Thursday, 14 August 2014

My tech habits & routines

I was giving some thought the other day to the plethora of devices available these days, as well as the vast range of apps and tools on those devices that people are using on a daily basis. And then as I thought back to my top 11 tools of 2011 from my old blog, I realised that my habits and the tech and tools I rely heavily upon haven't changed. At all.

I continue to rely on the iOS ecosystem because I find the old chiche is true - it just works. And it works well. The mail and calendar apps are critical for me, and the upcoming 'handoff' feature looks to be a treat too so I can easily transfer stuff from my Mac and my iPad! Other than that there aren't many specific reasons why I would use a Mac at work [iMac] and at home [MBP], other than the fact it's just a much nicer experience. I have discovered the Memory Clean app which is useful to remind me when I have too many things going on which slows down my machine.

I continue to rely on the same old tools. Evernote and dropbox are the hub of my productivity. Chrome is my portal to the web (I quite like the Google tools) even though I do really like the Apple-ness of Safari. Twitter is where to find me online despite my presence (but limited activity) on LinkedIn and G+ - still don't use Facebook a great deal.

I tried to use Apple Pages and Keynote, and whilst I do really like them, it's often more hassle to convert the outputs into .docx and .pptx files so others can access the files. They always require a touch of editing and actually, the drawing tools in Powerpoint are better than those in Keynote anyway.

In the past couple of years I have had to move away from Google Reader for obvious reasons. I loved the Reader App for iOS and having paid for them once, I was reasonably miffed that the upgrade required purchasing all over again. They are nice apps and I bought the iOS version but wasn't paying the £5+ for the desktop version, largely because I've managed reasonably well using Feedly (free).

So what?

So my habits and tools/tech haven't really changed in the last few years.

What does this all mean? It possibly says more about me than it does the technology. But it does pose the questions - do we need the abundance of technology we have at our fingertips, and is there an optimum number of tools/apps for us?? Is there a lull in innovative new developments in software and apps? 

Monday, 11 August 2014

My Top Tips to New Learning Technologists

CC BY:NC:ND flickr photo by Tiger Pixel

I had the thought of writing this post last week, but to be honest it feels a bit funny writing it. I've gained a lot of experience over the last 10 years working in HE - much of which could form good advice to younger/newer players to the game like, for example, the TEL technicians we have in our Faculty at Liverpool.

The strange thing is that in many ways I don't feel greatly experienced - I'm still relatively less experienced in research - something my PhD will hopefully address, and of course technologies are changing so there's always more to learn about - from advances in the open (or not so open) education such as MOOCs through to things like Augmented Reality. This kind of links back to a discussion I had with @hopkinsdavid last week around the Learning Technologist as Jack (or Jane) of All Trades - that is, we know a bit about a lot, but there's always more to learn...

But more than anything with people new to a role, I'd much rather than a proactive person with little experience than someone with more experience but doesn't actually do much. So what advice do/would I give to those less experienced in learning technology? Here are my top pointers....
  1. Actually think about what it is you're doing, and make sure you're doing it right! If you make a mistake, that's ok. Just learn from it and try not to do it again and that way, a mistake is never a mistake - it's always a learning curve.
  2. Say Yes to every opportunity - whether it's meetings, working groups or projects, it will serve you well to get involved. You'll learn new things and see things from different and new perspectives (which can never hurt, even if you disagree or just identify certain people as being 'all talk'). At the same time, know what things to say 'No' to. When I started out I was clear what my job included and what it didn't. I found it was important to set my stall out on this from the very beginning.
  3. If you are keen to progress in your career, try to think back on your day/week/month/year. How did it go? What things do you like doing? Pursue those opportunities more. What are you weak at? Pursue that too. What's your knowledge base or understanding of topics that are discussed in meetings or amongst colleagues? Go and read up on them - just enough so that you know what's going on in that area and know where to go if and when you need to find out more. 
  4. If there's something you don't know the answer to, don't just pass the buck on (or even worse turn people away). Make it your mission to find out the answer. If the root of the problem sits with another department, either make the necessary introductions or provide suitable redirection.
  5. Be proactive. The nature of the role means there can be quite times, say, in the summer. Use that time to seek out new and exciting projects or use that time for personal development.
  6. Although this one is cliched I have always lived by it - dress for the job you want, not the job you've got. Even in my first helpdesk job I got fresh out of Uni I made an effort to wear a shirt and trousers, and often a tie. Don't be concerned with how other people dress - You're a professional so dress like one..
  7. I'm also very relaxed and informal in conversation with other people. Sometimes to a fault I think - speaking before I think. But people see the real me and I've certainly found that building relationships with colleagues is something that comes quite natural to me and being personable is a critical aspect of the role of the learning technologist.
  8. Get out the confines of your office and meet people. This can be tricky. Whilst colleagues I've worked with often think I'm some super networker, I'm actually not. I tend to put myself about to share the work I'm doing rather than purely go along to network at things. There's definitely a balance to be found here. I find this way, people can judge me for my work and they'll know that I know what I'm talking about (if indeed, I know what I'm talking about :-) ).
  9. When you get worn down by bureaucracy or unhappy with the boring tasks you're dumped with, do whatever you can to take on more (and a wider range of) work. This is obviously tough when you're already super overworked, but the experience will serve you well when you apply for new jobs :-)
Hopefully that doesn't sound too much like a self-help guide and I'd love to hear from others to see what your top tips would be.


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Friday, 8 August 2014

Impact of technology on the libraries of tomorrow

A colleague of mine, Andrew Barker (@andcarebarker) recently asked me to write an editorial piece for the UKSG eNews Newsletter, albeit with a tight deadline (thanks Andrew) :-).

So of course I obliged, and decided to write something about the impact of technology on the libraries of tomorrow. It is me writing, so of course it's no utopian prophecy.

I start with making the point how difficult it is to predict the future using MOOCs as an example, but the article also considers spaces, as well as the way we understand our students today i.e. Visitors/Residents and how that might impact on libraries and their staff. So I guess it's not solely about technology, but the issues of contemporary education. I think...

Anyways, you should be able to access the full article via the UKSG eNews page here.


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Thursday, 7 August 2014

The Learning Technologist as Jack of All Trades

Jack of All Trades, CC BY flickr photo by peacay
This is another post fitting within the theme of 'What is a Learning Technologist'.

I've been thinking for a while about the role of the LT, and how my own skill set and knowledge base have developed over the 10 years or so that I've worked in HE. And whilst I completely understand Martin Weller's problem of having an elevator pitch for what it is we actually do, I think this post will muddy the waters even further :-)

The role of the learning technologist comes in all shapes and sizes. The job title tends to vary quite a lot, as can the pay scales and the specific work we tend to get involved in. Learning technologists can be employed for specific purposes e.g. working on an OER project, an ePortfolio implementation project, or perhaps even staff development. From what I've seen, these more specific roles tend to be on fixed term contracts, whereas the permanent roles tend to be the broader roles (but of course there may be exceptions).

So what do we do?

Well in my experience, the learning technologist tend to be a central figure in many developments - the lynchpin or the quarterback (depending on your metaphorical preference). When I work with course teams in developing curricula, I'm the one who is linking in with the different departments, encouraging involvement from library colleagues or media development specialists.

I also tend to think of myself as a jack of all trades (but in a positive way, obviously). Without this attempting to be a CV, I think I have quite a good and knowledge of current and emerging aspects of HE in respect to technology enhanced learning. I've had experience in OER projects, institutional change projects, redeveloping assessment & feedback processes in faculty, managed and administrated VLEs, developed and delivered staff development programmes, developed and facilitated online courses (traditional and open), engaged in primary research (individually and collaboratively), published, so on and so forth. I'm not somehow special that I've done these things. These are typical tasks that learning technologists do every day. We know about stuff because that's what we do. We find a balance between trying to innovate with new things alongside evidence-based practice.

So don't be thinking 'Jack of all trades, master of none' is either a bad thing, or even necessarily true!

[edit - David Hopkins has extended this discussion with another thought provoking post - head over to read more]

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Tuesday, 5 August 2014

What does good online learning look like?

I, and many other people have been critical about MOOCs because they're not quite the innovative disruption that the media have made them out to be - just the same, decade old online learning.

But, what does good online learning & teaching look like?

The now classic models and frameworks have been about for years - Laurillard's Conversational framework and Salmon's 5 stage model for e-mentoring. They're very useful resources when developing and facilitating online courses, but...

What is the gold standard for taught, online courses?
What things do we need to consider?
What does such a course actually look like?

I've seen many people really promoting opportunities such as #phonar and #rhizo - I didn't really engage with those, but I wonder if those models could be suitable to implement for say, our completely online PG courses?


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Friday, 1 August 2014

Sending multiple Blackboard announcements with the Qwickly building block

The announcement tool within Blackboard is a great way to get important messages out to students. Not only will the announcement appear in the specific Blackboard area, but it will be delivered straight to student's mobile devices (presuming they have the Mobile Learn app installed), and you can even make sure students receive the message as an email as well.

Well at one point last year, I had to send the same announcement to about 20 different Bb areas. It was a painful process as I had to go into each different area, paste the message in, tick the relevant boxes and send. So when I came across Qwickly, a third party plugin, I was a bit overjoyed. After a bit of persuasion, our computer services department have installed it as part of our summer upgrade!

Watch the video below to see how easy it is. Please excuse the use of 'VITAL' - that's what we call Bb at Liv...


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Thursday, 31 July 2014

Visualising Programme Assessments: do you know when assessments are due?

From time to time I try to step back from the work I'm doing and think about things from other people's perspectives - through Brookfield's reflective lenses. I find this helps take a holistic view of situations and identify challenges/benefits that you wouldn't normally come across. This is partly how I started thinking about visualising assessment timelines. As an academic, I've tended to only really care about how I'll be assessing within my own modules. What other people do in their modules is down to them.

But is it? Does anybody take a holistic view? How will my assessment requirements impact upon the wider student experience and workload? How will it impact on the admin team? The timetabling team? Marking and Moderators?
I'd love to hear about your views on this in the comments.

I wrote a few months back about visualising assessment timelines, and shifting from having a small number of high stakes assessment activities to more lower stakes assessments. Well in this post, I'm sharing a draft timeline of the entire Medical Curriculum at Liverpool.

The nature of the MBChB curriculum is different - there are no modules/units, so being able to see the bigger picture is increasingly important for the management and admin processes in the school. Furthermore, a simple visual take on assessments would undoubtedly be a useful reference for students.

Over the past couple of months I've met with the Director of Assessment in the School of Medicine to discuss the assessment timings in the new curriculum and have put together a visual overview (see below).
[please remember this is just a draft and not final details - more to be added]

The Year of study goes horizontal. Weeks go vertical. 

Now although some details are missing, you can see the general pattern of the programme from this overview - students are more heavily based at the University in the first couple of years, and then are pretty much never here later on (particularly 5th year). Here the assessments represent something along the lines of a sign off meeting to ensure the student is doing the things they're supposed to be (I'm actually not a specialist on the Medical Curriculum, as you can probably tell).

We can also see that in the back end of semester 2, there are quite a few assessments taking place across a short space of time. Over that 10 week period there is almost at least one assessment per week. The benefit of these visuals is that we can easily see that and plan accordingly. Perhaps we might shift assessments from one week to the next so we can more effectively manage the workload. Are we over/under assessing students across the years? Could we distribute the assessments more effectively?

So the overview can be a pretty useful tool, but a more specific view of (a year/module) can tell us more information. The image below samples Years 1 and 2.
[again, draft]

So this time, we can see the online formative/low stakes assessments (green) relate to the blocks of study (these used to be our PBL modules but have changed slightly in our new curriculum). If we wanted, we could add further details, just as I have done for the higher stakes/summative pieces e.g. 2 x 1.5 hr papers.

The Research & Scholarship refers to one of the themes in the new spiral curriculum. Again we could add more detail here.

What's next?

We could fairly easily make an interactive version of these timelines that enabled students to quickly browse all of their assessment requirements for the whole programme, with the ability to drill down to a specific assessment. We just need the information, and although that can sometimes be a painful process, I can't imagine a situation where any school management and admin teams would not want this overview. In fact, some institutions require assessment type and date, etc, at the beginning of the year - in which case this should prove an easy task.

So why can't/shouldn't we do this for every single programme?

When we do this on a modular programme, we could see how assessments might be clustered at specific points in the calendar. We could also try to emphasise a shift from high stakes to low stakes assessments. This would be less stressful for students if nothing else.

One key factor for consideration is the terminology we use when developing any guidance for students, let alone a visual guide with few explanatory words. For example;
  • 'high stakes' can strike fear into students;
  • 'low stakes' could be taken for 'doesn't matter';
  • 'formative' and 'summative' - well do students even know what they mean?
So as we release these timelines to students, we will have to consider the terminology we use.

I'll be talking about this a bit more at the eAssessment Scotland conference in September. So if you're going, try to forget this post ;-)


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