Helping young people gain the skills they need for a digital future: guest blog post for Parent Zone

One of the best bits about blogging is that you just never know who is reading your posts and where that might lead.  I was delighted earlier this summer when the Parent Zone editorial team got in touch with me to ask me to write a guest post for them about the digital skills and capabilities young people bring, and need to develop in Higher Education.  The post was published at the end of last week, and you can access it here.

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Video blogging, playing with Lumen 5

At the #altc Scotland meeting in June, Joe Wilson used a video he created using the Lumen 5 service. It was a really nice addition to his presentation and I had a wee play with it, but didn’t really do much more. Earlier in the week , my colleague Marion Kelt mentioned that she had used it to create a post for the OEPS project so I went back and had another look.   I also signed up for their beta automated video service, called “smare templates” and the other day I got an automagically created video based on one of my blog posts.

It was quite interesting to see what the algorithms selected from the post. They kind of got some the good bits, but missed a bit of the context.  Maybe this is down to my own incoherence writing style. I suspect many of my posts are a bit illogical and I know am guilty of not proof reading enough. Mainly that’s because I want to get things published quickly.

I always think I should write a post, wait for a couple of hours then go back to it and edit. The reality is that  I  just want/ need to get things posted in a relatively confined time frame. As you know, dear reader, my blog is more a train of thought that a considered, scholarly work.

Looking at the text in the context of adding visuals to it, did make me think about what I had written a bit more. I didn’t write the post as a short video script or with visuals in mind, but selecting text for that purpose did make me edit a bit more, and wish that perhaps I had taken a bit more time on the original text.

I’m still in two minds about the service.  On the one had I do think it is quite “neat”, and a good way to re-use content like a blog post. On the other, if i wanted to create a video post I would probably have a different starting point, message to convey.  Whilst “smart templates” could save time is there the danger that they will just create a homogenized set of video resources?  AI ftw –  not! I quite like selecting my own images, text and music – you know actually using some of my digital capabilities. Which, ironically or possibly not, was the underlying theme of the post. The jury is still out in my head, but I will probably experiment a bit more with it.

Anyway  here’s my edited version of the video based on this post from the other week.

Are you a digital polymath?


Screen Shot 2017-08-25 at 10.02.57I think it might have been an bit of a radio interview early one morning a couple of weeks ago that got me thinking about polymaths. It was one of those just waking up moments so I didn’t get a lot of context, but I now have figured out that it probably was a bit of BBC trailer disguised as in interview thing, for a programme aired early this week on Radio 4 –  Monkman and Seagull’s Polymathic Adventure.

The hosts, Monkman and Seagull led teams on last year’s university challenge and both were memorable for their quizzing prowess and become almost instant social media celebs (well in the UK anyway).

The half hour programme is a good overview of the history, rise and fall(?) of the polymath. Well certainly from a Western European perspective and is well worth a listen.

Through conversations with a range of academics, and ubiquitous polymath, Stephen Fry our hosts tried to get answers from questions such as, is it possible to be a useful know it all in the 21st century?  is the notion of the polymath an outdated concept harking back to the renaissance?  Even by the 18th century there was a developing discourse around the need for specialists as opposed to polymaths. At that point it was felt that the world was too complex for anyone to have in-depth cross disciplinary knowledge.

So in the 21st century when knowledge and information is being created and shared at an ever increasing rate is there a role for the polymath? Is it even possible to be an expert across multiple domains just now?

There was a really interesting thread running through the programme about the differences between specialists and polymaths. In terms of education are we forcing specialisms at too early an age?  There was a striking comment that actually that any paradigm shifts in any discipline might actually need the input from those with a broader perspective.

When talking about the characteristics of the polymath, Stephen Fry described himself as someone who has “learnt a lot not someone who knows a lot”.  His greed for knowledge he likened to putting on epistemological weight (sic).

Of course underlying the whole programme and concept was education. The conclusions, were around the challenges of contributing to new knowledge and making connections/communicating knowledge between specialists and new audiences. That sounds quite a lot like a large part of a learning technologists/educational developer role to me.

I can’t remember if it was Seagull or Monkman who concluded that for it it was ultimately about  “what you do with what you know and make a positive difference in other people’s lives”.  Sounds a lot like teaching to me.

The whole programme got me think about digital capabilities too. Perhaps that is where the future of the polymath may lie.  The focus an developing digital capabilities could help us develop a new 21st notion of a digital polymath, someone who has a broad knowledge and in-depth understanding of using digital tools, which in turn should help many, not just the few make a positive difference in their own and others lives.

I often feel that my role is a bit like being a jack of all trades, so the notion of being a digital polymath does help make sense of that a bit. I still won’t ever make it onto University Challenge . . . but I can live with that.

NMC Digital Literacy take 2: the power of a good rant

I was pleased to spot last night that the NMC has published its second Horizon Project Strategic Brief on Digital Literacy :

a follow-up to its 2016 strategic brief on digital literacy. Commissioned by Adobe, this independent research builds upon the established baseline definitions of digital literacy from the 2016 brief, examining digital literacy through a global and discipline-specific lens to reveal new contexts that are shaping the way learners create, discover, and critically assess digital content.

Now,  dear Reader,  you may remember when their first one came out last year, it provoked me to have, as they say here in Glasgow “a right good rant“.  My rantiness seemed to strike a chord and, as wordpress likes to tell me now and again, got my stats booming.  It’s also caught the eye of the folks at NMC who got in touch and we exchanged a few emails about my concerns with the first report.

The second version is much better. It isn’t being driven by products (one of my main concerns about the first report)  but by international research and practice. I was particularly pleased to see the work of Helen Beetham and Jisc featuring.

Now I know that my rant wasn’t responsible for this change of heart, but it is always gratifying when one of my (quite frequent) rants actually seems to chime with others and more importantly I can see something tangible a few months later.  Just shows that sharing your views does matter and can make a difference.

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What Sheila's seen this week – human OERs, still useful life in twitter yet and being nice

I’v had one of those weeks where I feel I haven’t been looking at twitter, reading blog posts interacting with my online networks very much this week. F2F communication and getting “stuff” done has taken over this week. However the serendipitous joy of twitter still held true for me when top of my stream yesterday afternoon was a link from Gardner Campbell

to this marvelous post A human OER. It really resonated with how I feel about openness, sharing practice and some of the thorny issues of being connected including something I do worry about – open cliques. You know the places where all the ed-tech hipsters hang out, which despite being open are actually quite scary for some of us to join. I really recommend reading the article, but here are a couple of key quotes for me:

I want to be part of the larger whole, not just the subset. . .

“We talk about tolerance, equality, and goodwill, power dynamics exist in the shadow of groups perhaps too often. These get played out covertly, unspoken and our options when we do not like it are limited. Stay and comply or leave. Sometimes it is possible to shape the conversation, yet in order to do this one needs to meet the majority where it is and speak ‘their’ language before being heard. The type of interaction remains unchanged as the players change. I see people arrange themselves in tribes of like minded people and travel together. Humans do this physically as well as virtually. We choose our clubs.

This sorting process, by definition, includes some people and excludes others.

I have been very lucky so far in my online interactions, I have a fantastically supportive, tolerant, funny, intelligent network. I have only received 2 abusive tweets. Yet I am aware of the horrific abuse many women face when they speak out on social networks. I do feel that leaving networks just gives more power to the trolls but I totally understand why some people do.

There is a backlash about twitter not being like it used to be. It has evolved, and yes the adverts and changing views of my stream are annoying, but I still get value from it. I think it still offers a way of communicating and sharing that I would sadly miss if it wasn’t there. I haven’t found anything that replaces it – and I have tried.

I try to be nice to people online and offline, I’ve never been ashamed of being nice. Martin Weller has blogged about Nice as an energy – again worth a read. Martin points out that angry is easy, being nice actually takes more effort. Ultimately I think is worth it – particularly if you want to get things done or actually get peoples long-term support, trust and understanding. And isn’t that at the core of any kind of educational practice? Also when you are nice, if you are ever angry people tend to listen. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry – luckily most of the time I’m not. Though apparently according to those who know me well I am quite stubborn . . . but I am a Taurean . . .

The Golden Horns of Taurus

Challenges of web residency case study – our vistor and residents journey and case study #HEAVandR

We have now officially completed our HEA Challenges of Web Residency Project, and submitted our case study on Friday.

This post is really just a collection of what we have shared so far and a link  to a draft version of the case study we submitted to the HEA on Friday.  Things didn’t go quite as planned, particularly around getting student engagement, however we are still working with the V&R model, and in fact did a workshop with some undergraduate students yesterday afternoon.  The case study explains in more detail our experiences and reflections of the project, as ever I’d be interested in your thoughts/experiences.


Sheila's V&R map, Feb 2014
Sheila’s V&R map, Feb 2014
visual workshop notes
workshop notes
Picutre of blank v&R map with biscuits and sweets
Essential kit for v&r mapping