3 years

During January, there have been several events that have made me think about getting back into blogging properly. Martin Weller’s 1000th blog post (though I realise this is going to be my 848th) more or less coincided with seeing Edubloggers 28 day challenge. Added to both of those, I’ve been doing more work with our CampusPress installation – LearningSpaces – encouraging others to blog. I started this blog nearly 15 years ago – because I knew I was going to get students to blog.

So, I really feel that I should practice what I preach – and get back to blogging.

Laptop, in front of the woodburner

Blogging by the fire

February 1st 2019 marks 3 years of being at Dundee – it’s been a busy 3 years, and I’m feeling more settled here. In part, because I’m starting to see people in the team moving from ‘colleague’ to friend, which I missed a lot when I first came. Mostly, though work is moving towards the aspect of the work that I’d particular felt drew me in the original job title – eLearning advisor, albeit something that was tagged on as an “and”. Working with the software over the last 3 years, I feel I’ve got to know Blackboard intimately which I think is vital. It’s hard to support those using a tool if you don’t really know its quirks, and supporting innovative teaching ideas when you’re not familiar with the tools (and know how far they can be pushed) is difficult. There’s more, much more, to learn as we move to the Ultra version of Blackboard. From what I’ve seen, that’s going to make a lot of the “how to” easier, so we can focus on other aspects, whether that’s learning design, innovation in assessment, supporting the development of digital skills, or anything else.

Today, I went to MisInfoConX Scotland (#MisInfoConXSco) – a very thought provoking event –  probably (definitely!) the most controversial event I’ve attended – but it gave me food for thought for moving towards supporting staff and students develop their digital fluency. Thanks @Natalie for suggesting that phrase, it seems more encompassing than digital literacy (which seems to involve a lot of check lists, rather than demonstrating appropriate usage in different situations).

Last year wasn’t as easy as it could have been, both a work (a lot) and personally; so I’m going to start my 4th year here with enthusiasm. Part of that will be actually finishing some of those draft posts in here as they’re still relevant, just unfinished.

And a few local photos.

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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.

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.

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.

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New job!

When I left Portsmouth University in September, I’d never imagined that I’d have been offered a new job before Christmas (after all, the plan was to sell the house, move North, get to know the area, *then* start looking for work). However, a post as Educational Technologist came up at Dundee University – I’m now at the end of my first week here.
There are  differences between the two roles – Academic and Educational technologist – but also similarities. This week has been mostly getting to know people; where the best eateries are (The Tower Cafe wins for views); and starting to get to grips with Blackboard (not really that different from Moodle/WebCT/etc), ExamOnline and reminding myself about QuestionMark and Turnitin.

Day 33

Meanwhile I’m also getting used to using a managed Windows PC again (rather than a self managed Mac), and a shared office. (Good for getting to know people, especially if you’re opposite the kettle!)

I’m also hoping to get better at using this blog to post about eLearning developments – after all, that needs to be my focus right now. (That should link to the need to tidy up the million and one useful links I have scattered between Pocket, Diigo, Twitter likes etc).

Today, I’ve skim read the NMC Horizon Report > 2016 Higher Education Edn. As well as the predictions for 1 year etc, I like the “solvable” / ” difficult” / “wicked” challenges – in particular the concept of balancing connected and unconnected lives, which is, as perhaps expected seen as wicked; it’s one, though, that several of the other problems they list can feed into.