Thursday, 28 February 2008

Pathfinder podcasting special interest group: what did I learn?

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.

Stars in Your Lap: social networking and online video

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.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

At 71, Physics Professor Is a Web Star

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


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

Social networking – build don’t ban! – Donald Clark – Executive Board Member UFI

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.

Everything Flows – Jay Cross CEO Internet Time Group

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.

Learning Technologies Conference 2008 - A belated synopsis

This annual conference has its place in most people’s diary who may be even vaguely interested in Learning Technologies (LT). It draws a substantial crowd from various major blue chip companies and various other sectors from around Europe. The conference is renowned for bringing in inspirational speakers from the LT arena and I along with a few other colleagues from DMU duly attended hoping to come away with some golden nuggets to work on for the forthcoming year. I however somewhat underestimated the event; I came back with a van load of nuggets, and thoroughly enjoyed nearly every session. There is only one little issue I had with the overall management of the conference was the lack of decent wireless Internet access, which impeded somewhat my intentions of live-blogging from each session to the Pathfinder blog. So I had to resort to the good ol’ notepad and pencil, and now type some of the comments and ideas I picked up and found useful, which may also benefit others, no doubt.

For brevity, I’ll provide only two of my favourite sessions at the conference, as typing them all up now would perhaps take me a life time (Hmmm, needing a transcription software?). However, when the recorded video of the conference becomes live on the Learning Technologies website, I will provide links on the blog/wiki for others to benefit.

Continued on following post...

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Nintendo DS shows educators the future

I attended Donald's session at the Learning Technologies Conference 2008, and found his address to be very entertaining packed with light-hearted humour and insightful judgements.

The below is a post taken from Donald Clark's excellent blog - Plan B.

Nintendo DS shows educators the future
Consumer e-learning goes global
Over Christmas something quite extraordinary happened. E-learning became a global consumer phenomenon. Nintendo has been THE global success in games this year with learning product. So how did Nintendo do what educators have been trying for eons to achieve (unsuccessfully)? Simple, they went back to some basic principles in the psychology of learning around motivation, goals and spaced practice. They realised that one-on-one content, that becomes addictive for the learner, played a little but often, is the way ahead in learning. In designing a game that appeals to all ages they’ve literally created a massive consumer-led e-learning market.


Friday, 15 February 2008

External funding and sustainability: another view

Just had this in from Paul M @ UCLAN:

"The year is 1995 and a new concept in teaching has arrived called the ‘classroom’

What are the benefits of ‘a classroom’

You can talk to many people at once…

…in real time!

The ‘class’ can ask you questions – there and then!

You can write your thoughts on something called a ‘chalkboard’ so learners can read it ‘asynchronously’.

“SO WHAT?” the teachers said.

“We’ve been using PCs to do this kind of thing for hundreds of years!”

More research is needed.

The year is now 2000 and more research was indeed done. Some teachers love classrooms. Some students love being in classrooms with teachers who love being in those classrooms with them. Some teachers take to classrooms naturally, but many don’t.

The people holding the purse strings worry a bit about not every one taking to classrooms.

“Yes but if we get really BIG classrooms we can achieve ECONOMY OF SCALE!!!” the enthusiasts said.

More research is needed.

The year is now 2005 and more research was indeed done

We still can’t get everyone to use ‘classrooms’ (or ‘crooms’ as they have become known). As fast as we can research how to best use crooms they keep coming up with new features (such as OHPs and flipcharts). All these new features are collectively known as crooms 2.0.

More research is needed.

The year is now 2008 and if you’ve read this far then I have to ask - shouldn’t you really be working? However if you’re looking for a point to this post it may be this…

Like many Learning Technology people I nearly always start conference presentations with the qualification “of course I have been involved in the web since 1994”. I think almost 15 years of involvement has given us distance to reflect on the trends. And the trend is that there will always be trends – and there will always be new and great things just on the horizon. It’s the point at which you commit that’s the tricky bit and I think this is what you are getting at in para 6.

Now I’m no academic but I know enough to know that universities are entering a fiercely competitive era (yes, even more so than now) where student choice means much more due to increasing fees. Learning technology is about choice. The choice to decide what blend is best for you and your students (diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks!). At an institutional level this is reason enough to support.

I can’t think of any industry (I’m sorry but if we are charging that makes us an ‘industry’) where faced with these conditions the said industry hasn’t consolidated. At a national level this is reason enough to support (a quick look at the nature of national funding bears this out). Your dad has every right to ask “where’s the money?” (maybe Tom Cruise could play him in the film) and the answers you suggest in your final para are fine. One of the problems I see is in maintaining those ‘links’ between national and institutional initiative whilst working in an increasingly competitive environment."

The power of YouTube

I've been on it, Tony Blair's been on it, Heck even Her Majesty's got a dedicated channel on it. YouTube has made it self the 'channel of choice' to the Internet populace. The question is will youTube help Obama gain advantage over Clinton?....

(Taken from The Telegraph)

In the US presidential election, YouTube looks as if it will play a key role. The video networking site is already providing what may be the biggest ever audience for a political speech, 13 million and counting. Will an extraordinary pop video, put together as unofficial viral marketing by hip hop producer, will put Barack Obama in the White House?


Thursday, 14 February 2008

York: a triptych of reflections

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday in the company of Jon, in York, at the Pathfinder programme meeting. There are a triptych of observations that I'd like to make about finding a breathing space, Web 2.0 and external funding/sustainability.

1. In our presentation, on developments at DMU to-date, I tried to emphasise: the relationships between our project and our new e-Learning strategy, to stress the value of Web 2.0 tools in team working, and in making work more fun. However, perhaps more importantly, I wanted to pick up on our critical friend's view [Terry Mayes] that perhaps project had given us some breathing space, to think about support, sustainability and lessons learned for e-Learning within our institution. Perhaps it has enabled us to look at the maturity of e-Learning, and staff support for e-Learning, and professional development e-Learning, and our institutional systems for e-Learning, and to see what will stick in the medium term. In one year's time, I hope that the cultural changes we have begun to embed, which involve integrating tools like podcasting, social networking and wikis into the curriculum, and developing approaches like team working between academic and academic-related staff to enhance the curriculum, and building strategic developments like a consistent approach to staff reward and recognition, will enable us to meet the challenges laid out in our institutional strategic plan. After all, e-Learning is a grea vehicle to enhance student learning, and deliver institutional benefits.

2. My second observation is about the programme evaluator's comment on the second day, that at programme start-up more projects intended to focus upon Web 2.0, but in reality, they thought there was a view that "Web 2.0? Yeah, we know what that is, and we'll take it when we are ready for it." This raised a couple of eyebrows on our table, and from a couple of buddies in the hall. Equally, it made me think about how such a simple, throwaway comment can impact on individuals, especially those managing projects focused upon Web 2.0. There is a possibility, of course, that I would find it a particularly demoralising point to make so demonstrably within the setting of a programme-level meeting. If we do indeed know what that is, then I really have to ask questions about our funding. Now as it happens, if you were to ask our academic staff, and their managers, our web strategy group, and our students about the use of Web 2.0 in the curriculum, they would have a different response. That response would talk about the need to understand the interface between institutional and non-institutional tools; that response would talk about addressing issues to do with data protection and privacy; that response would talk about issues to do with course design and staff development; and that response would talk about ownership and democracy within an educational context. That response would certainly not say "Web 2.0? Yeah, we know what that is, and we'll take it when we are ready for it." But what do I know?

3. I had an epiphany on the second afternoon, when one delegate trotted out the banal, reductionist view that quality assurance stifles innovation. I simply cannot believe that we are still having the same anodyne, anecdotal issues being raised that I faced as a TLTP project manager, back in the 1990s and early noughties. At that time I worked in a consortium of 12 institutions, and since I have worked with staff in another six. I also work in a department of academic quality, and all of our systems (periodic review, validation and programme-enhancement) recognize and support innovation and risk-taking that enhances or makes more effective the student experience.

This triggered a related observation, around external, project-based funding. Throughout the two days many individuals made claims about the level to which they could continue to innovate and move e-Learning forward without ring-fenced, designated project funding. There was also a critical friend session on value for money, and whilst I didn't attend, it gives the impression of maintaining a discourse around the cost effectiveness of e-Learning, linked to project funding.

However, the programme evaluators twice mentioned benefits realisation, without ever explaining what they meant. This is critical. In my understanding, as an accredited programme manager, benefits realisation maps project outcomes to institutional change through a programme, in order to deliver business benefits, which are in effect a step change in capacity and capability. So, for instance, we might have a programme, which is geared towards embedding e-Learning to deliver a more flexible, work-based curriculum. This might have projects on professional development, building a cohort of e-Learning champions, administrative process reconfiguration, overhauling technological infrastructure, Estates development, and marketing to non-traditional audiences. As each of these individual projects produce outcomes, they lever changes to business practices. So, for instance, once the professional development strand has delivered new development approaches, and the champions strand has delivered a commitment to rewarding e-learning leaders, those outcomes will hopefully forge a step-change in staffing capability and capacity. So, articulated benefits are realised over the life course of a programme, as project outcomes are delivered.

Now I find this particularly interesting for two reasons. Firstly, is Pathfinder a "programme"that is actually going to deliver business benefits across the sector? Is it a research-project, a change-management programme or both? Shouldn't it be about change-management? Given that we have 28 different institutions doing 28 different projects with some synergies between them, I doubt that it will deliver a step-change in sector-wide capability. But that does not mean that we shouldn't try. Maybe, the special interest groups are a means to this end, but I wonder whether they are able to lever institutional change, or sector-wide change. Secondly, we still seem to be hung up on project funding, rather than the benefits that our paymasters need to see, and which, more importantly will benefit our students.

Is this desperate need to see more project funding disenfranchising? It certainly gives us the excuse not to go back to our institutional managers and say we now have to embed these approaches or tools, or address these staffing issues, in order to deliver certain business benefits. My own take on this is that the perpetual round of external project funding may have run its course, and that as an association of e-Learning leaders we need to look at our institutional strategic plans and our institution's e-Learning maturity and argue our case locally, or in clusters. We have had funding from HEFCE, via JISC, HEA, TLTP, FDTL, ILTHE etc. for years. Isn't it time that we stopped looking at this 1990s model, that says "we need more money, we need more time", and recognize all of the work that we have done, and all of the developments that we have made, and our own personal, professional development, and find our own way in this world?

A recognition of business benefits, and working with those as a starting point, would enable us to join project (where it exists) and institutional funding to engage that step-change in capability. My dad, aged 67, who has worked on countless factory floors and who still works as a car-parking attendant would certainly want to know what 10 to 15 years of project funding, some of it supported by his tax-pound, has actually delivered. I think it has helped us to mature as e-Learning providers, and in working with staff to make learning more effective. I want to be able to tell him that I've used DMU's Pathfinder Project funding to engage with institutional strategic plans, and institutional strategic management, to make a case to the institution in moving forward, supported by our e-learning teams and developments. Involvement in this project and working with the wider community has shown me the value of the work that I and other professionals at DMU have been undertaking. I feel more empowered to engage with our staff and our students to make the internal case for continuation and sustainability, and to link that to project funding, as appropriate, rather than seeing that project funding as the central mechanism for change. Enfranchisement and self-awareness are important things - maybe it's time to fledge.

Voki - Create your own avatars

Suki forwarded this link to me and I thought I'd create an avatar for myself.
Whilst experimenting I thought of Vincent, our Training and Development Adviser, who had requested a way to capturing real case studies of work place bullying and harassment, perhaps as a videoed voxpop to be used to train and develop staff. However there was always the issue that the video needed to be masked and voice cloaked for obvious reasons. Somehow I think that Voki maybe the answer to Vincent's request. In little over 30 minutes (mainly taken this long to familarise with the interface, otherwise it would probably take half the time) I created an avatar, see below,
I'm sure there will be other scenarios where avatar can be used in a Higher Education environment, any thoughts?(remember to press play):

Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace:

Get a Voki now!

Wednesday, 13 February 2008


Stumbled upon this great web application that might make life easy (well scheduling meetings atleast) for some. Once you've used it you'll be forever smitten, well I was anyway. It's very easy to use and best of all free! I even use it to arrange meetings of even a few with colleagues across DMU too.

Get Doodling people

Doodle is a group polling and a event or meeting scheduling tool. "When organizing a recent reunion event that involved upwards of 80 people trying to figure out what the best date was for everyone, Doodle's group polling app saved the day. Set up a Doodle poll with possible dates and times for any kind of gathering with lots of attendees, and email out the Doodle URL, where each person can enter what times they can make it, and see who else is available when" - Lifehacker 10 Underhyped Webapps

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2 articles on social networking in the Independent

A little help from your virtual friends: Social networking moves on
It could be said that social networking is no real good. Sure, it's fun to post pictures of yourself on Facebook, but aside from the odd meeting of friends who have lost touch, there's little tangible social gain.

Facebook can ruin your life. And so can MySpace, Bebo...
In the judicial backwater of a New Jersey federal court, a case is being heard that nominally affects two families but should also make millions of Britons think twice about something they do every day: put highly personal information on Facebook, MySpace or Bebo.

Any thoughts??


Friday, 8 February 2008

WP5 Student Retention

The focus of WP5 is on student retention and progression.

To recap, we began last year by engaging with staff in student-facing departments across the Library, Humanities and Business and Law. We did this mostly through interviews, although we also used a written survey and liaised with Jo Leese from our Students Union. We collated substantial information about the type of communication and information that is usually available, particularly for first-year students and tried to identify any perceived gaps that could potentially be tackled by using Web 2.0-type technologies.
Although several areas were mooted, such as wikis for potential students before they begin, it was decided through various meetings with colleagues that a first step should be to try to extend and better tie together our existing provision, but without duplicating what colleagues are currently doing. This has received considerable support from staff.

A new site is in the process of being created for students in Humanities and steps are being taken in Business and Law and the DMU Library to enhance our provision of information and opportunities for engagement and interaction with and across the student body, particularly focusing on first-year students.

We have had a range of staff meetings. In Humanities, for instance, we had a meeting with staff this week and decided on concrete steps to build resources and ideas over the next months. Administrative staff from a range of departments will participate in training and awareness raising sessions. We have begun by creating additional online information about re-enrolment for current students; which will be available alongside current learning resources. Central to this WP is capturing the student voice on this; therefore, we intend to run focus groups before the end of term with students in each or our three areas of engagement. So, although we have ambitious plans for including more sophisticated technology in the longer-term, it is clear that to work successfully there needs to be a synergy between the working practices, (and tech know-how and aspirations) of staff in these important student-facing roles and what we hope will be an enhancement of engagement for our students.

Meanwhile, staff in the library have been using blogs and wikis in particular work areas only, but to try to give this a bit more impetus, two things are happening: The first is that some web 2.0 focussed activities are being incorporated into the library service’s strategic objectives for the coming year, and secondly we are going to provide some more “focussed” training sessions. The IT training team are also developing some courses that will support staff development across the university including Coursegenie and articulate.

Wii-velopment for staff

For sometime now we at Staff Training & Development at DMU have been musing over whether we should be introducing some appropriate technologies to enhance training sessions; after all, learning technologies is for [both academic and support] staff too, and not just for enhancement of student learning.

There is another justification to using technologies for staff development, which is for students to appreciate and use learning technologies, it is fundamental that staff understand and use learning technologies. For staff to use learning technologies effectively it is crucial that the staff/educational developers also understand the use and appreciate learning technologies. Staff/educational developers therefore have an important role to play but are generally reluctant to do so because they are not yet sufficiently capable, or moreover, simply not confident. Therefore it is incumbent that Staff/Academic Developers employ techniques in their training with learning technologies; more so at De Montfort University where our strapline is Professional, Creative, Innovative.

At T&D we had been thinking for ways of incorporating gaming, especially video consoles, but had refrained because we thought that video consoles wouldn't go down well with training staff, especially the academic; put beautifully by an academic colleague from Academic Professional Development Unit, "They'd [staff] simply walk out"!

However there was another issue that was at the back of our minds, at DMU we have around 3000 staff and are committed to recruiting appropriate people from all walks of life and ages, and so we may have many "digital natives" now amongst our work force who have grown up along side all sorts of technologies, and by using new technologies in training and development we may tap areas that are natural and indigenous in their lifestyles.

However, this shouldn't be at the expense of others being left out. We couldn't expect staff who are new to many concepts in technology to join in and naturally feel comfortable with a Playstation controller and the latest shoot 'em up like Resident Evil. Well, not until now; several months ago Nintendo released a new games console aimed at a broader demographic than that of their counterparts such as Sony and Microsoft. Nintendo claim that this console will attract people from all ages to play video games, and many titles together. See clip below.

Wii Made History

Richard Hall already commented on a previous post about his experiences with a friends family (and an eight-year old who thrashed him on a virtual game of Tennis) using a Wii; only recently did I learn that a US study showed that surgeons playing a Wii before entering the operating theatre perform better.

If studies show there is an improvement of performance using such technologies then perhaps similar appropriate techniques be used appropriately during staff training & development - or should we call it Wii-velopment.

One such example where Wii's can be used that quickly comes to mind is during ice-breaker session towards the beginning of a training event. Instead of spending 20 minutes having each member introduce themselves, or any other popular ice breaking examples staff trainers employ, participants can be gathered together and put in front of a Wii to have a game of bowling.

Richard Hall and I are currently discussing this initiative to see where other scenarios a Wii can be used in Staff Training/ Development/ or Teaching and Learning, and we will subsequently investigate, and experiment to see whether this particular technology do in reality enhance training , teaching or learning.

If anyone has any suggestions or ideas the do let me know.

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Thursday, 7 February 2008

Passion Based Learning

I came across this very interesting and simple philosophy on self education and the creation of your own Personal Learning Environment (PLE).

I think this philosophy is there in abundance in the work of the inspirational Vicky A. Davies (One cool cat teacher, in fact the coolcatteacher). One of her recent posts that i found particularly enthralling is The Twelve Dreams and Goals for 2008.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Update on Work Package 2

Update on Work Package 2

Last week, our team met at the Learning Technologies Conference 2008 in London, making use of one of the breaks from a hectic schedule to catch-up on what we’ve done so far and how we envisaged the project to pan out in the future.

The aim of our work package to recap is:

To implement professional development strategies for staff in Human Resources, Information Systems and Services (ISAS), and Library Services, for the integration of institutional and non-institutional virtual spaces.

There were various scenarios in which we could have addresses the aim however we thought that we’d tackle something that was a common problem that would involve all our departments. Therefore we settled upon the task of digitising and repurposing of multimedia training/learning materials whose content was still valid but medium had somehow become, or was becoming obsolete. After digitisation, the multimedia would be converted to various formats that are common presently, but also perhaps valid for any future devices. We all agreed that the technology industry was headed towards mobile devices as being one of the primary way of delivering content to.

So far we have investigated:

• The types of mediums used for training/learning materials in our support departments:
o CD-Rom (Flash, Shockwave etc)
o Digital Video (mp4 , mov, wmv etc)

• We identified DVD (video/ROM) and CD-ROM share similar characteristics; and VHS and Digital Video share similar characteristics and so the process of conversion of Digital Video and VHS should follow a similar route and be prepared and uploaded on a streaming server. Where as a DVD (video/ROM) and CD-ROM should be uploaded to an ‘application networking’ server such as IRIS.

• For trial purposes a VHS training material was digitised and uploaded to the streaming server, and a CD-ROM on the Library’s Citrix server.

• Digital video was optimised to stream rather than downloaded to the device, as ISAS had seen a substantial growth with streaming video rather then downloaded to a device.

Some of the outputs that we have produced:
• “How-to” manual for staff to convert their old multimedia titles to newer mediums.
• A report in exploring the limitations of copyright policies for converting training/learning multimedia.

Future Work planned:

• Test converted multimedia on a range of devices
• Update “How-to” manual with recommendations for optimal devices
• Write to creators and vendors to negotiate for relaxing of some copyright policies by introducing a new pricing model (Pay per view) for older titles.
• Presentation of “How-to” manual at e-learning symposium

Economist Education Debates: part 2

We've had an email from The Economist about our posting on their Educational Debate Series...


Thanks for writing about The Economist Debate Series on technology and education. Since you’ve shown an interest in our debates, I wanted to tip you off to our second series of three debates which kicks off today. The first proposition raises important questions about civil rights and the trade-off between Privacy vs. Security. As a blogger and member of the community that The Economist aims to serve with this lively debate, we wanted to extend an invitation to you and the readers of DMU Pathfinder to join the debate by blogging or commenting to the debate floor. (No subscription is necessary).

Timing & Proposition:

Feb. 5 – Feb 15: “Privacy vs. Security – This house believes that security in the modern age cannot be established without some erosion of individual privacy.”

Should people sacrifice elements of our privacy for the sake of making our world a more secure place?

Expert Debaters & Moderator

Two global thought leaders in security and freedom will square off on either side of the issue.

Livingstone is the chairman and CEO of ExecutiveAction LLC, an international business solutions and risk management company. In addition to serving on numerous homeland security advisory boards, Livingstone has written nine books and more than 200 articles on terrorism and national security and has appeared on more than 1,300 television programmes as a commentator on intelligence and national-security issues.

A former member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia (1995-2003), Barr now occupies the 21st Century Liberties Chair for Freedom and Privacy at the American Conservative Union. In addition to teaching and practicing law, Barr serves as a board member of the National Rifle Association and heads a consulting firm, Liberty Strategies LLC. Dubbed by the New York Times as “Mr. Privacy”, Barr writes and speaks widely on civil liberties. Previously, Mr. Barr served as the U.S. Attorney in Atlanta, and as an official with the CIA.

· Moderator: Daniel Franklin, Executive Editor, The Economist & Editor-In-Chief, & Editor, The World in 2008

Guest Participants

Additional leaders in this field are serving as guest participants through the course of the debate:

  • Thomas M. Sanderson Deputy Director and Senior Fellow, Transnational Threats Project (CSIS)
  • Scott Berinato, Executive Director, CSO Magazine
  • W. Kenneth Ferree, President, The Progress & Freedom Foundation

Future Debates in the Series

  • Feb 25 – March 7: Information Management. Is Technology succeeding at simplifying our lives, or is it just making things more complicated? Does the negative impact of information overload outweigh the positive impact of new tools and technologies?
  • March 18 – 28: IT Governance. Should each country have independent control over its own cyberspace, or should a governing entity oversee the Internet and policies surrounding it?

Also, if you haven’t already, please join our Facebook group, “I’m Following The Economist Debate Series.”

Blackberry Blackouts: a risposte

We've had an email from Cali and Jody @ Results-Only Work Environment about our post on Blackberry Blackouts and work-life balance. They say:
"We just ran across your post on Blackberry Blackouts and had to write you a note. It is true that access to new technology can have its challenges, but we would argue that the answer to the challenges is not limiting the use of it on certain days, at certain times, or with certain foods.

"Once people get used to using technology to do their work, forcing them not to can actually cause more stress than the initial challenges."

Their work-life (sucks) blog is at:

Session - the end of the essay? Enhancing students writing through new media led by Michael Powell (AAD)

Really enjoyed the session that we had yesterday, so for those who missed it - the key areas for me was the ‘reinforcement’ & feedback opportunity that blogging allows which can be spread over time and given at regular intervals which over the essay appears far superior as Michael described than when assessed in one chunk in an ‘essay’. Writing or blogging in this way appears to allow you to pick up on both strengths and weaknesses of a student which can be worked on and built. I also like the way that it adds more depth to the relationship the student has on their course journey and developing a sense of community amongst peers (I should mention here, the Game Art student blogs are ‘public’ and available to all level of students in the course). In a sense, (the blog) is like a PDP in disguise even though the student is not aware of it! (Don’t tell the students that!)
As Michael pointed out, you can see how it can become overwhelming for the tutor as you can’t give feedback on all individual blog entries and this is where you need some basic ‘rules of engagement’ (maybe peer to peer review?). The concern though about adding ‘structure’ to blogs so that you pre define entry titles (so assessment could be easier for the tutor) defeats the object and could stifle the fluidity of it and engagement. For me, blogs are very much a developmental process (and can go beyond their course) for the student and thus should and would contain evidence of strengths, weaknesses, understanding etc, its part and parcel of developing their skills and to hopefully attain ‘what’ is needed from the exercise. The informality of writing freely allows the student to express themselves without being too overly concerned that they are being monitored, so you can see the attraction. I do think blogs are transferable across a range of disciplines, for some an applied structure may work and a manageable time frame. Overall a great a session..thanks Michael.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Shall we Flock?

I was playing Scrabulous and happened to notice an ad for Flock. The ad had a nice look-and-feel - I'm a sucker for representative icons - and it quickly became clear that for those of us who buy-into the pulling power of social networking/sharing sites the Flock browser is a pretty exciting development because it aggregates services like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, blogger, WordPress, and Mag.nolia. Flock's flockers argue that "The more you use these key services that Flock supports, the better your [Flock] experience will be."

The privacy policy and terms of service stack-up in terms of openness and transparency, with some opt-outs. It's also been validated by commentators and Masheable's open web awards.

So I'm looking forward to engaging with this browser, to tie my use of YouTube, Blogger, Facebook and MySpace together into a Personalised Social Environment, and to test out Flock's claims that: "
Flock makes sure you don't miss a thing. Be informed when:
  • Your friends post photos or videos;
  • Your favorite sites update content; and
  • You have new messages and site notifications"

Me, Myself, and iPhone

In a previous post, our Steve (MacKenzie) linked to a thoroughly enjoyable article: Why I Miss My iPhone, and Why You Should Care by Steve Hargon. In the article, Steve M commented on something that I've also been thinking of for sometime now here in Staff Training & Development - to trial loaning devices loaded with learning/training material and factor the cost in fees or some sort of partnership with corporations. Device compatibility has always been a major issue in Information Technology with the dissemination of e-learning material, so how about removing this major obstacle by loaning out these portable devices, which have been configured to work seamlessly with out Information Systems. The NHS and Home Office has trialled similar initiatives and seem to have had some positive feedback. Perhaps, by following suit we (DMU) may be able to reach to those members of Staff that find it next to impossible to find time or embarrassing to attend training sessions, and instead tune into the content whilst commuting. Distant-learners or disadvantaged students who may find it difficult to purchase these devices would find loaned devices useful too. Would this not, I ask, be supporting learning through technologies?

Going back to the iPhone, I, like others have been excited at the prospects of the iPhone since Steve Jobs announced the 'revolutionary' device at his Keynote speech early last year. Last week I was fortunate enough to get my hands on one, and after a weekend I was totally hooked. I used to be a mobile phone sales person for some years during my student days; and let me tell you people, this is seriously one awesome device. Never have I experienced the feeling of total portability in any device including my previous Nokia 9300 (a very good Symbian powered device, however mine lacked wi-fi, a later model - the 9300i - has wi-fi).

The iPhone, like many new devices, has many glitches or things you can't do, however these weaknesses also plays to it strengths: Apple pledges commitment to continue developing and subsequently deploy updates through iTunes. A few weeks ago, Apple did as they promised, and there was an update issued with several features tinkered with and added. An unfinished product some may argue, who cares if it's going to be done eventually, previously you were stuck with the bugs on a mobile phone and had to painfully live with them until your annual upgrade.

So in effect I have a device that will continue to evolve and become better than what it is over time. Of course there will be another incarnation but I suspect not for another 6-12 months here in the UK. Judging from the series of iPods and other devices the successor will probably be slimmer, with better hardware and features, which in my mind would justify an upgrade, although I'd welcome a smaller price tag.

Now I know many people have and will continue to grumble at calling the iPhone - revolutionary, but if we look back at the history of the mp3 player that Apple brought in - the iPod, and see how it has liberated in the way people listen to audio and how it presented new dimensions to listening to programmes (i.e podcasts), then it's revolutionary effects to society becomes apparent. A whole industry has formed around one device - the iPod, with major players like Nike, Bose, Belkin and more making accessories specifically for iPods. I can't think of any portable device creating such interest as the iPod has.

Now the iPhone has already spurred other manufacturers to scramble to follow suit (e.g. LG viewty etc), and it's not just mobile phones, but other devices too, and even the mighty Google see's a future in similar 'gesture-based' devices with it's Android project. Remember folks,this is Jobs second bash at a portable touch screen device. The first was Newton which flopped miserably, probably because the average consumer wasn't ready. SJ has had much time to mull over things, 'to get it right'. iPhones are here to stay and it's market is steadily increasing (according to SJ's keynote it already trails the popular Blackberry in the US).

If prices drop then I can see it as a major contender for students and staff to access their learning as it has an iPod already built-in. I'm also hoping that there will be educational rebates to discount the price soon, to enable both students and staff to be able to afford one. Currently one retails for a whopping £269, plus you are tied down to an 18 month contract at £35 per month - the iPhone doesn't come cheap.

Last week I attended the Learning Technologies conference in London UK, and in one of the sessions - the former Vodafone Director of Global Learning Management Gordon Bull was talking of the prospects of m-learning but conceded that it was perhaps 2-3 years away because
of issues with infrastructure (lack of super Internet Speeds) and devices (compatibility and not being able to access webpages properly), towards the end of his lecture he added that if anything that came close to the m-learning reality at this moment in time would be [for students] to be equipped with the iPhone.

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E-Learning Conference-University of Ulster

Richard has already mentioned here some key points which I raised in my main report on the Pathfinder wiki in relation to Web 2.0 technologies and teaching and learning at DMU.

This was my preamble to that report about what was an informative and inspirational conference.

I attended The University of Ulster’s sixth annual all-Ireland e-learning conference which was held held at the Jordanstown campus on Thursday 17th January 2008.

The aim of the conference was to raise awareness of the benefits of using on-line technologies in teaching, learning and assessment. The conference addressed themes associated with the creation, support and development of an e-learning community, with particular emphasis on the impact of e-learning.

This conference was a pleasure to intend. Most of the delegates were from Irish universities and the atmosphere was friendly and the sessions most accessible for the non technically-minded, like me! Speakers were most happy to share ideas and point us towards useful web-links, some of which I am sharing here. I realised that I actually understood virtually all the terminology, even ‘mash-up’, (thanks, Richard!). Also that DMU, unlike quite a few other places, is lucky that it does not bar its staff and students from social-networking sites. Some people reported an arduous process of having to beg access for individual sites; multiply that by goodness knows how many and you get a good idea of how time-consuming a process that must be.

If and when I get access to the slides from this conference, I'll let you know!

Monday, 4 February 2008

'BlackBerry Blackouts' Urged for Work/Life Balance

Sometimes, with all these new technologies vying for my attention I feel swamped on what to spend my time on; FaceBook, Emails, Social Networking sites, VLEs, RSS readers, SMS messages etc. To keep up, what should I do? I can't abandon any but am increasingly spending more of my spare time trying to give each it's due share of my time. A day without visiting these sites or applications I feel a strong urge to find an Internet connection. Am I becoming addicted? Several words have been coined to describe the phenomenon of addiction to certain technologies - crackberry is one, which describes emailing using mobile devices (like the BlackBerry) as being addictive as the narcotic crack. It wont be long that like the Canadian Government (see link below), a directive is issued from our institutions and employers for people to simply just - take it easy.

Should we be then encouraging and expecting our students and staff to be soaking up all these technologies, only for them to become evermore disorientated and addicted. Shouldn't we be investigating the effects of addiction, and perhaps prepare ourselves as an institution (student services or HR) for counselling for addiction to technologies? Should some of our Pathfinder budget (or any future grants) be allocated to such causes?

Does anyone feel the way I do or not?


It may be wishful thinking, but a Canadian government ministry has sent out a directive to its employees urging them to relax and not to use their BlackBerry smartphones at night or on weekends and holidays.


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Couple of links that suggest maybe that the era of m-learning could be coming of age.

The mobile web takes off
Why i miss my iphone

Friday, 1 February 2008

DMOS Wiki – Ever expanding

Jon P from Data Management writes...
Originally DMOS (Data Management and Operational Service) wanted access to a Wiki so we could put together a knowledge base for the all new HESA2007 return. For previous HESA returns we have relied for documentation on several folders, lots of web sites, many Word documents, Excel and Visio diagrams. A Wiki, we thought, could bring all of the new knowledge together, and make our lives easier. Thanks to Richard we got our wish and we were successfully wiki’d up.

From a slow start we are now all using and adding pages to the HESA area, but things have snowballed. The Wiki has expanded from documenting the HESA return to documenting more of our DMOS processes, including: Training, ADS, QLS V4, Enrolment. I have also now added a DMOS Forum and a DMOS Blog to the Web 2.0 team, but we are yet to really use them in anger.

If that is not enough we have had to change the Area name from DMOS to Registry as the Web 2.0 word has spread, and I have been asked to add Content Areas for the other Registry Departments. Soon there will be wikis for Timetabling, SESD, Exams, Awards and all the other Registry departments. These will go live once I have met with Richard to iron out the House Rules and set up a general Registry Help Forum.

I am expecting there will be lots of imaginative uses of the new resources and I am hoping that being able to involve the whole team in the process of documenting a procedure will draw out not only better documentation but also better procedures.

University of Ulster: Enhancement and Impact

Pam posted some really useful notes from the UU 2008 conference on e-learning to our Pathfinder wiki. I have appended her implications for teaching and learning at DMU herewith...

  • If ‘knowledge navigation’ becomes an important ‘new’ skill to be learnt-and taught-will this take precedence over the creating/assimilation/application of of new knowledge.
  • What expectations do students come bring to HE regarding mobile learning?
  • If we presume that all our students have mobile-phones, how might these be usefully engaged for pedagogic reasons-or should they be?
  • It seems to me that we are investigating these tools as a matter of course and that that our Pathfinder Project has helped crystallize debate and opportunities internally.
  • We ignore ‘where our students are at’ at our peril.
  • To investigate the pedagogical soundness of these tools as we would any other method as regards group, prior experience, context, overall learning aims etc; also as regards resources related to time and environment.
  • What tools can support mentoring between international PG students and UK UGs (or PGs if available) for friendship, proof-reading etc.. What role is there for external tools like Facebook? What are thecultural implications of this? (e.g. glaringly in China).