Category: Uncategorized

Learning to be peer-reviewed

Having recently completed my Masters, and contemplating the possibility of an academic career, I realised that I needed some publications to my name, something more than the book chapters, book reviews and blog that I occasionally write. My thesis had more than enough material to create an article and my tutor pointed me in the direction of a worthy, international, peer-reviewed journal (Research in Learning Technology). More blood, sweat and a considerable number of tears and I had 5,000 words which I considered to be worthy of publication. I sent it off and waited…..and waited….and waited….(this was worse than waiting for exam results)….and eventually, I got an email. It told me that my publication had been accepted, subject to a few changes. I would hear within a week what the changes should be. Three weeks later, another email. It began in a promising way, congratulating me on the acceptance of my article and then the peer reviews followed. I had to read the email three times. I had been reviewed by two people. One seemed to love it and one seemed to hate it. The one who loved it mentioned the ‘in-depth analytical discussion’ and recommended the paper ‘without reservation’. Hurrah! The second, on the other hand, said it was ‘overall a weak critique of current literature, lazy referencing and weak analysis of the collated data.’ The reviewer did not recommend it.

I went for a walk.

Oh, how those words hurt. This was drawn from my Masters dissertation, which had passed and awarded me an MSc. When I went back to look, there were some errors in the referencing but I had been writing this at 11pm after putting two small children to bed and doing the housework. (S)he wasn’t to know this. Nor does it excuse it, but it wasn’t ‘lazy referencing’ – it was ‘tired out, inexperienced referencing’. The literature review had been adequate for my Masters and fully accepted by the other reviewer. I had missed some international research, but mine had been a UK study and I had been advised at an early stage not to look too widely internationally as cultural variations meant the literature may not have been transferable. I was prepared to look again at the analysis, but this had already been presented at two conferences and well-received – and the other reviewer was happy with it.

How could two reviewers have such different perspectives? It was also difficult to know where to go for support. The journal editor did not reply to emails. My University course had finished, but my tutor was brilliant and did support me. I have made changes to the article – and I hope that it will now be accepted, but the process has been far more arduous and emotionally challenging than I had envisaged. The word ‘lazy’ is still living in my head, even though I know deep-down I am anything but!

The article was published in September 2013 and can be viewed here:

“I don’t think I would be where I am right now.” Pupil perspectives on using mobile devices for learning.

The Five Pillars of Mobile Learning

Today, I would like to put forward a model for the introduction of mobile learning. This is partly based on my research, and partly based on wide reading of blogs, articles about mobile learning and anecdotal evidence from conferences and speaking to those involved.

My model is based on 5 pillars, which stand together to support the school’s vision. The school needs to have an overall vision. The vision will be supported by 5 key areas. There may be more, and I’m open to debate and persuasion, but these are the key ones that I have identified.

5 pillars of mobile learning












Each of these will be discussed in significantly more detail in later blog posts, but I will just discuss each briefly now:

Technical infrastructure: The school needs to have adequate (and ideally better than just adequate) wireless access and  sufficient broadband. The best comment I have heard about technical infrstructure was from Mark Howell (Meru Networks). He said that teachers and pupils don’t care about wireless – they just want it to work. It should be like a tap – turn it on and the water flows.

Appropriate Hardware and Management – Big decision time. Which devices will you use, how will they be supplied, managed and maintained?

Appropriate software and apps – A device is nothing in itself except a lump of metal and plastic. It is what you use on it (see previous post on ‘Which apps should I buy?’)and then the way that …..

Teacher skills and understanding – help pupils to make the most of the opportunities the device afford.

Over time, you will build and develop ‘pupil skills and understanding’, so that they become better at independent learning, use creativity in their work and learn to communicate and collaborate effectively.

These headings are in the order I have given for a particular reason. Without the infrastructure, there is no point having the devices. I have heard about a school that had devices with no internet connection, but as pupils list their number one resource as being the Internet, it does seem rather pointless to cut off that channel.

Pupils and teachers can not use the devices unless they are available and managed.

If you were to make a Gantt chart to plan for your introduction of a mobile learning strategy, there would be some overlay between the categories. In the best case scenarios I am seeing at the moment, teachers are getting the devices and becoming familiar with them ahead of the introduction for pupils. It depends whether you want to wade in at the shallow end with armbands on and learn to swim slowly, or jump in at the deep end, make a big splash and then risk that someone may drown in the process.

I do have a hypothetical example of a school where things did not go well. It may be a real school, but it serves to illustrate how the Five Pillars approach works:

5 pillars of mobile learning_broken











In this school, the Senior Management decided to allow Bring your Own Device. They consulted with parents and governors as part of the vision and they sent out a list to parents of which devices would be appropriate. Pupils arrived in school and proudly displayed the devices (which now could be on their desks instead of in their bags). In fact, 70% had already had devices anyway, so surely it made sense to allow their use. However, the teachers had not really been consulted. Some thought it was a good idea and some didn’t, but there was inconsistent use in lessons. Also, the technical department hadn’t really been consulted properly. The school already had wifi – but not sufficient coverage to manage 1100 new devices. The pupil devices kept losing the internet; pupils played games and messaged each other when they got bored in lessons; parents began to complain. The school felt it couldn’t go back on the decision now it had been made – and ended up with a big ‘salvage’ job, trying to create a proper vision to implement.

A later blog post looks at a new, more advanced model which we evolved for use with schools.



Presenting in the digital age

I was fortunate enough to speak at the BETT show a couple of weeks ago. I did have prior experience of speaking in this large, busy, international forum – but a few years ago. Since my last appearance, the world has gone thoroughly digital. Being an Educational Technology forum, it seemed that most of the audience had a Smart phone. Details of my talk had been flagged a few times on Twitter by my facilitator, who had been appointed by NAACE, the hosts for the event. My talk was entitled ‘Should pupils be allowed mobile devices in the classrom?‘ and it examined what 14-16 year olds are saying about the technology they use.

At the start, the hash-tag (#) for the talk was announced and I saw several people get their mobile phones ready. At one point whilst I was speaking, I thought someone was asking a question, and then realised they just had their mobile phone above everyone’s heads to take a photograph of one of my slides. Towards the end, the facilitator began to ask some of the questions that had been coming in on the Twitter feed.

Overall, I found the experience very exciting. Some people have contacted me on Twitter since the talk and asked further questions. It was rather disconcerting to see the cameras at first, but I quicky realised it just meant that people were interested. I think I felt a little uneasy as this was the first time I had shown my research data and I realised that without my ‘publishing’ it, the data was now ‘out there’ – where exactly, I had no idea as BETT is an open forum and anyone can walk in off the street. A couple of the ‘photographers’ have been extremely professional and contacted me for permission to use my work in a wider forum, and I am grateful for that.

Afterwards, reading the Twitter feed, made me feel that the audience had been fully engaged. I was very interested to see which ‘headlines’ they had picked out of the 45-minutes I was speaking. It gave me some pointers as to which areas to develop for future work as well.


If you are planning to speak and you know your audience will have access to mobile technology, you should consider the following:

1) Give a hastag for your talk at the start, maybe highlighting it on your first slide.

2) Make sure you have a facilitator who can monitor your twitter feed. It is impossible to do this and speak at the same time, so very useful if someone else can filter the messages.

3) Be aware that your slides may be photographed. If you don’t want your information going any further than the presentation room, issue a ‘No cameras’ message at the start of your talk. Otherwise, be aware that your slide could be on the Internet (without your name attached to it) in a matter of seconds. And, even if you ask for no cameras, there are no guarantees that no photos will be taken.

4) Review the tweets after the session: Interesting way to get feedback from your audience.

5) Put your talk on your blog? I have already been asked several times why my talk is not yet on my blog – and the simple fact is that I am unsure as to modern protocol. I used videos of pupils -and I don’t have their permission to be on the Internet, so I want to use transcripts instead. If I publish online, I think I rule out the possibility of the work being accepted by a journal at a later stage. Finally, and the real truth of the matter – I am writing it up for my Masters dissertation and most of my time is being spent on the dissertation. The talk for BETT was my early analysis and I would like whatever I publish finally to be the finished article…

So, apologies if you have come here looking for my BETT talk – you’ll just have to settle for my advice on presenting in the digital age instead for today.

A humiliating climbdown?

stash-1-506c57f6608a6Well, the education establishment has greeted Gove’s news of the abandonment of the English Baccalaureate with delight. And, I’m not surprised. I’m not surprised it has been abandonned, nor am I surprised about the delight with which the news was greeted today.  The plans were always ill-conceived, reactionary and would not have been implemented within the timescale set. Labour hailed the news as a ‘humiliating climbdown’. What an extraordinary phrase to use. How about ‘a good piece of common sense thinking at last’?

It was on the 17th September that the announcement of the E-Bacc arrived and as more and more details have been revealed, the condemnation has grown. Michael Rosen in his ‘Letter from a curious parent’ ( puts forward an argument that the government sees failure is a necessary part of our society.

There was a part of the E-Bacc proposal which did seem to make sense: choosing just 1 exam board for each subject. When I was at school, it was well known that the ‘bright’ kids sat the Cambridge board, whereas those who were less likely to succeed sat ‘London’. I remember thinking it odd even then that we all ended up with an ‘O’ level although we had done quite different work for it. Surely if we are all running the same race, we should have the same course and the same end-point. It seems strange that there can be different courses, run over different terrains, all ending at the same point. But that does assume that one is looking at all the runners as being equal………

I was part of a very small number of people who sat ‘O’ levels and GCSEs. Most of my qualifications are ‘O’ levels, but I did sit one GCSE. It was in German in my lower sixth year. What was interesting was that I had sat French the year before. I got an ‘A’ in my French. When I sat the German exams, I felt my language was nowhere near the level of my French and mentally awarded myself a ‘C’ grade. When the results came out, I was surprised to find that I had obtained another ‘A’. In the selective school I was in, many of the pupils got ‘straight As’. Nowadays, in the same school, many of the pupils get straight A*s. It certainly felt as if there was a ‘grade slip’ – what was previously a B became an A, a C became a B etc.

Then I became a teacher. I quickly came to  realise that the GCSE was a very different beast to the ‘O’ level. It tested different skills. Whilst most of my eduacation had been about learning and regurgitating large amounts of material, the GCSE actually asked pupils  to do something with the information. I actually became fond of the GCSE in some ways because I could see practical applications. As a modern languages teacher, my rote-learning of ‘The little boy is soaked to the skin’ in French had been of little use when I went to work in a pizza restaurant in Paris. The GCSE would have stood me in far better stead.

A final examination places immense stress on pupils – and is a very unrealistic part of the world that we now live in. For my ‘A’ levels (in 1989), I had to write several 3-hour papers. I still have a strange lump on one finger from the pressure of my pen on that finger. And yet, I have never again had to write with that intensity or by hand since I left school. In fact, I can scarcely remember the last time I had to write by hand. My work now is all on a computer, tablet or phone.

Gove has said today that the GCSE must have ‘fewer bite-sized and overly structured questions and a reduced role for coursework’. This takes us backwards rather than forwards. In the research work I am doing, pupils are using mobile devices (whether allowed in school or not) to complete much of their work. Many pupils are telling me that they use videos or audio to record their work; they enjoy problem-solving; they thrive on collaborative learning. Where does this all fit in with the notion of a single, end-of-course exam?

  • Why can’t exams be done on computers, so pupils can draft and redraft their work?
  • Could pupils answer questions orally or submit video evidence for their exam? (I have done for my Masters.)
  • Why can’t pupils make use of the Internet during an examination?
  • Why can’t teacher assessment make up part of the final grade? Teachers have a far better knowledge of their pupils’ abilities than any examiner.

Do we want to educate our pupils for the future? For a digital world of work, where even those in manual trades now find they use technology all the time? For a world where people work together as a part of a team, even one that is dispersed nationally or globally?

I would love to see some schools have the courage to pull out of the exam system, to educate children to be the best they can be and not to just jump through artificial, outdated hoops. I wonder which colleges and universities would have the nerve to accept young people who had been educated but who had not taken exams? Pupils who could be interviewed and assessed by their digital portfolio and recommendations from their teachers?

Until Gove starts to look at the world that our pupils live in and the world they will be entering and assesses whether they are ready for that, then I will still have to award Gove and the coalition an F grade: F for Fail.

MOOChing around in eduspace……

In just over a week, I shall be joining a MOOC. For those who do not already know, a MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course. This will be the first time I have tried participating in such a group and I am both excited and terrified. I am excited by the prospect of learning something new. The course I have chosen is being offered by Coursera  (a group of Universities and colleges offering free, online education) and is called E-learning and Digital Cultures, so it ties in directly with my work, and to some extent my Masters. I am nervous because I already find I have limited time for my work, my family, my leisure. The course tutors say that the course will take 3-5 hours per week, which will be fine. However, there has been a flurry of pre-course activity and rumours of 2,500 course participants. With everyone blogging, tweeting, sharing their insights via Facebook and Google+, I imagine the possibilities for ways to spend time could extend to months. I was recently part of a course where I worked online with about 20 students and I found the volume of messages generated very difficult to follow. I know there is theory that indicates learning outcomes can be improved by peer collaboration, but my question is: How many peers? How much collaboration? And what quality of the interactions?

I also have some wider MOOC questions. I think it is fantastic that the elite preserve of Higher Education is opening its doors to all comers but where does this lead us? Do Universities offer this in the hope of enrolling more students to their courses? In times where Universities are already struggling for finances, how are the tutors that support such courses paid? Will people bother with degrees in the future or just immerse themselves in a series of MOOC courses? A pupil I interviewed the other day told me that he loves to follow courses from Universities on You Tube and iTunesU (he was 15 years old). It also looks like there will be more organisations offering MOOCs in the future: An organisation called FutureLearn has already been set up in the UK, due to deliver courses in the near future.

As the course develops I will be blogging and sharing my experiences of being a MOOC participant. I will also be keeping an eye on the ‘mobile learning’ side of the experience as I am keen to see how much I am able to do on my mobile devices and how much this influences my learning. I am also keen to see whether this an experience that could be used by schools. Imagine a situation where, for example, Biology GCSE is offered by MOOC. Would there be takers? Would it suit school pupils? Some of my evidence from my research is already suggesting that pupils are increasingly relying on finding their own information online after a stimulus in school.

Couting down to launch date: 28th January 2013……..#edcmooc

How pupils use their mobile devices….

…is the title of my Masters dissertation. Over the last few months I have spent time in two schools – one where all pupils have a mobile device for their schoolwork and one where pupils are officially ‘banned’ from having mobile devices. Anecdotal evidence had told me that pupils were using their devices irrespective of the ban. The research took the form of a questionnaire and I focussed on pupils in Years 10 & 11 (aged 14-16 years old). I wanted to look at this age group as they are still classed as ‘children’ and most research done to date has looked at adults and the HE context. The questionnaire was followed up with lesson observations, pupil diaries and interviews with 8 pupils. The findings are fascinating and I shall be publishing in full shortly. You can see some of the initial findings at the BETT show on Saturday 2nd February 2013 when I will be speaking in the NAACE live theatre.