Mucha PechaKucha!

PechaKucha is one of my favourite ways of presenting information, has been around for fifteen years, and is still very much an unknown quantity in education. It has just two golden rules (and from these you must never deviate):

  1. 20 images
  2. 20 seconds per image

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that PechaKucha Nights are held in over 900 cities, but more surprised that whenever I talk to teaching staff they know nothing about it. Having said that, the concept was devised (in Tokyo) as an event for young designers to meet, network, and show their work in public. As a result, I guess it’s something that’s ‘done’ in industry, and these evening events are very much for thrusting young people working in architecture, banking, graphic design and such like.

In 2018, students are still sitting through incredibly lengthy PowerPoint presentations that are text-heavy, image-light and weigh in at 30 slides or more in length. Moreover, we are all forced to sit through the same thing at conferences, staff meetings and training sessions. Think of the amount of time that could be freed up if presentations were exactly 6 minutes and 40 seconds long! And think about how exact, how concise the presenter has to be to keep their narration to 20 seconds per slide. Bliss!

I do have to admit that building a PechaKucha-style presentation is a labour intensive process and takes a fair bit of practise to get right; and this may be a reason why teaching staff – already unable to find time to eat lunch or take a bathroom break – may not feel able to engage. The presentation I’ve added below took about an hour to build in PowerPoint, but took a lot longer to narrate – because I had to stick to key points (and there are so many to choose from), and no matter how much I trimmed away at my script, each slide had to be recorded, trimmed down and re-recorded a few times to be able to fit in with the 20 second time limit. BUT, using screen recording, I was able to film it, bung it onto YouTube, and, if this were an academic presentation, in theory I would be able to signpost my audience to it as an online resource rather than having to repeat the same presentation ‘live’ several times.

What are your thoughts on PechaKucha? Does it have a place in education, or is the ‘tight’ presentation style too restrictive? Let me know in the comments section below.

The way to academics’ hearts is through their minds

I presented the following abstract at Cardiff University’s Learning and Teaching conference on Tuesday. And no, I haven’t forgotten about those ‘gaming is the future’ blog posts I keep promising; other things keep getting in the way!

When it comes to Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) there has long been an emphasis on demonstrating how to use digital tools in staff development sessions. However, there is little evidence of other staff development sessions examining the methods and models TEL. Institutional directives request that staff use a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and offer training on the mechanics of uploading documents and renaming folders, but they do not explain the methodologies or pedagogic models behind using a VLE. Other directives require that academic staff embed digital literacy skills into their teaching practice in order to hone their students’ own skills. Academic staff are rarely asked if they know what digital literacy means themselves, hoping, it would seem, that the meaning of digital literacy is learnt and passed onto students through a process of osmosis. I would suggest that if academics and teachers work from the taxonomy of pedagogy it is from this taxonomy that staff development is approached.

Repeated reviews into the professional development of teachers and ways to diminish their fear of technology have recommended that staff are given substantial time if they are going to acquire and, in turn, transfer to the classroom the knowledge and skills necessary to effectively and completely infuse technology to curriculum areas. (Brand, G.A., 1997). However, lack of time is just one issue, and constant emphasis of the need to ‘find time’ merely distracts from the proverbial elephant in the room: that academics are ‘scared’ of technology because they aren’t told how it fits a familiar pedagogic framework. Learning technologists are expert at explaining how to use a tool, but often miss out the pedagogical value of the tool, assuming that the teacher will think of a use for it.

In response to this, I currently run sessions for teachers and academic staff looking at methods and models such as the flipped classroom, Personal Learning Networks, blended learning, digital literacy, the benefits of online communities of practice, and the differences between pedagogy, andragogy and heutagogy. We have debated at length Prensky’s notion of the Digital Native against that of the Residents and Visitors model espoused by Dave White. We have looked at the psychology behind the online learner and their need to feel part of a group. When staff begin to understand these theories and methods, they feel better placed to choose tools that are appropriate to their curricula, their students and to relevant assessment process.

I would suggest that there is a real need to do more of this. If academics can see things from their particular (and familiar) perspective, they will see what tools work best and then, if needed, be taught how to use it.

Technology often feels like something that is being ‘done’ to people via institution-wide directives, and not something that they can do themselves. It is now 2017, so the time has come for a change in thinking.


Brand, G.A., (1997), Training Teachers for using Technology, Journal of Staff Development, Winter 1997 (Vol 19, No. 1)

Prensky, M., (2001), Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, located at:,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf, date accessed: 22nd February, 2017

White, D.S. and Le Cornu, A, (2011), Visitors and Residents: a New Typology for Online Engagement, located at:, date accessed: 22nd February, 2017

Tool Roundup Part 2: Making Online Lessons…Online

cwNOTE: this post was written in August 2014, but has been languishing, unseen, in my ‘Drafts’ folder since then.  As a result, it’s probably very out of date by now – technology years are like dog years – but it may still have some merit!

In part 2 of my ocassional ‘Tools Roundup’ serties,  I’m going to look at a couple of tools that teachers can use to make their own online learning resources / lessons / activities.  As with part one of this series, these tools need to hit certain criteria in order to be considered:

  • They are free to use (or have a free basic account)
  • They are easy to use – so if you only have enthusiasm but no IT skills, you can use them without throwing your laptop out of the window in frustration.

Here at Cardiff, as with many educational institutions in the UK, the free online resource-authoring tool of choice is Xerte, and there is nothing wrong with that.  Indeed, I have been using Xerte on and off for several years now, and it’s pretty good (plus objects can be published in a variety of formats, making them playable on any device, be it a computer, tablet or smartphone).  However, it can look a bit intimidating to those who have enthusiasm, but not much in the way of experience, confidence or time.  This is why I’m looking at these alternatives, the first of which is:

Tool #1: TED Ed

This is a very quick and easy way to produce a stylish, interactive online lesson or resource.  Simply pick a film on TED Talk or YouTube to centre your online lesson around, copy the film’s link and a framework for constructing a lesson is provided. Adds your own text, questions and discussion headings, press a button, generate a link and you’re done.  This does mean you are tied to whatever happens to be on TED or YouTube (so it may well be that there is nothing there that quite ‘fits’), and although I do like TED…and I know that this may not go down too well with some fans…I do find it all a bit evangelical and smug sometimes. Sorry.

I have made a very quick and dirty lesson about Genetics (and called it part one of three. I like to set myself unobtainable goals by thinking I’ll have time to make parts 2 and 3, when really, all I want to do in my spare time at the moment is ride my bike and eat ice cream).  In this instance I have chosen to make my lesson public: though when you do sign up for a free TED Ed account, can make a lesson and you can choose to keep it private, so only those who you choose to share a link with can access it.  Here’s Genetics Part 1:

Tool#2: Versal

This tool is very new, so still in Beta stage, and provides users with a very clean and simple interface based around dragging and dropping customisable gasgets (such as text areas, quizzes, surveys, videos and Prezi presentations) on-screen, then adding content via a very basic WYSIWYG editor. This makes for a very logical and visually engaging experience – you start, effectively, with a blank canvas then build your content using these gadgets as digital ‘Lego’ blocks. Content can then be published and made avaialble as a URL or embedded into a VLE or blog.  Paid membership as a single user or an institution also gives the user the ability to publish content as SCORMs

Versal have added a really nifty collabroation feature that allows users to work together to create courses and lessons. I’ve not tried this yet, so don’t know if this happens synchronously or whether only one user can contribute at a time, but I’ll be checking this out later.

I mentioned a few of the gadgets avaialble to users a little earlier, and will admit that in the short course I’ve made while learning how Versal works, I have stuck to the very basics: text, video, multiple choice quiz and survey.  There are many, many more examples of gadgets such as interactive diagrams and maps, an anatomy gadget (which I am going to have to look at, as it could be especially useful in my line of work), and several that do look a little tricky to figure out…

Here’s that short course I mentioned.  Surprisingly, it’s called Doctor Who 101… Oh – bear in mind that you need to set up an account to view the course.

Tool#3: Office Mix

Another tool still in its Beta stage, Office Mix is a free bolt-on for Microsoft PowerPoint.  Download it here and, once installed, you will find your copy of PowerPoint now includes a shiny new ‘MIX’ tab.  You can now add screen recordings, voiceovers, videos, polls, true and false / multiple choice / free response questions and a whole ranfege of nifty things.  student analytics can be recorded, presentations published as SCORM packages and the finished content can be accesseds on any device, be it a Windows-based laptop or a smartphone running iOS.

This is ideal if you are already familiar with PowerPoint (and as it’s ubiquitous, there’s every chance that you are) but not so familiar with the software used to build online resources.  It’s free, it’s very easy to use…but it is only available to those who use Windows-based machines, so if you’re running Office for Mac on your MacBook, you won’t be able to download or use Office Mix.  With Office 2016 for Mac coming out at the end of the year, I can only hope that this issue is fixed.

I’m a Private Blogger, a Blogger for Money…


I have been invited to write a blog post as part of a JORUM project looking at mini-curated collections.  The project aims to showcase and highlight existing resources available from JORUM that have been selected and used, or inspired teaching.  Plus, any posts published earn as £75 Amazon voucher, and with season 8 of Supernatural and series 7 of Doctor Who out imminently…well, this couldn’t have been better timed. 

So here’s my post…

I’m Bex Ferriday and I’m a Learning Technologist at the School of Health Care Sciences at Cardiff University.  In my past life as a Teacher Educator my teaching interests were based around teaching theory, with particular reference in training teachers who wanted to specialise in linguistics.  As my role changed to that of Learning Technologist in a subject area I know nothing about (I can’t even put a plaster on properly), so my interest is now in locating existing online activities to support the subjects lecturers within my School deliver – namely nursing, midwifery and healthcare.

With this in mind, I’d like to highlight a number of resources I have recommended to these lecturers, starting with a very simple case study exercise in the style of the popular 90s ‘choose your own adventure’ text-based computer games.  Part of the Ethics Virtual Patient (EVP) series of online activities, and simply called Jake Clarke, this activity sees the user deciding the fate of the eponymous Jake, a fellow Healthcare Studies student who has developing problems with drugs and alcohol.  As his friend and peer, students need to decide which course of action to take in order to assist Jake.  I have chosen and then gone on to use this resource because, rather than looking at a case study relating to someone students can’t relate to or empathise with, it looks at a situation many students could very well find themselves in.  It can also form the basis of further discussion, so has more depth than an activity that is simply completed online in isolation then forgotten about. It’s also very easy to use, so can be completed by even the most technophobic student. A final plus point is the facility to give electronic feedback relating to the online aspects of the activity to the authors afterwards – who clearly seek to improve upon the work they are doing rather than simply develop, upload and forget about the activity.

Nottingham University’s School of Nursing and Academic Division of Midwifery have produced a wealth of online learning objects.  One that I recommend to midwifery lecturers here in Cardiff is called Midwife’s Abdominal Examination in the Antenatal Period.  This multimedia, interactive resource looks, among other things, at inspection, palpation, fundal, lateral and pelvic examination and does so in short but cohesive and coherent bursts of information – no 50 slide, text-heavy PowerPoint info dumps, just brief, clear voiceovers with accompanying images and films.  Interactive activities consolidate the theory covered by way of drag and drop activities and open questioning and clear feedback is given immediately after each activity has been completed.  Navigation is clearly signposted and the online package can be worked though outside of the classroom or used within the classroom, in a group setting, in order to provoke discussion. The flexibility and clarity of information provided are the two main reasons why I recommend this activity.

Another Nottingham University – authored online learning object I have recommended that lecturers (this time in Nursing) use with their students is called Plasma Proteins and Drug Distribution.  The University is very advanced as far as online learning provision goes – they use their own in-house, open source eLearning authoring tool Xerte to produce web-based activities in numerous subjects that fall under the Nursing and Midwifery banner, and this, as with so many others, is another example a resource I recommend for the following reasons:

  • No advanced technical skills are required to work through this – as a web-based activity, all that is required is the URL and a computer with an internet connection.
  • This means there is no need for students to log into an unfamiliar site or to get to groups with a complex interface.  Ease of use is vital to student motivation
  • Information is provided in short, cohesive bursts and consolidated with narration, animation and interactive activities.
  • Links to further (related) online resources and activities are provided, so students can direct their learning at a pace and level that suits them.

Another web-based resource that, once again, provides a clear, multisensory and interactive online learning experience for students in Midwifery is Baby First!, a resource designed to help midwives to support families over the first important year of life when their baby has an intellectual disability. Using the perspective of new parents and their experiences when discovering that their new-born has Downs Syndrome gives students the chance to empathise with their ‘clients’ rather than feel distanced from situations such as the ones highlighted in the activity.   Again, users are invited to give feedback regarding the online content and ease of use, and there are areas in which to record and print out reflections.

My final recommendation has been used regularly by School staff and students studying radiography, and though ancient in technology years (being, as it is, seven years old), it still provides a clear, multi-sensory overview of X-Ray Beam Manipulation.  The resource was made in partnership with South Birmingham College and JISC and comprises an animated simulation that shows the effect of mAS and KVp on x-ray beam quality and intensity (mAS and KVp being the controls used to adjust at the console density and contrast when operating an X-ray). Rather than simply showing this demonstration in a rather didactic manner, importantly, the resource also allows the user to alter the controls of a simulated x-ray machine and to see the effect that has on the x-ray beam and the final x-ray produced.  This hands-on activity consolidates the theoretical content, and provides a safe way of carrying out simulation away from the classroom or X-ray laboratory.

I’m championing these web-based resources because there is no ‘faffing’ – these are not SCORMS or ILMs, there is no expectation on the part of staff to be able to know how to download a complex package, nor how to upload it to an LMS or VLE once downloaded.  This simplicity does prevaricate lecturers from being able to track learner use and responses, but ease of use from both a lecturer and student perspective is fundamental to online learning. This means that staff are more likely to use the resources in their own practice (and have done, as they are not only relevant, but also mean that time is not wasted re—inventing the wheel).  And that’s why JORUM is so important – there are so many resources covering such a range of subjects just within the Health Care Sciences curriculum alone that by using or repurposing them huge savings can be made in time and money.