Learning Technology jottings at Goldsmiths

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Archive for May 2009

Cool-er – the iPod moment for e-readers?

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The Cool-er reader by Interead should be on the UK market on June 1st.

Looks nice – at 8000 page turn battery life it’s much better power management than my iLiad and cheaper too. It also supports a broader range of languages than most readers. However so far the reviewers don’t seem interested in the functions which academic reading requires, and which the iLiad at least partly addresses.

So, I’d love to tell you about note taking, book-marking and cross referencing, but I can’t.

We’ll have to wait for somebody to update MobileRead’s e-Book Reader Matrix or Wikipedia’s list of readers.

P.S. the iLiad can look pretty funky if like me you carry it around in a hot pink leatherette cover.


Written by Mira Vogel

May 26, 2009 at 10:52

Posted in technologies

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Eight classic e-learning texts

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Tony Bates selects eight classic e-learning texts.

Our study, Designing for Learning in Virtual Learning Environments, contributed to one of them – Effective Practice With E-Learning, a series of project reports published by JISC, which he describes as providing “a continuous stream of excellent, pragmatic publications on e-learning”. They’re freely available, too.

Written by Mira Vogel

May 19, 2009 at 16:21

Posted in research

iTunes U briefing on podcasting and mobile learning – a day at Apple

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The sections following this one are notes from an Apple briefing – a day of presentations from iTunes U and one of their most successful users, the University of Oxford, which took place today at the Apple premises in Hanover Square near Oxford Circus in London. The invited audience were probably mostly technical people, and I was standing in for John.

Although the two main presenters had also presented at the Beyond Walls conference we blogged about back in April, they took a different perspective in that they had a good balance of practical and technical (but very little about pedagogy or designing learning experience – this was for a technical audience, and we need to think about these things separately).

What this event was about was the practicalities of setting up a podcasting service in your institution, all the way from creating or capturing content through to feeding it to listeners / viewers via iTunes U and – importantly – alternatives for non-Apple users.

To summarise, iTunes U is simply a stage for surfacing and promoting stuff that is recorded and hosted somewhere your own institution chooses. The material can be private and internal, but most institutions are making it freely available to the world as a way of promoting the institution and the work of its academics.

As well as being a proven marketing tool, iTunes U also makes things easy for the owners of Apple products – iPod, iTouch, iPhone – and that is a pretty hefty market share that Apple has – to download and synch materials to their devices. But Apple don’t expect iTunes U and Apple products to be the only means of accessing the recordings – they’re made available in non-proprietary formats available to people like me who don’t own any Apple products, and most institutions have a separate webpage from which you can subscribe to and download the materials (10% of users come at the material this way).

Institutions which podcast tend to work to gather existing recordings, encourage academics and students to create more, start off by piloting routine creation of audio (and optionally but less often video) materials for a few courses, provide support with DIY production across the institution, use existing kit or buy some inexpensive kit, promote simple quality measures, and address legal issues like copyright and IP. Because it’s DIY (or we can think of it as building skills) institutional podcasting requires leadership blessing for a small steering committee including internal and external communication, technical people and learning technologists, academics and ideally students, and some funds for internal promotion and working up materials.

Notes follow or skip to the end for my proposals in response.

See separate doc (to come) for URLs of sites referred to during the sessions.

John Hickey, Senior Mg HE

History of iTunes

2004 Duke provided all incoming students with an iPod (and Belkin mic attachment). Ipod was new and viewed as a music player. Students asked what they wanted on it; lecture capture was something they wanted. A new way of taking notes which freed up their attention for listening. The students were writing down times and prompts allowing them to navigate the recording easily (iPod interface was conducive to precisely this). Duke professionally recorded the lectures and posted files on webpage. Downloading wasn’t very convenient.

Itunes store was established – find, download, play, sync music. Duke Uni asked Apple to make them into a rock star.  Then Stanford, MIT, Michigan and a subsequent explosion of interest. 18 countries and 600+ institutions as of May 09. Stanford was the first to want to make the content available to the general public.

Jan 13th launched outside English-speaking countries.

Practicalities of podcasting with iTunes U

Itunes U is free. It’s rebrandable, so the university page doesn’t have to look like a shop front. The videos themselves can be rebranded, e.g. The OU’s watermark. It’s standards free – no DRM, no exclusivity, all built of RSS. Content stays on Uni servers if preferred (or can be hosted). The institution, rather than Apple, is taking responsibility for the content. Spike in use during the Olympics relating to searches about China from an academic, educated perspective. Darwin’s 200th birthday. The software running in the background doesn’t have to be Apple. Content is non-exclusive. Unis encouraged to diversify, so iTunes U and other ways.  Itunes U is not a replacement for a learning management system nor a virtual learning environment. Itunes is a way of organising audio and video content and link it in optimally to a public web site or private VLE eg Blackboard building block. Universities create artwork. Itunes U has a public site and a private site for content available behind a login. Each site has links. There is no entrapment within iTunes U.

So what’s in it for Apple?

It doesn’t really cost anything – it’s just stage space. Apple also produces host space called Beyond Campus (e.g. Tate) and for primary and secondary education. BETT will be using this.  It won’t sell any more iPods but it does provide more conversations with prospective customers. It’s hooked into the iTunes store, but there’s an admin control to turn off the store but allow access to iTunes U – so the site can be deployed for 1000s of machines in a programmatic way.

Only institutions can deploy iTunes – not individual departments.


UCL’s bumpers (‘intros’ and ‘outros’) at the beginning and end. 80/20 rule – 20% is very well produced, 80% is ‘natural’. Trinity College Dublin discovered that who was speaking mattered more than the production quality.


Easy and scalable; control of look and feel; instant podcasting (synching); related content is easy to find; works with existing authentication environment without claiming anything back – iTunes is not entitled to student or staff information; easy to distribute or make salient auxiliary course content eg transcript, safety information, reference information within a tab structure; iPod ready.

Itunes U supports screen readers.

Works with any Open format – particularly MPEG 4 which supports closed captioning. Doesn’t support proprietary formats like Real or even QuickTime.

iTunes U is just a stage (as in a space for hosting and promoting); its success the explosion of public content took Apple by surprise and consequently. By design it doesn’t support VLE integration, but provides code libraries to help with this, and there are examples of institutions integrating with the VLE (e.g. Vanderbilt)

How much content should we have to start a site?

“Enough to represent the breadth and depth of your institution.” Hickey recommends 250-300 individual pieces of content. Any fewer looks thin. Once you reach 1000 pieces they recommend moving to 3-column layout. University of South Florida’s Lit to Go, students recording copyright-free literature. This plumped up their provision with a collection. Itunes U recommends starting with public site first, because it “provides a better explanation across the institution about how you might best be able to utilise it”.

Alternative feeds for downloading the material

Stanford have an html page of simple RSS feeds. Oxford also takes users to normal podcast site. (These are indispensable – both for people who don’t have or use Apple products, and for contingency if Apple should by some freak of circumstances go belly up.

User stats and marketing impact

Stats are available from iTunes. Cambridge is publishing theirs. OU has its iTunes U Impact site. 3.6 million downloads in the year; 87% from outside UK, with 1 in 6.6 downloads proceeding to visit the website. Consider iTunes U a good marketing tool. They can break down the statistics geographically to help make decisions about where to promote their brand.  It’s necessary to refresh content or visitors will stop returning. The OU published a plan for a given period of time. Change splash screen every month or so.

Support  (for admins? Or everyone?)

Apple realise that many people don’t read manuals. There are a couple of quick videos on artwork, branding, tab creation – not definitive, just need-to-know.
Behind the scenes – the institutional admin’s view
The admin at each institution has an Apple ID and password.

Front page is banner graphic / album art – inexpensive and easy to insert.

Main thing to create on a technical side is an RSS feed. Institution feeds content to iTunes.

Users can view in different ways: genre; icon and so on.  How do you maintain the separate public and private sites consistently e.g. one graphic image overlayed on each course? Templated metadata input. There’s a web API to automate the workflow to achieve the consistent creation of content. Also possible to do manually. To upload artwork requires two pieces of software. For each piece of material you include a contact email, a link, alternative text for screen reader.

Peter Robinson, University of Oxford

Background computing and audiovisual. Vid projects, audio projects. He has spent the last year capturing and reworking material for itunes.ox.ac.uk. Stresses teamwork. Worked to a deadline – treated it like a project with a launch day.

Downloads have been enormous, iTunes U is global. Good ‘metrics of success’ 150 feeds of mostly 1h lectures. 80% material is audio only. Parallel Web Portal accounts for 10% of downloads – podcast.ox.ac.uk. This matters because some of the machines at oxford are heavily locked down, and for political e.g. Anti-capitalist reasons. Up to 3,000 downloads per week, and increasing (so it requires a high level of availability storage, says Spiros). Stiglitz’ discussion on global financial regulation has been their biggest success; topped iTunes chart for 5 weeks. Peter tweaked the title to anticipate searches for “credit crunch”.

Growing content

Sowing seeds of new content requires a sort of internet gardening. Album covers includes faces which allows a sense of who is giving the material, and their importance within the university. Discussions are recorded – e.g. professors reading the headlines and triggering discussions. New pedagogical forms. Capturing strong, charismatic, interesting people doing what they do.

There’s a tricky IT landscape at Oxford, in that it’s devolved to colleges and sometimes departments. Central thinking involves devolved thinking. No central audiovisual repository.

Laptop ownership is now 91% among freshers.

Small project board, uni webmaster, internal coms, learning technologist and technical person, and a 5th (academic?).

Legal work for Council approval needs to be started early – it moves at a glacial pace.

Peter began to collect material and metadata in a spreadsheet, breaking it down into categories. e.g. Oxford Internet Institute. Apple is better at marketing content than institutions are at marketing the internally-hosted site. So the message was “Don’t change what you do, but buy into getting more outreach and moving your stuff into a more prominent position”.

Model is a DIY model, devolved. Create > Place Online > RSS item.

What academics need to do

How do you get your content? Andreas Busch is prof of Politics. He was already recording things.  Another way to get content was to find people who were doing interesting research, sent them an email and recorded them. It was mostly students who did this.

Tagging – as many and as broad as possible, to surface yourself.

Podcast communit at Oxford was established. Includes Simon the quantum nano-technologist who’d done a science museum exhibition. The former Head of the Medical Research Council about stem cell research.

The institution’s iTunes U site

Think about whether there is something there that should be promoted in response to current affairs. Some jostling for a position on the front page. ‘Top downloads’ on front page instigates a sense of pride in individual academics.

Some training material based on the workflow.

Technicalities – people have used Yahoo pipes to produce the RSS feed, although Ox has an internal systems. Encoding engine Apple Podcast Producer chugs through the encoding in different formats. Better anticipating everything (eg high quality mobile formats) at once and storing for future use rather than coming back to something years later. Stored on own server with simple folder structure representing departments. Delivery channels VLE, iTunes U, web version, an unanticipated channel possibly requiring a weird format.

At Oxford it was launched with a recording from the VC and a press release.

Legal and quality issues

A team of people listens to everything that gets put up. Quality is in the eye of the beholder – not aiming for perfect quality. Try to avoid Q&A sessions. Four-hour integrity check – a script to check the Web Service e.g. Links are working and so on. All the tabs have separate feeds with separate settings. Legal workflow – release form for everything in the system. At Oxford academics own copyright of own material, so academics can decide whether or not to release own material.


Internal with £300 worth of A5 fliers for freshers pack. External marketing via Coms.

Institutional readiness – John Hickey

The people and roles

1.Institutional leadership – somebody high up needs to say that it is alright to give content for podcasting.
2.Legal leadership – one global agreement from Apple, which is not the tough part – the tough part is the intellectual property. Need to start involving Council early – two pieces of info they need to know for public site: it’s global, and it’s downloadable. So need right to redistribute the material globally. If a student asks a question in France, do you have the right to use their voice? And if the student leaves? Or is expelled? In most institutions the legal council has already thought of this and students have signed something on admission to the effect that the contributions they make are part of the institution’s academic pursuit.
3.PR and coms. Institution must think hard about what they are putting out. Also what happens in a rebranding of corporate look+feel.
4.Technical leadership – somebody needs to make and test the RSS feeds. In U of Ox the feeds were scattered throughout the institution.
5.A project manager is helpful – a person to flow communications through.

How to get started: the application to iTunes U

1.Degree-granting institutions apply to iTunes U (there’s no commitment on the application).
2.Primary contact
3.Technical contact
4.Legal contact
5.How many pieces of media
6.6-9 month plan for the media
7.What kinds of media formats they are in

iTunes U then sends a PDF with the agreement to be signed (there isn’t a specimen legal agreement – John says that it caused more work to make it public.)

Then iTune U creates the site, although public release may happen at a later date.

Going live

Records are always released on Tuesdays (New Music Tuesdays). Institution’s PR schedules this with iTunes. Itunes works with institution’s marketing people, there’s often an institutional press release which Apple helps with (though Apple doesn’t press release).
The fastest turnaround from applying to launch was 45 days. The usual is – between signing the agreement and launching – average 2-3 months. There is often a hitch between applying and signing the agreement which often traps applications in institutional cycles and extends the time.

He won’t tell us how many institutions have signed, but the information Apple does share:

  • Nearly 200 universities make their content publicly available through iTunes U on the iTunes Store
  • These 200 universities, combined with over 50 Beyond Campus providers and a dozen state K12 projects, are making over 150,000 audio and video education files available for free
  • There are over 300 universities using iTunes U for internal, private use

We will see a large increase in next academic year. Apple see themselves as simply providing stage space and a way for academics and institutions to surface their stuff globally.

21st Century Learners and mobility – John Hickey

Apple studies 21st Century learners.
Mobility – devices and expectations. “Technology is anything that wasn’t around when you were born”. So what do today’s students view as technology?
Mobile networks cover 90% of the world’s population. By Olympics 2004 1 in 4 of all mobile devices sold will be smartphones.

63 % use tech to prepare for class – 60% of those use social networking sites, 58% use mp3 players, 75% use notebooks. 24% use technology in class, though (this might be to do with power). 66% of classrooms have wireless access in 2007. 82% prefer recorded lectures, 60% of institutions say they do not routinely make it available (really – that few??)

Apples say they don’t view things purely as hardware, they view things as integrated with an operating system – as what you can do. You need applications in order to be able to do things. Iphoto. Garage Band. Ship free with every single Mac. He talks about the technology receding into the background. The hardware and software work very well together.

Timeline 2007 16 unis and 12k audio and video files. Today 600 active iTunes U site and 18 countries. It’s bucking the current economic trend.
The mobile landscape will be all about content. Creating it. Or capturing it.

See also

UCL’s Peter Mobbs ‘The Potential of iTunes’ – caught a glimpse on the UCL site I think.

STEEPLE project to become independent of any single host or system – as well as technicalities, there’s lots on copyright and dealing with IP issues.

Andreas Busch’s (?) of the U of Ox piece on the pedagogical value of podcasting

MV ideas

Podcasting – making recorded material available for download onto mobile technologies –  is not a fad. The reason it isn’t going away is because it fits with the broadening participation agenda, the flexible learning agenda, and because mobility has so much to offer in pedagogical terms – the in-situ critical presentations on works of art in art galleries. The instructional or informational presentation. The interactive tour. The lecture where students can give the lecturer their full attention rather than frantically scribbling notes. It also helps improve the international profile of the institution.

We could begin a drive over summer to find and create an inventory for existing recordings.

Oxford uses interns / students on placements or pro-rata to help capture content, and listen to/watch it. At the moment, there is a feeling at Oxford that capturing video as well as audio is too challenging. Can Goldsmiths succeed in this by using some of our home-grown talent?

A Goldsmiths podcasting project
1.Hunt for content
2.If we have 300 pieces or more, then we’re ready to go.
3.If not, work out a plan for increasing our collection (also actually collecting our collection, not to mention documenting our collection)
4.Make it DIY. Raise the educational issues – what changes if your presentation is downloadable after the event? – and produce an inventory of available kit and supporting guides on using it. Organise workshops (I’ve run a couple of successful ones on creating audio recordings)
5.Get members of the senior management team behind this, to give the nod to people creating and submitting their recordings
6.Make sure we know the info to answer the iTunes U application form above. We’d need to know this anyway, in order to make a good fist of any podcasting project.

See also STEEPLE is a UK HE community project funded by JISC and led by Oxford, with involvement from Nottingham, UCL and several others (including Goldsmiths if we want to join in)

Written by Mira Vogel

May 11, 2009 at 22:27

Posted in event, podcasting

Enhancing the student learning experience – a conference

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This sounds like a very good way to join up different support and technical services within an institution – particularly if academics and students who depend on these services also participate. The focus is Roehampton University, but all are welcome. Expressions of interest for running workshops or seminar sessions are invited.

Conference: Enhancing the Student Learning Experience

Wed 3rd June 2009, 9.30am to 3.30pm, School of Human and Life Sciences, Roehampton University.

A conference for technical, laboratory and support staff (academic staff also warmly welcomed) organised by Roehampton University’s Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit.

We are pleased to confirm that we will be organising a day conference for technical, laboratory and support / IT staff. There will be a particular focus on the themes of our newly launched 2009-2012 Learning, Teaching and Assessment Strategy, which emphasises the enhancement of the learning experience through a creative, attractive, inclusive and accessible curriculum that promotes student success.

The aim of the event is to enable staff with technical, laboratory and / or support roles to share innovation and good practice, and to enable networking opportunities with colleagues from other settings. Academic staff are also warmly invited to attend.

The programme will run from 9.30am to 3.30pm, and will include two keynote talks, as well as workshops and activities. We will be running workshops on a range of issues related to supporting learning and teaching in higher education, including:

  • Innovative e-learning ideas to support learning and teaching
  • Working with disabled students
  • Running your own workshops and presentations
  • Contributing to an inclusive and accessible curriculum
  • Listening to the “student voice”
  • Learning, teaching and assessment in higher education
  • Display and resources area

We invite you to express your interest in running or contributing to a workshop or seminar session.

Cost: £25

Please contact Bridget Middlemas (b.middlemas@roehampton.ac.uk) for an application form or further details about this event

Written by Mira Vogel

May 6, 2009 at 16:26

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Media Law & Ethics learn.gold VLE area critical factor in winning Teaching Excellence Award

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bjtc_logoTim Crook, convenor of the popular Media Law and Ethics course in the Media and Communications Department and former CELT fellowship holder, emailed to let us know that his course area on the learn.gold virtual learning environment was the swinging factor that persuaded the UK Broadcast Journalism Training Council to give Goldsmiths the Excellence in Teaching Broadcast Journalism Award for 2007-2008.

At the awards ceremony it was stated ‘The intranet site provides anything and everything, and much more to any student studying or needing to find out about Media Law & Ethics. It is outstanding.’

Here’s a short mp3 format interview with Tim (right-click, or apple-click for Macs, that link to save to e.g. a portable player). The first part of the recording is an excellent introduction to the course itself; how it is taught and the kinds of learners it attracts. At 7 min 49 sec Tim discusses the aspects of the course and the VLE area which were valued by his learners and by the BJTC. Of particular interest is the role of this enormous repository of resources in a course whose focus is media ethics and law as a dynamic collection of texts. At 10 min 53 he talks about his use of the log files to gauge use and perceived relevance of the different resources he has made available. At 11 min 42 he observes that theory students, whose assessment is based on coursework, are beginning to opt for a fearsome-sounding 3-hour unseen paper. From 13 min 21 sec he talks about the award ceremony.

Written by Mira Vogel

May 5, 2009 at 11:33