humour: the time it worked for me in learning #1

One aspect of using humour and light-heartedness in eLearning, especially in a global setting, is humour may not translate. Humour founded in idioms or cultural knowledge may fall flat on its face. Indeed, even within a culture or group, humour is very subjective. And let’s not even get into the matter of defining humour and its many forms.

For today’s blog lets just settle on a very broad definition of humour being something that amuse people, perhaps makes them laugh and/or relax.

I have one example of when humour worked for me when facilitating some live webinars way back in the day.

I was guiding candidates applying to work on web search relevance judging project. What’s that? Well that’s one thing I wanted to ensure they understood too as well as try and enthuse them to take part and feel engaged and relaxed. The cohort was international from many diverse, backgrounds.

The project, to explain it very simply, involved seeing real life search terms made in search engines and viewing pages that may be returned for that search. The project judges would label how satisfying the result was for the search. So you imagine it takes a lot of different skills to understand the user’s intent and what is a satisfying result. It can also be a tedious type of project but has the upside of seeing all human life. What people search for on the internet…well it knows no bounds.

What I wanted to do with the candidates was make them feel at ease with me, with the project, consider how you think about searches and putting yourself in someone else’s (search) shoes. In fact this last point is vital to such work. But I didn’t want to bore them to tears about how to imagine users form the offset or frighten them with the repetitive nature of the project. I decided to use a funny and real life example I had encountered years before on the project.

And here is the real world example I shared with them and asked to consider what the person was looking for.

The search was for ‘how to untangle armpit hair‘.

Through tens of webinars that was the example that always broke the ice (a major reason people cite for using humour in a learning environment). With candidates from all across the world, diverse groups of genders, ages and nationalities, that example always raised a smile and giggles, relaxed the mood but more importantly made them think about users, about the huge scope of the project (you never know what you’d see) and hopefully, as an aside, made them think it was an interesting project to do.

humour in elearning – a laughing matter?

My chosen topic to investigate, and produce a project around, is the use of humour in eLearning. I’ll talk more about my project ideas in future posts but you may be wondering why this topic has jumped out at me.

I am a desperate people pleaser. I am the person who wants to be liked by everyone. And from a young age I realised making people laugh and smile was a great way to do that AND made me feel great too. I appreciate this can also make me a tiresome pain!

I have even done some stints of comedy writing in the past and had my jokes and sketches performed on BBC Radio. I like humour. Who doesn’t? Well actually a few people but that’s another story…

I remember from my schooldays I relished lessons with a human touch, and that was more often than not in the form of humour or light heartedness. In further education, in my first Masters (Sociology), I still remember the lectures and writers that tickled my funny bones or at the least, included the foibles of the human condition with humour or warmth.

Fast forward and as a grown up with a proper job I find myself falling into the world of instructional design and online learning. Still I cling to the idea that to reach people, I will do better if, in the correct circumstances, I can do so with that trait we call humour.

And if you read and listen to guides and tips on creating eLearning there it is, the sentence that backs me up ‘make your eLearning fun by including some humour’. Like a personal add leading is ‘GSOH‘, it’s a given, a universal constant.

Case closed.

Except it isn’t. Rarely does anyone explain what humour is. There is no grand repository of failsafe content. Because humour is fallible, subjective, tricky. A wrong foot can take you to offensive to dangerous – which is fun to juggle with if you are Ricky Gervais but not so great if you are creating the new company eLearning on health and safety.

I saw some company training a few years ago where the creator included a meme from a US TV show (and massive disclaimer – this is NOT about shaming anyone or their content). I found it funny. I knew the show, I knew the context but then I sat back. Would everyone get this reference? Would the audience of a global and diverse company all get it? And if they didn’t get it, could it actually be offensive or off putting without context? I believe it could, especially in asynchronous eLearning where the user can mull over the imagery or text etc. As we work in an increasing global setting, and I myself work for a large global company, we also have to add in the cultural norms of humour.

Now does this sound like I am going to start a campaign to remove all humour from eLearning? I hope not! My hill is still very much humour is a wonderful pedagogical tool but like all tools we have to remember to use it appropriately, assess the situation, review it and know sometimes we are going to fall flat (but hopefully not flat into Human Resources office).

I want to consider the strengths an weaknesses, the practical steps we can take to reflect on our own use and challenge our own perceptions and use (or avoidance of use) of humour in our eLearning.

And finally, in my previous module (H819) I scored my highest assignment mark on an essay in which I included a cat meme. Yes, a cat meme. They’ve taken over the internet, they may as well takeover academia too!

Reflection not perfection: why i’ll dare to blog in public!

This blog is going to be one of my main areas for reflection whilst I complete module H818 of the Masters in Online and Distance Education, The Networked Practitioner. And, I come to it with some trepidation.

My reflection will not be perfection, in either thought or presentation. I tend to blog on the spur of a moment and have little patience with editing and proof reading. My thoughts come out raw. This is one reasons I have probably kept them in my head. Sometimes even the safety of the closed forum of my student cohorts seems daunting enough.

One aspect is undoubtedly imposter syndrome of which I am hardly a rarity for suffering. Does my take on a piece or opinion sound foolish or ill-thought out? Will I just expose myself as not really worthy of being their?

This certainly crosses my mind when thinking of using my blog in this way – to discuss my thoughts, ideas and yes, even criticisms, of my industry – eLearning and Instructional Design. I follow many wonderful IDs and professionals on the likes of Twitter and LinkedIn. I sit fascinated in talks by them whether webcasts or at conferences. I read their papers, their blogs…and I have put them on a pedestal, I have made them ‘other’ to me. Better, more talented, more well versed.

But in doing so I have overlooked one very important aspect that just crept into that last paragraph. This is ‘my’ industry. It is one I have worked in for over a decade, which I have studied and which, I hope, have contributed to in any small way. From sharing a template of a design to pointing someone in the direction of information they need, to partnering with peers on projects, I am part of the community.

Given I happily talk nonsense on other subjects, why not this one too?! Why not think aloud to sometimes sink but sometimes fly? And perhaps in doing so meet and network with others, often to hear that classic start ‘It’s funny you should say that…’ or ‘I thought I was the only one’.

As I investigate one of my topics of interest in the coming months (humour in eLearning) and share other thoughts I warmly welcome you to treat this as somewhere you can comment, send a message or just use as a springboard for your own personal reflection.

There will be typos and mistakes to make an English teacher’s toes curl. There will be tangents. There will be questions a plenty but not necessarily the answer.

A new chapter: thinking about opeNness, networking and humour in our learning community

Catchy title, huh?

Like many other places and events in life this blog had a 2020 hiatus. A quick report is all is well here with me and I hope it is with you too.

During the summer I finished the third module of my Masters degree (in Online and Distance Education) and am now in the driving seat of my fourth, and final module!, ‘The Networked Practitioner”. You’ll often see me referring to #H818, H818 being the code for this Open University module.

Networking

‘The Networked Practitioner” makes us focus on how we network as a community of learning professionals, with participants from the worlds of primary to further education, adult education, professional development and corporate training. Do we like networking? Fear it? Avoid it? Don’t know where to start? What are the benefits and pitfalls?

Whilst we delve into this, often deeply personal, part of of our professional practice we are also challenged to complete a project embracing open practice and networking during that time and reflect on the experience.

I’m going to be looking at using humour in eLearning and will be talking a lot more about that on this blog, my twitter and my LinkedIn (which I warmly invite you to come connect with me on!) as well as openness and networking in general over the coming months. Some other tangent topics may creep in too!

Been there, done that: some top tips on pitfalls to avoid during self-isolation

Yes, it has been a long time since I blogged!

Obviously, we have one global topic dominating our lives at the moment – the Coronavirus pandemic. Many people will have to self-isolate, quarantine over the coming months and I have seen many excellent suggestions on things to get you through it. I thought I’d add in some things to try and avoid.

A few years ago I had to be isolated for almost 12 months during an illness and treatment. I felt relatively fine in the greater scheme of things – the illness and side effects of the treatment left me tired, spotty, fat, achy but also oddly hyper and pretty much functioning. I’ve also been a remote worker for the last decade. If you find yourself in lock down but are well(ish) some of these tips may help you, I hope. I will try and do another post specifically on remote working later but for now this is when you find yourself holed up and you’re not too sure what to do with yourself.

Don’t Binge the Binge Watching

It seems a dream at first. Feet up and delve into all those boxsets everyone has been talking about. Trust me, the novelty can soon wear off and you quickly get TV/screen fatigue. Before you know it you don’t want to watch another true crime documentary. Which also brings me to….

Watch What You’re Watching

If you are feeling particularly anxious, now is not the time to catch up on the apocalyptic dramas. Virus, Pandemic, Survivors probably not going to make you feel better (though oddly for some of us with generalised anxiety and a tendency to catastrophise, we can thrive watching them at this point as we finally have a rationale fear and can do stuff. Yes, we are weird, no need to point it out!) Some teary, emotional movie watching will be fine, but remember you are probably going to be very emotional, maybe more so than you first realise so try not to overload yourself.

Lighthearted programmes, comedies and quizzes can help your mind take some time off and stay occupied with something more friendly for the old noggin. In fact, I would prescribe* a minimum of 30 mins comedy per day (*not a doctor but the saying laughter is the best medicine came about for a reason.).

Look Out for Becoming a Square Eyes in General

The pen is mightier than the sword but screens seems to be mightier than all! Look out for screen fatigue. It can physically affect you, almost binding you to them and before you know it you feel like you’ve run a marathon and your brain has melted. Yes, the TV and computer is going to bring you entertainment, information and a way to keep in touch with others through social media and games but too much and you just feel bleurgh I found.

Give your ears a work out too, try some radio programs (Radio 4 comedy for the win!), audio books and podcasts. Listen to something whilst doing something else, like tidying that drawer you always said you’d get round to, tidying up, a jigsaw, DIY.

That pile of books you’ve always meant to tackle – make some time for them. And craft and create like no one is looking.

Don’t Spend What You Can’t Afford

If you are stuck indoors there is one way to cheer yourself up that is easy to fall in to – online shopping and gambling. By week two you are sick of seeing the same walls, so what harm can buying some new cushion covers do? Or those adverts where the online bingo players are all sat round a campfire with marshmallows – that looks social and fun…and not a bloody thing like the reality at all! Getting any stimulus from beyond the four walls is great but be careful not to fall into the trap of trying to buy yourself out of boredom. Hopefully, those able to still be out and about will do things to keep you feel in the loop – send one of their books through the post, a cross stitch kit (a friend sent me a chocolate bar and a puzzle book and I cried with thanks!) but…

Be Prepared to Find Out Who Your Friends Are and Deal With Disappointment

Clearly the current situation is one of the widest reaching in living memory and everyone is rightly worried for themselves and their loved ones but you are going to see sides of people you haven’t before. People you thought you could rely on will disappear (especially people who found you really useful when you were out and about, not so much now!), and people you thought were mere acquaintances will be like guardian angels. It can feel really demoralising at time but in the current climate we need to try and retain our empathy and understanding as much as possible.

Remember, Not Everyone is on Your Clock

Similarly to above, the empathy has to go both ways. If playing Words With Friends is keeping you sane but your opponent isn’t playing back in real time, appreciate they may be occupied with something else. At the moment my work & study life remains totally the same (too much to do, too little time!) and I am really busy so, my check-ins with friends may be a meme or a few lines rather than a tome of an email but I remember those daft check-ins when I was in longtime lock down kept my spirits up.

Look for some ways you can continue to be social with friends and family online, it maybe starting a book or recipe (insert any interest) facebook group just amongst your friends and family which people can drop in and out of when time allows them. If there is a time you know you will all be doing something say watching a particular TV show – have a watch party.

Don’t Let the Zzzzzzzs Rule You

Sleep and sleep patterns can go haywire. If you’re thinking ‘ah I don’t need to get up tomorrow for x,y,z’ so you watch a few more episodes of the latest boxset before you know it your new bedtime is 4am and you go totally out of sync (and being awake during the day and getting as much light as you can is your friend!). On the flip side, ‘I can sleep in/Catch up on all that sleep I’ve missed’ is great at first but can easily fall into sleeping just to stave off boredom and your energy will plummet. Try to keep to some sort of schedule but…(see how many buts this situation has!)

Don’t Go TimeTable Crazy

Control freaks, who’s writing up to-do lists and making timetables like they are back at school? I WILL do yoga at 10am, read from 11am, sort out my wardrobe at 12pm’. It gives you a lovely sense of control to start with, at a time where control feels totally lost, but can soon feel like you are being you own prison warden. Be kind to yourself.

Don’t Let Pyjama Day become Pyjama Everyday

Hey, I slob out at home, few excuses are needed. Slobbing out feels lovely at first but after a few days it can make you feel miserable to the point you almost convince you must now be ill, feeling lethargic and scuzzy. Now, you don’t need to go the full nines each day, I’m mean ladies it is a joyous bras are optional time. Dig out all the elasticated waists for sure, mix and don’t match, comfort not tailoring but don’t fall into the Bridget Jones dumped look (or whatever the male equivalent is) for too long.

Basically, if you are going to wear a onsie, make it your good one 😊

Don’t Become an Armchair Expert

You need to stay aware and informed but you don’t need to watch the newsfeeds around the clock. In my case I had to stop researching my illness (which was super rare so I found myself in a well of full blown medical level research). Choose your information point, check in a couple of times a day. Even if you feel you are a strong-willed, level-headed person you may still find yourself becoming increasingly anxious about things you cannot control . As a wise person once said, look for the people running towards, there will be good news and heart warming stories too and that positivity will be vitally important to your mental well-being.

Crisps are Not a Meal Substitute

Snacking’s great isn’t it? And when you are holed up and bored, what better way to spend some time snacking 😊 Guess what, it’s another thing that can lead to you feeling sluggish (and let’s not start on the bowel affects because then we might have to discuss toilet paper!) Try to keep your eating in check and as for advice from me on that subject – have you seen a picture of me!! Not my strong suit but food and cooking can be something to stave the boredom and baking was a good time killer (with a lovely outcome).

Be Honest and Ask For Help

There’s no medals for a stiff upper lip. If you are feeling down, anxious or scared please do reach out to someone, your being open may often help others, as we all realise we are not alone. These are not irrational thoughts, you won’t be judged (or if you are I can guarantee those people are dicks). I found amazing support in my immediate circle and also in strangers on the internet going through a similar thing.

Hoping everyone stays safe! Does anyone else have any top tips of some pitfalls to be aware of?

best, Rebecca

Haunted by the word… Innovation

Let’s be clear I love innovation. Innovation is great but as a word and concept, it’s turning into one of those words that is haunting me.

It’s like when you hear a song you haven’t heard in ages and then it’s everywhere. Or you learn a new word and then you hear it said multiple times a day.

Innovation may not be a new word to me or catchy tune but, it is everywhere.

Everything product and new process is ‘innovative’, people’s taglines promise us they are ‘innovators’. Toothpaste is innovative, the latest dishwasher is promising to blow me away with its innovative design. For a job you have to be an innovator and you’ll get it in your title too, Chief Innovation Officer, Innovation Engineer, Innovative Implementation Manager.

And it’s not to say any of those things aren’t true or valuable but, how can this word be so omnipresent in a world were we keep seeing the same old, same old?

My thought is innovation is in its peak of being a hot buzzword. It’ used to be ‘the word genius is bounded around too easily but…’

Whilst doing some research for a previous assignment for my module H817 Openness and Innovation in E-Learning (yep, I’m doing an actual Masters module with the word Innovation in it), I was looking up innovation in e-learning. I came across an article of ‘3 Innovative Things to Do in Your E-learning’. One of them was to include a clickable next button your e-learning slide. Mmmm. When innovative meets clickbait.

Innovation, like perception, depends on your vantage point in the first instance but as a word, a descriptor, an enticing click me title…we need to, as we should with all information, always ensure we are digging that bit deeper, we are thinking critically, we are checking all the vantage points.

And it’s equally important we use the word innovation with thought, thought of our own vantage point, the vantage points of our audience and we frame that innovation within its context.

What may be innovative to us, may not be to another and vice verse. Exploring those differences can be beneficial to both parties but it becomes a lot harder to have those conversations and sift out the golden nuggets if we are deafened by white noise of the term being overused.

Let’s not make innovation a throw away word, one we slip in just to give something some extra ‘pow’ or to gilt our offerings when we know we’ve actually just rearranged the deckchairs on the Titanic.

Learning Analytics: Are You Motivated?

My current block in the H817 Openness and Innovation in E-Learning is on learning analytics and word up, after my operation I am super behind on my readings and studies but, I did want to share a few thoughts here.

Firstly, just the term learning analytics makes me shuffle in my chair uncomfortable. I think this is a fear that I can going to be drowned in data. That data savvy and intense number people are going to bury me in terminology and programs that make my headache, and make me feel like a bit of an idiot. I think this comes from something many of us may have experienced in the past, the lost in translation discussions that happen between different groups in companies or institutions. Ask a learning designer to describe a fruit bowl and then get a data analysis to describe the same thing, you will get two very different viewpoints. So analytics probably scare me a bit – not the information itself but the extraction and delivery of that information.

Learning analytics is already in action but it is still in it’s infancy, we are seeing the tip of a possibly very large iceberg. LA will inform educators, learning, and administrators. Yet are we using them effectively? How many times do we still hear of the analytics being presented not going beyond bums on seats? Or here’s a pass rate for an assessment and here endeth the story?

Summed Up Beautifully – Data Isn’t In a Vacuum

We have the ability to collect simple data so often, even before the scary analysis experts step in, yet we don’t. Why is that? Because we don’t have the time, the confidence, we know the stakeholders don’t or won’t want to hear it, all of the above? How many of us will hold our hands up and be honest, sometimes we don’t follow the learning analytics because we have a gut feeling, a gut feeling we have grown to trust and has often served us well. Let’s be honest again, how many times do some of us say “hey the learning analytics are only going to tell us what we (I) already know, we’ll get them but just as ‘proof'”

Ahern (2019) discusses the use of data in in her blog post Compassionate Pedagogy in Practice and notes the need for motivation amongst educators to implement learning design changes based on learner data.

“…data can be collated for different purposes; automated actions (e.g. email triggers) or as data for humans (e.g. tutors or students themselves) to interpret…However, this does not mean that actionable insights will necessarily be drawn or that action will take place. Motivation is required at institutional and practitioner level to make meaningful use of the data, returning us back to our notion of compassionate pedagogy and a motivation to criticize institutional and classroom practices for the benefit of students.” Ahern (2019)

Ed Foster’s blog Living Learning Analytics Blog is a great blog to review on all things Learning Analytical and Higher Education. As he says in his About Me section ” I am not a data scientist or statistician, but a humanities graduate who has worked in an education setting. My role is not about fixing algorithms, but asking questions about how people can best use the technology to support student success.” I feel this is very reflective of many who work in education, training, learning and development whether in educational institutions, corporate or public sector training.

Resources

Ahern, S. (2019). Compassionate Pedagogy in Practice. [Blog] Digital Education Team Blog – UCL. Available at: https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/digital-education/category/learning-analytics/ [Accessed 30 Jul. 2019].

Foster, E. (2019). [Blog] Living Learning Analytics Blog. Available at: https://livinglearninganalytics.blog/ [Accessed 30 Jul. 2019].

Monday Meme – July 22nd 2019. The Future of Education

Some of you may have seen in the news recently that publisher Pearson is going to phase out print books and go digital first.

This came as little shock to me, and I’m sure many others interested in EdTech, but do not, I repeat, DO NOT, venture into any social media threads on this news article as you will not come out alive. For many people this is a step too far and at some point in the discussions it will turn to ‘bring back the cane’ I assure you!

Portfolio Piece – Vyond Animation Video

I have added another piece to my portfolio, an animation video piece I created using Vyond.

Screenshot of my Vyond created animation

I wanted to create a fun and short video introduction to myself. I like the ‘cartoony’ animation style of Vyond and hoped to reflect my own personality into what can other wise me a boring ‘this is what I do’ list.

Vyond is an online animation video creation and editing tool, full of templates, characters, and scenarios. It is very instinctive to use, and with the editing features you can deviate from the templates to give projects your own look and feel. I think animation are particularly engaging in creating learning content for scenarios or interactions, often more comfortable to watch and digest than real-life video, especially for certain scenarios. The cartoon feel lets you push things a little more that my come across stilted in a real life set, and make difficult or embarrassing subjects a little more approachable in my opinion.

I like how narration can be added and synced to the characters, which themselves can be edited, hence we see a more accurate representation of me and my love of cake and black clothing, than a run of the mill stock character! Though for clarification if you do meet me in the flesh my hair is now currently a very sensible brown!

The downside of the narration is, even with a good internet connection, I found uploading and editing it lags and can be frustratingly slow and unstable, often needing me to log out and back in again. I used the text-to-speech generator for the narration as I could add my own voice that day as my headset was killed in an office cat related incident (which will make perfect sense when you watch the video and see how I work!). Even this generated content would cause the system to grind to a halt. This would be my biggest bugbear with Vyond. However, if I had plenty of time to work around this, I would happily use Vyond for future projects as I do think there is value to the finished project.

After creating the video I uploaded it to You Tube for two main reasons, for ease of sharing, and to use You Tube’s closed captioning functionality which isn’t currently available in Vyond and would be my second bugbear.

So here is the finished piece, a light-hearted introduction to me – hello and for now, bye!

Team Violet Project – Our Prototype

I’ve just had my TMA03 marked, my third assignment in the H817 module, Openness and Innovation in eLearning and am thrilled with the mark so excuse me whilst I do a little celebration dance!

But more than just the mark, this has been my favourite block of the Masters in Online and Distance Education as it involved a group project.

In a team of four, we were tasked with creating a learning application or content, exploring local history using mobile and/or social technology.

Unfortunately, our fourth member was unable to take part due to a sudden family illness, so the three of us undertook the brief with six weeks to complete and document our process, and create a prototype of our idea.

Throughout the design process we created a team site to display our approaches, activities and our final prototype, Please do visit the website at https://sites.google.com/view/h817-19b-violet-team/home

A screenshot of our Prototype

The main objective and educational aim of our project was to produce an activity-based app that allowed foreign students in the UK learn and improve English language skills in a practical way whilst learning about, and engaging with, local history via mobile and social media technology.

Our target audience was foreign students studying in the UK who may or may not be formally studying English.  During group discussion we agreed encouraging participants to undertake activities in this context would be beneficial for a number of reasons:

  • Encourage exploring the local environment with purpose and encourage engagement with others both at the historical site and online.
  • Expose participants to different and colloquial English language both spoken and written.
  • Offer activities suited to a wide range of language ability.
  • Create an application that was non-linear and endless to allow for follow up, continual usage, and growth.
  • Allow participants with different degrees of confidence in using a social platform to partake and expand their comfort zone.

I undertook the role of media manager and instructional designer, though as a team we were highly collaborative in all activities that were given us as part of the learning design process.

In terms of theoretical framework we used Connectivism and Constructionism, further details of which you can find on our team website.

On the completion of our storyboards and a meeting, I amalgamated the storyboards and our decisions to build on my initial Pidoco wireframe to create an interactive prototype. This was my first time using Pidoco and I really enjoyed it and will definitely use it again.

I then created a video walkthrough of the prototype which you can view here (closed captioning available):

Team Violet Prototype Walkthrough

And you can try the prototype out yourself:

https://pidoco.com/rabbit/result/view/283091/page350834731/plain

Personally, the project helped me understand the importance of creating personas as part of learning design. Whilst at the time of the persona activity we decried it as a team as ‘overkill’, at the storyboarding and prototype design stage we came back to the personas frequently. They focused my mind on how the design would be viewed and experienced from the participants viewpoint which would be inherently different to my personal experience (Malamed, 2009).

Having never used Pidoco before, using it was both a practical learning but also a further insight into the importance of storyboarding and wireframing, rather than jumping into final product creation. I have experienced being asked for rapid prototyping or immediate creation in the corporate training field and understand from communications within the instructional design community this is very often the case. In my opinion, this risks undermining the final product and hoped for objectives.

In reviewing the prototype as a team, we evaluated that it presented a strong skeleton for a final app and if pursuing further would spend time on the provision and context of in-app resources for participants, ensuring the technology was adaptive, the language contextualised, and explanatory feedback was being achieved which echoes the finding of Heil et al (2016) during their study of mobile language learning applications.

I really enjoyed working with my teammates and am very proud of what we achieved, especially in the time frame.

I hope you find the prototype and project interesting and welcome any feedback.

Resources:

Heil, C., Wu, J., Lee, J. and Schmidt, T. (2016). A Review of Mobile Language Learning Applications: Trends, Challenges, and Opportunities. The EuroCALL Review, 24(2), p.32.

Malamed, C. (2009). Learner Personas for Instructional Design. [online] The eLearning Coach.