Mar 112008

I think I struggle with the whole learners’ experiences thing, and I think that’s because I feel like a grandma who has just been handed a basketful of free range, extra large, shelled, hard-boiled eggs by her smiling, fresh-faced grandson who has just discovered the best way to eat them… I’m not saying that we don’t need to identify where our learners come from, their motivations and aspirations, the types of tools that they use and why, and how technologies impact upon their learning and achievement, and more importantly, their sense of who they are and how they can act in the world. However, I wonder whether that which is being presented as shiny and new hasn’t already got a long track record. Perhaps sector-wide maturity in e-learning, and pedagogic evaluation, has reached the point where we can discuss the normalisation of this process.

So what were the lessons learned from last week’s ELESIG event?

  1. Upskilling staff to be both reactive and proactive in their use of technologies is central to connecting students’ uses of technologies to the development of their critical literacies.
  2. Higher education needs to stop chasing “cool”. There are core academic values that we want to develop, and it may be that some institutions build a digital reputation that connects into those core academic values and provides a framework within which students can define themselves and succeed. However, institutions are unlikely to stay ahead of the technological game, given that students are so fleet of foot and universities are so unwieldy.
  3. Helen Beetham made the point that evidence from learners defined some clear challenges for institutional values and cultures. She posited that a crunch point may be coming, where academic issues, for instance, around the centrality of subject knowledge or plagiarism clashed with 21st century learning that is predicated upon building social capital, by way of mashing, reusing and re-presenting the work of others.
  4. There is a growing theme around the creation of on demand, personal learning environments, in which the individual learners experiences (rather than institutional e-Learning drivers) enable the aggregation of relevant tools. Connected to this, Oxford Brookes University, highlighted that they are embedding the notion of the digitally literate learner in their new institutional e-Learning Strategy and also within validations. Through our e-Learning Champions and programme development checklists at validation and periodic review, we engage with these issues. However, I wonder whether DMU needs to have a more overtly didactic, Brookesian approach that forces the issue of engaging with digitally literate learners, rather than expecting that staff will engage with the issue.
  5. As ever, there was only tentative engagement with the learner’s role in society and the institutional contribution to that. The central theme seemed to be what the learner values in higher education, and whether we can help learners achieve some resilience in managing their learning. However, Mel from South Bank argued against the “destructive effect of transmission learning” and highlighted that we still see so much of that through the use of our institutional VLEs. It was also interesting to pick up the throwaway remark from one of the presenters about adding value to “the technologies that are provided for them (students)”. For me, there are several untapped areas.
  • I am with those who argue that higher education is a democratic project, and that (it into the work of Ronald Barnett) it can be made socially empowering through a learner’s coming to understand their subject area, themselves and their world, and coming to act in it. This social empowerment, and the cultural and social capital which follows, needs more understanding.
  • I am less interested in community, and more in participation and association. How do individuals associate or disassociate, become enfranchised or disenfranchised, participate or step away, and why? What therefore is the impact of PLEs on learner engagement, motivation and achievement, both in higher education and society?
  • In terms of transition, progression and retention, how do technologies and the ways in which academics engaged with them, connect into student’s emotional development? What is the impact upon digital natives, digital immigrants, employer engagement, mature students, etc?
Mar 072008
Two million e-mails are sent every second in the UK. That is almost three billion each day. But what is the real cost of this information overload?
Read More…
Mar 072008
The older generation can teach the iPod generation a thing or two when it comes to protecting themselves from online card fraud, according to a new study.

Despite being into the latest gadgets and gizmos, young people aren’t as savvy as their elders when it comes to looking after themselves online, according to research published today.

Read More…

Mar 052008

I had the opportunity to attend the seminar event ‘Using eportfolios and blogs as transition ‘spaces’ into and out of the University’ presented by Julie Hughes & Emma Purnell (03/03/08) from the University of Wolverhampton. I enjoyed the session and there a couple of things that stood out for which I thought are worthwhile pursuing or piloting. Just to give you some background they have their own portfolio system namely PEBBLEPAD which you may have heard of. If you access their site, there is loads of information about the system and how it works. What struck me was the investment that they gave to the project, and its success to date is purely to do with this. The critical stage for me to ensure that the momentum and continuing participation from the students in using this system (in this example in the School of Art and Design) was introducing the ‘e-portfolio system’ pre course teaching, welcomes and introductions for participants in the course were required and this gave the students a basis, by establishing their online identities at this early stage they continued to develop and participate in this community course setting. I’m wondering if the introductions of such a system at level 2 or 3 where students may be already established digitally ‘elsewhere’ have an impact as to how they engage with their home grown e-portfolio system. I would have also liked to know what the impact if any in their engagement with their VLE (WOLF) for these students (should have asked that! but hey I’m reflecting). One thing is for sure, the e-portfolio system – gave the students the social and study support space (using blogs) as witnessed at the seminar. The type of learner here can affect the students usage of the system, for adult education, distance learners and associate colleges this setting can be pivotal in developing a sense of support as it has the informal tones which ‘social spaces’ ooze and allows for personalisation of your own ‘e-portfolio space’. I also think there may be some scope for pre-HE students on learning required academic skills required at a HE level. With all that said, there needs to be dedicated resources and clear expectations on both the student/tutor views. As with any online discussion space, the tutor has to state clearly how and when they will contribute, as the presenter commented ‘one of the main reasons that they (students) keep coming back is the feedback that they receive’. I know I have focused on the study support aspects of this e-portfolio system (which is I believe is one of its strengths) it does allow students to upload their work and make available content in the format that they choose, say for a prospective employer. I still have lots of questions, for me tying this system into the VLE so that they marry well, could work well and hopefully post course beyond their exported e-portfolio.

Feb 282008

A few lessons learned from the HEA podcasting special interest group [ Podcasting for Pedagogic Purposes], held in Chester, on February 28.

  1. Two interesting questions were raised, which need to be disseminated to academics thinking of podcasting: why is audio valuable? Why does audio work?
  2. How do we move our use of podcasting forward beyond the end of our Pathfinder project? I am wondering whether we can get some of our leaders (Deans, Directors etc.) to cast some pods, about particular institutional or operational issues. Malcolm, our podfather, is leading a DMU podcasting interest group [PIG] in a discussion about institutional use on April 9.
  3. I am wondering whether we can use podcasting to refresh our staff development approaches, in particular by linking them to pre-work or the outcomes of face-to-face sessions. Steve Mackenzie has been doing some refreshing using synchronous classrooms, and I think we have some professional development opportunities here too.
  4. We need to get some digital voice recorders for continuation beyond the end of the project.
  5. We will produce Pathfinder briefing papers for each WP and for overarching project themes as podcasts.
  6. I wonder whether we can incorporate the metaphor of playlists, with ratings, tags and comments into pedagogic practice. Other possible pedagogic uses included the delivery of better feedback, which could be either personalised or generic. It was felt that students responded well to the tone and sensitivity of an audio file, in particular where a few simple messages were relayed. Students also valued a conversational tone, with clear chapter points around which they could make notes. The argument here was the students moved beyond shallow learning, especially where other tools like blogs or Skype are used for added impact through follow-on activities. In some disciplines, students created podcasts for peer assessment or reports on fieldwork. It was also felt that the time taken to produce simple audio files was less than in the production of text-based feedback.
  7. The impact of podcasting on feedback and assessment depends upon the timing of the audio file release (it links to the student’s cycle of engagement with their learning task).
  8. There were some interesting points made about how long you store MP3 files, and institutional policies for these cultural artefacts.
  9. On technologies, some staff indicated that they used iTalk + iPod to create simple MP3 or MP4 files that could then be uploaded onto a blog or wiki. Other staff used a Mac + iPod with mic, and produced the final file using GarageBand and cast it using iTunes.
  10. The Berkeley Opencast project was cited as good practice.
Feb 282008

There was a nice article in the Guardian magazine, last Saturday, entitled Stars in Your Lap, which focused upon the next generation of web based entrepreneurs. It looked at some of elements in social networking with a big focus on online video. There were two sections that stuck out for me.

  1. Social networking: “Those who decry social networking as an exercise in hi-tech isolationism forget that the stereotype of the uncommunicative teen locked in their bedroom is nothing new. They imagine that, if it were not for Facebook and my space, people would be out windsurfing or reading Shakespeare, rather than staring at the TV. For the YouTube generation, the web is not a tool that helps and communicate more quickly – it is their native form of communication.” Bingo.
  2. Online video: “the video boom is similar to the growth of young British music, where artists such as the Arctic monkeys and Kate Nash are often seen as the products of my space. But these new TV stars are building their support out of the structure of the Internet itself. Things are still in flux, however, and even those who might be the TV stars of tomorrow don’t know what tomorrow will look like.” I love that phrase about emergent networks facilitated by the Web, rather than forcing networks onto new technologies. The argument is that this is not a mash up between TV and the Web, it does not necessarily take on the modalities of TV all the Web, but it is new and experimental.
Feb 262008
Walter H. G. Lewin, 71, a physics professor, has long had a cult following at M.I.T
And he has now emerged as an international Internet guru, thanks to the
global classroom the institute created to spread knowledge through

Read More…

(A note to Malcolm Andrew – You’re not very far off Sir with your podcasts!)

Feb 262008

Donald Clark’s session blew my mind away. His charismatic and amiable demeanour complimented his informative and candid session which was peppered with light-hearted humour.

Donald demonstrated that Social Networking (SN) is redrawing the boundaries of the web and that it’s not just mere chit-chat with friends, but in organisations can be tamed to yield great benefits in training and development too. He further went into issues surrounding rolling-out SNs in organisations by talking through benefits for employees and the company and legal issues.

Donald cleared misconceptions and called on the executives and policy makers to wake up and not ignore SN, as shunning these will only be at the company’s ultimate detriment. He further added not to be scared of legal issues but ‘Police through policies’. Where else will you find a tool that is not restricted by organisation or distance and enables a sense of community, bonding experiences, and instant expert access at your convenience on your computer.

Donald did confess that “there are still lots of people who faff around on the Internet”, however HR departments need not have knee-jerk reactions and ban the Internet because some people procrastinate daily tasks by virtual loitering. But harness the power for great business gains. Donald went on to give some examples of great uses of the Internet, and creative and innovative ways of uses of the Web.

Kids stuff
Donald conveyed his experience at a dinner party where he had a ‘tiff’ with a friend who revealed that he was to ban his child from the Internet. It turned out that the friend’s son was spending most of his time on Instant Messengers chatting to his friends. Donald tried to explain to him that the lingo franca of the new generation is IM, and that they multi-task (play a game, listen to music, chat with there friends, and do their homework concurrently). He went on to further describe that when he is away abroad and calls home all he gets is ‘grunts’ from his children on the telephone, however to his surprise they have a full-blown conversation on MSN Messenger! Donald now uses this way to communicate with his children when away. With this story Donald was send out a message that adopting the various ways of communication you can get to different people; this can only be good for an organisation.

Most of the resources in an organisation are spent on formal learning as empirical results suggest that most learning occurs informally. So why is Facebook and IM banned which is based around you? When the Time person of the year was for 2006 was you, as you own the Information Age.

Donald then went on to show examples of companies that benefited from using innovative methods in their line of work, but first used the example of Professor Walter Lewin from MIT who finds different ways to demonstrate complex parts to physics. However, along the way has emerged as a international Internet guru, and has a cult following at M.I.T. It all started in the pursuit of making his lectures more enjoyable to students. I thought to myself when hearing about the Professor, can we not adopt various ways to keep our staff energised?

Professor Walter Lewin demonstrates how a pendulum works.

Professor Walter Lewin demonstrates how a pendulum works.

Cadbury Schweppes
Amongst the blue chip companies Cadbury Schweppes was one of the first to adopt blogs and podcasts in recruitment. The amount of national coverage and PR it received was phenomenal; it had a direct effect on raising applications by 40%.

IBM Thinkspace
IBM developed a tool that uses various social networking techniques to provide a virtual space for staff to submit new ideas and improve processes. Using tagging, personal profiles, and collaborative communication the system would see an idea through it’s inception through to its implementation (or rejection). Amongst other things Thinkspace was used for induction purposes where new staff could get a wealth of information from other more established colleagues. After 18 months, it was estimated that the value delivered (cost reduction and quality improvements) by Thinkspace was a whopping $400 million!

Second Life and Gender-related discrimination
Donald gave a great example of how a male could empathise with female discrimination; he said that if someone wants to really learn about Diversity, take gender for instance, try living as a woman in Second Life for 2 days and you’ll really see the issues and discrimination around being a women.

Donald then also finished of his session passing the stage on to another speaker.

Feb 262008

The theme of the conference was based around – Driving workforce performance through learning and development – which looked at the what, the how, and the why of learning and development in this day and age using technologies. The conference kicked-off with Jay Cross, an e-learning guru, and is (I learned later in other session) well regarded and revered by other prominent figures in the community. Jay’s name and work was continuously referred to in other lecturers, I got a feeling of Jay being a sort of patron figure in the LT community.

Jay’s address was slow paced, albeit with lots of interesting information and thoughts. Jay started off by explaining his first slide and his afterthought of changing the title from Learning: All change to Everything Flows.

In summary, Jay spoke about the rampant pace at which technology is moving, and the unpredictable nature of it impeding planning ahead. Seventy-Five percent of organisations think that their existing training provisions are inadequate to maintain a knowledgeable and competitive workforce. Coupled with a budding young workforce who have no time for training, the only way organisations will thrive in the future is to perpetually rethink how employees should learn and develop.

Jay went on to say that he thought there are some advantages of the Internet that will tie things back to learning and development, and how we can exploit these to our advantage. He further highlighted “Take Instant Messaging which makes networks in silos internally without restriction of hierarchy”. Some ‘Beta’ Web 2.0 and Open Source services empower users to use software for free however reclaim feedback and development as payment. Jay encouraged the crowd to adapt the free services that are available, “Microsoft wants you to think that Open Source is made by hippies on a beach who’ve had too much to smoke”.

Jay continued by defining 3 characteristics of successful learning to take place: Comprehension, Conversation, and Collaboration. These 3 things can be supported with various ‘free’ web tools for the benefit of an organisation.

  • For instance to set meetings use Doodle
  • Share info through podcasts using Audacity, a mic, and a podcatcher
  • Set-up Blogs and Wikis (Blogger and WordPress) for process, procedures, and activities
  • Use RSS feeds to alert and send messages
  • Facebook for profiles
  • Ning to start your own community around an interest
  • for bookmarks.

And don’t ban people from accessing the Internet!

Jay then shared some very insightful examples of Blue chip companies and the US Military using these new technologies to disseminate message and display transparent communication:

Tootsie Rolls and the US Military

Tootsie Rolls are chocolate flavoured sweets that have become somewhat of an American cultural icon. The US military would occasionally airdrop to servicemen as a treat to increase morale. However, the noise in unwrapping the sweet was detrimental to the servicemen who were constantly being targeted by snipers. Somebody blogged about this and within a little time news spread like wildfire, to the benefit of the military. Jay added “Now you can’t imagine the National Defence Manual mentioning this little tip would you!”

Jonathan Schwartz, CEO Sun Microsystems

Jonathan Schwartz CEO for Sun Microsystems frequently speaks directly to his workforce directly though his blog. So everybody gets the message at once. Jay added that Jonathan’s style of writing was such that it made him feel that Jonathan was really speaking to him.

I remembered another quote from a speaker in a different session that is related to Jay’s account of Jonathan Schwartz; “How many times in a year does your CEO speak to you?” asked the speaker, “Even if you do get a couple of annual address, they speak to you collectively in a lecture theatre”. A CEO’s blog is a leader’s personal voice to a worker, and many times to associated businesses too.

For example when Sun Microsystems decided on acquiring MYSQL, Jonathan knew that there will be much buzz and a little rumour flying here and there, so what better way to address this and keep confidence of his workforce and to contain the newly acquired company nerves by videoing the executive’s conversation around a picnic table basking in some sun. OK so there’s chances of it being staged but the comment section on the same post bears testimony to the success of this strategy.

Sun Microsystems and mySQL Excecutives have a chat and video it for the workforce

Intel Wiki

Josh Bancroft thought of the idea a repository to store a myriad of acronyms that flow around Intel Corp. in a wiki. There were 13 million hits in one year and they were all internal!

Jay then finished off the session by taking some questions from the audience.