Manners Maketh Mobile

This week I spoke at my institution’s Centre for Education and Innovation Open Seminar (#CEIOS) series. The umbrella title of the seminar was Adding a Mobile and Interactive Aspect to your Teaching and Learning, something that in 2018 seems to be as contentious a topic as it was a decade ago. My presentation was called Please Destroy Cellphones Before Entering, and the thinking behind it was ignited by a sign I’d seen blu-tacked to the front of a lecture theatre, where I was asked to show a group of undergraduate students how to access a wiki activity on their laptops, tablets and smartphones. Sadly, I had to inform the group that I couldn’t run the session as planned because of the poster*. Though, because of the size, (A4), only the lecturer and eagle-eyed members of the front row could read it: 

Please Destroy Cell Phones Before Entering

The presentation looked at the very black and white state of mobile device use in higher education. There is a ‘mobile devices in the classroom’ continuum with academics firmly rooted at opposite ends, but with very few in between. So there’s either a laissez faire attitude – let them bring in their smartphones, let them text one another, let them use Snapchat, let them use Instagram, and if they fail their assignment / course, that’s their problem (this is the end of the spectrum I admit to being closest to), or, as with the poster I saw in the lecture theatre, there’s an outright ban of mobile devices. This is usually because teachers feel that students’ attention should be focused solely on them – a reasonable enough expectation, but if you are wondering why your students are plasying around on Pinterest and not focussing on you, maybe you need to make your lectures more interesting and / or interactive? Or maybe, even if they ARE interesting and you ARE the best teacher in the world, maybe even the most captive mind isn’t going to be able to handle 3 hours of being talked at? 

Leaving contentious statements to one side, I argued that there needs to be a middle ground; a compromise. And while it’s true that research has proved that students who use mobile devices in lessons do not do as well as students who don’t, (see the presentation at the end of this post for more information), there is a need to consider the following: 

  • Banning mobile devices in 2018 is tantamount to cutting off somebody’s hands and / or forcing them to travel back in time 
  • Higher Education students are adults so by banning mobile devices, it could be suggested that we are treating them as children?  And if we treat students as children, will they respond by acting like children? 
  • A smartphone or tablet has an incredible amount of potential as a learning tool. So if you catch your student playing with their phone, is it unfair to assume they’re frittering time away on a social network, because they may be searching the internet for further information around something you mentioned that really hooked them? 

At the end of the presentation, I invited the audience – a mix of learning technologists and lecturers – to take the first step in drawing up a list of ‘Mobile Manners’; suggestions for how a compromise can be made so that mobile devices can be allowed and used in sessions, but without the current all or nothing approach.  Here’s what we came up with: 

  • Remind students that this isn’t a social space – it’s a learning space 
  • Be present: agree. Perhaps, on a Service Level Agreement with students at the start of a programme of study. For example: emails can only be checked at break times, important calls can be taken when needed, but devices must be on vibrate, etc. 
  • Give an informal breakdown of what the session is about: ‘I’ll talk for ten minutes – and I really need you to listen to this, then we’ll have a Mentimeter survey, followed by a group task for about 20 minutes, then another ten minutes of talking – again, I’d its important, so I want you to listen and make notes, then we’ll have a break where you can check your social networks / email / WhatsApp messages…”. This may be especially useful for cohorts of younger students 

Something that we kept coming back to was what could still be an elephant in many staff rooms: if lectures / taught sessions were more engaging, less ‘chalk and talk’, and there were more opportunities for student interaction, then maybe students wouldn’t be so quick to reach for their smartphones. Could lectures be shorter, perhaps? Could they be designed to be more interactive, with more opportunities for audience participation? 

I’m keen to see this list of ‘Mobile Manners’ take shape and become more definitive, so please comment below with any suggestions you have. Thank you in advance.


 *I did run the session – I was just trying to be funny. And, as usual, failed abysmally… 

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.

Game On! (Part 2)

A warning to other bloggers out there: this is what happens when you promise your audience that you are going to write something groundbreaking based around a very specific subject, (and one you arrogantly think is yours and yours alone to write about), but instead you start prevaricating and writing blog posts about other things instead.

I have mentioned a couple of times in recent weeks my need to write about a theory that has been buzzing around my head for a while now: that console gaming is therapeutic. Well, an article from The Conversation has just popped up in my Facebook feed, and it says exactly what I should have done as few weeks ago. It would appear that my groundbreaking theory isn’t as groundbreaking as I had assumed. However, finding out that others have the same theory as you is comforting, this particular article makes for concise and genuinely interesting reading, had my head nodding enthusiastically in agreement (and my teeth grinding in frustration at my own laziness), and vitally, goes on to cite academic research published in April 2016.  The research, carried out by Leonard Reinecke of the Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, states that when video games are systematically used after exposure to stressful situations and strain, that recovery experience is a significant facet of the gaming experience (Reinecke, 2016). Console gaming as therapy. Boom!

In terms of my own recovery from stressful periods, I concur absolutely. Were it not for Dragon Age II at an incredibly stressful period of my professional life, I would probably not be in the positive frame of mind I’ve been able to maintain for a few years. I’d also be lucky to be able to work at all. Skyrim got me through equally tough periods in my personal life, and on a smaller scale, I still always have a ‘go-to game’ in my PS4 in case I’ve had a trying day and need to let off steam and ‘ground myself’ again. This week, it’s mostly Elder Scrolls Online, though reading this back to myself, I really do need to find a genre of game that doesn’t involve swords, sorcery or picking flowers in order to make potions…


Games and Recovery: The Use of Video and Computer Games to Recuperate from Stress and Strain (PDF Download Available). Available from: [accessed Jul 10, 2017].

‘Isn’t she in Game of Thrones?’

Darksansastark…said my erstwhile partner when he caught me clapping my hands with same level of enthusiasm a horse-mad 4 year old may display on receiving a pony for her birthday.

I’ll go back a little. It was the 6th July, and I had just received an email from Linden Labs informing me that I had been selected to be among the first to create ‘social VR experiences’ with Sansar, Linden’s virtual world for the virtual reality generation.

It’s been a long time since I was at the forefront of anything techy, so my excitement was entrenched in that little part of me that wants to try everything before anyone else does. The fact that it took me ages to log in, my avatar was about as customisable as a lump of coal, has the face of a corpse and walks like she has done a number 2 in her pants is nothing. Whatever happens, I was one of the first people to log into Sansar. And. most importantly,  as a developer, I can build my own space. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to:


Oh, we learning technology types may scoff at how far behind we think our institutions are compared to the rest of the world, but I’m pretty certain that Cardiff University is (probably one of) the first HE institution(s) that has a presence in Sansar,  though how long it will last, I don’t know.

So how does it look and how does it feel? Graphically, Sansar is so advanced it makes Second Life look like an early Sega Megadrive game, and the quality of the audio is just fantastic: like being in a cutting – edge cinema. I’m even adoring the font style used for messaging (I have thing about fonts. I may need help). But it’s not all beer and skittles, and at the moment it’s really just a triumph of style over substance. Because it’s so new it’s frustratingly limited, it’s laggy, and even the usually simple process of trying to move objects around is a pig. So here we have exactly what he had 12 years ago when Second Life was introduced – something with real promise, and a glimpse of a future that I really want go be a part of, but with more bugs than an NHS hospital. As with Second Life’s early days, Sansar delights and frustrates in equal measure, and in this iteration, the virtual world can’t even be used with VR headsets as yet – despite this being the very premise on which it was founded.

I don’t care. I’m still really excited. Here’s a screenshot of my avatar in her new Cardiff University ‘home’ to tantalise and delight you:


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

Don’t be Scared of the Dork


James Clay wrote a thought-provoking post last week. Called Show me the Evidence, James talks about how: “when demonstrating the potential of TEL and learning technologies to academics, the issue of evidence of impact often arises. You will have a conversation which focuses on the technology and then the academic or teacher asks for evidence of the impact of that technology.”

James cites fear as a key reason behind this, suggesting that many lecturers don’t have the capabilities to use IT, so lack the basic confidence to use learning technologies. To save face, and because it would be mortifying to have to confess to a lack of skills, they ask for the “evidence”. This then enables them to delay things.

Weirdly, I can’t think of a single occasion when an academic has asked me for empirical evidence or to cite the research framed around my work. I tend to go about things the other way-heading the academics off at the pass because I am the one who is afraid to look like a dunce in front of them.

I delivered a lunchtime session to academics looking at the flipped classroom model last week. The conversation turned to the (still) widely-held belief that anyone under 25 is a techy-wizard, while the rest of us can barely use our smartphones. (A different kind of stalling technique, perhaps? It’s always academics who bring this up.) I offered some ramblings about Marc Prensky’s ‘Digital Natives‘ theory being a load of old cock-and-bull, and that Dave White’s ‘Visitors and Residents‘ model was more realistic and less ‘pigeon-holey’. The group liked this as it appealed to their academic mindsets, so I was then able to sneakily show them some tools while they were feeling more at home.

Another thing I sometimes do is suggest that the academic in question might want to try out the method / tool that is being suggested, and then write a paper about the experience. Again, this appeals because it’s more in tune with how academics tend to work. I think a lot of the fear that James mentions comes from an assumption that learning technologists and academics speak two totally different, and incompatible languages. We don’t, but it can certainly be hard to prove it!

Sheila Take a Bow

Several years ago, asking teachers to make sure they were using technology as an integral part of teaching their subject was akin to only employing a baker if he or she also had the ability to fly a plane.  People did not enter into teaching to use technology, and if they did it was purely because they wanted to teach computer sciences.

Write a ‘black and white’ sentence such as that last one and it seems reasonable to assume that it is too much of an ask and perhaps, with historically large workloads, much in the way of extra-curricular administration to complete and lack of time, an unreasonable ask at that.  However, in 2013 the ‘I can’t / won’t use technology in the classroom’ debate rings hollow.  Technology is as much a part of our modern landscape as letters and numbers. Now be honest.  If anyone told you that they don’t use the number 7 because it never works for them and they can’t get the hang of it, you would raise an eyebrow and look incredulous.  Yet educators are still using this as an acceptable excuse for not using technology.

Or are they?

Teachers and trainers (like all of us) are all on a technological continuum, with ‘can’t use it, won’t use it’ marking one end and ‘I love it,  I use it as much as I can’ the other. And here’s what I’ve been finding for the last few years: there are more teachers on the ‘right’ side of the continuum than the ‘wrong’.  I would even go as far as to say that the ‘can’t, won’t’ teachers are so few and far between as to be on the point of extinction.

Talking honestly, the things that make me love technology are also the things that drive me mad, so I would assume even the most enthusiastic teachers feel swamped. The digital landscape is a meta universe. It is in a constant state of flux and exponential growth. Technologies, like stars, are born then die at the turn of a calendar page.  The number of electronic devices, fads and trends and the quantity of sites that promise to provide the same service in different ways…well, it’s expanding even as I type.

Start to make presentations. Use PowerPoint. Wait: don’t use PowerPoint, as everyone says it’s rubbish.  Use Keynote. Use Prezi. Use sliderocket. Oh-hang on-it’s called ClearSlide now.  Try animoto then. Share the presentations on Jorum.  Or SlideShare.  Try delivering it using the Pecha Kucha method.  Try collaboration.  Use Google Docs.  Use a wiki.  Or Wallwisher.  Sorry – Padlet.  It changed its name.  Want to use blogging?  Blogger’s good. WordPress is fab.  I used Posterous, and told dozens of staff and students to use it too.  But I had to move all of my posts to Tumblr because Posterous got bought by Twitter and now it’s closing down.  Tumblr’s good for online curation too, and that’s good for Problem Based Learning and Student Led Enquiry.’s good for curation too.  And PearlTrees.  And Pinterest.  And Wallwisher.  Sorry-Padlet…

That there is my thought process on a day to day process.  I find it exhilarating because I genuinely love what I do, but it can be exhausting. And, to be honest, a lot of the time I feel swamped by the sheer amount of (ever growing) information out there.  And because of my job, that can make me neurotic:

Am I using the right presentation tools? Hasn’t PowerPoint got a bad reputation because people just use it badly?  Why wasn’t I aware of this particular website when I wanted to curate some information about giraffes?  Is everyone using it but me?  I’m supposed to be a Learning Technologist, so I’m supposed to KNOW about all of these things.  Should I have moved my blog to WordPress, because so many people in the know use it? I like using Tumblr but maybe that makes me a bad Learning Technologist?

Here’s the point of today’s post then.  This is solely what I get paid to do for a living and all of my working hours are dedicated to exploring, using and advising on technology.  So if I find it all too much on occasion, is it any wonder that trainers and educators who are employed to deliver learning in completely different subject areas were resistant for so long?  And isn’t it a bloody marvellous thing that they may lack the ability to use what’s out there, but they are certainly no longer resistant?

So let’s give a big hand to all teachers, at all levels, in all sectors.  Because they must find this technological age vast and perplexing, yet are required, almost by proxy, to use it – and use it innovatively, dynamically and in such a way as to shape the next generation’s own digital futures.

I’m of to buy a sausage roll now.  But only if the baker has a pilot’s licence…

Useful things what I have Discovered as a Learning Technologist


This morning I was having another look at this article, published by The Guardian almost a year ago: 20 tips and resources for using learning technology in higher education. Scanning through it again made me think about the nuggets of useful technology-based information I’ve collected / learned / made up in my few years’ experience as a Learning Technologist. Here they are:

  1. If you build it they will not come.  I’ve said it before, but it is worth saying again: do not spend a fortune building an institution / course-based carbon copy of an already established platform such as Twitter or Facebook.  Your intended audience will not thank you for making them set up yet another username and password when they already use (for example) Facebook every day anyway.  This segues into point 2 very neatly…
  2. …go to where your audience are.  If your intended audience / participants already spend time on Facebook, then use Facebook as a way of contacting or notifying them. It really is that simple.  However – don’t tread on anyone’s toes.  Facebook is a social networking site, not a virtual learning environment.  Don’t suck out the fun, but do ‘paddle around the edges’.
  3. Use technology only when it enhances the learning experience, not just for the sake of ‘ticking the technology box’. A lot of educators worry that if they don’t slavishly embed technology into every single lesson, then they will be awarded low observation grades and be ‘failures’.  If only this mindset could be changed. Sometimes there really is no point in using technology in a session.  Sometimes it just confuses, interferes and takes up too much time.  Sometimes reading an old fashioned book is better than using an eReader.  Really!
  4. There really is no need to reinvent the wheel.  There are MASSES of pre-existing resources out there, which can be used as they are or re-purposed.  I think one of the reasons a lot of educators dislike technology is because it can take a very long time to make a single electronic resource that may only be used a couple of times.  A quick visit to sites such as Jorum, TED, the Khan Academy and even YouTube can dig up some fabulous multi media resources.  And resource sharing sites like Scribd, Slideshare and Prezi feature content from others that have been made freely available to download, use and even customise to suit individual needs.
  5. Don’t be precious – share! I remember developing a rather dynamic-looking Prezi presentation for a teacher a few years ago, which I promptly embedded into her page on Moodle.  The teacher in question was delighted with the finished result, then asked whether anyone other than her students could see the presentation.  When I said that they could – in fact, on Prezi it had already had a almost one hundred views and a dozen downloads – she was furious.  There was no sensitive information displayed on the presentation: indeed, all of the content had been copied and pasted from a public document – but the teacher in question was livid at the thought of other ‘lazy’ people saving themselves time by downloading HER content.  I was asked to take it down from Prezi immediately.  It was then replaced by a lengthy Word document that only those enrolled on the Moodle page could access. Her students had to read pages (and pages) of dull – looking text and nobody else was able to benefit from the content uploaded to Prezi. Lose-lose situation.  To add a bit more depth to this viewpoint, have a read of Mark Childs’ blog article Being Precious and Presenting, written after I initially published this post.  In fact, follow his blog.  It’s damn fine stuff.
  6. Use whatever your audience is using.  And yes, this does rather link to points 1 and 2.  Nobody likes to have to learn how to navigate around a hundred new platforms or sites with a hundred new usernames and passwords.  If a student has been using WordPress to write their blog for the past 3 years, why force them to use Blogger just because it’s a site you are familiar with?  Chill out, and keep your audience within their comfort zone most of the time
  7. …because, at the same time, you need to use the embedding of technology as an opportunity to improve your audience’s personal IT skills.  And do this by stealth, making the learning curve as comfortable as possible.  Someone who uses PowerPoint and only uses PowerPoint will be more likely to try out something that feels familiar to them like SlideRocket than they will using something completely different such as Prezi.  ILT scares and confuses a lot of people – even those more than happy to experiment.  Even me a lot of the time. Baby steps folks! 
  8. Provide a smorgasbord of tools, and let staff / students use whichever they want – even if you don’t like the tools yourself! So offer PowerPoint (because it’s much maligned yes – but it’s also familiar and the epitome of ‘industry standard’) and if someone says they want (you) to use it instead of the myriad of arguably ‘better’ presentation tools out there,  just make sure they / you use it well. Pecha Kucha anyone?  And remember – the more tools you have in your arsenal the more choice you have.  Don’t feel obliged to use them all though.  You’ll just go mad.
  9. Don’t make assumptions based on age.  To say that ‘everyone under 25 is technologically savvy’ and ‘no one over the age of 50 can use technology’ is to make really inaccurate generalisations…and yet these are reified by learning technologists, researchers, academics, teachers, mechanics, shop assistants, window cleaners and anyone with an opinion.  I know of many people over the age of 60 who – gasp – have been using Facebok, Twitter, Google Docs, YouTube and Second Life for years, have been known to play on a gaming console and – get this – can even use a smartphone!  Conversely, there are young people out there who haven’t got the foggiest idea how to send a text message, and even a few with no interest in Facebook. 

To quote the great John Lydon: ’ I could be wrong, I could be right’.  These points msay be salient or the ramblings of an ignoramous.  Either way, I think they hold water, and it’s my blog.  So there.