Category Archives: stuff

Scared of the Screens

brokentech

This is an interesting article on the response to recent media reports on the negative impact of screens on young people and how the art of conversation is been lost.

Reading the article I was reminded of this cartoon from XKCD about the pace of modern life.

There are lots of gems in the “cartoon” including this one from 1890

Conversation is said to be a lost art … Good talk presupposes leisure, both for preparation and enjoyment. The age of leisure is dead, and the art of conversation is dying.

Frank Leslie’s popular Monthly, Volume 29 1890

and this comment from 1905

The art of conversation is almost a lost one. People talk as they ride bicycles–at a rush–without pausing to consider their surroundings … what has been generally understood as cultured society is rapidly deteriorating into baseness and voluntary ignorance. The profession of letters is so little understood, and so far from being seriously appreciated, that … Newspapers are full, not of thoughtful honestly expressed public opinion on the affairs of the nation, but of vapid personalities interesting to none save gossips and busy bodies.

Marie Corelli, Free opinions, freely expressed 1905

People love to blame the so called problems of society on something, easier to pick the new shiny things, or the new way of doing things, rather than wondering if this is all normal and that we are all different.

When I read articles about how technology or change is negative I am reminded that change is constant and negative comments about change never change.

Should we be fearful of screens? Depends if we want to be scared.

Steering a supertanker…

Tanker

…it’s quite easy actually.

We often use analogies to explain why something is challenging or difficult.

One analogy that is often used is the iceberg, a good example of this is Schien model of organisational culture.

iceberg

The problem with icebergs is that the focus of any discussion about the topic often switches to the Titanic, an unsinkable ship that sank after hitting an iceberg. Then discussion moves onto what a terrible or excellent film it was, and it’s not long before someone shouts out “I’m king of the world” with outstretched arms. Before you know it, you have no idea what you were discussing and the important stuff is slowly sinking to the seabed!

Sometimes we make assumptions in our analogies which are just plain wrong. The supertanker in the title of this blog post is a prime example. We compare organisations to supertankers as these huge behemoths that are challenging to steer and keep going in one direction with no way of turning them.

Searching Google on how to turn or steer a supertanker, the only results you seem to get are articles and news items on how something else is like trying to turn a supertanker!

The reality is that steering a supertanker is quite easy and they are in fact highly manoeuvrable, they have to be to dock at refineries and ports across the world.

What is challenging with a supertanker is stopping to avoid hitting something, and most times supertanklers don’t stop they turn and move in a different direction.

Maybe the supertanker analogy isn’t so bad after all…

Tanker

e-Learning Stuff – Top Ten Blog Posts of 2013

Oxford

A little later than planned. Well 2013 was an eventful year for me, moving jobs after seven years at Gloucestershire College. I have continued with writing blog posts. There was a lot less writing on the blog this year with just 64 posts, which averages about one a week. Here are the top ten blog posts of 2013. Interestingly this year eight of the posts are from 2013. Half of the posts are app reviews from my series “App of the Week”.

10. Frame Magic – iPhone App of the Week

I wrote about Frame Magic in June and it is one of the many photographic and image apps I have used and reviewed.

9. Is the Scroll of Death Inevitable?

This article from May looked at how the default setup of a Moodle installation, the way in which we do training will inevitably result in the Moodle “scroll of death”.

8. Comic Life – iPad App of the Week

Though I have been using Comic Life on the Mac for a few years now I realised I hadn’t written much about the iPad app that I had bought back when the iPad was released. It’s a great app for creating comics and works really well with the touch interface and iPad camera.

7. 100 ways to use a VLE – #89 Embedding a Comic Strip

This is an older post from July 2011, that looked at the different comic tools out there on the web, which can be used to create comic strips that can then be embedded into the VLE.

It is 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 maintained itself in the top ten, dropping two places from last year.

6. Show what you know [Infographic] – Updated

I liked Tony Vincent’s excellent Infographic on apps that can be used for different activities. This post was showing off his updated version.

5. Keynote – iPad App of the Week

Probably one of my longest blog posts that explores the iPad presentation app from Apple. I used the post to help me to understand the app better and what it is capable of.

4. VideoScribe HD – iPad App of the Week

I talked about VideoScribe HD in July and was impressed with the power and versatility of the app for creating animated presentations.

3. Educreations – iPad App of the Week

I was introduced to this app by a colleague at Gloucestershire College in 2012 and used it and demonstrated it a lot to staff. It was great to see how they and their students used it to support their learning over the year. 2

2. Thinking about iTunes U

Maintaing its position at number two, is this blog post on iTunes U, which followed posts on iBooks 2 and iBooks Author. 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. The iPad Pedagogy Wheel

This was my most popular blog post of the year (and if the stats are to be believed of all time on my blog). I re-posted the iPad Pedagogy Wheel as I was getting asked a fair bit, “how can I use this nice shiny iPad that you have given me to support teaching and learning?”.

It’s a really simple nice graphic that explores the different apps available and where they fit within Bloom’s Taxonomy. What I like about it is that you can start where you like, if you have an iPad app you like you can see how it fits into the pedagogy. Or you can work out which iPads apps fit into a pedagogical problem.

Allan Carrington who drew up the diagram has published a revised version, what I like about the original is the simplicity. The revised version is more complex, but as an introduction to what the iPad can do, I much prefer the simpler diagram.

Top Ten Web Tools of 2013

oldtools

This is the sixth time I have compiled a list of the top ten web tools I have used during the year. I am finding it interesting looking back over 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 and 2012 which tools I still use and which have fallen by the wayside. My 11th tool would be Delicious, which I have started using more, but certainly not as much as the other tools listed below.

10. Dropping one place to number ten is Speakerdeck. I replaced my usage of Slideshare with Speakerdeck in 2012, and in 2013 I continued to use Speakerdeck as a platform for sharing my presentations. It drops a place, mainly as I did fewer presentations in 2013, so as a result used the service less than I did in 2012

9. Dropping one place from 2012 is WordPress which is number nine. I still use the blogging software for my blogs. I like the flexibility it offers and it certainly works for me. However as I did less blogging in 2013 than in did in 2012, though still a useful tool, I was using it less. I still think the only thing that is missing for me is a decent mobile client or iPad app.

8. Flipboard falls a couple of places to number eight. The main reason it falls is more down to Google than Flipboard. Google retired Google Reader and I was using that service to feed Flipboard. Though I did manage to import my Google Reader subscription into Flipboard, I am finding it slow to refresh and of course much more difficult to add new sites to the feed. I do need to spend some time working out how to maximise my use of Flipboard as a news reading tool, as when it works well, it works really well.

7. Climbing three places to number seven is Evernote, the online note taking tool. Since changing jobs in the Autumn, I am using Evernote more than ever. A really useful tool for making notes and syncing them across devices.

6. Instagram drops three places back to number six and I know that part of the reason was that in 2012 I used Instagram everyday as the main way of posting a photograph a day. I didn’t do that in 2013, so used Instagram less. I did try though and improve the quality of my images in 2013. I have decided to return to the photo a day thing in 2014, so will now be using Instagram much more than I did last year.

5. Dropping three places to number five is Flickr. Whereas in 2012 I added 1300 photographs to Flickr, in 2013 it was a measly 635. I also used Flickr extensively for finding photographs for the blog and for many of the presentations I gave this year.

4. Climbing three places is Chrome, which is now my default browser on my main computers. Even though I use it a lot, I do use it alongside other browsers such as Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer. What I do like is that I can now sync my browsers across different computers and different devices. Using the Google Nexus 7 I can now see and open the tabs I was using on the iMac or the laptop. I also like how I can do the same with Chrome on the iPad. Great when you want to refer to a site, but either can’t remember the URL or how you got there.

3. Climbing one place to number three is the Twitter. I use Twitter almost every day for checking out news, links, travel reports and interesting stuff. I certainly don’t have the conversations on there that I have on Google+, but when they do happen they are useful and interesting.

2. Dropping one place to number two is Dropbox. It isn’t social, but I use it every day and in some cases all day. Dropbox is a fantastic tool, in the main because it works! It was interesting switching to a Windows PC for a few months in the new job how my usage of Dropbox stopped and I was using an USB stick of all things! In the previous nine months though I did use Dropbox extensively and it was a really useful tool. It just works, to the point it is transparent and it never gets in the way of me doing my stuff, which is as it should be.

1. In the top spot for 2013 is Google+ climbing four places from number five. There are two core reasons for the rise of Google+, mainly more people used in in 2013 than they did in 2012, but in my new job it’s an integral communication tool for sharing links, news and views across the group.

So that’s my top ten web tools for 2013, what were yours?

Enhancing the student experience

Untitled

Technology allows us to do things faster, easier and at a time and place to suit our individual needs; sometimes technology provides new opportunities and new experiences.

From a student experience perspective technology can improve their experience. Technological advances and new media rarely replace existing practice and media, but often supplement, enhance and enrich them.

e-Books for example have not replaced paper books, but allow access to collections that may either not be available or allow easier access at a time and place to suit the student.

e-Journals similarly make it much easier to find relevant articles and access can be from home, college or in the library.

The Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) is used in many different ways, but the key again is access to learning where and when the learner needs it. It allows access to resources, discussion, interactivity, assessment from a computer at home, in a computer suite, from a laptop in a coffee shop, via a mobile device on the train. Whereas learning may currently only take place within the institution or individually outside the institution, the VLE allows learning, both individual and group learning from anywhere.

Technology can also be used to enhance existing practice, making it more engaging and interactive. The use of video, audio and voting handsets (clickers) allow traditional learning activities to be enhanced and enriched.

Webinaring it

.: Any question??? :.

Webinars are quite popular these days, they allow multiple participants to gather and learn about stuff. They are in many ways a virtual classroom.

Unlike tools such as Moodle which allow for (mostly) asynchronous learning activities, the core of a webinar is that the learning is synchronous; everyone is online at the same time, all doing the same stuff.

It is possible to use other tools such as Google Hangouts or Skype for a small scale experience, but professional webinar tools such as Adobe Connect or Blackboard Collaborate allow many more participants and offer much more functionality, as well as recording facilities.

Webinars allow for:

  • Live Video
  • Recorded Video
  • Video Conferencing
  • Presentations
  • Whiteboards
  • Collaboration
  • Quizzes
  • Polls
  • Breakout Rooms
  • Simulations
  • Learning Objects

These tools allow teachers to design their curriculum to be delivered to a range of remote participants on a device of their choosing, regardless of connection or location. I have seen people use iPads, Android phones, as well as laptops and PCs, to access webinars.

In many ways a webinar should not be seen as a replacement for a classroom session, though it in many ways does replicate such sessions virtually, it should really be seen as a solution to not having a session.
Webinars can be used occasionally, useful for guest speakers or across campuses. They can also be used as a core part of the delivery of a blended delivery programme. From a curriculum design perspective, webinar tools (alongside tools such as Moodle and Google+) allow you to deliver a blended curriculum to learners who may not be able to access a traditional learning environment on a regular basis. For example imagine a course where the learners attend once a month at the campus, but meet weekly in a webinar, and have additional support and materials delivered through the VLE (Moodle), whilst using a closed Google+ community for collaborative activities, sharing, discussion and peer support.

Webinars are a great tool for widening participation, inclusion and increasing accessibility.

I have been delivering webinars for many years, sometime to small groups or individuals, and also to over a hundred delegates at an online conference. I have used a range of different webinar technologies, and understand the advantages and challenges of the different tools, both from the perspective of a presenter (host) and a participant.

It’s not just about the rules…

Cassoulet

At lunchtime today I was at my desk eating a very nice bold cassoulet soup from EAT reading e-mails from the various mailing lists I subscribe to. There was an interesting discussion on one of the lists about how different colleges deal with food and drink in their libraries.

I know from experience and walking around that most staff eat their lunches in their workrooms. I also know when writing or working that I quite like having a cup of coffee or a cake (or two). What this tells us is that most people may want to at some point eat or drink while they work and write. It is not too difficult to understand why learners may want to eat and drink as they study. Of course you may not always be able to accommodate eating and drinking; not everyone likes the smell of food, there is the issue of rubbish and there may be an overarching policy that says no food or drink in learning areas. So it may not be that easy to allow food and drink and that rule has to be in place.

Even if there are rules, these are often ignored so as a result the library staff are spending too much time “policing” the library rather than helping learners. Another strategy is to attempt to change behaviour by putting up signs, but experience says that doesn’t work.

One way that I have been looking at this problem, is by asking why is it a problem in the first place. Rather than ask how to stop students eating and drinking in the library, ask why are they eating and drinking in the first place?

Most colleges are providing some kind of area for eating (where do they buy the food from), why aren’t they staying in those areas to eat or drink, what’s making them move from those areas to the library.

On one campus of my current college, the eating establishments only provide food in takeaway containers, partly I guess to save on washing up and partly I guess to encourage students not to stay (as the spaces are quite small). So guess where the learners go when it is cold (as it is today) a nice warm place, the library. On another campus they use proper “china” and the library doesn’t have the same issue with food and drink. Sometimes the issue is outside the control of the Library and a more holistic approach needs to be thought through.

Conversely why aren’t they using the eating spaces for learning, why do they feel they need to move from the canteen to the library? Why not turn the canteens into libraries? Make them environments for learning.

When I was at my last College our (final) policy was to allow bottled drinks only. We had NO signs about food or drink and to be honest it wasn’t really a problem. I remember when we merged with another college, their library was full of “no food” signs and the library was full of half-eaten food. By changing the culture and the respect that the learners had for the environment, the food issue became a non-issue. The main way it became a non-issue was the respect the students had for the space and the staff. Build relationships with the learners and most issues such as rubbish disappear. I also ensured that the team went around and picked up any rubbish, regardless of the fact that there were bins about. The key was ensuring the environment was tidy and nice, not about getting the students to throw away their rubbish. If the learners see a nice environment they generally like to keep it that way.

Of course there will always be exceptions, but I see food and drink in libraries is more about external factors and respect than just what happens in the library and signs.

So do signs work?

Do signs work?

So do signs work? Well yes they do, but often they don’t.

A simple question, what signs work and what ones don’t? On my way to work I often encounter advertising billboards extolling the benefits of cars, soft drinks and others that to be honest I don’t recall. Can you remember all the billboards you saw this morning? Are you the type of person who buys everything you see advertised? No, of course not, advertising is about influence and persuasion, but not enforcement.

Enforcement is different, if you look at speeding enforcement and how speed limits are done, the red circle indicates that the sign needs to be “obeyed”. Ask yourself have you ever exceeded the speed limit, either through a lapse of concentration or because you were in a “hurry”? Or have you ever seen others exceeding the speed limit ignoring the signs.

As a bit of a generalisation, people who read signs prohibiting a kind of behaviour are generally those people who don’t need to read them…

This sign is from a shelter on the promenade in Weston-super-Mare, not sure of the age, but if I was to guess I would say from the 1950s.

This sign is from a shelter on the promenade in Weston-super-Mare, not sure of the age, but if I was to guess I would say from the 1950s.

I would ask the question, did this sign stop people spitting? It’s not just the assumption that the sign would stop people spitting, but there’s the language and what you can’t see from the photograph is that it was ten feet up, as a result not at eye level. If you think logically about it, if you want to stop people spitting to the ground, why not put the sign on the ground, though I doubt that would work either.

One of the problems with signs that prohibit behaviour is that where do you stop and when do you stop putting up signs. I recall when I asked a learner to stop eating in the library, he asked where was the sign prohibiting food and drink in the library? Now you may think he had a fair point, how would he know what the rules are if they are not displayed?

There are two key issues here, there wasn’t a sign saying “No Cycling” however I think most people that having learners cycling around the library isn’t conducive to others studying in the library. Yes that is a bit of a silly example, no one would cycle in the library, but the key question when you prohibit behaviours where do you draw the line. No drawing or highlighting in the books please. Please do not put chewing gum on the underside of the tables and desks. Should there be a sign saying “No Fighting” as you don’t want learners fighting in the library. Well would such a sign work anyhow?

The issue with having prohibition signs, is where do you draw the line, and where do you stop. You start to have a large number of signs, with an end result of lots of visual clutter and little impact on the behaviour, which you were trying to change in the first place. The problem is exacerbated when you allow different kinds of behaviour in different areas of the library and the only thing demarcating those areas are signs. Suddenly the library becomes a plethora of signage, which has little impact on behaviour, but can have an impact on learning. Visual clutter has a very negative impact on learning, it creates distraction and has a compounded impact on those with visual disorders.

The second key issue was that the learner who was complaining about the sign, had in fact signed a student code of conduct in which it was quite clear that eating or drinking in classrooms and libraries was not allowed. The learner probably either had forgotten, or not taken notice of what they were signing. Ask yourself how many times have you read an EULA for a web service or a piece of software. Even if you do, how much do you remember?

Relying on signage to change behaviour, is a flawed premise. So the important question is how do you change behaviours if you don’t use signs? Well that’s going to be another blog post.

Thinking Differently: The Persuasion

Enter

Back in 2010, I wrote a blog post called “I think differently”, back then I said then that

I use to think that the “message” of e-learning could be sold to practitioners.

I use to think that once the “message” was sold that these practitioners would then embrace e-learning and use it to enhance and enrich their teaching and their students’ learning.

I use to think, once sold, that these practitioners would continue to use e-learning as e-learning evolved and changed over the years.

I use to think, that these practitioners would sell the “message” to others in their curriculum area and the cycle would continue.

I no longer think this way.

I still agree with this.

I am still told though today by managers that the “case” for using learning technologies needs to be “sold” to the practitioners, and that persuasion should be enough to “convince” them of the value that using these technologies will add to the learner experience and learner engagement.

The problem I have with this, is if it worked then it would have worked years ago!

Don’t get me wrong I know that this way of engaging with practitioners will, and does work with many practitioners (or should that be some practitioners), it will also work for most learning technologies.

However let me ask you another question, is this the approach used when using administrative systems such as registers or assessment tracking? No you wouldn’t try and persuade practitioners to use the register, you would tell them that they have to use it as part of their job.

If managers want practitioners to be “sold” the benefits of technology and persuaded to use them, then they shouldn’t be surprised if practitioners “choose” not to use them, or not use them to their full functionality and benefit. That choice many not necessarily be an informed choice, or a rational choice.

However I also know that “forcing” or telling people that they “must” use learning technologies also doesn’t work, or isn’t very effective.

I should say that at this point my view is that learning technologies should not just be used for the sake of using learning technologies. They are best used when they help either to solve a problem, improves efficiency, makes things better or more effective, or allows for learning to happen in a totally different way that makes it more open, inclusive and accessible.

In order to get practitioners using technology extensively and creatively is to change the culture, from one where technology is the problem, to one where it is part of the solution. Now that is easier said than done.

Was the approach wrong?

Leaving Las Vegas

Reading the following article on Second Life, I am reminded of a few discussions I have had in previous years on the catalysts for change.

When looking at new technologies that have the potential to impact on learning, it needs to be recognised that though research and understanding is important, we also need to be realistic that this on its own does not necessarily change things.

Research allows us to understand the implications and the affordances of a new technology. What we need to be aware of when introducing a new technology of the main issues and barriers that could be faced.

What we must take note of is that research on its own does not necessarily cause change.

Most researchers I have met appear to prefer to build on existing research rather than embed practice based on research. That of course is fine, as they are researchers. It takes a different kind of approach to embed the results of research into mainstream practice.

Another aspect of research based practice is that due to the way it is funded, it often only looks at a small section of an institution, usually a single group from a single curriculum area. I don’t then blame people who look at this research and decide that the best way to move forward is to repeat the research with a different group. The end result is lots of small research project outcomes that are very similar. That is certainly the case with research into Second Life.

Wholesale, holistic mainstream change doesn’t happen because of research, that change comes about because of people.

Good people base decisions on good research, they will recognise the implications of that research and think about how they can use that research to influence and inform strategy to change practices and processes.