Digitisation and digital pedagogy


On a joint edtech project with a teacher recently, I was told ‘I am happy for you to choose the pictures.’ Whether or not this teacher was intentionally insulting is beside the point –  it is not the first time I have heard the digitisation debate seeming reduced to a largely irrelevant aesthetic choice. There seems to be this relatively common misconception about the purposes and processes of digital education. This could be addressed on two levels – resource design and teaching design.

This quote from the OU Innovating Pedagogy 2013 encapsulates the importance of pedagogy for educational technology.


Digitisation and digital pedagogy in edtech design

One of the best edtech tools from my point of view is Anki. Visually a hangover from the 1990’s, Anki is a flashcard app/website that uses spaced repetition to support language learning. Card collections are made by users (although these can be shared) with an apparently not very interactive interface. Where Anki shines as a resource is

  • The nuances of labelling your degree of confidence in a term – you can choose ‘again’, ‘hard’, ‘good’ or ‘easy’ with each response tailoring the spacing of the repetition of the card.
  • The statistics option is quite sophisticated while being simply presented – you are given a series of graphs – a forecast of reviews due for the next month, an analysis of the review time taken to answer cards (whether young (new) or mature, average study time per session, number of times you have pressed the again/hard/good/easy buttons (and a time analysis – mine seem to be best between 9-10pm). So for metacognitive ‘study-skills’ then, Anki stands out.
  • For languages of more than one script (e.g. Japanese or Chinese), it creates a card for each script + the audio, so that you are testing, for example, hiragana and kanji recognition and listening skills and connecting this learning between the cards and to the English translation.


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None of these features need particularly innovative technology. There are no animations and few pictures. It doesn’t offer badges or leaderboards. It might not be the first example you might use to show someone the possibilities of the digital world. But, it serves as an excellent model for how digital tools can be designed to support learning. As a manifestation of a sound digital pedagogy approach, I think Anki is great.


Pedagogy is essentially a critical thinking exercise directed at learning and teaching.

Sean Morris

Designing edtech resources from a digital pedagogy approach is not about adding pictures, or animations or, God forbid, Word Art. It’s not even really about the digital technology. It’s certainly not about design aesthetics. Unless the digital tools, or the additions enhance, extend and inspire learning, they are at best irrelevant and at worst a distraction. I certainly add pictures and interactive layers to the content I develop. But as with any educational decision, this is based not on any aesthetic choice, but rather on how much educational value these layers provide.


This is where the critical thinking aspect of pedagogy comes in, both for tool and teaching design and practice. Does this interactive diagram clarify mitosis? If not, can it be made educationally relevant and useful? How can I develop this resource so that it helps students? How can I use it with students to help them learn and grow?



Digitisation and digital pedagogy in teaching design

What we must try, as schools, as educators, as learners, is not simply using tools, nor rolling out the whizz-bang jazz hands apps to impress students or observers.


If that means using a pen and paper because your students are revising something and you believe that memory and cognitive gains are promoted by written tasks, then you’re on the right lines for a digital pedagogy approach, just as much as if you choose to use some app in an innovative way to explore and extend learning. If, however, you are using pen and paper because you couldn’t be bothered with collecting in an Explain Everything task, or because you’ve always done this task with pen and paper, that is clearly not pedagogically sound. Equally, if you are using an iPad app just because they’re there, or in hopes of impressing an observer, without considering the aims, processes or consequences of using the app, that too is failing in digital pedagogy.


We need to systematically examine both tools and teaching for their learning value. In this way, teaching and learning drives the use of technology, rather than the converse.



Morris, S. (2014) What is digital pedagogy? [online] Available at: http://learning.instructure.com/2014/03/what-is-digital-pedagogy/ 


iBeacons and the Great War

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Imagine walking in the trenches of world war one, constructed in a student library. As you touch the torn sandbags, from your iPad rings the rattle of gunfire interrupting soldiers singing. As the sound dies – ominously – away, crouch down and read letters written by soldiers and their families. Stained with the dirt and dust and desperation of the front, they appear on your screen, with even tear-stains reproduced.

Imagine moving over to an Edwardian fire-place, with the tin soldiers, newspapers and photographs of a typical family home surrounding you. Here you could settle down to explore recipes and patterns from World War 1, with all the privations of rationing and shortages, knit socks as if for a soldier with trench foot.

Imagine seeing the uniform of a soldier, decorated with images of family by a student who never knew her ancestor. And while you see and feel the rough uniform, imagine the loss of loved ones. From your iPad sounds the measured lines of Dulce et Decorum est, recorded and animated by our students, in memory of the sacrifices of a generation.

Just imagine what we can do to bring learning to life today. Just imagine what we can do tomorrow.

Blogging for students, teachers, schools and researchers

Why do we blog? Well, to some extent, it is to validate and show off our thoughts and achievements and to communicate with like-minded others. However, while we want our students to be proud of their achievements and thinking, the main focus as educators is to shift that pride and praise towards their development as a process, rather than the outcomes. So, blogging can be used to promote a ‘look at what I did’ outlook, but is, I would argue, best applied for a ‘look at how I did it’ outcome. In this way, blogging can encourage metacognitive awareness for improved development for all stakeholders.

Broadly, metacognition is defined under two areas:

  • Understanding what you know
  • Understanding how you know

So, metacognition is, basically, thinking about thinking. Metacognition has two proposed benefits. Most importantly, that the learner knows how to use strategies effectively in learning. So, a metacognitively aware student might approach a science text by chunking, summarising and/or looking up unfamiliar terms because they are aware that this helps them to think and learn. In contrast, a less metacognitively aware student might just try to passively read it and get disheartened by a lack of understanding. Metacognition is therefore a very useful educational goal and process.

Blogging for metacognition is not a new concept. Learning Journals and so on have endlessly proposed that writing about a learning process can help students establish useful learning habits and self-discipline. It is an engaging and self-reflective process, especially when given some direction. Blogs work in a similar way, except that they further allow the teacher and public to engage with the learning process also, giving futher motivation (albeit extrinsic) for the learner. This equally applies to teachers with their CPD or political developments and academics with their research and attempts to integrate research and practice by extending to a wider audience. I have found that writing this blog has helped me consider what aspects of my working style are most useful, which are problematic and how to overcome the challenges I have faced so far.

An example of use of blogs in education is the newly established SPFTogether, a blog looking at promoting collaboration and sharing between three schools in the Stephen Perse Foundation. While at an embryonic stage and currently written primarily by teachers, it is hoped that soon students will be direct authors and editors and that this will evolve from an outcome showcase to include metacognitive awareness of process of learning. Elements of this are already to be seen in the Sixth Form Peliblog. These articles are written by Sixth Form students and blog posts can frequently be observed to describe, if only in passing, references to how that particular student thinks. I would love to see this metacognitive consciousness expanded and promoted by all students in all schools. I don’t think there are many professions that are quite as self-reflective (and often unwarrantedly self-critical) as teaching. It is this self-reflection, without the negative self-criticism, that we need to help our students to practice and express. I believe that blogging is one of the easiest methods, both for the student and teacher.

There are, of course, other benefits to encouraging blogging within the classroom – awareness of the potential and the pitfalls of the digital world, for one. All these teacher photos begging for reposting to show how easily a photo can get around the internet are, rather negatively, making an interesting point. Frankly, I think that most teenagers have the negatives of the scary internet world drummed into them enough (although I had a CEOPS lecture last year where the speaker talked about screen-munchies, frappe-ing and snape-chat, showing a deporable lack of understanding of of either the origins of the words or the dangers these can pose). Panic-mongering is not helpful. Rather, the positives of safe internet use should be emphasised and digital interaction should be integrated into formal education. Blogging can help with this, as argued above – students (and teachers) should be learning about new technologies, copyright issues and other issues supported by regular and thoughtful blogging or tweeting. I applaud the introduction of the year of code, but I feel that equally important is teaching students about how to use safe, positive and engaging learning tools such as blogging, educational apps and twitter beyond the add-on gimmickery some teachers and researchers fear. Learning is always the goal, but the digital world is both a tool and a necessary learning outcome of education.



iTunes U – Distance Learning II

Several people have been asking about buying a tablet, for different reasons. There are many excellent tablets out there, of varying prices and capabilities. However, if you are at all interested in using the tablet for educational purposes, I would go for the iPad. While other tablets such as the Google Nexus or Samsung Galaxy may offer several of the same or similar apps that the iPad provides, there is no equivalent to the iTunes U app.

iTunes U is an app that offers free access to unlimited courses designed by educators. Some of the most prominent universities in the world are making content available on iTunes U, including Cambridge, Harvard, Yale and Oxford. The courses available cover the gamut of subjects, levels and perspectives. Schools are joining in around the world too, with outstanding courses available and more added every day.

These courses are not telling teachers what to use or how to teach – they know their classes, they know how to teach them. What they are doing, is providing a range of resources tailored to the curriculum all in one place, perhaps used individually as revision, as homework, or to support a struggling student. Alternatively, teachers can use them in class, picking the resources or tasks they think are most appropriate – if nothing else, the availability of worksheets, quizzes and other tasks can reduce the burden of  photocopying and/or marking.

The resources supported by the iTunes U platform include videos, podcasts, office documents, pdf’s, web links and so on. What makes this different from the sometimes excellent collections of resources on various websites it that each resource is tied to an instruction of not more than 200 characters. This is more than enough to say what the resource is and ask prompting questions to promote meaningful learning rather than passive consumption, while short and sweet enough to retain interest. You can also take notes that save into the course while watching a video or listening to a podcast. You can encourage students to link to a departmental twitter account to prompt succinct debate or connect them to socrative to quiz them with a report sent to your email account.

The possibilities of this platform are extraordinary. I’m making quite a few myself, but I have also watched English literature lectures from Oxford (I know, letting the side down), read textbooks from the OU, completed statistics exercises from Duke and learnt about the American Civil War from Texas Austin. At your fingertips is the collected (and importantly, directed) knowledge and learning from the brightest minds in the world. Teachers are essential to help navigate, discover and extend learning for each and every student. What iTunes U provides is a map for the teacher to use, rather than having to draft her own. Bon Voyage!