Authentic Experiences in Online Learning : Look Behind you !

This post was triggered by an opinion piece entitled ‘ Instructors please wash your hair’ that I read in Inside Higher Ed that wound me up a bit.

I am definitely not alone in feeling this way, as there is certainly an interesting exchange of comments below the article.

The author of the piece has provided an explanation that it was written before all the COVID-19 stuff happened and seems to recognise that it is ill informed.

The piece itself is more aligned to a commentary that advocates for the need for educators to ‘exhibit professionalism’ and relates this mostly to the appearances of educators and how they are dressed, a line of argument for which I just have no words for given the current situation I am afraid, however, it did make me think about online social presence and how this relates to the environment that we find ourselves in, and how in turn this impacts on authenticity in online learning.

So, the main thing that it caused me to ponder on is that I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about those weird and wonderful backdrops and images that people can use to display behind them when on an online video session. I seem to have come across most of them when using Zoom but I’m sure it is something that can be done in other platforms.

I just don’t like fake backgrounds I’m afraid …

Personally, I really like being able to see the real life situation that people are conducting their session in. I just don’t like a fake background. I think it really helps to provide a connection and provide for a more human experience if you can relate to the person’s environment.

I can see that people might like the quirkyness and wizardry of being on the bridge of the starship enterprise or having some sort of calming beach scene behind them, but for me I just don’t like it – Yes it might act as an ice breaker and a moment of lightheartedness (which we can certainly all do with at the moment) and I can see that some people just don’t want to show their home environment ; I guess that there is also an argument for trying to remove some of the distraction of the real life environment but personally for me I think by removing the real life background and replacing it with a whacky image means that the host loses more than they gain ..

I actually like it when I can see the walls, bookshelves and even piles of washing behind the speaker and when the cat or dog does an appearance . Having the children wandering past the camera in the background isn’t a distraction to me, it shows that the person is real. I also really don’t mind it all if someone is wearing their pyjamas or hasn’t washed their hair.

“trying to remove ourselves from the environment that we exist in by putting up a background image will simply put up a barrier to that empathy.”

I believe all of this stuff adds to an authentic experience and enables a deeper connection between participants and educators alike. I think it enables empathy to appreciate the fact that there is often a lot of other stuff that is going on in peoples lives.

Don’t get me wrong. Maybe there is a place for fake backgrounds somewhere if it helps people feel more comfortable but personally I think that the current crazy world that we are finding ourselves living in will be helped by an empathetic connection, and trying to remove ourselves from the environment that we exist in by putting up a fake background image will simply put up a barrier to that empathy.

I definitely won’t be having a fake background anytime soon ..

So I will be wearing my unicorn slippers and probably a pink cardigan for my next synchronous session and I may even wash my hair .. I will probably also have bribed the kids to keep quiet and have pre- fed the cats so they don’t jump on the keyboard and cut me off, but if the dog appears she will say hello as usual and my very pink but definitely messy room will be on view and I definitely won’t be having a fake background anytime soon ..

Keep it real people … currently feeling very lucky and privileged to have a garden to sit in -something which is a luxury that is not available to many people right now …

Online Learning and Teaching Useful Resources (#COVID19)

There have been so many really helpful resources shared over the last week or so in relation to learning and teaching online.

I’ve put the ones that I have come across on this PADLET as I keep losing track of what I have seen and where in all the noise. I also wanted somewhere to keep track of the compilations that others have made and developed too. Sharing it here in case others find it helpful 🙂

Made with Padlet

CPD Webinar : Aligning Microsoft Teams to group work and problem-based learning

I attended a webinar last week run by the lovely Dr Linda Kaye as part of the #digilearn series. Linda gave us a scenario to consider where by students have complained that in their group work, some students are not pulling their weight and asked if we came across this in our own work to which the majority responded with a resounding ‘YES’

Practical Example

Linda explained how her students were given this topic to undertake as individual and group work culminating in a joint presentation at the end .

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She assigns students to groups and sets these up on teams where they have specific team based tutorial discussions to enable them to work together. Students capture details using the ‘Conversations’ Tab. Meeting Notes from Face 2 Face meetings can be stored and shared Files made available in preparation for the presentation. Students manage the file storage themselves etc


She also uses Teams to get students to evaluate the module and their experiences of it such as asking for them to submit details of what they think other team members contribution was . Contributions were assessed using the following rubric.

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Advantages of this approach allows corroboration using Teams platform itself.

Linda felt that Teams helped with providing a meaningful context and environment where work could be undertaken. Having their own chanel gave them their own space and it was visible from the point of view that Linda could see what was happening in terms of progress outside the usual tutorial process. Linda was able to intervene if they were going off track but also track contributions and engagement in real time. Linda reflected that she need to explain exactly what her role as tutor is right up front and ensure that students understand this before the discussions started.


Linda felt that Teams allowed streamlining of resources and visibility of others learning thus allowing them to reflect on their own learning. It encourages lots of peer to peer support – Linda only had 1 email query for this assignment !

She was able to see evidence of the students project management skills and this also helped with verification for second marking etc. It makes things very transparent and clear including the emphasis on the process of undertaking the assignment and the focus on them taking ownership of their own learning resources. Using Teams in this way enabled more student led learning. Linda pointed out that the success of the case study may have also been down to the fact that there was a 50% individual mark

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Linda explained that students generally found it helpful and impactful in terms of motivation and overall group work (n= 21 students at Level 6) . They recognised that their knowledge was expanded through working with others.

Student Feedback

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My Reflections

This was a really interesting webinar for me to attend in a number of ways. I loved how Linda interwove the student perspective throughout her presentation. Thumbs up to #digilearn Sector for arranging it.

Interestingly Linda faced logistical issues in terms of making sure that students had access to Teams ( which they didn’t automatically) but these were all solved with the IT Department. Also really interesting to note that students didn’t really need any help with using teams and seemed to find it quite intuitive. Some groups did have alternative channels that they were already using like Whatsapp etc so their Teams area looked a bit sparse but this was resolved by taking screen shots of the whatsapp interactions and uploading them to the Teams space.

I’m still not a huge fan of Teams though and I think this stems from many challenges with using Teams across institutions – it doesn’t seem to play well across sites in my limited experience of using it. When I did the a webinar the other day for #digilearn sector I had to sign in using my student ID as we use it at Lancaster and despite trying to sort out a seperate ID it just struggled, once I was in with my Student Account it was ok though. Although it now means I have bits and pieces of notifications all over the place. I find it all gets a bit confusing and have found that other platforms that do similar things has worked better for me. However, it does have some interesting features and I definitely got the impression from Linda’s presentation that it seemed to work well enough ( I wonder if only involving a single institution was the key factor here….)


Find out more about Linda’s work

Find out more about #DigiLearn Sector Community

Sign up for #Digilearn Sector Community

Collaborative Open Quilting across Time and Space …

I am absolutely delighted to have contributed a collaborative quilt square ‘Visualising The Global Heart of Go-Gn’ with the lovely Kathy Essmiller (@kathyessmiller) for the amazing #FemEdTechQuilt for #OER20 …

The call for contributions was issued by Frances Bell to ‘create a quilt that can inspire during and after its creation; acknowledge all contributions and their history; and make a difference to Care and Justice in Education and Technology contexts’ (via #Femedtech)

This is a warm and inclusive invitation to participate in the process of creating a Quilt of Care and Justice, that will be developed with the help of the Femedtech community and others over the next few months. The quilt will be completed and displayed at the OER20 Conference in April 2020.

Kathy and I met through the #GO_GN network and decided to collaborate on a square.

This meant collaborating across timezones in the USA ( where Kathy is based) and Wales (where I am based). We used google docs to draw our thoughts together and met up online to talk our ideas through …

We have uploaded our story to the #Femedtechquilt website but also made a digital story on Adobe Spark… we explain how we came up with the idea and the materials that we used … this involves using a wonderful vintage blue and white quilt square created by Kathy’s grandma, my (probably very bad) attempt at sewing the #GO_GN penguin, and a Flipgrid Augmented Reality Video attached as a heart on a dangly ribbon … contribution

You can see the #FemEdTechQuilt page here in all its glory with all the other really brilliant other contributions ( with much better sewing than mine by the way …)

Images of some of the Quilt Squares from the #FemEdTechQuilt Project

You can also listen to Frances Bell and Anne-Marie Scott talk about the quilt on this podcast

Listen to “Gettin’ Air with Terry Greene” on Spreaker.

Email Overload

If you are anything like me you might have up to or even more than 25,000 emails hanging around your inbox !  Oh dear that looks soooo bad written down !

macbook pro turned on

Photo by on

So I’m on a bit of a mission to declutter my in box and unsubscribe to all the stuff I really dont want anymore ….

I’ve found this really helpful article on decluttering Gmail and I’m currently working through the first couple of steps so I thought I would share it in case it is helpful for anyone else !



Remixing the Remixes

So, I have just become a Patreon of The Remixer Machine by the absolutely awesome Bryan Mathers @BryanMMathers

In celebration I have of course made my remixes with a splash of Pink …. Remix Yours here 

Here is my ‘Bloggers Ink’ and on ‘Project World’ so on Planet Deb the world is most definitely Pink 🙂

Bloggers' Ink

Project World