PELC10 – Day 1

April 8, 2010

So it’s the start of the Plymouth e-Learning Conference down here in, well… Plymouth.

A packed day with an excellent keynote expected from Josie Fraser.

The use of social media platforms, tools and practices are increasingly recognised as a critical way to facilitate learning and teaching and staff development. Josie Fraser explores how the shift towards more informal and less centrally controlled forms of communication and activity has come about.

Focusing on two critical concepts – digital identities and digital communities, Josie will explore the opportunities and issues that these present the education sector with, and the role they can play in designing and facilitating learning.

I am after the coffee break tempted by a couple of sessions. One of these is Twitter is dead: Reflections on student resistance to microblogging by Tony McNeill from Kingston University.

This paper will argue that Twitter occupies an awkward space: neither part of the institutionally supported digital environments and toolset accepted by students and used within their ‘curricular sphere of practice’ nor currently part of the digital services used in their ‘personal sphere of practice’. As such, Twitter initiatives risk being marginalised, falling outside the repertoire – both ‘imposed/top-down’ and ‘vernacular/bottom up’ – of the technology-enabled communicative practices of the students we wish to engage.

The other is Technologies Are Bad News for Adults Who Work With Children with Simon Finch of the Northern Grid for Learning.

Not so long ago if a teacher wanted to communicate with a student they would either speak with them or write a note in the learners’ book, or on their assignment. If they wanted to communicate with the learners’ parents, they would phone or write. Today, with increasingly accessible, affordable and usable social media, teachers and learners can communicate anytime, anyplace and anywhere. Digital cameras, mobile phones, micro projectors, and internet access can all be powerful tools to support learning and yet increasingly teachers struggle to manage their digital identities and interactions – sometimes with serious consequences.

As with many conferences there is another session on at the same time that I would also like to go to – ASSET: Enhancing feedback provision using video.

ASSET is a JISC-funded project led by the University of Reading which aims to tackle the sector-wide issue of improving feedback provision for students. ASSET uses Web 2.0 technologies to support staff in providing ‘feedforward’ and timely, quality feedback to students, via video and audio casts.

Another session I will go to, The Sage on the Video- Recorded Stage by Fiona Concannon and Sharon Flynn of the National University of Ireland.

This paper outlines a case study of the use of an automated lecture capture within an Irish university. It considers students’ reported experiences in using and viewing lecture recordings, and the implications of rolling out the service campus-wide.

Over lunch I hope to record (and stream) a live episode of the e-Learning Stuff Podcast as part of the Fringe.

Following lunch there are a couple of sessions that I quite like the idea of, the Learning Cafe which is looking to the future of learning. There is also an interesting sounding workshop, How to use social software to boost learning.

There is no doubt that web 2.0 and the use of social software has changed the way people use the Internet. The majority are familiar with tools like social networks, blogs and wikis. The fact that social software can support students while they are using an e-Learning environment or a personal learning environment is widely accepted.

But how exactly does social software support users? Which social software concepts should be used, and which should not? What can they be used for? And how can technologies, available today, help us to design a better education?

The goal of this workshop is to raise awareness that social software has to be integrated intelligently and as a form of connection between different techniques. It is not enough to add a specific gadget, there has to be a particular benefit. Educators have experiences on how to design lectures and computer scientists know what technologies are available to support learners. Interactive tasks will involve the audience to exchange experiences from a technical and an educational perspective.

Hmmm, choices, choices.

Later on, after the tea break, I think I will go to Fleur Corfield’s session, entitled, Supporting an Innovative Curriculum in a Traditional HE Environment.

Universities have a recognised need to react to a changing environment, from changes in the economy to government initiatives with a focus on widening participation. There is acknowledged need for them to fit this changing environment by taking a new approach to course/ product development.

There are a couple of sessions later that sound good, including Zak Mensah’s Methods and merits of good design practices for digital media.

Digital media: where to start? In this session we explore why you may wish to consider digital media, and how appropriate preparatory design of digital media supports the creation of good resources for teaching and learning. We focus on the challenges of using digital media, and offer suggestions for meeting these challenges.

Tonight is the conference dinner with Snorkel the Turtle, who is not on the menu, but will be swimming around the tanks of the National Aquarium.


PELC10 – Day 0

April 7, 2010

So it’s the day before the first day of the Plymouth e-Learning Conference (PELC10).

I have travelled down the day before, in the main as the conference starts quite early and I want to hear the opening keynote. Tonight I am hoping that there will be a Tweetup, a gathering of PELC10 delegates who are also on Twitter.

There isn’t a huge amount of Fringe activity planned at the conference, which is a pity, but at least the site gives people a chance to chat, share and work out where to eat and stay.

I did enjoy the conference last year, I ran two workshops, one on mobile devices and another on Web 2.0. This year I am chairing a debate on digital natives and taking part in another on emergency planning and use of web tools to support learning.

It’s nice to meet up with people from the region, but it should be noted that this is an international conference with delegates from all over the world.

Packing my bag, actually my bags

April 5, 2010

This week I am off to the Plymouth e-Learning Conference and I am packing my bag (or bags). It’s a couple of days and I will be away a couple of nights.

These are a few things that will be useful or make life easier.

6 way gang – instead of fighting people for the power sockets, you can immediately make five friends! Also useful when you are back in your hotel room and need to charge the laptop, the phone, the iPod, use the hairdryer, etc…

Coffee – I can’t stand instant coffee and that’s what you generally find in hotel rooms. So I take some of those Coffee Bags you can buy or Rombout Coffee filters. Of course if you drink that tea stuff then you can bring your own bags of what you like and are use to. I always pop out and buy fresh milk too!

If you believe everything you see on the BBC then you might also want to take your own cup, actually I have a mug, because I like a large cup of coffee and not a piddly little cup of tea!

Snacks – room service can be very expensive, so a few snacks or fruit now and again to meet those hunger pangs. Having said that, I know that Sainsburys is next to my hotel, so I can always pop in there for extra supplies, saves having to carry them down, but with other conferences this isn’t always possible.

Chargers – don’t forget your chargers, easy to forget and a nightmare when your phone or laptop runs out of juice. Or you can’t use it for the conference. I find that conference activity can be power heavy on my mobile devices.

Velcro fixings – For your poster and bring enough because someone you know will have forgotten to bring theirs.

Camera – to take the odd photo or two, I use mine to take photographs of really good posters so I can review them later at my leisure. Amazing how much detail a 7.2MP image can capture of a poster. I also use it to capture slides in presentations (ie URLS and e-mail addresses), I even use it to photograph flyers so I can carry less.

MiFi or 3G Dongle – I am sure that the WiFi at the conference venue will be fine, however what about at the hotel, the dinner, the train… I will be bringing my new MiFi which allows me to connect to the internet over 3G, wirelessly through a wifi connection. The MiFi acts as a wireless access point for up to five clients – will probably make four new friends as a result of bringing it to the conference.

Business Cards – always useful to swap, play cards with, pass ones you have received to others who you don’t want to contact you…

USB Cables – you never know when you are going to need one.
Spare batteries – for your MP3 recorder, etc… Due to the differing sizes of USB, normal, micro and mini, I now carry three of them!

Spare SD card – in case you lose yours.

Spare USB Stick – for moving files around, taking copies of presentations, etc…

Paracetamol – some of those presentations do give you headaches…

What are you going to pack?

“million-to-one chances happen nine times out of ten”

March 29, 2010

One of my favourite quotes from Terry Pratchett is that “million-to-one chances happen nine times out of ten”. When something awful happens, or freakish, we hear news reporters say “it was a million-to-one chance that this would happen”.

In February 2009 we had the worst snow for twenty years. Across the UK many schools, colleges and universities closed for a few days as travel made it impossible (and unsafe) for learners to get to their lessons and classes.

As it was the worst snow for twenty years, any idea of planning to use the VLE or similar to support learning from home was thrown out of the window, as it was obvious that such bad snow probably wouldn’t happen again for another twenty years…

Of course less than twelve months later, we had even worse snow. We saw even more closures and for even longer!

What were the chances of that happening?

What are the chances of it happening again?

Probably less than a million-to-one!

Even if it doesn’t snow really badly next year, other things may happen that result in the physical closure of the educational institution. It could be floods, high winds (remember 1987), flu or similar viral infections, transport strikes, fuel crisis, anything…

So how should educational institutions be responding? How should they prepare?

Personally I think that it is not about preparation, but having the staff and learners in the right frame of mind about using online and digital tools before any such million-to-one chance happens.

We are going to discuss these issues and more on day two of the Plymouth e-Learning Conference, April 9th, between 11.15 and 12.45.

Culturally, most institutions do not incorporate online or virtual learning into everyday working cultures, at any level: management, staff or students. Those who do not routinely use digital options can’t see that closing the physical institution need not have a significant impact on the business of the institution, if that business can be carried out at home or online. The issue is not to focus upon contingency planning, but to focus on changing the way people work when there isn’t snow and changing the way people think when there is. Although this debate will centre largely upon Web 2.0 methods, it will take an outcomes-focused approach, rather than a tools focused approach, in line with William Morris’s quote “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”. We consider what is necessary, not just in times of crisis, but in implementing everyday e- practice to meet learning and teaching needs.

With a focus upon communities rather than machines, and a recognition that no tool offers “one size fits all”, each panellist will focus upon a specific relationship, specifically ‘Institutional Representation’, ‘Collaboration’ and ‘Teaching Purposes’. What institutional cultural factors will need to be addressed? What do electronic communications approaches offer that previous methods haven’t? What drawbacks are acknowledged in the use of each with regards to the outcomes required? Which tool is most appropriate for the outcome required, and what are its pedagogical purposes?

It also links in nicely with Dave White’s keynote that happens immediately before our panel discussion.

The education sector is constantly chasing the tail of the latest technology. Innovation ‘out there’ on the web generates paranoia that we might be missing the latest opportunity and the suspicion that our students are experts in everything. We create profiles on every new platform just in case they become ‘the next big thing’, collecting solutions-looking-for- problems and losing our focus on what students and staff might actually need.

How can we change the culture of our organisations when we sometimes focus too much on the new tools that appear in our Twitter stream?

Changing the culture is going to take time, having access to the right tools can help, but attitude towards those tools is just as important. Culturally we have some way to go I think before snow or any other “disaster” only closes the physical location and doesn’t close the institution.

Is your institution prepared?

Further reading:

Digital Natives: The Great Debate

March 28, 2010

So do you consider the concept of digital natives and digital immigrants relevant to the work that you do?

The 8th and 9th April at the Plymouth e-Learning Conference there will be a (great) debate on digital natives.

This forum will explore methods for categorising learners approach to online platforms and how this can influence edtech/pedagogic strategies. It will focus on Marc Prensky’s famous ‘Digital Native & Digital Immigrants’ trope and the more recent ‘Visitors & Residents’ idea proposed by David White.

Questions the forum will consider:

  • Which of these systems is a more effective guide when attempting to provide appropriate technologies in configurations which encourage participation?
  • Is it possible to see ‘generational’ or age based trends in approaches to the web or is this an over simplification?
  • Does categorising learners along these lines act as a useful guide for edtechs/learning techs or are they just conceptual toys?

The two systems will be promoted by members of the panel after which the discussion will be opened to the audience.

The forum panel will be Tara Alexander (Lecturer, Health and Social Work, University of Plymouth), David White (Manager/Researcher, University of Oxford) and Steve Wheeler (Senior Lecturer in Education and Information Technology, University of Plymouth).

I have the task of chairing this session. There are some great speakers and the topic is controversial, people have many varied views on it. Should be both fun and stimulating.

Explaining the PLE

March 27, 2010

A nice video created to support a paper being presented at the Plymouth e-Learning Conference on the 8th/9th April.

From here and here.

Despite the “official” title of VLE vs PLE, the reality is that PLEs have always existed and are nothing new. It is not a choice between a VLE or a PLE, students will have a PLE, the issue is whether the institutional VLE adds anything to that and whether institutional policies restrict learners in how they use their PLE.