Tag Archives: digilit

Extending your online course

I am developing a new online course on “Extending your online course” (how meta is that). We go live with it on 2 November 2011. This four-week short course focuses on enhancing teaching and learning by using new technology and tools – social media – for interactivity and engagement.

What does that mean? We are going to experiment with new “stuff” to teach with. This has been the most fun I have had at work in a while. The website will go live next week. Contact me (Twitter @georgeroberts) if you want a preview.

The course is primarily aimed at teachers who have some experience of teaching online, those who have done one of OCSLD‘s other online courses, or those who are bold about trying new things. You do not have to be a techie. In fact the course is not really aimed at techies. But, you should be willing to embrace social media technologies for education and get your hands a little dirty when we “lift the lid”. If you are reading this, please forward a link to any of your new colleagues who are getting into blended online teaching.

The course is going to be experimental. We are not going to tell you what to do or how to do it – though we will if we can. We do aim that through this engagement you will discover (and we might as well!) new ways to interact in learning environments and new tools to facilitate that interaction. We will adopt the motto (though not, perfectly, the method) of the MOOC, “… we suggest, you decide”. We will look at not just the tools and techniques, but also the social implications of going on-line through the social media world. Questions of privacy, identity and community in respect to academic practice will be raised. (These questions were explored in a series of online seminars and are the subject of another new course “Academic practice online”, which I am developing for later next year.)

As with our other courses, “Extending your online course” will be taught primarily through asynchronous group discussion. However there will be some use of synchronous audiographic virtual classrooms. We will use Wimba Classroom. It is a lot like Elluminate or Adobe Connect. If you are thinking about participating you might want to put Friday 4 November 1200-1400 (GMT) into your diary for the first of the live audiographic sessions. And, there will be two more live sessions on the two following Fridays.

The course is organised around weekly tasks supported by associated readings. In order to make a full contribution to the course people need to commit approximately a total of 4-6 hours per week to course related activity.

I hope people join!

Digital Humanities and the #alt-ac track – but why need it be centered around the “academy”

the #alt-ac label speaks to to a broad set of hybrid, humanities-oriented professions centered in and around the academy, in which there are rich opportunities to put deep — often doctoral-level — training in scholarly disciplines to use. Recent #alt-ac conversation online additionally tends to focus on the digital humanities, a community of practice marrying sophisticated understanding of traditional disciplines with new tools and methods. The digital humanities constitute, in my opinion, the best gig in town — attracting scholars who exhibit restless, interdisciplinary curiosity, mastery of relevant research tools and methods (old and new), and uncommon comfort — in a world that defines expertise like this — with a general assumption that practitioners are jacks-of-all-trades.

Or, rather, ought the “academy” be equated with the “institutions” of higher education, which, now, seem to be serving the community of scholarship so poorly.

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First thoughts on the final (?) draft Strategy for Enhancing the Student Experience

Oxford Brookes Academic Enhancement and Standards Committee has made its final (?) modifications to the draft Strategy for Enhancing the Student Experience (SESE). The two objectives of this strategy are to:

  • [implement] approaches centred on critical reflection, impact evaluation and continuous enhancement of the student experience.
  • [maximise] student involvement in the development of policies and practices for teaching and learning and in extra-curricular, student led initiatives.

The strategy has principles and guidelines and (eventually) will have maps. Overall the tone is a bit directive: there is a lot of insistance and requirement, but the intentions are (I believe) worthy ones.

From a PCTHE perspective some of the key messages of this document are:

  • All staff who support learning will participate annually in high quality professional development (3.5.2)
  • All academic staff who support learning will engage with processes of evaluation, reflection and research into pedagogic practice (3.5.4)
  • The fundamental purpose of assessment will be to help students learn by providing formative feedback. (3.6.2) (so obvious but so often ignored in practice)
  • Students will be expected to take responsibility for their own learning, to actively engage with feedback and assessment (3.3.1) (this is perhaps one of the key messages of the Assessment Compact)
  • Students [will have the opportunity] to provide input and play a role from the outset in the development of new programmes. (4.3.4)

From a wider educational development perspective:

  • [With our] internationally recognised in-house expertise in educational development, we commit to routinely carrying out impact assessment, review and revision of all significant academic development initiatives and of measures taken forward in the SESE and the consequent strategy maps. (

Learning technology messages

  • [People will be] able to use technology to shape their own learning environment and interactions. (3.2.2)
  • [The] curriculum will be enriched by technologies that empower students’ development as self-regulating, digitally literate learners, able to shape their own learning interactions and author their own digital artefacts. (3.4.5)
  • The physical environment will be augmented by digital environments and technologies in ways which support a distinctive Brookes learning experience (3.7.2)
  • The functional access, skills and practices necessary to become a confident, agile adopter of a range of technologies for personal, academic and professional use. To be able to use appropriate technology to search for high-quality information; critically to evaluate and engage with the information obtained; reflect on and record learning, and professional and personal development; and engage productively in relevant online communities. (4.1. d)

The first day of the PCTHE

We must have been given the worst teaching room in the University (Gibbs 2.15). It was on the edge of a building site with fork lifts reversing all morning. The room was the only unrefurbished one on this floor of the building. The seating was really poor quality: ripped seats, gum on the floor. There was no wireless coverage or 3G in the room (some might consider this a positive feature?). Roy is looking into finding a different room for Wednesday.

But that was not the whole story. The participants were a buzzy group: very little evidence of reluctant participation and a real willingness to talk with each other.

Frances showed Mike Wesch’s excellent video, A vision of students today. This stimulated discussion: what are we preparing learners for? This opened up a discussion of transferable outcomes or “graduate competencies”: team working, communication, academic literacy and so on. Frances also referred to John Biggs, one of the theorists that we draw on. Biggs characterised the “academic” and the “non-academic” learner (deep and surface) and advocated constructive alignment as a means of creating or inducing the behaviours of the more academic student in the less academically inclined. Our challenge is as much how to involve less academic learners as it is to stimulate and challenge the more academically inclined. This reminds me of a discussion I recently had with a participant on a previous cohort whose background was from an ancient university in another country. Her observation was that Brookes students, compared to those she was used to, were less well motivated. I am cautious of such generalisations, but I do expect that we experience much greater diversity in all dimensions of learner difference here than in some other places; but, I also expect there are places where the diversity is even greater. This is a factor of British Higher education policy over the past 15 years or so. The great benefits of widening participation are matched with new challenges for teachers.

The VLE introduction session took place in a brand new pooled computer room. The room was locked when I arrived 15 minutes early to get set up. There was no projector. It appeared as if the computers had never been turned on. All took 15 minutes to boot while building the registry, updating applications and so on. at least five computers would not run at all. At least five others would not launch applications from the desktop – though they did run from the “Start menu”. These are the things sent to try us. But again, the participants this year are a very tolerant group. They coped probably better than me!

I wonder, indeed, if this is the last time we need to run this session in this way? Each year I observe that the participants are more and more computer literate. At least half the problems, if not more, were due to the Brookes LAN and the pooled room: the computers not booting correctly and logging into the Brookes network caused more difficulty than interacting with the applications. Even people who had never used the VLE were able to find their way around and use the forums. Categorically, only the use of the Wiki was problematic, and some of those problems were only down to the fact that not only our group of 30 people were accessing. Greg observed that at the same time across the university over 500 people were engaged in similar  sessions. The load will be balanced by next week. Though the Wiki was a challenge for some to use, we probably picked the worst time and the worst place and the worst way to address the challenges.

Course Leader’s Blog

As we get ready for the academic year 2010-11, I am preparing our Post Graduate Certificate in Teaching in Higher Education.

This involves: updating the Handbook for this instance of the course for the last time. We will be revalidating a new PCTHE for 2011-12; updating the VLE (Brookes Virtual/Blackboard) and Wiki (Confluence).

There are a lot of new features on the VLE, particularly Voice Tools and related Wimba applications. I hope to start using these “for real” this year.

I am also resolving to keep a Course Leader’s blog here in my BrookesBlog site. A. J. Cann at University of Leicester has written a piece on “Why blog” (http://www.microbiologybytes.com/AJC/whyblog.html) on his excellent (for biologists) Microbiologybytes site. What he said …

I have to confess that I have become something of an on-line learning luddite. Fifteen years ago I was something of an Internet pioneer, developing Web-based support sites for professional development modules as part of a postgraduate certificate in in the management of the international energy industry. I did my MA in education by distance learning and wrote my PhD on community information technology centres. I am active in the social networking world (my Google Profile is here: http://www.google.com/profiles/georgebroberts#about).

So, what gives? I feel an almost visceral antipathy to virtual learning environments (VLEs). OK, I know they are only sets of tools. James Clay keeps a wonderful blog on the virtues of using VLEs (http://elearningstuff.wordpress.com/category/100-ways/). When Blackboard bought WebCT, the predecessor to the current BrookesVirtual, I wrote a few pieces on the political-economic implications as I saw them at the time (e.g. here: http://my-world.typepad.com/rworld/2006/08/organ_grinders_.html). But, I don’t just feel an antipathy only to Blackboard. Moodle for all its open-source loveliness doesn’t do it for me any more, either.

I used to love VLEs. But as we all know, when you fall out of love it is really hard to re-ignite the flame. So, maybe me and the VLE need a little relationship counselling. I promise to listen more and sulk less, focus on the strengths and “accentuate the positive”. Maybe that is a lesson for my life in general!


Curriculum design for new social media – a great illustration of incorporating digital literacy into the curriculum #pcthe

In “Introduction to Mass Communication,” I’d like to see more discussions about how personal communications can easily become mass communication because the Web has hyperlinked everything.  Students should explore the changing models of mass communications – how int he past, content used to be broadcast to the masses, and would then be shared person-to-person.  Today, content is often shared person-to-person first, to be followed by dissemination to the masses.  Why?  How?

In “Human Communication,” I want to see the students dive down into the intricacies of how relationships created and maintained using social media are different than those that are solely face-to-face.  How does social media enhance or degrade these relationships?

In “Visual Communication,” the students should understand the visual impact of content on the Web.  How did we go from fancy, tricked out websites being a best practice to something as plain and boring as Twitter?  How and why did the banner ad die?  Why, when asked if there were ads on Google, did one teenager at the Web 2.0 Summit say, “no – are there supposed to be?”

In “Digital Skills and Information Gathering,” how do you differentiate between what’s fact and fiction online any more?  How many sources are need to verify?  What’s the definition of a source?  How do you use tools like Wikipedia and other social media as breadcrumbs to find more credible sources?

When I took “Media Writing,” I learned the AP Stylebook and how to write press releases.  Students should absolutely still learn these skills.  But, they should also learn how to write like a human being, in a conversational tone, not as a public relations machine.  They should learn what a good blog post looks and sounds like.  They should learn how to take a key message and put it into their own words, into their own writing style instead of conforming to a style guide.

Media Law” should still involve a LOT of discussion of past cases and legal precedents, an exploration of the First Amendment, thorough reviews of the Pentagon Papers trial and other landmark cases.  But, there should also be a lot of “what if?” questions that tackle today’s social media landscape that hasn’t, in a lot of cases, gone through the legal rigor that other media has.  Let’s study Cybersquatting cases like LaRussa vs. Twitter, Inc. – let’s discuss the impacts of cases like that that don’t have a long legal history, but will surely help define the environment in which these students are going to be working.

I’d rename “International Communication” to be “Global Communication,” and I’d focus not just on the differences in communication styles between Western and Eastern countries, Asian cultures and Hispanic cultures, but on how it’s just as easy to communicate with someone 10,000 miles away as it is with your next door neighbor.  I’d have my students study the differences in how Americans communicate with each other online vs. how Eastern countries do it.  Do the basic communications differences that apply in face-to-face communication apply online too?  If not, why?

In “Communication Ethics,” this class would bring up discussions about attribution in an online, shareable communications environment.  How do the old rules of copyright and intellectual property apply?  Do they apply?  What about basic human interactions – if you ignore someone who sends a DM on Twitter, is that akin to ignoring someone who reaches out to shake your hand?  Where’s the line between criticizing the service your receive from a company on Twitter and attacking the person?  If I say,”I think @comcastcares is an idiot who doesn’t know which way is up, am I attacking Comcast or am I attacking Frank Eliason? Note: Frank is awesome )

I would also add a class on “Principles of Customer Service” and make “Creative Writing” a prerequisite as well.  You see, social media shouldn’t be a class – it’s interwoven throughout a lot of classes.  And this isn’t just for communication classes, this would apply to political science majors (Barack Obama’s campaign anyone?), economics majors (how has the ability to share data globally and instantaneously impacted the speed at which the market changes?), sociology (how has social media changed the way families and friends communicate with one another?).

from “Rethinking Public Relations Education” by sradick on 11/20/2009 governingpeople.com

A much longer excerpt than I usually feel comfortable reposting, but this is a great illustration of curriculum redesign for digital/academic literacy.

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Horizon 5-year meta trends in emerging technologies for learning #shock09

Seven metatrends in emerging technologies likely to have a large impact on teaching, learning, or creative expression within learning-focused organizations include:

  • the evolving approaches to communication between humans and machines
  • the collective sharing and generation of knowledge
  • computing in three dimensions
  • connecting people via the network;
  • games as pedagogical platforms
  • the shifting of content production to users;
  • and the evolution of a ubiquitous platform.

Educause, 2008. 2008 Horizon Report. Available at: http://www.educause.edu/node/162471?time=1238685860 [Accessed April 2, 2009].

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4 dimensions of digital literacy #shock09

I was discussing an unpublished draft of a working paper on digital literacy at Oxford Brookes. It struck me that a communication theory model might be useful when looking at the tools we might use. The four dimensions I recognised in the paper were:

  • n-0: solitary reflection
  • 1-n: broadcasting ones self: blogging, writing for publication
  • n-1: using a library, searching the web
  • n-n: participation in discussion forums, teams.

It seemed that if one were aware of the different kinds of communication one could suggest that some tools were better for some things and some for others.

Interestingly, about a week later I was doing a bit of a lit search for Digital Literacy in Academic Search Complete and came upon Guy Merchant’s (2007) article: Writing the future in the digital age. Literacy, 41(3), 118-128. There I found the same approach used as a typology for digilit.

  • One-to-one Messaging Inter-personal email
  • One-to-many Broadcast messaging Blogging Webpages
  • Many-to-many Chatrooms, 3D Virtual Worlds, Online gaming, Discussion boards, Wikis, Photo-sharing (123)

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Digital natives? Analogue colonists

Graham Attwell makes an important point here, which resonates with work done on university students’ use of the Internet for learning by colleagues at Brookes.

The locus of work or study: the context in which the person engages in online activity is far more important than other more accidental attributes of the individual such as their year of birth or their sex. Yes, year cohorts will have different contexts available, but there are adept and critical users of the internet of all ages, just as there are digitally illiterate “digital natives”.

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