JISC Innovation Forum. Some reflections.

What did I get out of it?

That’s always a difficult question to answer when you go to these things. I certainly made a few contactsStrange Sculpture among the delegates (not the one in the picture on the right though!) which is always useful for future partnership type bids, and for furthering my own research. Did I learn anything new? Well, the idea of the gaming environment that Manchester Metropolitan University are experimenting with discussed in part 3 may well have some applicability for us although where I’ll find the time to explore it I don’t know. And John Selby’s talk was ominous, although I have been thinking that we’re heading into more difficult times for a while now, and while it wasn’t pleasant to hear it being confirmed by someone from HEFCE, it wasn’t particularly surprising either.

A lot of the really useful stuff that goes on at these events takes place outside the lecture theatre though. I had a very interesting chat with somebody from Coventry University who has developed a problem based learning scenario for training paramedics that plays out in Second Life. – indeed they had a demonstration running of it, (http://www.elu.sgul.ac.uk/preview/index.htm) and I began to see ways in which Virtual Worlds might have more pedagogical value than just recreating the real university. I was also interested to see demonstrations of the 19th Century Newspaper Archives, the British Cartoons Archive and the British Library’s archive of sound recordings.

Keele HallOn a less academic note it was interesting to see Keele University, where I’d never been before. It’s a very attractive rural campus, albeit only a few miles from Stoke on Trent. Keele is a tiny little village and I wondered why the University had chosen the name it did. (That’s Keele Hall in the picture. The conference dinner was held in there, but not the conference itself) Actually the nearest town is Newcastle-under-Lyme and I can see that calling it the University of Newcastle might have raised an eyebrow or two. But I still think it’s a bit like us calling ourselves the University of Brayford or something.

Anyway, after the conference finished, partly to let the delegate traffic clear, but also to get a bit of exercise, I wandered around taking photographs and examining someSequoia trees of the finer trees. The campus has quite a spectacular collection and I was quite impressed to find a couple of sequoias – better known as Redwoods,- and also pleased to discover that the wood really is red. (Although I was a bit disappointed that they hadn’t grown so big that you could drive through them – as I seem to remember from ancient National Geographic Magazines). Anyway here they are on the right. (I think. If I’m wrong I’m sure some arboreal expert will put me right!)

JISC Innovation forum – Some conclusions (part 5)

Now, Sarah Porter is offering some conclusions about the event

The keywords, she thought were

  • Energy
  • Engagement
  • Breadth and Depth Activity
  • Huge Potential for links, sharing findings, knowledge, approaches
  • Conversations

And I think I’m inclined to agree with those.

Points that were raised

How can JISC help

  • institutions embed e-learning
  • Ensure the place of technology in the overall practice/development – scaleability of practice
  • Staff in their changing roles,
  • people to be effective
  • How to make repositories more compelling
  • Balance between deliver an IT service that works and innovation
  • understand the institutional barriers to change and innovations
  • Set standards in terms of mobile, web 2.0
  • provide better access an opportunities
  • institutions achieve sustainability


More on Supporting and understanding user needs

  • Impact of changing demographics
  • digital literacy
  • inclusivity
  • Academics as providers


Some useful stuff about how JISC can help projectts

  • Expert Registry
  • Jisc’s Funding models – are there more imaginative ones
  • Sharing good practice in a competitive environemt
  • Need to engage more institutions
  • Embedding projects – what happens when they finisn
  • Recruiting project staff for JISC funded projects – Pool of CVs>
  • Technical project resumes to help collaboration
  • Address time gap between implementation of technology and what happens when its used

Finally infrastructure issues

  • Joining up with national data sharing initiatives
  • data curation
  • Need to understand and develop shared service modeks
  • Open source and open standards
  • How do we develop a sense of technical authority. What other models exist?
  • How can we make the e-framework more accessible

Finally supporting communities and collaboration issues

  • Break down barriers between e-research
  • What can JISC do to help engage senior managers
  • Sustainability and business models

(Phew!) This was a bit of a gallop through what had come out of the conference. In the short term the web site will be kept open, and people will be able to contribute to the blog. Longer term, there will be some other form of communication structure, but it was suggested that the web sites blogs and wikis (blikis?) might be a good place for this.

And the battery really is fading fast now, so I’m about to sign off.  I plan to add a more reflective post, possibly even with pictures later in the week.


JISC innovation forum, Keele University (part 4)

More liveblogging. The  final Keynote  is from Jason Da Ponte, managing editor, BBC Mobile Platforms, who is talking to us about the BBC and its use of mobile technology.

BBc define mobile as any interaction between the BBC and its audience over a portable device and within a mobile situation

Mobile devices are:-

Personal, immediate and location aware.  Jason thought that there was a lot of untapped potential. He asked how many of us had more than one mobile and how many had used the BBC’s mobile provision.

The BBC are interested in streaming live television to mobiles – technology already available. Should be here in about 2010

But already things like mobile browser service – BBC have recently relaunched their mobile platform making their services more geo-aware. They have over 3 million users

Mobile Rich Media and Broadcasting. This is where they see their future. BBC iPlayer on iPhone and IPod Touch. They’re also doing 3G TV (Whatever that might be!) trials with network operators, and they are really looking forward to a mobile broadcasting future.

Messaging – Admitted that this was a bit rich after the scandals of the previous year, and they’re setting up a new compliance unit. They working on new programme formats, more than just voting, for example, offering alert services which they’re planning to try at the Olympics this year so people will know when events will be taking place

The final platform is the “Out of Home”. This includes the Big screens in cities like Hull and Manchester. They were talking about Bluetooth and wi-fi and QR codes to promote interactivity (although he called QR codes “semacodes” – apologies if this is something different)

Then he raised the matter of web 2.0. He sees this as a way of thinking about how you can build services that get taken up. They identified some fundamental principles between FlickR, You Tube and so on. These are basically –  Straightforward, Functional, Gregarious, Open, Evolving. Web 2.0 apps “invite you in” – which is not how we usually build technology.  How can we apply these principles to what we do in edudcation?

Also, what do we need to have in there? Participation seems important. We want to get people to participate. So is distinctive. If there’s something else that does a similar thing why should they use ours? (Plethora of Blackboard sites, anyone?) Does it do what it says it is going to do? and How personal is the experience.  And if you are part of the web, why do you need to bring things in. Why not just link out to what’s there. Jason thinks this it the most important barrier to innovation that the BBC has faced – people are reluctant to cross this boundaryFinally he’s referring us to this paper about co design http://www.demos.co.uk/publications/makingthemostofcollaboration

The UK education sector doesn’t score well in collaborating with its users in design. (There’s a theme that is emerging from all these sessions) Co-design is a trial and error style of working, a collaboration, a developmental process, and outcome based. Only the last one of these is particularly comfortable sitting in an institutional context though. (Blackboard, and VLEs generally ring a few bells here). But if there’s any message here it’s “Please Remember Your Users”). His contact details are: – Jason.daponte@bbc.co.uk  

One questioner invited Jason to speculate where we might be in 2020. He thought there might be some application specific devices. Apparently every taxi in New York now has a touch screen (although I’m not clear what for, something taxi related no doubt!) and he speculated about things like umbrellas which could deliver weather reports (Again, though, I couldn’t help thinking you’d probably notice if it was raining!) The point is your interaction with this technology would be fleeting. I suppose I could imagine a library shelf end that indicated where related material might be stored for example.

Final question was about whether the BBC had any plans to get involved in mobile learning.  Unfortunately the BBC is in the middle of revising its e-learning strategy and Jason wasn’t really able to answer this. But GCSE Bitesize is available on mobile

JISC innovation Forum Part 2

In the afternoon, we heard from John Selby from HEFCE, whose title, not entirely surprisingly was “From innovation to implementation to sector change – the view from HEFCE” He noted that  people are using the term “community” when they refer to JISC and that this is the only place in HE where the term community is used so much. HEFCE and others tend to talk about the “sector.” “Community” is a nice warm sounding term but if you’re not in the community it can be difficult to gain acceptance. He thought this was quite a useful way to think about the way forward for JISC. There is a need to think about where JISC sits in the wider environment, and what some of the issues for the JISC community might be. Technical and social change are closely interconnected but they don’t march in parallel. He also noted that it was worth bearing in mind that JISC is not a corporate body – it’s a committee of its funders. (Actually it’s a network of multiple committees)  The significance of this is that it’s quite an unusual way of developing technology on a national basis. For something that doesn’t exist in any legal sense it’s even more remarkable then that it employs 240 people and has a budget of 7 billion! (Actually people who work for JISC are HEFCE employees)

 It is also both top down and bottom up which mirrors how I think development happens in institutions? A big issue is the question of  involving senior management. There are  very complex governance structures in HE/FE and the  challenge is to innovate in a very complex and difficult political and economic context.  Though it might not feel like that, the last decade has been a golden era in terms of the security of funding. It’s going to be different over the next few years.  It will ripple through in some very significant ways.

 He then moved on to discuss innovation as a socio-technical system, which wasn’t all that different from the morning session. Similar technologies can be applied in different ways in different organisational contexts. You cannot assume that technologies will be deployed in the same way, because organisational structures will affect them – as the technologies will affect social systems in turn.

Technological development won’t work if the social system is not conducive an universities are quite poor at communicating the results of experiments, and there is a tendency to make assumptions. He described his own experience of working in an educational development unit which combined learning technologists and widening participation based on a conceptual model that saw the university reaching out to people who didn’t use it and technology as being useful in helping it do so. Of course it didn’t work. The social worlds of the two activities are quite different. Nevertheless it remains the case that technology is seen by some as an automatic solution. But, not by everybody. There are large numbers of people in government and the sector who don’t know about JISC, or see it as just the network or vague stuff about computers.

 That has to change. What would world would be like if we didn’t have JISCPAS to deal with plagiarism,  Athens for Access Management, XCRI, opening up offerings of learning providers. There is really interesting sharing of information across the sector. But it isn’t yet embedded. Vice chancellors may see these things as expensive, but it’s worth asking how expensive an insecure network (for example) might be!

 One very interesting aside here is that IT is using around 2% of all the energy that is being used in the developed world (about the same as aviation, but growing faster. People might be giving up flying, but nobody is thinking about switching their computer off though!)

 He finished by outlining what he thought the respective roles for the community and the funders were likely to be.  For us as community members we need to think about how we are going to responds to the increasing diversity of our users, but we also  need to speak beyond the community and see if what we are doing can spill out into other areas. It’s easy to talk to people who understand your language, who are on your side, but much more difficult to those who aren’t in that position, but are in a position to interact with us. We must remember the changing political context and stress the advantages that organisations like JISC can bring in an economic recession.

 In the same way the funders role is to be much clearer about strategy. He admitted that perhaps HEFCE had not been clear enough and JISC has tended to pick bits of HEFCE strategy and run with those. HEFCE need to engage with other sector wide bodies, such as LSC, BECTA etc. etc. and of course, to engage with government. He concluded with the slogan that together we can support change in FE and HE – But we are entering more difficult times, and that all the things we were seeing on the news would trickle through to us eventually. 

 Sustainability and what JISC is doing about it

 The final session of the day was about “Sustainability and what JISC is doing about it” (from the point of view of their innovation work) and was aimed very much at the national level

 The session started with a reminder of JISC’s strategic Aim 1 which is to provide “Innovative and sustainable ICT infrastructure services and practice that support institutions in meeting their mission.”

 Sustainability here had a different meaning from that used in the earlier presentations,. It wasn’t so much about the environmental implications but much more about ensuring the investment made in JISC activity results in long term beneficial impact for the HE and FE sectors.

 JISC’s aim is to check their projects and pull out what is valuable to the wider community. There are 5 outputs, listed below

 1) Enhancing capacity knowledge and skill.  Even if it’s just the stuff you learn from running the project. A lot of this was to do with the intangible stuff (for instance, the relationships with CS that we’ve built through the repository project, probably laid a bit of the groundwork for the much more important work related to the Blackboard roll out)

 2) Best practice and guidance to the sector – gathering stuff that’s useful to know – For example “that’s how you should be implementing this or that technology”

 3) Strategic leadership to the sector. Working with other bodies, the production of  toolkits and best practice guides. An example here are the very useful JISC infokits

4) Knowledge and experience – what has been learned feeds back into JISC’s development cycle

 5) New and enhanced products, services and infrastructure. This is mostly what people think about when they think about sustainability. For example our challenge now the repository is up and running is to make sure that people continue to contribute to it and see it as a valuable tool.

 Over the last 6 months or so JISC have been

 Piloting a sustainability skills process

  • Doing a Business skills study
  • Conducting a JISC services portfolio review

 Pilot sustainability process

 This is about what happens when the project funding finishes

 Guidance documentation and templates

    • Handbook
    • Examples
    • Case studies
    • Sustainability Routes and business models
  • Projects Developed Business Cases
    • Strategic Maturity
    • Operational Maturity
    • Options (sustainability Routes and Business Models)
      • Costs risk benefit etc
  • Recommendation from Innovation Group Directors to sub-committees

 Not every project is appropriate to be sustained – or at least not by JISC.

 Feedback and evaluation

 Improvements required

  • Skills and support required
  • Cut off point and appropriate level of robustness
  • Explicit link to services portfolio review
  • More holistic approach within programme and project management review
  • Timing – Felt that the projects didn’t get enough warning
    • Rightscom report – covers things like embedding projects into the programme management

 Their next steps are:

Revision and roll out by final quarter of 2008

Overview of the projects that have gone through staffing.

 They’ve also developed a number of generic business models as part of the business skills study referred to above.


    • JANET
  • Cost Recovery
    • Ethos, JANET
  • Charge for Core Services
    • Netskills
  • Charge for Value Added Services
    • ePrints
  • Community Modles
    • ePrints, RELOAD
  • Membership or consortium model
    • MANS
  • Advertising (couldn’t find an example of anything that has been supported by advertising)

 Examples of Sustainabilty

 Sustainabilty route – who looks after it, where does it go to>

Managed Learning Environment (MLE) Programme 2002-5

 Outcome was guidance to the sector about lessons learned and knowledge of best practice in MLEs

 Sustainablity route was to synthesise all those lessons into an infokit, Business model to enhance existing service procision of JISC infonet

 Go-Geo and Cross walk projects – Outcome new or enhanced services infrastructure

 Sustainability route – JISC services portfolio hosted at EDINA. JISC 100% funded business model.


 Otucome new or enhanced service

 Sustainability route – Community model which is managed by Southampton University (est. 2005)

Business model no cost to JISC beyond establishing community (2005-7)

 CETIS Project

 Outcome 3 strategic leadership to the sector…

 Sustainability Route

JISC innovation Support Centre (est, 2006)

JISC 100% funded business model

Hosted by Bolton and Strathclyde


  •  Should JISC be sustaining a project or its outputs and outcomes?
  • How are you planning to sustain the impact of your projects for the institution or consortium
  • How are you are JISC planning to sustain the impact of your projects for the wider community?
  • What could JISC do to better support projects in planning and effecting sustainability?


Mark Stiles pointed out that sustainability was easier where a project is aligned with institutional strategy, Much harder to do this with diverse national projects

 Another delegate pointed out that small projects often produced quite a lot but had nowhere to go. How do you build on it?

 We then broke out into small groups and discussed various implications of the presentation. Ours talked about whether JISC should start funding bodies outside the sector, such as commercial bodies. We generally felt that they shouldn’t. Reasons can be found on the  Jif08 blog. There wasn’t time for everyone to feed back, so we posted there instead! – See http://jif08.jiscinvolve.org/

JISC innovation forum, Keele University (part 1)

Rather than post a huge great entry here, I thought I’d do it in sections. I doubt it’ll make it any more interesting, but it might look a bit less intimidating. So here’s an account of the first morning. You can read the conference blog which has details of all the themes that I couldn’t attend and (we were promised) audio recordings of all the presentations here:  http://jif08.jiscinvolve.org/

Anyway on Tuesday morning, the event started with a presentation from Sarah Porter, JISC’s head of innovation, who began with a definition of what she meant by innovation.  Typically it’s understood as the introduction of something new and useful, such as a new way of doing something, a new product or a new service. And that is what JISC is trying to do anyway. She also reminded us that we were a very diverse group of people ranging from IT directors, to software developers. In fact the delegate list displayed 50 different job titles, so if anybody was in a position to innovate it was probably us! JISC see themselves as an “Innovation community” and the aim of the forum was to share practice. We were all very much encouraged to share ideas, make cross connections, and ultimately cross fertilise across the different JISC themes, creating with technology, using technology to support change in institutions, working across organisational boundaries.

 Why do all this? Well, the usual suspects really!  There was a need to improve practices, improve quality, respond to the changing needs of users, respond to new opportunities, and respond to the changing external environment. I’ve heard this quite often now, and  I am occasionally inclined to  wonder a little bit about why nobody is ever satisfied with the practices that they are currently engaged in!  There again, there’s no doubt that the external environment is changing, about which more below, and I do realise that we have to adapt to different circumstances. JISC are thinking more about engagement with industry and the commercial sector for example.  But, they’re also trying to build capacity, knowledge, help institutions use technology, build new services and collaborate with the international innovation community by through the provision of  advice and resources to individuals and institutions on how to develop strategy, change policy, innovate and improve practices and benefit from new technologies and of course, by investing in programmes that fund activities in institutions.

 Now, you might add a rider there, and say JISC invested in, “those institutions that had successfully bid for funding”  In fairness most have, although it would be interesting to find out how many institutions have never successfully bid for funding. That’s not to say they don’t benefit from JISC’s existence. The existence of SuperJANET, the digital libraries programme, ARIADNE, ATHENS, Digimap, the HE digitisation service, Ingenta, Netskills, the Nineteenty Century Newspapers project and other projects are available to all and it’s easy to forget that these things did not exist a few years ago.

 There are still some challenges to be faced though, not least managing incremental sustainable innovation within complex institutional governance structures, making technology sustainable in terms of making a positive contribution to environmental concerns, the tension between open agendas and sustainable business models, flexible appropriate learning and teaching that meets the needs of today’s learners, maintaining and developing excellence in research.

 Then I attended a session on “barriers to innovation” which wasn’t quite what I’d expected as it was more about a specific project to engage researchers with e-infrastructures, and more than that, very much about the methodology they had used to explore this. In fact, I think that a lot of what they had to say was very relevant to the work that we are trying to do.

 Of course the first question is “What’s an e-infrastructure. Well, it’s not something that you build. (and not something that should be confused with the JISC e-infrastructure project either) It’s more a matter of a combination of technology and social arrangements, and it is something that is fostered rather than built. Local knowledge and practice is important here, because as one of the presenters put it “when technology hits usage interesting things happen”, meaning that technology tends to get used in ways its designers did not anticipate.  Now, I think that’s something we’re finding with Blackboard, which is why I think a lot of this presentation was relevant to the teaching and learning agenda.  As one of the slides put it “Researchers need to understand what is possible, what is feasible and what is neither, and what the tradeoff between different options are”. And, I might add so do designers. 

 They then went on to outline the mechanisms they were using. Inevitably they mentioned “training” and I  particularly liked what they called “triage”. By this they meant that the demonstration (of a new technology), training and education, and consultancy are all equally important parts of the roll out. None of them are enough on their own. But you can assess which intervention is likely to produce the most effective results at any given time.

 Another technique was called “boundary spanning”. In another context it might be called job exchange, because it seemed to involve researchers working on development projects to get a sense, presumably, of what is feasible. There again exchange might be a generous term as I didn’t get any sense of project workers getting involved in research (Although they might well have been researchers in the past!) and as a large part of this presentation was concerned with research methodology, literature review and coding, that sense probably isn’t entirely justifiable.

 Then we broke up for lunch and an exhibition of lots of JISC projects. I have collected armfuls of interesting literature for us all to read!


Mobile learning – ALT workshop

We started with a presentation from Cecile Tshcirhart, Chris O’Reilly, about the E – Packs developed by London Metropolitan University for Language Learners. These provide students with an interactive self-study mode. Unfortunately, the demonstration was marred by the fact that the technology wasn’t able to cope with demonstrating what they could do, which was a pity, as what we did see looked very interesting.One point that the presenters made that we might want to think about if we go down this road, was that they had planned for students working alone, so they had designed in interactivity, but didn’t allow for students communicating with each other. This turned out to be a mistake in hindsight as communicating with each other was precisely what their students wanted to do. Their reasons for adopting this technology ought to give us pause for thought as well.
There are 3 times more mobiles than PCs in existence and they have achieved 75-100% penetration among young people. Also of course, you don’t need wires and their appears to be a consensus among practitioners that the future is wireless. So, there’s no real reason why we should not be getting involved. Some of the other benefits of m-learning that they identified are that it is available, anywhere anytime, portability and space saving, connectivity (no wires, but you do need a network), it can be context sensitive (again, more below) and it’s cheap. Students provide their own technology for a start, and even where they don’t, a mobile device is usually cheaper than a fully-fledged PC. It is also consistent with socio-constructivist theories, supports problem solving and exploratory learning, contextualised independent and collaborative learning, can provide scaffolding and it offers a form of personalised learning which has been found to enhance learner motivation

It’s not a panacea of course. A big problem is the small size of the screen. It really mandates many more pages than a conventional RLO and also needs a fairly linear structure. Navigation is also a big issue. They tried to keep everything controlled by the phone’s navigation button. No arrows on screen for example because there isn’t space. Also the question of whether you’re doing the same kind of activity when you are mobile that you are doing when you are on a PC was raised. (Actually, I think that depends on the configuration of the device – I’m sitting on the train writing this on my PDA/Bluetooth keyboard combination which isn’t that different from a PC – but you can bet I wouldn’t be texting it!)

They then talked about some of the M-learning applications they had developed. These included mobile phone quizzes, collaborative learning involving camera phones and multimedia messaging, using iPods to access audiobooks and lectures, developing personalised guided tours using hand-held augmented reality guides (about which, much more later!) They also described how they were using what they called MILOs – Mobile interactive learning objects using graphics, animation, text, video and audio clips. The presenters attempted to demonstrate an interactive language for the mobile phone course that they had developed, but they struggled a bit here with the technology which didn’t inspire a great deal of confidence.

Nevertheless they were able to show us some screenshots from their mobile learning objects. One was what we would call a “hot spot” question in Blackboard. But the image has to be movable if it is a bigger than the screen which seemed a little clunky to me. Another feature was a grammar lecture, which was to all intents and purposes a mini-PowerPoint although with the addition of a 3-4 minute audio to the slides. Finally they have designed what they called a game, which students could play (It was a sort of a French “Who wants to be a millionaire?” and I couldn’t help thinking – “So, a multiple choice quiz, then?”)

When it came to evaluation the found that students were positive about m-learning, and about the e-packs, (and interestingly they did the evaluation through the mobiles, although they were only able to involve 8 students in the study.) it appeared that the students preferred the more academic type of object rather than the games. The French lecturer thought that they rather liked to have a little lecture rather than having to think, which they did need to do with the games. So, of course the idea is to offer both lectures and interactive objectives. (Another game they designed was a wordsearch with audio to help pronunciation) Students seemed quite happy to use their own mobiles. They found it handy to have them available when they were in down time (on the bus, for example) Students also saw them as time saving and allowed them to learn wherever they were, and that they always had access. Mobile learners do not need convincing, unlike online learners. But there is a need to keep up with the technologies.
They stressed again the importance of bearing in mind the screen size – London Met had developed their objects for the Nokia N95 which has screen dimensions of 320 x 40 pixels and it would need revisiting for other devices. In fact designing for the Phone is a bit of an issue. Apart from the software they had used (Flash lite, J2ME, C++) there is the question of what phones to design for. But technology is changing a great deal. Flash lite may disappear – some of the newer phones may have better browsers. They ended by warning us not to spend too much time developing stuff. It did cross my mind that this kind of technology was a bit restrictive in that very few lecturers would be able to use this kind of technology though. Or have the time. The London Met team had started by transferring existing on-line learning objects. Which was easier for them.
Carl Smith – Potential of M-learning – Latest developments
This turned out to be one of those presentations that revealed some quite eye-opening potential of the technology, (although that might be a side effect of living in Lincolnshire! For all I know these things are ten a penny in the civilized world.) and made the whole day worth the money. Carl, who is an e-learning developer at London Met started quite conventionally by reiterating the benefits that the earlier presenters had outlined. Students are familiar with them. It’s a preferred learning device. It allows communication and group work. It’s part of the blend for most students. He then gave us a fairly restrained view of what is being done at present, while pointing out some of the drawbacks. It is quite hard work to transfer material to the mobile medium but becoming easier. It’s only suitable for certain subjects. There are inevitable questions about accessibility. But there are fascinating developments. The implications of the iPhone style touch screen haven’t been fully explored. Adobe Air will replace flash lite as the development medium and will be interoperable with different phones – The software will be able to identify the device it is working on and adjust itself accordingly.

He also found that students liked the mobile for reinforcing what they learnt on the web, rather than as a first contact tool, and noted the phenomenon that mobile learning creates a learning bubble – you can’t have 15 windows open on a phone – forces concentration

But then he got onto the software that might be beneficial for mobiles. Sea Dragon gets rid of the idea that screen real estate is limited. Just look at this. http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/blaise_aguera_y_arcas_demos_photosynth.html  
The next step is what Carl referred to as mixed reality. This means that learners are augmenting their reality by participating in different media, and are reshaping it. Yes, I know “Oh, come on, now” is pretty much what I thought too. But, consider. With GPS we can automatically provide context to a mobile phone. It knows where it is. There are also things called QR codes – tags attached to real world objects – take a picture of the object with your camera phone and get multimedia info about it. Essentially you’re barcoding the real world by sticking one of these on it. But, here’s the thing. Because the phone knows where it is, and can use pattern recognition to recognize the subject of a picture is, taking a picture, can also automatically give you information about it. Or, to superimpose a reconstruction of a ruined building over your photo of the buildings (and you are standing in it!) We’re moving to the idea that everything in the real world will be clickable.

Which should give the Data protection Registrar something to think about.

All links will be made available

He also told us about Google Android – an Open Source mobile operating system that will run on many phones. Because it’s OS people can write their own applications and Google are running competitions for developers – here are their top 50 applications – http://android-developers.blogspot.com/2008/05/top-50-applications.html  It’s also completely free has rich Graphical powers, can use touch sensitive screens, and we even got a short demo of it’s 3-D capabilities using quake (A computer game I believe.) There was also a demonstration of how you could touch maps to pan around the city and go straight to “street view” (i.e. photographs of what was shown on the map) And zoom in considerable detail

Returning to the second half of the video mentioned again the spatial arrangement of images on screen can be meaningful. The second half of the video was about photosynth technology, which when you think about is even more astonishing than the potential of the QR codes. They reconstructed Notre Dame Cathedral from a set of images in Flickr. But because we can take data from everyone, and link them together there is a huge volume of public metadata. They were able to take a detail of the cathedral from one window, in one photograph and reconstruct the entire building from that.

After that we came back down to earth with a group discussion about the extent to which mobile learning could be blended effectively in the teaching and learning environment. A couple of very useful suggestions were made. I like the idea of using it for induction. It is possible to text news students with userids so they can log into VLEs prior to arrival. Another suggestion was to have a glossary that can be interrogated by text message. This uses a simple rule based system “if this word is received then reply with this definition”. This was all offered by a company called EDUTXT who seemed to be very well thought of by delegates. London Met had just had their symposium and had used it for their evaluation of their teaching and learning conference.
One case reported of a student declaring a disability via this method, as he had not felt comfortable doing this in class. The data can be exported to Excel which one delegate claimed took it close to an audience response system. I doubt it actually, because you don’t get the instant response.
In the afternoon we had a presentation about an FE project called MoLeNET

This was a collaborative approach to promoting and supporting mobile learning – FE colleges had been funded to buy mobile devices to be used in any way they see fit. The Learning and Skills Network provided training, ideas on how to use the devices and are producing a full report on the project. It involved 32 colleges, some in partnerships with colleges, or to put it another way 1200 teachers, and 10,000 learners.

It wasn’t limited by subject area, and a wide range of equipment – smartphones, PDAs, MP3 players, handheld gaming devices, ASUS laptops had been bought although there had been some supply problems.

In practice it seemed that the devices had been used as a substitute teacher. EEPC laptops had been used to show videos of how to do a hairstyle for hairdressing students when teachers were unavailable. We also saw a video of students using ASUS laptops for portfolio building in an engineering workshop. Students very much liked them on the grounds that they were small and went into their bags very easily. Also they could type things up as they were doing those things

Keith Tellum from Joseph Priestley College (JPC) in Leeds remarked that MoLeNET seems to have provoked considerable interest in mobile learning across the whole college, and also noted that central IT staff tend to be very concerned about (i.e. resistant to) new technology (Actually, on reflection this was a recurrent theme throughout the day) About three quarters of mobile learners felt it had helped them to learn – further research was planned into the 25% although they already had evidence that some were worried about the loss of the social aspect in the class.


Examples and tools can be downloaded from above. All of which are freely available.

But we got to play with one, such tool. We all did a little quiz using our mobile phones. Which worked very well, although my neighbour didn’t get a response to his text.

He noted that M-learning had really taken off at JPC. They even market the college through texting and 40% of enquiries came through texting

He then started to tell us about a couple of other projects, the Learning for Living and Work Project for learners with disabilities, and the QIA digitisation project. Which was about using learners own devices a very attractive way of moving towards sustainability. He was explaining about how the college can be taken to learners, and conventional phoning in doesn’t really work, because it was hard to get through and how the texting system had improved things when the speakers exploded! (No, really – they did. )

We then got to play with some “old” PDAs which had some very interesting software albeit a bit FE oriented loaded on them from a company called Tribal Education. A lot of it was “matching” and “snap” type games but there were some nice drag and drop applications There was also some very good quality video running on them.

The day finished off with a traditional plenary session. Some of the issues discussed:

Nintendo Wii – disabled students using it to make an e-portfolio – possible to make a jigsaw out of photographs, and these can be put into portfolios

A new version of the Wii is to be released which will be “mind-controlled”. The panel were a bit hazy about this, but suggested that users would be able to control virtual avatars with their minds

I asked about using the QR codes will and was reassured that this will be very practical – we’ll be able to do this for ourselves quite easily. Carl promised to send me a link to a download for all the tools.

Question asked about evaluation. We didn’t really talk about how effective these tools, exciting as they were, might be in improving learning.

Quite a lot of debate about the methods of evaluation. One issue from one of the FE colleges was that TXT language might appear in assignments, but in reality there doesn’t appear to be much evidence that this Is happening.

MoLeNET are doing a research project that would generate much further data. They’re doing quite a lot of qualitative data collection at the moment. They expect to put quite a lot of this information on their web site, along with their research questions.

No HEIs had been involved in MoLeNET, although there was some possibility that Universities could act as a partner in a consortium.
And that was it. Except for filling in the evaluation form, which required a pen and paper. How very Twentieth Century!

Attended the launch of our undergraduate research opportunity scheme today, which went very well. One of the speakers was a former student who had just completed his own MA. He gave us a nice quote which rings true. – “Research is about not knowing what the hell you’re doing” (Or something like that. I don’t remember the exact phrase) But it certainly felt like that over the past five years, (Still does!)

Well, actually no it doesn’t. I think I do know what I’m doing, although at the risk of sounding like an over eager Victorian curate,  I do have doubts all the time. I wonder, for example whether I can really make a convincing conceptual framework out of the functional, structural and behavioural models of the University. It’s just that there’s so much to write about in each model, and I can’t see how I’m going to get it all within the word limit. Or anywhere near. Yes, certainly, if a word, sentence or paragraph isn’t focussed on the research questions then get rid of it, but that’s still nowhere near short enough. I suppose the next thing might be to lose one or more of the research questions. But having spent so much time justifying why they’re important, I’m a bit reluctant to do that either.  Although of course, once you start writing you can lose focus and get carried away and start pontificating. That’s one reason why we revise academic work,  I guess. I suspect that the secret is to be patient and see what I come out with.


Hello world!

Welcome to The Learning Lab.

Well, now. What do I talk about here? I think it will be better to take a themed approach rather than a narrative approach, so users will pick up on (hopefully) useful things that I am working on. There’ll probably be more questions than answers though. Still, we’ll see. I’m off to the Blackboard Conference in Manchester next week, so assuming there’s an internet connection at the hotel, I’ll try and liveblog that.

In another (but closely related) life, I’m working on a doctorate about which is investigating how educational development units can fit into existing models of the University – I have a research blog for that, if you’re interested.

Research questions

Well, after many lengthy discussions with my supervisors I’ve finally nailed down some researchable questions.  (I haven’t posted for a while because I’ve been writing first drafts – and I do mean drafts. My approach is to knock out quite a lot of text with a view to getting feedback on it, and then I can do a much tighter second draft.) So much for doing the research in early May. Hah!  Anyway that’s done now, so back to the research questions 

Firstly, I’ve become quite interested in the various models of the University – there are the obvious functional models (Research oriented, teaching oriented) and I think we can add an instrumental model to this. Government demands that Universities deliver certain things (not always on any identifiably rational grounds in my view, but there you go) and universities have to deliver them.  An example might be the push for Personal Development Planning a few years ago. Now PDP is not a bad thing, and there’s a good case for students doing it, but frankly, it was never going to be a high priority for most academics, or for that matter for students. Attempts to make it compulsory were never realistic in my view.  (Sorry, hobby horse there.) Back to models of the university. The point about the functional models is that they are influential because they are held by external agencies. Most parents expect the university to give little Johnny and Jane a good education in order to get a good job for example – and that leads to certain expectations of academic staff. (YOu’ll have to wait for my thesis for a fuller account!)

There’s a bunch of structural models too, perhaps the most famous being that of McNay which identifies four different ways of managing a university – Enterprise, Corporate, Bureaucratic and Collegial. There are others, with slightly different perspectives and these models seem to me to be more about the internal operations of a university – but they’re influential because agencies within the university have to identify the dominant models – if the senior management for examples holds to a bureaucratic model, then educational developers will have to too if they are to survive.

There is also a third group, which I am very doubtful about, and these are what I’m calling behavioural models. It owes something to the work of Ray Land who wrote an interesting article about the orientations of academic developers to academic development. Land argues, I think rightly, that these are responses to a situation in which developers find themselves rather than fixed personal attributes, so in fact they aren’t so much models as responses generated by the functional and structural models. On the other hand, people do have personal attributes, and they do have quite a strong influence on the way they work. I suppose we could say that organisations sometimes behave in particular ways – the most obvious behavioural model for an organisation might be labelled “political” – in the sense that it is competing with other resources for funds, or that it is trying to make changes to wider issues. (An example here might be a university that makes a case that all its research should be published under some form of creative commons license)  Another might be “pragmatic” where an organisation decides that it will do none of those things, but cut its coat according to its cloth (I’m told I can’t use metaphor and colloquialism in academic writing, but I can here. So there.) I do think the behavioural models are a bit speculative though.

Anyway, what I am trying to find out is where the EDU sits in this complex web of conceptualisations. What conceptualisations do the staff of EDU’s hold and do they match those above? I think I may well find that EDU staff are focussed on a particular model of the university, which may, after the end of the TQEF funding present it with some challenges, not least relating to its own survival.