Learning Technology jottings at Goldsmiths

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Which ICT innovations could be disruptive to current higher education?

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One of the things about working in the area of e-learning is that you’re exposed to so many radical innovations that you have to be careful to keep your perspective about the difference between where they are and where we are now (while also, of course, being unendingly enthusiastic about the possibilities).

So when the JISC Observatory posed the follow question:

“We invite you to contribute to a brainstorm on the question: “Which ICT-based innovations are potentially disruptive to current models of higher education (forms of teaching, assessment, course structure, estate, research and research management, student management, etc…)?”

I wondered what the responses would be.

The survey consists of some paragraph responses, followed by some drag and drop questions which get you evaluating other (anonymous) responses. It’s interesting to see what other people thought. The deadline is December 10th 2010, so there’s plenty of time to think about it and respond.

I committed myself to two predictions. The first was to do with the open access movement and I wrote the following:

“It’s probably going to be this that focuses educational policy-makers’ minds on what makes higher learning distinct from the provision of materials and knowledge objects, and stimulates a diversification into the genuinely constructivist approaches to teaching and assessment that are already widespread in creative subjects like Design and Drama. If open access wins out over the current holding patterns of commercial providers, HEIs won’t have to provide materials for students any more – there will already be plenty out there, and in fact offering them on a plate will be denying students an opportunity because I think the HEI educator’s role (coming into sharper focus) will be much more about helping students identify good questions, turn those into objectives, work out what they need to do meet those objectives, find good supporting resources (material, human, infrastructure, etc) and put them into service. Assessment will still be about currency, accuracy, completeness etc, but much more it will be about how students can see clearly, work systematically and hunt out meaning in the glut of information.”

Of course, many educators already work like this – but in the face of opposing pressures such as forms of assessment, fees, some interpretations of the employability agenda, and some students’ expectations. Natalie Dohn (2009) writes about the consequent inertia of higher education institutions and their enduring view of learning as acquisitionist, having an “individualistic, objectivistic view of knowledge and competence” as “an individually possessed object which can be transferred between practices” as if higher learning could be boiled down to skills.

The second prediction was to do with the onlinification of the lecture. I wrote:

“There’s going to be a renewed interest in distance learning which will be mainly to do with the financial impetus to investigate new markets. The sector will begin to deeply understand the difference between technology-enabled distance learning and face-to-face learning, and the strengths and limitations of each. I think one-to-many lectures where students sit together but without interacting, will become rarer and rarer, limited to presenters who are both eminent in their area and also phenomenal live educators that way. Lecturing as we know it – where students sit silently listening to a academic at the front, without interacting together – will start to seem like a missed opportunity. I think what will happen is that students will be required to watch and listen to anything that can be transmitted in advance of the contact sessions, and it will only be carrying out these weekly tasks which enables them to fully participate in their course. Students will be required to work hard in every session, and they will be interdependent on each other. Face to face students in some disciplines will be joined by students connecting at a distance, and there will be a heightened appreciation of the role of togetherness in learning, which will begin to be educationally designed for. I worry that this will lead to segregation, by income, into face-to-face students who can pay for more opportunities to interact in person, and distance learning students who will have less interaction.”

I could have also mentioned freely available online communication and authoring tools (including multimedia editing and mashup tools) which will allow for different forms of assessment, and help to place more emphasis on process of authoring rather than just the finished product.

I ran out of steam for the next written answer questions, but then arrived at an interesting drag and drop question where you decide where to position others’ responses in relation to an epicentre of impact. Other people had mentioned open access and open data, and then there were mobile technologies and cloud computing, but the responses I positioned closest to the centre were the things whose use would prevent us from reproducing what we are already doing, or which I thought might dramatically catalyse existing social phenomena. I was bamboozled by the idea of brain enhancement. Sounds too expensive to be disruptive any time soon.

For a mixture of futurology and here-and-now see also this year’s Edge World Question Center’s annual question: how is the internet changing the way you think?

I’ll post the findings here once they’re published.


Dohn, N.B., 2009. Web 2.0: Inherent tensions and evident challenges for education. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 4(3), 343-363.

Written by Mira Vogel

December 1, 2010 at 20:26

Brian Kelly: 5,000 tweets on

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Brian Kelly (Community and Outreach Team Leader at UKOLN, the University of Bath) has a post on his blog reviewing his use of Twitter. In it he summarises how Twitter has contributed to funding bids, participation at a distance, promoting and amplifying his own and others’ work, peer-reviewing draft work and, perhaps most importantly, his professional grapevine.

As you can gather from the tag cloud illustration in his post, Brian Kelly is a professional online networker. As such, he is drawn to Twitter as Twitter, examines its potential purposefully, tweets and blogs about being online, and has a community of practice with similar interests. Of all the academic disciplines, you would expect people in disciplines like Brian’s to be the pioneers – and I’ve learnt a great deal from Brian so I’m glad he is. What his experience illustrates, though, is that Twitter becomes an attractive proposition for academics who have people they want to hear from, or communicate with, there. For many disciplines, Twitter is still a bit empty.

I think what that suggests in turn is that, in academic disciplines without an academic interest in online networking Twitter will have to broaden through multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary channels, or through an individual’s non-professional tweeting identity fusing with their professional identity (as can easily happen on social networks – although various studies of online networking for learning e.g. Great Expectations indicate that learning in social environments tends to be haphazard). This broadening will probably go unnoticed until it is picked up by established organs like journals or disciplinary conferences, after which I think it will probably take flight.

So (for the very small proportion of my working time I have to dedicate to such things) I continue to wonder, what would pique interest for an academic who is intrepid with technologies but whose community of practice isn’t on Twitter?

Written by Mira Vogel

August 10, 2010 at 10:18

Help with media

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At Goldsmiths we have a well-appointed Digital Media Suite (see its staff’s site) and Media Equipment Centre (with a loan collection) staffed by friendly and knowledgeable technicians and technologists. In Goldsmiths’ Learning Enhancement Unit, learning technologists can discuss with you about different forms of media used to support different kinds of learning, with reference to examples and research findings, and we can work with you to design different learning experiences.

At a national level, JISC provides information from its advisory service based in Bristol. From them I received this today by email:

Hi all,

Tomorrow (Wed 7th Oct) at 13:30 we will be available online for our second online surgery. <http://www.jiscdigitalmedia.ac.uk/surgery/>

JISC Digital Media are providing fortnightly one-hour online help and support sessions to answer any queries you have regarding digital media. Queries regarding any aspect of still images, moving images (including video), audio and how they can be used for teaching and learning are welcome. Technical, workflow related or general queries will be answered and there are no limit to the number of queries that can be asked. No query is too simple to be explored.

Hope to see you online,


Zak Mensah, e-Learning Officer
JISC Digital Media – A JISC Advisory Service

Still images, moving images and sound advice

Free Helpdesk for UK Further and Higher Education:
Online advice documents: <http://www.jiscdigitalmedia.ac.uk/>
Hands-on training: <http://www.jiscdigitalmedia.ac.uk/training/>

Written by Mira Vogel

October 6, 2009 at 15:36

Findings from Educause’s 2009 Top Ten IT Issues Survey

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It is a job and a half being in an educational institution’s IT Services these days. Rationing is acute, and technological obsolescence endemic.

The US not-for-profit organisation Educause has published findings from its Top Ten IT Issues Survey of institutional ‘Chief Information Officer” (in the US I believe this is a board level head of information technology). I’ll reproduce the issue on Learning and Teaching with Technology:

“Teaching and Learning with Technology — formerly E-Learning / Distributed Teaching and Learning — ranked #5 this year, moving up from #9 in the 2008 survey. With the increasing availability of technology-based learning tools both internal and external to the institution, the role of the CIO and other IT leaders is expanding to encompass many teaching and learning domains. The trend toward augmenting instruction with technology creates opportunities and substantial challenges for those who must respond to increasingly diverse and fluid instructional environments. CIOs have become crucial to instructional units because they provide leadership in evaluating and supporting the teaching technologies that underlie multiple forms of distributed learning.

A growing proportion of learning takes place outside the traditional boundaries of the classroom, facilitated by applications such as social networks and technologies that support a culture in which everyone creates and shares. In the current economic environment, IT leaders must make decisions about whether or not to accommodate these miscellaneous technologies. Further, they are being asked to provide technological direction for cultural transformations — such as information fluency — that involve library faculty, department faculty, technology specialists, and students as co-creators of knowledge. Finding the proper balance between systemic and ad hoc technologies will be fundamental for IT leaders as they respond to a student generation that prefers less passive and more agile learning. These instructional modalities will foster transformational innovations such as the need for e-portfolios in a reflective, contextual, authentic, and active learning environment.

All of these developments play out in a landscape where IT leaders bear responsibility for systems that support institutional functionality, that protect the privacy and security of faculty members, students, administrators, and staff, that safeguard information and intellectual property, that respond to the data and information needs of the institution, and that provide effective means of communication. This responsibility forces IT leaders to function in a mediated environment — one in which they must manage dwindling resources, increasing demands, and the necessity for a collaborative establishment of effective priorities with administrative and academic constituencies.

Critical questions for Teaching and Learning with Technology include the following:

  • To what extent are IT leaders involved in active communities of practice, sharing ideas that facilitate consensus for information and instructional technology?
  • What mechanisms are used to provide information about the effectiveness and possible reformulation of institutional technology? Are evaluation results shared on an institution-wide basis with opportunities for reflection?
  • How are IT leaders taking an active role in informing key stakeholders about the necessary policy realignments caused by emerging technologies?
  • What mechanisms are in place for faculty development? How are faculty members involved in the process?
  • What system is in place to examine and reevaluate institutional structures for campus technology on a regular basis?”

Written by Mira Vogel

July 31, 2009 at 16:56

Posted in ITS, technologies

Making presentations about e-learning – the rhetoric and the reality

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Returned from holiday to see there was a new Routledge book out, Giving a Lecture: From Presenting to Teaching, 2nd Edition by Kate Exley and Reg Dennick “addressing a number of rapid developments that have occurred since its first publication in 2004”. From this I deduce it’s more tooled up. On a similar theme, I also started reading Kay and LeSage’s recent paper Examining the benefits and challenges of using audience response systems: A review of the literature (Computers & Education;53(3):819-827), which includes the section Challenges to using ARS (we call this ‘Personal Response Systems’ or ‘clickers’).

How can different technologies improve the existing lecture or presentation format towards a better learning experience? And – given that not everything that works is good – are the improvements consonant with a better teaching experience?

Before my holiday, I’d posted (at his request) a question I asked keynote speaker John Connell at Brunel’s e-Learning 2.0 conference earlier in July.

“The vision of your presentation is far reaching and yet here we all are, sitting in rows facing the authority figure at the front, silent for an hour. It’s like the photo of the 1960s primary school in one of your slides. The difference between rhetoric and reality is stark. So my question is this. If all the constraints (about which we are all aware and understanding) were removed, would you change this presentation? If so, how? Is there anything you would try to preserve, and why?”

John paraphrased the question as “how do we square the rhetoric of ‘Learning 2.0′ with the ‘industrial-age’ pedagogy that is still the basic format of so many such events?” and solicited responses from his readers, which you can read below his post.

I wasn’t trying to make a point with the question – I found John Connell’s keynote pertinent and engaging and, in fact, all a keynote should be. When he asked me at lunchtime what I would have changed, I basically replied “Nothing”.

I agreed with the third commenter Greg Cruey when he wrote:

“…while it shouldn’t be the only tool you have, I really don’t feel badly about standing in front of a group of mature, skillful, willing, self-motivated learners and talking to them – especially with the help of a good slide presentation, especially if some discussion is allowed. This is particularly true if my goal is change the way they think about something or to persuade them of something. It is less true if I’m trying to impart a skill.”

But while I agree with John (different John) when he says (#7):

“Your audience will have come up through ‘industrial-age’ pedagogy successfully. They may be more comfortable with this than ‘learning 2.0′ experience.”

On the other hand, commenter Ruby:

“I often get “accused” of wanting to change everything to bring in new technology, but in fact I don’t have a problem with re-assessing what we already do and then deciding what is the best way, given the huge variety of possibilities now available.”

Other pointers – commenter Michelle Selinger links to the AACE online conference Spaces of Interaction which was about transforming the way conferences are run. See the conference archive for audio, slides and the archived (fossilised!) real-time discussion in text-chat form.

The best a presenter can achieve is to create the circumstances under which their audience can do the work of testing the logic of their arguments and thinking through the implications – “How does this fit with what I know already?” and “If that is the case then what else is true?” This is one perspective from which to evaluate potentially transformative technologies.

As a learning technologist with a practical as well as scholarly remit, the least I can do is try out promising new types of experience, shine a light on them and attempt to persuade colleagues to do the same.

It seems to me to follow from this that it would be helpful if e-learning conferences were supported to be experimental events, for the following reasons:

  • The organisers can be pretty confident that the audience comprises enthusiasts who will be understanding about cock-ups.
  • The presenters are sufficiently educationally aware to safeguard the learning experience of their audience, to avoid them being overwhelmed
  • I think it’s important – for the sake of empathy and (self-)credibility – that those of us who urge or welcome experimentation become proof of concept by experimenting ourselves in higher-stakes settings, with all the aptitudes, contingency design and potential pratfalls this implies.
  • We’d see new tools showcased by people invited for their vision and ideas, and it would be dynamite
  • We’d appreciate the barriers between how presenters do things now and how they might do things if we were unrestricted; it’s helpful to reveal the ducks legs paddling furiously.

I’m far from the first person to have formed this opinion, but again the reality is very different. Certainly, conservative expectations discourage experimentation, as John Connell implied in a further post triggered by an account, by another keynote speaker, of how he somewhat aggravated his audience by addressing them from the seating area instead of the stage.

There’s more to that but time’s up for me so I have to leave it dangling.

Written by Mira Vogel

July 27, 2009 at 14:23

Posted in change, event, technologies

DIY video – Steve Hull at DIVERSE 09

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Kris Rogers, learning technologist at LSE (I think of LSE as a kind of nature reserve for learning technologists – they are supported, enabled to experiment, and they get a lot done) blogged his experience at the 9th annual DIVERSE conference in Aberystwyth last month.

Lots of links out and – naturally – on the conference site you can get video, audio and slides for any of the presentations captured, with questions, via the Echo360 system, including a screen-reader version.

Kris recommends:

“… today’s most entertaining presentation was by Steve Hull from JISC Digital Media who gave a talk on the basics of producing good quality films using basic equipment, such as a Flip camera.”

Hull’s talk was titled ‘Improving the quality of visual media in education, or anyone can make a movie‘. Aided by some amusing examples of not-so-great practice (these aren’t quite optimised for Echo), he deals with technical, practical and theoretical aspects of DIY video, including: making the speaker stand out against the background; a bit of mise en scène, techniques for steadying the camera without a tripod); interviewing techniques, eg eradicating the ‘barnyard sounds’ of the interviewer through the development of non-verbal acknowledgement e.g. smiling and nodding; simple editing on freely-available software or, at a pinch, in-camera .

(Tangentially, this is DIY but is it edupunk? I can’t imagine a self-respecting punk would have been caught dead in a discussion about developing the quality of their self-expression. Maybe I’m too literal…)

JISC Digital Media is an advisory service and well worth a look – it’s FREE, FREE, FREE (and there is consultancy, with a view to embedding skills, which you can submit a proposal to get).

Written by Mira Vogel

July 9, 2009 at 11:17

British universities must become much more radical with technology, or sink into obscurity

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A salutory warning received by email from JISC:

“British universities will lose their leading international standing unless they become much more radical in their use of new technology, a JISC commissioned report says today.

British universities occupy four of the top ten world rankings and the UK is one of the top destinations for international students. But the Edgeless University, conducted by Demos on behalf JISC, suggests that a slowness to adopt new models of learning will damage this competitive edge.

The research showed that the recession has put universities under intense pressure as threats to funding combine with increasing demand. A wave of applicants is expected to hit universities this summer as record numbers of unemployed young people seek to ‘study out’ the recession.

The report says that online and social media could help universities meet these demands by reaching a greater number of students and improving the quality of research and teaching. Online and DIY learning can create ‘edgeless universities’ where information, skills and research are accessible far beyond the campus walls.

Malcolm Read OBE, Executive Secretary for JISC, which supported the research, said: ‘The UK is a leading force in the delivery of higher education and its universities and colleges have been punching well above their weight for some time.

Safeguarding this reputation means we have to fight harder to stay ahead of developments in online learning and social media, and embracing the Web 2.0 world.

‘This is a great opportunity for UK universities and colleges to open up and make learning more accessible to students who would not traditionally stay on in education. ‘Edgeless universities’ can transform the way the UK delivers, shares and uses the wealth and quality of information its institutions own.’

The report also calls for universities to acknowledge the impact of the internet by making academic research freely available online. Author of the report, Peter Bradwell, said: ‘The internet and social networks mean that universities are now just one part of the world of learning and research. This means we need their support and expertise more than ever. Just as the music industry may have found the answer to declining CD sales with Spotify, universities must embrace online knowledge sharing and stake a claim in the online market for information.’

The report makes a series of recommendations for opening up university education, including making all research accessible to the public. It says teaching should be placed on a more even footing with research in career progression and status and teaching which uses new technology rewarded.

Read the full report www.jisc.ac.uk/edge09

Read more about Demos here www.demos.co.uk

Written by Mira Vogel

June 23, 2009 at 16:59

Posted in change, research, technologies

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