Activity Idea: Saying Goodbye in a Remote Team

Recently, we said goodbye to one of our long-standing team members at work as she moves to pastures new. We have been together for many years, gone through her pregnancy together, many birthdays, Christmases, oh yes, and work! And none of this has been face to face. I am based in the UK and she is based in the Philippines . Our team is located across the globe but somehow we’ve always felt in the same room, this makes saying goodbye a little harder.

In a physical office the chance to say goodbye can be memorialised with gifts or after dinner drinks – a proper send off and celebration.

In our last team meeting before her departure, held as always virtually, I came up with the idea of screen sharing, my go to for making mind maps. I put a photo of our colleague and friend in the centre and invited everyone to share words they think of when thinking of her and our time together. We added in branches of special memories and in-house jokes. I am not going to share the map we created as that is personal to us but I made one up you can see hear to give you a rough idea of what it can look like. We sent the map to our friend, so she can print it out and remember how much we all loved working with her and why we think she’ll grow to even higher heights in future. It was great fun to all create together, and yes there were tears!

Openness in Education: what is it?

Another Block 2 activity and one I feel is really the start of a longer discussion rather than a completed artefact.

For this activity we were asked to choose two readings from a list of 6, all looking at the concept of openness and openness in education and to visually represent some of our takeaways.

I chose

Cormier (2013), What do you mean… open?

Bates (2015), ‘What do we mean by open in education?’

For my visual representation I have gone back to my old friend to create a colourful mind map.

Please click here to view the original version with clickable links

I can imagine going back to this mind map in time to edit but for the moment it has very much focused my attention on the concept of openness as a philosophy of education and helped finally quieten the idea of open = free. It’s also made me focus more on when we do use an open system the dynamic between it being more user or creator centric but what I would like to further consider is when the user-creator line becomes more blurred as we see with open resources which have social and collaborative learning as one of it main pedagogies.

Open Education: Have I Been Open to it?

I am entering the second block of my latest module in my Masters in Online and Distance Education. This module, H817, is called Openness and Innovation in E-Learning and for the next seven weeks we’ll be considering openess, in terms of Open Education and Open Education Resources.

Our first activity is this – blog about our own personal experience of open education to date. It has made me stop in my tracks, have I been open to to? have I realised I was even taking part in it?

The philosophy of open education is to offer access to high-quality educational resources and experiences, free from the barriers of entry requirement, monetary restrictions etc. Open education goes beyond the simple act of sharing information, but looks to actively encourage collaboration, and I would argue an important aspect of that collaboration in a breaking down of formal hierarchy, privilege and platform.

Open education gives us Open Educational Resources (OERs), commonly online and digital, OERs can provide knowledge, resources, activities and debate with the aim that collaboration can see this disseminated, reworked and become an on-going learning environment. That said, OER does not mean a free for all and unusable chaotic landscape. What we have seen with OER is educators and learner sharing common standards, which may be required (such as Common Core State Standards) or informal standards which may be culturally or context driven and this providing a base for further development.

But this digresses from my experience of open education. Let me take you back many years, when in my late teens I was taken seriously ill, left bricks and mortar University and was housebound for some time. I was still craving education, mainly to prove I was still relevant and that great word, ‘normal’. The internet was a way off, mobile phones were bricks and even the library felt like a marathon.

In those days I discovered correspondence courses which I signed up to…with embarrassment, I mean they weren’t ‘proper’ learning were they. Whilst my peers were graduating and entering the jobs market I was completing essays to be sent by post to get a certificate that I assumed people would laugh at or consider little more than something free from a box of cereal. How many times have we heard someone ridiculed by suggesting they got their degree through the post, or even today the concept of the diploma mill – everything being tarred with the same brush and all that.

I would watch Open University broadcasts on any subject on the television, Sunday morning teach yourself Urdu programs – what I release now was I was taking part in open education and for myself at time it was a vital learning lifeline bourne out of accessibility issues.

A little later, now confident in my self made bedroom University of Rebecca, I applied to do my Masters in the Sociology of Sport with the University of Leicester by distance – one of those proper, real, brick universities with tutors and professors who worked with the government. I passed, with distinction.

Fast forward better health, entering the workplace and being almost ‘normal’ 🙂 and along came the internet and I soon found a myriad of learning opportunities to dip my toe in*, often for free or for a small fee. A love of learning, but admittedly a fear I must also keep up with the people who went the ‘normal route’ you’d find me signing up for a range of courses from leisure interests to computer skills and now I am taking the plunge to solidify what has become my career and interest in learning via online methods and technology in my Masters.

Fears still persist. I still crave the recognition and official acknowledgement of my learning with a shining certificate and still fear those I have obtained through OERs don’t carry weight or merit. Yet I’ve never really stopped to consider the wealth of learning and knowledge gained via OER in general and how I believe and hope that has manifested itself in my professional capabilities. Of course, I have a fear about this blog alone which I am daring to make public and ‘proper experts’ could come and point and laugh but as a previous post points out I am learning that the L&D community the is hugely welcoming and respectful so fear be gone.

Other than this Masters, my most recent OER experience was a course on Cousera where I paid the small fee to complete the certification which involved peer reviewed assignments and gave me that comfort I appear to crave of a standard form of measurement we have been trained to desire/require through secondary and tertiary education. This raises a lot of questions.

Firstly, even if small, we still see a monetary barrier to achieving this comfort of measurement so how do we measure learning and impact for the individual? My bugbear of being able to click play on a LinkedIn Learning video, go do the washing and come back to find it says ‘completed, here’s a certificate’ is a common cause of a Rebecca rant.

Secondly, more than ever, I am not keen on people telling me what I should learn or do next. My eyes have been opened to the ability of personalised learning journeys and I like it. How will the corporate beings who still want to steer their employees cope, not to mention that dreaded fear of if you let someone plan their own journey it may culminate with them leaving us.

Thirdly, whilst I have mentioned that OER has not become a free for all, we do still have the looming shadow of the word of the moment ‘fake this and fake that’ and the unscrupulous who will twist what is presented as an OER to be a money making scheme or certainly something of little value to the individual. Often those individuals are some of the more at risk or naive persons for whom OER should, and can be, a wonderful, powerful tool in their development, in finding their voice and being part of the wider discussions. OER can be a driving force for diversity and inclusion, for accessibility and flexibility but how do we in more powerful and privileged positions ensure that is the case.

One thing is for sure this is going to be an interesting block to study!

*in the interest of openness, I hold my hands up to being one of those people who has signed up for far many more courses than I have actually completed but that folks, is a story for another day!

Can’t Keep Up With Your Peers Online? That’s Just Fine.

Tired woman in bed

Recently, I find myself perusing social media and online journals (usually in the comfort of my bed, half asleep) and asking myself:

“Where the hell are they all getting their energy from??!”

Some people in Instructional Design and Learning and Development, seem like unstoppable thought machines. Working full-time, doing practice projects on the side, writing journal articles, taking part in all the conversations, they seem like 24-7 producers. For some of us it can seem very daunting, especially those of us who are new, changing into this career path or are more used to being in the quiet corner. If we can’t measure up to them, do we measure up at all?

For myself I am juggling working full time, part-time study for my Masters and have some health limitations. That means always being tired and never feeling I am quite making ‘it’.

Firstly, life is not a competition and yes that includes work and study life. Competition, especially in the world of work, seems to be a driving force. As much as the influencers on Instagram are selling unobtainable and unrealistic goals, the same can be said in the world of work. You do not need to keep up with the Joneses, you need to do you. Do not let the FOMO (fear of missing out) rule you. Be careful who you are measuring yourself against and ask yourself – what affect is it having on you? Is it propelling you, inspiring you? Or, is it making you feel inferior? Stressing you out?

Here’s another insight I have discovered. Those people posting loads, the non-stop creation machines – that’s who they are. They are not sat at their keyboards with the sole purpose of shaming you because you aren’t as prolific. They are passionate, dedicated and by good fortune, have the energy and platform to do this. (Side note: if anyone out there is feeling they ‘have to’ keep producing and being part of the online community and it is beginning to become a chore or they are burning out please take time for yourself! Let’s always ensure our community is not one of negative judgement and assumptions). Amongst them there will be the odd few who just love the sound of their own voice, as anywhere in life, but you have the power of who you listen to and the benefit of your own judgement and gut feelings.

In my experience the most prolific and vocal posters in L&D are open, welcoming and often eager cheerleaders. They are our ambassadors. Reach out to them, follow them, enjoy the benefits of their sharing of their network and knowledge, and THANK THEM.

Prioritise your own wants and needs, and accept that you may not be able to do everything, or be everything to all people. Don’t feel you have to say something for the sake of saying something, say something because you have something to say.

I feel I can only give back to the Instructional Design and Learning community as a second tier activity at the moment. I am not in a place to regularly blog (as much as I would love too), I can’t always stay up or join in the conversations but I am still part of the community and hope whatever little I can give back will help someone else down the line.

Where Have I Been? Where Am I Going?

The blog wanderer returns! So, as you see I haven’t blogged in many months (shame on me). We left with me in the throws of my first module of my Masters in Online and Distance Education (MAODE). I cannot put into words the amount of paper and post-it notes I got through preparing my final external examined assignment for that but let’s cut to the good news – I passed!

No sooner had I passed though then it was time to see Mum into hospital for a total knee replacement and play Florence Nightingale for her recovery which I am pleased to say is doing very well. Throw in a dose of a very busy and hectic time at work, Christmas and some business trips….well time just flew away from me.

Now it is time to get organised and fly into 2019 with determination. Last week I started my second module in the MAODE ‘Openness and Innovation in eLearning’. Here’s the description of this module:

“Innovations in elearning continue apace, especially with the use of social software tools that encourage peer supported learning. With an emphasis on exploring innovation, you will discover some of the latest educational communication developments, the increasing use of data in education through the fast changing field of learning analytics, and also experience developments in open education. You will develop specific elearning skills (in particular those of collaborative working through an assessed elearning design activity), conduct small-scale investigations, and use case studies, with the overall aim of incorporating or rethinking elearning activity into your own professional context. This module will introduce you to current debates around the concept of openness and the ethical issues relating to learning analytics. “

I am very excited about this next module which contains a lot of critical reading and thinking, discussion, and reflection. To that last point, reflection, journalling is actively encouraged throughout the module.

This has made me contemplate what and how keeping a journal means to me. Like many forms of reflection I believe some people strive to find the perfect journal process, that there is a right or wrong way to journal. It always worries me that so many of us at work, in study, in every life task are driven by, and judge ourselves by, the perception of perfection and ‘the right way’.

Personally, I am going to journal in two ways: I am going to swing between ye olde pen and paper and a big tabbed notebook (any excuse to go to Paperchase) and blogging.

Written journalling, I can be more freeform, mind map, sketch note, doodle, colloquial to the extreme. This makes me more comfortable. The downside is it may be more difficult to scan and research during assignment preparation. 

Blogging is when I want to more vocal, hopefully entice people into conversation on the topics and share different views and resources. Blogging also allows me to draw in more mutlimedia aspects I may want to index for future reference and also allow me to be more creative such as putting my thoughts into an infographic to share with others.

I would love to hear anyone’s thoughts on how they journal, especially in terms of keeping a learning journal whilst studying.

2019: the year of the learning journal

It is going to be a very busy year, especially in the first half. With work and study can I keep organised and on track (to be honest, I wouldn’t take that bet!!). There will be late nights, comfort eating, panics and middle aged tantrums I am sure, but I am sure I will learn plenty 😉

Monday Meme August 6th – Is That My Brain Melting?

It’s the fourth day of my four day weekend. I took some holiday time from work to give myself a long weekend to dedicate to study with my next assignment due next Monday.

The idea has been to rise early, study non-stop, go to bed late.

The reality has been to toss and turn through the night as Britain continues to be in a heatwave. I cannot begin to explain to you how we Brits are not built for this weather (and I still have a bit of the goth about me so, I can melt in the face of a fridge light). Finally turn on the computer, study for five minutes before googling ‘at what temperature does the brain melt?’ because you are sure you can feel the inside of your head turning to mush. Then the joy of a sweat drenched keyboard as your eyelids suddenly feel like they have a ton weight attached to them. All this before you have even clocked the assignment question!

So when I say I have sweated over this assignment i really mean it!

Spotting, Appreciating & Being Inspired by Design – Wherever You Are, Whatever You Are Doing.

Not the catchiest of blog post titles I admit but hey, we’re having a heatwave in the UK and the brain circuitry is melting!

This last weekend I was in London (a very hot, sticky London!) to see the play The Lieutenant of Inishmore starring amongst others the ever so attractive and talented,  Aiden ‘Poldark’ Turner.  The play was super! The whole cast shone, it was witty, dark and poignant. Also the love of cats features very strongly so perhaps that could explain why a crazy cat lady like myself was so drawn to it.

But, I am not blogging a review, or fangirling about Mr Turner (tempting as that may be!) what I was thinking about on my train journey home was how much design jumped out at me over the weekend. We cannot go through even the most routine of days without design all around us but, how much do we take in consciously or subconsciously? How many times do we something seemingly so unrelated from our projects that gives us a light bulb moment? What’s the oddest times you’ve had an a-ha moment?

This weekend my first a-ha moment was bananas, literally. As I walked into the hotel there was a warning sign out front that the surface was slippery. and it wasn’t the usual dull yellow a-frame stand, it was in the shape of a banana skin! Now I may be behind the times and everyone else has seen these already but, it was my first banana skin warning sign and it made me smile and more importantly, pay attention to the surface!  What could have been just another utilitarian sign had been given some humour and style which didn’t distract from its main function but, actually enhanced it!

Lesson 1: just because something is functional it can still be attractive, enticing even and a little humour goes a long way!

Then, as Mum would be travelling with a wheelchair, as she awaits a knee operation, I visited the theatre website to check out the accessibility section. Whilst there I noticed a video tour of the theatre. Having not visited before I clicked to watch. At first I admit to being taken aback as the narration was incredibly simplified and matter of fact; it was only then I realised I was still on the access section and this was actually a video tour and guide to what happens at the theatre for visitors on the autism spectrum and other sensory issues. So I watched from the start and was very impressed with how the video was laid out and clearly a lot of research and consideration had been given to it’s production. You can watch the video here and I recommend you do.

Lesson 2: always remember the audience you are designing for, not yourself or your own perceptions.

The DMT Theatre Etiquette Guide. Click to visit full version. (c) Delfont MacKintosh Theatres

I continued to click around the site and came across this absolute gem, the Delfont MacKintosh Theatres’ Etiquette Guide. The playful nature of this guide reminds me of when air safety announcements are done really well. It is succinct, amusing, visually appealing and very much in tune with the theatre setting and the grand Victorian and Edwardian design many of them boast. 


Some people may find the theatre off putting or fear it is elitist etc, but I hope this guide gives them the confidence to come and enjoy the proceedings feeling prepared and informed, but not lectured.

Lesson 3: keep it light, keep it succinct, keep it on theme, give it visual appeal, break up the tedium of rules and instructions.

The show itself also boasted a set design of pure genius with some of the best theatre special effects I have seen in a long time, especially the gory ones but I will not go into detail on those as I don’t want to let any spoilers out should you be going to attend, and I wholeheartedly recommend you do!

So, where have you recently been that has peeked the design centre of your brain or given you a left field idea to incorporate into your e-learning or training designs?


What Does Your Personal Learning Environment Look Like?

And moreover, what do you want it to look like?

On my Masters, we have recently been looking at the arguments for and against Personal Learning Environments (PLE). Some argue they are already here and that learners are forming their own hub of resources to carry out formal and informal learning. Others view the idea of a PLE as being a more precise item, a software or online resource yet to be perfected whereby a learner can centralise all their learning wants and needs, docking into ‘mother ships’ of Virtual Learning Environments(VLE)/Learning Management Systems (LMS).

Of course, this is all before we bring in another acronym. the LEP (Learning Experience Platform) which aims to go beyond the often rigid constraints of an LMS to provide a more personalised learner experience not handcuffed to linear and indiscriminate courses. Now you may say isn’t an LEP a PLE and will there still be a place for the VLE/LMS. You might say that, if you want to give yourself a headache or just really, really like acronyms. LOL.

In this blog post I am not providing or even suggesting answers but am thinking out loud and wondering what do I want my learning experience to look like? What do I dream it could be?

One blog post we read, now 11 years old yet seemingly as relevant today, was Martin Weller’s My personal Work/Leisure/Learning Environment in which he laid out all the resources he then used in his life of learning. I decided to jump on a MindMapper (I used the free website) and set about putting down all the learning resources I draw on and, I gave myself the challenge not to labour over it but to put down everything I could think of in the course of 10-15mins. This is what came out:

A Mindmap of learning resources

I really suggest you give this a go, it is very enlightening. And if you do, please share!

What I noticed compared to Weller’s of a decade earlier was how we have our main stayers (your Googles, Facebook etc) but also, I needed a lot of dotted lines – I just couldn’t express it without them. When I write this blog, it populates my Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts. My social media use includes informal learning and often sends me in resource directions for my formal studies. The overlap of informal, formal and workplace learning is probably even more ingrained than I would have first imagined.

So flipping back to the idea of a PLE, with the advancement of machine learning and AI, the interconnectivity  of such a wide range of resources and tools plus the human component of collaborative work and community, yes perhaps I do fantasise of a centralised space where I, the learner, can connect all these dots. Where I can with ease marry the scheduling of my study tutorials, with informal community networking and informal leisure learning and interests. What if by doing that, machine learning and AI were able to show me links and dotted lines I had not considered and could not have found in this overloaded world of material and artefacts? What if I had a central place that recorded and drew in my achievements of formal study next to my career studies, and in turn share those achievements as I wished with colleagues, peers etc. What if achievements weren’t recorded just in terms of exam results but if experience and our real world progress was captured alongside. Would such a PLE help me see learning as a lifelong activity and make the capturing of such easier and pleasanter? But then who becomes the arbitrar of quality? Will I always want the formal and informal recorded together? Will a ‘fail’ permeate through, no longer hidden out of sight, but there to suck your drive and confidence.

With all these questions running around my head I began to think of Jane McGonigal‘s keynote at DevLearn 2017 How To Think Like A Futurist and the part of her excellent talk that discussed imagining learning and credentialing being decentralised and continuous. She also demonstrated such a system in her ‘future artefacts’ imagining of Edublocks.

These ideas are rightly challenging and will be argued and debated for many years…decades…to come but one thing I have come away knowing is that I am blessed to live in a society where I have these resources and a level of autonomy over my learning. This is far from the case for so many today and therefore, for those of us in education and training it is vital we recognise how very precious that is. If the debate of how learning is delivered and dispersed takes us down a road of a cult of personality, the measure of success being monetary profit, a monopolised, privately held system we have, to put it bluntly, cocked up,

Monday Meme July 2nd – Studying Is Hot

So for a meme to kick the week off I thought I would address the current heatwave we are experiencing in the UK. Studying in the heat, over a laptop which identifies as a radiator, is not a lot of fun and very, very sticky!

My heart always goes out to those have to sit exams at this time. I don’t think the US National Bureau of Economic Research study which showed exam results worsen with increased heat shocked anyone who has sat an exam in a sweltering gym hall.  More feedback and commentary on that paper is available on the BBC News website article “Hotter years ‘mean lower exam results'”.

So joking aside, I really do hope everyone is able to keep well, hydrated and confident. There’s some good tips here from the Association of Accounting technicians on keeping cool when studying in hot weather – if you have any others to share, please do!

However, if you look for ‘exams when hot memes’ the algorithms of the search engines appear to think we are looking for encouraging words to study from Ryans Reynolds and Gosling, or equally as attractive men not named Ryan. Well who am I to argue with the search algorithms?!

How to be a bad (and therefore, totally normal) mature, distance student

When you sign up to be a mature, distance student, you do so knowing it will not be an easy path. Whether your 15-20 hours of study per week are going to run alongside a 40-50 hour work week, family life, a social life; there is no illusion it will be plain sailing.

That said, I think we all sign up with the best of intentions of how well organised and dedicated we will be.

We read up on study tips, endless top ten lists of how to study well and efficiently. We promise ourselves we will rise at 5am to study and then study into the small hours. We will study on the train, in the garden. in the goddamn bathroom. We will take part in all tutorials, post like demons on forums and initiate student chats and meet ups.

And then we don’t because….life. Work piles up, you get ill, your loved one gets ill, you get sucked into a six season boxset on Netflix. Instead of turning in assignments a week before the deadline, you hit submit five minutes before that deadline is up. You may even wonder why you signed up in the first place.

Another issue with being a distance student is it is very easy to let your imagination run wild, believing everyone else on your course is fully up-to-date, sailing through and scoring in the 90s.

And I am here to say that is okay.

These things can and will happen (please feel free to add your own in the comments):

  • Using read aloud on papers because you can’t face reading another piece of text
  • Skimming over parts, or missing them out entirely, whist you play catch up
  • Using what you had put aside as study time to have a nap….which lasts six hours
  • Doodling rude things on papers you have printed out
  • Thinking about your studies whilst at work
  • Thinking about work whilst studying
  • Multitasking during online online tutorials, whilst dressed in pyjamas
  • Using your ‘must study excuse’ to get out of an event, but not actually using that time to study
  • Buying vast amounts of stationary and list books to make yourself feel better
  • Reward one paragraph of study with two gin and tonics
  • Taking your study with you on a journey and never looking at it
  • Write blog posts and not bother editing or spellchecking them

And finally, asking for help from your tutor and fellow students. Ah, I suckered you in but this is my most important lesson to date – do not isolate yourself. Students of distance study can be connected in so many ways with technology – be it the formal course forum, or a less formal Facebook group. Do not let time and tasks pile up on you with the belief ‘if I could have one clear day/weekend/week I can catch up’ – let your tutor know and let them advise you, they will have seen this all before.

None of us are a studying superhero, but just by showing up and persevering we are one step closer to just as important cape.