Thursday, 16 December 2010

E-Learning Forum - December 2010

On Monday morning I attended our E-learning forum here at LJMU, the theme of which was "the BIG share" Open Learning Resources. The first speaker was David Kernohan talking about OER (Open educational resources) in a time of change. He was with us using the power of technology, which for the most part seems to work but I did find him quite hard to hear and I kind of wished there was a web cam so we could see who was speaking. It's funny because up until then I didn't think it was important to see the person, having sat in online sessions before where the speakers did have webcams but it seemed something was missing on Monday.

His talk was a bit depressing for a Monday morning when we looked at the implications for any new funding model we might be faced with. Funding is more likely to become variable and it's very hard to plan an institutional budget a year in advance with variable funding. By the same token it impossible to guarantee staffing and he raised the possibility of whether we would see more of a move to atypical staff contracts. He also pointed out that if we chose to move around from place to place we aren't free to take our materials with us as the employer owns the copyright. Open licenses can help with this, it allows you to take your materials with you if you move. So what do we need to do within our institution:
  • Convince the institution to get involved in OER and that means talking to your marketing people - you need show the benefits in student recruitment and retention - using OER you can show the students what to expect before they arrive. We need to use it as a marketing tool to recruit.
  • We need to get our stuff out there, but only things we own - use references rather than long quotes, select images from sites were you can use materials under a creative commons licence (like Flickr, Xpert - which has automatic attributer)
  • Use others OER to build on
  • Host it somewhere safe

He directed us to have a look at Leeds Met and University of Nottingham to see what they are doing with OER. There is also an OER infoKit which is a good starting point to explore what OER can do.

This was an interesting presentation and given the email sent out to staff by the VC later that same day talking about the competitive market we are finding ourselves in and how we need to make dramatic changes. Maybe this is one way forward for us as an institution to compete - we can give students a better taster of what to expect at LJMU by using resource they can access before they even choose to study here.

Next up was Ruth Nagus talking about how she uses OER resources within her own modules to provide richer content for students. She uses images in Blackboard to help students identify the folders they need to access for particular subject areas - really simple but really effective. She uses which can be used in an educational environment, you can download and edit to fit your purposes. These are just a couple of examples of things she does. Ruth uses resources and activities to make the students think and she does this in a multimedia environment.

We then heard from Neil Grant from our corporate communications department talking about LJMU TV. Corporate communications are looking at marketing through different channels. They want to gather original audio and video content and distribute this through different channels. The two things he talked about were YouTube and iTunesU. He said this was about recruitment but also about teaching and learning. We need to raise the profile of the university.

YouTube EDU is an area specifically for education - you upload upto 30 mins of video and this area gets a lot of traffic as it's seen a "quality" content. It's possible to brand your own channel and you can embed videos into your own pages. LJMU has it's own YouTube channel LJMU TV

iTunesU is similar to YouTube EDU page but is better for delivering audio content and users can can download that content to their devices. You can also link back to the university content from the iTunesU page. So Neil is looking for content to go into YouTube and iTunesU - a lot of the content so far is promotional, he needs more educational content - lectures, practicals, content that would be of interest to those within or without LJMU to help raise the profile.

Finally we heard from Katherine Harbord talking about the benefits of using OER both for your students and for yourself as staff. Katherine was very positive about the use of OER. She is new to LJMU but has used OER in previous posts and found it to be very advantageous. As well as providing richer more varied resources for students, as staff it actually saves you time as you are not reinventing the wheel. You can adapt work others have done to apply to your own courses.

All in all an interesting morning, which did stimulate quite a bit of discussion. There was questions about whether putting all our stuff out there is a positive step or whether it leads us to being replaced more easily. It was acknowledged that whilst making resources available more widely was useful it still needs the expertise of staff behind it to put it into context and that contact with academic staff, whether actual or virtual is still incredibly valuable.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Shaping our learning futures? - final keynote JISC online conference 2010

The final keynote was from Elliott Masie. He used one slide, which I was very impressed with, no death by PowerPoint here. He talked about flip happening - flip in learning. Sometimes you need to flip and idea to get it work. He told a story of an academic who used to give a lecture then send students home with homework - he flipped it, he recorded his lectures sent the students home to watch it then they did the homework in class. He found this worked really well and by watching the lecture before attending in person a lot of discussion was stimulated both before and during the class.

He talked about affordances - when a new technology comes to us we need to look at what it affords us the ability to do. What can we now do with the technology that we couldn't do before. We have a habit of falling in love with new technology without necessarily looking at their affordances realistically. It's about benefits, what are the benefits to our users?

He argued that our learners want greater autonomy of their learning but at the same time they also want more mastery and purpose.

He said the challenge facing e-learning is that it's been hijacked by regulation. I guess this takes some of the creativity and innovation out of it. There are a variety of changes coming, not to replace the instructor but people around the world sharing their knowledge.

We do however need to be careful in our language so we don't create the digital "in-group" excluding the "digital-out" group - we would run the risk of becoming an exclusive club which isn't helpful. We can learn from each other.

He sees the role of the university is to aggregate the students experience, assessment and feedback as we do gain value from learning together and from sharing space. It's not all about virtual learning. E-learning isn't a solitary activity and it isn't there to create the death of the classroom.

He also argued that failing is part of the learning process. We need to build more failure into our technological assisted learning. You need a pilot to crash in the simulator so they learn from that and don't do it in the real thing. The live chat talked about supporting learners to fail in a safe environment but Elliott argued we need to toughen up our assessment so failure happens. The question was raised though whether this is motivating or demotivating? I also think that in a time when universities are in competition which each other and in a world where league tables and results are valued, it's very hard for us to allow people to fail - it doesn't tend to be seen as a positive. So a wider change in the way we think would be needed for this to work.

Other possibilities for flip are to play with the sequence of laddering - do we ever analyse the order in which we do things in a course and play around with the sequence?

Video and time flips have an impact on industry in the creation of video stories and the fact that you can be one click away from expertise.

He talked about time compression and time expansion. With time compression 5 day courses are 3 day courses, 3 day courses are 1 etc. With time expansion you get the opposite - if you could do a 7 year MBA that had little impact on your day to day working, would this be attractive?

The question was asked whether reputation (especially digitally) would replace qualification as an indicator of who we can trust? Elliott sees it as more of a mosaic, user ratings along are not enough, qualifications plus the ability to continue to learn could be the way. He said we shouldn't be graduating people but that you should become a member once you've graduated and your membership is dependant on whether you continue to learn - very interesting I thought.

This session and in fact the rest of the conference was really good and I've taken lots away to ponder. For the first time I used Evernote to take my notes (not on the first day though) which I found to be really really good (thanks go to @theREALwikiman for tweeting about this some time ago, which got me started). Wish I'd used it for the entire conference and I will certainly be using it again. I find when I type notes rather than scribble them I make better notes, because if something looks wrong in type I delete it whereas I would just leave the scribble on the page and then not know what I meant when I came back to it. Evernote also gave me the option to capture bits of the screen so as this was an online conference if any of the presenters had nice slides which diagrams I'd never be able to redraw (especially at speed) I just captured it. Still getting to grips with what it can do but liking it so far.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Is the future mobile? - JISC Online 2010

This session by Graham Martin-Brown certainly seem to spark a lot of debate. I wasn't able to attend live but tuned in the following day.

By his own admission Graham isn't a practitioner or an academic - he was giving his take on the world of mobile.

He thinks PCs are dead, laptops are on their way and the phone call is dead. Not sure I agree with the last one myself as I do like a good chat on the phone with my mum and my best mate. However....

He showed that Internet trends are all about mobile web and not about desktop web. The Smartphone market is growing rapidly. The mobile app economy as disrupted the software industry forever - there is so much stuff out there that is available for download very cheaply or even free. Also now anyone can produce software apps. Looking at the iPhone market he showed that only 7% of apps are categorised as education. Apps for learning check out or

He argued that there has been little evidence of improved learning outcomes just from using technology. He said that the following technology is to support teaching not learning:
  • Interactive whiteboards - you can still do death by PowerPoint
  • VLE
  • Learning platforms - they become teaching platforms
  • edu software - described as boring

These, he argued, maintain the practice of the 19C rather than moving us forward into the 21C

He had lots to say about Elluminate, the very software we were using to listen to his talk. He said there is a step learning curve, it's ugly and there is no support for modern apps

He talked about disruptive technology, technology that changes our normal way of doing things - used the iPad as an example.

It is more useful to teach kids how to create a blog post in Wordpress than how to use Microsoft Word

He had good things to say about MoLeNET as examples of positive ways mobile technology is being used.

So the question "is the future mobile"?

  • it's already here
  • the m in m-learning stands for mainstream
  • everything is shifting to mobile
  • it's not about supporting existing practice
  • resistance is futile

Finally e-learning doesn't mean we need less teachers but we need a different range of teachers with different skills. Having technology is not enough, we need to think about how we use it

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

JISC Online Conference - Realising the value (theme 2)

Thursday began theme 2 - realising the value and the keynote for this theme was "how to get your innovations adopted (and change the world)" by Anne Miller. This was a really interesting presentation and Anne was really easy to listen to.

Anne said that the most important innovations are the most resisted and that resistance to innovation is normal so we shouldn't get downhearted. She said some of the problems in academia are that there is a tendency for academics to think the job is done once the paper is written. Management used to think in terms of funding and now the emphasis is more on looking for a return on investment. There is also now more of a focus on cuts rather than growth.

Anne went on to describe the 4 stages of resistance:

Stage 1 - blindness

Anne showed us a clip for YouTube Who dunnit? that had 21 differences in it that it's fair to say the majority of the audience missed - watch it and see how observant you are!

The point she was making with this was that your brain filters out the things that don't seem relevant. So we are all prone to a bit of blindness when it comes to innovation.

We then had the delight of listening to "Stairway to Heaven", forwards and then backwards to see if we could hear any satanic voices - I kid you not.

After listening to it backwards the first time and hardly any of us heard anything untoward we were presented with some proposed lyrics for the backward version - this time you hear the words that are proposed - it's force-fitted to your expectations, which can also happen with your ideas.

So with blindness a few things can happen

  • filtering - filter out what doesn't fit

  • force-fitting - "ah yes that's just like my idea" - force-fitting into pre-existing pigeon-holes - you need to listen to the detail rather than force fit

  • "we tried that weeks ago and it didn't work" - to counter this ask for the details, the report, get them onside because you show an interest in what's already been done.

  • "great this shows I'm right" - be careful you don't delude yourself that you are right when you are not

  • mismatched mental models - ideas that don't fit our mental models are ignored

So how do we open their eyes? - the hardest thing to do is stimulate. The easiest thing to do is to try and fit in with their interests, beliefs and concerns.

Stage 2 - Frozen

People are aware of your ideas but not motivated, What do you do about this? She talked about Schein's unfreezing technique. It's about making it feel OK to act. The technique reduces the resistance to change

Stage 3 - Interested

So they say "tell me about it" - this is the key to selling your idea. You need to make it concise and clear, aim for no more than 10 words. Also make sure your evidence clearly supports your message - it's not easy to do this so beware

Stage 4 - Embedded

Will they say "sorry we forgot about it" or "we've always done it this way". At this point you need to make sure you don't fall into the trap of thinking it's all done once you've written the paper. Make sure it's not forgotten that you started all this.

These 4 stages can happen quickly. They are human psychology so we need to be aware that we are not immune to this ourselves.

Great presentation and not just because of the Led Zeppelin, food for thought

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Transforming assessment for learning in the digital age - JISC online conference 2010

This was session 1 by David Bould. Even though I'm not directly involved in assessment I thought this session was really interesting. David argued that assessment has such an influence on learning, whether that is good or bad pratice. The digital environement has frequently been misused producing poor forms of assessment. He said we need to think about how assessment affects learning and ask the fundamental questions:

  • what is assessment for?

  • why are we doing it?

David argued that we need to transform assessment and stop pretending it's ok. That's not digitial assessment but any assessment. Assessment for learning and assessment for certification are in conflict -we end up with a messy compromise. Assessment should be about building learners capacity to make judgments about their work beyond the current task.

We need to see assessment in the digital environment as just part of the whole business of assessement otherwise digital assessment just locks into the primitive view of assessment. This is something I hadn't really thought about. Are we using digital assessment in a closed/negative way rather than making the most of it's potential?

We need to reclaim learning as the purpose of assessment - shift it to the longer term. Assessment for the longer term needs to be sustainable and beyond the immediate context. Something to consider - a students early experience with assessment will formulate what they believe is valuable. So if you start with memorisation then they will take that as being the most important - we need to set down at the start markers for assessment.

Employers look at what students have the potential to do more than what they have done - this is why longer term thinking is needed. We need to encourage students to develop informed judgment about their own learning.

Assessement needs to develop reflective learners. It should help them to become pratitioners, build confidence and develop the capacity to work well with others.

David provided a link to examples of assessment practice to foster learning - which I haven't had chance to look at yet.

Digital technology provides the opportunity to create assessement for learning. It allows for user-control, responsiveness, collaboration, multi-media (multi-model). But we must make sure we don't fall into certain traps:

  • teachers dominating because everything can be pre-coded - ends up being oppressive

  • students not involved in key steps in the assessment process - for example when developing what are the appropriate standards and criteria to apply to the assessement don't leave them out of this stage

He saw the key areas for development as:

  • feedback - for feedback to be affective you must be able to see the effect on students work

  • self-judgment - self assessement like e-portfolios or ReView

  • collaboration in assessment - group tasks, peer feedback, consideration of standards and criteria, moderation of marks

To sum up it's not all about the technology, we'll use whatever is available and user-friendly. It's not about the method, there are plenty about. It's about the disposition towards learning and seeing assessment as an essential tool in promoting learning.

JISC online conference 2010 - Opening keynote

Well yesterday was Day 1 of the JISC online conference (Innovating e-learning). I attended for the first time last year and really enjoyed the experience of an online conference but I had forgotten how tiring it is (more so then a physical conference). However yesterday was good. I was only able to attend a couple of the live presentations but both were really interesting. I need to catch up today with the session "what do students really want?" as I was sorry to miss that live yesterday.

OK so opening keynote from Keri Facer was really interesting and has stimulated a lot of discussion. Keri asked a couple of questions prior to the session which were then discussed further in the live session:

A. what do you think the world will be like in 2025?
B. Is there a future for the physical education institution in 20 years time? Why? What might we gain/lose by going virtual?

Food for thought. It's hard to think so far ahead when many of us are worried about what might happen in the next few months rather than the next 20 years.

Keri said that we are having to get used to living in interesting times. There is a worrying trend that we are seeing education as an individual investment rather than a social investment, so then the questions are asked about why fund it? So we need to think about what sorts of education establishments would rebuild the confidence that they are a sound investment for students and society's futures. When thinking about that we need to ask the question - what sort of futures do we think we are preparing for? This is no easy task and we have to overcome barriers to do this in a meaningful way.

Keri then asked the audience what was our most important source of our belief about the future and then what we thought our institutions most important source is. It was interesting that the two did not match. The majority of those present said they used research evidence/reports from practice and industry but overwhelming felt our institutions used Government as a source - could this be a problem?

She talked about BCH programme the aim of which was to build a set of long term future scenarios for education in the context of social and technological change 2025 and beyond.
  • We will have the capacity to know more stuff about more stuff - there will be a massive growth in the amount of digital information we'll have access to
  • Personal cloud - constant connection to other people, more filtering and shaping the information we get
  • Working and living amongst machines will become increasing normal - delegation of responsibility to machines, especially for management of complex systems
  • Changing organisational space - distance will be less of an issue (don't need to travel to the institution) but geography will still matter (place plays a role as an identity marker)
  • Weakening of institutional barriers

So what does this mean? The growth of the "knowledge worker" - who will crowdsource, collaborate, manage multiple roles, work with, work on and rework data.

Thinking about the physical institution - did we think this would still be necessary in 20 years time - overwhelmingly the answer was Yes but..

Keri went on to talk about complicating factors:

  • Ageing population - will there be inter-generational conflict?
  • Decline of confidence in the knowledge economy future

We were then asked which way we thought the future was going to go; business as usual, collapse/breakdown or transition/transformation? Being a positive group transition/transformation came out on top so the follow up questions of how did we want things to go came up with around the same result. Keri was surprised by this, but as Helen Beetham said in the discussion afterwards, is that people mean difference things by transformation. I also think that it's the group of people that she was talking to. By our very attendance at an event like this suggest that we lean towards transformation and changing attitudes - or am I reading people wrongly?

The final thing I took from this (headphone fatigue was setting in) was the idea that rather than trying to "future proof" we should be "future building". That means rather than trying to protect against change or build in flexibility we should be looking clearly at the potential future. We need a strong future vision of the educational future we want. We need to ask " how can we work together to tip the balance in favour of futures that offer real well being for our students?". We need to shape students ability to shape their own futures.

I found it hard to concentrate on the discussion that what going on in chat and listen to the presentation. With this in mind for the second live session I focused on the presentation and not the chat, as it's always possible to review the chat after the session. More on session 2 in a little while....

Thursday, 5 August 2010

It's all about the Twitterverse..really? How is Social Media working for you?

Went to an excellent exchange of experience event yesterday at Mimas in Manchester organised by Nowal (title above). This was a great opportunity to share stories with other library people about how they used social media in the professional lives, whether personally or for their service... and I crazily volunteered to speak about our experience at LJMU.

Lisa Jeskins from Mimas kicked us off introducing the day and explaining about what Mimas is and does. We all introduced ourselves and gave a reason why were were there. The was a mixture of experiences of using social media and a range of reasons for attending.

I was up next talking about what we've been doing at LJMU - we are at the very early stages having just set up a Facebook page and Twitter feed, with two blogs currently feeding both of these - the Electronic Library blog and the Customer Services blog which was set up by a colleague Simon Turner. I offered my 5 tops tips:
  1. Get the boss on side - they can advocate upwards for you and on the whole makes it much easier to get things done
  2. Preparation is everything - I showed the group our Facebook page drawn out on flip chart paper - we did this before we even went online
  3. Listen up - we got good advice from others so I would recommend talking to others that have already done this
  4. Adapt and overcome - be aware that things change in the world of social media so you need to be prepared for this
  5. Strategy - make your social media presence part of your organisational strategy. If you have a strategy you can more easily move onto the next big thing when it happens. By making it part of the strategy you're not just relying on keen individuals - if you do this you run the risk that when they leave it all falls apart.

I was really pleased that this stimulated a lot of questions and discussions and it's really weird reading tweets after the event where you are quoted. No longer does what you say remain in the room but it is broadcast to a much wider audience without you knowing what is being said. Very scary and exciting.

Next up was Beth Ruddock who talked about her use of social media for professional development. Beth finds Twitter a valuable tool for making key contacts in the profession as well as for following events (like this one) that you have been unable to attend physically. Beth reads lots of professional blogs and blogs herself as it's a great way to progress within your profession. She received an award and being a modest person said she didn't know that she was necessarily doing more than others but that she was doing it publicly. This led to other things including an article in Update about her. Having a good Twitter presence can help your career. She also talked about the success of projects @theREALwikiman and @Woodsiegirl have been involved in that has come about because of engagement with social media.

Social media is a great tool to "grow" ideas and in her experience Twitter displays professional generosity - people are willing to help out. Through Twitter people have been asked to speak at conferences, be part of projects etc.

I thought what Beth had to say was really interesting and has made me want to be more active in my use of Twitter and other social media. I do post but not very often and am maybe not getting as much out of it as I could. I certainly use Twitter more for work than Facebook and get useful contacts and interesting links from others but maybe there is more... hmm something to ponder.

Next up was Sue Lawson from Manchester libraries. Her presentation was really inspiring, they seem to be doing so much. It seems that one area of developments leads into other things, sometimes by accident. The more engaged you are with social media the more opportunities seem to develop. I thought their Facebook page looked really good. Sue said she did used to spend ages get the boxes just right on the page but realised that many people only look at the news feed and never actually get to the page so she now spends more time writing interesting items for the feed - this is definitely something I will take away from the session. I was getting a bit hung up about what else we needed to put on our page but maybe we just need to focus on writing some more positive and interesting posts - it follows that I'll try to do this for the E-Library page too (this was my action point from the day).

I liked their use of flickr, which includes photos of central library before the refurb, much of this content is user generated.

Sue also showed us her "listening Wall" - this is a Netvibes space which collects what people are saying about the libraries and all the transformation team have logins to this - I thought this was a really good idea, bringing it all together in one space. Other things to investigate later would be Hootsuite and Issuu

After all that we needed some lunch and further sharing went on whilst we were eating. After lunch Lisa Jeskins talked about her experiences of using Twitter for work and how she's started a blog. Lisa talked about how tweeting at an event is a great marketing tool - the Mimas cupcakes - a few tweets to friends, spread and news of the Mimas cupcakes spread far and wide (Internet Librarian International 09)

Lisa also talked about the value and challenges of using twitter as a supplementary tool for training courses. You need to be careful not to alienate potentially half of your training course by providing information prior to the course via Twitter that those who are on Twitter don't get. She has set up a training blog herself and said that by using Twitter first this gave her the confidence to set up the blog.

After this we split into two groups for a very stimulating and interesting discussion. Rather than reinvent the wheel Beth summarised the discussion really well in her tweets on the day so check out them out for the main points - available here:

I have to say whilst writing this I've been re-reading the tweets to supplement the notes I made and that has been really helpful. So thanks to all those who tweeted and thanks for a great, stimulating and inspiring day.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Social Networking and libraries - MMIT event

Last Friday I attended an event held in our very own Aldham Robarts LRC, on social networking in libraries. Given that we are about to embark on this area it was timely. I attended with my colleague Pauline Smith and this post is based on both our notes from the session.

First up was Gareth Johnson from the University of Leicester who premiered his new weasel video all about social networking. At Leicester they started off with a library blog, with clear house rules for content to ensure style and purpose - it's very important to decide who your audience is. It started quietly but gained voice as it was inclusive for the whole university. It has now gained official recognition and is referenced in the new staff pack. The team (core of enthusiasm) support each other and prompt each other for articles.

Leicester also have a Facebook page, it's maintained by librarians but they don't post content directly to it, it all comes from feeds from other places. It's seen as providing information and there is very little interaction. In comparision the Graduate school at Leicester have a Facebook page which is updated much more regularly and is a good example of a two way conversation.

Twitter - this is a good way of finding community and encouraging professional awareness. It's also been used an another channel for support.

Gareth said that using such tools humanizes the library and that a lot depends on the personalities, ethos and culture. It is better to start small and often and be responsive to feedback from users.

Next up was Zelda Chatten from University of Liverpool. In early 2006 Liverpool had many many subject blogs but it proved hard to keep this going - eventually you run out of things to say. However the most successful blog was the e-resources blog, which continues to be updated. This blog now filters information into Facebook and Twitter. In late 2007 a Facebook page was set up as another way to promote new resources and services and does get a good response.

Twitter was set up for welcome week 2009 and was publicised in all library inductions. Relevant and interesting tweets are retweeted. They found it valuable to follow others as another source of information - I hadn't really thought about this for our twitter feed (about to be set up imminently) but I will now.

Liverpool Uni like Facebook and Twitter - it sparks interest and keeps users aware of the library as well as giving the library staff a more "human" face. Facebook reaches those who never make it as far as the web pages and its free. Zelda also said don't forget the "lurkers", you may be reaching many more people than those who choose to engage with you.

Dave Pulpett from London School of Economics was next talking about their experiences. They have a marketing and communications manager - which I think is key when trying to promote library services. Their motivations for getting involved in social media was a need to keep up, a feeling that they should be doing it and to fill gaps. The approach is very much experimental - see what happens, some things will work others won't.

They used Twitter as feed for discussion on their library catalogue but as it was so successful continued it to cover all areas of the library. Like others they also have a Facebook page and their page is interactive not just static. They use Delicious and have >1000 bookmarks. It has proven to be a good tool for both students and sharing with colleagues. Dave talked about the way forward being mobile - Mobile usage will increase and we need to develop support for this. LSE have LSE mobile for iPhone, soon to develop an android version - this is something that is under development at LJMU too. He also saw feedback and how we respond to this as key, what do we do with what they are telling us via Facebook, Twitter etc?

Last up was Andrew Walsh, who had the unfortunate task of being last as the presenters before him had talked about a lot of the areas in his presentation. As well as a Facebook page they have two twitter feeds, one for the main library and one for the digital repository @hudeprints - the second proving very successful for academics to promote their own work .The twitter feed has been embedded on library web pages as well. They have a number of blogs for different purposes, some of which have proved useful for internal communications e.g. Information Literacy blog has helped networking continue between meetings.

Andrew also talked about comments and star ratings - they started with the library catalogue but now have moved onto other pages - we need to think about whether this is useful. The university have also used other web 2.0 tools previously mentioned by other speakers but Andrew also spent some time looking ahead. Some tools to be aware of are location social networking tools like foursquare - these sites use GPS software on phones to tell you and other people where you are. Layering information on these sites could be a useful tool.

All in all the afternoon was very interesting, as it's always good to see what other people are up to. I am glad we are about to embark on some social stuff ourselves, as we don't want to be left behind. But it was heartening to hear that we weren't the only ones who hadn't created a Facebook page yet.... I say yet... watch this space..

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Solstice 2010 - afternoon

So after lunch it was time for the second keynote, Peter Hartley from University of Bradford talking about "how far have we travelled?" He was very entertaining to listen to and talked about a number of ways in which we have travelled. He talked about the explosion of the myth of the digital native, referring to a paper he co-wrote with others from University of Bradford "Defining 'generation Y' towards and new typology of digital learners" - there are really four subgroups of students: digitally inexperienced, digital experienced, digitally reluctant and digital socialites. The digital socialites are probably what we mean when we talk about digital natives. We need to cater for all four groups

He asked whether we had evidence of major change? There are certainly pockets of interesting things going on but we don't yet have the consistent engagement across the curriculum. Technology has transformed and there are lots of really good examples of practice but the really big issues are still the same, like lack of institutional support.

He asked do we need to reconstruct the VLE debate - what do students leave with? How do we move from student dependence to student independence? Do we need to wean them off the VLE slowly through their life at uni?

Learning spaces - how many do we need? We need and archive/museum, a playground (somewhere safe/walled off), the saloon (open to the world) and private space (refuge)

After that it was time some fab fun playing with Yahoo Pipes with our own Jim Turner - this was great because it was interactive and I was pleased to have created my very first pipe - shame it was on the training account so I'll have to do it all again. This is something I definitely need to explore further and play around with.

After a break it was time for Jeffrey Lewis talking about delivering learning materials to the workplace. They wanted to change the delivery method of a course for dental technicians. The cohort of students were geographically dispersed and travel to campus once a week was time consuming. The delivery method was changed to using Adobe connect Pro, video conferencing - traditional lectures or practical demos were delivered straight to the workplace. Lots of images were also made available via Blackboard - I found out that PowerPoint does photo albums, which I didn't know, and it compresses them for you so that it loads much more quickly. Useful tip. Everything is recorded so they can be revisited by students as well. Students can access all the materials from work. They also have a mentor in the workplace.

Collaborating with dental hospitals and dental schools they can pool resources and students can use other organisations for practicals if they are not able to do what they need to in their own workplace. Students get support from their workplace as well as getting all the support from the university they would get if they attended in person. There is a need to support the employer as well, they need to be on board.

Students are performing better in practical and written work that those attending each week. So far feedback from the students has been positive.

The final session of the day was by Ulrike Zwiers talking about using EJS animation in an undergraduate engineering course. The courses are large with strong time constraints and mixed ability students. The curriculum is abstract so motivation is not high with the students. They used easy Java simulations to create learning units aimed to engage the students. Ulrike showed us some examples of simulations that had been created and whilst I have no knowledge of engineering I found them interesting as they were very visual and can understand how these can be used to increase motivation in their students.

Using this software doesn't require any programming knowledge as it creates the code for you. Student are then able to create simulations in workshops. Students found the workshops challenging - but that was the idea. They did rate them as helpful and encouraging although they complained about the lack of German tutorials for the software - this has been addressed.

After a quick summary of the day it was time to head home. All in all a very enjoyable event with some interesting presentations. It's good to see what others are doing and think about how you can apply them in your own work.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Solstice 2010 - morning

Arrived at my first Solstice Conference in sunny Edge Hill University and sat watching the ducks as I was very early. After registering, coffee and biscuits it was time for the first keynote - this was Gilly Salmon, from the University of Leicester, who I realised I'd heard speak before though I can't remember at which conference. Gilly talked about the tree of learning - the roots being the thousands of years of history that are behind us and that given this history it's no wonder that change is hard. She said from the roots the tree goes in different ways
  • informal knowledge sharing from chained libraries to creative commons
  • work based and vocational learning - she talked about a virtual oil rig they had set up and said that you don't need lots of money or need to do difficult things to get something really useful out of using technology. She talked about using E-book readers for distance learning courses, which I thought sounded like a really good use for them - all the materials the student needed was downloaded to the e-book so was in their hands
  • Universities - we need to think differently for the 21st century - the old models won't do
  • Schools - the "hole in the wall" experiment uses resources as a spark for learning

Gilly said we need to constantly evolve - what worked this time might not work next time so we need to be a position where we are flexible enough to move and change where needed.

Most new technology isn't built with learning in mind so there is no pedagogy attached and what this means is you have the opportunity to be creative and create the pedagogy. You need evidence to prove the value for learning in order to get the university to recognise the value of it.

University of Leicester have a Media Zoo where staff can go to test out explore and experience technology and how that can be used to enhance their teaching and learning.

The first breakout session I ended was led by Paul Lowe from University of Arts, London who talked about Open-i which is a virtual community of practice for photojournalism. They wanted a space to mix established practitioners with apprentices to share tacit knowledge (storytelling, dialogue, debate and discussion). By engaging in the practice individuals were able to move from being an apprentice to an expert. The community is a global network and was set up completely separate from the visiting lecture programme. The community mixes high level thought leaders, academics, practitioners, MA level students and editors (and other people who use photography) - its a horizontal slice through the industry. This feeds the curriculum, teaching the students what they need to know to work in the industry.

They use Wimba classroom for webinars discussing the key issues in the industry. The pedagogy that had been used for teaching and learning was used for the community. This is supported by a social networking group on the Ning platform with discussion forums and personal pages. Paul talked about how they tried to stimulate asynchronous discussion but it didn't really take off and the feeling was that this was because this type of activity takes place elsewhere. The unique element was the webinars so focus was placed on that. These now run regularly.

The feedback has been mostly positive with negative feedback only relating to the technology. All the webinars are archived and people who had problems with the technology or who were unable to attend live have used this. In terms of staff time, they used a community coordinator (a day a week), a project evaluator (about 10 days) and a project administrator (a day a week). Paul stressed that if funding was an issue and you could only pay for one post the administrator is key. As he pointed out many staff would be happy to be community coordinators as part of their role anyway. I thought this was a really interesting presentation and enjoyed it.

After coffee it was time to two presentations around the active learning theme. The first presented by Martin Jenkins of University of Gloucestershire. Martin talked about the motivations for encouraging and active learning approach across the institution:

  • learner empowerment
  • collaborative learning
  • development of reflection skills
  • employability
  • student motivation

Digital storytelling was something that really took off in the institution. He asked whether it was active learning or active teaching and stated that active learning shortens the distance between student and staff. What is really important is an exploration space for staff and purposeful support - this includes management support as well as educational development support. I was a little disappointed given the subject matter that this presentation wasn't more "active" itself.

The second presentation in this section was better as it gave real life examples and with a number of presenters the change of voice helps to keep your focus. Angie Daly and Jo McNeill talked about digital storytelling. Students in HE who had been in some way involved in Aim Higher created digital narratives reflecting on their own experiences. They showed two videos, which were works in progress from students, who talked about their experience of deciding to go into HE, how the process was for them and what their future plans were. It was really good to see a practical demonstration of a digital narrative.

Collecting data in this way means that you give away some of the control and hand over some of the research to the subject of the research. However it is very rich data, there is something very powerful about the human/personal voice and you don't get the same impact with written piece of work.

Then time for lunch in the Garden Cafe which was very pleasant indeed

Friday, 23 April 2010

LJMU Learning and Teaching Conference 2010 - Wednesday pm

After lunch, which again was very nice, it was time for the last two sessions of the conference. The first session I attended was by Clare Horrocks from the School of Media, Critical and Creative Arts, talking about getting a verbal/visual mix in the Communication and Cultural Research module. Clare talked about a number of different resources she uses including 19th Century UK Periodicals which we have a subscription to at LJMU. She uses lots of digital sources and for her the visual layout is as important in teaching as the actual text.

The last session of the conference for me was Steve Moss and Paul Welsh talking about using Blackboard to support the foundation degree in police studies. This is a course that working off-campus I need to be able to support so I wanted to find out more about what they were doing with Blackboard, to aid with any queries I might get from these students. The course has a number of different cohorts, totally around 200 students in all, who start at 5 week intervals. They have set up sections for each cohort with an FAQ section that is continually updated. They used the blog tool in Blackboard for group blogs stimulating discussion around key topics and individual blogs for reflection. Forum engagement is 20% of the mark and currently they are trying to address problems getting the students to engage.

They have overcome many technical issues related to police firewalls as well as our LJMU firewall, but this is always something that needs to be considered before introducing something new. They asked staff who use Blackboard to feed in any good ideas for areas they could adopt for this course.

All in all a very interesting and stimulating conference as always. There are things to bring back to my area that we can use to enhance the student experience, particularly in relation to user education and I hope next year more Library and Student Support staff will be presenting at the conference.

LJMU Learning and Teaching Conference 2010 - Wednesday am

So it was back to a chilly Marsh for day 2. Coffee and biscuits on arrival helped a bit. First session was led by Phil Carey and Pat Eastwood and I liked the title of this one "Developing inclusive teaching and learning - a tortoise, mouse or dragonfly?" was interested to see what that was all about. They were looking at inclusivity in teaching and learning and certain metaphors kept reoccurring during the project, that of the tortoise, mouse and dragonfly. They were defined as this:
  • tortoise - tenacious but slow (perhaps a little dull), ability to see the long game, willing to get things done - in some ways it reflected some of their concerns (especially in relation to speed)
  • mouse - scurry around, very busy but not many people notice them, quick, adaptable - could the mouse frighten the elephant of the institution?
  • dragonfly - captures you imagination but can be quite fleeting - was what they were doing sustainable?

Higher Education still excludes lots of people so we need to look at widening participation and enabling access for people with disabilities. We have equality policies, procedures, action plans, assessment principles in place already so we are demonstrating some direction of travel but how we progress this further?

They wanted to include all areas of inclusivity not just disability and raise awareness across the university. Their focus was on the faculty of health and they worked exclusively in the faculty - so it needs to be looked at how this can be disseminated across the university.

We then did a task taking one of the metaphors and considering the qualities that are needed for change in relation to those metaphors, which was interesting. Our group chose the tortoise and focused on the need to see the long game, be tenacious and stay on track, to appreciate that things can take time and not be swayed.

The next session looked at assistive technology and was run by Phil Bakstad and Max Fossard. They talked about technology that can assist students with a particular need but argued we should be promoting inclusion in a general sense. Many of these technologies can be used to help all students not just those with a disability. Inclusive teaching isn't just about satisfying legislation - we have students have individual needs and are from diverse communities and we need to take this into consideration. They demonstrated a couple of pieces of equipment, stressing that there was much more they could show us. We got to play with tablet PCs, drawing on screen with a pen, they could then display all four of the individual displays on the main screen split into four. It was possible to focus in on a particular groups work.

Throughout the presentation they used a microphone and there were speakers located at the back of the room as well as the front. This is really helpful in drowning out background noise for all students. I think we should have employed this technology for the whole of the conference and any future conference. I don't have a particular hearing problem but do find some speakers harder to hear than others. I know using a microphone is a bit daunting for some but to encourage inclusivity we should be doing this as a matter of course, rather than singling out those with hearing difficulties, which can cause embarrassment or make people feel uncomfortable. They also passed around a portable hearing loop kit, which was really discreet and I thought would be useful for staff in meetings as well as for students in user ed sessions. It can be set up in advance so is discreet. Multiple receivers can be plugged into one transmitter.

Recording sessions was also discussed as a really useful way for students who missed lectures to catch up.

I thought this session was really good and gave practical demonstrations of how this technology can be used to help everyone.

After coffee I went to a session by Carol Maynard and Claire Milsom "Great teachers: how shall we know them?". They said that we are not good at evidencing our excellence relating to teaching and learning. They talked about student evaluations of teaching and how we need to be aware of what they are judging good teaching . Student evaluations are important but we need to add our own ways of evaluating what is good teaching - to support and encourage best practice across the institution. According to the research good teaching is

  • developing critical learners
  • student-focused
  • scholarly - researching your own teaching and your subject area
  • set of virtues - teaching attributes like respectfulness, openness, pride etc.

We engaged in a task to look at what we should be doing to evidence good teaching as an institution, as a team and as a individual - I found the task quite hard not coming from a teaching background but it was interesting to hear what was already in place and what staff thought should be in place.

The final session of the morning was about teaching with twitter by Maria Barrett - Maria used twitter in to different ways for two off her modules. For Music Theatre and Entertainment Management, in the module The Producers she used the twitter community to gauge what the industry looked for in a good producer to bring this into her teaching. She found when she asked a general question she got no response. When the question was directed at specific people more responses were given. She got some responses from key figures in the industry thereby giving some authority/credibility to the answers. Graduates also responding, which was encouraging. the almost liveness of it was a big advantage, rather than refer to something written in a book 10 years ago this was what was needed now. The disadvantage of something like twitter is that's it a public space and views are subjective.

Maria then went on to talk about how she used the for the Contemporary Issues in Arts Management level 3 module. This is a speaker module where various external speakers come in to present to the students. The final assessment is presentation of a paper at the student-led conference. The presentation is 80% and continuous assessment is 20%. Maria offered the opportunity for the continuous assessment to be assessed by engagement with social media (including twitter). The students used twitter in lots of ways from general questions - help anyone got any ideas, to setting up study groups, providing moral support and sharing resources in a public space. The conference communication was also put out via twitter and it was used at the conference, with groups of students tweeting as the students presented their papers. A big advantage of using this was that there was much more awareness of what was happening across the college, others attended the conference from within the college and some "real" guests as well (this was unusual before). Also the Daily Post got in touch via twitter to ask if they could do a feature on the conference.

The advantages is that it allows students to contribute in their own time, in their own place., they could keep connected to the module whilst on placement and it makes continuous assessment more tangible. The disadvantages are that it can be distracting, time-consuming and does need some caution, with regards authority and veracity. Also its not a private site and there are ethical issued of privacy for students information, but we should be teaching them this anyway.

And then it was time for lunch.....

Thursday, 22 April 2010

LJMU Learning and Teaching Conference 2010 - Tuesday pm

After lunch it was time for a bit of mind mapping - well learning about how mind mapping was used with English students. Kate Walchester talked about how mind maps were used as part of a staff research project and a Level 3 independent study module. Level 1 students were asked to create a map in groups exploring what it meant to be an English student. They could use text, symbols, pictures - it was completely open to them. What was demonstrated by the maps was that students have complex lives in which study is only a part. All aspects are integrated and we need to take this into consideration, we can't see study as a distinct aspect. The exercise allowed them to target some of the common anxieties

  • making friends - created an English society
  • huge assignments - led to some year long modules
  • lectures and note taking - tried different lecturing strategies

The Level 3 students led the task with the Level 1s and they commented on how much more focused on particular careers the current first years seemed to be - more than they were when they were in first year. It could be the current climate that accounts for a more strategic approach to university but we don't know. The maps can be used to help students realise their expectations. Where there is a discrepancy between what their expectations are and what staff know English to be they can see where the student is likely to be challenged. For the Level 3 students, they have been thinking about thinking - thinking about their subject and what it means to study their subject.

The next session was led by Alex Irving from the Liverpool Screen School and looked at the harnessing the power of metaphor in HE. She argued that metaphorical language is generally valued less than the literal and yet we talk about the need to be creative. Creativity is seen as a way to manage and cope with the rate of change that is currently happening. Can we teach creativity and creative thought? In an attempt to unlock creativity in students leg serious play and labyrinths were used. Students built a metaphorical model of their own identity. It's argued that learning happens when we create something external to ourselves. Level 3 journalism students created models of their learning journey, past present and future.

The labyrinth encourages mindful meditation. It is different to a maze (something I didn't realise) as it has one path that meanders into the centre and then back out again - so it's a meditative walk. I thought we could do with one of these and wondered if it would help with my attempts at mindfulness, which I'm finding pretty hard right now.

Very interesting - I think we should ditch PowerPoint at the next officers day and get the Lego out.

More coffee and then time for more sessions. The first was Jim Turner showing us the innovative learning spaces that have been created around LJMU. He looked at how the different aspects of the Physical, social and cultural act together to aid (or not) learning. Rooms can be amplifiers amplifying the social and cultural aspects, whether good or bad. The aim was to create spaces that aided learning. The students interviewed gave positive feedback on the use of the new rooms. In general space can improve the well being in the group which affects the level of learning. It looks like we have some really interesting spaces in LJMU that provide more opportunities for different ways of learning, than the traditional lecture style. I think we need more of these spaces and I hope the work of the group continues because some rooms across the university are incredibly difficult to work in.

The last presentation of the day was led by Martyn Stewart and Sue Piddock Jones looking at the forgotten students - the 2nd year students. They talked about the "sophomore slump" phenomena which students grades dip in their second year and then rise again in the 3rd year. They are aiming to research whether this happens across disciplines or whether some areas are bucking the trend, thereby giving possible solutions to the problem. Sue talked about the Sport Development course where the sophomore slump doesn't happen. They take a different approach:

  • a 5 week transition period in year 1
  • personal tutor - pdp module, focusing on learning at your best, goal setting and reflection
  • problem based learning module at the start of level 2 (transition again)
  • worked based learning at the start of year 2 for 4 weeks
  • options modules in year 2

Other things to consider are:

  • assessments in year 2
  • marking in relation to level "twoness"
  • expectations at level 2 (staff and students -do they match?)
  • transition to more independent learning
  • curriculum content and delivery

The other question to ask is: is it all about level specific strategies or building bridges between the levels?

An excellent first day - day 2 report coming soon

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

LJMU Learning and Teaching Conference 2010 - Tuesday am

In IM Marsh for two days at the annual Learning and Teaching Conference. I'm being coming to these things for a few years now and it always fires my interest. It's good to know what's going on in other parts of the university - there is so much good practice out there and this is a really good place to celebrate it.

The keynote session was really interesting - looking at student feedback and how what students expect from feedback isn't necessarily what they feel they are receiving. They want feedback and prefer to receive verbal feedback - "it's good to talk" - we heard from students about their experiences of feedback and what they want and then we heard from Alex Spiers and George Macgregor about how to provide verbal feedback via email. It was a very good demonstration of how easy it is to provide feedback in a way that students appreciated. Feedback need to involve a conversation so students receive it in the way that is most relevant to them. We also need to encourage them to make the best of feedback, to act on it and to use it for future assignments.

After the keynote is was straight into sessions on the student experience. The first session was by Phil Carey who is always a joy to listen to. He had looked at the experience of being a student rep at programme level. His focus was in his own faculty - Health and Applied Social Sciences and he interviewed about their experience. Phil talked about their motivations for becoming student reps and what in reality their jobs entailed. The students were all volunteers both for the role of student rep as to take part in the project, so the research needs to take that into consideration. The students saw the role in a number of ways:
  • A voice for fellow students - as a rep, as a consultant on particular issues and an advocate for students
  • A mediator - as a link in the faculty, but also managing conflict and a way to take the heat and anger out of student concerns and present them in a more balanced way in order to be listened to
  • Provide help and support - both as a source of information but there is a pastoral care function too
  • To develop a sense of community
  • Extension of the course team - anticipated the reactions of staff sometimes when concerns were brought to them but also felt as a peer in meetings with academics

They all saw the role as beneficial both for themselves and for others. There are challenges for individuals associated with being a student rep and challenges for the institution in order to support the role.

The second session looked at students expectations and how we managed that. Graeme Mitchell ran this session and he argued that student retention is affected by a number of factors but part of the issue could be whether what they expect of LJMU and university in general matches their experience. He asked the questions - should we meet students expectations whatever they are? Should students expectations change to fit what is a "normal" experience? or should we both compromise? This stimulated some discussion with a couple of good examples of engaging students early on as they arrive in order to help retention. There was some agreement that whatever we did it needed to be done earlier i.e. before they arrived. Is it better that a student who feels their expectations cannot be met doesn't enter the university at all rather than drops out early on?

The examples of good practice made me think that we need to look again at our induction process. What are we doing in Library & Student Support to engage users early on. One of the students in the session said that they are bombarded with information in the first few weeks and told everything they need to know for the next three years and expected to remember it. She suggested that induction should be a year long process. Although we have looked at our initial induction I think more work needs to be done as we still do bombard students with information that at the time they probably fail to see the relevance of. Should we be asking them what they expect from the library service? If we ask current students what and when they felt they needed to know over their first year we could plan better more engaging user education.

Lunch was next which was very tasty although as always there was a bun fight around the bread/salad table (its round and too small)

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

How do learning technologies enhance students' learning?

On Monday I attended a pedagogic research seminar looking at that very issue. The discussion based session was based around a couple of recent research papers aiming to develop a construtive critique of e-learning applications.

Njenga, J.K & Fourie, L C H (2010) The myths about e-learning in higher education, British Journal of Education Technology, 41(2), pp 199-212

US Department of Education, Officer of Planning Evaluation and Policy Development (2009) Evaluation of Evidence-based practices in online learning: a meta-anaylsis and review of online learning studies. Washington DC. Available at: :

The second is a really long report but the executive summary is really good and gives you enough if you can't face reading the whole thing.

The first article talks about technopositivists and tries to dispel the myths it claims these technopositivists make about technology and technology enhanced learning - things like "e-learning is a saviour: it's redemptive power is overreaching and every educational institution should adopt it" - there were 10 myths in all.

The group felt that the report was interested and raised some interesting issues, but was very one sided and the people in the room who used e-learning in their areas decided that if that was what a technopositivist "preached" then they weren't one. I kind of wondered where these myths were coming from and who was making the claims, because they were very far reaching and in some ways "extreme" - I have never heard advocates of using technology in education talk in these terms - they tend to be far more pragmatic in approach.

The second paper attempted to see if e-learning enhanced students learning or didn't. The conclusion was that blended learning was more effective compare to purely face to face or purely online and it seem that most of the practitioners in the room agreed with this. There was some discussion about whether e-learning is appropriate in all cases and about how to get reluctant staff on board.

There was discussion about whether it was a technology issue or a teaching/course planning issue - for some putting notes on a VLE is seen as e-learning - is it or isn't it? Making people meet targets for content on the VLE isn't necessarily going to enhance the learning experience for the student.

Staff need to see the benefits in e-learning in order to adopt it and then sell it to students in a positive and more meaningful way - and students need to see the point of it as well. We shouldn't just be throwing technology at something because it's a requirement more that we should be looking to what we want to achieve and seeing if technology can help us achieve that in a more efficient/richer way.

We also need to consider user-generated content and where that fits into teaching and learning.

And not to forget accessibility issues - technology should be used to help with this rather than to disadvantage student groups.

For me I think the important thing about "technology enhanced learning" is in the phrase itself - "enhanced" - it should be adding something to what we already do.

In the discussion we still seem to be seeing e-learning as separate from the "lecture" - there was the lecture and there was the supporting "stuff" you put on Blackboard (or wherever) - it came across as a definite distinction for me, whether intended or not. What about bringing the e-learning into the classroom rather than seeing it as something separate to the classroom?

All in all a very interesting discussion and as is often the way, raising more questions than it answers

Monday, 25 January 2010

Library Day in the Life

I am the E-resources officer at Liverpool John Moores university library, well for the time being anyway (covering maternity leave) but I am also a member of the Marketing team so some of the stuff I get up to relates to that especially this week.

So first thing this morning is was off to one of our other sites for a walk round to see where I can put up posters for our first marketing campaign of the year. We are promoting the availability of PCs and our laptop loans scheme.

That sorted it was off for a quick chat with my manager about a job I am going to apply for, got to be in on Friday. I will be glad when it's finished to be honest. This was followed by a walk across town to the site I am currently based in, to start the day job.

After spending most of last Friday designing posters I needed to catch up with emails, some of which has come in over the weekend. Bit of a mix bag as always but that is the nature of this job. There were a couple from students trying to access resources, a couple of journal queries that have now been resolved, hurrah. Then it was a licence agreement to sign, an invoice to process then lunch.

After lunch more queries, whilst checking out Twitter for any snippets of useful information and postings from others. Then another licence agreement to fill in and sign and more invoice queries.

Tomorrow I'm off to our third site first thing to check out poster locations, then I just need to do the one I'm based at - isn't it always the way that the place you are in gets sorted last!