Category Archives: vle

It’s challenging…

…but planning helps!

Over the years I have spent a lot of time working with teachers helping them to embed digital technologies into their practice. I have also collaborated with colleges and universities and seen the strategies they use to embed digital. In an earlier post I described my journey and the approaches I have used for support and strategy. In this series of articles I am going to look at the process that many teachers use for teaching and learning and describe tools, services, but also importantly the organisational approach that can be used to embed the use of those tools into practice.

One of the challenges of embedding digital tech into teaching and learning is making the assumption that teachers are aware of and are able to utilise the digital tools available to them and understand which tools work best for different situations and scenarios.

Gaining that understanding and confidence isn’t easy and often requires a paradigm shift in approaches to using technology and the digital tools and services available. Just because a member of staff has been given the training in how to use the tool or service, it doesn’t mean they know how best to use that tool or service to enhance teaching and learning, and for what function or process of the learning activity the tool would support or enhance.

When I was teaching at City of Bristol College, one of the main reasons I started using and embraced technology was to aid planning my curriculum and lesson planning. The way it actually started was using technology to save time. By using, initially, a word processing package and then a DTP package, I would write and design assignment briefs, handouts and workbooks. The reason for using technology in this way was so I could reuse them the following year. Making them digital meant I could edit and update them if needed.

I also started using a presentation package (Freelance Graphics) to create presentations. There were no digital projectors back then, so these were printed onto acetates in black and white and shown via an OHP. This for me was much better than hand writing onto acetates, again for updating and changing.

Though I did write basic schemes of work for the curriculum at that time, it started to make sense to me to start creating a more detailed scheme of work.

When I noticed the web in the late 1990s I realised that hyperlinks could mean I could create a digital (though back then we called it electronic) scheme of work with live links to the digital resources I had created. It didn’t take much to then add lesson plans to the scheme of work with live links to the presentations, handouts and other resources.

A final step was to start adding extra resources and links, in order to allow for a learner to go to the web site and differentiate their learning journey.

I didn’t initially use digital technologies to plan, but what those digital technologies allowed me to do more effectively was to both plan better, but also link everything together. The process also allowed me to easily and quickly adjust resources and plans as and when required.

It got to the stage where I would plan a whole year in advance and have everything ready for all my lessons and courses.

When I spoke about this to people (outside my college) the response I usually got was I plan the night before and there is no way I could plan more than a week ahead. Their explanation was that they couldn’t know how a lesson would go in advance and therefore couldn’t plan more than one lesson in ahead. At the time I did struggle with a response, but now reflecting on this, I realised that I had in fact planned flexibility into my plans. Combined with links to all the resources and additional stuff, it wouldn’t matter if we didn’t cover everything in a lesson, or if the lesson was cancelled (snow closure for example). It was also later that I recognised as a teacher that though I had a responsibility for my curriculum, it wasn’t my job to teach the whole of the curriculum, it was responsibility to ensure my students learnt the curriculum. Some of this would be through teaching, but some could be through reading, or other learning activities. Some would be formal and some would be informal. Resources could be digital, but they could also be analogue.

Of course back then we didn’t have a VLE, so I “created” a VLE, well it was a website with some additional tools (such as a discussion forum). As I had used digital tools for planning and content creation, it wasn’t a huge job to transfer everything to the website. I do remember buying Adobe Acrobat so I could create PDFs more easily, especially I was using a bizarre range of software to create stuff.

A VLE today makes the whole process of planning much easier and I have written before about this in my series, 100 ways to use a VLE.

100 ways to use a VLE – #25 Scheme of Work

100 ways to use a VLE – #26 Lesson Plans

The main conclusion I came to was that planning was really critical to the success of my curriculum and my teaching. Also technology made the whole planning process easier and quicker.

So what tools are you using to plan your curriculum and your lessons?

Image Credit: Lesson Plans by hurricanemaine CC BY 2.0

Down the #altc road


Reading Maren Deepwell’s recent post about her #altc journey, it reminded me of the many conferences I have attended and like her the impact that they had on my life and professional practice. Going back to my experiences of my first ALT-C I was surprised I even went again!

Continue reading Down the #altc road

No it’s not easy…

Time for a coffee

…but sometimes you need to think differently!

We know that change isn’t easy, if it was then all we would need to do would be buy a book on the subject and just do it.

When it comes to the embedding of digital technologies into teaching, learning and assessment I have spent over twenty years undertaking this kind of activity at a range of organisations and across different levels.

Going back to when I was a Business Studies and Economics teacher at what was then Brunel College (now City of Bristol College) I kind of fell into the use of technology to support teaching and learning. I was an ILT (or TEL) Champion before even the phrase existed. Going back a little further I was never the kind of techno geek or computer nerd many of my peers appear to be when comparing histories. I didn’t do Computer Science at school. I didn’t own a computer, I didn’t have a BBC Micro, nor the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum or anything like that. I did have a bike though!

At University in the late 1980s we had a VAX system and it was really that kind of got me interested in technology, but it was as a tool to solve problems. I discovered I could use this thing called electronic mail to send letters to a friend at another university instead of using the post! This was quite illuminating, until I got flamed by the administrator at the other university, for not using the correct format for my e-mail… Most of the time however the use of the computers was in many ways pointless as my examinations required me to hand write essays, so why would I use a word processor, having said that I did get introduced to Word Perfect 4.2 and did think that this was better than a typewriter.

After university on a business enterprise course I was introduced to spreadsheets that I used for creating balance sheets and cashflow forecasts. For me that was probably the eye opener that got me into technology, more so than anything I had seen before, well does that make me a boring person?

By the time I was working at City of Bristol College I was using my own PC at home to create presentations, photocopying onto clear acetates as initially we didn’t have a digital projector, and we were still using OHPs. When the college did buy a projector (we had one for the whole college) it was a real effort to use it, it was the size of a small suitcase and we also had to lug the screen around as well. Due to lack of processing power, I would often bring in my own PC box, as the laptop couldn’t cope with the strain of my presentations. My PC also had a Matrox Rainbow Runner video card which I used to show full screen video. There was no internet and certainly no wireless network. My what we take for granted today, looks at his phone which can stream HD and 4K video to a projector using 4G connectivity, things do change. Things did improve and we started to see more technology in classrooms.

One outcome from all this was that as I was seen as something of an innovator in this area I was asked to support and train staff, not just from my faculty, but also other areas of the college. One clear memory of this was the impact, often I would train individuals who would then go off and do their own thing (or not). Sometimes I would train all the staff in a faculty and this is where I would often see not only the most resistance, but also the biggest impact. Where a faculty set expectations about how technology would be used, you would see the greatest impact. One faculty I taught how to use Powerpoint to (probably badly) many of the staff were quit resistant or complained they couldn’t do this technology thing, there weren’t enough PCs, not all classrooms had PCs and projectors, and so on… remember this was 1998 or 1999. The head of faculty though had made it clear that not only were all staff to do the training, and create presentation materials, but that all the presentations would be stored and shared centrally. No presentations stored on floppy disks (we didn’t have USB sticks back then) being used by individuals only.

What was a transformative moment for me was the understanding that showcasing, cascading and piloting really didn’t have the transformative impact that senior managers hoped for. Generally the main impact was that enthusiasts would become more enthusiastic and those more reluctant, would either not do anything, or just pay lip service to any initiative. What really caused institutional change was effective strategy and leadership and clarity about what was going to be done, what was expected from staff and what they needed to do and by when.

This did stick with me over the years I moved into positions where my role was to embed technology into teaching and learning. Though I often used the cascade model for staff development, but knew that this was not the ideal model for systemic holistic change across an organisation. It worked well on some individuals, but it was not transformative.

In a similar vein the use of other people’s research and running pilots was interesting and useful, but did not result in institutional change, it could inform other activities, but the idea that the best way for mainstream transformation was to run a pilot was something that I found never worked and never had the impact that others thought it would.

What I really tried to do was transform the entire institution. I would use tools such as cheeses and models, but one key aspect was culture change. Changing the culture was often about hearts and minds, but also challenging the myths and misconceptions about technology and using learning technology with learners. I would use pilots and research to inform this process.

I also knew that if something didn’t work, then to try again, but this time do it differently. Don’t keep trying to do the same thing again and again.

I know that this isn’t easy, if it was easy then we would all have done it!

One thing that came out of this was the understanding that we often make assumptions about staff capabilities and their ability to know how to embed technology and the potential of what technology can do. Just because a member of staff can has been given the training in how to use the tool or service, it doesn’t mean they know how best to use that tool or service to enhance teaching and learning, and for what function or process of the learning activity the tool would support or enhance.

I also know that isn’t easy too….

Mapping the learning and teaching


During the recent Jisc Digital Leadership Programme, we looked at mapping our use of social networking tools using the concept of Visitors and Residents. We were lucky to have the influential Donna Lanclos and Dave White supporting us.

I like how the mapping exercise makes you consider how you are using various tools and what needs to happen to change that map, how do you become more resident when using a tool such as Twitter for example. Or how do you start using a tool which is currently not on your map, such as a professional blog?

The key thing I like to remind people about when using the mapping that this is a continuum and not a distinction between two groups. Your personal VandR map is not, and should not be a static thing. The mapping changes as new tools are introduced, old ones retire and your role and behaviours change.

In my own professional life, Google+ was a major part of my map in 2014, I would have placed it covering both personal, institutional down the resident’s end of the continuum. Now in 2016 it has shrunk right down and I would say it has moved over to the visitor side of the continuum. In this case the shrinking and movement is out of my control, but what could I have done to mitigate that change? Thinking about how you use tools over time can result in using the right tools in the right contexts. We should also remember that this is not about good and bad, visitor and residents are not about good and bad behaviours, it’s about understanding where you are when online.

The mapping exercise in the main covers digital communication, collaboration and participation. I then started to think about how we could use a similar concept to map teaching practice and curriculum design. This lead onto thinking about mapping the “learning” of our learners. Where are they learning, is that learning scheduled and formalised? Is that learning ad-hoc? Is it individual, group, collaborative? So the next stage was to map this in a similar manner to the Visitor and Residents, but what axes could we use when mapping learning?

On the horizontal axis we have a spectrum from broadcast to engagement. Broadcast could be considered one way, and could be one to one, or one to many. So a formal lecture would be considered broadcast, one way to many students. If lectures have opportunities for discussion and questions, then you can see how that would move down the continuum into engagement. Likewise reading a library book in the library, is also one way, author to reader, but this is more likely to be informal with little potential for engagement.

On the vertical axis we have, well this started me to think. In some respects you could have online and offline. The problem with this feels like the focus is on the tools we use and it’s the tools as well as spaces that I want to place on the map. Also online is really a space in itself. So for me a better choice would be to consider a spectrum of formal and informal. In this instance I see formal as being planned and scheduled, whereas informal is more about flexible, responsive and a matter of personal choice. So what we get is a two axes onto which we can map different activities and behaviours.

Mapping your teaching practice

What I did next was to map a “traditional” course to the map, the type of thing I use to deliver when I was a Business Studies lecturer in the 1990s and what I experienced at University in the 1980s.

Mapping your teaching practice

The use of the library, for example, is a space which is used in the main for informal learning and relatively little engagement. Learners choose when to visit the library and makes choices about what they do there. Most of the activity is consuming content (books and journals). Now in more modern libraries we see spaces for group and collaborative working, so as a result I have extended the library into the engagement side of the continuum.

A seminar has an abundance of engagement, but is more formal. This could be a scheduled session, but this is active learning, no passive listening here.

Study groups could be both formal and informal, those organised by the teacher and those self-organised by the students. I also put in the idea that recreational areas (such as a coffee shop) could also be used for learning.


The next map takes that same map as before but adds digital to the learning.

Mapping your teaching practice

This kind of map is the way in which many institutions digital is added to the curriculum and delivery. The lecturer starts posting links from a Twitter account. They post resources and content to the VLE for learners to use. The VLE used in the main as a repository could be seen as broadcast and informal, learners choosing when to visit the VLE and accessing resources they want or need. They may run the odd webinar or two, mainly using it to deliver an online lecture. The learners may use Facebook to discuss aspects of the course in addition the usual activity of posting pictures of cats and photographs of friends that their friends would rather they didn’t.

One issue that does arise from this kind of approach to embedding digital into teaching and learning is that the previous activities haven’t changed, it’s more of an additionality, a bolt-on to existing practices. You can start to understand why some staff don’t want to engage with digital as they see it as something extra, more work to do.

Now if we draw another map, this time almost starting afresh and rethinking (or redesigning) the entire curriculum.

Mapping your teaching practice

Someone may be using the VLE extensively for content, discussion, chat, assessment and as a result this will look very different to someone who uses the VLE merely as a place for lecture notes and presentations. When the functionality of the VLE is used more effectively, using discussion forums and chat facilities, you can see how this will be more about engagement and possibly planned (so more formal). You can see how this will change the shape of the VLE on the mapping activity and is broken down into two shapes on the map.

The library and use of the library is both expanded and in some cases formalised, putting the library at the heart of the students’ learning.

Twitter can still be used as a informal broadcast tool, but using a Facebook Group with appropriate guidance and advice, suddenly becomes more effective in supporting learners.

Webinars become online seminars, with discussion and engagement.

Notice how there are still lectures and seminars, smaller than in the previous maps, but still an useful medium for teaching and learning.

The mapping provides an insight into how the curriculum is designed and how learners interact and engage with the different spaces, tools and delivery mechanisms.

The next stage following mapping you may want to then consider how you could push or pull certain behaviours, as well as inflating or shrinking them.

What needs to happen to inflate and expand the VLE on the map? How do you push (or expand) the use of the VLE into the engagement side of the continuum? What training or guidance needs to be in place to make that happen?

How do you increase usage of the library and use it for both informal and informal learning?

What does the library need to do, to increase engagement? Is there changes they can make to how the space is used, or do they need to engage with curriculum staff to enable learners to make more effective use of the resources and staff within the library?

What does the institution need to do to informal spaces to increase learning activities taking place there? A coffee shop may have groups of learners engaging in various activities related to their course, but it may not be the best kind of environment for this to happen, there’s no wifi or power sockets for example. How could learning be encouraged in informal spaces?


As well as mapping your own teaching practice, you could use the concepts to map the curriculum design for the whole course.

You could even think about the teacher mapping their practice and then the learners in a separate exercise mapping their experience. Then compare the two maps!

Mapping is an useful exercise to think about practice and though any such map may not be accurate or complete, it does allow you to consider and think about actions and training required to change behaviours or how spaces and tools are used.

Thank you Lawrie Phipps for your valued input and comments on this blog post.

Great Scott! – Back to the Future at FOTE15

There wasn’t a FOTE conference in 2015, which was a pity as it was one of my favourite annual events. I spoke at many of the conferences, most recently in 2014 when I spoke about the conflict between the light and the dark and used a Star Wars theme.

I remember reflecting on the conference on the way home that it would be a lot of fun to do a Back the Future themed talk for 2015.

Back to the Future

Alas it was never to be…

However I thought it might be a little fun to explore what might have been…

Continue reading Great Scott! – Back to the Future at FOTE15