Thursday, 27 November 2014

Digital curation, a key skill for the 21st century

Why is digital curation an emerging key skill?

The ability to discover, evaluate and store digital information constitutes a growing part of any job in our so-called 'knowledge economy'. Although the debate around whether today's students are 'digital natives' continues to rage, if you are privileged to work with new students it is usually evident that they do not have a natural ability to manage digital resources. As educators we have a responsibility to help people learn how to function effectively in a connected world.

Whether you are a student or not, we all spend an increasing amount of our time accessing and reading information online. But how do we keep track of it all? And how to we make it easy to access the information that we need at the time when we need it? There are a number of useful tools that enable online content to be 'curated' - in other words stored and organised - so that it can be easily accessed.

While the tools below do not constitute an exhaustive list, they will enable you to develop your own personal approach to storing and curating the useful online resources that you find during your research. When it comes to writing your essays or project proposals, being able to search quickly and locate relevant information will save you a considerable amount of time.

The three principles of digital curation


1. Discover: choose the tools that you want to use to discover news and relevant information. These could be:
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Google+
  • Blogs
  • Content aggregators e.g. Feedly

2. Curate: bookmark and annotate the content that you find useful and you think others might find interesting.

3. Share: allocate some time each day / week to share some of hte useful resources you have found with your network, then check your news feeds and curate new information.

1. Discovering new information 


There are a number of tools that you can use to discover new information, the one you choose really depends on your personal preference. Here are some examples of popular 'news' tools that you might consider using:

Twitter is a powerful tool for discovering relevant information because it enables you to follow the updates of people who are interesting to you. To use Twitter effectively:
  • create an account and search for professionals and organisations who are operating in your professional area. These could be individuals such as artists and commentators, or organisations such as funding bodies, museums or even job agencies.
  • investigate people who look interesting - check their recent updates and see whether they are sharing valuable insights and reources or just making 'noise'.
  • follow those people and organisations who look like they will provide you with useful information. Their updates and links will now appear on your Twitter news feed. 
A quick summary of Twitter's main functions.
Blog / RSS readers
As you search on the web you will come across blogs that contain relevant information. It's a bit of a pain to have to keep checking back on these blogs for new updates, and a solution to this is to use a 'reader' or content aggregator. This is a bit like creating your own newspaper whereby all the blogs that you want to follow appear in a single place, thus saving you time in visitng each blog individually. To use a blog reader effectively:

  • search for the blogs that you want to follow and add them to your reader.
  • set your reader to be your browser Home page.

When you open up your browser you will be presented with all the updates from your favourite blogs, saving you time in having to visit them individually.

2. Curate, bookmark and annotate relevant content

Diigo is a social bookmarking tool that stores all of your curated content in the cloud. The advantage of this is that you can access the resources you have curated from any computer, smartphone or tablet. To use Diigo you just need to create an account and install the Diigo 'bookmarklet' in your browser. This provides you with access to all of Diigo's features. Once you have found a resource that you want to bookmark, you can use Diigo's features to highlight sections of a page and add sticky notes and comments. The next time you visit that page, Diigo will remember and will display any annotations you made.

Once you click 'bookmark', you will be able to add the webpage to your Library. You can add a comment to remind yourself of why the page was useful, and also add tags that will enable you to search for it at a later date.

You can add items to your Diigo library by copying and pasting the link of the site you wish to store. However, you may also want to install the Diigo toolbar (or 'Diigolet') which makes it even quicker to store and highlight web pages. As you add items to your Diigo Library you will be able to search for them by clicking on a tag, and this will pull out all the items with that specific tag. You can also search by keyword, enabling you to browse all the useful sites you have stored.

Evernote is another popular tool that enables you to store, tag and retrieve information with ease. The main difference between Evernote and Diigo is that with Evernote you can store individual images, documents and files in 'notebooks'.

Similar to Diigo, Evernote is a cloud-based tool. This means that when you update a note you can access it on a different device an you will see the updated version so that wherever you are you always have access to your most up-to-date work.

Again, similar to Diigo you can tag individual notes making it possible to search across all your notes for relevant information.

3. Share information with your network

You may have heard the phrase 'pay it forward' - the last stage of the Digital Curation process it to share some of the useful resources you have found with your online network. This enables people to discover information that may help them with their projects.

Twitter is a great tool for sharing information. You can add links, insert images and videos, and use hashtags to make your resources more discoverable. For example, if you have found and curated a web page that might be of use to Fine Artists, you could add the hashtag #fineart into your tweet. Anyone searching for this hashtag will then find the link you have shared. The video below explains how to use hashtags to search for topics and add your tweets to the conversation around a topic.

Once you begin sharing useful information you will find that people start 'following' you on Twitter. Building your professional network is an important aspect of establishing your online presence, which will in turn help raise your visibility to potential employers and customers and help you manage your online reputation.

Make the most of your time - schedule your content

Engaging with social media to share content can take time. Using a content scheduling tool enables you to make the most of your time by setting up content to be released at specific times. These tools also make it possible for you to track conversations and manage your social networks. A good example of a content scheduler is Hootsuite - you can add your social media feeds and participate in your networks from a single 'dashboard':


Thank you!

I would like to thank Sue Waters for sharing her excellent blog post on Digital Curation on which this page is based.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

How can blogs enhance student learning?

What is a blog?

If you're not familiar with the term 'blog' it can be difficult to see how a blog can enhance learning. Think of a blog as a sketchbook or an exercise book. Each page constitutes a new entry in the book and each entry follows the previous entry. As a student makes more entries it becomes possible to see their progress over a period of time.

Imagine that the student has put a title at the top of each page, and underneath each title they have added a few key words to describe each page. If the student were to repeat this exercise on a blog these key words or 'tags' would be compiled into a sort of contents page or index which is usually displayed at the side of the screen (just like the list on the right). Clicking on a tag extracts all blog posts that have been tagged with the particular keyword and displays them in date order.

Blogs and formative feedback

The ability to view the student's blog posts in date order makes it possible to see their work over a given period of time. Perhaps the most important aspect of a blog is that it enables the tutor to provide targeted formative feedback on the student's work - this is achieved by adding comments underneath each blog post. In a traditional classroom setting it can be difficult to monitor the progress of each student and weeks can go by before a tutor discovers that a particular student is having difficulty with their work. But if a student is asked to add their work to a blog every week it is possible for the tutor to track their progress and quickly diagnose potential problems.

When it comes to summative assessment the tutor can accurately assess the progress that each student has made, safe in the knowledge that they haven't simply created all their work the night before.

Case study

Should you use an internal blog tool (on the LMS/VLE) or an external tool (Blogger / Wordpress / Tumblr)? 

Perhaps the most important decision to make before launching a blogging activity is to choose a tool with which you as a tutor feel comfortable. You will undoubtedly have students whose online skills range from novice to expert, but this shouldn't be your primary concern. Make sure you choose a blog tool that you are confident with, or that you feel you can learn very quickly. 

If you want the students' blogs to be openly visible on the internet then Blogger is a good tool to begin with. Blogger provides you with a useful dashboard - each time you click 'follow' on another blog hosted on Blogger you will receive an update on your Blogger dashboard. This is why, when starting a blogging activity, it is useful to oblige all students to use the same blog tool as it enables you to manage the activity more easily.

Most institutional LMS / VLEs also have a built-in blog tool and these are usually adequate to support a community of bloggers. Institutionally-hosted blogs are a good alternative if you believe that either you or your students will feel uncomfortable using 'open' blog tools, providing a safer, more secure learning space. One possibility is to begin by initiating a blogging activity using the LMS / VLE, then move on to an external tool once you or your students feel more comfortable.

10 tips and advice for educational blogging

With thanks to Phil Gomm from the Computer Arts & Animation course, University for the Creative Arts


1. Blog-based summer projects

Incoming students are sent induction packs and summer projects prior to the start of the academic year, of which ‘setting up your individual blog’ is an integral part. Having created their blog, students email the course tutor the blog URL and these are shared immediately via the main course blog. This encourages new students to interact with each other even before they meet, and enables them to be paired with their respective mentor.

2.  Encourage collaboration through 'creative partnerships'

All year one project briefs ask students to work within ‘creative partnerships’ in which they are required to work closely with designated classmates via their respective blogs. Project briefs culminate in individual outcomes, but an archive of the creative partnership is a ‘must have’ component of final submission.  Creative partners are changed for each unit.

3. Use a course blog 

Year 2 & 3 students are all assigned individual authorship permission on the course blog. Year 1 students publish content & queries via a year group password.  Selected alumni, technical tutors, graduate training assistants, artists in residence & part-time tutors are also authors.

4. Use regular features

Create ‘regular features’ to which students, staff & alumni are encouraged to contribute content on an ongoing basis. For example:
  • The tune (music – soundtrack, song)
  • Cinema (film recommendations & reviews)
  • Recommended reading (books, articles)

5. Introduce collaborative projects

A project requiring students to work collaboratively in the research and production of a final piece of work. In addition to maintaining their individual blogs, students are required to create, populate and maintain a branded ‘studio blog’ on which they are all authors. The studio blog is assessed.


6. Online 'greenlight' reviews

Online greenlight reviews represent timetabled interim deadlines. Before each review students are required to upload pitch-style presentations to their blogs summarizing their creative development for a project to-date. Tutors then provide formative feedback in the form of comments.


7. Mentoring 

Years 2, 3 and Alumni are asked to ‘adopt’ new first years at the beginning of the new academic year by paying dedicated attention to their blogs. Mentors are primed to advise on new students’ FAQs and general blogging etiquette.

8. Create blog-based community challenges 

For example, the CG Arts & Animation course at UCA Rochester introduced the ‘Speed Paint Challenge’. This invited students, alumni and teaching staff to engage with a daily creative challenge over the Christmas break – quick digital paintings generated in response to a different theme announced on the group blog every morning at 9am.  The resulting paintings were then showcased on the course blog in the evening.

9. The Post With The Most 

Exploit the public-facing characteristic of online blogs proactively. This can help students to grasp the importance of professionalism and self-promotion and integrate industry with academia. For example, the ‘Post With The Most’ is a monthly tutor’s selection of student work from across the community of student blogs. Participating industry blog-watchers are invited to feedback and review the students’ work.

10. Create a culture of visibility 

Allow students from all three years to see each other's workflow, process and final output. Everyone follows everyone's blog, including alumni and part-time tutors.

Further information on the benefits of educational blogging

The following links highlight some of the perceived benefits of educational blogging:

  • "Blogging is also a great way to put your writing skills into practice in the real world and develop stronger communication and organization skills" and "starting a blog while in college can help you in your specific industry niche". 
  • "student comments suggest that blogging was associated with other specific instructional gains, such as exposure to more diverse viewpoints and increased commitment to writing and thinking".

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Students don't use email. So why do we keep emailing them?

Students like social media (via Mindshift)

Imagine you were born in 1995. You would have been three years old when Google launched in 1998. You would have been five at that millenium party you went to. Nine when Facebook arrived in February 2004. Eleven when Twitter arrived in March 2006.

Why would you have set up an email account? To activate your social network profiles of course! And how many of your teenage friends would have been sending you excited status updates via email? Probably not very many.

I make this point because I've been having conversations with students recently around their perception of email. As each year goes by, the demographic of students moves on another year - next year most of the new arrivals will have been born in 1996. Then 1997. And they will be even more bewildered by the university's constant attempts to contact them via email.

I accept that 'students don't use email' is a generalisation - of course some students do use email. But the vast majority are more active on social networks than are busily ploughing through their university inboxes, so is it any wonder that tutors and administrators get frustrated when students say 'I don't check my university email' or 'I didn't get your email'?

There is a point to be made about the extent to which universities are responsible for educating students about the conventions of email. After all, after graduating they will be entering a world in which email is still a key means of communicating. But social media is revolutionising the way in which organisations and businesses communicate both internally and externally. So do we not have an equal responsibility to educate students about the ways to use social media effectively and appropriately?

Social media is a democratising form of communication in that it gives anyone a voice. So it's interesting to consider the above argument in the context of the recent video (one of many) about the Future of Higher Education:

Many of the points made by participants in this video are not new: "more collaboration", "more accessible", "greater ability to learn at your own pace" etc. If the sector truly believes in 'student-centred learning', a concept which is easy to say yet not so easy to deliver, then communicating with students via social media is an important way to demonstrate that the sector is prepared to embrace the change that is coming. 

Paolo Friere's Pedagogy of the Oppressed proposed a 'new relationship between student, teacher and society' which treats the learner as a 'co-creator of knowledge'. The book was first published in 1968, thirty years before Google, nearly forty before Facebook. And yet much of Higher Education still operates in a very top-down manner with students very much as the 'recipients' of knowledge rather than co-creators.

In the same way as the music industry, Higher Education will experience a revolution. And the more strongly we resist the change that our students demand, the more uncomfortable that revolution will be.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Using Twitter for a group learning activity

Twitter is a useful tool on many levels, but I recently had the opportunity to use it as a way to support a group learning activity. Here's how it worked.

The object of the activity was to try and make a PESTLE analysis more interesting for a 100 1st year Fashion students. If you're not familiar with the term, PESTLE stands for Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal and Environmental, and is a way to analyse the ways in which these factors affect a market, product or service. The activity involved taking the students to London and setting them the task of visiting places across the capital that reflected each of these areas, so Political might be the Houses of Parliament, Economic could be Canary Wharf for example. The challenge was to be able to track the students' activity and verify that they had visited places for each PESTLE element.

The activity

Students were divided into sixteen groups and each group was allocated a hashtag ranging from #PESTLE1 through to #PESTLE16. The students were required to use their smartphones to take pictures of each place they visited and send a Tweet which included their group hashtag. The students had to tweet a group photo of themselves holding a copy of the Metro newspaper to prove that they had all attended on the required day.

The course team took up residence in a coffee shop, each tutor was allocated three groups to monitor and the tutor was responsible for replying to messages from their respective groups. Using the Hootsuite social media dashboard, it was possible to set up columns for each group to make it easier to follow their progress. As the tweets came in, a screenshot was taken of each tweet and at the end of the day these screenshots were dropped into iPhoto. This made is possible to quickly generate a slideshow of all the best tweets - see video below.

The feedback from the students indicated that they very much enjoyed the activity, and the discursive nature of Twitter provided an effective way for the tutors to communicate with the students. Hootsuite made it possible to track and monitor the activity of each group.

Do you have an example of using Twitter for group work? If so share it below!

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Thinking tools

I recently attended an excellent workshop hosted by Creative Huddle about creative leadership. During the workshop the subject of 'thinking tools' came up, and I was reminded of the fact of the importance of 'thinking tools' to help individuals and groups investigate complex problems..

Of particular interest was the value of asking 'why'. For example, why are we making this product / providing this service / targeting this audience / using this approach? Often the 'why' is overlooked at great cost.

During the discussion I was reminded of a couple of useful thinking tools - Edward De Bono's Six Thinking Hats, and Simon Sinek's 'Start With Why'. Both tools are explained well by my former colleague Damian Chapman:


Monday, 29 September 2014

What do students think about technology?

Photo credit: Sookie
It would be hard to find a student who doesn't use some form of digital device in their learning. But despite the ubiquity of technology in education, how often do we create opportunities for our students to think about how they are actually using these technologies?

I'm preparing a talk for some of our postgraduate Arts students, and am excited by the opportunity to ask them both how they currently use digital technologies and how they expect to use them once they move beyond university. The talk will be based around personal, educational and professional use of technology, and will use the following preliminary readings as a basis for discussion during the session:

Personal use of technology

  • In this age of technology is it realistic to assume that we can 'switch off'? Think about this while reading: To connect or not to connect

Educational use of technology

Professional use of technology

Please use and adapt these questions for discussion with your own students, and I'd love to hear about the issues that are raised during the session. Also, if you can think of additional questions in these three areas please share them in the comments below.

Friday, 25 July 2014

How do you disconnect?

Image courtesy of

In recent years, the days leading up to a holiday always cause me to feel slightly anxious about 'switching off'. Literally and metaphorically. Have I answered all the important emails? How will I survive without a laptop for two weeks? What will happen if I don't send any tweets?

Although I can imagine that not everyone feels like this, the articles and blog posts that I've read suggest that I'm not alone in my fear of disconnecting and I summarised some of these in a recent blog post. But the growing intrusion of electronic devices and communication into every moment of our lives is also causing people to re-evaluate the reality of being 'always on' and strive to create more 'disconnected moments'.

This article by Kitcatt Nohr neatly summarises the importance of switching off and the benefits it can bring to our thinking and understanding of the world around us. But do you disconnect, and if so how does it make you feel?

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Technology, distraction and harnessing our brains

Image courtesy of Hunter Langston designs
Image courtesy of Hunter Langston

I try not to call myself a technology evangelist, but I do believe that when used appropriately technology can enhance learning. So I've found it concerning to come across a number of articles in the past week highlighting the growing concern that certain technologies might be hampering students' ability to both concentrate and learn. But to what extent is this really a new phenomenon?

Our mind is unquestionably the most powerful technology we have at our disposal. But in the same way as the internet, laptops and mobile devices, our mind can also be a huge distraction. The ability to focus our attention and our thinking, even for a short period of time, is challenging. If you have ever tried to meditate and focus on being ‘in the moment’, you will appreciate the power of the subconscious to distract your focus, constantly throwing up disjointed thoughts and observations. Sometimes when I meditate I wonder how I manage to achieve anything at all amongst all the noise.

The ability to focus our attention for sustained periods of time is an essential part of consciousness, and developing and improving the ability to focus attention is an implicit in programmes of learning. Although presenting students with more stimuli in the form of information may capture their attention for a period of time, the length of this period will very considerably from person to person depending on their state of mind. There are also a range of variable including the tutor’s charisma, the way in which the information is presented, and the pedagogical approach chosen for the learning activity.

My point is that laptops, mobiles and the internet are tools just as the brain is a tool. The extent to which they are useful or distracting depends on the ability to harness and use them with focused attention. Few would deny that these tools have changed and will continue to change how we learn for the foreseeable future. But in light of this fact, perhaps there is a corresponding need to place greater emphasis on our ability to harness our attention.

Meditation is an effective way to help us become more aware of what it feels like to really focus. A basic three-minute breathing exercise at the start of each class would help clear the brain of at least some of the subconscious distractions that will hamper our ability to focus our attention. Rather than blaming technology for increasing distraction and disrupting concentration, perhaps we should instead consider trying to help ourselves and our students develop our thinking processes to take greater advantage of the affordances of these tools.
(And a big thank you to Hunter Langston for his excellent image above).

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Using Turnitin to support academic referencing

What is Turnitin?
Turnitin is a tool that enables staff and students to verify the academic integrity of written work. While some institutions take a punitive approach to using Turnitin, UCA has adopted a more formative position and advocates that is is used as a tool to support student learning. Although use of Turnitin is not currently mandatory, the university recommends that all students have an opportunity to submit some of their written work through Turnitin so that they can identify any weaknesses with referencing or academic writing.

Once a student uploads a piece of work through Turnitin they obtain what is known as an Originality Report. This indicates the percentage of text that has been found elsewhere on the internet in books, journals and websites. As Turnitin is not a perfect tool there is no fixed threshold above which a piece of work is deemed to be unacceptable. However, tutors are strongly advised to investigate any work where over 10% of the text  is deemed to have been copied from external sources. 

Help with Turnitin

The following videos demonstrate how to set up Turnitin, and what happens when a student submits a piece of work through Turnitin:

In addition, UCA provides an Academic Integrity website and Harvard referencing guide to help staff and students address problems with academic writing and referencing:

Improving writing and reflection with blogs

How can blogs improve writing and reflective skills?

The act of blogging is beneficial to students on many levels. Although it is a more informal way of writing than a traditional essay, this informality can be an advantage as it reduces the pressure on students to aim for perfection in their writing. In addition, asking students to write their thoughts on a blog obliges then to reflect before doing so, thus helping them to consolidate the knowledge they have acquired. Ferdig and Trammell (2004) summarise the four main pedagogic benefits of blogging for students: 

  1. Assisting students to become subject matter experts through a process of regular scouring, filtering and posting.
  2. Increasing student interest and ownership in learning.
  3. Giving students legitimate chances to participate and enculturating them into a community of practice.
  4. Providing opportunities for diverse perspectives. 

Students themselves also report that they find blogging a useful way to learn, stating that "their creativity and productivity skyrocketed because they knew that their work had the potential to be viewed quickly by an authentic audience that mattered to them."

In this article, students commented that "blogging is also a great way to put your writing skills into practice in the real world and develop stronger communication and organization skills" and "starting a blog while in college can help you in your specific industry niche".

A UCA case study

The introduction of mandatory blogging helped reverse the decline in academic standards in the CG Arts and Animation course at UCA Rochester. The course went from a 100% dissatisfaction rating to one of 100% satisfaction within two years, with the blogs leading to a significant improvement in students' writing and critical thinking abilities. This case study explains the role of blogs helping the tutor to turn the course around:

Blogging all over the world: can blogs enhance student engagement by creating a community of practice around a course?

Creating and sustaining online discussion

Q. Why is online discussion useful? 
Creating opportunities for online discussion is an effective way of supporting students' language skills. Moreover, the majority of both Home and EU students now entering university have grown up with online communication via social networking sites and many expect that their university learning experience will incorporate these technologies.

Online discussion supports learning in the following ways:

  • By increasing opportunities for students to read and write about their subject
  • By making it easier for less confident students to contribute to class discussion
  • By fostering supportive relationships and a sense of community amongst students

Q. How might I incorporate online discussion in my teaching?

There are many ways of introducing online discussion to your students, but before doing so it is important that you clarify how it will support their learning. Simply asking students to share their thoughts and ideas on a blog is unlikely to work unless they can clearly see the reasons for doing so. It's also important that you are prepared to participate in the online discussion as tutor presence is as important online as it is in the physical classroom. Building on the reasons listed above, here are some examples of how you might introduce online discussion:

Create a class blog and post a weekly discussion question

Setting up a class blog is quick and easy, but it can be a powerful way of stimulating discussion with a new group of students. The Postgraduate course at UCA Farnham used a class blog to encourage less confident students to feel connected to the course. At the end of the first lesson, students were asked to upload a link to one of their favourite songs and write a few sentences about why they liked the song. The tutor also shared a link to one of her favourite songs. This activity was a great ice-breaker as it enabled students to share something about which they were passionate and encouraged them to comment on other students' songs. Here are some more suggestions for kick-starting conversation:

7 conversation starters to stimulate discussion

Students who are sometimes too shy to contribute to class discussion often prefer online discussion as they have time to think about what they want to say before sharing it with the group. In addition, providing students with the abiliity to converse with each other online can foster a sense of community around the cohort. The following articles provides further reading about the benefits of creating an online learning community around your course:

4 reasons to build an online learning community
Make the community about your members

Use Twitter to encourage communication and collaboration
Despite the exponential increase in the use of Twitter many people are still unaware of its potential to enhance learning and discussion. Several courses at UCA have created a course Twitter account which they use to send messages and share links to useful resources with their students. Here are some tips for using Twitter in the classroom:

60 inspiring examples of Twitter in the classroom
50 ways to use Twitter in the classroom
Using Twitter for teaching and research

Ideas for online group work

I'm in the process of putting together some tips to help tutors set up online learning activities. This post considers ways of introducing online group work.

Q. What are the advantages of online group work?
Image courtesy of flickr user @gavinkeech

A. Providing opportunities for students to collaborate online can significantly extend their opportunities to learn. Students now entering university are often comfortable with communicating online, and constructing a collaborative online learning task can help them develop a range of skills including:

    literacy and grammar
    appropriate online etiquette and language
    team work
    critical thinking

Q. What sort of activities could I create?

Small-group blogs

Blogs are normally associated with individual learning activities, but they are also able to support group work. One example is to divide students into small groups and allocate a blog to each group, and in addition to creating a final presentation ask them to record all the research, inspiration and discussion that happened along the way. The blog provides a linear folio of research and ideas that both the students and the tutor can access in order to track the progress of the project.

Students can use 'tags' to organise their blog posts and indicate the ones that they would like the tutor to mark. Asking students to tag the blog posts that they would like to submit for final review obliges them to critically reflect on the work they have generated before selecting items to be submitted. In addition, tagging can help with the assessment of each group blog as it prevents the tutor from having to scroll through the whole blog looking for tne final pieces of content.

Whole-class blogs and discussion boards

Setting weekly discussion tasks is an effective way of encouraging students to collaborate in between taught sessions. For example, at the end of a session you can set a question for your students to discuss based on what has been covered so far, or on a topic that you want them to research. This question is posted on a class blog or discussion board. The following taught session then begins with a discussion of the content that students have uploaded.

Another variation on this activity is to set up two or three blogs / discussion boards and to post a different question on each. Students' homework is to write a short summary against each of the questions, and their responses are then used as a basis for discussion at the beginning of the next taught session.

Group mind-mapping with Prezi

Prezi is usually used as an alternative to Powerpoint, but it is also a good tool for supporting visual collaboration. Similar to the group blog activity, students work in small groups and are each allocated a Prezi. Each group is asked to gather visual research on a given topic and upload it to their Prezi workspace.

Using the comments feature, students are then asked to comment on and critique the research of other groups. Tutors can also provide targeted formative feedback on each group's work-in-progress and share additional links that they might find useful.

Monday, 12 May 2014

6 Cs of a Digital Pedagogy

Following on from the Higher Education Academy's excellent Digital Humanities summit, I've been doing some thinking around the digital skills that we expect students to acquire.

The digital age has put more information within our grasp than ever before in History. While in many ways this is hugely empowering for students in Higher Education, it also potentially presents quite a serious challenge to their learning process. The era of ubiquitous content is changing the role of educators too, as we need to help students contextualise and critically evaluate the many sources of information with which they are now presented.

In the distant, pre-internet past, there was less information within easy reach. 'Searching' often meant going to the Library and hunting through the bookshelves. I can't be sure, but I suspect that being less inundated with resources perhaps made it easier for students to critique the sources of information at their disposal.

But in an age where information is so readily available there is a danger that a student will aim to try and find the article or blog post that best represents their own opinion, rather than taking the time to reflect and formulate an opinion. As a PhD student myself I am all too often guilty of this, it's much easier to keep searching for that one article that sums everything up perfectly than to write it yourself.

There is a danger that ease of access to information could create a generation of students who aren't sufficiently inclined or equipped to challenge existing knowledge. This increased passivity is arguably being facilitated by the ability of technology to make all the information we could ever want available on demand. So what can we do about it?

One possible strategy is to place critique and questioning at the centre of the learning process. Creating regular opportunities for students to formulate, share and justify their opinions is increasingly important if they are to survive being drowned in a sea of content.

The above is very much a work in progress, but the 6 C model represents my first attempt at developing a digital pedagogy which responds to the problem of 'information overload'. Students 1) consume information about a topic from multiple sources. They 2) compare these sources, then 3) critique and question them in order to assess their relative worth. Students then 4) curate those sources which they judge to be of value, and 5) create a piece of writing in which they give their own opinion about the topic. Finally, they 6) collaborate with their network by sharing their resource, inviting comments and discussion which oblige them to justify their position.

Does this model work for you? What would you add / remove / change?

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Visions for the future of Digital Humanities

Earlier this week I was very fortunate to be invited to the Digital Humanities summit hosted by the Higher Education Academy. I don't profess to be anything like an expert in the Digital Humanities (or 'DH' to those in the know), but the HEA had pulled together a group of people whose expertise they believed would be useful in discussing the possible futures for this emerging area of scholarship.

The day consisted of two group-based practical workshops aimed at trying to visualise both current and future interpretations of DH. I had the opportunity to work with some wonderfully creative people, and given my lack of experience in this area it was useful to begin with an attempt to visualise the current landscape.
For the first workshop our group used the metaphor of a kitchen to describe DH, with a range of 'ingredients' (digital artifacts, skills etc), 'rules' (policies, legal requirements, IPR etc), 'people' (chef = thought leader, funders = restaurant backers, customers = end users etc). We also put forward the idea of a 'recipe book' in which the recipes might be created using a range of combinations of the above:

The second workshop began with a discussion of the ways in which DH might evolve. Although I don't have a detailed knowledge of DH, I was instantly struck by what I felt were similarities to the Technology Enhanced Learning field. To put it briefly, there has been great enthusiasm (and money) around the TEL field over the last 20 years, but this has more recently begun to give way to a sense of pessimism due to the noticeable lack of evidence that technology has enhanced learning.

Despite the enthusiasm around DH, I can't help but feel that the need to talk about 'digital' humanities as something separate from 'humanities' represents a possible failure of humanities disciplines to embed technology effectively. The similarities with TEL and e-learning are clear: the more the 'digital' is perceived as something separate from the discipline itself the less likely it is to become seamlessly integrated into that discipline.

However, our apparent pessimism soon gave way to rampant creativity! In attempting to visualise a future of DH we used the metaphor of a tapestry, in which the tapestry represents a discipline and the 'digital-ness' is woven seamlessly through. We felt there was a strong skills acquisition element to DH, and these skills were written as post-its and also woven in to the fabric of the tapestry. The need for progress to be driven by pedagogy represented another similarity to the TEL field, and pedagogy was therefore placed squarely at the centre of the tapestry.
Having pursued the metaphor to its logical conclusion, my feeling - and perhaps hope - is that in a generation or so DH will cease to exist. Its disappearance will represent the successful integration of the digital into humanities disciplines, facilitated in part by the gradual permeation in the sector of academics with increased digital skills.

Thank you to the Higher Education Academy for allowing us all to get creative, and a big thank you to my #dhtapesty team members for their inspiration and expert weaving! A Storify record of our presentation can be viewed below, and for a full record of the event please use the #teachDH hashtag.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

How can Learning Technologists support CPD?

You can always learn something new from the past.

I've just finished reading Julie Hall's excellent article in SEDA Issue 9.1 (Feb 2008) which examined the aspects of CPD (Continuing Professional Development) that were most valued by academic staff:
  • talking at meetings, social events, awaydays, and sometimes in the corridor
  • involvement with professional networks and Teaching Fellow networks
  • talking with students and colleagues
But staff expressed their concern that this valuable time was often not factored into workloads, and was even not physically possible in some environments due to lack of a social space. There was also a tendency for central support units to assume that staff are free to attend CPD sessions when they are not. Julie Hall highlights that that 'development works best when it is contextualised and comes at the right time'.

Staff also indicated that they would like to receive some kind of reward or recognition for their academic practice, stating that:
  • 'I'd like someone to notice all the work I'm doing all day and say thank you to me individually'
  • 'It's nice to be asked to contribute to the development of new programmes or just be asked your views on something'

So how can Learning Technologists help?

The UK Professional Standards framework encourages 'professional conversation' which, through dialogue, should aim to provide insight into what academics perceive, know, value and discard. Learning Technologists are privileged in their opportunity to work with numerous academics, course teams and professional support departments. Our position provides ample opportunities to engage in professional conversation, so here are five suggestions as to how Learning Technologists can support the aspects of CPD highlighted above:

1. Be talking to staff and congratulating them on experimenting with innovative approaches to enhancing learning and teaching with technology. This will help them feel valued.

2. By sharing relevant experiences of academic staff with other tutors across the university, promoting good practice in a context that is relevant to the tutor's current teaching.

3. By using our knowledge of technology to create short case studies, e.g. video podcast interviews with academics, providing them with a voice and a platform from which to share their experiences.

4. By asking staff for their input into the development of new workshops and training sessions - what do they want and when do they want it?

5. By creating spaces, both physical and online, where tutors can meet and discuss their practice.


Hall, J. (2008) 'Time to develop my career? That's a fantasy!' What academics said about their roles and CPD needs and how I tentatively introduced them to professional standards. SEDA Issue 9.1, February 2008, pp. 7-10

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Leadership 2.0

While going back over inspiration for previous blog posts I came across this thought provoking presentation about 'Leadership 2.0' by Denise Caron. What is Leadership 2.0? The excellent Social Media Garden report by Denovati has some useful soundbites:

"Leadership 2.0: embracing change, being open to experimenting, demonstrating transparency, working collaboratively and creating dialogue. Fostering a culture of innovation. Open to the voice of the people, stimulating sharing, acknowledgement of expertise" (Denovati, 2013)

And why is it important?

"Use of Web 2.0 will only be successful in an organisation if Leadership 2.0 is in place" (ibid.)

"Collaboration and transparency will be the vital business characteristics that will make all the difference in the digital era. Within organisations, co-operation, as opposed to rivalry, will be the main determinant of business success" (ibid.)

Given the growing social complexity in the workplace due to the exponential increase in use of social tools, you could be forgiven for assuming that management structures would automatically move from the pre-internet model of hierarchy towards one of 'wirearchy' as highlighted by Harold Jarche. But this isn't the case. In fact, the 'social media stuff' is still often the job of the intern - you only need to look at the number of internships currently springing up in which the term 'social media manager' is a key responsibility.

The amount of tacit knowledge in an organisation is a huge source of potential innovation (Cook and Brown, 1999). The ability of social tools to enable senior managers to tap in to this creative reservoir presents significant opportunities for senior managers to maximise the creative potential of their workforce. But the recent Altimeter report into The Evolution of Social Business indicates that "only 34% of businesses believed that their approach to social media was connected to the goals and objectives of the business". And more worryingly, "half of all executives are not informed, engaged or aligned with their company's social media strategies in any capacity".

It's no wonder that tools such as Hootsuite, Yammer and others are experiencing such strong growth. There's a long way to go before social business becomes the norm rather than the exception.


Cook, S. D. N. and Brown, J.S. (1999) Bridging Epistemologies: The Generative Dance Between Organizational Knowledge and Organizational Knowing. Organisation Science, Jul/Aug 1999, Vol. 10, No. 4. pp.381-400.

Jarche, H. (2013) Wirearchy.

Li, C. and Solis, B. (2013) The Evolution of Social Business; Six Stages of Social Business Transformation. Altimeter Group 

Sunday, 9 February 2014

What Higher Ed can learn from Dave Grohl and Sound City

I've just finished watching the excellent documentary Sound City by Foo Fighter and Nirvana legend Dave Grohl. If you get a chance to watch it, do so - it's inspiring. The documentary tells the story of the legendary Sound City studio in Los Angeles, which gave birth to some of the greatest rock albums of all time: Fleetwood Mac 'Rumours' and Nirvana 'Nevermind' to name just two. But during the film, Grohl shares some insights that I feel are of particular relevance to some of the current debates in Higher Education. Let me explain.

Recently, much has been written about the way in which new technologies and pedagogies are causing students (and educators) to question the value of the classroom experience. Martin Weller has raised the possibility of MOOCs as 1st year undergraduate replacement, which the recent HEA report Flexible Pedagogies: Technology-Enhanced Learning proposes that "if students do not perceive traditional lectures and seminars to be valuable from a learning perspective then the age of campus-based education could come to an end". These articles effectively suggest that the combination of affordable personal technology, widespread internet access and availability of free online learning materials could ultimately lead to campus-based lectures becoming a thing of the past.

So what has this got to do with Sound City? One of the key factors contributing to Sound City's legendary status was its refusal to embrace digital recording technology. In the 1990s, digital audio software such as ProTools revolutionised the recording industry by making it possible for anyone to record and produce music in their bedroom. While this can be seen as empowering creativity by lowering the barriers to entry into the music business, the adverse effect is eloquently articulated by one of the Sound City team as 'making it possible for people to get into the music business who had no business getting into the music business'. By removing the filter of having to go into a studio and record music live - with other people - it became increasingly easy for anyone to create average music. 

As the film draws to a close, Grohl explains that one of the most valuable aspects of writing music in a band is the opportunity to develop ideas in real time, with the help of like-minded people. Often there is no pre-determined output other than the desire to make a record, but by exchanging ideas, trying new things, and collaborating with other musicians, it is possible to achieve great things. It is through real-time human collaboration that magic happens, the magic of creating a composition using the fragments of ideas and inspiration that exist in the minds of each musician. Of crucial importance is the need to spend time on this process, creating through experimentation, then refining ideas through negotiation, trial and error.

For me, this is what Higher Education can learn from Sound City and the process of writing music. The one element common to most university experiences is the opportunity to be in a room with like-minded people, all keen to learn and to try new things. When this face-to-face time is used effectively this is where the magic can happen, the 'light-bulb moments' where somebody asks a question and we suddenly understand a concept. Where a discussion takes place that enables us to see something in a whole new light, or from an entirely different perspective. While it is possible to access the same content from home using a computer, without the opportunity to be in a room with people and share the experience of learning we are less likely to experience the magic that comes from collaborating with other human beings.

Higher Education is currently struggling to articulate the value of campus-based education in an age of rapid technological enhancement. If it is able to refocus on the value of an effective tutor in creating engaging learning experiences for students, then campus-based education will survive. But if pedagogical models based on information transmission are allowed to persist then students will vote with their feet.

The tutor has never had more power to determine the fate of the university.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Higher Education in East Asia - students and grads share their views

In doing some research into sustainability I came across the above video from the World Bank, summarising it's report into Higher Education in South East Asia. The research interviewed students and graduates about their experience of Higher Education, and they provided some thought provoking quotes:

  • "Higher Education can help us get better jobs but not necessarily the jobs we want."
  • "Experience and capability are more important" than a paper diploma.
  • "Lack of work experience is the biggest obstacle to finding a job. Many companies do not have time to train graduates."

When asked what changes they would like to see the provided the following responses:
  • More room for students to be entrepreneurs
  • A global teaching system that respects local values
  • "What I learned was completely divorced from reality. Copying the western model is not suitable."
  • "I hope schools don't become too utilitarian, teaching just for employment. There should be in-depth knowledge."
  • "Developing learning methods that help teachers and students think creatively and out of the box"

What about you? What are your thoughts on the above statements? Do these statements confirm or challenge your experience of Higher Education?

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

A New Year's Day educational message from Seth Godin

I've had an enjoyable break from Twitter over the Christmas break. But having switched on the computer on New Year's Day I came across this thought-provoking video from Seth Godin in which he outlines the reforms he believes are needed for compulsory and post-compulsory education. In questioning the fundamental philosophy which informs current approaches to pedagogy, Godin's observations echo those of Sir Ken Robinson in highlighting the need for a fundamental reevaluation of the educational system.

Why aren't more governments and educational policy makers listening to people like Seth Godin and Sir Ken Robinson? History shows that resistance to change never succeeds in preventing change from occurring. It seems evident that the sooner governments, universities and schools embrace 21st century educational thinking the more likely they are to ride (and potentially profit from) the wave of change. And yet report after report is written highlighting the problem of entrenched views hampering the uptake of new pedagogical approaches (see, for example An Avalanche is Coming, Innovating Pedagogy 2013).

Why is there so much fear of change, particularly in the Higher Education sector which for centuries has been at the forefront of intellectual thought and new knowledge?

We are already entering a post-digital world where ubiquitous access to information should inform a fundamental reevaluation of 19th and 20th century working and pedagogic practices. MOOCs represent the tip of the iceberg in terms of a new view of education, and Thomas Friedman has issued a stark warning to universities that they should strongly consider moving away from a model of 'time served' and towards one of 'stuff learned'. Friedman believes that "increasingly the world does not care what you know. Everything is on Google. The world only cares, and will only pay for,  what you can do with what you know". Those institutions that are able to adapt their provision successfully will most likely lead educational innovation well into the the next decade and beyond.

Seth Godin, Sir Ken Robinson and all those offering an alternative view of education for the 21st century should be congratulated for continuing the march on the ivory towers of educational practice.