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2015 Festival of Social Science November 11, 2015

Posted by IaninSheffield in PhD, Uncategorized.
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Marginal Notes

Yesterday the ESRC Festival of Social Science came to town; well OK, it’s been running for a couple of days now, but yesterday was the first events that I attended.

What can data visualisation do?

At the Showroom, this event arranged by The University of Sheffield provided four provocations on different topics, followed by a panel discussion of some of the issues raised. Alan Smith opened the batting by making ‘The Case for Charts,’ questioning whether charts were often used simply to break up blocks of text.

By Anscombe.svg: Schutz derivative work (label using subscripts): Avenue (Anscombe.svg) [GPL (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl.html), CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons Using a bar chart from a UNESCO report entitled “Gender Parity Index …,” typical of the kinds of charts we often encounter in reports of this nature, Alan showed how it could be quickly amended to improve accessibility, ease of…

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Dundee – much more than Jute, Jam & Journalism August 26, 2013

Posted by IaninSheffield in CPD, Musings.
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Perhaps it was greater familiarity with the format, venue and location, but my second visit to the eAssessment conference hosted by the University of Dundee proved even more enjoyable and informative than the last. Although I arrived for the day conference last Thursday, proceedings proper actually started a few days before that with online offerings. Sadly the Adobe Connect meeting rooms and our school network didn’t want to play ball, so I wasn’t able to participate in the sessions for which I had registered,  but hope to do so belatedly when the recordings sessions are posted. My appetite for what was to come was sufficiently whetted however, since I managed to join the Wednesday evening discussion hosted by the EDUtalk crew with guests Cristina Costa and David Walker.

Jumping back to the future, our first speaker at the Conference live was Catherine Cronin who set the scene by talking about ‘Assessment in Open Spaces;’ or rather she did once the technical problems had been ironed out. I’ve come across my fair share of presentation issues whilst at work, but never one where only certain slides caused noise through the audio system! Catherine’s resilience (and the Dundee tech team!) saved the day and she offered for consideration the idea of ‘open’ in terms of the tools we use, the resources we access (and produce) and the spaces we inhabit. She also entreated us to consider how openness can change the interactions and relationships between educators and learners, whatever their ages.

Being inspired to muse on possibilities by the opening lecture, contrasted with the second session which was much more nuts and bolts. I see why the seminar options are doubled up here, with a pair in an hour. However it’s not always possible to find a couplet where both offerings appeal. It was with some delight then that the opener on ‘Inclusive Assessment’ proved incredibly informative and helpful, rather than simply having to be endured, as I thought I might. Alistair McNaught opened my eyes to several aspects of inclusivity of which I was unaware, but also pointed us towards the JISC TechDis resource riches. Although produced for HE, I’ve often found JISC resources to be most enlightening and look forward to poring over the TechDis site in the coming weeks. The second half by Sue Milne et al considered how Uniqurate (a QTI-based open standard for question authoring) can offer different question types for online tests, but focused particularly on the variety of feedback responses which can be provided. Although colleagues in some curriculum areas at work back home have realised the potential of self-marking tests, they have been less enthusiastic about the feedback processes. Whilst there is clearly a lot to be gained (particularly where assessments are used formatively) from crafting elaborate response rubrics, the impression I get is that the investment of time is so huge, that they feel their effort would not be well spent.

Helen Keegan

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by Ian Guest: http://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/9583813001/

After lunch with the chance to peruse the posters and examine the exhibits, Helen Keegan kicked off the afternoon session with ‘Structured Chaos, Learning Webs.’ I’ve heard Helen talk about this project delivering a module of study supported by immersing the students in an ARG (without their knowledge!) via an online video from PeLeCon12. I found it fascinating at the time and hearing Helen talk live about it only served to further illustrate the passion she has for this and her gift as a storyteller. Given the effort needed to plan, prepare and deliver this project, the ethical concerns, difficulties replicating the process and challenges likely to be encountered when moving beyond the specific circumstances, I wonder whether this presentation lends itself to a more discursive format. Whilst there may be neither the time nor space to undertake this kind of activity within the ‘live ‘ conference, given that it spans two weeks, I wonder whether more controversial (?) topics like this lend themselves to further discussion and debate online? A way of increasing participation and or involvement of conference delegates, extending the debate and perhaps even informing the topic?

Next another pair of seminars, the first of which Sally Brown chose to eschew an electronic presentation in favour of text handouts and tweeting her session. She posed (and responded to) a series of issues with assessment in general which eAssessment might help address. Interruptions were both invited and rewarded (!) and whilst the format might have appealed to the more technosceptic amongst us, perhaps again there was a missed opportunity here? If the issues Sally offered had been posted in advance and responses solicited, then during the seminar she could perhaps have summarised and responded to the preceding discussion/comments.
I wasn’t quite sure in advance what I would be getting from the second of the two seminars where Jon Hilton (a medical student) explained how interactive online stories could be used as tools to deliver case or problem-based learning opportunities. This was another of those serendipitous moments. I’d heard of interactive stories of course,  but hadn’t yet explored how they might be used in an educational context … at least not beyond the curiosity these activities clearly stimulate. The effort needed to set up a scenario is prodigious, but I’d always argue that effort directed in this way is an investment which becomes worthwhile when the resource is shared amongst a number of colleagues and across student populations. In thinking about a means by which that workload might be reduced, I got one of those rare (for me!) light-bulb moments. What if the students were responsible for producing the story? All the processes and skills Jon had brought to bear are exactly the capabilities we are looking to engender in our students. How much more powerful a learning experience might it be if they were crafting the stories and subsequently reading and critiquing each others?

The closing keynote was ‘Anyone need a can opener?’ by Fiona Leteney, who introduced me to ‘Tin Can.’ I have no idea how this initiative has slipped under my radar, but indeed it has so I’ll forgive Fiona the constant references to BUPA her employer, for remedying the shortcomings in my knowledge. Even from this brief introduction, it appears that Tin Can might offer a powerful mechanism through which learners can track, record and publish their learning paths … and keep that as a lifelong record.

So with what did I come away from eAssessment Scotland 13? Well gaps in my knowledge like Tin Can, inclusive technologies and interactive fiction etc have been closed and though I’ve more to learn of these, that too will be a rewarding process. I picked up a bunch of links to sites and resources I need to explore more fully. I also need to process further some of what I’ve learned to establish how it can be tweaked to become more applicable to our context. In essence, #eASc13’s added mercilessly to my ‘In’ tray … but I’m so looking forward to getting stuck in!

You better, you better, you BETT February 3, 2013

Posted by IaninSheffield in CPD, Inspiration.
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So the BETT Show shifted lock, stock and no smoking barrels from Olympia across to the Excel Exhibition Centre. How was it for you? On balance I have to say I preferred the new venue for a bunch of reasons which can be found here – , but as for the show itself, well it was a bit of a mixed bag. Somewhat unusually I gained more from the exhibitors I visited than from the presentations I attended.

bett presentation

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by ianguest: http://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/8440925016/

As you become a more seasoned BETTer you develop strategies for maximising the most from your day. For me there are four aspects:

  • attending some of the presentations which chime with either personal interests or link with plans we have in school
  • visiting the exhibitors showcasing products which either we need or are considering back in school
  • wandering around and benefitting from those serendipitous moments where you might catch a product you’d not even thought about, but which might offer new possibilities.
  • catching up with friends both old and new.

There were three observations that particularly stuck in my mind as I travelled home. The first was how disappointed I felt having attended the four presentations I did. This wasn’t because they were poor, in fact quite the contrary – they were interesting, well delivered and contained useful pointers to resources and ideas. My disappointment stemmed from the fact that I didn’t actually learn anything new; these were all areas in which I currently have an interest so I’ve already made it my business to find out what the current state of knowledge is and what the issues are. So maybe next year I need to seek out themes with which I’m less familiar (makes note to self). The second thing was just a wonderfully pleasant little moment as I was walking past the ‘Learning Together – heppell.net’ stand and a young chap of about 10 stopped me and boldly asked if I’d like to see the game they’d created. With that he sat me down next to his partner working at a computer, a Year 5 girl who then took me through how she’d created a simple little controllable animation in Scratch. She’d never used it before, hadn’t been shown what to do, but just followed some of the inbuilt help, experimented a little and in an hour produced a ‘game’ with which she was justifiably delighted. She could also tell me that she thought any of my year 5 students back at school would be able to pick it up as easily and year 6’s would find it a doddle.

writeable surface

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by ianguest: http://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/8440923952/

It was whilst I was here the third thing caught my eye; the worksurfaces here were writeable and had been written on using dry-wipe markers. Jottings, notes and ideas of people as they’d be exploring some of the exhibits. Yes you’d have to be brave in certain circumstances to treat the desks or walls with this paint, but what a great idea? Brainstorming, group work and capturing discussions could all be done on work desks or walls and be available for classmates to ponder – learning made visible?

Who’d’ve thought my biggest takeaway from a technology show would be something as low-tech as a new paint?! It just goes to show what a show can show you.

eAssessment Scotland 2012 August 31, 2012

Posted by IaninSheffield in CPD, research.
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It’s a different way to spend one of your days of annual leave, but since it was the school holidays and I wouldn’t have to seek permission to be absent, I took the opportunity to attend the ‘live’ element of the eAssessment Scotland 2012 Conference. I have to confess the cost was a major factor in attracting me (free!), though the opportunity to come north of the border and visit Dundee, a city with which I have little familiarity were also strong draws.keynote

The day consisted of a series of keynotes and optional seminars/workshops so the programme I enjoyed looked like:

  • Keynote from Prof David Boud (Uni. of Technology, Sydney), on New Conceptions of Feedback
  • Seminar from a team at Edinburgh Napier Uni., on online assessments to support progression in professional practice
  • Seminar from Colin Maxwell (Carnegie College) on the challenge that MOOCs might be offering
  • Keynote from Russell Stannard (Warwick Uni.) on changing the way we provide feedback
  • Seminar from Dr Sue Timms (Bristol Uni.) outlining research into factors affecting transformation of assessment and feedback mechanisms
  • Seminar from Cherry Hopton and students (Angus College) on socialising assessment
  • Keynote from Cristina Costa (Salford Uni.) on the role of the participatory Web in providing feedback

The delegate list was dominated by colleagues from the tertiary sector, so I was slightly worried I’d turned up to a formal dinner wearing a batman costume. Though the content leaned towards tertiary, it was more than possible to find relevance for the findings and observations from that particular context in my own experiences in secondary. There are after all some universals and it is those general principles that I’ll outline from here.

Though the event sponsors were largely companies providing products which offer technological solutions or support for assessment, I felt the ‘e’ that headed the conference title was small both in actuality and in its intrusion into the main theme of the conference. The focus was clearly on assessment and more especially (if you look at the three keynotes) on formative assessment processes. As Sue Timms’ findings showed, assessment is a rather ornery beast, not keen on being pulled in another direction. When you couple that with technological enhancements, you’re in some ways doubling the factors which some might use to resist any form of transformation, rather than potentially making life easier or more importantly, learning more effective. We saw plenty of examples of new ways in which assessment can be enabled, enhanced or extended through the use of technology. Though we also saw people in organisations (Napier & Angus) who had the freedom to change their assessment regimes in such a way as to provide positive experiences for their learners, it is here where the major problem pops up for me. In the secondary sector, the major influence on assessment strategies is the examination system. High-stakes, summative, largely externally assessed, behind closed doors and most importantly of all, entangled with accountability, of schools and the teachers within them. In the minds of the majority who work under those constraints, there is neither room, nor incentive for innovative or transformative forms of assessment. It will come as no surprise that there is also a minority who experiment with interesting alternative forms of assessment and are often also those experimenting with new technologies. It’s not that ‘e’ and assessment go together (though in the context of the conference, they clearly do!), it’s more that the educators for whom these things are important are the ‘tinkerers’ and explorers who want to know if there is anything better out there. They’re open to new ideas, enjoy a challenge and are prepared to fly in the face of convention. If the progress many of them are achieving is to gain wider acceptance, I feel that the constraints the ‘system’ is imposing (whether actual or perceived) need loosening so the actors in this arena feel empowered to explore more progressive assessment techniques. Sadly, that politicians of whatever hue continue to use data from traditional assessments as their weapon of choice doubtless means that progress will be … steady.

(For ‘steady’ read glacial!)

On a separate issue, it was great to hook up with friends from north of the border, Colin Maxwell, David Noble & John Johnston and also to hear about Doug Belshaw’s new exploits.

Naacely does it. March 11, 2012

Posted by IaninSheffield in CPD, Inspiration.
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naace 2012

Attended the Naace Conference for the first time today, albeit just the final day of what had been a three day conference. Have to say there was an enticingly extensive set of sessions from which to choose, so spoilt for choice, here’s what I experienced in chronological order:

“BYOD” – delivering ICT to students’ own devices reliably, securely and effectively. Given our plans for exploring the affordances of BYOD, it would have been remiss for me to miss this session. Well actually no! I neglected to spot it was a sponsored session and as such proved little more than a sales pitch for Meru Networks, but that was my fault (I’d forgotten my specs and was struggling to read the programme!)

Leon Cych (@eyebeams) provided some case studies of how social media are being used in schools and the strategies employed to enable the school to be comfortable in their use. In addition Leon introduced the Social Media for Schools service which aims to connect senior leaders across schools making use of social media and thereby enable interesting practice to be shared.

“A mobile in the classroom isn’t a distraction, it’s a teaching and learning tool.” Kevin McLaughlin (@kvnmcl) allowed us some hands on time with a variety of mobile devices as he extolled their virtues, suggesting the balance should tip in favour of potential that they offer to enhance student learning, rather than possible problems they may cause.

“Rethinking CPD – Exploring the Vital In-House PDP Model.” Peter Twining brought us up to date with the work Vital have been undertaking over the past couple of years, what factors make for good CPD and how their new model delivers that.

From there I was able to catch the tail end of the panel session discussing whether the fundamental model of school education which has been in place for decades, will still be relevant in twenty years’ time. I actually dropped in where the point was made that the formal examination system is driving much of what is done and that it has an unduly significant influence. Whilst agreeing with that general principle, Ollie Bray also observed that there are many schools succeeding in being innovative in their approach, thereby suggesting that exam culture needn’t drive all that we do. I wish I’d been there for the whole session and I guess that was part of the problem for me – an embarrassment of riches from which to choose.

teachmeetThe morning and conference proper closed, but we moved into the afternoon over lunch and a chat with some familiar and friendly faces, then on to TeachMeet Naace to enjoy an incredibly eclectic series of presentations:

  • @theokk talking about scoop.it as a way of curating useful web content and offering invites for accounts
  • @edintheclouds wanting to ‘engage the rest.’ i.e. those not at TeachMeet who perhaps don’t access PLNs.
  • @lordlangley describing a collaborative Kindle project in which the devices were used to share and read student-written  chapters of stories.
  • @boydon1967 whizzed through how eTwinning enables teachers to collaborate across countries.
  • @advisorymatters  described the AdMission project and “ambient” advertising
  • @grumbledook – how to plan your broadband provision using the toolkit developed by the Schools Broadband Working Group.
  • @Teknoteacher explained how to fire up the minds of tomorrow’s coders through Hack to the Future.
  • @milesberry asked his trainee teachers Why teach ICT?  And the degree to which their findings correlated with those of dICTatEd.
  • @digitalmaverick  described how using ‘live’ data from the Fantasy league to made spreadsheet work more meaningful.
  • @bevevans  described how important it is to give SEN  pupils  (and any others!)  choice in what they use to support their learning and using technology that is appropriate to their needs.
  • @stevebunce showed us how to knit … and how similar that was to learning about computers.
  • @kvnmcl  exhorted us to throw out the 3 step teaching model  and our lesson plans and try something new.


 I learned during the morning that for CPD to be effective, it needs to be strategic, relevant, enquiry-based, sustainable, reflective, involve collaboration with peers and require findings to be shared.

I think the £50 my school spent of getting me to the conference was probably money well spent. All the morning sessions (and some of the TM presentations) were related to points in our school ICT development plans and school strategic plan. All the presentations were relevant for me; everything and anything related to ICT in school matters and informs my thinking one way or another. The morning sessions in particular were somewhat enquiry-based in that I could explore areas of interest with the presenters and indeed could extend that enquiry by discussing with my peers over coffee and lunch. And finally here I am sharing and being reflective.

What might I have changed? With hindsight I might have opted for different morning sessions in some cases and I’m sure I would have found the panel sessions challenge my thinking. As for the TeachMeet, my only criticism is one I and others have mentioned before and that’s that I’d welcome the opportunity to ask questions of the presenter immediately after their delivery. A couple of minutes extra perhaps? I know we have their contact details and can follow things up later, but sometimes things just pop into your head … and then a short while later are gone. Or perhaps that’s just my age?