Monday, 15 December 2008

Self evaluation!

Dr Simon Ball from Techdis gave us another short and informative webcast last week on the latest offerings to improve accessibiltiy and inclusion for the HE community. Those inlcude;

This service is open to all HE departments . It's a tool thats been proven and can really make a difference to your disability provision. Rememeber the latest SENDA regualtions put responsibility for A&I at indivual level. You can't hide behind ignorance any more. If a student feels that they are being excluded for any reason, any resulting litigation could fall on the lecturer delivering the learning - not the organisation!

  • The Academy are funding organisations to the tune of £500.00 to run a seminar in 2009 focussing on the following thre strands: ethnicity, disabiliy, and widening participation. Contact
  • Latest accessiblity tools from Simons update:

  • A free course covering Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. The course has been written by a Psychiatrist who has many years of experience using a Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) approach and also in helping people use these skills in everday life.
  • Next HE TECHDIS updates (run online - all you need is a browser) - Feb 12th -11:30 - 12 pm. Feb 17th 14:00 - 14:30. Contact:

Friday, 5 December 2008


LEX = Learner experiences (of technology)

JISC has recently been commissioning research studies/pilot projects that try to uncover what our netgenners really want from us (the gatekeepers of their education). The plethora of projects were synthesised into a glossy publication and a web resource last year entitled "the learner experiences". There are ressources, videos, case studies to help educators work with student expectations.

Now there is a phase 2
of this programme which has the following outputs thus far:

1. Usable materials, activities and resources for those engaged in staff
development (and links to RSC booking forms for the dissemination workshops for the Learner Experience projects) on

2. Learner video clips from the E4L project with a variety of learners from different educational backgrounds in an interactive case study
form: "These clips last anything from 20 seconds to 3 minutes and provide short, sharp and sweet experiences and opinions from the learners that
can be used to educate and inspire other learners, tutors, developers,managers,etc.

3. LexDis student strategies database - - a searchable database of strategies
from the learners involved with this project. " All the strategies have been provided by students who have first hand experience of e-learning.

4. national workshops. The B'ham next week is full but there are 3 more in 2009.

This work by JISC is complimented by a new research website by the The Committee of Inquiry into the Changing Learner Experience , who has issued a report outlining their studies into what the google generation want/expect! Surprisingly amongst other recommendations, they were skeptical about the surface level learning afforded by the use of web 2.0 tools! But they still want organisations to promote them (looks like forums are old hat)? Students want to use technology, but not necessarily what their organisations are pushing (VLEs). Therefore a common ground needs to be found. A mix of web 2.0 and institutional tools is the order of the day! Sounds like Professor Mark Stiles' recent paper " the death of the VLE" was somehow quite accurate.

But lets not forget the
other JISC report earlier this year, that concluded that the digital natives lacked certain key critical thinking/searching/evaluation skills. Yes. "they" were born into the age of ubiquitous technology, but not all choose to use it. And not all know how to, and a fair proportion like the option to multi-task when communicating. Second life, face book, and email are routinely viewed as things that old people do. Note to self.. must get my twitter account up and running :O) .. and drop the "old skool" blogging!

On Tuesday of this week The Guardian issued a special supplement on the JISC Student
Experiences campaign. The web URL for this is It has a good mix of short features from podcasting to the need for new methods of assessment.
Dr Paul Brett from Wolverhampton University comments on how their TXTing project opened up alternative communication channels to reach new undergraduates. All of this linkes with the previous post where Paul Ramsden comments on the DIUS HE debate & need for student input to HE Quality assurance!

And, to finally link with another project to gives us something to work with whn designing new web 2.0'yfied curriculum:

This information from a related LEX project on web 2.0 & pedagogy

"Many development projects have explored the potential of web 2.0 technologies to enhance the experience of higher level study. There is now a considerably body of evidence linking the social affordances of web 2.0 with academic practices, such as":

  • Shared knowledge building (wikis, social book-marking, folksonomies)
  • Peer review (tagging, recommending and rating)
  • Freedom of ideas (open content, open source software, blogs and discussion sites)
  • Personal research (new tools for navigating and analysing information spaces)
  • Specialist communities of interest (community sites)

  • My colleague Martin Hawksey also alerted me to this paper from the LEAD project covering their research on student expectations. The digital divide is mentioned in here!

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

The Great HE Debate

copyright cleared image from FlickrCC

The DIUS HE debate moves into it’s next phase with the publication of 9 strands. These nine contributions to the continuing HE debate were published unaltered recently both on the HE Debate blog ( and on the DIUS corporate site (

Professor Paul Ramsden (head of the Academy) has responded to this DIUS debate on the Academy website, in a short report entitled: “Students should have bigger say on quality

And, other leading UK educators have been commissioned by the DIUS to respond this HE debate . Read their reports here :

What does it mean to us? Well, quite a lot in the West Midlands specifically! Apparently the lack of higher skills in the West Midlands costs us approximately £10 Billion in lost productivity! This is part of a stark set of statistics delivered to us by AWM in a short presentation last week. So this represents a real challenge if we will ever meet government targets and fulfil the Leitch agenda. In the meantime HEFCE have been holding consultation events across the UK to move the new Universities programme to the next phase. A new set of colour coded maps indicate areas of possible HE candidates :

To help SMT understand and implement the HE strategy, HEFCE and its leadership foundation are running a set of 4 UK workshops (spring 2009) for College principals and invited staff. This is hot off HEFCE approval board this week. Email project administrator Karen Kitchen:


The 9 strands summarised by Steve Besley of Edexcel

International Issues in HE

Key Issue: How best to take advantage, as well as understand the risks, of the international student market

Key Messages:

  • “Need to focus on a long – term programme of internationalisation and avoid the temptation of short – term mass recruitment to traditional study”
  • “The main problem with the UK is a perception that our universities are solely interested in international students as a source of revenue”

Key Recommendations:

  • Need to “broaden our perspectives” using networking, partnerships, distance learning options
  • Need to target financial resources and incentives better
  • Need to promote the brand as an “exciting and reliable partner”

Understanding Institutional Performance

Key Issue: How to understand institutional performance in different dimensions

Key Messages:

  • We start from a position of strength, a mass of data already collected, but need to refine this to meet new demands
  • Some users, notably employers, mature learners, need clearer information

Key Recommendations:

  • Need to create a web – based ‘spidergram’ to allow drilling down
  • Need to look at how far value added measures might work
  • Develop a code of practice for using performance and funding measures

Part – Time Study in HE

Key Issue: How can HE respond to demand and challenges from p/t students?

Key Messages:

  • P/T students are “consistently disadvantaged” by the current system
  • 40% of HE students currently on accredited p/t courses
  • Significant system changes needed to be able to accommodate p/t study

Key Recommendations:

  • Develop a ‘holistic’ system of student finance and support which is mode free. Co – funding should not replace mainstream funding
  • Reward those institutions that develop diverse missions

Teaching and The Student Experience

Key Issue: How to respond to evolving student experiences and demands

Key Messages:

  • The idea of a single experience or single set of expectations has no meaning
  • No great evidence that student ‘average’ expectations have changed drastically over the last 10 years, most still “breezily self – confident”
  • Need to see students as ‘engaged collaborators’ not ‘inferior partners’

Key Recommendations:

  • Need to reform curriculum and assessment especially degree classification
  • Need to develop a more flexible workforce
  • Need to rethink quality and engage students in a responsible partnership

The Demographic Challenge Facing Our Universities

Key Issue: How to understand and prepare for demographic change

Key Messages:

  • Can’t isolate demographic factors from other factors such as class
  • 2006 data suggests decline in 18 – 21 yr olds between 2010 and 2019, then recover by 2027, increases in 20 – 29 age group up to 2019, 30 – 39 group will initially decline then increase substantially

Key Recommendations:

  • Continue to widen participation
  • Clarify the objectives of public funding for HE

E – Learning and ICT

Key Issue: How can we become a world – leader in education e- learning?

Key Messages:

  • We lag behind in generating quality modern teaching/learning resources”

Key Recommendations:

  • The UK needs to develop a core of open access learning resources

Friday, 21 November 2008

Serious fun?

This post is a sideways look at the increasing importance of the gaming genre that's being exploited for educational use. The Bized website has some excellent simulations. And there is a new Serious Virtual Worlds report [which] focuses on virtual worlds for educational uses, and explores the ‘serious’ – as opposed to leisure-based – uses of virtual worlds.

The embedded video above is from the Coventry based serious games institute, who research this topic. They have a base in second life, which brings me neatly to my next point. Last weekend the newspapers were awash with the usual poorly researched sensationist stories about the first second life divorce. I happened to catch a Daily mail article - the so called voice of middle England! Their strap line was "Fantasy world awash with sex & porn"...Well if you hadn't noticed, so is most of the interweb! Educators are only beginning to use Second Life effectively for teaching & learning purposes, and its still early days for most. Experiential (running a conference/pop concert/shop, learning a second language) and modelling abstract concepts (modelling very large & small experiments, etc) are being investigated. As are simulations and small group teaching ideas. There is even a SL for under 18s called teengrid, supported by SCHOME. Mind you Google are shutting down their virtual world at the end of this year! But they have developed a 3D ancient Rome layer in google earth?

Mind you they said that VLEs would revolutionise teaching!!

Back to the plot. Last weeks SL divorce stories followed hot on the heals of the release of a new World of Warcraft update, which is played by millions of people online. This is a real escapist world for many. PLayers were lambasted on TV for racking up stupid amounts of hours on line. But some are seeing the potential of such games ; West Nottinghamshire College, which developed the ‘Neverwinter Nights’ Key Skills assessment tool. This is an initiative designed to encourage learners to complete work by stimulating their desire to achieve. In 2004/5 the Neverwinter project won the Association of Colleges Becta Beacon Award for The Effective Use of Information Learning Technology to Enhance Teaching and Support Learning. Last weeks lively (forgive the pun) article from the ReLIVE08 conference, draws all of these strands together much more succinctly than I can.

Bringing it a little more up to date, I have noticed a coupe of recent posts concerned with the positive aspects of online gaming and social networks, and hackers enabling guitar hero to be used by disabled gamers. This is fab stuff, and reminds me of a video I saw last week of the the iphone being used as a digital ocarina, amazin stuff. You can even turn your iphone in to a theramin of sorts.

All this points to developers making use of new interfaces to make the technology more accessible to all. If you wander around youtube you'll see that there have been some very clever Nintendo Wii hacks. Some have even managed to turn a wii remote into a digtial/interactive smartboard ! There are loads of other youtube videos and google sites dedicated to some really useful and stupid "wii hacks". I know that some local Colleges and councils are investigating Nintendo Wii's for use with disabled learners and engaging students generally. A colleague of mine has developed learning objects/manuals for the army to be used with the Nintendo DS lite. In fact you can get an adapter to add memory cards to the DS lite, which means you could turn it into an e-book reader or watch videos or listen to podcasts?

If you are interested in establishing some positive ideas about the educational benefits of serious gaming, I suggest that you read the book Everything Bad is Good for You. It's a light and informal read, but a real eye opener. Talking of eyeopeners and assistive types of interface design - I bet you never though the amazin' drag and drop interface featured in the minority report film was just science fiction? well, it's not.

innovative webinars?

Copyright image supplied by FLICKR CC

Today I gave a "training session" to some local trainers using a live "webcasting tool". Well, it was more like an informal walk through of the capabilities of a synchronous webcasting tool called DimDim (which is free for basic use). I think everyone enjoyed it, and we had some excellent ideas for using such a tool in teaching and learning. Everyone who took part could see genuine benefits in using such software with their particular roles. This type of tool would help out employers and training in general, and perhaps help lift the train to gain initiative into the 21st Century? Read more about the current state of play in the edecxel policy watch.

When I read the speech that John Denham (DIUS) gave the other day at the AoC conference, he never mentioned the option of maximising the opportunity for training by exploiting technology at all? When he eventually did mention innovation, all he spoke of was the work going on in new builds to improve local training provision. Somehow I feel that the point is being seriously missed here. Move the information (zeros & ones) around, not the people, Mr Denham! Using live webinar tools such as DimDim is far more efficient, innovative, and greener that focusing on the physical infrastructure of organisations. We are in the 21st Century after all! Well some of us are. If we are ever going to match up to the 2020 Leitch goals, someone is going to have to think laterally, and that means exploiting e-learning tools to up-skill the UK. The new High skills - high value DIUS policy also discusses this burgeoning requirement.

I've blogged on this subject before (especially dimdim) so here's some links to explore this subject further.

What is webcasting or webinars:


And here's some free alternatives to DimDim

Find references to more of these types of tools here :

Thursday, 20 November 2008

(e)ffective practice

copyright cleared image obtained from FlickrCC

some effective practice inspirations: -

The world:

13 essential conditions to help embed e-learing into any organisation. Sounds simple?

Europe :

The cases collected in this Compendium are examples of good practice in e-learning in Europe. They were all selected by countries participating in the ICT Cluster and Peer Learning Activities managed...


West Midlands: