One man and his spreadsheet, a gephi wizard and the voice of reason

Is how I would sum up the speakers at the Social Network Analysis session at #cetis12.

I started the session by giving a very brief overview of SNA and tried to highlight why I think it is important, particularly to an organisation such as CETIS, who stakes quite a bit of of its reputation on its ability to network (see this post for some more of my thoughts around this). Using SNA we are now able to actually see and share our existing connections and, potentially any gaps.

I am always inspired by (and slightly in awe of) the work of both Tony and Martin in visualising communities, however I am always aware of the skills gap between their levels of competency and my own. So, I also wanted to raise the issue of “just in time/just enough” tools. Sometimes a quick snap shot of activity is really effective and all that’s needed. There’s also the issue of interpretation and common understandings.

Whilst visualisations can in many cases illustrate complex connections more eloquently than words, there are also cases, particularly around more complex visualisations where some common understandings of the models being used to create the visualisations and the data sources are required. A case in point was Adam Cooper’s opening presentation at the conference where he showed some examples of text mining and analysis of CETIS blog post. This provoked quite a bit of chin stroking twitter back-channel activity. I think this illustrats some of potential dangers around presenting what can appear to be an objective view of things which is based on subjective data. As I knew more about the data Adam’s presentation raised lots of really interesting questions for me, but another danger of social media is that twitter is often not the best medium to have an informed discussion.

Martin Hawskey’s (a man quite possibly on a mission to take over the world via google spreadsheets) presentation opened up the session from just SNA to a wider data discussion by highlighting some examples of data journalism, which have very effectively combined visualisation techniques and contextualisation. Martin then took us through some of the work he has recently been doing for JISC and CETIS in visualising activity around the UK OER projects.

Tony Hirst, aka the gephi wizard, then gave us a masterclass on data visualisation techniques, showing us how visualisations can provide “at a glance or macroscopic” views of huge datasets; which he encapsulated by the d3i model – data,information, intelligence, insight. As well as a sharing variety of examples from MPs expenses to Formula 1 racing to Brian Kelly, Tony has also been working with Alan Cann (University of Leicester) to visualise connections between students using Google+. Unfortunately Alan couldn’t be attend the session in person but he did share this video about their work. I’m looking forward to hearing more about this use of SNA in a real teaching and learning context.

Amber Thomas followed with a very balanced presentation “Lies, damed lies and pretty pictures” which gave a very balanced and but still thought provoking view on how we should be thinking about using the network and data analysis techniques. My colleague David Sherlock has blogged some thoughts on Amber’s presentation too. Amber highlighted some key tactics which included:
*reducing our fear of numbers
*being generous with our data ( and remembering who actually owns the data)
*combining data and effort to work faster /more effectively across the sector

We then had some live analysis of data being driven via the conference #cetis12 hashtag – again what one man can do with a spreadsheet is quite amazing! You can see the results in the CETIS 12 TAGSExplorer.

TAGSExplorer of #cetis12
TAGSExplorer of #cetis12

More information on the session, and links to all the presentations are available by following this link.

App Stores Galore at #cetis12

Over the last two months, The Open University, the University of Bolton, KU Leuven, and IMC, with funding from JISC, have been working to develop a Widget Store aimed at the UK education sector using a codebase shared across and sustained by a range of other EU projects and consortia. (see Scott’s post for more details on the technical work and getting involved).

The Creating and Education App Store for the UK session at the CETIS conference, was the first opportunity for the team to share, firstly the vision of a shared codebase to underpin a range of existing and potential widget stores. And secondly, to share initial prototypes of UIs, and get feedback on the work to date and potential future development ideas from delegates.

Fridolin Wild (OU) gave a useful overview presentation “the university in a box” which highlighted the work of the OU in various widget related projects and initiatives which have built on the notion of the personalised learning environment.

Scott Wilson, (University of Bolton/CETIS) then set the wider context of widget developments, from W3C o the JISC DVLE programme, which is neatly encapsulated in the diagram below.

W3C Widgets and Widget Store Projects
W3C Widgets and Widget Store Projects

One of the key parts of the work is to provide extended community building features such as ratings, comments, use cases etc. As well as providing additional support for users of the store(s), Scott also outlined plans to share this “paradata” via the JLeRN Learning Registry node (which was discussed as part of a parallel conference session).

Over the 3 hour session there was much discussion around three key areas:

1. Institutional use of such a store: e.g. how would you use such a store? Have a local installation or use a hosted services? Implement connectors using IMS LTI for example.

2. Tracking and Recommendation services: what would be captured? how would it be shared? How could useful analytics be captured and used?

3. Widget Authoring: led by the Widgat team a useful discussion centred around their widget authoring tool.

For the conference plenary a two slide summary was produced, and look out for more details on the store over the coming months on this blog.

A Conversation Around the Digital University: Part 3

Following our introductory post and our last post on Digital Participation, in this post we are going to explore the Information Literacy quadrant of our conceptual model.

To reiterate,the logic of our overall discussion starts with the macro concept of Digital Participation which provides the wider societal backdrop to educational development. Information Literacy enables digital participation and in educational institutions is supported by Learning Environments which are themselves constantly evolving. All of this has significant implications for Curriculum and Course Design.

MacNeill, Johnston Conceptual Matrix, 2012
MacNeill, Johnston Conceptual Matrix, 2012

Information Literacy
As we stated in our introductory post, our perspective is rooted in Information Literacy. We believe it is a key field to be deployed in developing digital infrastructure in universities. For our purposes Information Literacy can be described both narrowly, as a set of personal skills and approaches to better acquisition and use of information, and more broadly as a social construct arising from notions of the both the knowledge economy and information society.

In the broader perspective, UNESCO is in the vanguard of deploying the term in relation to media, citizenship and education by asserting Information Literacy as a key requirement of participation in learning, employment and democracy. The Alexandria Proclamation (2006) states that information literacy:

• comprises the competencies to recognize information needs and to locate, evaluate, apply and create information within cultural and social contexts;

• is crucial to the competitive advantage of individuals, enterprises (especially small and medium enterprises), regions and nations;

• provides the key to effective access, use and creation of content to support economic development, education, health and human services, and all other aspects of contemporary societies, and thereby provides the vital foundation for fulfilling the goals of the Millennium Declaration and the World Summit on the Information Society; and

• extends beyond current technologies to encompass learning, critical thinking and interpretative skills across professional boundaries and empowers individuals and communities.”
More practical information can also be found in Woody Horton’s Information Literacy Primer.

Whilst these concerns are driven by the growth of technologies and the internet, they are channelled by a need to expand our notions of literacy beyond the basics of reading/writing, to include media and information (UNESCO Decade of Literacy 2003-12).

Thus whilst technological change in the production and consumption of information content is a fundamental factor, it is not allowed to obscure the importance of developing the educational, ethical and democratic dimension of the digital society.

Personal Skills and Strategies of Information Literacy
Information Literacy is portrayed in terms of improving the information behaviours required to access and search various information systems to extract and use information for social, economic and educational purposes. This approach has been developed to a high level of definition and practical application in education, research and professional practice e.g. competency frameworks such as the SCOUNL Seven Pillars and ACRL and definitions by bodies such as CILIP .

There is a clear message that simply using information tools and services is insufficient to develop the full range of skills and also understanding of the legal/ethical issues involved. Education for Information Literacy is therefore a key aim, which requires further development, and has been gaining attention in HE for several decades.
These authors deal with the following key issues:

*Staff perception Webber and Johnston
*Student experience Lupton
*Course Design and assessment Bruce, Edwards, Lupton.

Clearly Information Literacy does not exist in a vacuum. For educational purposes the question of learning environment is essential, particularly with increasing use of digital environments, which inevitably stimulates a need to understand information and information behaviour more explicitly. This will be the topic of our next post.

*Part 4

NMC 2012 HE Horizon Report – there's an app for that

Well not quite an app for the report itself which has just been published, but there is now a weekly HZ EdTech Weekly App, as well as a useful short video summarising the key technologies identified in this years report. Mobile apps and tablet computing top the near time adoption trends, game based learning and learning analytics the mid-term and gesture based computing and the internet of things (particularly smart objects) are in furthest term of 4-5 years.

The report itself is also available via iTunes under a creative commons licence.

You can watch the video and download the report and app by following this link

A Conversation around the Digital University – Part 2

Following on from our introductory “A conversation around what it means to be a digital university” post, we are now going to start to look in more detail at the matrix we introduced.

Information literacy based planning matrix

We believe that these four high level headings are key for strategic conceptualization for a 21st Century University. Below is the expanded matrix.

MacNeill, Johnston Conceptual Matrix, 2012
MacNeill, Johnston Conceptual Matrix, 2012

The logic of our discussion starts with the macro concept of Digital Participation which provides the wider societal backdrop to educational development. Information Literacy enables digital participation and in educational institutions is supported by Learning Environments which are themselves constantly evolving. All of this has significant implications for Curriculum and Course Design. We see educational development as the primary channel to unite the elements of our conceptualisation.

Over the coming weeks, we will expand on each of the four quadrants, starting with this post which focuses on Digital Participation.

Digital Participation
We have used the term digital participation, as we feel that it is a more inclusive term than digital literacy. Digital participation is a broader social construct with varied implications for educators. As we pointed out in our previous post the term digital literacy currently lacks a clear consensus of opinion. It could be interpreted as almost anything to do with ‘the digital’ and this may lead to the cognoscenti having widely different views, albeit tightly understood amongst themselves, from the more numerous members of the population, who don’t have such a professional interest. This issue arose at the start up meeting of the JISC Developing Digital Literacies Programme, where there was recognition that the definition of digital literacy used in the programme may not be commonplace in HE and indeed with the strategic partners for the programme.

In the UK, both the Westminster and the Scottish Governments are recognising and encouraging digital participation across all sectors of society and emphasising the notion of the “digital citizen” e.g. increasing use of web-based consultation exercises, increased moves towards the notion of Open Government. Digital participation, in this context, can be seen as a fundamental part of any knowledge economy or information based democracy and therefore has substantial implications for educators. Digital participation needs to be optimized to ensure continued economic growth in parallel with the development of an informed, literate citizenship. Universities (and indeed the whole education sector) are uniquely placed to lead and evolve this kind of participation for and with their wider communities.

However there are problems with this scenario in that digital ‘coverage’ of the population is patchy, organizations are still finding their way with digital realities. Rapid changes in technology are forcing universities to make decisions based often on purely technological grounds, or delaying decisions for the same reason. It is these issues, particularly related to HE, that our conceptual matrix seeks to address by providing a holistic tool with which to question strategic planning and institutional provision and development.

For the Digital Participation quadrant of our matrix we have identified the following aspects:

• Civic role and responsibilities – how does access to digital resources underpin civic action?
• Community engagement – how can we facilitate more and better engagement between communities?
• Networks (human and digital) – what networks do we need foster?
• Technological affordances – what are the underlying infrastructures and connections underpinning access to all of the above?

Of course, digital participation hinges on information literacy, which will be the focus of our next post. But in the meantime, what do you think? Have we identified the key concepts around digital participation?

*Part 3
*Part 4