Friday, 25 April 2014


I've been back nearly 2 weeks from the Teacher's Aids Creating Content for Learning Environments (TACCLE) in Urbino Italy.

The course took place over 5 days in a school in the town of Urbino.  It was very intensive and by the end of the 5 days I was exhausted!

I had applied for the course because I wanted to
  • become more confident in using online tools
  • develop an understanding of the role of e-learning in the teaching pedagogy
  • find out what was happening in this area in other parts of Europe - is the grass greener in Sweden, Belgium or anywhere else?
  • identify how the school library can play an active role in supporting teaching and learning in this area
We started off by looking at a range of tools: using Audacity to create a podcast and Soundcloud to store them, Screenr to build a video tutorial, Edpuzzle to  add questions to a YouTube video, blogging options and learning apps to build some basic games such a hangman, racing games and many more as well as looking at different social media that could be used to disseminate information..

These practical tools allowed us to develop skills and play around with them, knowing that there was always someone on had to help and sort out any messes that you made! I was happy to realise that I was making good use of some of these resources already. I write a blog for myself and for my school library, use Diigo to share useful websites and Evernote to organise information.

Three days in and the focus of the course shifted to developing an understanding of the pedagogy, the course designers have experimented with the placing of this element. Last year it was at the end of the course and the previous year at the beginning but it had never sat right. I feel that this year it worked to a degree. The trainer came from a business background and though she had a good grasp of the of the pedagogy her presentation of a business training model did not sit quite right, it needed more of an education slant in my view.

Having spent 2 days experimenting with various tools we were able to start building our own online tutorials in a programme called EXE-learning (Xerte was also mentioned) which are free to use. For  me I felt that this was really useful as I could see ways of building some tutorials for post-16 users to develop independent study skills; it offers greater flexibility and freedom to build a taster course, students could learn at their own pace and go over things they don't understand. I admit it would be time consuming to build initially and maybe, if you are single-staffed, the task would appear to be daunting but I really believe that in these times of school library cuts and the need to justify our role, being proficient in e-learning is a very good string to have to your bow.

Interestingly one of the tutors asked me later why no teachers came from the UK but that every year school librarians from the UK could be found on the course. Why do you think?

Reflecting on this I felt that the pressure on teaching staff to meet deadlines, the timing of the course - just as exam season is about to kick off, and the fact that being allowed to spend 5 days on a course is seen as a luxury and not a necessity is hampering our development in this area.

Funding for courses like this is now changing and the onus is on the organisation not the individual to apply for the funding. I really feel that this will have a detrimental effect on UK attendance on courses like this and make us even more isolated and insular. This course was brilliant for bringing people together, sharing experience and knowledge and well worth the 13 hours it took to get there!.

My next post will be on the portfolio aspect!

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Plane, train, bus and taxi!

Last year I applied for funding to the British Council for the TACCLE2014 having seen information on the SLA website. I submitted the application and didn't expect to be accepted but surprisingly I was! After the initial excitement of receiving materials, trying to explain to work colleagues I was really going to Italy to do a course on elearning and not have a jolly, I booked flights and then promptly forgot about  the course.
Suddenly March was here and I thought it was time to remind myself what I was doing. Looking at the plane, train and bus connections, I realised that this was going to be quite a challenge.

The organisers had set up a Google communities group to share information and introduce ourselves and I had made contact with another person travelling from London.

On Sunday 6th April I set off, having agreed to meet the other attendee at Heathrow at 6.30am! The plane to Bologna was of course delayed but that went in our favour as we had arranged  another person travelling from Belgium at Bologna.

Next challenge finding our way to the train station, the bus was just outside and so were the smokers! We forget in the UK what it is like to walk into that cloud of smoke..... At the station we had to wait an hour for the next train to Pesaro, the journey was great apart from the fact that we didn't know that you are allocated a carriage on the train so that involved moving once we were settled!

Arriving in Pesaro we had to wait 90 mins for the bus. Finally on the bus, the driver seemed to know it was the last run of the day and he raced along the roads with us being thrown around like ragdolls!

Arriving in Urbino an hour later we had arranged for a taxi to take us to the hotel, as we got off the bus the bells in the old town were riniging out Ave Maria. It was a beautiful sound on spring day and somewhat apt as it had taken us 13 hours to get to Urbino. It was quicker to get to New York last summer!

The evening was not over yet and there was a meet and greet and a meal, nodding off at the table was not a good look so I eventually took myself off to bed!

If the journey was like that the course has a lot to live up to!

Monday, 31 March 2014

What is the right amount of help to give?

The students are devising their questions and this is where I start to get worried. How much help is too much help?

Some of the students have sat there like small birds waiting for me to feed them the question - however the mark scheme says that students have to move to a lower band if they needed a lot of help to develop heir question. If the students come up with their own topic and identified the areas they want to research,  but can't hone the question to get something that lends itself to writing a dissertation, is giving them a question too much help?

This leads onto another question though - when is too little help acceptable? A friend's daughter is taking the EPQ at a 6th form college, talking to her over the weekend about the lessons she has had, the areas that have been covered (or not) in her lessons leads me on to ask when did 'independent learning' mean that students got virtually no help - she had not had a lesson on ethics, she didn't know what resources her College had in their library, she had never heard of Google Scholar, didn't know how to reference, didn't have a clue what integrating e-learning into the project meant and hadn't realised that picking an artefact  still meant that she had to research her topic and write a something on the background to her topic. She thought that she could just write about the process of making her artefact. The students at her College seem to be left to do everything themselves so what is the right balance?

I have been following the scheme of work from the Edexcel exam board so think I have got the  balance of lessons right but this leads me back to the question when is there too much help? We had a lesson on writing and developing your own questions but still some of them wanted me to write the question for them so what is the right balance?

Maybe I'm worrying needlessly and when I see the first draft of their dissertations that 6000 words of research and arguments will outweigh the small question of the title......

Saturday, 8 February 2014

EPQ planning

The students have returned to the course, handed in their mini project, had their feedback and are now in the throes of completing their project propsal forms.

The mini projects were useful in giving an indication into the way they work, the different approaches they took to planning and reflecting on their progress to date.

We have now started the planning stage and last week the students looked their objectives:

What skills do they want learn?
Why do they want to study the subject?
What do they want to gain from the whole process?

They also have to reflect on the reasons for their choice of subject, their future plans and how their EPQ will fit into this. In approximately nine months time they will be looking back on their reasons, the objectives, their timescales, the resources they used and taking stock of their EPQs and reflecting on what they have learnt and gained from the whole process. Evaluation is key to a successful project but is often forgotten in the relief of completing the task.

One of the things I learnt from last year, and I am going to implement this year, is to ask the students to produce a mini literature review of 3 sources to ensure that they can find and evaluate good sources.  An excellent tool for evaluating resources which I will be encouraging the students to use is the Information Source Evaluation Matrix (ISEM)

I also learnt from bitter experience not to sign off off any PPFs until the students have made a cast iron choice and have no intention of changing their direction half way through the project!

The next stage is time management and GANTT charts.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Extended Project Qualification Level 3

For the last year I have been the EPQ Coordinator for 3 students studying for their AS. The EPQ, for those who don't know, is a qualification whose main purpose is to help students develop independent learning skills and study a subject that they enjoy or want to pursue in real depth.

The students develop time managements skills, research skills, the ability to synthesise and analyse the information they find, and reflect on the what they have learnt, where they have gone wrong and what they would do differently.

My students all did the dissertation. They all want to go to university and felt that this would be a good opportunity to develop the skills they would need there.

As much as it has been a learning curve for them - it has also been one for me.

For the first time I was solely responsible for ensuring that they were learning the skills necessary to complete the EPQ to the best of their abilities. I was the one advising, supporting, encouraging and now marking their work for submission to the exam board.

I had been involved in the EPQ in a previous post but only to deliver the research element to all the students. I never actually saw the end product. Seeing everything from start to finish has been an eye-opener and a worry! I must have done something right though because I have just started the whole process again with a new cohort and the number has doubled to 6!

We have started with the research element as that is the one I feel most comfortable with. We have looked at e-resources, catalogues, subject gateways (what happened to Pinakes! Hear hair being torn out during lesson when realisation that the site that was there a month ago had gone!), and a multitude of other resources. Each students has a mini-project to do by the end of term, of a 1000 words on various subjects of my choice.

I have decided to use my blog as an attempt to reflect on the EPQ - from my side. The students have to keep a log - so should I. Watch this space as I try to convey the horrors that is an ethics lesson, develop thinking skills, teach the finer points of literature reviews and much more. I would be grateful for any feedback or support that may be out there.

Fun, Films and Froth

Book Review: What Nora Knew by Linda Yellin

Molly, a writer still getting over her divorce 5 years later, is set a challenge by her editor to write a piece on love in the style of Nora Ephron. A self-confessed romantic film fan, especially of Nora Ephron's films, she takes up the challenge only to realise that though she may not be afraid to jump out of aeroplanes, she is afraid to stick her toe back in the dating pool and more importantly fall in love. The author uses Nora Ephron's famous films: When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You've got Mail! and many more as a basis for her novel. The novel combines all those characteristics of the classic rom-com which adds up to a fun-filled quick read.  I was in New York in the summer and felt this book really captured the flavour of the city. I really enjoyed it as I had not read anything by this writer before.

A copy of this book was provided free by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


Monday, 25 November 2013

Stella Bains by Anita Shreve

This new novel by Anita Shreve is set in the horrors of WW1 and tells the story of Stella who wakes up in a hospital tent in the battlefields of France with no memory of her previous life or of how she came to be in France. This is a fascinating account of the little seen side of the war and its effects on the women who had to treat the soldiers being sent back from the frontlines.
Anita Shreve's depiction of Stella's search for her identity and understanding of her place in the world both before and after her memory returns is a fascinating and thought provoking story. The characters she meets, the lack of understanding about shell-shock, the changing views of women in the post  war world all add depth to the story. A highly recommended story and will appeal to all fans of Shreve's work. I couldn't put it down!

A copy of this book was provided free by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review