Dawn of the Cyberstudent

9 02 2009

A bit old, but still interesting, is the Guardian’s Dawn of the Cyberstudent article on HE and Web 2.0. Of interest is the idea that tech-savvy students are driving changes in universities’ approach to web technologies, as well as  institutions changing the ways in which they attract and deliver content to students by using the collaborative, international nature of the web. Not sure about the ‘smart drugs’ and ‘reality literacy’ though; someone’s evidently OD’ed on Phillip K.Dick before writing that one.

Digital Student

4 12 2008

There’s a Digital Student supplement in today’s Education Guardian, covering new technologies in academia and staff and students’ attitudes to them. People seem keen on podcasts, so I’m wondering if a ‘talking book’ podcast version of OLIVIA would work?

If Southeastern Rail’s error messages were like this then maybe I wouldn’t want them to die a slow and painful death

3 12 2008

Error messages: not everyone’s favourite thing, but important, in as much that what a service does when something goes wrong often says as much about it as when things go right. A bad example would be Southeastern Trains’ ageing-debutant-on-valium style platform announcements (“I am sorry for the delay to your service” etc, delivered with all the empathy that a disembodied, pre-recorded computer generated voice can muster), good examples being Mixx:


and Flickr’s downtime colouring in game:


A list of the best (and worst) web 2.0 error messages can be found in Royal Pingdom’s post 24 fun and inspiring web 2.0 error pages, unsurprisngly Google and Microsoft don’t fare particularly well.

Watch and learn

2 12 2008

Finally, a couple of online academic library tutorials that don’t induce an attack of the cringes, mainly by avoiding design rooted in the mid ’90s and not including annoying running jokes about cats:

The University of Auckland has produced a handsome (if more than a little bit in debt to the Matrix) online tutorial that uses a graphic novel style narrative, about a student researching a project, to guide the user through the library’s services. It incorporates interactive tutorials on the library’s catalogue and a section on help desk FAQ’s.

The University of California offers this tutorial, aimed at students of science, which runs through the scientific method, information literacy, subject based resources, scholarly communication and the peer review process. It also looks good enough to eat.

Google Apps for Education, a sub plot in Google’s dastardly plan to rule the world, but an interesting one all the same

17 11 2008

Google Apps for Education Edition is a derivative of the Google Apps package, aimed at the education/higher education sector and offering a combination of email, instant messaging, calendaring, document creation and collaborative tools. It’s an interesting pitch at providing a set of communicative, organisational and creative applications and, of course, is in no way an attempt to bypass Hotmail, MSN or Microsoft Office as students’ first port of call for messaging or creating documents. A group of happy students from Northwestern University enthuse about Google Apps here, while Linkoping University give their opinion on it here.

I’ve been wondering about how a range of services of use to students could be integrated into one package, which would effectively ‘follow’ them around as they browse or chat, as the browser embedded applications in Firefox do, so it’s good to see someone as major as Google taking a stab at this, even if the tools available are largely communication based. I think it would be great to produce an online ‘utility belt’ that would bring together the functions of the library catalogue, Blackboard courses on information literacy, referencing tools and online journal resources/repositories/databases. I don’t know how possible it would be and, as Yahoo Pipes left me totally bewildered, I’m really not the person to be taking a stab at building it, but I think it would be great if someone doing research or writing a submission could use their utility belt to search for a resource, access it, find out how and why to reference it and then use a something like Refworks to cite it, maybe saving the particular chapter or article to Delicious on the way, all through the same application.

Campaign Alliance for Lifelong Learning

13 11 2008

The Campaign Alliance for Lifelong Learning (CALL) is a non-party political campaign group, pressing for a reverse in the 2 million drop in available adult education learner’s places in the UK. As they put it:

CALL believes our education system should provide:

  1. equality of access to high quality education for all learners (regardless of: class, gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, asylum status or employment status), including a statutory right to learning in the workplace
  2. universal access to basic skills, ESOL and ICT courses and a first level three qualification regardless of age
  3. learner, teacher and community  involvement in all levels of decision-making about their learning wherever it takes place
  4. learning for personal wellbeing and development and the maintenance of local authority adult education
  5. a path out of poverty and disadvantage including widening participation in higher education and the provision of a second chance later in life
  6. a stable, motivated and rewarded workforce of professional practitioners.

It’s in part a move against the government’s employer led training initiatives and, alongside redressing the slide in adult education places, aims to re-engage with the views of employees and trade unions as influences on the provision of life long learning.

Compendium LD – free learning design software from the OU

12 11 2008

Compendium LD is  a visual learning design tool developed by the Open University Knowledge Network. It allows users to arrange and interlink a variety of learning tasks, tools and resources to learning outcomes and assessments, providing a visual map of a learning sequence. Content from Microsoft Office packages can be uploaded, while hyperlinks can be made to external resources and related tasks within Compendium. The software can be downloaded for free here and there’s a presentation on its application here.

One to watch from the Oxford University Department for Continuing Education

23 10 2008

Supported by the JISC Collaborative research into curriculum delivery project, the Oxford University Department for Continuing Education (DCE) are implementing the Cascade Delivery Project, which aims to “properly explore implementing the technologies that can transform a learning experience across the whole of the Department”.

JISC invited institutions “to transform how they deliver and support learning across a curriculum area through the effective use of technology, in response to a particular challenge faced by the discipline(s), department(s) or institution(s) involved“, the challenge in the DCE’s case being the Government’s withdrawal of funding for students studying for a qualification lower than one they already hold. There’s an interesting interplay of policy here, JISC’s Collaborative Research project being prompted by the  Leitch Review of Skills and the World Class Skills implementation plan, which place further emphasis on employer-targeted learning, while the DCE faces a withdrawal of funding for ‘lower’ courses, more than likely undertaken by people re-training or studying for pleasure.

While the work produced by the DCE will no doubt be as exciting as ever, the message from the government seems to yet again be that education is training for work, rather than for pleasure or personal enrichment and that once you have set down a path in your education or career, the opportunities to change it are going to be limited. If the government’s intention is to ‘put employers’ needs centre stage in the design and delivery of training‘, then what becomes of the needs of the people undertaking that training?

I saw Obama in my Wii the other day…

17 10 2008

The US Presidential election is the media’s second favourite hobby-horse, after the impending apocalypse-like recession, so it’s nice to see that  the Obama vs McCain race is throwing up some interesting material relevant to information literacy and educational technology. As reported by this BBC news article, in the Democratic corner we have Obama’s campaign team using video games to display advertisements for early voting, while in the Republican corner McCain’s campaigners appear to be attempting to bypass YouTube’s content policies by using copyrighted material in their campaign videos. The purpose of the video game adverts is to capture the attention of notoriously ambivalent 18-34 year old male voter demographic, an age range which coincides with the age of many students in higher education. Being able to produce educational technologies that translate to popular gaming platforms could well be a key way of engaging with students, particularly as the internet connectivity of many consoles is blurring the line between PCs and Playstations as mediums for accessing the web. On the McCain/YouTube front, well, it just goes to show how a lack of info lit skills can bite even the supposedly great and the supposedly good on the bum.

Dead 2.0

14 10 2008

I’ve noticed a change in my Google alerts for web 2.0 over the last couple of weeks. Gone are the IT/advertising industry posts along the lines of ‘if you’re not using web 2.0, you’re missing out’ and, in their place, are articles and blog items on the death of web 2.0. Of course this, like everything else, is filtered through the balanced, reasoned credit crunch mind set of the moment (i.e that we’re all doomed. Doomed, I tells ye), but it seems reasonable that if web 2.0 companies (Twitter and Myspace chiefly among them) aren’t making money, then they could well disappear.

In some senses this is a bad thing; notions of technology being shared and free aren’t going to appear particularly attractive to investors at the moment. In other ways, the withdrawal of investment and speculation might provide a more focused, long term approach to the development of the web, where short time buzz and grating novelty are replaced by utility and sustainability. With any luck the ‘folk’ element of web 2.0: communities, social media applications, open source programming and the efficacy of communicating, collaborating and evaluating across boundaries, will things that will survive downturns in investment or the death of a couple of major websites.

Assuming that these things do survive, it will probably be sensible to attempt some sort of re-brand when mentioning ‘web 2.0’ as a sort of catch-all for new technologies, as the current media savaging of it, at least in the entrepreneurial/Silicon Valley sense, will in all likelihood turn it into a negative, embarrassing and eventually out of date term along the lines of the ‘Dot.com bust’. ‘Web 3.0’ has already been bandied about as a term, but I think something as low-key as ‘new and useful technologies’ might be a useful descriptor in avenues like information skills training as it sidesteps buzzy and potentially alienating ‘…2.0’ terms. After all, it seems to me that the internet is an organic, evolutionary, shifting kind of space and as such defies attempts to define it in any one way; diving it into ‘1.0, 2.0. 3.0’ eras is probably something to do in retrospect and not in the moment.