“It is this determination I pass on to all I teach: Failure doesn’t always signify the end – it can be the beginning.” – Elaine Topham, UK

“It is this determination I pass on to all I teach: Failure doesn’t always signify the end – it can be the beginning.” – Elaine Topham, UK

Elaine Topham
Senior Learning Technologist
The Grimsby Institute of Further and Higher Education
Grimsby, UK

The path to becoming a technology educator wasn’t a straight one for Elaine Topham.

“I wasn’t a particularly focused student at school – in fact, I left a year before I should have taken my exams, with not one single qualification to my name,” Topham says “I spent a few years out of education and although I tried to find formal employment, my lack of qualifications and experience held me back.”

As it turned out, technology was key to changing course. Topham taught herself how to fix and build PCs, then began installing networks on a self-employed basis. After a few years, she decided to return to college and secured a position teaching ICT skills and supporting learners in a flexible learning environment. Then she learned to code.

“When I signed up for my Level 1 Programming qualification, it was pointed out to me that, ‘Girls usually don’t do very well at programming,’” Topham explains. “Determined and sure I would prove this statement wrong, I went on to complete a series of applications using Java, including a network messaging system. I think I proved my point.”

Now the Senior Learning Technologist at her school, Topham says her favorite activity is using OneNote as a blending learning classroom.

“OneNote is such a fantastic tool and it allows learners to learn and access materials in the way they want,” she says. “In my role, I am predominantly training academic staff, but this often involves gathering evidence of the professional development activities they have undertaken and providing feedback – OneNote Class Notebook is the perfect solution!  My learners can scan their documents into OneNote with Office Lens, and they can use the Dictate and Immersive Reader in Learning Tools to improve reading comprehension and support their diverse needs, giving them independence and helping to develop better digital literacy. They can also embed a selection of other resources, such as Sways and Forms, which allows them to provide real evidence of their learning.”

Topham also uses Teams in conjunction with OneNote to teach her Microsoft Office Specialist students (all staff), where they can access the learning activities, chat with others, and message her for support.

“Without the use of OneNote and Teams for this class, I would struggle to support the learners, as they are geographically displaced across our campuses,” she shares. “Teams has been an excellent way to bring together the resources for the Microsoft Office Specialist lessons and has enabled staff to access the learning at a time and place that suits them.”

To help users get started with the Microsoft Office Specialist practice tests, Topham created a Sway.

“This is a fantastic tool for creating user guides – I can send out the View link to all staff via Yammer, Teams or other means, and I am able to constantly update the resource,” she says. “This is a huge time-saver and improvement over producing PDF handouts, as the content looks more professional, can be viewed on any device, and I can even include videos to aid the instructions – all impossible with paper-based handouts.”

So how did this Microsoft Innovative Expert Educator finally find her calling?

“I realized very early on in my teaching career what a great responsibility teaching was. It was not simply about imparting the curriculum content to learners, but more about creating well-rounded individuals that could integrate into society and have the skills and qualities they needed to succeed.”

When she started teaching the 16- to 18-year-old learners, she found that they looked to her as a role model, assuming she had sailed through her education without difficulty.

“I enjoyed explaining to my learners that I was not that – that I had had a bad time during my school years and that I left with no qualifications,” she says. “This always surprised my learners and made them realize that, although they may have had a bad start or left school with little to no qualifications, it doesn’t mean that they are stuck like that – they can be anything they want to be if they work for it.  It is this determination I pass on to all I teach: Failure doesn’t always signify the end – it can be the beginning.”

Connect with Elaine at her Microsoft Educator Community Profile.

About Elaine Topham

  • Educational background: I’ve worked in a variety of roles within the Grimsby Institute (formerly Grimsby College), teaching programming and computer platforms and Functional Skills ICT to apprentices and 16-18+. I also achieved my PGCE teaching qualification, MOS Master certification, and I am also an MIEE and MIE Trainer.
  • Favorite Microsoft product, tool, technology: OneNote
  • Favorite book: Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
  • Favorite childhood memory: Programming games with my Dad, such Pong and Space Invaders. We drew our house in Basic on the Spectrum 48k and has space invaders moving across the screen.
  • What is the best advice you have ever received? Listen!

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