Digital students, case studies, fairy tales and lumps of wood

I’ve spent a bit of time this morning looking at the newly published institutional exemplars from the Jisc Digital Student programme which is investigating “students expectations of the digital environment”.  Based on findings from a study commissioned in 2013, the programme has run a number of consultation events ( I’m really glad that GCU were able to host one of them last year ) and has identified a number of key challenges:

The exemplars now provide tangible examples of how institutions are tackling these challenges. They are very short but give a good overview of a range of approaches being taken across the sector.

The programme had an initial focus on HE but is now extending its work into FE. I am sure there is huge potential for sharing of experiences across the sectors.  Here at GCU we have a particular interest ensuring that our articulating students from FE have as smooth a transition (both in terms of the physical and digital environment) as possible into HE. You can see more about our approach in our College Connect strategy.

I sometimes think it is bizarre that we need to have programmes, sectoral themes, projects specifically aimed at “student engagement”. Surely engaging students is what education (at any level/sector)  is fundamentally about. However as we all know, those pesky students can get in the way of our neatly planned programmes, modules, exams.  Reading this gently powerful fairy tale from Graeme Arnott earlier this week also reinforced to me that in our fight against the “education is broken” meme, we can’t blame everything on evil technology companies – our own stereotypes and attitudes are just as dangerous.  I think that ensure we listen and act on what our students want from their digital environment can help us avoid more digital blocks of wood aimlessly wandering around our educational forests.


A really useful book and and a useful approach to writing? #edtechbook


picture of the really useful ed tech book

The vast majority of my writing takes place here.  I’m not very good at formal academic publishing or book writing but I have co-authored with David Walker a chapter for the upcoming Really Useful #EdTechBook. #edtechbook, as it’s know in the twitter-sphere, is the brainchild of David Hopkins. David has not only persuaded a great line up of authors to contribute to the book,  but has also edited and is, as you read this, self publishing the book ready for launch on 28th January. If you can’t wait for the printed version, an CC licenced PDF version is available now.

One of the reasons I agreed to be involved in the project was the opportunity to co-author. I’ve known David for a while but we haven’t really done anything collaboratively so this was a really good opportunity to do something together.  Our brief was to write something not too academic, but something that as the title of the book alludes to was “useful”.  As well as keeping everyone on track David has also published interviews with all the authors. Our interview is available here.

I really enjoyed writing our chapter with David. It was good to be able to share our views on “stuff” to reflect on our experiences and careers to dates,  and to expand our thoughts about the development of learning technologists and their relationship with and to more traditional educational development/developers. It’s also good to have someone to keep you motivated and to meet deadlines. David also came up with the title of the chapter “Learning Technologist as Digital Pedagogue”, which I think was a stroke of brilliance and bound to provoke discussion by itself.

Our chapter really began with a series of questions we kept coming back to. We both wanted to get some evidence/validation of our views so we decided that we would write a blog post to see if we could get some initial feedback from our network. Our post “Is there something about a learning technologist?” got a great reaction. It was the highest viewed post of last year. More importantly it got 23 comments and a number of responses on twitter too.  In turn, we were able to use many of these responses in the chapter itself.  People were so generous with their time and insightful feedback. That in itself gave us even more motivation to write the chapter and also a sense that there was an appetite for our discussion.  Some of the early reviews have also mentioned our chapter which again has been great to see.

“As an Academic Developer in Higher Education, the book made me reflect on our professional relationship with Learning Technologists. Sue Beckingham in her chapter talks about the hybrid or blended professional for example, a mix between Learning Technologists and Academic Developer and the need to work together. David Walker and Sheila MacNeill take it one step further and raise an  important question about the future of Learning Technologists: “Is there something fundamental that distinguishes Learning Technologists from educational developers? Do we still need both roles?”  This question, I feel, could form the basis for further collaborative exploration between Learning Technologists, Academic Developers and the wider academic community.”,  Chrissi Nerantzi, Principal Lecturer in Academic CPD, Manchester Metropolitan University. 

More information about the book is available here.

#byod4l day 5 creating and a few final thoughts

On Friday we took a slightly different take on the creating theme of the day and in our lunchtime session we had a look at google cardboard. There was a bit of creating involved in building the headset!

Google cardboard instructions

We actually have quite a bit of activity here in GCU within virtual worlds, notably in our School of Health and Life Science.  Google cardboard isn’t quite a virtual world but at £12 the headset is a pretty affordable way to get a look at some more immersive apps.  We even managed to get it working with an iPhone. We were quite excited by the potential for students to build some apps for use with it.  Personally I felt a bit sick after about 20 seconds on a virtual roller coaster,  so still not convinced some of this VR stuff is really for me.

Google cardboard headset

Over the week we had some really good discussions with the staff who were able to join us in our daily drop in sessions.  In terms of creating padlet and twitter did seem to come top of the list both in terms of actual and potential use.  Padlet is such a useful and simple tool to use. The fact that you don’t need to register for an account, it can be embedded into many other places (including our VLE) is very attractive.  The daily tweet chats were a really great way for people to “get” twitter and see how a #hashtag can work and engage a lot of activity and sharing of practice.  We had a few more twitter converts by Friday with some really good ideas for using twitter in their learning activities.

In terms of timing it wasn’t the best week for us, as there were exams on and so a lot of staff were marking, and that really limited any student participation. We’re also preparing for the start of our ELIR this week (Enhancement Led Institutional Review) so a lot of our staff were involved in preparation work last week. However, we were pleased that some staff were able to take the time and come and talk with us.   Hopefully a few of them will apply for some badges too. Based on the experience I think we definitely be involved again. Thanks to Sue and Chrissi and all the team for creating, supporting and extending a really vibrant community and useful week of activities.

#byod4l day 4 – collaborating

This was the question that started last nights #byod4l tweet chat.  Pretty tricky isn’t it?  As with every night this week there was flurry of responses to this and the rest of the questions during the hour. You can catch up on all the discussion via the collated storify.  For me collaboration is usually about working with people to create something tangible or for some common goal, I also think:

There was a general consensus last night about common goals and collaboration being different from cooperation. However, as with all the “C’s” highlighted this week there is a level of interdependence and we had quite a few other “C’s” appearing such as commitment and confusion.  The tweet chat and the discussion in our drop in session highlighted around collaboration also highlighted the difference in attitudes and understanding of collaboration and how to foster it between us professional educators and students attitudes to group work and collaboration.

We have so many tools that can help us create collaborative activities. Lots of staff here use group wikis for example. However as the discussions in our drop in session highlighted,  students really don’t like collaborative/group activities. It doesn’t matter what technology you use, there is a cultural issue about group work.  Of course I’m not saying our students aren’t capable of working collaboratively and in groups – of course they are and do. However it is hardly surprising that there are moans and groans as throughout their pre- university experiences a typical undergraduate (between 18-26) has probably had very little experience of group working/collaborating in an educational (and assessed) situation.  Most of their assessment has/is been based on individual efforts and recognition.

Making the leap from co-operation because you have to do something with others to collaboration where everyone is committed to a common goal is quite a leap. Even for us “grown ups” there are lots of instances in all our professional lives where we really don’t go beyond co-operation (often grudging cooperation at that) to meaningful collaboration. Technology can help, but successful collaboration is fundamentally down the willingness of humans to interact with each other to create something. And creating is the topic for the final day of #byod4l – and this is a lovely creation of some of the collaboration happening this week.

#byod4l day 3 – curating, Evernote and lists

Stuff, stuff, everywhere stuff – where to save/share? Do you ever feel like that? Judging from the #byod4l tweet chat last night and the discussions during our drop in session yesterday I think most people working in education and with technology feel a bit overwhelmed at times, with the amount of “good stuff” out there. We all have ways of curating and are often driven by that “just in case it might be useful” urge.

I said a couple of times yesterday that I am “a bit rubbish at curation”. Despite many attempts with just about every curation service I seem to lack an inner librarian that is need to keep on top of the amount of “stuff” I curate. I think my most consistent technique (and it is a bit haphazard) is favouriting tweets. Because I (and twitter) archive my tweets I am fairly confident I can find things again (tho after a couple of weeks if I haven’t referred to something I probably won’t again).  I do a semi regular blog post ‘what Sheila’s seen this week” which originally was kind of an attempt to curate interesting things I had spied that week. It kind of does and doesn’t work.  So my stuff and stuff I find from others tends to be very loosely curated all over the web in twitter, instagram, flicker, and a number or other places that I have forgotten about.

One of the tools/services that was discussed quite a bit last night was Evernote. I don’t really think of Evernote as a curation tool, to me it’s a writing tool,  but of course it is. I love Evernote.  It was pivotal in making my iPad a useful device for work (that an a wee keyboard for typing when I was traveling a lot more than I do now).  I have the iPad, iPhone and desktop versions and every now and again I log into the web version.The fact that it syncs across many devices is  invaluable.  I always have my notes with me. It’s sync’d with my calendar so if I’m at a meeting it automagically saves the note with the date and meeting details (very handy).  There is a whole host of functionality that I don’t really make use of like tagging (again that missing inner librarian), clipping, adding photos etc. There are also a host of iftt (if this then that) recipes that can really help turn your evernote into a powerful curation tool.

I tend to use it as my notebook so it is very much a personal tool for me but you can easily share notes with others. They have recently introduced a chat function which I’m sure would be really handy for collaborative writing.  I tend to use google docs for collaborative writing.  For example I draft all my blog posts in evernote then copy them into my blog. Having suffered that horrible feeling of spending hours writing a blog post then inadvertently losing the post as it hadn’t saved or I closed a tab by mistake, I like having a backup. I also like the UI which I think makes a difference when you are writing. But it is really the multiple platform aspect of it that I find most useful.

screenshot of my evernote
My Evernote

In our drop in session we all spent quite a bit of time talking about some list services including wunderlist and – both are pretty useful for curation and can be shared too. Again worth having a look. Playlists are of course very popular now and I came across this blog post yesterday (using my fail-safe twitter favourite curation technique it has been easy to find) about extending the notion of having learning playlists instead of “learning programmes”. An interesting idea and could work in some contexts really well, but there sometimes, like an album learning needs to happen in a set order.

Anyway onto day 4 now – can’t believe the week in nearly at at end and the next “C” which is collaboration.

#byod4l day 2 – communication

So once again #byod4l has provided me with an opportunity to do something new. Last night, along with Sam Illingworth and Mike Nicholson I facilitated the day 2 tweet chat on communication. As ever the chat was fast, furious and good natured, and a wide range of approaches to communication both for learning and teaching and in more general terms was discussed.

 visualistaion of #byod4l

Our mobile devices give us access to instant communication however there was a note of caution coming through about being “always on” and the temptation to reply instantly. Sometimes it is good to take a pause before sending that tweet, email, text. It might actually be better to pick up the phone and speak to someone too.

Finding the “right balance” is always tricky. I know that I have started to slowly move away from certain communication channels at certain times. For example twitter is something that is really work related for me so I try and stay away from it at weekends, evenings and holidays. At these times I tend now to communicate online via photographs using instagram and blipfoto which I sometimes share to twitter and Facebook. I’m finding that after a period of sharing everything, everywhere I’m becoming far more discerning about where, when and how I share things. I think my online presence is becoming much more compartmentalised.

#BYOD4L is challenging my own Facebook use. I try to keep it work free, but it is being used to communicate with the facilitators group. So although I am really enjoying being part of the BYOD4L team,  FB isn’t my favourite communication channel to keep in touch. I feel a bit guilty if I’m looking at Facebook at work and if I’m looking at it at home seeing the BYOD4L notifications reminds me of work. I’m probably in a bit of communication rut, I use the spaces I’m comfortable in and that are useful to me, but maybe I need to challenge myself more. Can I cope with yet another one? I did experiment with Medium last year but it doesn’t seem to be working for me yet . . . Or maybe I just need to work more on my f2f communication skills.

Anyway lots to think about, and I particularly liked Julie Gillin’s approach to email.

Looking forward to today’s topic of curation.