Should we drop the ‘digital’ from the National Learning Event?

As well as Hwb, one of the recommendations from the  ‘Digital Classrooms’ task and finish group to the Welsh Government in the ‘Find it, Make it, Use it, Share it’ report was for a National Digital Learning Event, which is now timetabled in for June next year. It was mentioned again last week at the Hwb briefing meeting, and I started wondering is that was one thing the group might have got a little bit wrong.

If you’ve read much of my stuff, you’ll know that I’m a firm believer in only using digital ‘stuff’ when it adds value, and it struck me that perhaps this is one of those occasions when we might be better off without it.

I’d rather see a Wales Learning Festival (in the model of the Scottish Learning Festival) where digital technology is there, being used and taken for granted as just another tool that can be used for learning. Calling it a ‘digital learning’ event run the risks of putting ‘digtial learning’ on a pedestal that it doesn’t need and may actually be counter productive if people focus on the ‘digital’ rather than the ‘learning’

After all, as Clay Shirky points out in ‘Here Comes Everybody’:

Communications tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring… It’s when a technology becomes normal, then ubiquitous, and finally so pervasive as to be invisible, that the really profound changes happen.


Is it too late to change the name?

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Feedback on Hwb

Last Thursday I went to Carmarthen to one of four regional meetings about the about-to-launch Wales National Learning Portal – Hwb.

As a few people have asked, I thought it would be useful to put together a summary of what we found out.

Hwb will be a public facing content repository. All the NGfL Cymru content will be migrated and it will include an iTunes U Channel. In the future it will pull together user generated content from around Wales for QA and translation, and so the collection will grow and evolve (much in the same was an NGfL has). This will go live to everyone on 12th Dec this year. The only thing that won’t go over is the ‘My NfGL’ sections where you could save favourites (This relied on a user database which won’t be transferring . I also got the impression (although I can’t say this with 100% certainty) that it would provide access to a number of other digital repositories including things like ‘Gathering the Jewels’ from the National Library of Wales

Hwb+ is the Learning Portal. Provided by Learning Possibilities, and built on their LP4+ programme. It is designed to provide a learning platform for schools that want it, but also to integrate with existing systems and solutions that schools and local authorities have in place. It is already being tested by a small group of pilot schools in Cardiff, and another tranche of schools (including Olchfa) will start beta testing from 12th Dec.

Following that other schools will be provisioned in a further three waves, to be allocated by the regional consortia. These schools will be supported by the 8 strong digital leader team who have been seconded for two years to help schools make the most of the opportunities offered by Hwb. All schools should be on within 18 months.

The exception to that will be if LEAs want to move all their schools over in one go. If that’s the case, and they can demonstrate that they can provide a level of support equivalent to that provide by the Digital Leader team they can all switch as once. If you’re a school who would like to get in early, I suggest you get on the phone to your LEA and find out what they’re doing about it!

As part of Hwb+, all schools – including staff and students will get access to Office 365 – the online version of Microsoft’s Office Suite. This is great news for several reasons. One it reduces the need for parents to buy the software, and it reduced the headache for schools where students turn up with work created in Microsoft Works which can’t be opened it school. It also opens up the possibility to reduce licensing costs for schools and LEA. As part of that package, schools would also have access to video conferencing via ‘Lync’. It seems that plans for additional national licences are being drawn up. Personally, I’d love to see a national license for Brainpop, including getting them translated into Welsh.

One of the most impressive things about what I saw at the meeting was the effort the team have gone to ensure is that this joins together existing ideas and platforms, rather than simply ignoring or trying to replace them. It connects all the elements of existing school improvement plans, and has a strong focus on the 3 government priorities of literacy, numeracy and reducing the impact of poverty. It has a look and feel that connects it to other sites, such as learning.wales, but in Hwb+, it also provides different themes depending on the age of the user, all of which can be customized by individual users.

I’ll be able to give more detail once we’re up and running after the 12th. There are a huge number of opportunities for collaboration and development with this platform, and I’m looking forward to trying many of them out! You can find out more about the plans for Hwb at this page on Learning Wales.

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Ten things #10 – Embrace Failure

This is the final of ten posts that develop some of the ideas I mentioned in my presentation at TMClevedon

This still sounds wrong somehow, doesn’t it – surely we should be encouraging success in our schools, not failure?

Well, yes…. But, if we praise success above all else we can help develop a climate where people are too afraid to even try. Then we get ourselves into all kinds of problems.

As the work of Carol Dweck on others has shown, a growth mindset is one of the most powerful things we can encourage in our students. And we can’t encourage it if we’re not willing to engage with it ourselves. (Have a look at this video if you want a quick but high quality explanation of the difference between growth and fixed mindsets)

I’ve never been overly concerned about making a bit of a prat of myself (as anyone who’s witnessed my dancing in our infamous leavers videos can testify), but if you wanted me to put my finger on a point at which I really started to change my teaching, it was the point at which I stopped trying to be the font of all knowledge and openly accepted that I didn’t know everything.

We started trying things together, my classes and me. Projects that we only had  a vague idea about where they were going to end up. Blank revision wikis that could easily have stayed that way. And by learning alongside the students in the room ( that includes learning when things didn’t go according to plan – and talking about them, not sweeping them under the carpet) that, I suspect, is where the good stuff is.


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Ten things #9 – Project Based Learning

This is the ninth of ten posts that build on my talk at TMClevedon last month

I’ve written before about Project Based Learning and the lightbulb that went on in my head when I first read about it. Like any idea it’s easy to do badly, and as David Didau pointed out, we must ensure that genuine learning takes place here (certainly the effective size from Hattie’s study doesn’t look brilliant).

But I firmly believe that as the world changes, so must the structure of schools, and I’ll take this over hour long blocks of regurgitation any day.

Beware of anyone telling you project based learning is a panacea – it isn’t. Beware of anyone trying to sell you a PBL ‘solution’ – I don’t think one exists. But where PBL can be powerful is in it’s deployment of student interests, passions and interests to let them lead the learning and go beyond what you thought might have been possible. It may also prove to help secondary schools better build on the work done in primaries, rather than ignore it.

It’s a conversation, not a package, it’s a process rather than a checklist. But it’s one I really do suggest you invest some time in exploring.

Further reading:

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Ten things #8 – No hands up

This is the eighth of the ‘ten things’ I discussed in my talk at TMClevedon

This was one I’d read about but wasn’t much taken with, until I saw the Classroom Experiment. And what I saw in those classrooms, with one or two students dominating, suddenly looked dangerously like my classroom. So, I’m going back to no hands up, both with lolly sticks and (hopefullly, before too long) with mini-whiteboards.

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Ten things #7 – Stop giving grades

This is the seventh of the ‘ten things’ I discussed in my talk at TMClevedon


One of the most shocking things for me from the ‘Inside the Black Box’ research was the impact that adding a grade to a piece of work had. Not only did it lead to 0% increase, it also reduced the improvement that came from detailed feedback down to 0% as students focussed on the grade and nothing else. This idea of gradeless work became a key part of the second episode of the Classroom Experiment with Dylan Wiliam coming up against all the counter arguments imaginable.

In the end though I’m convinced. Grades simply encourage a race, with some people switching off once their position in the pack has been validated, and others switching off completely. As the work of Carol Dweck and others has suggested, a growth mindset, a race with yourself, is a much more positive one and one I’m keen to encourage by ditching the grades – completely at KS3 and in at least 50% of the work at KS4 and 5.

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Ten things #6 – Success Criteria

This is the sixth of the ‘ten things’ I discussed in my talk at TMClevedon

Part of the effective feedback loop means that not only do students know what they’re doing well / not so well, but where they are in terms of their learning and how they can take the next step. One of the key parts of this is sharing effective success criteria. It took me longer than I care to admit to get my head around that first bit, but if you get meaningful success criteria then students have a clearer idea about what they need to do, self and peer assessment becomes more effective and teacher marking can be more clearly focussed and therefore have a greater impact.

In fact, success criteria don’t have to come from you. Increasinly I’ve asked students ‘what do think a good one of these will look like’? We’ve discussed ideas – with me pushing back with more questions when necessary (where do children learn that ‘colourful’ is an indication of a good piece of work?!) I type them up as we go, usually with Word open on the projector. Then that list can be printed out and stuck in to books / files at the start of next lesson – their success criteria, ready to be referred to though out the piece of work


It’s funny how fast things move on. If I was doing this now, I might mention the idea of effective feedback / feedforward. It’s had a lot of attention since the Hattie research, and I’d probably point you in the direction of either of these blog posts.


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Ten things #5 – Collaboration

This is the fifth of the ‘ten things’ I discussed in my talk at TMClevedon

One of the ways in which technology allows us to do genuinely different things (as opposed to a digital version of the same thing) is in the way that we can collaborate. If you ask my Mum the best piece of technology in the last 20 years and she’ll probably tell you that it’s either the text message or Skype. It let’s her see her Grandchildren (and children for that matter) without having to be in the same physical location. If it’s unblocked in your school, Skype can provide a great way of bringing experts from around the world into your classroom.

Another form of collaboration is the ability for multiple users to be able to edit the same document at the same times, regardless of whether they’re sat next to each other, or on the other side of the world. We’re a Google Apps school, so we’ve got access to both Google Docs and Google Sites that are allowing an ever greater collocation between staff (for example of preparing or sharing schemes of work), between students (now a group slideshow really is, rather than just the Powerpoint that the most contentious one put together) and even between staff and students.

If if you don’t have access to Google stuff, sites like wikispaces allow teachers to create spaces for students to work together to create something themselves under supervision. This, combined with the opportunity to present the work to a genuine audience can lead to great new learning opportunities that simply didn’t exist 10 years ago.

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Ten things #4 – Make videos

The fourth idea I shared at my presentation from TMClevedon was to make videos.  

It has never been easier to make videos and then get them online. I’m going to cover a few quick ideas.

1. Make videos of student work using something like Animoto as a way of showing off what students have produced

2. Create videos from your powerpoint slides. Keynote (for mac and iPad) allow you to easily do this, as does the 2010 version of Powerpoint. I’ve also heard very good things about the ‘Explain Everything’ iPad app. Even if you don’t have these, you can export your slides as jpg images and use something like MovieMaker

3. Create screencasts – these are recordings of your screen, with you providing an audio commentary. If you have a mac running 10.6 or higher you have this built in to Quicktime. If you don’t there are a number of free services that allow you to create short recordings (I’ve used screencastomatic on several occasions and been very happy with it)

4. Publish them either to a youtube or vimeo account. Youtube has more of a community attached to it, while Vimeo is more likely to be accessible by students within school.


Why would you bother? Well, for me the real benefit has been from having students being access the guide to a key assessment or important piece of work as many times as they want, and for students who missed the lesson to be able to easily catch up. It’s also reduced the number of break and lunchtimes I’ve had to run through the assignment again!


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ten things… #3 Write blogs

It’s never been easier to start your own blog, with a range of free tools out there. Blogger still seems to be a popular one, as is posterous which has the advantage of allowing you to blog by email. I use WordPress as a blogging platform, which has a few more bells and whistles than some of the others, and can be hosted on your own domain, should you ever decide that’s something you want to do.

It can be very hard to start. Firstly you have to overcome the ‘why would anyone want to read what I have to say’ problem. My response to that is usually – well, start by blogging for you. There’s a real value in the reflective process needed to put a blog post together (even if you wouldn’t know that from some of mine!). Secondly, think about what you would like to read. It might be quick snap shots of activities in your classroom. It might be about resources that you’ve produced. It might be about your reflections of something you’ve done, or something you’ve read about.

Secondly, it can be hard to continue. I never blog as much as I’d like, and I can go for months at a time without publishing anything. This used to cause me much anguish, and I’d end up in the ridiculous situation of waiting until I’d finished some half finished post before posting anything new. I’m much more relaxed about it now. Any blogging is an added bonus. I’ve come to terms with the pile of half finished posts that will always be on my desktop.

Thirdly it can be hard if you get no comments. It can also be hard it you get comments you don’t like! I’ve found much of the conversation goes on on twitter anyway, which can also be a good place to plug new blog posts. Ultimately, even if no one reads or comments, I’ve still gained something by blogging, both in terms of the reflection it forces me to do, and as a record of what I was doing / thinking that I can return to at a later date. Anything else is an added bonus.

So, go on. Pick a platform and start blogging. Let me know in the comments and I’ll pop by and have a read!

BONUS THOUGHT – Blogging can also be an amazingly powerful platform for students to get their work out to a wider audience. Have a look at the 100 word challenge and quadblogging as two great examples of things you can get involved in.

Further reading:



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