Dundee GovJam 2017

I’ve just spent a fascinating (and tiring) 2 and a bit days at the DundeeGovJam – and the easiest summary is probably to point you to a few key URLs:

I’m full of ideas; and, rather than my usual approach of thinking about blog posts for so long that the thing that grabbed me has long been forgotten, I’ll do a short post now, while I’m buzzing. How we can apply this to what we’re doing in the CTIL team? I see that the work we’re doing on looking at what a VLE should / could etc., do, should actually be looking at 2 main themes:

  • How do you want to learn?
  • How to you want to teach?

And, to make them both apply to both staff and students, as learning/teaching is something all should be doing. Only after that, think about where digital fits in. Sometimes it won’t; sometimes it’ll be the space that’s more important than the tech. Sometimes, yes, it will be tech.

I’ll not say more now, but will return to this when I’ve had time to speak to the colleagues who were there – and, more importantly, those who weren’t.

Particular thanks for organising it and all the ideas during the last 2 days;  Mike, Hazel, Fiona – and too many others to list!

And, many thanks to the group I was with – it’s amazing what we developed as a group. Looking forward to hearing about how it’s going to be actually used next week!



Jisc Digifest 2017 – in real life!

Over the years, I have followed Jisc’s Digifest with interest, whether it was online via SecondLife, or, more recently, via Twitter, blogs posts and all the other social media my contacts and I both use – no doubt I missed a lot from those SM channels I’m not active in.
This year, however, I got to go.

One key theme was the importance of developing digital capabilities of staff, something that has always seemed obvious to me. The first session I went to very much focussed on developing staff; Ross Anderson from North Lindsey College introduced us to the digital strategy they have. Next up were Fiona Handley and Fiona McNeill from Brighton looking primarily at the core literacies their staff need (and how they have changed over the last few years). Finally, Elaine Swift from Nottingham Trent looked at how they tied developing digital capabilities alongside the introduction of a new curriculum.

All of them highlighted the importance of anchoring the digital practice in the needs of the individual, and, individuals being different, meant that different users have different needs.

Geoff Mulgan’s plenary looked at both the promise of the future, but also the pitfalls inherent in current developments. One item that was particularly interesting was a Chinese University that spent at least half their time getting students to look at real problems, and how to solve them. A world away from the stereotyped view of Chinese education that pervades the UK.

The final session of the day was a debate, “Is digital technology fundamentally changing learning and teaching in HE” – when both sides presented their cases passionately. (I do love a good debate, even if the speakers don’t necessarily believe in the viewpoint they’re presenting – as it’s good to see things from all sides). I felt the overall view of the audience was, changing, yes, fundamentally, no.

View from the hotel.

Day 2 dawned – and it was a beautifully sunny day. Inside, the first debate was looking at learning analytics – should they be mediated by a human. So, the fact of LA was established, it was the level of human intervention that was being discussed. It made it useful, as often it’s LA vs no-LA that gets discussed. However, the tweets from the parallel session by Eric Stoller were tempting.

Dundee and Angus college’s Learning Lab sounded wonderful – I’d definitely like to see it, as they may have things that we could use in the some of the new areas of the library.

I was looking forward to the “What does a next gen learning environment look like” – the focus from both Elizabeth Ellis from the OU, and Ange Fitzpatrick from Cambridge’s Business School, was that today’s “tomorrow” needs to include 5 years down the line, that it’s important to consider pedagogy, and student preferences, rather than the “shiny” – and today’s VLEs are often repository of times gone by. Whatever comes in the future needs to not replicate that. Libraries are good for that!

Jonathan Capes presented the Historical Texts visualisation search tool – I love it! It reminded me a little of tools like TouchGraph. Will be wonderful to see it moving to other subject areas.

In the last session, students and staff talked about their experiences of having participated in JISC’s Student Digital Experience Tracker.  They’d used it in different ways, however, the overriding view was that students had a wealth of experience of what worked for them individually, but they still valued the support and guidance they got on how to use particular tools – for some, that would be from staff, others preferred student mentors. Many of the comments, though, brought the first sessions I attended very much to the fore; staff need to be able to learn how to use technology, but it needs to be a flexible learning so they can adapt as things change, not a “how to” training.

It was a very worthwhile time, I missed so many fascinating sounding sessions, but at least they’re available online. I ran into people I’ve met at other conferences – unfortunately, no-one from Portsmouth was there, but I also got to meet new people, which is always useful.

I’d like to go again – probably getting back into presenting at conferences like this.

Durham Blackboard Conference – Day 1

Over the years, I’d seen the Durham Blackboard conference (#durbbu) crop up a lot in Twitter in early January; though, being a Moodle user at the time, I didn’t pay too much attention.

This year, however, I got to go to it; as Dundee is a Blackboard user. As an ex-Durham student, it was also good to revisit the city.

The theme of the conference was Assessment and Feedback. What pleased me was that quite a few of the ideas I’ve tried over the years at Portsmouth as an academic, were also being tried at various other institutions, sometimes via Blackboard, sometimes via other tools. But, clearly I wasn’t totally crackers for trying them!

When Malcolm Murray opened the conference with a series of Lego minifigs, it was always going to be a good one!

We then moved to Susie’s keynote, looking at many aspects of feedback, in particular the need for it to be dialogic in nature – which raises the issue of how to achieve that, in conjunction with the NUS push towards anonymous marking.

In the next session, Sharon Flynn was looking at something I’ve encountered both here in Dundee, and previously in Portsmouth – the difficulties of getting (moderated) marks from the VLE into the student record system, with the minimum chances of error (i.e. minimise the manual aspects of the process). This was a popular session, clearly I’ve not worked at the only two UK universities that didn’t have that in place.

Of course, there were many other hurdles to get through, primarily making sure that people didn’t fiddle with columns in Blackboard, but, they now have all marks (not just marked online submissions) in Blackboard, before they end up in the main Student record system. Danny has storified her talk in more detail.

York’s elearning team gave a whistlestop tour through a range of different approaches they have for online assessment, ranging from summative, online exams (via a custom install of Blackboard) through to innovative uses of blogs. Overall, they’re all things I’ve tried with students at various points as a lecturer, albeit with a different tool set. I think the one I’m most interested in at present is the way we can get students to develop assessable work in the public space (i.e. blogs etc), however, I know that for the present, most of my time will be spent with the support for Turnitin and related tools.

Towards the end of the afternoon, we returned (briefly) to Lego, as Malcolm introduced some of the gamification he was using with students – (so I roped in one of the CameraGirlz to take a photo). It’s a fascinating area, and one that I’d like to look at more (just as I’d like to do more than dabble with Lego Serious play) – but those are two things for the future.

The evening event was held in Durham Castle – despite having been a student (rather longer ago than I care to think about!) – I’d never actually done the formal Castle tour! So, I took the opportunity, followed by Dinner in the Great Hall. My last trip to that was for my Graduation!

Durham Dinner

Flickr Album Gallery Powered By: Weblizar


Collaborative Learning Environments.

The whole range of “learning environments” – and what they are is cropping up a lot in conversations at present; in particular those that facilitate collaborative opportunities.

From a digital point of view, we are starting to think about the VLE and other digital provision we have in place at Dundee. It’s currently Blackboard, with Campus Pack bolted on. Across the university, Moodle is also in use at the Medical School (supported by WordPress). We also have Office 365, so the groups tool in that is available (and hopefully teams will be coming).

I have used Google Groups in the past – and find them to be generally more useful and flexible than Office groups, especially when it comes to sharing links to them / sending invitations, as a way of inviting others to join (rather than forcibly adding them.

It’s very useful, therefore, that JISC have just started a discussion around “The Next Generation of Digital Learning Environments” as part of the co-design16 project. There have been some good online discussions – Lawrie Phipps is keeping an ongoing post storifying all the key points.

One thing that’s clear in Lawrie’s post is that so many are looking at the future. UCL make the very good point that in real life, students are welcomed to the physical classroom, but told “it’s impossible” to enter the virtual classroom for those subjects they’re interested in.

In a related area, I have been involved with a group looking at the library re-development we are undertaking this summer. (CTIL, the eLearning team, is based within the library). I was particularly interested in the space available for collaborative learning. We visited a number of University libraries across Scotland and Northern England. One of thing that struck me was that many of the Universities had group working space, large tables etc., complete with a shared screen. More often than not, though, that wasn’t in use, though the students were clearly interacting with each other. What wasn’t clear was what they were doing: Were they collaborating on an item of work, but too shy to let others see? Were they collaborating on an item of work, each doing their own chunk, intending to stick it together right at the end (with the inevitable inconsistencies)? Were they working together on an assignment that was meant to be individual? Were they just friends, doing multiple different subjects? Or were they doing what I’d love students to do, generating research and discussion around a point that had cropped up in class, not directly related to an assessment, but something about which they just wanted to know more.

It’s a while since I started this post, and I need to get back and read a few more of Lawrie’s summaries of the latter stages of the co-design2016.

Getting the next generation of bloggers …

Work is fairly busy at this time of year – you think you have the VLE all set up for the new students, then there are the Turnitin Assignments to help people set up, weird glitches that seem to happen unexpectedly …
However, one job that should be fun is that I’ve been asked to run a workshop to help students set up blogs, they’ll be using WordPress.com, rather than one within the URL. It’s a careers related initiative – the students and work place mentors will be using them. An ex-colleague from Portsmouth asked me about blogging on Blogger the other day – he was doing it for some placement students.  I’d totally forgotten that one reason I’d not used it all those years ago when I first got students blogging was the inability to set individual posts to be private. It was an all or nothing approach. Given that the students I’m helping on Monday are also doing externally facing blogs about work related activities, I’m glad to have discovered that while the hosted wordpress might not allow one of the plugins that has multiple user permissions, at least it does allow individual posts to be password protected. (I’d used Post Levels to facilitate different users having access to ‘private’ posts – without giving them full admin rights)

I thought I’d try to find a post that compares WordPress (hosted, not self hosted) and Blogger. It’s surprisingly difficult! Most have a particular bias (SEO), or they’re actually self hosted WP vs. Blogger. The Current State of Educational Blogging (Sue Waters) favours Edublogs (based on WP). I’m sure there’s a handy chart out there comparing the features (esp. those I’m interested in!) I’ve yet to find it.

It’s also good to see that we do have some enthusiastic student bloggers at Dundee – will be keeping an eye on their blogs.

12 years – and still going (just!)

So, 12 years, (and a few days) ago, I wrote my first post on here. Originally, it wasn’t here, but on Blogspot; I’ve moved it a few times, and at times it’s been more active than others. Skimming through the archives, I was particularly active in November 2007 , but there are too many months that have 0.
Over the years since I started this, I’ve also been more (or less at times!) active on Twitter – almost 13.8k posts since (bizarrely!) November 2007 . Then, later, Google+; particularly when we had it via Google Apps at Portsmouth, and I’d moved my students from blogging to using Social Media for the community development part of their coursework.

When I first moved to Dundee, I thought I’d start to blog more regularly – a new job seemed like a really good opportunity, to reflect on the changes in my role, new things I was learning, etc. I started out so well. I have many ideas about what I could blog about, and as we’re starting a team blog, perhaps writing for that will help to rekindle the enthusiasm I have for this. I don’t want it to die; it’s a valuable record, both of my views and interests – as well as the changes around me.

The OLPC renewed?

The new Infinity:One has grown from the OLPC project and from a visual point of view, there’s a definite family resemblance.

flickr photo by Emmadukew https://flickr.com/photos/emmadukew/8390141934 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Educational Computers – including OLPC: flickr photo by Emmadukew https://flickr.com/photos/emmadukew/8390141934 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

(Excuse the clutter in that pictures, I hadn’t got a clearer one of just the OLPC; which is currently in a packed away in a box with the Pi)
Source: http://one-education.org

Infinity One: Source: http://one-education.org

Both also use low cost technology, and, while the Infinity One uses Windows 10 (rather than the Child friendly SugarOS that is linux based); it’s much easier to update the Infinity than the OLPC ever was. Would have been great had they been able to include the screen that could be both backlit and eInk of the original; I think they had great potential. Meanwhile, I’ll just wait for the Infinity to get to the UK, and then my wee family of educational computers might get a new member 🙂

Word Clouds

I’ve used (extensively!) Wordle in the past to generate word clouds, but it doesn’t always work with some sites. I’d also used Tagxedo in the past, especially to get Twitter feeds, as it did all the filtering out of user names etc. – that’s what I’d used for the header (the green one) in here. That’s now longer working, due to twitter’s assorted changes.  Today, having actually done a bit more blogging than I had for quite some time, I have redone it using Tagxedo, but on the blog.

From Blog

“On this day”

Facebook’s “On this day” often throws up things I’d totally forgotten about. Today’s was work related, and, in many ways, it’s still as relevant now as it was 7 years ago:

I’’m recently starting to think more and more about Web2.0 and teaching; more specifically how much is actually “web2.0” (on the assumption it can be defined) and how much is what I’’m getting the students to do (or, indeed, what I, as I extend my own knowledge am doing). Is just looking at videos on YouTube any different from looking at them in the VLE? What happens when they start to upload them / attach them to a discussion posting in the VLE?
So, (and I think this is where my research is increasingly going)

  • Who should the audience be? (self / select group/ class / uni / world … and various stages in between!)
  • Where should it be hosted? (What backup do we have if it goes down [internal or external!]
    • Who’’s funding the hosting?
  • Why are we using it? Is it primarily to gather information; to disseminate; to organise personally; to collaborate (because we have to?)
    • Are the roles of all users the same – or does the original user have a different reason to all/some of the audience
  • What do we want to do? (Before/during/post using tool?)

Clearly, there are a lot of overlaps … but equally as the task/meaning etc., becomes more important, so the actual tool may become less important.

I’d also written about writing a blog post .

I was on the train yesterday, with very poor mobile broadband – so thought I’d test out Blogging from Word, by creating a post, in order to posting it when I got back here.


Some of the issues I had weren’t Word’s fault – this laptop has a (finger print print controlled) Password Bank. It was desperate to save my blog details – the very reluctant to let me edit them when I realised I’d got the URL wrong.


That sorted, I then managed to publish it! Awful! The formatting was sucked in from Word, badly. It couldn’t cope with lists at all. Finally in desperation I saved it as text, opened in Notepad & pasted in here.


Am going to experiment with Google gears instead!

[Here, in this case, referred to Facebook]

Google gears has long since vanished – and I can’t remember the last time I wanted to blog offline, but I’d probably just use Evernote or so & then paste in later.

And, on the subject of “On this Day” – it was June 2nd that snow famously stopped play in a cricket match in Buxton. The reason I can remember it is that’s my Dad’s birthday – and I was heading back to school after half term, insisting that, as it was the Summer Term, I had to wear summer uniform. My mother argued it was snowing, and not to be so silly. I won the argument. And shivered!

Communication – and symbols.

This morning, I saw a post about Snapchat‘s acquisition of Bitmoji (no-one suggested that one to me last week when I was trying to make an avatar, though they suggested several others).
It made me think about how much symbolic communication has been a part of the various jobs I have had.
When I first started working at Churchtown Farm, Lanlivery (now closed), I came across people using a variety of communication aids, my particular preference being an older visitor who had a hardboard sheet – with the alphabet on one side and “Beer please” on the other. That was him sorted!
Then, first at Rectory Paddock School (also closed, though this time for a merger) and later at Treloar’s I came across somewhat more sophisticated communication systems. Some, like Blissymbolics and minspeak were designed to allow the users to combine and generate a range of different phrases. Others were much simpler, merely having an image associated with a message. While I had some students using minspeak on Liberators, I was particularly interested in Widgit’s Writing With Symbols. (Archive.org’s save of the 1996 homepage)

Liberator Speech Synthesiser

Liberator – circa 1990s

Writing with Symbols was a crucial part of the toolkit to encourage adolescents with limited literacy to engage with printed material (this was the early 90s; they didn’t have mobile phones, never mind smart ones!) I also used it Papua New Guinea, altering some of the symbols to suit the needs of the children there; so, houses were on stilts, and mosquito net a useful word (though they were quite happy with fat cats)

Page of Tok Pisin reading book, symbolised.

Symbol supported reading.

The next way I found myself using visual imagery was doing an MSc in Information systems, where, among other ways of visually representing a situation, we looked at rich pictures. (Google image search).

Fast forward to now, and I see my phone having an ever burgeoning set of emoji – while an attempt to have a Social network based on emoji didn’t work, and emoji based conversations tend to be joke based at present, I can see their value in the future, especially when working across languages (and/or those with [print] literacy difficulties). I’ve recently been looking at image resources such as The Noun Project, and their (Mac) app, Lingo.

I’m also a bit of an infographic fan, and, having seen Hans Rosling introducing GapMinder, (several years ago), I’m currently investigating tools such as Tableau, looking at what might be feasible; starting to i  I to have good knowledge of R – then, well, maybe I’ll have a go. Meanwhile I’m continuing to bookmark a range of good looking sites (such as Visual Thinkery, maps of the Internet ) – and wondering if I should start to think again about using Sketchnoting to help visualise what I’m thinking. And bother the fact I failed Art O’level!