Goodbye FE

Harold Wilson

For the last two or three years I have been involved in the mainstream (Further -FE) education sector as a part-time Hospitality Assessor.

But no more.

I left the college that employed me last week and I have no desire to return to the sector as it continues to eat itself up from the inside.

I know that I must sound like an old curmudgeon, but I have spent a good part of my working life in FE, and loved every minute of it – until recently, when the learners/students/apprentices (call them what you like) started to be seen as monetary outcomes, rather than souls to be nurtured, taught and encouraged.

This was just one of the reasons I had for handing in my notice, there were many more, but all were based around the fact that middle managers are squeezed so tight that they really have no time to manage their team, their time or their learners’ academic outcomes.

For the last four months my charges, all level 2 food preparation apprentices, were seen as outcomes to be achieved by half term, when their funded time is up. Their practical (and often pastoral) needs were ignored: well, not ignored exactly, but no one cared whether they were being taught the skills they needed – just that they came into college and that that TICK was put on the register. The permanent staff treated apprentices like vermin.

With that sort of attitude, unchecked by a management more interested in securing and receiving funding I had to leave.

So, goodbye FE, thanks for all the fish.

Digital Students Humble Teacher

Mobile phones – in learning environments

It’s been a while since I posted anything here and for that I’m sorry.

I do have a ‘looking back on 2013’ post drafted ready for posting, but haven’t felt able to send it up, given that it had been hard to get the year into any sort of real perspective. Hey ho …

My life has changed greatly over the last six months or so. Partly due to circumstances and partly due to a resolution to make every day count. Besides being a City and Guilds marker, I am now employed two days a week (15 hours) by the local college to assess second year, level two, Hospitality and Catering apprentices. I’m also employed to deliver Technical Certificate training to year one apprentices – two hours a week on a Tuesday.

It’s the second group that take me right back to my teaching roots. What a wonderful group they are.

I took over the teaching of this group in January; they had had someone else teach them during their first term and that teacher had done a wonderful job of helping them understand the basics of catering theory. With no scheme in place and about one more year left for them to complete underpinning knowledge tests and technical certificate tests I decided to start with commodity theory.

This involves me delivering subjects such as ‘Vegetables’, ‘Meat’, ‘Poultry’ and ‘Fish’ – the classification, preparation, storage, cooking, menu usage, health issues etc. for each commodity up until Easter and then the more in depth issues behind work in the hospitality trades. Week four, this week, saw me delivering the first of their lessons on meat. Trying to practice what I’ve preached for all these years, I’ve tried to involve the group in ‘how’ they learn and we have settled into a relaxed Delivery+Q&A, followed by formative testing, followed by re-cap, followed by Delivery+Q&A and so on mode. They seem responsive to this method and given that we have no access to PCs, other modes are limited.

We actually use the IWB installed in the room. I’m a ‘Smart Board’ man, but the one installed here is ‘Promethean’ – so although I can prepare and use Active Studio – it isn’t as off-the-cuff as it would be with Smart Notepad. However – when I wanted to use it ad hoc last week (to record some student thoughts) but couldn’t immediately remember how to open the notebook facility, the students came up and showed me. There was no problem, no embarrassment, two of them just came up to the board (and the machine), switched Active Studio on, then went back and sat down. I laughed out loud – shows what I know!

Which brings me to this week.

The formative test I’d given them (after a 20 minute introduction to meat PPT, with lots of back and forth chat) asked them (at one point) to name a boned and rolled meat dish. Some of the answers were good, some slightly off kilter and one I had a good snort at! A boned and rolled ox-tail. Really?

Again, I laughed out loud and asked if they had ever seen an ox-tail that hadn’t been cut into chunks? There were some uncertain yes’s and some emphatic no’s – and I had to suggest that ‘boning’ and ‘rolling’ such a joint would be nigh on impossible.

But Dave – we’ve seen Michel Roux Jnr do it on T.V.” 

Again, I said that it was very unlikely and at that point it was like the Gunfight at the Okay Corral – out came about a dozen iPhones and assorted Samsungs and off they went to find the clip on You Tube.

I was humbled. And wrong.

And both feelings were turned to my advantage as teaching points, as the subject matter fitted in well with the lesson, and I was able to point out that when we accept that we are wrong it allows us to learn – no matter what age or position in life we are at.

This wasn’t the first time they had used their phones to add substance to our lessons, individuals frequently trawl the ‘net via their mobile, to find the answers to questions I’ve asked. It’s always a boon when two differing responses are found – allowing me to explore and expand their evaluative skills.

I will now add the Michel Roux clip to my resource bank and offer thanks to the group for opening my eyes. Once again.

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.

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)


This week I was asked, not for the first time, why I use the term pedagogy in my sessions. “Why don’t you use the word andragogy?” My answer as always was brief – “because I don’t want my session to become a futile search for semantic resolutions” (well – words to that effect). Some teachers, especially those who teach teachers, can become incensed that we use a word which is rooted in the education of children. Some actually find the word offensive, for reasons they never seem to vocalise

Malcolm  Knowles,, asserted that andragogy (Greek: “man-leading”) should be distinguished from the more commonly used pedagogy (Greek: “child-leading”). I’ve never really ‘got’ Knowles’ theory and believe it to be a fatuous argument. But, that’s personal opinion, which may change as this paper unfolds.

I’d actually prefer it if we had a completely different word to describe the science of teaching and learning, never mind the age of the learner. In reality I’d probably prefer two words – one for the science of teaching and another for the science of learning: one could be a sub-set of the other, but I won’t suggest which.

Anyway, having arrived home after what otherwise was a brilliant day, which saw me deliver two sessions on the ‘Potential of ‘M’ tools and technologies’ [] I raised this subject with my wife (MSc Multimedia and e-Learning) and her sister who is visiting from the USA (Brown [Ivy-League] taught, ancient world classicist, 2 words short of her doctoral thesis). We all agreed that the semantics of this argument were irrelevant, perhaps a smokescreen to hide a deeper fear of new technology. Gail (Sis-in-law) however, was incensed that words were being bandied about that had no actual root in ancient Greek.

She said:

In Greek, a “π?????????”  (pedagogue) was a slave who led a child to and from school. The term π????? ?????? literally means “child escort” or “one who leads/guides a child.” By extension, “?v?r??????” would mean “leading a man” or, as I prefer, “walking a man.” [but] It should be noted that this word does not exist in ancient Greek. [?????? = Greek alphabet unintelligible to WordPress]

I the checked other places and found this on the Excellence Gateway:

‘Pedagogy literally means the art and science of educating children and often is used as a synonym for teaching. More accurately, pedagogy embodies teacher-focused education. In the pedagogic model, teachers assume responsibility for making decisions about what will be learned, how it will be learned, and when it will be learned. Teachers direct learning’.

‘Andragogy, initially defined as “the art and science of helping adults learn,” currently defines an alternative to pedagogy and refers to learner-focused education for people of all ages. In other words an andragogic approach is all about putting the learner in the driving seat.’

Conner, M. L. “Andragogy and Pedagogy.” Ageless Learner, 1997-2004.

I completely disagree with these views. I think that they are damaging and have no relevance in today’s learning arena. The simple fact that Conner asserts pedagogy to be teacher focussed and that androgogy is learner focussed goes against anything I’ve studied before. As we try to instil the idea that we are the guides by the side (“Sage-on-the-stage” to “Guide-by-the- side” (Stinson, Milter, 1996) we should strive to not get bogged down by ‘words’ because ‘words’ are more powerful than we imagine and can distill other, more important messages.

The penultimate word for now comes from Gail:

“If one is looking for ancient terms to apply to modern teaching/educational practices, perhaps ??????????/ ?????????  (to act as a guide/one who guides, explains) is preferable. i.e. kath-eh-gay-oh-my (well, that’s the verb). kath-ey-gay-tays (the one who teaches/guides)”

“Problem is, kathegogy isn’t quite right if you want a word that means the science of teaching/guiding. Maybe katheology. I’d have to give it some thought.”

So will I!



Stinson, J. Milter, R.  (1996).  “Problem-based Learning In Business Education: Curriculum Design and Implementation Issues”.  In Wilkerson, LuAnn and Gijselaers, Wim (Eds.), Bringing Problem-Based Learning to Higher Education:  Theory and Practice.  Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco, CA. (found on downloaded 27/02/10)