How not to run a training course

This week I’ve done a lot of knitting. Nothing new there, you’re probably thinking – but it’s been a lot, even by my standards. You see, this week, I have been on a training course – and the only positive thing I have to say about the experience is that my gloves fit nicely and my socks look amazing.

I wasn’t expecting too much from the course, to be honest. It was a fairly generic course for Trade Union learning reps and I knew that we were going to be a mixed bunch. But I did expect to come away having picked up some idea of the rights and responsibilities of being a learning rep, and to have had a chance to work out how to get started in the role (which is a brand new one for my union). One thing I particularly wanted to find out about was what a Learning Agreement between a Union and a Uni would look like, so I asked the trainers right at the beginning about that. Absolutely, they assured me, that would be covered. “Good, good”, I thought.

As is usual for this sort of course, the sessions were organised into group work and then feedback sessions as a whole room. That’s fine – generally there’s enough time to look over any relevant paperwork and discuss it as  a group, and a bit of time to chat and swap war stories with other reps. However, this whole course was a lesson in how not to run small groups.

Here’s what the trainer said we were going to do:

  1. Work with the other three people at your table
  2. Appoint a person to feedback (this person would change each time so we all had a chance to speak),
  3. Work in the group for 20 minutes (trainer will circulate to check we are all on track),
  4. Each group would only feed back one or two items so each group had a chance to contribute.

That’s  a great recipe. It’s one I use as it avoids the tedium of having to sit through multiple groups all saying the same thing. However, this was not what happened. Here is what actually transpired:

  1. Each group looks around the table and appoints a speaker,
  2. Work in a group for 20 minutes,
  3. Look around the room and see the trainers huddled in a corner chatting,
  4. Start chatting about something,
  5. Notice the trainer has finally started circulating,
  6. Carry on chatting,
  7. Say “yes” when trainer gets to our table and asks if we are on track.
  8. Finally, after 40 minutes or so, the trainer asks if we’ve had enough time.
  9. Say “Yes” loudly,
  10. First group feeds back one or two things,
  11. Trainer proceeds to connect these up to everything else that we could possibly have written on the subject. Asks for suggestions from the floor. Repeats these in great detail and gives a mini-lecture on some of them,
  12. After topic is exhausted, trainer asks other tables if they have anything to add,
  13. Expresses surprise that they do not,
  14. Says we might as well have a break.


To add insult to injury, the topics yesterday were quite repetitive, and I was not the only person to notice. When one attendee responded to the trainer’s question by saying “we wrote the same as we did when you asked this morning”, lots of folk nodded. The trainer, however, seemed oblivious. At morning break today a huddle of [large retail store] learning reps on the course beckoned me over and asked if I was enjoying the course. I asked them what they thought and it became apparent that they were as frustrated as I was by the trainer. Back at my seat I whispered to the person next to me that I felt like not coming back after lunch. As she walked out of the room at lunchtime she said, in quite a loud voice, that she thought that there was barely enough content for a two day course, let alone the five is was scheduled for. I hope that, like me, she takes that back to her union officials.

It wasn’t all bad though – the course was held at the old Nautical College on the south side of the Clyde, and I enjoyed taking pics of the view over there –  the image at the top of this post is near Bridge Street Subway, taken yesterday afternoon. I also smiled each time I walked along to the canteen and saw this view:

I never did find out about the learning agreement though …

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Researcher Journal: Trust and Authenticity

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the ethics of conducting research on open data. I know that some folk take the view that because Twitter is in the public domain, that means that researchers are welcome to help themselves to any of it and do what they want with it without asking, or seeking ethical approval from an institution, but I don’t think it’s as simple as that.

A couple of years ago, either during rhizo14 or soon after, some of us started to share our participant experiences in an open Google Doc.* The document was open because we did not want to exclude anybody who had taken part and wanted to contribute, and our implicit understanding was that it was for all and only those who identified as being a part of the experience to participate in. But then a funny thing happened. Except it wasn’t funny – it was upsetting – and I don’t think I will ever forget how I felt at the time.

One of our rhizo tribe was attending a conference – I forget which one – and to her surprise there was a presentation by two people who we did not know which contained text copied and pasted out of our Google Doc and into their slides. Just to be clear – this was not text that they had written, and it was not used with the permission of the people who had written it. These “researchers” had chanced upon our open Google Doc and decided to use it without asking the writers if they minded. Now, we’re a fairly open bunch of folk and we are very easy to find. Had we been asked if we minded these “researchers” using some of our text we’d probably have said yes – but they didn’t even bother to ask us. They didn’t comment in the Google Doc, or reach out to any of us on Twitter, or … make any attempt to check that it was ok to use our words.

I remember feeling shocked, and hurt – and that feeling has stayed with me. So now, when I am looking at using some of the tweets from #CLMooc, I want to make sure I don’t unwittingly hurt my friends. So this week, when I met with my supervisors Fiona and Vic, I told them that the question of how I conducted my research was of fundamental importance to me. We had a long talk about how my methodology was emerging from my ethical intuitions, and how I felt that it was vital to include the CLMoocers as much as possible in what I was doing. Vic asked if that meant that I’d be taking my analyses back to the community for their comments – and I said that yes, I thought I should be asking for the community’s opinions about my interpretations.

So I am very happy that I was able to have his conversation with my supervisors, and that they agree with me that there’s a lot more to conducting ethical research than just gaining ethical approval from my University. I’m also excited that they are encouraging me to make my research open, and to write about the ethical implications of doing open research and make this writing an integral part of my thesis. For me, issues of trust and authenticity need to underpin my writing, and that’s what I’ll be thinking and writing about next.


“Ask Me” flickr photo by misterbisson shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Posted in #CLMOOC, #rhizo14, Learning, MOOC, Online learning, Peer interaction, PhD, Researcher Journal, Rhizomes, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Researcher Journal: Research Questions

When I changed my PhD thesis title a while back, I omitted to think through any accompanying research questions. At my last supervision meeting, Vic suggested that it was time to think about what my up to date research questions should be. Good plan!

My current thesis title is: “Underexplored issues determining the effectiveness for learning of peer interaction”, and I am looking at the #CLMooc community to try to find out what the secret sauce that makes things work. There’s three areas of educational research that I think that I will be using:

  1. Co-operative/collaborative learning (I’ve done a lot of reading around this early in my studies);
  2. Active learning (I’ve really not looked into this at very much);
  3. Social constructivism (Vygotsky) (I’ve read a fair bit about this, but need to read more).

So what questions do I need to guide my research? I am sure that I’ll think of more as time goes on, but so far I have thought of these:

• How do we know when learning has happened? (This is the biggie for me).
• What types of peer interaction lead to learning? All of them or not?
• What is different about interacting and solo learning?
• How does collaboration aid learning?

What questions do you think I should be asking?

Beach Question” flickr photo by cogdogblog  shared under a Creative Commons (CC0) license

Posted in #CLMOOC, Learning, MOOC, Online learning, Peer interaction, PhD, Researcher Journal, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Year of the Frog

At last it was the year of the frog. Frogina McFrog checked her fancy timepiece (1). “Cover my back” she said to the other reptiles (2) “I’m off”. After a drink or two she felt very emotional (3). “I can go anywhere I like” she said to herself. “Why make do with Swartswood State Park (4) when the world is my oyster? If female humans can explore space (5), so can I”. THE END

All images labelled for reuse in this Google search as per this Daily Create

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With the new year comes a new challenge for me: as of 4th January I take up my new post as a Good Practice Adviser at the U of Glasgow. This is a brand new role in what will soon be a restructured service, and nobody knows how it is all going to pan out. But it’s a promotion, and an opportunity to make the job what I want it to be – and that’s exciting. I’m sad to be moving away from working as a learning technologist  – but to be quite honest I will not miss being the first person folk think of when there is a problem with Urkund. It’ll be an opportunity to talk about designing non-plagiarisable assignments – to look at alternative methods of assessment such as Patchwork Text – to think about putting together some resources for using the Jigsaw Classroom in out new active learning spaces – to work with Niall to publicise his ACJ software more widely – to use the skills and knowledge I’m gaining from working on my PhD and with all of you friends who I engage with online – and who knows what else.

So Michael’s challenge – to choose one word to define my hopes for 2017 – came at just the right time for me. I’ve been mulling it over in my head, but as I’ve been writing this post it became obvious to me which word I should choose.

My word for this year is interaction – something that is vital for everything I do. Peer interaction is the magic that often makes learning happen, imho – and my interactions with all of you enrich my life and my learning. Here’s to an interactive 2017 🙂

“Interactions.” flickr photo by Moses Noghbaudie shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Posted in #CLMOOC, Jigsaw Technique, Learning, Online learning, Peer interaction, Teaching | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

Winter light

It was a glorious day today, so this afternoon N and I headed off to Ross Priory to get some winter air. It was cold down by the loch, but the light was wonderful:

Loch Lomond

Lots of planes were travelling overhead:

Speed of light

On the horizon, pines lined up like Daleks:

Winter skies

Walking through the gardens, Ross Priory peeps through the trees:

Ros Priory

And here, hiding behind this splendid tree:

Winter tree

Walking back to the car park we spotted this robin hopping up and down from this tree:

Friendly robin

As Kim says, on these winter days, we have to make the best of any light we find.






Posted in Photos, Scotland | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Ten Little Nomads

Before Christmas I sent ten little parcels across the world to some of my friends – not sure of when they would arrive, but hoping I had got the timings right …

First was Ron – not surprising as the Netherlands is closest to me:

Next was Karen in Arizona:

Then Susan in Maryland – shown here with the blue nomad I sent her last year:

Charlene’s little nomad is winking, she says:

And Kevin’s nomad is the star in this stop motion animation:

That’s five. I do so hope the others eventually find their new homes.

Happy Moocmas all of you 🙂

Update: Number six checked in late Tuesday night – it found its way to Sheri:

And number seven arrived at Melvina’s in Hawaii on Wednesday:

Number eight appeared on Thursday at Stephanie’s:

Number nine arrived at Tania’s in Australia- just in time for Russian Orthodox Christmas:

Just one to go …

Posted in #CLMOOC, Gifting, knitting, MOOC | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Understanding lurkers

Last week I attended the most excellent SocMedHE16 conference to present a paper that I have co-written with Aras Bozkurt, Len Singh and AK based on some research we have been doing about learner behaviour in #CLMOOC – an online community I’ve been a part of for the last couple of years.

We looked at reasons that people might lurk and concluded that it is complex  – and that there is a lot more research that we could do to really unpack the different types of lurking and lurkers that are found in online communities. Lots of responses mentioned a lack of time, but I suggested that this needed to be thought about in more detail – as we often find time to do things we really want to – as James Clay highlights in this blog post.

After about 15 minutes of talking I threw the discussion over to the audience and we had a really lively discussion about learner motivations, whether we should “reclaim” the word “lurker” or whether there was a better term, and implications of our research to more traditional types of online courses. The session was recorded, and will be available on the SocMedHE16 pages in the New Year.

Thanks to everybody who came along for making this a great session – and thanks to Sue Watling for her take on it.

Posted in #CLMOOC, Learning, MOOC, Online learning, PhD, Social Media | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Boris the Spider

Today’s Daily Create merges perfectly into what will be week 2 of our #CLMOOC #DigiWriMo pop-up animate week. I’ve been fairly nervous of animating things from scratch so far, but I’ve been paying attention to Niall and especially a recent animation by him, so today I thought I’d have a go. I dusted off a spider bought years ago for Halloween, looked out some blutack and switched on my camera. I took a series of photos moving the spider up the kitchen wall (stuck on with blutack) and climbing across the clock. I finished off with a couple of close ups.

Back at my PC I opened Windows Movie Maker and added the series of “moving” images four times to make a decent length “movie”, then added my two close up shots to the end. Next I  selected all the images and edited the duration to 1 sec each for all but the final, which I left for 2 secs. After a bit of searching through my CD piles I found my The Who compilation CD and ripped in in Windows Media Player to convert from CDA to MP3. After that it was easy to add Boris the Spider as the sound track. I should then be able to publish it to YouTube, but Movie Maker refuses to recognise my account, so I published to One Drive instead and shared out that link. Annoyingly, that has no embed code for WordPress, so I still had to upload a copy to YouTube to share here. The result is rough and ready – but it was really not hard to do and I am not unpleased with the result.

Why not give it a try? If you don’t have Movie Maker, then there are free versions of it available online, and many alternatives. Share the results with your favourite hash tags and tag #AnimWk so we can see it 🙂

Posted in #CLMOOC, #DigiWriMo, MOOC, Photos | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

What makes an image digital writing?


This is a question that Karen and I have been mulling over for the past couple of weeks – without coming to any firm conclusions. This week we threw it open to the CLMOOC DigiwriMo Pop-up in the form of a S L O W chat embedded in a Google Doc. Here’s some of the things this got me considering:

  • When is a photo “just” a photo and when does it become digital writing?
  • Is it necessary that it contains alphanumeric text? Is it sufficient that it does?
  • What about the addition of hyperlinks?
  • What can we say about meaning? Can we make sense of a multiplicity of meanings/perspectives?
  • Is it better to talk about digital composition?
  • Are we asking the wrong question, as Tellio suggested?

And so, so much more. Come join us in the text and in the margins and add your voice to our conversation.

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