interference there is) that needs discussion. What other factors come into play when trying to convince colleagues to use the VLE? Steve suggests that despite his keen and forward looking developments, he continues to be thwarted by the institutional IPD ( and ( which is sad, given that he (Steve) has a fine list of suggestions for VLE development:

• Plan it on a blank piece of paper – What do you want it to do and how do you want it to look is appropriate for the subject matter?
• Use Icons or pictures for links – Most of my links lead to web pages which I have made in Publisher and include embedded objects; make sure you set the links to open in a new page – even my PDF’s have pictures as the Icon.
• Try not to use it a filing system – Some of the VLE’s I have seen are sooooo boring, just lists of files! PowerPoint doesn’t fit too well in Moodle. Also, there are compatibility issues with Ms Office, and Open Office. Web pages, PDF’s and Flash are a lot easier for access anywhere.
• Embed RLO’s – Hot potatoes that kind of thing.
• Get your colleagues to test it – check for typos, broken links etc.
• Never assume – not all learners are confident ILT users.

(Steve Halstead)

So, should a VLE be developed strategically with only senior management involvement throughout? Do they know enough about what is needed, to lead such a project or not? Who should lead such developments then – teachers? .. Should the learner be involved? .. Should there be some sort of learning technologist involved? When and how much should IPDs become involved? Who is responsible?

Personally, I think that they should all be involved – and be committed to the project. Senior managers should realise that a final ‘finished’ product can never be achieved (certainly not “by the end of the month”) – it will always be a work in progress, with new possibilities being explored all the time. Teachers should be guided by their learners and not be pressured into achieving something too quickly – but they should nevertheless, mark their progress against a carefully considered roadmap or (if it works for them) a Gold, Silver and Bronze level of attainment. A learning technologist should be on hand to offer coaching, guidance and direction but not to interfere so much that he/she becomes the developer. His/her role is to help all parties to understand the VLE’s potential and how to avoid the pitfalls. Perhaps his/her most important role would be to be the lubricant that makes all of the various cogs run smoothly, with special responsibility for understanding the fears of IPDs and helping to assuage them.

In this way, strategic necessity is balanced against pedagogical need and the institution benefits as a whole – rather than (as I’m sure happens now) in silos.

I still wonder if my evolving model works the same for all areas (school, WBL, F.E., H.E., ACL etc) so comments really are welcome.


(Previous post regarding ‘levels’ –
James Clay e-Learning Stuff Podcast on this subject:

Experiential Learning

“Rather than treat pedagogy as the transfer of knowledge from teachers who are experts to students who are receptacles, educators should consider more hands-on and informal types of learning.”

John Seeley Brown [Dec. 2006] reported by Martin LaMonica [Staff Writer, CNET News]. Accessed at:,-think-Web-2.0/2100-1032_3-6140175.html on 21/02/10

I’ve been interested for a very long time now in the exploration of pedagogical uses for modern (‘m’) tools and technologies. I hazard to say techniques at this stage, because it is in fact the techniques which need to be pedagogically planned. I’m also interested in the social implications of ‘m’ and how these might be brought to bear on the way we enable learning to take place.

An earlier blog post []  discusses my use of Bloom’s Taxonomy as an introduction to the development of ‘m’ techniques. I use this taxonomy in the preparation of (and as part of) my workshops. Hitherto, Blooms’ has been the bedrock of my exploration and development.

However, there are other theories that lend themselves to being re-visited with one eye on the tools and technologies of 2010 and beyond. Others have begun this and the foremost seems to be:


I’m quite interested in the way we might revisit Maslow, with an eye on the social and economic changes that are happening around us. I think there’s a real need now to recognise how the (especially) lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy are changing. Young learners now have technological needs that the original paper preceded. As Dan Bevarly (@dbevarly) says: “You can’t engage if you can’t connect”. I am working on this, but as with everything else (and work etc), it’s a slow process.

Some others I have also explored are:


  1. Sizing up the situation at hand through objective observation.
  2. Drawing forth knowledge about such situations by recalling similar past experiences (both your own and those of the people around you).
  3. Judging how to proceed, based on this knowledge (Makes a start on Web 2.0 with Dewey at the root.)




I liked:

“He who learns but does not think is lost. He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.”
(Lunyu 2.15) from: [accessed: 19/02/10]

and to this Confucian quote I would add:

“he who teaches but does not learn – is a fool”

Yet none have addressed, as far as my brief desk-search can see, the tools and technologies of 2010. These must surely change the way we accommodate all of the well-grounded theories and although I’m certain that there are scholars out there who are re-visiting them, these are not yet easily found.


I will however revisit Kolb as I can, like Bloom’s Taxonomy, put his theories to good use straight away.

  1. Concrete Experience – (a new experience of situation is encountered, or a reinterpretation of existing experience)
  2. Reflective Observation (of the new experience. Of particular importance are any inconsistencies between experience and understanding)
  3. Abstract Conceptualisation (Reflection gives rise to a new idea, or a modification of an existing abstract concept)
  4. Active Experimentation (the learner applies them to the world around them to see what results)

I will post my reflections over time by taking each stage of the above and suggesting ways of employing ‘m’ tools, technologies and techniques to the cycle.

I’d love to hear of any existing examples.