Friday, 28 September 2007

Mdels and taxonomies


the last post was really meant for the PGCertHE blog but you'll see how I'm trying to set short tasks pre face-to-face sessions whereby they are using the blog to access some prior reading and, hopefully, reflecting and commenting on it.

Models and Taxonomies:How useful are they?

See this post from the PgCertHE blog about models and taxonomies for new staff:

10 Future Web Trends

We're well into the current era of the Web, commonly referred to as Web 2.0. Features of this phase of the Web include search, social networks, online media (music, video, etc), content aggregation and syndication (RSS), mashups (APIs), and much more. Currently the Web is still mostly accessed via a PC, but we're starting to see more Web excitement from mobile devices (e.g. iPhone) and television sets (e.g. XBox Live 360).

What then can we expect from the next 10 or so years on the Web?

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Project meeting: 25 September 2007

So we met yesterday to let the teams catch-up on each others' work-packages. The progress reports have now all been posted on our Blackboard-based Wiki. Team members who weren't there should read the reports. We are also using the Wiki for conference reports and to flag relevant project outcomes and issues.

Work-package headlines from yesterday are as follows:
1. WP1: There are issues of maintaining momentum with PG Cert HE staff who are planning to teach and actually teaching. The assessment for the PG Cert students has been revamped to include e-learning. The June group are editing action plans and we need now to offer them follow-up sessions. [Action: HC and RH]

2. WP1/WP6: Steve Mackenzie is delivering some synchronous development sessions on pedagogical and technological issues with members of the PG Cert HE and Faculty of HLS. We will evaluate this approach to test its sustainability. Library front-desk staff may also benefit from this approach, as their shift-work impacts upon access to professional development. [Action: SM and AB]

3. WP3: There are issues of maintaining momentum with Library staff who are thinking about using Web 2.0 approaches in their work. We intend to offer developmental sessions, linked to staff development reviews. [Action: AB] We also intend to review the ISAS approach to using Wikis as knowledge bases [Action: RH] The team also intend to review the non-technical issues around the conversion of extant support and training materials for a Web 2.0 age. [Action: JT, MYK and AB]

4. WP4: the iTunes issue for catching and feeding Blackboard-hosted podcasts t users has been resolved, so that the podcast tool now works with iTunes
. A key issue is the apparent reticence of users to be recorded for the production of webcasts. We have feedback to suggest that some users do not like hearing or seeing themselves on-line, or committing to this type of “publication”. This is a potential issue that will require intervention with specific teaching teams in order to build effective local, coping strategies. Initial evidence suggests that few students use or subscribe to podcasts, so there may be a cultural issue for staff teams. The third issue arising is the support we can offer staff in answering the question of streaming vs podcasting.

5. WP5: case studies will be produced for AAD, BAL, Hums and Library in the use of tools to support first-years in student-student communication. [Action: HC to talk to Jo Leese in DSU re: student reps' experiences of tools like Facebook]

6. WP6: Our Second Life Island has been purchased and activated, and staff who registered an interest have been invited in. Twelve staff are registered so far, and a user group has been formed. A building party is being held on 15 October. Subsequent staff development events will be planned and delivered by the user-group. A meeting was held with Howard Rheingold in the IOCT in September to discuss ways forward with SL. We intend to use his videos to prime some of our developments. Steve Mackenzie is delivering some synchronous development sessions. We will evaluate this approach to test its sustainability. The DMU e-Learning Pathfinder team have a Facebook group. There is no protocol for its use, but its development will be mapped as a project management and dissemination tool.

7. WP7: RH has been in contact with NIACE about the publication of the project’s findings. [Action: RH to meet with JC re: conference]

See also:

Matters arising:
  • headsets and webcams for all team members;
  • monies to be re-charged this week with covering letters to budget holders; and
  • access to iTunes for all team members.

Burnout: key messages

What an interesing article about humanity that Steve Mac has posted this morning. In particular the article picksup on theimpact of technologies on DL tutors, but it has resonance for us all in environments that are "always on" and where the expectations of those who cannot look you in the eye and connect with you may be out-of-step with what you can deliver.

The article focuses upon:
1) emotional exhaustion;
2) depersonalization; and
3) personal accomplishment.

It goes on to highlight that institutional managers must:
"1. Consult with online faculty on matters directly impacting their learning environment (i.e., curriculum development);
2. Provide adequate resources to support online instructors (i.e., technology support resources);
3. Provide detailed job descriptions and faculty expectations to reduce role ambiguity;
4. Create and maintain clear lines of communication between online faculty and administrators by providing
performance feedback;
5. Facilitate professional development activities (i.e., mentoring, advanced training using online technology); and
6. Reduce teaching load and number of students per online course."

Given the impact of new technologies and approaches these human issues have a real resonance for staff.


An issue that is of importance, especially if online learning is not given due respect and consideration in any faculty or institution delivery strategy

Exploring burnout among university online instructors: An initial investigation

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Facebook is UK's biggest networking site

Facebook has overtaken MySpace as the UK's most popular social networking site.

Despite privacy concerns over the personal information of its members, around 6.5 million people in Britain visited the site during August - up 541 per cent since last December.


Web 2.0 and me: a sordid tale of attraction and fear.

Now I don’t want to appear like one of those retired colonels sitting in his leather wingback chair snorting with derision into his Daily Telegraph but I am beginning to feel that the brave new world of my students and my own children is just plain incomprehensible. Just like your Grandad wearing jeans and white trainers, I feel that I ought to keep up and know what’s going on but I know I will probably look rather ridiculous in the process. I am never going to be “down with the kids” but I ought to try…hadn’t I?

So, I have been reading quite a lot recently about Web 2.0 and social networking. I am interested in the way that a new generation of users is taking the technology and bending it to their own needs rather than using a pre-packaged product that Bill Gates provides for us. It strikes a chord with me; it is a new high-tech version of do-it-yourself – a reminder of the freedom and anarchy of punk. Yet it also raises interesting pedagogic questions for us as teachers and educationalists: what can our students already do as they sit before us on day one of a new academic year? What are they used to regarding access to technology? What do they expect us to provide and use? Importantly these questions raise challenges for us: How are we to respond to these expectations? Indeed should we respond at all?

Michael Wesch, Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University is a cultural anthropologist and media ecologist who, according to his website (, has been “exploring the impacts of new media on human interaction”. He has posted an interesting and thought-provoking video on YouTube called The Machine is Us/ing Us
( which illustrates the power of Web 2.0 technologies and the way that it is different from the previous incarnations of the WWW. What is equally interesting is the response that there has been to this posting. It is, according to his webpage, “the most popular video in the blogosphere”. It is true that the postings on Youtube are many and various but there are also an increasing number of video responses – fellow enthusiasts or detractors using the technology as a vehicle for talking creatively about the technology; all very post-modern I am sure.

The British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA) has produced a range of publications on the way in which technology impinges on education in general and schools in particular. Their 2006 report Emerging Technologies for Learning ( uses a series of case studies to illustrate the ways in which Web 2.0 technologies are starting to impinge on the learning environment. In one case study Geoff Stead describes a near future in which advances in the hardware allow students to have wider access to mobile technology and where, as a consequence, there will be a greater pressure on those in education to use this facility in the delivery of provision. In another Leon Cych discusses the growth of social networking, a development which Web 2.0 technologies easily facilitate. This second idea is taken up and discussed at greater length in a 2006 JISC funded report by Paul Anderson, What is Web 2.0? Ideas, technologies and implications for education (

Now I can see that such advances will allow those students who are traditionally hard to reach or for whom physically attending college or university is not always possible or appropriate more easily access to educational provision and their fellow students and that has to be a good thing. But I also worry about two things: for the student there appears to be an opportunity to replace the face-to-face experience with a remote, isolating experience and I am not sure that is always the best way to learn; and for the tutor there appears to be an unspoken pressure to use the new technologies just because they are there rather than because they are appropriate.
For me this new technology should be regarded in the same way that the biro was or even laptops and data projectors – they should be used when they prove to be better than what went before. I fear that we may be caught in the same trap that resulted in the classic disease, Death by PowerPoint: a pressure to use something just because everyone else does. Not to use it seems to imply incompetence whereas poor or inappropriate use publicly shows the very thing we are trying to avoid! So I heartily recommend the three sources mentioned briefly here, they provide a stimulus for an interesting debate. For me though it is the debate that is of primary importance, for out of that will hopefully come a conscious decision to use the technology or not because it is appropriate for the subject matter and the students involved; in other words it will be a decision based on pedagogy – now that does sound old-fashioned, even reactionary!

Nick Allsopp

Monday, 24 September 2007

'$100 laptop' to sell to public

Students at a school in Nigeria

Computer enthusiasts in the developed world will soon be able to get their hands on the so-called "$100 laptop".

The organisation behind the project has launched the "give one, get one" scheme that will allow US residents to purchase two laptops for $399 (£198).


Job losses over eBay 'addiction'

Three council workers have lost their jobs for spending too long on the internet auction site eBay.

One was sacked and two resigned after managers at Neath Port Talbot Council found some staff were spending up to two hours a day on the website.

Union officials have blamed bosses for "putting temptation in their way" - by allowing access to the internet.

The council said it carried out an investigation after officials spent a "significant time" on the internet.

It said another two cases were being investigated while another member of staff had been given a warning.

Union officials said in all, over an 18 month period, up to six council staff had lost their jobs.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Folksonomy II: the wisdom of crowds

I love social bookmarking and tagging. It's a wonderful way to refind old stuff, share new stuff and discover things or people that you would never have found any other way. Yesterday's folksonomy sessions hosted by the IOCT nailed these issues for me. The key outcomes from the sessions focus upon:

  1. new tools that may build the social networking experience by enhancing recommendations to users, connecting users to each other, to websites and to web objects, including: StumbleUpon; FURL;; and Magnolia;
  2. the impact upon a user's identity, through participation with others in various groups, and the meaning that those users generate from participating;
  3. the user's perceptions of the value of specific interactions (with web sites, individual taggers, tags and groups);
  4. the politics of Web 2.0, the control of vocabularies and the means of production;
  5. the impact on the user of the context of specific tags, based upon taxonomies, individual need and another individual's identity, in order to create personal meaning;
  6. Rashmi Sinha's view that "the beauty of tagging is that it taps into an existing cognitive process without adding much cognitive cost";
  7. the relationship between objects to be tagged, individuals who are tagging, the tags or metadata assigned and the communities that are created;
  8. the differences between folksonomy and taxonomy, around the limits on or lack of: structure; control; resources; participation; democratic processes; and the nature of emergent and validated behaviour;
  9. analysis of tags through a clean-up process that merges some (e.g. e-learning and elearning) or controls stems (are tags, tagging and tagger the same for analysis?) or evaluates synonyms;
  10. the value for refindability; team-work; understanding context; storing resources; working across silos; and networking - I'm really interested in these as possible areas for development for support staff, as well as academic teams and student groups, and maybe in combination with other applications like Facebook for wider networking;
  11. the user's ability to use tools for saving, refinding, exploring, searching and interacting, and the belief that granularity has value and that algorithms for searching can make life more efficient;
  12. selective sharing, and building or evaluating trust in individual taggers, tags or web objects; and
  13. the portability of tags, descriptions, identities and communities across applications over time.

In simple terms tagging and group folksonomies can impact upon work processes, and that will be a fruitful avenue for WP1 and WP2, as well as WP7. We need to focus upon the power for refindability of information, team-work, understanding context, storing resources, working across silos and networking.

However, the sessions got me thinking about control and power and politics, and the work of Ivan Illich. De-schooling and the impact on the role of the professional, in order to broaden a social democratic agenda, is definitely an area for more exploration. As is the merging of work and non-work identities where tools are used in both arenas (if such a dichotemy actually exists).

Monday, 17 September 2007


"Folksonomy" was recently voted one of the new terms most likely to make you "wince, shudder or want to bang your head on the keyboard." Our Institute for Creative Technologies is hosting a talk by the inventor of the term – Thomas Vander Wal - tomorrow from 2 -3.30pm in Clephan 0.01. The talk is open to all and will not require any specialist knowledge on behalf of the audience.

A Folksonomy can be created when users of "web2.0" sites such as YouTube, Flickr, LastFM and add keywords ("tags") to the items they view in order to add information about these items. As more and more users tags such items more information is created about the items. Unlike library catalogues which are created by experts, folksonomies are like catalogues created by everyday people. For some, this heralds a brave new era of democratic information management, for others it heralds the death of expertise.

Thomas Vander Wal lives in Bethesda, Maryland, and this is a rare opportunity to hear him in the UK. He coined the term "folksonomy" in 2004 and is a popular speaker on tagging and folksonomy, social web, and web applications around well-structured information. He is principal, and senior consultant at InfoCloud Solutions, a social web consulting firm. Thomas has been working professionally on the web since 1995 (with a professional IT background beginning in 1988) and has breadth and depth across many roles and disciplines around web design, social web development & research and general web development. He is a member of the Web Standards Project Steering Committee and helped found the Information Architecture Institute and Boxes & Arrows web magazine. See his web site to find out more:

The lecture is presented as part of the AHRC-funded research project Tags Networks Narratives, examining the interdisciplinary application of experimental social software to the study of narrative in digital contexts. It is a unique speculative project assessing the potential for collaborative social-software techniques such as folksonomy in narrative research.

There will also be a morning seminar. You can find out more at:

Monday, 10 September 2007

Betty Collis Seminar - "Wikis: Flavour of the month or the tool that can change learning.

Heather and i attended this seminar which was organised by Leicester University as they come to the end of their first year of the Phase 1 Academy e-learning pathfinder HEI's.

Betty explained the build up to the seminar by recapping her two previous seminars related to the subject matter. These were I) the identification of a pedagogical approach that could be classified as a "Contributing Pedagogy" (which was not necessarily about any specific technology) and ii) six different surges of technology which all had claims to be the surge (technology) to 'make a fundamental change' to the way we learn. Betty explained how she has over the years used the 4E model to predict whether these new technologies would have a significant impact.

This lead to the main purpose of the seminar, which was to use the 4e Model to predict whether wiki's could make a significant impact. Using the 4E Model Betty was optimistic that wikis could play a significant part in the way people learned. The 'rider' however is that it all depends on the context and she suggests applying the 4e model to your own situation and organisation will have a bearing on how successful wiki implementation can be.

The thrust of the model is that the practitioner should rate the new technology ( in this case) the wiki, for it's educational effectiveness, ease of use and user engagement ( no rating scheme was suggested). If the sum total has a high rating this is a good start, but the next factor is whether the environmental factors, such as technical support, institutional enthusiasm, innovative culture, leadership etc etc also have a high rating to facilitate the successful introduction of wiki technology.

She cited as a very good example was the wiki at 'Shell' the petroleum company, which has over 40,000 workers/users that contribute enthusiastically and voluntary in a number of different ways to make effective use of the wiki resource. Betty also run through many different examples of successful wiki implementations in a teaching and learning context.


For me the seminar highlighted two main points.

  1. Academic Staff are getting advice and encouragement to use wikis for teaching and learning activities, which is fine, but there is great value in the wiki as a professional development tool. This probably needs a lead from the top and a cultural change in the way things are done - If an academic group has the opportunity to step back and re-assess the way they could share work, share knowledge and share tasks in a collaborative, contributing, learning ethos there may be an opportunity to benefit from the power of the group.
  2. Apart from the value of any learning that takes place in a wiki learning task, for students the use of wiki's could well be an important transferable skill for use in their own professional development and future work collaborations.

Leaving the learning aspect aside another point to ponder and was reinforced from some of Betty's examples is that:

  • Wiki's are a good organisational/ administrative tool.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

A Must Read: What is Web 2.0?

You have to read this Jisc Techwatch report: What is Web 2.0?

I have nothing else to add. Except read it!

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Keeping posted with ALT conference from your desk

For those of you who couldn't make it to the conference may be interested to read coverage and summaries on blogs by many people who are typing away (harder AND faster then me!).

I met a chap called Haydn Blackley from Glamorgan University who's doing a fantastic job, do check his blog out:

Work-package 1: update

In work-package 1 we are working with new lectures on the PGCertHE programme in order to investigate their current knowledge and usage of Web 2.0 technologies with an aim to promote developmental strategies to support them in using Web 2.0 technologies for teaching and learning packages.

In June, we met with half of the cohort as part of the first part of the module of the PGCertHE, Planning to Teach and Study. New staff were encouraged to participate on a separate blog, Reflections: Web 2.0 in learning and teaching.

Here we have posted a selection of video-clips as stimulus for initial discussion about Web 2.0.

A three-hour e-learning session, designed to build on and progress from these initial discussions and to furnish means of building enhanced institutional knowledge of Web 2.0 and development strategies, is programmed into the activities of Day 2 of this module. Feedback has been very positive.

A product from this is the setting-up of a group wiki in which participants can set up a pedagogical e-learning action plan and, in true collaborative sense, comment on those of others!

Next week, the same occurs with the second half of the cohort, and the above process will be repeated.

Watch this space!

ALT Conference Nottingham

Hi all,

I'm currently writing live with a wireless Internet connection from a symposium at the ALT-C 2007 in Nottingham.

Here are some quotes from the debate that is currently taking place before me "Just where are institutions going with e-learning?" that some people reading this blog may find interesting:

Re Pathfinder Projects

"Getting funding from bodies enables room for risks..."
Where as central funded projects may not allow such opportunities.

"However many-a-time with these 'time-constrained' funding, lots of innovation is produced, however no long term sustainability strategies are not in place to embed it in the institution"
So year 2 and 3 must be thought of in the first few months for projects to succeed.

"We've now seen lots of repositories, VLEs, Wikis, and blogs, what we need now is leadership in course design and programme design, so not tell people how to do things but provide frameworks and models in course design and programme design".

Will try and post more from the conference if I get an oppurtunity (and Internet connection).


Monday, 3 September 2007

Dissemination II: e-Learning Newsletter

It's been a dissemination-related week - on Friday it was pageflakes and the aggregation of our blogs. This week its internal dissemination though our annual e-Learning Newsletter. This year the newsletter is Web 2.0-related, in order to pump-prime some of the work we are planning and to foreground other dissemination events for our Pathfinder. The articles will appear here over the course of the session, and they focus upon:
  • creating true podcasts;
  • assessing blogs;
  • e-portfolios;
  • project-based wikis; and
  • Second Life and level 1 exploration.
Overall, this is part of work-package 7: dissemination, and to that end we have also had copy accepted for our intenal DMU staff newsletter, DMYou. Alongside our e-learning email groups and faculty-based development sessions, we hope that this will enable us to build awareness and prepare the ground for actual implementation within and across the curriculum.