Το παιχνίδι μάς τρέφει/ We grow, through play


The venue

Did you ever wonder how it would be to have the 2200 participants of CCK08 in one room in the same physical location? I guess, I could say that I experienced something like this in June when 2000 people were brought together in the largest venue in the town of Thessaloniki. While the learners may have been very different from the usual people we find at academic conferences, at least some of them, they all had the desire to connect with others, I suspect, and a common passion for learning through making, or just making through which learning happens.


it does look huge… and it was huge

robot_logoDr Fachantidis who leads the Robotics Academy at the University of Macedonia invited me to be their guest speaker at the Awards Ceremony that recognised all little makers who had completed the robotics programme during this school year. The event took place in Thessaloniki in the biggest room available in town and it often hosts the PM… apparently…

But let’s start from the beginning. I met Nikos at the LINQ 2015 Conference in Brussels  and as it was a relatively small conference it didn’t take us long to find each other. We have this saying, wherever you go on earth, you will find a Greek. This is probably true.

While we used the conference to find out about each other’s work, afterwards we stayed in touch and started working together informally having identified opportunities to connect our students through the open community #creativeHE and enable them to learn together. From my side the students were academic colleagues from Manchester Metropolitan University and other universities from the UK and elsewhere who teach or support learning, while Nikos connected with us his postgraduate students from the MA in Lifelong Learning and the MA in ICT in Education who were educators outside higher education and primarily in primary, secondary and adult education.

Nikos has been leading innovative work and research in the area of robotics in education for some time now. Just two years ago, in 2016, he set-up the robotics academy to inspire little makers from Thessaloniki and across Greece to experience the potential of robotics for their own development but also the education sector. His work has been recognised nationally and internationally and he makes a difference to many many people.


all 2000 on a Sunday when they could be on a beach…

It was truly amazing that so many people, parents, grandparents, educators from across the sectors, lecturers, students and little children, who were the stars of the day, were with us on that Sunday to celebrate together. A very diverse audience with the common love and passion for making robots and learn something new through this process while also connecting and collaborating with others as well as developing social and life skills. Nikos is also involved in multiple studies where robots assist specific groups, for language learning, create opportunities for co-learning, personal development and create opportunities for the elderly and individuals with specific learning difficulties.

At this point, I have to note that I had no idea I would be speaking to 2000 people as I had assumed that there would be maybe up to 50, ok maybe 100. Never assume. When I heard that there would be 1,800, this is what Nikos said at some point, I had already agreed to do this and was on the plane to Thessaloniki. I was in shock and became increasingly nervous. While it was an honour that Nikos had selected me for this job, it was also daunting at the same time. Double daunting in fact, as I would be speaking in Greek about my work in creativity and play. And while Greek is my mother tongue, my professional language is English. Therefore, it is easy to see that speaking in Greek about my work was almost Greek to me, if I can borrow this phrase and a big risk.


Little makers before the award ceremony started

What I did want to achieve through this talk is to trigger wider interest of the importance of creativity through playful learning throughout education and life more generally and illuminate some of the opportunities playful learning through making brings. I also felt that in order to achieve this fully, or even partially, I needed to find a way to connect with this diverse audience and I used play and storytelling. Below I have tried to explain my rationale and how it all worked. It is at this moment in time the only perspective I have but I am inviting individuals who were there to comment on this post, if they wish.

The strategies I used for audience participation… and why…

Say it with a picture
I love taking pictures and using them to communicate messages visually, connect ideas and experiences. I did this in this speech as well. To the pictures I added shorter messages as prompts but also two extracts from recent publications. A little bit of recent research is always useful to strengthen an argument and it doesn’t all sound too one sided. The pictures were used to create mental hooks but also to communicate across borders and tell a visual story through these in combination with written and oral language.

Tell a story
This creates familiarity and develops empathy too. Storytelling helps us draw people in, to connect. If some of the stories are our own this process is speeded up further.
I took of course a risk. I could just read a script but I decided not to. The natural flow of words was more attractive to me as a way to connect with the audience and include them whenever possible. I shared snippets from my life story hoping that these would act as attention hooks and also engage the audience emotionally, beyond the cognitive dimension and the kinaesthetic one, which I also did attempt to include as we did some physical activity. All 2000 people in the room. Hint… chairs… and more details about this follows.

We have no idea what others expect, but I know from teaching and facilitating workshops and sessions at university and conferences, that interaction can break the ice and help us feel more relaxed and natural and enable the time to fly. I had set myself a challenge to find a way to engage 2000! And while ideas seem to pop into my head all the time, it took me a little bit longer this time to find a suitable solution and make it happen. In the end I used the sticker and chair approach, which I had used before in other cases but had no idea if the audience would actually participate… never before did I have 2000 in front of me. They did and turned that massive room into a vibrant market place. I was worried that the sticker wouldn’t be found and what I would do then, but the sticker was found. I had placed it before anybody entered the room earlier in the morning. I had prepared a little prize for the individual who would locate the stickers and offered to share my remaining stickers with other children when I had finished. They all disappeared. I just wish I had taken more of them with me. I hope the little boy who found the sticker under his chair will enjoy his day out with his family and think back at this day and our encounter.

Move around
While I started on stage and behind that podium, in this massive room, I soon started moving around among the audience as I felt this was a better way to connect with them. I also did this for practical reasons as I struggled to see the slides due to the way the big screens were positioned and there was no laptop or screen on the actual podium. There definitely was an opportunity to have an additional big screen at the other side of the room to help the presenter and also have a screen on the podium. A hands free microphone would also help and provide even more mobility to the speaker. I am definitely not tall, rather short, and am not sure if people saw me wondering around the room with the microphone and inviting the audience to participate. I don’t regret my decision to do this as it did help me get a little bit closer to the audience and at least further engage with some of them but also get some further participation from all of them. I think the cameras were following me around… if I remember well, but at the time, I didn’t really notice.

Talks like these present an excellent opportunity to share fresh ideas. Ideas that are half-baked, rejected the mainstream, novel or new to a specific audience. Ideas that challenge the status quo in a specific context and make us think. Ideas that unsettle us and make us feel a bit uncomfortable. Our curiosity and imagination drive us to make surprising connections. Communicating and sharing these in a way that helps others think and consider are important. It is not about finding new or additional supporters, this in not a football club, but to help people think.

Fifteen minutes is a tiny bit out of our lives. However, fifteen minutes shared with so many has the potential to last longer. I hope some of what I shared with the audience and what we experienced together will accompany them for a little bit longer.

Thank you for the warm reception, the hospitality,  the privilege and the opportunity to share these special moments with you Nikos and all. My warmest congratulations to all little makers, their families and teachers as well as everybody from the Robotics Academy for inspiring them.

During my stay in Thessaloniki I also had the opportunity to meet and collaborate with some of Nikos students and colleagues at the University of Macedonia. Teaching two  sessions on the MA in ICT in Education was a pure pleasure and I would like to thank all students and my colleague Haleh Moravej who joined us at very very short notice remotely and shared her experience around creative approaches to learning and teaching with us all.


Friday: After the MA viva and presentation. From left Nikos, Christina, Yannis, Sofia and Marianna. It was interesting to be part of this and gain an insight how the process is conducted at the University of Macedonia. Christina’s study was about co-learning or learning in partnership of parents with their children using robotics.


1st session on Saturday with the MA, starting with low-tech to get to know each other and then moved to digital technologies…


2nd session on Saturday: With Haleh, second session with the MA in ICT in Education, students are primarily teachers in primary and secondary education


I loved the time we spent together Sofia (PhD student in robotics in education), Marianna (working at the University of Macedonia with Nikos, open education/research), Christina (just finishing her MA, dissertation in robotics in education). We had so much fun!

Thank you for this wonderful opportunity Nikos to work with your students and get to know them a little bit. I love and admire their commitment to learning and professional development and doing the course late in the evening and on the weekend. I wish them all the very best for the future.


Thessaloniki’s landmark, especially for Gerasimos who is from there

The effective supervisor/personal tutor, an #oer flashcard set

We did it!

A second #creativeHE project that started its life during the making conversations earlier this year with John Rae and Norman Jackson just came to fruition. I have written about the first project here. My colleague Haleh Moravej, Dean Brookes and students from the social enterprise MetMunch and I have been working on an open educational resource we hope will be useful for others. We will, of course, also use it in our own practice and have already identified some related opportunities in the coming academic year.

It is a flashcard set called the effective supervisor. It is an output of an assignment for a module on research degree supervision I completed and really helped me engage with some of the current literature and research about supervision. The flashcard set has been developed in the context of doctoral supervision. However, it also seems to work in different contexts including with undergraduate students and helps to engage them in conversations around project and dissertation supervision as well as personal tutoring.

The visualisation concept started from an approach I initially had destined for another project and particularly an open picture book. The tree sample… which I made on my iPad some time ago…


the tree by Chrissi, iPad creation

In the end we decided to use another visual approach for the book project and the tree became available to be used for the flashcard project. We worked closely with Dean to bring the idea alive and use the tree as a starting point for a series of illustrations for the flashcard set and are grateful for his creative energy, input and patience.

Two flashcard sets are available in this series. One with and one without written language accompanying the visual prompts. The has been finalised for wider use with further colleagues in the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at Manchester Metropolitan University and specifically Dr Stephen Powell and Dr Alicia Prowse and we will release the full sets soon through the CELT website for anybody to use.

The Effective Supervisor no text and words

The flashcard set is available in English at the moment. Could we translate it into different languages? The set without any written language could also be used to translate on the go and/or come up with other prompts and work with these with students/staff.

Could we make a board game out of the flashcards? The possibilities are endless. Let’s see first what needs are out there and how others can use the existing sets and get some related insights.

With the support of the HEFCE Interventions of Success project we are able to print a few flashcard sets and share these with colleagues.

Thank you Haleh and Dean for embracing this project and working on it collaboratively. I am really looking forward in using it in a range of settings.

(I) found (a) poem #flmakeapoem

I recently immersed myself into the open course Making poetry, offered by the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University via Futurelearn. And as the above picture shows, I completed it too. In under three weeks but I keep going back now to read some of the newer contributions and comments.
In the past, I had started other Futurelearn courses but did not complete any of them. But is completion important? My own research shows this all depends on what we want to get out of any course and that our priorities may change as a course progresses. This is perhaps amplified especially when we do a course for free. Learning relationships can be a valuable motivator to stay on and persist but also make the learning experience more interesting, supported and supportive.
Other courses that were sort of MOOCs I completed in the past were offered under the MOOC label (Futurelearn seems to have dropped this characterisation for a while now), are the Creativity and Multicultural Communication course (CMC11) over several weeks designed and offered by Carol Yeager and the MOOCMOOC over a single week. Where I got the most interactions and deep conversations among peers and the facilitator over a longer period of time that led to professional relationships was CMC11. I also remember well the MOOCMOOC and the facilitators engaging during that one week of intensive activities and fun. There was definitely a buzz and I could stop myself from being part of the happenings. I remember a clip I created with my boys, well actually two, for one of the tasks. One of them is super silly…
(… oh dear… that is now 6 years ago… how tiny my boys looked back then)
That was great fun and helped me to experience learning that was drawing you in naturally. I remember that week well and am looking forward later this month to see Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel.
So if I didn’t complete any other Futurelearn course before, what was different with this particular one? I don’t think it has anything to do with Futurelearn. I think the difference was that I was genuinely really really interested and committed and that it was important for me to fully engage with every aspect of the course.i was and am interested in learning more about creative writing. I have always enjoyed being playful with language and this course was an opportunity too good to miss. I was an immersive learner and really used the time as an opportunity to learn something that would be useful for my own development and my creative writing activities and little projects. I suspect that it will be informing my academic writing as well.
Everything was useful, even the more challenging bits, especially the more challenging bits, as through these I identified specific gaps in my understanding. The course also helped me to make use of a wider range of tools for creative writing more generally, in my stories, as well as discover and uncover some of the techniques I could be using or refine in my own little writing projects, not necessarily or exclusively in poetry. The found poems, the free verse poems and the acceptance of experimenting with shape and form. I also love the idea of visual poetry and collaborative and open poetry which I started thinking more about based on my own interests and explorations. I enjoyed the focus on the process and the output of making, in this case the poem itself, and how this can help to discuss, critique and improve it, instead of focusing on the creator or maker. It did remind me a lot of LEGO(R) SERIOUS PLAY(R), where the individual creates a model and through this and based on this the story is communicated and shared. So the focus there again is on the creation not the creator and I have seen that this helps to question, discuss, debate and deepen our individual and collective understanding linked to a particular idea, concept, process or product.
My motivation came from within and was coupled with my desire to engage again more with creative writing and my intention to submit an application for the MA in Creative Writing. I have been, in one of my previous lives, a translator of mainly literary works. Many of my translations are out there as published books. At that time I also started writing my own stories and was teaching translation of children’s literature when I was at a German university during a research stay. I would like to deepen my understanding in the area of creative writing through further guidance, practice and inquiry within a writers community. My application for the MA course is ready to be submitted and I will do this in the next few days. Fingers crossed!
Thank you to all colleagues in the Manchester Writing School for putting this very useful course together and especially Dr Helen Mort and Prof. Michael Symmons Roberts and Dr Martin Kratz who commented on some of my contributions and all my peers.
On demand?
Focus. Focus. Focus.
On what?
No idea.
Words. Words. Words.
What do they mean?
Pictures. Pictures. Pictures.
What am I looking for?
A hook.
Open peer feedback I received on the above (here fully anonymised):
“I enjoyed the poem as it is light, cheery and simple. It conveys simplicity and to me, that’s a good recipe to express one’s thoughts.”
“It is very concise, clever and compact, and stands out the crowd with its simple, repeated language, almost like a nursery rhyme. I don’t think, however, that it communicates anything very profound. “
Ps. If anybody from the course team, would like my feedback on the open course itself and particularly the pedagogical design, very happy to do this. I have to admit that it was hard for me to stop thinking about the course design because of my work as an academic developer


Building bridges #go_gn

Tuko Pamoja GO_GN-01I am now on my way back to the UK after an exciting week in Delft for the GO-GN seminar and #OEGLOBAL18. It has been a fascinating week in so many different ways. I feel so lucky to be part of GO-GN, this caring, warm and welcoming family.

The seminar was such a useful opportunity to find out more about emerging findings of current doctoral research in open education by researchers from around the world. Nothing has changed for me since completing my studies and becoming an alumni. I still feel very much part of this community and I have now an even greater opportunity to give back. To nurture colleagues and to help them grow.

The workshop Catherine and I were invited to offer really helped share a range of challenges we all experience as doctoral students but also collectively identify possibly solutions that will help to get unstuck and progress. We have a record of the information and I am wondering if it would be useful to create a resource that could be used by others in workshops as discussion triggers but also for self-reflection. This is something I would like to discuss with Catherine and Bea when we have a little bit of time.


pic from the workshop Catherine and I co-facilitated

30,000 feet in the air at the moment and we just heard that it is not very pleasant and that it is raining… in the pilot’s words. This week was full of sunshines and ideas, and will keep me good company in the north. My eyes are closing, so will continue this when back home.

I just rediscovered this unfinished post (weeks later…. many weeks later… I have to admit) on my iPad… I do need to finish it. Oh dear…

When I first joined the GOGN family in 2015, I was not really sure I would be able to make progress with my doctoral studies and complete them successfully. Looking back now at the last two days in Delft, I can see my past self among colleagues who are at various stages on their journey and the important role this community played for me in believing in myself that I can do this but also knowing that I was not on my own as well as get a confirmation that there is value in what I was doing.

I have no idea what would have happened without me joining GOGN during my doctoral studies. I don’t think I would have progressed so quickly. It is always fascinating to be among pioneering open education researchers who push the boundaries and through their work will bring new insights that are vital to widen and deepen the knowledge base of open education and research and practice forward. I think open research is about open practice and communities as the collective power lies in individuals and their desire to come together for the wider good. Adrian in his contribution for example, made the connection between open education and participatory democracy and social justice; Helen talked about the individual as an open educational resource and the power of collaboration. I remember Sheila MacNeill referring to the individual as an open educational resource a few years back in a keynote. Marjon, highlighted the strong support for open education in higher education and more widely in the Netherlands and a call to innovate and share resources. Something similar was just recently announced in Brazil and I am sure Viv’s recent study in schools will provide valuable insights to make this work through specific professional development interventions. I hope she will be able to contribute further to this important work. Penny on the other side of the world, in Australia, also brings new insight in open education in schools and discoveries opportunities and challenges particularly in the area of professional development or open professional learning, how she calls it. Sharing these openly and connecting studies, but also building new research on completed studies would I think create some continuity and interesting extension activities to work done by GOGNers. It was indeed fascinating to listen carefully to all the current studies that were represented in the two-day seminar and hear about some of the emerging findings, some of which are echoed across studies, across sectors, across continents. Marion, Verena, Helene, Adrian, Helen, Penny, Leo, Jenni, Judith, Natasha, Virginia, Dilrukshi, Eyak and Viv who is now almost done, all did a great job sharing their work.

I don’t know if it would be useful to conduct a meta-study that brings key outputs from all completed GOGN studies together? What could we learn from this? What are the trends? Where are the gaps? What are the needs and priorities perhaps?

Prof. Fred Mulder, Open University in the Netherlands, and Prof. Rory McGreal from Athabasca University in Canada created something special in 2013, in the year I actually started my doctoral studies officially. GOGN has kept growing since then and its current guardians within the Open University and the OER Hub, are making a real difference to doctoral researchers in open education across the world. GOGN has become a vibrant and supportive community, and open family, that welcomes doctoral researchers in open education from around the world with warmth and care.


Rob, Bea, Fred, Martin and Bea


Gigantic congratulations to GOGN for this super award and recognition for all the important work you do!

Prof. Tim van dear Hagen, rector of Delft University of Technology, said during his address at the OEGlobal conference which followed the GOGN seminar: “Without bridges we wouldn’t be here today.”

It was indeed wonderful to hear many others talking about and sharing cross-institution


we found the big blue heart… with the girls… 😉

al collaborations. For example Prof. Robert Schuwer and colleagues shared two current initiatives in the Netherlands. I felt that there is so much potential to connect, build more and stronger bridges and am looking forward to contributing to such developments.

A big thank to GOGN, Bea, Beck, Nats, Rob and Martin for taking me to Delft this year and the judging panel for awarding me the GOGN Best Open Research Practice Award. I will treasure it for ever. Congratulations also to Glenda and Aras as well.