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!