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So what *is* eLearning? March 11, 2014

Posted by ianinsheffield in Musings, TELIC.

“… the use of new multimedia technologies and the Internet to improve the quality of learning by facilitating access to resources and services as well as remote exchanges and collaboration”

Bringing knowledge within reach, European Commission, 2005.

I’ve now been in my new post of Head of eLearning for a month. It was created as part of a restructuring process designed to marry the changing needs of our school with changes in the provision of technology to supporting learning. Whilst I welcomed the the emphasis of my role morphing to one putting ‘learning’ at the centre, the actual term ‘eLearning’ sat less comfortably with me. The reason is the historical baggage that eLearning drags along with it. A quick Internet trawl offers:

Put simply, the definition of e-learning is training delivered via digital technology in order to help us learn.


Quite simply, e-learning is electronic learning, and typically this means using a computer to deliver part, or all of a course whether it’s in a school, part of your mandatory business training or a full distance learning course.


eLearning is electronic learning, in which the learner uses a computer to learn a task, skill, or process. It is also referred to as computer-based training, web-based training, and online learning.


future learning

By Jean Marc Cote (if 1901) or Villemard (if 1910) http://publicdomainreview.org/2012/06/30/france-in-the-year-2000-1899-1910/ [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Hardly inspiring! But then these definitions are perhaps based on how eLearning was originally conceived, rather than what it has become more recently? Put simply, the ‘e’ stood for electronic – electronic learning, which somehow seems separate from plain learning.

Increasingly however, the expression ‘technology enhanced learning’ is being substituted for eLearning and I feel semantics are crucial here. Rather than trying to envisage a new and perhaps distinct form of learning – eLearning, we retain the central focus on learning, but indicate that technology brings something new to the table. Technology provides additionality, opening new possibilities. In effect, the ‘e’ no longer stands for electronic, but enhanced … which set me thinking. Could the ‘e’ actually stand for anything else? Are there other terms beginning with ‘e’ which also describe how learning might be affected by technology? I’ve often heard people say how technology ‘enriches’ the learning process and how it can ‘extend’ learning, so suitably inspired, I started listing a few other ‘e’s, which eventually led to:


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by Ian Guest: http://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/13091533985/

Having proposed and defined each of the terms, I then started to provide an illustrative example of each … but pulled up short. Rather than specify examples taken from my experience, I thought it might be more meaningful for anyone interested to interrogate the terms for themselves. What do the terms mean for them, in their contexts? So at this point, I’ll throw myself on the mercy of the crowds. What terms have I included which might seem a little too contrived? What terms have I missed? What examples can you point to in which learning has been enhanced, enriched … or any of the others?

TeachMeet Dinnington – Podcasting: A Game of Two Halves February 6, 2014

Posted by ianinsheffield in Teaching Idea, Technology.
Tags: , ,
1 comment so far

Just posting resources for those folk kind enough to sit through my preso.

And here’s the LiveBinder with a bunch more resources and links to the ones mentioned in the presentation above:

TM Dinnington 2014

Interactive whiteboards 1: what the research says February 2, 2014

Posted by ianinsheffield in Management, research, Technology.

In an earlier post, I mused on the possibility of conducting a desk analysis of interactive whiteboard research. Once unearthed, there’s an adequate sufficiency through which to riffle, so  that took slightly longer than I would have hoped. The following constitutes a summary of that literature review, once more often frustrated by the number of articles trapped behind publisher’s paywalls.


As the millenium turned and IWBs began to filter into educational settings, research followed close behind. The majority of the early reviews were small-scale, localised case studies or action research, often in single institutions. Given that the spread of the technology was far from ubiquitous, this was hardly surprising. As time passed, and more and more schools began to explore the technology, which in the UK received pump-primed funding from national and local initiatives, the scope and scale of research could change to embrace larger scale deployments, over longer time periods and bring to bear greater resources in terms of research teams. This also meant the focus could shift towards more longitudinal matters, like the change process for accommodating this new technology and the impact it was having on teachers and learners. As the technology has become more mature, indeed reaching the point where it needs to be refreshed, are studies taking the opportunity to look back over the progress made since the early, exploratory steps?

I’ve assembled a timeline of research articles which are on the whole accessible (i.e. not behind paywalls). Included are my brief comments and where available, a link to the original report/article. Switch to the ‘Text view’ to see more detail in a list layout.

IWB Timeline

IWB Timeline on Timetoast

Early days (2001 – 2004): The honeymoon period?

These initial explorations tended to focus on the contexts within which the technology was deployed, the benefits which became immediately apparent and any issues which began to emerge. Given the brief period time period over which the technology had been available, tentative offerings with language couched in terms like ‘suggests’ and ‘indicates’ was only to have been expected. Evidence from many of these studies centred on teacher and student perceptions (Smith et al, 2005), so one is obliged to ask whether the findings from studies on early adopters are sufficiently representative to draw reasonable conclusions.

Mid-term (2005 – 2008): Adolescence?

As the technology became more ubiquitous and usage behaviours and experience became more mature, there was a shift in the nature and emphasis of the research. Public bodies and national government seeking evidence of efficacy commissioned more rigorous, extensive and analytical research which searched for the anticipated gains in achievement and changes in approach afforded by this new technology. The impact on student achievement became a rather contested area with some studies showing positive effects under certain circumstances, yet most were unequivocal in noting few if any gains. At the same time, the effects on pedagogical approach began to receive more attention, but the overwhelming impression is that change was minimal and that IWBs largely reinforced (or amplified) existing teacher-led, whole class approaches. Established, conventional styles of teaching might have been adapted somewhat, but remained largely unchanged with little evidence of teachers moving past the second stage of Lewin et al’s (2008) 3-Stage Model and into “Embedding technologies into transformed pedagogic practices.” Perhaps this is a consequence of failure to invest in the level of professional development required to effect this transformation, a point identified in numerous studies.

Recent times (2009 – present): Plus ca change?

With more than a dozen years of experience now to draw on, one might expect to see a degree of progression in the research with papers able to draw on previous findings, but also be able to focus on the current state of play where IWBs long moved past the novelty value and are now accessible to the majority of teachers most of the time (Becta, 2010).

Much of the early research originated in the UK, but now we have countries which were slightly later to adopt  adding to the knowledge base. However the tendency is largely to repeat what has gone before, with few fresh insights. Nor apparently is anything new emerging from countries further along the adoption cycle. Where are the studies exploring long term effects? Where are studies focusing on the truly physically interactive elements, especially now that mobile technologies enable the interaction to be easily dis-located from the board itself? Is the IWB morphing into new technology using Google’s Chromecast or Apple TV etc?. Has a distinction or divergence emerged between IWBs used in different sectors? Where are the studies looking at pedagogic progress – has it peaked and/or failed to live up to the promise?


Interactive whiteboards have achieved some measure of success where implementation projects were well-planned and executed, where the technology and infrastructure was robust and reliable, where schools and teachers were receptive to the necessary changes in pedagogies and enjoyed adequate professional development opportunities to enable them to meet that challenge, and where those new pedagogies leveraged the interactive aspects of this new technology to best advantage. It would appear however that the aforementioned conditions are rarely encountered, though the broad, large-scale research to either confirm or disprove this assertion is notable by its absence.

I’m curating a list of research and non-academic articles on Zotero. If you know of any to add to the list, do please leave them in the comments below.

Harnessing Technology schools survey 2010, 2010. British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA).
Lewin, C., Somekh, B., Steadman, S., 2008. Embedding interactive whiteboards in teaching and learning: The process of change in pedagogic practice. Education and Information Technologies 13, 291–303.
Smith, H.J., Higgins, S., Wall, K., Miller, J., 2005. Interactive whiteboards: boon or bandwagon? A critical review of the literature. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 21, 91–101.

Over to you … January 26, 2014

Posted by ianinsheffield in Reading, Teaching Idea.
Tags: , ,

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo by clive darra: http://flickr.com/photos/fsse-info/6333531699/

I’ve been ‘tagged.’ No, not in the folksonomic sense, but by my good buddy Nick Jackson as part of the ‘11 Questions’ meme. 11 people are each asked 11 questions and having provided their answers are exhorted to do the same for 11 further people. This being the community of connected educators that it is, the questions in this thread tend to be related (even if only loosely!) to education. You can follow the thread back through Nick’s post, then onwards through my answers to his questions as follows:

1. Why are you a teacher?

It wasn’t and isn’t a mission. It’s not a calling from on high. I guess I almost fell into it when, nearing graduation, I began looking in earnest for the means to earn a crust. Rather than drift into the scientific community the breeze was blowing me towards, I decided instead to pursue my interest of working with younger people; something I’d been doing on a voluntary basis for a number of years. I guess the real reason I’m a teacher is for selfish motives. I simply love the naches you get from helping someone to do, see or experience something they hadn’t before and to see the delight in their face as they revel in knowing they’vemoved forward .

2. How do you/would you answer people when they ask to prove that much of education needs to change?

‘Prove?’ I’m not sure that it is possible to prove that education needs to change. We can take a long hard look around at other aspects of our lives – finance, retail, health care, travel, media and see how those sectors are being disrupted and changed by new technologies. Yet there are other areas which maintain their traditional forms: religion, politics? We need to ask whether the system in which we work is still fit for purpose. Does it still serve the needs of our students, given the unprecedented rate of change in society in general, the way we live our lives and the lives they’ll experience as they grow. My own feeling is that historically, the intent of the education system was to prepare students to be ready for the next stage of their lives, whether that be secondary school, further or higher education or work. Perhaps now we should be preparing students to be able to change and to cope with change, to be adaptable and resilient? I’m not sure that’s currently a sufficiently high priority.

3. If you had the power to make one rule in your school that every teacher would follow, what would you your rule be and why?

A ‘rule?’ That suggests something handed down from on high, rather than a commonly accepted and shared understanding. Whilst the former is indeed sometimes necessary (safety of yourself, colleagues and students), the latter is invariably more effective at moving people forward. If I had the powers of a deity, then the rule I would impose would be one of punctuality; being on time to lessons, for meetings and in meeting deadlines. It’s simple common decency in working with others, but something not fully appreciated by all. However if instead a genie had granted me a wish, I’d like it to become universally accepted that as part of the role of being a teacher, you cultivate a professional learning network, through which you’re connected with other educators with similar responsibilities, but also with others from as wide a range of disciplines and fields as possible. I know how powerful that’s proved to be for me and I’d simply like others to enjoy those benefits.

4. What is the important thing you do as a teacher with your students and why is it important?

Help them to learn? Well of course, but perhaps there’s a prerequisite? I’d argue that forging a solid, meaningful and trusting relationship forms the foundation to build an effective environment within which learning can take place. You don’t have to love each other, but you do have to develop respect so that when things get tough and the learning’s hard, you’re sufficiently trusting of each other to be able to work through it to achieve your shared learning goals.

5. If you could set up a dream team of people in charge of education in your state, country, district, etc, who would they be?

Do we have to have people ‘in charge?’ Well for an education ‘system’ I guess we do, but I suspect that the few people I would really trust to do that wouldn’t want the role. I’d much rather think of flipping that around and working towards a time where the learners themselves become sufficiently empowered and capable to be in charge of their own learning. Try as we might, the top-down approach produces a vanilla system which attempts to cater for the student population as a whole, but struggles to really serve the needs of any individual. It’s simply too inflexible. It’s a bit like school dinners where there’s a minimal choice, with perhaps a single option for those with different dietary needs, as opposed to a classy restaurant with a wide selection of delicious dishes. Or ideally being able to cook for yourself and choosing exactly the right ingredients to make precisely what you want. Yes that’s tougher and requires more effort,  but the rewards are worth it. And yes I do see the flip side where some might gorge on fries and ice cream, or be unable for various reasons to access the ingredients they want … but the original question did mention ‘dream.’

6. What do you think the value of ‘celebrity’ keynote speakers at educational conference is?

I suppose the role is to inspire; not necessarily to give practical solutions or ideas, but to set the mental cogs whirring. Keynotes are sometimes wasted where a celebducator is parachuted in, gives their schtick about their latest book or research, then jets off to enjoy the spoils. But where it can and does work is where the topic is closely tied to the theme of the conference and the person speaking has clear interests and expertise in that area. Being able to hold an audience should be a given.

7. What do you think should be taught to young people to make them digitally literate?

Ah you don’t catch me out with this trick question Mr J. Being ‘literate’ isn’t of course a state i.e. there’s isn’t some sort of threshold through which you pass to become literate. What we can do however is help to move students along the continuum that is digital literacy. I’d argue however that you can’t do that in isolation and whilst you might spend some time putting in the fundamentals, continued development  can be achieved in a much more powerful way if it is undertaken in context. To that end, just like it’s the responsibility of all teachers to help students improve their literacy and numeracy, we are all obliged to support and guide students to become increasingly digitally literate. Here we face a problem; whilst most teachers have good levels of literacy and many are numerate, sadly the levels of digital literacy remain quite low amongst many. Resolving that …. well it may take some time!

8. What do you think would happen if students in your school were given power over technology integration in your school for the next five years with only advice from adults and a budget to work with?

I thought the best way to answer this question might be to actually ask them, so I did!

They certainly have a different perspective and and different set of priorities,  though to be fair, I did rather drop the discussion on them with no time to gather their thoughts. Although a couple of things they mentioned about our current provision are factually inaccurate , it matters not because that’s actually their perception and we need to be aware of that and consider carefully how we should act on that information. (Come what may, I definitely intend to do more of these focus groups!)

9. Do you think young people have changed since you were a child?

They got older! But I guess the question is, is the youth of today different from when I was young? I feel that young people are generally more wordly-wise than they were when I was their age; or is that simply because I now come across the spectrum of youth, whereas as a young person I only ever saw the narrow community of which I was a member. I suppose it might be fairest to say yes they are different; neither more nor less intelligent, more nor less aggressive, more nor less sullen and uncommunicative, but given the nature of the world now compared with then, perhaps that’s inevitable.

10. How best can we address the disconnect between different levels of education (primary to secondary, secondary to university)

Another tough one and a concern we’ve been battling for some while. Hard-coded into the very naming of our system (at least in the UK), there are three distinct phases: primary, secondary and tertiary. The term ‘lifelong learning’ is rightly becoming increasingly significant and understood, so perhaps when we in each sector see ourselves as part of the whole, rather than as individual phases within a student’s learning journey, we might begin to address that disconnect. Sadly, concluding each phase with a formal examination on which the performances of the individual, her teachers and their school are judged, does little to help. One small step might be to pursue with far more rigour the notion of young people starting and maintaining a digital portfolio of their learning progress and achievements as early as possible, one which they continue to develop right through life. In their minds at least, the notion of stopping and restarting their education at various ages might begin to blur. Maybe we need to take a(nother?) leaf out of the book of our cousins north of the border and their aspirations for Glow.

<scratches head>I wonder what part the long summer break plays in contributing to the discontinuity?</scratches head>

11. What is the most influential book/article/post you have ever read on education?

I’m going to take the meaning of influential to mean which book has influenced my thinking most. Whilst ‘Punished by Rewards’ (Alfie Kohn, 1999), ‘The Element’ (Ken Robinson, 2010) and ‘Bounce’ (Matthew Syed, 2007) all recently gave me pause for thought, the one which really made me confront my preconceptions was Jane McGonigal’s ‘Reality is Broken (2011).’ Although not specifically about education,  it challenged me to rethink my views about games and gaming. I’m intrigued by the way in which the best games energize their participants to become engrossed, develop mastery, maintain resilience in the face of adversity, behave altruistically and co-operatively and achieve so much … and for those participants to do so voluntarily and repeatedly. What can we in education learn from the research into games and how can we leverage the potential that they might offer? Don’t we all want our learners to be continually enjoying fiero moments?

The questions I’d like to ask of the next wave of potential tagees are:

  1. What teacher had the most influence on you and why?
  2. During your career, which student (without naming them!) most sticks in your mind and for what reason?
  3. What was your most abiding memory of school dinners?
  4. Two Harry Potter inspired questions now. If you had Harry’s cloak of invisibility, what educational event would you like to unobtrusively observe and why?
  5. What aspect of education or the classroom would you most like to wave your wand over and why? Educatio revisiorum!
  6. For any historical figure of your choice, what might they have tweeted at a significant moment for them?
  7. What’s your favourite online video (for any reason) and why? (A link would be good)
  8. In Horizon report style, which technology-enabled educational activity is likely to be becoming more mainstream in 3-ish years?
  9. Which fictional character would you most like as a work colleague and why?
  10. What educational movement or initiative, currently in its infancy, will endure and why?
  11. Which educator (dead or alive, real or fictional, famous or not) would you most like to interview or enjoy the drink of your choice with and what would you be chatting about?

With many apologies to those on whom I’ve inflicted this, I’ve tried to draw as eclectically as possible from educators around the globe that I follow on Twitter and who I’d be interested to hear a little more about. If they’re able to spare the time, I’d be delighted to hear from:

Keri-Lee Beasley @klbeasley

Aaron Davis @mrkrndvs

Jen Deyenberg @jdeyenberg

Michael Fawcett @teachernz

John Johnstone @johnjohnston

Kathleen Morris @kathleen_morris

Lisa Parisi @LParisi

Julia Skinner @TheHeadsOffice

Russell Tarr @russeltarr

Nikki Teasdale @KnikiTea

David Wees @davidwees

And all this has got me thinking about how we might use an ’11 Questions’ style activity with our pupils. Maybe ‘Three Questions about …’ as a way of revising or recapping a topic. Hmm, more to ponder …

Diffusion … but not gaseous January 3, 2014

Posted by ianinsheffield in Reading, research, Resources.
Tags: , , ,
1 comment so far

diffusion of innovationsI recently finished Everett M Rogers’ book Diffusion of Innovations, a volume I’d been meaning to get round to reading in full for some while. In exploring how technology establishes itself in education, I’d long been aware of the notion whereby individuals within a social system can be classified into categories, based on their attitude to innovations. The rate at which an innovation is adopted by the members of a system can be plotted against time and the following is produced.

diffusion of innovations

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo by Wesley Fryer: http://flickr.com/photos/wfryer/2564440831/

A little mathematics divides the curve into segments, characteristics of people occupying each of the segments are established and voilà, you have the different adopter categories. You can read more about the categories in this Wikipedia article – which category are you in by the way?

I’d often wondered whether or how the five categories of adopter might be applied within a school setting, but also felt I needed to know more about the background, which is why I bought the book. The cases Rogers uses to illustrate the principles of Diffusion Theory are taken from widely varying fields (no pun intended!) like farming, health care, contraception, cell phones etc. But whenever I’m reading a book of this nature, I’m always wearing my educational specs and looking for ways to interpret and apply the findings or theory for the contexts I experience at work or in my own learning. We have a couple of major initiatives at school at the moment which would be ripe for analysis using a Diffusion Theory framework. But then something else popped into my head …

With unerring regularity, discussions (and I use the term loosely!) on the merits of interactive whiteboards (IWBs) bubble to the surface. Evidence can be seen through blog posts like this or this and  Twitter exchanges or on discussion threads like MirandaLink, the ICT Research Network or EduGeek. Opinion really can be quite polarised! To nail my colours to the mast, I’m fairly squarely in the pro-IWB camp which I guess stemmed from the time I changed careers to work in a City Learning Centre where one of my first duties was to support the roll-out of a major IWB project in primary schools across Sheffield, providing the training for the teachers involved. I guess you don’t become an accredited IWB trainer without developing some degree of passion for the subject? But that was over ten years ago; do I still feel the same? How much have we moved forward now that the technology is more mature and more ubiquitous in our classrooms? Given their age, some of the IWBs will doubtless be coming to the end of their life (I know we’ve a couple in school which are ready for replacement), so do we replace like for like … or consider alternatives like interactive (boardless) projectors, large touch-capable display screens, tablets with screen-mirroring capability?

With all those questions swimming around, it struck me that Rogers might be able to help here. First to provide a lens to look back at how IWBs were deployed originally – what might we learn by considering that deployment from a diffusion theory standpoint? And secondly looking forward to the next stage and whether we replace our IWB estate and if so, with what? So I started by looking back through the research, which is when I realised this will probably merit a bit more than a single blog post, or even two or three, so I pondered what might be a better forum through which to undertake that examination? A wiki? Maybe a Google site? Hmmm … any ideas?

More to follow …