What does it mean to be a strategic learner?

I thought I would start off my work this weekend with the plagiarism and referencing test we’ve been asked to do.  I went through the tutorial, read the referencing guide and I was ready to go. On my first attempt I made a few mistakes (trying to do it too quickly mostly) so I went back and tried again but still got a question wrong.  However I am not satisfied with this, ideally I want to get 100% (seems like they should be easy marks).

So I could return to the test as many times as I like, trying all the different answers, until I get my 100%.  But doing that feels wrong as I truly don’t understand how to give the correct answer to the question about how to reference a website in APA format.  The first time I answered it I did it too quickly so the second time I took time to look at the referencing guide (and other web based guides) before answering the question, couldn’t see an option that matched so went for the closest.  I’ve raised the question in a forum and will have to settle for my not quite full marks, but there’s a nagging feeling in my head I should repeat the test until I get full marks.

I’m definitely doing this course to learn but am torn at this point about doing what I consider to be the right thing and taking actions that would benefit my marks.  The marks on this test probably won’t have a great deal of influence on my overall grade but it’s the principle that interests me.  Are there points at which we take the strategic route even if we don’t fully agree with it?  Or should we always stick to our principles?

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A change of direction

Yesterday saw the sort of a new direction for my learning. I’ve just enrolled on an MSc in Occupational Psychology at Leicester and the induction day was yesterday.  It was interesting being a student again, in a face-to-face environment, meeting fellow students and thinking about what the course entails.  Working in a University brings a different perspective on why things are done in certain ways and chimes ring when you hear the same things you say to participants on your course like ‘read the handbook’.

So I’ve written myself a plan of what to do when, started a to-do list which already has too many tasks on for my liking but I know will make it manageable.  All of these things make me feel like I’ve wasted the morning but I know that they will make my life easier and learning more efficient over the two years to come.

Before I start though I need to think about what I’m hoping to get out of the course.  I think predominantly my aim is to get another, psychological, perspective on what I do, and how this might benefit my work.  I don’t think I’m necessarily looking for a career change but to broaden my understanding and hence be able to draw on a wider evidence base to support my chosen approaches.

We were also asked what we think will be different about studying this course, and I think that the major difference will be returning to a scientific approach, considering how to report data and analysis scientifically as well as providing a more applied social scientific perspective where needed.  The other main difference will be writing reports, I am reasonably confident with my academic writing (let’s hope I’ve not spoken too soon) but I’m not really sure what is wanted in a report from a psychologist.

So all in all I am looking forward to learning again and applying it in my work, but I’m going to have to get organised.

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Students and technology

Student expectations are identified as one of the main drivers for adoption of e-learning (Browne et al., 2010). However, in focus groups staff here (at the University of Warwick) suggested that students’ confidence with these tools varied and that they needed to be supported to engage effectively with the opportunities offered by technology to support their learning. 

Sharpe et al. (2010) recognise that most learners are not effective e-learners, making positive choices about how to use technology to support learning, and even fewer are using technology creatively.  Sharpe and Beetham continue to suggest a model of development in which learners move from having access to the technologies, to developing generic skills to use the technologies, through to making informed choices about how to use them, and eventually using these skills and practices to develop their own learning environments.  (See page 90 Sharpe et al., 2010).  This echoes Salmon’s e-tivities model which identifies the need for activities to progressively develop student ownership and control as they learn both to use the technologies and engage with the learning.

This choice and control involves learners developing an awareness of both the affordances of technologies and their own learning processes.  Learners need to be supported to recognise the potential benefits of technology, and how the skills, practices they develop with a particular technology might be effectively transferred from one aspect of learning to another.

Jones and Healing (2010) report that students are influenced by staff judgements; reflecting which resources were ‘recommended’ and which were ‘untrustworthy’.  This suggests that, as teachers, our perceptions of technologies will impact on the views of the learners we’re supporting.   Thinking back to the principle of transfer this suggests that teachers need to articulate some of these decisions.  I suggest that when making use of a technology or tool to support teaching and learning then it’s worth spending a few moments openly reflecting on the nature of a tool, its pedagogical purpose for the chosen activity and potential other aspects of learning that the tool might be useful to support.  This would help learners think about the different tools they have access to and the possibilities for how they might support learning.


Browne, T., Hewitt, R., Jenkins, M., Voce, J., Walker, R. & Yi, H. (2010) 2010 Survey of Technology Enhanced Learning for higher education in the UK.

Jones, C. & Healing, G. (2010) Net generation students: agency and choice and the new technologies. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26 344-356.

Sharpe, R., Beetham, H. & Freitas, S. d. (2010) Rethinking learning for a digital age : how learners are shaping their own experiences. New York: Routledge.

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Planning, planning, planning (day 2)

Having spent Monday thinking about stakeholders on Tuesday we moved on to start planning projects. Two key challenges I think are common to this are

  • choosing a suitable focus, something that interests you but is feasible within the constraints
  • knowing what you don’t know, either about technologies available, how to make effective use of technologies or how different learners will engage and respond to the activities.

I think the key to addressing these challenges is planning.  Independently it’s important to think about pedagogy, what is the activity you want to design, why, and pedagogically how will it work? I need to have a clear plan first, technology comes second.  Then in conversation with colleagues who help you to develop ideas, identify anything that isn’t clear or transparent, and start to address some of the unknowns (or at least staring points to find the information).

To do all this planning I like to start with post it notes as its easy to add/change/adapt ideas. The picture below shows a more detailed plan for one activity (after a broad scoping activity thinking about learners, objectives, environment and the activity). I started with the learners’ activities, then how to make it clearer and the technology skills needed. Then it was thinking about what I would need to do as the teacher. Finally helpful colleagues highlighted that I hadn’t identified any constraints on the activity so I started to identify what these might be.


The discussions with everyone highlighted many other things I needed to include in my planning

  • when will the activity take place – synchronous, or asynchronous?
  • what time do learners need to engage?
  • how often will you need to review the content to keep it up to date?
  • what limitations might there be for the learners? For example will they be able to access videos at work if that’s where they’ll engage with their learning
  • how will you make sure it’s accessible to everyone?
  • what feedback will learners need/get and what form will it take?
  • how will you evaluate or collect feedback on the activity?

Next stop… refining plans and finding the ideal technology.

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Starting from the stakeholders (Learning Technologies in Healthcare Education day 1)

A fascinating first day on the module thinking about stakeholders and our ‘technology stories’

Generally I’m a practical learner and want to get into the nitty gritty of designing and building activities so it was refreshing to take a step back and think about things from the aspects of drivers and context. A common point emerging from both these sessions was not to make assumptions either about the stakeholders as well as learners. Just looking at the three different technology stories highlighted a range of different preferences and uses of technology. Although I’d not thought that everyone would be ‘the same’ I hadn’t really thought through the potential nuances of how people use phones, laptops, desktops and papers and want for: ranging from those capturing everything on a phone and not having a desktop to others who wouldn’t be separated from their pen and paper. (I’m somewhere in between.) This raises a few questions…

  • How do our technology stories compare to those of our learners?
  • To what extent do we need to bring these together?
  • What pressures does this place on you as a teacher?
  • What does it mean for your students?

I love the concept Amber introduced of ‘history of the future’ and thinking about what you would be reporting once the project/activity had been successful:

  • What happened at each stage?
  • How did you meet the needs of different learners?
  • What strategies were successful in promoting it?

The other things I picked up throughout the day were different technologies I want to explore (some for work, some for home, some just because I’m curious).

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Technology: salvation or frustration

So having spent four weeks thinking about utopic and dystopic futures, in relation to technology, and what it means to be human I had to create something that represented my learning, thoughts and ideas.  I went through several ideas including a story of the evolution of technology (but I couldn’t find the pictures I wanted) to  human computer interaction told through the medium of Lego (but I didn’t have the right Lego easily to hand).

In the end I decided to focus on the medium of who’s in control with any particular piece of technology, and whether the technology offered salvation (a well developed solution that does what it’s designed for) or frustration (something that just didn’t quite work as it should). The result, with a little help from some friends, this info graphic:

Open directly from prezi.com

On discussing this this further I think it could be linked to the conceptions of when it’s worth adopting: thinking about all the aspects Rogers (in Diffusion of innovations) discussed influencing adoption including perceived ease of use,

Also on reflection I’ve realised that most of my thinking as part of this MOOC has been around human relationships (particularly my own) with technology.  Extending this now to think about learning, I think that this info graphic could be re-imagined as a tool for mapping technologies to inform decisions about which we use to support learning.  The tool could either be used as an ongoing developing map which you add new technologies to whenever they emerge, or used to support colleagues starting a project and considering what technology to use.  But I’m not sure the scales are quite right, so here are a few different starting points:

Open directly from prezi.com

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Being human

The last two weeks on the MOOC I’m doing have asked me to think about what it means to be human, something I had thought was relatively easy, until that is I tried to quantify it.  So mimicking the style of a cartoon I read when I was younger…

Being human is:

  • being able to adapt to new  situations
  • the ability to think outside of the box
  • being flexible
  • sometimes illogical
  • unpredictable
  • being similar yet completely different to everyone else
  • creative
  • experiential
  • having freedom to choose our own pathway
  • being self-aware
  • emotional
  • curiosity
  • having personal preferences
  • …. really hard to classify….

When we met this week to discuss what being human meant and what we would each be happy with in terms of augmentation it became clear that everyone has individual views and this is to an extent what being human means to me.  We’re all free to be ourselves, and we’re all unique with no two individuals likely to have experienced exactly the same things.  We have common interests, features, experiences but they’re not identical because we interpret them in different ways.

I think that flexibility became a key point for me, we as humans aren’t always able to predict what is going to happen but we can try to deal with the range of situations that might occur.  We do unpredictable things, and that’s okay.  But if a robot (thinking Asmiov here) does something unpredictable then it is often perceived as a threat rather than just “more human”.

We make choices all the time, but these choices aren’t necessarily based on logical reasoning, sometimes they’re just ‘because we want to’.  Can we quantify that?

We like to have control of things, but can you imagine a world in which everything is predictable and known in advance?  Think about the first time you saw something new, and the wonder it instilled in you – rainbows still do this for me even though I can predict one will appear it’s the short lived opportunity to see one I cherish.  If I could see them all the time then perhaps they’d become common place and not interesting any more.  Surely part of being human is linked to the curiosity and the wish to engage in activities of discovery.  If we had control and everything was predictable then would we lose our creativity?

Education involves an interaction between human beings which is constantly adaptive and supportive, flexible to individual needs and changing contexts. 

So where does technology come into play?  If it’s a medium for communication between humans then that’s one thing, but if it’s meant to act as teacher then does it have sufficient flexibility and responsiveness to do so?

How can we program technology to support learning?  Or do we have to?  Is it instead the human that has to change and adapt?

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A dystopic view of technology

Thinking about the future, technology and education has made me stray to the dystopic viewpoint.  But this week I wanted to branch out from words and share my views in pictures… (mostly other people’s but a few of my own – they’re the cobbled together ones).

This photo belongs to SparkCBC's photostream http://www.flickr.com/photos/25031050@N06/with/3292307605/

This photo belongs to SparkCBC’s photostream http://www.flickr.com/photos/25031050@N06/with/3292307605/


Turn the tap and let the information flow.


Are we truly ourselves online?


Pictured: “Wikifriends”, Randall Munroe – via his excellent webcomic xkcd, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 license

Or do we hide ourselves


with alter egos?

Sometimes I like to use traditional methods, even though  just because the instrument might impact on the result.

The instrument sometimes changes what is written

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Influence of technology

The MOOC this week has really helped me to think about my belief of technology’s role in influencing practice.  The various films, videos and articles have led me to a relatively simple viewpoint that technology is an enabler.

Technology has the scope to make new ways of ‘doing’, in which I include both work and play, possible.  To pick just one, technology can allow us to change the way we communicate by providing new means to create and consume media.  Only this morning I read my dynamic newspaper using Flipboard while eating breakfast, watched a variety of short videos over the internet and started to look at creative tools for sharing my thoughts with others.

Although technology can facilitate improvements and we can quickly adapt to its presence there are a number of challenges we need to be aware of which are beautifully highlighted in two of this week’s videos:

I think that we need to make more active choices around when we use and engage with technology and the extent to which we depend upon it. I already prepare back up plans for when technology doesn’t work and am sometimes quite empowered by the use of pen and paper alone as it makes me think in different ways, but I need to turn off more regularly.  Too often am I connected to my email while walking or browsing the internet while watching TV, no wonder my attention span is dwindling.  So I’m going into a period of respite, and attempt to limit my multi-tasking and use of technology during the evening.  I imagine it will be quite empowering, but I’ll report back.

In summary technology is a great facilitator but sometimes the lack of it is nice too.  It’s about time, place, and purpose.

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Considering the audience

This week I’ve been thinking about the power of the audience (a seemingly silent partner) on the success of any delivered piece.  In producing anything (writing, film, activities) we need to think about who we’re trying to reach.  If the audience is small, and familiar, then we can make subtle adaptions to ensure we capture them, but if we don’t know them we need to account for a variety of preferences we might not be aware of.

These reflections were actually prompted by my trip to the cinema to see Les Miserables, which is meant to reach a massive audience with different expectations and preferences.  For me personally I found I wanted something different to what was delivered, I wanted much of the dialogue to be spoken rather than sung but I recognise this would have ruined it for many other members of the audience.    I think a film is a tricky medium to provide for a mixed audience however due to the lack of interactivity.

So to move on to something more concrete… MOOCs or Massive Open Online Courses and how you might create an engaging atmosphere for such a large group.  A few thoughts so far, based on week one of my engagement with E-learning and Digital Cultures.

  • Clarity – I think this is crucial.  There is clarity in the instructions given to participants including guidance on how to get the most out of engaging without getting overwhelmed.  The course is also available in entirety from the start meaning everyone can see what’s coming if they want to move ahead or return to material from a previous week.
  • Choice – There are a choice of resources to engage with and a choice of activities to do.  This choice is clearly scaffolded so that participants are clear about what they might do as well as minimum expectations.
  • Peers – Use of peers is another strength.  The tutors are present in the group but made it clear that we can learn a lot from each other and we’re going to be assessing the work we all produce.

Saying that I have just spent some time looking round the forums for week 1 and I’m definitely a lurker.  I’m reading a lot of interesting posts but thinking there’s not much I can add to this other than to say “I agree”.  So instead, as someone else has noted, I’m instead going to choose to blog about it.

  • But these are just my initial thoughts, I’ll let you know how it goes.
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