More audio

One of the Antony Gormley figures (Another Place) being leaned on by me!I have just completed a day-long session working with the supported learning team at Brooklands College in Weybridge.

It was GREAT.  The section staff, led by Lorraine Crossland, had asked for some advanced input on audio creation and usage techniques – the goal being to better support the learners and to populate their VLE.

I’d visited Brooklands once previously as part of the TechDis Ambassador project and during that first visit had shown them a variety of audio tools, tips and techniques – nothing too advanced but enough to whet their appetite. This second visit was supported by the JISC RSC-SE.

So – why GREAT?

Well, mainly because learners were in attendance all day and I was asked (at fairly short notice) to deliver the afternoon session. All of which was brilliant. The Entry Level 2/3 learners were keen to learn enough about audio but we also told them that they needed to remember these new techniques so that they could support their teachers in the future 🙂

Having already bitten the audio bullet, Lorraine’s staff had planned the day around the sort of things they might encourage learners to do and had begun to work with the learners in preparation for my visit. The morning group were introduced specifically to Audacity and to Balabolka. During  my previous visit, the IT Technicians had been shown how both tools could support learners and had made a sterling effort since to ensure that MyStudyBar and Audacity were available in this room. The power of MyStudyBar had really impressed one of the IT guys – he had some nice ideas for deployment.

606368564My afternoon group, Entry Level 2, had been making PowerPoint files and wanted to add audio to the slides. No problem! It was as if the intervening twelve years hadn’t passed – bang, I was in front of an engaged group with moderate learning difficulties. For ‘engaged’ read: enthusiastic, motivated, keen to learn, enquiring and fun to be with! They loved it!

We started with introductions and I picked up that their favourite lesson (and teacher?) was sport – so I demonstrated the use of audio on their PPTs by using a sport theme. I showed them Audacity and simply inserted the audio file we created. I may well have used Vocaroo but the techies are in discussion with the site because the college firewall won’t let it (Vocaroo) though!  They all shouted “cool” when the audio played – yet when I showed them how to attach the same file to an animation (the sporty image we’d chosen) – so that the description of the image (which is what we’d recorded) they shouted “cool’ even louder.

We set them off to do the same themselves then. Towards the end I called the group back and showed them Balabolka. They ‘got’ this immediately and once the college have grasped how to deploy the TechDis voices across their network – the learners will use it big-time.

As i said at the top – GREAT.

Boring ICT

As I suggested in my previous post, last week was a cracker. Two days out, working with practitioners and both days 100% successes.


On Friday I presented a workshop for Glynis Frater of Learning Cultures at the National Railway Museum (NRM) in York. The course had been discussed and planned almost a year ago, but getting enough participants to make it viable has been a challenge, so there was some relief that we were able at last, to deliver it for the first time in such a wonderful venue. We’d been let down at the last moment by our original venue choice, so we were lucky to be able to secure the NRM at such short notice.

The workshop had been designed to “introduce or update teachers and other practitioners to the real power that ICT holds to engage learners” and I first planned to show participants (remind them of) some of the interactive features of MS Office. Features such as forms and comments in Word, ‘IF’ statement quizzes in Excel and drag and drop in PPT

Then I wanted them to explore the huge potential of mobile learning (mobile in the sense that the the learner, the device, or the activity could be mobile), Web 2.0/social networking and accessibility/inclusivity. I’d also planned on working with them to explore their use of VLEs – but none of those attending actually used their VLE because each one was an authority wide installation (authority controlled) and (I’m told) unusable, which is a sad reflection on VLE use in schools.

All of those attending were Heads of ICT in their secondary school.

Yet, they’d never used forms or comments in Word before, never thought of teaching ‘IF’ statements by asking learners to create an ‘IF’ based quiz and had never seen ‘IF’ statements embedded within ‘IF’ statements. Interactive text boxes in PowerPoint were a mystery to them.

As a consequence, they were overjoyed to be shown these new (to them) techniques and came up with some good ideas for using each one. It did however reinforce my previous statement from an earlier post, responding to Michael Gove’s inference that ICT was boring …

What is really required [..] is a commitment to teach teachers (all teachers, all sectors, in-service and pre-service) how ICT [..] can be taught in exciting, encouraging, effective and efficient ways. ‘e’ learning?

Initial Teacher Training should, instead of simply requiring trainee teachers to use PowerPoint, include the effective use of modern and emerging technologies for both teaching and learning.

There was some resistance to the mobile side of things and a little nervousness to the wider applications of Web 2.0, but all in all the participants had a great day and left us full of praise. They loved Wordle [also see my previous Wordle post] and Tagxedo.

What we need next is more teachers from the wider curriculum, not just heads of ICT – the more the merrier. See Learning Cultures web site for event details.

Teaching ICT

After all of the fuss surrounding Michael Gove’s speech yesterday [Published in the Guardian] I wondered what it is he was trying to say.

First of all let me say that I haven’t read the speech in any great depth, I only skimmed through it; the man and his policies makes me cringe, so I find it hard to read beyond the dogma and understand the core issue. I have however, seen and read comments by my peers – who I know and trust.

And, they seem to be mixed.

The banner headlines would appear to be something along the lines of “Briton should get rid of ICT teaching because it is boring”, and “Briton should teach programming languages because they are far more interesting“. If it wasn’t Gove that was saying this, I’d probably agree – to a point.

ICT teaching in this country has been boring for a long time, it’s surprising that it has taken so long for HMG to realise that. Even when I was teaching in college (remember, I taught Catering – but I also taught IT to caterers), ICT teachers were simply passing out Fofo tasks and assignments that held the interest of no one. Back then, I tried to make the work more interesting by getting learners to make Wordsearches (creating tables, formatting cells), posters (importing images, formatting etc.) and job applications (real life skill) before we had to deal with the more mundane, qualification dictated, boring stuff.

So getting rid of all that is a must. Nevertheless, word processing is a life skill, so it shouldn’t be ditched just because it’s taught in a boring way. Word processing skills include the use of spell-checks and the understanding of a modicum of grammar – both of which are required for communication throughout life as well as in all types of social media. Spreadsheets and Presentation software are also used in all kinds of industry and on every University (H.E.) course. Neither Industry nor H.E. will be very happy if they suddenly have to start teaching basic ICT to recruits, especially because it has been thought to be ‘boring’!

As for the programming side of Gove’s argument – I can go with that, but only to a certain extent. He’s obviously been impressed by something he’s seen at MIT, but for goodness’ sake stuff like this has been around for years and years. Seymour Papert was playing around with Lego years ago and there is still a body of teachers that can easily subscribe to his methods. And (just to wrap up this part of the argument) what good is programming to a kid who wants to be an accountant, a plumber, or God forbid, a chef?  Get real Gove.

What is really required and what has been required for at least ten years is a commitment to teach teachers (all teachers, all sectors, in-service and pre-service) how ICT (or IT, or ILT – whatever you want to call it) can be taught in exciting, encouraging, effective and efficient ways. ‘e’ learning?

Initial Teacher Training should, instead of simply requiring trainee teachers to use PowerPoint, include the effective use of modern and emerging technologies for both teaching and learning. Using mobile devices, using social media, using games etc.

Information, Communication and Technology for use in a 21st Century world.

There are enough examples out there Gove – just look.

PowerPoint – pointers

Once again this week, the misuse of PowerPoint was evident at a major conference.  I believe that this reflects the continuing misuse in schools and colleges where the teachers should by now know better. Yet, if used properly, it can be such a fabulous and powerful tool

For me, PowerPoint is one of the lower common denominators in the ongoing battle to have practitioners embrace the inarguable benefits of e-Learning. Practitioners can easily learn the technical skills required to produce a PowerPoint but sadly, this is sometimes where their development ceases.

Let’s just look at text and images.

Once someone has learned how to add text, it is just a short step to adding an image. We therefore see PPT’s with lots of text on screen and occasionally we see images too. But that simply isn’t enough; more thought about the PPT being created is required.

How many of us consider our audience when preparing a PowerPoint slideshow? How many different audiences can there be?

1. In-class, to support the didactic teacher
2. In-class, to support independent exploration
3. In-class, to support group work
4. In-class, to support extension activities
5. Out of class, to support independent exploration
6. Out of class, to support group work
7. Out of class, to support extension activities
8. At a conference – to support front-led pontification

There are probably many more instances but in each case the audience will be different; at least the way in which they will be expected to (or able to?) interact with the PPT.  Dave Foord has blogged several times about the misuse of PPT (e.g. and his website contains an excellent guidance sheet (pdf) aimed at promoting good use.

There are many things to consider when creating a PowerPoint but why oh why can’t teachers and trainers (less so) put themselves in the place of their audience and ask themselves something about font size, background colour and possibly the words themselves:

i- Can the class/audience read size 14 font at the back, or even at the front? (Conversely, if used as 2,3,4,5,6,or 7 above – is the size 36 font used too big?)
ii- Have I put too many words on screen? (Probably!)
iii- (a) Why are the words on screen? (b) Will I be saying them anyway?
Why indeed? If the words are on screen they must have a purpose. They have no purpose if you are going to speak them anyway – your audience will only be tempted to write them down and not listen to you – yet your only reason to be in the room at all is to be listened to – remember that. Why not use an Image or two to represent the point of your talk? These could be captioned – or you could ask your audience the relevance. This way too, you are creating a 2-way dialogue with your audience. Surely that can’t be bad.
iv- Now you have altered the background colour (you love groovy black) what colour font do you need to use and NOT use? Red on Black is invisible to even the grooviest of readers! Do Not Do Red On Black. Sometimes a plain white background with black text is enough.

PowerPoint is a PRESENTATION package.

Remember that!

If you do wish to use it for numbers 2-7 above different rules will apply and there are many tricks and facilities available for use in PPT that you may not yet be aware of:
* Hyperlinks to other files and folders and web sites
* Show web sites ‘live’ inside the PPT
* Embed videos in the PPT
* Create movement with carefully chosen (but minimal) animation
* Embed sound – maybe a voice-over to explain an image or point you’ve made:  Perhaps you could embed an audio file containing everything you had said in class (useful for 5,6 and 7) – see for an easy to use free (ish) means of recording audio.
* Insert interactive text boxes
* Insert timers for activities etc.
The list is not exhaustive.

None of the above techniques take much more in the way of technological skill, but they do need a commitment to improve delivery to an audience and learner engagement. Worksheets for some of the skills can be found at:

Rant over.