The spirit of #pedagooxmas: Pedagoo Xmas Party, 6th Dec, 2014

padagoo christmas logo

The third Pedagoo Christmas Party took place on 6th December at Newcastle University. Organised by Pedagoo Curator Lisa-Jane Ashes (@lisajaneashes), supported by a few elves (including myself), the day aimed to encouraging sharing of teaching ideas, but to go a  step further and actually begin to develop new ideas. The event was sponsored by the kind folk at Vision for Education with prizes provided by Crown House Publishing.

Off with a banglisa

Lisa kicked off the event with a welcome and an explanation of the ethos around sharing in a supportive environment – the hashtags for the day were #pedagooxmas and #simplysharing. Christmas crackers were shared and then we were off… despite some competition from the rather jubilant crowd at nearby St James’ Park (NUFC beat Chelsea 2-1…).

The afternoon involved themed breakout mini-teachmeets, a break at half-time to hear some speakers and grab a mince pie, followed by further discussions in our breakouts about how to develop and adapt the earlier ideas. The themes were Literacy for Life/EAL, Questioning, Effective Learner/ Teacher Behaviours/ Assessment to support learning, Engaging the Disengaged and Home Learning. I chaired the Literacy for Life session and written up the ideas and discussions.



A break in the middle with sessions to the whole group from – these were all broadcast live and are now available on EDUtalk:

Barry Dunn (@SeahamRE) on Questioning and why questions are important. Sporting a fine Christmas jumper, Barry encouraged us to write a question for discussion in the evening event later on. Barry has kindly published his notes from this talk on his blog – What’s the big idea?  [listen on EDUtalk]


Jojonhainesveon Haines (@Mr_Haines) demonstrating the VEO observation app – developed in the School of Education, Languages & Communication at Newcastle University, this app aims to make peer-observation easier and more effective. It allows the observer to tag specific points in the recording of an observation with comments, so the exact context can be given. [listen on EDUtalk]

TreeOfKnowledgeKamil Trzebiatowski (@ktlangspec) on Graphic Organisers to support EAL students – For Kamil’s slides explaining these techniques see his talk on Slideshare from an earlier event. [listen on EDUtalk]

During the break, we added the most memorable take-away ideas from the mini-teachmeets as decorations on the Pedagoo Xmas Tree of Knowledge.

Once the event wrapped up in the afternoon, many of us heading across town for…

An evening at #tmblakes

If you haven’t come across #tmblakes before then this post might be useful background – it’s a TeachMeet with a difference, hosted at Blakes Coffee shop on the beautiful Grey St. We had some amazing food laid on and the odd drink. But again the focus was on learning and sharing. Highlights of the evening included:

treesSam Bainbridge (@Beetlebug1) had us working as teams and building some, erm, quite interesting looking Christmas trees.

Kerry Pulleyn (@kerrypulleyn) guided us on formulating questions.

Kamil Trzebiatowski expanded on his EAL teaching and talked about sharing collaborative teaching with mainstream and EAL learners.


colouringMark Anderson (@ICT_Evangelist) gave tips on using technology to enhance our teaching and gave a few examples how. He had us colouring in pictures and showed what ColarApp can do – I won’t spoil the surprise but I’d recommend giving it a go! (if you want to see, check out the video on the ColarApp web site).


simfinSimon Finch (@simfin) gave an impassioned talk about the importance of digital literacy and questioning the truth in what you see. I followed Simon with a similar point about the recent meme about MPs attendance at House of Commons debates. My tip was to think through key questions to ask about reliability, authority etc – eg does it pass the CRAAP & GUT tests?


Barry Dun followed up the daytime session, revisiting the questions we had placed in the Question Box earlier. This resulted in, shall we say, some quite lively conversations about the future of teaching. He’s written up a post about the questions and suggested a follow-up discussion via the hashtag #riddlemethised – read more in his post ‘Just one more thing’ (no prizes for guessing which question was mine!).

Accentuate the positive…

This event showed the passion and commitment of teachers to their CPD and their students. It was great to mix and learn from each other and keep that enthusiasm going. The event was attended by some newly qualified teachers and trainee teachers and it was good to see them feeling inspired by the day. If you need a boost of inspiration in the New Year, I’d recommend checking out or looking out for TeachMeets / Library TeachMeets in your area, to mingle with like-minded ‘learning geeks’!

A final thought came from the Christmas card I picked out – Lisa had asked us to write a message of support to a teacher and we picked out the cards at random later on – I think it sums up the day well!


Take a look at Mark Anderson’s Storify for another viewpoint of the day.

(I’ve included lots of photos that were posted to twitter – if you mind please let me know and I’ll remove).

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Pedagoo Xmas Party: Literacy for Life Session

padagoo christmas logo

The Pedagoo Christmas Party took place at Newcastle University on December 6th 2014. I’ll write up the full event shortly. I chaired the ‘Literacy for Life’ workshop sessions – the room was set-up with tinsel, holly, Christmas songs, chocolate Santas and even seasonal notepads and pens – what more could we need? A little bit of sharing, that’s what.


Our running order was determined by a randomly chosen sparkly Christmas decoration and appropriately enough, sparkles feature in the first idea to be shared.

Sparkly Synonyms

Fiona Duncan (@FeDuncs) and Michelle Olson introduced us to Sparkly Synonyms, a method of encouraging students who struggle with finding synonyms, in particular English as an Additional Language students (EAL). The sparkly synonym book is simply a normal thesaurus that has been covered with paper and adorned with stickers – this transformation makes this particular thesaurus the most in-demand of 32 thesauri available. It’s also the most looked after – always returned to the shelves when others are abandoned. The student who comes up with the best synonym also wins a party popper from a special sparkly bag. A bit of sparkle does indeed go a long way.sparklysynonyms

The discussion that followed highlighted the importance of the appearance of learning resources, that students do, in fact, judge a book by its cover. We remembered fondly the days of backing our exercise books!

Grammar from the Trenches

Fiona and Michelle also outlined a whole range of methods they used to teach how to write about poetry and also improve their own writing, focussing on the poems of Wilfred Owen. There are so many to list but Fiona will be sharing these resources so I’ll link to them soon. One activity I thought could be easily transferred to different contexts was the ‘Give one, Get one back’ sheet. Students have to list 5 points about the poem (it’s important to restrict the number, so they need to evaluate and select). They then share their comments with others (Give one) and choose comments they agree with from others (Get one back). It’s a great way of encouraging sharing and discussion.

Fiona also likened poetry analysis to pathology (admitting to an obsession with all things macabre), splitting the chest open and examining various parts. The students love this analogy!

Pass the Paragraph

Working in pairs, Jane Hutchison (@janehutchison1) set us the challenge of writing a couple of sentences about the dawn of a new day (it’s surprising how hard that is when you’re asked on the spot!). We then passed our paragraph on to the next pair, who had to try and improve our text by substituting words or adding extra words. Once again, the paragraphs were passed to the next pair, with new sentences added this time. With one more pass, the paragraphs were back to their original writers – it was fascinating to see the changes that had been made.

During discussion Jane explained that she had used this activity with students of different ages leading to different reactions. Younger students would focus on getting the spellings right, whereas older students competed over their vocabulary. We discussed how this activity could also be used with pre-prepared text as well as that written by students. I can certainly see myself using the ‘pass and improve’ idea to encourage sharing and commenting.

From Talking to Writingkamilgraphicorganisers

Kamil Trzebiatowski (@ktlangspec) explained how he used lesson plans based on the work of Bernard Mohan to guide his work with EAL students, encouraging them to move from the spoken to written word. Kamil’s plans certainly seem well thought out and provided a logical structure to developing student’s language. I was particularly interested in the section on classification of vocabulary, which strongly relates to my work on developing search skills.

Kamil shared further ideas on graphic organisers and differentiation for EAL students in the plenary session  halfway through the afternoon. Judging by the reaction of the audience, these are much needed resources to help teachers better support their EAL students better.

Kamil’s presentation is below and he’s also written up his methods in more detail in his post from a TeachMeet in Glasgow.

Knowledge Feast


Lou Chesterton unfortunately couldn’t make it to the session, but kindly forwarded her presentation to share. There were lots of ideas about how to cover vast amounts of knowledge in a fun and accessible way – all based around the idea of a feast with the following menu:

  1. Cups full of knowledge
  2. Eggcellent questions and answers
  3. Doily definitions
  4. Plate puzzles
  5. Serviette sentences
  6. Judgement jugs

I’ll link to the full presentation containing details of all the activities when it’s available.

Finding the right information, choosing the right words

I gave a brief overview into how I try to get students to think beyond the obvious when carrying out their research, involving brainstorming keywords, synonyms, identifying concepts, broader and narrower terms etc. The relevance to previous activities was obvious: from thinking of (sparkly?!) synonyms to encouraging students to find identify the themes and concepts within their research questions (echoing Kamil’s knowledge classification activity).

I took away several ideas I felt I could try in my own teaching and training and really enjoyed the opportunity to not only share ideas, but discuss with others how these ideas could be adapted in various contexts. #simplysharing at its best.

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Toon Library TeachMeet, 28th October – the write-up


This was the second Toon Library TeachMeet (the first being waaaay back in 2011), this time kindly hosted by Newcastle University Library. A late afternoon gathering of 14 people, keen to make the most of the freebies and food provided by CILIP’s Information Literacy Group . And of course to share ideas and experiences.

P1030616          P1030618

I co-hosted the event with my colleague from Newcastle University Library, Jackie Dunn. Participants came from across the north-east of England with schools, colleges and universities all represented. Introductions showed the challenges librarians face teaching such diverse abilities and subjects.

photo4To start off, I challenged everyone to create their own book from a sheet of paper, following some rather speedy instructions (an idea stolen from @simfin at #tmblakes13). This activity can be used in a different ways, including to start an event, acting as a way of getting attention, encouraging attentive listening and, of course, breaking the ice. It also leaves learners with a notebook to use for the rest of the event!

I’ve seen the same activity used recently by our Special Collections librarian to explain how books are made. If you want to see how it’s done see this Youtube video – you don’t really need scissors unless you want it to be neat!

The event then kicked off properly with…

Angela Horn, Newcastle University, ‘For now, Diamonds are Forever’

Angela outlined the (penguin-themed) sessions she’s involved in running with schools coming to the university as part of an education outreach programme. The teaching activity she described was designed to encourage critical evaluation of information sources – students are given cards listing various information sources and asked to place them in a ‘diamond rank’, according to how trustworthy they are thought to be. Angela introduces this activity by showing an ‘authorative’ BBC documentary on flying penguins…

P1030620      photo5

Jackie Dunn (@hedgehope), Newcastle University, “More than meets the eye: exploring Special Collections”

Jackie’s session highlighted how surrogate document packs can be used to help students understand and handle material from Special Collections and archives. Jackie put us all in Reading Room conditions and left us to explore various items from collections, using worksheets to prompt our analysis of the items. Jackie mentioned that similar packs were available to borrow from Tyne & Wear Museums  – Boxes of Delights historical artefacts

P1030625      P1030627

Julia Robinson, Newcastle University, ‘I say… You say…”

Julia described a quick technique she had been using in staff development sessions. This simple but effective idea involves the use of a ‘genius pad’ (huge post-it note), to prompt discussion and gather feedback from groups. The purpose would be to try to find out the feelings and attitudes to a particular topic, which can then be addressed in the session. In Julia’s session, her topic was “I say EndNote… You say…”. Responses might include words or drawings (she mentioned one participant drawing a screaming face!).

P1030628     photo3

There was some discussion about Julia’s EndNote session more broadly, as it was actually a session designed to teach library information desk staff (not EndNote specialists) how to deal with EndNote queries, and not how to use EndNote itself. The idea being, teaching staff how to find the answer on the library web site or documentation rather than know the answer – some others in the room thought this might be a technique they could use.

Christine Stevenson (@chrissielib) and Leanne Young (@tallforahobbit), Sunderland University, ‘Rooms without Walls: using problem based learning to develop research skills in a collaborative real-time virtual space’

Christine and Leanne described how they delivered sessions to distance learners and showed the resources they used. With around a third of students studying off-campus, including at local partner colleges, distance learning is important. They delivered 3 hour sessions to groups on another campus, who had their lecturer in the room with them.

P1030629Christine and Leanne described their adventures in trying out a wide range of technologies, some of which I was familiar with (Skype, Camtasia, YouTube), and others not (Vyew, Tout).

Vyew ( was chosen for the sessions, which included a range of features such as chat, interactive collaborative whiteboards, editing tools such as pens, highlighters and post-its, video-conferencing and screensharing. Using a problem-based learning approach, students had to select a real-life problem to solve and base their literature review around. The librarians then acted as facilitors in providing guidance throughout the live session.

Christine and Leanne’s reflections highlighted that collaboration and preparation for the sessions was time-consuming and the activities needed careful management. Feedback from students was good overall, with key success factors including the involvement of the lecturer, the link between work and study and the increased engagement that the problem-based learning approach offered.

Helen Blanchett, Newcastle University, “Thought bombs”

I used my slot to try out and activity I’m working on – which adapts an activity called ‘Thought bombs’. I came across this idea from a teacher, Lisa Jane Ashes (@lisajaneashes), who used this in English sessions to develop skills in character analysis within literature. I thought this could be adapted to information sources, so tried this out and got some feedback from the group.

Thought Bomb 2
Image courtesy of the ARLG North East blog

First of all I ran a brief version of Lisa’s activity – from the three characters described, which one would you save from a sinking ship? Choices included a 16 year old girl, a materialistic housewife and a father of 3 children. Thought bombs – a plastic ball containing a slip of paper – were dropped onto each table. The slip of paper contained information that would then make the groups re-evaluate their decision, for example, the 16 year old is a murderer and the materialistic woman does a lot for charity.

In my version, I gave a handout describing 3 different authors and asked the groups to discuss which author they would trust the most. The thought bombs included information about a leading researcher who at first seemed authorative, was found to have been taking bribes, or a popular blogger then manages to get a book deal.

ThoughtBombHandout      photo1

While the activity is still a work in progress (there were some lively discussions!), it was good to discuss how it could be developed. Julia suggested the thought bombs could involve changing the requirement for the information, for example, selecting the best source for an essay as compared to a news item.

Ann-Marie Laws, Ponteland High School, ‘Have you just made us want to read Miss? Promoting reading and Libraries the unconventional way!’

Ann-Marie gave an overview of a multitude of techniques she uses with schoolchildren to encourage reading. These included:

  • photo2DEAR time – Drop Everything And Read times for 15 minutes every Friday morning
  • Playing ‘Readopoly’ to get to know your library
  • Making cartoon men from the students’ favourite book covers

Summing up…

Being run in late afternoon/early evening, this TeachMeet had a relaxed atmosphere and I confess we didn’t stick to some of the teachmeet ‘rules’ (no PowerPoint, strict timings…). I really enjoyed hearing new ideas but I think it’s also valuable to provide space for discussion about how these ideas can be adapted to different contexts. Library TeachMeets provide a forum not just for exchange between individuals, but also across sectors, which I think makes it all rather special! Looking forward to the next one…

One of the presenters, Leanne Young, has also written up the event on the ARLG North-East blog.

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“Can you Dig Lit? Approaches to information and digital literacy” 10th Nov 2013

This full day event, attended by 30 participants from around the UK, was held in York St John University. It was organised by CILIP’s Academic Libraries & Research Group’s Yorkshire & Humberside branch.

Sarah Hotchkin & Stevie Farrell, Leeds Metropolitan University,  “Social media and professional online identity”

This talk gave an overview of a session delivered to students jointly by careers (Sarah) and the library (Stevie), under the umbrella of ’employability’. As well as finding out about the content of the session, it was interesting to hear about student attitudes to social networking in terms of career development.

The slides used by Sarah and Stevie to give this talk were the same slides used with students (take a look below), which gave an outline of what employers will look for on social media and how students can take control and manage their presence more, for example by checking Facebook privacy settings.

Key points that I took away from the talk included:

  • Students don’t use twitter much and it certainly doesn’t occur to them to use it to develop their careers.
  • Students think LinkedIn is only for when they’ve got a job, not to get one.
  • Students should Google themselves regularly. Sarah speaks to graduate employers on a daily basis – they are saying they are googling candidates so you need to know what they are seeing.
  • Career development is not just about social media, this needs to be complemented  with traditional  methods eg face to face.
  • Sarah recommended looking at which includes resources and videos on how to get the most out of LinkedIn.
  • Students are now asking for help with checking LinkedIn profiles more than CVs, as a result LMU ran drop-in LinkedIn clinics.
  • Students need to observe etiquette – don’t link to people you don’t know. Conversely, be careful of linking to family, you may end up with your mum talking to potential employers!

Michelle Schneider, University of Leeds, “The final chapter: developing students skills to successfully undertake their final year project”

Michelle described The Final Chapter online resource which supports students completing their final year projects. The resource was developed in response to a curriculum review which emphasised the need for independent research skills, resulting in the requirement for all final year students to do a project.

FinalChapterThe Final Chapter was developed collaboratively between staff and students. Michelle admitted it is unashamedly text heavy as it is intended to have detail and depth. Created using Articulate Storyline, the site contains checklists and embedded videos of staff and students. Academics from all faculties were interviewed and videoed explaining what they wanted from a literature review and what they expected in terms of criticality. Students were asked to share their tips. An interesting discovery was that the purpose and process of a literature review is the same across all subjects, despite what might be claimed! Once completed The Final Chapter was marketed mainly via a staff launch event but also through channels such as twitter.

There have been over 20k hits to the site but evaluation has so far been limited. A survey has been sent out but unfortunately not many responses were received. The “Doing a Literature Review” section was most and least popular – some subjects don’t do a formal review so the resource may need to be adapted in future. Other possible developments might be to include specific real-life examples, bringing in subject differences more and adding sections on methodology and discussion.

Emma Butler, University of Derby, “The Information Literacy Toolkit project”

Emma described the support they give to visiting school children who are working on their EPQ projects (Extended Project Qualification accredited by AQA – this short video explains its aims). Visits to the university library take place in spring and summer and the toolkit was developed to standardise the delivery of the sessions, as they are delivered by all members of the library team.

The toolkit includes session plans, ice breaker activities, searching activities, quizzes and tutorial material, finishing off with ‘DIY’ time to work on projects.  The searching activities cover advanced Google searching including domain searching – Emma has found that students aren’t aware of these options or why you might use them. Google Scholar, journals and citation, and open access resources are explained. I liked the ‘higher/lower’ game used to get students to guess how much journals cost – they are shocked at how expensive they can be!  The quiz is an activity which provides a self-guided tour around the library, which is in addition to a brief guided tour given by staff.

We got to try out one of the ice breaker activities (below), which at first seemed like a simple ranking exercise, for example, “rank these countries in order of size”. However, discussion led to us questioning the task itself – what exactly do we mean by size? Area? Population? The importance of asking the right question was emphasised.


After the visits to the library, students can use the library on a reference-only basis. They can also ask for an inter-library loan on to use items in school, but at present there hasn’t been much demand for this. Emma said she often turns down visits to go out to schools to run the sessions – she feels its important that students actually come into the library to experience what university life is like.

Erin Nephin, LMU, “Embedding Digital Literacy at Leeds Metropolitan University: Refocussing the Curriculum”

All courses at Leeds Metropolitan University have recently been reviewed and this provided opportunities to embed digital literacy, which is one of LMU’s three graduate attributes (the others being global outlook and employability).

These opportunities included Futures Fest,  a 3 week event in January which is dedicated to work-based learning & employability. The links between digital literacy and increased employability were demonstrated through activities such as creating scenarios which demonstrate how research skills can be used to help find a job. Erin then described the implementation of Core Content Modules within Blackboard, which can be embedded within other modules. She felt it was important that digital literacy is a graduate attribute, as it becomes everyone’s responsibility. Her slides below give more details of her experiences.

Vivien Sieber and Miriam Tarron, Uni of Surrey, “Supporting information literacy and study skills with Open Educational Resources (OER)”

Vivien Sieber, ‎Head Learning and Research Support and Development at Surrey, gave an overview of Open Education Resources and Creative Commons and their advantages.  She introduced JORUM, the repository for sharing OERs, and noted the forthcoming information literacy category (at the time of writing this now exists, with 78 resources listed under ‘Information and Digital Literacy Skills’).

She then explained the rationale behind Surrey’s Skills Portal, aimed at undergraduates, taught masters and doctoral students. Librarians signpost students to the portal to complete tutorials, with a view to spending the face-to-face time providing more in-depth and personalised support.

Vivien highlighted the importance of selecting appropriate OERs and overcoming technical issues to do with re-use. One of the main problems was encouraging students to use the resources and felt recommendation was key.

Miriam then talked about her experiences of repurposing a JORUM object from the University of Birmingham. It was easy to adapt in terms of content as it was fairly generic. Vivien emphasised the importance of uploading to JORUM too – it’s not all about re-using, but also sharing. And in that spirit, she noted that all of the Surrey Skills Portal is available to use  under a Creative Commons licence.

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Course report: How to get the best from

This report is also published in Refer, the journal of CILIP’s Information Services Group, Vol. 29, No 2, Summer 2013. The course was organised by the London & SE branch of ISG. Many thanks for their permission to reproduce.  holds original  ‘as enacted’ versions of UK primary legislation from 1988 and UK secondary legislation from 1987. It also holds revised primary legislation held in the form it was in force at Feb 1st 1991 (Jan 1st 2006 for Northern Ireland) onwards. No revised versions are available for secondary legislation. It holds a complete set of records from 1991 to the present and partial records from 1267 to 1991. It does not hold EU legislation or any case law.

Having recently taken over supporting Law and Government Publications at my library, this course was very timely for me. The full day course was led by Jim Thorne with support from Robert Marks, legal editors at The National Archives, which delivers the service. The course was well attended by mainly librarians from a mix of sectors, including public, academic, national and legal libraries. As a result, the depth of knowledge of legal sources

Inevitably, when learning how to find legislation, a basic understanding of the legislative process is required. This was covered in the morning session and I found this to be the most interesting and useful part of the day. Jim had a relaxed presentation style and explained legal concepts clearly, using memorable examples to bring them to life. Some of the legal jargon explained included Primary and Secondary Legislation, Extent and Application, Commencement Orders and Amendments. There was quite a lot to take in but the course materials were very detailed and comprehensive and will be valuable reference tools. I found the presentation slides were useful to highlight key points and on request these were made available to us after the course. Jim welcomed questions and I was pleased that the course schedule was adapted to allow extra time for the many questions
we had!

The hands-on time allowed us to work through examples of simple and advanced searches on Advanced features included restricting by geographic extent and locating legislation at a particular point in time. Importantly we learned how to locate new
legislation and changes to existing legislation, including an explanation of the symbols and notes used in amendments. A lesson I learned was that it is quite difficult to see what the latest law actually is – it was emphasised that there is always some uncertainty, because law itself is constantly changing and open to interpretation.

I found I got less out of some of the later parts of the day where we were talked through some very detailed examples of specific searches – I felt a bit overwhelmed by the information given in the handout at this point. The presenters were open and honest about
the benefits of using and also its weaknesses and were keen for feedback on how the site could be improved. is the most authoritative source of UK legislation and is a great public resource, however due to resource constraints it isn’t always the most up-to-date source. It also doesn’t provide any interpretation and the presenters were keen to highlight this point – “we tell you what the law is, not what it means – you need a lawyer for that!”.

I found the knowledge I gained about legislation in general has helped me to improve my ability to search for legislation in general, as well as specifically on In the end, one of the key learning points for me was that I was unlikely to use very much as we are lucky enough to subscribe  to the major commercial legal databases, which have more up-todate and enhanced content. However, for the many attendees from public libraries who are dealing with law queries from the public it will be invaluable. I would certainly recommend the course  for anyone who would like to deepen their understanding of the legislative process and how to find legislation.

Following my report, Jim Thorne highlighted the Expert Participation Project, which aims to improve the currency of the legislation by teaming up with trained editors from the private and voluntary sectors.

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Book series idea – your views please!

Over the last few months I’ve been mulling over some ideas with Facet Publishing regarding developing a book series (Facet are a publishing company aimed at information professionals, so that would be the target audience). I’d really appreciate input from anyone who is willing to give it!

A couple of years ago I wrote a book with Jo Webb and Chris Powis, A Guide to Teaching Information Literacy: 101 Practical Tips, thankfully received generally good reviews with many referring positively to the format.

Facet have asked me to explore the idea of creating a book series based on a similar concept and structure.

For those who haven’t seen it (shame on you!), the book is structured into 101 short sections covering a ‘tip’, which vary in depth and content. The format is described in the introduction as follows:

“Each tip has an overview and details of the tip or activity, guidance on when to use the tips and some issues to watch out for when trying out the techniques. One of the most important parts of each tip is the More section, where we give further ideas and suggestions to adapt and extent the tip. We hope these ideas will prompt you to think about ways you can adapt the tips to your own teaching situation – it is important to experiment!”

Some tips cover more general themes such as ‘Assessment’ or ‘Planning’ whereas others cover specific teaching tools or activities. The sample given here is actually one of the more in-depth ‘tips’:

The full range can be seen in the contents page:

The aim of the book was very much to provide practical tips (the title gives that away a little!). One of the strengths of the book was that it synthesised the collective experience of the authors in a hopefully easily accessible and useable way. A natural extension of this would be to gather practical tips from as many people as possible – crowdsourcing these, if you like that expression!

What I’d really appreciate some help with is:

  • Does a series of books like this appeal to you?
  • What sort of topics would you like to see?
  • Would you be prepared to contribute examples from your experience?
  • Can you suggest authors you think could bring the examples together and provide clear guidance on practical applications?

It would be great to gather together collective experiences, but I’m conscious that the end result would be published commercially. This does sit a little uncomfortably with me, given that there are completely open resources such as wikis with similar aims, but hopefully the added value and efforts of the authors/editors would be worth it.

I already have some ideas for topics I currently have include engaging library customers, evaluating impact, reader development, strategic planning and leadership, staff development – very diverse, but the common theme would be a practical approach and tips.

I would appreciate any comments or suggestions!

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Responding to the MOOC hysteria

I sat in on the JISC RSC Wales Lunchtime Byte webinar this week, delivered by David Kernohan of JISC, “Online learning at scale: responding to the MOOC invasion”.

Image: Adam Levine,

Image: Adam Levine,

My experience of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) so far consists of: lots of tweets washing over me about #oldsmooc #edcmooc etc; worried mentions of MOOCs threatening UK HE in various meetings here and there and, of course, I signed up for one a couple of weeks ago. I signed up quite last minute for the #teachtheweb MOOC which sounded great – interesting, short, very relevant to my work – but yet I failed at the first hurdle, getting to grips with Google Plus (it baffles me). So now my experience of that MOOC is receiving jaunty emails telling me the fun next stage I’m not taking part in.

I signed up for the webinar mainly because it was being run by David Kernohan, who I thought would probably give a good, honest opinion of the issues surrounding MOOCs and I was right.

The main gist was how to respond to the MOOC ‘hysteria’ – I won’t attempt to summarise the hour long session – it’s here for you to view.

However, here are some of the key issues that I picked up – these are David’s views as I have interpreted them (I hope he’ll correct me if I’ve misquoted him!):

  • MOOCs aren’t the future of HE. David stated from the outset was that MOOCs are not a fix for everything. They are good at certain things, but are not the future for the entirety of HE. It’s ok to be cynical about it.
  • MOOC is meaningless. Although it stands for Massive Open Online Course, the term has essentially become meaningless – there are courses that aren’t massive, aren’t open and aren’t even courses. David is expecting the first offline MOOC to come anyday…
  • MOOCs & the Open Education Movement. I mistakenly assumed MOOCs were run using Open Educational Resources, but this was clarified. There are 3 strands to open education: Reusable Learning Objects, Commons and diyU. These have mingled into the Open Education Movement. However this is not a coherent movement – you can’t see OER & MOOCs on a continuum as part of the same thing.
  • Dark side of the MOOC. It’s not just about expanding access: it’s about looking to replace structures that currently support education, which are not perfect but do a lot of good. The marketing language used by many MOOC course providers talks about how “HE is broken”, “HE is ripe for innovation”, how MOOCs revolutionise conventional models.
  • What’s new in terms of pedagogy? Nothing much, the new parts are the hype and the funding/delivery model. Funding is coming from venture capital & large companies. Students either don’t pay or pay for accreditation. Later discussion highlighted that the teaching methods often involve a high level of transmission, involving for example watching pre-recorded lectures. In terms of the learning experience, a feeling of disconnection from the course tutors is common. The experience can often be inflexible and impersonal.
  • Who takes parts in MOOCs? David reported that those taking in MOOCs are generally well-educated and from Western countries, so there are questions around the extent to which they are widening participation. Is a MOOC actually better for experienced learners as it requires self-regulation? In terms of numbers, enrolments are usually high but participation and completion rates tail off dramatically. For example, the University of Edinburgh’s #edcmooc had 42k enrolments, 17k participants and 2k completions.
  • Defining / measuring achievement. There was some discussion of this issue in the webinar – completion rates were highlighted as being low, but is completion a red herring? (A pale pink herring was suggested…)What are they completing? People get what they want out of course and that may not require completion. David argued that the experience should be good enough that you should want to complete.
  • The cost of MOOCs. As mentioned, courses are usually free for students, paying only for accreditation. In terms of costs to institutions, the development cost is indeed born by the educational institution and not the MOOC provider. Some providers give the impression that the course will run itself but in fact a lot more intervention is required from tutors. Learn about the Edinburgh experience in Jeff Hayward’s blog post There’s no such thing as a free MOOC  David observed that the Pearson Vue testing centre is used by several MOOC providers, so they seem to be the ones making the money!
  • Can any institution run a MOOC? This was news to me, but the two high profile providers, Coursera and FutureLearn, are both invite-only. Outside of the US, Coursera will only approach the top 5 institutions in each country to run a MOOC. Udacity is not open to institutions, only to individual academics who have to apply & don’t accept everyone. Blackboard & other commercial offerings, such as OpenClass and Instructure Canvas, are open to everyone – Sheffield University is offering courses on Blackboard Coursesites and Edge Hill runs the Vampire Fictions MOOC from its own Blackboard VLE.  David noted that the marketing from these commercial options talks more about offering service to institutions, not about changing things that are broken.
  • xMOOCs & cMOOCs. Is it possible to have a MOOC that’s not completely inflexible and impersonal? Yes – a connectivist MOOC. Pioneered by George Siemens  and Stepehen Downes  (among others), the theory is that knowledge is emergent, coming from students and staff talking to each other and reflecting, with #oldsmooc cited as an example. The delivery of c-MOOCs tends to involve a mix of web-scale methods eg twitter, blogs, bookmarking sites. Martin Hawksey provided a link to his blog post outlining various technologies used in c-MOOCs.cMOOCs tend to be smaller scale and involved talking to people and the formation of communities. David warned that cMOOCs are not a panacea – they are suited to advanced learners, who are comfortable online and used to sharing a lot of experiences online, which is not for everyone. In terms of pedagogy, c-MOOCs do tend to involve less transmission than in the xMOOCs, such as Coursera. (The term xMOOC was also new to me and I found this blog post on xMOOCs vs cMOOCs useful.)
  • Is it just distance learning? Have MOOCs now become unintentionally funny as there is so much talk about them? Are they actually just distance learning?! David suggests the they hype shouldn’t be taken too seriously – it’s a diversion. Should it be treated more as an outreach tool? Telling more people about what university can be like and to come and engage. They are not likely to be the entirety of the future of HE.

For a more balanced view on MOOCs David recommended the following links:

Links to the full recording, presentation slides and web links referred to during the session are on the RSC Wales site.

I found the session really interesting and certainly feel I have more understanding of the issues and hype surrounding MOOCs. RSC Wales did a great job hosting the event and I’ll certainly look out for more of their Lunch Time Bytes. The dark side for me was that I spent the rest of the day singing “C-Mooc, oh C-Mooc….”

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