Thursday, December 20, 2012

Free and the stuff that disappears in the night

One of the biggest frustrations with Google stuff (tax issues aside!) is this sort of thing:

Winter cleaning | Official Google Blog: "On January 4, 2013, we’ll be shutting down several less popular Google Calendar features. You’ll be unable to create new reservable times on your Calendar through Appointment slots, but existing Appointment slots will continue working for one year. In addition, we’ll discontinue two Calendar Labs—Smart Rescheduler (we recommend Find a time view or Suggested times as alternatives) and Add gadget by URL. Finally, Check your calendar via sms and Create event via sms (GVENT)—U.S.-only features for creating and checking meetings by texting information to Google—will be discontinued today, as most users prefer mobile Calendar apps."

Now, I know that free comes at a price.  And I know that for every 'free' tool you use online you should have a back-up plan.  A little contingency thrown into the mix.  But if your job is to see a tool for its worth in a learning and teaching context... and promote / support the way in which is might be used... and the rug gets pulled on the feature or functionality that actually makes a difference to people... then, going Google can be a frustrating experience.

No point crying over disappearing free stuff...
I guess some of it is because they're always concentrating on their core stuff rather than the extra faffy, sometimes experimental stuff... but unfortunately, it's that stuff that can be most useful.  So far, they've culled Google Notebook - which I found brilliant for online research; they're culling Appointments - which are fantastic for organising those one-to-many relationships where a group of people need to speak to you one-to-one; Gadgets disappeared from spreadsheets; Google search timeline went and support for Picasa on anything other than Windows drastically reduced.  Am sure there are others, but it is a pain.

Using free stuff is one thing.  Depending on free stuff or imagining it'll never change is another.  Maybe it's a nudge to us to continually look at what we're using and whether that needs a tweak too.   But one thing's for sure.  Imagining that that 'essential' tool you've found online is going to be there for the foreseeable future is going to leave you with a very sad look on your face!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

10 Ideas for using Google Sites in Education

Gotta love a bit of working together...
I was just creating a few bits and bobs for a workshop on Google Sites for collaboration and thought that it might be handy to share my '10 ideas for using Google Sites in Education'.  They're dead easy to use... no, they're not the most advanced, slick thing out there... but for sheer ease of creation and collaboration, they're a brilliant little educational tool!

Student-created discipline specific sites (what a mouthful!)
One of the best ways of knowing if you know something is trying to explain it to others, so why not use a Google Site to get your students doing that? For example, - brilliant site which shows the power of student collaboration and along the way improves students’ digital literacy as well as providing a great resource for prospective students

Team wiki
Create a Google Site to act as a team wiki with page templates to structure the content people put in and get them collaborating! You’ll have a living breathing dynamic wiki started in no time.

Club or society site
Belong to a club or society and want to promote it to others? Why not try a Google Site? You can embed a Google Calendar to share important dates of events as well as share files / photos / reports from the club too.

An example Google Sites ePortfolio, this one's for
Certified Membership of the Association for Learning Technology
Get students to create themselves an ePortfolio using Google Sites where they can use pages to structure the items they want to share and can embed media-rich examples such as video, audio, presentations etc, to demonstrate competence across a range of areas.

Research presentation
Have your students research a particular subject and get them to present their findings using a Google Site. They can include docs they’ve created, videos they’ve found as well as use pages to put their findings into their own words

Open online classroom
What about creating an online learning environment using a Google Site? If you want to collaborate between the university and the wider community, giving access to all parties can be problematic with standard virtual learning environments... but using a Google Site to share lessons / content / tutorials could be a great way to open up your classroom.

Departmental website
If you’ve got documents you’d like to share with a large group of colleagues, then sorting out sharing for all of them and making sure that they don’t disappear if someone leaves can be a problem. A Google Site, complete with page permissions to give authorship to the right individuals, is an excellent way of giving people a central place they can find out what’s what.

Help and support resources
Tired of answering the same question over and over from your students? Maybe a Google Site where they can easily find answers... and contribute their own as the course goes along... could be a great way of making life simpler for everyone. It doesn’t just have to be text, it’s easy to insert videos into your pages too.

Cross-departmental working
Students on French courses sharing work with Engineers? Chemists and Musicians? A Google Site could be a great way to get students from different departments sharing and for you to share content with them.

Online staff development
Finding time to attend a staff development event can be a complete pain in a busy schedule. A Google Site with resources which people can work through at their own pace is a golden opportunity for you to support others while demonstrating how useful online learning can be! What do you know about that others might want to know about? Could you get a group of people together to create a Google Site sharing their expert knowledge for others to work through? That could be the starting point for something excellent!

There ya go... 10 ideas for using Google Sites in Education!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Top 10 books to shape your TEL thinking...

Image by Eric Mueller, under a
CC BY-SA 2.0 license
Okay, so this is my top 10 (and they're in no particular order) and you may well have other books you rate... but here are some books which have really influenced my thinking / proved useful for reference when it comes to technology enhanced learning and I thought it might be useful to share them.

Rather than linking to book sales sites with each book, I've linked to related resources you might find interesting!  If you want to buy them - Google is your friend.

1.  John Biggs and Catherine Tang - Teaching for Quality Learning at University
I have many rant-worthy subjects which, if triggered, will be produced and put on display for the audience... not understanding that we are involved in the practice of educating and learning... and not understanding that we also have to model practices to others is one of those trigger points.  Understand processes of learning.  Understand learning design.  And if you're a learning technologist, working with academics / students, speak the language of learning!  Start here.

2. Rhona Sharpe, Helen Beetham, Sara de Freitas - Rethinking Learning for a Digital Age: How Learners are Shaping Their Own Experiences
Another of those books which gets across the learner perspective brilliantly - and gets you to challenge yourself with your own learning and teaching practices in the process.

3. Ormond Simpson - Supporting Students in Online, Open and Distance Learning
When I had not long started working for the Open University I picked myself up a copy of this book - and it was just SO useful to me supporting my distance students.  Now about to come out in a third edition, I still rate his learner-centred approach highly and the clarity of his writing is spot on. 

4. Malcolm Gladwell - The Tipping Point : How little things can make a big difference
Heard someone use the phrase 'the tipping point'? You probably have... and if so, then this'll tell you all about it. Why is this useful for technology enhanced learning?  Because spotting that moment when things tip from being 'just a few' to 'just about everyone' is part of the trick of seeing what needs support and where the potential areas for future development lie.  And understanding how you can influence that too is also important.

5. Chris Anderson - The Long Tail: How endless choice is creating unlimited demand
You can't avoid the technology bit of technology enhanced learning (nor can you focus on it too heavily, it should be said!), so why not understand how and why technologies become established?  It'll help you see where tech fits and get you to think about what might be just around the corner too.  It'll also help you think about the value of that niche you might just have ignored, but which was existing and thriving in the long tail.

6. Daniel Pink, Drive - the surprising truth about what motivates us
Now, this one may seem like a bit of a random recommendation, but I honestly believe that if you're going to work in any area connected to learning and teaching, you have to understand where people are coming from to help support them get to where they could go.  You want real engagement?  You need to get motivation.

7. Etienne Wenger - Communities of Practice - Learning in Doing
Another of my rant-triggers is people bandying about phrases without understanding them in anything more than a superficial way.  For a while 'communities of practice' was that phrase!  It is a really important concept when it comes to e-learning and learning support / engagement - and for getting your head into what learning is and where it might exist, blurring the boundaries between formal and informal education.  An influential work.

8. Jane Seale - E-learning and disability in higher education
Of all the things that technology can do, opening up the possibilities for accessing education / learning to a wide range of people is one of the most exciting things.  So, why not understand the landscape of e-learning and disability as well as pick up lots of hints and tips too?

9. Garr Reynolds - Presentation Zen
If you're going to work in Technology Enhanced Learning then communication is vital - and getting yourself some solid presentation skills that are going to get your ideas noticed, and your presentations appreciated should be pretty high up your list!

10.  Chip and Dan Heath - Made to Stick: Why some ideas take hold and others come unstuck
This kind of goes along with the presentation skills I mentioned with Garr Reynolds book.  Present ideas beautifully... sure... but present beautiful ideas which will stick and then exciting things can happen!  You have to be a salesperson for your ideas - and this is especially true in technology enhanced learning.  It's not necessarily the tech that's the biggest issue... getting people to get on board and to engage with your ideas... that's where the tough stuff lies!

There's not a great deal of tech there, I admit it... but what there is are books that will get you thinking.  Get you reflecting.  And provide a platform from which you can build your own practice.

And that has to be worth it, I think!

What would be on your top 10 list?


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Top 10 Power Searching with Google Tips...

I recently completed the 'Power Searching with Google' MOOC (massive open online course) and thought it would be useful for me to share some of the tips I picked up along the way... here goes...

1.  Image searching is far more useful than you might have realised
Searching for infographic CVs on Google
If you're looking for an example of a CV you'd just type 'CV example' into Google, right?  Well... what you might not have thought about doing was going to the images search and typing it there instead.  The reason this is great is it's a really quick way of doing a visual search for layout ideas... or diagrams... or visual explanations of concepts etc.  Brilliant for that!

2. Google search is not case sensitive
Y'know, I just didn't realise this... but it isn't.  If you search for 'NASA' or 'nasa', it won't matter - the results would be the same either way.

3.  But word order matters
Searching for 'green grass' and 'grass green' will produce two very different sets of results.  Think carefully about the order in which you enter search terms as this will affect your results.

4.  Using the site: operator can help narrow your results
If you're after results just from academic institutions then simply add to your search criteria (no space between site and the domain extension) - this can be a really great way of finding what other institutions are doing on particular subjects.  Equally, restricting it to will keep your results from UK domains etc.  Simple technique but very effective.

5. Using the filetype: operator can help you track down more than just pdf files
Did you know you could add in filetype:pdf and it would just find you pdf files?  Nor did I... but nor did I know that it could search for other file types which could be extremely useful.  For example, search for something with filetype:kml (kml are Google Earth files) and you'll be able to see your results in Google Maps - perfect for tracking down walks / routes to places even historical expeditions which have been mapped.

6. Search features can short cut you to answers quicker
Using the weather Search Feature in Google to
quickly track the fact that it's going to rain!
Want to find out the weather in Sheffield (it's rainy, by the way!)... just type in weather Sheffield and it'll come straight up.  There are a whole host of 'search features' which do things like this, from finding out the time in other cities to sunrise times in your holiday location to definitions, performing calculations, converting units, looking up health conditions and more.  There are tons of them which you may have noticed producing quicker results but not realised this was a feature... it is and it's excellent!

More search tools
7.  You have more search tools than you might realise
If you click on more search tools on the left hand side of a search window it'll drop down to reveal some more search goodies.  You can restrict items by the time they were published (which is great if you want to find out the latest news or blog posts on something or articles published within a particular period)... you can search for sites with images, for content at a particular reading level or even do a 'verbatim' search which will search for exactly the terms you want with no 'help' from Google.

8.  Google's translation functionality is superb
Yes, you can come up with some wonky translations but did you know you can search pages from other countries which have been translated?  It's in the more search tools section mentioned above so is straight forward to access.  Why would you do it?  Well, want to know what other countries are saying about the crisis in the Eurozone?  Want to know how an event was reported elsewhere to give additional context?  This is a terrific way to do just that.

9. Don't think like your query, think like the results you want to find
This sounds a bit mad, but actually makes sense.  If you're trying to find an answer to something you'd think you should type in the question but this won't necessarily get you what you're after - the search engine doesn't answer questions just finds results.  Instead think about what terms might appear on the pages you want and enter those as keywords instead.  Be aware that this might skew your results - so choose keywords with an awareness of their impact (i.e. searching for the place 'Londonderry' will bring up different results to searching for 'Derry' because of the political history attached to the name).  To include both terms in your results use the OR operator.

10.  Image searching is brilliant
Drag and drop an image into a Google search and
it'll find it on the web (if it exists there)
Yes, I know I've already mentioned this, but how many times have you come across images / diagrams where a student has referenced 'Google' as the source or (lazily!) said 'I don't know where I got it' (as if it just landed itself on their computer one day in an act of academic magic). If you save that image to your computer and then drag it into the images search bar - you can find other instances of it on the web and most likely track down the source.

There you have it - my top 10 'power searching with Google' tips (there were more than these and I bet I'll come back to this post and think 'why didn't I mention that?!').  If you've got a bit of time to squeeze in some new ideas, then explore Power Searching with Google.  I bet you'll get a few tips from that too!


Friday, July 20, 2012

Finished a MOOC!

Get me!  100%!  Okay, so probably
everyone got 100%... but even so...  :o)
Hooray! I finished my first MOOC!!! The Google Power Searching one which wasn't massively complex... and it didn't feel massively massive either!  It came in a pretty standard format. Watch a video... do some simple activities... repeat... do a mid-course test... watch video... do simple activities... do post-class test.

The thing is, I completed it. Which is more than I've done with any other. What was different about this one?

1. Well, the format was familiar. No, it didn't set the world on fire in terms of jamming in every technology under the sun... and no I didn't take part in the discussions (though I did look at a couple)... but it was straightforward.

2. It was genuinely useful. The search techniques are immediately transferable into practice and though a lot of it wasn't new, there were sufficient 'ah ha!' moments to make it worthwhile.

3. It was short. The sections were digestible. 6 x 50 minute sessions with videos which were anywhere between about 3 and 8 minutes long was perfectly easy to dip into. And the end was in sight quick enough for it to fit with everything else.

4.  I felt in control.  I didn't have to join in with the interactive bits if I didn't have time.  If I didn't even have to watch the main videos if I didn't want to - there were text alternatives provided which made it scannable.  There were no hurdles of forced participation and that worked for me.

For me, what makes a successful MOOC (so far)?

A format that isn't too complex, a tangible payoff from studying and timings / delivery which fit in with everyday life.  MOOCs that haven't worked for me have bombarded me with 'stuff' to the extent where I felt I was drowning.  Or encouraged me to join in with others and gave me activities which would require a hefty chunk of my time to complete and share (sharing something always makes you spend more time on it than you would do if you were on your own and didn't have to show it anyone).  Plus, if there are no bits which are transferable then you really *really* have to be motivated to stay on course.

Would I do a MOOC in this format again? Yup.

And I quite enjoyed it!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Audio feedback - some thoughts on 'A Personal Voice'

Image from Kenn Delbridge, available under a
CC BY-ND 2.0 license
Last Friday, the 29th of June, I attended an HEA symposium at the University of Leicester called 'A Personal Voice? The whys and hows of effective audio feedback'.  It took the form of a couple of workshops and then some presentations and discussions.

Which sounds simple enough, but when the workshops involve a group of people from a range of Higher Education Institutions coming up with Olympic themed-limericks and drawing pictures to illustrate... then you can see that it wasn't your ordinary event!  In fact, it was a whole lot of fun as well as being really engaging and thought-provoking.  Oh, and if you're wondering, the limerick exercise was a route into getting us to provide written feedback, reflect on that feedback and then have a go with audio feedback.  It also got everyone talking - and if in the future I run a staff development session and there are limericks involved, then the organisers of this event are to blame!  :o)

Our Olympic themed limerick illustration
In terms of the experience of providing audio feedback, each of the four groups used different technologies - from Jing to an mp3 recorder, Adobe Acrobat and - I think - the iPad app 'Explain Everything' (though I'm not 100% sure on this one, sorry!).  The experience of recording feedback in this way was fascinating.  Many people really struggled with getting started - there's a real anxiety about recording your own voice which is hard to overcome.

Our group were given Adobe Acrobat to insert voice comments on the 'script'.  The advantage was that this is a free tool and that it's relatively straightforward.  The issue for me, at least, was that it's seriously difficult to spot your comments once you've put them on a script.  And the interface isn't intuitive in the slightest especially when it comes to reviewing or even editing your comment (the edit function is non-existent).  Putting specific comments within the script also sounds like a good idea, but because of the lack of structure to this - where do students start when it comes to retrieving their feedback? - and the artificial fragmentation of breaking your comments into lots of short recordings was just a strange experience.  You lose the flow of your thoughts.  The temptation to be too curt is there.  And from a student's perspective, the ability to quickly scan through comments is removed entirely - without indexing of comments, using them as an ongoing reflective tool is extremely difficult.

When we reviewed the feedback given by the group using Jing, this seemed far better.  It felt like you were being talked through the feedback rather than just having it drop on you in individual chunks.  It also felt as if it were a slightly more natural experience for the person giving feedback too - though obviously since this wasn't me, I'm only guessing!

Things that came out of this workshop?  Don't script your feedback - it sounds dull and is dull to receive.  However, do structure your feedback - help the learner to find their way through it, 'I'm going to be covering three things, a, b and c in this feedback' etc are helpful.  It's useful to signpost which bits of the script you're talking about - with the mp3-only option this was particularly important since the script was not on-screen at the same time as the audio.  Additionally, talk like a human being and personalise where possible!

It was interesting to hear about the 'A Personal Voice' project and 'AUDIBLE' as well from Jennifer Beard, University of Leicester.  They looked at various aspects - Contiguity (in context vs out of context comments); Working memory (chunking feedback vs a single overall feedback file - presenting more material results in less understanding!); Personal vs. community experience (do you provide individual or group feedback?); Nuance (is it the way we say things or do we choose to say things differently via audio?).  It will be good to see the results of their work - some of the initial findings were shared and a couple of things particularly stood out.  Firstly, the fact that distance learning students didn't prefer audio feedback to written, especially compared to on-campus students who liked it far more.  Secondly, students didn't just want icing on their feedback cake - they want sprinkles too... audio feedback is one thing but they like audio and written feedback.  The fears of workload overload loom large, I fear.

After Jennifer came Warren Kidd who presented on his experience of using audio to deliver feedback to trainee teachers at the University of East London with 'Why haven't you written on my work?'.  He's an engaging speaker and it was interesting to hear him say that he goes for a structured rather than scripted approach (confirming the earlier thoughts during the morning's sessions).  Things to consider when thinking about structure:
  • What is the purpose of recording?
  • How long should the recording be? (theirs were around 3 - 4 mins)
  • How should the recording start? ('Hello this is x giving you feedback on y, you may wish to have your assignment with you during this podcast etc..')
  • When should the grade be disclosed? (they elected to do this towards the start of the feedback with the normal caveat about the grade needing to be confirmed by exam boards - randomly placing the grade was artificial and unhelpful)
  • What is the relationship between what you do or don't write on students' work?
He said his workflow involved jotting down a few key points as a skeleton and using those to guide his feedback.  Helpful and practical advice!

Warren also spoke about getting over the scariness of the mic through his work with producing podcasts prior to giving audio feedback (you can get a flavour of his podcasts on his blog) - how to get people through that particular issue is something to reflect on, I think.  He emphasised the importance of giving feedback rather than feed forward and viewing the audio feedback as a form of personal tutorial.  Although they have an anonymous marking policy, they were able to adapt this to reveal the students' identities after marking - so, scripts were marked anonymously, but feedback given slightly later with identities known.  This really helped them give that personal feedback and the feeling that students were being talked to as individuals.  Warren played an example of his audio feedback and it really was great to have the opportunity to hear this.  He recalled having seen - through chance - his student receiving their feedback and seeing them nodding along in agreement, then later mailing him to thank him for helping them understand points they'd previously just not grasped.  It clearly is an engaging format for learners.

More drawing and limericks in workshops from
now on, I think!
Questions I came away with, however... is it the fact that this is forcing practitioners to think about what is the purpose of feedback and how it fits into the curriculum which makes the difference?  Or can we honestly say that it is the audio format which is the key?  As someone who's used to providing a very conversational and personalised form of written feedback I didn't really recognise some of the issues which were presented about written feedback. It was interesting to note that no staff development work on feedback was done prior to the research from the University of Leicester.  If you haven't controlled for that variable in some way, then how can you know that it was providing feedback in either audio or written form which made a difference?  There are always better ways to do things - and feedback in audio form doesn't automatically transform into being 'better' simply because of technology... just as feedback in written form doesn't instantly become 'worse'. The elephant in the room about the ability to provide meaningful, useful feedback / feedforward in whatever format just didn't get addressed. 

Also, viewing feedback as being 'conversational' simply because you could hear the conversation doesn't mean it is a conversation if the participant is given no voice.  In other words, it's still mono-directional in a way that a personal tutorial isn't.  

Finally, if you're looking to audio as a way to make the marking and feedback process more efficient / easier, then I don't think you'll find that it is - especially if there's still a need to provide written feedback too.  If anything, the workload seems to be expanding!  This is definitely a point to ponder further!

A really interesting and valuable day - many thanks to the organisers at the University of Leicester!


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

10 Tips for using images in presentations

Have just got around to uploading a few bits and bobs to SlideShare and thought that it might be handy to share the '10 tips for using images in presentations' slides I did. They're dead simple...

1. Fill the screen for more impact
Using a small image can be okay sometimes, but for a really punchy slide filling it with the whole of an image can work brilliantly - it not only helps you emphasise your point but keeps you from jamming on too much text (which just won't be read)

2. Make sure your image leaves enough space for the text
... so, when you're looking for images to use - keep that one in mind!

3. Don't use clipart
... well, not if you can help it. It's kinda stuck in the 1990s and looks amateurish. It can be okay if you edit the clipart so it fits in with your overall style for the slides, but generally best to avoid

4. Avoid busy images
Too much stuff going on in the image makes it hard to read any text over the top - if you *need* to use *that* image, then consider using a slightly transparent fill behind the text / applying a little bit of shadow to the text to help it stand out.

5. Avoid pixelated images
The normal culprit here is using an image which either isn't high enough resolution or is too small and you stretched it to make it larger on the presentation. Don't! Find good / appropriate quality shots and use them instead. Pixelated = poor quality.

6. Work with your colour scheme
Don't have a colour scheme? Get one! You can search for particular colour images in and finding something that complements what you're trying to do with the design of your slides is really what you're after. The exception here is if you're deliberately using the colour to make a point. I might use a darker image to create a particular mood then contrast that with one with bright blues and greens etc to open things out again. Whatever you do, think about the impact those colour choices have on the message you're trying to get across.

7. Avoid cheesy shots
Stock images with smiley models posing awkwardly? Not so much! Don't be too literal either. I remember seeing a presentation one time where every point was illustrated with a literal image. Where they talked about 'building bridges' - up popped an image of a bridge. 'Reaching out to students' - there was an image of someone reaching out. It's just a bit... well... awkward... and in the end takes the emphasis off what you're trying to present!

Everyone likes a little bit of sparkle in their
presentations... right?
8. Don't let the image dominate
Remember, this is a presentation which *you* are giving - the images are like visual punctuation. They can help make points, they can emphasise or set a mood... they can illustrate... but they shouldn't take over. If the audience are mesmerised by the images you've used... they're not listening to you!

9. Use the rule of thirds
Actually, use basic design principles. Presentation Zen has a wealth of these that will apply perfectly to your presentation and the way you use images. Go... have a read. It really will help you get away from that boring bullet point style and get you feeling comfortable with using images to good effect.

10. Don't infringe copyright
This is SO important. Either get permission, use Creative Commons licensed images (in accordance with the license) or use your own shots. It's not hard to take okay shots and it'll keep you on nice safe grounds with your presentations. Equally, there are tons of fantastic images with a CC license that you can use.

As long as you're thinking about the images you use, how you use them and why... that's a much better place to be than just glueing bad images onto a bullet-point heavy presentation. Trust me on this one. :o)

Friday, May 18, 2012

MOOCing - First Steps into Learning & Teaching in Higher Education

First Steps into Learning & Teaching in Higher Education: 21 May – 22 June '12 | #fslt12 The Open Line mooc – HEA/JISC/Oxford Brookes University: "Welcome to the First Steps into Learning and Teaching in Higher Education massive open online course (mooc). The course will run from 21 May to 22 June 2012. This mooc is developed by the HEA/JISC funded OpenLine Project at Oxford Brookes University. Registration is open."

'via Blog this'

Had forgotten that I'd registered my interest in this... but... I have... and it starts on Monday... so... here goes.  Attempting to participate in a MOOC and actually do it this time around!

Come on brain cells... you can do this...

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Google+ Hangouts On Air for Education

Hangouts On Air enabled
Well, in the last few days, Google have been opening up the 'Hangouts On Air' facility within Google+.  What this means is that you now get the opportunity to stream your hangout live and have it recorded on YouTube - which is fantastic.

However... though I think Hangouts On Air for education could work well for sessions you want to be completely open - webinars are a prime example...  wherever you want your students to engage and discuss things in an honest, open - and sometimes vulnerable way... I'm not sure that the recording / streaming of a Hangout On Air outweighs the potential barrier that lack of privacy while the hangout is live would present.

Equally, it's also worth thinking about your institutional policy on the openness of your teaching? Does your institution allow you to broadcast to the rest of the world?  That's going to impact on this too... and is important to bear in mind!

Here are a few of the 'early days' pros and cons... am happy to be corrected / have others add things to this list.  It'll be interesting to see Hangouts On Air develop as a product and to see what Google prioritise...

  • Easy to use
  • Free
  • Readily available if you have Google Apps enabled for the campus
  • Can stream live to YouTube and reach a global audience
  • Can invite specific people to take part live - but have to do this ahead of going 'On Air'
  • Can share apps within the hangout (as with normal hangouts)
  • Recording made of the hangout which can be downloaded from YouTube
  • Can control visibility of YouTube video after the event
  • Can embed video within an institutional VLE
  • Can create screencasts using a Google+ Hangout On Air - you don't need an audience to hang out
  • Can edit the recording using YouTube's video editor - including annotation, closed captioning 
  • Can take advantage of Creative Commons licensing within YouTube for the resulting video

Copyright notice / participation agreement
on entering a Hangout On Air
  • Cannot limit the audience on YouTube when streaming - it's either public or public
  • There are extensions on Chrome which will allow people to 'find' your Hangout On Air easily too - and which further publicises your hangout and diminishes any privacy
  • Cannot share resources for which you don't have permission / have the copyright
  • Difficult to moderate comments on YouTube whilst running the session
  • Because when it's live on YouTube it's public, random strangers can comment on your Hangout On Air
  • Learners might be put off participating because of the public nature of the Hangout
  • You can't kick someone out of a Hangout - only block them
  • If the URL of the Hangout On Air is shared then anyone with the URL can join even if they weren't invited
  • As the broadcaster, you have to take responsibility for others copyright infringements

Useful further resources:

More on Copyright in Hangouts On Air

Commons questions about Hangouts On Air

Hangouts On Air - Terms of Service

Final thought:

Hangout On Air live and public on a Google+ stream
I think that Google+ Hangouts which you can limit to very specific groups - circles and individuals (or even an institution) will be a more comfortable informal learning environment for now... unless Google allow a finer control of the live audience for Google+ Hangouts On Air.  The advantage of built in recording and integration with Google Apps sites really makes Hangouts On Air a very attractive teaching tool... but since part of learning is about admitting what you don't know and experiencing failure - I think that having a 'safe' environment in which that can take place is vital.  Google+ Hangouts On Air aren't that space at present while Google+ Hangouts can be.

It takes a brave person to learn in public.  It takes an *extremely* brave person to learn in front of a potentially global audience!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Technology in the classroom? Always a good thing?!

Getting out of the box:

"How to teach the so-called soft skills demanded of tomorrow's workforce - creativity, problem solving and the ability to work in teams - is a conundrum preoccupying educators. Once upon a time, schools prepared the workers of the future for the industrial age, according to leading British education expert Professor Stephen Heppell. Children sat in rows with the teacher at the front of the classroom. The teachers had all the answers; they were the sole purveyors of knowledge. Students absorbed what they were taught and regurgitated it in tests. After graduation, they worked in factories that mass-produced hubcaps or they joined the typing pool. Ingenuity was not particularly important. But while such schools may have worked in the 1950s, Heppell says the third millennium poses new challenges. The internet means children have access to more information than ever before. Teachers are no longer the font of all wisdom."

'via Blog this'

Just read this interesting article on a primary school in Australia which Microsoft have declared a 'mentor school' because of their use of technology.  On one level, it sounds fantastic.  All those kids engaged in their learning.  Brilliant.


... I don't know - there's something about it that makes me feel rather uncomfortable. Too much of a 'good' thing? The quote 'Education extinguishes the skills that you actually need in life' might be true, but why do they feel that exposure to technology which will be hugely dated by the time those children enter their independent adult life is the solution, I'm not sure. Imagine if there had been the insistance that all learning for children in the early / mid 1980s was mediated through BBC Micros (and I know there was some, but the cost of the kit prevented it from being ubiquitous in the curriculum) - those weren't the skills that would have been useful now. Encouraging the skills of curiosity, a love of learning, the ability to reflect and challenge - those are surely key skills which haven't changed?  There is so much time for children to get to grips with technology - and so many different avenues in which they can.  But, instead of thinking about face-to-face social skills and how to nurture those, their faces are instead turned towards a screen of some sort.  They're going global before they even know that *they* exist as an individual in the world.

As soon as someone points to the iPad / [insert name of other hot shiny technology] to enable learners to become 21st Century citizens, I think how we would have laughed in the 1990s if someone from 1912 was declaring that they had found the key to being a 20th Century learner.

It isn't the thing, it's the thinking we should be focusing on.

Friday, April 20, 2012

RSS feeds from tagged items on Delicious

In the good old days, you used to see RSS feeds all over the place for Delicious.  The subscribe option was at the bottom of just about every page.  But then... they disappeared.  And all of that aggregating loveliness disappeared.  Yes, you still get an RSS feed for your personal Delicious bookmarks and that's easy to subscribe to - and of course you can subscribe to other people's RSS feeds too. However, one of the very nicest things about social bookmarking is... well... the social bit.  And subscribing to a particular tag from all users is just not easy at all.

I'll just go back a step and answer the question 'Why would you want to do that?' before I waffle my way into oblivion.  Well, subscribing to a tag rather than an individual is perfect if you have a team that's constantly finding useful resources on the web and they're all linked in some way - just ask them to tag them with whatever they want plus your unique tag and you can happily bring all of them together to share with others.  It doesn't matter who's saving it, you can bring it together with a unique tag.  For example, in the past I've used the tag 'NTUEDU' as a unique tag and asked anyone at Nottingham Trent University to tag resources they saved on Delicious with that tag.  What I could then do was say to other people 'this is what we're interested in, this is what we think are good resources about learning / technology' and get them to subscribe to that link or bring them into places like NetVibes.  Equally, you can use services like to tweet a link that's been saved to Delicious from any user - provided you have an RSS feed for it.  Or use something like Google Reader to find out if anyone's using a hashtag to save resources for a conference you're going to attend.

However, those RSS feeds for tags saved by multiple users disappeared from Delicious a year or so ago that makes trying to do the above things kinda frustrating!

But, I've just been tinkering about with setting up a new NetVibes page and wanted to share what items are being saved from me and others which relate to our work.  Easy.  Just aggregate the things people are saving with a unique tag.  Ah.  Problem.  The missing RSS feeds.

I tried to track them down.  I spent a while messing with to create an RSS feed from my searching for the tag I wanted on Delicious.  And it worked.  But mangled my head en route with all those {%} doobries, extraction rules and the like.  And it just doesn't seem like an easy solution.  But it is one way around it.

However, after doing that, I did a bit more Googling to find out the back story to the missing RSS feeds and spotted this from someone else:

And the lightbulb moment happened. 

Just change that end bit - and there's your RSS feed.

If the tag you want to aggregate is 'elearning', your RSS feed would be

With that little RSS feed you can then aggregate, auto-tweet, auto-save, easily share and really use some of the benefits of social bookmarking.

Oh, and if you prefer to use Diigo for your social bookmarking, then you can do that, but set up the 'Save to Delicious' function in Tools, and it'll automatically push your bookmarks, complete with tags, to Delicious.  To be honest, this is the option I do because I prefer Diigo, but have always like the RSS-ability of Delicious!

The final RSS treat I discovered on my RSS traipsing was a list of all the RSS Feeds for Yahoo services - I accept this is a little nerdy, but if you like your RSS and like squishing it together with other services / tools, then it's useful to know what else is readily out there.

And here endeth my geekish stuff for the week!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Google+ Circles in Plain English

Of all the things about Google+, one of the things that took me longest to get my head around was Circles.  They just didn't intuitively make sense to me.

However.  The penny has finally dropped.  So, if you're not sure about how a Google+ circle works... this is as simple an explanation as I can manage!

1. Circles are a way for you to organise people you're interested in and to restrict the audience for your posts
2. Putting someone in a circle allows you to follow their public posts

3. It does not mean that if you share something with the circle you've put them in, it'll appear in their stream
4. They can see what it is you shared if they happen to visit your profile
5. For it to appear in their stream, they'd have to have you in a circle too

6. Remember... a circle is not a lasso that you throw around someone else to yank them into a circled conversation!

And that's about it!  Circles have to be mutual for there to be conversation, otherwise all you're doing is following someone's public posts.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Ten ways to use Google+ in Education...

Google+ is a funny thing.  Just the other day, Google were saying that the service had over 170 million users with 100 million of those active in the previous month.  And yet, if you've thought you'd have a go yourself, it can feel eerily quiet.  Well, I've had that experience too and at first found it extremely off-putting.  Add into the mix a confusion between my personal Google account and the university Google Apps account I've got, well... let's just say it took me a while to get my head around it!

However, because I think that as learning technologists it's our job to see the potential in things and to explore them fairly and fully - I persisted.  And I have to say that I'm glad I have.  So, I thought it would be helpful for me to share ten of the ways I've used Google+ which have helped me to find a role for it in the portfolio of online tools I currently work with.

1.  Sharing curated content with comment

Link shared with comment on Google+
One of the advantages (or disadvantages, depending on your perspective) of Google+ is that you can't auto-publish content to it.  This means that rather than feeling spammed you know that every item involved someone thinking about the way it was shared - and that's a good thing.  Because there's theoretically no limit to the number of characters (although I believe it's around 100,000) people can use to comment on a link, it means that you can get the context of whatever's been shared and it can help open up items for further discussion and sharing.  Overall, it boosts the quality of what's there and means that dipping into Google+ is more likely to pull up something useful.

2.  Sharing with a very specific audience

Photos of our new offices, shared only with the team
While it's easy to send out an email to multiple recipients, it's very easy to share with specific groups in Google+.  You just create a circle with those people in it, and then whenever you want to share something with them, you chose that circle as the audience.  It means it goes only to them and for things like shared images / video, you don't open them up to the world or weigh down someone's inbox.  For example, when I took some photos of our new offices, I knew only my team would be interested - so I uploaded the photos, shared it with my 'Learning Technologies Team' circle - provided they had me in a circle, it would appear on their Google+ stream.

3.  Carrying out asynchronous interviews online

Interview via Google+ with David Read, April 2012
There are lots of ways of interviewing someone.  In person.  On the phone.  Via Skype.  Via email.  But what about Google+ too?  I've recently done an interview with David Read - one of our teachers from the English Language Teaching Centre at the University of Sheffield - on his experience of being at the Google Teachers Academy UK.  And since he was away from the university and I was working from home, but neither of us around at the same time, that left us with my emailing a list of questions to him.  Or... using Google+.  So, I posted a message on Google+ with just David as the audience (you can share with individuals as well as with circles / making things public)... and away we went.  Easy.  Like chat but asynchronous.  If we had wanted to chat 'face-to-face', then starting a hangout from the post would have been just a single click away.

Starting a hangout from the original interview post

There are lots of other ways that using circles and Google+ posts could be used - especially for small groups.  If you were wanting pairs of students to work together, then getting them to use Google+ is an easy way of having them chat to one another - and keep their work private too.

4.  Setting up a Google+ page for an interest group

The Learning Technologies at the University of
Sheffield Google+ page, April 2012
Whether this is for a class project or for a team - setting up a Google+ page is like creating yourself a mini web presence in just a couple of clicks.  You can have Hangouts with 9 other people, you can share links and ideas, photos, videos - but unlike an ordinary web space, you get the ability to control what content goes to which audience with the use of circles.  You can have multiple people manage the page too, so as with the Learning Technologies at the University of Sheffield Google+ page which I recently set up, it's not only proving to be a great way to have additional places for people to chat about learning technologies - but having multiple managers means the responsibility for looking after the page doesn't fall entirely on one person's shoulders.

5.  Sharing content... and seeing where it went

Ripples for a public share on Google+
Ever wondered what happened to something you shared with others?  On Google+ if you share something and it gets re-shared by someone else - that's what's called a 'Ripple'.

Well, those ripples can go pretty far and wide - and it's fascinating to see how something went viral.  And even for things that got shared with only a few people, it's still great to see where things went.

6.  Creating a form in Google docs... then sharing it with a Google+ circle

Sharing a form with a Google+ circle from within Google docs

The integration of Google+ with other Google services is one of its strengths and if you've created a form in Google docs recently, you may have noticed a little Google+ share button at the top when you've been editing.  It not only means that you have another way to share / promote things like surveys, but that you can quite finely control the audience by using circles to control who it goes to.  For example, a staff survey going only to particular members of a team or a sign up sheet going to certain students.

7.  Taming the information flow

Drag the slider to allow more or less content from a particular circle
to appear in your Google+ stream

One of the problems with social media - Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr etc is that sometimes it can feel like the information flow is less of a flow and more of a torrent.  Well, not only is the curation on Google+ one built-in way of controlling that flow, but once you've sorted out your circles, you can then adjust how much content from people in that circle appears in your stream.  From everything to nothing.  That really helps to put some of the control back in your hands.

8.  Sharing connections with others

Sharing a circle with other people
Why would you want to do this?  Well, if you want to recommend other people to follow, then sharing your carefully curated circles (and that's the trick - make sure you think about how you're grouping people) can really help people make connections and find relevant and interesting people.  If you've got a circle for your team, group or class - then sharing it with a colleague is just a click away.  If you're setting up groups for an activity, create them as circles, then share the circles.  Simple!

9.  Collaborating with others

Creating a hangout based on a shared item in your Google+ stream

Hangouts are fantastic for collaborating.  Where 'hanging out' is the very Google+ specific hanging out.  So far I've used them to remotely participate in a meeting and to collaboratively author a document with a colleague (Google docs is well integrated into Hangouts).  The possibilities for small group work are vast and whether you want to create hangouts on the fly or off the back of particular discussion topics / at prearranged times, the fact that they're so well built into Google+ makes them very straightforward to use.

10.  Using unique hash-tags to aggregate content and discover related items

Searching for the #cicsltt hashtag on Google+

I'm a big fan of hash-tags for tagging and aggregating content - whether that's on Twitter or on services such as Diigo or Delicious, tagging is a powerful thing.  And on Google+ it's fantastic for tracking your content, not least because when someone re-shares something you've created (and tagged), they can't edit that content and the tag travels with it - which again, means that you can find what's happening to your resources.  You do that by searching for the hash-tagged items - and then save those searches for future reference.  If you're working on a project and want to bring together items from multiple sources, getting people to use a unique hash-tag is the way to go.  We use the hash-tag #cicsltt (CiCS Learning Technologies Team) for our Google+ posts - but I also tag things with #elearning or #edtech in case other people are searching for those terms - it means our content is more likely to be discovered.

So, there you go.  Ten ways of using Google+ in education.  How are you using it?  Have you got to grips with it yet?

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