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.



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!

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.

To shine or not to shine?

I think, as Anna says, it’s not the shiny OERs that would make people want to embrace digital literacies in the classroom. It is material that responds to the sensibilities of those of us who feel they are still on the nursery slopes that would work for me. The invention of technological advancement is all very commendable, but it is the interface between technology and users that seems the hardest to get right.
At the last teachers’ meeting, I was exposed to a new vocabulary. Teachers spoke of their involvements with Moodle, Nanogong, Edmodo, QR codes, GPS with mobile devices, final cut, and ‘stealth reading’. I don’t think I am the only person in the world who did not know about these things… well… do you know what they all are? Certainly in the pub later that night, nobody had any idea of what I was talking about. Now I am aware these things exist, and am exploring some of their possible applications I feel more in the know, (and just a little superior?)
But DeFT teachers are keen not to be categorised as techies. They are empathetic, and understand issues involved here. Kate is planning on making resources to introduce people to web2.0 ‘stuff’. She said (according to my transcript)” I know it sounds really simple stuff, but actually it can be really scary if you have not done it before.” Michael is looking to set up a ‘non-threatening’ web space in his school, where members of staff can share, trial and reflect upon resources that support the use and promotion of digital literacies in school. Jack, who is fed up with being “wheeled in like a circus act” to schools, is intent on producing a “warts and all” story of all the stages he and the children he works with went through to produce stunning film productions.
The session worked as a stimulating exchange of ideas which could as Jo said, “change my life” as a teacher!
These case studies will work towards presenting new technologies as interesting aids to teaching and learning rather than difficult challenges that add to all the other burdens teachers face.

Digital literacy metaphors we live by

Talking about digital literacy

That team meeting the other day wasn’t just a chance to experience the “gold level ” sandwiches (catering-speak for food that is edible as opposed to designed with cardboard fans in mind), but first and foremost to plan our project meeting for teachers and PGCE tutors which took place on the 9 February. We’re now in the process of busily writing up the notes, following up on suggestions, reflections and action points but as far as first impressions go, it seems like all the planning paid off and we are quite pleased with how the day went.

The location at the Crucible Theatre – certainly helped boost our creativity, and set the tone for the day as we spent quite a lot of time discussing the metaphors of space in relation to digital literacy. Interestingly, a number of our partners schools have chosen to develop a case study where the starting point is a physical space that they plan to augment/annotate with OERs which can be accessed via the wonders of QR codes. For instance, Jim Hildyard from Winterhill High School is planning to pilot the use of QR codes in partnership with Magna Science Adventure Centre to showcase student-produced resources about Magna exhibits. Rob Hobson from Halfway Primary is looking at tagging Heathlands parkto create an adventure trail for his pupils where they will interact with QR codes placed on the park grounds. Both mini-projects are a great example of how enhancing digital literacy skills of pupils helps widen their horizons, both in a literal and a more abstract sense – the students will come away inspired by engaging with initiatives embedded within their local communities, but they will also get a sense of what is possible via digital means of engagement with literacy. Thus, yet another way of looking at the purposes of digital literacy is that of signposting/guiding; and one of the teachers commented yesterday of how myopic the pupils can be when it comes to their engagement with digital space and it is only by enhancing their skills in that area that they become more confident in venturing further out.

Metaphors related to the world of filming were quite abundant as well, not surprising given that a couple of the cases focus on the use of visual media in the context of digital literacy. Jack Todhunter from Newman School, who has a wealth of experience in using film when teaching English and creative media, brought up the concept of out-takes in the context of digital literacy, arguing that very often, the emphasis is on showcasing polished performance via digital means. However, it is the false starts and blind alleys, the bits and pieces which end up on the editing room floor that contribute to the learning process; at the same time, revealing and exposing these out-takes can leave teaching professionals feeling exposed and quite vulnerable. This ties in with some of the questions about releasing teaching materials openly – from my experience of working with academics on two previous phases of the OER programme (C-SAP pilot and cascade project), the biggest obstacle to sharing more openly was the fear that the resources are not “good enough”, not polished enough. Striving for high quality is certainly a good thing, after all, issues of quality assurance come up repeatedly in the context of OERs, but how do you make sure that the richness of the practitioner’s journey is not lost when the world is presented with a shiny OER?

Out and about on school visits

Apparently this Monday was supposed to have been the most depressing day of the year but here at DeFT headquarters we are too busy to even consider catching the blues. We’ve even managed to keep to our New Year’s resolutions, which included visiting all of DeFT schools and talking to the teachers about their ideas for the case studies to be included in the open textbook we are developing for the project.

Throughout January, we have been exploring new territories, both metaphorically and geographically, given that school don’t always make it easy for visitors to get access and we do have a couple of stories of spending considerable time circling round the building, trying to find the reception as opposed to the “no visitors” signs. Fortunately, once you pass that test, things appear to be much more welcoming and we are lucky enough to work with an amazingly creative group of teachers who are bubbling with ideas as to how they would like to use the space of the project.

Interestingly enough, while digital literacy seems to be a concept that is quite well established and well understood within the school context (not an unproblematic one of course, but that is a whole different blog post), our second key strand within the project, Open Educational Resources is a completely new beast. This is not to say that sharing doesn’t happen as we keep discovering, time after time, that sharing resources and advice is part and parcel of the profession. As one of the student teachers we’re working with put it, as a teacher you will be sharing your knowledge with the kids anyway, so sharing your teaching resources should be a logical extension of that process. In quite a few instances, our work consists in facilitating the process of sharing which is already underway at a given school, so that the teachers can take full credit and recognition for their hard work. For instance, one of the case studies will explore the story of maths teachers at the Notre Dame High School who have produced a textbook and decided to release it openly. We would like to use the case study to learn from them what sort of conditions made that possible and what inspired them to go for an open access publication rather than go via the traditional publishing route, At the same time, we want to work with them on developing a model for other teachers to follow in their footsteps in a way that ensures the resource can then be re-used and re-purposed by others as this is something they have yet to work out for themselves. Given that Notre Dame pioneered the use of student mobile devices in the classroom, we are very pleased that we can help them potentially become pioneers in the area of OERs.