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I am an ICT and Language Teaching Consultant working in North Italy. I am particularly interested in training language teachers how to incorporate technology and Web 2.0 tools into their teaching in simple and practical ways.

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Short generation gap before delivery media is dismissed

Looking Back, Looking Forwards. Fashion and Fads in #edtech #EDCMOOC

The film Bendito Machine III, that we watched last week on the E-learning and Digital Cultures MOOC, tells the story of technological development in terms of ritual and worship. The tribe treats each new technology with god-like reverence, and damns the preceding technology to the scrap heap.

This film could, I’m ashamed to admit it, have been written about me. I am crazy about technology and gadgets and, just like the tribe in the film, have an old gadgets graveyard. The difference is, mine is inside my house, because I periodically think to myself “it might be useful in the future.”

In Bendito the villagers worship whatever the latest technological idol is and throw away whichever model is already looking a little outdated immediately the new technology appears. In my work as an educational technologist, I have seen something similar many times with educational hardware. I was the E-learning Manager at a large language school, which had an incredible multimedia suite to aid independent study. The one drawback was that it was built in the 1970s. It either worked with LP records, or a reel to reel tapes. It was replaced by a listening centre, stuffed full of cassettes, which was replaced by a listening centre stuffed full of CDs, which was replaced by an multimedia centre stuffed full of computers, which was replaced by an LMS stuffed full of CD RoMs… you get the idea.

There are two things I think that are interesting to note about redundant educational technology:

Firstly, it’s not the technology that has just been superseded that is seen as junk. There’s actually a generation gap, or a “snobbery gap.” We tend to accept old technology, but completely dismiss the technology that came before it. Take a look at this graphic, where I try to illustrate the gap.

Short generation gap before delivery media is dismissed

Short generation gap before delivery media is dismissed.


Secondly, this same snobbery, seems to have a wider generational gap when referring to instructional environments. We still consider previous technologies as “valid” for a good while after “the next big thing” has arrived. For example, we still use blogs even though they’ve been around a good few years. If a course was run completely within Moodle (or any other VLE / LMS) I think most educational technologists would be a bit sniffy about its educational validity nowadays.

instructional Frameworks 2

Instructional environments have a more accomodating generation gap than physical media.


So, as we start week 2 of the MOOC, I wonder to myself, does the same apply to future educational technologies? It somehow seems to have a similar short generation gap. This time though, the gap is about what we believe will realistically happen. For example, wearable tech is here, we know that Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets are coming soon, but implanted microchips still seem to be way off as a learning technology.

Future Skepticism 2

Generation gap in reverse: the skepticism gap.


What do you think will be the next big revolutionary change in educational technology? Have your predictions been right in the past? I know I thought the iPad would never catch on. Now look, it’s almost out of date already!

Teacher Bot

Chatting to Teacherbot. Why Posthuman Teachers Can Never Happen In My Lifetime #EDCMOOC

I talked to a machine this morning. I actually had quite a nice chat. The machine was a robotic teacher. And I learned some interesting stuff. That is scary. But it won’t catch on. here’s why:

The E-Learning and Digital Cultures MOOCTeacher Bot  has added a teacher-bot this year, whose job it seems to be to fire interesting and provocative quotes out willy-nilly at the MOOC participants. That’s all well and good, and pretty easy to set up with a few timed posts and a tool like Tweetdeck. Edinburgh University have been more brave though.

This bot isn’t just an automated sequence of posts and quotes, it’s actually got free rein over the course’s Twitter account and is posting little nuggets of thought-provoking information (seemingly) based on what you actually write in the course’s twitter stream. It’s doing quite a good job, too, apart from a slightly humorous meltdown yesterday, when the bot decided to tweet the same thing several hundred times (I’m guessing our tutors had to turn the bot off and on again.)

The “discussion” I had with the bot was on the subject of “post-humanism.” This is the idea that we will somehow meld our bodies with technology to become some strange cyborg creature. I took the position with the teacher bot that posthumanism was impossible, because humans would never accept machines as equals. In the process of our discussion, the bot proved me right. I also had a strange surprise though.

While I was trying to figure out what the hell “post-humanism” means, the teacher bot led me on a merry chase looking up quotes and obscure academic references, which had the interesting side effect of “ambush teaching” me. I will happily admit, that I do not feel like I have been to a class. I do not feel like I have been taught, either. I do, however, think I have learned something. I’ve certainly been prompted to think. Isn’t this what every good teacher/trainer strives for? Here’s the discussion laid out in chronological order:


  The “uncanny valley” is the effect that robots have on humans when they are too similar to us, yet not perfect. There is something much more threatening and sinister about a quasi-human robot, than a funny circular Roomba on the floor.

 I learned here that a “prediscursive reality” is a god-like state, which only exists in the absence of human discourse to describe that which it is. I can’t remember what my point about natural selection was referring to. Perhaps I was trying to say that the bot’s disconnected discourse was proving she was not a human (even if all of us on the MOOC seem to haveanthropomorphised it to being a “she”.

  Snarky of me, I know. Poor old teacher bot just made a small algorithmic error. Does one have to respect an electronic teacher? Hmm… interesting point worth further consideration, actually…

As a vegetarian, I very much dislike the view Descartes takes of animals (that they are simply machines which don’t feel pain, they just mimic pain responses.) I thought that because Teacherbot kept flinging quotes at me, I would fling one at her (it?) A good Descartes quote insulting machines did the job (blimey – I’d never send my teacher a quote insulting teachers… how rude of me!)


Anyhow.. our conversation went on a little longer. It was something like talking to a very intelligenmt frined with Alzheimer’s. Each individuial post was very interesting.. but was only roughly connected to the last.

Teacherbots, I contend, are not the future of education (yet!)


Where There’s MOOC There’s Brass? #edcmooc

Even though I only just finished an intense 18 months of E-Learning Instructional Design study with the University of California, Irvine , I’ve just gone back to college.

I’ve decided to try out my first MOOC, a little bit down to to professional curiosity and a little because I think it’ll be good for my own CPD. Ediinburgh University are hosting the MOOC on “E-learning and Digital Cultures” here at Coursera: There’s probably still time to sign up – this is only day #2!

So Seth, get to the point…. We’re encouraged on the course to share and blog about our learning from the course. This, over the next 5 weeks is where I’ll be sharing.


Where there’s MOOC there’s brass?

The first 2-week “block” of the course is on the theme of Utopias and Dystopias. The block starts off with some pretty outlandish contradictory statements. I’ve decided to write my first blog post of the course before I have read any of the course material, so that I can share my before-learning views and opinions, which I will later contrast with my post-learning views and opinions. I decided to do this because the two opposing claims are just so far apart that my guess is that neither one can be correct.

Utpoian Claims: “Information technologies based on electronic computation possess intrinsically democratizing properties (the Internet and/or worldwide web is an autonomous formation with ‘in-built’ democratic properties or dispositions).”


Dystopian claims: “Information technologies possess intrinsically de-democratizing properties (the Internet and/or worldwide web is an autonomous formation with ‘in-built’ anti-democratic properties or dispositions).”


The claim that ICT is de-democratising strikes me as somewhat absurd. I will be interested to read that evidence that the course provides to support this claim. I can understand and anticipate that the suggestion may be that in developing countries the power of the Internet is denied to vast swathes of the population due to its inherent costs. This certainly would be a denial of democratic participation, but I cannot see how you could make the leap to save that ICT is therefore de-democratising. I wonder(I hope) whether there will be other, better arguments than mine that technology is de-democratising?

So, I will be interested to see what the MOOC offers as its evidence, especially because I have had often been too quick to jump at an e-learning solution to a learner’s knowledge or skills gap. One example of this could be how I will propose an elaborate game-based for interaction where different learners are given separate role-play cards in order to simulate a line manager giving difficult feedback to an employee who is under-performing. it would take a great deal of organisation and supporting of the learners to make an activity like this a success. The same results could the gained much more easily in a classroom-based roleplay scenario, (or even by two employees meeting up for 10 min with a coffee, taking it in turns to switch roles.)

In summary, maybe I need to think a little more about the downsides of technology. I’m willing to bet that they don’t exist, but you have to know about the bogeyman in order to prove he’s not real! 🙂
Photo Credit: Darwin Bell via Compfight cc

Thiagi's Four Doors

A Charge Towards the Finish Line

I’ve had a mad dash of a week, working to get my final project for the excellent UCI E-Learning Certificate Program. I’ve been working my way through the course for about 18 months now. I must say, I’ve met some really inspiring educators, I’ve worked really hard, including juggling the birth of our third child, and have learned A LOT. I think I’ll have to do a separate post about my learning journey.

Thiagi's Four Doors

Thiagi’s Four Doors

  • So first of all this week, I handed in my mega (slightly over-ambitious) e-learning course on Presentation Design. I wanted to do something that would really engage learners, so I went for something which was ambitious both technically and pedagogically. Our task was to design an e-learning lesson lesson, and I guess I ended up designing about 4-6 lessons, with about another 16 to go if I want to complete the course! My lesson is based on Thiagi’s Four Doors approach, so it includes library, café, play and assessment elements. Check out the first of 4 lessons here: 
  • While I was doing some voiceover recording for the piece, I discovered an amazing plugin for the (free) recording software, Audacity. Often in the past when I have recorded myself, I’ve been annoyed by the hiss and hum you hear in the background between when one spoken sentence and the next. A noise gate helps you to record much better-sounding speech, by cutting this out. It’s great for podcasts and school projects as well as better e-learning, of course, being part of the audacity project, it’s also free:
  • Here’s a recording of the Noise Gate filter in action if you’re curious. Bear in mind, that most normal people wouldn’t record a podcast with a fan blowing right behind them, so the effects are a bit exaggerated in this recording.

  • I’ve been tweeting about education since….  2007 I think My Twitter tag  is @sethdickens if you’re interested. In the beginning I tweeted a LOT, but then lost interest a bit, as Twitter became a bit, well, too full of noise. However, in the past 4 weeks, I’ve started getting interested again, especially after my conversations with Microsoft. It was so strange to be chatting to a software behemoth. They must have an amazing social media team.

      • The Office folk then told me about Office Mix. It’s a free plugin for PowerPoint’13, which seems to do a similar job to Articulate. It looks brilliant. I’m definitely going to give it a try.
  • I was also invited to become a Beta Tester for Articulate Presenter 13 v4. I love the Articulate software and would love to know how a Beta testing program works, so I’ll definitely be getting involved there, too.
  • I spent the last part oif the weekend fighting with Moodle’s SCORM Settings. Horrible! No matter how I changed the settings, it really spoiled the look and feel of my beautifully, lovingly crafted Courseware. Hrrmpph. Okay, well I did find a super guide which helped me figure out the best of the awful settings to use:

Is Edublogging Back In Fashion?

…”normal” blogging is, at least it is according to one of the net’s longest running blogs written by Jason Kottke. He links to a great post idea by Michael Sippey. Michael wants to get rid of:

the daily pressure of a capital B Blog, or the content pressure of a the capital E Essay. Start a new draft post on Monday, dump things in it over the week, rewrite and cull along the way, what’s left gets published on Friday. 

I also have been following a blog by an Instructional Designer Zak Mensah, who does a good weekly blog about the sorts of things he’s been up to each week. He says it helps him keep his thoughts organised.

That sounds like a pretty good idea to me. So I’m going to give it a try. I’ll draft things throughout the week and post every Monday morning.


Open Source E-Learning ToolsI developed the presentation as a part of my UCI E-learning Instructional Design Course. I reviewed three open source tools: Moodle, Audacity and Adapt Learning.



Erickson RImini Conference HAll

Erickson Congress Rimini 2013

Erickson RImini Conference HAll

Last Friday I was really delighted to speak at the “Qualità dell’integrazione scolastica e sociale” conference in Rimini. The bi-annual conference is a huge event in the Italian education calendar. Something like 4000+ teachers attend each time the conference is held, so you can imagine I was more than a little bit nervous to be invited to speak there. Thankfully I had a significantly smaller room than the huge hall you see here.

My workshop was called “iDidattica” or iTeaching, where I was basically trying to get across the point that simply “digitising” lessons won’t change their quality or pedagogical effectiveness at all. Instead, I tried to argue that we need to adopt a more student-centred approach to our teaching methodology and then apply whatever digital tools suits our needs. One methodology that might achieve this I argued is Project Based Learning. I suggested four key tool categories to allow students to create interesting “final products” for their projects: a note-taking app, an audio recording app, a video editing app and an webpage annotation app.

I tried to make the workshop a bit more interactive, by using a few tools like to provide a “backchannel” where the 150 – 200-odd teachers in the room could discuss what I was talking about, disagree, add new ideas and so on. Reading back though it today, it seems like they were enjoying themselves -yaay!

Anyhow, I promised all the teachers present that I would upload the slides form my presentation so that they could go through the links and re-read what I’d been talking about.
In the next few days I’ll also add a second post with a few of the fun things we did like recording podcasts during the workshop, using a chatroom for a backchannel, sharing links with Diigo and a few others.

Anyhow,without further delay, here are the siides:

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