It was a much busier week this time, with a lot more travelling, including trams, planes, trains, buses, cars and walking. At least the weather wasn’t too bad, but there was certainly some rain and wind about.
Monday I was in Wales for one of Jisc’s Stakeholder Forums. It was interesting to talk to colleagues form universities and colleges about how they felt about Jisc and the services we provide them. I really enjoyed the session delivered by my colleague on big challenges and co-design and on my table we had a really insightful and interesting discussion about a Netflix style model for education.
A busy and confusing week for me with various non-work activities taking place, resulting in a more agile and flexible way of working.
On Monday, that Amazon Photos reminded me that on the 1st July in 2007 I was taking photographs of our brand new library at the new Gloucestershire College campus on the quays.
What really impressed me back then was that my library team came in over the weekend to unpack everything and ensure that the library was ready to open. They didn’t tell me they were going to do that, as they wanted to surprise me (and everyone else as it happens). The library was welcomed by staff and students. It would take a little time to embed the use of the library across the student body, but within a year or two we were there.
At Gloucestershire College I was responsible for TEL, the libraries and learning resources from 2006 until 2013. Ofsted at our March 2013 inspection. Ofsted said “Teachers and learners use learning technologies extensively and creatively inside and outside the classroom. Most courses provide a good range of materials for learners through the college’s VLE. Outside lessons, many learners make constructive use of the college’s libraries and resources.” This was achieved by working with curriculum teams and students on show how the library and technology could be used to support learners and enhance the learning experience. I was very proud that all the work myself and my team had put into the use of learning technologies, the VLE and the library was recognised.
I quite enjoyed the tweets this week from Microsoft celebrating the 1985 initial release of Windows.
With Excel, Chart, and even Flight Simulator, there’s no telling where Microsoft and the power of Windows will take you this summer. pic.twitter.com/sEHLuXysXn
My first experience of Windows was some time later with Windows 3.0 and remembering the big advance that Windows 3.1 brought to computing. It was probably Windows 3.1 that really made me appreciate the affordances that technology could bring to teaching.
I remember the huge fanfare that was Windows 95 and what a step change it was from 3.1. We even had video now on Windows, though it was quite small.
I never really moved to Windows 98 and moved straight to Windows 2000 when I started a new job in 2001. Well the laptop I was provided with did use Windows Me, but I soon moved over to 2000. I liked Windows XP and thought it was a huge improvement over previous versions of Windows.
After that I was more of a Mac person and rarely used Windows. I did have to use Windows 7 for a while, but found it confusing as I hadn’t used Windows for a long time. Today I have been known to use Windows 10, but my main computing platform these days is still OS X.
I’ve long argued that NSS by institution only isn’t helpful for prospective students or others – you include so many different student experiences l that an average doesn’t offer much help for understanding how your experience may compare.
He then goes through a range of visualisations including results that allows you to get as close to results for an individual course as the data allows.
I liked the use of Tableau to enable you to interact with the visualisations.
…independent analysis found matches were only correct in a fifth of cases and the system was likely to break human rights laws.
Relying on new technology for some stuff can be excused, but using unproven technology that could result in negative impacts on people’s lives is inexcusable.
Actually relying on technology without a human element is also inexcusable. The number of times we hear the phrase “well the computer says…”.
We need to remember that computers and software are designed by people and people can be wrong, biased and will make mistakes.
On Thursday, that Amazon Photos once more gave me a blast from the past and reminded me that thirteen years ago in 2006 I had presented at the EU e-Learning Conference in Espoo in Finland. I was presenting on behalf of Norton Radstock College (now part of Bath College) about a joint European project they had been working on. At the time I was Director of the Western Colleges Consortium of which Norton Radstock was the lead college. I was on holiday when I got the call to see if I could attend, so it was a somewhat mad rush to sort out the travel. I started off in Bristol Airport and then there was a bit of a mad rush at Schiphol where I had to change to a flight to Helsinki. Schiphol is one huge airport…
Having arrived at Helsinki, I needed to get to Espoo and travelled by shared taxi to the hotel. I spent part of the evening walking around the area, before ending up in the hotel restaurant.
It was lovely and sunny, and as being so far north, the sun never really set. I also remember trying to access the BBC News website connected to the hotel wifi and being surprised by the advertising all across the BBC site. I then connected to the VPN in my office in Keynsham and all those adverts disappeared…
The conference was opened by a string quartet which I remember been something I hadn’t seen before at an e-learning conference. My presentation went down well, but the humour didn’t!
The conference meal was a little disappointing, I had been expecting a meal that would be full of Finnish delicacies and national dishes. What actually happened was we went to an Italian restaurant and had a buffet of Italian food.
It’s quite happenstance that I was reminded of that conference and trip, as in my new role I am now working with NREN colleagues across Europe on different projects,
I had some time the following day before my flight to have a quick look around Helsinki. I caught a bus to the centre and back.
As I didn’t know any Finnish I thought I did quite well to not get lost.
Spent some time reviewing and planning the Data Matters 2020 conference. I presented on the Intelligent Campus at Data Matters 2019 and in my new role the responsibility for planning the next conference falls of my shoulders.
I also spent a fair amount of time working on the Learning and Research Technical Career Pathway I am working on at Jisc.
Having avoided taking part in a MOOC since they became the latest fad, I have now taken the plunge and enrolled on the ALT ocTEL MOOC.
So who am I?
What do I want?
I have been working with using technology in learning since the early 1990s.
Prior to that I used technology as a learner. I remember sending e-mail in 1987 at the University of York and getting “flamed” by a technical administrator at Brunel University for sending the “wrong” kind of e-mail.
I also recall a friend of mine at University creating (what today we would call) a social network on the VAX system, it was very similar to Facebook! That VAX system was also my first introduction to WordPerfect.
After a few different things I settled down as a Business Studies and Economics teacher at colleges in the South West. It was in this role that I started to make use of various technologies to enhance my learners experiences. This started with using DTP programmes such as PagePlus to create engaging handouts, Freelance Graphics (and an early version of Powerpoint) to print off acetates for use with an OHP (no projectors back then). I made my own VLE (okay a website) back in 1998 to enable my learners to access links and resources and have discussions. Due to the sort of things I was doing I started doing a lot of staff development, helping staff at City of Bristol College where I was working to gain new skills in using technology to enhance learning.
From there, apart from working in a museum for a while, I worked for a consortium of FE Colleges all using a common VLE, TekniCAL’s Virtual Campus. Following five years there I got a job at Gloucestershire College as ILT & Learning Resources Manager.
In this role I am responsible for the strategic direction in the use of technology to support learning, the VLE, mobile learning, libraries, use of ebooks, digital and online resources and a fair few other things too.
Over the last few years I have been researching and looking at the use of ebooks and also mobile learning.
Have always had an holistic approach to embedding the use of technology, lets get everyone moving forward and where possible try and avoid shiny things unless they help and support learning. Okay yes I do have an iPad.
So just how long should a training session be? 15 minutes, half an hour, an hour, all day, a week?
It is a challenge to both design training that covers what needs to be covered within a set timeframe, but also to ensure that it is sufficient, robust and effective. Also no one has all the time in the world for development activities, so compromises have to be made, yes a day’s training would be ideal, in reality you have an hour.
There is also no one model that fits all needs, so though this blog post is on “Short and Sweet” sessions lasting fifteen minutes, this is not the only model of development we deliver, there are also sessions lasting an hour, half a day and the odd whole day development.
One of the problems we have faced is that what we want is staff attend a training session, get all excited and inspired, hopefully then embedding the ideas and tool into their practice. However with any training session of an hour or more there is an assumption that the practitioner will find the session useful.
They might not know if it will be or not, and won’t until they attend. As a result they are likely to be cautious and probably won’t book in or attend, they don’t have the time! Of course providing information on the training in advance can help, but there is another assumption that they are aware of the training and read the information; that doesn’t always happen.
Sometimes practitioners don’t actually need training, did you ever get training in using iTunes for example, but need inspiration. They will then think about what they were shown and work on it in their own time.
Time, no one has any time anymore… I could argue for ages about how it isn’t “lack of time” that’s the problem, but “prioritisation” which is key, but you and I don’t have the time!
It was these concepts that made us think about revisiting training that was delivered to teams at a time and place to suit them (okay at team meetings), on demand, from a menu and to be quick and digestible.
I came up with the name, “Short and Sweet”, the idea was that there would be a selection of choices, and teams could pick and mix what they wanted. It also allowed me to theme the training with sweets. Well initially I was going to do just sweets, but I did think about healthy eating and all that, so I also used fruit too.
Each session was to be no longer than 15 minutes. The concept was to provide a taster, to tease and to inspire. Where possible there would be a follow up session available so that if so inspired they could then go to a more in-depth practical session.
I am also going to “digitise” some of the sessions and make them available to view on demand and on a mobile device.
I delivered my first few sessions of “Short and Sweet” and they worked well, and I did get some positive feedback. It will take as little longer to see if they have had any impact. It will also take longer to see if the concept lasts.
So there I was walking down one of the corridors in the college when I noticed that there was a QR Code on the noticeboard.
It linked to a survey by students on bands and music, they were using surveymonkey that works well on a mobile device. The questionnaire was a simple one so could be easily completed on your mobile device.
I think the only thing I would have changed may have been adding some idea of what the QR Code was about. Also I would have been adding a short URL to the QR Code for those that did not have a QR Code reader.
Interesting to see learners using QR Codes on their own accord.
Thursday was our College Development Day, one of two days of the year where we “close” the college and every member of staff takes part in staff development activities. For the first time in a few years we did a “pick and mix” in which staff are provided with a choice of sessions and can pick and mix to create their own personalised day of training and development. There are, as there was this year, a few compulsory sessions, but generally staff are free to pick what else they will do on that day. An example would be that all teaching staff had to attend a session related to our forthcoming inspection, but were free to pick what they wanted from the menu for the rest of the day.
The challenge for me however was that this process means is that staff generally choose what they want to do, rather than what they should or need to do.
So the sessions we planned on Turnitin, LanSchool and Accessibility were either cancelled or cut back, and the sessions on digital imaging and iMovie were oversubscribed. It also is apparent how you need to “sell” sessions to staff to get them to sign up.
I generally spend the day delivering training and this year was no exception, my first session was for my Learning Resources team and looked at the strategy, vision and focus for the next three years as part of a re-positioning of the strategic vision for learning resources which includes the library. It was also an opportunity for the teams from my three libraries to get together as a whole team. It was an interesting session and it was great to see that they could see the importance of a focus and a vision but also the need to revisit what we do and why we do it. I will probably cover this in more detail in a future blog post.
The second session I ran was an introduction to Mac OS X. I planned this session as we have recently recruited new staff into the libraries and as we have Macs in the libraries they asked for an introductory session. I kept it simple, first showing them this video from Apple, before going through Finder, Safari, iMovie, iPhoto and Garageband. I mentioned Keynote and Quicktime too. Overall feedback was positive and many of the session participants realising that OS X isn’t that different than Windows and if you can use Windows you can use OS X.
My afternoon session was much longer, and was a supportive VLE workshop. The session allows participants that time to reflect and build on their courses on the VLE. If they get stuck, need advice or want ideas, then I am around to provide that support. It worked very well with staff having a chance to “play” and try out new things that will enhance their learners’ experience.
As well as the ILT sessions I was delivering we had booked some excellent external trainers, many of whom will be familiar to readers of this blog for their appearances on the e-Learning Stuff podcast. Each of them delivered a range of sessions with a real focus on adding interactivity through ILT into teaching and learning.
These days reinforce the importance of training and development for practitioners, especially in regard to the use of learning technologies. Our focus for the day was less on the technologies themselves, but much more on the actual use, how they can support, enhance and enrich learning.
Over the next few months I will be following up staff who attended not just my sessions, but all the ILT sessions to assess the impact of the training. Experience has shown that not everyone takes on board what they learnt, but most do.
One of the features of the libraries at Gloucestershire College (well the Gloucester and Royal Forest of Dean campuses) is that we have sofas in the library.
I have been asked a few times why do I have sofas in the library when the library is a learning environment?
I would ask then, where is it written down that learning has to be uncomfortable? Where is the rulebook that states learners should sit at desks on hard chairs? Is it not possible for a learner to learn whilst sitting on a sofa? Why can’t a learning environment be enticing, comfortable and even a little bit social?
What myself and the Learning Resources team have created in the Library space is a learning environment that will encourage a range of learning activities, from group work, individual activity on a computer, individual study and importantly places for reflection and for reading. The sofas are part of the environment that recognises that individuals do different things for their learning, they learn in different ways at different times, and as a result we need to provide an environment that meets these different needs.
Sofas in the library is not about turning the library into a social area, it’s about creating an environment for learning that meets the diverse needs of our learners who will want to learn in different ways at different times; the end result is learners who achieve their qualificational goal.
In my job there are days when I could do a little dance on changing the way someone thinks about and approaches the use of learning technologies and improves the learning experience for their learners. They start to use learning technologies to solve problems they are facing, make things better for their learners or even just to do things differently to engage the learners.
Then there are days when I think… really… I start to realise that the journey my college is on is on a long and winding road…
Let me tell you a story.
In my job I am in charge of the libraries as well as learning technologies and now and again I sit on the desk and help learners and staff using the library to find and use a range of learning resources. I find this a useful way of seeing how our learners use learning resources.
A lecturer came into the library the other day and asked where the journals were, we’ve just had a refurbishment, so I guessed that she didn’t know where we had moved them. So rather than point in the general direction, I took the opportunity to show her where they were and maybe also get her to think about using the e-book collection or other online resources we have.
We found the journal she was looking for and she asked about back copies, I said we have a few on the shelves, but knowing that we subscribed to Infotrac said we also (probably) had an electronic archive. She had not heard of Infotrac, so we went to a computer and I showed her how to access the collection on the web.
She seemed impressed how easy it was to find the journal, the back issues and find archived articles. She then said that she would recommend using the service to her learners.
Just as I thought, yes success, she said,
“I normally tell my students not to use web sites”
I must have looked a little shocked as she then added pointing at Infotrac,
“That website is okay as it is a journal, but I don’t like my students using web sites”.
Then off she went….
Sometimes in my role I think yes we are changing the culture and then a member of staff says something like that dismissing the web out of hand and I think I still have a long way to go!
I really feel sorry for her learners who in the real world will be dealing with web sites all the time with excellent content and here was their lecturer dismissing the web out of hand out of pure ignorance and a lack of understanding of how the web is used for academic research, teaching and learning.
How can anyone be so ignorant of progress and change? How can anyone be so backward in their understanding of how the web is used in their profession?
Back in the 1990s there may be an argument that content on the web, well sites on GeoCities anyhow, were probably not “useful” for teaching and learning and there were issues with the authenticity.
I wouldn’t be surprised by an academic in 1997 making these kinds of assumptions, but fourteen years later haven’t we moved on?
Today even Wikipedia has value (especially in the references) and can’t just be dismissed, there is also a huge amount of valuable content on the web that learners can use to support their learning. There is some “dodgy” content on the web, so learners do of course need to have information skills to find, judge and use web based material. There is also curated content from information professionals. Think of all the open access journals now available as well as online collections of digitised resources, journal articles, and e-books.
From experience the academic in this story is quite rare in my institution, but they do exist, they are ignoring the change that is happening around them, they are not attending the training, reading the communication about the new possibilities that learning technologies and the web can bring to teaching and learning.
Part of me says that it doesn’t matter as someone who has such entrenched views will probably never change regardless of what I say and therefore I should not worry about them, ignore them and work with practitioners who are more open to the possibilities. However part of me thinks about the learners and the fact that they are losing out on the potential that the web can bring to their learning, to make it better, easier and improve accessibility. I can’t ignore them, therefore I can’t ignore the ignorant.
So what is your digital footprint? Where can others find you online? What can you do about other people who post stuff about you on services such as Facebook, Google+ and the Twitter. Are you CMALTed? How many apps do you have on your iPhone?
The most expensive iOS App James has bought is TomTom for the iPhone.
Audioboo lets you record and publish audio files along with an image the the geodata.
It was a normal busy Friday morning in the small West Yorkshire market town of Wetherby when someone working in a café spotted a man acting a bit suspiciously on the street. He appeared to have a small plastic box in his hand and after fiddling with the container he bent down and hid it under a flower box standing on the pavement. He then walked off, talking to somebody on his phone. Geocaching: the unintended results.