Wednesday, 30 April 2008

the forgotten generation?

Amidst all of the heat and light about the learners' experiences of technology, and the almost semi-divine regard for the student voice, I wonder whether the voices of academics are being lost. Even worse, are they being ignored?. I'm not sure that I have evidence that this is the case. However, I just get a sense that we are so very focused on the Google generation and its experiences of Web 2.0 world, that we are in danger of forgetting that their education experiences are mediated by teams of academics. What is more, those academic teams are now having to deal with fragmented and diversifying institutions that work beyond any notional Google generation, to engage differentially in a variety of contexts, for example with SMEs, in providing flexible and work-based learning and foundation degrees, through UCPDs and knowledge incubation. Providing our academic teams with access to networks of people and data with whom they can associate, in order to develop their pedagogic practice, is critical.

Web2.0 rights project

so you want to know about intellectual property rights in Web 2.0 world? Check out the Web2.0 rights project.

Internet founder Tim Berners-Lee's firm tackles internet 'faksters'

Software that can carry out “social verification” is being developed by Garlik, a firm involving Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the Englishman who invented the world-wide-web.


Johnny Lee: Creating tech marvels out of a $40 Wii Remote

Something I came across in my virtual travels, perhaps something that I remember our Richard Hall talking about that was demonstrated a recent conference:

Happy spamiversary! Spam reaches 30

Whoa! I didn't know that spam was this old. I can't remember the first time I received spam meesage; It was perhaps a few days after I set up my first hotmail account - I quickly moved over to Yahoo as a result of them being more proactive in blocking spam messages.

However, I can certainly remember writing my first unwitting spam message; as I have the vivid memory of a lecturer (at the Univeristy I attended) scolding me - by reply of the email - for abusing my email priviliges for being an I.T. Support assistant. I didn't know what the big deal was about, and didn't quite understand his indignation for me trying to find buyers for my previous semesters course-books. I thought new students would appreciate a new method of advertisinfg second-hand books, away from the dreary looking A4 notices outside the I.T. Lab. It was soon after being bombarded by vulgar messages from various 'friendly' foriegn pharmascists that I realised that unsolicited mail was generally a bad thing, especially to those who don't really know you.

Time has moved on since my days at Uni, but things haven't changed much only that instead of emails offering a cut-price cocktail of organ enhancing drugs, I'm repeatedly offered to re-enter my log-in and password to 'my bank's website'; thanks to these emails I'll probably contract RSI in my forefinger for pressing the delete key umteenth times a day!

Anyway here's a great article from New Scientist packed with info and history of Spam email messages - Mohamed:

Thirty years ago next week, Gary Thuerk, a marketer at the now-defunct computer firm Digital Equipment Corporation, sent an email to 393 users of Arpanet, the US government-run computer network that eventually became the internet. It was the first spam email ever.

That commercial message, sent on 3 May 1978


Nobody knows what Web 2.0 really is

A great article by bloggers Simon Bisson & Mary Branscombe. The same can be applied to teaching and learning or Staff Development - Mohamed:

A blog won’t fix a company that makes bad products or has terrible customer service; but having a way to hear what customers are saying and respond to it can - if the company is actually able to change. “Going Web 2.0″ for the sake of looking up to date is pointless; using technology to build a relationship with customers is valuable.


Luminaries look to the future web

The web has gone worldwide but what does the future hold?

Exactly 15 years ago the directors at the lab where the web was first developed signed a document which said the technology could be used by anyone free of charge.


Informal learning dilemmas

just a few issues arising for me from today's conference sessions related to informal learning:
  1. emergent technologies are connecting and generating more users and data, and are building capacity for informal learning. This is changing the interface between informal and formal learning. How do we support this development? How do we empower staff to accept these changes? How do we empower students to use them effectively in their learning and assessment?
  2. how do we help staff and students make best use of emergent technologies?
  3. should we help them? How do we restructure professional development to meet this need and build opportunities?
  4. does it matter if individuals opt-out of formal learning through social networks?
  5. do technologies have affordances for people with different learning styles? Are they used in different ways by different "types" of people? What of social anxiety?
  6. can we use the informal nature of Web2.0 tools to enhance feedback?
  7. how do we enable students to capture their informal learning formally?
  8. is email a formal technology and Facebook more human? How does that impact educational relationships?
  9. How does the raft of commucation channels impact upon our "contractual" relationship with our learners? If something cannot be tracked do we leave ourselves open in student grievance procedures?
  10. If Web2.0 tools generate identities that flatten hierarchies and breed familiarity, is staff-student relationships in them a problem?
  11. How do we build tasks that help students to enhance literacies using Web2.0 tools in informal contexts?

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Next Generation Environments Conference

So I am at this conference discussing issues arising from the Users and Innovation programme. The headlines for me so far surround Eric Hamilton's keynote on future learning environments. He was talking about enabling learners to begin to model systems rather than remember facts. His 8 principles for learning design really struck a chord.
  1. Enable contexts with clear sightlines between tutor and learners, and learners and tasks/content.
  2. Enable learners to model systems.
  3. Enable connectedness - open pathways up.
  4. Enable personalisation, to avoid alienation.
  5. Enable generative and creative thinking and acting. Is this play?
  6. Enable self-regulating, individual competency.
  7. Enable fluid learning contexts, that allow learners to switch environments, to switch between solitude and association, to switch between virtual and real, where they n examine and become objects of enquiry.
  8. Enable interactional bandwidth, where there is an increased capacity and capability for interaction.
In this the role of the tutor and the role of information in shaping learning tasks critical. Moreover, we see played out issues of power, relationships and the development of a cyborg-self. Ethical choices, self-efficacy, agency, agile learning, collaborative modelling and "group flow" are also matters arising.

Some of these issues were again raised by Dave White from the OpenHabitat project. In discussing the use of MMPOGs, VR and SecondLife, he made me think about environments that are structured for tasks and task-oriented play. The nature of informal, social interaction, immersion and frameworks/tasks that legtimise action-as-play or play-as-action needs more evaluation. As does its impact on self-efficacy and critical literacies.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Web 2.0 Expo

Should have saved my pennies and gone to the Web 2.0 Expo. Ho-hum...

The next big business opportunity?

The Beeb is reporting that Web 2.0 is set for spending boom by "business", whatever that is. Not really being a private sector kind of guy I'm dubious about what this means [traffic monitoring, targeted ads etc.]. The report highlights that one analyst [Mr Young] says "Advertising revenue has been hard to come by with even sites such as Facebook finding it hard to monetise their high volumes of traffic." Monetising our participation - wonder how that equates with the great Web 2.0 culture of user-owned and generated stuff or collaboration?

Monday, 21 April 2008

Inaugural meeting of the DMU Podcast Special Interest Group

Four of the eight of us met on 9th April 2008 and spent a useful hour and a half talking about the various uses of podcasting in the curriculum, relating examples to each other and discussing a document brought to the meeting giving advice to academics thinking of using podcasts in their courses. It was agreed that this document would be placed on Blackboard in an enlarged site on podcasting already present on the e-learning staff support site. This site would also contain examples of podcasts for staff to hear/watch. We also plan to publish on the site more detailed information on good recording practice. Other academic staff interested in joining this special interest group should email Malcolm Andrew at

Learning what makes Facebook tick

A group of students at Stanford University in the heart of Silicon Valley have turned their attention towards a unique course that blends popular culture with the more time-worn principles of psychology.


Friday, 18 April 2008

Reflections on the 3rd IADIS International Conference on Mobile learning.

This was a small conference held on 11-13 April 2008 in a lovely setting in the Algarve, Portugal. Ninety six papers were submitted, of which 49 were accepted.

The keynote speakers were Graham Brown-Martin (GB-M) from Handheld Learning Ltd and David Cavallo (DC) from the MIT Media Lab, USA.

The thrust of the first keynote by GB-M was exploring the idea of using gaming consoles, such as Nintendo-DS, for e-learning since such devices were all pervasive. With the plethora of devices he feels we are transfixed by the technology, rather than the learning.

The second keynote concerned the “one laptop per child” project and DC gave examples of how it has transformed the education of children in a number of countries, including Ecuador and Rwanda. He showed the $100 laptops being used, with their adjustable brightness screens to cater for children learning in very bright conditions, such as outdoors.

Mobile phone technology was much in evidence with suggestions for using them (and PDAs) for creating interactive lectures (whereby the students text questions to the lecturer during the lecture; Oulu University, Finland) to using them for exam preparation (University of Cape Town) and for supporting student nurses in the clinical setting (University of Massachusetts).

Several papers concerned various uses of podcasts, including use for augmenting lectures and producing city guides for students and tourists. My own presentation on the use of podcasts to augment lectures in pharmaceutical microbiology was well attended, well received and attracted a number of questions and comments afterwards. My findings that few students watched my podcasts on mobile devices, preferring to use PCs/laptops, were replicated by work of another presenter from AndrĂ© Caron (University of Montreal, Canada). When commenting on the high quality of my own podcasts (a demo of which I showed in my presentation) he referred to one of his colleagues who had won “Best professor” award three years running and had produced podcasts in Pharmacology which were not liked by his students. When asked why, the students said that whilst he was truly dynamic in the lecture room, this did not come across in his bland podcasts and so they did not listen to them! This reinforced my own stance of trying to aim for high quality video podcasts. Other members of the audience from the Royal Veterinary College, London commented that they liked my voice which, because I had attempted to make it BBC-ish added authority to the material. I found this interesting because I have often debated whether to adopt this kind of performance or whether to try for a more chatty approach (which I think I would find more difficult to do). These people also said the lesser quality of the sound recordings of students that I played in my PowerPoint presentation gave the student comments more authenticity. Andrew Litchfield (University of Technology, Sydney, Australia) complimented me on the quality of my podcasts and suggested that I might add some interactive tasks at the end of each podcast, which I shall certainly consider doing.

I have been encouraged by all the positive feedback I received from delegates at this conference on my presentation. It has helped to convince me that I am on the right podcasting track and near the forefront of using this technology.

Suffering From Facebook Fatigue?

[An article on Time magazine by Anita Hamilton]

It started innocently enough: last month a friend sent me a virtual lily plant on Facebook and invited me to create a (Lil) Green Patch, a digital garden that would grow on my profile page, and that any of my friends could help water, weed and plant. Sounds cute, right? Not if you've recently suffered through an overwhelming slew of requests to give a grain of rice, send good karma and rate your friends on everything including their hotness, creativity, fashion sense and intelligence. I wasn't merely skeptical — I was annoyed. But I didn't want to be a killjoy — and I love plants — so I went ahead and clicked "Accept."


A useful resourceful helpful site

I stumbled across the below site, well worth adding to your favourites.

I also highly recommend that you subscribe to Jane Hart's blog site - she too has her finger on the e-pulse

Whilst I'm here I'd just mention the guys over at CommonCraft have done another great video explaining Twitter

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Informal Learning 1: my take, though I am still learning!

Not a new phenomena, as we can all infer informal learning (IL) is going on all the time. Formal learning in our setting, has a well defined programme and tools of assessment to measure if ’ learning’ has taken place. There are lots of articles on this concept and any entry can’t go without mentioning the informal learning guru Jay Cross (who widely lectures the benefits in the work place whose tones are shed in the educational setting
So, it appears this concept is more at the forefront now that we are all scurrying to see what on earth our learners are up to in this age of emergent technologies. It does make you wonder who is in the driving seat! (technology! did you say). Now, are we just interested because informal learning is taking place using e-tools? If we are, we need to be, what can we learn and what do we need to be aware of. Users of these technologies are getting younger and younger and we need to be switched on (which is my way of saying aware of the trends, this does not mean we always need to follow, but our duty is to analyse and evaluate). These emergent technologies used in informal learning settings do instigate a need to look into this deeper and the ripples that they make.

Going back to the concept of informal learning , now this is nothing new here, even without these technologies learners would collaborate informally using other methods. It does come down to a matter of choice for the learner (learner styles) in how they go about studying ‘informally’ – in that sense the learner makes inferred choices as to how they go about doing these activities and thus is in charge of their own learning (PLE (personal learning environment)). To me, learning is an internal process that we do. We do need to define what attributes of informal learning that we are interested in. Personally when I was on my degree course (before VLE's), my study habits were my own whatever methods I used to achieve understanding and learning; where group work was required I worked with the group. That's my learning style. We need to be aware that we don't intrude where we are not wanted!

I’d be interested in how we go about measuring if/when informal learning (assumed non-assessed) is taking place in our setting and do we really need to if the outcome of informal learning is assessed through formal learning? Or do we need to identify which forms of informal learning can be assessed or those forms which make the learning experience more enjoyable and suitable to different learning styles? Could Wiki’s/Blogs used in online learning be defined as informal learning? Lots and lots of questions.

The role of perception of these formal/informal settings may influence the usage of which web 2.0 tools are deployed. These SNS may be perceived as more appealing for setting up the environment for informal learning as opposed to an institutional owned social setting. Who knows? Does our current platform take ‘control’ away from the learner; do we need an environment where the learner can have some control and direction? I’m interested to see to what degree we have a role in the students informal learning taking place using ‘e’ tools, as well as the characteristics of an institutional setting for promoting informal learning – what’s in it for ‘us’ and the students? By providing such a ‘environment’ are we just giving students another space or can we learn from the ‘informal learning environment’ to feed back into our ‘formal learning environment’. There has been lots of work carried out in this field and some good papers floating around.
No doubt we will be delving more into this area…what is your take?

Friday, 11 April 2008

Binoculars and sandpits

Here is an excellent article by a pro-vice chancellor John Fothergill from the other side of town. Very thought provoking, here is an excerpt...
So what should our strategy be for developing e-learning? It seems to me that's rather difficult – and has problems in common with developing a strategy for IT generally. When developing a strategy, you can normally do an audit to find out where you are now, then you take some advice (or not) and decide where you want to be. You then plot a route from the former to the latter. However, the problem with the e-area is that everything keeps changing. So half-way through your well-thought-out journey, you can find that you're going the wrong way.


Thursday, 10 April 2008

Wikipedia dependency

Great article on Wikipedia in the Guardian Technology blog - a really interesting read on synthesising, editing, deleting and stomping. I particularly liked this bit:

"This sounds chaotic, but most of the time the "unhelpful" or "inappropriate" changes are quickly fixed by human stompers and algorithmicised helper bots. Without the kooks and the insulters and the spray-can taggers, Wikipedia would just be the most useful encyclopedia ever made. Instead, it is a fast-paced game of paintball.

"When, last year, some computer scientists at the University of Minnesota studied millions of Wikipedia edits, they found that most of the good ones - those whose words persisted intact through many later viewings - were made by a tiny percentage of contributors. Enormous numbers of users have added the occasional enriching morsel to Wikipedia, but relatively few know how to frame their contribution in a form that lasts."

The Byron Review: some reviews

We posted about the Byron Review last month, and the guys'n'gals at have reviewed it for e-Safety and children and video games. Responsibility, collaboration and supporting parents come through as themes for me. The posts are worth a look.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Plymouth e-Learning conference

I had a really nice time last Friday, at the Plymouth e-Learning conference. Okay, it helped that the weather was great and that I was by the seaside, and that I love the train journey past the Cotswolds, through Bristol and along the coast beyond Exeter. However, the setting for the day, in the Roland Levinsky building, was excellent - an impressive use of building materials fused with a dynamic shape in the heart of the city. Plus, I met some really nice people - lots of smiling (I wonder if it's the sea air), and took away a few ideas.
  1. the University of Staffordshire, have just validated a Technology-Supported Learning strategy. I'm not sure that we are yet at the position where institutional maturity for embedding e-Learning (and I mean across the institution, not just in the heads of our e-Learning Co-ordinators and champions) is a position where we can ditch the term "e-Learning".
  2. Mark Stiles from Staffordshire also pointed us to their resources on communities of practice, which might be worth further investigation.
  3. Mark's keynote focused upon how we embed e-Learning without moving to a process of regulation. My take on this is that mature and devolved quality assurance processes, enable programme seems to innovate, within a structure whereby local faculty mechanisms help those teams enhance their work. I think Mark is right, however, to flag the need for joined-up policies in estates, information services, learning and teaching, library services, etc, in particular, where lifelong learning, employer engagement, flexible working, work-based learning and foundation degrees impact upon our perception of the "University".
  4. I was taken with Neil Witt's presentation about Plymouth's HELP CETL. in particular, I like what they have called USPACE - their iGoogle aggregator, which acts as a personal learning environment to support transitions into higher education and work-based learning. There is lots to learn from this implementation about the development and implementation of PLEs, to form a context for learning within which students are comfortable. I liked Neil's argument that this is a sustainable solution, precisely because Google is a sustainable solution, with guaranteed services. What also struck me about his presentation, in the mix of technologies including eLGG,, googledocs and Ning presented via iGoogle, was his commitment to rapid prototyping. This is based on quick, clear, user focused evaluation. Within this approach engaging the staff, and developing their capability, strikes me as critical.
  5. Mark Lyndon and Graeme Horton presented a really interesting lunchtime session on building an interactive whiteboard for under £40, simply using a Nintendo Wii remote, hooked up both to a laptop (using a Bluetooth driver and whiteboard open source software) and a data projector, with a home and made infrared pointing and drawing device. They based their work on that of Johnny Chung Lee, and showed us how to utilise the whiteboard in under five minutes. The home-made infrared pointing and drawing device is a wonder of modern technology, consisting of an LED, switch and AAA battery, fitted inside a whiteboard marker pen (with nib and cartridge removed). What I loved about this demonstration was the fact that as a user I got some instructions for engineering my own pointing device, and that they developed a mobile, wireless, classroom solution. As the guys from Plymouth noted the critical development would be how it was used in the classroom, or how it freed-up staff and students to do work in a variety of contexts.
  6. I was a bit disappointed to miss Steve Wheeler's presentation on social anxiety, given my interest in issues around agency and participation in on-line environments. There is a tendency to look at Web 2.0 and other e-Learning tools as a panacea for participation, and I think this type of research is a much needed balance. I'll be hunting Steve down for a copy of his presentation, and I hope to do some more work in this area.
  7. Oh, and I thought my presentation on "the impact of the read/write web on learner agency" went pretty well. I seem to have the central tenets of this paper pretty well mapped out, in terms of theories around deliberative democracy, association and decision-making, and the practical impact of the read/write web upon our students' perceptions of on-line access and participation, decision-making, environmental control and critical literacy.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

MacArthur and Lift: resources on Web 2.0

Having presented at the Plymouth e-Learning Conference last Friday, and having been videoed in the process, I fancied spending a bit of time searching for other on-line conference presentations. I want to get some tips to inform what we will be doing at our e-Learning Symposium on 16 May, and also to see what else is out there on participation, agency, inclusion and enfranchisement in the read/write web.

I particularly like "The MacArthur Series on Digital Media and Learning", which explores "core issues facing young people in the digital world." The material on Civic Engagement and Games appeals to me. I'm also very taken with some of the 20 minute [max] presentations from the LIFT conference that "to inspire and connect an open community of doers and thinkers exploring the social impact of new technologies".

This area of the social impact of new media is under-represented in traditional e-learning research, especially within HE. I'm looking to extend my own thinking on agency and self-efficacy on-line, and issues around participation to an exploration of social anxiety and inclusion. Email me if you want to chat about this area of research, or collar me at Northampton, SoTL, PRHE, BLU or SOLSTICE.

AxisCentre - AxisCommunity

We've been having a few conversations with Bjorn and Jonny up at the Axis Centre. They have attended a few of our dissemination events and I hope to make their Community nights in Nottingham. Their Community model for proactive, technology-enhanced, business-social learning development will hopefully underpin our Employer Engagement project. More importantly, we have lots to learn from them about: social networking and constructivist learning solutions; new approaches to professional development; engaging new users through Second Life; and work-based learning.

They have edited some of their meeting outputs as videos. Check them out at via AxisCentre on YouTube.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

EU funds project to pioneer privacy and identity management solutions in Web 2.0

The IBM Zurich Research Lab reports that the EU is funding a project, PrimeLife, to pioneer privacy and identity management solutions in Web 2.0. In particular I'm taken by the short-term aim of providing "scalable and configurable privacy and identity management in new and emerging Internet services and applications". Moreover, the longer-term goal is to protect the privacy of individuals throughout their entire life span. This is interesting given the range of virtual footprints and digital interactions that we leave and the storage capabilities and possible re-use of technological advancements - witness recent discussions about Phorm. The implications of linkages and build ups of digital traces have implications for our privacy, for marketing to us and of us, for our IPR and copyright, and for surveillance of us.

The Guardian; Report backs freer use of data

So the Government is embracing Web 2.0 thinking, with Gordon Brown Twittering and supporting more open use of data for mash-ups and repurposing, according to the Guardian's technology blog. An essential thread in the Web 2.0/read-write/social-learn discourse, you can check out the Free Our Data debate. The key strands are open and transparent re-purposing of information, but with an active rather than passive theme. Maybe this has an economic driver, but the aggregation and re-use of material has much promise for education.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Tagging and Tag Clouds for assessment

On browsing the NLab conference mentioned below, I came across Jess Laccetti’s blog (one of many), which (sorry Jess) I haven’t kept up with in ages – more shame on me really, because it’s a great blog focused on a lot of stuff we’re interested in here.

Anyway, in her post on the subject of tagging, Jess discusses some ways that tag clouds can be used to attract readers to your blog, - but also something of particular interest to me, which has surfaced on a pretty regular basis, both in the day-to-day and more generally on this pathfinder: How can we use Web 2.0 for innovative activities and possibly assessment with students? And this is often for courses that aren’t focused on new media issues or learning how the technology works. What Jess suggests is using tag clouds for two-way interaction between teachers and students and also for enabling students to analyse and compare the use of specific topics within texts…

Jess writes
We could generate tag clouds (of work that is handed in electronically) of the student's most-used words. Wouldn't that be a good way of showing students why it's necessary to avoid repetition if they can actually *see* the repetition? We could also use tag clouds for our lecture notes or powerpoint presentations help students get an overview of the key points we're trying to share with them. What about generating tag clouds of 18th C. lit. and current lit. to see how vocabulary changes?

This would definitely be worth investigating…and could easily create a basis for discussion in seminars. It could potentially be used in any subject area.. in Humanities for instance the idea could be adapted for almost any subject we teach. Interestingly, Jess also predicts that we’ll start seeing visual tags and maybe sonic tags. I can only imagine!

NLab Social Networks Conference

If you don’t know already, registration is now open for the NLab Social Networks Conference, 19-20 June 2008 at De Montfort University, Leicester, UK

In 2008 NLab is exploring the power of social networks in business and there’s an impressive line up of presenters on many aspects of networking

Speakers include
Andrea Saveri, Institute for the Future, Palo Alto and Steve Clayton, Microsoft UK plus David Asch, De Montfort University - Jim Benson, Modus Cooperandi - Roland Harwood, NESTA - Shani Lee, NLab - Chris Meade, Institute for the Future of the Book - Toby Moores, Sleepydog - Vijay Riyait, iQubed - Sue Thomas, De Montfort University - Ken Thompson, and more to be announced...

Also see the range of subsidies (including for DMU students and staff) and some bursaries available for Businesses in the East Midlands.