Friday, June 30, 2006

Issues for University's in using social software

One of my colleagues at Glamorgan made a fascinating comment in a discussion on our work blog. We were discussing social software and he said:

I imagine there are a range of questions/filters Glamorgan, or any other institution, would need to apply: (1) Learning & Teaching (1) what kind of learning are we trying to promote? What instructional approaches best meet these needs? Is social software the best way of supporting these needs? (2) Is social software really accessible to learners? Given the range of learners we have, and our mission to promote equity in learning, how flexible is social software for a particular target group? (3) What about the organisational implications? (4) How quickly can courses be mounted that leverage onto social software? (5) What kind of interactivity does social software enable? Can it really stimulate "higher-order" thinking skills and critical inquiry (I would posit that this should be the mission of a good university)(6) and from a uni perspective what's the cost structure?/cost per student?

I bet those of us who have been promoting Social Software have heard similar questions time and time again. Though in my experience they normally come from technical support staff not from the research community.

So some answers:

(1) Learning & Teaching "what kind of learning are we trying to promote? What instructional approaches best meet these needs? Is social software the best way of supporting these needs?"

I guess those from the social software community will think this has an obvious answer. Yes three years ago we might have been able to ask this, but with a plethora of evidence in Schools, FE and HE I thought the answer was already well evidenced.

I notice the issue emerging in the policy debate on Personalised Learning. Where it is argued that personalisation comes from addressing the student where they are, not us delivering in our preferred method. So is it the best way, well ask the learner, and try and offer more than one way. But the range of examples of changing forms of engagement achieved by these methods are all over the blogospehere, the site being an example of a UK learning and teaching agenda around blogging.

(2) Is social software really accessible to learners? Given the range of learners we have and our mission to promote equity in learning how flexible is social software for a particular target group?

Again this question took me by surprise. I thought anyone who has looked at social software would know that it is as accessible as access to any Internet enabled PC, or indeed increasingly to any enabled mobile device. Personalisation again points us to more not let use of this. See the FutureLab report. Therefore as an HE which expects students to be able to access a VLE we already assume they have sufficient access for the use of social software. Yes there are equity issues, especially in a socially marginalised area like the South East Wales Valleys, and these should not be ignored, but these are already being addressed in the debate on the use of any technology among socially marginalised groups or communities.

(3) What about the organisational implications?

This is the area of my current research. Yes new technologies always lead to change, but any improvement/enhancement agenda in learning is always going to lead to culture change. Advantage here is that the culture change is more institutions (internal) than on our students (external) as they are engaging in social software use long before they come to us. Ewan puts this so well in his podcast when he shows we can use the tools that pupils, in his case, already have. If this can happen in the school sector, how much more will we need to be able to do it in HE.

(4) How quickly can courses be mounted that leverage onto social software?

10 minutes to as many hours as you have?? When the course is about reflection and thinking, then setting up a blog and offering a task, I find a deadline also helps, can be enough to start the learning process. When creative industries are looking for sound of image develop it can take longer but the tools enable interaction which was not possible in the past.

At Glamorgan have some people already doing this. For most academics it has been easier to adopt to social software than to learn a VLE. Largely because this approach is more accessible, i.e. it feels more like products academics are already familiar with (e.g. Word etc).

(5) What kind of interactivity does social software enable? Can it really stimulate 'higher-order' thinking skills and critical inquiry (I would posit that this should be the mission of a good university)

At the recent Blended Learning Conference at Hertfordshire more than half of the presentations were about the use of Social Software as tools for learning. Gilly Salmon keynoted the event showing how some of these approaches were being used in recent post about a presentation I gave to the HEA Business and Management Subject Network

(6) From a university perspective what's the cost structure?/cost per student?

This depends on the approach taken. Indeed the debate of housed and managed by the University or using sites provided by companies for free is currently one I have been raising with members of the corporate and network teams in our Information Services Department.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Social bookmarking: A tool that I love

Social bookmarking must be one of the simplest implementations of the Social Software movement. Yet since I was introduced to in November last year it has become a key part of my working life. Not only do I visit it for my own information, but send colleagues there rather than remembering to e-mail them a link.

Companies as large as Sun Microsystems are now recognising this. In the article Social bookmarking: Pushing collaboration to the edge Shamus McGillicuddy writes "Although social bookmarking has enjoyed success on the Web, business adoption of the technology has been slow to take hold, largely due to the fact no vendors have come forward with an enterprise product."

In educational terms the ability to share what you are reading with colleagues in a subject area, or with research colleagues, or with your students, indeed even having your students share theirs with you, makes a much more fluid knowledge transfer than books and papers tend to achieve.

In addition in the academic world CITEULIKE offers the same for academic papers. In all it just astounds me why more of us are not using it to make sure that our students start constructing their own knowledge from the sources we use, rather than spoon-feeding them.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Web's second phase puts users in control

We have often discussed Web 2.0 here. So it is interesting to see it emerging into the mainstream media.

This article in the Guardian outlines all of the uses that I normally talk about when presenting sessions on the topic. While it summarises the 'how to' issues and focuses on 'what the technology can do in education' it is a good introduction piece for people new to this area.

It reminded me of something Ewan made me aware of some time ago. A book written by contributors in the UK, including Ewan and edited by Terry Freedman looking at the use of Social Software in Schools (note this link is to a PDF file, so may take some time to load), but all of the material would be equally relevant to us in HE.

The Buzz around e-portfolios

A few days ago I was discussing e-portfolios and as often happens, suddenly I am seeing even more about them.

Jane Knight pointed me to the a recent report prepared for the JISC e-Learning and Pedagogy strand of the JISC e-Learning Programme which Helen Beetham has written on the topic. A fascinating read.

I attended the Diverse Practices:Common Futures Conference at Greenwich this week where Amanda Black from BECTA was suggesting that the personalisation agenda was now being raised by the English Education Ministers and e-portfolios appear to be an example of this which is appropriate in Higher Education.

Time to refocus on what Cliona has been doing on this at Glamorgan and building on her work as she leaves us for the Funding Council

Friday, June 23, 2006

Pedagogy and/or Technology is there a cultural divide

Michael Webb has commented in response to my post on insourcing or outsourcing for Social Software suggesting that 'maybe it's not a case of having a pedagogic driven model vs a technology driven model but both sides working together?'

I grant that I was charecterising your position Michael. But my experience leads me to wonder if it is possible to have a perfect world, though I wish we could.

I think however that most people stand somewhere off the middle of the technology push-learning pull continuum. i.e. They include a bias which either says we have this technology so lets find a use for it, or we have this learning encounter what technology can I/we use to enhance it.

I hope the best of us are close to the median point, but I know that for myself it is using the technologies I currently know to enhance learning and teaching, and not acquiring lots of new technologies which is my focus. Hence people like me need people like you - innovative teaching and learning needs innovators in technological development but these skills are similar but not the same.

I understand the argument that there are Instructional Design roles which combine these foci, but in HE at least my experience has been that Instructional Designers, and I know some very good ones, are either technically strong but not conversant with the subject or people who have moved from lecturering the subject and have adapted the technologies. There are some notable exceptions, but for me these tend to confirm not deny the rule.

The answer I guess is for far greater collaboration between technical, academic, library and support staff in developing and designing learning, and this model is one which JISC are strongly supporting and reflects the experience we had during the ECW project. However the resources available from the EU for that project means it is not a model we could embed in the rest of our learning and teaching practice. Thus, until HEIs have a radical change in funding I suspect the difference in approach between those at the VLE face doing the management and design of their delivery alone at evenings and weekends, and those in IS and Learning Support with more systems and process driven perspectives may continue to need intermediaries to provide interaction, and us intermediaries will tend to be biased towards our own roots and backgrounds, however hard we try.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Don't have a Dell on you lap!

As I sit in a chair in my sitting room this evening with my Sony Vaio sitting on my lap typing this and reading blogs, my partner Drew is sitting opposite on the setee with a Dell on his lap, probably doing some programming.

This story which is being referenced across a lot of the blogs makes eye watering reading. I particularly like the phrase we'd suggest you avoid actually using a laptop on your lap. Ouch.

Ewan hopes it will never happen to him at a conference :-)

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

VLE or Social Software - is it either/or or both/and

Thanks to Duncan for being the first to leave a comment following the event on Monday. It is nice to hear from you, and thanks for the praise.

You can read Duncan's comment. He says "simply using the VLE as a repository is a useful starting point for some people, but it doesn't build a community in the way that blogs do. I sometimes think of Moodle as a half-way house - it can be used for content, but its ethos and focus is on a constructivist approach to learning."

I must say I agree with you on VLEs. I'm in the 'better to have something than nothing at all' model of thinking, so using a VLE as a repository is fine by me - this would be the second point on Norah's continuum. However I would see greater value in using it for learning rather than as a broadcast media, so would encourage people to go further in challenging a content model.

I also agree about the flexibility of Moodle, but in most HEIs the VLE is a big cost item so staff are often requested to use the approved one. Thus blogs and wikis, as well as having inherent strengths themselves, provide a way of adapting to restrictions without waiting for the internal debate on VLEs to catch up with the learning and teaching practice.

Of course others may disagree, that's what comments are for :-) So why not provide your view.

Further Information for those who participated in the Subject Network event yesterday

At the end of the HEA Business, Management, Accounting and Finance Subject Network event at the Glamorgan Business Centre yesterday, I was asked to provide links to some of the materials we covered.

The slides for my own talk can be found in this blog post.

Access to the material Robert Andrews created on blogging for business can be found at the blog he created for the event - The Wild Blog Yonder.

Martin Lynch and Richard Tunstall presented on the developments on which they are working. Here are more details on the simulation.

Professor Norah Jones gave an adapted version of a session which can be accessed here

More discussion on some of these approaches can be found on our Learning Zone blog and the Blended Learning Website

Monday, June 19, 2006

Blogs, wikis, pods, vods and social bookmarking: The future for Blended Learning?

I'm giving a talk today (19th June) to the HEA Business, Management, Accounting and Finance Subject Network at the Glamorgan Business Centre.

The slides for the talk are here they are created in the spirit of academic sharing, so please feel free to use and repurpose them to your hearts content.

I also created a Podcast to be part of the presentation this can be found here

Any feedback or comment, please comment on this blog or e-mail

A brief comment on Vods is in this blog entry

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Vodcasting Creativity - Bowiechick

I'm giving a talk to a group from the HEA business, Management, Accountancy and Finance Subject Network tomorrow on Social Software as part of a session on Blended Learning.

Most of the examples I'm using are of the use of Blogs, Wikis and Pods. But so many people are talking about Vods at present, especially the effective viral marketing possibilities. (See my previous post).

The YouTube's 'Bowiechick' and the spiders from marketing article from CNET.Com explains how a simple Vod can have a huge impact on product placement.

If you've not seen 'BreakUp' yourself, view it now.


At Glamorgan we have spent quite a long time reflecting on Personal Development Planning and the use of Portfolios. Within the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching this work has been lead by Dr Cliona O'Neill.

Cliona has done a great job in developing a VLE based version of the Portfolio, and has rolled this out to local Schools. She is currently working on updating the materials to provide a more interactive media rich version of the eportfolio system.

With this in mind I was interested in seeing Norman D'Arcy's thoughts On ePorfolios and Ownership. Norman argues that eportfolios are not going to be attractive unless "model the ePortfolio as a teacher. "This is how I gather my thoughts together to track what I've done, what I'm doing, and where I'm going in my career as a teacher". If it's not relevant to a professional, why would it be relevant to a student?". His views are influenced by work done by Helen Barrett on Required High School Portfolios in Canada and the concerns sheraisess are valid.

So how about us? Are eportfolios to keep WAG happy, or are theygenuinelyy to the benefit of the students - Any thoughts welcome.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Social Software and Marketing Higher Education

I read Colin Whitelaw's contribution to the Glamorgan Marketing Blog on Online Marketing, Colin argues that Social Software can be used in Marketing (though he doesn't suggest how in his Toolkit!!). My comment suggests some approaches that I think will work based on my reading in the area.

Something to think about. I must ask Robin if there is synergy between his research and the stuff I am thinking about.

Teaching ICT or using ICT

One of the things that is becoming apparent to me by going to a few conference on Blended Learning is that there are (at least) two camps in the dialogue. Those who are interested in the technology and exploring all its possibilities and those who are interested in the learning and want to use and abuse the technology for that purpose. More interested in how the learning works than in whether it is the best use of the particular technology.

It is interesting to see Ewan talking in these terms in the School sector. In this article he argues that we should stop teaching ICT and start using it in our teaching - seems like another argument for Blended Learning with the emphasis on the learning.


To add an image to my profile in Blogger I need to add the photo to the blog. So here goes.

This shot is one of a number that Curt Bonk took while he visited the Uni for the CELT launch. It is one of the best photos of me I've seen for some time.

To outsource or insource social software??

It always seems strange to me that the week that is one of the busiest is also one of those which feels best. Being tired but energising at the same time.

I've talked about the key themes in the work blog - see it here, but I also have a lot of personal reflection, so here I am after a gap of half a year contributing to my blog again.

Monday's event in Newport was a good chance to gage what some of our local institutions are doing in this area. Some examples of good practice in the institution. Michael Webb is doing some useful work in embedding social software into the institution. If I was charecterising this I'd say this was a technology driven model, with the new technology being embedded and then the practitioners being engaged, whereas we at Glamorgan are attempting to have a pedagogic driven model, engaging the practitioners first and then letting the technology catch up. Michael's recent presentation to the Institutional Web Management Workshop 2006 for example takes a strategic view that we have started to engage with, but not develop in great detail.

The conference Wiki is a good source for related Learning 2.0 material.

I suspect now is the time to link these ideas to what is going on at Glamorgan. Something to build into next week :-)