Thursday, December 24, 2009

And to sum up...

Well - after a frantic couple of months (parents ill, I moved house, waiting for exam results - passed my MEd - woo hoo!, job changes at work, piles of marking, swine flu, sick children etc etc etc)... I just thought I'd pop onto my blog to say 'hello' and to reflect, briefly, on this year's bits and bobs.

2009 Highlights
So... my highlights from this year:

1. Social networking makes your brain turn to mush
2. But it's okay... because just about everything else gives you cancer anyway
3. The VLE was dead
4. Then it wasn't
5. Twitter took over the world
6. While Google Wave-d
7. Microsoft Bing-ed... then got sued for binging and their Word was no longer law
8. And Facebook kept managing to annoy people for messing with layouts and privacy settings
9. But it still won the battle of the social networks
10. And Apps were 'it'

Reading stuff
Oh, and when time got tight and I was under pressure, I still found time to catch up with Steve Wheeler's excellent Learning with 'e's, John Connell and Martin Weller's ed tech goodness, Jane Knight's tool recommendations, Mashable's stream of social media goodness, educational goings on with The Guardian and ReadWriteWeb for their tech trend interpretations.

Tech stuff
I also still love Google Reader, Delicious , YouTube, Blogger, Google Docs, SlideShare and Twitter

... while Slideboom, WordPress, Plurk, ScreenToaster and Diigo have also emerged as useful tools during the past 12 months.

However, SecondLife I still don't get but nor do others, Google Notebook was quietly left to die,
Etherpad sparkled with usefulness then disappeared and Google Wave is very, very alpha and I'm waiting for the lightbulb moment with it.

And next year?
But... next year will be another year of ed tech loveliness, I'm sure. Funding crisis in HE or no, there's always interesting stuff happening and with luck... we'll find ways of making learning more interesting, relevant and (dare I say it?) engaging for everyone concerned.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Scaffolding and online synchronous communications

Steve Wheeler has just posted something interesting about the ZPD and scaffolding in his 'always worth a read' (©Sarah's Made-Up-Taxonomy of blog types, 2009) blog. Anyway, he posted it and it reminded me that I'd been interested in just this thing a few months ago when I was doing my research project to finish off my MEd. I was interested in the impact of a tutor when students were learning in an online synchronous (chat) environment. I wanted to know what happened to any conversation and associated learning... and whether or not the tutor's presence enriched the experience.

Anyway, I ran my research project and got some interesting results. Although the activity itself was fairly carefully constructed so as to provide a light scaffolding for the main body of discussion and the environment was controlled so that I was able to compare both sessions - how each discussion evolved was up to the participants. Different types of reflection were evident in the session with the tutor present and that which took place when just the students were around. The flow of the conversation altered. The type of questions and responses changed. Students seemed to be more passive in the tutor-led session and although there was plenty of conversation, the expectation seemed to be that the tutor was in the driving seat and the ownership of that communication shifted noticably.

If, having read the above blurb, you'd like to read the full report of the research I carried out, then feel free!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Twitter lists as online identity

In the last few weeks, Twitter lists have appeared on the scene. I've seen a few useful bits and bobs about the lists and how they might be used (Mashable has some good ideas) but the thing that surprised me most of all was that Twitter lists are an interesting tool to discover a little more about your own online identity. All you need to do is to see what lists you're on by clicking on the 'listed' link on your profile. Simple, huh?

It's interesting to see other people's perceptions of you. Me, I seem to feature on a fair few elearning / ed tech lists (as well as my favourites so far 'fab education folk' and 'geek girls'!) as well as a few Open University ones. It's interesting to see where you're being placed and how much control (or not!) you have over your online identity. It reveals, also, your main purpose for using Twitter. I tend to use it to communicate with others in ed tech. There are other places where I might talk about other bits of my life / personality... but I've always been fairly purposeful where Twitter's concerned. Other people may find that they feature on a wider variety of lists... but either way... have a look... it's really interesting to see where you fit in to Twitter's strange patchwork of communication!

PS Until someone puts you in a comedy list and you think 'Eh? How did that happen???!' :o)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

101 Reasons why Google are taking over the world...

Get Your Files Out of Google Docs With New Export Options:
"... today, Google announced the “Convert, Zip and Download” feature in Google Docs to tackle this challenge. The new features make it a simple two step process to pull down any and all the Google (Google) documents of your choosing (up to 500 MB), convert them to your preferred file types, and zip them up in a concrete package you can download and save to your desktop."
Gotta love 'em... Google sure are chomping away at the online / offline connected world.

More and more I find I'm using Google docs for collaborative editing rather than entering into track changes hell with Microsoft Word. More and more I'm using Google sites as a wiki rather than faffing about with using other wiki tools (WetPaint withdrawing its ad-free education version forced me to see what Google were up to). More and more I'm using Google forms for surveys / quick an' easy booking systems. And now, I get to not just create stuff online with them, but I can quickly pull all that Googly goodness off the system. More and more I'm using Google to find ways around the red tape / processes which infest institutional systems and make it so painfully difficult to innovate.

Actually, you don't need 101 reasons why they're taking over.

There's really only one: Google get it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Library learning

An observation.

The Educational Development Unit where I work is based in the main University library. Last week we had a few powercuts in the library building. As on any normal weekday, there were loads of students in the building. Hardly any spare desks available. Then, the power went off. Though there was no power, but it was still perfectly light enough to work - the only thing missing was the computing facilities and the artificial light. Still lots of books. Lots of desks. Lots of places to read. Lots of places to write.

What happened?

The library emptied.

With no computing resources available, the students left. Virtually all of them. Gone.

Just an observation.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Reserving judgement

Okay, so... like lots of people I got a Google Wave invite... which was jolly nice, especially if you're a bit of an 'ooooooh, what's that shiny thing over there' kinda girl, which I am. However, I've been struggling to contain my high levels of underwhelm at the moment. I've got a few contacts now, but no real purpose for using it... and the only uses I've seen so far are for what are essentially fancy, collaborative lists. Which is nice. But... not inspiring.

However... two and a half years ago, I remember seeing the following on a blog...

"I have to say if someone I knew thought they should be sending me texts, e-mails, IMs etc about the fact that they were just off to the loo and wouldn't be around for five minutes, I'd be seriously considering turning off my computer forever, bricking up the windows and becoming a hermit. Has the world honestly gone bonkers? My 'persistent presence' is that I'm here. I know I'm here. I don't really care if you are aware of that fact 24/7 and you know what? I'm betting you don't either. Where's the separation between public and private? Doesn't part of that separation exist because we simply don't have time to care about the meaningless minutiae of each other's lives. Isn't it okay not to care????

So... You had tuna in your sandwich... but you thought you might have cheese... it took you three bites and a sip of tea to consume it, lasted precisely 2 minutes of your day and another half a minute in which you wondered if there was a little too much mayo and not quite enough salad. I DON'T CARE! Please, if you're struggling to say something to me today, don't bother. Just take time out for yourself. I don't sweat the small stuff in my own life, and I sure don't want to sweat it in yours either!!

Blogging - okay... now get it.
Microblogging - NO! NO, NO, NO, NO, NO!!

PS. NO!!!
PPS. There. That feels better
PPPS. I'm about to have porridge for breakfast. With raisins. A dash of milk. A cup of tea. I may or may not yawn half way through doing so...
PPPPS See - you don't care either. :o)"

... and could tell that that person really didn't think much of Twitter at all. They were seriously dismissive of it as a technology and weren't going to give it a fair go. Microblogging - no, no and a bit more no!

Thing is. That person was me.

And once I got off my negative high horse and found a purpose for it other than the use suggested by the service, just fill in the answer to: 'what are you doing'... and instead built a network... and made connections... then. Then, it had real value.

So. Rather than being the person who makes dreadful dismissive statements about Wave, I'm going to let the dust settle. Keep an eye out. Keep on having a go... and find my own way in. Or at least, give it a proper chance to be what it will be.

Monday, September 28, 2009

On boring VLEs

Federal Upset
Originally uploaded by Shermeee

I did a staff development session today on some new tools in the University's Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and on the way in to the session (no-one knew it was me delivering the session which put me in a great position for eavesdropping pre-match conversation!) I heard several people chatting about 'another dull VLE session', 'the VLE is so boring' etc and although I get where they're coming from, I do wonder why people get so hung up on the tool itself. I know I probably veer towards the more personalized learning environment camp, but even then, they're all just tools and it's what you do with them that's interesting.

Anyway, I got into the session and made a start and asked them who thought that the VLE was dull... best to tackle this stuff head on, I reckon! So, a few hands went up. 'How many of you... honestly?' - a few more hands went up. Y'know. I agree. It's just a 'thing' after all, isn't it? A shell with some bits and bobs you may or may not use.

So, I moved on. I asked, 'How many of you put your lecture PowerPoints in the VLE?'. Lots of hands. 'How many of you provide anything more than your lecture notes? Anyone put any additional activities in there?'... no hands. I asked them what that might feel like for their students. Was that an interesting or helpful place to be once you'd downloaded those PowerPoints? Were those PowerPoints really that helpful without anything else? Were they engaging? Have to say, there wasn't a great deal of nodding at this point!

I then got them to imagine a really great learning experience that they'd had while they were at school or university and what made it great. I then asked the group 'did anyone's great experience involve a great teacher?' Hands. 'A really great subject area?' A few more. 'A really great activity or experience?'. Lots of hands and nodding. 'Did anyone's great experience involve how brilliant the room was where the learning happened? How great the chair was they were sitting on? How great the desk was they were using? The pen? Anyone particularly excited by the pen they were using?'. No-one.

Y'know. I think I actually heard the penny drop as they realised that it's what you do with something that makes it good and not the places or tools which make it extra special. It's funny how quick we are to blame an environment and forget that inspiring teaching and learning is about the people and the players. As adults we look at an empty cardboard box and see it as a storage device. Somewhere to put 'stuff'. As children we looked at that same cardboard box and saw a plane. A car. A train. An adventure waiting to happen. What happened to our own creativity? It seems like we get confronted by a 'virtual learning environment' and think that's enough. The learning will happen regardless of the effort we put into it. Wrong! So, so wrong! When eLearning works, it's an amazing, interesting, vibrant, evolving, engaging, rich space. When it's just a shell. A place to download PowerPoints... boy oh boy is it a sad bag.

I admit it. VLEs are dull. But what goes on inside them doesn't need to be dull. Here's to opening up the box and seeing what you can really do with it and putting an end to using VLEs as document dumping grounds. Days where you get to see people imagining bucketloads of learning potential and want to hold onto it themselves. Coming up with ideas as you're talking and scribbling them down as quick as they can. Now, those are the really great eLearning days. :o))

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The 10 PowerPoint Commandments

For the past week or two I've been involved in various staff development / conference bits an' bobs and my head is jam-full of PowerPoint loathing. It is such an uninspiring tool... or rather, it is used in such an uninspiring way, so much of the time.

So, wanting not to fall into that trap myself (though I'm sure I've done some of these - I have vague memories of thinking the typewriter entrance effect was cool at one point!), I'm going to set myself 10 PowerPoint Commandments:
1. Thou shalt have other tricks up your sleeve as well as PowerPoint
2. Thou shalt not use rubbish quality images or diagrams
3. Thou shalt not use stupid effects
4. Thou shalt restrict bullet points
5. Honour thy audience's eyesight
6. Thou shalt not bore
7. Thou shalt not use the slides as speaker notes
8. Thou shalt master the slide controls before the presentation
9. Thou shalt be concise
10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's Prezi... learn to present well without any props first
If I don't have to use PowerPoint, I'm not going to. When I do, it should be in a purposeful manner. If I ever catch myself simply reading the slide contents out to the audience, I'm going to take myself straight home and read to my kids instead. They like me reading to them... I'm sure the rest of the world doesn't. :o)

So there!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

ALT-C '09

For the past three days I've been tootling to and fro going up to Manchester for ALT-C 2009 and although I'm a bit shattered (understatement of the year) it was a really useful experience. While it is still fresh in my head, and before I crash out, here are my five highlights from ALT-C:

1. The VLE is Dead debate. Okay, not so much debating as a good ol' e-learning ding dong with no winner declared... but the best thing about that? Hearing people getting really engaged and passionate about e-learning! So often we get stuck in the mire of everyday institutional / academic battles and forget that e-learning has the capacity to really grip you and get you thinking. About its complexity. Its potential. Its issues. Its benefits. Drawback. The whole good, bad and ugly shebang.

2. Jonathan Drori's talk on making successful pilots and 'being mighty'. A super talk and he came up with 10 great pieces of advice about projects, so, in reverse order, here's his top 10:
10. Understand the barriers - cost, relevance, ease of use, experience, talent, resources, coherence. Be honest about the talent! This one is hard to do!

9. Think about who are you trying to impress!

8. Sort out project management from editorial leadership

There is a confusion between what is project management and what is editorial leadership and you need to know the difference between the two. In other words, you need someone to say 'that's a bit crap' and take that role in the project - it can make or break a project!

7. Ensure everyone understands the pilot! Seems obvious but so often we skip straight into what the project is now doing rather than giving it a background and contextual description

6. Understand where your pilot fits in

Whereabouts on this chain...

stimulate interest > engage > guide > communicate > create or 'do' something

... does your project sit?

Try to create virtuous circles

5. Choose good measures of success - make the measures make sense!

4. Partnerships - on this... when encountering new partnerships ask this question...

- what does each partner say they want?

then work out this one...

- what do they actually want?

No matter what they say, they may well also want a mix of the following: political influence / power / limelight / money / credit

Universities want some combination of the above - but contextualized
Personal agrandizement is also important!

3. Know everything you can about your audiences - don't just look at the known

2. A word on new formats and services - sketch it out using a storyboard. It's cheap, efficient and can open dialogues with people who should then be able to understand what your project is about

1. Is something missing? Ask yourself this question! Are you testing the wrong thing?
A useful and interesting talk and grounded in lots and lots of experience of projects, which was excellent. I loved his closing thought:

"Meet your audiences. Fiddle. Be curious!"

It should be every e-learning bod's mantra.

3. Excellent opportunity for putting faces to names - even though I did get the carbon footprint conference guilts from Terry Anderson's keynote you can't beat a bit of face to face stuff and I wish that the packed timetable and stupid amount of commuting I was doing had allowed for more chatting. :o)

4. Some great keynotes from Terry Anderson, Michael Wesch and Martin Bean and following the #altc2009 hash tag throughout their presentations gave a good sense of what was relevant to the audience too. Nice way to capture the 'relevance flavour of the month'.

5. The CrowdVine site - worked well and was a useful way to network pre-conference. Liked it and good to see that it was used by most people attending ALT-C.

Okay, so those are my five main highlights. What made the not so good list?

1. The catering!!! Absolute rubbish! Well, unless you like a queue, cheap biscuits, limited drinks and soggy pasta o'course.

2. The lack of quiet spaces to chill out. A seriously noisy venue and for little ol' me who has a bit of a struggle with tinnitus at the best of times, it made networking tricky.

3. PowerPoint overload. I came across presentations with too many slides. Too many notes per slide. Too quick transitions. Presenters simply reading out the contents of their slides. And a generally uninspiring PowerPoint-fest. There has to be a better way than PowerPointing everything. And I can feel a PowerPoint boycott coming on while I work out what that might be.

4. Hashtag spam on the Twitter feed for the conference. Must try to find ways of filtering spam when using hashtag aggregation for events... it's not good on any level.

Okay, am slinking off to collapse. Hopefully will get my 'thinking about it all' head back on soon once I've got a tad of energy back! I'll leave you with my twice-daily view of the Peak District which I had the pleasure of seeing on my gargantuan commute!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Lock Down Learning

I have a question which goes round and round in my head and it concerns trust. In fact, it concerns trust of adult students / employees and the conflict with a web 2.0 / user-generated world. Why don't we trust people? In fact, I can tie it down a little further.... why do we only trust people when we feel that it doesn't really matter?

Here's an example. An institution has a stance whereby constructivist learning is promoted. Students should 'own' their learning. They should construct their own knowledge. Be critical. Thinking. Reflecting students. We want them to engage and be interested in what they study. But... we put those flowing, interesting, fluid notions of ownership and contextualisation and shove them into a VLE. We encourage people in with the idea that these tools have potential and the capacity to offer them a useful learning environment... then, it seems, we slam the door shut behind them and tie down all the tools until our systemic desire for control is satisfied - "what if someone's offended?", "what if they sue us?", "what about quality control?", "what about... what about... what about...?". "Oh, just turn it off, that'll be easier".

Nominally, we want them to learn it 'their' way, but the reality is that we don't feel comfortable if we're not learning 'our' way. Why don't we trust people? As soon as something becomes institutionally hosted then issues of liability, reputation and administrative control rear their heads and lock down ensues.

Is it any wonder why systems get only a token use? Is it any wonder why students are out there every day using their own tools and systems - making choices, being supported by their peers, when we're too scared to let go just a little. Unless, of course, it's behind closed doors and it doesn't really matter anyway. Are VLEs symptomatic of 'lock down learning'? Where's the trust? What would the educational landscape really be like if we put some real control in the hands of users?

I've just read 'Here Comes Everybody' by Clay Shirky (yeah, late to the party, I know!) - and it occurs to me that what if our VLEs aren't a case of 'here comes everybody', but instead result in 'there goes everybody' as the PLE offers the flexibility and personalisation which makes learning really meaningful?

PS Thanks to AJ Cann and Steve Wheeler for feeding my inner rant. :o)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Web2practice from NetSkills

Guides to emergent technologies and innovative practiceAre you thinking about using web2tools for research, administration or teaching? If so, make a quick start with the web2practice user guides.The web2practice guides explain how emergent web technologies like RSS, microblogging, podcasting and social media can enhance your working practice. Each guide consists of a short animated video explaining the key concepts (such as microblogging in the example below), supported by a more in-depth guide covering potential uses, risks and how to get started.
Netskills: Web2practice

Useful guides from JISC - giving a bit of heavyweight legitimacy to things regularly dismissed as superfluous / superficial / damaging.  Good to see and handy to bookmark!
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Monday, August 17, 2009

Three cool tools

I'm always trying out new tools. Some of them make me go 'hmmm'. Some of them make me go 'nice idea'. Some of them make me go 'ooooooh, that could work in x scenario'. Others... I really get using and they become part of my online toolkit.

So, here are three which have taken pride of place on my virtual mantelpiece in the last few months: - unbelievably simple to use tool to schedule meetings. You just create a free account, give your event a name... put in some suggested days / times... and send out the URL to others who simply enter their names and select their preferred times. The beauty of it is that you get to see at a glance what times work... what time the majority can make and it doesn't matter what diary system / calendar people use, this is just a click, click, click and you're done kinda thing:

Another great tool is Dropbox - if you work on more than one computer and want to move files from machine to machine, keeping them all in sync is a pain. With dropbox, you set up a free account (which gives you up to 2GB of free space) and your files are synced via the secure online Dropbox. Doesn't matter what operating system you're using - it just works. I have a PC at work, PC, MacBook Pro and Linux netbook at home... if I want to work on a file and I know I'm going to need access on a number of different machines, I just put it into my dropbox. On Windows it installs as a folder in your My Documents area / as an icon in the status bar. On a Mac it appears in the Finder and the top menu. No more copying stuff onto a USB stick / e-mailing it to yourself - if you have an internet connection, you file will be updated. But... if you want to roll it back to a previous version, then you've got 30 days to sort that out. Oh, and you can also share your Dropbox folders with others. Love it!

My final new tool is Mindomo - it's a terrific, free online mind-mapping tool and it's even won me away from MindMeister which I liked for years. The advantages of this? Well, once you ignore the Google ads down the right hand side, is that it's seriously feature rich, collaborative and really flexible to use. Work on your maps online, import from Freemind or export as a pdf / rtf / xml file / an image file. It's a bit Microsoft Office 2007 / 2008-ish in appearance and it doesn't feel like 'free'. :o)

So... there ya go. Three free, simple, online tools which have 'stuck' in the past three months: Doodle, Dropbox and Mindomo.

Anyone else got any recent favourites?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

10 Pleasing MacBook Pro keyboard shortcuts

Being a total Mac newbie (well, I last had a Mac five or six years ago, so it's pretty much all new), I'm finding out some handy things which I thought might be useful for other people too. So... here goes my 10 handy keyboard shortcuts:

1. There's no hashtag key on my MacBook Pro keyboard - to enter a hashtag you need to press alt and 3 together

2. You can get a whole load more symbols by pressing the alt key and another key... here are some useful ones:
  • alt + 2 = €
  • alt + 0 = º
  • alt + 8 = •
  • alt + r = ®
  • alt + w = ∑
  • alt + p = π
  • alt + s = ß
  • alt + g = ©
  • alt + ; = …
  • alt + x = ≈
  • alt + c = ç
  • alt + / = ÷
3. There's no delete key, only backspace. To forward delete just press fn and backspace

4. If you want to delete one word at a time, press alt and backspace

5. Pressing F12 brings up the Dashboard gadgets. Press it again and the Dashboard disappears again

6. Pressing F11 moves everything so you can see the desktop. Pressing it again brings everything back.

7. When you're in your web browser, press F6 and you select everything in the address bar

8. Press F9 and you can toggle through all open windows

9. To select words one word at a time, hold down alt, shift and press the left cursor key

10. To quit any application, press cmd and q

That'll do for now! My closet nerdness loves finding keyboard shortcuts! :o)

Monday, August 10, 2009

The joy of the Fail Whale

Nice little piece in the New Scientist about Twitter and its delicate disposition...

Innovation: Why don't users mind when Twitter breaks? - tech - 10 August 2009 - New Scientist:

"The strong roller-coaster-riding community of Twitter, by contrast, have tied their personas to the service. They simply embraced the fail, enjoyed taking a break from maintaining their 140-character selves, and prepared to celebrate when the service came back."

Yup, people hate Facebook, Google, Amazon etc going down... but there's a certain humour in the fail whale-ness of Twitter going down the loo yet again. A sign of an immature service or one that's got its users on-side from the start in terms of allowing itself to have a wry sense of humour?

Maybe it's just because it's not seen as corporate as the others on the failure hit-list? Maybe it's not seen as essential as the failure hit-list? Maybe it's a bit more opt in... which means temporary 'opt-out' isn't as painful?

Who knows? Fail Whaling (spotting and celebrating the appearance of a Twitter Fail Whale) seems to have an opposite reaction to most systems failures. Bet you any money IS departments all over would kill for that kind of sympathetic, forgiving band of users! :o)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Changing online demographics...

It's SO over: cool cyberkids abandon social networking sites | Media | The Guardian:
"From uncles wearing skinny jeans to mothers investing in ra-ra skirts and fathers nodding awkwardly along to the latest grime record, the older generation has long known that the surest way to kill a youth trend is to adopt it as its own. The cyberworld, it seems, is no exception.

The proliferation of parents and teachers trawling the pages of Facebook trying to poke old schoolfriends and lovers, and traversing the outer reaches of MySpace is causing an adolescent exodus from the social networking sites, according to research from the media regulator Ofcom.

The sites, once the virtual streetcorners, pubs and clubs for millions of 15- to 24-year-olds, have now been over-run by 25- to 34-year-olds whose presence is driving their younger peers away."

Where are they going then?


Friday, July 31, 2009

Social Swine flu fever

This week I have mostly been ignoring swine flu...

Universities prepare for swine flu worst as nurseries take away soft toys | Education |
"The guide for childminders tells them: 'Try to avoid children sharing soft toys as these are hard to clean adequately; you may find it easier to avoid using soft toys altogether. Clean hard toys after use as the virus can survive on hard surfaces.'

The guidance for schools and nurseries says: 'Discourage the sharing of pencils, crayons and pens during a pandemic. Encourage the wiping and cleaning of hands and objects when passing round objects like musical instruments or toys. Do not allow children to share musical instruments.'

A spokesman from the DCSF said: 'We are not suggesting taking all toys out of play settings, just to take care with the use of shared toys, which can be a way of spreading infection. This is about striking a sensible balance between continuing life as normal but also taking simple, common sense steps to protect children.'"

... and watching the world going mad. "Kids. Don't share your teddies. No! Don't!!! Those soft toys are evil. Burn them! Burn them all!!!!" *sigh*

Okay, so my 3 and 6 yr olds have had it... but it was JUST FLU... okay. Honestly. They didn't turn into piglets (they may eat like them, but appearances can be deceptive)... they didn't turn violet... they didn't... well... they didn't do much really. They had flu.

Paranoia about Swine Flu and the Gartner Hype cycle... I bet there's a relationship which is pretty much identical. I also wonder if our increasingly virtually connected world is heightening that sense of paranoia. Before we may or may not have known someone who was poorly. Now, through status updates and Tweets etc... everyone is now a 'friend' and it seems closer and more dangerous than it is.

PS I've also got a bit of a chest infection. A bit of a chest infection. And. It's. Not. Swine. Flu. Honestly!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Return of the Mac...

I just bought myself a MacBook Pro and while I'm waiting for it to arrive, I thought I'd just share the various links others have kindly shared with a PC-based ignoramus like me for making the switch to (or back to, in my case!) a Mac:

General Mac basics
For free and useful, take a look at Apple's site. Their support pages are good.

Also, Mac 101 and Switch 101 (which is great if you're moving from PC to Mac)

These might answer many of the questions that crop up in the first few days/ weeks.

Also, Mac Help, Finder> Help> Search usually works well.

Open University-related:
For Open University-related questions, try the Mac General website (although this is jam-packed with stuff anyone using a Mac in education would find helpful)

The best news is that Virtual PC is no longer needed. If you need to use a PC, you can install Windows OS onto your Mac- see Mac General for details.

Other recommended sites:
Mac Rumors and Mac OS X Hints - both sites have forums too; you can pick up tips and tricks in those sometimes as well.

Books and Magazines:
Mac OS X Leopard: The Missing Manual, David Pogue
MacUser magazine and website.

Oh, and if you're a student or work in Education... take a look at the deals available via the Apple Education Store. Well worth the saving!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Learning Outcomes... again...

Would love to know what people think about the following... yes... no... anything else?

Do learning outcomes really improve student learning?

Am having a mull about this and would like to know what other people think!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

More Tricks to using the iPod Touch in education

Really useful list from David Hopkin's eLearning Blog on how to uses the iPod Touch in education.

mLearning; Tricks to using the iPod Touch in class eLearning Blog // Don’t Waste Your Time … included the following:

  • Screen-grab

  • Save images while browsing

  • Emails

  • Apple App Store

  • Internet & Surfing

  • Note-taking

  • Podcasts

  • Documents"

  • I commented on it, but thought I'd expand his list a little further to include the following:

  • Get a headset with an in-built mic and you can record voice memos

  • Sync the calendar with Google Calendar to keep track of appointments / assignments etc (also good for accessing your Gmail too)

    image of the

  • Use the Contacts organiser to keep track of numbers / e-mail addresses you're given when out an' about

  • Create shortcuts to web-based e-mail by adding that page to your home screen - just open up Safari > go to your webmail > Click on the "+" (plus sign) button and then touch the "Add to Home Screen" option (see screenshot, left).

  • Get hold of the free TED Talks app to view some inspiring talks without needing to download the podcasts

  • Install the Skype app (also free) to use with that ipod headset with mic mentioned above... and free Skype-to-Skype calls / the ability to make phone calls becomes available wherever there’s wifi available

  • Access presentations from SlideShare by using mobile slideshare

  • Writing a timed essay or trying to motivate your way through a batch of marking? Click on Clock and Timer and speed yourself up!

  • The calculator is useful... but a quick rotate to landscape and you get yourself a free scientific calculator.

  • Me, I love my iPod Touch. It's got just enough stuff to fill in most of the gaps when you haven't got access to your main computer. It's lighter and quicker to turn on and get online than a netbook. It has oodles of apps available (though you end up using just a few select ones). It's 'shove in your pocket-able'. The battery life is excellent (can be left in sleep mode for days) and it charges quickly. What's not to like? Oh, and although you don't get the phone bits you do with an iPhone, for on-campus use, you'll most likely have a wireless connection available... so who needs the additional monthly contract cost / extra initial cost of the iPhone? :o)

    "Free" by Chris Anderson - available... free!

    Living by what he's writing, Chris Anderson (of The Long Tail fame) has written a new book, "Free" and made it available via Scribd for nowt:

    FREE (full book) by Chris Anderson

    Like the price... may like the content enough to pay the 'real' price too! Like this model of distribution!! Here's to 'free'!

    Friday, July 3, 2009

    Things I love about tagging

    I'm a bit of an online hoarder. I love collecting snippets of information, articles, news items, hints, tips... you name it... I want to put it in a little bag and save it. However, 'favorites' and 'bookmarks' and me don't really get along terribly well. I'm also a bit of a computer-floozy. I'll swap computer at will. As long as I have an internet connection and a keyboard I don't care so very much about the hardware that I'm using... so managing multiple instances of bookmarks is a pain in the backside. Yes, something like xmarks can be a useful add-on, but I still have to sort out installing that... and y'know what... I'm lazy. Something I can use on-the-fly really works for me... which is why tagging is such a handy dandy thing to do.

    So, what're the plus points of tagging?
    1. Categorise resources in the way you want to categorise resources
    2. No favorites folders! The same bit of information can have lots of different 'tags', no need to try to shoehorn it into one folder.
    3. They help you search and retrieve resources easily
    4. Those tags are shareable and subscribable... which means you can share what you find and keep track of what others find too
    5. Agree on a unique tag for a project / subject area and you can track all materials for that project
    Of the above, number 5 is one of the most useful, I find because it lets you do things like this:

    Using something like Friendfeed or NetVibes you can quickly add in the various RSS feeds for your tag of choice and... bingo... all resources in one place, no matter where they came from or who originated them. If you're using Twitter, just use a unique hashtag and you're away. Unique tags are also great for following what happens at conferences and can help create a vibrant backchannel for live comment and discussion. Have a look at the CommonCraft intro to Twitter Search for more detail... it's sure to fire off some ideas on how to use this stuff!

    I also thought it would be handy to quickly jot down some of the main ways of I use tags:
    • Aggregating resources for my own use
    • Aggregating resources (from a variety of sources) for projects
    • Pooling resources for a team (for example in the Educational Development Unit at NTU, we use the tag NTUEDU on Delicious to pool any elearning-related links we find)
    • Creating a backchannel for an event using a unique tag
    • Subscribing to specific tags to follow what's happening in that field
    Will try to add more to the above as they come to me.

    PS Am I very sad for my tag-love?! :o)

    Thursday, July 2, 2009

    Communities of reciprocity and Twitter

    Just seen the following on the BBC website...

    BBC NEWS | Technology | Twitter followers 'can be bought':
    "Twitter users who lack an audience for their messages can now buy followers.

    Australian social media marketing company uSocial is offering a paid service that finds followers for users of the micro-blogging service."
    Oh, good grief... buying followers? Hmmmm...

    Actually, this has got me thinking. There seem to be three main ways in which Twitter is used:

    1. Those who see it as a consumption-only medium: happy to follow but rarely contribute directly... primarily following celebs etc
    2. Those who see it as a community of reciprocity: sharing, retweeting and commenting
    3. Those who see it as a broadcast-only medium: collecting followers, but rarely interacting with them... primarily using it as a means to transmit their message

    There are people who seem to flit between the three main groups above but I think that people / organisations tend to broadly fit into one of the above. I suppose there's a fourth way in which it's used - as a 'because others are using it' choice. However, these people rarely if ever post updates or add followers and eventually the account lies dormant and the service is declared 'pointless'. For me, however, the way it works most effectively is in the middle - the community of reciprocity. You build up an idea of the person behind the account through the way they behave. The way they interact. The way they involve and share. For those people, a network can't be bought... it's sought out and / or earned.

    I was thinking that this idea of online communities of reciprocity relates to why online communities do or don't work as well. It's not enough to say that an online community is automatically a 'community of practice' just because someone has set it up to be so (I've attended several conferences / talks where the talk was of communities of practice and all they actually meant was that they'd set up some online forums). Without the recipricous element, it is a sterile place to be and the potential for longevity isn't (I would guess) as powerful.

    You can buy your Twitter followers if you want... it won't necessarily buy an engaged set of followers. I wonder how effective services such as uSocial will be and what the quality will be like for those who pay for it??

    Thursday, June 25, 2009

    VLEs and real learning

    Over on Learning with 'e's: Another nail in the coffin?:
    "Is this yet another nail in the VLE coffin, and should we now be looking toward more simplified, personalised learning environments based on individual needs?"
    ... some useful reflections on VLEs' worth or otherwise.

    I guess I'm a bit torn on this one. I use a VLE as part of my work and my studies. I support and develop others in their use of VLEs and yet I also see them used so statically, so badly, so linearly, so sporadically that they also frequently make me question their worth. I sometimes wonder if the drive to have an online presence is worth it, if that online presence is only going to be an online document dumping group? So often a VLE becomes a place to put all the PowerPoint slides which have already bored your students in their face-to-face lecture (Mann and Robinson, 2009). Where is the educational worth? Where is the research that shows how effective and enhancing a VLE can be? Where are the models of really good VLE practice which can be adapted and adopted as with effective face-to-face teaching? Would you think a VLE was a good thing if you were a student and all it ever did was bung online the things which have already bored you once? Would you want to engage with it further? Would you rather go elsewhere?

    VLEs are often packed full of 'worthwhile' tools. But, institutional VLEs can take on an appearance of a kitchen which, while having some useful equipment, has become filled with the kitchen gadgets you buy because you think you can see a value in them (fondue set, avocado slicer, icecream maker, cappuccino frother etc)... but actually, they sit and moulder at the back of the cupboard. More useless than useful. We describe the various bits of a VLE as 'tools', but in reality, we don't want to use 'tools'. We're not bashing together bits of furniture... we're after creative spaces for learning and thinking. "Tool" is a hard word. A working word. A functional word. It's awkward and not terribly aesthetically pleasing. Deep learning can be a soft, woolly, wonderful, messy, exploratory, meandering thing. How do virtual learning environments really encourage that sort of learning?

    The VLE concept - a safe space where we get on with learning - sounds like it works and should work. But our online lives aren't like that. Where physically we attend (or used to attend) physical spaces our online world is free of the constraints of requiring a physical presence in a single location... and yet... the VLE seeks to provide us with that constrained world again. It jars. VLEs don't have to be used in that way. Learning doesn't have to be like that.

    I don't know whether the VLE is having nails hammered into its coffin as Steve suggests in his blog posting... but... summat's up with it all. Technology should be enhancing and empowering. VLEs, so often, are not. I don't know if blame lies with the VLE or with the culture in which it sits? Change is happening amongst learners, society, cultures... everwhere. What happens if we don't find ways to be creative, to support and exist with that change? Will we look back at VLEs in a few years time and say 'did we really think that was the way to go???'

    Wednesday, June 24, 2009

    Multiple-personalities and making connections

    The Ed Techie: Riffability and MPO:
    "Of course, many people do this very well at the moment, and some environments (virtual worlds in particular) actively encourage a separation of 'real' identity and online one. My conjecture is that it will become the norm, and take place in more publicly social spaces. And it is likely people won't stop at two identities, but have many. When you add into this that people find you in different spaces and so may have one facet of your personality exaggerated (eg if you follow someone in LastFM but not twitter, you would have a different impression of them), then defining what exactly is 'your identity' becomes increasingly difficult."
    As ever, an interesting one from Martin's blog. I understand what he says about the difficulty of understanding your identity from contact from just one account... but I tend to think that that's just life... and is like everyday life generally. We only know people from the particular contact we have with them. Work colleagues. Neighbours. Friends who share a leisure interest. Family. We see that facet of them. In many ways having lots of online versions of you is better because should you want to track down a more complete version. The 'you' who likes taking photos and appears on Flickr. The 'you' who communicates with old school friends on Facebook. The 'you' who connects with professional colleagues on Linked-In. The you who shares resources and snippets of communication on Twitter. This isn't a new thing, it's an old thing in a different space. Are you the same person in the pub with your friends as you are during a committee meeting? Are you the same person chatting about your kids as you are talking about your projects? Nope. The ones who have been able to act and be the 'right' version of them in whichever space they find themselves tend to be the ones who cope best. Online, offline. Real, virtual.

    PS I think the more identity-savvy are aware that there is an additional ease of traceability and jigsaw assembly of your online personality than there is your face-to-face one. Maybe it's not the multiplicity of personality which is new or heightened, but is instead the ease of making connections between your multi-faceted life which has changed?

    Thursday, June 18, 2009

    The copyright dance and making a video

    Often people post resources online and I think "Oooooh, that's good... I wonder how they did it". Well, I thought that I would share some of the stuff I put together about creating the copyright-happy video I did recently on RSS but also give it a bit of a copyright-aware focus too. The RSS stuff I presented recently at work (in front of the Uni's librarians - who will jump on you at even a whiff of a copyright infringement) and at the time I heard a few murmurings about whether or not I'd infringed copyright by including audio and images... and the answer was... no.

    The way I did it was as follows:

    1. The audio is provided using the YouTube service "AudioSwap"

    More details of it are available on YouTube, but a quick summary of the service is that it allows you to replace or add an audio track with any item from YouTube's library of authorised music so that copyright is not infringed - a brief further explanation of this is available in the Copyright section of YouTube. Not only that, but it can look at the length of your video and suggest tracks of a similar length to make video editing extremely simple. Handy!

    2. All photographic images had a Creative Commons license and were sourced via Flickr

    Within Flickr you can easily search and find relevant images to use for a presentation, but one thing to be aware of is that if you just carry out a normal search you won't necessarily be pulling up images which have a Creative Commons license. Instead, click on Search and then select "Advanced search". Within the screen that follows just scroll down and find the section labelled "Creative Commons":

    Select "Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content" and when you carry out your search you'll find your search only looks within the millions of Creative Commons-licensed images on Flickr. Adhere to the Creative Commons' license and you're sorted.

    3. The video itself was created using free online tools

    The rest of the video was put together using a PowerPoint presentation I'd created (you could use OpenOffice for this quite easily if you wanted the 100% free version!) and then captured using a tool called "ScreenToaster". You can then save your video and upload it wherever you want. If you want to put it on YouTube, use the option to save as a .MOV file and upload that (as it's more reliable than ScreenToaster's "Upload to YouTube" feature.

    4. The full presentation I gave was made available on SlideShare

    The presentation included not only the PowerPoint presentation which I'd uploaded but also the video on RSS and can be found here on SlideShare. The advantage with this is that the service allows you to easily combine PowerPoints with YouTube videos with none of that horrible clicking between applications which so often happens when someone's delivering a presentation which includes a vid.

    Hope my little guide on how to put together a video which will keep the copyright bods happy! Okay, I'm sure someone will point out a flaw in the above, but y'know, a gal's gotta keep trying with this stuff don'cha know.

    For some far more reliable Web 2.0 legal wisdom, there's a great little checklist available from JISC Legal which you might like to take a peek at too!

    Twitter Search by CommonCraft

    New CommonCraft video on using Twitter Search...

    Great timing because I've just got to put together some information on Twitter and how it can be used. Gotta love internet serendipity!

    Friday, June 12, 2009

    Boredom x 2

    On my list of quotes to remember...

    Why do 60% of students find their lectures boring? | Education | The Guardian: "
    One of the main contributors to student boredom is the use of PowerPoint. PowerPoint slides are a powerful aid to today's lecturer, who can use it to easily prepare dozens of slides to accompany a lecture. And that is the problem - lecturers tend to prepare too many slides, pack them with too much information, and whizz through them in a manner that obliges students to spend most of the session attempting to copy copious amounts of text from the screen, while bypassing active processing of the material."

    Q. What's worse than a boring lecture, filled with PowerPoint slides?

    A. A VLE crammed with PowerPoint slides from a boring lecture.


    Thursday, June 11, 2009

    The price of 'free'

    ... and *ping* they were gone!

    All podcasts uploaded to Switchpod, gone in an instant... and because I only had a free account, no notification that this was going to happen.

    Ah well, being a mug, I've signed up to Podbean and will start again from scratch there. Obviously this time it'll all be different. *hollow laughter*

    A few questions. What would you do if your free Blogger, WordPress, Flickr, Google Docs / Reader etc site disappeared overnight? How much of a pain would that be? How much of an impact might it have? What if you'd encouraged students to sign up for those services and the work was to be assessed?

    What can we do to balance web 2.0 free-goodness with the reality that we're trusting something we have no financial stake in?

    No such thing as a free lunch, huh?

    Tuesday, June 9, 2009

    Potted Guide to RSS

    My quick guide to using RSS feeds... am still faffing about with it but wanted to test it out by uploading it here!

    I did do a voiceover for this - but since I have a chest infection, the whispery, cough-infested version wasn't great, so I replaced it using YouTube's very handy AudioSwap facility!

    Thursday, June 4, 2009

    Notspots and control

    Interesting one on digital exclusion...

    BBC NEWS | Technology | Need to tackle 'social' notspots:
    "The latest research from the Communications Consumer Panel, set up to advise government on broadband issues, has found that nearly three-quarters of Britons think broadband is vital to their lives. Not everyone in the country agrees.

    Some 17 million people in the UK - 30% of the population - are estimated to be offline because they simply don't want it.

    Some have opted out for economic reasons while others believe broadband has no relevance to their lives.

    It is a problem acknowledged by government, as it realises that social and digital exclusion are increasingly walking hand in hand."
    Worth tracking down the original report from the Communications Consumer Panel too if you've got time. Some of the stats and quotes make for interesting reading, but you gotta admit... the following doesn't really come as a surprise...

    "There is a continuing desire expressed in the qualitative research for people to control the technology (and not the other way around), and for a balance between technology and 'real life' to be struck."
    Ownership and control are important issues in terms of adoption of all forms of technology - whether it be educational change or technologies in the home. Will have another ponder on that article later!

    Things I discovered on the web this week...

    Another week... another trawl through Google Reader after I'd let it's aggregating goodness get on top of me so had to do a massively quick skim through. And here are the resulting finds:


    Monday, June 1, 2009

    Rev it up, baby!

    The Hype Cycle is in full effect!

    Google Wave and Microsoft's Bing (hate the name for some reason) are both hot topics at the moment in 'shiny-new-stuff-world', although the shine seems to be brighter where Google Wave is concerned. Here's Google Trends take on it in the UK over the past 30 days. You can see where both technologies appeared and the sudden whoosh of interest:

    Compare this to the Gartner Hype Cycle:

    Looking similar, no? Google Trends as Hype Cycle spotter? Will keep an eye on this as the flurry of Google Wave / Bing-related stuff settles into some kind of real understanding / use.

    I wonder if these cycles are getting shorter and shorter? Within a week or two, Wolfram Alpha is already old news. I suspect that there are different hype cycles which exist in different groups of Adopters: for the Innovators, the Early Adopters, the Early Majority etc. Twitter had been getting people interested long before the celeb-fuelled boom which has happened in the last 6 months or so... and just as those early adopters are questioning whether or not it's going to die a death.

    If we're in a time of exponential change, then how on earth do we ever like and use something long enough to really understand it?!?

    Wednesday, May 27, 2009

    Things I discovered this week...

    How to:
    PS I also discovered that I still think Susan Boyle is over-rated no matter how many people view her on YouTube!

    Tuesday, May 19, 2009

    The inevitability of inevitability...

    Just read this... which follows on nicely from my last blog entry...

    BBC NEWS | Technology | When the new becomes old:
    "Those of us who have been watched the network grow over the years need to make sure that we do not stand in the way of progress, that we do not act as if the way things were done in the old days of the internet should somehow be set in stone.

    We need to remember that the wave of creativity that the network has unleashed is crashing over the digital world just as much as it changes things in the analogue one, and we should not expect to escape the revolution."

    Yup. Hang on in there and enjoy the ride!

    Twitter bitter?

    Okay, this post isn't just about Twitter but it's about resistance to technology generally. I'm sure there must be a name for people who take delight in not knowing about technology. Take a conversation about Twitter. It typically goes:

    'Is anyone using Twitter?'
    *murmer as people say that they are*...
    *interjection from technophobe*
    'I'm not using it. It's weird and creepy'
    'Me neither. Can't see the point.'
    'I wouldn't use it anyway. Seems a bit sad'
    'I don't use Facebook either...'
    'Nor me. Nor blogs - what's that about?'
    'I don't have a mobile phone either'
    'I hate mobile phones'
    'I can't stand them. What's wrong with people these days? Why can't they just talk to one another normally.'
    'Pathetic really.'
    'Yeah. Pathetic.'
    *nod and smile*
    *nod and smile*

    There's something slightly odd about these sorts of attitudes towards technology. It goes beyond resistance I think - there's a delight in it which I can't get my head round. From the "social networking gives you cancer"articles which regularly appear to "twitter causes car accidents" and the like. I don't know. It's all a bit odd. Why take pride in the dislike of technology? I guess you get it in other areas, that pride in the lack of a skill or interest - "I've never read a book" would be a prime example. But, what is that about?

    What word captures it though? Some kinda Techno-FAIL with a teeny slice of schadenfreude chucked in for good measure... :o)

    PS The lovely John Connell came up with 'Twossers' which is joyous on lots of levels!

    PPS He offered the suggestion via Twitter... which is useful because a) it's funny, b) the twossers won't see it and c) I've put it on my blog which... oh... that's covered by b) :o)

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009

    Virtual technologies and university involvement

    A report says universities' use of virtual technologies is 'patchy' | Education | The Guardian:

    Worthwhile review of a report into universities' use of virtual learning in today's Guardian and there are some useful points made throughout about the boundaries between informal and formal online learning. However, it was the following quote which I noticed from Brian Kelly which got my 'questioning head' pinging:

    "'Facebook is the equivalent of students chatting in the pub after a lecture, in which case it's not for universities to get involved in that informal learning,' he explains."

    "the equivalent of students chatting in the pub after a lecture" - hmmmm... not sure on this one. I think there's more value in these informal systems than meets the eye. I've seen students from one of the Open University courses I work on (T189 - Digital Photography) take their studies way beyond the boundaries of the OU and continue developing their skills using what might be dismissed as 'informal learning'. You can find those students on Facebook. You can find them on Flickr. They set each other photographic challenges. They constructively critique each other's work. Share techniques. No, I'm not saying that the University should step into those locations to somehow make them 'official'. But it's not just chatter either. And it's certainly not a low-level informal piece of learning either. This is real, deep engagement with a subject. When are we going to recognise and value that? How are we going to recognise and value it? We don't create the definitions of what does or doesn't have value any more - students are carving out the places and spaces they want and need. We don't have to be directly involved to be involved... do we?

    Monday, May 11, 2009

    Principles for future VLEs?

    Just seen the following on Niall Sclater's Virtual Learning blog:

    Virtual Learning » Principles for future VLE/LMS development:
    "Principle 1: The VLE should facilitate easy online collaborative content development. The systems are not currently in place to make this easy – and they need to be enhanced.

    Principle 2: The VLE must recognise the needs of specific subject areas and business needs. Areas such as maths, languages and continuing professional development courses have unique requirements for displays, technologies and formatting which need to be catered for.

    Principle 3: The VLE must be able to allow access to a variety of users. Employer engagement in particular will require increasing access from outside the university and there are various other types of user which require access.

    Principle 4: We need to assess continuously whether we have the right balance between “control” and “freedom” in the use of the VLE by staff and students. A compromise needs to be reached between allowing users to have sufficient levels of access to VLE facilities and maintaining the quality of our learning content, activities and support.

    Principle 5: The integration of external tools will be continually evaluated. While the University considers an in-house VLE to remain essential there are facilities such as email provision which may be better outsourced.

    Principle 6: The OU VLE should be visible on a wide range of channels. All student facing systems should be accessible and easy to use on mobile devices as well as on desktop PCs and laptops.

    Principle 7: All textual content should be stored in XML format where possible. This will help considerably with repurposing for delivery on other platforms eg paper, e-books and mobile devices.

    Principle 8: Documentation should be good enough that course teams do not feel the need to write their own supporting notes around use of the VLE facilities. A proposed revised Computing Guide will address this issue which results in duplication of effort and the production of paper resources which go out of date quickly."

    It's missing a key principle and one which I feel is routinely diminished / ignored within Higher Education...

    Principle 9: Accept that the VLE is only one way of learning online, there are informal channels which we should not discourage students or academics from using. Content doesn't just have to be created by the institution to be a valid part of the learning journey.

    These principle are all a little too "VLE as sage on the stage" for my liking. Isn't 'guide on the side' where teaching is moving? Monolithic VLEs are not the sum of elearning. Why should it take on the role of Jack of all trades? Can't it work in harmony with the tools and services students are already using?

    Struck by a thought or so...

    Listening to a Webcast from the Open University on "The Net Generation" I'm struck again by how much time we spend trying to categorise and label technologies and usage of technology which are used innately by those who are the most active participants. It reminds me of David Attenborough, high on the African plain doing a softly worded piece to camera about the behaviour of the animals he's observing... all the while the animals in question are simply getting on with their own thing and merrily ignoring his insightful, considered words.

    The talk by Judy Caruso on the 2008 ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology highlights this, revealing some interesting attitudes from students. Not least that the things which might be counted as use by one generation aren't counted as use by younger students - 'just checking my e-mail', 'just sending a text' etc are not counted. It seems to me that so often use of technology in education comes from the outsiders' perspective. We're attempting to make policy and procedures for things which, regardless of what we come up with... will be used anyway. Come up with a policy on Web 2.0 usage in Higher Education and it's like trying to hold back a tide of use, collaboration and distribution which will continue whatever we do. Information Systems departments seem to try to cling on to the last vestiges of control in a world where the user can happily exist outside officially installed products, licenses and policies. Academics worry about the demise of the lecture, claiming that putting their slides online before a lecture (which would be of benefit to students) will mean students don't attend. But this isn't borne out in reality (ECAR, 2008). The fears of one group do not match with the reality of what's happening with another.

    I have doubts as to whether or not there is a "digital native", a net generation who 'gets this stuff' and, conversely, a group of outsiders who don't... but the consistent lack of real engagement with new technologies / communication channels by those making policy decisions is baffling. 'I haven't got time'. 'I don't get it'. 'But we provide a perfectly acceptable solution'. 'It's really not my thing' etc. I wonder when we're going to stop observing students' use of technology as if it came from an alien species and stop resisting the changes which are happening and will continue to happen. Me, I don't care if someone studying on one of my courses uses official discussion forums, Facebook, chatting to their mates down the pub... if they're learning. They're learning. And that's good... right?

    Thursday, May 7, 2009

    A little bit of knowledge goes a long, long way...

    One of the things which has been bothering me about Twitter lately (sorry if my blog seems a bit Twitter-ish these days!) is the number of spam followers which have been coming through to my mailbox on a daily basis.

    Well... look at the bit of detailed loveliness I just got to my inbox about one of my latest followers:

    Just enough to help make a quick decision and certainly better than the previous mystery package which was the old way of notifying you. The added "You may also block [whatever their name is] if you don't want them following you" is another nice touch and gives back a little of the balance which was lacking. Maybe the realisation that part of what makes Twitter work (or doesn't work) for individuals is having a network and being part of that network. Without a bit of participation, a fair number of people have been using the service long enough that they just can't afford the time to reciprocate the Twitter follow.

    On my 'stuff I like' (but realise I am nerdy for liking!) list. :o)

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009

    The Horrigan Tripe Cycle

    Just read John Connell's fantastic riposte to another shockingly-bad Baronness Greenfield-penned piece.

    A particular favourite extract from her piece:

    "A second difference in the young 21st-century mind might be a marked preference for the here-and-now, where the immediacy of an experience trumps any regard for the consequences. After all, when you play a computer game, everything you do is reversible. You can switch it off or start again. But the idea that actions don't have consequences is a very bad lesson to learn, when in life they always do.

    And in games the emphasis is on the thrill of the moment. This type of activity can be compared with the thrill of compulsive gambling.

    The third possible change is in empathy. This cannot develop through social networking because we are not aware of how other people are really feeling - we cannot pick up on body language when we are communicating through a screen.

    As a result, people could become almost autistic. One teacher wrote to me that she had witnessed a change over the 30 years she had been teaching in the ability of her pupils to understand other people and their emotions. "

    Isn't that just special? There's so much to unpick of it, it's almost hard to start... but never shy of a challenge... here I go...

    Firstly, "A marked preference for the here-and-now"- what utter, utter tosh. She's likening the consequences of particular styles of computer games with the preferences of an entire generation. Effectively writing off all other experiences with one swish of her pen. We've played games for centuries. If anything, many games these days allow for longer game play and a further delay of consequences - which, using her argument is a positive thing.

    Secondly, game playing as akin to compulsive gambling? Evidence? Links? Causality? Que? Also, what point is she trying to make? That the thrill is equivalent to the thrill of compulsive gambling? The emotive aspect of this is odd. She's not referring to gambling, but to compulsive gambling. The compulsion element is obviously there for a reason. Then, somehow the "thrill" of the two is the same. It's obviously, to her mind, qualitatively different to the thrill you might get from other activities. But how? Why? Or is it lazy writing to point score and set up the link in your average Daily Mail reader's mind as follows:

    "Hmmmm, compulsive gambling. Now, that's bad. I've heard it's an addiction. It can lead to the break up of relationships. Of families. It's damaging our kids. It's bad. And the thrill someone gets from that is the same as social networking. So... social networking must be additive. Which means... *penny dropping* social networking is the work of the devil!!"


    Thirdly, in this oh so special extract... her point about a lack of empathy from those communicating online because we're not aware of how people are feeling. I'm imagining that at some point during the last couple of decades Baronness Greenfield was involved in a 'being shut in a cupboard and cut off from all current research into online community' accident and is unable to track down any of the studies into just this area. "We cannot pick up body language when we are communicating through a screen"... unless you're involved in video conferencing... or using various other cues which are emerging to express emotion and feelings online.

    And lastly... the gargantuan leap to the final conclusion... "people could become almost autistic". Ta da! Based on her comprehensive research of "One teacher wrote to me". Y'know. That last one isn't even worth unpicking. It's too easy. I'm just going to let it stand on it's own.

    "People could become almost autistic"

    Thank goodness for "leading neuroscientists" showing us how to read situations correctly. *sigh*

    PS The reason for this post being called "The Horrigan Tripe Cycle" is that sadly, or maybe unsurprisingly, these are the attitudes I come across all the time in terms of resistance to technological change. There are several stages of this resistance:

    1. Ignorance
    2. Denial the new technology is important
    3. Observation of adoption whilst feeling increasingly out of touch
    4. Random accusations about the perilous consequences of adoption
    5. Grudging acceptance / grumbling in a corner periodically.

    Inspired by the Gartner Hype Cycle, I'd like to call this the "Horrigan Tripe Cycle". :o)

    Monday, April 27, 2009

    Boomers and generation gaps

    Interesting report from LexisNexis on their Survey into the Technology Gap.

    One to mull over...

    Right now, my head's still in holiday mode even though my body has put in an appearance at work.

    Thursday, April 16, 2009

    Guardian reveals insight into birds and bees...

    Nothing vaguely e-learningy to write at the moment, but I thought I'd share how pregnancy happens which I saw in The Guardian...

    Parenting qualifications for young people recognised | Society |
    "Sandra, 24, from Gloucestershire, did her first minor accredited course when she became pregnant at 17 after her youth worker referred her to the NCLP"

    So, to avoid teen pregnancy... don't allow your youth workers to refer you to the NCLP :o)
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