Teaching, Learning, meet Technology.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Australian Forums for true EdTech-ers

Ben Buchanan, a former collegue and all-around webby kinda guy, emailed me the other day to ask me what I thought about the currect forums available for collaboration and learning on webby EdTech.
The underlying thought is that for general web geeks we have Web Directions South, but not an equivalent for the education sector. The available events tend to be backend- or academic-focussed, rather than frontend/user experience focussed.
What do you think? Do you think there's a gap in the market, or do people just have the wrong impression about existing events?
And my response:

Not sure if there's a gap as such. I think there are 3 main groups to consider in all this:
- Tech-savvy teachers: The academics/TAFE instructors/K-12 teachers who are using exsisting technology in cool ways.
- Ed Designers (aka Learning Designers, instructional Designers): The professional staff who's role it is to foster and direct technology use within an institution. You tend to have two types within this group; those who are passitionate about technology in education, and those who are passionate about educational practice and dabble in the tech side. This second group are generally the ones at ASCILITE etc, not AusWeb.
- Programmers, web developers etc who happen to be in the edu sector: These are the ones who are passionate about the technology and like to hear about what the first two groups are doing in order to get ideas for building tools that'll do just that, only better (and with drop-shadows).

I suppose there is a 4th group of edtech administrators/managers/leaders who span across all 3 groups.

The tech-savvy teachers are fairly well catered for with ASCILITE, EDUCASE and various local forums. Although I was in an ASCILITE session last year where someone asked the presenter 'what's a blog?', so the focus is really on educational practice, not the technology that supports it.

The Ed Designers do tend to split along those lines I described, with the edu-focussed ones joining the tech-savvy teachers, and the edtech-focussed ones fitting better with the programmers/web developers. While there are a few local forums for this group (QUT's OLT conference fits this, as do the Bb User's conferences, although with the obvious platform focus), there does seem to be a gap here.

I think maybe AusWeb is too broad to accommodate this group, as it encompasses corporate/administrative web as well as edtech web. Maybe an edtech stream, specifically targeting designers and developers involved in educational web technology, would be a good way to fill the gap.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

She's ba-ack...

Right. So after re-reading my past posts on this blog, I realised just how much I did actually gain through the reflection and free-form writing opportunity it provided me with, so I'm taking it up again. The whole process of starting, then abandoning, and now wanting to re-start a blog has got me thinking about the whole reason why many people feel the need to express themselves, sometimes anonymously, to an unknown audience via this medium.

There are two things that are driving my return to this activity:
- I enjoy writing very much, and reflective writing even more. I have kept a journal on and off in the past, but I want the community aspect of blogging. I still regularly read the posts of others and have benefited from the occasional insight. i want to give back to that community.
- I want to keep a record of this time in my professional life. I find that as much as I enjoy or am inspired by events as they happen, reflecting on them after the fact often gives me as much if not more pleasure than the original experience did (case in point, The India Diaries). I want to be able to look back on this manic time in my career 10 years from now and learn even more from it in hindsight than I am able to now, while I'm in the thick of it all.

So, what the hell have I been up to? In true LJ style, here's my 4 months highlight and not-so-highlights:
+ Have settled into the swing of things at QUT. Very different culture from Bond, which I expected, but also very different from Griffith, which surprised me more.
+ I'm happy to be working with GM again, and I like that I am more comfortable disagreeing with him now than I was when we worked together in the past. I've learned a great deal from him in the past, but I'm finding that I'm learning more from challenging and therefore understanding his approach to things than I did from just benefiting from his advice.
- Like any large institution, QUT has complicated internal politics. I need to acknowledge them, provide the best example I can to those around me, but never lose sight of the fact that my ultimate responsibility is to the teaching staff of the university and the students they teach, not to the person in the office next door.
+/- I've now taken on the project management of the largest project I've ever led, let alone been involved in. To put it in perspective, we are replacing an existing, heavily utilised LMS with a new one, and tranferring over 3000 unit and related teaching sites to it, many with extremely customised interfaces and system-dependant designs. And we're doing it in the space of 18 months all up. I'll let you know in a few more months whether I strive and grow under the pressure, or crumble. I'm aiming for the former.
-- The Brisbane Council desperately needs more buses. After having too many buses arrive late, then sail past full to the brim, I'm finally giving in and driving to Kelvin Grove now, at least until the latest order of buses is completed.
++ I have a fantastic project team, with some of the most talented programmers and learning designers you could ever wish for, and they seem to think I'm a bit of okay too.
+ I'm able to help a great former colleague out of a tough spot and onto my project team, and add some well-needed skills to the mix in the process.

That's enough for now. There will be more to come I can promise. I'm aiming for a post a week to get me back into this exercise.

And thank you Peta, for inspiring me to start this up again with the best system outage message ever on the Bond Library's L Files. Glad to see the great spirit down there is still going strong.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

On change and practical vision

After over a month of madness, I feel I can now come up for air, breathe, and reflect a little on what's been happening. First things first. I'm in the middle of my third week in my new role at QUT. Making the decision to leave Bond after only a year was difficult, but I'm now even more confidant that it was the right one. I really do feel that I had taken my work at Bond as far as I wanted to take it, and I had achieve in a year far more than I expected to have achieved (and far far more than anyone at Bond expected me to achieve. I'm happy to have laid some good foundations for others to build on.

Being at QUT has put me back in a position where I'm really working as part of a management team towards a shared vision. I really am loving the energy the environment is producing. I'm loving working with link-minded and passionate people who know exactly where my ideas are coming from because they've come from there too. Having a shared vision means that we're all working in the same direction from the same blueprint. It's wonderful.

On the walk home today (yes, my commute now includes a significant portion of walking!) I began to think about driving a vision and the pitfalls around the formation and communication of a vision. I'm a terribly pragmatic person and a very strong believer in what I'm calling 'practical vision'. There is a place for those people who blue sky think and come up with the ideas that amaze and inspire us but that we know will never actually be realised. There is also a great need for those people with practical vision, who are able to develop and effectively communicate a direction which is achievable and which services a need better than anything else.

The worst, however, is those who attempt to be be both types of people in one. These are the people who's vision is full of blue sky but who persist in putting it into practice regardless of it's impracticality. What results is something that services a need that doesn't exist and which hinders putting real innovation into practice.

I hope to further grow my abilities as a practical visionary. I have some great examples to follow in some of the people I'm now working with.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Cory Doctorow on why content isn't king

I've read Boing Boing for yonks and quite like how Cory Doctorow can sometimes cut right to the centre of an issue and phrase it in a way that really sticks in my brain. He's done it again in this Boing Boing post quoting a Disney executive's view on piracy as "a business model to be competed with". The exec also describes Disney's strategy as "being primarily about content because it drives everything else..."

I really like Cory's response to this statement:
Content isn't king. If I sent you to a desert island and gave you the choice of taking your friends or your movies, you'd choose your friends -- if you chose the movies, we'd call you a sociopath. Conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about.
Now think of that in an educational context... Woah.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Sometimes change management goes too well

I've been meaning to post this for a while now, but things have been getting in the way of my rambling. Here goes.

While I was at Griffith, I was around to experience the Great Blackboard Crash of 2003. This was a result of, among other things, change management working too well. In conjunction with a major upgrade, we promoted the system. We encouraged academics to use it with regular demonstrations of the beauty and wonder that was Blackboad v6. We told them to use it and use it they did, and the students accessed in numbers never anticipated. They brought the system to a complete standstill for the better part of week one of semester and it was still limping for a few more weeks.

Fast forward to 2006 and the full launch of Blackboard at Bond. Day one of semester I was in my office at 7am preparing for the onslaught. I asked my staff to be in early too. This would be our "all hands on deck" week and we were ready. I checked the live usage statistics and watched the numbers climb. Alright, here we go.

By 10am, I was asking my staff how things were going. I was walking through the library and the labs to see lots of monitors showing Blackboard subject sites. I was talking to helpdesk and library staff to find out how they were going. I was talking to faculty support staff to see how they were going.

By noon, I was starting to doubt the live usage stats. I checked with my sys admin. Yes, they were correct. I hesitated to leave my office to get lunch, thinking the support calls would flood in at any minute.

By 3pm, I was feeling a little neglected. A few calls and questions, sure, but where were the cries for help? The screams of anguish needing a diplomatic hand to quiet them? They were using it, oh they were using it. The system was getting a hammering but without breaking a sweat, and we weren't hearing about any problems.

This continued for the rest of the week, and by Friday when I congratulated my staff for a job well done, I couldn't help but feel that the whole week had been a little anti-climactic. The last months had been spent communicating, training, seminar-ing, newsletter-ing, meeting-ing, emailing, more communicating and more training. I guess it had all worked too well. The staff and students didn't need us anymore. They had become... proficient.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Presenting... iLearn-Blogs

At long last, iLearn-Blogs is up and running. One very keen academic will be using it to host student blogs for assessment in two subjects this semester.

Due to it being week 3 and the service only just being made operational, the integration for this semester will be minimal. This means that:

* Users will create their own accounts
* Users will create their own blogs
* Comments will be moderated by default, and restricted to registered users
* Users must have a bond staff or student email address to register

Many, many technical issues with getting this service set up have meant that it will only be available in a limited way to a limited number of students. I just don't want to go ahead with the full pilot I had planned. So I'm disappointed, but at least we've got a service. And the students are using it. And its an open source application.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Blackboard Impressions via Impressions Scholarcast

Michael Rees, one of the academics involved in the May semester pilot of Blackboard here at Bond, has begun a series of posts on his experiences with and initial impressions of Blackboard. A long-time ed-tech user, Michael made the switch from using Sharepoint as an LMS to Blackboard this semester. Most of his observations ring true with me, the good and the bad. Reading his first two installments made me think how frequently I've heard similar observations from academic staff I've worked with over the past 5 years. His first summary post describes his experience as an overall positive one, despite a number of niggling frustrations.

His second post reflects on Blackboard's user interface, which, while it's simplicity and ease of navigation was a strength 4 years ago, is now showing its age quite dramatically when compared alongside modern web-applications.

I'm looking forward to reading more on Michael's thoughts on his first run-in with Blackboard.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Blog humour on a blog

Being up to my eyeballs in basics-level staff development lately has somewhat squashed the analytical, creative, and witty thinking required to come up with a good blog post. I'll be back in usual form soon, but in the meantime, here's a comic from Wondermark about being analytical, creative, and witty in a blog. Enjoy.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Clients furious, but shareholders must be thrilled

Blackboard has announced a 32 percent jump in second-quarter revenue over last year, pulling in a whopping USD 13.6 million. A Washington Times article makes no mention of the patent or legal action against Desire2Learn that has clients up in arms and legal council Matthew Small doing damage control on a teleconference with Australian clients from a maternity ward while his wife is in labour. The article does describe why many institutions will stick with Bb, despite the company's corporate ethics.

"As long as the industry trends continue, there will be more use of online learning on campus," she said. "So long as that is true, the switching costs are high enough for the universities ... they'd rather just stick with their current vendor."

Having nearly completed a uni-wide Blackboard roll-out, I understand now more than ever the effort involved in fostering adoption of a platform so embedded into teaching and learning activities. Switching is hard. Not so much from a technical perspective but from an organisational change perspective. That said, I'll be interested to see if this figure changes over the coming year:

During the second quarter, Blackboard had a software-license renewal rate of more than 90 percent.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Netvibes is my new homepage

Written in AJAX, Netvibes appears to be a contender for the mythical title of Uber-Portal (one portal to rule them all). From www.netvibes.com:

Netvibes.com is a custom made web 2.0 home page solution

This service is free and gives the user the ability :

* to create a personalized page with the content they like.
* to put together data feeds and services from web 2.0 with a very simple interface
* to access your page anytime and from any computer .

It is also possible to :

* browse, modify, and import your RSS feeds with our integrated RSS/ATOM feedreader. You can easily import an OPML file as well.
* to import, download and listen podcasts without any additional software
* to check your mail on one or many gmail account, to stick webnotes, weather and many more to come !