Jun 222009

Beloved by celebrities from Stephen Fry to Britney Spears, the social messaging service, with its limit of 140 characters, is now a global phenomenon and, as the Iranian crisis has proved, a powerful political tool

When President Barack Obama wasn’t concerned with swatting flies or wrestling with Congress last week, he had something else on his mind. Despite the political wildfire spreading in Iran, State Department officials were hamstrung by America’s difficult relationship with Tehran: they wanted a way to influence events on the ground without getting involved in them. And so they turned to the internet.

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Posted by Mohamed using ScribeFire

May 292009

Take a look

My (Suki Kaur) comment which I can’t appear to add on Lindsay’s blog site!

‘We’ who work in the front and back end of supporting academics to using such tools have ourseleves learnt through experimentation and are still building and establishing networks and thus see the benefits of collaborating in this more ‘public’ view. We should allow for students who may have established digital identities in other ‘social spaces’ to particpate in a communal blog setting on their course in a learning environment. I suppose I’d take the stance that not all are avid bloggers, but having the tutor instigate a learned activity in a communal blog will allow students the opportunity to ‘play’ with such a tool. I do think that reflection can be more effective if  feedback/comments is initially given timely; therefore be more meaningful and trigger further interaction. So I do agree that we should be soft on guidelines to allow freeflow but to maintain momentum and for it to be of value that some form of time/date window be set as we do with other assignment work. It does all depend on the nature and purpose of the blog – an e-portfolio type blog may have a longer life span than a discussion related blog. I do think blogs are a great developmental tool and provide deeper context/layers ofthe author(s).

May 222009

I had a great time at the College of West Anglia in Kings Lynn earlier this week. In part this was because I had a great bike ride over from March in the sun, and I can feel smug that my JISC-sponsored carbon-footprint for train plus cycle was 14kg rather than the 23kg it would have been if I had gone all the way by train.

Impressive number of bikes at Ely station

Impressive number of bikes at Ely station

In part it was because I stayed in a wonderful old Bank House in the old part of Lynn by the river. But mainly it was because the College has lots of lessons for us in its management of curriculum delivery and design with digital media in a rural area.

1.     I hadn’t considered enough the impact of differential broadband speeds and access in a county like Norfolk. Despite the Government’s aims for broadband coverage supply clearly impacts the ability of communities and students to engage fully with web-based tools for creative play and networking. Costs are either high due to a lack of competition or speeds are poor. This impacts informal and formal learning opportunities and their design.

2.     The College has a JISC curriculum delivery project called SpringboardTV. Ben Jackson is project managing ably advised by the Head of ILT, Neil Stapleton, and utilising the fantastic technical skills of Gary McConville. Some of the issues they need to contend with include the culture of using Web2.0 tools in FE and the ways in which those tools can enable effective integration, planning, scheduling and dissemination about SpringboardTV, their internet TV station.

3.     They reminded me that we need to engage more with an aggregator like netvibes, as we did with pageflakes on our HEA-funded Pathfinder, but they also made me reconsider a few things.

a.     How do we engage our broader community in our work with remote learners on MoRSE? For SpringboardTV this broader community includes staff and students not directly involved in programming but who may value engagement in creative arts and with digital media production. It also includes the community groups of Kings Lynn and beyond who may be able to plug-in, commission or be represented in programming. For MoRSE it includes our students on Placement and Fieldwork beyond our project students, and our Placement support teams, but also those industrial supervisors who will support our learners when they are off-site. As our critical friend reminded Tim and me earlier in the week, these people need early activity in the project in order to stick with the changes that we are introducing.

b.    How do we define and design key learning activities that scaffold student involvement and engagement in the project, and also in the reflective aspects of learning new techniques, either in the field or in industry? Here at DMU, Peter Taylor has been defining a University Certificate in Professional Development (for work-based learning). This new UCPD is focused upon structuring socialisation, conceptual and technical tasks that enable students to reflect on their application of theory in placement practice. Our students told us that this would be an added bonus to the year-out – formal accreditation, alongside a transcript, would help shape engagement in the project and also help students demonstrate what they had learned.

c.     In the curriculum delivery process, what are our governors (our rules or warning flags) that allow us to make changes when our delivery mechanisms go awry with students who may be operating on their own away from the University? With our students off-site and possibly away from us for a year we need to help our learners mentor themselves, or work with industrial supervisors, and thereby manage their transition to work and then back to study. We also need to design tasks and support structures that help students make sense of the delivery options thy have for engaging in, and making sense of, their curriculum. Enabling them to build PLEs may help. The key is an enabling environment and that is what Ben, Neil and Gary reminded me at SpringboardTV.

Theyalso reminded me that when people come to visit the food has to be top-notch, and the NVQ Level 3 Catering students didn’t let them down…

lovely chocolate brownie witha sweet meringue and raspberries

lovely chocolate brownie witha sweet meringue and raspberries

May 172009
Well here’s the thing, we probably have not got one or thought about one, but this is an opportune moment with the university considering a new web strategy from 2010 onwards for those with half an insight or inclination to offer up a killer application or a killer strategic theme that will give this university competitive advantage. What does competitive advantage mean? We are in a time of great technological change so firstly to me it inevitably involves finding an effective strategy for harnessing technology. In times of great technological change it is those organizations that are the first to find a successful application of new technology that will necessarily maximize their advantage and more importantly not be left languishing trying to recover lost market share as others forge ahead.

21st Century Education ?

There are no doubt people more expert on what competitive advantage may mean to this university. To me in this time of technological change, probably the most significant development is the way in which we can communicate and this is the strategic theme that should drive our thinking. Communication is integral to relationship building. By building good relationships internally and externally, a solid foundation is laid to advertise, sell, deliver and foster the core business of education. New communication technology will greatly enhance current campus based educational delivery, but here is the thing, there is a massive global market out there of workers and learners that do not need, do not want or cannot attend campus based learning and in the 21st century they don’t really have to.

Global Learning

At DMU we have the technological, pedagogical and subject specific strengths to deliver effective learning anywhere in the world (yes world).  Intelligent use of communication technology will allow collaboration with local and global employers to tailor learning to the needs of their employees. For programmes that do not have direct links with employers, with the world as your marketplace, programmes that have struggled to attract sufficient numbers will have a far greater chance of success, which will have the knock on effect of further developing research and knowledge in a particular subject area.

The Technology

The impetus for this blog post was initiated by my attendance of a workshop on Friday 15th May on strategies for employer engagement, hosted at the University of West England in partnership with Wimba,  providers of online interactive and collaborative technology for learning.  The main technologies discussed were live interactive web based classes and interactive instant messaging that affords the ability to communicate easily with cohorts or fellow teachers by text, voice, video or by sharing your desktop application over the internet.

Having used live web based interactive and collaborative technology to deliver a professional development  course on web 2.0 for teaching and learning last year and for enhancing MA students Internet research skills i am acutely aware of how powerful synchronous technology is to enhance learning at a distance and to how it promotes a positive emotional connection between students and the lecturer and between students themselves.  It is the core element  of the SCORE 2.0 model for distance learning (can be applied to face to face), which i initially developed when studying for my masters degree and is something i am working with colleague Richard Hall to develop in the future. My views on learning in the 21st century are well documented at my learnadoodledastic blog and in particular my views on synchronous learning which have special relevance for the purpose of this blog post.

Students that enjoy learning

I did not learn too much more at this event about the awesome power of interactive and collaborative technology to enhance teaching and learning, but what i did realize is that the killer approach to online communication is the use of SYNCHRONOUS TECHNOLOGY.   Live synchronous interactive classes are very powerful way to engage and support learners and are the key to delivering teaching and learning on a worldwide basis. Asynchronous tools such as blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, podcasts etc are all very good and useful for teaching and learning, but with synchronous learning the commitment to attend, the immediacy of feedback and the use of live voice technology are the key elements that build good relationships and provide the human emotional connection that will retain student interest.

For similiar reasons, but mainly for its wider use my nomination for killer application for DMU’s 21st century education strategy is the use of an organisation wide instant messaging system (integrated into blackboard if this is our chosen vehicle for managing and organising online learning and communication). It is easy low level instant communication that will immediately include all users into the system.  Demonstrated at the workshop was the wimba pronto instant messaging product which integrates into blackboard and facilitates quick and easy student support, quick and easy communication with internal and external colleagues.  By integrating into blackboard the infrastructure is in place to connect all DMU staff (admin and academic), students and invited external partners (employers, research groups, support organisations). Quick communication entails texting, voice or video conferencing  and application sharing if required. A very powerful tool for all those in student support positions within the university.

Synchronous Technology

My view is that this technology would probably be the most cost effective, widely used and easily accessible synchronous technology that would support an improved and effective DMU communication strategy and therefore be significant in gaining competitive advantage. I hope those involved in DMU’s forthcoming web strategy policy give it serious consideration. As stated previously I have identified communication as the primary theme and have extolled the virtues of incorporating under utilised synchronous technology.  In reality you need  a variety of strands and if communication drives our thinking then all the work involving synchronous technology needs to be underpinned by a learning network mentality which makes full use of broadcast communication tools such as RSS and sense making strategies such as tagging.

With an instant messaging system forming the backbone of a DMU communication strategy we can turn our attention to live synchronous interactive classes to reach far more markets than previously envisaged and massively enhance online teaching and learning strategies.  What is important to stress is that these classes are delivered using web conferencing technology. This technology apart from being used for interactive learning to smaller groups (15 about the maximum for a class), can also be used for one way lecture formats to literally hundreds of attendees, for online presentations, to deliver professional development sessions, for research collaboration, business meetings or for one to one drop in sessions. All with the ability to pull in documents, share web sites, annotate over documents, work jointly on documents together live – in fact all manner of things.


The workshop  on strategies for employer engagement was a useful session to attend but i was left in a schizophrenic state, rocking from excitement  at the massive opportunities of widening participation, enhancing student learning and support and increasing staff productivity by improving internal communication and sadness that in all likelihood, despite have a wide range of staff knowledgeable and in a position to take advantage, our institution like so many others will just be far too slow to realize how new business can be grown using this technology.  Highlight of the workshop was the contribution from Paul Lowe (who joined us live for the session from Sarajevo in a live wimba classroom).  It’s nice to see that someone has managed to see the strengths of using live interactive synchronous classes to deliver an MA in photojournalism where he and all his worldwide students literally if they wanted could conduct there sessions live from a beach of their choice!!! (it appears to be that they are usually in the middle of a breaking news hotspot). His eflections blog, gives you a flavour of how he thinks and what can be achieved.  His blog post on “how long is too long for synchronous sessions“, also makes interesting reading and gives an insight to what goes on in  a synchronous class.

I will endeavour to bring more information about online synchronous learning and communication in the future, in the meantime I look forward to any comments on this post and look forward to hearing from anyone at the university who wants to use this new technology to tap into potential markets far and wide and from anyone interested in my ideas to see how  we can move things on. Please email me at smackenzie@dmu.ac.uk if you want any further information.

May 152009

I have finally re-read the Report of an independent Committee of Inquiry into the impact on higher education of students’ widespread use of Web 2.0 technologies. From the report I am particularly taken by the following statements/outcomes, which have ramifications for our policy, practice[s] and culture[s]. I am especially interested in the connections between these areas as they impact our ability to re-define a radical pedagogy for empowering our learners, wherever they are on a continuum of engagement with technology. The key is making the world a better place.

1.    The impact of pre-HE pedagogies and technologies

This may be the single most important area that will impact HE practitioners. The report notes two key factors:

“Present-day students are heavily influenced by school methods of delivery so that shifts in educational practice there can be expected to impact on expectations of approaches in higher education”

“The digital divide, the division between the digital ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’, has not been entirely overcome and persists in several dimensions: in access to, and engagement with, technology; the capability of the technology; and in individual competence.”

Issues of marginalisation, disempowerment and disengagement by accident, status or design are still very real. They connect into Helen Milner’s recent work on social inclusion and digital technologies and her Next step for the digital inclusion manifesto. They are also impacted by the development and extension of the precepts within the Early Years Foundation Stage Strategy, which is in itself a manifesto for: inclusion; child-centred practice; productive, learner-defined and owned personal learning environments; a new politics of praxis within and beyond the classroom. The time is ripe for a reappraisal of the value[s] of Bandura, Dewey, Illich, Rorty, integrated with the work of Ronald Barnett.

As digital identities are developed and better understood, as libraries, community centres, social enterprises and schools extend coverage, and as access via mobiles broadens and depends, HE has a duty to ensure that its practitioners are not playing catch-up. This is especially important in the pedagogic cultures that drive programme teams, both in their definition and scoping of curricula, in their involvement of students-as-mentors, and as a result in the power relationships that exist in the learning space that a learner defines. Enabling learners to manage their place in a set of cultures and ask questions at key moments of transition – to their enrolment or registration, in their modes of assessment, in migrating between levels 1 and 2 or between levels 2 and 3 – are critical for good-enough educators who have to support the student in her/his integration of the disparate facets of HE study for her/his own development.

2.    The impact on staff

The report notes that:

“Staff capability with ICT is a further dimension of the digital divide… Tutors are central to development of approaches to learning and teaching in higher education. They have much to keep up with, their subject for example, and developments in their craft – learning and teaching or pedagogy. To practise effectively, they have also to stay attuned to the disposition of their students. This is being changed demonstrably by the nature of the experience of growing up in a digital world.”

Programme teams are crucial in setting a context and ethos within which students can become themselves and succeed. The academic as lone ranger in embedding technologies helps no-one, least of all the student. The student’s integration of the HE and subject environment into their self-concept as a learner who can achieve, demands that programme teams frame their learning activities and subject context around a cohesive digital environment. Too often this is missing at HE.

3.    Developing information literacy

The committee highlight that:

“providing for the development of web-awareness so that students operate as informed users of web-based services, able to avoid unintended consequences. For staff, the requirement is to maintain the currency of skills in the face of the development of web-based information sources”.

The higher-level speaking and writing skills that Bloom developed in his cognitive taxonomy are as relevant today as they were 50 years ago. Flexible pedagogic development, the impact of diagnostic assessment, peer-mentoring and enquiry-based learning are critical here. Equally important is engaging learners in the context and actuality of publishing data and argument for the wider world to utilise and judge. Issues like those raised by JISC Legal are critical in framing such a set of developments, but the reality of information literacy cannot be divorced from the reality of integrating and developing a digital identity. Critically this has to be linked to decision-making and action in the world. Problem-based learning may be a key.

4.    Change in HE

“The world [students] encounter in higher education has been constructed on a wholly different set of norms. Characterised broadly, it is hierarchical, substantially introvert, guarded, careful, precise and measured. The two worlds are currently co-existing, with present-day students effectively occupying a position on the cusp of change. They aren’t demanding different approaches; rather they are making such adaptations as are necessary for the time it takes to gain their qualifications. Effectively, they are managing a disjuncture, and the situation is feeding the natural inertia of any established system. It is, however, unlikely to be sustainable in the long term. The next generation is unlikely to be so accommodating and some rapprochement will be necessary if higher education is to continue to provide a learning experience that is recognised as stimulating, challenging and relevant.”

The last sentence bears rethinking. It should drive all we do in the coming months. At DMU it will certainly shape our re-definition of our e-learning [technology-enhanced learning] strategy and develop a plan its implementation, with our students, and our e-Learning Co-ordinators and Champions. It is critical that we evaluate our professional development approaches and the technologies we support.

May 122009

A few notes on yesterday’s symposium, Networked Generation: a Critical and International Perspective, convened at the OU by Chris Jones, principal investigator of an ongoing UK project on the net generation. The day was organised around discussion of a series of international research projects. Presenters used their empirical research as a basis for dialogue and critical examination of the so-called digital divide between higher education educators and students (e.g. Prensky), Starting from the basis that there is ‘no sound evidence’ for such claims as a platform for all-out utopian or dystopian viewpoints, Jones and others noted the way in which the ‘generational metaphor’ has gained currency, been used as a convenient ‘handle’, for example, by advertisers in selling games as ‘edutainment’ and by policy makers and other stakeholders in persuading teachers and educators that they need to catch up with their use of technology. The symposium was all about breaking down the ‘myth’. I was sure they were right that this needed doing but hadn’t realised just how complex research suggests it all is.

 For sure, according to many international studies (some very large, eg. ECAR) a more multi-dimensional reality emerges. Studies have identified that there are certain age-related trends, but also that there are intra-generational variances in usage and attitudes towards technologies: for example, with gender, as well as a range of complex interrelated ‘other’ factors, which are currently being explored. So far the research seems to confirm that students’ capability, use and confidence with technologies is greatly influenced by their ability to tap into family and ‘informal’ networks of friends. Where this source of support and know-how is not available, skills are more likely to come though ‘formal’ education and training.

 It seems that for people who have easy access to technologies/Internet the variation in usage often comes down to choices, interests and preferences for personal context – different technologies being more appropriate for specific purposes. The availability of the choices and interests option can be perhaps taken for granted. Taking an international perspective clearly broadens the range and spread of different socio-economic groups. One interesting report was on a study in South Africa (Laura Czerniewicz and Cheryl Brown), where levels of access and technology use is extremely diverse, with the main access to ‘computers’ for many students being through their university. Some students reported sharing computers and mobile phones, but owning one or several Sim cards that they use for different needs. Mobile phones were valued more than laptops – in fact, this was reported across many of the international presentations (Sue Bennet and Gregor Kennedy).

 As Richard has highlighted in recent posts, digital inclusion/exclusion, skills and literacies has implications for much broader issues of civic engagement and social inclusion – not only internationally, but in the UK also. This was highlighted in the presentation by Rebecca Eynon of the Oxford Internet Institute. According to the recent Oxford Internet Survey, in the UK (England, Scotland, Wales) “One in 10 of the population (9%), amounting to four million people, suffer ‘deep’ social exclusion and have no meaningful engagement with Internet based services.”(p39)..And this is only one part of a complex mix of different variables around choice, availability, inclusion and exclusion. Exposing the myth in the ‘generational metaphor’ showed how issues in higher education inform and are embedded in these broader social issues. You can access related resources at the The Net Generation Encountering eLearing at University.project webpage.