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Action Research

You may have heard the term ‘action research’ used in your staff rooms, team meetings or on Workplace. This blog entry aims to explain precisely what is meant by this and to hopefully inspire you to get involved!


What is action research?

Teachers are problem solvers. We reflect upon our sessions throughout their delivery and then afterwards so as to ensure that we meet the diverse needs of our learners. Indeed:

Every learning environment is a gold mine of useful data. Each day a learner attends a course, they may be engaged or distracted, interact productively with peers or experience difficulties in social situations, complete assignments proficiently or poorly, and express enthusiasm or disinterest for the material being covered. As educators, we notice these small bites of data, but how often do we systematically collect this data in order to assess our own methods?

Action research refers to the process of doing just that – setting a focused research question that could allow us to understand our learners and our own teaching even better, to diagnose problems, to solve problems or maybe to trial a new methodology in our classrooms.

Why do it?

  • Reflective practice (in line with the ETF standards)
  • Problem Diagnosing
  • Problem Solving
  • Trying out something new
  • CPD – personal and professional development
  • Challenge

How does it work?

Select a topic or question. Some examples of projects currently underway at the college are:

  • Does altering the physical appearance of a learning environment positively enhance the motivation levels of sports students’ within a General Further Education College?
  • An investigation to review the Digital Fluency Levels of Teachers within a General Further Education College.
  • An investigation to reflect on the changing motivations, aspirations and confidence levels of sport students throughout an academic year.

Gather baseline data and approval –  a simple Survey Monkey will allow you to gather information from your learners before commencing the study. Be sure to get permission forms signed by all participants (templates available).

Set the timeframe –  6 weeks or 1 half-term is a perfect target timeframe for an action research process, although this can of course be extended or reduced according to the demands of your project.

Collect the information – this can be done through a range of typical techniques such as surveys, observation, learner interviews and SWIVL technology.

Analyse the data – in comparison with the baseline and your expectations for the project. Excel can help you produce some graphs, charts and tables.

Write up findings – this does not need to be as laborious as it may first seem! A common method of presentation is the academic poster, some examples of which are below:

Take action! – the critical final stage of any action research process. Use the findings to inform your future practice, share the results with your learners and colleagues and ensure that maximum impact can be felt in your classroom and beyond. The results may even inform your next proposal!


What extra work does it involve?

Time is of course a highly precious commodity but the demands on time for action research are not as high as you might think. Choosing a topic that could have maximum impact on the learning experience and you might also enjoy doing will also add to the positive experience of an action research project. The key processes to work through would be: write a proposal, design a survey or data collection method, collect the data and write-up your findings.

You should allow one full term for this process and don’t forget you set your own deadlines!

What happens with the results?

Action research reports are due to be collated for inclusion in a college publication, will form the basis of our first ever annual Teach Meet in June 2017 and will also contribute to the discussion at future LAT meetings across the organisation. They may also inspire you to kick on and write your first book or academic article!

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How do I get involved?

Contact us via the comments section below or on Workplace or email Dave Horsfield on

As ever, we look forward to hearing from you!

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Improve your online SPaG – avoid embarrassing typos…

8462964938_48d7895759In this digital age, the question of how important spelling, punctuation and grammar are to modern communications reoccurs time and again.  This recent article in the TES news suggests that it is a major problem amongst teachers:

No matter what your thoughts on this topic, there is no escaping the fundamental truth: language is, quite simply, about communication. Errors and mistakes make it harder to interpret what someone is trying to tell us and the meaning can be confused or lost completely. Clarity breeds understanding and we are all dotted somewhere along the murky spectrum of coherence. It is our job as educators to raise our students above the mist of ambiguity… But what message does it send if our own online SPaG is far from perfect?


Fortunately, there is a superb new tool available to you – it is a browser add-on, and therefore does not require administrator rights in order to install it.  Unlike the standard spelling and grammar check in Word, Grammarly functions directly in your web browser, which means it performs very comprehensive spelling, punctuation and grammar checks on anything you write in a browser window – this includes online email, posts that you might write on Facebook or Workplace, assignment briefs you write in Moodle and even reports to parents that you write directly in ProMonitor!  If you write it in a browser window, Grammarly will check it.

At the moment, the free add-on of Grammarly supports Google Chrome, Safari and Firefox browsers – it does not function in Internet Explorer or Edge without paying for an account.  If you favour Google Chrome and you have a Google account that you sign into, the add-on will exist wherever you sign into your Google account.  Simply search for Grammarly in Google and click on the Free Browser Extension link in the results page.

Grammarly One

Then simply click on the ‘Add to Chrome’ button and within seconds the add-on will install itself and that’s it!

Grammarly Two.jpgOnce installed, you will spot that a green ‘G’ icon has appeared beside your URL bar.  Grammarly FourAll your online writing is now being checked for SPaG by one of the most comprehensive tools in the world.  The next time you are writing a comment for a student in ProMonitor, you will see the small green ‘G’ icon in the bottom right of the window; if the G turns to a number in red, you know there are some errors in what you have written, which will be highlighted by a red underline, similar to Word’s own spell-checker.

Grammarly Five

As soon as you hover over the potential error, Grammarly suggests the correction, and, unlike a lot of SPaG checkers, Grammarly also notices contextual errors.  Where a traditional spell-check function might be happy to leave desert in place of dessert, the context engine of Grammarly will point out the nonsense in your sentence which you can then choose to correct or not (depending on if that was the effect you were aiming for!)

Overall, it’s a neat little tool, that’s free and very handy at correcting silly errors in online posts.  If you regularly use the Chrome browser, it’s little to no effort to install it and gain the benefit of another pair of (digital) eyes scanning over what you are writing.  Though Grammarly’s grammar engine will not transform you into Charles Dickens or William Wordsworth and no digital SPaG tool can truly replace a thorough proofreading, in the fast-paced world that we all inhabit today; it’s a great time and potential embarrassment saver!

Why not give it a try and let us know if it helps?

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Managing Your Workload

A recent survey has brought something we all knew already to a much wider audience – educators work incredibly hard. The headlines from the research are:

  • 93% of respondents to the survey stated that workload in their institution was at least a fairly serious problem;
  • 52% cited workload as a very serious problem;
  • The average working hours in a week for all teachers was 54.4 hours

Teaching is a demanding profession both physically and emotionally and it is vitally important for our own health and well-being that we do everything we can to manage our workload. Consider the image below and click this link for a bigger version:


Please take the time to consider where you sit in relation to the ‘do’ and ‘don’t’ column. A period of self-analysis and risk assessment on workload could go a long way towards getting the balance right. Maybe use this as the ‘hot topic’ in your staff room or at your next team meeting. Working collaboratively and focusing on solutions is the most powerful way to engage with emotive issues like workload. Can you share any examples of good practice from your areas?

Have a look also at the following article on how one school has proactively engaged with the topic of teacher workload:

What are your thoughts on techniques such as collaborative planning, area specific feedback policies and research-based teaching? Can you share any examples of success in these areas from your own practice?

We look forward to hearing from you via the comments section of Workplace as ever.


Posted in e-learning, ILT, Uncategorized

Celebrate Digital Learning Day with a Flip!

Thursday 23rd February 2017 is Digital Learning Day – and your friendly neighbourhood eLFs are challenging you to ‘Flip Your First Lesson!’

Digital Learning Day is an opportunity to raise awareness, encourage innovation, and celebrate the good things that can come from embracing the power of technology to ‘strengthen a student’s learning experience.’  Why not ‘dip your toes’ in the waters of flipped learning by starting with one lesson?

Flipped learning is a term that might not be familiar to all of you, but is one of the most significant changes sweeping through education the world over.  It refers to a model where much of the didactic instruction takes place outside of the classroom, often through videos, and much of the more traditional homework activities such as completing essays or assignments can then be carried out in class, with support from you!

Now, this is not to say that flipping is simple and takes no effort … putting the flipped model to effective use on an ongoing basis takes effort and requires time and professional development, but taking the first step to help get you thinking about the longer term doesn’t have to be hard.

Here is a pretty simple approach to flipping a lesson. You get to decide how tech-y you want to be with this by selecting from 1 of 3 different levels of tools or techniques:

  1. Find a great video on a topic to introduce it and make that the homework the night before you want to start exploring this topic
  2. Require engagement and gather feedback that can expose areas that require further exploration, or simply raise fun questions, by using one of these tools or techniques:
    • (Low Tech) Have your students complete a “WSQ”: The “WSQ” is a simple idea that requires students to Watch the video and then write a Summary that includes a Q The idea was developed by Crystal Kirch.  You give the student guidelines on what’s expected in the summary (how long it should be, for example). As for the question, this can be a question that students think you might ask about the material, or it could be something they want to ask about regarding the material. You could encourage Socratic questioning – see the post found by Andy McGill here:
    • (Medium Tech) Embed the video within your Moodle course and add a link to a Padlet: The use of a Padlet allows your students to express their questions or queries, ahead of your next lesson, which means you enter the lesson fully armed with the general feeling about that topic. Setting up a Padlet is very straightforward, there is a 55 second intro video on the Padlet website, as they say that’s how long it takes to learn how to do Padlet – but if you would like more support, please contact
    • (More Tech) Use the video and build questions around it: use tools such as EdPuzzle or Nearpod or even a Moodle Quiz to ask the questions you would normally have asked about the topic in class – this gives you the most complete picture of your student’s understanding well before you even set foot in the classroom.  Maybe reinforce this learning with a Kahoot or Socrative in class as well?

Each of these approaches addresses several very important elements of good flipped lessons. First, they require engagement. Students have to do something while or right after they consume the learning content. They can’t just “zone out” and not pay attention while watching (and if they do, they’ll have to go back and really watch so they can do the work). Next, it gets them thinking about the content. By asking or answering questions, they have to make the effort to develop some understanding. Finally, those questions will likely help to expose misunderstandings or areas that really require further review. They can also provide some great feedback and thoughts that are fun to explore.

Of course, you can also give a shot at the “hi-tech” approach of creating your own video, which is strongly recommended if you decide to move forward with more flipping, but it isn’t really necessary for this first go round. It can also be pretty time consuming to do this the first few times, depending on your approach. Students generally appreciate and expect their teachers to be the ones creating the content (assuming you do a decent job and don’t make the videos too long). But for your first flipped lesson, using someone else’s content is a great way to get started!

If you’d like to know more about Flipped or Blended Learning, the eLearning Facilitators have developed a six-week course that is designed to teach you the concepts, explain how to use the tools and help you produce your first Flipped or Blended Learning course or topic.  Contact Peter Davis on for more information.



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How to be in two places at once

Ever have the feeling that you need to be in two places at once? Possibly even split into numerous places at any one time to ensure that your students can get the learning experience that they deserve?

Well…look no further! Sadly, I haven’t managed to create a time machine (or even acquire a time turner from the world of Harry Potter!) no, in actual fact it is a simple matter of technology. Ladies and gentlemen I give you… the ‘virtual teacher’

The method that I use regularly makes use of one particular app (available for free on both iOS and Android) called ‘explain everything’. The application provides a range of possibilities including visual and engaging verbal assessment feedback, delivery of practical demonstrations as well as routine reflection and plenary style delivery in a more engaging way.

The verbal feedback method

It’s a constant head-scratcher…what is the ‘best’ way to provide feedback to the learners after a major assessment point? Well, in my experience, even if you spend the time lovingly preparing typed feedback with text boxes that line up perfectly within your word document (I know, possibly not essential, but it makes me feel better if things line up) the students can often not fully engage with it.

Well, at least not until they have had any verbal input from you to fill in the gaps, squash any misunderstandings and generally translate any confusions caused by the wording of the exam board criteria. Assessment becomes a time consuming process. Almost as if you are doing the task twice.. and lets be honest, if you really set out to assess that pile of projects and thought you would actually need to spend twice the amount of time on them it would be just a tad soul destroying. But fear not, I have a fix for this issue. Well, to be more specific, I have an ‘App’ to fix the issue.

Setting it up…

Simply set ‘explain everything’ up with the criteria assessed on one of the slides. The app works in a very similar way to PowerPoint and will allow you to draw boxes, add shapes, text, pictures etc. You may find it easier to create a slide in good old Microsoft PowerPoint then import to ‘explain everything’ (either on your tablet or by saving the slide as ‘jpeg interchange format’ and popping into ‘explain everything’ as an image.)


Then all you have to do is press record, and talk through the assessment feedback. You can even use a stylus (or your finger) with the pen tool selected and tick off the criteria or draw attention to certain points as you explain how they have met the criteria.

Then you just save the completed feedback as an MP4 and email to the student. The best way to use this is asking students to log into emails, plug headphones in and hey presto…you are providing effective verbal feedback in multiple places all at the same time! Even better is the fact that they can re-listen to the feedback as often as they need to.

The image below shows an example of the slide template for one of my student’s feedback. The link will send you to the MP4 version of the file:


The ‘demo-mode’ method

Another method of putting the ‘virtual teacher’ to work is by using ‘explain everything’ to pre-record your demonstrations. This is particularly good if you have a practical demonstration that takes a long time to set up or maybe something that is quite small scale that is quite difficult to show to a large group.

Simply take a series of photographs showing the main stages through the method that you want to demonstrate, pop each image into explain everything onto separate slides in order and then talk over each slide to explain the process. You could also add typed text with each image to help explain each stage to add an extra engaging element to your recording.


When completed, the file can again be saved as an MP4 for uploading to YouTube or even just to save onto your own cloud storage or USB. The app also gives you the ability to save the file as a PDF. This provides you the chance to create a printed handout to accompany the virtual video version of your demonstration (an easy extra ‘take away’ for students to refer to if you have included the simple typed instructions on each slide as well as your audio.) I have used the hand outs with QR codes to link to the audio recording in the past. This ensures that the students have all of the information needed to repeat the process in a safe manner in the future.


I started using this method a couple of years ago and now find it a lot easier when teaching the same techniques and practical processes. The video is used as a starter and then emailed to students for reference after the lesson. I am always amazed how well the students listen to a virtual version of me often feels like I get more of their attention in this form compared to the times when I do demonstrations in the classroom in front of them. It seems to work far better to ensure that they absorb the details better. Questioning the students after the video version of the demonstrations it is often the case that they can recall the details far better.

The ‘virtual teacher’ method

Using a similar approach to the demonstration method.. the ‘explain everything’ app is also good to create positive routines and set expectations. Recording a range of different clips for use at different points throughout your teaching can make your planning a lot easier and also provide a consistent routine for students. For example; a recording created to guide students through a written evaluation or planning task. Maybe you often need students to peer/self assess but know that they would benefit from a video prompt to reaffirm expectations, share visual examples of WAGOLL’s and set the ground rules for the task.


..whatever the need, having a set of stock video recordings created with this app complete with supporting visual imagery can really help to get the students in the right frame of mind for the task set.


This really is one of the most user friendly apps and has so many different applications. The 3 examples shared here are just a few that I use regularly myself. The team who created ‘explain everything’ are really friendly and supportive. They can be found over on twitter @explaineverything as well as a few other rather brilliantly supportive and inspiring users of the app who regularly share the different ways that they have used explain everything within their classrooms.

We would love to see how you use the app yourselves.. why not share your outcomes and join in the chat on workplace in the ‘learning community’ group?

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The best teachers can straddle the line!!

I keep reading about how the way in which a teacher and student connect is one of the most important factors in a student’s learning experience; about how getting the relationship right can either inspire students to achieve things they never felt capable of or feel dejected, uncared for and generally wondering why they bothered turning up. This is a topic that is close to my heart as I completely agree with all the literature that states how important this is. So, if we know that it’s important, why do so many teachers seem to struggle???

Whenever I talk about this to my students, albeit sports coaching students or teacher trainers, I often talk about ‘the line’. When I talk to my students about this, it seems such an easy concept, just get the balance right between being friendly and disciplined and you’ll be fine. However, over many years, I constantly see the same thing happening. New or inexperienced teachers quite often seem to adopt one of two polar opposite strategies; the ‘overly friendly’ approach or the ‘strict disciplinarian’ approach. Let’s take a look at both:


‘Overly friendly’ approach

The teachers that adopt this approach are often the teachers that score really highly on any learner voice feedback. Quite often I have had the following conversations with students in my tutorials;

Me: So guys, who is your best teacher?

Students: It’s ‘teacher x’

Me: Why is that then guys?

Students: They’re really funny and they let us eat our lunch in lesson!!!

This teacher sets out to be liked and will want to avoid conflict at any cost. The problem with this approach is that at some point they will need to discipline the students, however the students are unlikely now to take the teacher seriously as they view them as ‘one of them’.

‘Strict disciplinarian’ approach

The teachers that adopt this approach are often not the people that score highly on any learner voice feedback!!!! This teacher has set their stall out very early on that the student’s will not walk all over them. The rules are black and white and any students not abiding by the rules will feel the teachers’ wrath!!! The problem with this approach is that, in this wonderful sector that we work in, we are dealing with people that will now and again make poor choices and it is the way in which we handle these situations that can make or break these students’ education. A one system fits all approach to dealing with individuals just doesn’t work.

Once teachers set out their stall and position themselves either to the left or the right of ‘the line’ it is incredibly difficult to realign yourself and find that middle ground in the same academic year. Many times I have witnessed teachers adopt the ‘overly friendly’ approach (this is always left of ‘the line’ for some reason!!) in year 1, only for them to realise that the students have them wrapped around their fingers!!! Year 2 starts and you’ve guessed it, they have flown over the line to the right and become Mr or Mrs Disciplinarian!!! Having experienced the one extreme they always seem to fly across to the other side in year 2!!!!!

The relationship between teacher and student is so important and I agree with Hannah Tyreman that the best teachers are easily identifiable. For me they straddle this line perfectly, they know their students really well, they care about the students’ learning deeply and want them to succeed, in their life, in their career, it is more than just to satisfy the ‘outcomes for learners’ statistic. These teachers are very natural with their learners, they share a joke, they can discuss mundane things, they acknowledge each other in corridors with a hello or a smile and because of this they command their respect, a respect that is reciprocated. If and when the learners let the teacher down, perhaps not submitting an assignment to deadline, turning up late to a lesson or leaving a mess in the classroom, the learners listen when the teacher disciplines them, they feel bad because they genuinely know they have let the teacher down. When you have this type of relationship with your learners, you may not be the funny teacher or their favourite teacher but the chances are you will be the one that can inspire them to achieve things they did not think possible.

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Making every lesson count

The name of an excellent book (we’re not on commission!) and also a useful self-assessment tool / refresher when considering our own practice. The initial prompts are simple enough:


The impact of considering your own practice can be significant, as other tutors have reported on such topics as:

‘Tight but Loose’

Meaning that teachers can embed the above principles into their sessions but in exactly the way that suits them, allowing teachers to express themselves as individuals but with a set of guiding principles.

‘Meaningful for All’

The principles apply to all subjects – so can have meaning and purpose across a college. Applying these principles in the classroom means that students are getting a consistent approach across their lessons e.g. high levels of challenge; probing questions; time to engage with deliberate practice and so on.

‘Less is More’

Just boiling our practice down to the above 6 core principles can allow us to focus solely on the enablers for great teaching. We can focus on what matters and work at refining the key elements that will lead to the most effective learning, teaching and assessment.

Have a look at the slideshow for more detail and let us know your thoughts via the comments section on Workplace.

Further Reading