Monthly Archives: October 2007

Portrait of a User #1

These ‘Portrait of a user’ posts aim to provide snapshots of both staff and students in higher education.

Mel, Mature 3rd Year Anthropology Student (part time)

Interview conducted by MSN, Oct 07

What do you think of as ‘technology’?

Anything online, I use the University databases a lot.

How would you describe your ability to use technology?

I think through work and my partner being involved in IT I am probably more knowledgeable than most of my fellow students

What sort of technologies do you typically use?

Through my athens log in, all the relevant databases to my course, facebook, msn, I am also registered to a online datastore for literature that can be read in pdf.

On a typical day what’s the first couple of things you do when you switch on your computer?

Log in to msn (automatically), check hotmail and my university email and VLE for updates.

Your institution uses a Virtual Learning Environment, how much time do you spend using it and what are the main things you do in there?

I use it to check essay questions, seminar and lecture updates and relevant reading we need to do.

Do you have your own blog or something similar that you use either for your academic work or outside?

No, but I have been thinking about starting a personal blog.

Do you use any social networking sites?

I use Facebook.

How do you feel about using the same sites for your academic work, such as discussions etc?

There are a lot of anthropology groups from my institution on Facebook but I am not a member of any of them, I don’t really consider myself as my university would put it a ‘3D student’, i.e a student who gets involved with all the activities and the ‘brand’ – I’m a 2D student, I want what I paid for – my degree.

If there was a ‘device x’, a technology that doesn’t currently exist, or one that you’re not aware of, that could help you with your studies, what would it be, what would it do?

Annotated and indexed podcasts, that would be very helpful – as I work it would be nice to review things and have website links if I am unable to make it to the library, especially as there are shortages of key texts.

Social-learning mash-up?

I was sent a link this week to an application within Facebook, CourseFeed. This is a small application that integrates your Virtual Learning Environment with Facebook. At the moment it seems to support Blackboard® only, with some limited functionality for others.

The full app when used with Blackboard® allows (using their words not mine):

  • Course Wall
  • File storage for Course Notes, etc.
  • Course feed display of what’s new posted by others.
  • Connect with others in the course.
  • Profile display to let friends know when you’re in class.
  • See everyone in your course – guaranteed accurate course roster.
  • View all Blackboard® course materials without leaving Facebook
  • Course feed shows when professor posts announcements, files, etc. to Blackboard®.
  • View all announcements, new or old, in the announcements area.
  • One-click access into Blackboard® and auto-navigation that takes you right to the item. No hunting!

This may be the articulation of something that has always been there in face-to-face education, a nexus between students’ social activity – formal learning – informal learning – peer group exchanges. Potentially a great step forward for electronic environments?

Conversations with students in various surveys over the last few months suggest a different picture. Whilst it is by no means clear-cut, there is a feeling amongst students that they would like ‘private space’, and there as also been some negative publicity around, for example, Facebook, where “university authorities are using the Facebook website to gain evidence about unruly post-exam pranks”.

Kim Carey of Pepperdine University poses the question:

“Does anyone think giving your university id & password to a third party is a good idea?”

Any thoughts or comments? This could be an application that might really help learning, but what about privacy?

7 things to do in Education with Web 2.0

I recently read an article by Laurel Delaney about small businesses marketing within the social software environment. It tells the story of ‘Sidney’ a web designer who reinvigorated her business by using existing social networks and web 2.0 technologies. My immediate thought was how this can be applied to educational projects and individuals (ignoring the teaching aspects – I suspect that will be a much longer post and better done by other people). Taking the approach that I normally abhor I looked first at the tool or technology and sought out an application for it. During the course of doing this I discovered that in each of them there was already someone using it in that way, unsurprisingly! So here’s a short list of five, some of them are platform specific (apologies) some are generic, and if you know of any others please post them in the comments, I’ll post a further list at a later date.

  1. Facebook, love it or loathe it, for now it’s here. The premise of Facebook is simple a social network of people interacting for ‘fun’. However, one colleague has used this as a tool for eliciting feedback on a tool he’s been developing. Another example is Edge Hill University who have a closed (private) network on Facebook for their staff with 2,087 members.
  2. Instant Messaging (IM). This is one that immediately springs to mind for my practice and this article is a good example. During the writing of it I used my IM client to elicit comments from colleagues; one of them came back and immediately gave me the example of this article! One of things that I understand is effective is the group IM chat where a record of the conversation can be used to create quick action points. One project told me that they often use IM during meetings as a way of clarifying things that were said without interrupting the flow of the meeting.
  3. Slideshare.  More than just a presentation tool, this allows for interaction and discussion. The colleague who alerted me to it regularly presents material at a variety of universities and uses Slideshare as a way of providing a ‘copy of the slides’ without wasting paper. It also allows him to use the discussion function to allow questions there was not time for in the session and eliciting comments from peers prior to presentation. It also allows you to provide a simple online resource for anyone to access: do a search for federated access management and you’ll find an excellent presentation ( given to a small audience at a Regional Support Centre Event but which as been now viewed 459 times (at time of writing).
  4. Googledocs, “to be honest it could be any interactive writing tool but I like the format” was the comment that stood out. This colleague needed an easy shareable and ‘familiar’ tool that she can share potential research proposals on and refine them with colleagues whilst maintaining a log of what’s been changed. Simple and effective, as an aside I asked if she had got any successful proposals yet – “no comment!”
  5. Flickr. A personal repository for storing, sharing and discussing your photos and images. One of my favourite uses is for presentations: instead of using text heavy powerpoints do a search for the keywords or concepts you’re looking for in the advanced search (you can select to search only those images that have an creative commons licence). Try doing a search for web 2.0, community or Emerge in the tags only section.
  6. Personalised Homepage ( or These tools are great if you need to assimilate information. All of the projects within the U&I programme use RSS feeds and report regularly using their blogs etc, I just aggregate them all on to one page using and I get a great snapshot of what the projects are up to. I also get my email, calendar and news from other blogs that I’m interested in (I also get news about rare birds and my football team).
  7. Meetomatic. For me this is one of the key tools in my job, it’s a way of organising a meeting date – select the dates you need, email the link, identify any ‘must attends’ or ‘VIPs’ and wait for the responses. Simple to use, does one thing and does it well, and it’s free.

Got a favourite tool? – tell us about it! 

Technology and language: a plea for calm…

Over the past 18 months I’ve been immersed in activities with staff across the UK higher education sector looking at technology that is characterised as web 2.0. Purely from anecdotal evidence it is, to me, becoming apparent that some of us are not speaking the same language as the practitioners that we seek to influence.

In the past there have been barriers up to technology through the use of jargon, in my early days of going to e-learning conferences I would sit and listen and wonder in awe at the intense technical discussions, wishing that I was part of the group that was trading the jokes about lines of code. Then the same people would stand in front of a room of practitioners and make the same joke, and watch as only 2 or 3 people laughed. We see it in other communities – the staff and educational developers can be an imposing community with their discussions, throwing knowing looks and muttering “kolb”, “metacognition” or “constructivism”.  And when this community meets the technology community we end up with “m-learning” and “e-tivities” and other invented terms.

With the advent of the technologies characterised by web 2.0, we have a new subset of terms being applied. But this time we are not only providing a barrier by the use of the terms but in the nature of the terms. Glynis Cousin recently suggested that commercial companies in learning and teaching understood this and used logos and metaphors for technology in teaching to make practitioners feel comfortable, for example WebCT’s little character in a mortar board resonates with a teacher, making them feel that it is technology but grounded in their experience.

But there are some of us that have applied the language and metaphors in ways which challenge practitioners in a, perhaps, negative way. These range from the simple assertion that ‘you’ as a practitioner had better do it because you will have to at some point anyway, such as “Dave Cormier’s “Blogging: not ‘if’ but when and where”, to the application of terms that are wholly inappropriate such as ‘disruptive’ technologies. The latter term implies that the application of the technology will enforce disruption on practice, having pushed the term, we then try and retrofit a learning activity into it.

So why do we do this? Is it because we seek to change and challenge practice through the application of pressure through language? Or is because we like the idea of cool and radical new terms? Certainly ‘disruptive technologies’ sounds cooler than “using technology to enhance real-time collaboration in a classroom”, or “e-tivities” rather than “activities that are carried out online”.

Working with the diverse U&I community (a group that includes teachers, researchers, librarians, learning technologists, administrators and people in a range of other roles) it became apparent that we as the U&I community needed to communicate exactly what we meant, not only from a technical perspective but also from a (sub)community context (such as library or research). One of the things that I identified people NOT doing was using language as a weapon, a way of forming cliques or to confuse people. The language used was, largely, inclusive and simple and this seemed to enable ad hoc communities to develop quickly and easily.  

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