Category Archives: edushare

Keeping the Dream Alive

I was asked to write a response to Tom Bennett’s comment piece in the TES about how he thought that the use of computer games such as Minecraft in Education was ‘gimmicky‘. My response was written in early December 2016 however it was published in the TESS today. Here is the unedited version:

My Christmas playlist will soon be pulled out and its number two track (you can’t top Mario Lanza’s command of vibrato in It Came Upon a Midnight Clear) is the 12 inch version of Keeping the Dream Alive by Freiheit. Twitter can be a most useful place to share ideas, resources and perspectives and it was through Tom Bennett’s sharing of the extended version of this song last year that I came to love it even more. Don’t pretend you don’t know the chorus!:

The hopes we had were much too high;
Way out of reach, but we have to try.
The game will never be over,
Because we’re keeping the dream alive.

In view of the recent storm around Tom’s critical observations of what he describes as the ‘gimmicky use of games’, and in particular Minecraft in schools, I thought that this lyric was most apposite. Let me channel the spirit of Freiheit in to the debate; is it wrong to have dreams in education, to have high hopes for ourselves as teachers and for our learners? Aren’t there those of us in education who also add rigour and realism to the dreams we have about ensuring better outcomes for our learners? Can we not be trusted to make appropriate professional judgements about new ideas we may want to explore without the need for an established research base to affirm and validate it? Is it really, as Tom says, Game Over for the debate or can we keep the Minecraft dream alive?

A few years back I talked at a number of international events and conferences about the game based learning initiatives that I was leading in Scotland in which we partnered a large number of schools in the use of commercial off the shelf (COTS) games such as Nintendogs, Guitar Hero, Mario Kart and Professor Layton.  Our methodology was to position COTS games as a ‘contextual hub’ around which a skilled teacher would appropriately craft and structure the learning. To inform this methodology we established a rationale that was embedded in theoretical perspectives such as Gee’s semiotic domains and situated learning, Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow and Shulman’s Signature Pedagogies.  At these conferences I would always be asked, “Do you think Nintendo will ever make an educational game?” My response was that they already did and that what was at the heart of the matter was that we as educators were so set in a dynamic that positioned us as the dominant partner in the learning relationship in such a way that we looked on learners’ digital interests as frivolous and trivial, as Tom stated. I feel that this is the very same with Minecraft. Minecraft was already educational so why do we feel the need to add the EDU or Education tag to such resources? You know, learners of all abilities have owned this domain for years now and therein have been building the Taj Mahal, Minas Tirith and Hogwarts in breathtaking detail. The low-floor and high-ceiling level of complexity in this trivial game is quite extraordinary but the associated learning culture that seems to have grown from Minecraft is what interests me most as an educator. We are seeing primary aged children utilising the web to connect and learn with and from their peers, hosting their own servers, learning how to mod and to programme redstone; they are using video capture cards to create their own tutorials and managing their own YouTube channels. This rich learning culture that has grown over the past few years, independent of the intervention or guidance of the teacher, is what we should really be focusing on, not teaching teachers to last the first night in survival mode!

Secondly, the recent colonisation of the Minecraft domain by the, well- meaning, ed tech adult and edupreneur consultant is, in my view changing the nature of what Minecraft is. Although there are some really interesting and dare I say good uses of Minecraft out there such as our recent Massively Minecraft inspired Minecraft On the Waterfront project in Dundee, the BBC Build It Scotland initiative and the Mindrising project in Ireland I do think that Tom has a point about ‘gimmicky’ uses. For example, have you seen the 1940s London terraced street Minecraft Education download that asks learners to build an Anderson shelter or the 100 number square download that would have learners fly to the answer of 6 x 8? Or to ask children to write out their times tables in blocks or to use blocks to show what 2/3s of a whole looks like. For me, such examples are not just gimmicky but evidence of how we can’t help but culturally appropriate and possibly denature such learner owned digital spaces in our hard wired desire to reframe and assimilate them into our established expectations of learning. In this regard, I do sometimes wonder if Minecraft, brilliant as it is, will ever fit the paradigm of learning in school.

Tom asks for the research evidence to support games such as Minecraft’s use in schools but surely he will acknowledge that the nature of educational research can be slow and when you consider the pace of change with technology and how resources can come into and out of vogue pretty quickly it does mean that there might not specifically be a research base to validate and affirm your choice to use a game such as Pokémon Go or Minecraft. What teachers can and will do though is establish, as we did, a theoretical frame that helps inform their skilled crafting and appropriate use of a game.

Tom also asks for the research evidence for those Brain Training games that ‘were all the rage a few years back and that were meant to keep your brain healthy or something’. Well to help him in this regard I ask that he read the two papers from myself and Professor David Miller about our interventions with Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training that were published in the British Journal of Educational Technology.  The second one was a randomised-control-trial that we did in an effort to explore the scalability issue he raised. We did this work in schools that were mostly in areas of multiple deprivation because we too, like Tom, believe that our children are priceless and we want to do what we can to contribute to better outcomes for all of our children. 

I don’t think that the hopes the education community has for the use of games like Minecraft are too high. Maybe the most effective practice is out of reach for many us, at this time, but we have to try to get there and I’m sure many teachers will. Critical engagement in the debate around how we do this is fundamental to our growth as a collegiate education community and the questions raised by Tom, in my view, are a much valued and important part of this.

Game over? I don’t think it is, and to paraphrase Freiheit, the game can never be over because there are far too many teachers out there keeping their informed dreams for the use of digital tools such as Minecraft alive.



Comment on the draft Technologies Es & Os (ICT)

Unfortunately, due to work commitments I can’t make it to any of the Technologies Es & Os days that our colleagues from Education Scotland are holding. In an attempt to contribute to this ongoing work I offer my observations/comments about the draft CfE Technologies Es & Os -with a focus on the ICT aspect of things.

Now, I fully appreciate and value the change in emphasis Nationally on embedding coding in the primary school experience however, I feel as though we have moved too far in terms of emphasis on this in the new Es & Os. There seems to be such an emphasis on this area now to the detriment in learning that other aspects of ICT can offer. Also, for an area that appears to be dependent on volunteers for Barefoot computing or volunteers to run Code Clubs I think this emphasis is somewhat not matched up with an expectation that this really is a responsibility of all and as we all know the concept of coding has been an explicitly stated Outcome in CfE at second level ever since they were published. Is this volunteering thing a part of a longer strategic plan to look to embed this in schools, TEIs etc?

One of the issues that I have when I read the coding Es & Os is that they come across to me as if they were written by a secondary computing teacher. I do not see the primary teacher voice in there. I remember working with colleagues who were secondary computing teachers in the past when I worked in this area but there was real ownership of the language and context in this by the primary teachers involved but this was informed and influence by expertise of the secondary teachers. Now , even as someone who has some experience/expertise in the use of coding in the primary context, I feel that the language used will a little threatening for many teachers new to this coding switch.

More importantly I am trying to see the progression in this area of the Computing Science section section


If an Early or First level learner is programming a programmable device or on-screen object will they and the teacher look to to fix (debug) the thing it it doesn’t work. It seems that the word building in 1st Level is replaced by design and create at 2nd Level. The mention of a coding language comes in at 2nd Level though. Maybe the benchmarks will help in making this area more understandable. I would argue that there needs to be a clearer pathway through the levels here. As they stand I don’t see a huge deal of difference between the ones in this example.

I was involved in a Twitter discussion the other day about the framing of ICT/digital skills being only used to consume materials and that computing science was the digital context where the creation of material would happen. The inference that I took was that creation is stronger than consumption? The creation and not just consumption mantra is one that I fully recognise and subscribe to as well however we must be careful that we do not lose sight of the rich learning opportunities in terms of creativity in the ICT/digital literacy domain. At present the Es & Os in the draft are pretty sparse in relation to this. For example, take the audio and video domains – there is no explicit mention of these in the draft. The exponential rise in use and popularity of YouTube and video as a learning tool/space is something that we maybe should be tapping in to more. We have our video channels now in Glow as well so why are we not making more of this area? Are we still going to ask children to write newspaper reports when more and more children haven’t seen a newspaper and when so many of them have capture cards and their own online video channels? Are we serious about this ‘jobs that don’t exist’ scenario or not (although I’d argue that has always been the case)? Where is our joined-up and forward thinking here? Again, I would argue that the draft Es & Os and the strategy that they reflect should be taking this in to consideration.

Lastly, the promotion of tools for collegiate/collaborative learning in Glow are promoted quite a deal by Education Scotland. We see so much about OneNote, Yammer, shared docs in O365 etc and yet there is nothing in the Es & Os about how learners can develop the skills necessary to help them become effective learners/contributors in the digital domain. It is not enough to be able to search the web, collect knowledge and be safe online – our children should be schooled in the art of writing and owning the web – it must be central to their thinking and behaviour. This can be done through purposeful contexts to explore coding as well as using the tools made available in Glow or Google for that matter. This is just not coming through in these Es & Os. I think the Mozilla’s Write, Read, Particiapte Web Literacy Framework and even the JISC Web Literacy framework should be points of reference for the further discussion around these draft Es & Os.

An opportunity was missed way back when with the first iteration of the CfE Es & Os were drafted. No account was really taken of the explosion of Web 2.0 at that time. We have to get these right this time.

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.

The Shape Detective says Teacher Education is Good

In the not so distant past, I, as a fresh faced teacher education student was introduced to the idea of context creation as a way to create a framework that could make learning accessible, relevant exciting and purposeful. At that time there were two documents that were being used to articulate the thinking behind context creation and that explored the tensions between and benefits of a thematic approach to learning and a subject specific one. These documents were Mr Togs the Tailor and Some Aspects of Thematic Work. These inputs proved to be hugely influential for me and I came away from them convinced of the efficacy of the arguments for context creation and captivated by the prospect of creating the conditions for learning where I could ‘suspend children’s disbelief’ in order to take them places with me as we all learned together. I subsequently made this approach an integral part of my professional practice and from the mid 1990s onwards I created contexts such as the Ghost of Charles Dickens which then led on to a whole host of ideas based around, amomngst other things, contextualising computer games and learning

It was with some delight then that I saw, what I think, was a very good example of context creation when I went to carry out an MA4 (Hons) summative visit (a crit in old speak) as part of our assessment procedures. The student in question, Emma Hopkirk, was placed in a P.1 class at Hillisde PS in Dundee. Emma has kindly given me permission to share what I saw with you.

I was ushered in to the class first thing on a Monday morning and took my place at the back to ensure that I had a good view. The professional files were all ready for me to review and I watched as the student (Miss Hopkirk) welcomed the children in to the class. It was clear to me that a very strong relationship had already been established by the student as their was a lovely atmosphere in the room. She sat them on the carpet in front of the whiteboard and then she began her carefully crafted lesson:

Miss Hopkirk: “I was looking through my emails last night and do you know something, I received another email from…
P.1 Class: (Children looking at each other wide eyed and excitedly whispering,”It’s the Shape Detective, it’s the Shape Detective…”)
Miss Hopkirk: Can you guess who?”
P.1 Class: (all in excited unison) THE SHAPE DETECTIVE!!!
Miss Hopkirk: “Yes, the Shape Detective. Will we have a look at his latest video message?”
P.1 Class: (all in excited unison) YES!!!
Miss Hopkirk: “I wonder what he’s got to say…”

At this point I too had bitten the contextual hook that Miss Hopkirk has thrown out to her class and watched intently to see what the Shape Detective has to say in the latest of his video messages to this class…

The video (created by Emma and hosted on her own YouTube channel) appears, tastefully done in a mysterious 1940’s style of flickering black and white. The central character ( a friend’s partner played the Shape Detective) is dressed up as if in a disguised and mysterious fashion with hat, dark glasses and a detective coat! He then proceeds to speak to the children. Here is the video that I saw…

The children were totally captivated by what the Shape Detective had to say. Each and everyone of this P.1 class hung on to every word that was said and their eyes did not flinch from what this mysterious but valued partner in their learning had to say to them.

The video finished and just as it did there was a loud knock at the door. In came the class teacher holding a parcel wrapped in gold (the letters being returned by The Shape Detective)…

Class teacher: “Excuse me Miss Hopkirk but a parcel for P.1 has just arrived.”
P.1 class: (excitedly talking) “That’ll be from the Shape Detective!”
Miss Hopkirk: “Shall we open it?”

You can guess the response.

The lesson then proceeded as Miss Hopkirk then took the children round the activities that she had set up that, just by chance, were exactly linked to what the Shape Detective was asking from them on this latest 3D shape mission! Magic! The children were so on board with what was going on and I even saw some of them jumping up and down and clapping their hands with glee at the prospect of finding out more about 3D shape.

This was teaching.

So many of our students, like Emma, are about to embark on their induction year already at the stage where the are using a range of digital tools and other resources in a confident, thoughtful, creative and purposeful manner to enrich the learning experiences of the the children in the classes they teach.  As our students Graduate from the University of Dundee today I wish them all the very best for their future in teaching. The example of Emma Hopkirk’s practice and so many more of what I have seen from our student teachers affirms my confidence in teacher education and tells me that we are doing so much that is right and that our new teachers will make a huge contribution to ensuring better outcomes for all learners.

If Vygotsky played Minecraft

A post from my first ever blog from August 2014. Content of which I think is still very much of interest for prospective teachers:

Last week my daughters were playing with their friends. As a group they were all working together to make a movie and their efforts were industrious, noisy and committed. I listened in on their chitter-chatter and I could hear them make the story up as they went along and as the story unfolded, and as great ideas sprung to mind, they shared and accommodated them and collectively created their masterpiece! At one point there was a disagreement and so I, being the skilled adult who knows better, intervened and suggested that they storyboard their movie and plan it in advance. I mean, that’s how we make movies isn’t it, that is the received/perceived wisdom from the educated educator who thinks they are skilled in such matters? The reaction from them was thought provoking. They told me, “No thanks, this is much better and loads more fun than all that planning stuff!” (at least that was the gist of their response!) Remember the context for all of this: school holidays, children out playing, freedom to act as children – they weren’t in school…

A few months back I was dragged to the cinema by my youngest daughter to see The Lego Movie. Now, this was something I wasn’t too pleased about however within ten minutes I was captivated by the absolute aesthetic beauty of the thing, it’s charisma and charm and its developing plot-line that had me totally  hooked. The plotline saw the main character Emmet become ‘the special’ who was doing his utmost, and who seemed destined to, defeat the evil power of President Business whose dark intention was to gets his destructive Lego paws on the super weapon called the Kragle. In doing so President Business would rule the Lego world forever and ever! As the film roller-coasted to its climax it cut away from the animation to a real life scene – *Film spoiler alert* – that showed a young boy in the basement of his house playing with all the Lego characters and pieces that were featured in the movie…the plot line was all from the boys creative imagination as he played with the Lego figures. He had mashed up all the different Lego kits, ignoring the plans and instructions that came with them, and created his own wonderful creative story that just flowed and flowed from him. However, the Lego basement was the domain of his father and he had deemed the basement and the Lego to be out of bounds for his son! It was his Lego, it had been built, it wasn’t to be touched, the plans and the instructions had been followed – the pieces glued down… Keep out all ye who dare not follow the plan!!!

But, the boy is discovered in the basement by his dad!  Here is their conversation:

I gave a gasp of joy and delight when I realised that the Kragle was the lid of the glue, the lid that would stop the plans and instructions from always setting the agenda, that would allow the conditions for wonderful stories and ideas to flourish and that would end the culture of things being glued down, plans and instructions being adhered to. “Put the lid on the glue President Business!” I exclaimed along with my daughter!

Put the lid on the glue. What a metaphor I thought for my experience and my ongoing reflective thinking as a teacher and educator. For years I have been influenced by my observations of children as they played computer games and as I did so I would always be impressed with how they displayed a natural ability to learn on their own and with others. These observations allowed me to lead a significant effort to promote the use of such child-centered contexts in formal educational settings however the lid of the glue, so to speak, was kept in the cupboard marked plans and instructions by some our very own President Business’ in Scotland with their mobilisation of bias agenda! Anyway, enough moaning about that and on to more important matters…

Such experiences where children show their innate ability to think and to learn without the qualified adult supervision that dominates our thinking about children and learning is continuing to make me rethink the role of a teacher and in particular our reliance on and almost uncritical adherence to a specific aspect of learning theory that is used to justify the teacher/ learner dynamic.

The teacher learner dynamic is one that appears to be heavily predicated on the social constructivist theory of Lev Vygotsky and in particular what he calls the Zone of Proximal development. In teacher education this is used to frame a theoretical underpinning that almost justifies the instruction dynamic to some extent. It argues that the ZPD is

the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers.

Now, in some cases I see this. The apprenticeship model is one that I fully appreciate and is one that would I feel allow itself to be informed by this particular theory by Vygotsky however I am ill at ease at using this to help inform and articulate my own thinking about children and learning particularly in view of how I have seen young children master the complex world of Nintendogs at age 5 or by what I see when I observe children learning together as they play Minecraft or even when they are making a movie in the summer holidays. It is generally the case that there isn’t someone who is the more skilled or experienced participant/leader. Yes there will always be a group dynamic but as far as I can see the children do tend to self-organise quite effectively without the intervention of a teacher who, for example, places them in roles in their ‘co-operative learning groups’. Hands up who wants to be time-keeper?! Yeah, me neither.

If Vygotsky were to play Minecraft for the first time what would he do? If he were to sit down with his own children for the first time and where neither of them were the more skilled or experienced how would they learn together, make progress and then reach the heady heights of a glass and gold palace with flushing toilets in every room with a creeper trap at the front door and a redstone circuited rollercoaster to take you up to your pad in the mountains!? How is it that children, very young children in so many cases make such progress and make sense of the complex environments in the world of games and in learning in various other contexts/domains without the adult intervention that we have somehow taken to be the common sense agreed norm? I am seriously beginning to question the way in which we refer to ZPD in teacher education and how we need to recognise, value and celebrate the children as learner a little more than we presently do.

In following and pinning our professional colours to the ZPD mast have we as educators lost sight of the child as a learner? Have we become too directive, managerial and controlling? Are we in real danger of being driven by timetables, uncritical acceptance of theoretical perspectives and the gluing down of learning opportunities to the detriment of the creative nature of the child?

The Lego Movie’s theme song states that everything is awesome. I think our children are. Let’s get that lid on the glue and enable the conditions is school to let them demonstrate just how awesome they really are.

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.

Working with Minecraft

Some years ago I became aware of a new game that was virally spreading via the digital jungle drums of our young people – that game was called Minecraft. I had noted that it was creeping through on my Twitter feed quite a lot and when I chatted with my friends’ 12 yr old son about it and what he was doing (he was managing servers and modding the game) I knew that I just had to find out more. When I first saw it I was a little bemused by its ‘blocky’ nature and I wondered why it was that young people who were so used to the most incredible life-like graphics in their modern console games would be interested in a space that looked like the video from Dire Straits – Money for Nothing video from 1986!

After an initial toe-dip into the world I became aware of the Massively Minecraft work done in Australia by Jokay, Dean Groom & Bron Stuckey. This work was incredible and I was lucky enough to host a visit from Dean when he came to the UK on vacation and was even luckier to be able to organise a Minecraft Teachmeet event at which Dean shared the amazing worlds that he and his colleagues were hosting and enabling children to learn in. It was quite simply breathtaking – one project saw learners work together to build the Districts from the Hunger Games books, the worlds were huge, complex and stunningly crafted.

Attempts to initiate a Minecraft project (via Glow Login) when in my last post at Education Scotland fell flat however I always harboured a desire to explore the potential impact on learning and teaching and so I accompanied my daughters on a Minecraft on XBox360 foray and together we learned how to mine, craft, create and survive in this deceptively complex world and as I did so I continued to think

Not long after returning to the University of Dundee I met up with Deepak Gopinath and together we managed to have a bid for some funding accepted from CECHR to help us establish a small scale research project. Although we had two projects the main one that I looked after was called the Minecraft on the Waterfront project. You can read a bit about this via that last link but in essence we were challenging children from Dundee primary schools to reimagine, rebuild and resdesign in Minecrfat how thery think the new waterfront of their city should look like. The current (and agreed design was already built by 4J Studios. This video so inspired the children:

I am currently wrestling with and transcribing the data for this research and will return to this particular topic in the future however this post is about the reach, for now, of the project.

Reach & Impact

The Minecraft on the Waterfront project was reported via my #minecraftOTW hashtag on Twitter and as a result of this I ended up:

I continue to work with my data to help find out a bit more about how games such as Minecraft are framed by both learners and teachers within formal educational settings. More to tell on that later. As for playing Minecraft, well I have decided to move away from the safe world of Creative and Peaceful to testing myself in Survival mode. If I do survive their will be more to share…

Image available at accessed 07/07/15


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…