Core area 1: Operational issues

Candidates should demonstrate both their understanding and use of learning technology. “Use” might include the use of technology to enhance learning and teaching, the development, adoption or deployment of technology to support teaching, training or learning. This should include evidence of:

1.a An understanding of the constraints and benefits of different technologies

You should show how you have used (or supported others to use) technology appropriately, given the constraints and benefits it provides within your context. This might include how you selected particular technologies to meet the specific needs of users (students or staff). Evidence in support of such statements might include a brief commentary on the choices behind the development and use of learning technology that influence its fitness for purpose. (This might discuss issues as affordances of the technology, viability, sustainability, scalability, interoperability and value for money.) You may already have something like this in the form of a design outline, proposal, conference presentation or similar. You should include such existing documentation wherever it seems relevant. Alternatively, you might want to take this opportunity to find out more about a technology you have deployed and produce a report on its viability.

For a number of years I’ve been interested in how spreadsheets, in particular, Google Sheets can be used to support learning and teaching. Google Sheets and Google Forms provide a useful platform for collecting and analysing data and I’ve followed with interest how other members of the G Suite Education community have used them in this and other ways. There are a number of ways Google Sheets and Forms can be used to support learning and teaching from use as a basic student response system to using them for a flipped classroom or collaborative exercises like such contributing to timelines.  

Like many products today Google Sheets and Forms continue to evolve, new features such as the ability to upload files being added all the time. Given the ubiquity of spreadsheets there is also the opportunity to learn about their usage from other sectors and over time I’ve been fortunate to talk to people working as web analysts and developers of stock market trading platforms.

As part of my work at ALT I developed a number of Google Sheets templates used for data analysis. In some cases these have been designed entirely by myself based on my understanding of best practices in data visualisation which have been acquired from attending/watching talks and subscribing to specialist blogs.

Evidence

Reflection

The benefits of Google Sheets include the ease in which spreadsheets can be shared and discussed with other tutors and, if appropriate, learners. Spreadsheets are also useful in that summaries of data can be quickly analysed and visualised using built-in formulas, formatting and charts. The use of spreadsheets is however not without its issues. Often summaries of data are constructed using formula and when working with collaborators it is easy for these formula to break if overwritten or the data is sorted. If formula are combined with static cell content this can end up in the wrong place. These issues can sometimes be mitigated against by protecting what data the user can change. There is also the challenge in that whilst there is ubiquity in access to spreadsheet tools like Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel, availability does not equate to ability. There is also a challenge in that there is often a general assumption that everyone has basic spreadsheet skills which can often not be true and also prevents the person seeking help when required.

1.b Technical knowledge and ability in the use of learning technology

You should show that you have used a range of learning technologies. These might include web pages, Virtual Learning Environments, Computer-Aided Assessment, blogs, wikis, mobile technology, e-books, programming languages and so on.

Evidence might include copies of certificates (originals not needed) from relevant training courses, screenshots of your work, a note from academic or support staff who have worked with you or, if appropriate, confirmation that the work is your own from your line manager.

As part of my work at ALT I’ve been required to support the learning of our staff and community via a range of learning technologies. This includes using a number of ‘off the shelf’ products like Blackboard Collaborate Ultra but also extends to developing tools in-house. An example of where I’ve been responsible for a range of learning technologies is the annual ALT Online Winter conference. For this event I manage the conference website which uses the WordPress blogging platform. As well as managing the import of session information I’ve developed and maintain a plugin which integrates the timetable with the BuddyPress plugin which enables social networking features. 

As part of the event I’ve also facilitated webinars hosted in Blackboard Collaborate, and setup and run sessions via Google Hangouts On Air. To support users of the website I’ve also created a number of ‘how-to’ videos using screen recording tools. To help delegates get the most out of the conference I’ve also researched and published guidance on getting the most out of virtual conference experiences.

Evidence

Reflection

One of the reasons I enjoy the field of learning technology so much is that both the tools and understanding of the pedagogy is always evolving. Over time however it can be challenging to go beyond surface knowledge and maintain an understanding of current best practice. An approach I’ve developed and recommend to colleagues who are perhaps early in their career is to maintain an understanding of a wide range of learning technology but have a focus on a smaller number of areas where you can become an expert. Perhaps I’m becoming cynical in my old age or I’m developing a maturity of thought, but increasingly I find myself asking what are particular learning technologies not good at or what are the negative aspects. Asking these questions and seeking answers from my peers who are more knowledgeable has been useful in understanding if certain learning technologies create negative behaviouristic interactions or poor learning experiences.

1.c Supporting the deployment of learning technologies

Statements about your involvement in supporting the deployment of learning technology might relate to providing technical and/or pedagogic support to teachers or learners, advising on (or re-designing to take account of) technical and usability issues, developing strategies or policies, managing change, providing training or other forms of professional development, securing or deploying dedicated funding and so on, all within the context of the educational use of learning technology. For evidence, you might include the overview section of a strategy document, meeting minutes, summaries of student feedback, testimonials or witness statements from other colleagues.

For several years I’ve maintained and developed a solution for archiving and visualizing conversations on Twitter using Google Sheets. The resulting tools, TAGS and TAGSExplorer, were borne out of a personal interest in understanding communities with an open connectivist course context. Learners in these courses can feel particularly isolated due to their distributed nature. With a network visualisation of a course Twitter hashtag the tool was designed to give both the learner and tutors a sense of place within a community. Much of this work has been informed by engaging with the Social Network Analysis (SNA) community, developing an understanding of SNA principles from texts and developers of similar tools such as Marc Smith who leads the work on NodeXL.

As well as TAGS/TAGSExplorer hopefully supporting tutors interested in using Twitter in education I’ve also developed resources to support its use include guides and how-to videos as well as responding to questions in the TAGS support forum that I setup.

The use of TAGS as a learning technology is also supported by a number of research papers by various authors. The deployment of TAGS has also recently been supplemented by the availability of a free course on FutureLearn developed by Queensland University of Technology and Purdue University.

Evidence

Reflection

The development of TAGS/TAGSExplorer has been a wonderful vehicle in helping me understand how social network analysis can be used to support learning and teaching. Each month there are currently approximately almost 25k TAGS spreadsheets opened (this figure excludes spreadsheets which have been setup for automatic data collection and haven’t been opened in that month). One concern with the project is the number of high risks which can’t currently be mitigated. This project is reliant on access to data from Twitter and every step has been taken to ensure the work complies with their terms of service. As TAGS is a pet project undertaken in my own time it would however be difficult to quickly respond to changes in terms or how data is accessed. One solution would be to expand the core team bringing more developers. As the project is unfunded it would be reliant on volunteer effort.