Category Archives: 3.1 Teaching & Learning

Arcade Fire, Deserted Islands and Chrome Experiments

I teach on a 3rd year module on the teacher education programme at the University of Dundee. Entitled, Developing Effective Teaching and Learning, it aims to explore how learning can go beyond subject boundaries and in doing so make rich, cohesive, purposeful and relevant links between and across the subject areas. There is a focus on what Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland calls Interdisciplinary learning and we also look at what the IB programme calls Transdisciplinary learning.

I am preparing to teach the inputs that are expressly focused on digital tools and spaces where I will be looking to develop and extend learners digital literacy skills and awareness but in doing so look to explore where other subject areas can naturally sit alongside ICTs so that learning in and across these areas can be enhanced and enriched.

Part of our input explores the potential and benefit of situating learning, in what we may refer to as topic or project work, in the local context. We also look at the power that context can play in helping to suspend learner’s disbelief so that a process of enquiry or a collaborative story might be developed. With this in mind I decided to build on last year’s input where we looked at telling, via the digital medium, the story of yet another iteration in the development and use of the city of Dundee, in Scotland’s, waterfront. A major focus of this has been the use of Google Maps as a context to develop digital literacy skills but also to use it as the means through which researched stories can be dynamically presented and shared. We also touch on how Minecraft can be used in a focused and open-ended way to explore ideas of renewal, change and impact on the places where we live.

A few years back I came across an incredible resource called The Wilderness Downtown. This resource was part of the promotional material for the Arcade Fire’s latest release at that time, The Suburbs. Using HTML5 and the skill, vision and imagination of those at Chrome Experiments an experience was created that asked the ‘player’ to type the postcode of where they grew up into the site and press play. What happened then was breathtaking and actually quite emotional.

Image from The Guardian. Accessed 30 September 2016

The song We Used to Wait from the album played and as it did various screens appeared to frame the scene of a hooded young person running through unknown streets. Silhouetted images of a flock of birds swooped in and out of the scene until near the end of the song the streets where I grew up appeared on screen and as if a drone was flying around them showed exactly where I grew up. As the momentum gathered digital trees smashed through the pavements of the very streets of my childhood and in some way immediately conveyed to me the transient nature of youth, time and memory – hairs up on the back of my neck and goosebumps time! At the end I had to then send a message to my young self to advise about what my future held for me. It really was an incredible experience. Go try it…

From then on not only were Arcade Fire a new favourite band but so was this world of the Chrome Experiment…

In order to further share and extend my teacher education students awareness of what is available I plan to add some of the Chrome Experiments to our inputs on digital mapping and how this can play its part in enabling learning to go beyond subject boundaries. Here are just some of the ones that I think are pretty impressive and useful:

1. Globe Viewer
globe-viewerThis chrome experiment by Kevin James is one that I think can be used to help learners gain a greater understanding of the shape of planet Earth. When we see visual representations of it the image of the smooth sphere is presented without any bumps or contours. Now as we know our planet goes from the oxygen deprived heights of Mt. Everest to the crushing pressured depths of the Mariana Trench. When you zoom in to the globe on this site you actually see the irregular shape of the Earth and can see the landmass of the Himalaya and other mountain ranges as you spin the globe around. You can also see the depths of the oceans and just how many countries such as Japan sit on edge of the tectonic plates.

2. Ancient Earth Globe


Can you see the distance between South America & Africa?

This Chrome Experiment by Ian Webster is one that I would use when exploring the concept of how the world changes and keeps changing. When the giant earthquake hit japan in 2011 it was said that the whole of the country of Japan moved 8 metres and that the Earth shifted on its axis. The destructive power of the nature of the earth became apparent to human beings at the moment however it was a mere blink of an eye in the ongoing shaping and reshaping of the outer skin of the Earth. This Chrome experiment takes you back to Ediacaran Period and allows you to jump millions of years to the future to present day time. As you jump through you can see Pangaea, the break up of Africa and South America, the movement of Japan as it breaks away from Russia. It is a superb resource that can most certainly illuminate for learners, of any age, this challenging concept.

3. Hashima: Forgotten World

Visit the mysterious and desolate Hashima Island

This Chrome Experiment by Bryan James is one that allows the player to take a digital dip through history and discover the secrets & myths hidden amongst Hashima Island’s mysterious, desolate landscape. Now what you might do is explore the real history if Hashima Island, it’s rise as part of the rapid industrialisation of Japan or its dark history as an enforced labour camp, or…you could use it to create your very own collaborative story. The echoing slightly eerie music along with the desolate empty ruins of this place could be the perfect foil for the creation, by a class, of its very own story about this place:

  • Where is Hashima Island?
  • Who lived there?
  • What happened there?
  • Why are people going back there?
  • Is it really empty?

Just think how writing could be at the heart of such a context for an IDL topic/project!

A creative teacher could easily use other mechanisms to begin to form the a realistic backdrop that would make such a learning experience one that pull learners’ in and then take them, places. Have a wander around Hashima Island to get a feel for it and to formulate in your mind’s eye just how your idiosyncratic thinking could make use of this fantastic resource.

Chrome Experiments is a wonderful resource. I will keep trawling through them and will share some more examples at a later date.

Eportfolio: what happens when you change the platform and change the culture?

In late 2013 I returned to work at the University of Dundee as a lecturer on the MA (Hons) & PGDE(P) teacher education courses having spent seven years working at National level with Learning Teaching Scotland/Education Scotland. One of the first tasks that I was faced with on my return was to hold individual tutorial meetings with 10 students that I had in my Advisor of Studies group. In this tutorial we had to look at their ePortfolio (that sat in our VLE – BlackBoard) and in doing so discuss their progress with it and how it was helping them learn. With each student my opening question was, “Show me your best piece of reflective writing from your 1st year at University.” To a person they all looked at me slightly confused and asked me what I meant. It appeared that my students were seeing the ePortfolio as a place to keep stuff/evidence of having completed tasks as opposed to it being a space that was all about documenting their professional growth mapped against the GTCS’ Standards for Provisional Registration. Further discussions with my students (who were/are all excellent students may I say) revealed that:

  • they appeared to view the tasks associated with the ePortfolio as a have to, a required hoop to jump through, a task to tick off;
  • there was little sense of professional agency  in evidence in terms of their connection with the ePortfolio as a part of their development as a reflective practitioner;
  • there were issues with the design of the ePortfolio with a particular problem being the detachment  of any learner reflection from the important mapping to the GTCS Standard for Provisional Registration;
  • the ePortfolio seemed to be confusing with an over complicated design that made it difficult to make sense of. There were also issues around personalisation and choice of how their space might look and act;
  • the Portfolio offered no opportunity to support and develop any digital literacy skills as it was mainly a series of linked Word documents sitting in a section of the VLE;
  • when the students completed their 4 years with us at Dundee University then the ePortfolio stayed here (unless they were a whizz at putting all the exported pages from BlackBoard together in a new website)
  • most of all, the professional reflection that it was meant to facilitate was not really happening in the ePortfolio.

The UoD Edushare site

Before I go any further I wish to state that any issues that I felt was seeing was in no way a comment on the standard or commitment to learning on the part of my students, or the rest of that cohort who have expressed similar sentiments, but more an observation of how a University such as ours continually evaluates its own practice/s so that we can ensure that the aspirations for our students are being addressed through the processes that we employ. Where we see the need to make changes we look carefully at the issue at hand and then make informed decisions about to move forward.

As a result of these exchanges with my students  I began to reflect on how improvements could be made to the purpose and experience of the ePortfolio and having just worked at National Level for many years my immediate thoughts went to the digital resources that were available in our much loved (and much maligned in many people’s eyes) national intranet Glow .

Having been one of the members of the team back in 2010/11 who championed the idea of learners’ profiles at the end of P7 and S3 being documented on and shared via WordPress in Glow (before Alex Duff took on and made a good job of the job) the thought of using Categories and Tags to help develop learner agency in documenting their own learning as well as the technical skills to develop and manage their own site greatly appealed to me. This coupled with the arrival of OneDrive and the promise of access to a range of online collaborative tools made me think that there was real merit in exploring the transference of the student ePortfolio at Dundee University from Blackboard into Glow. Discussions with the SMT of the MA (Hons) programme about this proposal went really well and it was agreed that we did have to make a change and that what was being suggested could really help us embed the process of professional reflection in our students  as well as developing their digital competence and confidence.

The planning process went ahead and after being inspired by the syndicated nature of DS106 I came to the idea that our students should have their own WordPress eportfolio based on a template that we designed and that this ePortfolio should then be syndicated to a central site that would pull in students’ reflective posts. This site we called UoD Edushare. Also inspired by David Mitchell’s Quadblogging idea we planned to ensure that our students were divided into peer learning sets with an expectation that they would at least read and comment on the posts of a small peer learning set that they were part of. There was a real attempt here to focus on changing the culture, behaviours and attitudes of professional reflection with the promise of time in the core course programme to water and nurture the seed of this approach.

I approached John Johnston (who was leading on Glowblogs at the time at Education Scotland) to discuss the developing idea. I also spoke with John about what we were doing during a Radio Edutalk interview back in December 2015. John proved to be a huge help with this and in particular with setting up the Sites workflow process on UoDEdushare to help pull in any posts that the students choose to share to the aggregated site. Huge thanks to him.

In late August 2015 our plans went in to action and so with a YouTube playlist – How to UoD EPortfolio – as well as a detailed workflow to set up the ePortfolio, off we ventured in the digital blogosphere. Clearly this wasn’t just about the technical side of things though so quite a bit of time was given in lectures and IT workshops to discuss:

  • the aspirational vision of the digitally collegiate and collaborative profession in Teaching Scotland’s Future;
  • the importance of professional reflection in general;
  • issues around assumptions being made about people wanting to or being confident enough to share their writing with a global audience;
  • appropriate ways to give and respond to formative comment;
  • how to map their experiences and thinking to the Standard for Provisional Registration;
  • how to manage and maintain and personalise their WordPress ePortfolio.

In the short period since we introduced the new ePortfolio format to the MA1 & MA2 cohorts there has been a healthy response from our students to the idea of blogging their professional reflections. It is fair to say that there has been a marked difference in the way that the ePortfolio is now viewed and engaged with by our students. Some early evidence of this includes:

  • since September 2015 we have had 775 posts shared to UoDEdushare;
  • we arec seeing a developing culture of collegiate commenting on peers’ blogs;
  • we are seeing some tutors commenting on blogs;
  • comments on blogs are coming in from other Teacher Ed students as well as a whole of host of other people interested in education;
  • student/learners are taking ownership of promoting their voice by publishing links to their posts on social media with appropriate hashtags to help target their posts (ours is #uodedu);
  • writing in an articulate manner on their site about evidencing how they are attaining the GTCS Professional Standards;
  • questioning why you would want to be part of a closed educational community as opposed to a global one;

I know it is still very early days for the work that we are doing with the new ePortfolio however I do think that what is in evidence here is the need for those concerned with effective transformational change in the digital learning space to really think about the learning culture that they want to engender and in doing so also think about the ways in which the technology they plan to use can make that happen in an accessible, sustainable and culturally appealing way. The platform does matter as we have clearly found from this experience but so does a focus on a change of practice that can effect a change in the learning culture.

Please jump off from UoDEdushare to a one of almost 800 posts by our Teacher Education students to get a flavour of what is happening as a result of the changes that we have made.

PS: When our students graduate and head off in to their first years of teaching then their ePortfolio goes with them in Glow and if they leave Scotland (hopefully not :)) then they simply export their ePortfolio and import to WordPress outside of Glow. (In education in Scotland? Give Glow another look.)

Is video freeing us to learn in the way we are meant to?

As part of our efforts to embed purposeful opportunities to explore and develop digital literacy skills in the on-going professional experiences of our MA students at Dundee University we have introduced the eportfolio via a WordPress blog. I talked about this in an earlier post however what I have done since is create and publish a series of video tutorials on a YouTube playlist on my account. The actual process in the creation of these video tutorials is quite straight forward. In essence, if I can create them – so can you.

The University of Dundee has access to ther suite of software that comes via Microsoft’s Dreamspark initiative. Part of the offerings that come with this is Expression. This allows me to screencast  a screen based video tutorial with an audio commentary. Once this is finished the programme encodes the captured video. I then import that into a free programme called Handbrake and export the movie as an .mp4 file. I then simply upload the videos to a playlist on my YouTube channel. Here is an example of one of the videos that I created from my UoDedu MA ePortfolio playlist:

I find that putting yourself in a  conversational frame of mind allows you to take the time to explain what you are doing in a clear and personable fashion – well I hope so!!! In order to do some learning about techniques and approaches to screencasting I logged in to my account via the University Library’s webpage. There I found some great video tutorials about effective screencasting. Well worth a visit and look.

The rise of the medium of video is of great interest to me as both an educator and a learner. Just the other night I watched a video on how to mine for diamonds in Minecraft and then how to measure the frame of a bike (was selling my daughter’s)!!! Both times I watched and I learned – I could do what I had set out to do. The explosion of the Khan Academy, and the culture of YouTube tutorials (many of the kids I worked with recently on my Minecraft research project have capture cards to create their own video tutorials for their YouTube channels) presents us with questions about how we teach children  to be effective communicators in a contemporary world…

Maybe we are hard-wired to watch and learn from each other? Maybe the brief hiatus of the dominance of the written word has briefly interrupted the learning dynamic of showing, demonstrating and watching each other do things? Maybe the technology has finally found itself in concert with how we really learn? If this were the case just think of the ramifications for schools – unblocking YouTube, resourcing the technology to do this, changing the established cultural framework of the written word to the moving image… challenges, challenges, challenges – but challenges we must reflect on.

Screencasting is quite an easy thing to do and I am finding it helpful to access screencasted tutorials as a learner and I am looking forward to finding out if the ones that I create have any impact on learning with my students.

Glow blogs syndication and a new eportfolio

Today I spent some time with John Johnston from Education Scotland (ES) looking at how we can use the syndication feature of WordPress in Glow Blogs to help set up a central sharing hub that would pull in the posts from our MA students new eportfolios. My motivations for this partnership approach with my colleague from ES was three-fold:

  • To mine the expertise, knowledge and support that is afforded by people, like John, who work at a National Level. Support like this from individuals such as John and Con Morris is very much appreciated;
  • To look to use the tools and spaces available in Glow so that we can purposefully embed them in relevant experiences that enrich and enhance professional learning and pedagogical awareness and in so doing help showcase and frame the benefits as opposed to the deficits of a national intranet such as Glow;
  • To help realise the vision that we have within the management team of the MA programme at the University of Dundee to go beyond a professional learning framework system that does not move with the student once they graduate and that also helps develop their digital literacy skills, their ability to professionally reflect and to become a constructively critical collegiate colleague to others.

Learning about the technical possibilities today via a range of plug-ins, themes and other facilities within WordPress was a most enjoyable and worthwhile experience. I now have a clearer vision of how I am going to manage this eportfolio change (away from Blackboard – our University VLE) and what I will need to do to help frame this strategy in such a way that we will be able to address cultural, behavioural and attitudinal change towards digital collegiality in our next cohort of MA1 teacher education students.

The next step for me is to ensure that I am aware of the help materials for Glow Blogs that are available and to ensure that these are embedded in the support materials that I make available to students. More to learn no doubt…

Developing my digital making skills

Playing about with the Makey Makey. Aiming to embed this in my 3rd year module…