Certification really does matter…

This is an opinion piece and is unapologetically skills-y. As with everything on my blog, this piece represents my personal thoughts and is not representative of any organisation I work with.

Today I had the pleasure of attending Prodigy Learning’s CertMatters Live conference. The event was hosted at the British Library, which is always a bonus as it is one of my favourite places in London (no surprise for someone who works in a library!). If you are not familiar with Prodigy Learning, they are a leading company in the training and certification industry in the UK and Ireland. They are responsible for managing certification programmes for Microsoft, Adobe and more in the UK and Ireland.

Why is this of interest to someone working in higher education?

Excellent question. I’m going to make a rare jump into the ’employability and skills agenda’ to answer that. Businesses are looking for skilled graduates, and there is a wide base of evidence that suggests there is a HUGE skills gap in the whole labour market. While a lot of these are soft skills like critical thinking, leadership, communication and so on, there is also a dramatic shortage of those with the right technical skills. Many of these technical skills can be demonstrated through the Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) examinations. For more practical Microsoft Office certification there is the Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) certifcations. There is also an excellent certification for educators – the Microsoft Certified Educator (MCE).

For this blog, I’m going to focus on the certifications related to Microsoft Office Specialist. This is not to suggest any less validity in those offered for other software vendors or from the Microsoft certifications (MCE/MTA), but my interest lies in Office and it is easier to leverage examples of the benefit of MOS certifications. In short, if institutions can offer students the opportunity to gain MOS certifications, it gives students more opportunity to evidence their skills in a crowded jobs market. It makes them look less-risky to employers as there is evidence of their competency. More importantly, it gives them the chance to brush up on their skills – these certifications are not all easy to get and they will need to earn them!

I think it’s also important to acknowledge the wider context our students are working in. Many of them will graduate and work in careers that don’t yet exist – especially when we look a decade ahead. To cement this point, I’m just going to bring my notes in from the keynote from Chris Rothwell at Microsoft:

Okay – but why certification?

These technical skills can actually be difficult to evidence. This makes it very difficult for businesses to identify graduates that actually possess the skills they are looking for. Immediately the value of internationally recognised certifications must be clear.

Certifications also have the possibility of addressing another serious problem. Many students write application forms or curriculum vitae that suggest they have skills. Sadly, this is not always a reality. I am not suggesting they are intentionally deceitful. Far from it! Many are often unaware of what they don’t know about the software they are using every day. From personal experience, I have interviewed many students who claim to be ‘expert’ in Microsoft Office. On further digging with Microsoft Word for example, it turns out they’ve never come across styles, mail merges, master documents, content controls. Experts they are not.

Certification gives them the option to actually learn and practice the software to a recognised level of competency. When confident, students can take the formal exam and if they pass, they can receive certification. Simple!

Where does this fit in?

Well. There are many approaches. It can be used both within the curriculum or as an optional extra-curricular opportunity. Whatever you do, offering certification alone isn’t enough. Anyone working towards certification will need learning materials to help them towards it. This could be resources developed in-house, or the badging of existing teaching where it links to certification. There is also the option of products like Microsoft Imagine Academy, lynda.com and GMetrix.

This diagram may give you a better feeling of how this all interacts:

Now. I am personally not going to suggest these should be rammed into every programme. I don’t think it would be appropriate. I’d love to see a world where every student could have the opportunity to undertake these employability-enhancing certifications. I just don’t think it should necessarily be core or forced. Some people came to university, not for employability, but for curiosity or the love of learning itself.

Now – there are exceptions. For example, people studying certain business modules probably should be competent with Excel. In those cases, I am all for curriculum integration. There are definitely cases for this with the MTA certification too.

I am not suggesting a wholesale buy-in to the degree/graduate factory. But I want to make it clear – offering certifications does not suggest this. It is about providing students who are about to go out into the rapidly developing employment market a better chance at evidencing what they can do and gaining a job! It is also acknowleding that there may be spaces where these certifications should actually be incurriculumn because it actually represents what it is to have a degree in that subject area.

It isn’t just students…

So – I’ve focused heavily on students. I think I would be doing certifications a disservice if I suggested it was for students alone. There are huge technical skills gaps throughout the whole higher education sector. There are many professional services that would be quicker, slicker and more efficient with the right technical skills in place. I am not suggesting this is part of delivery savings, but if we use Office Software to make the business of education more efficient we can all spend more time with students. This is not a bad thing.

For this bit, I’m going to defer to my notes from Elaine Topham‘s (Grimsby Institute) session on creating super staff. Elaine had an inspiring approach to fostering lifelong learning in staff, especially professional services.

What’s the catch?

Well. Like everything good in life, certification isn’t free. Single exams can be quite expensive, but these are incredibly efficient when purchased in bulk. Compared to the cost and development of in-house solutions, I think certifications represent excellent value. It’s also important to reinforce the recognition these certifications hold with employers. They also offer digital badging through Acclaim. I’m very interested in digital badging and I put a question to the panel at the end of CertMatters Live to dig into this a bit deeper. I ask the panel them how important they feel the ‘digital badge’ aspect of certifications is. The best answer was simple:

Employers are lazy.

Digital badges are quick and easy to see and verify.

More about CertMatters Live

CertMatters Live also hosted the UK and Ireland regional Word, Excel and PowerPoint Championships, with the three winners being sent to New York to compete internationally. Exciting stuff.

More information about CertMatters Live can be seen on the website.

Happy (Professional) Developments! CeLP | MIEE | NCE

Over the last few months I have had a number of amazing opportunities to learn new skills, demonstrate technical competencies and reflect on my own professional development. All of this hard work has led to the following recognitions:

  • Certified Leading Practitioner (CeLP) (ALDinHE)
  • Microsoft Innovative Education Expert 2018-19 (MIEE) (Microsoft)
  • NVivo 12 Certified Expert (QSR)

Each of these means an awful lot to me, and reflects a lot of hard work and commitment over the last few years.

 

Certified Leading Practitioner (CeLP)

CeLP status is awarded by the Association of Learning Development in Higher Education (ALDinHE, 2018). Professional recognition is a new venture for ALDinHE, launched at the 2018 annual conference. The scheme offers two levels of recognition, certified practitioner (CeP) and certified leading practitioner (CeLP), helping to recognise learning development as a distinct profession (Briggs, 2018).

I am truly honoured to have been recognised as a Certified Leading Practitioner, and for the ALDinHE community which provides such an excellent forum for us to share practice and ideas. I cannot wait to see how this recognition scheme grows and how ALDinHE continues to evolve as a professional body.

If you work within learning development in higher education, I highly recommend the CeP/CeLP professional recognition. Similar to HEA fellowship, it provides a valuable opportunity to reflect on your practice. What makes ALDinHE’s scheme particularly valuable is its grounding within learning development, making it the most relevant scheme for professionals working in this area.

Microsoft Innovative Education Expert 2018-19

Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert 2018-19I am happy to share that I am returning as a MIEE for 2018-19 and Trainer, making this my second year in the programme. I am particularly excited to be joined this year by Sue Watling, who alongside Joel Mills places at least three of us in Hull. The MIEE program provides excellent opportunities to connect with peers, share ideas and help other educators.

As Microsoft continue to develop stunning new features and tools that continue to make technology more open and accessible, I could not be more proud to be an MIEE. You can check out my profile on the Microsoft Educator Community, but more importantly have a look at the excellent courses and resources.

NVivo 12 Certified Expert

I am incredibly proud to be recognised as a NVivo 12 Certified Expert. This level of recognition reflects a long journey for me, starting with my first use of NVivo in 2011. Since then I have taught hundreds of students, created dozens of NVivo projects and ingrained NVivo into a variety of research. To gain expert status I was required to undertaken further learning, sit a multiple choice exam and take three, two-hour exams. I am so proud of myself for getting through all of this (including further assessment to move from NVivo 11 to 12).

If you are an experienced NVivo user, I highly recommended the certification program. It is an excellent way to build your skills and recognise your achievements.

 


I am aware that this whole post was a little self-indulgent, but after all this work I had to do a little something to mark all of these achievements. My next step is to go for my Senior Fellowship of the HEA, building on my current Fellowship level. This one is going to take a lot of work, but I have already made a fair start on the application. Wish me luck!

Designing for Diverse Learners

This post will detail some of the work I am undertaking with my colleague Sue Watling from Learning and Teaching Enhancement, University of Hull. This post is published on both of our blogs, and you can check out Sue’s blog Digital Academic.

The Home Office launched an excellent poster series to highlight practices for developing content for users falling into one of the following six categories:

  • low vision,
  • D/deaf and hard of hearing
  • Dyslexia,
  • motor disabilities,
  • users on the autistic spectrum,
  • users of screen readers (visual issues/blindness).

We we really impressed by these posters, but also overwhelmed with how we can support educators to use them in practice. For this reason, we worked to develop our Designing for Diverse Learners poster, combining the essential practices for all of the above. The aim of this document was not to target any one group of learners, but to develop an outline of practices that follow the principles of universal design where changes for some benefit the vast majority of learners.

The Poster: Designing for Diverse Learners

We have made this poster available in two formats, the image below and a printable PDF. For best results, print your poster on A3 paper (portrait orientation) and trim the white paper to the sides.

This poster outlines some best practice guidelines for learning design

Why ‘diverse learners’?

The idea of ‘diverse learners’ is really important to the both of us. The practices outlined in our poster will benefit every learner, not just those who many require specific adjustments. The reason we are able to do this is that in applying the principles from the above posters to the educational context, we are able to look at them for the specific purpose of designing digital learning materials and opportunities.

One of the reasons for our initial focus on digital resources is our institutional context at the University of Hull where the majority of resources will be access via the institutional VLE, Canvas. The University of Hull has a set of ‘expected use of Canvas’ criteria which include the following:

Staff should ensure that all digital content supporting learning and teaching e.g. text, images and multimedia, follows inclusive practice guidelines.

Our poster does not claim to support every single learner or requirement an educator may come across, but we are certain that resources developed along these principles will meet the vast majority of needs. We are also keen to frame this as a working document. We are keen to get as much feedback as we can to help us make this resource event better. We’ve already had some feedback about including some text line spacing and would welcome any further ideas you all have.

Future developments

As a community, we can continue to develop this resource and make it even better. We welcome input from both educators and learners as to how we can make this any better. We have set-up a Tricider to help collect feedback on the poster and to enable to community to vote on individual ideas. If you have not used Tricider before, it is very easy to contribute. Simple visit our Tricider and either ‘add an idea’ or vote on the ideas of others. You can also place comments on Tricider or use the comment area on this blog post if your prefer.

 

My digital workflow: Office 365 processes & tools for doctoral students

I thought I would take some time to share the invaluable Microsoft tools that I use as part of my thesis and research. I think the usefulness of Microsoft Office Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook is without question. These programs are an essential part of my work, but I will focus on other tools that I use to support my research.

Pixaline / Pixabay

OneNote

OneNote is a note taking application. OneNote is like my second brain. It stores my notes for absolutely every situation. Instead of a mixture of apps and notebooks, I take a great effort to keep everything in one place. The availability of OneNote on iOS, MacOS and Windows means I can access OneNote on all of my devices: iPad Pro, iPhone, MacBook Pro and Windows 10 computers. This means I can also access my notes anywhere and pretty much on every device. I’m a big fan of handwritten notes and there is a lot of evidence that demonstrates they’re the most effective way to take notes. The awesomeness of the iPad Pro and Pencil mean I can handwrite on-screen just as well as on paper. For any situation in which I do use paper, I scan documents in or use Office Lens (see below).

Technicalities aside, I use OneNote for:

  • Lecture notes, keynotes, conference notes
  • Supervision meeting records
  • Thoughts, thinking, general notes
  • Notes on reading
  • Field notes
  • Shopping lists, recipes and pretty much everything else!

The reason OneNote works so effectively is the wide range of media it supports. Not only can type or hand written notes be used within OneNote, but it supports drawing, maths, images, audio, video, tables, embedded files and a whole range of other special applications. Notes are easy to find as they are organised into sections and notebooks. Everything is searchable, tagable and easy to find.

FirmBee / Pixabay

OneDrive

OneDrive is a cloud storage platform. This means it stores files on a remote server as opposed to any one device. This means you can access anything you store on it anywhere you have internet. I use OneDrive to store all of my important files, with the exception of anything personally identifiable, like research data. While OneDrive achieves the same as Box, DropBox, iCloud Drive, Google Drive or any of platform, the deep integration with Microsoft Office makes OneDrive the most useful. It is also the cheapest platform as you get 1 TB for free included in Office 365, including the edition most universities provide students with.

Not only does OneDrive let you store your files and make them available, it also lets you connect to any computer you’re synced to and pull any file from it. This is really useful if you ever forget to take a file with you. As you’d expect, everything is searchable – but it is important to carefully consider your organisation system. I take great care to never get lazy when saving files otherwise it quickly ends up an unusable mess.

OneDrive is accessible within Office 365 programs, allowing you access to save directly to your OneDrive from within the software. The very latest versions of some even automatically – and constantly save to your OneDrive, ensuring your work is always safe. OneDrive can also be used for collaboration, allowing multiple people to edit an office file in real-time. This can be done with in-browser and in-program. Most people will recognise this functionality from Google Docs/Sheets – but its a lot more powerful in Office.

 

Office Lens

Office Lens is an amazing app for phones and tablets. It allows you to use the devices camera to take photographs, and save them directly to OneDrive, OneNote, your camera stream, PDF, Word or PowerPoint. What makes Lens so special is it’s ability to work with documents, whiteboards and business cards. When pointing Lens at a document, whiteboard, television, projector screen, book or whatever you want to capture, Lens detects the edges automatically and removes the background. This makes it a pretty impressive scanner! For whiteboards it also filters the photo and enhances the picture.

Most of my Lens shots end up getting stored within OneNote, embedded within whatever notebook I am working on at the time. I use it to capture a lot of projector screens – essential for lectures and conference. I also like using it for documents so I can take a photo/image of it away with me digitally rather than  needing to carry a lot of paper. As I suggested above, it is this feature that also lets me digitise any handwritten notes I may take. While I don’t use it, Lens works with Microsoft Immersive Reader so it is fantastic for accessibility purposes.

helloolly / Pixabay

Other useful tools

While I don’t have space to go into too much detail, there are some other essential apps:

Microsoft Translator

Microsoft Translator is a free, personal translation app for 60+ languages, to translate text, voice, conversations, camera photos and screenshots. You can even download languages for offline translation for free to use when you travel!

 

Microsoft Visio

Microsoft Visio is a diagramming software package. It lets you easily draw a whole range of processes, diagrams and maps. It is a lot easier to use than Microsoft Word for making diagrams, with special tools to help you keep elements in line and linked.

 

Microsoft To Do

Microsoft To-Do is a simple and intelligent to-do list that makes it easy to plan your day. Whether it’s for work, school or home, To-Do will help you increase your productivity and decrease your stress levels. It combines intelligent technology and beautiful design to empower you to create a simple daily workflow. Organize your day with To-Do’s smart Suggestions and complete the most important tasks or chores you need to get done, every day. To-Do syncs between your phone and computer, so you can access your to-dos from school, the office, or the grocery store or even while you’re traveling around the world.

Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE) Spotlight

I had the pleasure of being yesterday’s Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE) Spotlight. This MIEE spotlight is a nice blog that Microsoft uses to highlight the work of MIEEs around the country. On reading the spotlight post, it made me realise I’ve yet to post my portfolio on my own blog. and as such, I’ve just created this quick blog post to share my portfolio from last year. I’d also like to extend thanks to @misskmgriffin for the summary of my portfolio in the spotlight above.

 

I also realise it has been a while since I’ve provided an update on what I am up to with Microsoft in education, so stay tuned for some more updates in the new year!

Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert 2017-2018

 

Monday this week I had the great pleasure of receiving an email from Microsoft to congratulate me on being selected as a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE) for 2017-2018. This was a wonderful surprise, following my application submission earlier this year. The application process involved putting together a PowerPoint Mix or Sway to overview my work. I chose to create a small portfolio in Sway which was an excellent opportunity to reflect on the last academic year. Now I am part of the MIEE programme I look forward to continuing to model the use of Microsoft technologies for learning and teaching. More importantly, I look forward to training and supporting colleagues in their own use of Microsoft technology for learning and teaching.

The year ahead

The MIEE status stays with me for a year and over this time I’ve been thinking about what I want to work on. Like any other commitment I take, I took to Twitter to outline my plans for the year:

As outlined in my tweet, I have three areas I want to work on and in this blog I’ll add a fourth – my own CPD.

Sways and Mixes

I think Sways and Mixes are fantastic educational tools. I especially love how I can quickly create a Mix in PowerPoint. While I can use more complicated tools, they take valuable time. Time I don’t have. For Sway – I love the dynamic and responsive nature. They work really well for content heavy pages that need to be accessible on any size of screen. The ability to set image focus points always ensures the most important elements of any diagram are preserved no matter what device someone is on. I am looking forward to getting some Mixes and Sways online.

Support colleagues with digital literacy and Microsoft 365

Over the last couple of years I’ve been doing a lot of work on digital literacy. My work over the last few months with Microsoft Office 365 and a whole range of Microsoft tools and apps (Learning Tools, Sway, Office Lens, Snip, PowerPoint Mix) has brought new perspectives to this work. Having built my own expertise through practice, I’m now looking forward to supporting colleagues developing their use of Microsoft educational tools, apps and Microsoft Office too. I’m also keen to update some of my existing resources with the latest tech solutions.

Promoting OneNote

OneNote has long been a component of Microsoft Office. It is however, often in the shadow of Word, Excel and PowerPoint. I think it is one of the most undervalued aspects of the office suite and I always love introducing users to it. Often, students have OneNote installed on their computer but have never even opened it. I want to try and promote it more within my own institution. I think OneNote combined with Office Lens is the perfect solution to all a students note taking needs! Additional aspects of this including further experimentation with Class Notebooks, and I look forward to seeing how they can replace some wikis I am currently using in the VLE.

CPD

Technology is always developing and I aim to keep myself up-to-date on any new tools Microsoft release, and any updates to existing tools. I’m also keen to continue developing my knowledge through the Microsoft Educator Community.