technology enhanced learning

Hacking digital learning strategies

Reviewed by Vicky Papageorgiou

This review first appeared on the March-April issue of the Serbia ELTA newsletter

Keywords : technology, learning strategies, digital learning, mobile apps, mission-based learning


Shelly Sanchez’s books are always highly anticipated because they are useful, practical, well written and fun to read! This new one, under the title ‘Hacking digital learning strategies ‘,  is no exception to the rule, therefore. A completely student centered book which focusses on learning strategies.

The book is divided in 10 missions. Each chapter comprises a set of steps, which the teacher can follow to complete the mission with their students, as well as, a section about the anticipated problems and a mission prep section. An additional section is the Mission Toolkit in the last pages of the book which offers storyboards, question sets, templates, maps, tables, handouts, mission task cards, badges,  etc. and anything useful for the teacher when planning these missions in their class.

In the first mission, entitled DESIGN A GAME WALKTHROUGH : Create a Tutorial and Teach Others How to Play, Sanchez describes how an  experience she had in a classroom taught her a valuable lesson : she didn’t have to do all the teaching or know all the answers, which led her to realize that students could design instructional content and, thus,  gain, as well as, share knowledge, a process which motivates them immensely in the end. Therefore, in this first chapter she explains how students teach others how to play a game with a video walkthrough that they create.

In the second mission, called GO ON A SELFIE ADVENTURE : Define Yourself Through Images, Sanchez makes use of the so popular selfies among students which also offer the opportunity for reflection. It is a fact that young learners are not necessarily fully aware of this process, however, posting these selfies after manipulating them is because they are opting for the best shot as they know their peers will rate them! This specific mission’s purpose is to teach learners how to make responsible decisions about their own digital identities.

The third chapter is about CREATING A FICTIONAL SOCIAL MEDIA PROFILE : Manage your digital footprint more purposefully. Believing that to teach the learners how to navigate the digital world with all the necessary skills, confidence and support is of pivotal importance, the next mission has exactly this as its sole purpose : to deepen the students’ reflective means and understand what building  confident digital identity entails. All this, through historical figures!

Mission 4 is REMIX LEARNING INTO A DIGITAL TEXTBOOK : Produce and publish an engaging online book. It’s aim is to encourage students to be responsible and choose the learning materials they need and not just accept them as given by teachers. The right expression would be ‘expect them to personalize their own learning even though they are young’! Following this pathway, they have to create their own digital textbook ‘helping others learn the topic in an engaging way’, as Sanchez claims.

Next come the debates and the 5th Mission’s title is DEBATE ISSUES, DON’T DISS PEOPLE :Argue differences of opinion respectfully. Disagreements on social media are a frequent occurrence and while they result in all parties feeling offended, most of them miss the opportunity for a constructive discussion. While these public arguments are part of our daily social media life, the author believes (quite correctly!) that our curriculums still teach our learners long written argumentative essays, considering, therefore, the need for teaching them shorter arguments in combination with teaching them how to respond intelligently to people with different opinions. Adapting to the new conditions of our life, thus, is a necessity and also has a practical side which teachers are called upon to equip their students with. Our students learn to be respectful and intelligent digital citizens.

In chapter 6, ‘Seek and preserve the truth’, Shelly focusses on the quest for truth when everyone is exposed to ‘fake news’, she tries to show how we can motivate our students to care and preserve the truth.

In chapter 7, ASSEMBLE A GLOBAL CLASS MEETUP : Join the World Community and Discuss a Pressing Issue, she tackles on the problem of helping students to understand the role as global citizens and find interest in global issues. For this reason, she suggests that teachers and students organise video conferences with classes from different countries whew students participate in a cultural exchange activity.

In the next chapter, students are required to conduct Real-World Field Research and suggests we shoulod see students as problem solvers and innovators. So, this new mission is all about publishing field research to enlighten the public.

In chapter 9, APPRECIATE OTHERS  WITH A DIGITAL BADGE, Shelly points out that , more than grades, we need to recognise values. Digital badges are used to recognise achievements, claiming that ‘When students issue their badges, they

send a message to their peers that they recognize their achievements and skills’. In this mission, students design  digital badges to issue to their peers.

In the final chapter, CROWDFUND INNOVATION TO FIND SOLUTIONS, suggest ways we, educators, can help students innovate solutions to make a difference by , for example, crowdfunding to help improve their communities.

Mission-based learning is , in fact, a powerful and meaningful way of empowering our students , not by just teaching them a language but by teaching them at the same time of being global citizens , responsible  contributors and and caring human beings.

Overall, this is an excellent read and a very resourceful book which can be an invaluable tool for teachers of young learners as well as teachers of teenagers, if only with a few modifications in the mission procedures. It belongs in every school’s and every teacher’s library!


My first positive MOOC experience


One of the requirements for the PGCE in Technology Enhanced Learning is that I blog about several topics involving Education Technology and this is my first post of this series.

Nearly everybody involved in education has already heard about Moocs (Massive Open Online Courses). They are offered not only by universities internationally but also from various other educational Institutions.  The most popular providers are Coursera, Khan Academy, Udacity, EdEX  and  FutureLearn. Generally speaking, a lot of the most famous Universities all over the world offer them now .

Like most of my colleagues, I heard about Moocs about 3 years ago and decided to give it a try and look into the possibility of attending one or more. The first one was a total failure because even though I registered, i never even bothered to attend. Yet, about a year after that first attempt, I did commit to completing  a Mooc and six months after I finished the first one, I completed a second one, too, both on the same subject (Art and ESL).  Before attending any of them though, I did a little research and this was what I came up with.


Why are they so popular?

  • You only need a reliable internet connection and some free time to dedicate
  • The majority of them are free (if you want, you can pay an extra fee – only a small amount, normally around 30 to 40 dollars – and receive a “Verified Certificate” that securely links the assessment to the student)
  • There are thousands of courses from across the world available
  • There is a huge variety of subjects to choose from (mathematics, biology, computing, business marketing, education, art, etc.) and it keeps growing
  • There are no real requirements for anyone to attend a course like the ones that exist in formal education
  • A lot of the Universities organizing Moocs are trying to make them count as credit toward a higher education award, like COURSERA’s Moocs, for example (Hammods, 2013).

Some scepticism

  • Skepticists claim it is a delusion to believe the masses can be educated in this way, mainly because of lack of research about how students learn in massive open online platforms (Sharma, 2013)
  • There are high dropout rates (Stein, 2013).
  • Even though Moocs are supposed to be reaching poor and uneducated people, the ones actually taking Moocs do not actually fall in this category (Mazoue, 2013)

My own experience and why it was successful

Why did I complete mine then and then went on for a second one, too? I think the main reason was that the Moocs I finally attended  in full were courses I was really interested in. MOMA (the museum of Modern Art in N.York) was the provider. MOMA had already started organizing these courses in N.York, they had great success and decided it was time they targeted a more global audience. The truth is that I would have even gone to N.York to attend these courses! And I had applied, in the first place. That was before the Moocs. But the number of participants was limited at the time (only 70 people), and they only accepted people from the States.  So, once they announced the same course would be offered in a Mooc, I grabbed the opportunity!

Still, it could have been a disappointment for various reasons: a new platform, distance education, too many participants, not formal education, not receiving any credits for it. I can go on and on… What, in fact, made a difference was the fact that I enjoyed the way they had organized it, at least most of it.  Why?

First of all, each week a new medium was introduced : the first  2 weeks there were video presentations , readings, 1-2 topics for discussion on the forum and a short quiz for the readings. The third week, the videos became more practical and the questions on the forum more challenging. Also, a google hangout was introduced where all the participants could take part in the discussion or watch it asynchronously. The fourth week, there were discussions about the final project. Generally, we were encouraged starting from the first week to interact with the other participants (there must have been over 20.000 enrolled in the course). Our interaction with the other participants also counted towards our final mark. Finally, our projects were posted on the forum the 5th week and were peer reviewed by 3 other participants who had to evaluate each of the projects based on 3-5 specific criteria which appeared on the evaluation page . The projects we had to review were anonymous and each evaluator was chosen randomly. It was the web system that decided which projects each of us would evaluate in an attempt to ensure objectivity.

Even though the truth is that I did not make any connections or acquaintances, I truly enjoyed the 2 Moocs and I would definitely come back for more. The way of organization appealed to me, I was encouraged to participate, the material was relevant and the presentations were excellent! Everything made sense! To ensure I would be more dedicated, I also signed up for a signature track certificate, which means that I also paid a small amount of money for it. It did motivate me more… But it is not obligatory. If you do not pay for a verified certificate, you do not have to complete the final project necessarily. But this also gives more freedom to anyone who just wants to attend a Mooc without being too much involved.

On the other hand, there were some downsides. If you are expecting a more direct and prompt communication with/from the organizers, then it is most probable this is not going to happen! Sometimes, the participants can be thousands and thousands. It is really difficult to answer every single person promptly, especially because of the huge numbers of participants. The peer review also might mean that a lot of people might end up dissatisfied. The participants come from various academic and professional backgrounds so their judgement might be questionable. Not to mention that some people might not consider the evaluation a serious commitment from their part (so they might award a mark without all the necessary consideration) and again their objectivity might be questionable.

All in all, this was a very positive experience.  I honestly believe that these particular Moocs were as effective, if not more so, than any traditional classroom teaching (Glance et al., 2013).  Yet, when later I tried to follow another Mooc which proved to be much much less well planned, more time consuming and a bit confusing, I just quit. Just like that! Yet, isn’t there here a positive side, too? You will only commit to something that you really find interesting. These Moocs target a wider audience so they are flexible, not very academic and as long as they are well planned, to the point, and ensure interaction, they can be very enjoyable and practical!



  1. Glance, D.G. & Forsey D. & Riley M.(2013). The pedagogical foundations of massive open online courses. First Monday, Volume 18, Number 5. Retrieved from
  2. Hammods, W. (2013). MOOCs for credit?. Retrieved from
  3. Mazoue, J.G. (2013). Five Myths about MOOCs. Educase Review, Retrieved from
  4. Sharma, G. (2013). A MOOC Delusion: Why Visions to Educate the World Are Absurd. Retrieved from
  5. Stein, K. (2013). Penn GSE Study Shows MOOCS Have Relatively few active users, with only a few persisting to course end. Retrieved from