Posts by: rjbyles

As an advocate for using technology enhanced learning Senior Lecturer in Cross Cultural Management Diepiriye Kuku-Siemons discusses his motivations, process, and reflections for integrating mobile technologies into the classroom.

In this first video, he provides some guidance on how he facilitates the use of mobile technologies when students are working in groups and describes his role as a facilitator in learning sessions. The purpose of this video was to share his own thoughts about the use of mobile technologies in teaching and learning with the wider academic community via the UN Staff Facebook group.

Click to view video – Diepiriye Kuku-Siemons – Thoughts on using mobile technologies in the classroom

His second video describes how using mobile devices allows students to interact with research in a more immediate and accessible way and advises that activities should be structured in a way that ensures students are mindful of the purpose of the learning activities and are not distracted by existing social media channels.

To give a full picture of the activity, students from the group volunteered to provide feedback of their experiences using mobile devices in the classroom.

The film was produced with Learning Technologist, Richard Byles, during two sessions; in the first session students used mobile technology for research and brought them back to the group for discussion. In the second Diepiriye facilitated a classroom activity in which students discussed how mobile technology provides both opportunities and challenges for business.

Click to view video – Using mobile technology in class with Diepiriye Kuku-Siemons

If you would like to see Richard Byles and Deipiriye Kuku-Siemons speaking about their ongoing work please register for the forthcoming LLS Conference on the 4th of May where they will be giving a presentation on ‘Facilitating mobile technologies in the classroom’.

Discussion boards aren’t the latest NILE tool on the block, however FBL lecturer Samantha Read proves it can be an effective tool for extending learning beyond the classroom.


Conversations about discussion boards often reveal how these require ongoing commitment and thoughtful planning. For this post I spoke to marketing lecturer, Samantha Read, and learning designer, Elizabeth Palmer. These are their top tips for successful discussion boards:

  1. Link your discussion board with classroom activities and teach the tool

As a lecturer who uses discussion boards extensively with large cohorts in FBL, Samantha Read explained the way she combines discussion boards with classroom teaching in these simple points:

  • As part of an e-tivity before the workshop session, I encourage students to share their initial ideas and research, with each other and myself, before we discuss them in more detail and apply the theory in the classroom
  • During the classroom session as part of group-work students record what their group has covered during the face-to-face time and use this as feed-forward to the next group session
  • After the classroom session, students are asked to reflect on what they have learnt during our workshop and receive tutor feedback on their understanding of the classroom content

Of her students’ digital literacy she says, “It is easy to assume that our ‘tech-savvy’ students will be able to use the discussion boards but I have found that many find them difficult. I would therefore suggest that time is taken during a face-to-face session to go over the purpose for using discussion boards as well as demonstrating the basics – what is the difference between a forum and a thread, how to add a post, how to reply to a post, how to embed an image or a video, and how posts can be deleted.”

2. How do I set a task that is sufficiently interesting for discussion?

One of the biggest challenges of discussion boards is motivating students to engage with topics. Learning designer Elizabeth Palmer gives some clear advice on how to maximise online discussions:

“Make sure you set the parameters of the discussion to include guidance on both ‘how’ students should complete the task and ‘why’ it is important. Students that are unable to see the purpose of the task (in both the short and the long term) will be unlikely to engage. Actually this is true of any task in whatever format, class or on-line, not just discussion boards. Equally, if they do not have clear instructions for the task this impacts motivation and likely engagement. Instead of ‘respond to at least two of your peers’ try something like ‘select one answer you disagree with and justify your opposing view with evidence’.

Generally, I advise staff to avoid setting a task that only has one or a limited set of answers because whoever gets there first completes the task. So either encourage personal responses or select an area for discussion that has sufficiently contentious issues for debate to make discussion lively, worthwhile and complex.”

3. Set your students’ expectations for feedback and provide rewards

Imagine a motivated student’s reaction when after spending hours writing a post they find no one has taken the time to read it. Flip this and think about the less motivated student’s feelings if they know their efforts are not being monitored or checked. In both cases students will quickly lose interest in online discussion.

Samantha Read’s structured approach to discussion boards involves placing a deadline date for all posts to be posted, with a given date that the tutor will go into the discussion board and provide feedback.

On modelling best practice she says, “Discussion boards need to be seen as a ‘safe space’ in order for students to feel comfortable posting to them. I always begin each thread with an example post so that the students know the kind of information to include, as well as the suggested length. It is also vital that the discussion boards are monitored and responded to.”

For maximum effect careful planning and maintenance is required. However, if you are aware from the outset that you have limited time to invest outside of the classroom, then you may wish to consider thinking creatively about how the students will interact with the task.

Approaches such as splitting the discussion into groups and allocating group leaders to report back at the beginning of the next lesson will ensure that the students’ efforts are rewarded with feedback.

Gilly Salmon (2017) promotes online socialisation as the bedrock of successful online engagement, identifying the ‘e-moderator’ as ‘a host through which students learn the framework of an e-activities, ‘providing bridges between cultural, social and learning environments’.

Samantha Read reflects on how active participation in discussion boards is an easier path to better grades within her face to face time in the classroom, “I usually make a point at the beginning of the session where discussion board feedback was necessary as part of the learning experience, that those who did participate now have less work to do in the session than those who did not and highlight how these students have shown analytical thinking that will earn them good grades once this is applied to their assignment.

I sometimes even ask the students who did not participate across the course of the week, to make their contribution during class so that we can all benefit from their opinion. This only really works however if a great deal of research was not required for the discussion board task. I also reward students through positive feedback to their posts, making suggestions for how their opinion or research could be used in relation to an upcoming assessment or workshop activity.”

In her final thoughts, Samantha says that “It is worth trying discussion boards as part of your blended learning module to try out virtual ways of increasing engagement. I have found some of my groups have really enjoyed interacting on discussion boards, whilst other groups have found them daunting and needed more support. Each student is going to have a different response  but as long as support is available to them, it is definitely worth introducing and seeing that happens.”

What are your experiences?

If you have used discussion boards, what are your thoughts? Be sure to post below and share your experiences and thoughts.

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The practice of teaching a class using PowerPoint is common at the University, with seating, video projectors and PCs in every teaching room all arranged to contribute to its adoption as the standard teaching method.

As a way of displaying information to a group, PowerPoint is effective, and whilst there are lots of other pieces of software (such as Prezi) that could lay claim to creating more vibrant and exciting presentations, few match PowerPoint’s effectiveness for its flexibility, ease of use, and the widespread digital literacy that comes with using such a popular Microsoft product.

It may sound like I’m rather fond of it, and yes I think it’s a good piece of software, especially as it’s fit for purpose, and almost certainly that there’s no better software for giving widespread presentations by a large group of staff.

So what’s the point of this blog post you may wonder?

Well, aside from the obvious technological differences, a lecturer standing at the front of a classroom talking over a set of PowerPoint slides is very much a reproduction of traditional teaching (otherwise known as didactic, direct instruction, or teacher centred learning).

That is, it’s a reproduction of how (most) lecturers taught 100-500 years ago when it was (and possibly still is) believed that students learned best by memorising the content that the lecturer taught and then reproduced that knowledge in an essay. Whilst it’s obvious that the educational landscape has changed radically, traditional teaching as a method has seen very little revision.

So before I jump into how active learning is different, let’s take a few moments to consider the benefits of traditional teaching with PowerPoint and the reasons it’s been so widely adopted.

  • It is (comparatively) easy to create teaching materials
  • It is easy to replicate lessons between groups
  • Materials can be easily shared online and between tutors
  • Many lecturers will have grown up with traditional teaching methods (and have been successful academically)
  • Lecturers are often specialists in their fields rather than trained as teachers and therefore unaware of other teaching methods.
  • There is often little communication between staff on teaching methods
  • Staff have tended to stay in post for long periods (because we love the job)
  • Classrooms with video projectors, smartboards and seating arrangements perpetuate the practice of teacher-centred learning
  • Lecturers are busy and do not always have as much time as they would like to think about how they might develop their teaching
  • PowerPoints are useful in consolidating your understanding of a subject

Clearly, it’s not all a bed of roses. We all know that creating quality PowerPoint presentations can take time, skill and a great deal of thought to get right.

In order to keep PowerPoint presentations up to date we have to:

  • Learn new software / keeping up to date
  • Research the subject, write and design slides
  • Learn how to upload for students via Blackboard
  • Load to PCs in class
  • Constantly revise content

With such an investment in time and effort and understanding the problems of teaching at this level, perhaps it’s little surprise that many lecturers are wedded to their traditional teaching materials (who wants to lose their babies?)

But what if I could offer you a better deal … less work with better student results? More motivated and engaged students, a more vibrant and exciting learning environment?

Yes that’s exactly what’s on the table,

An alternative to traditional teaching is active learning (also known as student centred learning) This is learning centred around activities rather than a lecturer presenting content and students listening.

An activity could be any number of things: a presentation; a debate; a picture; video; poster; notes on a discussion board. And students could work in groups or individually.

The main emphasis here is that the student learns by participating in an activity: they may research, discuss, and consolidate their understanding into an output. One key difference in this teaching method is that lecturers act more like a facilitator than a ‘sage on a stage’.

I think it’s important to note at this point that PowerPoint itself is neither a traditional or active teaching tool, it is the means of how we (mostly) deliver traditional teaching, however it is also often adopted by students for active learning.

What does that mean and how will it look?

Well let’s replace that hour long PowerPoint presentation (that takes three hours to produce) with something like the following:

1. a few introduction slides that introduce the topic
2. an activity for the students to engage in, (perhaps some online research, and a discussion)
3. verbal feedback
4. a few slides at the end to wrap-up the activity
5. an ongoing task, for students to consolidate their learning on their personal blogs

It needs fleshing out a bit but I hope you’re getting the idea.  It’s placing the focus on the participant rather than on you and allowing the students to do all the hard work.

The funny thing is that active learning is precisely the process that you go through when preparing a new PowerPoint (the process of research, writing, and reflection are all in there). We know it works as we do it all the time ourselves. The irony is that as lecturers we are getting a better learning experience than the students are.

You may be wondering what to do with all the PowerPoint files you’ve already made, and the answer is to keep them as your reference material. Not only can you dip in and out of them from time to time, stripping out slides as needs be, and share parts of them with students both in class and online, but they’re also a consolidation and document of your own ‘active learning’ journey, you can be confident that your time hasn’t been wasted.

Before I sign off, here are a few FAQs

How do you know my teaching methods aren’t effective?

I don’t, only you, the students, maybe an observer in your room, and feedback can tell you (honestly) if your teaching is effective. But generally speaking lecturers using ‘traditional teaching’ methods complain of ‘looking out on blank faces’, ‘students that are unengaged’, and a lack of understanding within assessments. This is an widespread observation and certainly not a criticism of your ability to teach.

Some of my students do very well at ‘traditional teaching’ why should we cater for unmotivated students?

It would be wrong to say that traditional teaching is not effective, for motivated students (especially those with a good memory) it can be very effective. But research shows that active learning provides better results for all students, especially those who are not traditionally academic. Rather than cater for the minority of motivated students, active learning offers a solution that’s more inclusive.

Is this new method of teaching tried and tested?

Yes, many teachers already adopt this style of teaching, especially those who have taught in language schools and HE, it just happens that it is yet to be widely adopted as the preferred method of teaching at this level.

Why should I learn a new way to teach? 

It’s almost certain that your teaching is constantly evolving, every new piece of content, module you teach and method of delivery involves new skills learned, whilst changing to active learning may seem a giant leap in teaching style, the reality is that the process will involve lots of small steps, much in the same way as any other changes you have made. As educators we don’t stop learning, it’s just that by ‘doing it’ we don’t often notice.

What happens if I don’t have the time to do this?

We all know that time is precious, especially mid term when you are in the thick of teaching. However Rome wasn’t built in a day, and if you’ve read it this far then I’d strongly advise you to reach out for a helping hand from the Institute of Teaching and Learning (ILT) and from our friendly team of Learning Designers. ILT are very keen to promote improved learning techniques through their PGCAP programme and their C@N-DO workshops and they have the pedagogic knowledge to set you off on the right course.  Another good source of help is to arrange a face to face, 1:1 session with one of the Learning Designers and see what happens – you will almost certainly find they’re full of good ideas and are there to help (email:

If I already to this do I need to do anything?

There’s a good chance I’m preaching to the converted, but it’s still worth discussing this with a Learning Designer to promote good practice. If you’re doing this already then great, they’ll help you identify best practice and may want to use your teaching methods as a case study so you can help others discover the benefits of active learning.

Hopefully I’ve whet your appetite and you want to know more.

I hope you’ve found this blog post interesting, if so you may like to read the following posts:

Designing e-tivities – some lessons learnt by trial and error.

CAIeRO & Waterside.

What is the flipped classroom?

Will flipping my class improve student learning?

In the next post I’ll be reviewing a number of digital learning tools you can use in the classroom for active learning, the pros and cons of each and looking at a few examples of how lecturers are currently using these in the classroom.

Richard Byles
Learning Technologist.

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