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…).


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.


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 Film

While the Sheffield doc fest was happening last week, the DeFT was making its own documentary film about the project. Artist Clare Young and I put together a digital animation of the DeFT poster which describes the players and story of Digital Futures for Teacher Education.

We elicited the help of six year olds Ben, Macy, Gabby and Michael from Mundella Primary School. , who took on board the project’s philosophical and empirical intentions, and worked together very patiently to provide the film’s narrative.

We have entered it into a competition held by the Creative Commons, U.S. Department of Education, and Open Society Foundations, who aim to promote the benefits of open educational resources for teachers and schools everywhere.  You can hear The US secretary of Education Arne Duncan talk about its benefits

You can watch the film and vote for us on this link.

American Educational Research Conference

A couple of weeks ago, Julia Davies, Guy Merchant and I made it all the way to Vancouver to the American Educational Research Association annual conference.  Despite the 12,000 attendees and many many symposia, I couldn’t find any evidence of research related to OERs. Maybe this is interesting in terms of general awareness of OERs: of educators’ understandings about what they can be or of how they could be used.  I did attend some symposia however which were relevant to our focus on digital literacies and which seemed to resonate with some of the DEFT case studies.

Ricarose Roque, Deborah Fields, Joanna Siegel, David Low and Yasmin Kafai described how young people had engaged with the online Scratch community in their paper: ‘A Clubhouse of Their Own: A Role-Playing Game Society in Scratch Programming Community’. They described how teenage girls had used Scratch to program their own digital artefacts – about Warrior Cats– which they then shared and discussed within the Scratch online forum. The team noted how the girls used this site to construct gender identities that differed from those they felt were available to them in other contexts. Scratch had been developed at MIT to provide easy access to programming – of digital stories, games, art, music- and a social space for young people to share what they had created. I was interested in how these young people had appropriated Scratch- the programming opportunities and the site. For me this was another example of how young people recruit available resources to their own purposes and it raised questions about how such resources are mediated in school environments: how can children and young people make resources ‘work’ for them if opportunities are ‘closed’ due to time constraints, restricted access, prescribed tasks, etc? In another symposium – ‘Beyond Words: Action and Animation in Young Children’s Reading, Writing and Playing’- Karen Wohlwend’s presentation considered the closed nature of many Apps designed for children; she emphasised the need for open-ness to enable children to follow multiple pathways- positing the idea of ‘play as a counter-practice’ and giving Sissy’s Magical Ponicorn Adventure as an example of an App designed by a 5 year old child.

On the other end, how do we frame students’ engagement with digital media as educators?  Erica Halverson -in her presentation, ‘What makes a youth-produced film good? A youth audience perspective’    cited  Julian Sefton-Green’s argument (in ‘Evaluating Creativity: Making and Learning by Young People’)-that we romanticise what we see as students’ creativity and consequently side-step evaluation and critique. Suggesting that we lack criteria to evaluate new media and keen to devise criteria that were firmly located in notions of audience, Erica Halverson described how she asked students to watch and rate a series of short films. She then used their reasons for their ratings to arrive at criteria to be used for future evaluation. Of course, as she recognised, the resulting criteria for what makes a ‘good’ film are situated – resting on established notions of genre and narrative –  but she argued that this very situatedness was valuable in generating evaluative discussions.  Two of her evaluative criteria related specifically to ways in which films seemed to fit with expectations. She distinguished between films which for students were ‘deal-breakers’ (they went so far away from what was expected/hoped for that they didn’t want to watch) and ‘rule-breakers’ (which departed from usual conventions but were still intriguing in some way). Erica Halversand suggested that these evaluative criteria might provide useful starting points for discussions with young people about their own films.

Another symposium built on the work of the Space2Cre8 project at the University of California and New York University, led by Glynda Hull.  (Here she is on New Literacies). is an enclosed social networking site designed to connect young people from around the world. At the moment, young people from various countries are participating including England as well as India, Norway, Australia, England, South Africa, Taiwan, the U.S.A.  The project has enabled young people to engage in a variety of digital production activities- including  video making, music making, animation- and in sharing what they produce within an online international community. The project is raising interesting questions about the different kinds of resources- cultural as well as technological- available to young people in different locations and about how young people make sense of what their peers in other countries have produced. Tracey Wallace’s presentation- ‘ “We Put Our Swag All Over It”: Negotiating Local and Global Identity Online and Offline’ – explored how participating students constructed who they were – both on and offline- in relation to their local neighbourhood and described how these identities ‘thickened’ when invited to engage with others through .

DeFT on tour – Erasmus visit to Hasselt

Workshop participants exploring mobile technologies

Last week three members of the DeFT team visited Limburg Catholic University College in Hasselt to deliver a presentation on our project. The [ED+ict] research team lead by Valère Awouters are working on digital practices in education, and were interested in how our team is addressing questions concerning introducing elements of digital education to schools. Workshop participants came from a wide range of backgrounds- some worked with Valère, preparing resources to support educational needs across the world, others came from a commercial background, looking to support in-service needs, and others came from the social services background.  There were also teachers and parents of young children who were interested in how we are introducing digital technology in our schools.  Richard introduced the presentation, giving an outline of the DeFT project, and Anna talked about the open educational resources element of the project.  Nicky was interested to find out peoples’ perceptions of digital literacy, and we presented the group with a task to capture their understanding of the term with a word, phrase or picture.  The group was very good natured, and played along, using the brushes app on iPads, iPods, and emailed these to Richard, who was playing ‘Wizard of Oz’ behind the scenes, collecting impressions and putting them on a screen for us to discuss later.  It was interesting that these first thoughts encapsulated most of the issues that were raised in the focus group by our PGCE students who were haunted by the spectre of the digital native and despite being only in their early twenties, felt alienated from their pupils a few years younger than themselves.  We discussed with the workshop participants the advantages digital tools can afford, and some of the drawbacks.  Overall, it was a very productive and inspiring visit and we are looking forward to some further collaboration with the ED+ict team; there are some interesting potential projects that might emerge from our conversations during the three days we spent in sunny Belgium.