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!

 

 

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.

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!

Changes ….

Change is something that has cropped up a lot for me, both personally and from a work point of view. Around this time last year, I decided to leave my job, sell my house and move North (there were personal reasons for that, it wasn’t a wild whim). That involved leaving a job I’d had for about 3 times longer than any other job I’d had, a place I’d lived in for longer than elsewhere, and possibly a change of country (depending on your view of the relationship between Scotland and England).
Since moving, I’ve now found a new job; in a different, albeit related field. I’ve arrived in a University that’s undergoing changes itself, into a team that’s undergoing change. I’m working in a field that is changing rapidly – if I think about my first computer, things have changed a lot
flickr photo shared by Emmadukew under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license
So, from that point of view, I’d have thought I’d find change not too difficult, but it’s not as easy as just learning a new OS. Well, not to me!

I was recently lent Who Moved My Cheese, which is a bit “American”; but makes a good point, about how different people react to change, and, I think, different types of change. I think I have a bit of “Sniffy” “Scurry” “Hem” & “Haw” in my, I suspect everyone does.

All of that said, I am enjoying my new role, working with new colleagues, getting to see an Educational Technologists view of eLearning, getting to grips with different systems, both organisational and technical, and even getting used to a train, rather than a bike in the morning. (It’s a lot drier!)

One of the changes I’d intended to make was to start blogging more often; there is time yet for that to happen! (Oh, and we’re moving house again soon, though this time about 1 mile across town, not 700 miles north!)

And it’s tiring! I’ve got a long weekend – so am really looking forward to it.

Blogging, and other tools generally…

I’ve started looking through various bookmarked pages; an interesting co-incidence that when I thought I’d try to look at a range of aspects of Blogging in HE, I found that WordPress now offers the ability to use an online creator at WordPress.com to write for a self hosted blog. Not sure I’d bother in the future, but useful to test it now!

So, blogging. Where do I start? Well, where did I start? August 2004; that was just before we started teaching a unit that was going to require students to blog, so I thought I’d better have a go myself. I wasn’t entirely sure, as I’ve never been a great writer, but I got going. Over the years my blogging has waxed and waned, I’ve taken to twitter , then as we started to move students at Portsmouth into Google Apps for Education, so Google+  seemed more relevant. (This is a general one, I lost the Portsmouth one when I left). There were other tools in between times, many of which stopped offering freely hosted services (anyone else used to use Elgg?), or didn’t work for long enough to really get students to use them (Google Wave anyone?)

Today, there are so many different options – recently, I’ve had Known mentioned to me; what I’d not realised is that it’s developed by Ben Werdmuller – who’d co-founded Elgg (which I’d liked a lot at the time).

I’ve just read another story covering the changes in tools used – other than Facebook, I’d say I’ve tried most of those, either for myself, or with students. Some I’ve stuck to, some I’ve drifted from. When I left Portsmouth, I realised the problems with having material tied up in a particular domain. Moving this blog was easy – WordPress makes it so. Extracting all my contacts from Google Apps far less so. I created a “takeout” – but it’s not going to be easy to get it all back into my current account. I am starting to do it manually. Guess this is where it all adds up to a PLE. (Or, given that these are mostly things designed to work with others, a PLN).

[Oh, and not sure I’d bother using WordPress.com to create posts in the future, though it is a very clean looking interface]

 

Creating a shared bibliography.

Recently, 4 of us have been working on a shared bibilography – using a number of different tools.
For the actual referencing, we considered Mendeley, Zotero and EndNote Web for the shared area. Mendeley was the first one we tried, but it didn’t play as well with the multiple machines we had (Linux, Windows XP/7, iPad) – Zotero appeared to behave better. EndNote Web, while we could get accounts via the University, could have been difficult for sharing with others outside the uni at a later date; so it’s Zotero. As it is, we’re using it in different ways; some preferring the online version, others the browser plugin, while I like the standalone version.
We’d started putting the papers we’d found on a shared directory at work, though that was a little difficult due to the fact it’s possible, but not always easy to get to work directories off campus (especially on the multiple devices we have!) Dropbox has solved that problem; again, we can all use it in ways that suit us best, whether it’s a synchronised folder on the computer, via the website, or via a handheld device.
Now we have a work flow – Timothy is locating the papers, (and generating some nice mind maps of search terms, graphs of numbers of hits etc), while Jane, Jon and I are then reading, evaluating – and, if worth including returning to the original paper to add to the database. Two reasons for that – firstly It’s easier to add all the data automatically; zotero does the hard work, and secondly, the library databases recognise the extra hits & count them

We’re beginning to realise, though, the difficulties of a shared bibliography – and the need to agree on tags, rather than just select our own!

We’ve been doing this work at our secret hideout!
Day 19

Facebook it, Tweet it and the world knows: myth or reality.

That was the working title for the session that Timothy Collinson and I are doing for tonight’s Cafe Scientifique in Portsmouth.
As we’ve been discussing it (on twitter, natch!) it’s been quite hard to restrict ourselves to that – we’ve found ourselves drifting off almost into citizen journalism – in other words when people *wanted* their messages to be heard, rather than those that weren’t.
In many ways, that’s actually the difference between Facebook and Twitter. Most use the former, assuming only their friends will read it, most use the latter assuming the world will. But, sometimes mistakes get made.

Looking forward to it, though Social networking without gadgetry could be fun (that said, it means we’re able to focus on ‘social’ and ‘network’ without having to worry about technology getting in the way. [Just hope the flip chart doesn’t fall over, nor the glue sticks fail…]

Uni's Closed – but how did you know.

Following a post from Brian Kelly, I started thinking about how University of Portsmouth let students/staff know that it was closed today.
We had a number of sources:

I guess some will also have had the news second hand in some way; e.g. re-tweets, via friends in Facebook, via Victory if staff put information up there etc.,
What I’m not sure about is which route staff/students actually used. I’ve asked on twitter – so far everyone who is on Twitter used it – and also one other staff member via email – which is how she found out. (And how many haven’t investigated, so have a cold walk in)
Unlike Bath, we don’t have text messaging options – which would be useful today I think, as not all staff/students have access to the Internet at home.

Who's following who?

I’ve read a few posts recently in the blogosphere (such as this one by Mike Arsenault) about “twitter snobs” – and basically whether one should, or shouldn’t, automatically follow everyone who follows you.

As with so many things, some people will argue vehemently that their way is “right”; others will be more pragmatic – explaining why they’ve got the approach they have & why they realise others have different views. 

My personal view is to look (periodically) at new followers & decide on an individual basis. The most recent person to follow me, well, I’m trying to work out her strategy of following. She’s only following me & Ellen Degeneres; she’s only made 1 update & hasn’t got a profile. I don’t think I know her (she’s from Colarado for starters); however, as she said in that one update she’s looking at using Twitter with her (doctoral) students, and given that she has selected me to follow, I decided to follow her back. 

(Most people who follow me & only have 1 update are either gloating about the fact they’ve got a laptop for free [I ignore them] – or someone I’ve encouraged to have a look – & I generally know them for real. [Tend to follow them!)

Ada Lovelace Day 09

Ages ago, I signed the pledge to write a blog post for Ada Lovelace Day – about a woman in technology that I admire. I then wondered who on earth I’d write about; there are quite a few I could think of off hand, but trying to think of someone who I felt had really made a difference to many – wasn’t so easy. About two days after I’d signed the pledge, the January issue of the BCS magazine arrived – a special on Women in computing. One they featured was Mary Lou Jepsen. And my mind was made up!
As those of you who’ve read this for some time will know, I’m very impressed with the OLPC – it’s not just the hardware (and certainly not the keyboard – thought I’d give up on rubber ones when I gave up on the Speccy!) – nor is it just the software – it’s the combination of both, and more importantly the concept that I find fascinating.

I started to do a bit of research – Jepsen’s the same age as me (also a good reason for writing about her!) – and it’s a lot! Time magazine have listed her as 49 in their list of 101 influential people. (She’s 10th in the sub-list “scientists & thinkers”).
She was an LCD screen designer and had done a range of innovative work (HDTV, large scale holographic displays, minature displays etc., etc., etc.,) – so when Negroponte came up with the idea of the so called “$100 laptop” – with low cost and low energy use being prioritised, she became the chief architect of the project. Her particular innovations were the screen, with its minimal energy requirements & readability in sunlight.
The mesh network (again, something she contributed to) – while minimising the number of computers that need to be online (and sharing the data around the class/ village) has also allowed the software teams to really look at software that enables collaboration – and encourages children to work together. Having worked in Papua New Guinea (which, I understand now has some OLPCs) I’ve seen some of the problems of schooling where there’s no electricity, limited resources etc., and feel that the OLPC offers a wealth of information, potential, opportunity – you name it, it offers it – so thank you Mary Lou!

Useful references: