Wednesday, June 23, 2010

OU Conference - a spot o' reflection

So, over the last couple of days the OU's Annual Learning and Teaching Conference has been held.  Normally, that would involve schlepping to the OU's campus in Milton Keynes but this year, the conference was organised by Martin Weller and ended up online instead.  Using a handful of 'rooms' in Elluminate, the programme involved both internal and external speakers and the opportunity for a moderated discussion after each session.  At this point, I should say that I was one of the moderators so there's going to be a tadette of bias creeping in soooo... y'know... pinch o' salt and all that good stuff.

Anyhoo... here are a few reflections on the experience... 

1.  A great speaker is a great speaker no matter whether that's face-to-face or online
Wikipedia creator, Jimmy Wales had the closing keynote and I have to say he was excellent.  Engaging and interesting - and the discussion was full of great questions with which he engaged well beyond his allotted time.

2.  A bad speaker is a bad speaker no matter whether that's face-to-face or online...

3.  ... and when it's online-only, bad becomes terrible
With only bullet-pointed slides and a monotonous voice which cuts in and out, the chance of absorbing what's being talked about slips away almost entirely.

4.  It requires more dedicated concentration
Conferences using Elluminate seem to be far more concentration-intensive than face-to-face, which means that the chance to tweet about the event, or take questions from sources other than text-chat or voice diminish unless someone specifically has the task of co-ordinating external questions... that wider live engagement dips.

5.  Online conferences and open-plan offices do not mix!
I had such a struggle trying to follow the speakers when I was using a headset in the open-plan office where I'm based for most of the days.  On both days, I ended up leaving work a little early so I could get home and work using my own laptop with headset.  No-one seems to respect that you're 'attending a conference' if its online.  You're visible.  You're fair game.  Your concentration is broken.

6.  No chance of networking
Well, not in the 'just bumping into someone from so-and-so institution' or arranging to meet because there are no private / informal social spaces where that can happen.

7.  But a real chance of being able to engage with the speaker through moderated discussion
The fact that people didn't have to speak and could use text seemed rather liberating for many.  I know that at 'normal' conferences it can be intimidating to have the roving mic shoved in your face... well, none of that with Elluminate.  Far more equitable, it seems to me.

8.  I'd attend another Elluminate conference
There.  That one surprised me as I was a bit 'hmmm, kinda like face-to-face ones really'... but this one gave me the chance to attend without too much hassle, Martin's feat of organisation was outstanding and the technology (more or less!) behaved itself so that at least 95% of the time speakers could be heard and slides could be viewed.

PS  My main point is still number 1.  Presentation skills matter.  They really and truly do.

PPS If you attended, let them know what you thought about it!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

What if...

... today you wiped the slate clean
... today you didn't make excuses
... today you started the things you put off
... today you stood out
... today you explored
... today you created
... today you had fun
... today you stepped up
... today you took a chance

What if?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

CMALT ePortfolio

As it's (almost!) quietish at the moment at work as everyone else is buried under piles and piles of marking, I thought I'd have a proper go at getting together my portfolio for CMALT. Their portfolio submission form is currently a Microsoft Word document, which is fine... but an ePortfolio would be handy too. The CMALT FAQs say that people can use their own ePortfolios... so... to help that along, why not create one using Google Sites? It frees you from problems of a lack of openness of some institutional ePortfolios, is easy to use and... with the use of an appropriate template... becomes a cinch to complete.

Oh, and while I was at it, I created a CMALT ePortfolio template for Googles Sites and made that available. How to get hold of it is dead straight forward just follow these steps:

1. Use your Google account to create a new Google Site
2. Click Create New Site
3. In the templates section at the top, click Browse the gallery for more
4. Change the language to English (UK) using the drop down menu to the left hand side
5. Click Public
6. Type CMALT into the Search box and click Search
7. Click on the CMALT Portfolio which comes up, then in the next screen click Select
8. Name your site (make sure it has a unique name), type in the code they give you... then click Create Site

That's just about it! If you want to see a video of how quickly you can get it sorted or just want to see how it's created... then this'll help too:

The structure follows that given on the CMALT porfolio submission form, as well as including prompts and guidance from the CMALT Guidelines. One nice an' easy ePortfolio. Done. :o)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Blogging break and the power of online community

Just a quickie (am going to write a proper post later)... but just wanted to wave and say 'hello!'.  I've had a bit of a blogging break for the past month and a half.  My Dad died very suddenly a few weeks ago and my head has been a little empty of anything to say about technology or education or anything 'proper' for a while.  So... sorry for the blogging break.

However, I also wanted to record and reflect on what's happened in the weeks since he died because I did carry on being online in one form: photography.  I used my daily photo journal at Blipfoto to record my experience of loss as a way of trying to make sense of an extremely traumatic event in my life.  Somehow having an image to talk about was easier than trying to talk about anything more abstract.  The thing I found surprising and extremely moving were the comments left by people who looked at my journal.  Despite only having been using Blipfoto for the past three months, I was amazed by how supportive people were... many of whom who knew me only through my photographs and in no other context.  They not only shared images with me but wrote freely about their experiences, gave unconditional empathetic support - and encouragement to carry on just being however I needed to be.

It's unexpected, touching experiences like this which give me real hope for technology enhanced education.  Despite no face-to-face contact, despite there being no reciprocal expectation and with nothing more than the possibility of giving support... people wrote and shared from wherever they were.  There are plenty who say there is no substitute for face-to-face.  Well, I can see where they're coming from in many ways.  But, when for no other reason than they can... people connect and form supportive communities without ever needing to meet the other person... that's a powerful thing.
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