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 ‘ 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.

No more rummaging around for lecture notes with NoteSake

10 10 2008

I had a trawl through Go2Web20‘s Web 2.0 directory, searching under ‘student’ as a tag and stumbled upon NoteSake. It allows students to login to a personal homepage on a laptop or PC and enter lecture notes in real time, with the capacity to tag, organise and share them. It’s obviously dependent on access to a  computer during lectures or classes but, as more and more people get their own laptops, applications like NoteSake could form a useful extension of liveblogging for students who want easy, organised access to their notes. Plus, as the notes are stored virtually, it could finally spell the end for ‘my dog ate my homework’ type excuses. Not that I ever used them.

Merry Isthmus

7 10 2008

The Isthmus Project is an undertaking by Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education, supported by JISC, to create a service that integrates the features of the Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) used in higher education and the web based applications used by students in their social and academic lives. It’s an interesting and forward thinking step and, importantly, a well-reasoned one. There seems to have been a lot of talk about joining education and library services with web 2.0 and social technologies, but most of what I’ve encountered has been rather knee-jerkily reactive and piecemeal, whereas Isthmus looks to be a considered attempt to bridge the gap between educational applications and what the average student uses day to day on the web. The name’s fiendishly clever as well. The project’s objectives are to:

  • Research the best way to integrate user owned technologies with current institutional practice.
  • Create a prototype solution to facilitate the integration of user-owned technologies with educational technology systems.
  • Pilot a prototype solution and evaluate it
  • Provide guidance and transferable models to support other institutions contemplating the use of similar technologies.
  • Allow learners a more personalised learning experience through the use of user-defined tools.
  • Disseminate knowledge gained to inform concurrent and future JISC initiatives.

Reasons not to plagiarise: 1. Copying someone else is mean. 2. Copying someone else in a speech given to the nation you’re in charge of in an attempt to justify a controversial major armed conflict is mean

2 10 2008

It’s either unbelievable or extremely believable depending on your level of cynicism (mine’s medium high – high), but a speech given by Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, in 2003, supporting the war in Iraq has been revealed as being substantially plagiarised. The speech in question, as reported here by BBC news, is in parts a word for word replication of one given by former Australian PM John Howard earlier in 2003. Harper’s speech writer, Owen Lippert has admitted that “pressed for time, I was overzealous in copying segments of another world leader’s speech”, which seems to infer that it was an excess of zeal (zealousy?) in plagiarising that was at fault, rather than the act of plagiarism itself. Coming during an election campaign, the revelation has been particularly damaging to Mr Harper’s chances of staying in office and serves to show that if you don’t have a good grasp of your sources, or, in this case, of the sources used by the guy you pay to make you sound like the sort of person who  has a good grasp of his sources, then the consequences can be pretty embarrassing.

Credit where credit’s due for information literacy

1 10 2008

I think it would be a great thing if course credits were awarded to students for completing information literacy or anti-plagiarism courses. Credits could be the big fat juicy carrot to get people interested in info lit programmes and would also give it status as an academic discipline in its own right. William Badke’s article in the Journal of Information Literacy sets out the context and rationale for running accredited academic courses in info lit; the more people that are thinking along these lines the better!