Author Archives: Jess Humphreys

Return to blogging…


I have been meaning to blog for a while but it seems to fall to the back of the list of things to do – I need inspiration and then the ‘Digital things for Learning Developers’ came along and I decided this was the excuse I needed to get back on track with my blogging. Why not re-start my blog after a couple of years and engage in some cpd too. Perfect timing!

So here I am… And here are my responses to this week’s task for #LD5D

Key Skills – Setting up the blog – this was not a problem as I already had a word-press blog – it just meant dusting it off and re-acquainting myself with the blog.

Profession-specific – I have blogged in the past so did not have any real reservations or concerns. For me blogs are more of a professional tool.  I do find usernames tricky – and spend ages trying to find something that works only to find it is already in use. I read recently that you should focus on the posts rather than the name and I suppose my procrastination in finding a name for a blog has distracted me in the past from writing any posts. At the moment it is really simple yet dull – I suppose I may get inspiration one day!

Evaluation: I think this is still a work in progress – I do think I can spend so long writing a post (does it look write/convey what I want to say etc.) and then not publish it – so I suppose there is some nervousness around that. Having said that this post is pretty much a stream of ramblings… I can see how a bit of a personal touch can invite interaction and engagement but I also think that with tools like this you also need to be visible (regular posts etc.) to ensure that people engage with you.
Integration: I link my Twitter feed to the blog and vice-versa.  With regards to separating personal and professional identities, I tend to use Facebook for personal things, keeping in touch with family and friends. Whereas the blog is more for my professional thoughts etc. A couple of years ago I participated in a webinar on this area and blogged about it – not much has changed since then.
Whilst I am confident with online technologies I find opportunities like #LD5D great for reflecting and re-considering my use of things. It is also great to get inspiration from colleagues within the learning development sphere. So hopefully this is my first post of many…

Planning Events Reflection


Over the next few weeks I am taking part in an online course run by SEDA – ‘Developing the Developer.’  The first weeks activities have included general introductions and more focused discussions about planning an ‘event’. The sessions have got me thinking about how I go about planning – I love planning – have lots of ideas get inspired but then the reality of putting it all together sets in and I can get carried away! 🙂  

The Seda session got us thinking about the different stages involved in the planning process and enabled me to reflect on what I have done previously when organising conferences, workshops, seminars, presentations etc. It also re-enforced the linkage between planning, implementing and evaluating when considering ideas for future events.

What was interesting was the discussions about the different levels of purpose for each event and how you can evaluate these outcomes. The core course book recommended that we should consider the different levels of purpose including:

  1. Stimulate/ re-energise staff
  2. Learn new information about teaching and learning
  3. Change behaviors/ attitudes towards teaching and learning (Long-term goal)
  4. Make an impact on the organisation/ student learning over time (Long-term goal)

These different purposes got me thinking a) whether they are always relevant but also b) how do we go about capturing whether or not the objectives have been met? With the longer term goals what sort of study/ survey etc. would capture this?

Another area that I got thinking about from looking at the literature was how we promote the events and make it relevant/ accessible to potential participants. With lots of exciting projects in the pipeline this is an area I need to give more thought to over the next few weeks. So day 1 of the course has been very insightful and inspiring – lots to think about and more questions to be considered over the next few weeks.

First post of the year!


Having one of those days today where my head feels like it is going to explode – so much going on in there and so much to do where do I start?

Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) by simplyla (Flickr)

Lots of new year resolutions – things I hope to achieve in my work and before January vanishes completely thought I would get some of these ideas onto my blog.

  • CPD – attending courses, reading,  networking and getting my FHEA status
  • Project work – lots of exciting developments at work at the moment so to continue to work on these
  • Research – keeping up to date with the latest developments in teaching and learning
  • To blog more
  • Ultimately to be productive, proactive and positive

This year is going to be the biggest year ever for me as in Spring I will take on the ultimate role in my life – becoming a mum – so I expect more changes and adventures ahead! Will be an interesting journey! 🙂

Future Trends


Earlier last month I attended the JISC Innovating e-learning online conference 2011 and one of the key-note speeches focused on the future of education. The discussion focused around technology specifically and how much this influences change within education.

Thomas Alva Edison

Thomas Edison – Image via Wikipedia

In 1913 Thomas Edison predicted that “books will soon be obsolete in the schools as it is possible to teach every branch of human knowledge with the motion picture.” Today there the e-book reader presents a new threat to books but Edison has provided us with a word of caution when making grand predictions.

The session highlighted that whilst we may think some technologies have developed quickly and appeared suddenly on the scene in reality this is not always the case. For example the image of a tablet device can be traced back to 1974 when it was first discussed  long before the iPad became a familiar sight. Traditionally there has been a gap in adoption of technology within education. However just because technology exists does not necessarily mean we need to jump on the bandwagon.

This is in contrast to my own experiences – when I was fairly new to the library world I remember being encouraged to utilise technology and not miss out on developments. Seize the moment – technology was developing at such a speed and we needed to keep up with these developments. Whilst this was inspiring it can also lead to a loss of focus and I did in some cases find myself using technology for technologies sake as oppose to taking into account any pedagogical considerations. In addition more generally this approach does not always work – for example many institutions jumped on the Second Life bandwagon in recent years and if you visit some of the SL islands you find an empty resource. In addition students did not generally want to attend second life. However before these technologies are completely written off not all have had this experience. For example SL has been used to simulate situations for midwifery training at Nottingham Trent University.

The talk given at the on-line conference acknowledged that whilst there can be resistance to change within education – “the best way to predict the future is to invent it.” (Alan Kay) Therefore learning sciences have a pivotal role to play in the development of this area. The idea of blended learning was also discussed – recent studies had found that those students engaged with online learning together with face to face learning improved their performance – this approach provides additional learning time and resources.

The session highlighted findings from the recent Horizon 2011 report including the different levels of impact approaches to technology had. There was an emphasis on the personal learning experience – some suggesting that there will be a move away from VLEs towards more personal learning environments. In addition the idea that network learning has always existed but technology has led to an increase in the scale in which networking can take place. In recent times the way technology has been used has also changed – from disseminating information to collaborating and co-constructing information. The session ended with an analysis of this ‘new ecology of learning. Some features of this ecology that were mentioned are highlighted below.

I think that these are exciting times (with regards to creative possibilities supported by (supplementary) technological developments) and that whilst there is always a degree of caution when considering how to adopt technology, will it be relevant, will it last the test of time – one thing is clear – technology can help to provide access, creativity and collaboration in new and innovative ways.


Ipadagogy Reflections


Last Wednesday I attended an epic e-learning day in the Teaching Grid. It was a matter of pure coincidence that three separate meetings were organised for the same day – and each session focused on either smart mobile applications, ipads or discussions around e-learning.

Image by sucelloleiloes ( - CC BY-NC 2.0

The day was inspirational and certainly gave me plenty of things to consider. This blog entry reflects on one aspect of the day – the role of ipads in HE. I don’t personally own an ipad but I have used them on a number of occasions and have recently noticed an increase in the number of people who are experimenting with using this tool in their teaching. The point of the ipadagogy session was to get us to think about how they could be used and to demonstrate several useful applications including Mindmanager, Kindle, dragon (dictation software) and Evernote to name a few.

The following link takes you to an ‘Ipadagogy’ wiki that outlines a number of apps –

Some people believe that the ipad is a “game-changer” as it can potentially empower students to take responsibility for their learning e.g. through finding resources and/or producing their own.

I am still interested to find out more about how ipads are being used in HE. The other day I spoke to a colleague from another department who was keen to provide ipads to students with the reading resources needed for the year preloaded (- a way of using it for disseminating information).

I can see many merits in using the ipad in my own learning – the only problem being I do not own one! With regards to teaching – this still needs some thought from me – logistics such as time to develop applications, availability of applications etc. are all issues that need to be considered. But as the recent Horizon report highlighted more students have smart phones and mobile technology is going to feature in teaching and learning in the future. Ipads are just one vehicle for the numerous applications that have been developed. The impact of this technology on the teaching and learning experience is something I am interested in exploring further…

Interdisciplinarity in Teaching and Learning – Some thoughts


Several weeks ago I attended a really interesting breakfast workshop co-delivered by Warwick and Monash University. The theme of the session focused on  interdisciplinarity in teaching and learning and covered some interesting ideas and projects that are currently being undertaken at both Universities. Using the wonders of technology there was a seamless and very effective video link to the lecture theatre in Monash.

Interdisciplinarity - generated by

Interdisciplinarity seems to be a ‘hot topic’ in teaching and learning at the moment. The recent Kings/Warwick project found that this form of teaching often took place ‘despite of the curriculum’ as an extra aside and discussions focused on how in some instances the concept of interdiscplinarity had been embraced in the development of new modules. The opening talk included a further discussion of the project results and highlighted the importance of students in assisting with the development of interdisciplinary initiaitives within HE  – the idea of a student-as-producer philosophy.

The first talk from Monash focused on a subject that did not quite fit within any discipline and how they approached the teaching of language in conjunction with the teaching of culture. The speaker highlighted how they were able to collaborate with different disciplines both within their own university and institutions overseas. Institutional support was considered vital in promoting this practice. Whilst interdisciplinary practice brought a number of benefits there were some concerns over how these sort of modules/departments fitted into the Australian Research Assessment Exercise.

Warwick followed this talk with a series of student accounts about what they got out of interdisciplinary modules. This section was really powerful and emphasised the value and impact of this style of teaching – students were encouraged to go beyond their comfort zones and develop new skills.

The academic perspective was also covered by both Monash and Warwick with details of specific projects that have been undertaken and how this approach to teaching promoted fresh approaches to delivering modules. In addition assessment approaches were also mentioned including reflective writing, essays, group projects and portfolios. What was interesting was how this form of teaching promoted creative thinking and how well it was received by those students who engaged with it. Whilst there are obviously some challenges to this approaching and critics who believe that this approach can ‘water down subjects’ – the morning was invaluable and inspiring. It will be interesting to watch developments in this area further both here and within other institutions.

Balancing teaching and research


Tomorrow, together with a colleague, I am running a short introductory session for Early Career Researchers who Teach – the idea of the session is to introduce the support that our team can offer ECR’s and unveil a new developmental programme that we have put together for ECR’s who teach. One thing that we were requested to consider in planning this session is addressing the issue of the challenges and opportunities relating to the balance of teaching and research.

In recent years the emphasis for HEI’s has tended to be focused on research excellence. In a recent Guardian blog post Sue Littlemore suggested that in her view teaching (unlike research) does not make institutions or careers.  I do not necessarily agree with this viewpoint as I think teaching can provide you with skills that help with research – for example communication skills that could assist with the dissemination of research.

I think both teaching and research have vital places within HEI’s although a common perception currently is that teaching can take second place to research. However is this attitude about to change? With the imminent increase in student fees there may be an increase in student expectations and their experiences of teaching may influence whether other students are encouraged to study at a particular institution. In addition in another Guardian article some early career researchers are finding that whilst their research is up to standard they are missing out on jobs in an ever competing market due to their lack of teaching experience.

Within academia there are many changes under way and plenty of discussions about how research and teaching can co-exist and be mutually beneficial in some instances (see article by Ann Thomson). Some suggestions could include using your teaching to inform your research – talking on your specialist area and getting new perspectives from students. Through teaching a subject some people find that they increase their understanding in that particular area. Another option that some people are using is the ‘student as researcher’ or ‘student as producer’ approach – one example of this is a project at Lincoln University – where the teaching experience equips students with the skills to research and feed into new developments. It could also encourage and inspire a future generation of potential academics.

Whilst there tends to be a bias towards research – teaching (like research) does have a vital role to play within universities and future changes in student expectations may heighten the need to celebrate and recognise teaching excellence further.

The session tomorrow night has got me thinking about the topic – this is very much a blog post full of random thoughts and no doubt an issue that I will revisit.

Teaching for creativity


Earlier this summer I attended a workshop on Open-Space Learning – delivered by IATL. Inspired I took what I had learnt from this session and together with a colleague in another department we put into practice some of the techniques suggested. (I will blog more about this experience soon!) Since then I have been inspired to develop the concept of theatre and experiential learning within some of the sessions that I teach.

The Globe theatre - not quite what we were up to but could not find any free images of forum theatre in action! Photo by CyberSlayer, available under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

‘Teaching for Creativity’

Keen to learn more I signed up to a two-day workshop entitled “Teaching for Creativity’ that took place at work but was facilitated by a London-based theatre company  – Cardboard Citizens. The workshop was intended to demonstrate some of the methods from the theatre world that could potentially be used in teaching and learning. Cardboard Citizens are an organisastion that works with homeless people using the medium of theatre to help explore some of the obstacles experienced and suggest ways to move forward in their lives.

The workshop was facilitated by one of their directors  and the day consisted of a number of different theatre activities, opportunities for debate on issues such as obstacles to creativity and how we can change space to change the direction of the learning experience. The idea of a spectrum was used to evoke conversations around the role of the teacher/facilitator in inspiring creativity. There were a few moments where I wondered what I was doing there – for example running around trying to avoid a ‘bomb’ (a colleague who represented danger) in one exercise and making shapes to represent various words. How on earth would these tools work in my teaching? OK so I could be pushed out of my comfort zone and into the all-important ‘stretch’ zone – but what was I learning? I also became aware of my own need to understand what I was doing – what the point of it was – in order to gain an insight into the significance of the method.

However there were important key moments in the two days where things did make sense – I felt energised and working with colleagues from a variety of different departments and learnt a lot more about what creativity was taking place in the classroom and how sessions like this one would/could impact on future practice. One interesting element of the two days was the idea of Forum theatre and how this could be used to initiate debate.

Forum Theatre

The idea behind Forum Theatre was first introduced by Augusto Baul in the 1960’s. He believed that theatre could work as a forum where people could consider scenarios and discover possible problems, solutions etc. The idea is that a sketch is played out to an audience and the audience are encouraged to participate in discussion and role-play taking on characters to demonstrate and share experiences. In the work we did we explored issues relating to certain barriers to creativity, presented a scene to colleagues and then re-performed the scene enabling colleagues to stop the performance at any moment and join in, becoming the main character and demonstrating how the situation could be changed with a different approach to that scene. The whole performance is facilitated by the ‘Joker’ who is an independent person that helps the situation flow.

This was a really interesting concept but I am aware of some difficulties with this approach including time to develop scenes. However it could be useful to develop ideas and debate – such as around historical perspectives, issues of ethics, literacy and language etc. I can see how this could work with diversity teaching – creating scenes and provoking discussion. One example from Brunel University demonstrates how this method has been used with primary school teacher trainees in developing their ideas around classroom situations.

I did find the black and white nature of the debates and performances hard to accept but this form of theatre was not to provide concrete answers – more to raise possible suggestions and get you to think about the situation.

So overall I learnt a lot during the two days – both about my learning preferences and also about possible techniques that could be transferred from the theatre to the classroom. Whilst lots of questions remain – including some areas I would have liked to have explored further such as creativity in spaces that can be restrictive e.g. lecture theatres, small rooms. I would also be really interested to hear from teachers who have used this approach and what impact it had on their teaching. I am even more enthused to develop my practice and knowledge of OSL approaches. Half-way through the course I did question what the relevance would be – but it was one of those situations whereby I needed time to reflect – I feel inspired to continue developing my own practice, enter that stretch zone and learn more. 🙂 Now just need to consider how and if I can implement any of the suggested theatre methods into my own teaching practice… More reflection needed methinks…

Why blog?

Earlier this summer I worked together with a colleague from the Communication Office on developing and running a half-day workshop on blogging – why do people blog? What do we need to consider when blogging?

Photo by anniemole, available under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

The aim of the session was to be interactive – we experimented using open-space learning techniques to engage participants in discussions and debate about blogging. The session was also supported with a number of on-line resources and discussions that provide more of an insight into issues people face when blogging and advice for people new to blogging. These include a Why blog?blog and a Why Blog? resource bank.

Staff from a variety of different backgrounds and blogging experiences attended and we had some very interesting debates around the opportunities and challenges that blogging presented. It was really interesting to hear about the different types of blogs that exist – why people felt that they should blog and what people thought about existing blogs.

For me – there are a number of obstacles to blogging – perhaps the most challenging one is time. As is demonstrated with this blog – I start out with good intentions – time goes by and I have only attempted several posts. I am also aware of the benefits of blogging – previously I kept a blog for my chartership although only a handful of people had access to the posts – over two years I built up a really valuable collection of reflections and was able to chart my professional development – it enabled me to write my portfolio easily. When I decided to start a blog and open it up to the world I think I lost my focus a little. I worried about the content – and what people may think spending too long considering how I was going to say something and therefore blogging no longer became something simple and quick.

Through developing the session with Amy – a very active blogger I started to rethink the way I have dealt with blogging in the past and see the real benefits this process can have. Following my own advice I need to do the following things:

  1. Identify the purpose of my blog
  2. Keep the posts short
  3. Post regularly (get scheduling)
  4. Promote my blog (through social media etc.)
  5. Enjoy blogging.

Online Identity


Earlier last month I attended an OCSLD Digital day webinar on ‘Online Identity‘. The format for the day included a number of presentations activities and discussions around this area. Before the session we were asked to put together an image portraying our online identity – this got me thinking… I have always been conscious of my online identity and have two distinct areas – my personal identity and my professional identity on-line. (see below)

Online Identity Mindmap

The idea behind this division was that I felt my work colleagues did not necessarily want to hear about what I was doing at the weekend and likewise my friends did not really need to hear what I was up to at work. However more recently these distinct boundaries have become blurred – friends have found me on Twitter and Facebook is gradually creeping into my work life. The webinar opened up the issue of whether this distinction should be made – and how we in whatever domain we need to be responsible for our own digital footprint. The focus was on the philosophy behind the on-line identity and how we potentially manage it. For me I came away with more questions than answers – but the need to continue discussions and raise people’s awareness of the potential (future) impact of their on-line identity is very important.

As an aside the webinar was an interesting experience in itself – 5 hours of sessions where participation and ongoing engagement was strongly encouraged. The content focused small presentations followed by discussions and an activity in the middle. It was a great way to participate in an on-line learning space but at times technology could be a little frustrating (it took me a while to get my microphone working). It was a little too long – unlike face to face sessions I think you need to have short bursts of activity and information at regular periods. But it was a very interesting experience. 🙂