Archive for September, 2009

System upgrade

Friday, September 25th, 2009

I’ve just upgraded this blog to the latest WordPress. Everything seems ok, but please let me know if you spot anything wrong.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee Says My Name!

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Evidence of my socialite networking can be seen in full effect in the video below. Tim Berners-Lee responds to my question (via my @daveowhite persona): “Do you think of the web as technology or people? (If he says both I want details…)”

Yes, an 11 word answer (including the word ‘Dave’). Not so big on the details part really. I especially like the bit at the end were he makes a pleading face towards what I assume to be the producer. The look basically says ‘quick let’s move on, there is no way I’m digging into this one’.

I asked the question because I don’t think we have a very good understanding of how society and technology are influencing each other at the moment. Etienne Wenger uses the term ‘Vortex’ for this relationship which I quite like because it’s fast, chaotic and powerful.

The opportunity to ask Sir Tim questions came via @BBCDigRev on Twitter. It’s part of an ‘open and collaborative documentary on the way the web is changing our lives’ will be interesting to see how much of the activity on their blog makes it onto the small screen.

Attitudes to online assignment handling

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

As part of Cascade we are updating our online assignment handling system.  Currently the vast majority of assignments in the department are handled in hard copy, so that making this service available more widely will be a big change for many of our students, administrators and academics if they use it.

In our relatively informal consultations up to this point we have encountered widely differing reactions to the prospect of moving this online, both negative and positive and we are now moving forward with a more systematic survey in this area. As part of this we are trying to come up with a list of  attitudes which stakeholders can indicate agreement with or not – we started out with about 5 statements each for academics and students but since consulting a bit more are now up to well over 10 for each.

 Academic statements

  1. Many of my students hand write assignments
  2. I would be technically confident handling assignments online
  3. I am confident that online assignment handling is secure
  4. I do not want to spend more time at a screen
  5. I think that online assignment submission would speed up the marking process
  6. I would welcome being able to use plagiarism detection software
  7. I am worried about having to remember more passwords
  8. I think typing feedback will take longer than writing it by hand
  9. I am worried about students submitting assignments in file types I cannot read
  10. I do not want to have to print out assignments
  11. I am worried about having a good enough computer to deal with marking assignments online
  12. In my subject it is difficult produce electronic assignments e.g. maths notation or Cyrillic script
  13. I am worried that online submission will make it easier to plagiarise
  14. I think online assignment submission will be more stressful for student

Student statements

  1. I currently hand write my assignments
  2. I would be confident about the security of submitting my assignments online
  3. I have the technical skills to submit an assignment online
  4. If I submitted an assignment online, I would like to receive confirmation of receipt by email
  5. I would welcome the additional time the option of online submission would offer in meeting a deadline
  6. I would be happy to receive my work back electronically
  7. I think that online assignment submission would speed up turnaround of my assignments
  8. I prefer handwritten comments on my assignment
  9. I find typed feedback easier to read
  10. I currently submit my assignments by hand
  11. I currently submit my assignments by post

We are hopeful we have captured the most common attitudes, but it is hard to balance the positive and negative and there is always the worry that this will draw attention to points of view that would have never have occurred to our stakeholders if we had not brought it up.  If anyone has any experience in this area and can suggest anything they found useful it would be great to hear from you.

It’s about time we had something better than the old John Hancock…

Monday, September 14th, 2009

New ETSI standard for EU-compliant electronic signatures.

Post-digital – an update?

Friday, September 11th, 2009

Earlier this week I ran a post-digital session with Rich Hall as part of the fringe (#falt09) activities around the ALT-C conference. We had an interesting time in the upstairs room of the Lass O Gowery in Manchester debating a series of statements which were designed to provoke post-digital thoughts, for example:

  • Learning technologists are obsessed with technology more than learning, which is why elearning will never make the mainstream.
  • We are purveyors of the worst kind of spin: ‘This new thing will solve all your problems’.
  • The speed of the change has left us with the mistaken belief that social change was somehow ‘created’ by the digital rather than simply played out on the canvas of the digital.
  • People with educations have huge advantages over those with skills and always will.

While these did lead to a lively discussion, I was still no clearer by the end as to how to describe post-digital as a concept. For many the term seems to imply a discarding of digital technologies as if they were no longer important. It also appears to promise some sort of new world order – which is not helpful.

After the fringe session I was even more convinced that the post-digital was a useful concept but that we hadn’t found the right way of expressing it yet.

A room with a view at ALT-C 2009

A couple of days later I gave my presentation at the ALT-C conference on my ‘Visitors & Residents’ principle. I had inserted a reference to the post-digital at the end of the talk to make the point that the Visitors & Residents idea rests on issues of motivation and personal preference rather than age or technical skill. This seemed to me to be a post-digital principle but, influenced by my conversations around the subject during the conference, I suggested that the term post-technical might be more appropriate.Ok so before I continue, yes this is a kind of semantic exercise, but what we have here I think is a strong idea which is difficult to express. One of the conclusions of the fringe sessions was that the rapid rate of change in technology is causing accelerated cultural effects which we are struggling to describe. (This was echoed in Michael Wesch’s keynote at the conference.) So I think it’s important to develop our thinking in this area even if it is a bit of a bumpy ride.

I can recommend Ian Truelove’s recent post on some of the pragmatic effects a post-technical approach can have in education. As Ian points out the technical is all about learning, and then following, a series of rules. Rules that we need to grasp before we can express ourselves ‘properly’. The manual for most software is written in this style – a button-pressing, linear approach. And yet the most successful (I’m thinking here in terms of uptake) online platforms don’t seem to have manuals. This is not necessarily because they are especially simple to use, but because they are massively multi-user and simply by watching the behaviour of fellow users it is possible to ‘pick up’ not only how to use the platform but also why you might want to use it. This should come as no surprise as we are particularly good at learning by observing fellow members of our own species. (There will be a fancy pedagogic/sociological term for this. If you know it then please insert it here as you read.)

Basic button-pressing, user-interface-comprehending activity is becoming culturally normalised and an ever-decreasing factor in our engagement with digital technologies (i.e. many of us are already digitally literate, if you will excuse the terminology). In effect our approach to technology need not be technical.

A simple post-technical example: the substantive effects of Twitter as a platform cannot be described by its technical functionality. Reading a technical manual for Twitter would not help a user to become resident in that online space. As Andy Powell suggests this in his ‘Twitter for Idiots’ post, individuals have to experience the culture of the groups/communities/networks/flocks/whatever to really ‘get’ what the platform is all about.

The post-technical then does not put technology second or first, it simply liberates the debate from those who build/code/provide the technology and puts it into the hands of those who appropriate it, the users, or ‘people’ as I like to call them, who write essays and poetry in Word, transform images in Photoshop, sustain friendships in Facebook, learn stuff by reading Wikipedia and express opinions in blogs.

The perspectives we are currently using, to come to an understanding of the cultural/educational influence of digital technologies and the opportunities therein, need to be reconsidered. I’m not sure yet if the answer lies in post-digital or post-technical approaches but I’m looking forward to tending these ideas over the next few months and seeing if something beautiful grows.

Cascade Update

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

We have just had a steering committee meeting and submitted out interim report to JISC for the Cascade project which has acted as a good chance on reflect on where we have got to thus far.

While this project started out with a huge scope we have managed to focus our activities so that we are now working in 5 main areas:

  • Online assignment submission
  • VLE support for courses
  • Generic content
  • Online payment
  • Course design

There is considerable overlap between these areas, VLE support for courses is likely to contain online assignment submission and generic content, course design will look at ways to best implement VLE support for courses etc.  However this classification definitely helps in terms of communicating our activities to stakeholders as well as focussing our  evaluation activities.

There is a brief overview of what we are doing for each area on our website here and we will have a more detailed overivew of each area available very soon.

Activity level design and learning design tools

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

One of the challenges in working in the learning design/pedagogy planning tools area  is that the most practitioners we encounter don’t want planning tools, they want content creation tools that work seamlessly with their delivery environment.  Or they say they want planning tools, but when you clarify their requirements they want is really all around content creation.

Liz Masterman and I were discussing representations of activity level design, when we had one of those realisations that make you wonder why you have never seen it before – and suspect that perhaps it was obvious to everyone but you – that at the activity level, design is most often done within the delivery tool.  I may plan a face to face teaching session in Phoebe or (getting back to basics) Word, but usually I work out the details of the specific activities of a face to face training session in PowerPoint as that is what I use to present it to the students in class.  With online courses again I am far more likely to start writing straight into the wiki itself when working out how I want a wiki based activity to work and what instructions I need to give students around it.

I would be interested if others would agree with this?  If it is not just me, then for projects such as Cascade and LDSE  this has implications for where it is best situate guidance and support, where planning and support tools have a role to play, and where they are just adding an unnecessary additional tool into the process.