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    Running Pilots

    January 11th, 2012

    So are you thinking about running a pilot or a trial?

    How many pilots do we need? Or is it more a question that we need to run a pilot at our institution before we think about “rolling” it out across all curriculum areas. I am also aware of successful pilots in one curriculum area which have been followed by virtually identical pilots in a second curriculum area… Why? Well the learners are different! Really! How different, they have two heads or something? That actually raises a question on any pilot, well successful pilots have resulted in a roll out across the whole institution?

    We do see institutions that use tools such as Powerpoint across the institution, similarly we see some institutions have embedded the use of the VLE. However was this via projects and pilots? Or was it something different?

    Do pilots actually help institutions move forward in using learning technologies or are they causing problems rather than solutions?

    Do you read about pilots and projects from other organisations? Do you follow their advice when implementing new technologies or do you decide to run your own pilot? If we don’t learn from pilots that others do, is there any point in doing or talking about pilots?

    I also had a recent conversation where the institution was going to do a pilot as it couldn’t afford a mainstream rollout of the technology. Now this I really didn’t understand, you already know from the research undertaken that the technology works and has a positive impact, however rather than buy enough for the institution you’re only going to buy enough to repeat the pilot already done. Why couldn’t they buy enough? Well they weren’t given the funding.

    So….

    Maybe the question is, why aren’t the people who are making the financial decisions reading the research and project outcomes?

    Hmmm….

    Personally my view is that if there is only enough money for a pilot, it’s probably not worth doing and you would be better off spending the money on reinforcing and enhancing the use of a technology you already have. However many might see that as boring.

    I thought I would mention some of things I have done at my institution in relation to the introduction of new technologies and the impact they have had.

    e-Books

    When the JISC Collections e-Books for FE announcement was made, I immediately signed the college up. I recall talking to a colleague who said “so which group of students should we pilot this with”. I thought for a minute and wondered why we needed to do a pilot or a trial. Hadn’t JISC Collections already done that, seen the need to provide the collection and given us an opportunity. So I replied, “no we’re not going to do a pilot, we’re going to launch it for all learners and tell everyone about it, the pilot projects have already been done by JISC, e-books do work, they support, enhance and enrich learning, why on earth would we want to repeat that work, to get the same results, oh and get no funding to do it?” As a result of the mainstream launch of the e-books into the college, we now have learners and practitioners using e-books to support their learning. No need to do a pilot, we knew it worked elsewhere, so why wouldn’t it work at our college?

    Video Cameras

    I could go on about Flip’ping Pilots, but when an opportunity came to purchase some SD card based video cameras, rather than buy a set of 15 and see how they worked out with groups, we purchased over 300 cameras. The result was just what I expected. More practitioners creating and using video in their teaching. Learners using video for assessment and reflection. Availability of the cameras was the real issue, having lots of them meant that whenever someone wanted to use one, either they had one in their pocket or could get hold a class set really easily. Was I concerned about spending that amount of money on cameras that wouldn’t be used? Well probably slightly, however pilots and projects done elsewhere had demonstrated again and again that video had had a really positive impact on teaching and learning, so why wouldn’t it work at our college?

    Clickers

    I remember seeing a demonstration of Activexpression by Promethean at my college and been very impressed, the main reason I liked the system over other “clicker” systems including the Promethean Activote was that you could use the system without needing to spend ages preparing the questions in advance.

    However another thing I knew, from reading about projects that had implemented clickers in other institutions was that staff didn’t use their sets of clickers very much because they weren’t sure if they would be available, but when they did use them they really thought they worked effectively. The lesson was simple, ensure you have enough clickers available. We also had a need to make assessment more engaging and “fun”, clickers or voting units seemed like an ideal solution based on the work done elsewhere. So once more when some funding was available, we purchased 1500 Activexpression handsets, nearly enough for a hundred classes! They were made available in a range of departments. The result? Well most of the sets were used and used on a regular basis to the point where they are embedded into practice. However I should say not all departments engaged with the technology and some were left in cupboards. However after a period of implementation and relection we relocated the sets not been used. The result was across many curriculum areas the clickers were been actively used to enhance and enrich learning. I had seen the results of many pilots and projects that had used clickers and voting units, so why wouldn’t it work at our college?

    iPads

    When the iPad first came out, I didn’t think it was going to be the radical device for me that it has eventually come to be. In the end I was really impressed with the device and how it improved my efficiency and workflows for my job. As a result I bought every member of the management team in my centre an iPad. As well as the Libraries and e-Learning, my centre includes Construction, Engineering and Schools Liaison. I certainly didn’t see this as a pilot or a project, much more about them benefiting from the lessons I had learnt. I have had quite a few people in the college come and ask me to provide them with iPads (like I have the budget for that) or have asked to “pilot” them with a group of their learners. As far as I am concerned there have been lots of iPad pilots and projects elsewhere in the world and my college doesn’t need to repeat those experiences, the lessons have been published, the problems identified and many of the issues resolved. For me the question is now, now are iPads useful or will they enhance and enrich learning, no the question for me is, will iPads solve a specific problem we have in the college, will they increase retention and achievement for a particular cohort? If I can answer those questions I can then ask the question will the cost of the iPads be outweighed by the benefit they will bring? We don’t have that many iPads at my college, those that do have them, find they are really useful and have had quite an impact on their work. Elsewhere other iPad projects have demonstrated the value they can bring to learning, so why wouldn’t it work at our college?

    Thinking differently

    So with all the wonderful stuff that has been discussed at various conferences and events, I wonder how many of you are thinking about your next project, your next pilot, your next research grant bid… Do I only want to do a pilot because a) everyone else is doing a pilot and b) it means I get an exciting new gadget to play with c) I need to be seen to be doing new and innovative stuff. Pilots are fun, aren’t they?

    Or are you thinking differently, thinking about why wouldn’t this work at my place? Why can’t I do a mainstream roll out of this new technology.

    Are you thinking differently?


    A next-generation digital book

    May 24th, 2011



    “I like real books…”

    May 23rd, 2011

    “…but I like real books, you know paper ones…”

    This is a typical response from practitioners when I start talking about e-books.

    There are three problems with this kind of response.

    Firstly, e-books are not replacing paper books. Well they may in the future, in the same way cars have replaced horses. But at this time e-books can be used along with paper books. Just because e-books are available to learners doesn’t mean they are then banned from using paper books.

    “Sorry, you’ve access an e-book, you no longer have the rights to read paper books!”

    Secondly, which builds on the first point, is that just because we have a collection of e-books, this doesn’t mean you are forced to use them, you can still use the paper books if you want to. You do have a choice, as do the learners.

    Thirdly is assumes that paper books can be accessed just as easily and quickly as the e-book collection can be (and vice versa). When I am in the library, yes it is often easier and quicker to get the paper copy of a book than start the computer, log in, download my profile, start the browser, enter the URL (or click the link), enter my credentials into the Federated Access screen, find the book, either by searching or from a “bookshelf”. Yes finding the paper copy is probably going to be faster.

    However if that book has been lent out to another learner… than, accessing the book will be much quicker than asking the other learner to return the book, which could take days! Also imagine that the learner is at home or work, then travelling to the library will take time. What if the learner wants the book on Sunday afternoon at home, when the library is closed; once again the e-book will be much easier and quicker to access. This ease of access at a place and time to suit the learner is one of the key advantages of e-books.

    Fourthly and finally, the initial statement is typical in that it uses the “I” word. Too many times practitioners resist using a new tool or service, or embed a technology into their teaching, because they say “I don’t like it”. Actually even worse some practitioners say that not only they don’t like it, but that there learners won’t like it… based on what evidence you have to ask? “I know my learners” they reply.

    I’ll leave you with a final thought, many people did not like the fact that cars replaced horses. One of the reasons was that horses indicated position and status.


    Do you prefer printed books?

    March 2nd, 2011

    A study group for the book industry in the US has found that:

    …most college students say they prefer textbooks in printed rather than e-text form.

    They also found:

    About 12% of the students surveyed — mostly males, and often MBA-seeking or distance learners — said they prefer e-texts to printed texts because of their lower cost, convenience and portability.

    So what does this tell is about the use of e-books in education?

    That we should ignore e-books and only buy paper books?

    Go back to the point “students say they prefer”, preference is about making a choice, and choice is important. Preference also can mean that both options are liked, but students when asked to make a choice, prefer printed books over e-books. For example I like tea and coffee, but prefer coffee.

    There is another issue here in how textbooks are used by students. I wrote about this last May following a report in The Seattle Times that:

    It would appear that students at the University of Washington don’t like using the Kindle compared to use printed books.

    There were some interesting results and comments from the pilot. 80% would not recommend the Kindle as a classroom study aid for example. However 90% liked it for reading for pleasure.

    The implication is that the Kindle did not work in the classroom, however as a device to read books it works fine.

    This is a lesson that educational publishers need to recognise when publishing content to platforms like the Kindle and the iPad. Though novels are linear and as a result eBook formats can “work” like a printed book, educational books are used differently and as a result eBook versions need to work differently. Students need to be able to move around quickly, annotate and bookmark.

    The experiences at the University of Washington show that the issue wasn’t really with the Kindle, but was much more about the format of educational text books in the ebook format.

    I would argue that the results of the BISG survey is a similar issue, in that the merely digitising academic textbooks is not how we should be creating academic e-textbooks.

    Students do not use textbooks in the same way that they read a novel. Digital textbooks need to evolve as do e-book readers. The iPad is starting to show the potential of what can be done, but more work needs to be done on how students use textbooks and how they could use digital versions of the textbooks.

    The JISC work on e-books is certainly a start on this and makes for interesting reading.

    We are still in the early days of how e-books will be used and can be used.


    Why the Net Matters: How the Internet Will Save Civilization – iPad App of the Week

    December 21st, 2010

    Why the Net Matters: How the Internet Will Save Civilization – iPad App of the Week

    This is a regular feature of the blog looking at the various iPhone and iPad Apps available. Some of the apps will be useful for those involved in learning technologies, others will be useful in improving the way in which you work, whilst a few will be just plain fun! Some will be free, others will cost a little and one or two will be what some will think is quite expensive.

    This week’s App is Why the Net Matters: How the Internet Will Save Civilization.

    This groundbreaking app from bestselling author David Eagleman is a new way to experience narrative non-fiction, only available on the iPad.

    The app allows the user to access each chapter at random using a unique navigational interface. Once in a chapter you can pull out to see where you are in the course of the argument, and see how far you have progressed through the content.

    Each chapter contains tailor-made chunks of text with dozens of images, videos, webpages and interactive 3D models. These can be enjoyed alongside the text, or on their own once the text is swiped away in landscape mode.

    Fully readable and adaptable to portrait or landscape, the app uses all the functionality familiar from iBooks such as page swiping and a bottom navigational bar, but re-configures it into a new experience that brings the content alive.

    David Eagleman has spent years researching this topic and plans to release regular updates so that the information is current, and the content evolves.

    £4.99

    I am not sure I can recommend this app, the main reason I bought it was to see how a book could work on the iPad away from the iBooks or Kindle style interface. In that this book does work, the interface is easy to use and you can move from one section to another with ease. The book makes good use of images, diagrams, animations and video.

    The author has indicated that he will “update” the book as time goes on. In other words the book will evolve over time.

    You can copy (therefore making it easy to cite) from the book.

    On other book applications this is very difficult if not impossible. Though even I am not sure how to cite from a book such as this one. This is something that I need to look into further, but as more and more “virtual” books like this are published, the more we in the academic community will need a consistent way of citing such tomes.

    So from a technical perspective I think the book works. As for the content? Well I thought it was interesting, but the topic is something you are interested in or not.