Assistive Technology

I’ve just returned from delivering three 90 minutes sessions on Assistive Technology.

Despite its importance for many learners, I’ve always been surprised by the lengths that some teaching staff will go to, to avoid Assistive Technology training sessions. However, two of the three sessions I delivered today were well oversubscribed with almost 30 in each; the third had a credible dozen in attendance.

So well done Abingdon Witney College, you made my day.

I’d been invited to attend the college’s staff training day by the delightful Ellen Lessner. It was my first visit to Abingdon (hopefully not my last) and although marred by a few technical problems, it was a great day. I had hoped to start off by showing the SimDis website and then allowing those attending some time to explore the simulations on offer. However, the shockwave plugin could not be updated by anyone without ‘admin’ rights, so staff were unable to explore the site. The techie people told me that there was some hold up or other with their request to Adobe. Hey ho.

So, instead we explored (see previous post –, which many thought they would find useful. Then Victoria, a talented member of staff, showed Inspiration ( to each group and allowed them chance to explore its basic possibilities.

Then finally, I introduced MyStudyBar.

Ellen had always wanted her colleagues to explore the potential for this collection of FREE software, but had never been able to make it work in the college until Windows 7 was installed. Despite the numbers, we only had 8 USB sticks as the 8 I’d brought with me were quickly quarantined by the very keen virus protection software (it didn’t just quarantine the file – it deleted it!). Anyway, we still managed to explore MyStudyBar’s potential in groups of three or four.

It was disappointing not to be able to experience the delights of the TechDis Voices, which have been downloaded but not yet deployed. These two new voices are better for most learners than Microsoft Anna and as MyStudyBar provides two text-to-speech software items, they would have been given every chance of an airing. Hopefully, learners will shortly have an opportunity to experience the new voices if they are deployed sooner rather than later.

I think that everyone enjoyed most of their session and suspect that each person took at least one thing away with them for further exploration or immediate use.

Thank you to everyone at Abingdon Witney College for your interest in the sessions and to Ellen for her kind and generous hospitality.

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?

e-Learning Context

A Reply to

picture of a Starbucks cup of coffeeToday I read James Clay’s recent blog post (above), but I can’t decide whether to agree with him entirely, or not.

Generally, I do agree with James when he says:

“In the context of the classroom or lecture theatre, a practitioner is facing a series of learning problems that need solving. Some of these if not all of them can be solved using traditional learning methods and processes. However some of them can be solved smarter, more efficiently (ie cheaper) or solved faster using learning technologies.”

.. and again when he goes on to suggest that focusing on the technology during training sessions can often present teachers with interventions and solutions that would help them.

However, the issue I would take is that for this to happen, the teacher/practitioner would need to welcome the use of technology and to embrace the idea that such an intervention would work. I’m just not sure that this is universally accepted yet.

Many of us embrace the use of technology for learning and welcome it in its many forms. However, we start from a place where technology’s foibles and idiosyncrasies are expected, sidestepped and/or researched, so these don’t bother us at all. The staff James is talking about (generally, not specifically) do not – and this makes it much harder for them to accept technological change or to give up their time to explore/understand those same foibles.

I know it’s an old argument, but how many teaching colleagues do you know were shown PowerPoint all those years ago (it might still happen) and still use that as their main form of a): delivery and b): use it badly? (Please replace PowerPoint with any technology of your choice).

My point? Well, I believe that a pedagogical need to should be required before a technological intervention is offered. I get James’ point about context and I suppose I just stand slightly to one side of his position, but there’s often an awful lot of background needed by the practitioner before he/she ‘gets it’.

I’m sorry if this is a ramble, I suppose it would have been better discussed over an e-Learning Stuff Podcast but …

Putting iPad to work

Because my various posts about iPad use have received a modicum of interest, I thought I’d make a few other observations and recommendations. I’m sure that there are people out there who can’t decide whether they need one or not.

No one ‘needs’ one. That’s the first thing. Everything an iPad does can be done, often better and quicker with another tool. First of all it’s too big to fit in your pocket – so it’s less ‘mobile’ than a mobile phone. To prevent damage and to make it easier to use, it will need some sort of cover; I’ve already discarded a rubber ‘condom’ cover and now use a faux leather one: each adds to the bulk, if only slightly. So why not use a laptop? Even Steve Jobs says that the iPad is not a laptop replacement (although in his heart of hearts, I’ll bet he wished it was). Most modern phones knock it into a cocked hat for multi-functionality (e.g. they can take photographs and videos) and portability.

So would I give mine away? Not on your life ! There’s no way on earth would I give it up without a fight. WHY if it’s so apparently useless, why would I fight to keep it?

Well first of all it’s not meant to be a mobile phone or a laptop. Maybe not anything that has gone before? It’s NOT a tablet PC, it’s NOT a Netbook, it’s NOT an iPod Touch even (although it does lack that same feature that would make the iPod Touch a must have mobile tool – a camera). What it is – is a perfect device for just doing ‘stuff’ on. As I’ve said before, I can quite easily make notes, write essays, and type emails on it. I can access most parts of the Internet (just not those parts that need ‘Flash’) and I can use many of the Apps that are essential parts of the ‘i’ family. And the experience is excellent. The way sites represent themselves on the iPad (and the way some Apps are designed specially for the iPad) is pleasurable and easy on the eye.

My favourite App this week is that from IMDB (, the movie site. It’s a far better experience than the normal site and much easier to find information. And, because the iPad is able to just lie around the living room and because it has a long battery life – it’s also convenient to settle those little arguments you often have (b.t.w. that WAS Juliette Lewis I saw in the Ad for The Switch).

Another, put to the test today by Sis-inLaw, and only available for the iPad is called SoundPaper. This is a powerful notepad special developed for the iPad. Not only can you make notes but you can record the speaker (teacher, keynote, etc.) at the same time. Then, when you want to access your notes and can’t remember exactly what the speaker was talking about, click on the note you’ve made and the audio track will jump to 7 seconds before you made you note and allow you to re-listen to the talk. If you like you can email the notes (plus audio) to ‘whoever’, save as a .pdf or share with a Mac or Laptop. 1 hour of audio = 20meg. How cool is that for $4.99? App Store.

Scores on the door

I’ve recently returned from an event which probably wasn’t for me. A Technology Exemplar Open day at Oldham College. The event itself was fine and we were well looked after by Oldham College but the content wasn’t really for me.

I’d become aware of the event through emails from the JISC RSC-Northwest and Julie Harding at the college itself. I’ve worked with Julie on several occasions; first as her e-Guide Trainer and latterly as her Advanced e-Guide facilitator – but with a bit of MoLeNET mentor support in between! I really like Julie’s enthusiasm for e-Learning and appreciate the hard work her manager Roger Clegg, puts into giving her the time and facilities to develop.

So, as my work has pretty much dried up for this academic year (hopefully only for now – fingers crossed!) and I have some time on my hands, I thought that it would be useful to see what they’ve been up to. A bit of personal CPD.

There was an impressive list of attendees from all over the country and I thought it would be a great day – but I was misled by the title. Apart from Julie’s presentation, which DID enthuse me, there were two others which were purely technology. Not that others in the room weren’t enthralled – they were, but the other two subjects just don’t ring my bell. MIS and mini-MIS (Grade Book). There was absolutely no point in me giving up too much of my tiny brain to understanding HOW they worked: just WHAT they did was enough. I can’t take in new things without playing (activist) and as I have no opportunity to play with these technologies, I have to just take away what I can. We were shown a beta version of Share Point 2010 with a newly added ‘decomposition tree’ – and that impressed me. If I was still in a college, I could and would see the point of using this. However not today and – no mention of cost.

Julie showed us what she’s been doing with her e-Learning Moodle course for staff. I’d heard plenty about it prior to today, but was impressed with the way it worked. The ethos is something I’d started to work on myself back at Dewsbury but I couldn’t fix on any grading (gold, silver, bronze v good, bad, ugly etc.) that worked. This is something that still exercises my thoughts. To encourage progression. Julie and Oldham College have decided to go with the Ofsted grading criteria, which is a scale I’ve never gone along with:

  • Outstanding
  • Good
  • Satisfactory
  • Inadequate

It seems so demoralising. Other than ‘Outstanding‘ all the rest are a bit dismissive; ‘Good‘ being damned with faint praise [to paraphrase Alexander Pope] and ‘Satisfactory‘ being lumped with ‘Inadequate‘ in salacious news reports. Just the other week I heard an announcer say something along the lines of “‘xx’% of British schools are failing. Ofsted inspections have classed them as either satisfactory or inadequate” – surely if you’re satisfactory you are … well, satisfactory. Wouldn’t it be better to have a scale that is more upbeat, more positive – even if it has to be just four points? The whole four-point scale thing needs more exploration for me too.

On our Saturday walk, John Rousell talked about a research project he did for his Dip. Ed. where he naughtily asked for answers (difficult moral answers) along a four point scale. The majority of respondents selected none of the given answers and chose their own mid-way ‘about right’ answer. Given difficult choices, most of us would choose a mid-way route, why else would we need the word average (which over time, like good, has been given a bad press)?

I was hoping that I could come up with a scale which rewards desired personal progress and might be more supportive of the learner’s work. Initial thoughts came up with:

  • Exemplary
  • Singing and dancing
  • Improving
  • Up and running

Each would have descriptive criteria to explain how each might be achieved, but although the route was visible to the learner (in this case colleagues undertaking staff development), it would not be prescribed. As you might guess, I’m not happy with this grading yet and feel it needs more discussion but frankly (even if slightly factitious) naming the grading after Super Heroes would be more engaging than the Ofsted ranking.


  • Superman
  • Spiderman
  • Batman
  • Captain America


  • Cat Woman
  • Mystique
  • Xena
  • Captain Marvel

It was remarkably difficult by the way to come up with androgynous heroes and despite the huge list on Wikipedia of Super-heroines – I recognised very few.

Addendum: I saw this on Sunday:

Perhaps slipping back to the Basic > Intermediate > Advanced > Expert routine can work then?

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.

IPD – 2

Many thanks to those of you that read my previous IPD post and special thanks to those of you that took the trouble to comment. The time and effort you took to respond is much appreciated.

Each comment is blog-worthy in itself.

I did say, at the end of that post that I might do a part-two to IPD and so here it is.  After those thoughtful and constructive comments made by technical experts in the field, I will try to be more conciliatory than I might otherwise have been.

Throughout, I use the word ‘I’ as a composite of personal experience and those experiences related to me by various teaching practitioners up and down the land.

What is it about ‘builds’, or ‘disk images’ that is so hard to manage? I’m sure there’s a reason, but it’s not clear to me what it is. As Col said in his comment: “[we] … don’t always have a realistic insight into the roles of other departments”.

I know that this is a contentious subject – I used to have frequent discussions with colleagues about it but I’m not a systems guy and therefore find it hard to understand. “We can’t add that piece of software because we’ve finished that build now” or “sorry, it’s not part of the disk image”. Another favourite is “oo – you’ll have to wait until half term for that”. I understand the words, I hear the sounds – but not the reason and it just doesn’t translate. Why can’t I have Audacity downloaded and installed on my computer for next week? Really – why?

Somewhere on the institution’s VLE or IntRAnet there will be a software policy. I wonder when was this last updated in collaboration with people who teach or (whoa – what are you about to say??) people who learn? When was there any actual discussion about the policy?

We send our teacher colleagues out on staff development (CPD – maybe eCPD) sessions, often at great expense and during these sessions they become enthused by new tools and techniques they see and become aware of the potential for them and their learners. They then return to base where “no” is the first answer and “not until blah blah blah” is the last one.

De-motivated, the teacher resorts to chalk and talk or worse.

Management, often advised by ill informed IPDs, frequently issue diktats that result in sites being banned – I know I touched on this before but how do we move forward from the stalemate?

I was at a college recently, where Facebook had been banned. The safety of learners and teachers was the reason (in a nutshell). This seems to fly in the face of informed opinion. E.g. “Pupils given a greater degree of freedom to surf the internet at school are less vulnerable to online dangers in the long-term, [ofsted] inspectors say.”

The thing that is missing from all of the scenarios on both IPD and IPD-2 is discussion, mediation and decision. The three parties involved should be teachers (informed by and in collaboration maybe, with learners), technicians imbued with the remit for systems safety and management. No one or two of these parties should be able to make unilateral (or bi-lateral?) decisions. This needn’t be an arduous or long winded procedure.

It would seem that Louise and Col have this cracked in their institutions and that Ben would be a welcome (if underpaid) leader of any institutional systems team.

So – are you prepared to talk?