In my research on the Next-Tell project, I’ve been showing teachers how to conduct research with their own students, using a a method we’ve developed to support teacher inquiry into student learning (TISL). One of our groups of teachers was very eager to understand how new ways of teach STEM topics were working out at their school. We’ve been using soundCloud to share audio recordings of students discussions after their work in class. The technique is pretty useful, because it allows teachers to share their own analyses with each other, and to discuss with each other their impressions of their students’ progress  - a method of formative assessment. It also helps them to analyse their own teaching practice. I made a short video about it to demonstrate how it works.

Went to a seminar at Birkbeck today presented by Allan Carrington and Ian Green from the University of Adelaide, two Apple Distinguished Educators who discussed the ways they have used iPads in Higher Ed classrooms. Interestingly, they categorise these according to a modified version of Bloom’s Taxonomy they call the Pedagogy Wheel, and discussed an idea for a “Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy”.

I had encountered many of these apps before, but there were a number of new and interesting ones which seemed like they might have cool uses inside/outside the classroom. First, some apps to support using your iPad to do presentations:

Some Apps and categorisations (you may or may not agree with the way they are categorised but don’t shoot the messenger):


  • nearpod (synchronised use of iPads/iPods in the classroom – very cool – e.g., Teacher’s presentation appears on student pads. Quizzes can be created and Q&A features are also supported. Free in the app store.)
  • Prezi (for creating presentations – and causing nausea in the audience!)
  • Aurasma (a dubious in name and functionality augemented reality support tool. You could use it to attach video content (e.g., lectures) to tags, which are placed strategically in an environment and play back when scanned. Like QR codes, but better.)


  • Mentalcase (flash cards on amphetamines, and very aesthetically appealing)
  • simpleMind (free mindmapping!)
  • iThoughts (for mindmapping)
  • Maptini (collaborative minmapping, useful for collaborative curriculum dev)


  • Evernote (yay!)
  • Google Docs (i.e., Google Drive)
  • iAnnotate (very robust .pdf annotation. Nice for assessments and feedback.)
  • Explain Everything (creates simple animations from your iPad with a wide range of video export features)
  • audioBoo (collaborative audio-clip based social networking integrated with other social network tools. Cool factor: you can easily embed clips to your website/fb page)


  • ShareBoard (an iPad sketch/draw/discuss collaborative workspace)
  • Evernote Peek (give yourself a pop-quiz from your Evernote notes)
  • Skype (not sure how this fits in exactly)


  • iCardsort (various card sorting capabilities)
  • popplet (card sorting again)
  • Pages (Apple’s word processor)
  • Numbers (Apple’s spreadsheet)
  • Bento (a personal information manager, notably by FileMaker)

Some useful links mentioned in the discussion: (an emerging player in publishing digital textbooks)

Keynotopia (templates for mocking up iPad app ideas in Keynote/PPT)

What was perhaps missing from the discussion was how to apply these tools in the classroom. There were a couple of examples of use, but I know how many teachers will respond: without a way to see how these tools might be used, it’s hard to imagine how to apply them. Teachers love to see models of use which they can adopt and adapt to their own practice. Learning design patterns come to mind. I expect that as the technology matures and people start to come up with innovative ways of teaching and learning with them, this will become less of a problem. But teachers at all levels are still often left to fend for themselves regarding technology in the classroom and I I don’t see this changing any time soon!

Their presentations are at: and

Joining the MOOC bandwagon, non-profit  (and for-profit) companies are now springing up to seize opportunity to reach students who might not otherwise be able to get access to university education. Witness the birth of Coursera, which soon will be offering free online university-level courses to anyone who registers. The courses are taught by award-winning professors from highly ranked institutions in both Sciences and Humanities topics. One of the professors (Charles Severance) was chief architect of the notable learning management platform, Sakai. You can get a general idea of the course content from the teaser videos on their site, but it is difficult to determine how good the course materials will be.

Coursera courses appear to use the usual model offered by distance learning, in which videos of the professor and demos are combined with coursework exercises, quizes, and access to teaching support staff. In some courses, the professor is advertised as being available for virtual office hours. Whether they will also employ techniques such as peer-to-peer formative assessment, or group-based learning is unclear. I imagine that they will not take advantage of a broad range of cognitive types (see Bloom’s Taxonomy), as there are barriers to this due to the nature of distance learning. There are still some kinds of learning activities, particularly applied, practice-based activities, which benefit from the guidance of an instructor in person. You can’t throw a pot without getting your hands dirty. But this is a limitation that all MOOCs face in addressing such topics.

Also, no qualifications are awarded, and this is a significant factor for younger students. Receiving a degree will be a driving goal for many students, so it remains to be seen where the efforts of initiatives like Coursera will fit into the Higher Education landscape. At least they offer a better alternative for gaining obtaining a genuine education to for-profit “universities” in the US, which often operate with less-than-ethcial methods, and award degrees that have little or no value, despite the accreditation of many of the companies who confer them.

I and some of my colleagues in the Learning Design community are I planning a MOOC in Learning Design to be offered in the fall (details to follow, so stay tuned). And I recently signed on to a MOOC offered by Stanford in my own subject area, Human-computer Interaction – just to see how it will run. There are surely some technical challenges to be overcome in delivering effective pedagogy, simultaneously to thousands of students. I expect an O’Reilly book on MOOC best practices any day now. Meanwhile I’m thinking of signing up to see how Coursera courses are conducted – and maybe brush up on some of those rusty skills in the process…

Late update! I also came across Udacity today, another iteration of the same genre, this one hosted (and funded by VCs) in Palo Alto…

Little Bits creator Ayah Bdeir gives a TED2012 show and tell presentation of the capabilities of the kit. It’s interesting that she says is that “you don’t have to learn anything to get started”. Obviously, not strictly true – I think she meant that the barrier to getting started is low (so it goes with live interviews). One of the many questions raised is to what degree the snap-n-play capability obscures the technology and how much this would limit learners in understanding/exploring the theory that allows the system to work. It’s a double-edged sword: the very characteristics that make it easier to work/play/experiment with obscure the fundamentals that it may be important to learn. How does a 555 timer operate? What are the relationships expressed in Ohms Law? All hidden. It’s a fine line to ride. We wouldn’t normally expect people who drive cars to know how to rebuild a carburetor, and those who want to know will expend the extra effort to learn. The Maker/Hacker movements have blossomed to cater to those of us will put in the effort, and who seek to explore these questions through applied, practical exploration and prototyping. I’m looking forward to seeing where LittleBits lead and what learning activities might be supported by them.

I’ll be running a Processing, workshop at Central Saint Martins for 2 half-day sessions in April, with my colleague from the London Knowledge Lab, Phillip Kent. The workshop is being convened and sponsored by the Design Science Research Group. If you are new to computational visual art and would like to get an introduction, this will be a good chance for you to learn key principles and techniques of programming and artistic visual rendering. Exact dates and costs TBD. The workshop was held on 11/4/12 and was free!

The interactive modular physical computing kits are coming fast and thick these days! Now, in addition to relative newcomers such as Sifteo and LittleBits, along with more familiar kits such as the Bug SystemPhidgets, and classics such as LEGO Mindstorms, there’s a new kid in town: Cubelets from Modular Robotics. Unlike other modular cube-shaped pluggables, cubelets don’t come with a screen. And they are very physical, which is not surprising for a project which spun off from Carnegie Mellon.

Cubelets are magnetic blocks that can be snapped together to make an endless variety of robots with no programming and no wires. You can build robots that drive around on a tabletop, respond to light, sound, and temperature, and have surprisingly lifelike behavior. But instead of programming that behavior, you snap the cubelets together and watch the behavior emerge like with a flock of birds or a swarm of bees.”

The collection of magnetic modular units are made up of three categories of blocks, which represent the three basic elements of physical computing: sensing, “thinking”, and actuating. They join with magnets and, no doubt, a satisfying “click”. Snap them together in a valid configuration and away they go (check out the video with the quirky-accented presenter). Judging by the photograph featuring kids using them, they will be targeted at young learners too. It will be interesting to see if the learning activities created for them will be as thoroughly considered as the engineering for the cubelets themselves.

As usual with hot-off-the-press tech, these are only available for pre-order for $160.00, but I think I’ll get in queue now.

BBC MicroThis week, the Guardian has an excellent series on digital literacy (on the heels of Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s harsh criticism of the current state of computer science education in the UK, last August). Industry is not being served and neither are students, in schools or in Higher Education and this is finally starting to get some exposure, though to anyone who is working in teaching and learning computing, this has been apparent for a long time. What might be surprising is how long it has taken the policy makers to figure out that this is a key area for economic growth in the UK. It is just a shame that awareness wasn’t raised long before more rash actions were taken, such as the closure of Becta.

What is to be done about this? There are many answers to this question and it’s one reason that the Guardian series makes for good reading. The series highlights the many aspects of the problem, from shortage of qualified teachers, to obliviousness of ministers, to programmes that don’t produce qualified candidates (apparently 14% of computer science graduates still don’t have a job after 6 months), to offshoring of key skills that industry needs, which I mentioned in this article.

The good news is that with the Eye of Mordor turning its attention to the subject, we might perhaps see more support given for improving both pedagogy and research in Computing education. I have my fingers crossed. If you have a moment, saunter over and get a good look, it will confirm your suspicions and just maybe, you’ll cross your fingers too.

Along with my colleague Yishay Mor, I will be chairing a workshop on Learning Design at the London Knowledge Lab in October. We’ll be investigating several thematic strands in Learning Design, including:

  1. Theoretical Frameworks
  2. Tools and Resources
  3. Practices & Methods
  4. Representations

Check out the CFP at the workshop website and make your travel plans now. It promises to be a truly engaging event!