Monday, 15 September 2014

MmIT 2014 Conference

I had the pleasure of attending the first day of the MmIT 2014 Conference last week. It's theme was "Sound and Vision in Librarianship: Going Beyond Words and Pictures" and it is primary audience is librarians; as I was speaking on our experiences of using Augmented Reality I got to crash the librarian's party and enjoy a day out at the University of Sheffield. The social media activity from the day has been brought together using Eventifier.

iTunes U

Graham McElearney was the first keynote speaker, sharing the University of Sheffield's experience with sharing content on iTunes U. For him the key driver was the university's ethical responsibility to share knowledge with the world, followed by it being an opportunity to market the university, and its departments, disciplines and people. It's quite inspiring to hear the drivers put in that order.

On the question of "Why not use YouTube?" he explained that they also release content on that platform, but they find that iTunes U tends not to be blocked where some of YouTube is. Also resources on it are downloadable, and YouTube can provide distractions in a way that iTunes U doesn't.

He also shared what you might need to do to get started using it at your own institution, noting the importance of starting with a senior manager who Apple with deal with, the need to look at steering groups, content strategy, copyright consent and IPR, and visual identity.


Penny Andrews from the University of Sheffield spoke about LibraryBox. This was created by Jason Griffey as a fork of the PirateBox, and is a way of setting up an open low powered webserver that can server just the files on an attached pen drive.

The LibraryBox consists of a compatible router, a pen drive holding the Public Domain or Creative Commons licensed files, and a power source (a normal wall socket or a portable mobile phone charger could both work).

Users would connect their device to the wireless network SSID named LibraryBox, and access files using a web browser. All pages will redirect to librarybox.lan/content if you are connected.

As I understand it LibraryBoxen (as we were informed the plural should be) have been used for outreach events to share books and resources with digital divide issues in mind, for example where people have a mobile phone but limited or no data. They have been used where there is no internet in rural Ghana to help teach children to read, or in countries where the internet is heavily filtered. Penny noted other potential uses such as in hospitals where there is no Wi-Fi. I wonder if this sort of tool could be used on field trips where you are out of range of any mobile networks, to share resources with the students.

Augmented Reality

At the end of the day I spoke about what we had learned through the Learning Services augmented reality projects over the last 2 years. Have a look at my slides to get an overview.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The History of Learning Technology Development

Our department at Edge Hill University, Learning Technology Development, is effectively 15 years old this year. Audrey Watters was talking today in her ALT-C keynote about the importance of storytelling, and it got me thinking; if I wrote the story of LTD, what would it look like?

It was 1999 when Andrew Sackville, the Head of Teaching and Learning Development advertised for a ‘Learning Technology Designer’; the team grew from there, introducing a VLE, working with innovators and early adopters as they started online courses, and running courses on how to teach online. In the words of William Gibson, the future was here, it just wasn’t evenly distributed.

I started at Edge Hill University in 2003; the base was set up and LTD were trying to upgrade from what is now an ancient version of WebCT (3.1). Personally I worked within the wider TLD department, and also created content for the Fast Forward online course. This meant I had a lot of contact with the LTD team; I liked them and the work they did, and decided I wanted to join them, which I did in 2004.

One of the things that was motivating people at the time was the fact that considering how to teach in an online environment made people rethink how they did face-to-face teaching. I wonder if this is still the case; perhaps it is a major unseen benefit of online learning.

From 2004 we have seen massive changes in the technologies available to us, and in uptake across the institution. We've worked hard to help distribute that future more widely and evenly across the institution. Few people were involved in using online communication tools apart from email in those days, although the research being done at the time at Edge Hill was advanced. Now almost everybody uses online social networking tools regularly. We’ve been fortunate to work through these massive changes, trying to understand them, and communicate the possibilities to academic staff around the institution. We have seen mobile technologies on the horizon; I remember our COMET project running a PDA project in 2004, and 10 years on we are beginning to see mobile devices as a mainstream platform for learning.

We have tried to be inspiring, supportive, partners to the academics and faculties through this long process. On Twitter we have a mission statement - “to enhance learning through the intelligent application of technology”; is that too vague? Perhaps, but over the years we have had to do a lot of different things, most with this aim in mind.

I think that LTD should be proud of what we have achieved. I’m proud that we have been committed over a long period. Technological change and diffusion of innovation are slow processes and we have kept working both on innovative projects and also the dull repetitive ones. Someone pointed out that without a successful COMET project we wouldn’t have had the SOLSTICE CETL, and the internal and external links, conversations, funding and opportunities that came with that project; we should be proud to have been a key part of both of those projects.

Among the things that I look back on fondly is the fun we’ve had as a team; at times we’ve been as tight a team as any I’ve worked in. People who’ve spent time in the team, who’ve led us and who've worked with us – Andrew, John, Mark, Anna, Mandy, Lisa, Paul, Lindsey, and everyone who’s arrived at Edge Hill later on, have brought us this far. Where next?

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

ALT-C 2014 Keynote by Catherine Cronin - Navigating the Marvellous: Openness in Education

One of the things that inspires me most about the area of educational technologies is the possibility for open learning beyond the class boundaries. Being able to connect with people and communities has vastly widened my horizons over the last few years. Things like personal learning environments, personal learning networks, and the original Connectivist MOOCs seem like really interesting areas of work that might offer so much to Higher Education students, and encourage learning to continue outside the classroom and after their university experience has finished.

I don't think that this side of things tends to be a core part of most Learning Technologists day jobs, and so it’s easy to forget what inspires us. For me watching Catherine Cronin’s ‘Navigating the Marvellous: Openness in Education’ [slides] at ALT-C 2014 was a reminder of the possibilities.

There were a few things she said that prompted questions that I’d personally like to consider further.

  • When is openness hubris, and when is it humility? We need to be prepared for criticism when our work and teaching practices are available to be seen by all. The criticism might be unfair, but we cannot be too proud to risk being criticised.
  • If we see the learning environments as physical spaces, bounded online spaces, and open online spaces, where might open online spaces be most appropriate as part of a traditional course? Catherine mentioned using curation tools (i.e. being used as part of the open online spaces. Perhaps this would be a starting point in looking at tools that staff who teach could use with students.
  • What risks are there in open education (such as privacy, etc.), and how can we prepare staff and students to deal with the risks? I might need to revisit the guide 'Using External Online Tools in Teaching and Learning' to see if it could this be reworked to be something that academic staff could more easily engage with and use?

Monday, 1 September 2014

ALT-C 2014 Keynote by Jeff Haywood - Designing University Education for 2025: Balancing Competing Priorities

I can't make it to ALT-C this year, so I'm going to be attending online where possible. The keynotes are streamed through YouTube and there is conversation going on on Twitter, although I'm learning that it is difficult to listen and tweet at the same time.

Jeff Haywood from the University of Edinburgh presented the first keynote where he looked back at where learning technologies had come from.

He started off at noting that educational change is a slow process; patience and persistence is required. I'd agree with this and say that perhaps Roger's ideas on Diffusion of Innovations help illustrate the process; we see the Innovators and especially the Early Adopters getting lots of attention for their projects, and generating lots of hype. However to take the innovation mainstream you have to deal with the other 60-70% of people, who are likely to be far less digitally literate. A lot of commitment is required to make change mainstream.

To structure the talk he had 5 questions:

  • Where have we come from?
  • What lessons have we learned?
  • Where are we now?
  • Where do we want to go?
  • How might we get there?
To show where we had come from he looked back 10 years to 2004. He noted that at this point we'd reached a stability, with tools and systems that could be used as a sensible base. Some themes noted were the UK eUniversity, the LAMS model was the main one, VLEs had become mainstreamed, e-portfolios being taken seriously, and RLOs has become fashionable. Strategy of the time was demonstrated through the Lisbon Strategy and the DfES's Towards a Unified E-Learning Strategy.

Since then he noted there have been a massive expansion in tools that are being used, and there has been a maturing of the networks of people who work with the technologies for teaching and learning.

To demonstrate where we are now he looked at:
  • Gartner's Hype Cycle to show the technologies that are reaching the Plateau of Productivity
  • The ECAR 2013 and ECAR 2014 studies from the US that show students and staff are becoming more and more familiar with full online courses. Regarding the increased familiarity with online courses, he points out that this suggests that staff aren't actually resistant to change, and that students are using online courses and so feed positive towards them.
  • The SLOAN survey by Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman, which found 33% of HE students were taking at least one online course, and that they viewed online learning more positively than students who hadn't taken online courses. 
  • A GALLUP poll which showed that students saw online courses as offering more options and value for money, while being suspect of the quality of instructors and testing, and the likelihood of employers trusting such a degree.
  • The Conversation Prism to demonstrate the large numbers of online tools that people are using in education. He said that we need to measure the use of these tools.
  • The Horizon Report to demonstrate some more developments that are coming into the mainstream, although he thought that the timescales used were over optimistic.
Moving onto MOOCS, he reflected on the fact that MOOCs are marketing much more slickly than traditional courses, which is an interesting thing to consider. Also MOOCs can help us consider how we can scale what we do.

As for where we want to go, he suggests education that is:
  • on-demand
  • self-paced
  • location-flexible
  • relevant to life/career now & in the future
  • global and local
  • personalised to learning place/style/speed
  • affordable
  • high value-added
in a wide range of subjects. This doesn't mention technology, but complex technologies are certainly required to make this happen.

Jeff admitted to having a top down perspective on this when thinking of how to get there, suggesting that we need:
  • renewed vision at policy levels
  • a roadmap of modest but purposeful steps
  • investment
  • agility
  • determination
  • analysis and evidence-base
Edinburgh started looking at this through their Masters courses, with a small number of MOOCs running now. A strategic decision was made to focus on off-campus. By 2020 Jeff expects all students to graduate having taken at least one fully on-line course as part of their core-modules, and expects all staff to have experience of teaching online. He expects about 10,000 off-campus learners, but not huge numbers on MOOCs, rather the courses will be smaller open ones.

How will we get to that place Jeff describes? He suggests to experiment with things, for example things mentioned in the Horizon Report like digital literacies for all, and to experiment with scaling them in mind. How technologies and techniques are to be scaled must be a key output and focus. It would be interesting to have a think about where we do and don't do that, and to what extent.

Finally he spoke about how we need to capture developing technologies, and interweave them with what we offer. These might include real-time translation tools, and tools to enable equality in digital-physical co-presence.