Tag Archives: web

The Journey to Information

Road to nowhere...

One of the benefits of the internet revolution is that is has widened access to information and knowledge, whilst at the same time reduced the time it takes, the journey to get that information.

Illustrated London News

The newspaper pictured above is available to any learner (or member of staff) across Activate Learning anytime, and anywhere they have an internet connection.

Forty years ago, if you wanted to access a newspaper archive you would probably needed to have been a PhD student or more likely an academic, as the only place you could go was to the newspaper offices and access their archives.

Twenty years ago, newspaper archives were available on microfilm, I remember when I was at university ploughing through the microfilm archives trying to find a series of articles. There was no integrated search with microfilm.

Ten years ago we were all accessing newspaper archives on CD-ROMs. These opened up access to the said archives to schools and colleges. They were searchable by keyword, but could only be accessed inside the institution. It was also restricted, as we only had one CD-ROM to one person at a time. Not all newspapers were on CD-ROM and generally the collections only went back a few years.

Today we have newspapers, digitised, searchable and accessible from any device with an internet connection. We have archives that go back hundreds of years or as recent as yesterday.

This has made it much easier to access newspaper archives, but brings with it the challenge of managing information overload. Learners need different skills to manage the amount and ease by which information can be accessed. The information skills needed today are very different to those of a few years ago.

It also means that we need to rethink assessment, ensuring that it is doing what we need it to do. In many ways the journey to information was in the past a way of assessing learning. However now that the journey is so much shorter, we need to ensure that assessment is based on understanding and not just discovery of information. Using something like Bloom’s Taxonomy ensures that when designing assessment it is more than just discovering knowledge.

The internet and web have ensured that the journey to information and knowledge has got shorter and shorter over time, this is a real opportunity to add depth and breadth to learning.

I can’t ignore the ignorant

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.

It’s not black and white, it’s grey

I recall in a forum once, someone thought we should not allow recorded lectures to be available as podcasts because this would be unfair to deaf students.

So the spoken lecture is fine, but the podcast is not….


I think part of the problem is that people think in black and white terms, either/or and forget that we can have both or grey areas.

I was showing some staff an UMPC once, the Q1 Ultra, which I am thinking of using in our library, and first comment was that the 7″ screen would be too small for some students.

This is a fair comment, but I am not going to replace all the computers in the library with UMPCs, there would still be big computers with big screens for those that wanted them. The UMPCs would be in addition not a replacement. Some users will be fine with the UMPC, others will want what they see as a “normal” computer.

It’s not black and white, it’s grey

I would say it is similar with web services, just because a service is not accessible to everyone, doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be used, but consideration needs to be given how you would support the users for whom it *may* be inaccessible.

In my lecture/podcast example, I would say that if a signer was provided for the lecture, then a signer could be provided for the podcast.

If “services must be accessible to all or they shouldn’t be deployed” then non-web services should be subject to the same constraints, in which case nothing would happen in an educational institution!

It’s not black and white, it’s grey.

Adobe AIR

Adobe today announced the immediate availability of Adobe AIR, a new platform for building rich internet applications (RIAs) across different platforms, including Windows, Linux and Mac OS X.

Adobe AIR enables developers to create RIAs on the desktop using the skills and Web technologies — such as HTML, Ajax, PDF, Adobe Flash and Adobe Flex — they already employ. Applications deployed on Adobe AIR have the advantages of browser-based RIAs, such as speed of development, ease of use, and access from virtually anywhere. Yet they also have the benefits of desktop applications, such as the ability to read/write local files, work with other applications on a user’s computer and maintain local data storage on the desktop.

Adobe AIR

It’s an interesting variation on applications, some use desk bound applications such as Microsoft Office, whilst others use web based applications  such as Google Apps.

It’s looking like Adobe AIR will allow users to have the flexibility of web based applications with the backup of desk bound applications when there is no internet connection (such as on plane).

Happy Birthday BBC News Website

The BBC News website is ten years old.

Happy Birthday.

BBC News

I have been using the site for that long now, so it’s nice to see that not only is it still around and still very popular, more importantly, all the stories I was reading and using for learning back in the late 1990s are still available as well. For example this story about Sainsburys from 1999 is still online and the links still work!

Too often on the web sites will rebrand or rename and all their old links die or change or become redundant. At least with the BBC News it is possible to link stories from nearly ten years ago.