Archive for the 'Isthmus' Category

Online support site: From IT support to digital literacies

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

For several  years now we have had a comprehensive Online support site for our students, designed to provide them with somewhere to go to for help before they phone up our IT support guys with questions we have already told them the answers to in 5 places, as well as other bits of useful information we think students might want to know.  Several years ago now as part of the JISC funded Isthmus project we created a set of resources around what we then called “new media literacies” (yes we were trying to support digital literacies before they even had a name….).  This was a pretty basic set of resources covering areas such as online information sources, citation tools, searching online, we branded it learning support and didn’t give it much further thought.

Rolling forward to our termly review of course delivery we were looking at the stats for our support site, and realised that with the exception of obvious lures such as our 2 minute guide to Moodle (ave time spent on page 1 min 56) and logging into your course, the most visited pages are largely from the “digital literacies” subsection of the site.

I don’t think we can draw any major conclusions from this, but you can at least say our students increasingly don’ t seek help with basic IT skills, but may be looking to improve their wider skill set.



Visitors & Residents: The Video

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Last month I gave a presentation on the ‘Visitors & Residents’ principle at the ALT-C conference which was well received so I thought it would be worth videoing the talk under laboratory conditions…

Some of you might also be interested in our paper on Visitors and Residents:

Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement
by David S. White and Alison Le Cornu.
First Monday, Volume 16, Number 9 – 5 September 2011

Just a few notes to go with the video:

The original ‘Prezi’ presentation is here:

The tinyURL that is supposed to link to Andy Powell’s ‘Twitter for Idiots’ post is incorrect. Please follow this link instead.

At points I use the term ‘real life’ which seems to imply that anything which is online is somehow not part of ‘real life’. A better phrase would have been ‘offline’. Language in this area is difficult at best…

The quote “…just knowing how to use particular technologies makes one no wiser than just knowing how to read words” is a quote from Prensky’s recent paper on ‘Digital Wisdom’. In the journal ‘Innovate’. In other versions of the talk I refer to Prensky directly but seem to have omitted it when I was in front of the camera.  All other non-attributed quotes are anonymised statements from our students.

The images I used are under the Creative Commons license:

‘Tourist Trap’ visitor image
‘Rusholme’ resident image
‘Sunny Park’ web as a space image
‘Tool Box’ web as a toolbox image

Hurrah for repeat students

Monday, October 5th, 2009

We know we have always had a loyal following of students at the Department for Continuing Education, but what has been especially gratifying in recent years is to see this developing online.  On a purely commercial basis it is great, with about 30% of our students returnees each term it helps our recruitment, but as someone interested in  learning design there are a lot more plus points that this.  It is great to know we are creating something they like – our course designs work, but more importantly we have a group of students who have bought into this way of learning.

This is more significant then it might seem – our students are only a minority internet “residents” the majority are at best “visitors” (see our isthmus work on this) in addition we know they value traditional ideas of teaching and learning – when asked, they want an expert to teach them the course.

This means that online study based around a model of learning through activities, exploration and discussion, as much with each other as tutors, may make for good elearning, but does not meet their expressed preferences and is not  in their comfort zone. Yet it is working and it is our students who make it work.

Our repeast students are improving the experience of study for the whole cohort, by modelling the sort of behaviour that make these courses work best.  They want to discuss, they are happy to contribute (admitted some a bit too much!) and are prepared to support each other.  It is great to go into a course in the first few days and see new students being supported as much by thier peers as the tutor – and it makes our lives easier.

I do feel very strongly that you cannot expect all students to contribute all of the time (being a lurker is not intriscily bad) but this sort of learning does not work unless enough students are happy to join in – so it is great to know that you can rely on our repeat students as much as our expert tutors, wonderful academic authors, and excellent course design, to make courses that work.

Only connect

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

In the last few months we have been laying the ground work for the Cascade project, but now that we have our research officer, Bridget Lewis, in place we are really moving forward with our work on this.

What is really apparent at this stage is how interconnected everything is, I appreciate that this is hardly a revelation, but when you are working on very tightly defined deliverables it is really easy to ignore the implications of your choices beyond the boundaries of what you are doing.  When a significant focus of your work is looking at the bigger picture things start getting tangled.

A positive aspect of this, is how much we are genuinely taking forward outputs of  other projects that we have done over the last few years, Mosaic, Isthmus and Phoebe in particular are proving to be directly relevant, and it is great to feel that we have achieved things with them that can really improve what we are doing now.

In particular:

  • Mosaic –  better understanding of OERs, licensing and staff development materials around reuse.
  • Isthmus – what we know about our online students (although Cascade is dealing with a much larger student body than Isthmus did ) and the implications of innovating on live courses.
  • Phoebe – the tool itself as well as what we know from it about course design.

There is also a lot of overlap between Cascade and the LDSE (Learning Design Support Environment) project that we are working on with several London-based partners.  With Cascade focusing on changes in the hear and now, while the LDSE is designing for the future, they each act as a sanity check on what we are doing on the other project.

Cascade – Curriculum delivery project

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

Cascade of Maqui

We have recently heard from JISC that we have funding for the Cascade project as part of their Curriculum Delivery call.  This is really exciting news as it gives us a chance to properly explore implementing the technologies that can transform a learning experience across the whole of the Department for Continuing Education.For the Department as a whole it will provide us a chance to really explore how technology can be used effectively as we confront the challenges we face due to the ELQ policy (which removes HEFCE funding for students studying an equivalent of lower qualification and for TALL it will give us a chance to build on the work we have been doing in the last few years, both in research and in course development.

Image by Whirling Phoenix AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved.

If Moodle worked like Facebook

Monday, October 6th, 2008

This morning I noticed David Whiley’s post If facebook worked like blackboard, which pointed out:

Imagine if every fifteen weeks Facebook:

  • shut down all the groups you belonged to,
  • deleted all your forum posts,
  • removed all the photos, videos, and other files you had shared, and
  • forgot who your friends were.

How popular or successful would Facebook be then? How popular or successful is Blackboard now? The closed learning management system paradigm is bankrupt.

This is particularly interesting in the context of our Isthmus project where we are looking at introducing user owned technologies into our courses here at the Department for Continuing Education in Oxford.  One of the real challenges for this project has been identifying what user owned technologies our students are using, as we have a majority of adult learners, in many cases the answer has been none.

As a result of this much of the project has been looking at ways to allow greater ownership of the learning, content, tools, through means that make sense to our students.  Yes feeding all your content in RSS is great, but not when 95% of your students have never heard of it, and more importantly don’t want to know (unless you can convince them otherwise, but that is the subject of another pilot, New media literacies…)

This has prompted one of the biggest changes in how we deliver our courses since TALL has offered online learning – namely (OK, only in the terms of David’s post) making our installation more like Facebook through the Persistent Identity pilot – which just this term went from a pilot to standard practice. To be basic we are now letting students access their course, materials, discussions, blogs….after the official course is over.   It seems an obvious thing to do now, and the fact that about 30% of the students who were allowed continued access have been back to the pilot courses once they were over suggests that this is something that the students value as well.

A small note of caution is that in scaling this up from 4 pilots to over 25 we have caused ourselves rather a lot of unexpected technical hassle, but that is for us to sort out and not  really a comment on the basic principle. Which so far seems to be proving sound.

Finding the useful in technology

Monday, July 28th, 2008

In Dave’s recent post he talked about the tentative categorizations we have made of our students as a result of our research for the Isthmus project, however I think it is worth emphasizing how much our students adoption of tools and technologies (or not) is driven by their perception of usefulness. For our students at least we have a group who use the internet to varying degrees based on a strong sense of personal need – they use what they find useful, but not for its own sake.

So they will engage in what might be considered quite sophisticated online behaviours in the cause of something they want to do, but be quite astoundingly incapable with things that they cannot see the point of, and actually you have to admire this pragmatism, they are extremely effective web users in their scope.

But how do our users find the things that they deem useful? What about all the tools that might change their (web) lives if only they knew they existed? From personal experience I knew RSS existed for years before actually getting set up with an aggregator, but when I finally did it changing the way I worked for ever. I have a colleague who still regularly thanks me for telling them about delicious, they knew it was out there, but until I gave them my take on social bookmarking they had never quite realised it fixed exactly the thing that had been bugging them about bookmarking for years. They have since passed it on to several other people.

I have a strong appreciation of how random these moments can be, but also how transformative, and I am sure there are things we can do to bring the things most likely to be of use to them, to the attention of our students. We will be working on this as part of the Isthmus project over the next few months. The plan is to keep it simple, as much as possible to use what is already out there, but to help them find what can help them, and what will really be useful.

Not ‘Natives’ & ‘Immigrants’ but ‘Visitors’ & ‘Residents’

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

As part of the JISC funded Isthmus project we have been taking a close look not at whattechnologies our students use but at how our they use them. We found that our students could not be usefully categorised as Digital Natives or Digital Immigrants. I.e. This distinction does not help guide the implementation of technologies it simply provides the excuse that “some people ‘just don’t get it’ which is why your new approach has failed so badly…”

Anyway, our students appropriation of online services did not seem to follow a simple pattern based on skill level. It seemed to depend on if they saw the web as a ‘place to live’ or as a collection of useful tools. This underlying motivation led us to outline two main categories of distance learning student.

The ‘Resident’

The resident is an individual who lives a percentage of their life online. The web supports the projection of their identity and facilitates relationships. These are people who have an persona online which they regularly maintain. This persona is normally primarily in a social networking sites but it is also likely to be in evidence in blogs or comments, via image sharing services etc  The Resident will of course interact with all the practical services such as banking, information retrieval and shopping etc but they will also use the web to socialise and to express themselves. They are likely to see the web as a worthwhile place to put forward an opinion. They often use the web in all aspects of the of their lives; professionally, for study and for recreation. In fact the resident considers that a certain portion of their social life is lived out online. The web has become a crucial aspect of how they present themselves and how they remain part of networks of friends or colleagues.

The ‘Visitor’

The Visitor is an individual who uses the web as a tool in an organised manner whenever the need arises. They may book a holiday or research a specific subject. They may choose to use a voice chat tool if they have friends or family abroad. Often the Visitor puts aside a specific time to go online rather than sitting down at a screen to maintain their presence at any point during the day. They always have an appropriate and focused need to use the web but don’t ‘reside’ there. They are sceptical of services that offer them the ability to put their identity online as don’t feel the need to express themselves by participating in online culture in the same manner as a Resident.

In effect the Resident has a presence online which they are constantly developing while the Visitor logs on, performs a specific task and then logs off.

This is of course not a polar distinction. There is a spectrum of which the Resident and the Visitor represent two extremes (Watch this space for a couple of possible sub-categories). It is a useful distinction because it is not based on gender or age. While our data would indicate that the portion of the population over 55 is predominantly made up of Visitors there are examples of Residents in this section of the demographic. Similarly it is the case that not everyone younger than 25 is a Resident.

It is not always easy to spot who is in each category as the level of sophistication with which a Visitor might use any single service might well be greater than that of a Resident. Again, this is not a skill based distinction. In fact I know of at least one ed-tech researcher who considers himself to be a Visitor out of choice.

The Resident is likely to have arranged some sort of system to manage the relationship between services and the flow of information through their browser but this does not mean that they will be any more effective at researching a specific topic than a Visitor. This is why data from a survey that simply asks what online services a group of students use is next to useless.

This Visitor, Resident distinction is useful when considering which technologies to provide for online learners. For example if your learners are mainly Visitors they are unlikely to take advantage of any feed based system for aggregated information you may put in place. They are also unlikely to blog or comment as part of a course. The Resident will expect to have the opportunity to offer opinions on topics and to socialise around a programme of study. In fact they are likely to find ways of doing this even if they are not ‘officially’ provided. We offered membership of a facebook group to our students as they left their online courses. The majority signed-up without question as they wanted to stay in touch with fellow students and continue discussions. The remainder saw the group as pointless and a possible invasion of privacy. Both sides of this argument are correct… It’s a question of approach and motivation, hence Visitors and Residents.

Some of you might also be interested in our paper on Visitors and Residents:

Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement
by David S. White and Alison Le Cornu.
First Monday, Volume 16, Number 9 – 5 September 2011

Take study groups online and they become cheating, apparently…

Friday, March 7th, 2008 reports on a student facing disciplinary action for running a Facebook study group. Sounds like the institution took a dislike to normal study behavior just because it was happening online.

Copyright infringement is different from theft

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

Although the media industries like to confuse copyright infringement with theft*, it’s not the same thing. The Los Angeles Times has a nice article covering the subject: File ‘sharing’ or ‘stealing’?.

* For instance, the annoying would you steal… trailers, at the start of DVDs.
Whilst on the subject, the fact that you cant skip these messages about not viewing the DVD on an oil rig, etc. is a fine example of DRM – which should be enough reason for anyone to conclude that DRM is a Bad Thing.