All 133 entries tagged E-Learning

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October 06, 2008

Using the Teaching Grid for 'hub–and–spoke' style teaching

In the first week of term I used the Teaching Grid experimental teaching space to teach the first session of a design and communications skills module. Having found a traditional IT training room to be inappropriate for such a session, I was keen to explore alternatives.
The International Design and Communication Management MA is a relatively new course, based in the Centre for Cultural Policy Studies and convened by Dr. Jonathan Vickery. It is professionally oriented, but with a strong emphasis upon the application of academic skills and theory. In the Autumn term, I teach a ‘multimedia communication’ skills module, consisting of eight two hour sessions. The core task of the module is for each students to design, create and use a personal e-portfolio. These web pages should then be maintained by each student, so as to represent their own academic and professional experience and capabilities. The e-portfolio will contribute to assessment of the student’s work, as well as performing a vital role in the process of arranging and undertaking the professional placement in the summer term. They may also be used after the course has been completed, as part of the student’s career development.

In the past, all of these sessions have been taught in conventional IT training rooms (rows of PCs facing a screen with a data projector). However, there is a significant ‘theoretical’ element to the task: a set of analytical, investigative, conceptual tools and behaviours that must be mastered in order to create an effective design within the given constraints: the students must learn to think and act as design and communication professionals, with the addition of a reflective academic perspective. The traditional IT room is unsuited to these more challenging aims. To effectively acquire and practice these skills, the students should be able to:

  • frequently present their designs to each other for feedback, engage in creative processes, such as drawing on whiteboards, conducting interviews, acting out scenarios;
  • seek mutual confirmation of understanding, especially when undertaking complex tasks and using abstract concepts;
  • exhibit the products of the design process for peer (simulated client) review (in the last session).

The environment in which this happens must enable the students to behave as:

  • design and communication professionals;
  • investigative, reflective academics.

The high proportion of students with English as a foreign language also makes such collaborative working valuable. However, with many of the students coming from the tradition of didactic content transmission, establishing the required practices and attitudes is problematic. I actively resist being drawn back into a traditional lecture mode, and am therefore keen to use an environment that strongly supports active, investigative, collaborative learning. However, given the steep multi-dimensional learning curve that is required, I must also be sensitive to the need to continually provide clear models of the many new and challenging behaviours that I demand from the students. There is therefore a tension between encouraging student beahviour of the kind described above, and the need to continually provide clear exemplars. To address this conflict, I use online tools and a ‘hub-and-spoke’ classroom working arrangement.

The online tools are constructed from a combination of resources that can be used independently at any time, and a session plan (on a single web page) putting some of these resources into context and setting challenges to the students, the solutions to which may use the resources. The session plan web page was used throughout the session, both by me at the central ‘hub’ location, and by the students in small groups as they dispersed into the ‘spokes’. In the first session, the resources included a 7 minute video of a discussion between myself and Jonathan Vickery (explaining the purpose of the sessions), as well as an extensive glossary of key design and communication terms, relevant to the many issues that the students must consider.

The ‘hub and spoke’ physical organisation aims to provide a central location at which new ideas and practices can be introduced and modelled (hub), and a series of student team workareas (spokes) at which small groups of students can work indepedently to experiment and apply what they have seen. For this to work effectively, it should be easy to bring the focus of the session back from the spokes to the hub. It should also be possible to invite students to bring their work from the spokes to the hub and demonstrate it back to the rest of the class. A further possibility is for students from one spoke to visit students in another spoke.

In searching for a more appropriate learning space in which this could take place, I based the first session in the Teaching Grid experimental teaching space. The final session, in which the students will exhibit their e-portfolios, will return to the Teaching Grid, with the intervening sessions taking place in a traditional IT training room. It would have been preferable to hold the first two sessions in the Teaching Grid, allowing the more challenging activities to be undertaken in a longer time, however, the room was not available.

The space available to us in the Teaching Grid does not completely support the ‘hub-and-spoke’ learning design when used with 25 students. Using glass and curtain partitions, it can be divided into four small spaces each capable of accomodating six students with a laptop and large screen (two spaces with LCD smart boards, two with data projectors). It also proved possible to merge two of these spaces at one end into one, so as to accomodate all 25 students. However, there is no separate ‘hub’ location that can be viewed by all four groups in situ. To reconvene all 25 students in one place required their work to be disrupted and two of the spaces to be reconfigured. I attempted to compensate for this by putting some of the hub activities into the session plan web page as text, to be used independently by the students in the spoke locations. This is obviously a much less effective, less personal, less flexible, less controlled approach than demonstrating from the hub position: seriously detrimental to the effectiveness of the session.

The session was divided into three segments, intended to last around 40 minutes each. In the first segment, with the students gathered into a double work space and facing a large screen, I introduced the module web site, the glossary, and the session plan page. I then played the introductory video. This worked well, being a relatively conventional activity. We then spent a short time diviiding into groups using a voluntary method. It would have been better to have had the groups pre-assigned, and better still to have had the students already seated in their groups at the spoke locations all viewing the central hub.

The second segment was much more challenging, with each group being given the task of working through sequences of glossary terms, and then applying those terms to their own e-portfolio design process. The new Sitebuilder glossary system worked wonderfully, allowing me to quickly build a resource to which we we return constantly during the module. Modelling from the central hub would have made a significant difference to this series of difficult tasks. I was able to easily walk between groups to offer additional support, but found myself to be repeating explanations for each group.

Finally, each group was tasked with designing an e-portfolio for a client (me). They were able to get paper and pens, and had access to the computers for researching the client. Some students tried to use the electronic whiteboard but struggled. Other students used to video cameras that I provided (Sanyo Xacti HD) to interview the client. The final presentations were caried out in one of the spaces, with students able to watch from the space outside. This was entirely paper based. Given more time, it would have been better for the students to create a digital presentation combining video, audio, text and images. Stretching the activiites over two weeks would have enabled this.

September 16, 2008

Am I an Asus salesman?

No. I’m not getting a commision. But by sitting every morning in the atrium of University House using an Asus Eee PC 900 ultra-portable (£250 from ToysRUs), I think I am doing an effective sales job. Sometimes a constant stream of people come to have a look. I have to explain that it actually belongs to my 3 year old son, but is so good that I have borrowed it (until I get one of my own).

This morning he watched a Nigel Marven dinosaur documentary on it as we cycled to the University. Horrific screams and roars coming from his trailer, “Giganotosaurus tears at the flesh of Argentosaurus” etc…

Using the Asus Eee PC 900

September 10, 2008

The creepy treehouse critique of educational technology

Writing about web page

Here’s a comment that I posted in response to Jared Stein’s blog entry on the ‘creepy treehouse’ phenomena. His article is on the right track, but somewhat naive, and certainly missing the fact that the issue of the ownership of learning is already one of the driving forces behind innovation in learning and teaching.

Actually many students view all institutional-educational contexts as creepy treehouses – both technologically enhanced and traditional (“authentic” – yuck – creepy Heideggerianism).

In a University, there are few occasions on which they have a sense of ownership and a deep understanding of process/power/knowledge. That’s not latest news. Educationalists have been trying to address this for a long time. My university (Warwick) has many such constructivist initiatives that aim to empower students – new spaces, new technologies, new pedagogies – “reinventing the curriculum” as they say.

And do you know what the greatest point of resistance to this is? Many students are so used to learning in creepy treehouses (lecture theatres, seminar rooms, libraries) that they feel lost without them.

See our Reinvention Centre for antidotes to treehouse creepiness.

August 27, 2008

Want to get people interacting on your web site: blog or forum?

I’m often asked to explain the difference between a forum and a blog. More specifically, people want to know what would work best for their particular requirement. Often, they are looking for a way of getting their audience more involved with their web site and/or their teaching. I responded to such an enquiry today, with this short explanation.

Ignore the underlying technology for a moment, and instead consider blogs and forums as different media. Each has a different pattern of interaction and ownership.

A blog usually belongs to a single person. Or in some cases, a small group of people. The main body of content on the blog is the responsibility of that person. That might mean that they write the content themselves, or that they act as a kind of editor/reviewer presenting someone else’s content. A blog also consists of relatively substantial individual entries, which may or may not prompt a discussion (the blog owner has editorial control of the discussion). The discussion might then involve a wider range of people. The quality of a blog largely depends upon the main blog entries, although that quality might then be enhanced by the subsequent discussion. Some successful blogs contain no discursive element. For most blogs, the role of discursive content varies over time.

A forum is very different. It is owned by all of its participants (although there may be editorial control imposed by a moderator). Forums are built out of shorter discursive exchanges. They are driven by a group of individuals, each sharing a strong need for such exchanges. Without that need, the forum will fail. A further drawback is that a dialog built out of lots of small exchanges is likely to fragment. Some forums avoid this because their participants have a good shared understanding, and are already driven to collaborate effectively. Other forums work because they are driven by an effective moderator-tutor.

Which would I recommend? Unless you already have the kind of community that I describe as necessary for a forum, you should probably go with a blog. To make the blog work, you will need to regularly add entries that are substantial and interesting enough to provoke a worthy discussion. One further possibility would be to invite selected members of your target audience to write entries for the blog, so that it works a little like an edited journal.

An additional thought: perhaps in an ideal world, a blog entry could more fluidly connect to an existing discussion forum, web page, video etc.

July 10, 2008

Postgrad students: get £10 for 40 minutes

Do you use blogs? Ji Cheng, a postgrad from the University of Oxford, would like to interview a small number of Warwick postgrads (taught and research) about their experiences with blogging.

Guaranteed £10 gift voucher (book or iTunes) for each short interview.

And we’ll buy you coffee and a cake!

Interested? Then please email me at or comment on this entry.

July 09, 2008

Asus Eee – the perfect laptop for children and teachers?

On saturday I bought an Asus EEE PC900 laptop for my 3 year old son. It cost only £250 from ToysRUs, and is sufficiently tough for him to handle on his own. Good result. Yes, it might be the perfect laptop for children. But it’s a lot more than that: if you are a mobile worker, but you don’t want to carry a laptop, the PC900 is perfect. There are other advantages that make it a great tool for teaching and learning.

I didn’t wait for the latest Intel Atom model (which will have a much better battery life), instead deciding to spend a lot less on a machine that will get abused by the trainee terrorist. It’s small (maybe half the size of an average laptop), tough (with solid state storage rather than a fragile disk) and well designed. The keyboard is a bit tiny for some adults, but perfect for me and Lawrence. The screen on the PC900 is bigger than the original PC700, and fine for web browsing and movies.

Here’s a photo of the PC900 being modelled delightfully by some typical users…

Apparently, big hand bags are fashionable at the moment.

Already, I have put 6 of his DVD movies (in Quicktime format) onto the hard disk, as well as some wildlife programs. Each movie takes up between 300 and 600 MB. Once the 7MB spare solid state storage is full, i’ll start using an 8 GB SD card. Video and audio performance is excellent.

It also comes with Skype, a mic and a webcam (built into the top of the screen case), for voice and video conferencing over the web. This has been a major revalation! Last night we talked with a friend in Cambridge, with sound coming out of the speakers (no headphones needed). It was crystal clear, with no echo or noise. And loud too.

Combine all that with fast and reliable wifi (record video and audio messages straight into Warwick Blogs or Sitebuilder), and it really is revolutionary.

I will soon be buying the new Intel Atom powered Asus Eee PC901. That will please Lawrence, as he’s got very territorial about his own Eee.

Virtual Learning Environment benchmarking workshop

There seems to be a demand from universities for a more realistic, learner/teacher-centric evaluation of Virtual Learning Environments. How easy would it be to evaluate and compare the leading platforms? Perhaps we could just get them all together (users not vendors) in one room, on a set of screens, and do an evaluation? That’s what I am planning to do, with the aim of publishing the resulting findings, but also giving developers a chance to steal the best features from each system.

We have a nice shiny new experimental teaching space called the Teaching Grid. It has lots of projectors, nicely spaced out, with moveable partitions that can be used to create separate zones. My idea is this:
  1. Divide the room up into 6 zones, each with a screen, PC and projector.
  2. In each zone, display one of 6 different VLEs (WebCT, Blackboard, Moodle, Sakai, Sitebuilder/Warwick Blogs, and WebLearn/Boddington).
  3. Have a team of VLE users (teachers and students) & admins for each of the 6.
  4. Create a matrix of requirements, features, design patterns, and analyse each one accordingly.
  5. Present a list of 5 best aspects of each one.
  6. Allow each of the 6 teams to visit all of the others.

There will also be a “beyond the VLE” section, for features and design patterns that don’t exist in any of the VLEs.

We have the technology. I can get money for a lavish(!) buffet. All I need are representatives from unis that use each of the systems.

I’m aiming for mid-September 2008 for this.

Anyone interested?

May 06, 2008

What is an 'insubstantial part'?

In UK copyright, under certain conditions that are outlined in this article by the University Legal Compliance Officer, we may use an ‘insubstantial part’ of a copyrighted work without gaining explicit permission. But what is meant by ‘insubstantial part’?
There is no simple quantification of the meaning of ‘insubstantial part’. We cannot simply claim that x% of the work is an insubstantial part. However there are a few useful guidelines:

If the reproduction of the copyrighted content makes it unecessary to view or purchase the original work, then that is clearly more than an ‘insubstantial part’.

If we are making a copy for the purposes of criticism or review, then we should only use content that is necessary to support the argument that we are making. Edit carefully. Be efficient. For more help, talk to Clayton Jones (University Legal Compliance Officer).

April 25, 2008

About Robert O'Toole

A short profile of Robert O’Toole. Arts Faculty E-learning Advisor, to appear on the Arts Faculty E-learning Office home page.

Arts Faculty E-learning Advisor – available to help any member of the Arts Faculty.
Office: Humanities H234

Robert O’Toole is a technologist, educator and philosopher with over ten years of practical experience in helping learners and teachers to find tools that extend and enhance their capabilities. He is a HEA National Teaching Fellow, and a winner of the Warwick Award for Teaching Excellence. He believes that:

“Learning is socially and technologically mediated from the outset, and is therefore necessarily shaped by the constraints and affordances of the epistemographical environment within which it occurs. Technology therefore matters. Technological choices have a critical influence upon learning outcomes. Students and teachers who are able to consistently make good choices are far more likely to succeed.”

Robert’s practice as a learning technologist helps individuals to make appropriate technology choices, based upon personal needs, abilities and intellectual approaches. The rapid expansion in the range of available tools, driven by the development of new web technologies, has multiplied available options. The role of the learning technologist as a guide is more important than ever. Robert helps people to exploit the potential for positive change by making the right technological choices, and by developing deep competencies as self-reflective learners/researchers.

As E-learning Advisor to the Arts Faculty at Warwick, Robert has provided a popular and wide-reaching service, enabling students and teachers to achieve excellence in their own work. He provides consultations, coaching and lectures tailored precisely and thoughtfully to the needs of individuals. Having established an e-learning office within the Faculty, he is a constant and always supportive presence, open to all members of the Faculty. This has been extended with the establishment of the Arts Faculty E-Squad, a team of students supporting staff. Skills and ideas for the use of technology are cascaded out across the Faculty, through the E-Squad, to thousands of staff and students, thus incrementally developing a network of digital natives.

Alongside the many immediate day-to-day engagements resulting from his role, Robert has developed a critical approach to understanding and designing new technologies. He is creating an ‘evaluation framework’, and beginning to share his methodology and findings through journal articles and conference presentations. He plans to develop this work more formally, as an advisory body reporting upon the impact of new technologies on knowledge creation and dissemination.

Read more on my blog.

The Arts Faculty E–Squad

A brief entry about the Arts Faculty E-squad.

A team of students, trained and supported by the Arts Faculty E-learning Advisor (Robert O’Toole).

They can provide help with a range of e-learning tasks, and are currently available free to Arts Faculty staff.

For more information and to request help, see the Arts E-Squad homepage.

April 10, 2008

5 Years as a Web 2.0 University, presentation at Shock of the Old 7, Oxford University

Follow-up to See me live at Shock of the Old 7, Oxford University, April 3rd 2008 from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

I recently gave a presentation at the Shock of the Old 7 conference, summarising the progress made at Warwick in adopting the use of a set of web base tools and practices that could be classed as “Web 2.0”. This is the first part of a report on the presentation and the response to it. This might be of interest to anyone concerned with understanding the effects of such new technologies, as well as the viablity of a web development and e-learning support approach like that employed at Warwick.

1. The presentation

1.1 Context

Now in its seventh year, Shock of the Old has established itself as the most interesting and productive annual learning technologies conference in the UK. As usual, attendees came from many of the Russell Group universities. Oxford was of course well represented, along with delegates from Cambridge, LSE, the Institute of Education (London) and more. The theme this year was ‘Web 2.0 and the Connected Future’, with a second day follow up event on ‘Beyond Digital Natives’ (the second day has a more discursive format). I last gave a presentation at Shock in 2005, introducing the then new and quite revolutionary Warwick Blogs, with the concept of ‘guerrilla PDP’ (personal development process). In the three years since then, we have moved on considerably, with many such technologies having now become widely accepted and well used. Many other universities are only now introducing such things, perhaps with a plug-in module added to their VLE, or with semi-official support for the use of a free online service. Many more are only tentatively pondering the posibilities, still concerned about how these tools might be used by students and by staff. The conference programme brought together conservative elements with more radical propositions. Several papers and discussions expressed the common misgivings:

  • Are we overloading people with unnecessary shiny new objects?
  • How can institutional IT support such an outbreak of freedom?
  • How can we stop students saying bad things about us, doing things that are bad (for us or them)?
  • Surely all evidence demonstrates that Web 2.0 tools are leading students into making terrible mistakes?

My presentation, and several others, went some way to calming any reactionary voices. We’ve already been there, done it, and it really didn’t hurt. Furthermore, it’s worth the effort. During my talk I realised that I was saying something even more exciting: web development and Web 2.0 has matured, along with the competencies of our staff and students and our ability to support them, so now is the time to really get to work on developing web based services that work for your university. The second day of the conference ended with a debate and a vote on the proposition: ‘too many new features are being introduced too quickly’. During the debate I expressed my opinion that we are getting good at innovation. The nagative proposition was rejected by a significant majority.

1.2 An evaluation framework

My first move was to introduce the ‘evaluation framework’ that I have been developing over the last couple of years. I had expected this to polarise the audience to some degree, between two tendencies. On the one hand, asserting that a technology should simply be evaluated functionally: does it do what it’s supposed to do? Obviously that is important. The antithesis to that position maintains that things are always more complex than they seem: a technology has a non-linear relationship to the social, institutional, personal and cultural contexts within which it used, and therefore its positive or negative effects are dynamic and often intangible at the time of its use (this is a standard argument for historians and philosophers of technology, the big issue today is the speed and intensity of the dynamic). When considering a functionally broad technology with a lower degree of deterministic constraints, a technology that can be used and adapted for a wide range of purposes, clearly the latter position is more appropriate. As I argued latter in the presentation, a key aspect of Web 2.0 technologies is that people transfer them across domains (for example, a personal blog being used in formal teaching). The process of transference may have both negative and positive side-effects. For example, it may lead to a more effective and more critical understanding of a specific tool and a whole class of technologies. In most cases the side-effects are as important, if not more important, than the actual intended functionality. For example, we can ask of a tool: how does it raise the individuals competency in acquiring and applying new skills? My answer to the ‘too much new stuff’ charge is that change is good because of this side-effect (amongst others).

The evaluation framework consists of a series of four non-definitive lists, aiming to give a simple but powerful way of assessing the impact of a technology on people and the university:

1. Web 2.0 design patterns – concrete patterns of person-system-person interaction;
2. Competencies of a digital native – abilities that we can expect people to have so as to operate successfully in an environment that spans between offline and online;
3. Learning design patterns – typical patterns of activity that are employed by teachers and learners;
4. Enabling activities – a set of things that we can do with technology to positively extend the capabilities of people in a university (and beyond).

My suggestion is that we can use lists 2, 3 and 4 to evaluate the effects of real instances of 1 (and other technologies). Although I didn’t have time to carry out a comprehensive evaluation in the alloted 35 minutes, my handout containing the lists did indicate which of them were clearly supported by Warwick Blogs or Sitebuilder, and where there might be some scope for debate.

1.3 Some evidence

The introduction of the evaluation framework was followed by a screening of the 4 minute long interview that I recently carried out with Peter Kirwan, a student from the English Department who has used Warwick Blogs successfully ( he video can be viewed online ). Peter’s example demonstrated how many of the ‘enabling activities’ are possible with blogs. For example, the technology had helped to form a mutually beneficial collaboration (4.10), with Peter being invited to take part in a high-profile conference debate. The example of Peter’s blog can easily be used to show how Warwick Blogs implements most of the ‘enabling activities’ as well as sthome of the ‘learning design patterns’ whilst having the side effect of encouraging people to develop the ‘competencies of a digital native’.

1.4 Web 2.0 design patterns in Sitebuilder and Warwick Blogs

The main body of the presentation consisted of a series of ScreenFlow video screen captures, each illustrating how a different feature of Sitebuilder or Warwick Blogs implements one of the web 2.0 design patterns that I listed. For example, ‘read/write’ web was simply illustrated by the Sitebuilder WYSIWYG editor (although even that basic feature impressed the audience). Each ScreenFlow was introduced, accompanied by a commentary, and concluded with some points relating it to the evaluation framework (although in no real depth due to the time constraint). Two of the design patterns were used to raise interesting questions about the fit (or lack of) between the new technologies and the practices of academia.

Sitebuilder can be used as a Wiki, but rarely is. In fact there’s still not much application of the wiki pattern in teaching and learning at Warwick. Wikis, I suggested, employ a membership model in which the content of a page belongs to all of the participants, who are themselves ‘members’ of the page or more widely the site. The traditional (and very successful) read/write web pattern tends to see a page as belonging to an individual. Indeed its hard to think of any pages in Sitebuilder (beyond department home pages) that are not the work of a single author (perhaps with a few minor corrections and updates from others). Furthermore, few knowledge objects in a traditional university are authored through a membership model rather than an ownership model (or an author/editor model). Our assessment and authorisation processes tend to focus on the individual owner-author.

Another challenging pattern is the ‘folksonomy’ or ‘tagsonomy’: collaborative tagging. I demonstrated an instance of collaborative tagging using Sitebuilder. The History department created a schema of tags that they then applied to all of their many web paged. I then created a keyword search interface. Here is the video that I used to show this:

I suggested that the rather high number of distinct tags used in Warwick Blogs (almost 19,000) might actually be a bad sign. There are few instances of collaborative tagging, and certainly no instances that I know of where a whole schema has been used. This prompted an interesting discussion (see questions below).

My intention had been to spend some time examining another impressive example of how these design patterns are enhancing the epistemography (knowledge-landscape-process) of students at Warwick: ePortfolios. Unfortunately, I had to skip this part of the presentation, as it looked as if a longer than expected discussion was being prompted.

1.5 Impressive results

I ended with the conclusion: Warwick has become a Web 2.0 university. What do I mean by that? Not simply that we have a love of shiny objects, or even that we have implemented Web 2.0 design patterns as central to key activities, or that we have made them available to the entire university membership. Rather, it is the way in which we have grown a digitally native membership, capable of taking these tools and using them in their own ways for their own purposes; but more, they then pass on those results through their own networks, and back to the developers/designers/advisors with ideas for new directions; and the developers/designers/advisors themselves go further, learn more, find new and better ways of doing the ‘enabling activities’. That level of engagement seems to be unique in a UK university. I ended with statistics: the thousands of Sitebuilder editors, the 105,000 blog entries, the 80 members of staff who came to a podcasting workshop last year, and most importantly, the extraordinarily low incidence of problems generated by that mass of activity.

1.6 Questions

Having blasted through quite a lot of material in half an hour, the discussion that followed is now a bit of a blur in my mind. I recall a lively discussion, and some really good questions. I do remember that the questions led me in to making more explicit the benefits of doing it the Warwick way. I repeated my belief that the investment has been worth it, given that we have generated a huge amount of knowledge, established a world-class development team, and created a population of digital natives. Three questions were particularly memorable:

Why did you build it yourself? Why not use the many free services now online? Or why not open source? – I will answer this fully in the second part of my report (coming soon).

How do you provide training for these thousands of people? Answer: we provide a range of training and consultation services, including formal training sessions, departmental sessions and individual task-oriented consultations. However, many thousands of people have acquired their skills independently, or within their own informal networks. Three factors contribute to this being a viable approach. Firstly, the software is really well designed. It uses familiar and usually intuitive design patterns. It separates out the basic functionality required to get important tasks done from more complex advanced functionality. Secondly, the abilities of our members has grown progressively with the web applications – they are attaining the digital native competencies and hence becoming more independent and capable. Finally, we have encouraged our members to help each other, to share their learning, to develop support networks within their own groupings (for example, at the departmental level).

Does 19,000 Warwick Blogs distinct tags really indicate a problem? I was challenged on my claim that a large number of tags means little collaboration. I responded by saying that I know of very few instances in which a tag has been consciously created by a group (there are a few cases where we have invented a tag to be used in a teaching context). I’m sure there are no cases in which a schema of related tags, forming a taxonomy, has been invented or even used. Taxonomical classification is important in many academic subjects. My presentation was followed by Dr Annamaria Carusi of the Oxford e-Research Centre. Annamaria concentrated upon the sciences, and demonstrated some subject specific systems that use keyword tagging. However, she seemed to confirm that it is a complicated and diverse business, requiring more research to understand current practices and possible developments.

In part 2 of this report I will look in more detail at the question: why do it yourself?

April 08, 2008

Podcasting at Warwick: examples

This is a list of interesting podcast pages from Warwick University. If you know of any ommissions, please do tell me.
How the podcasts were made

With the exception of those created by the Communications Office, the podcasts were created independently by staff and students. Some initial training was provided, with 80 members of staff attending a workshop in 2007. Some of these podcasts were created by the Arts faculty E-Squad students (a team of 8 supported by Robert O’Toole, Arts Faculty E-learning Advisor).

Edirol R09 recorders are common throughout the university, with some departments also using more sophisticated Marantz recorders. The R09 is quite capable of broadcast quality recordings if used carefully. Editing is most usefully done with the free Audacity tool. Our Sitebuilder web content management system includes a podcast page type, with automatic generation of RSS feeds, as well automatically displaying a Flash MP3 player for each uploaded podcast. Once that a page is set up, new podcasts can be uploaded with just a simple form.

Professional quality podcasts by the Communications Office

Produced to showcase research and teaching at Warwick.

Warwick Podcasts Interviews with leading academics.

Writers at Warwick Recordings of visiting writers,

Writing Challenges A series of exercises to act as a taster for the Creative Writing programme.

Medieval Islamic Medicine

Student Podcasting

Created by students competing in the Warwick Podcasts Competition. Each team interviewed a member of staff or an alumnus.

Warwick Podcasts Competition 2007

Warwick Podcasts Competition 2008

Departmental podcasting

Goethe Podcasts, German Studies Using an approach that links the text of poems to an audio reading.

Warwick HRI

English Department European Novel lectures Simple recordings of lectures, helping to widen access and make them available to part-time evening class students.

Centre for Translation and Comparative Cultural Studies visiting speakers

Warwick Innovative Manufacturing Research Centre


Clinical Pharmocology

Warwick Business School

March 19, 2008

Interview with Peter Kirwan, succesful student blogger

Peter Kirwan is a student in the English Department, and author of the popular Bardathon blog, in which he has become a really good theatre critic. The success of his blogging has led him to speak at conferences, and to write for the Guardian. I recently interviewed Peter about his blog and how it has contributed to his success as a student and a reviewer.

A great result. When Kay Sanderson and I first promoted the idea of academic blogging in 2003 we had hoped that it would help students in just this way: becoming active and self-reflective writers, and becoming part of the research and cultural process.

Created using an Apple MacBook, with the built-in camera. Recorded and edited with iMovie. Screen captures created in Screenflow. Converted to FLV format using Flix.

February 22, 2008

Podcasting for teaching and learning workshop – e–learning showcase day

Chris Coe and I will be running a workshop on podcasting as part of the E-learning Showcase Day in the Library on March 10th.
Title: Podcasting: audio recordings online for teaching and learning

In 45 minutes, the session will address these issues:

1. What is a podcast? Is it audio? Is it video?
2. How can we listen to podcasts?
3. Podcasting by staff, creating online learning materials, recording live events, creating podcast programmes.
4. Podcasting by students, as a research-based learning activity.
5. How can I design a podcast programme? Useful tips.
6. How do I record my podcast? What gadgets do I need?
7. What if I need to edit?
8. How can I publish my podcast?

We will use Edirol R09 recorders in the session, creating a short podcast interview.

Case studies will include:

A. Recording live events in the English Department.
B. Creating a podcast programme.
C. Student podcasting, research-based learning.
D. Student podcasting using MediaManager.

Participants will receive how-to guides (on paper and CD) and a copy of the Audacity editing software (on CD).

The session will be repeated in the afternoon.

February 11, 2008

16 ways to make an excellent university

As part of the application process for a major award, I am currently reflecting upon the reasons why my work as Arts E-learning Advisor has been successful. Part of the answer is that the ‘e-learning’ initiative is facilitating a more widespread and comprehensive development of the ‘Warwick experience’. I have begun by listing 16 factors that I believe contribute to an excellent university; that is, 16 things that we can focus development upon. I can then investigate the means by which technology might be contributing to these 16 factors.
Firstly, a word about how this list was constructed. I have simply talked to many of the people who are responsible for creating an excellent ‘Warwick experience’ – not just the student experience, but also the researcher and teacher experience. Some of the ideas are developments of official teaching and learning strategy. Others are based upon my first hand experience as a student, researcher and teacher.

Here’s my list. It’s not intended to be exclusively complete, but rather to give a basic framework.

  1. Create, promote and review many diverse opportunities and resources.
  2. Reduce the burden of admin and bureaucracy.
  3. Enable and encourage enterprise.
  4. Provide space, tools and resources for creativity.
  5. Support managed risk taking.
  6. Support deep-learning and specialisation, within an understanding of wider contexts and connections.
  7. Establish a range of alternative channels of expression and collaboration, to be used intelligently, with purpose and discretion.
  8. Create and sustain meaningful communities at the appropriate scale and of the appropriate form.
  9. Facilitate international and local perspectives and connections as part of all activities.
  10. Form mutually beneficial collaborations that bring together diverse people (varying status, age, skills level, intellectual and cultural background etc).
  11. Develop, communicate and use appropriate and well defined values: benchmarks; standards; competencies (assessment).
  12. Enable and encourage the critical reflection, planning & action cycle.
  13. Identify and reward individual contributions, capabilities and achievements.
  14. Share examples, testimonies, methods and stories.
  15. Communicate and celebrate success.
  16. Provide an enjoyable, caring and friendly experience.
How then does technology fit into this? Clearly the intelligent and well designed use of new technologies may assist greatly with each of the points. I plan to explore this more thoroughly. But we should also consider what might be a prerequisite for technology having an effect in such fundamental and powerful processes. I argue that there are core competencies that are necessary pre-conditions for success: the core competencies of a digital native. It is in supporting the development of these core competencies, as much as the provision of actual technologies, that the most vital work lies.