Tuesday 13 May 2008

Loving this...

...and experiencing it just a little too frequently recently

Wednesday 23 April 2008

Coding data the tagcloud way

Health warning for research methods purists: THERE IS VERY LITTLE SCIENCE IN THIS POST (though there is a healthy dose of pragmatic common sense)

Since we introduced a personalised online space for students 3 years ago, we have been undertaking an annual survey to ensure that the student voice is central in informing future developments. With approximately 2000 responses each year and a mix of 20 quantitative and qualitative questions the exercise is highly valued. I have to admit that I personally look forward to getting my hands on the data and getting a feel for what students value. I am also a closet (or not so closet some might say) data freak, but it is a double edged sword - sleep is often sacrificed for the greater good of coding the data and it can take over chunks of my life.

Sooooo, on the bus on the way home to get stuck into coding more data, a strange thought crossed my mind. If I input the responses to a tagcloud generator would it do some useful coding for me? Obviously this is not the same a reading the full comment, and full qualitative quotes are the most useful in how we disseminate that data, on the other hand, could it give me a quick overview of the response to a particular question. So I resolved nothing ventured nothing gained.
I decided to use the free-text service in tweetclouds (mostly cos tweetclouds, for me, is aestheically pleasing and it lists them in alphabetical order - useful for next bits...ie performing search on the words in Excel that catch my interest to check context)

I chose my favourite question on the survey that asked:
How would you describe shuspace to a prospective student?

and this is what I got:

(click on image to see larger size)

But look! look! - cloud created in 20.6341 seconds (my coding exercise will take considerably longer) and I now know that "information" occurs 421 times, "useful" and "easy" feature highly (though without checking, of course, I can't testify to whether they are prefaced with "not very" but a quick check into the data can tell me that) Similies are also easier to identify as are things that might seem surprising.

In the interests of science I will code the question and see what that tells me, but if I compare and, as I suspect, the trends are similar then the 20 second coding clouds may well entice me further ;-)

Saturday 12 April 2008

Engaging senior management with e-learning

It is an absolute truism that the best curriculum innovations emerge when academic staff are enthused and driven to change their current practice. However, this is rarely (if ever?) enough in its own right. Back in the mists of time (2000ish) we asked staff what were the main barriers to change, in this case, to make greater use of technology in LTA design. They gave us five "wishes": time (of course), confidence in a robust and reliable infrastructure, institution provide appropriate support ie put money where mouth is, provide technology that they can "own" (putting the door back on the classroom and putting the emphasis on their relationship with the students) and, very importantly validation that this is a valid thing to spend time on ie clear executive sponsorship. There are so many conflicting demands on staff time and we needed to make it clear that this wasn't something you were expected to do in your own time as your hobby but was a legitimate..(maybe some day soon even essential) part of academic life. One of the things I really like about my own institution is the high level commitment to supporting innovation.

Fast forward seven years and we are experiencing a lot of success in e-learning and the senior managers are still supportive but asking questions like "what's it all about?", "where are the benefits", "is it value for money?" "what will the future look like?" It's easy to see the dilemma - governors ask questions about costs...and benefits, students really like it and expect it, but are also wanting more contact time, staff are all progressing at a different pace. The solution...no, not soultion...our approach was to run a "future of e-learning engagement" for the senior management group - a traditional discussion paper, a 6 week Bb course and a highly participative workshop. There is a LOT more information about this at http://sheffieldhallamuniexec.pbwiki.com/

Was it worth it - definitely - it enabled us to get a few things back on the radar at the senior level as well as a commitment to support growth rather than cut back. The important message (not rocket science for people reading this, I'm sure) was that to get the best out of the technology it isn't the technology that needs the investment but the people... the birth of our digital fluency initative. Other follow-ons have included the importance of expectations (students and staff), the tower and the cloud debates and how we might better join up e-supported LTA and how technology supports the broader student experience. Solutions? no. Challenges? yes....but at least something to get our teeth into ;-)

Friday 4 April 2008

Using twitter as a research data collection tool

One of the Academic Innovation team at Sheffield Hallam (and expert in learning spaces - recently described as the "voice of reality" - scarily for her), Liz Aspden is experimenting with using twitter as a tool for data collection. Liz's note below explains, please email her if you want to find out more.

Liz writes:

Hi all

We're about to start a data generation exercise looking at students' use of learning spaces, which I thought might be of interest to people on this list. It forms part of a project looking at informal learning preferences, activities, and the spaces students use to support these, which is designed to help us inform future space planning at the institution.

For this phase of the project, we've recruited 15 students to send us regular (average 3 per day) updates via Twitter telling us a little bit about where they're learning - well, as much as they can fit into 140 characters! A few of us will be monitoring and facilitating the study - possibly asking additional questions, providing commentary along the way, or generally just lurking and being distracted from our day to day work. Of course, this being the first time we've tried collecting data via Twitter, it could all go horribly wrong - but if you'd like to watch, lurk, or participate anyway as it unfolds (or unravels...) you're more than welcome.

We're hoping that the study will begin around mid-April so if you are interested, or if you have any queries about what we're up to, please drop me a line and I'll send you further details nearer the time.

Best wishes

Liz Aspden
Senior Lecturer - Curriculum Innovation (Learning Environments)
Learning & Teaching Institute, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield
S1 1WB

Friday 21 March 2008

enjoying tweetclouds


Hackneyed phrases and new and emerging hackneyed phrases

Recently I blogged a response to George Siemens' weariness of the concept of "Pedagogy first" and it made me ponder what I phrases feel weary of when I hear them. I find that these are particularly prolific in conference presentations, educational developer/learning technologist meetings and (increasingly) job interviews. Following George's example I'm going to endeavour that this doesn't become a rant but considers the "what lies beneath" of the hackneyed phrases.

1. "I'm looking forward to the day we can drop the 'e' and just talk about learning" usually followed by a mexican wave of nods around the room (and a sigh from me). To me this is a "so what" sort of comment, of course I recognise the sub-text of not treating e-learning as a novelty or needing special attention, but I personally think it is interesting enough to generate a rich seam of conversation in its own right - just before it starts to become ordinary something new and exciting come along to refresh thinking. This is not restricted to e-learning, I've also heard "let's stop talking about assessment/teaching/student support/transition and just talk about learning." Of course everything is a subset of learning but do we really want to just describe everything with one word and start every conversation with totality? Will that really advance our cause? Is it a good measure of impact? What's wrong with using language to shine a spotlight?

2. "technology is just another tool in the academic's toolkit that they may or maynot choose to use and I'm OK with that" this is usually an ed dev/learn tech comment and makes me want to ask a whole host of follow up questions - is technology one tool? in this day and age is there a legitimate opt out? in what circumstances might they choose not to use anything at all? and is it really OK to be OK with it? - where are the parallels? - would a librarian declare the same level of comfort if an academic opted out of using any information resources? I realise that I am going against conventional wisdom here, but I don't subscribe to the toolkit perspective. I think about living, learning, working in a digital age (in a world immersed in technology), I think about authenticity to discipline and/or professions, I think about the rich learning opportunities technology can offer and then I wonder in what context is it [yawn yawn] "just another tool"?

3. "technology is fine, but it isn't appropriate within my subject/discipline" obviously an academic comment (well, you know, ed dev/learn tech don't have the monopoly on hackney). I don't really have much to add to this one - its ??? is absolutely explicit. Is there really a subject or discipline in which learning cannot be enriched by thoughtful application of technology or that doesn't have a real world technology component worth embedding? If there is I haven't come across it yet, but if others have, please share...or (I like a challenge) suggest one and let's see if we can't prove/disprove this once and for all.

New and emerging hackneyed.... well "new and emerging" is probably a good candidate in itself, others might include "e-portfolios are the true personalised learning environments", "wikipedia is damaging students' ability to research", "we need to take learning to where the students are, Facebook, MySpace etc". The recent ELI Spring Focus Session with a focus on authenticity through "learning by doing or learning by thinking like.." offered a range of candidates for the coming soon "hackneys" (I even found myself trotting out a refreshed version of 1 above for which I am eternally sorry - "stop talking about them as students but as engineers, psychologists, nurses etc" - oh dear, oh dear) but for now, for the new and emerging ones, I'm not going to fret they are afterall not established yet and as long as they still offer opportunities for conversations and encourage everyone (whatever their role) to re-consider their practice to be more student-focused then I'll stick behind them for a while.

Your comments are most welcome on any of the above together with, if you wish, suggestions for phrases to put in the "Hackneyed Hall of Yawn"

Wednesday 19 March 2008

ELI SFS: Authentic Critical Reflection: Critique_It in Second Life

Michael Connors (Uof Wisconsin-Maddison)

Digital Printmaking - student work exhibited in Second Life - aim to get critique from other students (and anyone else) across the world, virtual presentation before actually doing the final printing. Looks interesting, although the scanned logbook pages feels a little contrived (is this the easiest way to see the pages?) Keen to see the critique process - critique process have seven stages and is captured through a wiki so can use track back.

http://slurl.com/secondlife/NMC%20Arts/167/69/30 (you'll need NMC membership to get to this)

Qus asked about students skill level/support for using SL - response that students don't find it that difficult and take to it quickly use NMC orientation island to get started.

Qus about whether it adds value beyond an exhibition website and wiki or a flickr site and discussion area

Few art Qus about size of originals, lighting, layout etc etc

Future plans for students to present portfolios and negotiate with galleries within SL - able to practice presenting themselves, explore different identities, get to work with "real world" (ie outside education) partners.

ELI SFS: Integrating Community History, Technology, and Service Learning: The Digital Durham Project

Trudi Abel (Duke)

fyi Community History is a big theme in the History subject group at SHU.

Students pulling together research project re community history to share with 8th grade students (similar to UoS English Lit dept work on kiddult fiction - worked particularly well because lots of the eng students were considering careers in teaching)

not much going on in this session - its good enough, but once you've got the concept (sentence above) you've got the concept... and the rest is, well you know, history.

the website is great, of course, http://digitaldurham.duke.edu/

ELI SFS: Authentic Learning in History and Social Sciences: How "Real" Can We Make the Classroom Experience?

Scot French (U of Virginia)

Digital History project - the "old fashioned" way of presenting the student research projects was for students to develop websites (combination of digitised primary sources and student essays)
+ves - intro to rich archival holdings, collaboration, peer review, student work "published" for use by others - frequently used by others and for local researchers
-ves - access and preservation, little (or nil) interaction with professional historians

New version - partnership with cultural institutions, think like their real world partners who are "doing history" and learn new tools - strong point (as yesterday) of how the partners value the students' contributions. "Thinking like teachers" - as expected, we need to get more of this "thinking like..." into our SHU terminology (alongside learning per sq ft)

Useful resource link from the chat stream http://scholarsbank.uoregon.edu/dspace/handle/1794/309

Sample student video http://www.primaryaccess.org/show.php?id=11285

Sample resource built re Jefferson's visit to UK in 1786 - collaboration between tutors, real world experts and student projects artefacts - check out Jefferson's mail (one student's project) - run the time line - click on an envelope - go on, you know you want to...

+ves: more sustained engagement with real world partners, high expectations, positive feedback from partners...new prospective partners
-ves: mixed results from students (some students didn't use their imagination, less reflection), partners reluctant to use sgc on their official sites (what a shame), no formal participation by partners in the assessment

Really good session - only small class size (approx 10) but could be transferable if group projects

Carie Windham post to chat "A good discussion about student motivation -- as a student, I think I fell into that, "Just give me the facts" mentality but really loved those courses that forced me to engage. Might have been stressful at the time but, in retrospect, that's when I really felt "alive" "

Tuesday 18 March 2008

ELI SFS: Capturing the essence of the session so far:

Session resources from first day at:

ELI SFS: The New Virtual Field Trip: A Perspective from NC State's Entomology Bug World

North Carolina State

a NC farm built within ActiveWorld (it's got a very big barn).

Favourite chat quote "virtual walking is a real waste of time" discuss.

..actually this triggered quite a flurry of chat discussion culminating in "Actually walking is quite useful since there is some spatial mapping that occurs automatically that one can leverage to content learning"


ELI SFS: Using Computer-Simulated Case-Based Scenarios to Improve Learning

David Segal (Central Florida)

MyCaseSpace - a tool for diagnosing illnesses (I think) - small case study, differential diagnostics, additional information, medical history, physical exam, lab tests etc - of course very subject specific, but quite impressive (no cartoon in sight) - question again about maintenance and sustainability. Ask expert for help and all info linked to medical database. Score of performance on each of the stages.

Visual decision map for feedback and performance interesting (sorry screen grab so not the best - click on image to get a better look)

and then the words that make my heart sink: "I've built this myself for my own students and it runs from a SQL server"...just stopped short of - "under my desk". 15 minutes to develop/build a case. This is a really interesting tool but "enthusiast-dependent" and "high-tech staff member".

Keen to work with any participants to beta test/develop further.

Now here are a couple of interesting comments from the chat:
"This is a little unusual course development. You seem like a lone ranger with no collaborators, no other expert reviewers of your cases, no other technical assistance. Can you speak to how we might model your efforts in our institutions?"

"What kind of budget is involved in the creation of an application such as this, and did you face any obstacles in obtaining funding from your institution?"

His experience shows that the students respond disproportionately better to human avatars/photos rather than cartoons - find cartoons funny, unrealistics and don't have empathy with "patient" - so don't find it realistic/authentic. We should tell this to.....

As previous will add link to presentation when available

ELI SFS: Logistics

as part of the acrobat interface there's an on screen voting tool which looks interesting - but mostly intrigued by the choices for the intro "where are you logging in from?" question - Home, University, Starbucks, Other !

hmmm - more on the little quiz - you can see the totals dynamically updating and you can see that people are still prone to crowd following - of course, with this audience they are drawn to the "unlikely" answers which of course turn out to be the actual answers - success dependent upon writing good mcqs (no surprise there then)

online seminars very dependent on presenter skill of keeping track of all the different elements(and their level/speed of connectivity)

ELI SFS: Making Learning Real: Turning Sim City into "Sim Science"!

Diane Jass Ketelhut (Temple University)
Starting with a poll: When was this statement made: "If we are in earnest about universal education, we must...recognize that our education succeeds just to the extent that we make it focus upon the real activities of life?"
scroll right of this sentence for answer: Answer 1895

Not going to take copious notes as slides will be available after the event, what is most interesting as always are the side channels - fellow tweeters trying to find each other when tweet id not used, chat is full of questions about how chat works and, of course, the quality of the sound. An online session could do with a longer intro session to get past some of this stuff before the first keynote.

Demo of Chris Dede's River City - seen before, but it is interesting, and students like it "I felt like a scientist for the first time" - always wonder about maintenance and sustainability when I see it. It can look a bit like a "traditional" multimedia package designed to look like SL.

An interesting comment in the "chat" from U of Colorado: "I polled 500 university business students about using SL and the overwhelming majority did not want to use it - didn't want to learn yet another tool." What do you think about that statement?

Assessing student learning - methods of assessing change in the VE with assessment within the environment - River City - still use on online test but when compared to in situ assessment (eg letter to the mayor) no correlation between performance on each.

Now take a look at this comment in the chat: "I was at a conference last week where a private college had established a counseling center on SL- they actuall had a interactive tissue box for those encounters between counselor and client where tears flow. They are considering using the new tool in Sl that actually changes the facial expressions. This was a distance learning course for counselors in various locations in the US and globally." What do you think about it?

ELI Spring Session - Discussion questions

As part of the Spring Session, here are some starter questions for on-campus discussion, anyone want to provide some perspectives on any of these. (please include the Qu in your comment):

  1. Considering the needs of our students and the demands of the workforce, what key skills should we try to develop through the use of authentic activities?
  2. How can we adequately gauge the types of activities that students want in the classroom? Are there ways to solicit advice from our students?
  3. When working with faculty to implement authentic learning experiences, what key concerns should be addressed?
  4. When considering the implementation of an authentic activity, what partners should be brought into the initial planning process?
  5. Considering those partners—and potential roadblocks ahead—what key questions should we address during the planning process?
  6. How can we help faculty move past their initial fears when considering these activities? What arguments support the use of authentic activities in class?
  7. What does assessment look like in an authentic environment? What needs to be taken into consideration?

Sunday 16 March 2008

Pedagogy first? Whatever....and yes! whenever

Following a recent 140 character chat, George Siemens seems to have finally tired of the platitude "pedagogy first" (although in fairness 140 characters do lend themselves to platitudes). Also (and again to be fair, he didn't have a problem with using platitudes at all but the content of this particular one) To see what he thought check out his blog post Pedagogy first? Whatever

I admit I felt a bit attacked by the post, as I am firmly in the "pedagogy first" camp and had declared such in one of my 140 characters, but mostly I welcomed the opportunity to have the discussion and debate. But where to engage in the debate - as a tweet (bound to be over simple - 1-4-0-issue), as a comment on his blog (right location but moderated, and reluctant to start with a negative when I more frequently agree with his posts than disagree - hmmm), on my own blog (why? well why not? and mostly cos this is where I need to think aloud). So my comment submitted to his blog is produced below too, would welcome comments of others on this.

An interesting post. I agree with much more of it than I disagree but I would still put forward a case to support the notion of "pedagogy first" or at the very least "pedagogy at all". Of course there is a lot more going on in any curriculum design/development decision than pedagogy alone...but hopefully it is in the mix and preferably at the begining of the mix. There are lots of other factors and context is as good a word for it as anything, it needs to be a holistic decision, and there are a number of instances where ease, efficiency, flexibility, convenience, skill levels are prevailing factors and that's fine but what a shame to miss an opportunity to discuss pedagogy in the planning. Seven or eight years ago there was lots of talk about "pedagogy by stealth" around learning technologies - by enthusing staff about technology it was an opportunity to discuss and explore their curriculum design, pedagogical models and, often most important of all, assessment strategies. With early adopters and technology enthusiasts (the ones for example likely to give teaching in SL a go) this is less of an issue, but for a lot of staff they look for the "pedagogy first" conversation to reassure them that this isn't about using students as guinea pigs, having their best interests at heart (and yes instructional designers use it exactly as you suggest - as some kind of entry fee - "please let me talk to you, I'm not just going to push technology at you like a travelling salesman"). Also in my experience, often the "pedagogy first" conversations are rarely about sticking with what we know or are comfortable with, technology opens doors to new pedagogical opportunities and some of the best conversations start with the staff member declaring "I can't use technology, it doesn't fit with my own pedagogical model"...

I absolutely agree that there are lot more factors than pedagogy when deciding what technology to use and they can be frustratingly chicken and egg decisions - for example if we want our students to use SL then we have to offer SL access on-campus (as a point of principle) and of course the technical people who need to be convinced that it is worth their while to do the work (and around we go). On the other hand, we have a small number staff who love a tool which is pedagogically interesting but can be confusing to students and expensive to administer. The decisions here are certainly not "pedagogy first". How about I propose a complementary consideration - it may not be pedagogy first in all decisions about what technology to use, but it ought to be pedagogy first when considering how technology is applied to a learning context but not about the pedagogical safezone about pedagogic opportunity. We need to think bigger and when there are opportunities for students to learn better we should not confine ourselves to learning differently.

[Then I spent some time contemplating the whole moderated comment approach to blog admin - and concluding that is not really my bag.]

Tuesday 11 March 2008

Future of student learning

All UK HEIs have to do a Corporate Plan for the funding council (a strategic document that sets direction for next five years). Please forgive the corporate language a necessary element of the piece. Here are some things we are kicking around in our drafting group comments/ observations welcome - Does it reach as high enough, too high, too tame, too jargony, ???

Firstly sometimes the most basic assertions can be the most powerful:
Students are our core business. Enhancing the student experience, with learning and teaching at its heart, is the foremost strategic priority of the new Corporate Plan.

What might it look like:
Engaging with the learning process
Learning opportunities are most effective when they are authentic to the relevant discipline or profession, underpinned by research and requiring active engagement by students. Wherever possible the curriculum design should encourage social and collaborative learning, recognising the importance of the cohort/course experience and the opportunity to learn, not just with, but from peers. The learning experience should be rich and distinctive, providing students with opportunities to engage in the process of enquiry and participate in a vibrant academic community.

Becoming effective learners
Successful study in higher education is primarily about engaging with learning and scholarship. Students will be supported to develop the skills and attributes of learner autonomy and digital fluency that enable them to engage actively and creatively with their learning. The University's pioneering learning centres serve students' needs, delivering access to books, journals and online information sources. The University will continue to respond to the changing balance between information sources providing a rich range of resources in a variety printed and electronic formats.

Wednesday 5 March 2008

My twitter experiment

Last year I dipped my toe into twitter (well OK, I signed up, posted a message and then didn't know what to do next) - fast forward six months and I attended ELI in San Antonio and twitter was everywhere. This time I play the role of lurker watching the conversations as they unfolded although I didn't get really into it until it was almost too late. I loved the way it created an added sense of community to the event (even for lurkers like me) and I definitely got an extra multi-dimensional experience of the event (although the twitter around the final keynote was an interesting departure into mob-culture that felt uncomfortable looking in).

My conclusion about twitter at that time - great accompaniment to a large event or community gathering, definitely enabling participants to get more out of the event than the straight non-twitter version, but not something you could do during normal life - that would just be a bit weird, wouldn't it!?

Fast forward again a couple of weeks and I have a week of self-managed time (some scheduled time to think/read/write) and I decide to give this twitter thing another try. I had a nagging doubt about my original assessment - perhaps if you make an effort to get involved you get something more out of it that I might anticipate. So, I passed my 100 tweets today (one of the benchmarks I set myself for concluding my "experiment" ....the other benchmark being just getting bored with it) and I think it is time to reflect on what I know now that I didn't know a couple of weeks ago.

Firstly, and most importantly, let me be clear - I'm totally hooked! I love it, I love the community and I definitely get something from it that was unanticipated - so the end of my experiment just means I move into doing it for real from now on.

So what did I learn?

Yes, you need to put some effort in, you need to make a conscious effort to try to post regularly - advice from a good friend and experienced twitterer @bryanalexander helped with this.

You need to actively build your network, you're invisible at first (although in some ways that feeling can linger - more later), so I used the twitter blocks and looked at who people I followed spoke to/shared with and tried to add them. Of course I added a few people I knew in real life (or had met sometimes only briefly/heard speak at conferences) - opportunities to sustain the connection over a longer period of time is such a bonus (I often feel that conferences, even the very best of them, are charaterised by a series of snatched conversations without the opportunity to discuss in depth)

The community is very generous in sharing resources - it can be hard to keep track of all the things shared but it has definitely given me access to (or reminded me to access) some really interesting thoughts of others. Particularly as many of my twitterii are in the US and so regularly accessing different resources from our usual haunts. I also enjoyed following other people's participation in events - I managed to piggy-back a few great sessions that there is no way I could have attend thanks to @cmduke.

Some people have way more interesting lives than me (and get to do way more interesting stuff at work), but then again one of the things I love about twitter is the mixture of styles, comments, approaches etc - I enjoy (obviously) the US elections discussion, I like the fact I know what the weather is like in Vermont both of these thanks to @bgblogging, what @jpostonday keeps in her basement and that @GardnerCampbell students are looking in to say "hi". Not to mention that I know what @ginsoak gets in the post before she even gets to work. There are such a diverse group and all bringing something interesting and extra to my life (but I don't want this to sound like an oscar speech so I'll stop now).

It can be a bit weird when you reply to someone you don't know and get silence a bit like the "who is she and why is she talking to me" party moment. Some people talk to each other (a lot and only to each other - more like IMing) and you feel very much like you're eavesdropping (v strange feeling). I felt obliged to add a photo in case people I followed knew me by sight - but that meant using that horrible photo as it is the only one I have :-( Will sort it out soon, I promise.

For work (which can often get a bit corporate, implementation driven and "managed", thus making a community of "like-minded" people even more important to me) it gives me rich, diverse observations and thoughts that are prompting in me more thoughts, some lateral thinking and even actions!! @intellagirl asked in her blog/podcast recently "how to reach past the converted" who are using these tools, well perhaps it is in the scatter-network - certainly I am convinced that my engagement with twitter (and therefore my continued interest in the discussion of experts) has influenced contributions I have made to the drafting and discussions around developing our institution's Corporate Plan (a five year business plan required by UK funding council of all HEIs) - this is not, in general, going to the read by the "converted" but the connections are being made!

Monday 25 February 2008

Why I love "event-blogging"

There are a whole host of digital communication tools that we use to keep in touch with each other but I still enjoy "event-blogging" most of all. "Event-blogging" is...well, exactly what it sounds like, setting up a seperate entity blog for large conferences, in our case, particularly those that take place in the US.

Why?? well there is so much to take in (and to share) at those events that they would completely overload existing channels, there are often multiple attendees from SHU (usually 2 or 3 of us) and I think a shared blog adds to that sense of community and camaraderie, I like storing "all thing Educause (etc)" in one place for future reference but most of all it is the immediacy (allowing for the time difference) of being able to share the atmosphere, the learning and the resources with those who are not attending. The observations from those sat back in the office, the questions they ask and the knowledge that they are following resources straightaway - they don't have to wait until I get back to get access. When I am back in the office and others are event-blogging - I enjoy all of those things just as much as when I'm blogging.

To see examples of my event-blogging see the links on the left.

I will save for another post the other key element to great event-blogs (imho)...the competitions and the social dynamics of the scarily competitive staff back at SHU....and the huuuuge amount I have learned about online communities and "stickiness" techniques that are worthy of loads and loads more research. Watch this space.

Sunday 24 February 2008

Digital fluency initiative at SHU - some notes

Digital fluency at Sheffield Hallam University is characterised by the fluencies necessary "to live, learn and work in the digital age." Encompassing information literacy, IT competency, online interaction and critical thinking, it is suggested that digital fluency should underpin the academic experience at Sheffield Hallam. It is directly aligned to theme 1 of the University’s LTA Strategy, “promoting vibrant and challenging learning opportunities” and enables students and staff to maximise their engagement with “learning opportunities that integrate e-learning, promote learner autonomy, and embed employability”.

The Digital Fluency Initiative will focus upon raising the profile of digital fluency at Sheffield Hallam, recognising it as a core graduate attribute and a key element of professional development for staff. The Initiative will explore how we might enhance the digital fluency of students and staff, in the context of blended learning opportunities designed to draw upon high quality interactions and information resources, and with specific consideration of the fluency requirements of an increasingly social, participatory and collaborative online environment. Its inception is not intended to supersede any work already underway in developing information literacy, IT competency, online interaction and critical thinking, but recognises that to develop high levels of digital fluency it is important to consider these attributes holistically, considering how the elements interrelate and where there may be opportunities for synergy, coordinated development and integrated support. The Initiative will assess and inform institutional readiness for embedding digital fluency within the academic experience, recognising and sharing existing elements of good practice, proposing a holistic developmental infrastructure and exploring innovative ways to empower students and staff as they enhance their own digital fluency.

These are the original notes scoping out the initiative - the only significant change to scope is the proposed move from IT competency to IT confidence - how do we get people into a place where they are confident to cope with perpetual change?

Digital natives and immigrants - lost in translation (part 2)

The earlier post unpacked (somewhat) the nature of immigrance and "fit" but there is another premise of digital immigrancy that his helpful to consider, that being "instinct and development". As a non-native speaker, the first step to any dialogue is to work it out in our native language and then translate it to the required language. It is the skill of translation that is both the saviour and the curse of the digital immigrant. Having those quick translation skills are helpful for anyone in a changing world. For example in the UK those who were children between the ages of 5 and 10 in the early 70s might be considered the most cross-fluent between Imperial and decimal measurements; any older and they had to unlearn, any younger and the imperial is “foreign”, those in the middle “use whichever side of the ruler comes to mind” and flip between the two without much thought. This attitude to change can be liberating and means that in many ways, that generation have embraced their translation heritage to move between the old and the new (age in 2007 of this group of translators approx 35–45). However, with this form of translation, the initial process of “work it out in your own language first” can be a problem. We think:
“I want students to demonstrate their knowledge on this topic”
“how would I usually do this? – write a 3,000 word essay”
“how shall I do it using the technology? – word process and submit online a 3,000 word essay”
(oh dear!)

Our thought processes graft on the technology to the activity – the “traditional plus technology” approach to curriculum design. So where is the problem? When conversing with the digital natives they don’t have a frame of reference for the traditional (ie the equivalent of not understanding that French nouns have genders or that German verbs go at the end) so the translation seems awkward.

“you want me to demonstrate what I know about a topic – let me build a webpage, make a video, or better still, if you want to know what I think – check out my blog”

Linguists aspire to (and develop skills in how to) think in their non-native language and it is this equivalent skill that we need to promote in the use of learning technology.

Digital natives and immigrants - lost in translation (part 1)

The starting point for many discussions around learning in the digital age begins with the question: Are you a digital native or a digital immigrant? But, be warned, your response can then determine the direction of your conversation, with the inquirer making a host of assumptions about who you are, what you know and what you think. Whilst some question the determinist view of this form of classification, it can be useful in framing how to consider the development of learning technologies and student engagement with these. So let’s start with the question, explore what this means and then consider so alternative perspectives:
Are you a digital native or a digital immigrant?
The question should be easy to answer – if you were born after 1980 (in the US) or 1984 (in Europe) you are a digital native – everybody else is an immigrant. Digital natives are considered to have been born into a digital world and they have no knowledge of a world without technology.
Prensky terms from his 2001 article Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants has become a useful nomclamenture to quickly articulate the points made. However a number of writers have challenge the simple dichotomy that his classification suggests, whether it is backed up with evidence of greater usage of technology and importantly for us, whether it really changes the way people learn.

It is definitely helpful to review the primary source paper, and it is clear from the paper that there is more in the sub-text about generational divide and willingness to change, than specifics of “number of hours using technology”. It provides a different perspective on “the trouble with the kids today, with their hair and their clothes”. In particular the points he, as a digital immigrant, makes about the thickness of accents:
“There are hundreds of examples of the digital immigrant accent. They include printing out your email (or having you secretary print it out for you – an even “thicker” accent); needing to print out a document written on the computer in order to edit it (rather than just editing on the screen); and bringing people physically into your office to see an interesting web site (rather than just sending them the URL)…..My own favourite is the “Did you get my email?” phone call.”

The paper explores the impact of this action on the generational divide and goes on to outline how education might be different but there is more to the immigration analogy than simply the accent. It speaks more to the immigrants place in the world and ways of thinking.
He suggests that the immigrant community, by their nature, are deemed to declare: “I am not comfortable in this place”. Let’s consider the immigration analogy a little further, by exploring some themes around English ex-pat community in Spain (and other Mediterranean countries) as a parallel “immigration”. There is no single immigrant community or attitudinal set, but rather sub-sets, let's explore these and their learning technology equivalents:

Spain: “I like the climate, but I want to live in a mini-England with sun”
Learning Technology: “I like the convenience of technology for booking holidays, banking, news etc but I want to teach they way I always have”

Spain: “I love living in Spain, but I haven’t bothered to learn the language, I get my son/daughter to deal with all the Spanish things”
Learning Technology: “I like being associated with a technology-rich course, but I rely on younger members of the teaching team to do it.”

Spain: “I can’t really speak the language, but I have a few stock phrases I can use to get by in shops”
Learning Technology: “I don’t understand it, but I have my list of eight steps to upload my teaching material and I can email if I need to”

Spain: “I speak great Spanish! And the locals are so grateful when I try” (think policeman in ‘Allo ‘Allo)
Learning Technology: “I use as much technology as I can, and the students are so grateful I ‘deliver’ in this way”

Spain: “I like Spain, I like everything about it, I have to learn the language to really live here, to get the most out of it”
Learning Technology: “Don’t give me this digital immigrant nonsense, I live in the digital age too, if I want to use technology and it makes learning better – I will!”

OK, so that is the “foreign land” perspective and whilst many will continue to assert that learning is learning and will never change, and that “all this is fine, but not in my subject”, many digital natives leave the higher education classroom with a mashed-up, mp3 speed-enhanced, flickr-blog impression that the first line of L.P. Hartley’s (1953) novel The Go-between is speaking directly to them - the past really is a foreign country, and they really do do things differently there...

Exploring the hypothetical...

A while ago we were tasked with exploring the perspectives of students in the (not too distant) future and express our thinking as a poster. A group of us worked on a expression of “What will students of 2012 expect to see?” The poster was a excellent feat of expression (due entirely to the rest of the group, not me!) but the comments within did not provoke the debate I would have liked so I am going to “replay” them here for the purposes of documentation and capture…and to invite the views of readers.

“What will students of 2012 expect to see?” focused on three strands:

Learning Opportunities - Personalised Curriculum - Staff of the Future

Learning Opportunities
Authentic learning activities designed to interweave students and staff prior experience and knowledge with high quality resources across a wide range of formats. They encourage engagement, collaboration and student empowerment.

Hypothetical examples of discussions via the "virtual learning environment" allow staff and students interaction:

“Please share your digital portfolio with your tutor and your peers through the course wiki, this is a perfect time to explore how each of you have approached selecting, reflecting your learning so far”

“Your level 4 critical thinking group will meet at our Crucible Campus in Second Life every Tuesday evening. Come and join in the discussion, guest lecturer this week Professor Lord Robert Winston.”

“OK, it’s my turn to facilitate the online discussion this week. The background reading is online and I've provided a “mini case study” from my own work context as the focus for discussion.”

“Have you agreed your negotiated assessment criteria yet with your tutor, these need to be fixed by 1 July; remember formats for this assessment are optional.”

“Sign up for your multi-disciplinary groups and add your profile to the group page by way of introduction. Peer assessment starts in two weeks time.”

"Hi, I use statistical analysis a lot in my work, but can't get my head around Harvard referencing at all! Anybody out there want to buddy?"

Personalised Curriculum
As learning becomes increasingly personalised, the University will need to offer a flexible curriculum that fit with learners’ needs and reflect the growing market for employer-led curriculum development.

So what is the role of the traditional degree in this context – can we move beyond business as usual? Hypothetal example questions from prospective students:

“To accommodate my work I may want to study my degree faster – 6 semesters in 2 years to minimise costs, or slower, with a combination of full time, part time and distance at the same time with pauses in the middle. Is this possible?”

“You do some good modules at Sheffield Hallam, but there are some elsewhere that look good too, can I pick and mix my degree - accumulate modules from different institutions into a single award?”

“I want to take a vocational course but my interests are eclectic, can I major in the vocational course and minor in a general interest course, or vice versa?”

“My employer has negotiated with the University to set a series of assessments, completion of which will lead to an accredited award. What study support can I expect from Sheffield Hallam?”

“I want to keep up to date in my profession, can I subscribe annually to the University for a programme of non-credit bearing professional development?”

“Can I take a generic undergraduate degree that gives me employability skills without having to choose a particular discipline to study?”

Staff of the Future
A committed and highly skilled workforce is essential to delivering a high quality and cutting edge learning experience. There is a broad range of staff contributing to that experience and we see professional development as vital to success.

Hypothetical extracts from the student charter 2012 demonstrate our commitment to this:

At Sheffield Hallam University you will engage with staff who are:
Commercial Consultants sharing their real world experience through dialogue and engagement in business and social enterprises
Academic facilitators focused entirely on designing and facilitating your learning
Cutting edge researchers within their discipline

Hypothetical student feedback from 2011/12:

“Working with staff who are keen for me to maximise my potential gave me great confidence to explore and take risks. It really surprised me that the staff had taken the time to get to grips with digital resources and our technology.”

“Working on my dissertation with a leading UK athlete, who is competing in the London Olympics, was exhilarating”

“Communication with other students and staff was great even thought I didn’t go into uni – shuspace was a lifeline”

“Talking online to the guy from America who wrote the book was great.

“I never thought I would be learning from a Chief Executive”

Friday 22 February 2008

My work is a paradox - pure and simple

It takes a little while for me to "come down" from attending ELI, my mind is full of discussion points - some received, some generated, some still emerging. The conversation is full and vibrant and this year I was struck by the sense of two groups "thought-duelling" with all the intensity of dance duels, respect for each other, passion for what they do and energy...yes...energy. Each session attended represents that group's "top game" pushing the other group to do better, try harder in the next one. The two groups? Well, I've articulated these before elsewhere but in a nutshell:

the "run as fast as we can towards web2.0" group extolling the virtues of SecondLife, WoW, croquet, twitter, mashed up maps n IM, gaming, Facebook etc etc (and of course that VLEs (esp Bb) are inherently evil) - all based on the premise that the kids are leaving us behind and we need to be where they are and know what they know to enable education to keep up with social uses of technology.

the "digi-fear, the technology is OK but what about the people" group asking challenging questions about who the kids are and how confident are they really, how do staff become more digitally fluent to embrace these new technologies when CMS/VLEs still scare them and what are the true tower and cloud implications of the brave new world.

So what is the problem? I want (need?) to be in both groups!! Is that a problem?
I spend most of my brainspace tap-dancing betweeen the two. I believe passionately in the power of web 2.0 - I love the social, participatory, collaborative and user defined principles on which is based. I love the power being in the hands of the learners and the undeniable opportunities for community beyond your immediate reference. At the moment, I'm enjoying, personally, the way twittering enables me to connect quite lightly with others who share my interests, and I have a huge interest in ARGs as a philosophy with as yet untapped potential. On the other hand, (for example) I'm still not buying the potential for learning that Second Life might offer - I want it to be big and transformational, I want it to rock the foundations of the comfortable world of academe, but what do I see, people building virtual campuses that look like real ones, "gatherings" that look to me like the lowest form of knowledge transmission...the lecture. Oh dear. I want to believe, I do, I do...but right now...I don't...not yet, anyway.

I'm lucky that my role leading Academic Innovation at Sheffield Hallam University (UK) enables me to have an academic team that areconstantly looking at and researching new and emerging technologies (and new applications of existing technologies) and how they can be used to support, enhance and, ultimately, transform learning within higher education. They think a lot, they experiment a lot, they track the evangelists - we are so so lucky to have this space. I love this part of my job - what's new? what do we think? what could we do? let's leap into the brave new world!! I also love the people this connects me with - ideas, enthusiasm, energy (yes that word again).

But I have a guilty secret that I'm afraid to share with my n&et connections, I am also responsible for embedding mainstream e-learning across the institution and this involves me supporting, promoting, advocating Blackboard as a learning management system and academic portal. I know it isn't going to get me a seat on the cool kids table but I like Blackboard. It is an easy entry point for staff and students wanting to develop collaborative e-learning opportunities and so far does everything that most people need (and if it doesn't we've found it pretty easy to add something that does...or simply link out to the top shelf web2.0 stuff - not an either or for our users). Yes, the company is big, yes, the support can be hit and miss, but the product does what our community of users needs and having spent a huge chunk of time looking at other options recently, it is still the best solution for us. We have over 95% of our learners (undergrad and postgrad) carrying out some of their learning within that virtual environment - that's over 30,000 students and 3,000 staff and it is an achievement (by the staff supporting e-learning within my team and across SHU) that I am really proud of.

I feel good that the benefits are not just experienced by those students who happen to have highly innovative tutors but for all. I like the idea that (even though it isn't the sexiest feature of technology in learning) our students value the convenience and flexibility of being able to access their learning at a place and time that fits with their busy lives...yes (cliche alert) enabling learning for those who might not be able to participate traditionally. I love this part of my job - small steps but for everyone, how do we make it work for everyone? how do we build on what has gone to where we are going? Again I value the community around this world - sharing the hows and whys (and why nots) with the sense of conviction needed to encourage people to do something they don't have to.

So what on earth!?!? I love the pulsating potential of web2.0 but I also love the enabling power of a large-scale learning management system. I have my two communities and I try best to belong to both...am I being unreasonable?? Why do I feel I'm expected to fit into a box and stay put? I'm not going to! However it is a very different challenge within the institution where close physical proximity requires me to represent both simulataneously perceived interchangably as the face of the "large corporate monolith" and/or the "head in the clouds" lot trying to get us to do wizzy things that threaten us.

The whole of this, though, has just convinced me (more than ever) that all technology has great potential and appropriate application can be transformational but (and its a big "but"!!) only when the people involved feel confident, competent, comfortable, committed, compelled...
The importance in this context of digitial fluency (that we define as the fluencies needed to live, learn and work in the digital age and encompassing, for us, information literacy, IT competencies, online interactions and critical thinking). We need to support all our communities to feel at home in a digitial world, selecting the best tool/resource for the job, engaging whole-heartedly and being unphased by the only thing we can guarantee about the future...things are going to keep changing. The people stuff (hmmm) always the hardest to do, definitely the hardest to quantify but never the least rewarding. The work of the team (so far) of getting this onto the institutional agenda has been great! Now we look forward to the "making it real" phase of the activity.

I'm going to resist the urge to round this post of neatly, I want to just leave it hanging and come back to it later....but just to trail a soundbite that has been engaging me recently:
"you can't cross a chasm in two small steps"

Wednesday 20 February 2008

Scattered fingerprints..

What do I really think about academic innovation and the future of learning?

Well if anyone wanted to know they could easily find out by a skim through a vast number of different (and random) places...various blogs, wikis, twitter, ning, facebook, intranets, bookmarks, LMS sites, papers, presentations, notebooks, reports...and scraps of paper under my desk...hmmm not ideal.

However the bigger problem is....one of those people who wants to know is me!! So for a while I'm gonna see if a single collective space for thoughts might help me bring draw together some understanding. These may simply appear to be musings but please, please help if you can by adding your own comments, questions, challenges and I will try to make sense somehow.