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.


Mobile Learning Case Studies

I delivered a workshop the other day for a college in the Northwest. The college has deployed a variety of handheld devices as part of their 2010 MoLeNET project and I’ve visited them on several occasions to discuss the ‘Potential of M’ and ‘Audio-Video capture and editing’ etc. This time they wanted to know how everyone else was using mobile devices. That worried me a bit, because I wasn’t sure how I would deliver a two-hour session (x2) based on Case Studies and the (mainly apocryphal) stuff ‘I’ know (which is definitely not everything!)

I came up with a series of six worksheets that they could explore. Not knowing the exact participant numbers, I worked on a timescale that allowed two bites of the task. Each task gave the small group of two or three, twenty minutes to research the provided links, ten minutes to develop a PPT (or video) and five minutes to deliver their findings to the entire group. Followed by five minutes Q and A, I thought that this would be a nice session. The task asked them to view a series of case studies/video clips and to form an argument (to governors) for deployment. (Continued below)

It turned out that I had very much underestimated the engagement they would commit to the task, the time it would take to do the research and the time to make (especially agree) their presentation. So the morning session only just came in on time. In fact it came in five minutes late and the Q and A sessions were very abbreviated. Furthermore, and this was hopefully due to the pressures of time, the PPTs were much too wordy. I’d hoped that the idea of presenting to governors would make the presentations a bit snappier than they turned out to be.

I therefore decided to change the timings for the afternoon session along with the presentation requirements. I asked them to create a Pecha Kucha – which caused great stress. But hopefully (fingers crossed?) healthy stress. (Here’s one of mine from the RSC-NW conference)

Please click along the above Slideshow, as you watch/listen to the video below

Pecha Kucha (Japanese for chit chat I believe) is a presentation based on delivering 20 slides for only 20 seconds per slide. When I explained this to the afternoon group, their jaws dropped. I changed the rules so that theirs would be 10 slides at 30 seconds each and told them that pecha kucha didn’t require wordy slides – a picture plus 30 seconds dialogue is fine. I also extended the research time and the PK development time and the result was much snappier and focussed. But the real ‘gain’ for me was when I said “you know, you could get your learners to do something like this – say 10 slides, 10 seconds each” (to make them much more focussed on what is required).

The PT teacher lit up like a beacon and started scribbling notes. RESULT!

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.