Category Archives: news

The impact of the fickle nature of the web

Broken Web

Over on my tech blog I have been writing about the fickle nature of the web, it is one of those things that I find annoying. You post a link, embed a video and then a bit later you find that it has gone! This was very apparent today with the news that the BBC are, in order to save money, will close down their recipe website. For me this is a mistake, however I also understand how this can happen, not just with textual content, but also media too.

Now as I write this blog post, it would appear that the BBC have climbed down somewhat and the recipes will be moving over to the commercial BBC Good Food website.

Screengrab from BBC Food website - Eton Mess

The impact of archived, expired and missing content may be annoying for me, but it is probably more annoying and frustrating for teachers who have created or curated content using third party links and embedded media and find that the learners are unable to access the third party content. These links need to be fixed or replaced, embedded media needs to be found again, or an alternative discovered. I know when I was working with staff, this was an issue they found very frustrating when creating courses and content for the VLE.

Personally I when writing content for my blog, I try not to use third party sites (in case they disappear) and try not to embed content if I can help it. There are times though when people have removed a video years later and looking through an old blog post you find the embedded video has disappeared as the obscure service you used has shut down, or was taken over.

As I said over on the tech blog, sometimes I think, why do people and organisations like the BBC do this? Then I remember I have done this myself and sometimes you have little choice.

WCC Logo

Back in 2001 I was appointed Director of the Western Colleges Consortium and we had a nice little website and the domain of westerncc.ac.uk and the consortium was wound up in 2006. As a result the website was shut down and the domain lost.

Back in 1998 when I created my first web site, using Hot Metal Pro I used the free hosting that came with my ISP account. A few years later I moved hosting providers (as I was using too much bandwidth) and had a domain of my own. I did leave the old site up, but due to bandwidth usage it was eventually shut down!

I remember creating a course site for my learners using one of those services where you got a free domain name and free hosting, should I have been surprised when they shut down and asked for large fees for transferring the site and the domain. It was often easier to create a new domain and get new hosting. The original site was lost in the midst of time.

We have seen services such as Ning, which were free and well used, but once the money ran out and they started charging, lots of useful sites shut themselves down. People then moved to different services.

For these small sites, it probably is less of an issue, annoying, slightly frustrating, but you can live with it, it’s part of what the web is about. However with big sites, like BBC Food, then it becomes more than annoying, especially if you have a reliance on that content for your course or your teaching.

Since I wrote my blog post yesterday , the reaction on the web has intensified (and it looks like has had an impact). One blog post from Lloyd Shepherd, one of the original team who worked on the archive makes for interesting reading.

It was my team that ran product management and editorial on the new Food site, and the site that exists today is largely the site we conceptualised and built at that time.

He explains the basis behind the site

The idea was very simple: take the recipes from BBC programmes, repurpose them into a database, and then make that database run a website, a mobile site, and who-knows-what-else. Create relationships between recipes based on ingredients, shows, cuisines, and who-knows-what-else. And then run it with as small an editorial team as possible whose job was simply to turn telly recipes into database recipes.

He continues to point out that as far as the remit of the BBC as a public service broadcaster, the food archive hit two key points.

Did we discuss ‘public service remit’? You bet we did. Every day. And it really came down to two things:

These recipes have already been paid for by the BBC licence fee payer, and they’re being under-utilised. A new service can be developed out of them for very little up-front cost.

Nutrition is now a public health issue. Obesity is draining NHS coffers, government guidelines are badly understood and terribly publicised. There is a role for the BBC to play in this, and this is the way to do it.

Though at this time we don’t know for sure where the content will be archived, rumour has it, it will be archived on the Commercial BBC Good Food site, one impact which I know it will have will be on catering courses that use the BBC content to support the learning of the students. A lot of the recipes are from professional chefs and provide guidance and inspiration to learners who are starting out on their careers. Additionally the way in which the archive works, they can find ideas and recipes for different ingredients. Even if the archive is moved, one aspect of the BBC Food site that will be missed, is the lack of distracting advertising.

It would appear that the BBC are moving away from an archive to library of content, which can be “borrowed” for 30 days before it expires. That got me thinking…

In the olden days when I was running libraries, we use to “weed” the collection of book stock which needed replacing, was out of date or no longer been used. We would buy new content to either replace or update existing books, or buy books that were completely new. One thing we were clear about was that we were not an archive, old stock was to be removed and got rid of, usually recycled or sold. The copy of the Haynes manual for the Hillman Imp from 1972 was interesting in its own right, but from a teaching and learning perspective wasn’t actually of any use any more.

Haynes Hillman Imp manual

We didn’t have the space to store and keep books and journals just for the sake of keeping books and journals. Of course with online materials that space argument becomes less critical, but there is still the resources required to manage curate large quantities of digital content to ensure that the content is accessible, searchable and relevant.

I personally don’t think the BBC Food archive is a library that needs to be reduced, refreshed and restricted, I think it is a great archive that should be kept. For me there are two services here, one is the archive and the other is a service delivering current and new content. It’s a pity that the requirement of cost savings means one was planned to go. Hopefully the recipes will be saved and restored when they move over to the new site.

In my post on Ning starting to charge  back in 2010 I mentioned above,  I did say one of the issues with using any free Web 2.0 service is that they may not be here forever.

Gabcast is no longer free, but Audioboo is. Jaiku is pretty much dead, but Twitter is alive and well. Etherpad has gone, but iEtherpad is up and running.

I still think what I said in 2010 is still relevant today when talking about services and web tools.

At the end of the day this is not about a service disappearing or now charging, it’s much more about how when using these services you don’t think about long term, but have the capability and the technical knowledge to move between different services as and when they become available.

Use what is now and in the future use what is then.

Though that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t complain and moan when something like the BBC Food “closure” happens, as sometimes there aren’t real alternatives, especially when it comes to content rather than a service.

What this whole story tells us is that the web can be fickle and relying on the stickiness and permanence of web content can be a challenge for teachers and lecturers. How do you cope with the transient nature of web content?

Image Credit: Broken by David Bakker CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Webinars, FELTAG Confusion

It is no wonder that many in the FE sector are confused over the implications of FELTAG.

In my previous blog post I quoted the SFA response to FELTAG which includes the following comment.

This is activity which replaces face to face lecturing time including webinars, but not time spent on researching information on the web. 

I read this as

These are activities, including webinars, which replaces face to face lecturing.

However it should be read as

This is activity which replaces face to face lecturing time and webinars.

If you read the Provider Support Manual from the SFA which has more detail it states:

333. The following are examples of online learning:

  • Learning materials that the learner accesses on a college virtual learning environment such as Moodle
  • Video demonstrations or Powerpoint presentations accessed outside the classroom
  • Structured learning packages that are not facilitated by a lecturer.

334. The following are examples of activities that do not constitute online learning and should not be included in calculation of the Percentage of online delivery:

  • A video of a practical demonstration that is shown in the classroom with the lecturer present
  • Work undertaken on a computer with a lecturer present
  • An online webinar delivered by a lecturer
  • Homework assessments that are undertaken on-line
  • Email/telephone or online tutorials or feedback discussions.

Webinars would include using tools such as Adobe Connect, Blackboard Collaborate, Big Blue Button and Google Hangouts.

The SFA responds to FELTAG

Tablets and phones by Zak Mensah

Following the publication of the FELTAG report and the somewhat confusing response from BIS, across the FE sector there has been a lot of discussion about the implications of FELTAG, the 10% online delivery particularly getting a lot of attention.

I have attended a lot of events and meetings where we have discussed FELTAG, and though there was a lot of positive comments about ensuring our learners gained the necessary digital skills for future employment, the challenges of ensuring our staff have the necessary skills and training to deliver on this often came to the fore. In addition the 10% dominated many of the discussions, partly as it wasn’t clear what was online and what wasn’t? Most people were sure that “searching the web for information” was not online delivery, whereas computer-mediated content and assessment probably was. What was less clear was if discussion forums or webinars counted towards the online 10%.

This week the SFA released their response to FELTAG, and as one of the major funding bodies for Further Education this has been eagerly awaited in the anticipation that they would clarify and clear up the implications from FELTAG.

We now need to record on the ILR for the proportion of the Scheme of Work which is delivered “online”.

The 2014 to 2015 individualised learner record (ILR) includes a field which asks for the proportion of the curriculum design (scheme of work) delivered by computer-mediated activity rather than by a lecturer. This is activity which replaces face to face lecturing time including webinars, but not time spent on researching information on the web. 

It is good to see the clarification that webinars are considered to be online and as expected that researching on the web isn’t.

However it will be interesting to understand in more detail what is included and what isn’t. I consider all the following could be used to replace face to face lecturing time.

  • Having a discussion online using a forum on a VLE, or within a Google+ community.
  • Researching using online and digital collections, ie not using Google and the web, but using specific digital resources, such as an e-book library; the British Library Newspapers Archive; a collection of online journals.
  • Creating a blog and commenting on the blogs of others.
  • Having a discussion on Twitter, using a single hashtag.

The SFA also clarifies what they understand by the 10%.

We are not expecting providers to convert 10% of learning delivery in each programme of study ‘en bloc’ to online to meet a ‘directive’. Rather, we are encouraging providers to establish a strategy to determine where the adoption of a greater ‘blend’ of delivery and assessment types adds most value to a learning programme…

There was some discussion that the 10% could be an aggregated 10%, however the statement from the SFA implies they are expecting every programme to adopt blended learning in some format.

The challenge will be designing, developing and delivering the computer-mediated activity to meet this 10%. Unless the staff have the necessary skills, it will be a difficult process. It is one thing to use learning technologies for the odd activity here and then, it’s another thing to plan and schedule in 54 hours of online delivery into a 540 hours programme. The response from the SFA does indicate that colleges shouldn’t just convert the 10%, but it is clear they are expecting providers to strategically establish processes for implementing 10% (or more) where it “adds value” to a programme.

In many cases I would suspect that some courses already are meeting the 10%, it’s just that it isn’t part of the formal scheme of work. In this instance, the challenge will be for the teaching staff, how they will reduce their face to face time by 10%.

The other response from the SFA is that they will be looking at current use of online delivery this year, combine with the IRL information from 2014-15, to then get the data that “will be used to gauge the current volume of online delivery and establish a baseline to inform funding policy development and implementation for future years.”

The response to this has to be either, start now, don’t wait… make sure you train the staff. Though I am sure some providers may think that if they don’t start the process of change, the policy might disappear in the future…

It is good that we are getting clarification and the real value of FELTAG is getting the message out that the use of learning technologies should be used where it adds value to learning and improves the learning experience.

Image Credit: Tablets and phones by Zak Mensah

So long and thanks for all the fish…

After nearly seven years at Gloucestershire College as their ILT and Learning Resources Manager I have now left and started a new job on Monday this week.

Back in 2006 I was Director of the Western Colleges Consortium (WCC); it was being wound up as the partner colleges were merging and moving away from a shared VLE platform to individual institutional VLEs.

I was pleased to be appointed at Gloucestershire College and when I started in November 2006. Over the last seven years the college has had a new build, merged, refurbished and restructured.

We have been through two Ofsted Inspections, coming out Good each time, with some positive comments about ILT and the libraries in the reports. We did a lot of learning technology projects, including ones for MoLeNET, Becta, LSIS, AoC and JISC.

I enjoyed my time at Gloucestershire, according to many staff who took the time to speak to me, I made a difference.

Across the college many staff and learners are using a range of learning technologies to enhance and enrich learning. From the VLE, to interactive whiteboards, mobile technologies, video, audio, learning objects, e-portfolios, social media, web tools, and other learning technologies.

The libraries are well used and liked by learners and I. My opinion are fantastic learning environments.

So where am I now?

I am the Group Director of ILT for what will be Activate Learning, which encompasses Banbury & Bicester College, City of Oxford College and Reading College. Activate Learning is the new name for what is currently the Oxford & Cherwell Valley College group. My responsibilities include ILT, IT, Learning Resources (which includes the libraries) and Business Systems.

It is going to be an exciting and challenging opportunity.

iPad Off

iPads

I read this article in the Guardian about schools asking parents to buy their children iPads to support their learning.

It’s quite a negative article, but in many ways I do agree with the sentiments behind it.

Back in January I wrote an article, “I need a truck” in which I noted:

The Essa Academy in Bolton has decided that the best way forward for them is to issue every learner and every teacher with an iPad. Now I am sure that they thought long and hard about it before making this choice, but I do wonder if they missed a trick?

The first questions I would ask are: Is every learner the same? Do they all have the same needs and do they all learn in the same way in different contexts?

I then went on to explain what I meant using a transport analogy. Read more…

This echoes some of the sentiment in the Guardian article, but a lot less sensational! By the way don’t read the comments on the Guardian article, for a moment as I persued them I thought I was reading the Daily Mail or the Telegraph.

If the parental comments are to be believed then the schools undertaking these kinds of iPad implementations haven’t really explained the “what” and the “why” they are doing this. I would suspect that this is because they may not actually know the “what” and the “why” and have seen other institutions, like the Essa Academy, are doing and believe that they should be doing the same.

This paragraph astounded me

Providing tablets is not an unquestioned money saver for schools. Honywood community science school in Essex gave all its 1,200 pupils a tablet computer for free, although it did ask for a £50 contribution towards insurance. The cost was estimated at around £500,000. But 489 tablets had to be replaced after a year, while four out of 10 needed to be sent for repairs.

What on earth was happening in that school where 41% of the tablets had to be replaced and another 40% needed to be repaired. So 81% of the tablets were broken, or broke down in a year. Would be interesting to know which tablet they were using. Were the problems with the tablet itself, the way it was used, or was it because it was given to the learners for “free” they didn’t look after them. Probably a combination of all three, however still 81% is an incredible statistic.

The problem with every learner having an iPad is that it many ways it can be restrictive. A lot of things can be done on an iPad, but in some ways other devices or tools may be better, faster or more efficient.