Self-isolation education ideas and resources for parents


This article is aimed at children and parents who suddenly find themselves in self-isolation, at home due to school closures, digitally educating yourselves and your children. Feel free to share.

I wrote it, originally, for parents in my small Norfolk village and family who have suddenly found themselves in isolation for COVID19, but am now making more widely available.

About me

My approach as a teacher was to prioritise helping people to learn that learning is fun; I taught ICT and media studies at KS3 and KS4 and web development, maths and computer programming to level 1 & 2 at university. You can reach me for further help and advice on at Everything I try to produce is based on the idea that if learning is enjoyable then we all learn more, faster and better.

The link below goes to a series of google documents that I will do my best to keep updating and improving.

The starting point which contains further links and information

Investigating Canvas and found video feedback!

I have been having a closer look at Canvas and today I found video feedback. It’s an unassuming little button available on the SpeedGrader (you can see it in action in this webinar Google Apps + Canvas = BFF) and more information is available in the Canvas documentation for SpeedGrader.

Screenshot showing media button

If you like the idea of speech recognition then Canvas SpeedGrader also includes options for using Chrome speech recognition when also using the Chrome browser.

Why am I so excited by these? If you look back over some of my earlier posts and writings you’ll know that I think a video is the most powerful way to communicate with students so that they get the best out of assignment feedback.

Evaluation of the use of screencasting and video for assessment feedback in online higher education

Even more about video feedback (Zoom and Cyclops)

I’ve come across two more useful video applications recently that could easily be used for online face to face or saved and shared videos, so I want to add these to my growing collection of video application reviews:


screenshot of pricing and video speaker thumbnail placement

If you haven’t been invited to a Zoom meeting yet, where have you been? No? But seriously Zoom is everywhere – maybe because it has won a slew of awards. Zoom started in 2011.


First off, there is a free version. Thank goodness, because the “education” pricing is aimed squarely at institutions rather than individual teachers. One of the main things missing from the free version, that would be lovely to have access to, is the ability to use breakout rooms – though this is possible on a 30-day free trial and maybe through a specific additional subscription.

It is very easy to use, even if you do have to download the app for your desktop (or other devices). I like that you can share the screen and that the video of the speaker/sharer thumbnails to the top right, which maintains the connection – one hopes – between the speaker and viewer. The app also includes an option to share a white screen and, again – untested, probably all users will be able to write on that.

You can record and the recording (mp4) is saved on your own drive – this maintains privacy if you are wanting to use video for assessment, you could email the video, share it via google drive or any other cloud sharing environment you are using. A really interesting feature is that an audio file (m4u) is separated out – which creates a much smaller file making email even easier to send. Not sure why this is useful, but it might be.


First things first, no recordings using this app. You could use some other app to record, but that’s missing the point.

Cyclops are the new kids on the block, I think they only launched in 2017. This application is about enabling teams (how about online classes?) to feel as though they are in the same room. It streams your camera and audio peer to peer, which means that the video isn’t stored (and it is encrypted). I love that it can be easily launched from inside Slack.

Screenshot showing cyclops starting within Slack.

Another excellent feature is the ability to enhance a whiteboard so that scribbles become more legible. Anyone in the room can annotate the board collaboratively too. This would also work on any shared screen – though it is a little cumbersome so needs some practice to become fluent.

A potentially great feature is the transcription which can then be emailed to users. It isn’t perfect, it works best if using headphones even though there is a choice to record the room; it makes lots of mistakes and to avoid those one has to speak unnaturally clearly. However, I think that this beta option can only improve but it potentially also makes the application stand out in a crowded field.

I had a little fun with it too – inviting myself to a meeting (I used an incognito window).

Update: before I even got a chance to close the edit page for this blog I got some news from Cyclops:

twitter message from

Does this happen often?

Tomorrow I am going to be chatting (update: Tony wasn’t able to find the conversation table at the back of room or got side-tracked, so this part of the conversation didn’t happen, though other great conversations, did) with Tony Bates (@drtonybates) in one of the Virtually Connecting sessions at #worldconf17, and I like to refresh my memory before I talk to people. 

Searching for his name I immediately was drawn to the title of his most recent book – “Teaching in a Digital Age” as I scanned down his book summary page, thinking to myself, I need to read this, I came to this paragraph:

Teaching in a Digital Age: Guidelines for Teaching and Learning is available as a free, online open cover The English version is available for reading in the following versions:”

And there it was, immediately available, free, and accessible to read in multiple formats.

Why oh why doesn’t this happen more often (to me)? But at the same time, I am very curious how he got paid for writing this book? Writing a book isn’t a quick blog type writing endeavor. Writers should get paid for their work, especially if people want to read it, surely? I am aware this isn’t a new question and the whole OER textbook domain is well understood. I guess that I just haven’t accidentally come across it before.

The link, by the way, takes us to the Open Textbook Library and as I browse I find more and more books I want to read. How exciting.

But as to getting answers to my question, I think I’ll save them for tomorrow.



My #2017DML experience

I haven’t been to a conference for at least a year, but when the opportunity arose to pick one as an award I recently won at The OU for teaching and learning, it wasn’t hard to find the one I wanted to attend.

I’ve been reading the Digital Media & Learning hub since its roots – I think I originally followed a link from the MacArthur Foundation. On a more pragmatic level, the conference was near enough to Los Angeles that I would be able to stay with family and avoid hotel costs.

DML Steering Committe (aka Connected Learning Summit 2018 Steering Committee)

I had already decided to attend before I saw Constance Steinkuehler and Danah Boyd were speaking, my excitement grew exponentially at that point. Steinkuehler provided my introduction to ideas about gamification of learning – simplistically because around then I was attempting to link together my love of World of Warcraft with ways to create engaging literacy lessons in my classroom and I found that boys, in particular, were fascinated to know about which classes and faction I played! Although my love of WoW hasn’t changed much, and I still play, I like to think that my approach to gamification has become a little more sophisticated. So although I was disappointed to see her withdraw from speaking it was almost enough for this fan to catch a glimpse in the corridors of UC Irvine.

Around the same era I took excerpts of Boyd’s 2009 keynote for a professional development session with teachers. Aware that many held strong, albeit erroneous, beliefs about young people’s experiences of the internet, and social media, in essence a sense that they had more knowledge and understanding of the environment than teachers themselves, I shamelessly used Boyd’s words to to attempt to disperse these ideas. I like to think that using them, interspersed with a little discussion and reflection helped us to approach issues like cyberbullying and veracity from a more informed position. I am looking forward to watching Boyd’s #2017DML keynote again, and writing about it in more depth later, because it was equally, if not more astute, in its analysis of today’s information landscape.

Learning all the wrong things - slide
Danah Boyd and opening slide

Superficial reflections

The first day of my conference experience was a workshop; Preparing Teachers for the Connected Learning Ecology Through Playful Practice Spaces led by Torrey Trust and Dan Roy.  This looked at how teachers training and learning had so far failed to address connected learning — the overarching framework for the DML community and conference. Torrey created a ice-breaker which led to my own group disappearing down the technology rabbit hole, but enabled others to successfully explore each other’s creativity under the guise of introducing themselves. My take away from this was twofold, obviously don’t get obsessed with technology but also don’t treat the camera like a friend, I hope I never have to look at that video again! I’ll be practicing my video solemn but friendly face alongside my mobile duck face from now on.

The next task was to assess various learning activities against connected learning principles. Notably these case studies were not necessarily associated with connected learning but were specifically from the makerspace movement. We then went on to work on a rubric for assessing a poster. This was the activity which seemed the least connected to connected learning principles. Lunch was followed by a longer creative activity – a playful learning space for teachers. The groups producing a speed-dating lesson, a lesson-planning game (which was terrific), an introduction to Twitter card game and a web-based quest.

The next day began with Danah Boyd’s keynote.

I found it stimulating, invigorating and challenging and it set an interesting tone for the rest of the two days. People kept returning to it and when they did, this is when the conversations were most compelling. It balanced elegantly with the plenary discussion between Henry James and Esra’a Al-Shafei, both of whom were significantly more optimistic. I had been lucky enough to eavesdrop on their Virtually Connecting conversation the previous day.

Throughout both I was continuously struck by Al’Shafei’s sense of humor, she has the most wonderful and infectious laugh, and I intend to continue to “fuck fear” for as long as I am able, laughter is a magical weapon.

The other sessions I attended were:

  1. “Fork your syllabus you slacker!” by Elizabeth Lawley which provided one of those, why didn’t I think of that moments! She uses Github for all her teaching resources and Slack for class discussions. I loved that students could create pull requests to help correct the resources (for example). She teaches web development and here were students using the very environments they are likely to work with when working in the industry. 
  2. It was great to catch up with what are up to. I first came across this application at the #OpenEd15 conference in Vancouver and got very excited by its possibilities. Sure enough, there are now more and more examples of its use and it is getting more robust by the day. If you haven’t come across it, consider for a moment the power of being able to create layers of annotations on anything you can find on the web and use these inside (and out) of the classroom. They themselves recognize that they are only beginning to understand the scope of this application.
  3. For fun, I went to a session about using textiles for STEAM. This requires quite costly resources like conductive thread, Arduino or Adafruit both supplying the necessary control boards etc. However, I came away determined to create some online courses for teachers (and maybe students) on how to do create some of these.  Later at the tech showcase, I met some young women who had creating Reconstruction Kits, which simplified debugging issues that can arise when trying to teach this i.e. is it the stitching or the code?

All in all, a very good conference, with the added benefit of being close to the sea.

waves at the beach

Thanks #2017DML.

5 questions to answer when choosing a Chromebook for either your students or your child

First off, let me come out quickly as a Chromebook fan. In 2011 I bought this pictured Samsung Series 5 3G 12.1 inch for $476.33. chromebookNowadays, it is relegated to a recipe finder because it is just a little too slow for anything else. The battery charger broke down a couple of years back, but that is the only problem I have ever had with it.

I wish my old UK school had gone with Chromebooks and Google Classroom. Instead they bought into Apple. I think that Apple is great for a school’s marketing image, but not a great way to go in the classroom. In my opinion Apple is gated (only Apple apps can be used), hard to administer and extremely expensive, though of course kids love it because it’s like owning Nike or Adidas over Shaq (Walmart’s own brand sneakers).

The major benefit for schools using Chromebooks is that updating software pretty much takes care of itself provided the units are rebooted every now and again. If a school buys via Google edu they offer a $30 management yearly license enabling central management of devices. The benefits of centralized administration of devices cannot be underestimated. The graphic below from Futuresource consulting demonstrates just how quickly Chromebooks have taken over the K12 market.

From FutureSource Consulting:

If I had to buy a Chromebook today there is a lot more choice than I had in 2011 and when I started looking at the choice of 42 different models on the google education portal I realized that if I was a parent or looking to choose one for my students, I would have a difficult time knowing what to pick. This article aims to help by asking some fundamental questions. The prices are taken from the Find Yours Chromebook page and they are similar to those on the devices page.

1) How much or little do you want to spend?

If money doesn’t matter that much, then the Asus Chromebook Flip C302 ($449) or Samsung Chromebook Pro ($549) are top choices. At the other end of the scale, the Lenovo N23 also has a touch screen and converts, but comes in at an affordable $179. However, the N23 has similar other specs to my first Chromebook, 2GB Ram and 16 GB drive compared to the C302 with 4GB RAM and a 64GB drive.

2) Is your child’s computer going to fall off the desk or be subjected to fidgety fingers?

When I was responsible for the upkeep of about 500 laptops at a school, one of the most irritating things that would go wrong with them was the “hilarious” way that students would pry off the key caps and move them around on the keyboard – or at least attempt to – thereby rendering the laptops out of action until an engineer got around to replacing the springs underneath and reseating the keys. In the classroom computers tend to get dragged around, dropped on field trips and generally abused beyond your wildest imagination. So it’s a good idea to aim for a set that can withstand both mischievous children and gravity’s hard knocks.

Lenovo have thought hard about users in this environment and their N23 boasts anti-peel keys, has a non-slip texture and is “drop-resistant”. Dell’s Chromebook 11 ($219) is similarly designed to withstand the backpack environment with a rubberized trim and fully sealed keyboard.

3) Battery life

Given the choice of having to recharge during the day or not having to recharge during the day, this is a no-brainer. Laptop trolleys are great at night, but why on earth would we choose to have students plug their devices in during the day?

In CNET’s tests, the Acer Chromebook family performed well with the aforementioned C302 coming in at 9th place and lasted for 9 hours. The Acer R13 ($399) was in first place with impressive 13 hour staying power. But all Chromebooks have a long battery life, certainly longer than most laptops.

4) Long bus rides – homework opportunity lost?

Some school buses now have WIFI – we can but hope that this will become as normal as  teens with smartphones (90%) – but until that happens the option to work offline might be important to you. Bear in mind that it is simple to link your child’s Chromebook to their phone’s hotspot connection if you have a good unlimited data plan.

Aside from these “if only wishes made it so” fantasies, the important thing to look for here is the space to store those apps that will help your kids work when offline. Aside from Google docs, Google Keep and Gmail there are a plethora of apps that can now work without an internet connection and will automatically sync up to the cloud as soon as connection is restored, some will require some pre-planning if continuing work on a previously stored piece of work. By the way, this is one of the reasons that I like “bring your own device” policies – because kids have to learn to manage their own work and devices. 

Storage is probably the biggest difference that affects the price point. 16GB is only going offer 10GB usable space, after system software has eaten its chunk of storage. The computers mentioned earlier that fall into this category are the Dell Chromebook 11 and the Lenovo N23. 32GB is available on the Samsung Chromebook Pro and Acer R13. The Asus C302 comes with 64GB making it the outright winner in this category.

5) To hybrid or not to hybrid

A hybrid is a computer that can be used as a laptop and then reconfigured (turned) into a tablet. Generally they will have smaller screens and be lighter too. They also tend to be more expensive. Except for Lenovo whose N23 hybrid is around the $273 mark. Most of the options chosen earlier were from this small group (of 8 instead of 42). The value in being able to use a finger (or stylus in the case of the Acer Spin 11 or Asus C213 – both coming in around $350) to write and make notes, marks on documents will be very helpful especially when doing maths and science notation.

Finding the perfect Chromebook


I hope this article has been helpful. I know writing it has made me want to go out and replace my old model with one of these new bits of gorgeous technologies. I didn’t discuss cameras and microphones – a purposeful omission. These are great, are often used for fun projects in the classroom, and although they are often the most requested feature, they are not necessarily the most important. If you know your children need to do lots of multimedia projects, then this is an additional criteria to bear in mind.

Finally, if I could go shopping today, I would probably pick one of the Lenovo N23s, mostly because I’m a bit of a Lenovo fan and I like spending as little money as possible… however, the C302 is very tempting indeed.


Some of the websites consulted while putting this together:

Google’s own

Google’s education portal

How Google took over the classroom (New York Times)

Office of educational technology can be deeply disappointing

Today I was fact checking a FB post (as you do), and the screenshot below was the result from It was only the eighth result that even came close to being scholarly!

Screenshot from
Screenshot from

I admit that the problem might have been the search terms. But nevertheless, a blog and three html pages was not what I was expecting!

Google’s algorithm for scholarly searches needs improving, and this is clearly not a new issue as discussed by “Academic Librarian” in this post.

edCamp takeaways

apple part of edCamp logoI went to my first edCamp last month and although I was only able to stay for one session – on Flipped Classrooms – it turns out that everything I learnt during it is useful! Time well spent. One teacher, whose name I didn’t write down and I am so sorry for that, teaches media and technology at an alternative school (for students with special needs) in Portland and has a media background. He had some particularly good suggestions and applications to use with students and for teachers to use when producing their own videos:

  • Use numbers in the video – especially when creating a skills demo so that students can easily communicate when they got lost or stuck
  • seems to be a particularly effective sound editor, a big step up in terms of ease of use from Audacity. Has a 5 project basic free account.
  • Open Broadcast Software is a video editing application. I have just started using this, will report back again when I’ve used it some more. But it is a light touch option, gives a preview, not a big download and looks like it has everything one would need to produce edited video.

Someone else suggested using EDpuzzle to track student’s understanding of what they are viewing in any video assigned to them. I can’t wait to use this application, and don’t worry you can add any school name to sign up if – like me – you are using this as an online tutor or are just researching.

To go with this application, I suggest exploring the badly named MoocNote where students can take notes while watching any video.

I am looking forward to my next edCamp! Thanks go to the wonderful organizers in Portland and everyone who pitched a session this time through.


reading journey inspired by a tweet

A good friend of mine tweeted a list today and it inspired me to respond… only I couldn’t fit it into a tweet. This doesn’t have much to do with edtech, except to say how powerful 140 characters can be, especially when accompanied by an image.

So here is my reading journey, inspired by the wonderful Ro.

Enid Blyton – the famous five, the secret seven, malory towers and st clare’s – all while helping at local library on Saturday morning

A series of bible fables for children – a new one would arrive each birthday and christmas from my godmother, who took her role very seriously indeed and also happened to be a publisher. It didn’t work! But I have never forgotten the stories.

A big yellow book of fairy tales, a gift from the same source. These did work! Bluebeard was my favourite – no comment – but this is the one book I wish hadn’t been given away to Oxfam.

Jean Plaidy – embedded a love of imagining history.

Charlotte Bronte all – followed by Emily, some,  – tried, but didn’t enjoy Anne much!

Agatha Christie – all.

At this point I don’t remember reading anything by any men. Other than Shakespeare, Hardy and Dickens of course. But those were required, rather than consumed under the sheets by torchlight.

The Hobbit but it made no real impression, and though I remember wanting to like the Lord of the Rings, it wasn’t meant to be.

All of Checkov. Then Dostoevsky. The link was tenuous.

And then there were the Women again, this time all black. Angela Davis. Maya Angelou,  Toni Morrison and Alice Walker.


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