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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...

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. 



Tuesday, 17 January 2017

#BYOD4L: Thoughts on communicating



Computer-mediated communication (CMC) is a field of study which emerged from CALL (computer assisted language learning) during the past decade. As you can see from the wikipedia entry this is an area of study that is really coming into its own now as more language learning takes place through interaction in a wide range of online settings. It is interdisciplinary by nature. 

I am also chair of the CMC SIG for EuroCALL and some years ago I took the photo above in Groningen as an illustration of how, as language teachers, we now have to change, becoming amphibious! The analogy is that as much communication takes place below the water line (online) it is not always clearly visible to others who are not involved in social media or other technology enabled channels. When such channels are populated by our learners we need to be prepared to dive in and explore the way communication works in such environments. We cannot just ignore all that is facilitated by new media and devices. 

If you explore the picture above in order of the letters A to D (they will appear as you hover the cursor over the picture) you will see where I would place my professional visibility to those unfamiliar with such environments. Take a look and see where you are most comfortable connecting and communicating. Do you know of others who need to be tempted into communicating with you through new channels? 

Monday, 16 January 2017

#BYOD4L: Thoughts on connecting.

Image: Flickr Pandora connection issue CC BY SA 2.0 by Abraham Williams 

A grey Monday morning has been enlivened today by my participation in the Bring your own device for learning #BYOD4L activities. Today we focus on connecting - spending time in various online spaces encouraging other teachers, researchers, students, learning technologists or other interested folk to connect to the #BYOD4L event: 5 days full of online activities exploring how we can make use of technology in our professional roles to increase our impact across our sector, discipline or even just within our institution!

Connecting has been a major focus of my professional life over the past few years. In particular, making computer-mediated connections to enhance my professional activities and researching how such connections can best work for my context. This work has completely transformed my life as an educator and I would like to share some of the things I have learnt. 


  • Birds of a feather flock together!
Human beings like to join others with similar interests. You can't insist that everyone connects through decreed spaces in order to talk about something - well, you can but ultimately you will fail. You get a kind of begrudging compliance unless there's a real shared purpose which everyone buys in to. It's not all about the tool or the schedule, although thinking about such things may help. You have to create an atmosphere and those you wish to connect with have to believe it is worth investing their time connecting. You may have to accept that only those like you will come along. Of course this leads to the accusation that some spaces are echo chambers and some are hijacked for less than illuminating purposes.
  • Keep an open door and an open mind
Connecting through open groups on social media platforms reduces the barriers to connection. Don't think everyone will flood in, most of us prefer to "lurk" watching what is happening and forming opinions about whether or not to join in. By providing a welcoming presence and dealing sensitively with all new arrivals, gradually you will see discussions taking shape. It is vital that responses are timely, immediacy is known to be key to engagement. Keep an open mind on migrating discussions to other digital spaces, do your research on your connections and find their networks if you want to engage more deeply. You may find that your connections lead to serendipitous encounters and developments. Mine certainly did. You may also experience the demands of such nodal activity
  • Go global!
What is to stop you! Once you have an online presence and connected devices there are no borders preventing you from following your disciplinary interests around the world. There are many networks which connect for fellowship, interaction and mutual support so follow your interests. If you are interesting in telecollaboration for teaching and learning in Higher Education check out this new academic organisation: Unicollaboration.  You can enhance your language skills in the process!



Clavier No Boundaries from Teresa MacKinnon on Vimeo.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Walking the walk!



We should never underestimate the power of imitation! Human beings don't always learn well from following instructions, from listening to advice or from doing as they are told - far from it! The most profound impact we make on each others' learning comes from what we do in front of them. I think that is what my Dad was trying to teach me when, in an attempt to get his rebellious daughter to stop smoking he (a 20 a day man) said:
"Do as I say, not as I do"

Of course, despite promises otherwise I did not give up. Years later though, divorced, newly single and on the lookout for the man of my dreams (now hubbie no.2, non-smoker) it was not difficult to stop smoking to join the pub trips which facilitated our getting together :)

In education, we call it "modelling". No, not the glossy magazine sort, with its unrealistic portrayal of life that crushes the soul. The simple human process of leading by example, sharing what we do (including the mistakes and how we improve) and encouraging others to try it too. We do it to inspire, hoping others see that we value our activity and it brings us joy. That's what I try to do in my language teaching. 

So, this week I'm joining the #BYOD4L team as a moderator and over 5 days we will indulge in a feast of lively activities on 5 C themes, linked here to some of my earlier musings on this and other virtual spaces:

Connecting - let's be open and accessible to all! 
Communicating - informed by my experience with computer-mediated communication
Curating written some time ago now so a good reminder of how it felt! 
Collaborating takes time and interpersonal skills!
Creating made this brief alternative CV as part of #digiwrimo 2 years ago. 

I hope that we will all walk the walk, listen to each other and be ACCCCCE! 


Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Communication channels

With new technological developments comes a time of adjustment and it was ever thus!
Over the holiday period I took a few days away from my laptop but still checked my phone. Getting online is how I interact with colleagues, friends and family. It is how I find out what I need to know (movie times, latest news). Even as I write this sitting in a very cold and noisy home surrounded by 2 heating engineers (boiler broke down just before Christmas and a new one is currently being fitted) I am communicating with my sons (stranded in their bedrooms as the floorboards and carpet are all lifted outside their doors) to check on them. I thought I would try to keep my fingers warm by typing a blog entry which has been in draft for a while. 

New communication technologies are a huge social challenge when they come along. Inevitably they are "sold" to us as the answer to every problem posed by distance, an efficiency we require to cope in the modern world, the industry takes care of that. Up to us then to try them out and express how much more complex human communication is than the software developers would have us believe. 

Humans like to choose their methods of communication differently, what works for some will offend others. Texting (SMS) grew rapidly in popularity and was welcomed by some as a means to encourage written communication between a generation who resisted reading books. However, it was not long before people were being unceremoniously dumped or fired by text message.

Email has become the default for formal correspondence in many workplaces, invoices, quotations and receipts can be emailed whilst "snail mail" has been reduced, business postage bills must have dropped dramatically but this shift has also brought new challenges - we have all had to learn how to manage these in order to stay safe and keep up with work demands. However, those who love email rarely seem to appreciate why others may find it intrusive and unhelpful. 

And now we are in the era of synchronous online interactions for work or play. Video conferencing for work has brought some interesting new takes on the meeting, beautifully illustrated in this video . The social norms we have long established over time, the reliance on body language and eye contact to help mediate our interactions, these forms of human feedback are replaced by a new need to understand the workings of our connection, hardware operation and indeed digital audio feedback!  Those who master these challenges, those with "communicative advantage" - especially between global connections - will undoubtedly have an advantage over others if they put their combination of technical and interpersonal skills to good use. All too often we see communicative advantage bring the wrong sorts of changes as we did in London thanks to the realisation of a particular messaging system but we must not fear or blame the tool, the fault lies with those who refuse to acknowledge and engage with the new channels, we only have ourselves to blame. If we do not inhabit physical spaces and leave them to be overrun by those who would do wrong we are complicit in creating ghettos and no-go areas, leaving mistrust and lawless behaviour to flourish. 

In the world of synchronous connection, there is great work already underway to restore the online spaces afforded by virtual connection tools to enable more open interaction and normalisation of such channels. I must mention at this point the work of Maha Bali and others, selflessly supporting intercultural discussions, helping to counter the inequity which blights us. Never has this research and exploration been more important for our world. It needs to inform and educate our young people to use such tools and communication channels appropriately for the good of us all.