Thursday, 13 June 2013

Dabbling in Digital Learning

Last summer something happened to me.  I escaped the hullabaloo of the city for the peace and tranquillity of camping with some friends.  We set up camp in a wonderful, peaceful wooded rural area.  Being a country girl originally, there is something about the countryside that has always made me feel at peace - an inner calm comes over me.  My friends often are surprised that I can even survive a day without my hair straighteners and heels - The truth is far from this.  I love it.  

We arrived early in the morning and spent our first day walking.  We sat, with achy bodies and happy hearts, around in the clearing circled by our tents. We relaxed and chatted for a while in the early evening light as the day turned to dusk. The space in the centre of our tents looked bare.  Even though this place was perfect and we were all so happy, something was missing - a fire.  We all set about collecting firewood to start the fire.  We built up a healthy pile in the centre of the clearing.  

By the time we were finished collecting the wood, all that was left of the sun was streaks of red and brunt orange across the horizon. Overhead silver-lined clouds clung on to the last hope of the day. As the fire was lit, we stood huddled together to watch the flames reach higher and higher.  The warmth from the flames heated our faces, making everyone pink cheeked and smiley.  In the flames of that fire were shapes, patterns and sounds that were familiar and alien, strange and enchanting to me all at once.  As the fire grew before me, I felt that inner calm and a real sense of clarity came to me.  That pile of wood we had clumped together had originated from grand and wonderful old trees, history seeping from their every pore. As the wood ebbed away to fuel the flames we were all enraptured.  That fire will be with us forever - it united us. It was magical.

What has this got do with digital learning, I hear you ask?  Everything, and here's why.

The Equilibrium -  The Perfect Clearing:
Last summer I was coming to the end of a three year stint as Head of Faculty overseeing English, Media and MFL and about to start a new journey in my career.  I was celebrating great results both personally and for my team, had formed a strong team, been mentioned as a outstanding teacher by OFSTED in our school report and was moving on to a promoted position at a new school.  Things were looking pretty good. I had a great stock of teaching and leadership training, experiences and resources and was looking forward to the next step.

The Disruption - Fire is Sparked:
I had also just come to the end of an amazing course with Teaching Leaders and to be honest there was a professional gap in my life without the course.  I was stretched, challenged, questioned and made to focused like I had never been made to before.  I missed it -  sad but true. There was a Teaching Leaders hole in my life.  Then... along came Twitter.  Twitter opened up a whole new world.  I tentatively dipped my toe in bit by bit.  I discovered some wonderfully creative and forward thinking teachers and school leaders sharing ideas and debating openly in a public forum. It was so refreshing.  I was learning more and more with each visit to Twitter and I was steering. before I knew it, I was hooked.

What I didn't anticipate it doing was allowing me to do something I really love outside of teaching - it gave me a platform to write.  I was writing for a real audience, from my heart. It was scary.  Sometimes that audience was unforgiving, and that was good - it spurred me on!  It was great to reflect upon and share all that experience and all those resources I had stored up and get feedback as I did. I realised that this was my real time digital classroom. I was developing my own ideas and pedagogy at a rate like I had never before.  It was powerful to have control of my own learning.

The Recognition - The Fire Burns Bright:
When I started my new job I was overwhelmed with all the things we always are when we start at a new school.  New systems, pupils, building, teachers, leaders and curriculum topics.  But I was inspired by my summer of Twitter and I was eager to get on with the job.  It has been a hugely busy and wonderful year.  About a month into my time at school one of the students asked me about my twitter use.  I came in on Monday morning to my student asking me, "Miss, what is #SLTchat and why are you tweeting all Sunday evening?"  Obviously, I knew students were on Twitter and other social networking sites but didn't think they would be interested in my tweeting.  I was wrong. Of course they had a natural curiosity.  I was new, I was a teacher and I was using Twitter - a lot.  I sat with the class and told them about why I use Twitter and what I had gained from it.   The concept of them having that kind of insight into a teacher was alien to them. I talked with them about the fact that I blog and was proud of my professional journey and was still learning, happily, every day. I told that that this was my passion and I didn't care who knew it.  I advised them that they need to find that passion for themselves in their own way.  Suddenly I had a bolt of lightening - I realised I needed to get them connected.  I wanted to find a way for the them to learn outside of the traditional classroom so they could control their own learning -  just like I had this summer.  I had no clue where to begin. I had done little more that internet research projects and PPTs with my students in the past in terms of digital learning with students.  I began to look into how I could form a digital classroom for my students.

The Attempts to Repair the Disruption - Channelling the Fire:
There are so may wonderful digital learning options out there that I was overwhelmed with the choice.  I researched some great projects but felt I needed to start with something smaller, manageable and useful.  One of the special teacher souls I found on Twitter was Christopher Waugh.  He was doing something quite special with his students - blogging.  Students were posting publically, feeding back to one another and were in dialogue with their teacher.  I wanted some of that and quick!  I was at a loss as to how to begin, so I turned to Twitter, Google and You Tube.  I turned to my digital classroom.  Monday morning I was ready.  I introduced the concept to the students and the next day we began.  We started simple with them replying to my post in the comments box. They took to it like ducks to water.  I was thrilled. Their journey had begun.
The New Equilibrium - The Fire Lights the Surrounding Area:
This approach allowed students to access the learning at their own pace, to a depth that was right for them.  We tried out loads of digital learning methods within blogging over the next few months and it just got better and better.  We blogged in class on a regular basis.  They had research tasks, collaboration tasks and creation tasks.  Over the Christmas holidays I posted simple, differentiated revision tips each day of the holidays, an advent of revision if you like.  (This idea was inspired to do this by something memtioned by Alex Quigley a while back. y I used it as a tool to communicate exam information and reminders for them too.  The list goes on! In only a few short months the site got nearly 12,000 visitors and there were 64 blog posts published. On one of our blog posts there were no less that 54 comments made by the students in 30 minutes. Was the use of the blog perfect? No.  Was it worth while? Absolutely!  


From my pretty clueless beginnings in digital learning sprang a great project and so many new ideas.  I  could see so many more ways to allow even more students to access work, progress and take control of their learning.  The success of my first venture into student digital learning spurred me on to look into what more was out there.  This new way of using all the important resources and experience I had amassed over the years was stretching out before me, vast and endless.  Now I have fire in my belly and it is burning bright.  I have trialled digital learning in a mass of different ways with all my other classes.  I have just been given the job of coordinating digital learning across the school this year. I recently presented at SLTeachmeet on the topic of digital learning.  This is just the beginning of the journey and I am excited about where this road it leading


Cool Tools to Get You Started:
You tube Channel -
Explain Everything -
Google Docs -
Survey Monkey -

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