Monday, 30 June 2008

Blade376 on Blended Learning and 21st Century Education

Well, you know, there's a nice, you know, video put together by Blade376 about his experiences at the Blended Learning Unit conference. I blogged about this last week, but Myles' vlog is part personal diary and part exploration of progressive pedagogic engagement. Now it's, you know, a long piece, but it shows you how the medium (YouTube) can be used to engage "real people with real views". The comments and community that develop around Myles' vlog and that maybe envelop his vlog shows how connections can be developed and strengthened and help users evaluate and build their own literacies.

Stick to the end, because there is a great exploration of how Web2.0 and versioning is meaningless to current digital natives - are we are trying to force 21st Century tools into our world, rather than engaging with its power for our students?

Friday, 27 June 2008

So here we are. Again. End of Pathfinder "celebration"

Back in November 2005, Heads of e-Learning attended a Town Meeting at the Higher Education Academy in York. at this meeting, we were informed that there would be a benchmarking and Pathfinder programme initiated from the debris of the UK eUniversity farrago. I was one of a limited number of people who expressed, either at the meeting or via e-mail, concerns that benchmarking meant metrics, which in turn meant measurement and effectively a new column in a league table. A central concern for me was that any focus upon metrics should be subservient to, rather than lead, our enhancement/improvement agenda. Moreover, where metrics were deployed they should be used in context by HEIs to plan and deliver enhancement.

During the implementation of Benchmarking and Pathfinder at DMU the threat of the deployment of metrics and measurements receded. I felt that we embarked upon a process of understanding our own narratives, and helping both staff and students to come to terms with 21st century technologies to enhance their learning. We formed part of a collective, participant-led agenda for change, which for me was about:
  1. empowering staff and students to make good choices about the technologies they deploy;
  2. learning from others; and
  3. developing e-pedgogies that demonstrate fitness-of-purpose and fitness-for-purpose in the 21st century.
The joy of our engagement in this national project has come through meeting other practitioners and celebrating their stories. I had hoped that this would be an outcome of our Making a difference day in London yesterday. Despite being talked at for over two hours in the morning session, we did get the opportunity to engage with people who are trying to change lives at the chalk face in the afternoon.

In the morning we heard from John Selby from HEFCE, who highlighted how institutions need to think about value the money, efficiency and latterly enhancement. Now maybe he didn't mean it in that order, but that's the order in which he spoke about these issues: money and metrics first, enhancement second. Dr Selby also highlighted that the Educating Rita model of curriculum delivery was outmoded and inefficient. Sadly he did not note that the politics of Educating Rita, and the empowerment of Educating Rita and the emancipation of that student in that story show its true value, more than the resource implications of one-to-one teaching.

Dr Selby did also highlight how the sociological power of technology-enhanced learning needs, more emphasis. He hinted at a pedagogic shift; one that takes notice of complex behaviours, and thereby empowers people to make their own decisions. This, I believe, is the next step for us. How do we engage with progressive pedagogies? How do we rethink higher education that has relatively static models curriculum delivery and design, in a world that is ever more networked? Do we have a 19th-century model of education in a 21st-century world?

The afternoon was powerful and important - we talked with and learned from other projects - theworld becomes a better place at the chalkface - we need leaders who can empower us there. The afternoon was also depressing. I had a crushing sense that we were back to where we had begun in November 2005, ostensibly due to a single unchallenged comment by John McLaughlin, from DIUS. He was asked, in effect, how we could engage with senior managers within universities to embed change and move the lessons that we have learned forward. His answer was that we have to talk about students as consumers. We have to talk about students in terms of value-for-money. We have to talk about our students in terms of metrics that would deliver efficiency.

Now at the PRHE conference last week, I heard an empowering 10 minute talk from the Vice-Chancellor of Liverpool Hope University, Professor Gerald Pillay. In it, he argued for a higher education that focused upon the mind, body and spirit of our students. My thinking about what Professor Pillay had argued relegated metrics, in the form of retention and progression, and value-for-money, to a secondary means of ensuring enhancement where measures supported our staff in improving learning. When we highlight our students as consumers, we raise up the power of metrics, and relegate the mind, body and spirit of our students. We all lose something in this argument; notably, we lose the opportunity to set progressive agendas about opportunity and meaning.

Sarah Porter, from the JISC, argued clearly that we need to know our strategic plan in order to engage with our strategic managers in an effective way. However, it was left to the QAA to offer a sensible and meaningful way forward. It is totally remiss of me not to remember the name of their assistant director who was speaking, but Icannot. However, his argument was that we had "a problem with the rhetoric". He argued that we have to focus upon giving our students "something of lifelong value". A constant, persistent focus upon metrics and outcomes, where those issues define and shape the landscape of higher education, demeans the work that we do every day with our students and staff. It reduces us all to units of measurement, or to actors in a process of measurement.

So, I feel like I let myself down by not challenging Mr McLaughlin. I feel like saying to him that all of the work we have done as practitioners since 2005 has been focused upon enhancing the life chances of our students, through a process of learning from each other. It has only been about costing models, or value-for-money, or efficiency gains, where each of these has been driven by something more humane, "something of lifelong value".

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Speed Read

Don't you just envy those collegues who boast about reading a whole book, or two in a day. I couldn't imagine how they could manage do it. For me perhaps cancelling-out all interuptions, meetings, lunch, family and all, whilst being drip-fed would perhaps free as much time needed in one day to finish half of the book - max. I was beginning to despair until I came across a web 2.0 tool that might be what I've been looking for; something that would make me into a super reader, a reader on steroids! Well daydreaming is also good sometimes.... is a free to use service where you would typically copy and paste the desired text into a prompt window. At a click of a button, Spreeder flashes the words in sequence to you at your chosen speed removing the tendencies to subvocalise or backtrace.

Do give it a go and let me know how you get on.

[Addendum: Another good article on Speed Reading can be found here]

World PC count exceeds a billion

World PC count exceeds a billion according to Gartner report. Emerging markets to account for PC growth , whilst there are concerns over lack of recycling.


Social networking coming to your Nokia

As part of its major push into offering location based services, Nokia, the world's top mobile phone maker, has agreed to buy social networking start-up Plazes.


Sunday, 22 June 2008

Brief thoughts on Blended Learning Conference 2008

Definitely an international feel at the University of Hertfordshire with plenty of food for thought, including interesting keynote from Peter Goodyear in Australia, focusing on current research in learning designs. As already mentioned by Richard, Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication are using wikis for personalised student profiles and cvs that can be used beyond university life. I would think this very useful for placement students, who could potentially create vlogs and podcasts linked to their experience in the workplace. Another interesting contribution from Andrew Middleton focused on digital media for providing student feedback. Malcolm Andrew (DMU) presented on his podcasts in Pharmaceutical Microbiology. The four students who participated in the Q&As, provided a realistic and candid view of attitudes and use of the podcasts.

Reflecting on our own paper, The impact of read/write web approaches on the curriculum priorities of PG Cert HE students (Richard, Pam, Heather), there was a good deal of interest and some helpful comments. Julie Hughes (Wolverhampton), for example, suggested giving participants the time to fully formulate their action plans on paper first, recognising that people may be reticent to post publicly for critique (initially at least). Also a query about our constructivist approach - perhaps we could incorporate more scaffolding? One thing we thought we might have explained better was how this all fits in with our particular institutional context (elearning focuses more on embedded co-ordinators and ‘champions’, rather than a team of learning technologists as in some institutions).

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

The most inspiring conference presentation I have ever seen

I'm currently at the Blended Learning Unit conference in Hatfield, with Heather and Malcolm from DMU. We are presenting on the impact of new tools on our PGCertHE and M-level Pharmacists. I've discussed formal and informal education, participation and association with some great guys from Ravensbourne, who have a lovely model for understanding the connections between tools, users and spaces. I'll be following that one up.

However, I also attended a session on vlogging by Myles Dyer, a second-year Psychologist at Herts who uses YouTube to "have the chance to inspire". The man is a real inspiration and the kind of student and social leader who should be cherished. He made me realise how fortunate I am to be involved in a business where we get to engage with the energy and drive of young people.

Myles uses YouTube to speak to the world and to connect with, and crucially to understand, networks of others on a range of issues that are personal to him. His channel focuses upon acceptance, investigation, discussion and adaptation of concepts, views, knowledge and values. Myles highlighted two important, political statements for me:
  • "this type of work helps us to develop as people";
  • "[I work and collaborate] in the hope that people will be true to themselves".
In this view Myles is opening up spaces for people [him] to becomes themselves [himself] and relate to others and take meaningful action. This is powerful stuff, beyond the banalities of "me and my learning environment", towards a progressive, hopeful pedagogy, to which Friere, Barnett, Illich and Sachs could all sign up.

Both Myles and Ruth/Roger from Ravensbourne made me think that we desperately need to rethink our curriculum, in order to move away from a nineteenth century factory model towards an engagement with those Web2.0 mindsets and approaches that are afforded by a raft of personal as social tools, notably:
  • an extended, critical user-focus;
  • meaningful, active participation;
  • democratisation;
  • networking; and
  • hope.
Myles highlighted how his creation of videos had made him thoughtful about his relationship with others, and how he presented himself, and how he evaluated academic and non-academic knowledge. It had enabled him to make better decisions and take meaningful actions. Myles' talk reinforced to me the powerful impact of Web 2.0, or the read/write web, on learner agency in educational environments that are at once connected and networked and informal and formal. Grasping these affordances is a crucial part of education as a democratic, political project, and in empowering our students' through facilitating their development of personal literacies.

Money talks, but at what expense? - Education Standards

UK games industry needs brains

Video game production is booming globally, however due to the shortage of the 'right' graduates in the UK, our industry-leading country could see her share dwindle if the supply to demand is not met. The British video-game production industry currently makes more money than our movie production, so what is going on? Can students from De Montfort University help fill the vacuum?

Watch Video...

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Why women quit technology careers

Just stumbled across this article and was quite simply shocked by it. To draw a comparison I thought to myself of the Pathfinder project with around half of the team being women; and without their great contribution, the Pathfinder project wouldn't have simply been anywhere. It is a sad state of affairs that women still feel discrmination and are eventually forced out of the industry due to mainly persistent subtle discrimination by men whom dominate the industry... Read the article below for more...


What if half the men in science, engineering and technology roles dropped out at midcareer? That would surely be perceived as a national crisis. Yet more than half the women in those fields leave -- most of them during their mid- to late 30s.


Thursday, 12 June 2008

YouTube stripping supply teacher banned

A supply teacher was caught on video stripping off and parading semi-clothed in front of his teenage students.

The film of the English teacher dancing topless in front of a class of 13 and 14-year-olds was then posted on the YouTube website.


Ofcom Publish Report on Social Networking

[Exracted from Jisc Legal Newsletter]

The Ofcom report highlights the high percentage of children under 14 and other users in general, who join the social networking sites with little awareness of the need to protect their privacy. The report makes some best practice recommendations to the social networking firms in order to tackle the issue of security and privacy. The full report is available on the Ofcom website at

Studies in Digital Technology

News just in from Andrew Clay in Media Production...

TECH2002 Studies in Digital Technology 2007-2008

‘Studies in Digital Technology’ is a contextual studies module for media students in the Division of Technology in the Faculty of Computing Sciences and Engineering. The module aims to apply critical concepts to the study of digital media texts, services and products. In recent years, this has meant an increasing focus on the technologies associated with the concept of ‘Web 2.0’.

Students took part in a group project that was assessed through an individual coursework portfolio. The project involved making and/or using media technologies combined with the insight of critical reflection. The groups had to choose one of six technological areas (identified by the 2007 Horizon Report) associated with network media such as the web and mobile phones identified as a focus:

  1. user-generated content
  2. social networking
  3. mobile phones
  4. virtual worlds
  5. new modes of electronic publishing
  6. massively multiplayer online gaming.

The most popular topics were social networking, mobile phones and virtual worlds.

Students used a number of Web 2.0 tools. A group blog and wiki in Blackboard was used to plan and prepare group assessments, and to analyse current developments in digital technology. Individual notebooks were also kept using Tiddlywiki to log and reflect upon their personal progress through the project. I used my own blog and wiki in Blackboard to feed ideas and good practice to the students.

It was suggested that the student blogs could be used as communication tools to think aloud and write about their research, sharing it with others, but the blogs tended to be used more like email than reflective journals. The wikis were set up to be information storehouses for publishing the group’s research. The wikis were very slow in developing and the students had to be prompted to work on the presentation, content and navigation of the wikis to make them more effective in time for assessment, and this got a good response.

Students were encouraged to think about two critical frameworks – Critical Technical Practice (CTP), the hands-on analysis of the values that are designed into technologies and how they might be altered, and Experience Centred Design (XcD), or a concern for user experience in technology with an emphasis on felt experience. However, most groups found it difficult to apply these methodologies with any confidence. But there was some good reflection on experience and primary research. One group compared living with and without mobile phones and social networks, another group held a party in Second Life. Overall, traditional weaknesses were exposed. Poor organizational, critical and writing skills were in evidence. Some were empowered by the use of social technologies, but others were as challenged as they would have been by more traditional forms of learning and assessment. Just as with traditional reading and writing, we cannot assume that students will be comfortable with the literacy of read/write web tools, especially where use is prescribed. It will be interesting to see how students will respond to a greater freedom to choose appropriate tools as a framework of assessment as the module develops next year. Is it going to be possible to foster critical literacies and informed decision making about the use of appropriate social tools in response to providing evidence for assessment purposes?

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Learning is a risky process

The Guardian education blog is carrying an article entitled: Web2.0: boon or bane for universities?

Whilst the article highlights the opportunities for networking and user engagement with these tools, it also goes on to highlight some perceived dangers for HE. Let's have a look at these.
  1. "One institution reported three examples of serious problems in one year involving students' use of the new technology including the victim of a student scuffle using Facebook to identify the address of his attacker, and getting his revenge." I can see that this is an issue, but aren't we in the business of trying to support our students' critical thinking, at university and in the world? In any case, I am not sure why this is a problem for higher education rather than society, and most institutions will have regulations covering social relationships on-campus, or where they are directly linked the university.
  2. "it tends to be individual academics who are driving innovative use of the technology in learning, which can present problems when those academics move on, or when they want support from their institution's centralised IT systems." It tends to be individual academics who are driving innovative use of learning and teaching. The technology is secondary, and in any case Web 2.0 tools tend to flatten hierarchies, so that learners are more in control of their learning. Moreover, these tools also have a low entry level, so that they are easy to engage with. It is the academic implications that need addressing, whether you are using a VLE or external software. One way to get around this is, of course, to ensure that programme teams are fully engaged rather than leaving it to one interested individual. HEIs need to find ways to devolve, to reward and to disseminate innovative practice.
  3. "Assessment also becomes more difficult when academics are not merely having to assign marks to a heap of scripts but to wade through student podcasts and video clips or Second Life presentations." I would love to see the evidence for this nonsense. A meaningful assessment strategy, perhaps allied to a patchwork text approach,would not be heaping Web2.0 production techniques and artifacts, on top of traditional techniques and artifacts. It would be providing the students with the scope to demonstrate, perhaps through a patchwork assignment or portfolio or personal learning environment, their achievement of learning outcomes. The critical issues here are less workload, and more copyright, security, plagiarism and IPR.
  4. "There is also the fear that, if students have access to podcasts and YouTube videos of lectures, they may not bother turning up to the real thing. And who owns the copyright to these podcasts - the lecturer? The institution that employs him or her to lecture? No one?"Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Hasn't this been said about e-learning and technologies since time began? There is plenty of evidence highlighting that where videos and podcasts enhanced the curriculum, rather than replacing elements of it, student attendance is not damaged, but is engaged. As to the issue of copyright, UCU certainly suggest ways for managing this issue, and we have a collective agreement on the issue.
  5. "Meanwhile, there are issues over who should be responsible if students or lecturers say something online that results in litigation against the university." Agreed - and we don't really want this to go to case law do we?
  6. "Then there is the issue of control. A lecturer involved in a discussion on a public social networking site is operating in a forum that belongs not to his or her institution but to the students, and, ultimately to the private company that runs the site. This company may at some point decide to make commercial use of the information on the site, or to withdraw its services." That is a real risk, and it is one of the roles of e-Learning managers to appraise programme teams of these risks, in order that they can make smart decisions about technologies. It is also part of their role to ensure that those programme teams and their students are able to bring evidence forward of assessment for learning and assessment of learning, into institutional learning environments. This will enable guarantees to be made about security and backups. The terms of use of technologies like Twitter and SecondLife highlight their right to use your content in perpetuity, but state that it is yours to exploit. Again, individuals need to make savvy decisions. Equally, who is to say that that our VLE isn't going to be sold/merge/die?
The more interesting control issue, is the democratic power of these tools, where a progressive pedagogy is implemented. One that is participative and empowering of students as actors, able to collate and critique examples of how they have met learning outcomes and make learning decisions.

Wiki international symposium 2008

Well if you can't be there in body may be in online spirit and be involved:

Friday, 6 June 2008

UK university lectures on iTunes

University College London, the Open University and Trinity College Dublin are putting lectures onto iTunes.

Educational content is already available in the United States through the non-charging "iTunes U" section of the music downloading service.

But European universities are now joining, providing video and audio material for students to use on iPods or computers


Thursday, 5 June 2008

Institutional maturity and exit strategies

So I really enjoyed the SOLSTICE conference today and my preso on institutional collaboration went really well. I really liked thinking about institutional spaces and whether we are trying to force new, web-based tools into old spaces and pedagogic approaches, without changing our curriculum design and delivery. e.g. Wondering why a blog or social network does not work when it is disconnected from the learning and assessment processes, so that we maintain a traditional studio or lecture plus essay/project approach, rather than a social networking/problem-based and patchwork assessment approach.

We are moving towards a position where e-learning professionals are confident enough to push progressive pedagogies - we need to accept that students are learning and developing literacies and self-efficacy and agency in new environments and networks. Moreover, there is a risk that the spaces and tasks that we use to develop academic literacies are disconnected from our students social spaces and networks and literacies. In delivering these types of connections we need to rethink pedagogic paradigms to focus meaningfully upon participation and user-centred pedagogies, in order to connect problems to actions and tools, and to connect networks or collaborative efficacies and concepts to individual outcomes and attainment.

The other points that struck me were the role of structured play in learning and teaching - how to make the use of technologies and the interactions they promote as "fun" [as noted in our e-learning strategy]. There is something to be said here for the themes and principles promoted by the EYFS and how they impact on our understanding of technology-enhanced learning. More will follow on that.

Finally, my good friend LP argued that my preso, which argued for the spreading of a social networking approach and culture across an HEI involving broad academic and academic-related teams working, sharing and collaborating through Web 2.0 tools, demonstrated that we were preparing an exit strategy from the institutional VLE. I argued that we were working on upskilling staff and especially programme teams to collaborate to make better decisions about the tools that they use in the curriculum. These may be Blackboard-based or Web 2.0 tools. This means that we have an institutional maturity, based upon acceptance, experience of and engagement with e-learning tools, that allows us to migrate technologies if we have to. Moreover, those staff are better able to make informed, devolved, empowered decisions now because of the spread of tools and people to advise on their use.

A move towards participation and local engagement means that I might become redundant!!

It's now confirmed: The Television is in Intensive Care

The television is dying, some say it is already dead. In yesterday's post there was mention of the the prospect of DVDs being displaced by download and streaming services, today the Beeb announced that they would start streaming BBC1 live on to the internet. This is not the first recently where the BBC has managed to stray into hot waters; the BBC iPlayer - the "watch later" service - has got it's fair share of attention with Internet Service Providers (ISP) whining how much bandwidth drain the iPlayer has caused lately. I think the iPlayer is a great service which allows you to watch progammes that you have missed on television.

ISPs should now brace themselves, and get a move on with upgading their networks; yesterday Apple announced full-length movie downloads via iTunes to iPods in the UK at competitive rates to DVD's. What next? Live stage performances on the Internet too?!

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Goodbye DVD, hello download

by David Evans - British Computer Society

What will happen if (paid for) tv/film downloads go mainstream?

I don't usually like to dabble in technology/market prediction, but I was intrigued by an article in the Guardian today about the prospect of movie downloads displacing DVD as format-of-choice. As the article points out, people still like having something physical to buy/give, and while it may be easy (but perhaps not convenient) for me to get it to the TV screen, it's not easy for the less technically literate. The BBC iPlayer has undoubtedly created a wave of people watching TV in new ways, so it takes little imagination to see it would be possible to make it easy for the masses.


Monday, 2 June 2008

Determined bloggers

A great blog on the Guardian [again] Bad Science site about determined bloggers breaking news stories ahead of the mainstream press:, demonstrating "timeliness, accuracy, relevance, effort, ethics, and stupid names". The power of user participation in supporting the vulnerable and in taking meaningful action in the world. For me this keys into the progressive pedagogies demonstrated by Paolo Friere, John Dewey, Ronald Barnett et al., where our ability to seize technologies for purposive action in a connected, social world underpin productive change.