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. (’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.

Similarity detection

not plagiarism detection
I’m in the process of looking at the role that similarity detection tools (e.g. Turnitin and SafeAssign) can play in helping students improve their writing skills, and detect their own errors. My personal experience is that it’s a valuable tool – as long as you spend enough time explaining to students what should be similar, what shouldn’t and thus what to do about it. All the research I’ve found would seem to suggest the same (though from the work that Lynn Graham-Matheson & Simon Starr (2013) did the students were far more likely to think that the staff saw it primarily as Police force, than the staff thought they did). Morris (2015) suggests that could be the language used when staff introduced it.
What I’m looking for now, though, are any studies that counter this view? Has anyone got any work that suggests similarity tools are best used as a plagiarism police force?

Second Life getting Second Wind?

We used to be quite active in Second Life (though I have to confess to never being that excited by it, despite the enthusiasm I tried to show my students).
I’ve felt for a while that tomorrow’s students, growing up on Minecraft might well be more responsive to it than those we worked with nearly 10 years ago. (Was it really that long?!) However, I’d not really considered the implications of VR, Google glass etc., till I read today’s ReadWrite post, and developments that Linden labs are taking. Perhaps it’s time to re-awaken Emmadw Rickenbacker.

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 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 to create posts in the future, though it is a very clean looking interface]


Yet another day ..

… today it’s “Safer Internet Day” (at least in the UK). While I haven’t had time to really look at everything, the UK Safer Internet Centre has a wealth of resources, aimed at those from 3 upwards – including their parents and carers – here’s just one of them.

Safer Internet Day 2016: Red and Murphy talk to Smartie about helping your friends online from UK Safer Internet Centre on Vimeo.

[Not quite sure that a 3 year old could message someone, but perhaps the video is aimed at those who can write, and good to see Vimeo, given how many primary schools block YouTube etc … ]

A range of tools.

For a long time now I have been accumulating links to “useful” pages, sites etc., Some are in Pocket (I’ve had an account there since it was ReadItLater), some in Diigo (moved to that after Delicious was taken over by Yahoo! and lost some functionality [now largely regained]); and some in Evernote  (generally personal links – I started using Springpad, till they closed). Yet more are simply favourited (or, now, liked) tweets.

In an attempt to actually start to use some of these, I’m aiming to update my blog with some of them. Today’s is a Timeline of Research tools created by Jeroen Bosman and
Bianca Kramer at the University of Utrecht.

The interactive is a bit fiddly to use; though to look at particular tools there’s also a Google spreadsheet (best to copy it if you want to sort; I didn’t see the warning not to sort till after I had … managed to unsort I hope). What I found fascinating was the tools that I remembered I’d forgotten all about. That’s one of the dangers of encouraging the use of tools; is it going to be here today, gone tomorrow? [Though it’s generally possible to create backups – whereas with paper notes, I wonder how many people duplicated them, in case the dog ate them…] I’d not realised till I looked at it that PubMed was only launched in 1997. In the summer of 1999, I was doing my MSc in Information Systems – which involved creating a tutorial for Health Visitors to learn to search both generic websites (I realised then the power of Google over my coursemates’ favourite – AltaVista); but also specialist ones – including PubMed (and the rather efficient NorthernLight).

The conference poster they have created on Figshare covers currently popular tools, as well as some example workflows.

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.

And to the future …

I finally left the University of Portsmouth last week, after 17 years, 1 as a student, 16 working.

Now to start to think about where I want my career to go – right now eLearning and/or primary computing are the areas that are particularly attracting me.

I haven’t yet plucked up the courage to check to make sure that all the materials that was on my Google drive, and is now backed up to a Hard Drive is accessible; I hope so … I also have to start moving all the contacts from the email address lists I exported, the Google + contacts and so on and so on. Oh, and try to sell a house. That, and get back to the blogging – and sorting out all those links I have bookmarked “to do something with”


… and Google+

I’d read that it’s possible to move from one G+ account to another; however, it seems that it’s far more difficult than it appears (mostly because Google have removed the tool they used to offer.

At present, all I can do is to use the vcf cards from the Google Takeout (which are handily grouped into circles. However, as far as I can tell, adding them to my contacts list on Google doesn’t add them to a circle, merely adds the to the list of people from which I can choose to follow. That said, Google are updating the contacts list (and mine’s in a pretty good muddle!) so perhaps time to have a sort out.