How To Write An Assignment Document

Working with wordprocessed documents is something that almost every student will need to know how to do at some point. These are required for coursework for both iMedia and A Level Computer Science, and used in assignments to show our work.

In the following tutorial, I have shown the process of creating an assignment containing elements of a long document, images, and exporting to a PDF.

Instructions for WordInstructions for Google DocsInstructions for Pages

Creating A Word Document With Headings

Start by opening a new document in Word. Make sure that the assignment title is at the top with your name. Start by adding in your titles like the image shown below:

Word Document

Select the text that you want to turn into a heading, then select the type of heading you want from the style menu.

Adding Images From Your Computer

If you have taken a screen capture from your computer, you can paste this straight into your document using Ctrl + V (or Cmd + V on Mac), but if you have a picture saved on your computer, go to Insert –> Pictures –> This Device then select a picture from your folders.

Adding Images From Canva

To add an image from your Canva account, you will need to download a copy to add to your document. To download an image, click Share –> Download.

In the download menu, select .jpg as your download (unless you need transparent areas, in which case use .png). Bring the size down to between 500 – 1000px and set the quality to “small”.

Click on download, then add the image from your Downloads folder using the instructions above for adding a file from your Device.

Adding A Contents Page (for long coursework documents)

These are only needed if you are writing a long piece of coursework or assignment of 10 pages of more – these aren’t needed for weekly assignments!

As you have already followed the instructions above for setting up your headings, your document will be ready to add an automatic table of contents. Click on References –> Table of Contents –> Select your preferred style.

Compressing Your Document

Sometimes you’ll find that your document is too large to upload. Word includes an image compression tool to help make your document smaller.

Once you have added an image to your document, click on the image, then select the blue “Picture Format” menu –> Compress Pictures.

In the pop up menu that appears, uncheck the “Apply only to this picture” so all images are compressed, but leave “delete cropped areas” checked. Select the smallest resolution of Email (96dpi) –> click OK.

Compress pictures

Don’t forget to save after compressing!

Exporting Your Document to a PDF

To save your document as a PDF, click File –> Export –> Create PDF. Choose where to save your PDF version to & your document is ready to upload!

Creating A Google Doc With Headings

Start by opening a blank document in Google Docs. Make sure that the assignment title is at the top with your name. Start by adding in your titles like the image shown below:

Select the text that you want to turn into a heading, then select the type of heading you want from the style menu.

Adding Images From Your Computer

If you have taken a screen capture from your computer, you can paste this straight into your document using Ctrl + V (or Cmd + V on Mac), but if you have a picture saved on your computer, go to Insert –> Image –> Upload from computer then select a picture from your folders.

If you’re using a tablet or mobile device, Google Docs also allows you to add pictures using your device camera. This is particularly useful for adding hand drawn diagrams or sketches.

Adding Images From Canva

To add an image from your Canva account, you will need to download a copy to add to your document. To download an image, click Share –> Download.

In the download menu, select .jpg as your download (unless you need transparent areas, in which case use .png). Bring the size down to between 500 – 1000px and set the quality to “small”.

Click on download, then add the image from your Downloads folder using the instructions above for adding a file from your Device.

Adding A Contents Page (for long coursework documents)

These are only needed if you are writing a long piece of coursework or assignment of 10 pages of more – these aren’t needed for weekly assignments!

As you have already followed the instructions above for setting up your headings, your document will be ready to add an automatic table of contents. Google Docs will already have a navigation panel to the left, so this is more useful for printed or exported documents.

Click on Insert –> Table of Contents (at the bottom of the menu) –> Select your preferred style.

As you write your document, you can update your contents page by clicking on the table of contents & clicking the refresh icon that appears to the left.

Compressing Your Document

Google Docs automatically compresses any image that you upload to your document, so you’ll have the most optimised version already.

If you want to make any adjustments to your images once you have added an image to your document, click on the image, then select the three dots on the right of the format bar, next select All image options.

Exporting Your Document to a PDF

To save your document as a PDF, click File –> Download –> PDF Document. Your document will be saved in your Downloads folder – don’t forget to move this into a folder on your device. Once downloaded, your assignment document is ready to upload!

Although my courses are run on the understanding that all instructions are provided for Windows & Office, I do understand that not all learners will have access to this.

For ICDL courses, Windows is a prerequisite and other operating systems cannot be used.

For iMedia courses, I strongly recommend that students are using Windows and a Graphics Tablet as this is the standard for all tutorials.

I have included a detailed help video below that covers the same topics as I have written about in the previous tutorials – I’d recommend using the bookmark links on the video as it’s quite long!

Equality and Social Justice in Education

Equality and Social Justice in Education

Much like my post on Open Education & Practice, this is less a blog post, and more a learning journal. As many of you are aware, I’m currently completing a Masters degree in Online Teaching. As part of my second year, I am studying Equality & Justice in education. Part of this is to create a reflective learning journal.

These are my candid reflections on my own practice and thoughts. Unlike my classroom teaching, this will include personally held beliefs & political opinions, however whilst I do not bring these to my classes they do form my ethical base as both an educator and business owner.

Menu


The Right to Education?

The Right To Education

Part A

Q1. To what extent do you feel that the ‘universal primary education’ (UPE) right should be upheld as a universal right for all individuals in the world? Why?

I strongly believe this should be a universal right, but feel that “education” isn’t defined clearly enough. For me, this raises the question, “what is a suitable primary education?”.

Testing primary children provides us with data, but is numeracy & literacy enough? My own lived experience is that primary education has changed dramatically over the past 40 years from creating a broad foundation of skills to build upon when I was in primary school in the early 1980s, to a focus on core subjects and high stakes testing which has increased further since my own children attended primary. I certainly don’t remember being stressed about exams and requiring specialist tutors in order to access the “best” schools.

As someone whose children didn’t really fit the mould in secondary and chose to home educate, I believe that there is inherent privilege in being able to educate your children without school: although school isn’t childcare, it does provide parents with the ability to work outside of the home. However, this doesn’t mean that a universal school education is the only source of a suitable education – with that said, I do think that without foundations of education at primary, we don’t learn how to learn independently (or it’s more difficult when learning becomes more formal)

Q2. When could it be problematic? For example, is it still applicable to all educational systems? Should everyone be able to attend primary school? What would happen if there were only one faith-based school available or only a school with a particular political orientation?

– I believe that access to a suitable education for the individual child should be a fundamental right, but the one solution doesn’t fit all.

– I think that everyone should have the opportunity to attend primary school in a place suitable for the child. I don’t believe that this should be legally enforced as it creates a negative attitude towards education.

– where parent educational or religious philosophies don’t align with the single state educational option, having alternative options such as independent schools and home education is important to ensure that education is suitable for the individual. This does create it’s own issues as exposure to other cultures and backgrounds creates empathy. However, if the only option is religious rather than one secular option, that has the potential to skew the education rather than expand it. An example of this being the current educational reforms in Florida where extreme Christian values are restricting access to subjects, books, and open discussion.

Q3. Does a universal right apply equally to primary, higher, technical and professional education in every context? How would you support your decision on this?

This is something that as a concept I do support, which seems at odds with working as a private educator. From a realistic perspective, it’s unlikely that as a society that we will return to the days where education from primary to university was available free at source, and certainly not in my lifetime.

I do, however believe that there should be a universally accessible option for education at all levels. Where parents or learners choose not to follow the universally available path, then much like home education the cost would fall to the learner. However, when the only option is to create lifetime debt in order to access education that ultimately benefits more than just the individual, something has gone wrong in the wider societal context.

Part B

What do you consider to be the broad learning outcomes for all of these learners in your educational setting or in a community with which you are familiar or in which you live? By this, we mean the longer-term impact on these learners, their lives, well-being and livelihood.

  • Motivation to learn more deeply than just my courses
  • I’d like to think that for some, this has an impact on their choice of career
  • Self-confidence to enjoy a subject & be unabashedly nerdy
    • This is something that I struggled with. I enjoy learning & that was seen as “uncool” – as an adult, I’ve made peace with this and hope that I show others that it’s ok to enjoy learning.

Are there groups of learners who should have different learning outcomes because it would be problematic to cater for their particular needs within a universal statement of broad learning outcomes?

  • I don’t believe in a one size fits all approach. Much like the cockpit of the WWII fighter plane, the “average” isn’t fully suitable for anyone.
  • A universal education doesn’t need to have the same learning outcomes for all.
  • I strongly hold to the social model of accessibility: an environment can be disabling, but given appropriate access and adaptions, for most people the learning outcomes will be similar. There will always be outliers on either end of the academic scale, but neither should be discouraged from making their own personal progress.

To what extent is there a need for universal learning outcomes or adaptation for diversity and difference amongst the learners you work with?

  • My learners come from a range of diverse backgrounds, learning needs, and disabilities.
  • There are universal outcomes in the format of sitting specific exams or externally set assessments.
  • The default position is to design with universal accessibility in mind, but individuals may require specific adaptations.
Exploring Equality & Equity

Exploring Equality & Equity

In exploring the concept of equity in education, I hold a firm belief that it goes beyond simply providing equal opportunities. This area provides a challenging conversation as tuition is considered a luxury service rather than a fundamental right. It is difficult to reconcile private education with strongly held beliefs on Equality. However, I have chosen to personally earn less as a tutor than as a classroom teacher in order to maintain my own educational philosophy, and protect my physical health.

What ‘equality’ in education means to me

To me, equality in education means ensuring that every individual, regardless of their background or circumstances, has access to the same resources and opportunities. However, equity in education takes this idea further by recognizing that individuals may require different levels of support and resources in order to achieve the same outcomes which I feel is a more important concept.

Equality in education could present as free access to a state agreed curriculum, equal funding for schools, and an equitable distribution of resources such as textbooks, technology, and qualified teachers. Although this may seem sufficient in ensuring equal access, it fails to consider the unique needs and circumstances of each individual student which is where equity comes in.

Dimensions of Equality Relevant To My Practice

As a private tutor working mainly with home-educated learners and private candidates, I have firsthand experience with the unequal distribution of resources in education. I am acutely aware that in order to access my services, students need to have the financial means and support from their families. This creates a barrier for those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and may not have the financial resources to afford private tutoring.

Another aspect is the digital divide. I operate solely online with a mobile learning platform to deliver asynchronous learning which allows for flexibility and personalized learning, but creates a barrier to access for those who do not have reliable internet connections or access to devices.

What Achieving Equity For Learners Looks Like in My Context

As a small business owner, it is not currently possible for me to provide education free at source as I do not have access to the funding available to state managed schools. However, I engage with open learning by providing self-paced courses in the form of MOOCs and a scholarship place in each class to help mitigate the financial barrier for some students. I am actively exploring the use of AI to maintain personalised feedback for individual learners whilst reducing the cost of delivering my services. At present, it is the personalised feedback that provides value to my students, so I am reticent to remove the “human” aspect.

Perceptions of Equality

My notes on the two broad approaches to eqality:

I read a little further to give myself some context for the reflection:

I think my original ideas closely aligned with equality of opportunity and reading through this section does highlight that removing barriers doesn’t necessarily remove an inability to engage when there are wider societal pressures and issues. As somebody who works in stem I have witnessed the encouragement of girls into computing where barriers are ignored in favour of making resources pink and sparkly (which certainly would not have encouraged me, and did little for the girls that I was working with).

As somebody engaged in home education the equality of outcome appeals in terms of radical change, however positive action is something that I would like to explore more to consider whether the backlash was from a group that was disadvantaged and ignored through the positive action or a group that was no longer the “privileged default”.

I came across this whilst looking for some information Raewyn Connell’s work (particularly after seeing the anger generated in the video comments. What was really interesting was the first reaction was to refer to her as “manly” or gender non-conforming, which largely proved her point).

Social Justice & Me

Social Justice & Me

The context of the word social justice has been co-opted politically to create an image of extremist protestors or ill-informed “hippies”. When presented in different terms such as “teaching for diversity” or “culturally responsive pedagogy”, the politicised imagery is removed.

The quote from EE814 giving an introductory definition of social justice, does make me wonder what underlying beliefs would lead someone to find this objectionable:

” In everyday terms, social justice might be understood as the actions in support of a more just, fairer and more equitable society and education as a site for the enhancement of social justice.”

Unit 3 Introduction – EE814 Open University

In attempting to identify five examples of social justice, I have drawn from current and past experiences:

Example 1 – Respecting Personal Descriptors

Many Inclusivity procedures include a language guide, particularly around disability. The language used within disabled communities changes and not all policies are written with direct input from disabled employees or students.

A personal example of this, is that I describe myself as a “wheelchair user” and a “disabled person”. Both of these are examples of identity first language, where part of who I am is defined by these things. Being corrected by an able bodied person to person first language eg. “no, you are a person with a disability” removes my autonomy to refer to myself in the language most comfortable to me.

I’m also just one individual, so asking an individual how they would prefer specific terms around disability and neurodiversity to be used is important.

Example 2 – Pronouns & Names

As politicised as this is currently, this extends from the point above. Confirming pronouns and preferred names at the start of a course or contact assists everyone. To ensure that learners and their wider contacts are aware that my learning space is a safe place to share this information, I list my own pronouns in my email footer and social media profiles.

As a cis woman, this is not to reaffirm my own gender, but to state clearly that there will be no tolerance of discrimination. I am entirely at peace with having lost clients to this as it is not something I am willing to compromise on.

Example 3 – Dress Codes in School

This is an area where I can draw on from both student and teacher. In high school during the mid-90s, we campaigned for a change in uniform to allow longer skirts (those after us won the right to wear trousers for a short time in the early 2000s), and a change to a PE kit that to a teenager, felt overly exposed. At the time, attitudes towards feminism were changing and our concerns were considered and a compromise was reached.

Later, as a teacher in the early 2010s, a school changed its stance on uniform. They moved towards a much more formal dress code and brought in a teacher & student dress code which was highly gendered. Statements were made about length of skirts and height of buttons to “prevent unwanted attention”.

Subsequently, teachers spent more time addressing uniform infractions than addressing wider issues. In this circumstance, we were required to highlight the length of skirts and my refusal to do so and insistence on highlighting inappropriate behaviour was my stance towards social justice.

Example 4 – Critical Thinking & Misinformation

With the expansion of technology and ability to access information at our fingertips at any time of the day, understanding how to discern factual information from misinformation (or simply poorly researched information) is far more important than it was for previous generations.

In the example below, young learners were using AI generated videos to learn about science and believing this misinformation to be factual.

Whilst embedding critical thinking into the curriculum from a young age will lead to young people challenging the current world views (which is not seen as beneficial by everyone), it also equips them with tools to protect themselves from misinformation and propaganda. The ability to critically analyse a source as an adult is particularly important to enable them to make educated choices within a democratic society.

Example 5 – Facilitating Learning, Not Demanding

Since leaving the traditional classroom, I have created a different identity for myself as an educator. I am no longer referred to as “Mrs Billinghurst”, but as “Holly”, and whilst I create the resources as an instructional designer, and for most learners lead a live online session, the learning that takes place is for the most part as a facilitator with the focus on the learner being engaged. I set homework which is marked, but this is optional and not chased.

My current work uses a connectivist approach with the provision of tools and support from a mentor, but with the learning taking place in a wider context as learners complete practical & theory tasks more independently. It’s certainly not dissimilar to this approach where my learning comes from how deeply I engage with the set tasks – I could choose to skip them and no-one would know, but that would remove a tool from my toolkit when the time for higher stakes assessment arrives.

Philosophy and Discourses

Egalitarianism

This is a useful online video with some useful notes on the concept.

Neoliberalism

I’ve used the same video channel to explain Neoliberalism as the notes are quite detailed.

Normative Theories

Normative Theories in My Setting

If I’m entirely honest, these notes took far longer than simply writing things out as a mindmap, but post-covid I’m not at my best and this really helped to give me space to think about what was being asked.

As an adult who has to keep the brain bees entertained, assumptions on ability are really interesting to me. As a professional, I maintain huge amounts of organisation whilst surrounded by physical chaos. This isn’t something I can “unlearn”, but it is something I employ strategies to cope with (which are mostly effective). There is a dominant neurotypical theory that organisation just takes habit and trying harder – the reality for me is that I’ve spent all of my talent points and forgot to leave any for executive functioning outside of work & study!

Annotated Bibliography

Hidden content

How I Unlocked My Productivity with Flow Club: Online Body Doubling and Its Benefits for Neurodiverse Learners (& Tutors!)

How I Unlocked My Productivity with Flow Club: Online Body Doubling and Its Benefits for Neurodiverse Learners (& Tutors!)

Some of the links provided in this blog post are affiliate links. This means that I may earn a discount for my own flow membership, at no extra cost to you, if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link. Any blog with a recommendation, is written with my honest opinions.

As an online tutor and a lifelong learner, I’m always on the lookout for tools that can help me be more productive. If we’re honest, anything that excites the brain bees gets a trial, so recently, I decided to try Flow Club. Usually, these things are great, then fizzle, but this week I attended my 50th session on Flow, so now that I know it works, I wanted to share with you how it has transformed my work and study habits.

50 Flow Sessions Congratulations

What is Flow Club?

Flow Club is a platform that uses the body doubling technique to help individuals focus on their tasks. It’s a virtual space where you can work alongside others in a structured, timed manner. Think of it like a Zoom call with a set of other people who want to get on with some work & will hold you to account if you just sit there and faff!

As someone who mainly works from home, it can get lonely, but when I’m in the office being “in a flow meeting” also stops people from quite literally interrupting my flow. The platform allows you to schedule focused work sessions, making it easier to stay on task and get things done.

What is Body Doubling?

Body doubling is a technique often used to help people with neurodiversity, particularly those with ADHD, to focus better. The concept is simple: the presence of another person working silently alongside you can create a calming effect, helping to increase focus and productivity.

Imagine you’re in a room with a friend, both of you working quietly on your own tasks. Even though you’re not interacting, the mere presence of your friend can make it easier for you to concentrate on your work. This is the essence of body doubling and its effects are exponentially more powerful if you struggle with focus or anxiety.

Body Doubling and Neurodiverse Learners

image of a diary / planner with a pen

For neurodiverse learners, particularly those with ADHD, body doubling can be a game-changer. ADHD can make it challenging to focus on tasks, especially those that require sustained attention like revision or completing assignments and homework. Body doubling can help create a sense of calm and focus, making it easier to stay on task and get things done.

For example, a student with ADHD might find it easier to concentrate on their homework if they’re in the same room with a friend who’s also working quietly. This isn’t dissimilar from going to a library to do your homework (fond memories of the late 1980s & 90s there!) – you’re not directly interacting with others studying in the library, but because you all have a similar focus, it’s easier to get into the flow of studying.

How I Use Flow Club

I’ve found Flow Club to be incredibly helpful when I need to focus on longer tasks, such as marking student work or updating my website. The platform’s structure of timed work sessions helps break down large tasks into manageable chunks, making it easier to stay focused and make progress. In fact, this blog was finished thanks to me joining a 60 minute pomodoro session.

In the session we:

  • join and type in a short list of what we want to get done in that hour
  • take 5 minutes for everyone to say what their session goals are & say hi (this might be verbal or typed)
  • work quietly for 20 minutes while the host shares music which can be muted if you want
  • take a 5 minute optional break for water & a stretch
  • work quietly for another 20 minutes
  • take 5 minutes at the end to say what we achieved (there’s the accountability!)

… then join another!

Flow Club has also been instrumental in helping me complete assignments for my postgraduate course with the Open University. With several 4000 word assignments to complete alongside running a company, and wrangling my own home ed teens, Flow’s structure of timed work sessions helps break down large tasks into manageable chunks, making it easier to stay focused and make progress. It’s also nice seeing familiar faces in some groups and no matter what weird & wonderful time I’m working, there’s a flow session running.

Flow Club for Students

It’s important to be aware that these are video calls with strangers, so like any platform, if you’re under 18 these should be used with a parent / guardian with you at all times, and I would recommend with your camera off. Consider this similar to an open Discord call & take the same safety precautions.

For learners, particularly for A Level and beyond, Flow Club can be a game-changer. Because the platform was built for professional people working from home, there’s an automatic expectation that everyone will be working and supportive of each other. This not only helps with focus and productivity but also aids in time management. By scheduling work sessions, studying becomes a concrete plan rather than an abstract idea. This can be particularly helpful during exam periods when managing study time effectively is crucial. For me, it also means that I get a regular reminder to stop & drink some water – without pomodoro I’d be more dehydrated than my house plants!

The Flexibility of Flow Club

One of the features I love about Flow Club is the option to join sessions with or without verbal communication. This means you can choose a session that suits your preference or your current environment. I’ve even joined a session from my garden while updating my calendar!

Another great feature is the music played by hosts during sessions. This can help create a conducive work environment and further enhance focus. You can listen to my current “Eat the Frog” host playlist here. Not everyone plays music with lyrics – my sessions tend to run on a Friday afternoon as I attack the distance learning marking, so upbeat helps, but others use lo-fi, classical, or bring your own.

Get Extra Freebies

As I host sessions, you can use my affiliate link, this will let you try Flow Club for 14 days for free, instead of the usual 7-day trial. Whether you’re a tutor, a student, or anyone looking to improve their focus and get more done, I highly recommend giving Flow Club a try.

Open Education & Practice – Reflective Journal

Open Education & Practice – Reflective Journal

This is less a blog post, and more a reflective journal. As many of you are aware, I’m currently completing a Masters degree in Online Teaching. As part of the third assignment, we have been asked to create a reflective portfolio based on prompts throughout the unit. These are my candid reflections on my own practice.

Open TEL and YouYour Roles, Priorities and InfluencesTeaching Observation and YouOER and YouOEP and YouOpen Pedagogy and YouCuration and YouCollaboration and YouTechnology and YouScholarship and YouEthical & Equitable EducationAccessible TEL and You

– encounters with open education you’ve had prior to starting H880 (you could use Tony Bates’s list in Step 1.6, ‘Encounters with openness’, as a reference point)

I was educated in both the private and state sector. The open education model in the 1980s & 1990s often involved education material from the BBC in collaboration with the Open University.

As a child I benefitted from open access to local libraries & museums which were government funded but free at point of access.

– challenges you’ve experienced when trying to work or study in the open

Where open access to education or resources is funded, this often comes with attached restrictions and requirements to promote the message of those who fund the resources. This is one of the main arguments against home-educating parents receiving funding from local authorities as universally accessible education is not always in line with organisations like Ofsted.

– any plans you already have for becoming more open as a learner, educator or other professional

I am currently developing several MOOCs for my own company, including resources to study the ICDL. These are provided as free-to-study courses with the option to sit the exams with us to gain the formal qualification.

– any concerns you have about becoming more open in your practice or studies.

As an author and private educator, I am mindful about how resources, and courses are funded. I have a strong ethical foundation in my company that everyone contributes equally as we all enable each other to perform our roles – part of this is that we are all paid an equal wage. Using CC assets simply to save money feels at odds with this.

Your response to the percentage of time you spend on the activities in Bates’s model, and the percentage of time you’d like to be spending on those activities:

I’d suggest that I’m a technologist experimenter. Pretty much all aspects of my work & home life use or are governed by technology. Teaching computer science means that I need to keep up with new technology, but I’m naturally inclined to get excited about the “next big thing” and don’t fear jumping in feet first.

My percentages – I’m actually quite happy with this mix, I’d probably only swap the teaching & curating:

Teacher for Learning: 20% –> 10%

Collaborator: 10%

Experimenter: 15%

Curator: 20% –>30%

Technologist: 25%

Scholar: 10%

– the skills or knowledge gaps that you’ll need to address in order to realise your aspirations

I’d like to work on my course creation skills and include more analytics to clearly identify my learners’ progress pathways. Time management is something that I am actively working on as I am juggling running a company where I am the primary tutor & author with study on H880, and extra writing/resource development contracts.

– your initial plans for developing those skills and/or addressing the knowledge gaps (other than studying this course)

The course development skills are being addresses to a greater extent by H880. It’s not only the content, but the space to reflect that’s been beneficial instead of flying from one thing to another. I’m currently running a pilot where I am using AI to organise my time to reduce admin & planning time.

– any contextual factors that influence the balance of activities involved in your current role, including those that may prevent you realising your aspirations.

I have to be mindful that the work I do is generating sufficient income into the company to remain viable. The rising running costs have certainly impacted the percentages for Bates’ model and this year has included cost cuts to enable continued study.

As a continued consideration, my health & mobility impacts on the balance of activities. The overall 100% in terms of available hours fluctuates with my health which can be difficult when others rely on my availability, so I’m not always able to dedicate the time I would like to.

– your views on the value of teaching observations and any concerns you have about them

Despite a couple of negative experiences with observations, I still feel that they are beneficial overall to teaching and have the potential to positively influence skills and knowledge. If used as a part of peer-observation or mentoring, they can have an impact on enhancing teaching skills through allowing the observed teacher to test out new ideas with the benefit of feedback from someone able to view the lesson from a different perspective.

– any contextual factors influencing your views about teaching observations – for example, your views might be grounded in an experience of being observed yourself

I do believe that my views are heavily influenced by my own experiences. Having experienced several years in a secondary school where we were obliged to participate in peer-observations, this fostered a supportive environment and positively influenced our interactions with learners as we were regularly in receipt of feedback in addition to writing it. By removing the dynamic of manager/observee in favour of peer evaluation, teachers were more willing to show a realistic lesson rather than an unrealistically prepared lessons.

– any personal or professional development plans you have as a consequence of studying the material on teaching observations.

I’m currently planning my annual student voice survey which I use to set company objectives for the coming year. This year, I would like to include a lesson observation as I have recorded the majority of my group lessons from this year. In this way, the tutor I work with on this can see a realistic lesson by watching one at random.

Over the past few weeks, my engagement with the H880 materials has led me to reflect on my own use of Open Educational Resources (OER). I’ve often turned to YouTube videos to learn new programming skills and used openly accessible courses on the W3schools website. These resources have been invaluable in my learning journey, providing flexible and accessible ways to develop my skills.

The H880 materials have not only deepened my understanding of OER but also inspired me to integrate open practices into my teaching. I’ve recently embedded a collaborative notes project into my Learning Management System (LMS). This project, inspired by the portfolio in Unit 3, encourages learners to share their notes with others, fostering a culture of collaboration and shared learning. It’s a step towards making the learning process more open and participatory.

It’s still early days in the course, but I’m already seeing the impact on my thinking about ‘openness’ in education. As an educator in a career based on private provision, I’ve often viewed education as a somewhat closed system. However, the concept of open education is challenging this view, making me reconsider the potential of open practices to enhance learning and teaching.

I’ve written this reflection, specifically reflecting on my work creating and running distance learning courses, as this aligns better than my direct 1-2-1 tuition.

In terms of ‘using’, I’ve been able to leverage a variety of open resources to enhance my courses, from open artwork to open-source software. This has not only enriched the learning experience for my students but also allowed me to keep costs down, making education more accessible. This has enabled me to create several free to access smaller courses.

When it comes to ‘creating‘, I’ve been proactive in developing my own open resources, such as sharing “lite” versions of learning resources and course materials. This has been an easier process when working for larger organisations as through their funding, I am able to focus on producing high quality content without worrying about the impact on my personal income.

In the ‘connecting‘ quadrant, I’ve made efforts to foster a sense of community among my students, encouraging them to collaborate and learn from each other using comments in each lesson – this has been a direct impact from H880 and the useful conversations within comments in lessons. I also have a social media group of over 300 parents where I am able to freely share ideas for learning.

Finally, in terms of ‘contributing‘, I’ve been sharing my ideas and experiences with the wider private tuition community through a community of practice for private tutors. I created the Tutors Learning Network in 2000, which has since grown to a community of over 1000 private tutors who actively engage as a professional learning community. This has not only benefited others but also enriched my own practice, as I’ve received valuable feedback and ideas in return.

Looking ahead, I’m particularly excited about expanding my distance learning offerings and making recorded lessons available as self-study programs. I believe this will provide greater flexibility for my students and allow me to reach a wider audience.

I’ve written the following reflection based on my experiences tutoring and running distance learning through TeachAllAboutIt. Below, I have mapped these against Hegarty’s 8 Attributes of Open Pedagogy.

  1. Participatory technologies have been integral to my teaching approach. I utilised text based forums / chats, social media groups, and online live lessons on Google Meet to foster an interactive learning environment, engaging students in a dynamic way. In live lessons, learners complete visual notes using Classkick so that all activities are interactive.
  2. Openness and trust have been key in creating a positive learning atmosphere. I’ve encouraged transparency, inviting students to openly share their thoughts and ideas through lesson comments and an annual student/parent survey that I have been running since 2019.
  • This openness has sparked innovation and creativity. Empowering students to contribute their unique perspectives which has led to changes and improvements to my distance learning courses. In 2023, I have invested a large amount of time in moving my courses to a new LMS & integrating H5P interactive elements such as digital notes into all of my courses.
  • Sharing ideas and resources wasn’t something that I had reflected on clearly before, but it occurred to me that it has been something that I have done through both TeachAllAboutIt with my Facebook group, “KS3, iGCSE, & A Level Computer Science For Home Education”, and the Facebook group “Tutors Learning Network UK”, where I’ve been able to disseminate valuable resources and engage in meaningful discussions with fellow educators.
  • Although my learners have been encouraged to take ownership of their learning, an area for development is the ability for learner-generated resources. I attempted this within several courses, encouraging learners to share their revision notes to help each other, but to date none have been willing to share these openly.
  • Reflective practice has been something that I try to model. I share my reflections on my student/parent voice survey each summer through my blog, and have published these reflections in the same way. At milestones in their learning, I encourage my learners to contemplate their learning journey and identify areas for improvement.
  • Peer review is difficult in a distance learning environment with younger learners. This is a feature of my new LMS and I intend to make careful use of this within my groups to encourage a collaborative learning environment.

Drawing from my experiences running TeachAllAboutIt, my online presence teachallaboutit.uk and social media accounts for @teachallaboutit, I’ve found that open curation plays a pivotal role in shaping my professional identity and enhancing the learning experiences of my students.

Open curation allows me to archive and share a wealth of resources, from lesson materials to insightful articles, which not only serve as a learning repository but also contribute to the broader educational community. Sharing resources that I have found useful or interesting has helped to create a nonjudgmental space for learners to access accurate and credible information. It allows me to raise up voices that may otherwise not be heard.

I would like to me more active on my social media platforms, but find that time pressures when balancing a full “teaching timetable” of over 30 hours contact time, studying towards an MA in Online Education, and my own home life, leaves consistent social media posting as a lower priority task.

With that said, sharing my thoughts, insights, and experiences on these platforms over the course of my 15+ years teaching has enabled me to establish a professional persona that reflects my values and pedagogical beliefs. It’s interesting to look back at these accounts to see which values have been constant throughout my career.

I made the decision to close my Twitter account in early 2023 as I no longer wanted my professional persona to be linked to the platform due to a number of ethical issues. This not only lost years of content, but disconnected me from a number of colleagues with whom I had connected with solely through this channel. With the introduction of Threads, some of these connections have been reinstated.

Looking ahead, I plan to I aim to build on the areas where I have fostered a culture of collaborative learning and knowledge sharing. I also intend to explore the use of AI technologies, to enhance user engagement and personalise learning experiences.

My journey with Technology-Enhanced Learning (TEL) collaboration has been reflective of my journey as a digital resident. I initially engaged with others via Twitter, particularly being involved with the weekly #CASchat, but due to ethical concerns, I decided to shift my focus. I found a new home in Threads, reconnecting with my computer science colleagues, and fostering a more supportive and inclusive dialogue. With many work and family commitments, I have found this difficult to keep up with regularly.

The highlight of my TEL-related collaboration has been the creation of the Tutors Learning Network (TLN) on Facebook. This professional learning community, initially designed to aid tutors in transitioning their practice to an online space through COVID lockdowns, has grown to over 1000 active members. It has become an active hub that we use daily for sharing ideas and best practices, and supporting others in our field.

Within TLN, we’ve taken collaboration to another level through Continuous Professional Development (CPD). Tutors actively participate in online teachmeets, fostering a culture of shared learning and growth. Additionally, they contribute by submitting tutorials, providing valuable insights to help their peers. This collaborative approach has not only enriched our collective knowledge but also strengthened our community.

My journey with educational technologies, both as an educator and a learner, has included a variety of evolving technologies. To a degree, this is because my academic subject is computer science and I have a software programming background. Because of this, I am naturally inclined towards a technology-led approach. As a learner, I’ve experienced the flexibility and accessibility of online learning through the Open University’s H880 course – this distance learning approach is one that suits me for a number of reasons, but this has improved significantly through the provision of accessible documents which I have talked about more in the accessibility section.

To keep my programming skills up-to-date and to build my tuition website, I’ve utilised resources such as YouTube and LinkedIn Learning. These platforms provide open education through video tutorials which I find particularly useful when learning to use a new platform. I have been able to produce several of my own YouTube tutorials which feature smaller tutorials or streamed revision help.

As an educator, I’ve designed and built courses using TutorLMS and H5P technology. These tools have allowed me to create more interactive content than a simple set of videos or written lessons, enhancing the learning experience for my students.

I’ve also leveraged Google Meet and Zoom for hosting live lessons and meetings, providing a real-time, interactive learning environment. Classkick whiteboards have been instrumental in creating more interactive lessons, fostering active participation and engagement from my students.

Looking to the future, I’m intrigued by the potential of AI in education. I believe it can help become more productive with content creation. Additionally, AI could serve as a tool for initial feedback, streamlining the marking process and allowing me to focus on providing more in-depth feedback. I would certainly like the time to explore this.

I have greatly benefited from informal skills education through platforms like YouTube and the Stack Overflow website, which have been instrumental in developing my programming skills. These platforms have provided me with a wealth of knowledge and a unique learning experience. Whilst I learnt many of my foundation programming skills in a formal learning environment, the vast majority of my complex skills have been learnt through informal methods.

From a private company perspective, open scholarship presents challenges. While I have been able to create several free-to-access level 1 courses attached to exams we run, offering taught courses for free would make the business unviable. Balancing the need for open access to education and the financial sustainability of the business is a constant challenge.

One of the ways that I have been able to engage in open scholarship as a company is by contributing to the development of resources for BCS for the new Computing T Levels as a contracted author. Whilst the development of these resources are funded, they are subsequently freely distributed to classroom teachers, enhancing their teaching capabilities and enriching the learning experience for students

During the past half term, I have applied for an associate lecturer position at the Open University. This opportunity would enable me to engage more in the production of open resources, further contributing to the open scholarship movement while ensuring my own financial sustainability.

The main takeaway from this reflection is that whilst open education aligns well with my personal ethics, it is a delicate balance of contributing to open scholarship while maintaining financial viability.

Recently, as a learner, I experienced firsthand the barriers to accessibility when my screen reader required me to copy and paste all text while accessing the H880 course. This experience has significantly influenced my approach as an educator. Since experiencing the frustration of accessing text on screen, I’ve been working to embed text-to-speech features in all of my online (LMS) lessons, ensuring that my content is accessible to learners who find this feature helpful. To help with this, I have used ElevelLabs to create a digital version of my voice which will allow me to produce a recognisable audio reading of each page much more quickly (and with the added benefit of being able to recreate the audio if changes are made to the text).

Ethics also played a significant role in my decision to leave Twitter for both personal and professional accounts. Despite recognising the platform’s potential for shared scholarship among educators, I was uncomfortable with its role in enabling discrimination against LGBTQ people. This was a difficult decision, but ultimately, my commitment to allyship and ethical principles outweighed the potential benefits of the platform.

In my role as an educator, I’ve had the privilege of teaching a diverse range of learners from the home education community through my distance learning courses. This diversity has brought a wider range of needs, but it has also fostered an openness among learners and parents to collaborate with me in improving accessibility. This experience has reinforced my commitment to equity and inclusivity in TEL.

As a wheelchair user with a variable health condition, synchronous learning can be challenging. This personal experience has shaped my understanding of the importance of accessibility in education. However, I am also aware that my personal experience of accessibility will differ from another person’s and as such I believe that whilst we can do our best to create accessible designs, being open to adaptions based on feedback is equally important.

FutureLearn has been a game-changer for me in terms of post-graduate learning. Whilst I do miss the comradery of the classroom, its flexibility allows me to assign time to learning that works around my work and health restrictions. This often means engaging in large chunks of learning each week, as opposed to the recommended little and often approach, but it works for me.

The student forums on FutureLearn have been instrumental in helping me navigate neurodiversity barriers. The ability to check in and discuss progress using non-verbal communication has been a significant motivator. Additionally, I’ve found online body doubling through www.flow.club to be a helpful tool for maintaining focus.

While I’ve been hesitant to discuss my disability with my learners, I recognise that there might be value in being more open about it and encouraging them to share features that would benefit their learning journey. However, I am cautious about this openness being misconstrued as a “no excuses” inspiration narrative, which I am uncomfortable with. Balancing transparency with maintaining appropriate boundaries is a learning process and something that I am keen to explore more.

Why Bunny.net stopped my love affair with Vimeo as an Online Tutor

As an online tutor, you’re always on the lookout for ways to enhance your students’ learning experience and I’m no different. One crucial aspect of this is the platform I use for video and document hosting – it has to be fast, it must be accessible, and it has to allow me to keep costs down for my learners. Last year, I was investigating ways to improve site speed and was introduced to a game-changer for my website: Bunny.net.

Bunny.net is a Content Delivery Network (CDN) that we’ve been using for our video and document hosting. But before we delve into the specifics of Bunny.net, let’s first understand what a CDN is and why it’s essential for your online courses.

What is a CDN and Why Do You Need One?

A Content Delivery Network (CDN) is a network of servers distributed across various locations worldwide. When a user accesses your content (like a video lesson), the CDN delivers this content from the server closest to them. This reduces the time it takes for the data to travel, resulting in faster load times and a smoother user experience.

For online tutors that run recorded courses, a CDN is invaluable. It ensures that your students can access your course materials quickly and seamlessly, no matter where they are in the world. This is especially crucial for video content, which can be bandwidth-intensive and slow to load without a CDN.

The map below shows where my students access my website from and with a combination of students who live internationally and those who are world schooling, it’s important for me to provide easy access no matter where they happen to be:

Bunny.net vs. YouTube vs. Vimeo

When it comes to video hosting for online courses, the most common platforms tutors use are YouTube and Vimeo. However, Bunny.net offers several advantages over these platforms, especially in terms of price, speed, and available tools.

Bunny.netYouTubeVimeo
PaymentPAYGFreeMonthly Fee
Cost per GB£0.0076£0.00N/a
60+ new videos pcm
Adjustable CDN
File storage
Restrict Video Embeds
Website Caching

Having both video and document hosting in one place made life much easier for me, when this was added to extra speed for my website I was easily convinced.

The Benefits of Using Bunny.net for Your Online Course Website

Using Bunny.net as your CDN offered several benefits to my site which I’ve been measuring for some time now:

  1. Improved Site Speed: By storing my content on servers closer to my students, Bunny.net significantly reduced load times for the pages on my website. This has reduced from an average of 7 seconds to under 2 for almost every page.
  2. Reliability: Bunny.net’s distributed network design means there’s no single point of failure. What this means is if one of their servers goes down, another server automatically takes over. This means that I don’t have to worry about my videos being unavailable.
  3. Cost-Effective: With the cost of living increasing, this was a big concern for me – running online courses requires investment of time and money, but I was determined not to increase prices for my group students if possible. Because Bunny.net, uses a pay as you go system based on how many of my videos are watched, this makes it a cost-effective solution for tutors of all sizes.
  4. Global Reach: Bunny.net’s global network ensures my content is delivered quickly, no matter where my students are located.

In essence, my risk in moving several hundreds of hours of teaching videos to Bunny.net paid off! We’re now a year into using this and have never looked back!

And if you’re interested in exploring our range of distance learning courses, you can find them here. I use Bunny.net for all our video and document hosting, so you can be sure of a smooth, seamless learning experience 🙂 .

Disclaimer: As customer of Bunny.net, I earn from qualifying purchases. The links provided are affiliate links, and I may earn a commission if you purchase through these links. However, this does not impact my reviews and comparisons. I try my best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you.

The Power of Graphics Tablets for Online Tuition: A Game-Changer for Both Tutors and Students

The Power of Graphics Tablets for Online Tuition: A Game-Changer for Both Tutors and Students

Image

There’s a phrase that’s being used more frequently in recent years: “The fourth industrial revolution”. Digital technology has become part of our everyday life, so much so that we’re no longer visitors in cyberspace, but residents.

This has meant that for many of us who work and access education outside of schools, the way we learn and teach has transformed dramatically. Online tuition has become a popular choice for many parents and students, offering flexibility and a personalised learning experience that can be adapted to fit most styles of home education. As a teacher & tutor of Computer Science and Games Design, I’ve found that there are a select few tools that have significantly enhanced the experience for me and for my learners. Here’s why.

For the Tutor

As a tutor, the graphics tablet I use has become an indispensable tool. It allows me to illustrate concepts visually, making abstract ideas more concrete. For example, when teaching game design, I can sketch out game levels or character designs in real-time, making the lessons more interactive and engaging.

The VEIKK tablet I use was originally purchased as a test and I refused to buy the more expensive versions. I’m really glad that I didn’t because I now have one for each desk! Even though I chose the larger 10″ version (this is more comfortable for me to use on long 10+ hour teaching days), it’s still lightweight and has a responsive, ergonomic, pressure-sensitive pen that feels natural, like a pen on paper.

When one of my learners is finding a concept tricky, this means that I can quickly sketch it out on our interactive whiteboard and they have a permanent version of this to keep for revision. Over the years, my ability to draw has not improved, but it has opened up a whole world of creativity in explaining some of the more dry concepts… explaining computer architectures with ants in shoes & hats is just one of my more recent examples!

For the Learner

For students, using a graphics tablet can make online learning more interactive and engaging. The model we use in our tuition centre, the VEIKK A15 Pro, is a great choice for beginners and we opted for these as a budget version that can fit into a small bag. The most important benefit is the ability for learners to be able to interact with my online whiteboard. I’m a huge fan of interactive lessons (you’ll get no chalk & talk from me!) and part of this is the ability for learners to put their own answers onto our class resources.

To make this happen, all of my groups use classkick which allows me to share my whiteboard whilst they write their answers on their individual board – in this way, I can see their work, but they don’t have to collaborate on work with others in the group unless they feel confident to do so.

Classkick can be used with just a mouse and keyboard, but you can see in the example here that access to a graphics tablet has taken this learner’s answer to the next level!

For the Digital Artist

Image

For those interested in digital art (something we cover in both coursework units of the iMedia Games Design course), my daughter uses the One by Wacom. This tablet is a step up from mine and offers a more natural pen experience, with a pressure-sensitive pen that acs more like a paintbrush. In recent years, the price of these has come down significantly making the choice far wider for those who want to use their tablet for more than just whiteboard writing.

In conclusion, I’m not sure that I’d want to be without mine and if you’re looking for equipment to invest in for online tuition, a graphics tablet being near the top of your list is a good plan.


If you’re interested in exploring online tuition further, check out my distance learning courses. I offer a range of courses in Computer Science, IT, and Games Design.

Disclaimer: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. The links provided are affiliate links, and I may earn a commission if you purchase through these links. However, this does not impact my reviews and comparisons. I try my best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you.

ChatGPT – An Astonishing AI & A New Way To Look At Plagiarism

By Holly Billinghurst… and Chat GPT

ChatGPT is a new version of the popular GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) language model developed by OpenAI. In plain English, that’s the artificial intelligence that sits behind chatbots and other natural language interfaces such as Alexa, Siri, and Google Home. ChatGPT was launched over the past few weeks and was specifically designed for chatbots and conversational AI applications.

artificial intelligence chatGPT

You may already be familiar with the Turing Test – a psychological test applied in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics to identify whether a computer can “pass” as a human. Chat GPT certainly meets many of the benchmarks for this which has caused alarm bells in schools and universities where students may be tempted to use the free tool to generate assignments and homework answers.

One of the main advantages of ChatGPT is its ability to generate human-like responses in a conversation. This is achieved through its use of a transformer architecture and pre-training on a large dataset of human conversations. The model is able to understand the context of a conversation and generate appropriate responses, making it a useful tool for building chatbots that can engage in natural and coherent conversations with users.

What is ChatGPT?

In addition to its ability to generate human-like responses, ChatGPT also has a number of other useful features. The program has the ability to keep track of information mentioned earlier in a conversation and use it to inform its responses later on. This makes for a much more human approach to a conversation with the ability to respond not just to the last thing that was said, but based on the conversation as a whole. It can also handle multiple turns in a conversation, allowing it to have a more complex conversation with a user or even make recommendations based on several ideas.

One of the key applications of ChatGPT is in customer service chatbots. These chatbots can handle a wide range of inquiries and requests from customers, freeing up human customer service representatives to handle more complex or time-sensitive issues. ChatGPT can also be used to build chatbots for other applications, such as providing information or assisting with tasks.

One of the challenges in building chatbots with ChatGPT is ensuring that the responses generated by the model are accurate and appropriate. This can be achieved through careful training and fine-tuning of the model on a dataset of high-quality, human-generated conversations. It is also important to monitor the performance of the chatbot and make adjustments as needed to ensure that it is able to provide useful and relevant responses to users.

Why Does ChatGPT Concern Schools & Universities?

plagiarism and cheating

Whilst copy writers and HTML developers may be concerned about the rise in machine learning replacing much of the basic work that they do, schools, colleges, and universities are concerned about detecting students who use the software to generate answers for assignments and coursework.

As many plagiarism checkers are based on data that already exists, large changes are required in these to deal with generated answers. Thankfully, the developers of ChatGPT (openAI) have also developed software that can give a probability rating for whether an essay or answer has been written using their software. With both systems being developed at the same time, the accuracy of the checker is high.

Detecting “fake” assignments will require a more human approach as our style of writing is often very much like our fingerprint – it’s unique to us. The better we know a student, the more likely it is that we are able to authenticate their work. It’s certainly an argument for smaller class sizes and more time with our individual students.

Despite these concerns, the ability for chatGPT to generate human-like responses and handle complex conversations makes it a powerful tool for building chatbots that can provide useful and engaging experiences for users. As the technology continues to improve and advance, we can expect to see ChatGPT and other conversational AI models play an increasingly important role in our daily lives.

Could you tell which section was human & which was generated by chatGPT? Click expand to see the answer:

Click to see answer

Human content is in white

chatGPT content is in blue

ChatGPT is a new version of the popular GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) language model developed by OpenAI.

In plain English, that’s the artificial intelligence that sits behind chatbots and other natural language interfaces such as Alexa, Siri, and Google Home. ChatGPT was launched over the past few weeks and was specifically designed for chatbots and conversational AI applications.

artificial intelligence chatGPT

You may already be familiar with the Turing Test – a psychological test applied in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics to identify whether a computer can “pass” as a human. Chat GPT certainly meets many of the benchmarks for this which has caused alarm bells in schools and universities where students may be tempted to use the free tool to generate assignments and homework answers.

One of the main advantages of ChatGPT is its ability to generate human-like responses in a conversation. This is achieved through its use of a transformer architecture and pre-training on a large dataset of human conversations. The model is able to understand the context of a conversation and generate appropriate responses, making it a useful tool for building chatbots that can engage in natural and coherent conversations with users.

What is ChatGPT?

In addition to its ability to generate human-like responses, ChatGPT also has a number of other useful features. The program has the ability to keep track of information mentioned earlier in a conversation and use it to inform its responses later on. This makes for a much more human approach to a conversation with the ability to respond not just to the last thing that was said, but based on the conversation as a whole. It can also handle multiple turns in a conversation, allowing it to have a more complex conversation with a user or even make recommendations based on several ideas.

One of the key applications of ChatGPT is in customer service chatbots. These chatbots can handle a wide range of inquiries and requests from customers, freeing up human customer service representatives to handle more complex or time-sensitive issues. ChatGPT can also be used to build chatbots for other applications, such as providing information or assisting with tasks.

One of the challenges in building chatbots with ChatGPT is ensuring that the responses generated by the model are accurate and appropriate. This can be achieved through careful training and fine-tuning of the model on a dataset of high-quality, human-generated conversations. It is also important to monitor the performance of the chatbot and make adjustments as needed to ensure that it is able to provide useful and relevant responses to users.

Why Does ChatGPT Concern Schools & Universities?

plagiarism and cheating

Whilst copy writers and HTML developers may be concerned about the rise in machine learning replacing much of the basic work that they do, schools, colleges, and universities are concerned about detecting students who use the software to generate answers for assignments and coursework.

As many plagiarism checkers are based on data that already exists, large changes are required in these to deal with generated answers. Thankfully, the developers of ChatGPT (openAI) have also developed software that can give a probability rating for whether an essay or answer has been written using their software. With both systems being developed at the same time, the accuracy of the checker is high.

Detecting “fake” assignments will require a more human approach as our style of writing is often very much like our fingerprint – it’s unique to us. The better we know a student, the more likely it is that we are able to authenticate their work. It’s certainly an argument for smaller class sizes and more time with our individual students.

Despite these concerns, the ability for chatGPT to generate human-like responses and handle complex conversations makes it a powerful tool for building chatbots that can provide useful and engaging experiences for users. As the technology continues to improve and advance, we can expect to see ChatGPT and other conversational AI models play an increasingly important role in our daily lives.

Can I Sit iGCSE Computer Science In A Year?

One of the best parts of home education is the flexibility that we have around providing a suitable education. That flexibility means that learning can be adapted to the individual child and family, but also suited to their interests.

The changes to the Cambridge International iGCSE Computer Science specification have led to many conversations in the Home Education community about the feasibility of still sitting in a single year. Before reading this blog, I’d like to make an impassioned plea to you to read this and answer each question objectively. Some of the answers are not always comfortable (even for me), and it’s worth spending some time considering these before making that leap.

Have you already studied Computer Science?

If you have found yourself suddenly on your home education journey late in year 10 or at the start of year 11 and want to continue studying Computer Science, then switching exam boards may be the right move for you. With a year of study already under your belt (even if this was interrupted or not what you’d hoped for), then the chances are that you’ve covered the foundations.

Jumping into Computer Science and hoping to retain the wide syllabus in a year without previous study is a really big ask. For anyone… but not impossible. I say this as someone who started a Computer Science degree having never programmed before. Would I recommend that to anyone else? Absolutely not. It was not a fun experience until the lightbulb went on, and it took a lot of hard work and stubborness to get there.

Are you a confident programmer?

If you’ve been programming for a while using a text based language like Python, C#, or even JavaScript then you’ve likely already been working with many of the concepts that you’ll cover in the iGCSE programming paper. Although the programming paper is only 50% of the specification, far longer is spent on programming as it takes time to learn and build confidence.

Much like any other type of language, practice is the key to confidence and if you’re already a confident programmer then you’ll likely be able to cope well with a condensed course.

Do you have the time? (120 hours)

For a condensed 1 year course, this will likely be across just 30 weeks if you aren’t working through holidays (which is generally the case with a Distance Learning Provider or DLP). On average, this will mean dedicating 4 or more hours every week to just Computer Science.

If you do fall behind due to illness or a holiday, this makes it much harder to catch up.

Why do you want to condense the course?

Reasons for wanting to condense a course will vary, but if your reason isn’t “because I need to” it’s worth considering the impact of this decision on your final grade. On average, those who don’t rush a subject will generally do better and in particular, in Computer Science there is a trend for “pass” grades to be generally more difficult to reach. This tends to be due to the time needed for the more practical elements of programming and computational thinking which are often not seen in other subjects.

From my own experience of teaching and tutoring Computer Science since 2009, the subject remains one with a higher percentage of students who do really well and when they don’t, they really don’t. This certainly seems to be a theory backed up by year on year data shown above.

Where will you be on the graph?

Summer 2022 Games Jam Blog

This year, as so many of our students from different courses had expressed an interest in games design and with the launch of my new Creative iMedia Games Design distance learning course in September, we decided to run a summer of online sessions dedicated to joining the OpenGameArt games jam.

As we move through each weekly session, I’ll be adding a gallery of everyone’s work (if they want to share it) here alongside some updates on what we’re all coding. If you are signed up to the Games Jam, please us our online message board to talk to me & others in our group!

Would you like to join our Summer Games Jam Sessions?

Sign Up Here


Week 1 – 8th June : Digital Art

Our first session was dedicated to creating 2D art for our games using the Pixilart website.

The rules of the Open Game Art Summer Games Jam mean that any art that we want to create ourselves must be created & uploaded to the OpenGameArt website before 1st July.

Check out some of the fantastic creations that we created as a group!

If you’d like your art featured, please add a link on the group message board.


Week 2 – 15th June : Animation

Animating our sprites this week was so much fun! As we created our sprites last week, this week we brought them to life using our chosen games development tools by setting the frames of our sprites and creating the code which turned them into animated objects.

As some people finished their animations in the sessions, we also looked at the beginnings of collision detection.

Whilst most people opted to use Scratch (we love Scratch!), some decided to use GameMaker which is a more complex tool and is used as part of the Creative iMedia course as well as being used by professional developers to create well known games!

Beans flying pidgeon was created from several detailed images put together as one object

Animated images went from simple shapes to some fantastic digital images, all created with Pixel Art.

This session was a good opportunity for us to introduce some of the similarities and differences between our development platforms. It was also great fun explaining why using Scratch isn’t just for beginners – each new idea can be planned out using the Scratch code blocks to create an example algorithm which can be coded in text later!

Wynter’s game has Sonic riding Yoshi through a forest

Creating our animated images also sparked some useful discussions about copyright and what makes an image a copy vs “inspired by”. With our example games, we suggested that it was ok to use characters that we wouldn’t use if we were going to publish the game.

For our final games, we’ll be checking that none of our art work will land us in hot water!

Games Jam animated sprite
Holly’s slime used 4 frames and animated at 4 frames per second (FPS)


Week 3 – 22nd June : Character Movement

Today’s session was aimed at character movement and controlling a sprite using the keyboard. This also meant looking at different ways to add in collision detection to stop our sprites whizzing off the edge of the screen!

Rocco made use of extra sprites to create a barrier at the edge of the screen

As with all weeks, sharing code & images has been up to individuals and so the images shown do not represent every peron who is part of the group.

Movement of sprites was different for everyone with some people using WASD, others using arrow keys, and some opting to create jumping movement using the space bar.

This section was where Scratch and GameMaker showed a real difference as some of our group opted to set themselves a challenge by learning the GameMaker scripting language.

Although this caused some frustrations, we’re so proud of everyone’s efforts this week as it’s been a huge learning curve for everyone!

Don’t forget that you can get help or share your work in between sessions on the Summer Games Jam 2022 message boards.


Week 4 – 29th June : Collision Detection & Announcing The Theme!

Today was our final practice workshop before we start creating our real games from the 1st July! It was great seeing some of the work that group members have been doing this week, learning about their chosen platform.

This week, the theme of the OGA Summer Games Jam was announced as SLIME! This means that all games we create & submit in July will need to have a slimey theme of some kind…

Part of today’s session, was making sure that we had a safe account set up on www.itch.io (if you are unsure about safety features, please ask!) and that we had selected “Join Jam” on the OGA Summer Games Jam entry page.

One of the rules of the Games Jam is that at least 6 assets from anywhere on the OpenGame Art website must be used & credited in every game. These can include artwork of our own & these will count towards the 6 assets if they are uploaded to the Open Game Art website before the deadline (1st August 2022).

As our group uploads their assets, we will share them here – please add your credit and link to the message boards to be included in our list :

AssetOpenGameArt LinkCredit
Cute Slimehttps://opengameart.org/content/cute-slimeTitle: Slime Animation
Author: TeachAllAboutIT
URL: https://opengameart.org/content/cute-slime
License(s): * CC0 ( http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/legalcode )

Today’s work focused on collision detection and generating extra “clones” of objects in a game and gave everyone a chance to spend some time working on their ideas and practice games.

We also looked at how to add credits to games by adding Credits to a Scratch Game, or as a Credits screen in a GameMaker / Unity game.

Adding Credits to Scratch