Interactive Lesson Plans – step forward ZingTree


I’m a visual thinker, I always have been and always will be.  I remember back at school sitting in classrooms and staring at blackboards, whiteboards and at teachers spouting off things that I will never remember.  I have one of those minds that will only remember things unless I’ve actively engaged with it i.e. let’s chat this through in great detail or it’s mapped out.

It wasn’t until I was at university that I was told I had dyslexia.  Let me just state that it’s minimal, I mean minuscule but it means that if I am sat in a room for longer than 30 minutes where someone is talking/ lecturing I switch off and lose interest – this is not good in lecture halls where they are dark and hot.

So when I write my lesson plans I’ve always felt that it is such a chore and boring and that creativity was being sucked out of me! At the moment my plans are electronic – I hate paper (not literally) but I find is such a waste. You plan a 2 or 3 hour session where you then throw away the paper at the end or file it in a place you’ll never remember in the those horrific ‘polly pockets’ – don’t even get me started on those!  All my plans are electronic on google docs.

As they’re electronic I felt that I need to spice them up a little –  inject a littlelife into them and this started with the use of colours – you know, simple things such as  different columns is subtle tones that made them easier to read.

Before you know it they had progressed into mind map resource that I could distribute to the learners.

Wrap Up

These are great when students are mid-way through a project that needs to be completed soon – I can distribute these electronically, they will then locate where they are and follow the Yes/No options until they have reached the end – Sign Off.

Until recently I thought they were working great, but then it struck me – “why not make them into an interactive resource?” In the age we live in there must be some online software that could convert these into a click-through journey where the learner is unaware of where the end is?

The answer, after some research was yes, there is something out there and it comes in the form of ZingTree. ZingTree, from what I gather was originally created to help train and streamline call centres and customer support systems by crafting interactive decision trees.

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 22.00.25

Once you have got to grips with how they are built (and I appreciate this may take a little time) they are incredibly easy and fast to make.  After a bit of time I found the Visual Designer (see above) the fastest and affective way to create a Tree.

I tested it on my students and they found it really beneficial.  Normally I’ll hear someone be cynical about something like this but they genuinely found it beneficial as the questions offered solutions to project issues but also delivered more scope to improve with the next level of questioning.

On top of all this you get analytics that tell you how many users are going down certain routes in your questions. This is incredibly useful when adding stretch and challenge work, but also it provides an accurate reading of where learners are in their projects – the stats don’t lie!

So is it all too good to be true, well yes but there is one sticking point – education budgets are being slashed, especially in Further Education (thank you D.C.), and once you have created a ‘Tree’ and launch it to your students you only have 30 credits.  That’s 30 students getting one Tree and then you are done for the month.  You can pay for extra credits but it’s a little expensive.

The ‘work-around’ is that you can publish your Tree in their gallery and then you can use it forever but can no longer edit (make sure you duplicate it before publishing) – this is normally done within a couple of hours.  I produced a very basic, quick and simple Tree here – this is the end product of the image above.

Overall, it’s a great piece of software that I’m looking forward to using and hopefully develop into a really great teaching resource – watch this space, I’ll update more once I’ve delved deeper beneath the surface!

Collaboration in teaching – How do I pay for it?


stop02I was recently lucky enough to be invited to an awards evening where students from different departs of my FE institution were present to collect awards for outstanding achievement.

These evenings are great at showcasing the various achievements but the main thing that sticks out is this – collaboration, no matter how small, unlocks students potential more than independent learning.  Here’s how.

Over 18 months ago my HoD and I were discussing what I wanted to do with my 2nd year moving image students.  We were conducting some blue-sky thinking, shake it up a little and the resounding answer was this –

“let’s chuck them in the deep end and let them make a 30-minute film.”

Now I’m all up for the ethos of ‘sink or swim’ but I say that knowing that I can tread water. Asking 16 teenager students to make a 30-minute film is pretty much saying ‘sink or swim’ in shark infested waters.

The only way to describe what happened in the following months is to divide into categories that I’ll divided into separate blog posts.

  1. Funding
  2. Getting people onside
  3. Enthusiasm
  4. Empower the student
  5. Be prepared for it to go wrong

So, let’s get stuck into item 1.


One of the biggest problem facing Further Education in the UK right now is funding.  There isn’t any.  Departments across the country are having to baton down the hatches as institutions realise they don’t have as much money anymore (thank you ConDem Govt).

This was the scenario facing us with this project.  We wanted the film to be the best it possibly could and the only way to do so was to invest in the necessary kit.  Equipment such as jibs, tracks, lighting etc. We wanted to upgrade our existing stock but we had a limited pot of money to do so.  Rather than give up I had a think because usually the answer is staring you in the face. Turns out it was. The solution was simple –  crowdfunding.

So what is crowdfunding? Quite simply, it’s fundraising with incentives.  You set a financial target/goal you want to hit – you then ask people to pledge specific amounts in exchange for incentives that you create. e.g pledge £5 and you are entitled to a ticket for the screening.  What this would mean is that the students would bring in the money and it would cost the college zero pounds (apart from fuel and vehicle hire).

Getting this started within an educational institution can be tricky.  As soon as you mention things like PayPal, credit card transactions and tax codes your finance department quite rightly start to get a little twitchy.  My advice at this point is always keep them on your side – be patient and clearly explain what you are doing.  Crowdfunding has not been around that long and more often than not the employees that work in the finance department may have been there for ‘x’ amount of years and have a set way of doing things.

For my group we set a target of £2000 in 7 weeks.  This can seem quite scary at first – especially to the students.  Break it down.  With my students (there were 16 of them) I highlighted what they need to do on a daily/weekly basis – for example.

Campaign length/target – 7 weeks (49 days) / £2000

2000/16 (amount of students) = £125 (overall individual target)

125/7 = £17.85 – weekly target

125/49 = £2.55  daily targets

Once we had established their personal targets we put together a strategy that encompassed social media and tapping into local businesses.  By following local groups on twitter (every village, town or city will have one) we were able to get our message out there. Another thing we did was offer our creative production services in exchange for pledges thus giving our students experience working with clients.

Do not underestimate the power of local press coverage.  We would put out press releases all the time to squeeze any sort of media we could!

You need to sell your story – video is the best way to do this as it gives your potential donors a chance to meet the people they are backing.  We made a number of films but here are the 2 main ones.

Finally, and this is the most important bit – the majority of money that is raised will come from immediate family and friends.  They will want to be kept updated with whats going on – make sure you send out a regular email informing them of how the project is going.  The relationship between you and the people who pledge is really key – the reality is that if you keep them updated and informed on your campaign,  the chances are they may donate again if you are struggling to meet your target.

When our campaign finished we had successfully managed to go beyond our £2000 target and you can watch the finished film below.

If you are an educational institute and considering a project like this feel free to get in contact.



Khan Academy vs Mr Maslow


First up let’s be clear – I love the Khan Academy.  I think what it has achieved is ground breaking and considering it was created in 2006 and has reached so many people is amazing.

I was doing some planning this week and I had a thought; as good as the Khan Academy is to what level is learning achieved?

Me being me I turned to good old Mr Maslow and his hierarchy of needs to examine a little further.

(Forgive me at this point but I’m going to assume that you all know the model of needs that I’m talking about and how it relates to learning if you don’t read up on it here.)

If we analyse the levels of needs we see that ‘self-actualisation’ is at the very top.


In order to get to the top you need to have passed through the 4 other layers of needs and it’s here that I have 2 main quandaries.

1: Can a website alone offer you things like close relationships or a sense of security let alone a sense of recognition from others?

2: Does independent learning hinder the path towards self-actualisation?

I suppose what I am trying to say is this – there are key fundamentals that only the classroom can offer such as peer analysis, group work and interaction!  As a lecturer in Creative Media Production that specialises in moving image I can tell you that the 3 areas where I see the learners develop most are team work, confidence and social interaction – and I’m talking of the face-to-face kind here, not social media.

These 3 areas are only possible through class/studio time where they are able to develop personally and technically. Don’t get me wrong, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of YouTube videos that are great for tutorials in specific software techniques but nothing beats having a tutor sit with a student who has specific learner needs and explain how a piece of software works (I’ll post about this soon).

Maslow (1970) stated that the highest level is self-actualisation, or the self-fulfilment.  Behaviour in this case is not driven or motivated by deficiencies but rather one’s desire for personal growth and the need to become all the things that a person is capable of becoming.  If this is the case does ones desire for personal growth really possible through a website or does it need human interaction? Honestly I don’t know as I can’t speak for the millions of people who use Khan Academy.

Just a quick conclusion then – Khan Academy is great on a certain level.  It’s empowering learners and teachers in how we develop as individuals and is also a great resource for the classroom (interestingly though nothing much appears when you search for media in the context of creative media).  The work it’s done across the globe is unparalleled and should be congratulated, however – nothing beats having a person in the classroom that can meet the requirements of individual learners that will assist them in their quest up the hierarchy of needs.

For further reading on Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs check out his book here.  A sort of opus for educators, learners and those who like this sort of thing…

There goes my weekend…new website for icebreakers/teachers


I discovered a really cool website last night.  Well, I say “I” when really it was an “Ed, you should check this site out” – let’s call a recommendation over a dinner party (do people still have dinner parties? Very Downton Abbey).  The discovery was Sporcle and it will change your life. The site is a treasure trove of quizzes, brain games and trivia and it means that you will never, ever be bored again.  I tested it on some 2nd year Level 3’s (18-19yrs) as an “it’s Friday, we’re waiting for the weekend to begin so let’s get this lesson out the way asap” icebreaker and although they probably wouldn’t admit it, they secretly loved the 10-minute challenge of naming all 50 states.  FYI, none of them managed to do it – 32 was the record. Sporcle Dig a little deeper into the site and you’ll discover more activities to do with languages, sciences, English – one of which is on Palindromes and as well as other ‘dromes’ I’ve never even heard of but excellent for those teaching English as a foreign language. Anyway, enjoy and let me know of how you have used it in your classroom.

Media tools and resources for educators


As a moving image lecturer you find that you are dealing with learners who are early adopters of technology, digital natives and can grasp technical pieces of software relatively quickly.  With numerous levels of stress and pressure being put on us educators we need to be innovative and look for resources that are insightful and beneficial to the learner experience.

Over the last couple of years I have been using a few different websites and materials that I have highlighted below.


Quizlet is a resource that a colleague passed onto me last year – it’s great as it’s a global piece of software that thousands of users have contributed too.  On the site you can search subjects, software, hardware or even food types – it has everything – and it will turn it into flash cards, quizzes, spellers and scatters.  It’s also has a competitive element too which always helps.


I imagine that upon first glance a lot of people will turn away and seek other resources but delve a little deeper and you’ll find some nice stuff on this site.  Yes it looks dated and clunky but some of the resources are really good.  They have a countdown clock (always essential), QR generators, jigsaw puzzle generators and even an ‘old-skool’ arcade game generator.  It may look retro, but retro is cool.

Class ToolsGoogle Apps

I was recently at a UAL conference in London with other FE institutions and the general feeling is that why should we use pieces of software that your institution pays thousands of pounds on yet fail to update or test properly for things like Apple based operating systems – I’ve heard horror stories of institutions that have to juggle 5 different pieces of software to do with tracking, registers, online documentation!  Step forward Google, and in particular, google drive.   I will do a much more in-depth blog on this soon but check it out and please please please – look at the apps that work  alongside google drive.  You’ll find mind-mapping, design software and games!

Google Apps


So these are just a few – if you know of any send them my way and I’ll take a look. I’ll also do another post on this and I’ll add in any new ones I discover.

Filmic Pro App


Filmic Pro Interface

I’ve blogged on iPhone filmic shizzle before and I thought I would post about an App that has been around for a while – Filmic Pro.  It costs £2.99 and in my opinion it’s a bargain.  Why? Let me tell you.

For a while I’ve been talking about the iPhones lack of functionality in regards to video and how I feel they are not really putting enough development into this part of the device.  Things like camera quality and limited manual functions make the iPhone overpriced and not great value considering the other phones on the market – l’ll be honest the only reason I love my iPhone is the design, the size, the fact that everything just works and, well I’m an Apple fan (although it’s starting to wear off due to some of what I’m blogging about).

However, after downloading Filmic Pro my attitude does soften slightly (but also raises other issues that I’ll talk about later) as it makes the camera on the phone a lot more suitable to filmmakers as it provides more manual settings.  Below is a list of what I like about the app.

1: Shutter speed controls – good for slowing things down in post (although I’m yet to work out if this is just an optical illusion…)

2: Manual focus – you are able to pick a point of focus and keep it.

3: Aperture – no more light changes.

4: Customizable pre-sets.

5: Time lapse – always good fun.

(Other notable things that are gimmicky are the on/off flash switch, audio metering and exporting to places like vimeo etc.)

It’s a great app that does go some way to sorting a few things out but it’s never going to result in you throwing your DSLR away…However, and there’s always a “however” – the app does re-enforce what I already know and it is this – STORAGE!  When oh when are Apple going to get their best developers to start creating an iPhone with some sort of flash storage!  I mean how hard would it be to have a micro SD slot so that you can shoot and not worry about having to remove items off your device to compensate!  I mean SanDisk to a 64GB micro SD card – that would be immense.  Seriously Apple, GET YOUR S*%T together and stop piddling about!

Rant over.

Anyway the App is lots of fun and solves some problems but re-enforces others. Till next time.