Category Archives: CPD

An open course as a tool for change: reflecting on Blended Learning Essentials

One project I am currently involved in is a course on FutureLearn called Blended Learning Essentials.  In this short blog post I want to think about how this course, or others like it, can be used as tools for change.

A bit about the course
UntitledThis is an open course about using blended learning for vocational education and it runs for a total of 8 weeks in two parts. The first part covers the ‘essentials’ and the second focuses on ’embedding’ blended learning. Content and in particular the videos are created in collaboration with teachers/learners in vocational education contexts and shaped by current practice. If you’d like to see what it’s like for yourself, parts of the course are accessible without signing up: Going beyond reflection to data https://goo.gl/cwGRtQ, collaborative learning to improve learner support https://goo.gl/LwnCnA, sharing and re-using teaching ideas https://goo.gl/gHdsp9 and managing a culture change https://goo.gl/j7q17q.

Change for learners and teachers
One of the aims of the course is to provide an entry point to using learning technology effectively regardless of what participants already know or feel confident about. While that is a big ask it also highlights the fact that there is a big disparity in the relevant competencies across the sector. At one end there are enthusiastic individuals or institutions whose learners are benefiting from technology-enhanced innovation and at the other end of the spectrum are those who don’t know where to start. Learners may or may not have access to devices and networks, but once they do, they need to gain skills that will be useful for them in what they do next and teachers need to be able to support them in that. So one way in which a course like Blended Learning Essentials can become a tool for affecting change is to provide a path to building competencies and confidence for those who deliver learning. It could be incorporated into existing internal provision, to enhance what a provider or group can offer internally – or it can act as a way to start scaling up CPD.  Similar to another course I worked on in the past, the Open Course in Technology Enhanced Learning (ocTEL) it can provide flexible chunks of CPD depending on what the participant is most interested in.

Decision makers who manage change
While learners and those who deliver learning can make use of the course, I think that those in decision making roles also have something to gain. To begin with they can participate themselves, online and at their own pace, to refresh or supplement their own skills and knowledge. Particularly if you don’t get much time to have hands on experience with learning technology, the course can help bridge the gap. The case studies and discussion forums meanwhile can be used as a frame of reference for establishing where a particular organisation is in terms of making intelligent use of learning technology, what common barriers are or how to solve problems. Particularly the second part of the course (the last 3 weeks) are relevant in this context. Given that the course is free to attend and most of its resources openly licenced, it can be an efficient tool for up-skilling and provide paths to accreditation (accreditation is the part of the course that I have worked on most, so I am going to point to further information and in particular its mapping to CMALT for those who are interested).

Some limitations
I think this course can be a useful tool for affecting or managing change, from introducing blended learning, to scaling up provision or enhancing it. But there are also some limitations:
It’s online: this is a free ONLINE course about blended learning. It requires you to get online, supports you to develop the skills to engage with it and while you can certainly participate with a group of colleagues and support each other face to face, being able and willing to learn online is a key requirement. If this is a major barrier for you or your institution the course could be a useful way to build your capabilities in this area;
Accessibility: actually, in my experience the FutureLearn platform excels at making courses accessible and if you are in doubt it’s definitely worth exploring the “how to learn” resources they provide or make an enquiry;
It’s not advanced enough: as the course is aimed at those who don’t already have advanced skills it can seem too basic for some. The discussion forums and social media conversation may be more interesting to those who find some of the content too basic or it might be a useful tool for supporting colleagues;
So what?: One of the most interesting aspects of the course for me as to see how strong a driver learners’ future success is for getting individuals and providers do more or better blended learning. As everyday life and work require more skills for using technology it becomes more urgent that we use it effectively for learning, teaching and assessment. Other drivers for using blended learning might be providing more flexible provision, broadening access, scaling up or enhancing delivery, improving feedback & assessment…

Things I’m thinking about next
Working on this course has made me reflect on the conversation about open courses, what they can be used for, what they achieve in terms of creating communities, scaling up provision and supporting professional development.
This course is a first in more ways than one, it’s the first course on this particular platform for the vocational education sector, to my knowledge it’s the first open course in this context that has attracted over 20k participants and it’s the first time we have seem a large scale response to the policy agenda in UK that is supported by some many organisations.
It’s a tool we can make use of to affect change and we can probably use every bit of help we can get in achieving effective use of learning technology across the sectors.

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Sharing my approach to leadership as an open practice

photo 2It’s been nearly a year since I wrote my first post on leadership as an open practice, inspired by the 2015 OER conference. So in this post I want to reflect on how my experiment is going, what progress I have made and what’s next.

Where it all began…
In April last year, I wrote : “I’d like to try and adopt open practice in my role and connect with others who do the same. Like teachers, researchers or developers who share their practice and resources openly, I’ll try to follow their example. To make my work, which is mostly about leadership, governance and management in Learning Technology, an open practice.”

Putting the experiment to the test
Since then, I took part in the #rhizo15 course/community and the #blimage challenge, I have shared a number of conference presentations and blog posts about CPD, policy and current issues. I have been building and sharing my CMALT portfolio (specialist area: leadership as an open practice) and reflected on different aspects of open practice.  This blog has become a really helpful tool for engaging with different aspects of the work I do, share my thoughts and reflect openly. It’s certainly prompted me to do more thinking in the open and has resulted in many conversations and comments that have been helpful and stimulating (thank you!). It’s also motivated me to engage with others’ blogs and outlets, reading and commenting or contributing in turn. Sharing the template for how I built my CMALT portfolio with Google Apps is another example of this approach in action. My original aim was to share, connect and engage more openly and I think that aspect of my open practice has definitely developed.

Difficult aspects of leadership as an open practice
Although it has been hugely rewarding, leadership as an open practice has also been quite challenging. While I have certainly started to find more like-minded professionals in similar roles there have been many more false leads, e.g. blogs that are more marketing than sharing, open-sounding practice that leads to pay-walls and a definite reluctance to connect beyond networking for fear of loosing some sense of being ahead, of having the edge over others in leadership roles. At times when political or economic turmoil threatens funding or jobs open practice seems to become a lot more difficult and far less popular for people in similar roles to mine.

It has also been difficult at times to manage different aspects of my practice when my ‘day job’ as a CEO comes into contact with other work I do. When I contribute to a discussion or a twitter chat I try and make it clear whether I am representing the organisation I work for or whether I am participating in a less formal capacity, but it’s not always easy to make these distinctions. On the other hand there are real advantages to having the chance to get involved with research or practice in a more hands on way and it helps me be better at the work I do as a CEO.

With managing different identities also comes being a woman and a leader in Learning Technology and this is probably where my experiment has delivered the most rewarding examples and connections. Through a wealth of media I have become more familiar with the work other women do to drive forward technology in learning and teaching, from writers and IT Directors to CEOs and teachers both younger or more experienced than me. While in my  experiences day to day there is still a long way to go to achieve equality for women decision makers in government, industry or funding bodies my growing network makes me feel hopeful.

Take away’s
So, one year on, what are my take away’s from this experiment in leadership as an open practice? Here goes:

  1. Will I continue? Yes! It’s been such a rewarding experience, stimulating and challenging that I will definitely keep going;
  2. What’s the best bit? The freedom that an open approach help me establish, the prompts to follow whatever I was curious about and the generous feedback from peers;
  3. What’s the worst bit? For me at times lack of peers in comparable job roles who are interested in open practice;
  4. What’s next? On a practical front, more #rhizo16 this year, some opportunities to speak at events or contribute to other projects, making more of an effort to communicate and connect with others… and hopefully to become better at leadership as an open practice.

Your thoughts?
Over the past year I have had many comments/conversations prompted by blog posts or tweets and it’s been extremely helpful. So if you have any comments or feedback on my approach to leadership as an open practice or your own experience, share it below or tweet me @marendeepwell.

Google Apps for Education (#GAFE) as a #CMALT portfolio tool

Recently I was accredited as a Certified Member of ALT (find out more here) and the key component of the scheme is a peer-reviewed portfolio. You can build your portfolio in almost any format provided that it is accessible to assessors and follows the required structure.

CMALT folder
My portfolio in Google Drive

I chose to build mine using Google Apps for Education (GAFE) and here I’d like to reflect briefly on the experience:

Why use GAFE? My main reasons were that it is free to use, I am already familiar with the tools available, there is storage and authoring tools all on one place and most importantly it works long terms as I will retain access to the files or at least be able to download them easily if needed. A further advantage for me was the ability to organise all the different types of content including supplementary evidence and images into different folders and make them easily accessible to the assessors.

What did I use? I focused my portfolio around a Google Doc. I decided early on that I wanted to illustrate my portfolio and the format I was after was linear  – I wanted to build a narrative. I included screenshots, images and links and where appropriate filed these into folders on Google Drive. I also used a Google Sheet to help collect a lot of the evidence in the early stages, mainly to have a record of the various locations and links. I think that may be something I keep using as an ongoing record of my CPD activities.

What does this look like long term? Now that I have achieved CMALT the portfolio will have to be reviewed every 3 years. In that time period I’ll likely accumulate a lot of evidence of my professional development and my intention is to log it in a Google sheet, link to it where appropriate, and build up my folders of visual evidence as I go along. Then, when the time comes to review and update the main document or add to it, I should be able to draw on the information I already have. It’ll also make it easier to reflect on what I have done.

Any drawbacks? From my perspective there was no functionality that was missing and the auto-save and offline working capabilities made it fuss-free for me. Because you can share content without requiring others to have an account but you are still able to limit access I found GAFE was a useful tool indeed. Another plus was that I could share early drafts for comment and others could add to and comment on specific paragraphs.

CMALT 2

Open practice? If you are curious to have a look or indeed find inspiration for your own CMALT portfolio you can access my portfolio folder via this link https://goo.gl/44I4Bd . I have added a Creative Commons Licence so that you can access it and re-use for example the images I have included. The specialist area I have written about in my portfolio is open practice in a leadership role. Sharing my portfolio openly is part of the work I do and I am grateful for all the encouragement and feedback I have had from my colleagues throughout this process.

Feedback, milestones, reflection: appraisal in a leadership position

This is the time of year for reviewing personal and professional development, for reflecting on achievements and set goals for the following year. In short, it’s time for my annual appraisal process.

This will be my fourth in a leadership position and each year the process has evolved depending on the needs of the organisation and myself. What we have found works consistently:

  • 360 degree feedback: that includes everyone who reports to me, those whom I report to, colleagues whom I work with and external reviewers;
  • Clear assessment of goals set and progress made, milestones reached and key deliverables – in my case that encompasses most of what the organisation does or doesn’t do as my role carries overall responsibility for strategy and operations. This is where individual appraisals for others feed into my own which is really helpful;
  • Reflection on personal and professional development, often in relationship to what we had planned 12 and 6 months ago, but also anything else that has developed in response to changes in circumstance;
  • Written feedback and face to face conversation. My appraisal process is a blended process which involves a distributed group of individuals and culminates in a face to face meeting, led by the current Chair of the organisation I serve which changes annually.

Variations from year to year:

  • Emphasis on performance, support, development… depends on the context and provides some flexibility in a process which can at times become a long list of colour coded milestones;
  • Openness also varies. Some years have been very open and I have shared many parts of my appraisal feedback with colleagues, while some years are more personal and less easy to share;
  • Scale and perspective, from the proverbial helicopter view to the detailed analysis of a specific situation. That again seems to change from year to year.

As I am compiling this year’s appraisal documents I find that now in its fourth year I have more expectations, a clearer idea of what I’d like to get out of the process. And one of my aims for this year is to use the process as a way to continue my open practice. In my experience colleagues in leadership roles can find it difficult to get effective feedback and appraisals. For some, it becomes about performance management and if there are no concerns, then it’s just a formality. Others focus on providing feedback and thus get little in return. Some colleagues feel that at a certain level of seniority you should be able to do without, to reflect sufficiently on your own. And to some degree I agree with all of these perspectives. But there are some reasons why I really value taking a more in depth approach to my own appraisal:

  • Giving constructive negative feedback takes time and focus. I value honest praise but I feel it’s important to give opportunities for negative feedback, too;
  • Ongoing reflection is an essential part of my practice, but when a period of time is particularly busy I can still loose perspective. Being forced to take a step back and collect a whole year together in one place gives me an annual perspective that opens up new vistas;
  • Having a deadline makes me do things like (finally) submitting my CMALT portfolio, write a submission or review an article;
  • Writing my appraisal is a chance to not only set achievable goals, but to dream up new visions of the future and what that may hold.

All in all I think you can see why I feel this is such a valuable process. Particularly in a leadership role I think it’s a privilege to hear from others what they feel you could do better, how you might achieve more.