Learning Technology jottings at Goldsmiths

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Jots from the Future of Technology in Education 2009 (a.m.)

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Liveblogging from the Future of Technology in Education 2009 a free one-day conference on 2nd Oct 2009, Royal Geographical Society, Kensington Gore, London, hosted by the University of London Computer Centre with the aim of getting people together.

Because this is being recorded, just going to jot down the key stuff – hopefully coherently – as my power supply trails across the aisle unhealthily and unsafely (the organisers are using Twitter to tell us helpful things like:

FOTiE #fote09 info: we have charging points in the breakout rooms if needs be. H&S issues wiring across the theatre….”

(The delegate twittering is on the tetchy side, which seems to be normal – it’s subversive donchaknow. I’m joining in. Whenever I have a tetchy thought, I offer it up to Twitter where I’m posting – impersonally, perhaps the wrong decision – as goldsmithsLEU using the hashtag #fote09.)

Cutting through the hype to see clouds in context – Dr Paul Miller, Clouds in Context.

Definitions of cloud computing come towards the end of the presentation, including from NIST. Basically, infrastructure (computers, storage, bandwidth and elastic scalability, electricity and cooling) becomes a service. You can scale demand, and you don’t need a huge outlay of capital. Then there’s platform as a service – the Google Apps engine is the most celebrated example. Then you have software as a service – Google docs, the WordPress blogging software I’m using here. Data swirls through these three elements, and is becoming more open.

There’s no single ‘cloud’. There are many data centres and many networks. Is a web search a service from ‘the cloud’? Opinions vary.

The cloud looks like containers and cables. Cold, wet places are ideal – less power spent cooling. New economies for northern scotland?

Some nervous minutes where Paul asks us to (show of hands) agree or disagree with some assumptions or statements about cloud computing (the centralised storage of data in data-centres from which it can be accessed anywhere you have a web connection. Most people not playing – they feel a bit exposed. Good for attention though.

Interesting about whether it’s greener or not – Paul says that the servers are running at far high capacity and with less idle cycles. He also mentions some bloke who says that because humans are inherently wasteful, if there’s something available, we’ll collectively waste it.

Unreliable? Averaged out across all the servers, it’s probably OK. The thing is, can you produce evidence of downtime if you need it? You can with Goldsmiths systems.

Insecure. Not really. But the US can read your data.

There are data-centres in tiny UK villages.

Guy Rosen has tracked some cloud computing service growth, and found that there is steady growth.

What about the cloud and HE?

JISC has a number of ITTs for cloud computing project. Amazon Web Services gives funding for educational projects, eg Uni of Wales at Bangor’s School of Chemistry.

What can we do? virtualise existing on-campus services.

It would be good for every student to be able to easily bookmark to, say, delicious or google by having a toolbar.

Sharing data through virtual research environments

Get rid of on-campus email and calendar? Pros and cons (Data Protection and other statutes)?

If a research group asks for another server, perhaps they could get some space on an e.g. EC2 server instead.

We need to identify problems before considering the cloud as a solution. Of course.

Security in the cloud – Simone Brunozzi

Overview of Amazon Web Services. “Mechanical Turk”? I want one!

Reasons to go cloud. You can just pay for what you use. Creation of new projects is much easier – investment not so front-loaded. No need for capacity planning – if you overestimate, you don’t waste.

Reasons people don’t migrate to the cloud include avoiding waste of legacy software.

An outline of the principles of secure design of Amazon services. Basically eggs in many baskets and bit-rot detection.

This presentation was a big pitch, which reminds me, I don’t know who funds fote. We have BBC clips on tapes to hang our name badges / twitter handles from.

The Collaborative Campus and the Cloud – Microsoft

This presentation is about the difficulties balancing the institutional needs with the needs of the isntitution.

Students aren’t debating about whether the cloud is a good idea – they are using it.

There’s a big tension between the established institutional way of doing things in HE and the emerging individualised way of doing things. Security. Data protection. Data preservation.

Trust and de-centralisation. Do we need a UK data centre? An EU data centre? An English data centre? Or how about all of them, with their use subject to individual decision.

Institutional decisions to be made about cloud hosting or internet based. Email? Storage? Synching? Intranet? How manage services for institution while meeting the needs of individual? Keep your security, managed learning environment, parts of your IP. The challenges are control, flexibility and protection of intellectual property.

Education, collaboration and the cloud – Pauline Yau from Huddle.net

Huddle’s a young web 2.0 startup based in London, doubling in size every 4 months in terms of users and revenue. Named by BusinessWeek Mag as one of the top 50 startups to watch. It’s a series of online workspaces. Pauline is dealing with the educational sector.

Huddle is a(nother) replacement for using email to collaborate. Email – you send round large file attachments by email. Instead you can post it somewhere, encourage people to come and get it, discuss it, engage with it, add to it. You don’t have to worry about whether or not you are working from the correct version.

ULCC surved some post-compulsory institutions.

Huddle is good for collaboration with overseas partners – recruitment and broadening participation (Annette might be interested ACTION)

Bill Ashraf (Uni of Sussex) – HE ‘s free and feral

Like me he’s interested in academics’ engagement, as something that has been under-attended to.

Issues with trying to get bits of technology to work with each other (we had a recent experience with our PRS system). Technology should not pose obstacles, should be invisible, really easy to use – as easy as boiling a kettle. Plug it in and it works.

Future-proofing. Kit that’s out of date as soon as it’s been bought. Standing the test of time. Shouldn’t we be leasing kit? (thinking about our PRS handsets again).

How to get academics interested in new initiatives e.g. Google wave.

‘Operational efficiencies’ Why are there 2 IT depts in the Uni of Sussex and the Uni of Brighton?

Trend for providing educational content for free. iTunes U. Varying quality of content (do you really want to sit through 15 min of preliminary operational stuff each lecture and having the lecturer constantly referring back to other events which weren’t recorded, assuming viewers/listeners will know what she means).

Expectations that stuff will be free. Tetchiness if it isn’t. But universities are expecting returns on the stuff they make available.

Ashraf says that resistance to change comes not from students but from institutions – academics and senior managers. Institutions are very conservative places by default. (But actually, students aren’t so progressive – they just have a different set of assumptions about the way things are, and they are humbler about asserting the way things should be, or have less at stake).

Interesting-looking 2008 report from the Australian Learning and Teaching Council on the impact of web-based lecture technologies. From the exec summary – my word!

“Overall, there was a clear mis-match between staff and student views on learning and achievement of better results. Sixty seven percent (67%) of students compared with 30% of staff agreed that WBLT helped students achieve better results. In addition, 80% of students compared with 49% of staff agreed that WBLT made it easier for students to learn.”

Ashraf. “Targetting the students and getting them on side isn’t the issue, I think. It’s the staff”.

(I should put this in the intro of my report for the HEA on staff engagement ACTION)

Great film (by Max Livesy, 1st prize for something 2020 – find on YouTube)

Google Apps – one year on. Leeds Met.

First UK university to take Google Apps.

“Google Apps has worked really well for us and we’re delighted with it. It means we get to take the occasional lunch break nowadays instead of standing over a server fixing something”.

Strategy meets serendipity.  Strategies are actualised in and disrupted by the real world.

Google apps was easy in. Save, save, save (on effort, anyway, although there was a fair bit of design involved). What about easy out?

Grrr – the idea that you can export your carbon emissions. Oh well, at least people are talking about emissions now.

A lot of academic concerns about the ethics of Google Apps. A big pilot and lots of engagement. These were addressed, he says, to everybody’s satisfaction.

Helpful sharing of info about person hours dedicated to the switch, and what types of helpdesk queries they’ve had. Ain’t it funny – users aren’t hassling IT Services as much when the system goes down but (appear to be) waiting patiently.

QR codes (I love my phone’s cam with a barcode scanner and generator app. Linking the physical world and the web. Beautiful. Should do a brainstorm / workshop on them. ACTION)

James Ballard ULCC – integrating repositories and VLEs

“Interoperability is not enough – what we need is interoperation” Paul Walk blog post.

i.e. need some proof of concept.

Issues of personal, institutional and bought-in ‘content’. People shouldn’t have to keep jumping into different system. VLE is proving to be enduring as a linchpin for educational content, drawing stuff together.

Moodle 2.0 Repository API separates content from the delivery of content. So you don’t have to force users to use one or other bit of software. MIxing and mashing up from different systems while the VLE provides the user- and assessment-management functions. Users and tutors have one place where they can go. Moodle will have a file-picker in which users can find the repository they need – the repositories are presented not dissimilarly from the way folders are presented in established file management software..

CLASM project.

Panel – for/against cloud computing and ‘virtualisation’

Chair Tim Marshall from JANET. All-male pane (this didn’t escape the Twitterers):

  • Miles Metcalfe from Ravensbourne
  • Martin King
  • Andrew Charlesworth
  • Jason

How to balance institutional responsibilities with need to take on good changes. Miles talks briefly about the merits of proceeding in a state of ignorance, but then talks more seriously about balancing risk. ISPs are beginning to build the law into their practice; HE institutions came quite late to it.

Chair asks “Is cloud computing a magic wand, one-stop-shop for all computing needs, like supermarkets dominating the high street”?

Reminder to look at exit strategy when considering a cloud provider (this goes for individuals as well as institutions).

Issue of regulation, which is still a little nebulous (pun intended).

Question about forcing users to use one or other provider. Chair passed this difficult question to Robert from Leeds Met. He acknowledges the concern, but side-steps it (transparently) by reminding us that as an IT person he is there to tell people what the technology does, rather than hashing out the ethical issues for institutions.

Question from chair about green obligations – does cloud computing make us greener in our behaviour. But this went unanswered because the session ended.

Lunchtime now, so I’ll publish – second installment for p.m. to come. Go to website (http://fote-conference.com/) for the presentations in a few days.


Written by Mira Vogel

October 2, 2009 at 12:47

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