The Digital University – A Proposed Framework for Strategic Development (#apt2012)

At the Employer Engagement in a Digital Age Conference next Wednesday (4th July) Bill Johnston and myself will be presenting a workshop around our recent series of blog posts around what it means to be a digital university.

Our session, The Digital University – A Proposed Framework for Strategic Development, will give us a chance to present the background to the posts, but more importantly will allow us to get feedback from delegates as to whether or not our framework could actually be a useful tool for discussions about strategic developments within universities.

The session will mainly be discussion based, but we do have a short set of slides available. If you have any comments, then as usual please feel free to comment either on this post or via the comment space on slideshare.

Five new publications from JISC

The JISC e-Learning Programme team has just announced the release of five new publications on the themes of lifelong learning, e-portfolio implementation, innovation in further education, digital literacies, and extending the learning environment. These publications will be of interest to managers and practitioners in further and higher education and work based learning. Three of these publications are supported by additional online resources including videos, podcasts and full length case studies.

Effective Learning in a Digital Age: is an effective practice guide that explores ways in which institutions can respond flexibly to the needs of a broader range of learners and meet the opportunities and challenges presented by lifelong learning.

Crossing the Threshold: Moving e-portfolios into the mainstream is a short guide which summarises the key messages from two recent online resources, the e-Portfolio Implementation Toolkit, developed for JISC by the University of Nottingham, and five institutional video case studies. This guide and accompanying resources explore the processes, issues and benefits involved in implementing e-portfolios at scale.

Enhancing practice: Exploring innovation with technology in further education is a short guide that explores how ten colleges in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland (SWaNI) and England are using technology to continue to deliver high-quality learning and achieve efficiency gains despite increasing pressure and reduced budgets.

Developing Digital Literacies: is a briefing paper that provides a snapshot of early outcomes the JISC Developing Digital Literacies Programme and explores a range of emergent themes including graduate employability, and the engagement of students in strategies for developing digital literacies.

Extending the learning environment: is a briefing paper that looks at how institutions can review and develop their existing virtual learning environments. It offers case study examples and explores how systems might be better used to support teaching and learning, improve administrative integration or manage tools, apps and widgets.

All guides are available in PDF, ePub, MOBI and text-only Word formats. Briefing papers are available in PDF.

There are a limited number of printed copies of each guide for colleges and universities to order online.

The problem with most university websites

is pretty much summed up by the genius of xckd in this cartoon

xkcd comic  - the university website
xkcd comic - the university website

and was the focus of one of the plenary talks at this weeks #iwmw12 conference given by Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski, Principal, Robert Gordon University. The gist of Fredrick’s talk centred on the contradiction in Universities of the innovative role they play in terms of creating, developing and using technology and the apparent lack of creativity and user focus when it comes to using technology for communication purposes.

Do you find the corporate comms emails you receive a bit like former Soviet block communications full of “interesting” facts on 5 year plans etc? I hadn’t really made that connection before but I did find myself smiling along in agreement with that analogy. However it was University home pages which were the main bugbear and the focus of Fredrick’s talk. News, too many links, scrolling pages, all were taken to task.

I think it is fair to say that most University home pages are quite busy spaces, but telling that to a bunch of institutional web managers . . . well it was almost a Donald Clarke, ALT-C moment 🙂 However I think it was useful to highlight the schizophrenic nature of universities and how that is reflected in home pages. Fredrick pointed out that big companies/corporations seem to be much better at simplifying their home pages, however they have a much clearer corporate identity.

What is the key focus of a University and so it’s home page? Research? Teaching and learning? Information for prospective students? Everyone wants their “bit” on the front page, despite what stats might tell us about no-one actually reading the news sections, if Professor X has just got a gizillion pounds for their research project, they, and the institutional marketing team will probably want something about that visible on the front page. And, as was pointed out in the Q&A session, university web sites are usefully managed and created by very small teams with little or no budgets and in that sense actually do a pretty remarkable job compared with commercial websites.

During the conference I was introduce to this alternative homepage for students at LSE.

LSE cloud
LSE cloud

Great idea isn’t it – these are the web spaces the students want to access quickly. But of course not that useful for prospective students.

So what can be done? Well as Fredrick did admit, communication is the key. But the communication and future developments should be based on real stats and analysis of site use and not just someone’s personal preference.

cetis @ #iwmw12

This week I’ve been in Edinburgh with a number of my cetis colleagues at this years IMWM 12 conference which is organised by our sister JISC Innovation Support Centre, based at UKOLN.

Cetis contributions to the conference included:
*Identifying and Responding to Emerging Technologies
*What Can Offer the Web Manager?, Phil Barker, workshop session
*Developing Digital Literacies and the Role of Institutional Support Services, by me – more info in the text below
*Data Visualisation: A Taster, plenary session with Martin Hawksey and Tony Hirst
*Data Visualisation Kitchen, workshop with Martin and Tony.

This is the first time I’ve attended the conference, and I have to say I really enjoyed it. It was particularly useful to have conversations with colleagues involved managing university websites, as this is a sector of the community I don’t have very much contact with. I tend to have more contact with people who are building and using teaching and learning environments, and not the more corporate side of a universities web presence.

I ran a workshop session on the first day of the conference around digital literacies and the role of institutional support services. This was very much a discussion session, based on the findings of the current JISC Developing Digital Literacies programme, in particular the technology review I undertook with projects earlier this year and the results of the baselining work the projects have all conducted, and the baseline synthesis produced by Helen Beetham. I was particularly keen bring out the relationship and potential tensions between the personal nature of developing digital literacies and the role of institutional provision. I wish I had recorded the conversation – as it was very wide ranging and I hope, it gave some food for thought for those who came along. A copy of my slides is embedded below.

Edubloggers survey

Following Martin Weller’s example, here are my responses to Alice Bell’s educational blogging survey. If you want to participate (deadline 15th June), then either cut and paste the questions (and your answers) onto your blog, or comment on Alice’s original post.

Blog URL:

What do you blog about?Developments in educational technology, conferences and events I’ve been to. A large part of my work recently has involved supporting a number of JISC funded projects, so I blogged a lot about themes relating to them e.g. curriculum design, digital literacies, distributed learning environments, learning analytics. I also blog about our “corporate” use of social media.

Are you paid to blog?It’s not formally in my job description, but is an unwritten expectation and now an essential part of how I fulfil my work commitments.

What do you do professionally (other than blog)? Tweet 🙂 I work for one of the JISC innovation support centres so networking is central to my job. I experiment with, and use a wide range of web technologies for sharing innovation and developments in technology within the education sector.

How long have you been blogging at this site? Since September 2009

Do you write in other platforms? (e.g. in a print magazine?) Sometimes e.g. in other online publications, conference proceedings etc I also contribute to CETIS briefing papers which are available both in print and electronic formats, but the majority of my writing is on my blog.

Can you remember why you started blogging? I was told to! Our former Director thought it would be a good idea if we all started to blog.

What keeps you blogging?Habit, and as I said earlier blogging is now part of my working practice.

Do you have any idea of the size or character if your audience? How? Via google analytics, but my blog stats are amalgamated with the rest of CETIS staff blogs. We get around 10,000 visits per month.

What’s your attitude to/ relationship with people who comment on your blog?
I usually know them, so that is good, and I’m always delighted to get a “real” comment for a number of reasons including validation.

Do you feel as if you fit into any particular community, network or genre of blogging? (e.g. schools, science, education, museums, technology)
Educational technology

If so, what does that community give you?
Sense of common purpose and sharing of ideas/knowledge in an open way

What do you think are the advantages of blogging? What are its disadvantages/ limitations?
It is a good discipline and as much of my work centres on dissemination and networking it is an obvious medium to use. The disadvantages are that it can take a while to find your voice, I blog primarily in a professional context so I have to sometimes moderate my language/tone. On saying that, sometimes that’s no bad thing as it makes me be more considered and thoughtful about what the points I am trying to put forward.

Do you tell people you know offline that you’re a blogger? (e.g. your grandmother, your boss)It depends, sometimes, but when I’ve told non work people and they’ve had a look at the blog they think I’m from another planet.

Is there anything else you want to tell me about I haven’t asked?
Blogging is an essential part of my working practice. I don’t get a huge amount of traffic but I get some and it is a great addition to my memory, as well as illustrating what I do. A lot of my work isn’t very obvious and blogging gives it a presence/makes it more tangible and explicit.

Here Be Dragons

It’s something of a rarity for me to go to a conference or meeting in in Glasgow, however I was so glad that I managed to get to the JISC RSC Scotland Annual Conference “Here Be Dragons“, last Friday (8 June). It was a thoroughly engaging, entertaining and educational event covering topics from cutting edge neuroscience research to mind-reading.

Congratulations to all colleagues at the RSC for organising such a great event and giving the opportunity for colleagues from Scottish colleges and universities to come together and be inspired by future developments from all the keynotes and sessions, and to share and celebrate their experiences of using technology in education through the iTech Awards. I was also delighted that the ExamView project from the JISC DVLE programme (which CETIS has been supporting) won the highly commended award in the Assessment category.

Below is twitter summary of the event.

[View the story “Here Be Dragons – JISC RSC Scotland annual conference ” on Storify]

Some thoughts on web analytics uisng our work on analytics

As I’ve mentioned before, CETIS are in the middle of a piece of work for JISC around analytics in education (our Analytics Reconnoitre project). You may have noticed a number of blog posts from myself and colleagues around various aspects of analytics in education. We think this is a “hot topic” but is it? Can our analytics help us to gauge interest?

CETIS, like many others, is increasingly using Google Analytics to monitor traffic on our website. We are also lucky to have in Martin Hawksey, a resident google spreadsheet genius. Since Martin has come to work with us, we have been looking at ways we can use some of his “stuff” to help us develop our communications work, and gain more of an understanding of how people interact with our overall web presence.

As part of the recent CETIS OER visualisation project, Martin has explored ways of tracking social sharing of resources. Using this technique Martin has adapted one of his spreadsheet so that it not only takes in google analytics from our CETIS blog posts, but also combines the number of shares a post is getting from these social sharing sites: Buzz, Reddit, Stumbleupon, Diggs, Pinterest, Delicious, Google+, Facebook and Twitter. By adding the the rss feed from our Analytics topic area, we get a table like this which combines the visit and comments information with the number of shares a post gets on each of the sharing sites.

social sharing stats for JISC CETIS analytics topic feed

(NB Martin’s blog is not hosted on our CETIS server so we can’t automagically pull his page view info in this way which is why there is a 0 value in the page view column for his posts, but I think we can safely say that he gets quite a few page views)

From this table it is apparent that Twitter is the main way our posts are being shared. Linkedin comes in second with delicious and google+ also generating a few “shares”. The others get virtually no traffic. We already knew that twitter is a key amplification tool for us, and again Martin’s magic has allowed us to create a view of the top click throughs from Twitter on our blog posts.

JISC CETIS Top twitter distributers

We could maybe be accused of playing the system, as you can see a number of our top re-tweeters are staff members – but if we can’t promote our own stuff, then we can hardly expect anyone else to!

But I digress, back to the main point. We can now get an overview of traffic on a particular topic area, and see not only the number of visits and comments it is getting but also where else it is being shared. We can then start to make comparisons across topic areas.

This is useful on a number of levels beyond basic web stats. Firstly, it gives us another view on how our audience shares and values our posts. I think we can say that if someone book marks a post, they do place some value on it. I would hesitate to start to quantify what that value is, but increasingly we are being asked about ROI so it is something we need to consider. Similarly with re-tweets, if something is re-tweeted they people want to share that resource and so feel that it is of value to their twitter network. I don’t see a lot of bot retweets in the my network. It also allows us to share and evaluate more information not only internally, but also with our funders (and through posts like this) our community.

It also raises some questions wider questions about resource sharing and web analytics in general. Martin raised this issue last year with this post which sparked this reply from me. The questions I raised there are still on my mind, and increasingly as I explore this more in the context of CETIS, I think I am beginning to see more evidence of the habits and practice of our community.

Twitter is a useful dissemination channel, and increasingly a key way for peer sharing of information. The use of other social sharing sites, would appear to be not so much. Tho’ I was surprised to see relatively high numbers for linked in. Again this might be down to the “professional” nature of linked in – or the fact that I am an unashamed social media tart, and repost all my blog posts in linked in too 🙂 We also have sharing buttons on the bottom of our posts which have very obvious buttons for twitter, linked in and Facebook.

In terms of other social sharing sites, are these just more a question of people’s own work practices and digital literacies? Are these spaces seen as more private? Or is it just that people still don’t really use them that much, did the delicious debacle affect our trust in such sites? Should we encourage more sharing by having more obvious buttons for the other sites listed in the table? And more importantly should JISC and its funded services and projects be looking towards these sites for more measures of impact and engagement? Martin’s work illustrates how you can relatively easily combine data from different sources, and now there are some templates available there really isn’t a huge time cost to adapt them, but are they gathering the relevant data? Do we need to actively encourage more use of social sharing sites? I’d be really interested to hear of any thoughts/ experiences other have of any of these issues.

The Strategic Developer

What makes a strategic developer? Or to put it another way, what makes the role of a developer strategic? This was the theme of very thought provoking session where there was no coding but a lot of talking at dev8ed last week.

Led by Amber Thomas (JISC), Mahendra Mahey (UKOLN) and Ben Ryan (Jorum), the session started with Mahendra giving an overview of the JISC funded DevCSI</a project which is actively engaging and supporting educational developers through events such as dev8ed and the well established dev8D. It’s an old cliche that developers don’t get or aren’t allowed out much, and a large part of DevCSI is to provide increased opportunities for developers to ‘get out’, share and learn from peers. As well as running these events Mahendra and colleagues have also been conducting a range of activities around the impact and value of developers including commissioning case studies and a stakeholder survey. The findings of the survey have shown that the institutional value of developers varies greatly, and more importantly that there is recognition of the strategic value of developers.


But how often are developers seen as being strategic in an institutional context? Like many others, they are often pretty far down the strategic food chain. Of course there are exceptions to every rule and as was pointed out there are a few “super developers” who are involved in strategic planning and know the business process of their institution and are recognised as such. I think particularly in teaching and learning contexts the developers often aren’t as recognised as they could be. They are often seen as been slightly apart from the educational developers/academics who are much further up the institutional food chain than the “techies”. Of course, developers aren’t alone in that respect, as was brought up in the discussion learning technologists and librarians have all suffered the same issues.

As the discussions unfolded I was also reflecting on the the recent Curriculum Design programme meeting, where there was uniformed agreement on the difficulty of identifying the key strategic roles for institutional change to occur. The PALET project, has described the key stakeholders needed to implement change processes as “worker bees” and I think developers often fall into this category. They actually do things that allow other changes to be build on and from but are often not the first (or event the last) names /roles that jump to mind when stakeholder groups are being formed.

The issue of management and PDP for developers was central to the discussion, with a range of contexts being shared including examples from some institutions where developers are at the heart of strategic development and actively participate in teaching and learning committees and the craft/apprenticeship model Joss Winn has been actively promoting.

There was also discussion around the pros and cons of project management techniques. There was much “nodding of heads” when the point was made that the waterfall method actually stopped communication between developers and end users/clients; and equal agreement that agile methodology whilst great for communication between developers (especially paired programming) it wasn’t that great at really addressing wider communication issues.

And communication is, imho, at the heart of the problem. If technology in education is to continue to evolve then all parts of the community need to be sharing developments, aspirations and possibilities. Yes, developer specific events such as dev8D are needed, but I would like to see dev8ed evolve into a space where more there was an equal mix of developers and non developers, where the more teaching and learning focused participants could come up with ideas and work with developers to realise them. That way the strategic role of developers could begin to get more traction from a bottom up approach, and more shared understandings of needs from multiple stakeholders could be begin to be addressed.

It was a really useful session and it is going to be followed up not only by the work outlined earlier by Mahendra and colleagues but also in a workshop at this year’s ALT-C Conference being organised by Amber Thomas.