Personal reflections on online learning #4

The aim of step 2.3 of the University of Leeds’  Blended Learning Essentials: Getting Started (BLE) course is to introduce:

“a wide range of digital technologies available to support blended learning in formal and informal learning scenarios [and] the key principles to consider when embedding digital technologies into your practice”

This held particular appeal. With our Learning Zone – the branding of our Moodle virtual learning environment (VLE) – almost constructed and with a range of learning content ready to be unleashed on the Communities First workforce I am at the stage of wanting to push different elements of Moodle to see if they are useful for our content and the learning styles of our potential learners. What impressed me with Moodle during my initial training in its administration and use was the sheer versatility and flexibility of the platform; in fact, there was a danger of being overwhelmed and disorientated by the volume of features.

nearpod

Nearpod

So what would the likes of Nearpod, Google Classrooms and DREAMS (the examples cited in the accompanying video) do that Moodle doesn’t? I wasn’t alone in querying this either with others posting similar comments in the accompanying forum.

Well I’m not clear they offer anything additional at all, though perhaps they may do some things better. All the case studies featured appear to use these platforms in a traditional FE setting and this is different to my context where workforce support and development is my focus. Thanks to the course I now realise learners from Communities First largely learn in a constructivist manner i.e., by constructing their own knowledge and meaning through experience for instance by engaging in ‘real world’ activities (on the job?) and building on their prior knowledge and experience. I am seldom an instructor but more usually facilitate people’s learning. As an aside, with budgets for workers to attend traditional ‘classroom’ training likely to decrease then this constructivist pedagogy.

CC - Cover Photo with Icons

Google Classrooms

Both Nearpod and Google Classrooms appear to be helpful in creating a collective identity among a class and have embedded within them the sociability that I increasingly recognise is de rigeur in many blended learning technologies. But Moodle’s group function can do similar. A sports lecturer in one of the case studies mentions that he has embedded Google Classrooms within his VLE and this is interesting. He seems particularly keen on how the classroom can be designed and be “more personal to a tutor which they can control”. Reading between the lines, is this a way of the tutor circumnavigating the restrictions in Moodle that its permissions ethos impose on course creators and teachers?

The convenience of Google Classrooms for those with Google accounts is certainly attractive; but I know people who resent the enveloping effect of Google over their online and social media activities (and with which I have more than a little sympathy). But the reality is that the fewer the (perceived) barriers to a new technology the more likely people are to try it and eventually adopt it and ‘mainstream’ it in their learning.

Nearpod appears to offer a seamlessness between use of Powerpoint for instruction and, for instance, formative assessment in a face-to-face context and is probably the one element that I can see myself adopting.

Lastly, having learned last night that Dropbox acquires ownership of anything you store with it (note to self: read the small print), I’m curious whether the likes of Nearpod and Google Classroom (or the previously-introduced Edmodo and Padlet for that matter) allow a tutor to retain ownership of materials he/she uploads. So far the BLE course hasn’t touched on the ethics of using such resources.

Still learning, still exploring, still reflecting….

 

 

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New to blended learning? Start with Padlet!

As part of routinely reflecting on the Univeristy of Leeds’ Blending Learning Essentials course through Future Learn I blogged about first impressions of using Padlet.

In this re-blog Helen Dixon describes more fully some of Padlet’s benefits to online and blended learning; namely that its

“Usability, simplicity, accessibility and shareability make Padlet ideal for introducing blended learning.”

Source: New to blended learning? Start with Padlet!

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Personal reflections on online learning #3

I’ve finally reached the end of week 1 of the University of Leeds’  Blended Learning Essentials: Getting Started (BLE) course on The Open University’s Future Learn online platform. A convenient juncture to reflect once again.

I love discovering a new online app or platform. I can barely recall what life was like before I discovered Twitter (actually I can. I shared opinions, observations, ideas and interesting links with friends via texts and emails; but I didn’t make as many friends that way, as I have through Twitter). I discover more new music via YouTube than via any other means. I have finally discovered a relevance for Google+. I now run four WordPress blogs across my work-life continuum. Of course they don’t all push my buttons (I’ve been free of Facebook for over six happy years).

So when the course introduced Edmodo and Padlet there was the usual frisson of curiosity. I haven’t got round to exploring Edmodo yet but I have made my inaugural posting on Padlet.

My first thought was that Padlet resembled Pinterest. My second thought was how daunting it is to navigate. This is a only a small proportion of the number of posts on it.

padlet.

How will I navigate all of them or discern which are relevant to my learning?

Reassuringly, the end of week summary poses a similar question:

How to keep up with everything being contributed?

We can’t, of course, and should not try to – join the conversation as you can, as you would join your colleagues over lunch.

And this makes perfect sense of course. Just because a library has thousands of books doesn’t mean you are expected or need to read them all. But libraries help you navigate their collections and I’m not sure Padlet conveniently does that.

I can see how it might complement our podcasts on community involvement with listeners able to post different links, resources and comments inspired by the podcast discussion they are listening/have listened to.

It’s still early days though. As a visual learner and ‘scanner’ of websites, rather than someone who reads in detail, Padlet is certainly a better stimulus for me. I don’t suppose, either, that applying Padlet to a Communities First context the wall would grow anywhere near as large as the BLE course one.

On to work 2!

 

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Personal reflections on online learning #2

I’ve managed to squeeze in a few more hours on the University of Leeds’  Blended Learning Essentials: Getting Started course on The Open University’s Future Learn online platform. So time for some more reflections.

Well, actually less reflections, and more confirmation of some pre-held assumptions.

The video that accompanies unit 1.6 (Digital technology and learners) stresses how technology enhances the flexibility of learning for a learner and cites a learner’s ability to skype his tutor and engage with him via Google Hangouts. He also cites being able to submit assignments via Turnitin, and merely ‘chatting’ with his tutor via Facebook, Edmodo (which I’d not heard of before) or Hangouts.

Professor Laurillard acknowledges the ability of the learner to manage his time with such technologies. But she skirts this in favour of drawing attention to what she calls the “crucial value of the technology” which is that they give him “flexible access for social learning” (emphasis added). Enhancing the sociability of learning is an important – “crucial” even – aspect of blended learning. In the cited instance Prof. Laurillard concludes that the learner “isn’t isolated”.

I touched on this in my first Personal reflections blog and how the Blended Learning Essentials course appeared to place an emphasis on sociability and learner interaction. Clearly, this is designed in, not because it is a nice, fluffy thing to do; rather it is a pedagogic necessity that enhances learners’ achievement.

moodle-laddersConsidering the Communities First workforce as potential users of our Learning Zone moodle many of our potential learners are remote-working, peripatetic and working directly with clients, many of whom have multiple needs and/or difficult personal circumstances. I had already recognised their need to have flexibility in determining when/where it suits them to learn. But I had previously considered the sociability aspect to their online and blended learning on the Learning Zone has an optional extra.

This particular unit on the course suggests it is more a necessity.

Another interesting element in considering what technologies offer in terms of flexibility is the permission to use particular platforms/websites.

The Communities First workforce is primarily employed by Welsh local authorities whose restrictions are frankly Draconian when it comes to allowing which sites their staff can access outside lunch breaks, if at all. The video cites Google Hangouts, Edmodo and Facebook as examples of platforms which enhance the sociability of learning but I would hazard a guess that none are available to the majority of CF workers at, say, 10.30am on a weekday morning.

blue yetiTo illustrate this point, I have had first-hand experience of this with respect to a pilot podcast that I recorded with members of the CF workforce in May.

I had identified several people with whom to evaluate the recording for content, audio quality, length and ease of listening. The mp3 was too large to email and so I placed it in a Dropbox folder and on Soundcloud for people to access to either listen in situ or download to a device of their own choice. Variously, people could not access one or other site via their work PC; had to do so from their own home PCs, requiring them to share with me their personal emails; or could access the sites but had no media player through which to listen to the mp3.

Flexibility isn’t something that is brought about by the the availability of technologies alone. There are external factors that can greatly, even completely, constrain a learner and educator’s efforts to make learning flexible.

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Personal reflections on online learning #1

CF logoI manage the Communities First Support Service at Wales Council for Voluntary Action and it is presently developing a range of online learning resources and courses for the CF workforce. These will complement our ‘traditional’ forms of support to the CF workforce:

  • training
  • action learning
  • bespoke consultancy

WCVA‘s Learning Zone will be hosting these resources and courses. In readiness for the launch of it and the ongoing development of learning materials I have been undertaking the University of Leeds’ Blended Learning Essentials: Getting Started course on The Open University’s Future Learn online platform.

It requires around four hours of learning a week for four weeks and I can complete it at my own pace and in my own time. It’s flexible as well; so if I do only two hours one week I can make it up the following week.

The course encourages you to reflect on the learning and as someone schooled in community development practice this has come naturally to me as I have started the course; the encouragement is always helpful though!

One thing that struck me immediately was the informality and friendliness of the experience. It was very welcoming with a simple film introducing the institution, the platform, the educators and examples of the forthcoming learning content. I was encouraged to introduce myself via a learners’ forum and, without realising the function existed, attracted a follower within minutes. It has a look, feel and lexicon similar to those of social media platforms. On reflection I suppose this allows for a more sociable aspect to the learning. There’s no common room, refectory or (*hiccup*) student bar to where one can share learning experiences, collaborate or socialise with other learners/students; so the forums allow for more peer-interaction and doesn’t make the blended learning experience as lonely as one might fear it will be.

This is interesting from the point of view of the CF workforce. I am of the opinion that there is insufficient interaction between the CF workforce, certainly beyond county and cluster boundaries; and therefore we don’t learn from each other as much as we might. Our Learning Zone will have a forum capacity and perhaps this is something that could be made more prominent. Again, much like social media platforms with a personal avatar and opportunity to describe oneself, the profile function aids this.

imageThe Blended Learning Essentials introduction was not only welcoming but practically helpful as well. This has also highlighted the importance of practical ‘how to’ guides for people; with our Learning Zone, it is not enough for us to expect to ‘build it and they will come’.

For learners unfamiliar with online learning it is not only the course that needs introducing but the platform itself and environmental considerations. With this in mind the Blended Learning Essentials course features a short video (there are lots of visual resources, which as a visual learner I greatly appreciate) that helps make the “learning experience effective and enjoyable” including advice on how to make your environment conducive to learning; how to take notes; how to listen and reflect, and several other key preparatory aspects to learning.

featured image blog 1bWe must not assume that the CF workforce are learning ready. People may not have undertaken learning (of any nature, not just online) for a while. Neither is the CF workforce a traditional office-based workforce. A large proportion of it works remotely, peripatetically, in community venues without ready access to a PC, or only has hand-held devices available to work on. It is feasible that CF workers will be learning in short sharp bursts and our Learning Zone needs to be responsive to this.

So, so far so good.

I have been made to feel welcomed and valued as a learner. I have already begun to think of some changes to make to our learning Zone and have completed my first blog. Now I just need to catch up as I’ve already fallen behind because work gets in the way!

Featured image from nelsoncroom.co.uk

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Role for the community in tackling substance abuse?

I recently stumbled across this tweet during a lunch break at work spent idly browsing the internet. I’m still reeling from the power of the HMO Hitmen and Profits of Addiction I re-blogged recently and the tweet’s reference to substance abuse resonated given the frequency of overdoses.

Station House is an American treatment centre for substance abuse whose philosophy is

“…to combine a safe, supportive environment with evidence-based care to help our patients enter a long term recovery from their substance addiction”

A key part of this philosophy is about supporting emergency services (or ‘first responders’) to better respond, prevent and treat substance abusers. The clip is a brief but interesting glimpse at the role of community in tackling substance abuse. A supportive and sympathetic community appears to be the ‘cement’ that binds together the proactive professional interventions and treatments, abusers themselves and their families

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Community development and community journalism: reflections on the @C4CJ #CJ15 conference

c4cj

I recently had the pleasure of attending the ‘What Next for Community Journalism?’ event held by Cardiff University’s Centre for Community Journalism (Storify of the event here). Since it is a topic with which I am not much familiar I attended with a degree of trepidation and, indeed, found myself surrounded by a number of journalists, both of the ‘traditional’ and community variety (the distinction between which came to be much more blurred by the end of the day), and lots of talk of business models, meta data and coding.

Wales, and Cardiff/Caerdydd, was well-represented with Wrexham.com, Tongwynlais.com, Port Talbot MagNetGrangetown Community Action and my own Llandaff North/Ystum Taf community in the shape of Llandaff North Post among others in attendance.

lnpost

There were several English and Scottish-based hyperlocal news sites in presence and the keynote address came from Dan Gillmoor an esteemed American journalism academic and commentator. It was pleasing to see a Communities First area present in the form of North Merthyr cluster where a Cardiff University hyperlocal journalism project with young people operates. And there was also on show a copy of the Butetown, Grangetown and Riverside Communities First newsletter

The day was fascinating, in fact I was a little punch-drunk by the end of it. There’s a live and fluid regulatory landscape that hyperlocals need to aware of; against a backdrop of profits of as little as £100 a month (and seldom above £500), the financing and staffing of hyperlocal news is fraught; there is research into different business models in Europe and elsewhere in the UK; there was a plea for input to an effort to merely count how many hyperlocals exist in the UK; and there were two terrific examples, from Bristol and Greenwich, of investigative hyperlocal journalism. The former in particular pricked my interest as it is a member co-operative and one case study it highlighted was of an investigation into working conditions in Bristol’s catering sector, a sector in which many of the co-operative’s members had had poor experiences.

The thought occurred to me that sound community development principles underpinned this particular venture: collectivising to challenge power imbalances and effect positive change. That the Bristol Cable does so with a satirical and entertaining style only served to enhance its appeal.

If I have a criticism of the conference it was the extent to which it creates the impression that hyperlocal news only exists in English.

There was only the very briefest, blink-and-you-missed-it of references to Pobl Caerdydd and given that the Papurau Bro culture in Wales is so long-established – and judging by this directory in relatively rude health – this is a shame.

Equally, the American examples of hyperlocals cited in Gilmoor’s address were all English-medium with no suggestion that there are any hyperlocals in Spanish, minority or immigrant languages. There was a lot of reference to hyperlocal journalism’s proximity, tuned-inness and responsiveness to ‘community’ and ‘communities’.

But communities aren’t homogenous, and though I have no doubt that hyperlocals operate largely in English, if, as was stated, the principles of hyperlocal journalism are identical to traditional journalism – thoroughness, accuracy, fairness and independence – but with added transparency, it is only ‘fair’ and ‘accurate’ that the non-English speaking elements within communities, particularly urban ones (which were overwhelmingly those in attendance and/or profiled), are given room on the hyperlocal platform.

If this linguistic issue was one that occurred to me during the conference, another that I brought with me to the event but which was not explored – and is related to the notion of heterogeneous communities – is the extent to which hyperlocal news replicates ‘traditional’ media in its exploitative and pejorative coverage of disadvantaged communities; and the extent to which hyperlocal news offers such communities the opportunity to reclaim their ‘news agenda’ and express and describe the issues that affect them. I wasn’t alone

The term ‘poverty porn’ has entered popular lexicon to refer to television programmes such as Benefits Street and Britain’s Hardest Grafter (a proposed BBC programme which aims to pit low-paid workers against each other to “show their worth”; answers on a postcard if you can spot the public service aspect here…) which exploit and degrade people living in poverty. The programmes dehumanise poor people and serve their struggles with poverty up for and as entertainment; it is a sad but very real dystopia. In Wales, Sky broadcasted A Town Like Merthyr which portrayed it as a benefit-dependent, work-shy town. It was a further dark day for journalism when headlines such as those below suggested men in Merthyr Tydfil/Merthyr Tudful had a lower life expectancy than Haiti or Iraq:

Capture

Screen grab from Fullfact.org

Health professionals, authors of the report and politicians all rubbished the headlines and pointed out that the media had not only misrepresented the statistics, but had misunderstood them (assuming that they had read them at all).

As the Director of Public Health at the Cwm Taf Health Board told Fullfacts.org:

the figure that has been picked up in the press actually refers to the male healthy life expectancy (i.e. the average period for which a man can expect to retain their good health). This is obviously much lower than the total life expectancy.

(emphasis added)

The full Fullfacts.org exposé is well worth a read. I am sure there would be few, if any, delegates at the community journalism conference who would suggest Sky, the Daily Mail or Mirror are bastions of tasteful and ethical journalism, but I cite these only in order to highlight how disadvantaged communities are often written about but are seldom their own authors.

If hyperlocals replicate ‘mainstream’ media in exploiting and misrepresenting disadvantaged communities and writing pejoratively about them, then the fact they are more local is no justification. Should hyperlocals not consider issues affecting disadvantaged communities such as lower levels of literacy, digital and financial exclusion, and poor broadband or mobile infrastructure they will only serve to further entrench information deficits and further exclude people from civil, democratic and community life. If affluent communities with hyperlocals only read hyperlocal news from affluent communities, it will serve to obscure and conceal poverty in neighbouring communities.

It was clear in the conference how much volunteer energy, effort, passion and expense is expended on people’s hyperlocal enterprises and it is a big ask of volunteers to consider outreach and engagement work in disadvantaged communities and with under-represented groups in order to encourage readership and contributions by them. The community development sector should consider it the prime advocate for, brokers with and facilitators of disadvantaged communities’ involvement with hyperlocals; which in turn will benefit from a greater plurality of news and voices. Communities First should identify local community news outlets and develop relationships and practical arrangements with them. It is not a simple gap to plug should they not exist coterminously or contiguously with Communities First and/or disadvantaged communities; and arguably community development workers should not be setting up hyperlocals for disadvantaged communities. All credit to Cardiff University then for establishing community journalism projects in  and crucially with areas of disadvantage in Wales (such as in Grangetown and north Merthyr).

The Bristol Cable’s investigation on behalf of low-paid catering workers was a terrific example of how under-represented or seldom-heard groups can be given a voice by community journalism. But that the conference failed to address the issue of engagement with and by disadvantaged communities in any greater detail was a slight disappointment for me; but this is not to detract from an excellent event overall.

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