reflections on work hunting

animated gif of workplace

A couple of days ago I attended an interesting and useful event organised by ChickTechPDX and hosted at the beautiful offices of a local software company, Jama. A panel of tech industry recruiters spoke about their companies, jobs and challenges to a room packed with women and some men, who were either other recruiters, a recruiter looking to recruit a new recruiter or, just, you know, people looking for work in the PDX tech landscape!

I learnt a couple of really good lessons!

First… when a guy you don’t know starts throwing numbers around, be interested in them! I was terribly British about it, coming back with my well rehearsed mantra about how important it is for whatever it is to mean something really important and how that was more important than the numbers! Anyway, note to self, next time someone starts talking money, appear hungry for it!

Second… I have a really weird résumé. And no I’m not going to link it, because it is a work in progress — today even more so than last week. But what my résumé has to do is to tell my story and then it needs to tell my story from the perspective of the particular audience it is intended for – which means writing quite a few different ones.

Thirdly… It also needs to use today’s language to communicate tech skills from yesteryear. i.e. full stack web developer not web developer – though I recommend this rant about that particular label. This rewrite is going to be laborious and not just a little irritating. But now I get it! The people reading my résumé are immersed in today’s technical language, have worked hard to understand today’s language and and are proud to be part of this technical community; I just need to do some translating. That’s okay! I can do that.

Everything I am I owe to learning touch-typing

Last night I met a middle school technology teacher and I asked her what her students learnt in class. She shocked me by replying “keyboarding”. The heightened level of shock may have been due to the St Patrick’s Day drinking that preceded my question but I had expected her to say digital literacy, e-safety, perhaps a little programming, or worst case scenario, that her students learnt how to use different software packages, perhaps Google Apps or Microsoft Office. The last thing I expected to hear was “keyboarding.

My shock turned to frustration on behalf of her kids. How boring to be drilling through qwerty keyboard exercises – exercises that haven’t significantly changed since I learnt to type in 1976! How can these kids possibly be engaged! They must be using games like tux-typing (open source option) or other games like 2Type (I first tried this out in 2005), or maybe they have gone all out and bought TTRS ? My new tech teacher friend (NTTF) responded that the problem with typing games are that the kids get too into trying to achieve success in the game and forget that they are aiming to “master the home keys”, though she did mention Dance Mat,  from the BBC and, ironically, just one small part of its great looking KS2 (grades 2-6) Computer Science and ICT course.

My NTTF obviously uses games sometimes but mainly relies on repetition whilst walking around the class correcting posture and fingering errors. Horrendous memories flooded back of drilling on a manual keyboard belonging to a big black monster object which looked similar to this:


Aaaa, ssss, dddd, ffff, asdf, asdf, qaz, wsx, edc, rfv tgb – oh the joy of graduating to “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”. If I can’t type that phrase now quickly and comfortably on a new keyboard then that keyboard just ain’t good enough. 

But this morning, when the effects of the St Patrick’s day Guinness had worn off, I questioned my knee-jerk response to my NTTF. After all it was only 10 years ago that I visited my own secondary school’s feeder primary schools in the UK strongly recommending that they use some of their ICT teaching time with their years 5 and 6 to teaching typing skills. My argument was that students who were able to touch type were more confident on computers in KS3 (grades 7-9) and finding it easier, and much faster, to produce the coursework requirements for GCSEs (grades 10/11) – and in the KS3 ICT curriculum at secondary school there was no space for teaching typing skills (there still isn’t).

Fom my own history – if I hadn’t done those drills back in 1976, I would never have become a typesetter, would never have got a job at The Independent newspaper, would never have learned web development, would never have become a teacher, would never have worked at the Open University and certainly wouldn’t be writing this!

Do I think children need to be able to touch type on a qwerty keyboard? Yes. Do I think they are learning a skill they will use for the rest of their lives? Probably. Could they learn a different keyboard layout, i.e. Dvorak or alphabetic, and also type faster? Possibly. Will we ever know? Not any time soon. For fun do check out the Open Steno Project – after all these guys are the very fastest typists on earth.

So on that basis, I think that parents need to help their kids learn touch typing, starting on small keyboards for small hands. Some interesting articles worth reading about this are listed below. But do I think middle schools should spend 90 hours of kids time learning to touch type — at the expense of some other very important digital literacy subject matter? No. Make it homework, make it a lunchtime club, make it a valued skill? Yes.

typing certificate
Health Warning – difficult application for anyone with Dyslexia – letters swim across the screen.

Teaching Keyboarding: More Than Just Typing by Linda Star, Education World
Elementary students learn keyboard typing ahead of new Common Core tests by Lyndsey Layton, The Washington Post


#dlrn – indie edtech – punk


There’s a bit of a jam going on, interpreting the riffs created by Jim Groom and Adam Croom (is the poetry why these guys got together in the first place? I’d like to think that.) at #dlrn. Doug Belshaw, Greg McVerry and several followers of #dlrn15 and #indieedtech joining in.

It’s Sunday here, raining steadily outside so instead of that hike I’d promised myself I have been inspired by Adam to watch the BBC’s Music for Misfits: the Story of Indie in three parts. It’s been helpful, partly because I was able to get to grips with my niggling discomfort with Adam’s USA centric presentation of Indie music; it turns out the UK and USA stories are very different. Jim and punk, well that’s another story – punk was all about DIY – fashion, art, even enterprise which eventually killed it. So these guys were conflating edupunk and indieedtech and all I kept coming back to was the phrase “long tail of edtech” and even Minds On Fire (Seeley Brown and Adler 2008). No mistake, I loved the #dlrn15 presentation and was carried away by their brilliant and fun analogies, but I was wondering where all the other genres, the little guys, fit in, you know, like _____ (insert own preferred genre) jazz?

So one of the things that the BBC programme made clear about the 80s indie scene in the UK was that it was funded, for distribution purposes, by the huge companies – EMI – Heavenly, Sony – Creation. The Indie scene changed and is still changing, but we still need people to find the quality. Is this is a bit like VC or HE funding the thinkers and dreamers Mike Caulfield mentioned during the final #dlrn session? I had forgotten that entrepreneurial part of the tale, instead remembering the earlier 70s indie story as being one of self-publishing and distribution (Zoo Records), which did resonate more closely with Jim and Adam’s narrative.

I was reminding myself about edupunk and it became clearer why Mike Caulfield stated that edtech was stuck in 2008; possibly the statement that kicked me in the gut harder than any other during #dlrn. Jim first coined edupunk in 2008, the Minds on Fire article was published in 2008, MOOCs erupted 2008, but does that really mean that there have been no new edtech ideas, or is it something else, what else is Mike thinking of? I resisted Mike’s statement which has kept echoing around my brain; selfishly personal because I don’t want to feel that now, when I finally have some time and space to think, write, connect about edtech rather than adopt, teach and fight for it, there isn’t anything new to think about. Really? No, I just don’t and will not accept that. It’s why I keep listening out for new voices in music – I don’t care about the big genres, any genre will do, just let me hear something that moves me or gets me moving. Like 3 For Silver (genre = anti-Americana), playing at the harvest festival in Camas a couple of weeks ago. First I saw the bass… DIY’d out of a galvanised wash tub and then I heard the guy sing, this band were so brilliant even my metal head partner (Metallica fan) was dancing rather than head-banging. But each to their own, you might hate the sound, who knows.

Perhaps the big idea side of edtech has slowed down (too much money embedded in the body not enough in the long tail), but perhaps it just means we now have to play the music; we have to use the ideas and technologies to educate, to reach the promise that many of us embraced edtech for in the first place. To fund the long tail with our time and energy. To turn our thinking onto the pedagogy, on using the tech, improving the tech, in order to spread education, openly beyond the cultural silos of the English-speaking nations, so abundantly represented at #dlrn.

Personal learning environment – my space?

Personal learning environments (PLEs) are simply a collection of applications, websites and technologies that we use for studying. Because I also learn from people, I have included my personal learning network (PLN) incorporated with my PLE. It also changes all the time and this one was created a couple of years ago. I would make Twitter a much bigger part of it today if I were to redraw it and I would include Moodle too.

A representation of my PLE (mixed with my PLN)

My PLE also includes things which I am not representing on this image, because they don’t have icons. For example I am typing on a Chromebook and this little notepad computer has become the place where I study most of the time. I don’t write assessments and I can’t use Mendeley on it, but for reading, making notes and searching it is great and very portable. But the most important thing for me is that I am not at my desk, if I were at my desk I would be worrying about work rather than working on my studies. So I do think that PLEs need to also include a sense of the physical environment as well as the technological one.

When I first did this exercise I looked at a lot of other people’s PLEs and saved their images to Pinterest. Pinterest then became more interesting as a space for keeping diagrams, images of other research topics – as well as a shopping wishlist!

Follow Mandy's board PLE on Pinterest.

So where are PLE headed?

The very nature of PLE are that they are fluid, the applications and technologies will change as our needs change. So at the moment I am using Twitter much more than I have done in the past. Partly this is because it is encouraged by the course I am taking (MA ODE) and many of the students are using the #H800 hashtag to support each other and share experiences. It does make me wonder though whether the use of Twitter is therefore not really part of my PLE at all for this module but has actually been usurped by the module team? However, because I still follow many other people who are constantly introducing me to interesting resources and material, I think I can be relaxed about this.

I have also moved from eBlogger to hosting this blog in my own WordPress environment. As I learn from reflecting and I am using my blog for reflecting it therefore also needs to be included in my PLE. I purposefully chose to keep my blog away from the OU’s hosting service for it (still part of Moodle), because I wanted to use my blog more openly and, in the end, of course am intending to attract an audience. I don’t think that happens via the university’s hosted blog service. I certainly hardly ever read any blogs that are there, but at the same time recognise that for students who don’t want to have to start their own account anywhere else, it is more convenient to satisfy course requirements by taking the simplest route.


Students should be free to make choices and work together. Whether these choices are free of influence is a different matter and probably one that will become more interesting to look at in the future. At the moment I think we are in a time of settling in. We are getting more used to incorporating different technologies into our learning as students and our teaching as teachers. It is only when those technologies are embedded that we will be able to really see the effect they have had. There is a tension between innovation and experimentation and being able to give students a good learning experience.

I learnt this the hard way when I used a beta version of AppInventor with some students on a GCSE project; unfortunately the hosting of this application was changed halfway through their project and this caused a few problems. I had assumed that something hosted by Google would be more stable – now I know better. Considering the stability of any technology being incorporated into an assessment has to be a priority. Although everything turned out okay in the end, it was unnecessarily stressful at the time. When I was teaching my approach was always to stay ahead of the curve with technologies and I think that my students appreciated that they were getting to try out new things and it often made the tasks they needed to do fresh and exciting. But sometimes, as is the way with all technologies, there were delays and frustrations too.

This shouldn’t, however, ever stop us from assessing new technologies in order to find fresh ways to approach learning and teaching.

Exploring authentic assessment

Authentic Assessment

Redefining objectives: A government school in Faridabad. From Livemint.

I find myself having a rather immature emotional reaction to this subject. It stems from experiencing years of inauthentic assessment at a grammar school during the 70s when the only thing that mattered was memory. This also is pretty much the only thing I don’t have, as I have intelligence in bucket loads! (I’m not saying this to blow my own trumpet, only in order to try to throw light on how frustrating, and damaging, experiencing false assessment can be.)

So from a deeply personal perspective I am hyper-aware that assessment of knowledge is a very different thing than assessment of memory. When I finally discovered the joy of learning, it came hand in hand with being assessed for work I was doing, whether that was simply writing an essay (in the peace of my own room) or producing a film in a group of like-passioned people.
Therefore I am tempted to define authentic assessment as judgement of students’ knowledge and learning through means other than memory.
However, it is clear from reading Whitelock and Cross (2012) and Mueller (1993) that this requires a far more thoughtful and positive response! The former demonstrate that the argument over its definition has raged for many years but the latter produces quite a simple definition:

“A form of assessment in which students are asked to perform real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential knowledge and skills.” 
Having taught KS3 & KS4 the problems of authentic assessment are very obvious; sheer numbers of students requiring frequent reporting of progress; the simplest and quickest way to get information is to set a summative computer marked test. Nevertheless changes in use of materials in exams are certainly a move in the right direction, for example in English language and literature, students are supplied with texts to analyse and are not required to quote by rote. This differs hugely from my experience in the 70s having to memorise poems, novels and Shakespeare plays. Unfortunately our current government seems intent on returning to this type of testing and eradicating coursework.

Whitelock, D. and Cross, S. (2012) ‘Authentic assessment: what does it mean and how is it instantiated by a group of distance learning academics?’, International Journal of e-Assessment, vol. 2, no. 1 [Online]. Available at ijea/ index.php/ journal/ article/ view/ 31 (accessed 30 June 2014).

Mueller, J., (1993). What is Authentic Assessment? (Authentic Assessment Toolbox). [Online] Available at: (Accessed 30 Jun. 2014)

Reflecting on our group project

Averting disaster

These screenshots represent the first page of our prototype website viewed on my mobile phone.
The objective was to work in a group to produce a resource enabling people to learn about local history (of some location) using mobiles and social networking.

I think, rather remarkably, we succeeded in doing exactly this and we haven’t even yet fallen out.

Having read ahead through the materials I knew this task was coming up and it wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that I was absolutely dreading it. My earlier experience, during Block 1 of H808, of feeling responsible for sending the group off down completely the wrong track was not yet a distant memory and I was quite determined not to do that again! But I also made the decision not to allow that to stop me from just getting on and doing my best to ensure that we all succeeded.
I was quite happy when I was assigned to the local history project, because it was similar to a project that I had started to work on several years ago and I felt that that work might be useful to this. In the end it really wasn’t helpful except as a talking point and a reference for myself when it came to creating a template for teachers to use to set up their own activity. However it also quickly became apparent that almost everyone else wanted to be doing something else which created a slight air of negativity that needed dissipating. It was interesting that quite a few people saw little to no purpose for their own learning to be doing this project, needing it instead to be something tangible that they would be able to use in their own environments in order for it to have meaning. This is something that we struggled with throughout the project.
I additionally chose this project because it played to my strengths; I understand mobile technology, I understand web development and I understand how to mash everything together using social networking. My personal challenge was to step back and allow others to demonstrate their own strengths, for example with organising the site or getting to grips with appropriate theory and working through the module required design challenge it. My contribution to working through the module requirements was to create a Gantt chart for us and continue to encourage everyone to use it. I think most people did end up using it and venture that when people didn’t was when they became unsure about what they should be doing. I also decided to toughen up a bit and if other people were struggling with aspects of the project to resist imagining it was my responsibility to untangle them. That was also the reason I didn’t want the team leader role even though I took on several aspects of it and shared other aspects particularly with Lawrence.
It was interesting to see people shine though and everyone did at one point or another. Our meetings were generally amiable and only occasionally did anyone (including me) succeed in taking us off track. My weakness in meetings was that I had such a clear idea of how the project was going to pan out, not specifically our vision, but the practical side of it, that I was continuously pushing towards that outcome and sometimes not taking into account or enough heed of a suggestion that might take us too far off that track. But at the same time, there was often an unhappy equilibrium between just getting on and doing things, without asking others for permission, and trying to seek consensus.
Following the process outlined by the module had its issues but overall it provided a means to an end. It was interesting, if sometimes a little frustrating, to see a learning design theory in practice. Once we allowed ourselves the liberty of assigning different tasks to different people (at the point when we split up the theoretical and case study research), the whole project became a lot smoother. Before that there was a constant concern that one or two people might not be getting something done and might be holding up the group.
I would be sad if now I were to read that some people were unhappy with their own contribution or unhappy with anyone else because I sincerely believe that everyone in the group contributed critical aspects to the overall process and the product, because whether or not they achieved their personal goal, as a group, we achieved our collective one.

Open Education – first scribbles

My experience with open education.

Open Education and the Future – TEDxNYED from David Wiley

This presentation isn’t really my experience of open education, though a couple of the things Wiley said struck a chord. “If you don’t want to share, why teach?” That was a good one, and another “Successful educators share most thoroughly with the most students“.

But I put this here just to get me started…. I, like one of my fellow MAODE students also first came across the concept of open as in open source software when I was studying at the Open University. I also was able to take advantage of the OU’s definition of open education, as in open entry, by completing my own Bachelors degree there, something I would have been unlikely to be able to do at any other university because of my dreadful A Level grades. Now as a tutor at the OU that open entry is something we continuously struggle with on level one courses. Students start out unprepared for university level study and yet when that one student succeeds, surpasses their own expectations and is able to progress with confidence onto higher levels it makes up for those who really can’t.

As a teacher I always used other teacher’s resources and also helped to establish a Moodle based website where whole courses could be freely exchanged, shared and updated. But this falls squarely into Open Education Resources (OERs) rather than open education. I see the OU as being the pioneer to allowing anyone access to education, provided they could find a way to pay for it, but that the definition of open education has changed more towards the idea of open as in free. But only free access to the resources, perhaps to a course structure, and if organised well, then also access to other students. A stumbling block is the notion of how a student feels successful, is it through assessment, certification, badgification?

I was very interested in the one laptop per child project and this felt to me like a project that had the potential to really change access to digital resources for the people who needed it the most. It was disappointing to discover that small use of this project wouldn’t work, my school wanted to buy a set, and server etc, for our link school in South Africa but couldn’t. The purchase was restricted to numbers over 12000 and this meant that it was governments who had to buy in. That ended up not feeling very open.

Wiley talks about people giving of their time in open education. I am trying hard not to see the irony of a professor on a six figure salary (just guessing) talking of teachers giving their time.

Over the last couple of years I have taken part in a few MOOCs and completed one. I also use resources shared under the creative commons licence in my studying and in my teaching.

And a Prezzi presentation to go with these musings: