Now we are 10 – happy birthday Twitter


So twitter is 10 years old this week. The twittersphere  has been full of reflections on what has happened in the last decade, a raft of top tweets including 12 of the best ever. I particularly liked this article on Mashable  – I think this really captured the essence and usefulness of twitter for me. I also liked this post from Donald Clark about some of the often forgotten potential benefits for learning from using twitter.

I was a little late to the twitter party, I started tweeting in April 2007 so I do like to think of myself as an early-ish adopter of the service. 32.2k tweets and 2,803 followers later it’s pretty much embedded into my working practices.  From my first pretty banal first tweet to today, I  still enjoy connecting and sharing via twitter.

I am frustrated that it is trying to be “clever” and show me the tweets that it thinks should be relevant to me. I still love the serendipity of twitter and just scrolling through my stream on my iPad. Organising twitter has always seemed a bit of an anathema to me.  As Lance said so well in the article above

“My relationship with Twitter is best summarized as the kind you have with a sibling. I love it, deeply, but also question its choices.  . . . at the end of the day, we’re tied together.”
 Happy birthday Twitter, stay as you are and we’ll all stay with you.

Battling digital windmills in the cloud?

Image: Jim Woodward- Nutt CC-BY-SA 2.0 

I hadn’t really thought of a connection between Don Quixote and our ever increasing digitally connected world until earlier this week when I attended a guest #teplsig research seminar from Dr Caroline Roth Ebner, entitled ‘Office Work in the Digital Age’. You can find out more and access the slides here.

The title was actually a bit misleading.  What Caroline has been researching are the new competencies required for effective work with what she has termed “dig-com” workers, people working in the digital communications industry.  As Caroline’s talk unfolded there were many parallels with education, and I’m sure many other industries.

The increasing virtualisation of work, flexible and mobile work, the blurring of boundaries between professional and private life is all to common. So not surprisingly the new competencies coming through from Caroline’s work include digital literacy. What has also emerged from her research is that CPD and training opportunities are still predominately focused on technical capabilities and not the actually more important digital literacy skills the how to as opposed to why/where to – as I tweeted during the seminar

One of the methods Caroline has been using is to get her research subjects to visualise their ways technology impacts on their working lives.  Many of her subjects talked about strategies for managing communications; for example using email rules and folders.  Get ready for the Don Quixote bit. The photo in the tweet below shows how one of her subjects (a senior manager) visualised their methods (futile battle?)  for managing effective communications.  Email rules could be seen as part of their lance!

As the seminar unfolded I was obviously drawn to the similarities and linkages of Caroline’s work to the other visualisations of digital work/life interactions such as Dave White’s Visitors and Residents mapping – could there be ways of combining both?  I’ll hopefully get a chance to speak more with her about that during her short sabbatical in Glasgow.

The other image that kept flashing through my head was that of the Jisc Digital Capability framework – I suspect many of Caroline’s competencies would map to that – and in particular digital well being element of the framework.

We all need to raise awareness of digital wellbeing and the need to for organisations (commercial/public sector) and the educational sector to support staff/students/ everyone in terms of managing digital engagement. Just because you have 24/7 access doesn’t mean that you have to be online all the time.

But it is difficult to switch off. I know.  I am getting better at not checking emails over the weekends and a night – but ooh the temptation when you hear that beep on your phone as you post something to instagram.  If someone sends an email at 11pm and you see it why not just answer it there and then?

Well if you’re anything like me if you answer work emails late at night, or on Saturday afternoon when you are trying to to half a dozen things that relate to “real’ not “work” life, or on the train home when you have had to get up at silly o-clock to get to a work meeting at the other end of the country,  you will probably answer too quickly, not read the email properly and on Monday morning realise that you’ll have to send another 3 emails trying to sort everything out.

Having access to another half a dozen digital communication channels isn’t going to help with that. It all stems back to to why and when you want to use something – purpose not platform.

I often go to meetings about restructuring things or creating new working partnerships with the organisation. More often than not better communication methods is raised as a key issue. More often than not there is an assumption that some new “digital” communication channel will automagically solve the problem. More often than not, we never actually spend time really investigation the route of the issues and where the communication blockages are. If we did, we’d probably find we didn’t actually need a new communication channel, just more effective and appropriate use of the ones we already have. It’s easier to try something new (“digital” of course) and put in a training plan for hardware, get everyone to download the app . . .

Unless we all start to manage our digital well being and start to focus more on “the why”, learn to switch on and off at appropriate times, we may all lose our  battles with digital windmills. Cervantes words still hold true today.

“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.” Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

Open, cost and practice: CLA FE Copyright Master Class

I was delighted to once again represent ALT at a master class for copyright in teaching and learning in FE this week in Glasgow.  Organised by the CLA this workshop focused on providing guidance and information about copyright and various resources from the CLA and others including SCRAN and ERA specifically aimed at the FE sector.

It was fitting that during Open Education Week that I got the opportunity to talk about open educational practice, OERs within the context of my personal open journey. I think the CLA should be commended for recognising and, for a number of delegates, introducing the concept of open educational resources and practice.

Of course the main reason for this series of masterclasses is to give an overview of the services CLA and other agencies provide to (in this case FE) the sector. It also provides an opportunity for the community to feedback to CLA around their issues and pain points.

I had forgotten about SCRAN, so it was good to get a reminder of the image bank and the services that I can access via my institution’s subscription. I did ask the question about opening up the services, at present there are no plans, despite support for that from staff. The original (and at the time probably quite ground breaking) license still stands.

I do feel there is an opportunity there for at least a part of the collection to become “open SCRAN”, and opportunity for some nationally funded cultural institutions and resources become and show support for the Open Scotland movement.  I suspect I am not alone.


Cost is always an issue (or pain point), and not just in FE. Although currently FE is being increasingly squeezed. And of course it did come up during the discussions.  There is of course a cost for open resources too. Open doesn’t = free. As was pointed out during the discussions, many freelance writers, artists, musicians rely on license fees to make their living.

However in (publicly) funded educational institutions sharing back resources does make perfect sense to me and many others. Our open-ness isn’t free -there is a cost: staff, time etc but open-ness core to many of the common goals of institutions such as the common good, something my own institution GCU and the University of Edinburgh share. As an aside it was great to hear that Edinburgh has joined us with the publication of their institutional OER policy this week.

Finding the balance of open-ness is something we all struggle with personally and institutionally. I was at the workshop in my capacity as an ALT Trustee. ALT,  is a great supporter of the open education movement. This week it has been involved in a number of events for Open Education Week. As a  membership organisation can’t afford to make everything free. For example conferences.

As a membership organisation (with a very small staff) we can’t afford to run major conferences such as OER16, and our main ALT-C conference for no cost.   We try to make as much of these events as open as possible via live streaming, open publications etc. To this end we also rely heavily on open and free contributions from our membership as well as the many additional hours the ALT full-time staff contribute.  We also rely on conference fees to cover the expenses of providing a first class conference.

In my day to day job I have to make decisions about what conferences I want to attend, where will it make the most impact to have my work shared, presented and published.  There is always a cost. I, like the majority of my peers, regularly give up my time to review conference submissions. That’s part and parcel of academic life. I now consciously support conferences that are committed to publishing conference proceedings openly. My positive open-ness if you like.

Open educational practice is constantly evolving, and gaining more mainstream traction. Open Education week is a great opportunity to share an reflect on this evolution.  It’s also a good time to reflect and gain greater understanding of how, where and when open education in the form of resources, practices and most importantly people use open-ness most effectively in their context.

Digital capability, confidence, inspiration and intimidation

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 09.54.20
Jisc Digital Capability Framework

Digital was certainly a key theme of last week.  Jisc held it’s annual digital jamboree digifest which I’m now trying to catch up on. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend this year due to internal commitments. One of which was our annual programme leaders learning and teaching event which did have a very strong digital element to it too.  The theme of the event was digital learning, and we used a number of the resources developed from the great work Jisc have been doing around developing digital capability as the basis for some activities.

In particular we adapted the Jisc/NUS Student Experience Benchmarking Toolkit to get people to start discussing, reflecting, sharing and benchmarking their programme, module and personal digital capabilities.

I really like this tool, the principles it has identified and particularly the criteria of first steps, developing, developed and outstanding.  They are easily to relate to, and I think, give a non-threatening progression overview for teaching staff. It is useful to illustrate that you don’t have to got from first steps to outstanding all in one go,  there is a progression. For any programme (or module) moving from first steps to developing, or developing to developed could represent a significant change in practice, capabilities and (hopefully) a more successful student experience.

During the event we had a number of presentations from colleagues about their practice. Of course, we had to deal with the irony of the wifi at our external venue not working ( key part of digital capability always have a non internet accessed back up plan!). We heard about some really great examples of how colleagues are developing more blended and fully online delivery approaches. Podcasting, annotated slides, rethinking of contact time with more project/flipped approaches, developing use of more interactive approaches to using videos (with zaption) were all shared.  You can see more in this storify (a few of us did manage to tweet).

Of course it is always great to (almost) see and hear this type of practice. However as the discussions unfolded, I was reminded of the importance of confidence and support in helping colleagues use more “digital” and blended approaches to their learning and teaching strategies. So whilst on the one hand the presentations were inspirational, they were also a bit intimidating to others.

At the table where I was sitting, this digital intimidation was expressed by a number of colleagues.  I wasn’t altogether surprised by this, but it did make me remind me of the balance that we need to strike in terms of inspiration and giving people achievable exemplars. I did also have to remind one colleague of some of the innovate practice she has added to one of her modules. It’s so embedded now, and “so last year” that she had forgotten about it.  Sometimes we forget that many “things ” and “stuff” which are now badged “digital” are actually “things” and “stuff” that people had been doing before someone decided to badge them “digital”.

We can’t (and I certainly don’t) expect everyone to change everything overnight. It’s easy to forget the incremental changes when just viewing a presentation.  All changes need to be contextualised within modules (programmes). What works for one may not work for everyone – there is no one size fits all or template. Part of being digitally capable is being confident enough to try, or indeed know when not to try, new approaches. Like everything it comes back to learning design and making time to reflect on practice and effective engagement.