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Finding your tribe

One of the most enjoyable and inspiring books I have read this year has been Sir Ken Robinson's "Out of our Minds"  and my ref...

Friday, 21 April 2017


Easter break ending, we must pick up the pace again on the #KNOWHOW project. Having carried out some action research (#LERMOOC) during the break I am determined to get the word out around campus of this opportunity for staff and students to understand and take advantage of the potential of open practice to enhance lives but also ever more aware of the need for strong support. 

First things first, the break has not been without progress on the project front. The #LERMOOC opportunity produced a cognitive review of the project plan which should give a real wake up call to project participants, highlighting as it does the size of the task ahead. Communication with my team is a priority and I will try to get a face to face opportunity for that next week, meanwhile an email and a shared page will start the term. 

We're going to take the metaphor of seeds (which complements the image above, I have been the mother hen incubating her project eggs so far). Once these eggs hatch they will need the product of our germinated seeds if they are to grow and thrive.  Time for the the eggs to hatch, the seeds to be sown and watered, and for each of us to get nurturing so that it is clear across campus and beyond that Warwick is open for learning!

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Sustaining teaching through little OER

Image: Open CC BY 2.0 on Flickr by Fatimah Fatih
Soon I will be presenting on the sustainability of teaching and recent months have seen lots of talk of austerity, business models for public good which have all been relevant to my thinking. I have been curating a pearltree to capture the many facets of the discussions and engaging with various individuals about open educational practice or practices. There is an issue of definition which makes it tricky for practitioners in education to see the point of working in the open. The concern is there though.
For too long, teachers have been disempowered by an education system that is controlled by politicians who know nothing of how to inspire and lead young people. The barriers to professionalism and the confidence to create have to be removed. This suggestion moved me to creation!

So how do I break free from teaching a coursebook which students cannot afford and reclaim my confidence in guiding students to the necessary competence in my subject? Well, here's my textbook creator guide (slightly tongue in cheek but you'll get the point when you take a look) 

Just do it - practice openly and others will help to improve and remix. Join your community and surface what matters through little OER.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Language learning is dead! Long live language learning...

Image: Babelfish CC BY Tico on Flickr

I had a call this afternoon from our press office asking me to record a response for Sky News to this item which appeared in the Mail about a headset which can translate your interactions automatically in real time.  Would this, she asked, be the end of the need to learn languages? After a quick chat with their contact all was put in place to go live on Sky tonight at 6.45pm. When I finished teaching at 5pm, I returned to my office to polish my responses and prepare myself. I have just taken a call telling me the item has now been pulled but here are my responses anyway!

Firstly it is true that we are benefiting from many rapid technological advances and the field of languages is indeed being transformed by communication technologies. We see that it is easier that ever before to connect people in real time through virtual exchange but it is a complex area. We need to apply some digital wisdom here. 

The inventor of this gadget comes from a country which admits readily it doesn't do enough language learning and the idea came when he met a French girl. Get it?  Of course he wanted their minds (and maybe their bodies?) to meet and urgently needed a shortcut to fluency. Relationships are mediated by language, but as we all well know relationships, like language, are complex. 

My first thoughts were of how, given much of our communication is through gesture and body language, the cognitive demands of listening to an earpiece whilst trying to maintain eye contact, not pull strange faces when the machine translates (actually that is incorrect - translation is the word used for written language) - interprets what she says, may disrupt the flow of relationship building that happens in face to face settings where judgements are made in split seconds. We may see a "sat nav" effect where people ignore their instincts when focusing on the instructions, ending up literally in no-mans land. 

Then we have the complexity of language itself. Accents, speed and clarity of voice input usually require device training and could completely fox the system. Good interpreters understand the speaker's context, can explain cultural references in jokes for example and make appropriate adjustment for idiomatic language use. I wonder what Andrew (the inventor) would make of his new friend telling him "it is raining ropes" (Il pleut des cordes - It's tipping it down!) Language is constantly changing and growing with human progress, check out what's new in the Cambridge dictionary blog. The French can now "liker" a Facebook friend!

So if you are thinking of getting yourself one of these devices, please proceed with caution. You may easily fall foul of any or all of these pitfalls.  Isn't it more fun anyway to embrace what our brains are hard wired to do: figure each other out over time, maybe over coffee and some linguistic exploration on your phones? Andrew, you could have much more fun if you got out more and enjoyed the company of those whose first language is not US English. The negotiation of meaning - be it through food, wine, film, dance or any of the many human ways we get to know each other brings greater rewards and opens our minds to many ways of looking at the world. 

Monday, 27 February 2017

Investigating the student experience

I am about to start a second #WIHEA project with an even more ambitious remit that the previous one and I'm delighted to have many of the first team on board as they have already proven themselves to be great co-researchers. The focus of the earlier project was upon how language teaching and learning is changing in the digital age. We found essentially that there are far more opportunities to connect and interact than before and that, despite the learning curves involved in navigating digital spaces incorporating digital approaches (when done well) helps to extend learning and brings access to new literacies which had not always been fully explored in a learning context elsewhere. 

This project will be focussing more on the nature of such approaches and the issues that arise when we embrace open online resources and practices as part of the learning landscape. We are reaching out to a wider Warwick audience for this, involving our careers and skills professionals, Education and Linguistics as well as a fully open audience through a G+ community here. The project, #knowhow will offer opportunities to explore how we manage our professional digital identity, how to manage issues such as copyright and ownership online and of course how to understand the various micro-cultures that operate within the digital environment. The "students" in this case are all of us, whether we are staff or students as we are all learning together. 

I have enrolled on the #lermooc as a way of finding a community of practice to support this work as there is a tight budget and deadline ('twas ever thus) and I need to ensure that I find time and space to reflect on what we discover. I usually find my reflection is facilitated by the input of others. As an open practitioner myself I am keen to understand how working in the open may be perceived by others so I look forward to a challenging but ultimately informative experience. 

Sunday, 22 January 2017

#BYOD4L: Thoughts on creating

What a week! As my head cold finally withdraws I am returning to the last of 5 hectic but rewarding days working with the #BYOD4L team and turning my thoughts to our last topic, Creating. It was my first time moderating/facilitating on this digital ideas fest and the fact that it coincided with a heavy cold (not unusual given the time of year) just revealed how online practice can have a major advantage over the face to face - no one else was put at risk of contagion thanks to my sniffs and sneezes and I was able to participate fully despite everything, assisted by regular medicated hot lemon drinks and the encouragement of others!

I'm no artist (I may well have mentioned that before) but I do enjoy the visual, particularly when it communicates ideas which may be difficult to express. We are surrounded by visual communication, as indeed was predicted some years ago. I remember when the "new" GCSE for languages was introduced some 20 years ago we were told to expect greater use of signs and visual media. I was asked to provide practitioner feedback on a French course book in development at the time based around minitel which had taken off in France. A precursor to what was to become the game changer in communication technology, the internet. 

I knew that Friday night's chat would be a challenge for me, juggling practical tasks with tissues and feeling pretty tired after a busy week but it was great fun and has left me reviewing all I do through the lens of creativity. I couldn't manage to edit and share images in the time frame allowed (see the rather bland pic above for evidence!), it was all rather frantic but I was inspired by those who did - at least one of whom did so on a mobile phone whilst on the touchline of a child's football match! When I accepted my limitations I just settled in to enjoying the creativity of others including the #creativeHE gang who shared the chat too, whilst listening to a playlist shared by @BYOD4L. 

All this activity has left me pondering more deeply about creativity and I am taking those thoughts on to my other blog Espace Sisyphe. Thanks to Neil, Sheila, Deb, Chris, Alex, Rebecca, Ellie, Emma, Chrissi and Sue for the great company and inspiration, a fabulous CoP for digital skill enhancement.  

Thursday, 19 January 2017

#BYOD4L: Thoughts on collaboration

Student created logo for the Clavier Project
As a language teacher, connecting internationally has always been at the heart of my work. My degree required a year in France (my second year was spent teaching English - mostly pop songs and popular culture) in Châteauroux, France in 1980. When I took up teaching I got involved in regular exchanges with our partner schools and accompanied the various associated trips such as the history department's visit to world war battlefields. 

In my teaching role in Higher Education I wanted to continue to give students opportunities to work on their language with real French speakers. Fortunately we have a very cosmopolitan campus and there were lots of opportunities thanks to a great student network. However, increasingly I was finding that the internet offered me lots of ways of keeping in touch with friends and trends in France and french speaking cultures. The skills I needed were relevant and I thought this provided a good way to cross formal and informal boundaries to support deeper language and intercultural understanding. I got involved in developing a virtual exchange in 2010 having met a colleague teaching in Clermond Ferrand by chance on a blog by Steve Wheeler. Explaining virtual exchange is not easy as many in HE are quite reluctant to take computer-mediated communication seriously. 

Over recent years, through my role as a learning technologist I have been able to bring my expertise in telecollaboration and computer-mediated communication to bear in a wide range of projects and collaborations. Most recently this has involved collaborating with colleague from the Open University to publish on the use of open badges in Online Intercultural Exchange (OIE) and working with colleagues from Australia (Monash) on papers to do with produsage and sustainability of teaching. I really enjoyed these collaborations, but collaborating can be very challenging. The language research community has been instrumental in producing research into the experiences of computer-mediated communication which provides great insights into success factors in this area. I am delighted that it has also now established a cross-disciplinary academic organisation to support all HE colleagues who wish to collaborate internationally called Unicollaboration. Please share the news with your telecollaborative colleagues as this will be a great way of sharing best practice and extending internationalisation in HE. 

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

#BYOD4L: Thoughts on curation

Angus Glasshouse exhibition 2012

To curate 

When I checked the verb I was intrigued by the connections. Curare in Latin to to take care of, from cura (care) is clearly linked. We curate objects we care about, arranging them so that they are perhaps displayed effectively to please you or the others you share them with. Above is a display of my son's work put together (curated, even) by Glasshouse College and showing the skills he acquired during one year of his college life. The above is a digital curation of this curation, displayed by a proud mum on my flickr channel. 

Today I'm thinking about what I curate, why and where and by returning to the origin of the word I have realised some things I do which I had not really thought of as curation before. At one level I digitally curate resources for my research and my areas of interest. This started with bookmarking websites many years ago, but I realise that I rarely do that any longer. Bookmarks soon become unreliable and lost in their folders. Simply no longer practical. I moved on to Diigo where I can co-curate with others publicly and Delicious where again the social aspect helped me find new connections. A further change then arose as my online presence increased, I started using Pearltrees finding the easy interface practical as it is easy to share and to create teams but I am almost at the limit of my free account already. Scoop.it is another tool I rely on for connecting through curation. This shift from the personal to the public has been helpful in my work especially as it enables me to join like-minded collections from around the world. Currently I am putting together a curation linked to my paper for #OER17 because I know that those listening can browse and see a range of perspectives on my topic of the sustainability of teaching. We will thus be able to have a useful conversation and meanwhile I can keep evolving my ideas prior to the session. 

At another level, I realise that my most useful tool for curation is my google account. I've never thought of this as curation, it's more like the central pot from which I can draw material to curate and reflect on. So perhaps it is curation once removed. By default the contents are private, I make my conference notes, slides forms and docs there, my phone photos back up directly to it, instantly available to share and use whenever needed.  My blogs are also forms of curation for a specific purpose, bringing resources together and giving me space to think more deeply about them. The ALTC blog (which I work on as a co-editor) provides a way of curating the many voices of the community, helping to highlight themes which are timely and relevant. There is so much out there and not enough time to trawl through it all so finding trustworthy curators really helps. 

Curation is how I capture the things I care about and how I find others with similar interests and values.