A Light Bulb Moment – overcoming my barriers to mobile technologies in the classroom

Our June guest blogger is Cathy Clarkson, an Advanced Teaching and Learning Coach from Kirklees College. Below, Cathy shares her reflections on using mobile technologies in the classroom, the focus of her practitioner-led action research project in 2014 – 15.

In 2013 I undertook an action research project, through LSIS and sunCETT, titled “I’m not an Apple Salesperson but …” It would certainly be true to say that I love my iPad & had used a previous grant to buy several iPads which I’d given out to tutors and students to use as their own devices. I would be asked “how do you use them in class?” and I would give a politicians answer by talking about how useful they are as a personal device and quietly admit I’d never used them in class.

During the project I had a ‘light bulb’ moment.

I realised that I had significant barriers to using iPads in the classroom. The college didn’t have any devices to be used in the classroom so had never done it. I suddenly realised there was a big gap in my practice.

Action research for me has always had two common themes. One has been around the use of technologies. The other has been about creating a space for collaboration with tutors (and students). Therefore, I decided to bring all my iPads together to create a class set & found some great colleagues to explore using them in their classes.

That was two years ago.  I now have some answers to the question “how do you use them in class?”

Student-Led Activities.

  1. Student choice (within a set task.)

The iPads are available throughout the lesson but there is not a specific task that is designed to use them. The students can choose when and how to use the iPads to help with any of the classroom activities.  For my low level ESOL students they may use a translation app or Google images. For example, during a lesson on hygiene products and parts of the body, the three groups all used the iPads differently to draw and label a person.

  1. Guided Free Time.

There is a time set aside, usually at the end of the lesson, for students to use the iPads as they choose. In an E3 maths group the students enjoyed the freedom to choose and use maths apps. In a 16-18 Functional Skills class the tutor used this time as a reward for completing their work early. In my ESOL class I also used this method as an extension task – in the same lesson on parts of the body, as each group completed their diagram I directed them to two apps and left them to choose which to use.

The class set of iPads have been particularly useful for lower level groups. We found this year that higher groups (a GCSE maths and a PGCE group) all had their own devices. In these classes the class set had limited use. Students preferred to use their own devices. However, we found in the lower level groups there were more students who didn’t have their own devices, or someone in the house may have one (usually their kids) but they never used it and didn’t know how. In these groups lots of technical support was needed initially to learn how to use the iPads, eg the role of the Home button, how to access and close apps, how to navigate.

Teacher-Led Activities

I still find this the most difficult question to answer. Almost all the tutors involved in the project over the last two years have taken the student-led approaches.

There are lots of apps available, and this has been one of the issues. Last year I used a whiteboard app called Ask3, which was then closed down last summer. This year I switched to an app called Show Me, but there are lots of apps available with similar functionalities (explain everything, educreations, screen chomp)

With many of these apps there are three main ways you can use them:

  1. They have a bank of videos made by other tutors that you can direct your students to.
  2. The tutor can made a video for the students to watch.
  3. The students can make their own video.

When I have considered planning a task that requires an iPad app I have found the SAMR model useful. I think it is a good model to help decide what the benefits are to using technology in your lesson.

When the project first started I felt a lot of pressure in each class to be using the iPads. Now I am feeling more confident about the decisions I’m making – including the fact that it is OK not to use them. We should never be pressured into using something that we feel is not useful for our students.

So now when I’m asked “how do you use iPads with your students?” I have lots of examples. I know that I wouldn’t have the same knowledge, skills or confidence without my amazing colleagues, and I have found their enthusiasm and motivation to challenge themselves, me and each other invaluable.

You can find my research report at collaborativeCPD.com


Evaluating quality in education and training

In the Vlog below, our research lead, Claire Collins, interviews Dr Matt O’Leary from the Centre for Research and Development in Lifelong Education (CRADLE) at the University of Wolverhampton. Claire and Matt discuss teacher evaluation and the limitations and pitfalls of graded observations. Matt explains why this reductionist model should be replaced by alternative, often existing, ways of capturing and evidencing quality, which are more meaningful and comprehensive for practitioners, learners and organisations. Matt and Claire also explore the vital role that practitioner-led research has for evaluating and improving quality. This is because improving learning is at the heart of practitioner-led research and, as Matt reminds us; “nobody knows their classrooms like the teachers teaching in them.”

You can watch the video by clicking here or in the image below.

Matt O'Leary with CC (27.4.15)

Communication without barriers

This month’s guest blog comes from Alistair McNaught, one of Jisc’s accessibility and inclusion Subject specialists. Jisc provide digital solutions for UK education and research. 

Research demonstrates that multimodality makes for better learning experiences. It is equally true that it makes for better communication and dissemination. How better to practice what you preach then to communicate your research findings in a multimodal way so that more people can access them in their preferred medium?

However, it is vital to remember that each mode of communication has its own particular strengths and weaknesses. To borrow a metaphor from GCSE physics, are we communicating in series or in parallel? Here’s a simple thought experiment.

You have five key findings to communicate: A, B, C, D and E.

Somebody communicating in series may have a document for A, followed by a podcast for B, then an elegant and graphically rich PowerPoint for C, a mind map for D and a video for E.

The problem with this approach is that in order to get to all the information you need to be able to access all modes. If you can’t hear podcasts or can’t see mindmaps you have no access to key parts of the information. But it’s not just about disabled people. Poor or uninformed accessibility practice results in negative consequences for everybody. The table below shows the cost of ignorance for a range of practices that are common, even amongst communication professionals who ought to know better. These have an adverse affect on every person with whom you are trying to communicate… and a worse effect on the 10% of your audience with disabilities.

Here are some typical barriers and their consequences..

  • Documents without heading styles – Difficult to get overview of content. Tedious to navigate. Hit and miss searching.
  • Images without effective caption or description – Difficult to identify key points or relevance.
  • PowerPoint presentations with no information in the Notes field – Cluttered, text heavy slides… or incomprehensible minimalism.
  • Podcasts with no transcript or key point summary – Difficult to skim content. Difficult to search content. Potential ambiguities (dates, spellings, acronyms).
  • Videos with no captions, transcript or key point summary – As above. Lack of captions narrows the contexts in which the video can be used (eg needs headphones or quiet private space).

Making your resources more accessible to everyone across all channels doesn’t need to take a lot of time or effort. With only a few simple actions a negative can be turned into a positive – and there’s plenty of free guidance available to help you make this leap.

Finally, consider workflows. Wherever possible think in parallel, not in series. Plan so you create once in a way that can easily repurpose to other formats. Consider these examples:

  • your accessible Word document (complete with heading styles) could be – in seconds –
    • imported into a mind mapping tool to provide a visual summary of the content; or
    • used as the transcript for a podcast or
    • provide a content summary of a video.
  • your accessible PowerPoint presentation, (with notes in the note field) not only clarifies the slides but also can be exported into a Word document as a handout.
  • if the visual and audio content in a video independently communicates the key ideas then it is probably accessible whether somebody is deaf, blind or neither.

If you have gone to the effort of conducting good research it’s worth communicating it effectively.

A practitioner research network at City of Liverpool College

We are delighted to post a guest Blog from Joel Petrie (Advanced Lecturer for HE) and Lydia Redican (Student Recruitment Officer) from The City of Liverpool College who are  co-convenors of the NW LSRN. Joel and  Lydia tell us about the college’s long-standing practitioner-led research network, and their new Research Matters portal for research-engaged staff in the college and the wider sector.

The college’s practitioner-led research network was established 15 years ago by a small group of research enthusiasts.  From the outset it had an inclusive approach, welcoming research active colleagues whatever their role, and we have always felt it was significant (in organisational learning terms) that this initiative came from within the curriculum rather than the SMT. As the project became more ambitious, including having an annual research conference, coordination was formalised within the college structures.

A key milestone was the network’s 10th anniversary conference.  There were contributions from managers, curriculum staff, support staff and business support colleagues; delegates from several colleges, universities and sector bodies; and a keynote from Professor Frank Coffield. We were fortunate to receive sponsorship and support from several sector bodies, notably the Learning and Skills Research Network (LSRN). Shortly after the 10th anniversary conference we were delighted to receive the NFER Research Engaged College Award.  In subsequent years the conferences have featured high profile keynotes, such as Professor Bill Williamson, Maire Daley, and this year Mike Bell; but the main focus has remained on contributions from staff within the college, and celebratory research awards for our students.

The sector has experienced constant reform for at least two decades, and it is a cliché that the only constant in FE is change.  However, the college’s practitioner-led research network has been an abiding feature of the college community, in part because it has been able to move with the times; and perhaps because there is a growing awareness of the significance of evidence-based practice in improving teaching and learning.

Our most recent innovation is the establishment of a new online portal for research-engaged staff in the college (and the wider sector) called Research Matters. Initially, it grew from a need to create an archive of research where practitioners could develop professionally, engage with each other and (crucially) contribute content in real time. In its previous life, Research Matters lived as a successful newsletter, circulating good practice and research opportunities periodically around the college and college networks.

The development of the website helped us build on this, allowing us to be more dynamic in how we publicise research, share opportunities and encourage discussion. The network has a number of key aims, which we hope to achieve through Research Matters. We aim to facilitate discussion within the college, FE and the wider educational community.  Significantly, we also hope to improve stability and consistency of approach in a lively and ever-changing sector.

Reflections on Data Webinar

In this blog, JD Carpentieri, Lecturer in Adult Education at the Institute of Education, National Research and Development Centre (NRDC), shares his reflections on the programme’s third webinar ‘How to critically analyse and present data’.

I hope everyone enjoyed this session. From my own perspective, two aspects of the experience leap out.

First, speaking for so long, without verbal and visual interaction with learners, is a genuinely odd experience. The inability to pick up on cues from the listeners/learners (beyond text chat) means it is essential to have a great deal of confidence in one’s teaching materials. This may offer a lesson for anyone who thinks they might do online lecturing themselves in the future: it will probably help to be able to draw on lectures/materials that have been tried and tested in a face-to-face classroom environment.

Second, we really did pack a broad range of material and issues into this session – and I hope the learners did not feel that I was rushing through it all. Collecting data is a challenging (but extremely interesting) process for even the most experienced researchers. I learn something new about data collection on every research project I embark on. Data analysis presents its own range of challenges. And in every project I make new mistakes – but hopefully I learn from those mistakes. With hindsight, there is always a different question you wish you had asked, or a research article you wish you had read before designing your topic guide. But that is life, and all we can do is our best in the here and now.

With regard to some of the specific issues I discussed, if anyone is interested in thinking more deeply about how numbers are used in shaping policy, and how they could be used better, I would highly recommend the writings of Ben Goldacre. I am primarily a qualitative researcher myself, but have been strongly influenced by quantitative methods. Goldacre writes about the numbers that shape our lives in an amazingly easy to read, often humorous manner – and it was his writing that first got me interested in querying the numbers around me, rather than accepting them as objective fact. He has written extensively for The Guardian in the past, and has produced a couple of very entertaining books.

There is one final suggestion I would like to make: write as much as possible (even if that’s not a lot) during the research process. Don’t save all the writing for the end of the project. If you can write little but often throughout the literature reading and data collection phases, you will find later on that much of your work is already done. You will also find that “writing along the way” stimulates your thinking. This can be incredibly helpful when you come to the end of an occasionally hurried research project, and are desperate to produce lots of coherent text in a short period of time. If the ideas have already been percolating in your head for a while and have already been put down on paper (even just in note form), you will have a much clearer vision of what to do with your data, and how to do it. Good luck to everyone!

Reflections on Multimodality Webinar

In this audio blog, or ‘podcast’, John Sutter, Director at Learning Unlimited, and Learning Enhancement Manager (language and literacies) at University for the Creative Arts (UCA) reflects on Webinar 2 and his experience of presenting to a group of people whose faces he could not see and voices he could not hear, who he could only ‘see’ in chat. He also discusses how this experience has made him think more about the topic of multimodality and clarifies some of the points he made during his presentation.

Click the image below to hear John’s reflections [6 mins:47 secs]


Reflections on MODE Multimodality Conference

Reporting back on Multimodality: Methodological Explorations (MODE Conference, IoE, University College London, 15 – 16 January 2015)

by Claire Collins, Research Lead, emCETT PLAR core team, January 2015

Following on from our highly engaging and interesting PLAR webinar 2, entitled ‘What is Multimodality and why does it matter?’, I am blogging about a conference I attended the  following day called Multimodality: Methodological Explorations, at the Institute of Education in London. The conference marked 15 years since the term multimodality became part of our communicative landscape, following on from the work of the New London Group (NLG), which included their key text ‘A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures’ (1996). One of the NLG, Gunther Kress (pictured opposite), alongside other key multimodality researchers such as Theo Van Leeuwen, gave key note speeches to delegates from around the world, including Australia, Denmark, Hong Kong, Ireland, Korea, the Netherlands, Norway, and the UK.

It was fascinating to discuss multimodality with scholars from many different fields. As I talked to people and listened to presentations on such diverse subjects as ‘the Roles of Space and Time in Making Meaning’ and ‘Multimodality and green web identity’, I reflected on what ideas/ observations I could share with practitioner researchers working on ‘practitioner-led action research’ (PLAR) projects this year. I thought about a few things including:

  1. Multimodal data you collect, including, for example, sound and visual images.
  2. How you analyse this data, for example focussing on what research participants say in words and also non-verbal modes like gesture, intonation, word stress, etc.
  3. How your present your findings so that they are accessible and communicate your meaning through multiple modes.

In a presentation focussing on the space – time mode, Adam Wood from Manchester Metropolitan University stressed the importance of considering all modes when undertaking research. He talked about 16th Century Venice and how the Jewish population had been forced to move into old foundry areas, called ‘ghettos’ in Italian. These places were bound in space by canals but also by the time between midnight and the sound of the foundry bells in the morning – when the curfews took place. To ignore the mode of time and only show the ghetto on a map would be to miss key information. Adam said that multimodality thereby “insists on being rigorously eclectic”.

I was also reminded of the need to gather multimodal data during a wonderfully-named presentation called ‘Urban Flanerie as Multimodal Autoethnography’ by, Michael Sean Gallagher (Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Republic of Korea), Jeremy Knox and James Lamb (University of Edinburgh). They were reporting back on the results of an ‘urban flanerie’ they had carried out in London the night before their presentation, in the area postcode EC1. I had never heard the term ‘flanerie’ before and the researchers explained that it is not exactly translatable into English but roughly means ‘a purposeful stroll’. They recorded their flanerie using audio and still images (video would have taken too long to edit). At one stage, they had walked into one of London’s parks and wanted to capture the sound of the rustling plants and trees they saw there as a contrast to the busy streets they had walked around.  When they played back their recording, they realised that all they could hear was the sound of construction, of ‘a city constantly being rebuilt’. If they had only captured images, they would have missed an essential element of their environment. Similarly, the photos they took of beautiful buildings in EC1, on analysis, all contained CCTV cameras that they had not seen previously (with the naked eye). These observations made me think about research in a classroom. For example, we might be studying with a group of learners and ask them to express their feelings about a certain intensive group task. To add to the learners’ feedback, we might have audio recorded a ‘buzz’ in the room when the activity was taking place which would add to or perhaps even conflict with learners’ self report of their feelings about the task.

If you are one of this year’s practitioner researchers, it is important to think how you might communicate meaning multimodally in your research reports, through the images you show, for example, or the emphasis you place on different key findings by laying them out on a page. In PLAR webinar 2, John Sutter highlighted the many different ways we can communicate meaning in his presentation on multimodality. As John explained, colour, layout and many other factors ’speak’ to readers. As such, it is important to consider all modes when designing your reports using the ‘semiotic resources’ available to you (the ways you make meaning). Jeff Brazier’s research into multimodal communication during surgical operations, shared by Jeff as a key note speech at the conference, showed the importance of using varied ‘semiotic resources’ when sharing research findings. He has analysed communication between consultant surgeons and their trainees during operations. Because his observations were about minute gestures and other subtle communicative acts, he could only share them effectively by reenacting the operations he had studied in front of an audience of fellow surgeons and trainers. Jeff explained that “by communicating findings through multimodal design we see things in new ways”.  I am going to stop there as this sums up very well what we are doing this year and why multimodality does indeed matter.

Students as partners in developing our practice

We are delighted to welcome John Webber as our guest blogger this month. John is the Project Manager for Learning Innovation and Technology at Sussex Downs College and his Blog focusses on how students, through practitioner-led research, can become partners in developing effective teaching and learning practices. John writes from experience, having undertaken practitioner-led research with SUNCETT. It was during this time that he met Frank Coffield, which led to him being invited to contribute a chapter to Frank’s most recent book ‘Beyond Bulimic Learning: Improving Teaching in Further Education‘ published by the Institute of Education in 2014.

Students as partners in developing our practice

OK I admit it, I used to believe in training. It seemed obvious. An expert would convey all they knew about some aspect of teaching and I would then use this in my practice. I would attend an inspiring workshop or conference and come away convinced that I held the key to becoming as expert as they were. The fact that it didn’t work was clearly my fault. I lacked the skill or perseverance to make the change. Year on year my teaching did improve but it was a haphazard process of trying an idea and adapting it, trying it again.

Reading Michael Fielding et al (1) and Joyce and Showers (2) relieved me of that sense that this was personal. Their research showed that training, however well designed, didn’t work, at least not on its own. Professional learning, at least as much as the learning of our students, is a complex process that can be quite unnerving.

Real innovation in our practice takes us out of our comfort zone of familiar competence into areas where we will often feel much less confident and indeed may initially become more incompetent. To achieve real and sustained development of practice, we need to work with colleagues in a relationship of mutual trust which allows us to take risks, to honestly reflect on failures, celebrate successes and keep learning. Joyce and Showers called it ‘peer coaching’. Fielding et al called it joint practice development (JPD).

Whilst participating in the SUNCETT programme (which like the emCETT programme promotes action research and collaborative enquiry) I came to see that the theory of, or at least my conception of JPD and action research, needed to be extended to include our students.

Teaching is nothing without learning, and a teacher is not a teacher if there are no learners. At the core of our profession is a partnership, between us and our students. Any change in our practice is a change to that partnership. It can be as uncomfortable for students as it is for us. They too can suddenly feel less competent in this new terrain. So let’s involve them. Let’s consult them. Let’s talk to them about what we are trying and why. Let’s ask them for their views at every stage on the journey.

Listening to students reflecting on teaching and learning, especially during their transition into College or when colleagues are trialling a new approach, I have come to really respect and value the insights they offer. Even when a group of students argues that we should stop our teachers wasting their time with approaches that we know from research or experience can be very powerful (such as peer assessment) listening to their reasons can show the way forward.

So I encourage you, when you are seeking to develop your practice through action research, to remember that your students aren’t subjects of a controlled experiment. They are partners with a vital role to play. Consult and engage them and they are much more likely to work with you, tolerate the discomfort, ride the failures and celebrate the successes as a mutual achievement.

That’s what I call ‘joint practice development’!

(1) Fielding, M., Bragg, S., Craig, J., Cunningham, I., Eraut, M., Gillinson, S., Horne, M., Robinson, C. & Thorp, J. (2005) Factors influencing the transfer of good practice, research report no. 615. London: DfES

(2) Joyce, B. & Showers, B. (2002) Student Achievement through Staff Development, VA: ASCD

What is practitioner-led action research (PLAR)?

On the 22nd October, Jim Crowther, Senior Lecturer in Community Education at the University of Edinburgh, led the first of this year’s webinars, entitled ‘What is PLAR?’. In this video blog, or vlog, Jim presents his answers to this question and invites you to think about such issues as assumptions you might make and how you can formulate your research question(s). Click the icon below to watch Jim’s vlog.


Now that you have watched Jim’s presentation, it may be helpful to think about the following questions:

Q: What impact does PLAR have, or could it have, on the education and training sector?

Q: What are your experiences of undertaking PLAR to improve outcomes for learners?

We look forward to hearing from you!