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Digital Education team blog


Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team


Archive for the 'Web 2.0' Category

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

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:


Show What You Know

By Domi C Sinclair, on 5 February 2013

“If students are sharing their work with the world, they want it to be good. If they’re just sharing it with [the teacher], they want it to be good enough.” Ruston Hurley (quote taken from infographic)

No matter what students are producing,  there’s an app for (sharing) that. Whether they prefer using the web or their mobile devices there is a range of tools that will allow students to demonstrate their knowledge. Many of the apps can also be useful for tutors to create learning resources for students. This can create a two-way flow of ideas and information which could be beneficial for learning. Many of the resources with an embed option can be embedded in Moodle or My Portfolio.

This infographic produced by Tony Vincent and shared under a Creative Commons license lists some of the web and mobile apps they may be useful for an array of functionality, including short audio clips and annotation.

Show What You Know by Tony Vincent

33 digital skills for 21st century teachers

By Clive Young, on 15 June 2012

As UCL’s project The Digital Department evolves, we are beginning to think about not only the digital literacies required by our teaching administrators (TAs) but what digital abilities are now required by all staff to enable the technological change agenda of the institution.

We have already revealed the 40+ applications that UCL administrators use in our The Digital Department – Workshop at 2012 AUA Conference and we are actively considering how skills could be developed.

I have been wondering though what a specific teaching and learning list might look like, and some kind soul has recently had a go with The 33 Digital Skills Every 21st Century Teacher should Have.

So what are they?

1- Create and edit  digital audio
2- Use Social bookmarking to share resources with and between learners
3- Use blogs and wikis to create online platforms for students
4- Exploit digital images for classroom use
5- Use video content to engage students
6- Use infographics to visually stimulate students
7- Use social networking sites to connect with colleagues and grow professionally
8- Create and deliver asynchronous presentations and training sessions
9- Compile a digital e-portfolio for their own development
10- Have a knowledge about online security
11- be able to detect plagiarized works in students assignments
12- Create screen capture videos and tutorials
13- Curate web content for classroom learning
14- Use and provide students with task management tools to organize their work and plan their learning
15- Use polling software to create a real-time survey in class
16- Understand issues related to copyright and fair use of online materials
17- Exploit  computer games for pedagogical purposes
18- Use digital assessment tools to create quizzes
19- Use of collaborative tools for text construction and editing
20- Find and evaluate authentic web based content
21- Use of mobile devices like tablets
22- Identify online resources that are safe for students browsing
23- Use digital tools for time management purposes
24- Learn about the different ways to use YouTube in your classroom
25- Use note taking tools to share interesting content with your students
26- Annotate web pages and highlight parts of text to share with your class
27- Use of online graphic organizers and printables
28- Use of online sticky notes to capture interesting ideas
29- Use of screen casting tools to create and share tutorials
30- Exploit group text messaging tools for collaborative project work
31- Conduct an effective search query with the minimum time possible
32- Conduct a research paper using digital tools
33- Use file sharing tools to share docs and files with students online

The original blog post explains each category and links to resources. You could argue with some and a few might be less important in HE,  but most look sensible. We could also add a few UCL-specific ones  such as Moodle tools, Turnitin, Lecturecast, MyPortfolio etc.

Like the TAs list is unlikely that any individual would  – or indeed would want to – use all 33, but both lists together taken point to a rather formidable need for personal and/or institutional development.

Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gorbould/3949071167/

A vision of learning today

By Clive Young, on 6 July 2011

Prof Michael Wesch, US anthropologist and author of the influential Youtube videos A Vision of Students Today, The Machine is Us/ing Us and An anthropological introduction to YouTube gave an inspirational keynote  at Diverse 2011 last week entitled “The case for creative video literacy: what’s at stake?”.

He started with something we know instinctively: when students over-focus on exams it is essentially because they are not engaged with the learning. The problem is that in the modern media-rich world there are plenty of opportunities for academic disengagement from traditional models often resulting in a superficial, pedestrian approach to learning. Yet paradoxically it is also ‘ridiculously easy’ to connect to a world of information and ideas. In this new world the role of the educator is to help the students not just to acquire knowledge, to become knowledgeable but to be able to construct and critique meaning for themselves, become knowledge-ABLE.

Media has changed the relationship between the teacher and the learner, but does not undermine the importance of the educator. As students search the overwhelming and disorientating modern cultural matrix for meaning, personal identity and recognition, media-savvy teachers have key role. However this is now beyond ‘informational literacy’ but about how students themselves can creatively interact with the world.  In other words knowledge-ability is a cultural practice, and the focus should be on tackling real-world problems (…maybe such as UCL’s Grand Challenges?…) in which the students can use the technology to collaborate and find solutions. Real world engagement turns our students from unfocused meaning-seekers to value-driven meaning makers.

Inspiring stuff. Some of the background ideas and references can be found in the Slideshare The Machine is (Changing) Us: YouTube Culture and the Politics of Authenticity and try his Visions of Students (see the image above) for a fascinating new multimedia insight into the mindset of modern students.

Best practices for bloggers

By Clive Young, on 4 July 2011

Blogging said to be generally on the decline but educational blogging seems as strong as ever. Steve Wheeler’s Learning with ‘e’s remains a must read, as is Martin Weller’s The Ed Techie or James Clay’s endlessly inventive e-Learning stuff among many, many others.

But what makes a good blog? At Diverse 2011, Donald Bruce Heider of the Center for Digital Ethics at Loyola University, Chicago claimed the key was trust, and trust has to be built up over time. Trust implies ethical values and the CDE team have produced an excellent guide Best practices for Bloggers and propose several ‘dimensions’ for navigating the medium: transparency, attribution, responsibility, face, text, truth, and citizenship. For each of these the team pose questions to illustrate ethical implications. Example questions are:

  • Should I be anonymous?
  • Will I allow (and moderate) comments on my postings?
  • What about advertising, sponsorship?
  • How do I cite sources?
  • Should I blog every day/week/month?
  • How do I set a tone, and avoid flaming?
  • Can I distinguish the personal from the professional opinion?
  • How do I deal with copyright?
  • Should I ‘correct’ older posts?

The guide provides well-reasoned responses, but invites you to make up your own mind – essential reading for a would-be blogger.

Image http://www.flickr.com/photos/anniemole/85515856/