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)
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