Blog : Thoughts on Learning Technology

Digging in to Big Data

Half a lemon, 2 eggs and 180C. Three pieces of data which in isolation mean very little. In the context of making a cake, they make the difference between success or failure. In a similar sense learning organisations gather lots of data, often stored on separate systems, serving a single purpose.

Now some organisations are attempting to produce a detailed picture of a learner’s progress by bringing together this fragmented data. Learning Analytics as it’s known, is an emerging concept which is gathering place across the world. In the UK, Jisc have been working for the past three years to develop a solution which will be offered to learning providers with fifty such organisations participating so far. The purpose of this is not to become “big brother” but to make use of the data we already have to improve teaching and learning by understanding our learners better.

The challenge is making sense of this data and transforming it into useful information. Attendance and punctuality data is an obvious example, but what about library loans? VLE usage? Time spent on campus when not in class? The key to big data is to look for patterns. Do learners who never visit the library make less progress than those who do? Is there an academic impact on travelling more than an hour to College each day? You may already be able to offer an opinion on those questions through your own experience, but this project is attempting to look at this and find how we can better act and respond to learners needs.

To find out more on Learning Analytics in the UK click here.


This article was first published in the May 2017 edition of the Society of Education and Training’s Journal, “Intuition”.

  • Author:Tom Andrew
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Plickers : Interactive and dead easy

Aylesbury College has been championing the use of Plickers, a free real time in class assessment tool. Plickers makes use of special cards which are printed and given to students. The tutor sets questions to answer and students rotate their card to indicate their correct response. The tutor then uses a smartphone to capture student responses automatically using the phone’s camera. The results are shown instantly to the class via a projector. Unlike many other in class systems Plickers just requires the tutor to have a device, making it low cost and quick to set up; perfect for a learning check at the end of a lesson.

Resource link

This article was first published in the Spring 2017 edition of the Society of Education and Training’s Journal, “Intuition”.

  • Author:Tom Andrew
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A VLE as an information repository? Surely not!

I recently discovered a simple article titled “7 ways to improve uptake of your VLE“. The article points to seven simple ways to enhance a VLE to be more appealing to students and staff. Pleasingly most of suggestions are actions I have done, or I am doing in my role but a few stand out as being slightly irrelevant. I really passionate about “Bite Sized Learning” and it’s relevance to modern learning, but as part of a VLE?

A VLE is a great way for staff or students to look up facts and check information which is readily available through an easy-to-use and effective search engine. This is called “Just in Time” learning. Encouraging students to seek out information themselves is a great way to encourage independent learning. (

A VLE is for me not a place for storing vast amounts of information. Obviously it should contain course materials (assignments/project briefs), but not rafts of reading material and answers… the big wide world (www) is out there for that! If I need to know something, what do I do? I google it. Typically I read the first few lines of a wikipedia article or glimpse a youtube video and that’s it. If I need to know more I look further and if I really need deep understanding, I read a book (or even a ebook). The same goes for  our students., and they know where to look.

Google has even taken this further due to demand from searches to allow the search engine to provide the answer without even having to visit a linked website. The “answers” system is a new google feature which is continuing to develop. The screenshots below show a few of the searches and the resulting feedback.

With answers so readily available where does this leave “proper” research? Firstly what is “proper” research? I recently asked a librarian, who defined it as “academically certified, and not user generated”. In this modern world with answers so readily available it is not surprising the world of books seems increasingly insignificant. It seems even more strange to think about making a VLE a place to “look up facts and check information”. Surely it’s better to encourage students to smartly use the wider internet. The information on VLEs will age quickly and from experience most teachers don’t have the time to update it. VLE’s are great, if used correctly.. but as an information repository? No thanks.

  • Author:Tom Andrew
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Twitter for Education?


Twitter is often found to be the forgotten social network when it comes to education. Whilst Facebook has been embraced by some educationalists, for its use of groups, many others have struggled to find the value in Twitter. Twitter is the social network of choice for sharp discussions and breaking news and opinion (limited to 140 characters). Unlike Facebook where interaction is limited to members of a group or friends, Twitter allows for interaction with anyone and everyone in a public space where new connections can be made daily. This of course presents challenges, created by openess and equality of view. However opportunities for Education can be found such as these suggestions made by a representative of Twitter at #Bett2015.

Education ideas from Twitter

Tweet pals – Students to connect with other students studying the same subject (much like pen pals)

Ask Questions – Create a hashtag (eg#JaneGclass) and students can tweet using this tag to have their questions display on the class timeline.

140 Summary – Ask students to tweet a 140 character summary of a book, poem, TV show, concept, idea etc.(quite a challenge)

Breaking News – Follow hastags to find out about a subject, especially developing stories.

Netiquette – There are rules of the internet and how to behave, explore this topic on twitter, following #netiquette.

Engage Parents – Some of our departments already have twitter accounts, why not encourage parents to follow and share updates of what’s going on in College and important announcements (eg: parents evening)

Exchange ideas – 40% of all twitter users don’t tweet, they listen. Listen to the views, ideas and tips from others. Follow useful accounts like @teachingideas for daily inspiration.




  • Author:Tom Andrew
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E-learning tool Review-

Blubbr – Triv – User View
Blubbr – Triv – Editor
Update: 2017 – This post is for archived use. The website and tool mentioned below no longer exists and thus can no longer be recommended. 

In this post I would like to share a tool I have recently discovered following a recommendation from my Jisc Regional support contact. is a tool designed to blend Youtube videos and a Quiz activity. The site uses a web based interface to allow any user to create quizzes by collecting together Youtube videos in what they call a “Triv”. The videos will automatically play when viewing a Triv and at set points will pause to ask the viewer a multiple choice question. The question is set by the creator along with the possible answers. Users have twenty seconds to make their choice, and points awarded if they answer correctly. The “Triv” awards more points the faster a viewer answers correctly. In each Triv a running leaderboard is kept and users are encouraged to share their score via social media.

I really like this activity format as it is very interactive and fun. In terms of accessibility (in reference to Salmon’s Five Stage Model) it is intuitive to user and takes cues from television quiz shows (like Who wants to be a millionaire) and quizzing apps. From an educational standpoint a good tool doesn’t make good learning, and that is very true here. Most of the Trivs already created are for fun, with titles like “Goal or no Goal”, “Which Radiohead song?” and “Disney Trivia”. However when used as a recap tool it can be effective. In my demonstration (above) I have attempted this, so encourage the viewer to pay attention to key details of the recipe. I can also see this resource being used by learners to create quizzes about a topic being studied. By designing a quiz the learners will have to ensure their questions are correct and source appropriate videos. This is essentially research knowledge and comprehension packaged together in a product (application).


  • Author:Tom Andrew
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Is anyone listening? Netiquette seems to be lost

Digital Citizenship Pic


This week I participated in a discussion surrounding Netiquette (The Etiquette of the Internet) on it’s origins and purpose. I don’t think anyone would agree that Netiquette doesn’t have benefits, it all makes sense. If everyone acted in a civil way on the Internet, it would make life much easier. Recent changes in the law have formalised some of the most severe elements of Netiquette in the UK. Internet Trolls can now face up to two years in Jail (

Netiquette – In Text

Netiquette is not just about behaving yourself online it’s also about interacting in a clear way. Some methods of communication don’t translate well when written down, such as sarcasm. I found this example today when communication has been completely confused when the poster attempted sarcasm “and failed miserably”

Screen Shot 2014-10-25 at 17.51.55
(Screenshot –

In face to face communication sarcasm is quite easy to detect, the change in tone of voice, gestures and context all contribute. Online sarcasm can be lost and allow arguments to start. The rules of Netiquette generally discourage the use of acronyms and “text speak”. However now some of those terms are in the Oxford English Dictionary such as;


Originally and chiefly in the language of electronic communications: ‘ha ha!’; used to draw attention to a joke or humorous statement, or to express amusement.

First used – 1989 FidoNews (Electronic text) 8 May, LOL—Laughing Out Loud.

I feel Netiquette in the wider Internet is a nice idea, but has been lost in rapid expansion. On stand alone websites, forums, and VLEs it is possible to set “house rules”. However with “house rules” they will vary from site to site. Netiquette may have seemed achievable many years ago when the Internet was in it’s infancy, however now it is a different story. The screenshot below is taken from the comments section on a Youtube video (discussing a video game). As you can see there is pretty much every mistake in the “Netiquette book”, but one poster does attempt to consider the feeling of others (getting the correct gender).

Screen Shot 2014-10-25 at 18.05.20

(Screenshot –

The Internet is changing, just like our changing culture. The Internet of 2014 is much more about self made content, video, audio than written text. It does feel some of the “rules” of Netiquette need updating.. but would anyone read them? now everyone is a curator can the world agree on rules? Better make a Youtube video and find out!

  • Author:Tom Andrew
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Netbooks: A Post Mortem - A Story of Hopes, Dreams and Replacement

By: Tolbxela

The humble Netbook, what did it ever do to anyone? Okay It didn’t have the best performance, screen, keyboard, trackpad, wifi, connectivity or battery life…  However it was small and plucky and best of all for educational organisations, cheap and flexible. Netbooks were (and still are) available at low cost, I found on a recent trip to my local supermarket Netbooks being offered at knock down prices, on a low dusty shelf. At eye level is the iPad, the Android Tablet which draw much more attention. So why did the Netbook fall out of favour and why are Schools and Colleges looking to move away from them?

The Netbook’s origins are far away from their current position and date back to the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project. The OLPC’s project aimed to develop devices which could be used by children in parts of the world where access to such technology was impossible due to infrastructure, opportunity and poverty. This noble endeavour resulted in the production of the project’s first (of many) devices the XO-1 Laptop. The laptop was designed to work in challenging environments with a rugged shell and low power use (due to flash memory). The laptop even made use of a hand crank charger to help boost it’s battery. The operating system was bespoke and made use of open source architecture and applications. The laptop later became known as “The $100 Laptop” and started a revolution.


At the time of launch (December 2005) Intel’s Chairman Craig Barret shared his opinion on the future of the $100 device and the form factor in general.

“I think a more realistic title should be ‘the $100 gadget’. The problem is that gadgets have not been successful…It turns out what people are looking for is something that has the full functionality of a PC. Reprogrammable to run all the applications of a grown up PC… not dependent on servers in the sky to deliver content and capability to them” (1).

The news of a low cost laptop solution spread and other commercial manufacturers were watching.  The OLPC project had no plans to produce the laptops as a commercial product but were being asked to. This left an opportunity for the likes of Acer, Asus, Dell and later even Intel to produce devices in this form factor but running Microsoft Windows. The devices did cost more but promised the familiar Window’s experience at a fraction of the cost of a full size laptop.

It seems many educational organisations across the world discovered the Netbook and saw them as the ILT solution they had been waiting for. Schools and Colleges have limited IT facilities with buildings being designed at the time computers were the preserve of science fiction. The growth in ILT has been unprecedented and initially Schools transformed regular classrooms into Computer Labs. However there comes a point when there is simply no more room left. This lack of space coupled with the need for ILT to be embedded in every curriculum meant the technology needed to be portable. A Netbook was a perfect fit, cost effective and portable, it even ran Windows too!

Seven years ago when Netbooks first appeared in my organisation they were brilliant. They allowed staff to bring technology into workshops and classrooms which have traditionally had very little access. They were well received and became one of the most used assets with over 200 in circulation in near constant use. However expectations change and the Netbooks remained the same. The Netbooks always represented a compromise but were seen first as “a decent alternative to a PC” then “Good for web browsing and research” and finally “Better than nothing at all”. It was even reported that students were opting to use their iPhones in preference. Some key criticisms were that;

The Keyboard –  Too small, which made typing difficult especially for adult hands.
Poor Performance – Slow and often unresponsive.
The Screen Size – Too small, which made webpages difficult to navigate.
Storage – Problematic, Students had to use memory sticks to save their work (which they would frequently lose or corrupt)

So what did we do? Well following extended trials and research we moved to Chromebooks. Chromebook’s represent excellent value (around the price of Netbooks) but run ChromeOS a slimmed down operating system. They have excellent battery life (12 hours), a full size keyboard, use Flash memory and do a lot of processing in the Cloud. Students sign into their Google Account (managed by the school) and then all their work is automatically saved and moved from device to device with them. I made sure Google Drive was integrated into our VLE (Moodle) so students can for example;

Start writing their essay in Google Docs on a chromebook in class. Log onto our VLE at home and continue writing on Docs in any web browser. Open up their essay on their smartphone to make a quick edit on the Bus. Then submit their essay digitally to their Teacher.

During this process the student has not needed any paid software of any kind. They have not downloaded anything, it was all done in the Cloud from start to finish.

Src –

That day in December 2005 was not one Craig Barret from Intel would want to remember. As predictions go, it wasn’t a good one.  It seems users are not always looking for is a full blown PC experience and are happy to use servers in “the sky”. Everything is about convenience, it should “just work” as a certain Apple CEO once said. Students expect educational technology to be cutting edge and why shouldn’t they? A Chromebook and Google apps are just that, and they are taking the Education world by storm. They are what the Netbook should have been. Will Chromebooks be the saviour of Educational Technology? That’s not a prediction I would want to make, but things are looking good.

(1. – Intel executive dismisses US$100 laptop as a cheap “gadget –

  • Author:Tom Andrew
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Biggs Constructive Alignment - eLearning

This week (and last) we have started to look at Biggs (1999) work focusing on the theory of Constructive Alignment. Constructive alignment is when the key features of learning are “aligned” towards the learning outcomes (or objectives). The advantage of this is obvious, learning activity being aligned towards the needs of learners and the needs of the assessment allows for students to progress successfully. A classroom either online, blended or traditional would be chaotic if the teacher chose intentionally to allow learners learn in one way and be assessed in another. During the learning journey students will rightly experience a wide variety of teaching methods, assessment methods and learning activities but Biggs proposes that generally learning and assessment should be aligned.


(Figure 1. Aligning learning outcomes, learning and teaching activities and the assessment. Adapted from Biggs(1999) p 27) – source:


Personally I see this method as completely logical and “common sense”, ie; If a learner is taking a class in singing, then it is right to expect for them to take part in activities which simulate a performance, when they will be assessed on their singing skills by public performance. However taken too strongly Bigg’s theory could remove some of the fun and variation from learning. I feel it is important that learners experience a wide variety of methods and experiences, even if some of those are quite different from the methods of assessment. On balance I feel this theory is sensible and an important part of course and lesson design and planning.

  • Author:Tom Andrew
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