Summary of technologies in use in the JISC Developing Digital Literacies Programme

The JISC Developing Digital Literacies programme is now well underway. As I reported from the programme start up meeting last October , the aim of this 2 year programme is too

” . . .promote the development of coherent, inclusive and holistic institutional strategies and organisational approaches for developing digital literacies for all staff and students in UK further and higher education.”

with projects:

” . . .working across the following stakeholder groupings in their plans for developing digital literacies: students, academic staff, research staff, librarians and learning resources and support staff, administrators and managers and institutional support staff . . .”

As part of the programme support project, over the last couple of months I’ve conducting our usual technical audits with the projects to get a picture of what technologies and standards they are using/considering to use at this stage. The results of these conversations are recorded in our PROD database.

The projects are due to complete their baselining phase at the end of January, so it has been timely to discuss some of the wider issues around using various technologies with each of the projects. The rest of this post gives a snap shot of the range of technologies the projects are currently using. NB Unfortunately I haven’t been able to speak with the UCL team, but once they have completed their baseline report we will be meeting and I’ll update the data, however don’t expect the general trends outlined in this post to change much.

The map shows the locations of the 12 projects, with links to the prod entry for each. As the programme progresses, I’ll be adding a links to the design studio pages for each project too.

Map showing locations of DDL projects
Map showing locations of DDL projects

The mindmap below gives an alternative view of the data entries for each project (if you click on the picture it will take you to a live version, NB the mind map will be open so you may find it easier to close nodes before exploring it in full).

Mind map of PROD entries for DDL programme
Mind map of PROD entries for DDL programme

The focus of the programme is more on the effective use of technology rather than as with other JISC funded work, the development of technology. On saying that, there are a couple of projects who are planning to develop some mobile applications and there are strong links between the work of the W2C project at MMU in relation the provision of mobile services, particularly with the SEEDPod project, University of Plymouth who have been working with MMU in conducting surveys of students uses of mobile devices. There are a number of approaches to mobile provision. The Developing Digital Literacy as a Post Graduate Attribute project is providing students with ipods to record and share their learning journeys, and to some extent leaving it to the students to find what works/doesn’t work for them. Whereas other projects (SEEDPod, InStePP) are developing more holistic, device and location agnostic approaches to provision of services/content.

So far we have 94 individual technologies and standards. The wordle below gives an overview.

Wordle of technologies & Standards in DDL progamme (Jan '12)
Wordle of technologies & Standards in DDL progamme (Jan '12)

This bubblegram gives another view of the range and instances of technologies and standards. Again if you click on the picture you’ll go to a larger, interactive version.

Bubblegram of technologies and standards in DDL, Jan 2012 (v4) Many Eyes

The projects area all blogging (you can access aggregated feeds here) and WordPress is top of our chart with 8 projects using it, the majority of these are also using institutionally hosted versions. What is also noticeable, is the (relatively) high instances of non- institutionally based services such a social networking sites – particularly twitter and Facebook. At the moment the main (and anticipated) use of both is for general project dissemination, however a number of projects are both to communicate with staff/students e.g. to get people involved in focus groups. The PADDLE project are planning to use existing facebook groups as collaboration/communication point with some of their focus groups.

Other external services such as drop-box (for document sharing), doodle for arranging meetings and a range of google apps (docs, calendar etc) are also being widely used. For the later there is a mix of institutional provision and more general use of, for example google docs for sharing project team related information. As with other programmes and the following a general sector wide trend, Moodle comes out as the most common VLE across the programme.

In terms of standards, the main focus was on packing formats with IMS CP, IMS CC and SCORM all getting one mention each. As we are still in early days, most projects haven’t got a clear idea of what format they will release any content in, however there was an overall interest in, and indeed knowledge of OER (i.e. the DIAL project is building on experiences from a previous UK OER project) and most projects expressed an desire to release any relevant content as OERs.

A number of projects (e.g. The Exeter Cascade Project, InStePP) are looking at greater integration of digital literacies into wider competency frameworks through for example making more explicit curriculum links to institutional graduate attributes; and also through working with other wider programme related stakeholders such as SCOUNL and ALT.

As mentioned earlier, projects are just coming to the end of their baselining work, and at this stage they are keen not to be prescriptive about the technologies they will be using, as they want to be as flexible as possible. Also, key to number of the projects is the exploration of the how, what, where and why of technology use (both hardware and software) of staff and students and then making appropriate interventions/recommendations for wider institutional policies.

When I repeat this exercise next year, I have a suspicion that there may be a subtle shift to more institutionally based services as more content will have been created and being used/shared within VLEs/repositories. As any changes to curriculum provision, and institutional policies, if not in place, will be fairly well scoped by then too. I am wondering if we will see, similar to the Curriculum Design programme, an increase in the use of Sharepoint for more formal documentation and a decrease in use of more informal sharing services such as drop box. At the moment there the project teams are using drop box primarily for the convenience of any time/where/device access.

One of the things I was curious about was if these projects would be more “literate” in their choices of technologies to use, and what would be the balance between use of institutionally based services and more general web based services. I don’t think I have an answer to the question, but I have seen a healthy sense of pragmatism displayed by all the projects in terms of their approaches.

I’ve had some really interesting discussions with projects (particularly Digitally Ready) around the definition of technology and what it was I really wanted to record i.e. everyday /commonplace technologies like email, calendars etc; was I interested in what the project team were using for project management or more what they were using for stakeholder engagement? In fact it’s all of the above – which probably goes some way to explaining the number of different technologies recorded to date. I feel it’s also worthwhile every now and again just stepping back and reflecting on how our expectations of peoples and projects use of technologies (JISC programme digital literacy perhaps?) have evolved. A few years ago, we’d be lucky if we got all projects to have a blog with more than 2 or 3 entries by the end of a programme – now, it’s one of the first things on a projects to do list, and most institutions provide some kind of hosted blogging service.

When we were developing PROD originally it was to record the tools, standards outputs and development processes of very technically focused projects. However as we’ve started to use it more widely across the JISC elearning programme, we’ve used it not just to record what projects are building, but the what, how and when of technologies projects are actually using. In the not so development focused projects such as DDL this is central. I think that this is starting to give us some real evidence of the diversity and commonality of approaches within and across programmes, and give us greater understanding of how actual use of technologies is being enabled and embedded both from the bottom up and top down.

As they move into the next phase of the programme it will be fascinating to see how the projects start to use the findings from their baselining and how that will impact on their next phase of development.

Programme Maps ( or even more maps . . .)

Following on from David’s post on Getting Useful Data out of Prod and its linked data store this post shows a couple of examples of creating programme level maps.

David and I have spent a bit of time over the past week going through some of Martin Hawksey’s ideas, working out what we felt were useful queries to use with the linked data store, and creating some simple how to guides. As someone who is not at all familiar with writing queries, we reckoned if I could it, then just about anyone could 🙂

To prove that this does all work below is a screen shot of map of the JISC Curriculum Design Projects including links to their individual PROD entry pages and to their Design Studio pages (which includes links to outputs/further information for each project).

Curriculum Design Projects map
Curriculum Design Projects map

You can view the interactive version by following this link.

We found a few issues when we were trying things out. As well as deciding on what mapper template to use, I found things to be a bit temperamental when cutting and pasting data between sheets. In fact at one point I had to download a google spreadsheet containing the data I needed to my desktop and then cut and paste data from it back into the template spreadsheet, as I couldn’t seem to cut and paste data from sheets within the template. However, I have now got it all down to a matter of tens of minutes minutes instead of what felt like tens of hours.

Whilst were were working on this, Wilbert Kraan also reminded us of work he had been doing with Sgvizler using data from PROD to create visualisations (including maps). Here’s another map example, again of the Curriculum Design programme.

Curriculum Design projects map  (sgvizler)
Curriculum Design projects map (sgvizler)

If you follow this link, you can see the map and the query used to generate it.
If you wanted to create a map for another programme e.g. Curriculum Delivery, then you would just change the name in this line of the query:

?Link prod:programme “Curriculum Design” to

?Link prod:programme “Curriculum Delivery”

which would give you a map showing the Curriculum Delivery projects.

As we were exploring these approaches, and particularly when I was doubting my sanity and my ability to undertake simple cut and paste actions, we did have a number of “is this really all worth it?” moments. But on the whole, we think that it is. As well as providing us with another example of how we can re-present data in PROD (other examples are available here and here), it does give another example of how having openly available (linked) data allows for this kind of data manipulation.

Once you have a query, the sgvizler approach is very quick, however you do need to have server hosting facilities to use it (Wilbert has used his own). We are discussing if it is worth us setting up something a bit more permanent for our own uses. The google KML template approach (based on Martin’s work), doesn’t need any server side set up, just a google account. Although creating maps is a bit more time consuming at moment, imho, it gives slightly more attractive results in terms of map layout.

We’ll be doing some more experimentation over the coming weeks, but in the meantime if you want to have a play, then just follow the how to guide and we’d love to hear your thoughts and see any examples you come up with.

A conversation around what it means to be a digital university

Over the past 18 months I’ve been having a series of discussions with Bill Johnston (a colleague of mine here at Strathclyde) around notions information and digital literacy and of what it means to be a digital university.

We moved from a series increasingly long, and wide ranging ad hoc “in the kitchen/pub” chats to slightly more formal meetings with the idea of writing a paper. However, as the months have passed, we’ve actually come round to the idea of extending our conversation in a more informal way, and (hopefully) to a wider audience via this blog.

In this post, I’d like to introduce you, dear reader, to Bill and the some of the key questions and issues we’ve been been working on.

Bill Johnston is recently retired, but he is still an active Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Strathclyde. Bill has spoken, researched and published in the areas of critical thinking, educational perspectives on the student experience, curriculum design, and information literacy. Together with Sheila Webber, he developed a credit bearing Information Literacy class for Business School students at Strathclyde University. They also completed the ground breaking and influential study of UK academics conceptions of information literacy.

Early on in our discussions we agreed that using an information literacy framework would provide a unique lens to explore a number of internal and external drivers for institutional change and to explore notions of the term “digital university”. We felt that exploration of this overarching term offered the potential to act as a catalyst for fundamental change throughout an institution from administration to teaching and learning. We deliberately chose not to use the term “digital literacy”, as we felt that at the institutional level, the more holistic notion of a digital university was more encompassing. It was also a term we were both hearing being used both in our own institution and by others. However, we both found it was being used in a very narrow context, mainly relating to digital technology like repositories and/or VLEs. Digital literacy, is also a term that although increasingly being used in HE (e.g. the JISC Developing Digital Literacies Programme) it is still not commonplace, and digital literacy is often seen as narrow, computer science related skills, as exemplified by Michael Gove’s recent speech, and not as a developing set of wider ranging competencies as identified by Josie Fraser’s excellent response. Bill and I also believe that digital literacy is an extension of information literacy, and that one cannot exist without the other. So, the “literacy” of the digital university is the literacy of information. This in turn raises wider social issues of digital inclusion and the role universities can play in the wider community, but more on that angle in a future post.

We felt that information literacy could act as a gateway to creating dialogue at the institutional level as it provides the means, knowledge and skills needed to allow meaningful interactions between people, digital content and technological systems. In other words, it affords a way to allow optimization of digital participation and measure progress. Furthermore, in true abstract writing style 😉 , using an information literacy lens provides us with a means to produce a coherent outline of a digital university and suggest strategic developments of the digital infrastructure, learning environment and management culture required to fully achieve the potential of the digital technologies. We are also both convinced that a truly digital university only occurs where there is a fusion between technology and staff/student developments driving innovation and creativity.

The diagram below shows an integrated view of the topic areas of a matrix we have been developing. We feel that these areas are key for strategic conceptualization of provision of the required functionality for any 21st Century University.

Information literacy based planning matrix

Some key questions we’ve identified around these topic areas include:
• What constitutes an information literate learning environment? The physical campus? The VLE? A mix of both? What are the common understandings of information literacy ?
• How can we understand the requirements for the provision of institutional learning environment for the next 10 years?
• What are they key operational requirements from digital infrastructure? To support:learning, teaching, research and management? What balance is required?
• What type(s) of infra-structure is actually needed?
• Is key data about courses easily available for a variety of purposes including marketing, formal reporting requirements such a HESA, KIS?
• Is there ubiquitous, stable wifi connection; refurbished physical teaching and learning spaces as well as state of the art research facilities?
• What are the key digital literacy skills needed by both staff and students currently?
• What are the key digital literacy expectations for/from students and staff?
• What will be the key digital literacy skills needed by both staff and students in 10 years time?
• How can institutions begin to distinguish their unique features and make them explicit to increasingly demanding student (customer) requirements?

Over the next few posts, we’ll begin to expand more of our thoughts behind the matrix, organisational issues and digital inclusion. We’re also very interested in hearing other views, so please, share any thoughts you may have in the comments section.

*Part 2
*Part 3
*Part 4
*Part 5

Mega mash-ups and personalising learning environments: DVLE Virtual Brown Bag session now available online

Over the past 18 months the projects funded through the JISC DVLE (Distributed Virtual Learning Environments) programme have been exploring ways to extend their provision of teaching and learning services. The W2C and SLEP projects joined for an virtual brown bag session to give an overview of the work they have been undertaking – particularly around developing access to greater and more personalised information for students.

Mark Stubbs (W2C project) started the session giving an overview of what they now call their Core+ DVLE model, aka their “mega mash-up”.

W2C Megamashup diagram
W2C Megamashup diagram

With their VLE (Moodle) at the centre the team have developed a number of web services from a range of institutional systems. This is now allowing students to access a number of services such as timetabling, PC availability, reading lists etc from mobile devices. Taking this web service approach has allowed the team to use the “develop once, deploy often” approach. Consistent tagging (based on existing commonly used tags such as course IDs etc) has also been key for integration. Mark also took us through some very interesting stats around usage of the services, and the students use of mobile devices.

Hugh Davies, Dave Millard and Yvonne Howard the took us through developments from the SLEP project. There are a number of similarities to be drawn to the mega mash-up approach of W2C. However a key difference being that Southampton don’t have a VLE at the centre, instead Sharepoint is at the centre of their developments, with new UIs being developed for students to access information. Using Sharepoint hasn’t been without it’s challenges, as the team did highlight, it hasn’t been as flexible as they first thought, however they are using the project to try and introduce more agile and user centred development processes into the mainstream of institutional provision of services.

Being Southampton the team have also be investigating ways to increase the use of open data, and so have been spending time working with internal groups such as the Data Access Group, to try implement and develop policy around the use and sharing of data.

The actual apps/services which each project has/is developing are pretty unique to each institution, however the over-arching principles and techniques could be applied to many institutions and shows that it is possible to create more distributed learning environments through the greater integration of existing systems allowing access from multiple devices. To find out more, a recording of this highly informative session is available online.

More information about the DVLE programme, including links to previous online sessions is available on the CETIS wiki.

DVLE programme virtual brown bag session, 13 January

Beat the January wet and windy blues by joining us from the comfort of your own desk, for a free “virtual brown bag lunch” session next Friday (13 January). The W2C project (MMU) and the SLEP (Univeristy of Southampton) will give an overview of the work they have been doing in creating mobile web services and apps for staff and students as part of the JISC Distributed Virtual Learning Environments (DVLE) programme.

Starting at 12 o’clock and lasting approximately an hour this session will give delegates an insight into the underlying technical approaches the projects have taken to providing mobile services which integrate with existing institutional systems, and also their ongoing requirements and student engagement processes. To get an overview and some background to the programme, this post gives a summary of project activity based on the last set of interim project reports.

As ever the event is free to attend, and you can register your interest by using the form below.