We’re currently working on a bid under the recent JISC circular inviting calls for proposals to improve curriculum design processes and the reading around for this is throwing up some interesting material. 

When you start thinking about a higher education curriculum, you realise that the design process has been hijacked into a highly normative and deontic process. You must do this, tick that quality box, get your design validated by some external worthy at a day long meeting in preparation for which several kilograms of paper has been distributed. It’s not that quality assurance is a bad thing. Manifestly, it isn’t. But, I do think we’ve lost sight of why we have curricula in the first place.

Reading around for the bid I was very taken by some blog posts talking about the notion of “edupunk”. This is essentially the idea that education should be designed primarily for learners, not for institutions, and most certainly not for vote seeking politicians. This post in particular was quite thought provoking, (and has given me a nice suggestion for my next book to read)  –

Let’s not get carried away though. Not everyone is impressed. –

But, I do think that there is a danger of focussing so much on technology in HE, whether there for curriculum design or anything else that we lose sight of what it’s for.  And by “technology”, I don’t just mean computers – I mean techniques, processes, and procedures.


One of the things we do is look at various social bookmarking and web 2.0 sites that may have some potential for teaching and learning. Today it was the turn of Digg.   This is one of the major social bookmarking sites, and you quite often see “Digg this” on web sites. The idea is that people submit sites they find interesting, and the most popular ones are revealed on the home page. But the real strength is that you can build a network of “friends” (a bit like Facebook) and you all share your favourite sites. You can also comment on stories, videos and podcasts.

There are some obvious applications for this in education. It would be easy to get a class to  work together to create a critically reviewed network of sites on a particular topic. Digg also offers the oppoprtunity to “bury” sites with broken links, inaccurate information and so forth.  That way the site is kept up to date with reliable information. The point is it’s all user generated – the wisdom of crowds I suppose. I haven’t done much more than join this morning, but I hope to be back with reviews later when I’ve had the chance to use it in anger!

Todoist. A useful time management tool

I spent most of yesterday morning showing a colleague from the library round the various social networking sites, and while explaining about widgets that sites like netvibes and iGoogle use, I discovered todoist. ( This is effectively a little to do list manager, which rather than just providing a basic notepad requires you to think in terms of projects – you then add tasks to each project, and the dates on which you’re going to complete them. The iGoogle widget then shows you a calendar for the next few days with the things you have to do.

The downside is that the interface is a bit clunky (very clunky actually), and everytime you update something you have to refresh the page- At least in the iGoogle widget you do. But I do like the way it makes you think about a whole project and what you have to do to complete it. I’m still getting used to it and as I’ve so many different projects on the go, it’s quite a job in itsesf to break them down into manageable chunks.

Web 2.0 and universities

Interesting article in this mornings Guardian –,,2279249,00.html

Raises some questions about how universities might manage Web 2.0 applications.  For example, how, exactly, do you manage student assessments in Second Life? That’s an extreme example of course,but it makes the point well enough. I don’t think that this is entirely a technological issue though, it’s more about the problem of individuals innovating.

 Sticking with the Second Life example, if I was a history lecturer, I could build a sim representing (say) the Tudor court, and get the students to conduct role plays where they acted out the various power plays and assess their understanding of the relative power of the church, king, aristocracy and so on by recording their contributions in chat logs. Ok, that’s ridiculously ambitious, but technically possible. The point is though that it isn’t really sustainable. If I moved to another institution could I repeat it with other cohorts. More important, how would the students build on that type of learning experience? How would external examiners review it? How would second marking be dealt with?  My point is that innovation has to be accomodated within a quite complex institutional framework. (And I haven’t even mentioned the issues in running SL over a university LAN!)

Reading between the lines there’s a larger point too in the article, which is about separating the technology from the activities it is being used for.  I quote “One institution reported three examples of serious problems in one year involving students’ use of the new technology including the victim of a student scuffle using Facebook to identify the address of his attacker, and getting his revenge.”  Elsewhere in the media there have been stories about Facebook being used by dodgy loan companies to target vulnerable people. What’s interesting about these stories is that Facebook is cast as the villain, and not the people who are misusing it. I don’t remember anyone excoriating Gutenberg for the publication of Mein Kampf!

I guess we shouldn’t get too hung up on individual technologies – let’s face it, when I was an undergraduate, I used a fountain pen for creating my assessments and a wooden drop box outside the lecturer’s office for submitting them.  Those were far from perfect technologies (especially given my handwriting!)  But we’ve moved on, and we’ll probably move on from where we are now. So, I’m suggesting it doesn’t make sense to ignore a particular technology because it’s imperfect, but I do think we need to think about making it easier to experiment with them.