The Desolation of Smug

Pausing to reflect at the onset of a new year may seem a bit cheesy, but I do think it necessary to take stock on occasion and the start of January seems a logical time to do it. So crack open the digestives and I’ll bring on the Dairylea.

A year ago today I was winding up my old job at Cornwall College and preparing to start a new one at Cardiff University.  Everything but the job title would be different and would involve a cultural and institutional move from further to higher education, a geographic move from a chocolate box coastal village in Cornwall to the middle of the capital city of Wales and an emotional move away from family and friends to a place where I knew nobody. Living arrangements changed more than geographically: having lived on my own for three years, after 6 months of living in Cardiff I had to adjust to living with my partner when he moved in over the summer. As living with someone means compromise on both sides, I’m still finding it hard to get through weekends without my (pretty selfish) 14 hour ‘Skyrim Saturdays’…

I realise now that the decision to move to Cardiff was, quite possibly, mad. The contract I was offered was for one year only, with only a small possibility of being kept on for longer than a year just that: a small possibility. I had signed a two year, full time contract at Cornwall College just weeks before.  And I lived here for God’s sake:

Charlestown

The day after accepting the job and handing in my notice I got a call from the university saying that because of issues with HR, my new role had changed from being full to part time, so it would be perfectly understandable if I decided not to take the role after all. Were I not such a foolhardy muppet I would have politely backed out, put down the phone and asked my boss if I could take back my notice. But….look, I’m not a spiritual person, I don’t believe in the ability to see the future or in any sort of sixth sense, but I knew that I wanted to work in a university, I wanted to live in Wales and that everything would be fine.

So, having left Cornwall, for the first two months of my time in Cardiff I worked for 3 days a week, enjoyed long weekends and lived very frugally. The department I worked for got the go-ahead to form a new School with a second department, and as a precursor to this happening, this second department employed me for 2 days a week, so I was now full time. Once the new School was formed, it was decided that everything should be built from the bottom up, so new roles were devised and job descriptions were written. All staff were invited, using anecdotal evidence, to match their skills to those laid out as part of these new job descriptions. I chanced my arm and matched my skills to those of the newly-written role of Learning Technology Manager and in November was told that my match had been successful.  So…promotion and a permanent role were both mine, meaning that there was no need to worry about being homeless in Splott after my initial one year contract ran out.

Here’s where I start getting a bit smug perhaps.  But this is a post for me, something to go back to when I feel like the village idiot of London (which is quite often, but probably something best discussed with a therapist) and will not be read by anyone else, so is as good a space as any to list my achievements so far in 2013.

  • ePortfolios
  • Electronic handbooks
  • Assignment Essentials package for all School students
  • Health and Safety training package for all School students
  • Online research module for all School students
  • Online palliative care module
  • Online genetics module
  • Electronic Multiple Choice Questionnaires (replacing paper-based summative exams)
  • Online and interactive Expert Patient materials
  • IPE digital hub

So here’s 2014 and as I adopt a Krytonesque level of smuggery, I can honestly say that working at a university is everything I had hoped for. I feel fulfilled personally and doors are starting to open professionally. I have been asked to present a keynote address at an upcoming conference and my School is paying for the dissertation stage of my Masters degree, which I made a start on in October. I miss my old home, but find city life exciting, colourful and incredibly freeing. I can indulge my love of live comedy, film and theatre and this year, on my birthday, I will be popping down the road to fulfill a dream of over 20 years: to see nine inch nails play live.

I still miss Skyrim Saturdays though…

Advertisements

Useful things what I have Discovered as a Learning Technologist

image

This morning I was having another look at this article, published by The Guardian almost a year ago: 20 tips and resources for using learning technology in higher education. Scanning through it again made me think about the nuggets of useful technology-based information I’ve collected / learned / made up in my few years’ experience as a Learning Technologist. Here they are:

  1. If you build it they will not come.  I’ve said it before, but it is worth saying again: do not spend a fortune building an institution / course-based carbon copy of an already established platform such as Twitter or Facebook.  Your intended audience will not thank you for making them set up yet another username and password when they already use (for example) Facebook every day anyway.  This segues into point 2 very neatly…
  2. …go to where your audience are.  If your intended audience / participants already spend time on Facebook, then use Facebook as a way of contacting or notifying them. It really is that simple.  However – don’t tread on anyone’s toes.  Facebook is a social networking site, not a virtual learning environment.  Don’t suck out the fun, but do ‘paddle around the edges’.
  3. Use technology only when it enhances the learning experience, not just for the sake of ‘ticking the technology box’. A lot of educators worry that if they don’t slavishly embed technology into every single lesson, then they will be awarded low observation grades and be ‘failures’.  If only this mindset could be changed. Sometimes there really is no point in using technology in a session.  Sometimes it just confuses, interferes and takes up too much time.  Sometimes reading an old fashioned book is better than using an eReader.  Really!
  4. There really is no need to reinvent the wheel.  There are MASSES of pre-existing resources out there, which can be used as they are or re-purposed.  I think one of the reasons a lot of educators dislike technology is because it can take a very long time to make a single electronic resource that may only be used a couple of times.  A quick visit to sites such as Jorum, TED, the Khan Academy and even YouTube can dig up some fabulous multi media resources.  And resource sharing sites like Scribd, Slideshare and Prezi feature content from others that have been made freely available to download, use and even customise to suit individual needs.
  5. Don’t be precious – share! I remember developing a rather dynamic-looking Prezi presentation for a teacher a few years ago, which I promptly embedded into her page on Moodle.  The teacher in question was delighted with the finished result, then asked whether anyone other than her students could see the presentation.  When I said that they could – in fact, on Prezi it had already had a almost one hundred views and a dozen downloads – she was furious.  There was no sensitive information displayed on the presentation: indeed, all of the content had been copied and pasted from a public document – but the teacher in question was livid at the thought of other ‘lazy’ people saving themselves time by downloading HER content.  I was asked to take it down from Prezi immediately.  It was then replaced by a lengthy Word document that only those enrolled on the Moodle page could access. Her students had to read pages (and pages) of dull – looking text and nobody else was able to benefit from the content uploaded to Prezi. Lose-lose situation.  To add a bit more depth to this viewpoint, have a read of Mark Childs’ blog article Being Precious and Presenting, written after I initially published this post.  In fact, follow his blog.  It’s damn fine stuff.
  6. Use whatever your audience is using.  And yes, this does rather link to points 1 and 2.  Nobody likes to have to learn how to navigate around a hundred new platforms or sites with a hundred new usernames and passwords.  If a student has been using WordPress to write their blog for the past 3 years, why force them to use Blogger just because it’s a site you are familiar with?  Chill out, and keep your audience within their comfort zone most of the time
  7. …because, at the same time, you need to use the embedding of technology as an opportunity to improve your audience’s personal IT skills.  And do this by stealth, making the learning curve as comfortable as possible.  Someone who uses PowerPoint and only uses PowerPoint will be more likely to try out something that feels familiar to them like SlideRocket than they will using something completely different such as Prezi.  ILT scares and confuses a lot of people – even those more than happy to experiment.  Even me a lot of the time. Baby steps folks! 
  8. Provide a smorgasbord of tools, and let staff / students use whichever they want – even if you don’t like the tools yourself! So offer PowerPoint (because it’s much maligned yes – but it’s also familiar and the epitome of ‘industry standard’) and if someone says they want (you) to use it instead of the myriad of arguably ‘better’ presentation tools out there,  just make sure they / you use it well. Pecha Kucha anyone?  And remember – the more tools you have in your arsenal the more choice you have.  Don’t feel obliged to use them all though.  You’ll just go mad.
  9. Don’t make assumptions based on age.  To say that ‘everyone under 25 is technologically savvy’ and ‘no one over the age of 50 can use technology’ is to make really inaccurate generalisations…and yet these are reified by learning technologists, researchers, academics, teachers, mechanics, shop assistants, window cleaners and anyone with an opinion.  I know of many people over the age of 60 who – gasp – have been using Facebok, Twitter, Google Docs, YouTube and Second Life for years, have been known to play on a gaming console and – get this – can even use a smartphone!  Conversely, there are young people out there who haven’t got the foggiest idea how to send a text message, and even a few with no interest in Facebook. 

To quote the great John Lydon: ’ I could be wrong, I could be right’.  These points msay be salient or the ramblings of an ignoramous.  Either way, I think they hold water, and it’s my blog.  So there.

Bex’s Brave New World

Greetings from Wales!  I’ve had a rather busy few months, having accepted and started a new role as a Learning Technologist at Cardiff University.  I lived in my native Cornwall for 38 of my 42 years, so moving to Wales has been quite an emotional wrench, but more importantly, has been very exciting too.  So, one week into my new role, I thought it was about time to give myself an ILT ‘audit’, once more dust off thisblog, look at the tools and equipment I own / use and see where I want to go next.  First things first – I think it may be time to upgrade my equipment.

My trusty MacBook is now 7 years old, and though it still works as well as it did on the day I bought it, has never had a virus or any cause for repairs and has lovingly held my entire music collection on iTunes for at least 6 of those 7 years, my thoughts are turning to buying a replacement.  So far, I have managed to narrow this down to one of three devices:

  • 1.       An iMac.  And a full-on model of course, with 27-inch screen, 3.2GHz quad-core Intel Core i5Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz8GB (two 4GB) memory1TB hard drive NVIDIA GeForce GTX 675MX with 1GB and the apprearance of a well-groomed supermodel from the future, though possibly more beautiful.  However, there are several issues.  An iMac costs a fortune, it uses proprietary software only, some of which can be a real pain in the proverbial to use, the machine cannot be ‘tinkered wi th’ as far as adding extra memory, a better sound / graphics card, etc.  However, on the plus side again, it (probably) wouldn’t go wrong or pick up a virus.  However; vitally, I have a feeling that desktop PCs are going the way of the Dodo, so this could be a very expensive but very beautiful white elephant.
  • 2.       A Windows laptop.  There are some really good, cheaply-priced models out there.  Lenovo (a subsidiary of IBM) are making basic but robust devices at the moment – I saw a £300 model with 1TB memory advertised just last week- and with Windows 8 and Office 365 now up and running and in domstic use – these both being systems that I do need to be familiar with in my role – this is a serious consideration
  • 3.       A ChromeBook.  Now, ChromeBooks fascinate me.  They are completely internet based so have no operating system.  They (apparently) cannot pick up viruses.  They start up in seconds, and everything from storage to software is cloud based.  They’re very cheap too – the cheapest model being £200.  My instinct tells me that this is the way computing is going to go, with everything housed in the cloud and the need for installing software via discs becoming a thing of the past – look at the way console gaming has been moving over several years as an example of this.  And look at Microsoft 365 – a completely cloud-based Office package.  In a seemingly endless time of austerity, these ‘quick and dirty’ machines could end up stealing the proverbial show.

Let’s scrub the iMac.  A beautiful device, but ultimately this could just be a very expensive waste of money.  That narrows it down to the laptop or a ChromeBook.  Or possibly both.  I’ll report back when I have decided…

AMENDUM (May 2013):

I got a Samsung Series 5 Ultrabook.

Half Learning Technologist…Half Luddite…Half Mathematical Incompetent….

There are quite a few bits and pieces in the digital landscape that have caught my eye and that do require further investigation. When I do I’ll post more in-depth writings here, but for now here is the first addition to my digital smorgasbord of Things I Don’t Fully Understand Yet But Am Going To Have A Play With.  I have to warn you, this particular bit of technology has been around for a long time, and is a concept that I should have got a handle on years ago.  I am a bad learning technologist because it has passed me by and no amount of whining about how I haven’t had the time to investigate further will make any difference.  Once I’ve written this I’ll take myself off to bed with no dinner.

 QR Codes have been around for some time, but my tiny mind couldn’t work out how a series of random black and white patterns in a square could translate into web-based content.  I was scared of the concept, for surely this wasn’t physically possible? Clearly there was some kind of majicks at work: demonic spells or voodoo jiggery-pokery? How could a Smartphone take a photo of something Mondrian or Matisse would have been proud of then ‘turn it into’ a web page? How? If I take a photo of my mum my browser doesn’t then take me to random web pages or display a previously hidden message on screen! Unable to make any sense of this witchcraft, I ignored the whole concept.  Until 3 weeks ago that is, when I stumbled upon an app for the BlackBerry whilst looking for something completely different. Finally admitting to myself that this was something I really did need to know about, what with being someone who is supposed to know about stuff like this, I downloaded the app. 

 

QR Code Scanner Pro is a free application and one that’s dead easy to use. Find a QR code, open the app, point phone at QR code, wait a few seconds, phone vibrates to show that it’s picked up the code, look at phone screen, go directly to the web page linked to QR code or read the message the code was hiding in its monochromatic frame on-screen. Bob’s your uncle etc.

 

Having captured several codes (mostly from bottles of vodka, cider and lager, admittedly) I started to wonder what else these black and white images could be used for.  I’d viewed web pages that gave code-capturers entry to competitions and access to special offers, so was keen to see how they could be used in education.  Here’s a few of barely formed ideas I’ve come up with:

·      Treasure hunts / information quests / guided tours.  Good for orientation, Problem Based Learning, investigations or just getting learners out of their seats and out and about enjoying our balmy (barmy?) summer weather. Need to think about this a lot more, but I sense there’s something there…

·      QR codes as profile pictures that can link to the user’s personal website, ePortfolio, blog or online business card. Or even traditional business cards….

·      Quizzes? Not sure how, but I can see a possible way of doing this.  Again, need to find out more….

Qurify www.qurify.com is really simple to use and it’s free. Type the message or URL of your choice into a window, press the ‘qurify’ button and a QR code is produced in a couple of seconds.  The code can then be emailed to contacts, printed as a hard copy or converted to a JPEG or PNG file. Just need to work out what I want to do now…if anyone out there has any ideas, please do let me know.  So I can steal them..!

Reboot

It’s time to really grab eLearning by the virtual horns. I say that from an educator’s perspective and, for the purposes of this post, a personal perspective as well. For the past 8 years I’ve had a duel role. As a teacher educator (the role I initially entered into) I delivered post-compulsory teacher training qualifications and in-service specialist diplomas to testers wanting to specialise in teaching English. Over time, Cornwall College (and most importantly, an incredibly encouraging and supportive line manager) noticed my enthusiasm for all things technological and I was asked to develop online versions of some of the courses I’d been delivering in the classroom. I look at these early moodle-based pages now and wince, but designing and then delivering these courses was a springboard to building and teaching in virtual worlds, writing a briefing paper about the use of Facebook in 13-19 education, speaking at both online and real-world conferences and now writing online courses and staff training packages. I should write more about all of these though they’d all be retrospective posts. I was spinning too many plates at the time to keep my blog up to date. An incredibly weak excuse; teamed with the fact I was too busy to read peers’ blogs with any depth, totally inexcusable. I shall try to do better.

So now my job role has changed and I can do what I love full-time. I have the time to concentrate on eLearning, ILT, technology, web 2 and 3 and now I can really look at how these all fit into post compulsory education in the UK in the depths of a global recession. Now I can commit time to being more cutting-edge and not playing catch-up quite as much. It feels great, but there’s a lot of catching up to do. For now I’ll end with this. I’ve noticed that I keep repeating the same phrase. Or maybe it’s a paraphrase. Anyway, wherever I go in an professional capacity I keep saying: ‘If you build it they will NOT come”. I think that should be the title of my next post. That way I can almost guarantee a next post.

IMP Blog Post: How I use ILT in my Practice

I’m going to continue my blog with posts relating to the University of Plymouth IMP module I am enrolled on (“iLearn”), so this is a continuation of my experiences as a student, this time on a second ILT-based course. This also gives me a chance to kick-start this blog again, as it’s been dormant for about 9 months! (I finished the MUVEnation course, so stopped using the blog and moved to “Posterous”. BAD Bex!!!)

I’m still a Lead Teacher / Learning Technologist at Cornwall College’s School of Education and Training and still teaching PTLLS, DTLLS and the Level 5 Diploma in Teaching English. Rather than write a lengthy (and possibly dull) narrative examining all the stuff I do that involves ICT and ILT, I’ll do some bullet points:

  • Project Manager of Cornwall College Island in Second Life
  • About to deliver the first (ever I think) Initial Teacher Training course that uses web 2.0 applications like Flickr and Skype, cloud computing, moodle and Second Life and has no face-to-face content at all. This I think, will form the basis of my research paper: can teaching skills be taught in Second Life then transferred into as real life classroom by trainee teachers who have never met their tutor? We start in two weeks, so this blog should be a useful place to record what is happening!
  • Administrator for Cornwall College’s moodle site, setting up courses for staff and delivering training (again to staff) at beginner and intermediate levels both face-to-face and using GotoMeeting
  • Run a PTLLS and the Level 5 Diploma in Teaching English as blended learning courses, with one third of the content delivered in the classroom and the remaining 2 thirds on moodle / Twitter
  • Deliver ICT / ILT training to staff to improve their personal ICT skills and think about how to use ILT effectively and imaginatively with their own students.
  • Also collaborating with the University of Glamorgan to develop electronic graphic novels as learning resources for HE students who find academic writing, referencing, research and study skills hard to get to grips with. I am hoping to develop an iPod Touch/ iPhone app. that will display these graphic novels aspart of this project…but need to learn Objective C and Cocoa programming in order to do this…(gulp)

I’ll add to this post if anything else crops up or springs to mind, but for now I think that’s it…