Sunday, 27 September 2009

was told (w/o provocation) by someone at the pool this morning to read Marx's Das Kapital; will shortly be checking forehead for writing...

Saturday, 26 September 2009

"Getting Started": A New Approach

The short version: I haven't previously blogged much about the training we do but I thought this was mention-worthy, and the patient reader (or impetuous scroller) will be rewarded with a link to some resources at the end.

The less short one (in two parts):

Pilfered from Blog with a View at, found via Google ImagesMy workload seems to have gone beyond crazy this week (and it was already twitchy, drooling and rabid).

One of my colleagues, Robyn, has been getting ready to leave our Team recently, and Richard (the other guy on the e-Learning Team) has been on leave. That's left just me to deal with all the email queries about courses on Blackboard that have been pouring in. Next week it's Freshers' Week and everyone has obviously either just got back from holiday or has just woken up to the fact that things need preparing.

Meanwhile, I've also had two workshops to deliver with my colleague Paul Janota from IT Services. They were both "Getting Started with Blackboard" training sessions. We tend to run perhaps five or six times of these a term and they're internal, so the first one at least didn't involve too much preparation. But the second...

Normally, Paul takes everyone through their first steps in Blackboard with the aid of the Netskills guides produced by the Newcastle University. Once he has spent half an hour doing this from the front, he then gives them the same amount of time to follow the guides themselves while we go around giving individual help to anyone that needs it. Then about an hour into the session, once they've got a good idea about the basic functionality and limitations of the system, I talk about our Good Practice courses. These are example courses, copied from actual courses that were selected on the basis of their demonstrating good course design and making innovative use of tools within Blackboard (or the Web generally) for teaching and learning purposes. Once I've spent about ten minutes presenting some of these and showing people how they can access them in their own time, they all resume following the guides, while I go around asking if anyone needs specific courses setting up (though Richard sometimes does this bit).

And that's what we did on Monday. As usual.

However, yesterday, in our second session, we decided to take a different approach.


Over the summer, Robyn and I have been working on a new online Help system. The new help information is presented on a wiki within Blackboard (we use the Learning Objects Expo LX tool). Preparing this has been a long and painstaking task: detailing every step needed to, for example, post an Announcement or Assignment, ensuring the information is thorough but not too dry or boring, and trying to keep the pages from being too technical despite all this. We've tried to put each tool in a teaching and learning context but at the same time keep the pages concise. We don't know if we've succeeded (we're pretty sure in some areas we haven't had the time to) but the idea of putting this information on a wiki was to make it easy to change and not just for one member of the Team but all of us and, if need be, people from other areas too. So we're not really expecting it to be "finished" as such - ever, let alone by next week.

As long as the information is comprehensible, relatively accessible and easy to navigate, we'll be happy (and relieved). And it very nearly is.

Except a couple of weeks ago, having returned from foreign climes and possibly still a little affected by the sun, I thought it'd be great if we could make these online guides print-friendly too. That way, we could use them in place of our Netskills guides during workshops, thereby cutting out some of the what we'd always thought to be unnecessary stuff and also making them more specific to Reading.

So on top of all the firefighting, I spent a sizeable chunk of time this week, perhaps even a clock's worth, going through the guides, making sure they followed on from each other, and changing links so they were not just user-friendly but paper-friendly too. I met with Paul halfway through the week and we agreed on what other changes should be made.

Then Friday came. After a punch-up with the photocopier, I arrived at the workshop and rather apprehensively distributed the new guides. I basically had to run through the whole session with a new outline because the order in which tasks were done had changed slightly. I was a little nervous because I wasn't sure the new guides would compare and, although Paul had brought the old Netskills guides as back-up, it would've been embarassing for us and confusing for the attendees, switching halfway through.

Thankfully, it all seemed to go well. There were, unfortunately, a couple of steps missing from the guides and a couple of spelling errors (for which I apologised) but the participants seemed able to follow the guides just as well as previous participants had the old ones. I shouldn't have worried I suppose; Paul and I were breaking a pattern that we were used to, but the attendees had by design never come to a "Getting Started" session before, so they weren't about to make comparisons, favourable or otherwise.

The feedback we received was very positive so I'm glad I put the time in. Now I just have make all the more advanced-level pages print-friendly and we'll have a whole set of new resources to use.

We've started to promote our new Help System yet: we have a few changes to make to the tab in Blackboard before we're ready. Hopefully these will done by Monday evening and I'll get my weekends back and live a peaceful life once more. However, the wiki pages are already available publically at this address -

If you're using Blackboard and you're struggling for help guides, then you might want to use these. Feel free to copy and modify as you see fit, though some credit would be nice where possible! And let us know how it goes, if you have time.

In summary: (1) We've made some new resources, (2) we're very nearly proud, and (3) I should write shorter blog posts (but see point 2).

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Catching Up

It's Wednesday, my fourth proper day back after returning from my travels, and I have a big pile of to-do on my desk. Not that I got to do any of it today as I had some meetings which produced their own to-do, which I then had to do first in order to clear my desk (and mind) for the original pile of to-do...

The main tasks at the moment seem to be:
  • Finishing our new online Help System which uses Expo in Blackboard
  • Changing the iLearn e-portfolio enhancement tool in response to the feedback we received from students
I'm now really appreciating the fact that we decided not upgrade to Blackboard version 9 this year.

When I get time I also intend to write up my remaining notes from ALT-C which I'll then back-post here and advertise up-front.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Learning Technologists on Twitter

I just used a tool on a site called TweepML, where Steve Wheeler (timbuckteeth on Twitter) has arranged a list of learning technology professionals. The tool enables me to follow all of them on Twitter with one click. Which is to say I will now be able to see every time they tweet something.

If you have a Twitter account and want to be be updated yourself you can do the same here.

I don't really know if I will be able to keep with all these tweets - I've gone from following a manageable 36 'twits' (that is the term apparently) to a sudden 103. That's 67 people all of whom I imagine are Twitter enthusiasts and who therefore will be tweeting on a regular (e.g. maybe four times an hour? more?) basis.

Still, it's a neat tool and I can always opt out if I find certain people aren't tweeting stuff I want to read.

I've signed up to be on the list myself. It asked me to give a justification as to why I should be on the list - my three reasons:
  • I work in an HE e-Learning team
  • I did quite a bit of fiddling with e-portfolios last year
  • I'm generally neurotic about technology and the way it might be shaping our lives, for better (eg. instant connection and communication) or worse (eg. increasing "alienation", connection only in a voyeuristic sense)
So that last reason might disqualify me from the list! And also, I'm not really sure I tweet enough, especially w/r/t work. Still, if you would like to follow me, I can be found @guypursey

Friday, 11 September 2009

had the first full day in the office in over a month and the desk is mess again already...

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

ALT-C 2009 Day One Round-up

As this is my first post-holiday post I'll try and keep it brief. I'm in Manchester for the next couple of days for ALT-C. ALT is the Association for Learning Technology and the C bit stands for Conference. It's a chance to spend a few days feeling confused about which of the ten parallel sessions you want to attend and more generally hobnobbing with other learning technologists and professionals in the education sectors.

This year's conference got off to a good start, thanks to a keynote from Michael Wesch, which covered identity, the search for authentic self, the history of "whatever", and how this is all looking in our new age of digital media. If you haven't heard of Michael Wesch before I strongly recommend having a look at his short and informative videos on YouTube - specifically The Machine Is Us/ing Us and A Vision of Students Today.

Wesch was funny, knowledgable and sometimes just plain endearing. He began by talking about his experiences in Papua New Guinea, living with people who have no (or perhaps next to no) experience in the way of exposure to digital media, the Internet, or any of the devices that conspire to keep us constantly "connected". According to Wesch, the people he stayed with don't even have names (that they can remember), their village and community are so tight-knit. It made an interesting contrast to his following description of mass civilisation, in which the search for recognition and desire to escape from anonymity have become so crucial that flocks of consumers become hell-bent on winning the next American Idol contest.

I don't think Wesch actually used the word 'alienation' but for me it would have summarised this feeling perfectly. The feeling that creates this desire, that is. And I was glad that he said, despite our need to engage with digital media (as educators, technologists, and citizens, I suppose), the Papua New Guineans seemed just fine the way they were - "disconnected", which sounds perjorative perhaps because it comes from our own homogenising value system with regards to "progress".

I'd like to write about this more - it's an area that fascinates me - but I should mention some of the other sessions I've been to.

Josie Fraser hosted a symposium called "The VLE is Dead" in which a group of four panelists got to put forward their views before opening up to the floor. The panelists themselves were lively and entertaining in their responses to the audience but some expressed frustration that the debate wasn't focussing on the real issues - which when they were brought up seemed to imply that the whole factory-based education system and perhaps even the socio-political organisation of educational institutions needed to be radically changed before something like the VLE (which may only be symptomatic of these larger issues) would die.

One of the panelists Nick Sharratt made a good play on words with the headline "VLE not finished" - meaning that's it's not so much vanquished as incomplete and it's our responsibility as technologists to keep working on it.

James Clay, one of the panelists has posted a video of the whole talk on his blog here. You could try watching the first twenty-odd minutes for a summary of the views as I don't think the panelists really shifted positions on anything fundamental. You can also leave comments there and take part in the general discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #vle.

The final "highlight" of the day was Steve Wheeler's session on Twitter which was kind of chaotic and may have left some newcomers to the tool feeling confused, but raised some interesting questions about its possible applications in teaching and learning contexts. I'll perhaps blog again sometime on the Infinite Summer project I mentioned previously, as an example of this.

All in all, an interesting if tiring first day. It doesn't help that I still have jetlag...

(For once, all the photos are my own! Ie. I pressed the button on my camera and they're not just pilfered from somewhere like usual...)

Saturday, 8 August 2009

will be w/o a real Internet connection for a few weeks now probably.

Friday, 31 July 2009

wrote a list of things that need doing this evening and it's worrying long. Ergo, I am online.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

New iPhone?

July so far has been a busy month and there are only two days left for it to prove otherwise. Consequently, between sessions of preparing our new help system, I've time for the occasional visit to Twitter and that's about it. (Hence the lack of recent updates on this here blog.)

Since my last post about Twitter (in which I said I'd be taking part in a new social media experiment called Infinite Summer), I've been on it quite a lot. And unlike my other forays into social networking this hasn't been one of these read- or write-only things.

In fact, I've been getting into it so much, I've been tempted to get myself an iPhone so I can play with it on the go (which lately is where I've been finding myself).

Of course, these toys and gadgets are changing so fast nowadays, I find myself resorting back to my old "deferred entry" excuses, excuses which follow this line of reasoning: if something is going to be better and/or cheaper in a few months time, might as well put your pennies in a piggy bank and wait 'til then. Which reasoning means of course that I will never ever buy any new toy or gadget, unless we hit that sometime-anticipated technological singularity while my money is still worth something. (Some have placed bets on 2012.)

All of which is one way of directing you to a report from America's Finest News Source about the new iPhone, which I must say even I am tempted to buy into.

Some more stuff about Twitter and the #infsum thing is waiting in my blogpost drafts area and it'll be there I guess until I've decided the grammar is sufficiently anal enough for all to see. Hopefully sometime in the next few days.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Bb 9 Upgrade Notes (LSBU)

Last Friday, my colleague Robyn and I went to the University of Westminster for the London BbUG (Blackboard Users' Group). It was, as usual, a nice way of catching up with friends and colleagues in other institutions and a healthy outlet for our frustrations with, ahem, certain bits of software. We also got to see a couple of presentations - one of which was given by three people from London South Bank University (LSBU).

LSBU recently upgraded to version 9 of Blackboard and it was very interesting to hear about the issues they had and were, in some cases, still experiencing.

They have a large and diverse student body; 23,500 students, half of whom are of ethnic minority. The decision to upgrade came apparently from their Vice Chancellor, and was related to recognition of the need for a student portal. Coming from the top down as it did, the upgrade was thoroughly planned; Jim Nottingham gave a glimpse of their schedule as laid out in a finely-detailed spreadsheet. This tight schedule was crucial for them, I gather, as use of the VLE continued heavily through the summer months and they were upgrading from version 7.2 (which e-portfolio users will remember had some pretty dire bugs).

Sarah Bell, who's on the e-learning team there, listed some of the bugs they are now encountering in the upgraded software, among which were (from my scribbled notes):
  • Problems with course copying (something to do with admin settings and existing courses)
  • Language pack issues
  • Availability of courses for the TA role
  • Issues with announcements
  • Ample time to make cup of tea while waiting for Grade Center to load
  • File exchange issues
  • Problems with lists and re-ordering items in courses
  • Changing colour of item titles
  • Browsing received e-portfolios still limited
I wasn't really surprised by the last of those points. The interface may've changed but the functionality of the e-portfolios is much the same. In fact, that's one of the main reasons we at Reading have decided not to opt for the upgrade this summer. The biggest challenge we imagined facing, before we even hit any bugs, would be re-training staff in the new Web 2.0 "look-and-feel" with its lack of control panel, etc. The new interfaces are better, and kudos to Blackboard for finally trying to catch up with the kids, but they do leave staff who are used to clunky workarounds and web-based forms with receipts in need of some support, guidance, and general TLC.

If you see this as a problem (which we did, in terms of resourcing) then it's one more to the list, as Version 9 doesn't actually have enough change in functionality to solve any of our existing problems! Ergo, automatically, the cons outweigh the pros.

I did speak to a few of people from Blackboard at the Bb World Europe conference this year about their plans for e-portfolios. All they could tell me was that big things were on the way (which, in retrospect, sounds kind of ominous). I have not-so-secretly been hoping that they don't change e-portfolios too much as we've adjusted to the pitfalls and built our enhanced iLearn features on the back of it. If they do, it would be nice just to include some extra functions that don't interfere with the current operations (like they did with the Received Portfolios organisation): things like an ability to import e-portfolios back into Blackboard, an option to give 'write' permissions to others and an improved WYSIWYG text-editor (like the LX one). Simple additions like that would go a long way to improving the tool, whether the interface is 'clunky' or not.

The same probably goes for the rest of Blackboard - which might explain why, with the exception of LSBU and one other person I spoke to, no-one else at the Users Group is going ahead with an upgrade this year.

Friday, 26 June 2009


a photo of my copy of IJ taken by... uh... meThis week I have decided to participate in a sort-of-new social media experiment.

Depending on which way you look at it, Infinite Summer was set up either as a challenge to or a support base for those who have had David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest on their shelves for too long and hadn't until now mustered the strength to lug it off. The "challenge" (for those that see it that way) is to read the book in three months... Well 91 days to be exact; most people began on June 21st and are set to end on September same, thus encompassing all of the summer-official, and hence the name of the experiment.

The reason this is a challenge, and the reason one might also see it as a support base or network or group, is because the book contains over 1,000 pages, a not insignificant chunk of which are endnotes. The length (or heft) of the book is often commented upon but, just in case it's not clear, it is a novel. This is a fictional book to be read for pleasure.

picture of DFW, pilfered from has for a few years now been one of my favourite writers and Infinite Jest has been taking up a wedge of space on my bookshelf for about the same amount of time. I avoided reading it by absorbing everything else he'd written that I could get my hands on, thinking I'd never have the time to commit to his magnum opus. I was shocked by his suicide last year and was going to post something on this blog but didn't think what I had written was appropriate at the time.

Many others were upset too. Some like the founders of Infinite Summer were obviously more productive in their response to his passing.

The official website ( is set to feature regular blog postings from writers who are reading the book alongside everyone else, commenting on their experiences with the books and making people feel perhaps a little less alone in the challenge. (As well as being long and containing endnotes, the general preconception of the book is that it's difficult.)

Meanwhile, a Twitter hashtag (#infsum) has been set up so that twitterers can comment on the book and then see each others' comments by doing a quick search.

For those who have ever participated in a book club, this may not seem that original or experimental. The first obvious difference from a 'real' book club that meets in a physical location, is that, as with most online groups, distance is no issue; people from all over the globe can alert and update each other as to their progress and interpretations. Twitter also seems to eradicate time issues; it's not exactly asynchronous as it's possible to simulate live chat via Twitter but it's also possible to (dis)engage at any moment. This has its advantages and inevitable its disadvantages.

One criticism, that could also be levelled at Twitter as a whole, is that people don't necessarily communicate but just key others into their own updates via the hashtag. This means the tool sometimes seems to facilitate something more like a support group for addicts ("It's been 7 days. I've read 63 pages. Every day is struggle" &c.) than an actual discussion, but then perhaps that's appropriate given the alleged subject matter of the book. There might also be a parallel to the upcoming "bookaholic" publicity campaign, which Jean Hannah Edelstein reported on earlier this month.

Another disadvantage might be that it encourages instantaneous judgement of the section just read every time the book is put down. Obviously people continuously form and change opinions as they read something but I wonder if Twitter will encourage people to cement those opinions without giving them more than 140 characters to reflect on them.

Having said that, Twitter is only one outlet for those taking part and many are keeping blogs on their progress. You can follow all this yourself by checking out the website (link above) or the hashtag.

I have decided to back-post my tribute for DFW written at the time of his death - you can find it here. I'll let you know if anything interesting in the way of social media experimentation comes up.

Monday, 22 June 2009

started on #infsum last night. Progress so far: pg12.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

got into the office bright and early to catch up on work before the #pdprdg event. (Coffee, for once, may be required.)

Sunday, 14 June 2009

might be forced to concede to the 21st century and buy a new phone. The Nokia 3410 barely survives a text now, despite frequent recharging.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Could be up for an Infinite Summer #infsum Anyone else game?

Friday, 29 May 2009

finished Catch 22 and declared it a masterpiece (but then realised that many other people have already done just that...) Next: Barthelme!

Facebook Status Update Update

May has been a quiet month for me blog-wise. I've been using as mentioned previously to update my Twitter, Facebook and Blogger accounts simultaneously and it's either made me a more frequent micro-blogger or... just a very lazy blogger.

Anyway, I'm back here because I realised it's been a month since I posted anything properly and because Language Log seem to have picked up on status update pronoun issues similar to the annoyances I'd found myself getting unduly worked up about back in the frantic days of April.

Eric Baković, who wrote the post, also noted the increasing prevalence, since Twitter, of users' tendency to "brain-dump" on Facebook. (I thought that was a nice phrase for it.) He puts this down to the Facebook facelift which changed the status area from a "Username is" style format to the present and more evocative question: "What's on your mind?"

So perhaps I missed the point of this status update feature or perhaps I've just failed to keep up with the times... It's not so much what you're doing but what you're thinking that counts. This gives my friend's admission that he feels all this Tweeting and FBing and blogging feels more like group therapy than communication some credence. It also makes sense as there are surely only a limited number of things you can do while updating your status.

I digress. Point is, that status updates in Facebook are still preceded by your username.

Eric goes on to explore the grammatical implications of this:
Among those who conceive of the username prefix as part of the status update, a couple of patterns are distinguishable. (Again, this may have been true before the facelift, but it's certainly more noticeable now.) On the one hand, there are those who consistently refer to themselves in the third person; e.g., "Username can't wait for the weekend so that she can sit on the couch and watch TV." On the other hand, there are those who start out in the third person but then switch to the first; e.g., "Username is ecstatic that it's the weekend. I'm going to sit on the couch and watch TV!"
If this is something that people do frequently without stopping to consider the grammatical inconsistencies I wonder what it means for self-perception, identity, narrative, etc... I'm not losing sleep over this (yet) but I do wonder if and how it's reshaping our culture and our perceptions of ourselves and what we do or think. To be switched on and constantly reporting on your actions/thoughts, announcing what you do, to a world full of people doing/thinking much the same...

As with my previous post, this may all seem trivial to some but I wonder what someone like Orwell would have thought about this technology and the kind of mangling of language that seems inherent to its use...

Thursday, 21 May 2009

got tired and would like a beer and burrito.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

probably should've read Catch 22 years ago but only started at the weekend.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

could get used to the weekend.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

will be playing an acoustic set with Galapagos tomorrow night, at Deja Vu. Please no jokes about the venue; I've heard them all before...

Monday, 11 May 2009

so very nearly finished reading Promethea this weekend but didn't realise the final issue would be so trippy...

Friday, 8 May 2009

will be seeing the new Star Trek film shortly... Expecting dodgy revisionist plotholes, healthy explosions and some cheese thrown in for good measure.
would like to wish Thomas Pynchon a happy birthday but can't seem to find out where he lives or what he looks like... Strange that.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

A Short (But True) Story...

...about one man's attempts to defy apathy and slightly improve the tools he uses every day.

It's the 'Sent from my iPod' but that gets me

got stuff done this weekend. Finally.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Bb World Europe (Back-Posts #2)

I promised I'd be staggering the release of my notes from the the Bb World Europe Conference - today, I've finally uploaded a couple more after being reminded that I hadn't yet made all the notes available.

First up (ie. oldest) is a talk on The Google Generation, Podcasting and Peer Review which I saw on Tuesday 8th. It was a very interesting talk, I made lots of notes and consequently the post is quite long! If you're keen on reading (and I hope the post itself is interesting) it might be best to make yourself a coffee, tea or cocktail of some sort before you begin.

The second post to be uploaded today is much shorter, mainly as the session was a demonstration of a nice toolkit that the University of Nottingham have developed linking into WebCT. I say mainly because I was also feeling very ill that day and had my own talk to plan, so note-taking was much more minimal to say the least. However, I'm contact with the people who gave the talk and will post more details as, if and when I get them!

Also, any corrections or amendments need making? Let me know. More about some other talks I saw, plus the one I delivered myself, coming up soon!

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

uploaded new Campiranha demo tracks to last weekend but forgot to mention it to anyone.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Wired Launch in the UK

Walking into the shop on campus this week, I noticed that the magazine Wired have now launched a UK edition. So I picked up a copy and though I've yet to read through it properly, it looks like it might be interesting. You can see a sample of the magazine here.

The sampler will give you an idea of how many adverts the magazine contains (perhaps not as many as some) and contains some nice interactive features, like Page 10 & 11 for instance, which allows you to see London before and after huge sea-level rise.

A quick skim of the magazine itself though reveals the usual tid-bits, factoids and design frills that I eventually found so annoying right before I stopped buying magazines a few years back. The only magazines that have really interested me lately are Private Eye, The Wire (soberly designed avant-garde music magazine; no relation to this one or the television series) and McSweeney's (each one a different and beautiful format, containing little else but carefully short stories by both professional and amateur writers). What I was (and am) hoping for from the UK Wired are some more critical articles on technology and its increasing (or already ubiquitous) presence in our lives and in society.

I've blogged previously about my tendency towards analogue snobbery - ie. finding enjoyment in getting away from the technology, preferably by going somewhere at least reminiscent of the feral... It would be good to see this reflected more often in technological publications. Like Bill Joy's doubts and worries about where technology is taking our civilisation and what we can do about it (one fasincating section even cites the Unabomber manifesto as a way of drawing attention to these issues) or Steve Silberman's look at the rise of autism in Silicon Valley in which he wonders if "math-and-tech genes are to blame". Both of these articles appeared in U.S. issues of Wired. While the U.K.'s edition has a centre-spread section titled "Fetish" in which readers are invited to drool over pictures and stats of new gadgets and laptops...

While there might be an irony in an e-Learning Development Officer (a job title which is often used interchangeably with the word "technologist") pointing to almost uncritical worship of technology and wearing an expression of vague concern, I think it's important to consider not only how technology can be used to enhance learning but also what impact it's having on students - from their expectations of the education system to their views on social interactions and participation, right down to their lifestyles in general.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Status Updates and Digital Identity

I have often blogged about language here and its uses on the Web and in e-Learning. While I have always been to some extent self-conscious about the kind of language I use on this blog (ie. what voice I project, what kind of identity this entails) my uses of Twitter, Facebook and have forced me to re-think what appears here.

Since using (which I blogged about previously) to update my status on Facebook, Twitter and this blog simultaneously, I have had to think a lot more about what status actually means.

Traditionally of course, status referred to something like class or one's ranking in society and I'm sure that definition still holds. In the new Web 2.0 sense of the word though, status refers to one's present state of activity, either in-the-world or on-the-web, and as such tends to give a microscropic view of the person's condition:
Rob is looking forward to a glass of Montepulciano
as opposed to traditional status which would be macroscopic:
Rob works at a bank and earns over £100,000 a year
The first example given above isn't necessarily typical however. That might have been typed in Facebook once but since the advent of Twitter, I've noticed status updates getting much messier. Now, we're more likely to see:
Rob That new AFX tune = tuuuuuuuune :-o
It's not about bad spelling, which has always been a pre-requisite of text-size updates due to the 140 character limit, but bad grammar.

I've become aware of this using because the same status update I send to Facebook also comes to this blog. It's not a professionalism thing; it's a case of my status updates making sense, whether or not they are prefixed by my name or not.

Whereas on Facebook, an update might read:
Guy is hungry.
the same update coming to this blog would read:
is hungry
Which just wouldn't make sense (to me, anyway) in the context of a blog. I suppose "am hungry" would make sense as this implies a truncated first person but then my status update on Facebook would read "Guy am hungry"...

So I've worked out that using an application like, I'm limited to using verbs in the simple past tense or with modal auxiliary verbs tacked on the front. I can get away with a status like:
got hooked on The Wire over the last four days.
because it still makes sense over on social networking sites where my name is shoved in front of it. Likewise, I could update with:
would watch more of The Wire tonight but might go to see Che: Part One instead.
and get away with it for exactly the same reasons. I say "get away with" but of course no-one's going to punish me or even frown on me for not sticking to these rules. The only explanation I can give is that I prefer to construct my digitial identity in this way. It might seem trivial but status updates are the most prevalent indicators of digital identity, especially as they appear both on social networking sites and on blogs.

With a few tweaks to the stylesheet of my blog I've arranged for my status updates to be capitalised (that is the first letter to be in uppercase) just to make those decapitated sentences look that little bit neater, rather than have my Facebook and Twitter statuses look messier as a trade-off. It took a few seconds to write the following bit of code, which takes care of this tidy-up job for me:
div:first-letter { text-transform: uppercase; }
The only "problem" I might have left is the kind of restriction this approach places on my status. What all the above means is my status updates are always about what I have already done or about what I might do under certain conditions and never about what I am actually doing at this very moment. Right now though, I intend to go home.
got hooked on The Wire over the last four days.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Bb World Europe 2009 (Back-Posts #1)

Partly because I've been ill and partly because, until my return to the office, my internet access has been at best sporadic I was unable to blog while in Barcelona for Blackboard's World Europe Conference a couple of weeks ago. However, I did make quite a few notes and had my blog in mind as I always do at these sort of events.

So, because it's easier than posting it all up in one go, I've decided to stagger the release of the notes and also back-post them so they sit under the dates under which the notes were actually taken.

My first post is about the conference covers Michael Chasen's keynote on the Monday and my second is a brief account of Martha Cooley's talk on Tuesday morning, in which she talked Version 9.

More to come shortly...

Sunday, 19 April 2009

finished Homage to Catalonia and would recommend everyone at least read the last line.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

saw In The Loop and was amused and depressed in equal measure.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

had a cold, which soon became a flu, which then became sinusitis, or something like it... To be continued.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

BbWorld Europe (Day Two) - Xerte Toolkits

Again, I missed the keynote this morning due to my cold/flu having gotten worse but I did make it to a talk by Pat Lockley and Gil Fourte on their use of Xerte Toolkits at Nottingham. I did make some notes on this but TechDis provide a good explanation which I've pilfered to save myself some typing:
The information services team at the University of Nottingham have developed a free learning object editor – Xerte - that produces interactive, rich media learning objects that run in a Flash player. 

Xerte is an XML editor and run time engine that makes it easy to create and deploy interactive learning objects that are highly accessible and SCORM compliant. Xerte helps you focus on interactive design by providing tools that are fit for purpose and easy to use. 
You can see examples of the kinds of materials you can create at this site here.

There's more information on the software as well as the option to download it free here.

Pat has developed a Powerlink1 between Xerte and Web CT2, which makes it very easy for Course Instructors to create and add interactive learning objects direct without leaving their course.

Much of the talk was a demonstration of these tools which looked very impressive. Pat made mention of how accessible they were with keyboard shortcuts and concessions to screen readers all taken into account. Hence the TechDis description given above.

The toolkit itself is used by 250 to 300 users the world over and is certainly worth a look if you're looking for learning object creation solutions.


1. Like a Building Block in Blackboard Classic
2. Now rebranded as one of the various Blackboard editions; Nottingham have kept the old name to save confusion

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

went to a good talk on Generation Google this afternoon, but was annoyed to find copyright laws still obstructing creative clip culture...

BbWorld Europe (Day One, PM) - The Google Generation, Podcasting and Peer Review

At 4pm, I went to a fascinating talk by Dr. Chris Stokes who works in the School of Clinical Dentistry at the University of Sheffield. Apparently his talk was a continuation from one he gave last year though I must have missed him at last year's conference in Manchester. However, he gave a clear outline of what it was he was following on from...

Last academic year, instead of asking his students to give presentations, Dr Stokes decided to ask his students for podcasts as a form of assessment. They were asked to produce 5 minute mp3 files that would critically evaluate two pieces of scientific literature and then be peer-reviewed on paper.

Dr Stokes played some examples of these in the presentation and you could really hear how students used the creative freedom they'd been given while still meeting the academic criteria. Some podcasts began with a group introduction, some revolved around use of music (there were some copyright issues with this) while others took on more diverse forms, ie. a news broadcast or radio show being transmitted from a zoo. We were told that audio was chosen because there was a feeling that video would tend to make students as nervous as a presentation might - in both cases, body language is on show.

I would've add that audio is far easier to create and edit, and where mistakes and time restrictions are involved good editing is crucial. According to the presentation, students dealt with technical aspects easily but found it difficult to condense the subjects they'd been assigned for podcasting purposes.

But Dr Stokes then went on to discuss what he has been doing this year. The peer-review aspect of the project has been moved online and focus is primarily on getting students to use Web 2.0 tools they are familiar with to develop relevant academic skills. Whereas, before last year's podcast trials students were asked to give a traditional lecture or presentation as part of their assessment, Dr Stokes wanted to move away from the "lecturers' domain" and into the "students' domain", seeing as lecturing is not a necessarily a key skill for the field of dentistry. To move further into this domain, Dr Stokes allowed students to choose what format they decided to submit their work in.

Given the previous assumptions about video and presentations, the results were surprising. At the end of the project, Dr. Stokes got:
  • 5 videos,
  • 14 Powerpoint presentations,
  • 2 wikis, and 
  • 9 web documents.
There were also over twenty "described weblinks" (presumably reviews of the sources students used but also included YouTube videos) and more importantly no purely audio podcasts!

The peer-review aspect of the project also required students to write blog entries on their contribution to the group in Sheffield's Blackboard system and also, potentially, reviewing the blog entries of others. This reviewing involved giving the blog entries a star rating and leaving a comment. Dr Stokes said giving the star-rating option however had been a mistake as students would rate the presentation but then use the comment to justify the numbers of stars they had given, leaving those being reviewed with little to no constructive criticism. Consequently the star-rating is something he intends to leave out in future peer-review projects.

Students were also given the option to work in Connect, which is Sheffield's branded version of the social networking software ELGG but this was merely a provision for those who would prefer not to use Facebook or some other site they might already be using. Apparently, some students used this but others didn't even sign up.

He talked a little about taking into account the demographic of his students, all of which (I think he said this) were part of Generation Z - alternatively known as Millennials, Generation @, and the Internet Generation. Typically this demographic consists of people living in Western or "First World" cultures, born between the years of 1995 and 2010. I've also seen this called Generation C (where C is close to the U.S. pronunciation of Z and stands for "connect", "click", "computer" or any other web-related word you might think of). Dr Stokes admitted to his preference for the term Millennials, which he said was "growing on" him.

It seemed to me that he'd made a real effort to understand where his students were coming from and, in doing so, had hit upon some surprising conclusions. For one, some students want to write essays, as evidenced by the Word documents in the pot at the end of the project. Nevertheless, he recognised that online spaces for learning "seem important". And finally, students don't seem all that interested in audio podcasts - except, perhaps as part of enhanced podcasts (that is, with simple visuals like still images of Powerpoint slides).

This last point is an interesting one. I personally think this could be for two reasons. Perhaps students are trying to meet what they perceive as traditional expectations by producing something like the presentation they would've been previously tasked with, with the exception that it's digital and online.

Or perhaps students don't feel the same constraints that we ourselves feel and expect. As I mentioned, audio is easier to create and edit and therefore time-saving but perhaps, for students who have been given the creative freedom to make their project really unique, convenience isn't as much of a priority as it is for people in full-time work. Perhaps it's about students being given the opportunity to take pride in their work, to fulfil the set criteria while making the project something of their own.

BbWorld Europe 2009 (Day One, AM) - Version 9

Due to my worsening flu-like illness, I wasn't able to make the keynote first thing in the morning so spent the time trying to regain my sense of taste over breakfast instead. Still nasal, I did make it to Martha Cooley's talk at 10.45, enabling me to get a good look at the room I myself was placed to deliver in, as well as Version 9.

Cooley is the Senior Director for Product Management at Blackboard and said she's only been in the job a little while. She was a good presenter though, down-to-earth and tried to answer everyone's questions. Much of the talk seemed to be aimed at appeasing (or perhaps just helping) WebCT customers ('Vista clients' in the official lingo).

She had some good news:
  • Blackboard (Classic) Version 8 would be supported until October 2012.
  • An English (UK) Language Pack is available in Version 9. Meaning the word "Organisation" will now be spelt "correctly"!
  • There is a Portfolio Roadmap for future versions - meaning we could be seeing improvements to the tool soon (at least two words in that sentence may be overly optimistic).
I noticed so many people Twittering on their mobile phones while the talk was going on - am I missing out on something by sticking to this retrospective-account-of-the-event thing? I think they used to call it blogging. I am (in many ways) so past tense...

woke up to find this cold/flu/illness-type thing isn't going without a fight and, apparently, beats you up in your sleep. Sorry, keynote :-(

Monday, 6 April 2009

BbWorld Europe 2009 (Day Zero!) - Keynote

Day Zero? Strangely this year, Blackboard decided to schedule Michael Chasen's keynote the day before the main conference. Chasen is Blackboard's CEO and last year his talk was in the afternoon, sandwiched between other talks but nevertheless a very energetic performance in which Chasen gave a demonstration of the then-unseen Blackboard Version 9 with its new "Web 2.0 look and feel".

This year's talk, which one might've expected to be more motivational in order to kickstart the conference, seemed a lot more subdued and in places felt as though it was an attempt at being more reflective than inspiring. Whether or not this has anything to do with the new administration in Washington isn't clear though Chasen didn't hesitate to use clips of President Obama talking about education to break up his delivery.

The focus was on what's being called (by Chasen at least) the 'global education imperative' - this imperative itself comes from Obama's urge for education reform, in particular a line from his speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in which he says 'Education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity and success, it is a prerequisite'. To be honest, it took me a while to work out just what Obama was saying here, let alone Chasen.

A pathway and a prerequisite can be the same thing, surely - or at least that's what I thought. But, I suppose Obama is saying that to be educated is no longer a sufficient condition for success but a necessary one. Hence the imperative.

However, some of things Chasen said I have yet to get a grasp on. For example, one of the keynote's recurrent phrases was 'leveraging the community'. I struggled to understand what this meant in practical terms. 'Leverage' is not the most eloquent of words even in its proper context, which I believe is that of financial markets. There it's a noun; Chasen used it as a verb. I wasn't sure if he meant 'promote', 'lift up' or simply 'use'. Not that Chasen would have said 'use', preferring the longer and not entirely necessary 'utilise' instead.

In the end, it seemed to be a reference to the new Blackboard Connections site, which as a tool seems to be designed to listen in on the gossip and complaints of the user community and gather more feedback. Perhaps 'leverage' is meant to imply that they are trying to stick the oar in, lift us out of our group huddle. But these huddles are important if we're to work out what it is we want, what our strategy is going to be. A simpler phrase like 'listening to the community' would have won me over.

'Expanding openness' was another refrain of the speech, showing that even if the software is moving away from clunkiness, the corporate language isn't. In practical terms, this primarily referred to the new, more inclusive API so that students being asked to access modules on various systems and VLEs now need know only one login to get to the materials (presumably the Blackboard one).

However, it also seemed to be vague enough to encompass other things like Facebook Sync, Blackboard for the iPhone, and, most interesting of all, the use of Blackboard outside America. Tim Collin, Vice President of Blackboard's EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Asia) Division, gave us some interesting information on the government initiated roll-out of Blackboard to the whole of Columbia (that's the Columbian government doing the initiating by the way, in case there was any doubt) and said that, globally, so many institutions had opted for the Blackboard hosting option, their servers now contain more data than on the whole of Facebook.

All in all, I don't think Chasen or Collin succeeded in joining all the elements from the bigger picture to the elements in the smaller but the talk was an interesting way of trying to frame both so that they were at least occupying the same gallery space. I was glad that the talk was different from last year's delivery which, while more enthused, was closer to what I'd expect from a shrill salespitch than from a keynote.
never learned a word of Spanish, let alone Catalan.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Multiple, simultaneous... status updates!

You might have noticed, among some of the posts below and in the archives, some uncharacteristically short posts that look like status updates - specifically here and here, for example.

These have come from a site called which you can use as a way of updating your status on all of your accounts at once. I say all as it seems to cover most sites.

I use my account to update my status on Facebook and Twitter (about which more soon) and of course to micro-blog here. A handy tool if you're signed up to multiple social networking sites and like me don't want to have to login to every one individually.

I suppose it would be interesting to think about this in terms of digital identity - whether it "flattens" your online presence (for want of a better word) by making it less rich or simply makes managing your identity much easier. But it's Friday afternoon and that's about all I can manage at the moment!

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Technology vs. horse!

I'm back! Actually I've been back a little while now but didn't feel like blogging until today.

My week in the New Forest was largely spent walking around, taking photos of deer and horses and trying to write. I didn't have t'Internet and I didn't miss it one bit... And if you believe that, then I'm a better liar than I thought.

The first things I did after unpacking were open up my laptop and flick the wireless switch on and off to see if it would work. It didn't. I was marooned without access to e-mail or Wikipedia or Facebook for a seven days. Which was partly the point because if I was going to get some writing done and relax, something had to give.

By the end of the week though, I'd almost forgotten about the Internet and felt sad to be leaving my new of world of streams and bogs and wandering ponies for one of choked roads, dazed shoppers and screen-induced headaches. Having Internet access again hardly seemed compensation enough.

I have to come clean about my usage here though: I use Wikipedia and Google and I do a lot of reading online. I get my news online, I do a lot of research online and, because I don't watch television that much and only have three of the terrestrial channels, I use things like BBC iPlayer to watch programmes I couldn't otherwise see.

However, I don't use MSN, I try not to login to Facebook too much and never send an e-mail if a phone call is possible. So I'd say my use isn't typical perhaps for someone my age and while I missed being able to immediately look something up, that passed quickly and I found myself simply getting more involved in the non-fiction books I'd taken along.

I'm also someone who owns a very old phone (Nokia 3410), doesn't have a portable music player and prefers to read and look out of the window when on a train, both of which are dying pastimes according to this BBC article.

Coming back to "all this" has left me feeling a little as though the Web and perhaps technology-in-general erodes the possibility of narrative or an awareness of narrative time. I feel that putting some headphones in and creating my own bubble not only cuts me off from my surroundings but time as well. If I commuted everyday it might be a different matter. This is also the reason I'm an analogue snob when it comes to fiction - even hardbacks are too hi-tech for me.

And here I leave you with a not entirely unrelated clip from Adaptation - a great film and worth seeing in its entirety if you can. Don't let Meryl Streep climbing atop Nicholas Cage put you off...

Saturday, 14 March 2009

is off to the New Forest for a week.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Teaching Matters article

I'm off to the New Forest to take a break for the next seven days - after I play a gig at Ascot tonight that is. Before I go, I wanted to post an article that I wrote for Teaching Matters (which was distributed today). That way, if anyone should drop by looking for direct links to the sites I talk about they can find them here.

The article is posted in full below (or click here for quick access).

Word clouds versus tag clouds

The word ‘cloud’ is increasingly used in the context of Web 2.0, perhaps because so much of it seems ‘blue sky’ to a lot of people. However, a cloud in the context of tagging has nothing to do with cloud computing. It refers to a visual representation of terms weighted by frequency – in most cases this weighting is indicated by size, as in the images provided.

Take for a timely example; the site of a U.S. Presidential rhetoric project. When the page loads, you are presented with a cloud displaying the words most frequently used in the 2007 State of the Union speech. Obama’s inaugural speech has not yet been loaded there, but you can pull the slider back through time from the pyrocumulus of Bush’s address, hell-bent on the themes of ‘Iraq’ and ‘terrorists’, to the noctilucent beginnings of the United States with John Adams’ ‘Foundation of Government’ speech, in which only the hopeful words ‘assembly’ and ‘constitution’ loom large.

The site calls itself a ‘tag cloud’ but it’s more accurately a bunch of ‘word clouds’ and a timeline. Tags are a form of metadata and as such used to describe the content of text, not necessarily act as a representative sample of that content. For example, you might upload the Bush speech to a blog, tag it with all the words featured in the word cloud we have seen and thereby have your tag cloud and the word cloud coincide. But you could also, if you wanted, add the tags ‘warmongering’, ‘incompetent’ or even the multi-word ‘worst president in history’, which to my knowledge don’t appear in the speech at all.

Word clouds also tend to be static – you input the text and get your cloud – whereas tag clouds tend to be dynamic, checking how many items (be they blog posts or bookmarks) have a particular tag and then sizing them accordingly. The more you use a tag across several blog postings for example, the larger that term will grow in your tag cloud, giving visitors an easy overview of what the blog is about.

You can create your own word clouds (for free) perhaps as a resource for your students or for use in slideshow presentations by going to To see a tag cloud in action, go to my blog ( where you can also find links to the resources listed here and more.
will be playing with Galapagos in Ascot tonight. The venue opposite the train station for those that enjoy uncomplicated adventures. On @ 9.

Friday, 6 March 2009

E-mail prevents potential blogging...

I often feel like I have lots that I could blog about here but part of the reason I never get round to it is because I'm trying to deal with the onslaught of e-mails that come my way every day.

So it was nice to receive this article from Gerry Leonidas, a Typography lecturer here at Reading, on dealing with your inbox. I intend to start implementing this next week - if not today... With 483 follow-ups I'm going to have to soon!

Perhaps then I can start blogging more frequently.
is looking into places to stay in Barcelona - any advice appreciated!

Friday, 27 February 2009

Facebook commenting could get you fired

Yep, over on the BBC News website I happened across the headline "Facebook remark teenager is fired". 16-year-old Kimberly Swann from Essex described her job as "boring" on her Facebook page - it's not clear from the article there whether or not this was a status update or something she had added to her profile.

In any case, the remark got her fired. You can read the article yourself of course; what I thought was interesting about it was the contrast in attitudes towards Swann's comment and towards social networking in general.

The report gives two points of view. Steve Ivell of Ivell Marketing & Logistics in Clacton justifies the company's decision to sack Swann with this:
Had Miss Swann put up a poster on the staff notice board making the same comments and invited other staff to read it there would have been the same result.
While TUC general secretary Brendan Barber had a different attitude:
Most employers wouldn't dream of following their staff down the pub to see if they were sounding off about work to their friends.
Note the contrasting metaphors. The boss sees the social networking site as a noticeboard - note that his problem is not even that the site is online and the comment potentially a public one. While the union secretary sees the site as providing something akin to a chat down the pub, a facilitator for the comraderie colleagues may feel when complaining about work.

So, would the boss object to his employees complaining about work down the pub? Probably. But it's out of his ability to control this and it would be unreasonable for him to fire someone on the basis of something overheard outside of the work environment. His choice of metaphor - the noticeboard within the workplace - makes the action seem more justifiable since he makes it sound as though something within the workplace has been disrupted.

So which metaphor is closer? And were the company right in sacking her?
is trying out (for work).

Thursday, 26 February 2009

TDA Project Climax

On Tuesday morning, my colleague Robyn and I went over to Bulmershe campus to run a focus group with a PGCE course convenor, Judith Davies. This was the climax to a project Robyn and I have been working on with Judith since before September.

Robyn and I had been asked to look at the wealth of Web 2.0 tools out there, select a bunch of them and match them up against criteria which we had drawn up previously. The idea being to find at least one Web 2.0 tool that would fulfil a newly qualified teacher's portfolio needs.

Throughout the project, we kept a wiki within Blackboard (using the Learning Objects tool) to analyse tools and compare them with one another. When the New Year began we looked at all the information we collected and we picked two tools (and a spare) that we were going to focus on. We also prepared a slideshow (embedded below) and several handouts to make the day run more smoothly.

The idea of the presentation was to present these findings to a group of teachers who Judith had paid with funding to take a day's leave and give them a lunch while we were at it.

We took what I thought was a fairly "radical" approach to the slideshow - that is, there's hardly any text and the focus is more in images and making an impact with these to mark different parts of the morning. This was inspired by talks I've seen given at conferences recently and was an attempt to remedy the Powerpoint fatigue I've been afflicted by recently. When it came to the tools themselves, we simply logged in and did a live demo, showing some examples that we'd prepared earlier to inform them further. You can see the examples we created below:

And while we were eating lunch we recorded the discussion that we had around the table - about e-portfolios, their shortcomings, or rather the current lack of an adequate tool, and what they thought of the tools we'd picked out.

Robyn and I have yet to go through the feedback but as we do, I will try and post some of our findings here and perhaps some of the wiki notes we made in early on in the project too. All in all, it was a successful morning - so much so, that I'm now trying to take the same "radical" slideshow approach with the workshops that we run here and with future presentations.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Clouds obscuring the stars...

... or revealing them?

I've not had time to update my blog of late but I saw this and had to post it up as it relates so much to my last post. These, if you didn't realise already are word clouds, not tag clouds. If you're a mainstream-movie-buff or simply a lover of celebrity fluff, you'll probably enjoy guessing who's is who's... I didn't get any of them right.

Not one for my account then but definitely something for the blog - a distinction I'll maybe talk about sometime (if I find any). Where to put resources, items, links, etc...

So tired. Be back soon.

Monday, 2 February 2009

TinyURL, Tagging and yet more Obama

I used TinyURL for the first time today. I'd known about it for a while (of course!) but I'd never had to use it, what with and Facebook and everything else making things easier in that respect. However, writing an article for our Centre's publication Teaching Matters this evening, I came across a webpage I simply had to share with my readers. The URL being way too long, I popped over to TinyURL, put it in and got a much shorter one out. As demonstrated below:

Original URL:

Tiny URL:

And the article? Well it's on tagging and I'm just finishing it up as I write this post. It has to be short-short: around 350 words, which is a real struggle for me (as evidenced in most, say all, of the posts below). And there are also some sardonic references to U.S. Presidents Bush and a kinder mention of Obama (yes, he is President of the United States; it's still weird for me too).

Anyway, I'll keep this uncharacteristically short and leave you with the teaser of my upcoming article, generated on Wordle (another useful site!), in the form of... a meta-tag cloud?

Friday, 23 January 2009

My First Slideshare

I've uploaded the slideshow I presented at Durham to a site called Slideshare. It's free to sign up for an account there and, in doing so, you get some space to upload Powerpoint presentations to. This enables you to share your slideshow with people and receive feedback.

I've been a visitor to the site for a while and found it particularly useful for looking over slideshows from conference presenters I found particularly interesting. I signed up so I could "give something back" to the site by contributing my own presentations to the .

If you upload a Powerpoint file to the site, you can then embed the resulting slideshow into a blog, a wiki, a standard webpage... or even a Blackboard course, with relative ease. As I've done above. Aesthetically, this could be a nicer way of giving students access to your lecture materials.

Animations don't upload well, as you'll notice on a few of my slides. But I like the easy integration with the page.

I read the Terms and Conditions before uploading my presentation and IPR remains in the hands of the author, so far as I can tell. However, be aware that anyone can grab the code for embedding and put your presentation on their webpage -you can see I did this in previous posts with keynotes for the Durham Conference (here and here). This means the site is useful for viral publicity so long as you make sure you have your name on the front page!

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Blog of the Week: The White House

Given yesterday's historic occasion, it seems only appropriate to make mention of The White House blog where you can read all about the inauguration, Obama's economic agenda, his plans regarding energy and the environment and the ways in which he intends to address other issues of the day. It's also a very nicely designed site.

When the time allowed, I had been following the blog at Change, the Obama Team's previous site. Obama may not only have been the first Presidential candidate to embrace the web but also the first to embrace Web 2.0. At Change, Visitors were able to submit ideas via the Citizen's Briefing Book - these ideas were published on pages where others could vote to move them up or down a scale and leave comments.

They also use plenty of discussion and video to liven up the site. Can you imagine such a thing happening if McCain had gotten in? Even if it had, can you imagine people engaging with it? It will be interesting to see how much of a difference it'll make. The Change site has officially closed now but you still see the previous postings by going to this site.

In the meantime, I've been thinking about a change as well - albeit of a smaller kind. Some people have been saying they can't see my blog so I'm thinking of moving from Blogger over to Edublogs where all the other learning technologists seem to be. Still, if I decide to move, I'll post a notice here. So, for now, keep watching this space.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009


In an effort to get back into blogging, I've backposted up some notes from the Durham Conference. Day One is here and Day Two is here.

And for a more personal touch, here are some pictures of my niece Grace - born on 1st December and about the size of an egg - in varying states of wobbliness with different members of my family. Anyone who wants to hazard a guess as to who's who can leave comments below...






Friday, 9 January 2009

Durham 2009, Day Two

A photograph I took myself. Late at night. Inebriated...Click here for Durham 2009: Day One

No doubt some sore heads in the first presentation this morning after a three-course meal in Durham Castle, with lots of wine, followed by a trip to the nearby Undercroft bar... Still as this presentation was the usual Roadmap spiel from Blackboard it barely mattered. We still don't have a definite date for the release of Version 9 and while I'm sure the information they gave about Project NG was useful for some, I'm also sure I wasn't the only one who'd heard all this before.

They did mention that Blackboard was being re-branded and that three themes would be evident in upcoming versions: Blackboard Learn, Blackboard Transact and Blackboard Connect.

Following that, a forward-thinking talk from Sophie Paluch (College of Law), Kate Reader (Bristol) and Zak Mensah (TASI - soon changing it's name to JISC Digital Media) about mobile technologies in Higher Education. One thing I took away from this presentation was how much mobile technology has moved since it first came about - and how quicky. Sophie showed an advert on YouTube, and while I haven't been able to find the same one, this clip should give you an idea of the kind of progress that's been made.

Later I saw a presentation from Ralph Holland (Tyneside) and Merv Stapleton (City of Sunderland) on their comparison of e-portfolio tools and their usage in different (and sometimes novel) situations. One example Ralph gave of marines trying to maintain e-portfolios out at sea but being unable to due to lack of proper Internet access was particularly vivid. I would have liked to have seen more examples here but I spoke to Merv after the presentation and we're going to keep in touch and share experiences.

Lastly, we were treated to an inspiring final keynote from Paul Lowe; a very energetic speaker who runs an MA Photojournalism and Documentary course at the London College of Communication and has his own blog here. He talked about the course he runs, which recruits mid-career professionals and requires them to keep their own blogs for purposes of reflection. The talk itself was very inspiring and, as you'll probably notice from the slideshow I've embedded here, very visual - but the main thing I took away from it was that it didn't matter so much which tool his students practitioners were using but that how they used the tools to interact with one another that counted more.

Paul uses Blackboard but he barely mentioned it in his talk. And people on the course were allowed to use whatever blogging application they preferred. It seemed more important that they were paired up or put in groups so as to support each other during the reflective process (especially given that they were subject to a lot of criticism). Feedback was the crucial element here, I think.

Together with Andy's presentation the previous day, I came away determined to make more of an effort with my blog!