TurboTEL 2013

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I mentioned this year’s JISC SW TurboTEL in my last post here. I try to get to this particular event every year, and have presented at the last 3 events. The premise of TurboTEL is great: all presentations have to be delivered in 10 minutes, meaning that delegates can attend up to 12 presentations in one day, and meaning that all presentations have to be straight to the point. However, with four presentations running simultaneously at any one time this can make choice vast but difficult for those who have the misfortune of wanting to go to two presentations running at the same time: it’s like Sky+ without the ‘+’. Logistics aside, this year, as all years before it, was a proper success, so here’s a quick look at the day.

The first workshop I went to: Creating interactivity: going through technologies may not have had much new to show, it’s always heartening to see someone demonstrating stuff who speaks well, knows what works, what doesn’t work and how to use the equipment on show. After a whistle stop tour of questioning styles (which took me back to my teacher trainer days) we looked at the mimio – still doing the rounds after so any years, and still spending most of its time falling off a whiteboard. Next up – tools that hook up to interactive whiteboards such as the graphire tablet and voting kits like quizdom and smart response. Thank the Lord there are more flexible options than the voting pads of the old days. I have recently been drawn to BYOD and web-based voting sites and the ability to do more that have ‘yes / no’ or multiple choice questions. This then, teamed with students’ smartphones and tablets makes a lot of sense. Systems like Socrative allow people to share a mobile device and make duel responses. This ability to have multiple responders assigned to one device also renders the argument that not everyone has a smartphone or tablet moot.

What is augmented reality? provided a nice overview of AR and some ideas for use in an educational environment, but I’ve written about it elsewhere, so am moving on…

…Making to most of Mahara ePortfolios showed some imaginative use of the open source ePortfolio system, used in this instance with music students who uploaded audio tracks directly to their ePortfolios. Talking to presenter beforehand confirmed something I have suspected: that ePortfolios are Marmite, and staff and students either love or loathe them.

In a brave move, no prior training was given to staff or students, who were simply let loose on the system. When their pages had been individually customised (many looking oddly reminiscent of early MySpace pages) and their work uploaded and assessed, each student’s ePortfolio can be stored as an HTML zip file and transorted / uploaded elsewhere, linking into the notion of an ePortfolio for life. Curiously, some staff and students at the same institution are using Mahara as an alternative to Moodle (and Word). To replace a Virtual Learning Environment with an ePortfolio may sound like an unworkable mash up on paper, but with a heightened element of student ownership, no passwords and the security of a secret URL to send to invited people only, everything looks sparkly. One downside though: Mahara isn’t (currently) very accessibility friendly.

The next presentation, linked explicitly to the previous, showed how Plymouth College of Art are using Mahara as a professional portfolio with staff profiles, resumes, records of practice and details of research all added. This negates the need to go to HR every time staff details change and gets rid of the need to repeat details that are on other sites such as Linkdin. These can simply be…linked in. Again, the secret URL allows for invitation – only viewing, so makes for an interesting use for the software.

ePortfolios have been in the ILT ether for several years, yet there is still little take up, and what take up there is is currently not ‘brilliant’. Systems, apparently, are also not used brilliantly. With Cardiff University looking at using Mahara as their own ePortfolio system, it may be worth taking a look at a JISC publication: Crossing the threshold. For me, we need to have a sense of where the institution will be 3 or 5 years down the line. I think that a single login is also important, and if implemented, it’s important to collect evidence of emerging benefits to show other staff members down the line. As always, the learning should drive the technology, not the other way around. Vitally, time and money will also need to be spent in order to implement a range of proper support strategies. We should aim for consistent use across all programmes to make the experience simpler for all, so it may be worth setting up communities of users. On a technical scale, the university needs to plan for improvements of infrastructure. Use of ePortfolios should be embedded into institutional strategies and the curriculum design & review process. Finally, ePortfolio activity needs to be regularly reviewed and an ongoing part of the planning process.

The Edited Web began with a book recommendation for The filter bubble: what the Internet is hiding from you. There’s a 10 minute that’s worth checking out:

Ever been in this situation? picture the scene: there are two or more of you in the same room. You all happen to use Google to search for the exactly the same thing, using exactly the same search term. You expect to be presented with the same list of results…but each list looks different. And have you noticed all of this personalised news stuff on your Facebook feed? I keep getting adverts for sofas in Cardiff (I happened to be looking at the DFS website as few days ago), and money off offers for cosmetics for over forty year olds.

Back in 2009, Google hid a clause way, way down their list of terms and conditions. It told the use that it was starting its personalised search programme. That every individual will now have a search experience tailored to their literary, film and music preferences, their outside interests, location and profession. And even though they think they are helping you by doing this you will now realise that you have been aced inside your very own ‘Internet filter bubble’. And because you agreed to Google’s terms and conditions, this has been forced upon you. You have no choice. So. Will you now only see things where people agree with you? Does this mean Google et al are controlling what we see? Terrifyingly, does this mean I now have a purposely skewed idea of what’s happening out in the real world? Isn’t this all a bit Orwellian? I need a lie down and a cuppa.

Straw poll at lunch: who knows what a MOOC is? Of the 90 or so attendees, about a dozen put up their hands. This surprises me, as MOOCs are headline news at the moment aren’t they? Or have Google been tinkering with my web experience again…

Me up next…and I gave a presentation about content creation because it’s another thing that’s quite prominent in ILT at the moment, and could be a useful thing to for teachers and students to be aware of too. I can report with some relief that the presentation seemed to go down well. I’ll be putting it up here somewhere in the next few days too. No posts for ages, then three come along at once. You lucky buggers.

The day moved on to a look at some great ‘on the hoof’ audience participation tips for using voting pads and reference to groups of medical school students using these to vote for revision topics (and not waste time going over already familiar content), straw poll questions at the start of taught sessions, me again showing participants how Captivate 6 can be used for engaging online learning and assessment, then a very useful workshop called Video captioning made easy.

Here I learned that (apparently) audience engagement levels are 4 times higher when watching a film with captions but that captions often don’t relate information as accurately as they should. As a regular user of YouTube, I was a little ashamed to realise that it’s possible to caption a video on the ubiquitous site very simply.   However, it seems that when it comes to accessibility features in technology enhanced learning, I’m about as cutting edge as a betamax tape.  And that’s worrying because it’s something that should be at the back of my mind all of the time.

So, another year, another TurboTEL.  As always, it was entertaining, inspiring and informative, and it was great to see familiar faces from JISC and Cornwall College.

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