Monday, January 28, 2013

Epic's images tip sheet

Are your images helping your learners?

In Epic's January 2013 newsletter, I came across their tip sheet on images and their usefulness in e-learning:

It ties in with my previous post on Daniel Willingham's question about the usefulness of the concept of learning styles. Epic's tips include the idea that an illustration can really help to convey some information more effectively than text or audio (picture speaks a thousand words etc). There's also the fact that decorative images (those that do not help to convey the meaning) are actually a hindrance.

It's great that Epic have highlighted this: I've seen a lot of page-turning e-learning content that 'forces' layouts that require picture on the left or right, so the designer has to upload 'something'.

I might consider putting an image of key words instead of pictures when I am forced by certain tools to do this.

One thing to add though, is that even though images may be more effective at conveying some learning, you should consider learners who are visually impaired. ALT text is a simple way of ensuring that learners who are using screen readers will have a brief description of the picture read back to them. Where a picture is complex (eg an infographic), it's even more important to accompany it with text that can be read back to the learner.

This may seem time-consuming, but there's a quick and easy way to turn your image into something more useable - with something like Screenr, Camtasia or some other screen capture software. You can talk about what you're seeing on the screen and record it. Creating this video means visually impaired learners can listen to what they have to learn, and other learners may find it more meaningful too.

I personally find infographics can be too complex for me to make sense of - I 'zoom' in on one part at a time to cope. By pressing Ctrl + on the keyboard, you can zoom into a pdf or website so that when you are using screen capture software, you present a bit of information at a time.

Why not turn things on its head and ask learners to explain an infographic with Screenr?

And it's worth giving Xerte Online Toolkits (XOT) a plug at this point. This interactive e-learning content creation tool has a plethora of page templates to choose from, and is highly accessible. Find out more about XOT from the Nottingham University web site, and if you'd like a hosted account for a modest fee, contact

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Making meaning - learning styles don't exist

I've just been introduced to the work of Daniel Willingham, by my friend Keith Tellum, who suggests that there is no such thing as learning styles. I've seen this debate around but I've never spent time looking into it until now - this Youtube video by Daniel sums up his reasons why we have been so convinced about the learning styles theory.

So, he ends by saying that good teaching is just good teaching, and that a lot of the time, we are learning 'meaning' and that is not necessarily based around a particular modality like hearing, seeing or doing. (So I guess he's talking about constructivism.)
So what's my takeaway from this?
- go and try to find more examples of 'good teaching' and more research into why 'good teaching' is 'good teaching'.
What are the factors that make it so?
1. For me, part of 'good teaching' is related to the teacher's personality: A teacher who is good with analogies and story-telling (helping people to make meaning) will have an advantage over someone who just relays facts.
2. Teachers who are good learners make better teachers.
But there must be something I can do, as a teacher-trainer, to help teachers to become better teachers (using technology or not). I must admit there are certain personality types that are just HARD WORK, but the majority of teachers and support staff I have come across have just enough curiosity, wonder and interest to learn new things. Phew! So I need to come up with more techniques to unleash the great teacher in these people. Time to go research. If you know of any "practical theories" (oxymoron intended) I should be exploring, please let me know in the comments.
I am a little way through Daniel Kahneman's book: Thinking, Fast and Slow, and I'm hoping that I will find some answers in there eventually.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Checking and assessing learning with rubrics

When you create assessment or learning rubrics, you make it clear in your mind what acceptable work or excellent work looks like. This information is also helpful to your learners as they can see what they need to do to make the push for excellence. It can also be used for self-assessment or peer assessment.
A good starting point for creating your own rubrics is The University of Wisconsin's rubrics page. This site has example rubrics for the technology-led classroom: how to assess podcasts, mindmaps, eportfolios, blogs etc.
I have encouraged various organisations to use rubrics as part of their quality process to improve the learner's awareness of their own learning and to ensure the tutor is clear on his/her objectives. Ian Cooling of Sparsholt College (@iancooling) was inspired by this idea to create the following handout to use in class.

What's clever about his approach is that he clearly shows to the learner that what they think they know, and what they do know, are two different things. The handout is used while Ian plays a YouTube video in sections. Learners are shown some of the video and then tick to indicate their level of confidence in the topic. They then try to answer the question to prove what they know. This is where the learner is made aware of their misperception, if any, of their grasp of the knowledge or concepts.This awareness of learning is a powerful tool - one that we perhaps do not invoke often enough in our learners.

It's not the technology that is sophisticated in this example - it's the level of learning invoked by a simple handout, used with a video that could be accessed by learners in their own time. Almost all our technology-inspired teaching and learning could be improved further if we only make the learners aware of the process of learning. And that can be done simply with paper and pen :-)
Sammy of BLHairdressing Training is going to ask learners to add captions to YouTube videos - this is again an example of a learner 'proving' that they understand something. How Sammy can help these learners to feel confident that they are putting in quality captions or annotations to the videos, is to provide them with a rubric that clearly shows them how to reach excellence. When a learner has provided captions for the video, what does an excellent version look like?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Evernote to support dyslexic learner

Cat Molyneaux of Guildford College supports a severely dyslexic learner on a botanical course. The learner requires audio resources and after our project launch on Nov 8, she thought about getting text converted to audio for the learner, using Dspeech, Balabolka or similar.
After further discussion, other requirements came up - the learner needed to be able to revise plant identification and to make notes when they were doing practical work. We needed a tool that was mobile-friendly and collaborative, so that the teacher could provide feedback using audio as well.
What tools do you use to record pictures and audio commentary? I can think of quite a few, but once you throw in the additional requirement of being able to edit or add to something you have created, you find yourself thinking about desktop-based solutions. We needed to stay mobile.
I've been a user of Evernote for many years now and have had limited opportunity to explore its use in a learning situation. This is one situation where Evernote really does shine through.

I showed Cat how easy it was to take a picture using Evernote (or to upload one) and to add audio to the note. You can organise the notes into notebooks so the learner can create different sets for trees or flowers. By tagging the notes with keywords, you can easily view subsets of the resources (although this won't help this particular dyslexic learner).
We were able to add multiple audio files and picture files on a note. The teacher can share a note with learners or even a notebook (a collection of  notes).
For true collaboration, you would need a premium account. I have a premium account as I use Evernote extensively and think it's worth paying for the extra upload allowance (£35 for the year). Just one person needs the premium account (the teacher for instance) - this allows you to give editing rights to the notes so learners can add their own pictures, text and audio.
We're really excited about how this could transform the learning for this particular student, but also open up a new way of working for everyone in the class.
To practice what we preach, Cat and I are also going to 'stay in touch' on the project using Evernote. You can view the notes we've made so far here:
Very much a work in progress but hope you can see the potential too!