Archive for the 'JISC' Category

The cost of Residency?

Monday, August 15th, 2011

We like to think of online platforms usurping each other as we move to the latest and greatest of a particular format, leaving the previous version eroding in a Kipple like fashion – the MySpace to Facebook to Google+ narrative. I’m not convinced that this is a useful story and wonder if the web is better thought of as an ever expanding space rather than a migrating community. I suspect that Google+ for example will be inhabited by more than the diaspora from Facebook and Twitter. In fact what interests me about Google+ beyond ‘circles’ is the way in which the platform has expanded the geography of social web so massively in such a short space of time.

Estate agent window smashed

Given this Google’s new platform highlights the impossibility of residing everywhere online, of having a live profile in all of the key places – it’s time-consuming to maintain a meaningful presence in one social media space let alone two or three.  To keep things practical you have to decide where you are going to reside online and have a reasonable idea of what role that residency will play in your life: personal, professional, academic, escapist or a delicate cocktail of the above (and we all know how dangerous cocktails can be). To counter the potential alienation of residing online it is useful to reflect on what your motivation to engage is: maintaining f2f relationships, living-out ‘strong-tie’ relationships, building a professional network, building a personal learning network or just good old fashioned self promotion in the hope of invites to warm places… Time is the non-negotiable cost to Residency and to maintaining fulfilling relationships of any form. The way this precious resource is spent, especially in the context of learning, needs to be better understood by those of us promoting the idea of digital literacy.

We are just coming to the end of the pilot phase of the JISC funded Visitors and Residents project framed round my original idea for understanding individual’s engagement with the web. The project is in partnership with the OCLC and for the pilot phase we interviewed students from the US and the UK in late-stage high school and first-year University. There are many interesting trends emerging from the project and it is the case that some students are more Resident than others. Most of our participants talked about the cost of being Resident online in some form which has led us to include ‘time-wasting’, ‘distraction’ and ‘addiction’ into the code-book we are using to analyse the interviews.

I thought like coming into A levels, I’d need to be able to focus without having Facebook at the back of mind, because at GCSE, you know when you have coursework, I’d always go, okay I’ll go on Facebook, I’m going on MSN, I’d just stay logged in and then I’d do my coursework on the side, but I just ended up staying on Facebook.


I live on my email and Facebook also, which I’m not as proud of.  Just because it’s a time vortex.


I am not that bad with Facebook but I get annoyed sometimes … I find myself being on there for more than 15 minutes or 20 minutes. It is pointless, it is a waste of time and then I think sometimes I get annoyed with how long I can spend on the computer when I could be probably doing something else.


Essentially if your normal mode of operation is mainly Resident then it’s difficult to go online and get on with activities that require a Visitor approach without checking-in to all your Resident spaces and risking distraction. The participants in our study are well aware of this and one even put her Facebook account on ice so that she could pursue her learning more effectively. It’s a tough decision though as much homework is discussed and possibly collaborated on (participants are always wary of this idea as it is unclear where collaboration merges into plagiarism) in Facebook IM. If your friends aren’t logged into Facebook at that moment then a text message goes round asking them to get online so that work can be tackled.

People do post a Facebook thing so and saying something like, “Everybody in my Biology class, what was it we were supposed to be doing?”


Like usually with homework I usually can do it myself.  But like, like sometimes I will just like IM my friend on Facebook and will be like, “Hey do you know how to do this?”


Facebook messaging has really replaced email in the lives of students.  So that’s – if it’s more something that we’re trying to structure and actually build upon over some time, it would be a Facebook message…


When the Visitors and Residents idea is discussed it is often with the implication that becoming more Resident or facilitating that process is going to be of value. In my video discussing V&R I make the point that a Visitor approach to formal education is more likely to be successful than a Resident one given that all students are likely to end-up isolated at a desk in an exam room at the end of their courses – i.e. the education system assesses our ability to be Visitors not Residents.

We also have to consider which mode of engagement is most appropriate for the world of work and perhaps more importantly which mode best supports individuals as citizens or as members of a range of communities? Thinking in terms of mode-of-engagement is one way of framing our approaches to digital literary– the definition of this as taken by the JISC strand of digital literacy projects being appropriately broad:

“ literacy defines those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society..”

Characterising digital literacy as a  simple drive towards Residency would be dangerous; digital literacies are required and acquired as much at the Visitor end of the continuum as they are at the Resident. If we are attempting to support students and equip them with relevant digital literacies we need to be more precise about the value of ‘just-visiting’ or ‘moving into’ particular online spaces. Our project is mapping motivations-to-engage and evaluating a wide range of approaches.  I’m hopeful that we will be able to develop methods by which individuals and groups can plan their travels through the ever expanding online landscape.


Image credit:  CC – Some rights reserved

The Learning Design Support Environment and Curriculum Design

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

I am doing a presentation on the LDSE for the JISC curriculum design strand which is also open to others if they are interested.  So if you are, here are the details and how to sign up.

The Learning Design Support Environment (LDSE) Project is working with practising teachers to research, and co-construct, an interactive Learning Design Support Environment (LDSE) to scaffold teachers’ decision-making from basic planning to creative TEL design.  The LDSE captures and represents a user’s learning design (at module and session level), structuring the user input so that it is amenable to analysis (in terms of learning experience and teaching time), and can also be adopted and adapted by others. Key areas the LDSE is investigating include:

  • Forms of representation of learning designs
  • An ontology for learning design
  • Designing at Module and Session levels
  • Importing and adapting an existing design
  • Selecting from existing teaching-learning activities
  • Editing the properties of TLAs
  • Extensive advice and guidance
  • Analysis of teaching costs and learning benefits
  • Sharing specific and generic patterns
  • Exporting a design to an institutional format

This session will provide a tour of the latest version of the LDSE highlighting the features italicised above, and allow time for discussion around the many areas where the interest of the LDSE and the Curriculum design projects  align.  In particular:

1.       How we model principles in educational design – What important principles do you use to support the learning design process?

2.       Guidelines and toolkits for staff – Could the LDSE tools support or work alongside tools being developed by projects?

3.       Joining up systems – Can our inputs and outputs work together? How do we join up institution-level business processes with learning-level design?

4.       Taking things forward – How can LDSE support and inform the work of the CDD programme? And vice versa?


Further information about the LDSE project:

Recording now available at:

VLEs at the heart of curriculum innovation

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

In the latest JISC e-Learning Focus they are discussing VLEs at the heart of curiculum devlivery showcasing among other work our development of Moodle for online assignment submission during the Cascade project.  Inspired by the wordle used in the e-Learning Focus article, I decided to create one from the Cascade final report.  While this is obviously a very simplistic technique it does provide a surprisingly useful overview of the work of Cascade as below.  I think I may be using this again.

Cascade Wordle

Cascade Wordle

Maximizing effective use of technology in new programmes

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

Aimed at academic staff developing new courses and e-Learning managers and learning technologists seeking to encourage wider uptake of technology by teaching staff, this case study draws on the JISC-funded Cascade project’s experience of designing tools, systems and resources to enable academic staff to more effectively incorporate the use of technology in new programmes.

Using technology to support new course models that move a programme either fully or partially, online can allow for a much more flexible offerings to students.  However, to ensure this is done in an appropriate and sustainable fashion, staff have to be supported effectively in this process.  This can be done by:

  • Ensuring technology use is considered at the right point in the course design process;
  • Identifying where and how technology really addresses your needs;
  • Providing support and guidance for those designing new programmes and wanting to take a more strategic approach to using technology in order to achieve maximum benefits;
  • Providing information on the cost effectiveness and efficiency of different choices so that those designing new programmes can ensure their course is sustainable.

Read the full case study at:  Cascade Case Study 5: Maximizing effective use of technology in new programmes.

Enabling staff to easily use a VLE to support course delivery

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Aimed at e-Learning developers, this case study draws on the JISC-funded Cascade project’s experience of designing tools, systems and resources to enable academic and administrative staff to easily use a VLE to support course delivery.

This suggests that using technology to support a course delivered either fully online, largely face-to–face or via blended learning, can provide real value to both staff and students.  However, it is easy to do this in such a way that it creates more work without fully delivering on the potential benefits.  Avoid this by:

  • Identifying where and how technology really adds value;
  • Developing tools and procedures that make it easy for all staff to set up and use a VLE;
  • Embedding support within existing cycles of work, wherever possible;
  • Ensuring adequate support and guidance is available to prevent basic barriers;
  • Providing cost- and time-effective options to ensure services are sustainable.

Read the full case study at:  Cascade Case Study 4: Enabling staff to easily use a VLE to support course delivery.

Using technology to support prospective students

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Aimed at staff responsible for coordinating the marketing of courses and managing student enrolments, this case study draws on the JISC-funded Cascade project’s experience of using technology to support the very first stage of the curriculum delivery process by making it easy for prospective students to find the course they wish to study and, where possible, to enrol and pay for their chosen course(s) online.

The project found that to encourage students to choose your institution, you should:

  • Make finding courses as easy as searching on Google;
  • Provide easily accessible information about all aspects of a course and the institution, and offer answers to common questions about what a course involves, both in pedagogical terms and practical ones;
  • Provide testimonials or case studies of previous students’ experiences of studying your courses;
  • Make enrolling on and paying for a course as easy and straightforward as possible, using online enrolment and payment wherever possible.

Read the full case study at:  Cascade Case Study 3: Using technology to support prospective students.

Customizing open source software: benefits and pitfalls

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Aimed at e-Learning developers, this case study draws on the JISC-funded Cascade project’s experience of customizing the Moodle assignment module, to highlight the benefits and pitfalls of working with open source software.

This aspect of the Cascade project had two key challenges: (a) to specify requirements for enhanced assignment-handling functionality in Moodle; and (b) to develop the code itself.  Both proved far more challenging than anticipated.

The experience of the project suggests that customizing open source software to meet the institution’s bespoke curriculum delivery requirements can result in the development of a robust system offering improved services to stakeholders, however there can be pitfalls.  Key recommendations for other developers considering similar projects are:

  • Define the processes involved before working on the development of software; a broken or unclear process cannot have an effective technological solution;
  • Keep all stakeholders informed of what the final result will be, providing updates when the requirements/functionality change;
  • Have everyone concerned with functionality and bug identification use an issue management system from the start of the project;
  • Use version control to manage code, but keep it simple;
  • Learn and work with the norms of the open source community for maximum wider benefit.

Read the full case study at:  Cascade Case Study 2: Customizing open source software: benefits and pitfalls.

Leveraging technology to drive business performance

Monday, January 17th, 2011

As part of our Cascade project we developed a series of five case studies to highlight areas of our work where we had the most interesting or useful outputs.  The first of these looks at the senior management perspective and is titled Leveraging technology to drive business performance.  It focuses on developing internal capability through the application of technology (or e-administration) so that operational and institutional strategy, as well as administrative processes and procedures, are delivered more efficiently and effectively.  The case study covers the following topics: project planning, problem identification, cost benefit analysis, managing organizational change, consensus building and developing a clear methodology for the embedding of project activities, and provides key points for effective practice and a series of recommendations for others hoping to achieve similar objectives.
Read the full case study, at: Leveraging technology to drive business performance.

Woruldhord, Ancestral voices, the Great War and more.

Monday, July 19th, 2010

One of the main conclusions from our Mosaic project (which developed an online course, ‘Ancestral voices: the earliest English literature’,  primarily from pre-existing content and made it freely available for reuse and adaption) was that the best way to get your OERs used is to make them as discoverable as possible, by putting them or linking to them from as many places as possible, and especially those places where your target audience are likely to look.  To this end, while we submitted the outputs of that project to JORUM as required by JISC, we also made them freely available through our Open Moodle site, and have been pursuing other opportunities to share and use these materials ever since.

Building on this we are now really pleased to be able to contribute the course to a new project here at Oxford, the JISC funded  Woruldhord project which “sets out to collect together into an online hoard, digital objects related to the teaching, study, or research of Old English and the Anglo-Saxon period of history”.

This project builds on the work of OUCS in community collections from the The Great War Archive and in OERs with OpenSpires.  As  we already use outputs from both of these in our courses,  it is really good to be able to contribute content back in the opposite direction.

As I type this I realise that it is all sounding terribly inwards facing, but while all the examples here are from Oxford sources, this is in fact indicative of the wider growth of truly excellent academic (and non academic) resources on the web and the extent to which our course authors are using them in their materials.  While we are still a long way from the vision of pervasive reuse that I suspect many had a few years ago, at least in our online courses authors are as likely to direct students to an image from flikr, a project database, an online text book, a digitised primary source, a Google maps mash-up or even a learning object, as an article in a journal or a textbook.  The process is slow, but reuse is growing and the more projects like these that take place the more compelling the reasons for reusing digital content is becoming.

The importance of piloting for real

Monday, July 12th, 2010

We are currently in the middle of piloting our new online assignment handling system as part of the Cascade project.  While we are finding out all the usual technical glitches, more than anything what testing this with real students, real course directors and real tutors, submitting real assignments has revealed is:

  • how generous people can be in trying a new system for something which is so important to them.
  • how you can think you have thoroughly mapped all processes in abstract but there will always be some aspect which nobody mentioned until it happens in practice.
  • how completely random people can be.

While we certainly did not think our documentation and support assumptions were going to be perfect, with a lot of testing on trial assignments we thought we were probably on the right track, and for most of the process and the vast majority of  students and tutors we were.

However where things did deviate from our expected norms, they did so in unanticipated ways.  I won’t go into the minutiae here but it is certainly making us think about what are the issues you can plan for and design out, and what is going to happen no matter what you do.