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    Archive for the 'Digital literacies' Category

    Hype vs hope in e-learning

    By Clive Young, on 5 September 2014

    Across higher education there is a genuine feeling we are at some kind of tipping point in the use of e- learning. On the other hand practitioners are wary of the risk of over-hyping and point to the recent feverish marketing of MOOCs.

    At the Association for Learning Technology Conference earlier this week, for me one of the most thought-provoking sessions was the opening keynote from Jeff Haywood, University of Edinburgh. Jeff is both Professor of Education & Technology and VP Knowledge Management and has among many other things led Edinburgh’s pioneering initiative with MOOCs.

    The talk put the hype in perspective and looked forward to where higher education might be in the next decade, but Jeff was conscious of Terry Mayes’ notion of e-learning’s Groundhog Day phenomenon “the cycle of raised expectation followed by disappointment” (e.g. Groundhog Day again?, 2007)

    Looking back he concluded that although change was inevitably slow in universities, it was definitely occurring.  As an example he suggested much of students learning was nowadays facilitated by devices and applications not provided by the institution. General attitudes to online teaching and learning were also becoming more positive as students and staff were getting more familiar with them, the “socialisation of technology”, and many universities were seeing online delivery as a ‘worthwhile’ business supplement to existing residential provision.

    He suggested however universities had been using technology to improve the quality of what we currently do, rather than increase the efficiency of the underlying economics. One thing MOOCs had shown was that a reasonably effective learning experience can be delivered economically at a scale hitherto unimagined.  This raises  – though so far in my view doesn’t yet answer – the question of whether we can increase productivity while maintaining quality.

    Jeff asked if we use purposefully use technology to help students break out from the timetabled pacing of learning or enable staff to teach some parts of the programme to many more students.

    So what could higher education look like in ten years? Jeff’s person list was; on demand, self-paced, location-flexible, relevant to life/career now and in the future, global and local, personalised, affordable, high value added and covering a wide range of subjects.

    This vision is not about technology per se, but is unachievable without technology. Some kind of vision is necessary but we know universities as big complex organisations transform slowly so the vision must be combined with patience and persistence. To keep momentum and direction over a decade we therefore need a road map made up of systematically planned ‘modest, purposeful’ steps. These steps must be at the same time ‘agile’ and be adaptable to emergent change or evidence.

    An interesting and ambitious vision for the increasingly ‘off-campus’ University of Edinburgh was laid out. He suggested their 50 fully online Masters degrees and the well-subscribed continuing education programmes may be a better indicator of future core business direction than the 15 MOOCs currently running. He saw ‘on-campus’ and ‘off-campus’  provision becoming more integrated and balanced, “nobody would graduate from the university in any degree who had not taken one core fully online course” and that “all our teaching staff would have some experience of teaching online”. At Masters level he foresaw a 50:50 split of on/off campus students, with a steady blurring of the distinction at programme level. Continuing education would be enriched by technology and Edinburgh would continue to develop its ‘open’ components to increase the reach of and global/local engagement with the university – open will therefore become a “core part of the business’.

    To get there Edinburgh suggested a series of systematic ‘serious experiments’ in key areas (e.g as derived for example from the Horizon reports) which not just for local use but always with a view from the beginning of how to scale to an institutional level. This will introduce the key technical and digital literacy elements needed to achieve the University’s vision.

    The great Wikipedia controversy

    By Mira Vogel, on 11 August 2014


    wikipedia logoYou’ve been warned about Wikipedia.

    You’ve used it before but it would be pointless to cite it – anybody can edit so how can it be a credible source? Searching Google yields better sources for your work. You’ve never tried to edit Wikipedia – why would you?

    Comparing Wikipedia to Google’s search engine as sources of information, danah boyd sets out the differences. Google runs on private algorithms designed by a few software engineers. Though these algorithms are agnostic about the veracity or quality of the sites they reference, they are readily manipulable through search engine optimisation. Google’s commercial model has driven increased personalisation in these algorithms which in turn promotes social network homophily,  an encompassing network of like-mindedness also known as the filter bubble. As Tarleton Gillespie argues, “That we are now turning to algorithms to identify what we need to know is as momentous as having relied on credentialed experts, the scientific method, common sense, or the word of God.”

    In contrast, boyd explains, Wikipedia is produced through transparent protocols negotiated by its community of volunteer editors. Entries are debated in public on their respective Talk pages, sometimes passionately, towards resolving what is “legitimate, notable and of high quality”. The History page for each entry reveals who edited, when, and how often. Editors are encouraged to provide reasons, allowing biases to be identified. Where editors introduce false or inadequate information, Wikipedia has a transparent and systematic approach to address this.  As such, boyd argues, while Wikipedia may or may not be better than expert-vetted content, it makes a contribution beyond the “product of knowledge; it’s also a record of the process by which people share and demonstrate knowledge” and “a site for reflection on the production of knowledge”.

    Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales wonders why any student would rely on Wikipedia for their essay – “For God sake, you’re in college; don’t cite the encyclopedia”. Producing Wikipedia entries, though, that’s different. This is where digifest comes in. Digifest is a community-organised festival of technological stuff planned for early November with the aim of bringing UCL’s digital literacies agenda to life.

    Digifest logoProposal

    The following proposal for digifest – just a sketch at this stage – focuses on contested Wikipedia entries, to which it brings a number of questions. What is the nature of argument in different disciplines? What can scholarship contribute in a controversy? What is a scholarly way to comport oneself when weighing into a controversy which has turned belligerent? How are these things to be boiled down into a Wikipedia article?

    To explore these, we propose an edit-a-thon. An edit-a-thon is an in-person events, over a finite period (usually a day or less), bringing interested people together to edit Wikipedia on a particular theme. Historically these have tended to focus on content. Perhaps they are addressing gaps on Wikipedia – Women in Science and Art + Feminism, for example. However, by focusing on a number of contested entries, and with facilitation, students and staff together could participate in editing, discussion and reflection on the process of negotiating an encyclopaedia entry. Suitable entries might be those which involve hoaxes, alternative medicine, the paranormal, feminism, racism, climate change, contested territories, and religious beliefs. Participants would bring the Wikipedia principles into their editing and discussion activity, and reflect on their own standpoint and modus operandi.

    There are plenty of resources available for planning an edit-a-thon including the expertise shared by Wikimedia education organisers like Toni Sant (University of Hull) and Sarah Stierch (Smithsonian). In addition this one would require suitable entries or subjects to be identified, steady and experienced facilitation around sensitive topics, and a programme of activities including editing, use of Wikipedia’s Talk page, and in-person reflection.  A further possibility is for teaching teams to incorporate these activities into assessment on an academic course – again, there are well-documented precedents.

    Get in touch

    Would you like to be part of this? Or do you have other ideas for bringing Wikipedia into digifest?

    Contact Mira Vogel in E-Learning Environments, or @TrabiMechanic.



    Video HT: @mattjenner



    Summits and Horizons, 9th June 2014

    By Vicki Dale, on 16 June 2014

    Last week saw the final session in the current series of Summits and Horizons, a seminar series jointly organised by the Centre for the Advancement in Learning and Teaching (CALT) and E-Learning Environments (ELE). Appropriately, the session focused on the predictions of the 2014 NMC Horizons Report, in the context of use of emerging technologies to support teaching and learning at UCL.

    Fiona Strawbridge highlighted the trends, challenges and emerging technologies identified in the report:

    Trends Challenges Technologies
    Near term (1-2 years):

    • Ubiquity of social media
    • Integration of online, hybrid & collaborative environments

    Medium term (3-4 years):

    • Data-driven learning (analytics)
    • Students as creators (makespaces and hackspaces)

    Far term (5+ years):

    • Agile approaches to change (students as entrepreneurs)
    • Evolution of e-learning as a viable alternative to traditional face to face teaching

    • Low digital fluency of staff
    • Lack of rewards for teaching versus research


    • Competition from new educational models such as MOOCS
    • Scaling innovation within historically conservative institutions


    • Expanding access to higher education
    • Keeping education relevant for the future workforce
    Near term (1-2 years):

    • The flipped classroom
    • Learning analytics – using big data to drive and support student learning

    Medium term (3-4 years):

    • 3D printing
    • Games and gamification

    Far term (4+ years):

    • The quantified self – using smart technology to track your daily activities
    • Virtual assistants – lifelike interactions with technology

    Fiona’s slides, and a video précis of the report are also available.

    Ros Duhs highlighted the need to consider the relevance of what students are learning at university for the future workplace, and stressed the importance of authentic learning, teaching and assessment strategies.

    Janina Dewitz considered recently emerging technologies including semantic aware applications and smart objects (predicted in the 2009 NMC Horizons report) and affective computing. Her take on these technologies was that although many are being taken up by the consumer market, they have yet to make a substantial impact on higher education. Janina also mentioned individuals’ right to privacy and the lack of trust surrounding commercial access to their personal data. Similarly, students may object to the transparency associated with learning analytics; there is also the difficulty of measuring learning online since learning happens all the time and in other places.

    Clive Young presented the results of a survey ELE conducted with teaching staff about their use of external cloud-based tools. The survey revealed that a large range of external tools, which are used personally, are also being used to support teaching, research and administration, but more support may be necessary to increase adoption beyond the early adopters. The results are being reported in more detail in another blog post.

    Nick Grindle looked back at the technologies predicted in earlier NMC Reports. While some technologies such as mobile computing and apps, cloud computing and geo-everything have materialised within the predicted timeframe, one area which has still to reach its potential is gaming and gamification, first mentioned in the 2005 report. This is one of the themes of the forthcoming call for submissions for the E-Learning Development Grants, so hopefully at UCL we can make progress in this area.

    A closing panel discussion highlighted the role of the Arena Scheme, in partnership with ELE, in promoting digital scholarship. There was also a discussion about the importance of the institutional learning environment for security and support in using e-learning. While Moodle works extremely well and is very highly rated by students, we should be alert for the emergence of other platforms which might best serve longer-term future needs. Finally, thanks were given to Moira Wright for overseeing the successful and smooth administration of all nine sessions this year.

    Grounding the Cloud

    By Clive Young, on 16 June 2014

    DropBox blueprintIn April, Vicki Dale and Clive Young, E-Learning Environments carried out a survey with UCL teaching and support staff about their use of cloud-based tools for teaching, research, administration and personal use.

    We wanted to find out if ELE should support any of these tools at all and if so to what extent, given the external and rather fluid nature of such services. Over 200 staff – mostly academic colleagues – responded to the survey from across UCL. We found evidence of use of a wide range of external cloud-based tools, many used personally, but also to support teaching, research and administration.

    Although overall use was not as high as we had anticipated, some specific tools were used quite a lot. Skype was the most personally used technology (52%) while for teaching and research Dropbox was top (both 39%) and more than half of respondents had used Doodle for admin.

    The top tools were:

    Purpose Most used single tool Average use (across teaching, research, admin and personal) Mostly used for …
    Filestore/file sharing Dropbox 43% Personal (48%)
    Video/voice calls Skype 37% Personal (52%)
    Event organisation Doodle 27% Admin (54%)
    Professional networking LinkedIn 21% Personal (36%)
    Social video sharing YouTube 21% Teaching (33)
    Short message broadcasting Twitter 17% Personal (24%)
    Social networking Facebook 17% Personal (42%)
    Online office tools Google apps 16% Personal (17%)
    Web conferencing & webinars Skype 16% Research (19%)
    Instant messaging SMS texts 13% Personal (40%)
    Filestore/file sharing Dropbox 43% Personal (48%)
    Video/voice calls Skype 37% Personal (52%)
    Event organisation Doodle 27% Admin (54%)
    Professional networking LinkedIn 21% Personal (36%)
    Social video sharing YouTube 21% Teaching (33)
    Short message broadcasting Twitter 17% Personal (24%)
    Social networking Facebook 17% Personal (42%)
    Online office tools Google apps 16% Personal (17%)
    Web conferencing & webinars Skype 16% Research (19%)
    Instant messaging SMS texts 13% Personal (40%)


    It seems though that many of the tools are still only being used by enthusiasts, especially for professional purposes. This group could broadly be regarded as the self-starting ‘innovators’ and ‘early adopters’ (as identified in Rogers’ innovation curve), who are keen to experiment with new technologies without organisational support or encouragement.

    Although not really surprising, this interpretation runs slightly counter to the popular notion that such tools are largely self-supporting and need little guidance.  Nevertheless there may be a silver lining in this metaphorical cloud. Some tools are used much more for personal use and people are comfortable in using them. There could be the potential to adopt some of these tools for educational purposes.

    We concluded that, firstly despite the hype around cloud-based tools and services, they are actually much like any other technologies. To increase their take-up, staff need to be provided with adequate support to work out what tools are appropriate to use and how they may be used in a professional context. Secondly, tools that we (as learning technologists) regard as ‘cool’ and cutting edge, may be seen by non-enthusiasts as unstable, unsupported and risky.  We may have to rethink what tools and services we provide centrally. How can we provide the functionality of cloud-based tools that our colleagues evidently want for teaching, research and administration, but in a more supported and stable low-risk environment?

    Image: dropbox.com

    digifest is looking for ideas and session submissions

    By Janina Dewitz, on 5 June 2014

    digifest-logo“DigiFest” is running for a week from the 10th to 14th November.

    Get involved now!

    We are looking for ideas and session submissions (workshops, hacks, discussions, demos) on “digital things”.

    Digital things? Yes, it’s a bit vague at the moment – it’s still evolving.

    One of the underlying aims of the event is to enhance people’s “Digital Literacy” skills. But the term is controversial and means different things to different people. What does “Digital Literacy” mean to you?

    Ways to get involved

    • Do you have a digital skill or idea that other people would find helpful?

    • What online tools or apps could you teach others about?

    • Are you passionate about a particular digital issue that you could debate till the cows come home?

    • Do you have a cool digital project to show off that would make a great discussion point?

    To kick things off, we gathered for an initial brainstorming day in April. The day generated much excitement and 139 ideas of what we should do with “DigiFest”. The ideas ranged from mobile film making and productivity tools to coding and robot races. We got a really broad spectrum of interests and suggestions.

    These are the main themes we identified from the 139 ideas:

    1.            Activism | Politics | Ethics | Citizenship | Privacy | Security

    2.            Making | Sharing | Collaboration | Creative Commons

    3.            Identity | Professionalism | Footprint

    4.            Learning Technology | Future University

    We aim to make the festival as hands on as possible and organise it as a 50:50 partnership between students and staff: part unconference, part hackfest, part showcase, part online course. It’s an organically growing beast. Much of the final content will depend on community enthusiasm and your participation.

    We have been using Google+ to keep the conversation going. It’s where you can find photos and notes from the April session, too.

    If you would like to be part of the conversation and help us create an awesome festival, please join the community here:  https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/101676269656110955784

    There will be follow-up planning sessions. Details will be released on the G+ Community page.

    “DigiFest” is scheduled to take place from 10th to 14th November.

    Questions? Contact j.dewitz@ucl.ac.uk


    Webinar: UCL working with the new change agents

    By Clive Young, on 3 June 2014

    webinarClive Young (ELE) and Stefanie Anyadi (UCL Division of Psychology and Language Sciences) led an ALT webinar today on work UCL has been doing with our community of teaching administrators (TAs).

    We described the now-completed JISC Digital Department project that supported these staff in developing their digital literacies and in working more systematically and strategically with them as change agents. This had led directly to the establishment of our supported programme leading to the Certified Membership of the Association for Learning Technology (CMALT). We also introduced the E-Learning Champions initiative and explained why we had included TAs to work in partnership with academics and ELE staff. Although very much a work in progress this has proved effective and has already helped benchmark e-learning activity, develop local plans across two of our schools and has led to the emergence of active faculty-level e-learning groups.

    The slides and recording are available on the ALT Repository at http://repository.alt.ac.uk/2351/