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    So long and thanks for all the fish…

    September 6th, 2013

    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

    August 5th, 2013

    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.


    e-Learning Stuff – Top Ten Blog Posts of 2012

    January 1st, 2013

    A somewhat quieter year this year with just over 100 blog posts posted to the blog.

    As I did in 2011, 2010 and 2009 here are the top ten blog posts according to views for this year. Interestingly, the VLE is Dead – The Movie blog post which was number one last year and number two for the previous years, does not appear in the top ten , it was the 15th most viewed post.

    10. Keynote – iPad App of the Week

    The tenth most viewed post was my in-depth review of the Keynote app for the iPad. I wrote this review more for myself, to get a my head around what the app was capable of. Whilst writing the blog post, I was very impressed with the functionality and capability of the app, it was a lot more powerful and flexible than my first impressions of it.

    Keynote opening screen

    9. ebrary – iPad App of the Week

    I spent some time trying out the various mobile ways of accessing our college’s ebook collection which is on the ebrary platform. This was a review of the iPad app, I was both impressed and disappointed. It was much better than using the web browser on the iPad, but was less impressed with the complex authentication process which involved a Facebook connection and a Adobe Digital Edtions ID. Very complicated and as a result less than useful for learners. Though it has to be said once the book was downloaded it did work much better than accessing it through the browser. The only real issue is you have to remember to return the books before they expire!

    8. MindGenius – iPad App of the Week

    MindGenius is not the best mind mapping app for the iPad, that has to go to iThoughtsHD however if you have MindGenius for the desktop then this app is an ideal companion for starting mind maps on the iPad and finishing them off on the computer.

     7. iBooks Author

    In January of 2012, Apple had one of their presentations in which they announced iBooks 2, iBooks Author and an iTunes U app that built on the iTunes U service in iTunes. At the time I wrote three blog posts about those three announcements. All three of those blog posts are in the top ten, the one on iBooks Author was the seventh most popular blog post in 2012. It looked at the new app. I’ve certainly not given it the time I thought I would, maybe I will in 2013.

    6. A few of my favourite things…

    Over the last few years of owning the iPad, I have downloaded lots of different apps, some of which were free and a fair few that cost hard cash! At a JISC RSC SW TurboTEL event in Taunton I delivered a ten minute presentation on my favourite iPad apps. The sixth most popular blog post of 2012 embedded a copy of that presentation and I also provided a comment on each of the apps.

    5. 100 ways to use a VLE – #89 Embedding a Comic Strip

    The fifth most popular post this year was from my ongoing series of ways in which to use a VLE. This particular posting was about embedding a comic strip into the VLE using free online services such as Strip Creator and Toonlet. It is quite a lengthy post and goes into some detail about the tools you can use and how comics can be used within the VLE. The series itself is quite popular and I am glad to see one of my favourite in the series and one of the more in-depth pieces has made it into the top ten. It was number eight last year and tyhis year was even more popular.

     4. I love you, but you’re boring

    This blog post was the first in a series of blog posts looking at Moodle and how the default behaviour of the standard system results in problems for learners and staff.

     3. “Reinventing” Textbooks, I don’t think so!

    In January of 2012, Apple had one of their presentations in which they announced iBooks 2, iBooks Author and an iTunes U app that built on the iTunes U service in iTunes. There was a lot of commentary on iBooks and how it would reinvent the textbook. Looking back I think I was right to be a little sceptical on this one. Maybe in a few years time, we will see e-textbooks that change the way in which learners use textbooks.

    2. Thinking about iTunes U

    The blog post on iTunes U, which followed posts on iBooks 2 and iBooks Author, is the second most viewed blog post this year. I discussed the merits and challenges that using iTunes U would bring to an institution. Back then I wrote, if every learner in your institution has an iPad, then iTunes U is a great way of delivering content to your learners, if every learner doesn’t… well I wouldn’t bother with iTunes U. I still stand by that, I like the concept and execution of iTunes U, but in the diverse device ecosystem most colleges and universities find themselves in, iTunes U wouldn’t be a solution, it would create more challenges than problems it would solve.

    1. Every Presentation Ever

    Back in January I posted a humourour video about making presentations, this was the most popular blog post of mine in 2012.

    It reminds us of all the mistakes we can make when making presentations.

    So that was the top ten posts of 2012, which of my posts was your favourite, or made you think differently?

     


    …and then everything changes

    July 2nd, 2012

    Over the last couple of months, on some of the learning technology mailing lists I belong to there has been a lot of discussion about tablets. Despite the fact that it dominates the market, considered by many to be an industry standard, popular with consumers and revolutionised the tablet market; there was a significant number of respondents on the mailing list who had decided that the iPad was not the right device for their learners and/or institution and were looking for some other tablet.

    There were also others on the list who felt that the iPad was an expensive toy…

    This attitude does surprise me slightly as, yes though Apple usually do charge more for their devices (and I guess this is where that attitude comes from) when it comes to the iPad they are one of the cheapest tablets on the market.

    Yes, you can buy cheap Android tablets from Amazon, but in terms of comparable specifications, I have found that most Android Tablets are just as “expensive” as the iPad, if not more so… The Motorola Zoom for example was £499, though now it is only £350.

    When it comes to WIndows tablets, Microsoft recently said in their Surface announcement that the price would be comparable with other Ultrabooks. Most Ultrabooks are in the £800-£1000+ price point, significantly more expensive than the iPad.

    The newest iPad is £399 and you can get last year’s model for £329. Yes you will need to pay more for increased storage and more for 3G, but the same can be said for Android devices.

    In terms of functionality, it is quite normal for someone to explain loudly how limited the iPad is and how much more functionality other tablet devices or Windows netbooks have.

    The iPad 1 didn’t have a camera, the iPad 2’s camera is poor quality. There is no USB port on the iPad, no way to add external USB storage. The screen resolution is poor, it doesn’t play DivX natively out of the box. There is no Flash player on the iPad, nor Silverlight. The OS is locked down, you can’t install any app on the iPad, you can’t tweak the OS, it doesn’t run Office! The on screen keyboard is “unusable” and you can’t plug in a USB keyboard… etc… etc…

    Then the “virtues” of other devices are added into the conversation. It has a proper keyboard, removable battery, proper USB port, good camera and it supports Flash!

    The problem with these arguments is that they often fail to take into account usability and the user experience. The reason that people like the iPad is very little to do with the hardware, but how the operating system works and their own user experience. The iPad is responsive and meets users’ expectations.

    A week ago my recommendation for a tablet would have to be the iPad.

    A week later, well a lot can happen in a week, and it did this week. It was a week that everything changed.

    What changed?

    The Google Nexus 7 was announced.

    Now it will be a few weeks before someone like me can get their hands on it, but this is the first Android Tablet that I think can be a real game changer when it comes to using tablets in education.

    Firstly it sounds incredible value for money, just £159 for the 8GB model, £199 for 16GB.

    It looks great and hopefully with Android 4.1, Jelly Bean, this will be a mature tablet operating system that just works, and works just as well as iOS does on the iPad.

    If this tablet is as well tweaked as the Google Nexus One was then this is going to be one useful tablet. The initial reviews talk of fast performance, beautiful screen. The only real failing is that 8GB is way too small! So if you are going to buy one, go for the 16GB model.

    I’ll be honest I have been meaning to buy an Android tablet for a while now. Most of the really cheap ones didn’t even run the tablet only version of Android, Honeycomb, but only ran 2.2, Froyo. Those that did run Honeycomb were quite expensive and in most cases more expensive than the iPad! I really quite liked the look of the Sony Android tablet devices, but the reviews were quite scathing, saying they were sluggish and not powerful enough. They soon dropped in price too, indicating poor sales.

    Things have changed recently, but I really do like the idea of the Nexus 7 and like the fact it will be running Jelly Bean the latest version of Android OS. So as they say, watch this space.


    The Emerging Technology Seminar

    February 17th, 2012

    Next week I am speaking at The Emerging Technology Seminar in Birmingham.

    This one-day event has been specifically designed for leaders and managers and is your chance to gain insights into technologies that are on the learning horizon. There will be input from Google, Microsoft, sector experts and your peers who are already working with these new technologies. You will have plenty of time for discussion and to consider how these technologies may facilitate improvement through efficiencies, innovation and new ways of working.

    Myself I am talking about horizon scanning, new technologies and the inevitable cultural resistance that colleges will face .

    What new technologies will be having an impact on teaching and learning over the next five to ten years? How should colleges prepare and utilise the potential that these technologies will bring?

    How is practice changing within learning providers? How will learning and the delivery of learning change over the next five to ten years? How can technology facilitate changes in practice? How can colleges prepare for the challenges and opportunities new ways of learning bring to education?

    This session will provide an opportunity to discover, share and discuss the challenges and new technologies and practice bring to colleges and how they can best prepare for the change that is going to happen.

    The Emerging Technology Seminar takes place on the 22nd February 2012 in Birmingham.