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  • Archive for the 'Digital literacies' Category

    Using smartphones for filming

    By Clive Young, on 23 March 2014


    As we know there is a growing demand across UCL to create video resources for teaching and learning. However the facilities and equipment to do so are still quite limited, so some colleagues are experimenting by shooting video on phones and tablets. 

    Such devices actually turn out to be quite good tools to use to record and even edit ad-hoc short videos – if used in the right way, of course. While researching some guidance documents I came across these videos from the BBC College of Journalism about how to use smartphones for capturing news stories. I think the basic principles apply equally well for educational video and media. The first focuses on using the smartphone as a video camera.


    Some UCL colleagues are also using short audio-only ‘podcasts’ for example to give feedback. The next video provides some useful tips about recording audio.


    The final video of this series concentrates on using the phone as a stills camera, and while covering some of the same ground, includes a few useful extra stills-only tips.

    If any colleagues are using a smartphone or tablet to create media resources and would like to share their experiences and tips, please get in touch.

    Mozilla and digital literacy

    By Mira Vogel, on 7 January 2014

    Digital literacy is gaining recognition and sophistication but the concept currently tends to fragment. For example, Doug Belshaw welcomes the explosion of interest in learning to code but makes the point that on its own it is unlikely to get anybody very far with reading, writing, or participating online. He concludes,

    “One thing I’ve learned in my career so far is that it’s always difficult to see how the dots connect together going forward. Looking back over my time as an educator I’ve seen a growing realisation that young people aren’t ‘digital natives’ who should be left to their own devices. Over the next year or so, I predict that the ‘learn to code’ movement will be seen to provide only part of the solution.”

    In partnership with others at Mozilla, his response is the Mozilla Foundation’s Webmaker initiative. Released in October 2013 it proposes a map of the web literacy terrain. There are three main areas which provide a helpful overview:


    •     Navigation
    •     Web Mechanics
    •     Search
    •     Credibility
    •     Security


    •     Composing for the web
    •     Remixing
    •     Design and Accessibility
    •     Coding/scripting
    •     Infrastructure


    •     Sharing and Collaborating
    •     Community Participation
    •     Privacy
    •     Open Practices

    Mozilla are now scoping a ‘distributed curriculum’ aligned with these different areas and evidenced by the acquisition of OpenBadges. One criticism of OpenBadges is that they disaggregate practices into skills or competencies, promote disjointed acquisitiveness, and interfere with a coherent, sense-making approach. It’s true that many, perhaps most, kinds of knowledge can’t be isolated and captured in a badge. However, badges are particularly helpful where they help to decompose seemingly unattainable areas of expertise into constituent skills, where they provide an immediate graphical impression of which areas need more or less attention, and where they help students and other learners to recognise their own achievements. These are things that most educators are already aiming to do. As such OpenBadges seem to lend themselves to this web literacies initiative.

    In short this Mozilla project seems to have a lot of potential. For other holistic approaches to promoting digital literacies in higher education, see the outcomes of Jisc’s Developing Digital Literacies Programme, including UCL’s Digital Department project.


    Terms of Service; Didn’t Read

    By Domi C Sinclair, on 24 October 2013

    If you are like me you may have often thought to yourself; wouldn’t it be nice it would be if someone could go through all the popular social web services and break down the terms and conditions. Maybe they could give them ratings, to make it easier to digest these lengthy and technical documents. Indeed it can be difficult to know who will own your copyright once you upload content, how easy it will be to delete your account and who might be tracking your activity.  Well, today I found out that someone has done exactly that!

    Terms of Service; Didn’t Read gives social web services a rating from A – E on how good their terms & privacy policies are. It  pulls out the good and bad aspects of terms and conditions such as; whether you own copyright, if you can delete your account, whether their terms and conditions likely to change. It then lists them helpfully on their website, that includes highlight for services that have not yet been rated. This means that even if they haven’t completed the massive task of rating all the services yet, you can at least get an idea of their pros and cons.

    There is also a web-browser plugin so you can get the information when you need it, without having to open up another tab/window. I’ve only had time to look at this fairly briefly but so far I am very impressed. Here is how it works through the plugin:


    Inducktion for induction

    By Mira Vogel, on 9 September 2013

    Earlier this year E-Learning Environments (ELE) won a mini-project grant from the Changing the Learning Landscape Programme on the theme of ‘Power in Your Pocket’. ELE has been working with UCLU, Student Support & Wellbeing, and the Centre for the Advancement of Learning and Teaching for 2013/14 Induction Week, to set up activities exploiting the mobile devices – tablets and smartphones – which increasing numbers of students carry on campus. For this project we were looking for a visual identity which would both communicate across a crowded room, and also provide participating students with a striking signal that they were joining in and approachable. Inducktion Duck successfully interviewed for this dual role of poster child and muse, and has since been working with us to design two activities which encourage students to approach their technologies creatively, producing and sharing media and making new connections.

    Inducktion for induction
    Small duck, big pond

    One activity is the Campus Tour. This uses UCL’s wireless internet access to hyperlink the campus, and can be taken at any time between 20th September and 2nd October, individually or in groups. There are 18 destinations on the tour, with a conspicuous poster in each. The posters have a unique QR code (bar code) which students scan to load a mobile-friendly web page which draws attention to existing resources about that destination, shares some choice ‘good to know’ information, and points out some interesting or helpful places nearby.  As well as providing orientation to a sometimes bewildering campus, our tour’s main focus is students’ comfort, convenience and support – so we include refreshment, internet access, water fountains, UCLU services, study resources and spaces, printing, available computers, recreation, walking and cycling, showers, emotional support – and more. The Tour is designed to help students connect, both technically and conceptually, with the campus and will be available.

    Scanning Inducktion QR codes at each destination
    Scanning Inducktion QR codes at each destination

    The second activity is the Photo Challenges. Open to all, the Photo Challenges particularly have in mind international taught post-graduate students – they are often with us for just a year and as well as having a huge amount to familiarise themselves with, they have the least time to connect with other students and with what UCL has to offer. We know that social contact can sustain well-being, motivation and commitment to studies, so we have designed daily Photo Challenges to bring students together over their duck (of the bathroom or origami variety). These will be surprising, amusing, and sociable. The challenges will tweeted by @inducktion between 20th and 29th September, participating students will share them with us, and we will then aggregate the pictures in a central online place (using Storify and If This Then That).

    Inducktion duck vanity searches on UCL Library catalogue
    Vanity searches on the UCL Library catalogue

    Together we hope these activities will help students feeling at home with each other, familiar with UCL, and aware of the potential of the technologies in their pockets. For students who cannot access these technologies we will provide an alternative format.

    We are poised to begin our Inducktion promotion campaign and hope that departments will help us to promote it to their new students:

    Embedding digital literacies

    By Mira Vogel, on 22 July 2013

    Changing the Learning Landscape

    I’ve been at the July meeting of Jisc’s Learning and Teaching Practice Experts Group (aspiring expert, in my case).

    The day began with an overview of outcomes from the E-Learning Programme, pointing us to the Design Studio as a repository of programme outputs – tools, activity designs, models, and a synthesis report of outcomes from Jisc’s Curriculum Design Programme.

    Sarah Davies summarised the Changing The Learning Landscape Programme (CLL), a multi-organisation collaboration to mainstream outcomes from the projects in Jisc’s E-Learning Programme. The projects challenge existing assumptions and imply a change of practice. Without good management processes, change is liable to be resisted. Resources from these projects are available at The Design Studio where you can find – among other things - Manchester Metropolitan’s groundbreaking work on technologies fit for the practicalities of assessment, including double and blind marking. It’s always worth keeping in mind that while institutions need to change, the technologies also have a long way to go.

    The Quality Assurance Agency’s UK Quality Code now sets out the Expectation (capital ‘E’!) that “Higher education providers take deliberate steps to engage all students,
    individually and collectively, as partners in the assurance and enhancement of their educational experience“. Simon Walker with colleagues and students from Greenwich summarised some initiatives which surpass the attitude survey and involved students as champions, project workers or helpers. They circulated a leaflet outlining the way they recruit these students: the roles are advertised, student applicants submit an expression of interest, then they create an artefact which demonstrates the competencies of the role, and finally they attend a selection workshop. I assume there is feedback to all applicants. Greenwich invests in an authentic work-seeking experience for students and, in return, capable and committed people are delivered to work on projects. The crucial issue in these straitened time is recognising student contributions in other ways than payment – alternatives to payment include academic credit or an award which could be aligned to the HEA Professional Standards Framework. There was a discussion about the point at which providing opportunities for students becomes exploitation of free student labour (for example, see the recent outcry against the kind of  unpaid work experience which compounds disadvantage by excluding people who can’t afford to work for free). Close work with Student Unions is important in avoiding this. For more on integrating students’ personal and professional development with institutional initiatives, Simon points us in the direction of the new-born National Student Change Agent Network.

    A digital literacy statement from Bath

    Digital literacy statement, Bath

    After lunch Helen Beetham presented outcomes from the £1.5 million Developing Digital Literacies Programme.  These projects – including UCL’s The Digital Department – are intended to elevate the concept of digital literacies beyond a simplistic ‘software skills’ and towards capabilities that fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society. Not that software skills aren’t important – they are, but they don’t define digital literacies. We revisited an influential Beetham and Sharpe model of e-learning practices known as the Digital Practitioner Framework, which articulates different levels of use from functional access (‘I have’) through skills (‘I can’) and practices (‘I do’) to identity (‘I am’). Bath has taken this framework into each faculty discussions and generated disciplinary-specific descriptors for each of its stages, one of which is pictured here.

    I find this model very helpful – Liz Bennett’s doctoral research develops it further, indicating that as well as being influenced by them, attitudes and identity (‘I am’) themselves influence access to technology, skills and practices (I’m thinking that a different visual representation than a pyramid would be better). It’s clear from the model that without the access to technologies no e-learning can take place. But professional services departments responsible for these – eg estates and IT services – are rarely involved in curriculum design processes. Without them, there may not be anybody able to respond encouragingly to exciting but half-formed ideas or vague impressions of needs which are vulnerable when they butt up against the reality of what’s currently in place. At UCL, E-Learning Environments has taken steps by creating new bridging role – Paul Burt is our Learning Spaces Specialist.

    Greenwich Five Resources Model of critical digital literacy

    The Five Resources Model, Greenwich

    Since digital literacies are diverse and subject-specific, we then considered how institutions involved in the DDL programme had interpreted the definition of ‘digital literacies’. We looked at Greenwich’s Five Resources Model, (pictured), Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy, graduate attribute statements about ethics, safety, discrimination and criticality, and other models to improve on teaching procedural how-to skills and tips in isolation from practices. The most important point is that embedding is crucial – digital literacy activities must have meaning for students. And for this to happen, institutions need to be clear about what is at stake and what success looks like. Experiences which cross boundaries – for example, between public and private.

    Helen Beetham made some summary points about academic development. One of the most interesting suggestions, for me, was for academic developers to step back from urging academics to use a technology before students use it – but instead to ask them to have confidence in the technologies and encourage students to experiment. Following from this, if staff are expected to learn from students, it needs to be in a collaborative partnership where staff are valued, and not a remedial context where students’ technical expertise is treated as more important than academics’ disciplinary knowledge. I’m not sure where this has happened, but find it significant that Helen felt she had to warn us about it.

    Two parallel sessions followed. I went to one titled Short and Sweet, an initiative by James Clay (Gloucestershire College and ALT’s former Learning Technologist of the Year) to improve take-up of staff development in e-learning. He identified an important barrier: “Why would I give up 2 or 3 hours of my time for a workshop about something when I have no idea what it is or what it could do for me?”. His response was sessions lasting just 5-15 minutes, often piggy-backed on existing meetings across his institution, He reported a growth in contact. The second session was a discussion chaired by Sarah Knight which sought contributions to research Jisc is about to carry out into the technology expectations of new starters in HE and FE. UCL will contribute data from our survey of the entire student population earlier this year.

    Incidentally, E-Learning Environments has recently been offered a portion of CLL money to integrate mobile technology practices into induction. We’ll focus on socialising, creating media, and vicarious learning and we’re very pleased to be working with Southampton Solent – watch this space.

    Meditation on a MOOC – Week 2 (#edcmooc)

    By Clive Young, on 10 February 2013

    mooc04Trying to take the E-learning and Digital Cultures MOOC more seriously I watched and read through the materials at the beginning of the week and posted a few times on the Couseara UCL Study Group.

    The theme this week was “future-focused visions of technology and education” with some discussion of MOOCs themselves. I watched a couple of the utopian futuristic videos, didn’t bother with the dystopian ones. Loved the vision of the future portrayed (try A Day Made of Glass 2);  always-on connected information layered on the real world though smart glass displays and even contact lenses. Wow I want that – I find I am nostalgic for the future! Skimmed the discussion forums which had a disappointing predictable anti-technology tone an uninteresting paper on metaphors.

    Then jumped directly to the education readings. First up was Shirky vs Bady discussing MOOCs themselves. I declare my bias. Having worked in e-learning for a while, I am deeply suspicious of any claim of the structure ” [insert 'cool' technology of choice] will revolutionise higher education beyond recognition“. But here goes…

    Shirky’s proposal is that MOOCs – IMO a technology rather than a pedagogical innovation – could disrupt higher education, maybe in the same way the Napster ‘story’ of digital downloads ultimately killed HMV. I think he makes a good point that the ‘elite’ universities, of which UCL is one, are unlikely to be much affected. They provide an expensive top-end education where the brand name is critical. He hints the function of these institutions in society – even the emerging global society. This is only partly educational; they critically serve as a rite-of-passage and a labelling/discriminating mechanism for the middle classes. And the growing middle classes are very likely to continue to pay for the process and the privilege they provide. A MOOC is for such institutions a clever marketing tool, run by a tiny handful of interested academics.

    However he also makes a case that more middle-ground education (even that occurring inside the elite universities) might find they have to compete with open resources, especially if these resources start to improve in quality, maybe by a form of academic crowdsourcing. These resources don’t, and actually don’t have to, compete with the quality of the best of the elites, they just have to be ‘good enough’ and of course cheaper.

    Bady’s response starts with an odd ad hominem attack on Shirky, but goes on to point out (righty) that most universities are non-profit and (unlike HMV) are happy to give away their product – MIT has been doing it for years (and the worlds libraries are full of books by UCL academics). He defends academic caution: “the thing about academics is they require evidence of success before declaring victory while venture capitalists [who support some MOOCs] can afford to gamble on the odds”. Bady agrees with Sharky that the elite universities are pretty safe, and recognises that MOOCs address a so-far unaddressed demand for more education but is makes the critical point that for him ‘good enough’ isn’t actually ‘good enough’ and “MOOCs are only better than nothing”. We need to be more aspirational and makes the connection between the rise of MOOCs in the US and the rising college fees in colleges. The system has created a demand for education the citizens simply can’t afford.

    The next resource  was a LONG video by open education guru Gardner Campbell. It turned out to actually be quite compelling – a great example of a lecture as performance for all those lecture capture sceptics. Alas only 29 posts on Courseara – only a handful of us students seemed to look at  – or at least respond to – it!

    However it starts off none too well, Campbell feels open education as represented by MOOCs has all gone wrong, and the MOOC approach undermines the ‘liberating’, even transformational possibilities of education. It all sounds a bit whiney – MOOCs exist in the real world and have no obligation to meet any fanciful standards of ‘openness’. He then has a go at some academic who has created a rubric for marking blog posts – we are invited to see this as a heresy against the very nature of the “blog”. I personally thought a blog was a writing tool rather than a fetish of freedom, but there you go.

    Anyway he then steps up a notch. He ‘yearns’ for something better and finds in the philosopher Gregory Bateson’s ideas of levels of learning a framework and focus for his yearning. He says that universities achieve at best ‘level 2′ learning where the student performs well in the context of the educational system. However ‘critical thinking’ requires level 3, a contextualisation of the context, an ability for the student to step out of and critically appraise the context she is working in. Actually reminded me a bit of a a wonderful but now defunct OU course Discourse analysis (D843) I did last year – that was also partly about deconstructing contexts.

    Anyways Campbell felt that the trick for creative thinking was to be able to jump contexts. At least I think that was what he was saying. He seemed to think that ‘double binds’, contradictions in any given contexts were a way of revealing therefore possibly transcending the context itself. Perhaps. Reminded me of zen philosophy, the aim of which is also to decontextualise thought. He finished by giving some examples of his students’ own creative work.

    So basically the higher levels of learning are pretty unlikely to be achieved by MOOCs and, to link to the Shirky and Bady readings this week we are woefully under-specifying what we could or should be achieving. Openness is to Campbell about opening minds not just about opening access.

    A good point to end this week, my totally unevidenced feeling so far is there is a lot of superficial engagement with the superficial stuff but not much deep debate going on.