Open postcard from Krakow – OPITE workshop

The OPITE (Open Practice in International Teacher Education) project is part of the work of the UK Open Educational Resources programme run by the Higher Education Academy. The aim of this strand is to work with UK Higher Education institutions to devise strategies and policies to promote their work at institution level, through their Open Educational Resources (OER), to an international audience.  One of the key objectives is to benchmark good practices in OER transferability across borders and explore practitioners’ experiences of using open educational resources internationally. OPITE builds on the “Digital Futures in Teacher Education” (DeFT) project whose aim was to develop guidance on digital literacy practice and the use of Open Educational Resources in teaching and learning. Sheffield Hallam University is the lead institution and we are working with three partners – colleagues based at the [Ed+ict] research unit at KHLiM (Katholieke Hogeschool Limburg – Limburg Catholic University College, Belgium); colleagues from the Centre for E-learning at AGH (Akademia Gorniczo-Hutnicza – University of Science and Technology, Poland) and from HAN (Hogeschool van Arhnhem en Nijmegen – HAN University of Applied Sciences).

We spent most of October and November talking to our colleagues to establish the principles for our collaboration and to decide the direction the project should take – we have decided to take the Open Textbook developed in the context of the DeFT project as our starting point and on that basis explore issues involved in re-using OERs in international contexts, to take a closer look at open textbooks and finally to look at barriers and enablers for embedding OERs within and between our institutions. We were lucky to receive some additional funding to be able to supplement the online conversations with some decent face time – and this is how we all ended up in the very cold but very beautiful town of Krakow for three days at the OPITE workshop.

Let's talk about the Open Textbook

Let’s talk about the Open Textbook

We’re using the workshop to show and share the tools developed as part of the DeFT project, talk about the main barriers and enablers to use and reuse of OERs including open textbooks as well as to reveal the hopes and wishes for open textbooks in partners’ contexts. Our colleagues from AGH were kind enough to offer to be our hosts and have surpassed all expectations; they even got us snow!

Keeping warm at the workshop venue

Keeping warm at the workshop venue

At this moment in time, we are at the halfway point in the workshop, with the group busily working on their contributions to the case study which will be developed at the end of the project  so watch this space for insights on transferability of OER frameworks, issues around context, localisation (and maybe a postcard or two…).

Open your textbooks …

It is in the last few weeks of the DEFT project that our thoughts have been turning to the important task of creating and releasing our Open Textbook to the world. These are the difficult times when all of the work as a team comes together. Looking back over the postings in this blog you can see how individuals are making sense of Digital Literacy, addressing important issues that impact upon them and their understandings of the world. I include here the teachers involved in our projects and their case studies (see Project Website – currently at digitalfutures.org – note: this soon will be making space for the Open Textbook itself on 1st November). These thoughts have been informed by the wonderful conference and the excellent and well-received keynotes by Doug Belshaw and Bob Harrison. Some of these notions of Digital Literacy are not always easy to articulate and are sometimes less about what people actually say and more about the, often tacit, systems of meanings that underlie them.  These many voices are at varying  volume and timbre, some rehearsed, others underperformed. Making a response is important and needs to be taken in the spirit in which it is offered: i.e. open to debate. However, the nature of projects is that they require outcomes and products and hence our busy-ness making all of this make sense, and we thank our readers in bearing with us while this emerges.

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Deft at DeFT

Was it just me who flinched when Doug was talking about how to explain digital technologies in a way that was simple enough even for his old mum to understand? We were invited to have a good laugh at the image of this simple woman coming to grips with modern technology.

“There but for the grace of god (and Anna) go I,” I thought.  With their help I am now slightly more digitally literate than I was at the start of this project, but am probably the same age and definitely the same gender as Doug’s mother.   I could not succeed in ‘othering’ (see Fine ) myself completely from her and did not like this stereotype.  As it was repeated, I became more ill at ease.

I think that the statement made me feel uncomfortable because it reveals a particular attitude to women and age.

Firstly, why was his mother– not his father or even his son used as an example of digital incompetence?  I know many men who are self-confessed digital illiterates- so they do exist. Even if his mother was the least digitally competent person in the family,(and to be fair, it is widely accepted that men do spend more time on computers than women) is he right to imply that she is intellectually challenged?  Is he subscribing to the trope that women have an inferior intelligence, especially in the male dominated realm of digital technologies? And how far does this belief in intellectual inferiority extend?

Secondly, does age predefine levels of skill and interest in technology? Are we to believe that older generations have no proficiencies in this area?  If Doug had looked around he might have noticed quite a few veteran experts in the field, and that one very eminent professor had just become a Grandmother.

Jokes on age and gender- not a very good cocktail to present to an academic audience- I was not the only one who was- shaken not stirred- by the performance.  In fact if Doug’s mother was there she might have made him sit in the naughty chair.

For dissing his elders.

Deft Regional Conference

On Tuesday,  we hosted a regional conference to celebrate and disseminate the achievements of the Digital Futures in Teacher Education project.  The conference started with an introduction from Richard Pountney, our project lead and Anna Gruszczynska our project manager.  Then Julia Davies and Cathy BurnettImage set the scene by outlining the themes that emerged from the project.  Parallel sessions of Case studies were presented in four themes.  The presentations are hyperlinked to the presenters, but you can see their case studies written up on our Digital Futures website.

Getting to grips with Software was the theme for Peter Winter, Chris Welch and Jack Todhunter’s case studies.  Using Social networking was the theme for Chris Bailey and Kate CosgroveJim Hildyard, Rob Hobson and ImageZubida Khatoon showed how they used mobile technologies outside the confines of the classroom, and Mick Connell, Sarah Butler, Michael Payton Greene and Christine Bodin talked about professional development issues.

Doug Belshaw and Bob Harrison gave keynote speeches, and a discussion panel, chaired by Phil Moore from YHGfL invited questions and comments from the floor and the twitter feed.  Our principal investigator Guy Merchant, and academic lead Jackie Marsh ended the day- you can see the full details on our project programme.

It was a great success.  The conference centre was filled with over 80 delegates (some from as far away as Japan) who shared an interest in digital technologies and education.  They came from a wide range of backgrounds- from the students that Sarah Butler brought along- to a researcher of educational buildings; from a retired SEN teacher to a teacher educator from Lincoln.  Our DeFT teachers and tutors, confident and inspirational, succeeded in motivating them all by sharing their creativity and technological know how.Image

Everyone was interested in the same story- the development of digital technologies, the exploration of digital literacies and ways of promoting new and exciting ways of learning. In the words of Bob Harrison this was a “timely” and “genuinely important project”, because “there are massive changes taking place in education at the moments, and the use and impact of technology on learning is really really important”.  Now we need some sort of transformation in the way we educate our children. We need to “educate the educators- or else our young will be left behind”.   Keith Hemsley, who has spread the gospel about the benefits of using informational technologies in schools for the past thirty years, said that he enjoyed listening to the teachers: “I thought I would have heard it all before,” he said, “but it’s a different approach!”

Delegates were impressed with how the case studies showcased a wide range of involvements with digital technologies. Several people I talked to were impressed by the scope:  “we can take these ideas away, and build on them…” said one teacher educator.  A few were amazed at the dexterity of the tiniest of our participants. One delegate, after seeing the Sharrow Nursery project said, ” I have learnt a lot, I am surprised that very small children can use these tools, a video camera, they made video clips, it’s so amazing! Yes I saw a new world! ”   Many more people spoke of how they were really inspired by the case study presentations.

I spoke to Doug Belshaw who said he was pleasantly surprised by the determination and imagination that the teachers demonstrated:  “I was expecting them to say ‘well we were trying to do some stuff, but we were hamstrung by e-safety issues,’ but they found ways round this and did stuff, I would quite happily have my five year old son in that kind of class.”

For other blogs on the conference see Guy Merchant‘s , where you can see Jack Todhunter’s film of the event, and Doug Belshaw’s blog, where he posts the prezi he used for his keynote speech.  Leicester City Council have blogged about Lucy Atkins’s impressions of the day

The conference was a brilliant showcase of all the effort that the project members have been working towards over the past year. We have come so far… it seems so long ago that everyone met together at the start of the project. As Sue Bamford said in her feedback sheet, “Lovely to see the outcomes of this project- having been at one of the first meetings where everyone was putting forward their first ideas about what they might do.”

I have not had all the feedback sheets back yet, but so far the message is clear: it has been a truly wonderful event ….

here are just some of the comments:

“very thought provoking… positive promotion of using digital technology in the classroom by inspirational teachers”

“getting to grips with software. very interesting and useful”

“the themes intro was brilliant at putting the sessions into context”

“A very valuable experience overall.  I have been introduced to many new ideas and issues to think about, which I plan to share with my fellow PGCE primary students”

“great ideas for primary- inspiring, thank you”

“I really enjoyed this event, I was stimulated.  UK is challenging to introduce ICT into schools.  That is amazing.  All presenters were excellent.  Japanese should have a sense of humour like British.”

“Excellent opportunity to learn from others and contribute to that learning … privilege to meet so many creative and daring people who are making a difference.”

“constant frustrations with tech. but seen huge passion and enthusiasm with great examples of innovation in learning and teaching”

“events like this help to provide the most valuable CPD – learning from each other’s, sharing innovative work, how social media is a forum for sharing.”

and you can see many more on the #deft twitter feed.

 

The fun we had

“Margie even wrote about it that night in her diary. On the page headed May 17, 2155, she wrote, ‘Today Tommy found a real book!’

These are the opening words of an Isaac Asimov short story called ‘The Fun They Had‘. It’s about how children of the future find an old book and what they think about it. The story was written in 1951 and Asimov sets the story 200 years later.

‘They turned the pages, which were yellow and crinkly, and it was awfully funny to read words that stood still instead of moving, like they were supposed to – on a screen, you know. And then when they turned back to the page before, it had the same words on it that they had had when they read it the first time.’

I was reminded of this story at the DeFT Conference at Sheffield United Football Ground on Tuesday 2nd October 2012. We were talking about Digital Futures for Teacher Education and I was thinking about how in the story the teachers were robots. We talked about this in relation to language teaching and how sophisticated digital translators were becoming. ‘Not good enough yet‘ said one person ‘But maybe one day they will be‘ said another. ‘Any teacher that can be replaced by a computer, ought to be” said Bob Harrison, quoting Arthur C Clarke, and echoing Sugata Mitra on ‘Child driven education‘. I wanted to know what happens to the curriculum when knowledge becomes redundant – like Latin, perhaps. ICT as a subject in schools has become like Latin – difficult to learn, unpopular and without a real purpose in the world. But programming is the ‘new Latin’ says the government: notable here not because it has any real purpose for learning but because it differentiates – those who can from those who can’t. Bene diagnoscitur, bene curatur as someone’s old Etonian Latin master used to say. Which reminds me of a very old Spike Milligan joke about eating old sausages. That is perhaps why the consultation on new programmes of study for ICT have been given to the BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, and the Royal Academy for Engineering to lead and advise. We were not mindful of this at all at the conference where teachers shared their stories and digital practices. We were too busy thinking, perhaps like Margie in the story:

“Margie was thinking about how the kids must have loved it in the old days. She was thinking about the fun they had”

A message to you

This week we are collecting together all out resources to complete the final report for the project and in doing so we realise just how much has happened over the year…

10 presentations,(you can see the powerpoints on slideshare) three teacher meetings (and another one next week), four core team meetings, and the Digital Bloom installation in the Sheffield winter gardens, not to mention all the events that the teachers have or are arranging with their schools.

We are looking at the reflections of the project participants, and although they have not all come in yet, it is evident that the project has had a considerable impact on many people.

For me it has opened my eyes to the fact that there are many facets of digital literacy,  and it is quite extraordinary how the teachers and students in the project have been able to spot and take advantage of the facets of digital technology that will enhance their teaching. I realise now that although I have certainly expanded my own knowledge of the uses of technology, I am aware that there are many more areas of which are still quite alien to me, and that achieving ‘digital literacy’ is somewhat akin to reaching the end (or beginning) of the rainbow.

There is a part in the final report that asks

How has the wider community benefitted from your project?

We know that the schools have reached out to their local communities by involving parents, museums and local parks with their projects.  We know from our conversations with the public during the ‘digital bloom’ installation in the Sheffield winter gardens, that people are interested and keen to support digital technologies in schools.  We know from the conferences we attended that there is an awareness of the issues that this project addresses, and a curiosity and appreciation of how the participants have engaged with them.

However we do not know what impact this project has on the even wider community- the readers of this blog…I wonder what people in Australia, Guatemala, India and South Africa think of our project.

Has it changed your attitudes towards digital literacy in education?

DeFT Regional Conference October 2nd

The DeFT project is hosting a Regional Conference on 2nd October at the Sheffield United Football Ground, 9.30 – 15.30.  The keynote speakers will be Doug Belshaw and Bob Harrison.  DeFT academics from both Sheffield Universities will be there to present the project, together with the teachers and tutors who took part. Teachers from ten schools from in and around the Sheffield and Rotherham area  will be presenting  case studies which contain information which would prove useful to teachers at all levels of education.  Five case studies are from secondary schools, including one school that caters for children with special needs and five are from first and middle schools, one of which has a nursery attached. It promises to be an extremely interesting and informative conference. This event is now full: to check if there are any places available owing to cancellation email a.gruszczynska@shu.ac.uk

Monteney Monsters

School is out now at Monteney Primary School, the children and teachers are on holiday, and the school is empty- empty that is except for the odd monster lurking around the  corridors of the school ‘s virtual spaces…

If you visit there now, you will be able to see what Peter Winter, and the year twos have been up to for the last few months.  Peter has set up a Moodle which hosts a range of resources that he has been using with the children.  They have been learning how to program using ‘scratch‘ .

Peter has created sets of on-line instructions that children can follow at their own pace, and create sprites that can move and talk in their very own settings.  The children got so good at managing sequences and timing in their programming that they were able to create conversations between two sprites on their videos. You can see them for yourself on this link to the website.The children went on to develop their own 3D monsters using a program called ‘spore’, and once the children had designed their monsters, they used ‘fotobabble‘ to talk about their monsters.

They then made music scores using ‘Avary’ for the monsters to dance to! The children have also written some amazing acrostic poems, which were read out by avatars from ‘voki’.

This is about the stuff that the Moneney children have already done. However at Peter’s request we have ordered a green screen, which has finally arrived at DeFT headquarters.  We don’t quite know what Peter has in mind, but I expect that in September we will be blogging about more wonderful things that will be emerging from Monteney.

Panel of Experts

There is a group of experts at Hallam who are playing a vital role to help transform some of our case studies into useful OERs. Julia Myers’ group of PGCE students from Sheffield Hallam University came to meet Anna and I to talk about their perceptions of what digital literacy means to them as beginner teachers and what sort of resources would be useful to them in their own practice.   The intention is that these students will review our case studies and offer suggestions for ways in which they will support future practice.  Through their own practice they are considering the opportunities and potential, limitations and challenges that digital technologies offer.  They plan to look at the relevance of specific case studies in terms of the impact of digital technology and the nature of digital literacies; and seek related opportunities appropriate to alternative age and ability groups.

We want to make our resources user friendly, so we will be acting on the help and support of this highly motivated and inspiring future user group.

At our first meeting, we were amazed at the level of competence exhibited. Some students talked enthusiastically about the excellent projects they had started in their placement schools, apparently undaunted by the fact that they were uncertain that their ideas would be supported after they had left.  They were impatient to try out these ideas in their own schools when they had graduated, with their own classes.  One student talked of how he encouraged his pupils to send emails to a partner school in Thailand, opening up the possibility of quadblogging (that is being trialled at Sharrow and Mundella schools) He had learned from experience that his pupils are much more likely to produce fine writing if doing so for a specific audience.  Other students talked about using flip cameras with students to develop their language skills, others spoke of how they used Edmodo as a facebook for under fourteen year olds.  Their creative contributions gave us a lot to think about.

We were particularly interested to find out from the students where they looked for ideas to enhance their teaching, as this would give us an idea about how to arrange our own resources. The facilities they use most are teach meets, twitter, webchats and the TES magazine, which they found was well set out, and easy to flick through.

They told us in no uncertain terms what they would look for in a case study…

  • They wanted it to be clearly and concisely written- and colourful!
  • They would like a descriptive title, and underneath three or four bullet points about the content.  They did not want to plough through lots of irrelevant pros to find out whether it was useful to them.
  • They would like the findings at the beginning, and hints on how methods/resources can be adapted for different ages and abilities, and they had lots of suggestions as to how this could be done.

With these instructions in mind, the DeFT team are starting to write up the case studies.

We hope that they will meet with approval!

Hallam Digital Agony Aunts

Towards the end of term some of Sarah Butler’s PGCE students from Hallam University presented the work that they had been doing for their final project. Anna and I were invited to attend the presentation by the group that had worked on digital literacies.  Their projects explored how digital technologies were used in their placement schools, and students’ and teachers’ attitudes towards these technologies. It was a really encouraging session. Students reported that aspects of digital literacies are addressed in these placement schools, and have been promoted by the students themselves.  In the words of one student: “digital literacy allows teachers to utilise a vast range of creative pedagogical strategies to ensure that their classroom is motivating and inclusive environment.”

These students gave insightful and balanced accounts of their experiences. They all delivered the message- yes technology can be interactive, fun.  It can promote creativity, excite interest, enthuse students- but it has to be relevant. It doesn’t matter what new singing and dancing stuff you bring in to your lessons: if it is used unimaginatively and repetitively, it can work to turn off the very pupils you are trying to engage.

As this blog has recorded, (souls glitches or just plain evil intent) all this new technology is sometimes not as straightforward as ‘they’ lead us to believe. The ‘final act’ of the presentation was, for me, the piece de resistance.

The students set themselves up as a panel of Agony Aunts. Two female and one male aunt bravely invited questions from their audience.

Just tell us your digital problems, and we will help you solve them!

As you can imagine, this was an extremely entertaining and engaging way to encourage discussion and share solutions.  We have all been there!  Amidst groans of recognition and sympathy, the audience started to share their own ‘worst nightmare’ scenarios when using digital technology in school. One student described how she had based her entire lesson on a DVD that the children needed to watch, but the computer kept crashing after two minutes…another mentioned that the sound track on the DVD she was hoping to present did not work… another stated that after having spent all night on a brilliant powerpoint based lesson, there was no computer in the classroom when he got there.  Another wanted tips on how to present inclusive lessons to the visually impaired and deaf students in his class. Students aired their frustration on the limited access of internet provision in some placements, and lack of software.

The panel remained calm, and offered some excellent advice, taking each question as it came.  The solutions were brilliant.  These included- pretending that the glitch is deliberate- that you have stopped the film for the pupils to complete the story line, or that you have carefully deleted the sound track on the film so that pupils can invent their own.  They stressed the importance of liaising closely with the support available within the school, and letting the right people know what you are planning to do so that they can offer help when needed. The discussion demonstrated clearly how these students recognise that digital technologies are a double edged sword: on one hand it is essential for teachers to keep up with the latest technology.  As one student said: “I previously thought that I was digitally literate but I have discovered that there are so many technologies out there to use that you can soon become outdated”.

However on the other hand, in the shadow of unreliable technology, teachers these days sometimes need to think on their feet and draw on all their personal resources in order to deliver lessons.  These students certainly demonstrated that they were fully aware of the issues involved, and embraced the new technologies with the cautious respect they command.  The students were anxious to share the expertise that they had gained on the course, and although many of them had not heard of the OER movement, they were keen to contribute to the DeFT project.

By the way, we found out later that during our session with the students, our DeFT digital recorder did not work, leaving us to rely on our video cameras. On inspection (by a member or our learned e-learning support team) the memory card decided not to function at that particular time.  It is fine now.

Any suggestions Aunties?