It’s just ‘learning’ now. OK?

So, we’ve had eLearning, e-learning, elearning, and ‘e learning’.

We’ve had mobile learning, mLearning, mlearning. But not ‘m learning’.

(We’ve also got the VLE, LMS, CMS, and many more besides, but that’s for another post).

I believe we are now at a place with web development where we should drop able all these different ways of saying ‘learning’. We should not need to be talking about the different platforms or devices students use to access their ‘learning’; they should all be scalable and accessible to accommodate students using a smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop (or any other device I can’t think of now). Access to learning resources should be across the board, easy, and not determined by the device. Pretty much everything the students need is now online – books, resources, notes, assignments – so the moniker of ‘e’Learning (for ‘electronic’) is void. Students have devices now which do not tether them to either a physical location or a specific IT network that I’m pretty sure we can drop the mLearning (for ‘mobile’) too.

So, where are you taking your LEARNING now?

Image source: Alan Levine (CC BY 2.0)

Mobile Learning vs eLearning

I like infographics, but I don’t like this one on the LearnDash website: Mobile Learning vs eLearning. I find it inaccurate, or at least misleading. Here’s the comment I left, in case it doesn’t get published:

I disagree – to compartmentalise tablet or laptop users as either one or the other is misleading to people wanting to know about new online learning techniques based on their preferred method/device of learning. Is a laptop user, sat on a train, not mobile? Is a tablet user sat at home on the sofa still mobile, or just too lazy to turn the laptop/desktop computer on?

In an age of accessible web design, and course design, many organisations design their materials, indeed their learning platform, to offer the same experience to their students irrespective of the device used. In fact, this is key to the learning that a student is not disadvantaged for using their own device, irrespective of it’s age, operating system, screen size, etc.

And this doesn’t even cover the statement “eLearning is designed to be more static and be accessed at your desk.” Really? In this day and age, you still think that? What do you think? Am I being harsh?

Image source: Paul (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Don’t give it to me unless I can customise it

My first car was a 1993 Rover Mini Cooper 1.3i, in British Racing Green (obviously). I bought it second hand in ’97 from John Cooper Garages (JCG) in West Sussex, and the legendary John Cooper himself handed my the keys (and made my mum a cup of tea while I did the paperwork).

Like so many people who own a Mini it didn’t stay ‘standard’ for very long, as I read through the Mini magazines on the kinds of things I could do to personalise the car. I went to Mini events, like the London-to-Brighton Mini Run and the 40th anniversary party at Silverstone, and looked over the show cars and private cars that were parked up, as well as the stands and auto-jumble traders. I bought the whole set of JCG brushed aluminium door furniture (window winders, door pulls, etc.) and chrome accessories (bling!), as well as doing more mechanical upgrades like vented discs and four-pot calliper for both front and read brakes, and a full-length straight-through (manifold to rear ‘box) DTM-style exhaust system (ooh, that was awesome!).

This was the start of my love affair with tinkering and messing with anything that’s standard to make it personal for what and how I like it. 

At the same time as mod’ing my Mini I also started to work in web design. Here I worked with HTML code and WYSIWYG editors. I constantly tried new designs and different approaches to layout, colours, structure, brand implementation, etc. I was customising what I could, using tools and ideas around me. If I saw a website I liked I’d look at the code, see how it was done, and try it for myself. Then I’d improve it to work how I wanted it to, where I wanted it, and why I wanted it.

Fast forward to 2007 when I joined Bournemouth University (BU) as a Learning Technologist and started working with the likes of Blackboard, TurningPoint, Echo360, etc. Note how I use names of the companies rather than more generic tool names like VLE, audience response, lecture capture? These were systems I had to use out-of-the-box (i.e. no personalisation or customisation), as were other systems within BU. I had opportunities to be more creative and enterprising in other fields and other aspects of my work, but these were highly controlled and locked-down systems that offered little ability to personalise or customise.

For something like Blackboard I had to work in the defined structure and implementation of the installation, but I settled in to it because I had the ability to use it creativity when it came to different approaches to presenting learning materials, online activities, offline resources. I worked with some amazing people in the Business School to develop innovative (for us, at least) assessment techniques (group working, case studies, multimedia, time constrained papers, Box of Broadcasts, etc.) and different ways to utilise and customise Blackboard within the structure of a defined and prescribed ‘default template’.

Today I still have to work within constraints of learning management systems, both internally at Warwick and externally with, for example, FutureLearn. Sometimes the rigidity frustrates me (whilst I fully appreciate the reason for it) and sometimes it’s a welcome boundary with which I can fall back on as a base-line to build on/from. I use WordPress on a number of hosted and self-hosted websites (like this one and my 100 books project), which gives me some freedom to customise how and what I present, although I admit to leaving the innards well alone in case it gets messed up with the next WordPress update.

Customisation, for me, has been key to my own development and understanding of what kind of learning technologist I want to be. Yes, a defined and rigid system is needed in order for it work for everyone, all the time. Yes, the boundaries are required in order that, for example, students. Yes, it annoys me when systems change without warning or without input from the users (e.g. Twitter ‘like’ option), whether they’re free social systems or expensive VLEs (has anyone ever had timely updates to problems identified in Blackboard? How long did you have to wait for the next ‘patch’ which would fix it? Months? Years?).

This customisation has spilled over into other aspects of my life too. I’ve customised by smartphone with a custom cover, I’ve got stickers over the back of my tablet, but this isnt’ really customising the device, just changing the look of it. Yes, I can move apps around and group them together how I think I want to use the, but this isn’t customising it, is it. I think the last time I customised a computing device was when I opened my old ZX Spectrum and did something inside (add extra RAM, I can’t remember).

I’ve loved reading about projects recently where people have ‘hacked’ furniture and repurposed them. Over the festive break this year we’ll be doing this too as a present to our boys (aged 5 and 6), using Ikea Kallax shelving units as base and storage area under a bed, also providing a play space underneath for the kids. For my other boy we’re going to hack his bunk bed and make a fort (like this, but not as full-on – I know my limits). We’re also looking at different ways to create outdoor living space in the garden from different structures – how about a railway carriage (within reason, not sure my neighbours want a full-size one in the garden, even if it did fit!)?

Something else I’ve customised is the humble photo frame. Taking a standard 3-photo frame I removed the glass and stuck a couple of flat Lego base-units in each frame. Each month, sometimes more often, we take it down and the boys make something new to put in each aperture. Again, it wasn’t something I thought could be customised, but now I know I can I love it and see other standard objects in a way that makes me think about how I can customise it, make it work better, for me.

I have also customised my own learning. I use my network (PLN) on social sharing platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. to not only source topics or articles or research or courses that interest me, but also to engage with them (you!) as I read, learn, interact, engage, and progress through the resource(s). I’ve taken part in a number of MOOCs now (#OpenBadgesMOOC and #ocTEL and #EDCMOOC) and have enjoyed the experiences, both positive and negative. I can pick up these courses up pretty much when I please, and drop them if something else takes my attention. Being flexible allows me to fit more into my life. You might say it diverts my attention too much (you could be right) but if it works, and I’m learning new things about new subjects that benefit me personally and professionally, then why not? Shouldn’t more of us be doing it? I haven’t taken a formal course since my PG Cert in 2010, and that was the first real formal training since I graduated in ’96. I was planning on taking the MSc in Learning Innovation from Leicester, but was actually glad it didn’t run in the end; I’m just not ready ,or interested enough, to dedicate that much time to a formal course. Plus the fact I don’t think I want the formality a course like that dictates anymore.

I want / like the informality of connecting with people through online networks – it’s become a standard to how I think, being able to take something and mould to my needs. Finding new people or resources that go someway to fulfilling my needs is almost expected these days, and the ability to take it and adapt it (with proper attribution, of course!) is the norm.

That’s me: customising what I can to make it ‘work’ for me.

Image source: Daniel Go (CC BY-NC 2.0)

How has technology transformed the classroom?

Last month I was asked to provide a few lines about how I believe Apple has transformed classrooms. Unfortunately for the organisers I didn’t want to concentrate on just what one company, or even one single piece of technology., has done to ‘transform’ or enhance the classroom. I also don’t agree we should concentrate on one single entity or company as being more important than another. So I wrote a more generic piece about my experiences with changes in technology, as well as its use, who uses it, and why, in classrooms. From this they could take a few choice snippets as it suited them. Here’s what I wrote:

“Classroom learning, and for that matter learning in general, has been transfdormed by the rise of mobile computing. Smartphones and tablets have brought about the ‘always-on’ availability of anyone with the funds to buy the devices. Being connected to the Internet enables interaction and engagement with networks of learners from any locations, from coffee shops to shopping centres, to libraries and schools – it is this that has transformed the use of technology for learning.

The rise of the App Store, whilst not a ‘technology’ per se, has brought about such a change in approach and delivery of learning resources to teachers, parents, and children – at no other time have so many passionate and talented individuals been able to design and implement such a varied range of learning resources, and have the ability to reach a global audience. This is the power of the App Store (once you filter out the dross and poorly designed Apps).”

You can read the published version below and on their website, along with five other perspectives from the likes of Erin Klein and Shelly Sanchez in the first part of the How has Apple transformed your classroom series of articles:

For University of Warwick Business School eLearning Consultant, David Hopkins, there’s no denying that recent technology has transformed learning, specifically with the rise of mobile computing. For Hopkins, smartphones and tablets bring about an “always-on” availability, and by developing the iPhone and iPad, Apple has contributed to this in the classroom.

Easy access to the Internet is enabling interaction and engagement such as, “networks of learners from any location, from coffee shops to shopping centers to libraries and schools,” Hopkins explains.
The rise of the App Store, he adds, has helped bring about this change in approach via the delivery of learning resources to teachers, parents, and children. “At no other time have so many passionate and talented individuals been able to design and implement such a varied range of learning resources, and have the ability to reach a global audience,” says Hopkins.

What do you think? Has Apple single-handedly transformed the learning and classroom landscape, or are they part of a more ‘organic’ movement? Is there a moment where you can see, from your own experience and perspective, a more profound shift in the use of technology in your classes?If so, what was it and when did it happen?

Image source: James Harrison (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Interview with Terese Bird, #EdTechBook chapter author

The Really Useful #EdTechBook, edited by David HopkinsAs part of a new series of posts, I will be talking to authors of The Really Useful #EdTechBook about their work, experiences, and contribution to the book. In this seventh post I talk to Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and SCORE research fellow, University of Leicester.

DH – Hi Terese. How does the use of technology, in all its various forms, affect your day-to-day working life?

TB – Really, I do my job on the strength of first social media, and second mobile devices. I remember when I was being interviewed for my job at Leicester back in 2009, I was asked how I stay on top of developments in the field, and I said, “Twitter.” Even before I had any smart handheld devices, I was regularly using Twitter to learn from others in the field of learning technology and tech innovation generally. Even on extremely busy days, I can take a quick skim through Twitter, retweet a couple of things or put a couple of things on Scoop.it. Not only have I learnt from the blog post or news item, I have shared it, and often get some response on it — so in 20 minutes or so, I have done valuable horizon-scanning, learning, and networking in my field. I find other social media sites valuable as well: Pinterest, Academia.edu, YouTube, Flickr, Slideshare, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Recently, Mendeley has figured in hugely for me — I love that I can get references and papers just right within the app, share references, write my own notes and annotations, and add material into my bibliography from the browser. As for mobile devices, the funny thing is I do not own a smartphone. When the iPad came out, I just felt that was what I needed in terms of both portability and screen real estate. I didn’t want to compromise with the small phone screen, and also I found it was cheaper to have a PAYG dumb phone that costs £10 just for calls and texts, and my iPad for everything else. I’m still not really tempted to get a smartphone. I am a bit tempted by the Apple Watch, though.

For other aspects of my job, I use my iPad for most meetings, note-taking, and email while on the job. Because my iPad is usually at hand, I can make very quick replies to most emails. I use my MacBook Pro and a 27” iMac at work for iMovie, iPhoto, Audacity and Quicktime especially to put together materials for our university’s iTunes U site. For everything else, for most documents and some research software, I use the university PC which is very handy in the way it’s set up, I must say. I appreciate the Windows environment; I’m not a total Mac addict. I appreciate Android as well, especially when I was trying to get Google Glass set up at the Medical School. Google Glass — impressive, but I can’t envision trying to use it personally, only for professional use I think.

Your question is about technology in all its various forms. I think I will bore everyone to death if I mention all the forms — lecture capture software and hardware, webinars and the paraphernalia to get them working, Skype, voting systems in lectures, Google drive and all the Google tools, don’t get me started on all the apps. I listen to the radio on my iPad and read books, I have a Bible app, iBooks, I listen to podcasts, I use the Blackboard app as both an instructor and as a student — I’m studying International Education as a distance student with the University of Leicester and Phil Wood the instructor gives us iBooks of all the learning material. I’d better stop there!

DH – It’s quite obvious that all these different technologies, and not just the hardware, have made you more flexible and more dynamic in your working practices. All you have to do, if you want to see how important technology is to students, is wait in line at the coffee shop or watch them when they’re together to see how prevalent their use of mobile devices are. For me the biggest question is are we doing enough to engage them on these devices, do we stop them from being distracted from push notifications from different sources and networks when they’re in lectures? If we are somehow able to utilise their attention and their devices, are we being unrealistic with the level of engagement that academic staff (as well as students) will need in order to keep up with them?

TB – I like these questions — they’re not simple. ‘Are we doing enough to engage students on these devices’ is related to the question ‘are we being unrealistic with the level of engagement that academic staff will need in order to keep up with the students’ To answer this, I’ll begin by saying that I’m increasingly seeing social media as mainstream media. As television was to my generation in my youth, so is social media to young people today — quite pervasive, potentially addictive and therefore laden with cautions, but ultimately it is a significant means of communication and networking and it is not going away anytime soon. So it is both silly and futile for educators to ignore social media. But I think students need someone to discuss with them or teach them ways of using social media for their learning. This doesn’t have to be the academic who teaches them content of their subject — it might make more sense for this to be taught as a learning skill like academic writing and study skills. So, alongside your writing session you would have a session on ‘social media for independent learning’ or something like that. Some students won’t really need guidance on this, but some students really will.

As I’ve been helping our Medical School to embed iPads into undergraduate student training, I’ve been amazed at the students’ ability to figure out ways to learn better, more efficiently, more socially, and in ways that are frankly more fun using the iPads than they did without the iPads. Maybe they figured these things out themselves because they are highly-motivated students. But I think everyone is different, and some students really will benefit from some guidance in these areas.

Now for the more vocational, you would have ‘social media for business’ and ‘social media for marketing.’  These could be covered by the careers services of a college or university. And why should we do this? So that students can cultivate good habits of using social media for personal lifelong learning, and networking to serve their professional purposes. This includes the skill of determining good versus bad online sources and also curation and knowledge of which medium is good to communicate which kind of message online. I suppose these are aspects of ‘digital literacy.’ And alongside this, we need to somehow discuss or at least flag up with students the social media troublespots — things like addiction to the notification, addiction to the ‘like’ (this is more of an issue with young pupils), and admitting that in fact we cannot multi-task so that when it’s time to focus on an assignment, it is best to shut off the electronics. Similarly if the lecturer is not encouraging tweeting during her lecture, then maybe it’s best to ask students to switch things off during the lecture or for part of it. Nothing wrong with that! Perhaps we should also be discussing things like online radicalisation, porn addiction, trolling, and other things which adults need to consider in their own behaviour. Again these would not be things covered by the academics but more by the ‘study skills people’ and these could be the learning technologists.

Interview with Terese Bird, #EdTechBook chapter author

DH – Your chapter is about the student-led innovation in mobile learning; do you consider enough is being done to include the student body in the different aspects of their education? By this I mean more than just the individual classroom activity or learning resource, but the wider progress along the route to the qualification, and the design of the qualification itself. If the inclusion of ‘students a co-producers’ works in the classroom or lecture theatre, what about in the meetings that determined the structure, requirements, and technology they will need to work with?

TB – In my work at the Medical School, we are listening to the student voice by means of surveys and other online feedback, informal meetings and class observations. This is unofficial, and it is so valuable: I could not do my job without it. In the university generally, most if not all of the main committees include students. It was because of a student petition that lecture capture technology was adopted. There are other changes the university is considering for which the student voice is actively being sought. Even still, I think students’ input should be sought more. At these meetings, sometimes the student’s role is a bit observational and maybe rubber-stamp-y, as opposed to really integrated into the decision-making process. Maybe that is down to the individual committee or student; at any rate, I would like to see more healthy and constructive rabble-rousing on the part of students.

DH – I’ve read in a few places recently that children/students, who have been classed as Generation Z (born after 1995), are starting to push back against the technology that previous generations have adopted and embraced (Bloomberg Review: ‘Will Generation Z Disconnect?’). Do you think we’re doing the right thing, in Higher Education, in advancing our understanding and use of mobile technology if the students of the future (2-5 years hence) are going to shun the devices and online networks? Do we need to be more considerate and more understanding of the role technology takes in the process of learning?

TB – A Learning Technologist must always be a horizon-scanner. We need to keep up on consumer trends (because consumer devices will find their way into HE classrooms in students’ backpacks) and societal trends, how is communication evolving and where is it going. Academic communication should happen in the media and methods of the present world, and should not insist on happening in the media and methods of the past world. At the same time, we should evaluate what we do, and put it to research in some form, so we can see what students are thinking, whether any interventions help them or hinder them.

The Bloomberg article is interesting because as I look carefully at the survey findings, I am not sure we can conclude that Generation Z is turning away from tech or internet commerce/communication; indeed, the article refers to this generation as ‘overconnected.’ Yet they would prefer to get together with friends in person rather than online, and would prefer to ask someone for a date in person than online. This is very welcome news, by the way! The article doesn’t give similar findings from teenager surveys of the past, or of other demographic people in the present, so I’m not sure how this can be said to be a trend of revolution against technology. And also, as students, these teens would need to consider the professional and academic need to communicate with someone whom there’s no way of meeting in person. Regardless, though, learning technologists and all academics need to be continually sensitive to the student voice, and again that’s why we need to keep dialogue with students about how they’re learning. And there comes a time when we don’t need to be using a certain system or method anymore; it’s important to be able to recognise that. At the same time, we need to stay on top of tech developments which might really solve problems we have in HE, in ways we might not even be able to imagine at present.

DH – Considering the time and effort taken to get new technologies adopted and implemented in HE, do you think we have the flexibility and imagination (not individually, but institutionally) to say “we don’t need that anymore”? Are we individually brave enough to say to the powers-that-be that something we fought hard for is no longer needed or relevant (I’m pretty sure most HEIs still have an overhead projector for acetates, somewhere)?

TB – I don’t think I have yet been in a situation where I have fought for an innovation and it has run its course and it’s become clear that it’s time to retire it. I think that when that happens, it happens sort of naturally. For example with the overhead projectors, even tho they were easy-to-use and almost never failed, they gradually got replaced by something that just looked better: PowerPoint on a better projector. So making that decision should not have been that difficult because it was happening naturally, gradually. Now there is another case: the case of something innovative being purchased but never really used very much. That would be the infamous case of the interactive whiteboards purchased in many UK schools in the past decade. They didn’t really get used because they were not easy to use and the people making the purchasing decision didn’t take this into tconsideration. To avoid putting all eggs into a basket that doesn’t work so well, I recommend the following remedy: try one as a pilot, evaluate, and work with the learning technologist throughout the process. Is it now time to close the door on interactive whiteboards? Perhaps. Aside from them being difficult to use, if one cannot throw an iPad image onto the whiteboards, then they’re kind of obsolete.

DH – Thanks for your time Terese. Terese’s chapter for the #EdTechBook is called ‘Students Leading the Way in Mobile Learning Innovation’ and looks at what, and how, the student’s are using their own personal devices, and what (if anything) we can be doing to utlise and maximise their interest and passion for being networked and mobile.

More news about The Really Useful #EdTechBook will be posted here and other social media platforms, using the #EdTechBook hashtag. Please follow and join in for news on the book’s development as well as each individual author’s own interpretation of the process and their own chapters.

Image source: Dave Stone (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Interview with Sheila MacNeill and David Walker, #EdTechBook chapter authors

The Really Useful #EdTechBook, edited by David HopkinsAs part of a series of posts, I will be talking to authors of The Really Useful #EdTechBook about their work, experiences, and contribution to the book. In this sixth post I talk to Sheila MacNeill (Senior Lecturer, Glasgow Caledonian University) and David Walker (Head of Technology Enhanced Learning, Sussex University), who have chosen to co-author a chapter for the book on Learning Technologists as ‘digital pedagogues’.

DH – Hi David and Sheila. How does the use of technology, in all its various forms, affect your day-to-day working life?

SM – Good question. In reality, without using technology I wouldn’t be able to do my work. Almost everything I do at work relies on technology. Face to face communication is still very important, but I do all my “stuff” via technology, be that my desktop computer, my iPad or phone. If the “t’internet” is down at work I’m a bit stuffed! I would probably use up a months data allowance on my phone in a morning – or go home and work there. Luckily that doesn’t happen very often. 

DW – Like Sheila technology permeates pretty much everything I do and figures in much of my thinking on a daily basis. When it comes to the use of technology my focus is less on how it affects my own working practices but on how it is used – and to what effect – by students and staff within my institution. Technology is, though, my conduit to the wider world and, through the connections it has mediated, I have developed many valuable relationships, which have in turn resulted in lots of rich ideas and rewarding initiatives. I’m probably at my happiest though when I’m working with people, talking about teaching and learning issues with technology waiting patiently on the sidelines, ready to be introduced to the play when it can make a positive difference.

DH – Do you see any discrepancy between what we, as learning technology professionals, ask of ourselves and what we ask of our colleagues or students? Is there a balance where we can continue our own advancement in the tools we use and the tools we expect or ask others to use?

SM: I wouldn’t say discrepancy, but I think sometimes we forget that some of our colleagues maybe don’t have the same working practices and habits in terms of using and experimenting with technology. I’m really comfortable blogging, tweeting, Google+-ing – they are part of my practice and how I keep in touch with my personal learning network. For many of my colleagues they are not. That’s fine, we just have to keep context to the forefront. Technology has the most impact in learning and teaching (and anywhere really) when it makes sense in that context. I think that there is less of the dragging people kicking and screaming to learning technology these days. Partly that’s due to better UI design and partly due the amount of technology that permeates everyday life. I think “people like us” should always be willing to experiment and take the lead with technology, that’s part and parcel of the job. Not everyone needs to do that. We just have to ensure that we share the potential of new, shiny things in the context which our colleagues are working. Equally we need to be able to share why things might not work so well.

DW – I’ve always believed it’s a question of both personal preference and where we as individuals find value. It’s an expectation – and I think a completely appropriate one – that Learning Technologists should evaluate new tools and engage in horizon scanning activities. Many, if not most, of these tools will never be adopted into mainstream practices but it is this process of playful experimentation and informed choice that we should seek to instill within others. I want colleagues and students to be receptive to the potential benefits of technology for learning and teaching but to approach new tools and ideas critically. As Sheila says we need to be able to talk about the limitations of any technology as well as its strength. In an HE landscape increasingly saturated with technology, and where there can be a temptation to look for technological solutions to every educational ill, Learning Technologists need – now more than ever – to have a firm grasp of pedagogy and to take an evidence-based approach to promoting or arguing against the implementation of any new technology.

DH – Is there enough support from the department, faculty, or institution for this level of activity? I realise that each institution or employer will differ, but is the ‘role’ sufficiently defined to allow and encourage development like this? My own experience here is that it has been down to individuals within the management structure that encourage this extracurricular activity, rather than the structure or role itself (for which I am extremely grateful to those very special people!).

SM – Well, that depends partly on the institution and partly on the individual. I think there is a lot of fuzziness between formal and informal support too. Formally I think most institutions would say that they are committed to using new/digital technology effectively. For instance in my own institution one of the key principles in our strategy for learning is “digital learning/technology”. The implementation, sustainability and commitment to that is less well defined. In recent job descriptions for LTs here, the role of experimentation isn’t explicit either – tho’ it is a question that is always asked at interview. Lots of people (LTs, lecturers, support staff) are willing to try new things and experiment. Some departments invest and supply tablet devices to staff – others don’t. I would agree that it is down to individuals most of the time. However I do think that there is a real opportunity to (re)engage senior management in the debate. “Digital” is a very powerful (yes not very well defined) word just now. Along with Bill Johnston and Keith Smyth I’ve been developing a framework to help staff have meaningful discussions around what it means to be a digital university.

DW – Tough question. In my experience this can vary significantly within, let alone across, institutions. Innovation is a ridiculously overused term in HE (I include myself in this rebuke) but you won’t find an institutional strategy that doesn’t include it and usually in conjunction with some reference to technology. The 2014 UCISA Survey of Technology Enhanced Learning (http://www.ucisa.ac.uk/tel) shows that availability of TEL support is the second most important factor (behind feedback from students) encouraging the development of TEL practices and processes. More effort is certainly required to provide people with the space and time to engage with these types of development activities and to take advantage of that support where it is available. I’ve long argued that there’s also a real need for institutions to start acknowledging those who do experiment and enhance their teaching practices through formal reward processes (going beyond mere recognition through mechanisms such as teaching awards – important as they are). The job descriptions for Learning Technologists here at my own institution include explicit statements regarding contribution to the development of understanding and practice in the field of learning technology through engagement in relevant CPD opportunities and they are given time to engage in this professional development as I believe their ongoing development is crucial to furthering the wider goals of the institution.

Interview with Sheila MacNeil and David Walker, #EdTechBook chapter authors

DH – Your chapter looks at the rise of the ‘digital pedagogue’, and Sheila’s blog post – http://howsheilaseesit.wordpress.com/2014/10/10/is-there-something-about-learning-technologists-edtechbook/ – opened the chapter and question up to anyone who wanted to contribute. By asking four questions of those who consider themselves involved in learning technology (and is not limited to those who are specifically Learning Technologists) you’ve been looking at the attitudes and approaches to the individuals as well as the roles themselves. Have the responses been as you hoped or expected?

SM – The response was great and we were both really pleased that people took the time to share some very considered points of view via the comments and also some shorter, but no less pertinent points via twitter. I also think this approach illustrated the new open, connected ways of working we have now.

DW – We’ve both been delighted with the amount of thoughtful responses we’ve received. The comments have been very revealing and largely mirrored my own views about the evolution and current nature of the role. It’s a topic people within the field are very passionate about. Some of the power relations between different roles are fascinating and for some a source of discomfort. However the overriding sense you get is one of professional respect for the role of the Learning Technologist and of a strong community of practice.

DH – Thanks Sheila and David. Lastly then, where, or how, do you see the Learning Technology ‘teams’ developing? Is the drive from the individual, academic, or ‘IT’ departments?

SM – Probably from all three! In my own institution we have a school-based approach, with each of our three schools having a team of learning technologist who work with staff. Each school takes a slightly different approach. The team I work in is part of a central academic department so we co-ordinate and liaise with each of the schools. We also liaise with our IS department and the Library.

Over the next year we are embarking on quite an ambitious online development programme and I very much see a team based co-design approach being at the heart of that process. Our IS department is pretty hands off when it comes to learning technology, but there are key areas where we need to develop more of a team based approach with them too; particularly around the use of data and any developing analytics work we want to pursue. We are also engaging with students far more now which is really positive and I see lots of potential for working with students in relation to the development and sustainability of effective practice and systems for learning and teaching.

DW – The enhancement agenda across the sector is for me the key driver. Quality enhancement has long underpinned practice in Scottish HE and it is pleasing to see this increasingly figure now in England rather than a focus on assurance. In a deregulated system ‘teaching excellence’ and the ‘student experience’ become arguably even more significant than before, impacting on league table placing’s which in turn have a knock-on effect on recruitment (student and staff). Learning technology figures strongly in both areas and there is a growing demand for support in the area of researcher development.

At institutional level, certainly among the senior colleagues at the institutions I have worked with, there has been/is a genuine interest and strong awareness of the learning technology field and the significance of developments for the sector. Learning technology teams will continue to be located/co-located in a variety of departments alongside other professionals whose roles may, to some extent, overlap (and lots of useful ideas and initiatives have emerged from such synergistic groupings). Internal drivers (notably student feedback) and specific strategic ambitions will of course also shape the development of such teams but I have a sense learning technology has re-entered a growth phase and there is recognition (across levels) that professional support of this nature is desirable, valuable, potentially essential and certainly worthy of investment.

I do foresee a split between those (ignoring job titles) who operate at a more senior level who will likely possess (and in future be required to possess) qualifications such as postgraduate certificates, CMALT etc. and who are likely to be involved in discussions around curriculum/policy development and those in more operational type roles. This will continue to evolve as it has over the last decade but one thing I’m certain of, learning technology – under various guises – is here to stay.

DH  – Thanks Sheila and David, I’m really excited at the collaborative aspect of your chapter as well the way in which you opened up the subject of the ‘digital pedagogue’ to your respective networks and have sought to use these wider experiences to form and support (?) your ideas.

More news about The Really Useful #EdTechBook will be posted here and other social media platforms, using the #EdTechBook hashtag. Please follow and join in for news on the book’s development as well as each individual author’s own interpretation of the process and their own chapters.

Image source: Alex Ahom (CC BY-NC 2.0)

MOOCs – 9 points on what I like, and what I don’t

Over two years ago I wrote about a few experiences I’d had with some online courses / MOOCs, and why I ‘failed’ (according to the general headline figures of engagement, attendance, etc. that are used in mainstream press).

I want to revisit this, in light of more experience in both designing MOOCs and being a student on them.

Disclaimer: This is based on courses I’ve taken on the FutureLearn, Coursera, Cloudworks, EdX, and WordPress (OcTEL) platforms. I also highlight whether is was a student on the course, or part of the development team.

1. Comments and Engagement: For the most part I’ve been a silent students. This is both deliberate and accidental. Where it’s been a deliberate choice to not engage in the comments and discussion it’s been because I knew I didn’t have the time or inclination to trawl through the hundreds of fairly uninteresting posts to add my two-pennies worth or find the one nugget of insight that is worth anything. It’s also because, for some courses, I didn’t have enough interest to take my engagement further.

Example – World War 1: Aviation comes of Age. (learner) A wonderfully rich and interesting subject, I’ve always loved flying and it’s history. From visits to Farnborough and Yeovilton Fleet Air Arm Museum as a kid to taking my own boys to air shows (and hopefully next year on their first flight). The course was brilliantly put together with a great use of archive resources from the BBC with interviews, audio and video, from surviving pilots and workers from the factories. However, I started to get really annoyed as almost every step asked for a comment, an opinion, feedback, etc. on the video or piece to be read. And that was before the discussion steps. And then there was the ‘how is it going so far?’ step at the end of each week! Too much, sorry!

2. Video: I have found the quality of video to be, for the most part, excellent on all the courses (especially the ones I’ve worked on [wink]). But its not always necessary. A 90 second clip of someone introducing the weekly topic and wider context of the subject is really useful, but a 30 second clip of someone reading a quote or abstract from the paper we’ve been asked to read is pointless. The actual content of the videos are also varied and really interesting, but there are some examples of green-screen is over used.

Example – Shakespeare and His World (developer). Amazing use of on-location filming with the rarely-seen and non-public archives and collections of Shakespeare artefacts. With Prof Jonathan Bate showing, and sometimes holding, the artefacts he is able to bring the topic and people to life.

Jonathan Bate, Shakespeare and his World

Example – eLearning and Digital Cultures (learner). This course offered a great many examples of videos to watch that supported the ‘digital cultures’ element but, as I’ve written about before, the ‘elearning’ was greatly reduced. However, the beauty of these courses is the crowd-sources and student-led curation of content, and this video was a great example of what is already out there, if you know where to look.  Of course, the online, open courses can only use publicly accessible videos available on Vimeo or YouTube. Oh, if only we could use Box of Broadcasts!!

The Future is Ours from Michael Marantz on Vimeo.

Example – Forensic Science and Criminal Justice (developer). Very few videos were used on this course, and those that are ‘video’ steps were just narrated PowerPoint slides. The rest of the course was made up of 20 or so audio clips, between 4-8 minutes long. These were excellent produced, great quality, and well received. We also made them available for download (before the download option was available in FutureLearn) from a DropBox folder. It just goes to show that you don’t have to have high-end video content for a course to be successful and engaging.

3. Platform: I haven’t found one platform yet that I actually like. There is plenty about each platform that works, and sometimes works well, but there’s either too much white space, unwieldy navigation, poor layout, to much scrolling, etc. If the platform is important to the feeling of security and understanding, in order to relax the student into their learning, then can something be done about the platform to facilitate this?

4. Weeks: (also see ‘hours’, below) Short courses are obviously easier to fit into my life, but even a 6 week course sounds OK, not too long. But so much can happen in any 6 week course … not to mention the 2 months that has passed between signing up for it and the thing actually starting! Ensuring the content is relevant in each week is also key to the course being, for me as a learner, successful and worth my time.

5. Terminology: I’m sure the academics are very good, and very knowledgeable. But can you please direct the terminology to the level of learner engagement or study. If it’s a subject course that people are likely to take where they have little or no understanding of already, then using advanced or complex terminology (without proper and adequate explanation) will not help them understand you or the course materials.

6. Hours: Which is better, a short course (2-4 weeks) with a high hourly requirement (4-8 hours per week) or a longer course (6+ weeks) with lower hourly requirement (2-4 hours per week)? Ideally I’d go for a shorter course with the lower expected study hours, but that’s because I’m busy. But hey, aren’t we all? I know that FutureLearn, and probably others, are looking at a portfolio of shorter courses, from a single or multiple providers, and that would suit me as a learner far better.

I realise that some courses, more in-depth or detailed courses, even ones aimed at higher levels of study, will have higher study expectations. But just to get it right on the course overview page is enough. The Edinburgh eLearning and Digital Futures course was originally flagged as (and I forget the ‘exact’ number) 3-5 hours per week, but myself and many others on the course were actively engaging in 10+ hours, just to keep up.

7. Expected engagement: If you highlight the course as being as an introduction to the subject, then the materials should be fairly lightweight and not require degree-level understanding. Also, if you say the course is ideally 3-5 hours per week, and I spend 10+ just to keep up (as was the case with the first run of the Edinburgh/Coursera Digital Futurees course) then you’ve really under-estimated the level (again) and requirement of the course.

8. Links, related reading PDFs: I don’t mind having materials available to me that are flagged as ‘essential’ or ‘suggested’, but please monitor these and keep the lists manageable? One or two links are fine, 6 or 7 tells me either the basic course is too basic, or you can’t decide how much is too much, or too little.

Example – World War 1: Aviation comes of Age (learner). Some of the related links are to video content that learners have pointed out are not available to non-UK learners. I don’t know what proportion of the course this relates to, but that’s a big design flaw in my book. Having a link to further reading or other interested materials is good, in fact you could argue it’s essential for those who are interested in more than just the bare-essentials on the course. Having 5 or 6 doesn’t work for me, it’s just too much – how do I know which ones are going to be best for me. Keep it simple, please.

9. MOOC futures: I still like the ability to join and leave these courses when I want, and really only see the downside of MOOCs as being when the courses run. It may suit the platform provider to have the course run when it fits their portfolio, or the partner institution and when the lead academic is available, but that may not suit me?

Mind you, is this a downside of the MOOC platform and the design of the course (the dreaded engagement with fellow learners again) that limits the course to run between two fixed dates -can’t the materials just be online, running all the time, and I be added to a group/cohort that started this week? Admittedly I could be in a group of 5 or 500, depending on so many factors, but at least I had the flexibility to learn what I wanted, when I wanted.

Anyway, there are my thoughts. I am still looking to the future where online learning ‘works’, for me. I have yet to find a single experience where I am truly engaged and happy – perhaps I need to find a course I really really want to do, and pay for it. Is the value to my learning linked to the impact on my wallet, and therefore perception of value of learning. Will I be more inclined to stick it out and not give up? I know I made more effort for my CMALT portfolio and submission because I could see the value to my development, profile, and employability … is a direction MOOCs need to take, a defined and deliberate link to specific development criteria, either from industry association or other such accreditation body?

(Bonus) 10. Email updates: Emails sent to me as one of the learners, or rather those registered for the course, thanking me for my participation and the quality of the engaging conversation. But I haven’t said anything. In fact I’ve not logged in to the platform since I signed up to the course. I don’t mind about the email but please don’t presume that I have been involved. Perhaps the platform needs to be able to distinguish between those engaging and those not?

Image source: Gisela Giardino (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Interview with Wayne Barry, #EdTechBook chapter author

The Really Useful #EdTechBook, edited by David HopkinsAs part of a new series of posts, I will be talking to authors of The Really Useful #EdTechBook about their work, experiences, and contribution to the book. In this second post I talk to Wayne Barry, Education and Social Technologist at Canterbury Christ Church University, Kent.

DH – Hi Wayne. How does the use of technology, in all its various forms, affect your day-to-day working life?

WB – Hi David. That’s an interesting question and one I hadn’t considered before as technology is so much a part of our lives that we don’t always stop to consider it’s role and impact.

My day, like most peoples, starts with an alarm clock waking me up and telling me that I need to pull myself from the warm cocoon that is my bed. So, there is a piece of ‘technology’ that is already interacting with me to ensure that I am up and starting the day afresh. I tend to have a “technology-free” breakfast, eschewing mobile phone, radio or television for an hour of peace and quiet to collect my thoughts, reflect on the previous day and to mentally plan for my day ahead.

As soon as I am in the office, I am surrounded by a plethora of technologies: telephones, personal computers, photocopier, printers, iPad, mobile phone, wi-fi connectivity and a range of software and web-services which provide a rich and eclectic toolbox for communication, collaboration, creativity, presentation, writing and research. No single day is the same, so it varies which ‘tools’ I pick up from my ‘toolbox’, though e-mail, web browser, word processor and RSS reader (I’m a big fan of RSS feed) are used on a daily basis, even after working hours.

So whilst I wouldn’t go as far as saying that I am totally ‘wired up’ to all this technology, I am totally immerse in it both personally and professionally.

DH – Do you find this pervasive and connected ‘self’ a distraction to the job or an enhancement? Do you find yourself pulled between the different networks and content or have you worked out a strategy?

WB – I personally don’t find this as a distraction at all. It enhances my job very much and has provided me with an opportunity to connect, communicate and collaborate with my peers, not just in this country, but around the world. This #EdTechBook is an actual testament to that. If it wasn’t for my “pervasive and connected ‘self’”, I would not be talking to you about it or, indeed, participating in this book chapter.

The advice I give myself is the same advice I give to academic staff and postgraduate students who are considering using social media: start off small, make it relevant, always evaluate it, and allocate time to it. I use a lot of different social media services, some more than others, for very different purposes and audiences. Invariably, I sign up to new services, such as ‘ello’, just to see what all the fuss is about and whether it can be useful to me personally or professionally.

Over the years, I have developed an acute “critical filter” that has enabled me to pick and choose what is of interest to me. The MSc in e-Learning (now Digital Education) at the University of Edinburgh and various Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have helped me hone my “critical filtering” faculties. I also recall that you gave some good advice to people who were considering taking part in a MOOC?

DH – If you’re referring to my post ‘Why I failed a MOOC‘ from 2012, then I found a few simple techniques for giving yourself half a chance. Whilst these tips were primarily for MOOC participation you could quite easily adapt and apply them to any online activity.

How do you relate to changes in technology? I can’t remember a time before I had the Internet in my pocket, whether it’s a smart phone in my pocket or tablet in my bag. What do you think these changes doing to education, both for staff and students?

WB – That is certainly the post I am referring to and useful it was to myself and others who had started to dip our toes into MOOCs.

(Un)fortunately, I do remember a time before the Internet and smartphones [laughs], on one level life and society seemed to be more simpler and less distracted with people seeming to be more aware of their surroundings. We see a lot of people these days with their noses and eyes glued to smartphones or tablets and it is you that needs to navigate around them as they are so blissfully unaware [laughs].

However, from an educational perspective, there is a lot of potential and opportunities to be had for both teachers and students. I think the challenge, certainly for me as a learning technologist, is making teaching staff aware of these tools and technologies and how these can be embedded into the curriculum.

For the students, that’s an interesting one as I am not entirely sure that students are (a) aware that they can use their personal mobile devices for learning purposes and (b) more crucially, are comfortable with the idea that the devices they use for recreational purposes should be used for educative purposes as well – it’s almost a hardware version of the “my space” issue, i.e. students were not terribly keen on their tutors being in their social media spaces, like Facebook. I think there is quite a bit more to be done on that front to understand this more, but I don’t think it is quite as clear-cut as some of the research would like us to believe.

Interview with Wayne Barry, #EdTechBook chapter author

I do think that there is an opportunity for teaching staff to make their students aware of the benefits of using these technologies not only in terms of research, but also as a way of creating different forms of learning and teaching encounters in different types of spaces (physical and virtual) that supplement the more traditional “sage on the stage” approaches.

DH – So, with this in mind, how do you see the role of educational or learning technologists growing? Are we better aligned to the students, to help them understand the technology in their pockets and how they can use it to learn, or to the teachers where we need to firstly inform and educate them as to what technology is available, then on how it can be used to better the learning experience?

WB – Given that the Higher Education Academy is championing it’s “Flexible Pedagogies” agenda, and that Universities are expected to be innovative and entrepreneurial, I think the role of the learning technologist is going to be tantamount to these initiatives. We are going to be a very important partner in the next few years to come. In my institution, we are working towards a “Partners in Learning” philosophy where student and teachers are co-partners in the learning process. I see no reason why this cannot be extended to include learning technologists, librarians and other learning professionals who can work and learn together to form a kind of “learning commons” – it’s already happening elsewhere. I think this could be a very powerful collaborative process, but it will require a change of learning practices, teaching cultures and working styles.

DH – Do you think this partnership will result in a shift of direction, and background requirements, for Learning Technologists? Are we becoming more ‘academic’, more of the ‘digital pedagogues’ that David Walker and Sheila MacNeil are exploring in their chapter?

WB – I think as a profession and as a field we are growing much more confident in terms of our identity, direction and values – so yes, I can see us becoming more academic. I am becoming more academic, but I must not lose sight of the practical element of my job; so I need to find the right balance between academic and practitioner. My chapter explores the ‘troublesome terminology’ that exists when we try to explain to someone what a ‘learning’ or ‘educational’ technologist is and what that job entails. When you say to people that you are a ‘teacher’ or a ‘plumber’ they know exactly what you are talking about, but that is rarely the case when you say that you are a ‘learning technologist’. So whilst we are growing more confident in ourselves, I think there is still a bit of work to do to raise awareness of what we actually do, rather than what people think we do. But I am looking forward to that particular challenge.

DH – Indeed, thanks Wayne. Good luck with your studies and chapter. Wayne’s chapter for The Really Useful #EdTechBook, looks into the terminology and interpretation of names and job titles, and how this impacts on how we, as learning professionals, work within (and often outside) this remit.

More news about The Really Useful #EdTechBook will be posted here, Google +, Twitter, Flickr, and on other social media platforms using the #EdTechBook hashtag. Please follow and join in.

Image source: Chung Ho Leung (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Interview with Sue Beckingham, #EdTechBook chapter author

The Really Useful #EdTechBook, edited by David HopkinsAs part of a new series of posts, I will be talking to authors of The Really Useful #EdTechBook about their work, experiences, and contribution to the book. In this first post I talk to Sue Beckingham, Educational Developer at Sheffield Hallam University.

DH – Hi Sue. How does the use of technology, in all its various forms, affect your day-to-day working life?

SB – It’s an integral part of my daily routine. By this I mean that I make use of the affordances of my mobile phone to access a wide range of apps to help organise my day, provide me with news, information as part of my research and of course social networking places where I keep abreast of what’s happening out in the field via my personal learning network (PLN). 

My day starts with a skim through Twitter and LinkedIn. Time permitting I will also take a look at Google+ and Facebook pages. As I travel to work by public transport I use this time to favourite/like/RT etc. anything I wish to save and also share information that I feel will be of interest to my PLN. Why keep it to myself?! I check my diary via my phone and can make a start on a to do list using the notes app.

DH – Have you ever got to work, or on the journey to work, only to realise you’ve left without your phone …and turned round and gone back for it? I have, many times! Can you see a positive change to your work priorities through the affordable and forever-connected device in your pocket. Have you ever felt like it’s taken over?

SB – Oh yes! Had to jump off the bus, run back up the hill to go home and retrieve my phone! I rely on it so much I’d be lost without it!

Having this mini portable device with me at all times provides me with much a computer offers. I can access email, make notes, plan a meeting or class, research a new topic, draft a blog post, and so the list goes on. These tend to be short bursts of activity. The affordances are there, however the small screen is not ideal. Where there is WiFi available, I tend to use my iPad mini. For me this has enabled me to be better organised.

Does it feel like access to my device has taken over? Well to some degree. Having access to work email 24/7 can be both a blessing and a curse! On the one side I can address the quick replies and filter out the emails I don’t need to keep each time I dip in. On the other it can prevent you from switching off from work – something we all need to do!

DH – Is this enough for the ‘blended professional’, the title of your chapter? Is there more to just being connected and having the devices? I’m sure we both know of, and see, many examples of people with this amazing technology, but not using it to its fullest potential. While I acknowledge that this world of connections is not for everyone, is it even possible to be an effective educator in this world without the connections?

SB – Yes of course we can be effective educators without the technology, but the connections with others are invaluable for our own development. In fact I’d go as far as to say connections are essential. We learn from and with each other. The technology however can help to extend those connections and provide so many new ways to communicate and collaborate.

Do we all use our devices to their fullest potential? I’d say definitely not! If we look at our phone for example, it comes with a variety of useful tools as standard, however I’d bet not many are even aware of all features and may only use text and phone calls. If it’s a smart phone, then there are literally thousands of apps to download. This is the point where as an Educator we can play a valuable role by initiating the conversation around “What do you use your phone for (besides the obvious)? Have you seen this app [demo] – I find it really useful to…” Substitute phone for tablet or laptop.

DH – I’ve followed the rise of popularity of the AppSwap Breakfast with interest, and have many discussions with colleagues to see if there is interest where I’ve worked. There is plenty of interest in the idea but not everyone is at, or near, a place where they are ready to be involved or share their App-use yet. Do you think we do enough (Learning Technologists and other interested parties) to induce staff and students to this ‘new’ approach to eLearning? It’s as much about the packaging as it is about the materials themselves these days, do you think?

Interview with Sue Beckingham, #EdTechBook chapter author

SB – My colleague Julie Gillin and I have talked about this and planned an Appy Days workshop to share favourite apps. The key obstacle is as you say not a lack of interest, it is finding a time and space that works. Maybe we need to think of other approaches to deliver any kind of technology enhanced practice, be this for learning and teaching or our own personal development. I’d like to see this integrated into CPD and aligned to ‘remaining in good standing’ for the likes of FHEA and CMALT. This could provide the incentive to engage but also recognition of what has been achieved.

DH – Do you think that us Learning Technology-type people expect too much from our academics? I know you’ll go into more of this kind of stuff in your chapter, but is is an unreal expectation, lack of interest or apathy to technology or change, or something else, that is stifling inventive and engaging learning practices? Don’t get me wrong, there are some great things happening both with and without LT involvement, but they are the exception rather than the norm – it’s the other silent majority we need to capture and talk to that eludes me.

SB – Well this is where I can empathise as the ‘blended professional – jack of all trades and master of some’! Technology can be scary and it is often easier to dismiss it than hold your hand up and say “I need some help here”. I’ve found many a new use of technology difficult, but have not been afraid to ask questions and have done this by going to trusted Learning Technologists who I know can speak in non tech-speak, who don’t tell me it’s easy, and who check that I can go through the steps needed after a demo. Taking this approach with colleagues does seem to open doors and pique curiosity to learn more. I feel they need to be reassured they will have support going forward and not just within a one off workshop.

DH – You are well known for your love of technology and no-fear attitude to what you use, and how you use it, but have we stretched ourselves too far already in directions that have made it too difficult for others to catch-up with us? In trying to see what is available, and how we can use it to make it easier and less scary for the non-technical among us, have we inadvertently made it unreachable and unfathomable for them?

SB – I think to get folks on board we need to provide opportunities to help them see how technology can help in relation to organisation of their own lifewide learning. Once they see how useful it can be, they can then have the confidence to look at how it might be applied to enhance the students’ experience as a means to both engage in learning and organise their learning.

DH – Indeed, thanks Sue. Sue’s chapter for The Really Useful #EdTechBook looks at the ‘blended professional’ who is keen advocate and early adopter of technology for learning –  “From small, centrally located teams of learning technology support to fragmented faculty or department teams, these ‘blended professionals’ often need to balance the needs of the department or faculty with the needs of the institution. Such posts are often fractional and carried out alongside a substantive role and other priorities.”

More news about the Really Useful #EdTechBook will be posted here, Google +, Twitter, Flickr, and on other social media platforms using the #EdTechBook hashtag. Please follow and join in.

Image source: Alex Dulaunoy (CC BY-SA 2.0)