Wednesday, 5 December 2012

10 Ted Talks about creativity

TED have just compiled a list of ten inspirational talks that explore what it means to be creative:

Now if only I could create some time to watch them all..

Monday, 3 December 2012

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Impact of MOOCs on Higher Education

An interesting discussion from the recent TIME conference on the future of Higher Education - this particular clip explores the impact of MOOCs on HE delivery:

The Future of Learning, Networked Society

A thought-provoking video on the new challenges of learning in a networked world, featuring respected marketing blogger Seth Godin:

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

The Social Media Garden

The rapid growth of social media is creating new and complex challenges for organisations. As classic examples of disruptive innovation, social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter are forcing individuals and organisations to re-examine their methods of working and communication.

And they're not about to disappear overnight. So what are some of the challenges that social media presents for organisations? An informative piece of research - called the Social Media Garden - provides a valuable contribution to this debate. Here is a Slideshare of the final report:

The research puts forward some interesting concepts such as 'Leadership 2.0', the qualities of which include "embracing change, being open to experimenting, demonstrating transparency, fostering a culture of innovation, open to the voice of the people, stimulating sharing, acknowledgment of expertise, working collaboratively and creating dialogue". And the researchers go on to suggest that "use of Web 2.0 will only be successful in an organisation if Leadership 2.0 is in place". I'm inclined to agree.

I particularly like the method of data collection. As the researcher states at the start of the report, it makes sense to conduct a study on social media using a more 'social' methodology than the traditional survey. This short video explains how the Social Media Garden, developed by Hybrid Wisdom Labs, works:

And all of the above is testament to the power of the open community - thank you to Tracy Gravesande and Robin Heyden for sharing the above resources!

Thursday, 12 July 2012

My top 10 learning tools for 2012

I've made use of some fantastic learning tools in 2012, and it's only July! Although it's highly likely that a whole range of ridiculously clever tools will be invented before the end of the year here are my top ten learning tools to date:

1. Google Docs - the ease with which Google Docs enables online collaboration continues to amaze me. Collaborative editing of the same document in real-time? Incredible. And so easy to take for granted. The video Google Docs in Plain English provides a great overview.

2. Google Forms - I've only scratched the surface with these but Google Forms are superb. Especially when embedded n a VLE to obtain student feedback.

3. Screenflow - an excellent screencasting application for Mac users. Having just spent the last four days editing videos with it I dread to think what I would do without it. Version 3 has some great new features including annotations which make it even more of a one-stop-shop.

4. Mentormob - I came across this tool during one of Jane Hart's excellent online courses (more info available at her Social Learning Centre). I find the concept of a 'learning playlist' innovative and intriguing, and although my colleagues have some doubts over the appearance of the tool I suspect that it will evolve into something very useful.

5. Yammer - an awesome social networking application for organisations. The potential for Yammer and other social intranet tools to revolutionise communication in large organisations is enormous, and Yammer is such an easy-to-use yet powerful tool that I wonder if it will soon become as ubiquitous as Word and Powerpoint. Bit worried about its recent acquisition by Microsoft though...

6. Wordpress / Buddypress - a killer combination of blogs and social networking, but so flexible that this description doesn't really do it justice. Jane Hart's Social Learning Centre is but one excellent example of the ways in which Wordpress and Buddypress can support learning and collaboration.

7. Campus Pack - blogging and wiki application. Some may find this a surprising inclusion on this list, but the improvements made by the Campus Pack team with version 4 have turned it into a powerful learning tool. Great for setting up group blog/wiki activities, and their incorporation of an activity stream bodes well for the increasing 'socialisation' of this product.

8. Xerte - open source learning object creator from Nottingham University. A powerful learning object creator that is a useful tool for presenting information interactively.

9. Slideshare - great resource for sharing Powerpoint presentations. I must confess that a guilty pleasure is spending my lunchbreak browsing Slideshare - there are so many fantastic presentations! A real cornerstone of the Open Educational Resources movement, you should always check Slideshare before spending hours creating a presentation as someone may well have already done all the work!

10. Vimeo - video sharing made easy. Vimeo is a powerful tool for sharing videos and puts the user (and their rights) first. An excellent site for hosting and sharing video content.


Friday, 8 June 2012

Why, Blackboard, why?


Our institution (as I suspect do many others) has a love/hate relationship with Blackboard. Two years ago we had almost no engagement, now we have over 75% of courses using it to some degree to support student learning. Tutors have begun to love it a bit more, students have begun hating it a bit less. And just when it's starting to get better the management announce a review of the university's online learning provision which could well end in a move to Moodle.

Life, as they say, is never easy.

But the looming review of Blackboard has obliged me to consider the available technologies for supporting student learning, and I found myself asking the question 'why hasn't Blackboard embraced social learning'? Having participated in the recent change11 MOOC, and as a regular participant in Jane Hart's excellent Social Learning community it is clearly evident that undergraduate students are researching, obtaining and sharing information in a way that has changed significantly in even the last 2 - 3 years. To me, incorporating a social element into any online learning experience appears to be a no-brainer, so why isn't Blackboard evolving to incorporate such features as activity streams to facilitate communication and information-sharing on a university course?

To add insult to injury I recently discovered that their Facebook Sync application is no longer supported. Why? I can only assume one of the following is true:

  1. They are so removed from their user base that they genuinely have no idea of the importance of social learning
  2. They genuinely believe that social learning is a fad that will pass and the one-way transmission of information between student and tutor will soon make a comeback
  3. They are so enormously wealthy that they genuinely don't care about the changing nature of online learning 
So in addition to managing a Blackboard upgrade I'm now faced with the prospect of investigating the potential for a Wordpress/Buddypress VLE to enable tutors and students to explore more collaborative ways of learning.

It's not as if I had any plans for the summer anyway...

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Collaboration by Difference - avoiding 'groupthink'

I just came across an interesting post on collaboration by Duke professor Cathy Davidson:

Collaboration by Difference - Video - Harvard Business Review

In this short video, Prof. Davidson suggests that in a collaborative group it is very often the non-expert or the person who is not in charge who has the most interesting thing to say. It is therefore important to structure ways to hear that person to avoid them being drowned out by the more vocal members of the group. She calls this 'collaboration by difference', a way of hearing the disrputive or dissident voice.

Prof. Davidson presents three useful strategies for avoiding what she terms 'groupthink' when working in groups:
  1. Air out differences democratically. When working with two international groups, this can be done by giving each member of each group two cards. On the first they are asked to write a perceived opportunity and challenge of working with the other group. On the second they write a perceived opportunity and challenge about what they themselves can offer. All cards are collected, shuffled and then read out by a facilitator without identifying who wrote which card. This often helps reveal that all participants are worried and excited about the same things. Rather than focusing on the differences, this helps participants focus on the opportunities nd challenges of working together.
  2. Let non-experts talk first. For example, staff and students are participating in a two-hour workshop on Learning in the Digital Age. By asking staff to sit and listen to the students for the first hour, this helps them to understand and appreciate that the students know much more than staff might think. By flipping the relationship between the expert and the novice it enables everyone to hear suggestions and ideas that might otherwise have been suppressed.
  3. Ask what you're missing. One person will have the responsibility of identifying what has been missed in the discussion, but no-one knows who that person will be. The person running the meeting will choose a participant at random - this makes everyone pay attention because they don't know if they will be chosen. Doing this helps indicate that participants might not be as clear on something as they thought they were. This often derails the conversation, but it also often turns out that participants were heading in the wrong direction and it was therefore beneficial for the conversation to be derailed.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

What should I do today?

What is important?

What should I do today?
Talk to people
Strengthen relationships and build new ones
Encourage and foster happiness

What about me?
What do you want?

To feel like I'm making a difference. To be amazing!
How can you do that?

By making sure that my work makes sense and I'm working towards clear goals.
What does that mean?

Don't waste time. Time is precious. Use time wisely. Stick to a plan. Change and adapt the plan if necessary. But stick to a plan.

So what do you need to do now?

List my projects. What am I working on? Break each down into clear steps. Allocate time to each step. Follow the steps.

Sounds like a plan.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Death of the lecture

A recent article in The Chronicle picked up on Harvard's recent financial splurge on new approaches to teaching. The motivation for the splurge was the growing that the traditional teaching method in Higher Education - the lecture - was failing to achieve its goals of "prodding students to make meaning from what they learn, to ask questions, extract knowledge, and apply it in a new context".

One would hope that Harvard has not just woken up to the scholarship of Teaching and Learning and its potential to enhance student learning. But the article does highlight the problem that tutors, usually highly qualified and with many years' experience, often lack the confidence to experiment with new approaches to classroom teaching. Add the use of new technologies into the mix and these tutors are even more likely to retreat to the safety of 'doing what they have always done'.

As a Learning Technologist I have always strived to focus on the pedagogy of e-Learning when recommending activities to tutors. Another article in the Chronicle illustrated that technology for technology's sake is unlikely to yield a better learning experience for students and while this approach may succeed, it is also just as likely to fail. The article spoke of a technophile tutor who after many years of extolling the virtues of new technologies to his colleagues is now focusing on what he believes to be even more important: the bond between tutor and student, and the need for the former to nurture the latter rather than talking down to them. Above all, the article highlighted the need for learning to be a participatory experience.

If tutors do decide to experiment with new participatory technologies there is a significant risk that their attempts will fail due to inexperience. And for those who have always simply 'given lectures' the idea of using new technologies to increase participation is often perceived as either irrelevant or terrifying. Providing tutors with practical templates that explain how this can be achieved through the use of technologies such as social media, video and interactive activities would therefore help give them the confidence to try new approaches to supporting their students. I've been searching for a while now and haven't found any such templates - if anybody has come across something similar please feel free to share. Otherwise I think I've found what I'm going to be doing for the next few months...

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

What would a disrupted education system look like?

Great presentation as ever from George Siemens considering the ways in which technology is disrupting education:

"Deliberate practice" - another way of "flipping the classroom"?

I came across an article suggesting that "deliberate practice" is a more effective way of teaching students than the traditional lecture. I've not heard of deliberate practice so I decided to investigate.

According to the article, the deliberate practice method involves the tutor providing students with a multiple-choice question on a given topic. The students then discuss the question in small groups before providing their answer electronically, presumably using a clicker tool or polling application. The tutor can then see their level of understanding about the topic; he answers the question by way of a short discussion before moving on to the next topic.

This sounds great, and it's certainly something I'm going to try myself, but isn't this similar to the concept of 'flipping the classroom' as suggested by Salman Khan in his seminal TED talk? Khan's method of using video to deliver core content as a means to free up the face-to-face time for more constructive discussion is a powerful new way to enhance student learning. The article on deliberate practice indicated that students exposed to this method of teaching did more than twice as well in a test than those in the traditional lecture setting. The phenomenal impact of the Khan Academy's approach to teaching also suggests that technology now provides a legitimate way to challenge the centuries-old method of teaching that is the lecture.

Educators such as George Siemens and Stephen Downes are also challenging Higher Education to with their concept of Massive Open Online Courses. With students able to access unlimited content online, universities are increasingly under pressure to justify the very nature of their existence. Maybe changing the dynamic of the traditional lecture using 'deliberate practice' or by 'flipping the classroom' will be enough to quell the unrest.

Let's hope that more research is conducted in this area.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Are you a technologist, academic developer, facilitator or chameleon?

We're being restructured. It was never going to be a straightforward experience, but as Homi Bhabha remarks, "the state of emergency is also always a state of emergence" (Bhabha 1994: 41). I must thank my PGC course leader for that.

I'm having to justify my role as part of the restructure. Currently I am an Academic Developer, but fairly soon I could be a Learning Technology Facilitator, an e-Learning advisor or just a Learning Technologist. What's the difference? Does one present more opportunity for professional development? Beetham, Jones and Gornall (2001) state that a Learning Technologist often performs a variety or roles including but not limited to:
  • Educational developer
  • Educational researcher into learning technologies
  • Resource/materials developer
  • C&IT skills professional
  • Library/resources professional
  • Technical support professional
  • Manager (teams and projects)
  • Academic innovator, and
  • Technical developer/researcher
I can certainly find examples of all of the above in my day to day work and this indicates the complexity of the Learning Technologist role. There is a great deal of change happening both within and outside our institution at the moment and if e-Learning initiatives are going to be sustainable they will need to be implemented by people in posts that are themselves sustainable.

For the past two years I have strived to not be pidgeon-holed as an IT Technician but rather as a member of the academic community. If the activity of the Learning Technologist is not underpinned by sound pedagogy it rarely has the desired impact on enhancing learning. But the strict separation of IT and Learning and Teaching has always brought about a blurred boundary around 'who owns e-Learning' in the institution. I'm beginning to think that moving into the IT department might actually enable me to do my job more effectively that before.

So who am I? Technologist, Academic Developer or Facilitator? Or a combination of all three? I think its time to become a chameleon...

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

You can't train people to be social - Harold Jarche

Harold Jarche summarises the difficulties in training people to engage with social media and provides a useful list of pointers for creating a supportive social environment.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Getting to Social - Harold Jarche

Harold Jarche explores the idea that use of social media is comparable to using a new language - you have to start at the beginning and experience it for yourself in order to understand its values and conventions:

Friday, 10 February 2012

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Monday, 23 January 2012

Community management: planning the week

A useful timetable by Richard Millington to help Community Managers plan their activity for the week:

He also provides a useful Community Management Map which describes the four stages of online community development: inception, establishment, maturity and mitosis.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

The need to fit in

This blog post by Seth Godin highlights the need for people to fit in and make the right choice. It's a good reminder of the way in which success is perceived.

How much are you going to tip?

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Case Studies in technology-enhanced learning

A useful selection of case studies from Aberystwyth University.

And some more case studies from the University of York.

Social Learning: A Future For Learning

A provocative presentation that illustrates how the transition from analogue to digital is revolutionising learning and challenging educators to keep up.

Social Learning
View more presentations from TribalCafe

Top 100 Articles of 2011

A great post from Jane Hart listing her top 100 social learning articles from 2011.

Top 100 Articles of 2011

The importance of seeding a community

It is often tempting to launch a community because you are ready to do so. But if the community is not ready then it is unlikely that it will continue to grow and foster engagement. This post by Richard Millington provides a clear reminder of the need to seed and grow a community before 'launching' it.

Launching a Community When You're Ready