Covid-19 Isolation Diary

We’re all in lockdown in the UK in an attempt to control the Covid-19 pandemic. I wrote an isolation diary for my university’s staff intranet news and thought I’d share it here as a record of life at this time.

Dr Elizabeth Hidson: Life in Lockdown 2020

I’ve been thinking a lot about life pre-lockdown and what life might look like when things start to return to something more ‘normal’, whenever that might be. My work as a senior lecturer in the University of Sunderland School of Education is as part of the International and Independent Distance Learning team, so working remotely from the students that take our teacher training programme – the PGCE (IDL) – is perfectly normal. We have over six hundred students a year in multiple cohorts training to be teachers all across the globe. Organising internet calls with Hong Kong trainees and providing online learning is the bread and butter of my work. I’m currently planning a webcast tomorrow for 300 students.

My team is well-equipped and experienced in distance learning. In a normal week, our core team would be on-campus for meetings and collaborative work part of the week and we would work from home the rest of the week. We’ve made a fairly seamless transition to #TogetherOnline. We start the day with a Teams meeting and end with an online quiz – competition is fierce! I’d say we are closer together as a team and as productive as ever, especially as we have moved to support our trainees via the grading safety net arrangements. We’ve also been part of the university’s Digital Champion resource base and have supported colleagues in their pivot to remote teaching. I had a fascinating meeting with a colleague as we discussed how to move a scheduled conference entirely online – such is the way of things at the moment.

On a personal level, Covid-19 has touched my family because of my mother’s recent passing – one of the non-published statistics of elderly victims in care homes with underlying health conditions. My team rallied around me; my students were wonderful and I have my work to keep me busy while I process the massive changes in my life. I have much to be grateful for.

My background in educational technology research means that for some of my time at home, I switch over to concentrate on my research and writing. Obviously, planned face-to-face research activities can’t happen in the near future, so instead I’ve been writing more. I’ve submitted one paper to a journal for review and completed revisions on another paper. I have a book chapter due to the publishers at the start of June. The topic of the paper I wrote is particularly timely because it looks at the use of video calling and desktop sharing as a research method. It’s based on a method I developed for my doctoral research and have presented on at the BERA conference last year. In the current crisis, as researchers consider how they might move their research forward, I’ve been able to contribute to a research community crowd-sourced document on fieldwork in a pandemic (Lupton, 2020) and the National Centre for Research Methods has picked up my work and shared it in their news article: Switching to teaching, learning and researching online – what does it mean for research methods?

This leads me to think about the future. I’m an advocate of technology in support of pedagogy. I relish the tools and techniques that we can use, such as video-enhanced lesson observations, and digital and visual research methods. Now that everyone in education has had an instant injection of technology into their practice, it’s my hope that they will be more open to exploring these strands of practice in future. I’m also thinking about how to develop our IDL teaching even further.

I have all this to look forward to, as well as a return to lunching with my team on-campus at The Riverside Café in the Prospect building!

VEO Research

I was delighted to see recently that the VEO App website has been updated with the published research and presentations that have been done over the last few years. A range of my own contributions is listed. Video is a key part of my outlook as a teacher and as a researcher. From the earliest days of digital video, I have had a keen interest in the potential of video in education. My MA thesis used DV as a tool for students’ learning and my MA dissertation supervisor, (then Dr, now Professsor) Andrew Burn was also involved in the earliest Becta work on DV.

See the VEO website for access to the articles.

The VEO app interface

All together now… online

As things continue to develop in education as a response to the worldwide move to online education during the Covid-19 pandemic, those of us who have been involved in distance learning are able to share meaningul insights to support others in our community.

In my university, my status as a ‘digital champion’ has meant that I have been able to support others moving online, which is a privilege, but one that is always seen through my positional lens of ‘pedagogy before technology’. My digital champion video, filmed as part of my university’s response to supporting staff to pivot to online learning, is below.

It’s also good to see that my background in digital and visual research methods has now found a wider audience than before. The Quantitative Methods Initiative has published a page tracking what switching to teaching and learning online means for research methods, and I’m pleased that my presentation on video calling and desktop sharing (VCDS) as a research method for studying lesson planning is included. I currently have an article under review based on this aspect of my doctoral studies.

Couldn’t be BETTer!

Fresh from the excitement of this year’s BETT show at Excel, I wanted to capture my thoughts on the event. The TPEA’s presence here this year was an excellent opportunity to network with follow EdTech enthusiasts, catch up with companies carrying out interesting research and talk to teachers, school leaders and educational professionals about the importance of using technology in a responsible, research-informed way.

Our stand was themed with our safari branding: our commitment to the voyage of discovery through the technology desert in order to find oases of organisations as committed to research-informed practice as we are. Our approach was not one of promotion, but one of highlighting products that had a basis in research. The positive outcomes of this were the number of people ready and willing to walk and talk and ask questions, free of any effort at a sales pitch. It is possible to advocate for technology without being seen as pushing a product – this seemed to be refreshing for many Bett-goers.

TPEA had several talks over the duration of the Bett show. My own was on Thursday 23rd January and I spoke about:

Communities of practice

Technology for reflective practice

Micro-learning opportunities

I see these as three key aspects that underpin the types of EdTech that are most useful for CPD. The slides from my presentation are embedded below.

Elizabeth Hidson CPD BETT 2020

Research shows that most of the traditional CPD that teachers experience is ineffective and does not transform practice – it has little impact back in the classroom or the learning space. My own research interests involve understanding how teachers must develop continuously in order to keep pace with changes on many fronts, for example the 2014 shift from ICT to Computing, which necessitated the upskilling of teachers to teach Computer Science, often for the first time. I am also interested in researching not just about technology, but with technology – as technology pervades every aspect of modern life.

Continuous Professional Development (CPD) is therefore vital. It needs to be done throughout one’s career (Day & Sachs, 2005), on the job and with access to knowledgeable others (Fullan, 2007) and is important in terms of professional identity (Davey, 2013). We know that CPD is important. Technology addresses the need for ongoing, connected and collaborative learning spaces. We need to look at this through the lens of EdTech.

In my talk, I shared my background in schools and as a researcher, and that of TPEA / ITTE / Mirandanet, linking back to the days of Becta, E-Learning Credits, BSF, the SSAT and AST activity. We need that level of professional criticality even more today in a time of austerity. We need to share our knowledge, encourage criticality and a questioning approach. We need to be asking how the technology supports the pedagogy and not assume that technology is always the answer – we really need to know what the question is – what the learning objective is – before we can begin to apply a technology solution.

I’m a teacher…what do I need to know about CPD and EdTech?

  • Teaching, learning, supporting others, researching;
  • Bring together these three EdTech areas for CPD;
  • Be the architect of your own professional learning;
  • Gain institutional support if possible;
  • Not just the what, but the how and the why;
  • Maintain criticality and remember the ‘Bananarama Principle’ (Professor Steve Higgins);
  • The CPD shopping list in a time of austerity.

Bett this year allowed us to have these critical conversations. Elated and enthused by the experience, the TPEA committee members are reviewing and revising their approach to making time and space for this level of collaboration… and redoubling our efforts to have the conversations with both education professionals AND EdTech companies. We don’t need snake oil but we do need EdTech solutions to meaningful, practitioner-inspired questions. Where Bett-er to begin these conversations than at Bett?

My NAACE piece on implementing video-enhanced observation

I was pleased to contribute a short piece highlighting advice to schools about implementing video-enhanced observation. It’s such a valuable tool for dialogue and professional development at all career stages, but one of the key issues is that schools need to be able to facilitate this as part of practice.

The two main areas of importance are in a) ensuring that video used in schools is built into the policy fabric of the school so that the rights of all stakeholders are ensured and b) developing a CPD model that encourages this form of development.

The piece can be read via my University of Sunderland staff profile


I’ve been working on a project with colleagues at Ulster University for about a year now, and the project funder, AdvanceHE, has just disseminated the funding project page. I’m very excited about this collaboration and looking forward to following up some of the strands in the coming year.

Our project page is here:

NCCE #ResearchBytes

Very pleased to have contributed to the current #ResearchBytes newsletter from the National Centre for Computing Education

Developing computing pedagogy post-2014: a doctoral study
Dr Elizabeth Hidson, Senior Lecturer in Education,
University of Sunderland, UK
As a former ICT teacher who stepped out of school to study for a doctorate in 2014, the ICT to Computing curriculum change was an obvious area of research for me. ICT teachers already in post were now teaching computing, and the expectation was that they were finding pragmatic ways to work within the new curriculum.
I undertook some in-depth case study research into how teachers across England researched and planned their lessons. Most of these planning sessions were observed via desktop-sharing in Skype, making it possible to watch and listen while a teacher located and modified resources, discussed their approaches, or grappled with subject knowledge deficits while teaching themselves a new programming technique before introducing it to their students. Lesson planning like this would normally have remained largely hidden, but the study highlighted it conceptually and methodologically as a promising area for future research. One example of this could be researching new approaches to developing programming pedagogy to track the development of pupils’ computational thinking.

I found that participating teachers demonstrated a range of practical and useful approaches to planning Computing lessons under the new PoS, and the approaches were much more focused around collaboration and communities of practice than anticipated. The way that participant teachers worked to locate, use, and modify teaching resources led me to the conclusion that the resources themselves had real potential for the sharing of pedagogical approaches. Developing teaching resources and sharing them is a way to share good practice, but it is also a way to use and share the theoretical approaches that underpin planning.

I used Shulman’s (1986, 1987) frameworks of pedagogical reasoning and Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) in order to have a language with which to describe the pedagogical practices I observed as teachers planned lessons. One of the long-standing critiques of ICT as a subject has been that it was under-theorised and overly skills-driven. As the new Computing curriculum continues to be embedded in England, being able to ascribe shared meaning to what practitioners say and do is important, especially as some of their practices, such as lesson planning, are carried out in isolation. Subject knowledge exchange is needed, but so is pedagogical knowledge — not just what to teach, but how and why, as well as what the best teaching methods are.

Using the language of pedagogy to discuss, plan, and share resources and approaches is important for making classroom practitioners integral to building collective understanding of the professional knowledge and skills needed to shape the subject as it develops.

Next steps:Choose an activity or lesson that you are confident with and share it with a peer: discuss with them how you teach the concepts and why you do it that way. A great place to do that is your local CAS community, or online via #caschat.Read Elizabeth’s full thesis.

The joy of being cited

One of the unexpected pleasures of working in educational research is to find that someone has read your work and referenced it in theirs. Being relatively new to the field, I am always pleased when I realise that this has happened. Strangely, this can happen in quite unexpected ways. I realised that my (Doyle, 2004) MA dissertation work had been cited by my supervisor, Professor Andrew Burn, in The Sage Handbook of E-Learning Research (first edition – 2007, see pictures below), but I only found out by chance more than a decade later.

A few weeks ago, Google Scholar alerted me that my 2018 paper “Video-enhanced lesson observation as a source of multiple modes of data for school leadership: A videographic approach” had been cited by Briggs & Coleman in the Oxford Research Encyclopedias section on Research Methodology on Educational Leadership and Management. I was pleased to see that others in the field had picked up on my argument that video can provide rich data for school leaders, beyond its inital use as a tool for enhanced lesson observation.

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Professional Crossroads and Identity Crises: Finding My Tribe

First published on the ITTE website 09/05/2019

I skim-read a random post on Facebook recently that said something along the lines of, if you want to know who you are, look around at your friends – you are the average of your five closest friends. Any switched-on practitioner with a bit of research savvy is going to look at that and make a noise like ‘pfft’ and keep scrolling. Think back to the misuse of Dale’s Cone, or any of the educational neuromyths that continue to maintain a hold in CPD sessions and you get the sense of how I responded to that. However, in several recent discussions, I have come to realise that there may be a grain of truth in this in relation to the professional identity of those of us whose work in education involves technology.

I can remember back in the late 90s trying to explain to my grandmother what a PGCE in IT was. She was very pleased that I was training to be a teacher, but had no concept of IT. The best I came up with was that I taught people how to use computers. Woefully inadequate, but strangely indicative of the identity crisis that has haunted the profession all this time, and never more so than the last five years.

Photo Credit

IT became ICT 1999 into 2000. The beginning teachers on my PGCE course joked that as we would graduate with PGCEs in Information Technology, we were not qualified to teach the new subject “ICT”. Shift forwards to the infamous 2012disapplication of ICT speech at BETT, followed by the 2014 curriculum change and there were some very wobbly moments as in-service ICT teachers faced the challenge of upskilling to teach Computer Science. This is an issue close to my heart and formed the core of my own doctoral research, where I looked at teachers’ perceptions of this change and how they were responding in terms of their teaching.

I stepped out of school to study for my doctorate in 2014, and so, no longer technically a teacher, let alone an IT, ICT, Computing or Computer Science teacher, I came adrift from my former Personal Learning Network, not that we really called it that in years gone by. Studying and working in educational research, I encountered a whole new tribe of teachers-who-research. At WIPCSE 2015 I metCraig Jenkins and spoke to him about a presentation he had given at ITTE2015and from there, I joined ITTE, gave my first Pecha Kucha at ITTE2016 and they haven’t been able to get rid of me since!

ITTE is the association behind the respected Technology, Pedagogy and Educationjournal, and I feel a real sense of professional kinship with this group of teachers, teacher educators, academics and researchers, who recognise the value that each aspect of our identities brings to the work that we do. More importantly, they provide a space and time to come together as a community, welcoming contributions from everyone for whom technology, pedagogy and education are pillars of their practice.

Join us this year on 11th and 12th July in Winchester and be part of the conversation about a richer curriculum and how to create a culture of opportunity in a digital world.

Video in Language Teacher Education

Imagine my surprise when I was trying to find a link to something I knew was online – I typed my name and up popped the Warwick University page on Video in Language Teacher Education (ViLTE), with one of my papers!

Naturally, I was pleased that my work was being shared. I’m a video person rather than a languages person, but having worked extensively with linguists at Newcastle University, there has always been a crossover. Video-enhanced observation formed a key part of my work on the VEOEuropa project and the proPIC project.

Link to ViLTE

Video is a key interest of mine – in practice and in research. It’s also an area I will be contuining to work on in the future.

Back to School with EdTech

A post I wrote for the ITTE Blog this month (August 2018)

It’s that time of year when students and teachers prepare to go back to school and start a new academic year. EduTwitter and Facebook groups are full of teachers preparing to start the new academic year with good intentions, new stationery, new classroom displays and new approaches for the coming year.

The DfE announced recently that education secretary Damian Hinds had challenged “the tech industry to launch an education revolution for schools, colleges and universities to develop innovative teaching and slash workload. Teaching practices and assessment were offered as key opportunities for the tech sector to create a step change. “Virtual trips through the Amazon” were held up as state-of-the art. And yet, I wonder, what are the implications of this search for the next new thing?

Image: CC0 Creative Commons.

Looking back over the years of investment in educational technologies, I recall several technologies that offered new ways to improve teaching and learning, assessment and engagement. Ten or so years ago I recall spending some whole-school ICT budget on voting handsets. A class set that could be calibrated so that individual students could respond to starters, quizzes and discussion prompts built into presentation software, which could then be displayed on an interactive whiteboard and used by a skilful teacher to probe understanding, address misconceptions and scaffold learning. This was surely good teaching supported by educational technology, whether ten years ago or this year.

I recently encountered a similar approach using a mobile phone app during a learning technology demonstration at a university. It reminded me of the class set of handsets and I wondered what had become of it. The whole set, in its carrying bag, is probably in the back of a cupboard somewhere, having not seen the light of day for many a year. But why?

Image: CC0 Creative Commons.  

The answer cannot be a surprise. Technology doubles every two years (Moore’s Law, anyone?). Nothing stays the same in technology, or in education. Curricula rarely stay the same for two years in a row. Once a technology is purchased it is on a countdown to obsolescence and the time and energy that it takes a teacher to develop teaching materials specific to the technology means that it becomes a luxury rather than a necessity. Increasing demands on teacher time mean that the shiny new technology becomes a dusty dinosaur rather quickly.

Perhaps the answer lies, then, in reframing the question, or refocusing the expectation. Good technology, used skilfully by teachers can enhance teaching, learning and assessment. Of that I have no doubt. I also believe that pedagogy should drive technology and not the other way around. What is needed is a step change in education policy that will allow schools and teachers to spend some time investigating the technologies that are needed to support good teaching; time to engage with research, to be confident that the investment is going to be worthy of the effort and lead to the required step change, for the benefit of the students and their learning.

It’s time for a reality check, not just virtual reality.