Four Apps

Yesterday was definitely new app day as far as I was concerned. Four new apps, each of which could easily be applied into a learning and teaching context.

  • TextTheMob – “The easiest and most entertaining way to collect feedback from your audience: Project polls or message boards on a large screen, have everyone send their input via their cell phones and see results instantly!” Unfortunately, the service is currently only available in the United States, and looks to have limited functionality as it’s still in beta.
  • twhirl – Ok, so this app has been around a little while but I only got around to installing it yesterday. Using Adobe’s AIR platform, it allows for users to interact with Twitter from their desktops, rather than the website. Usefully, it allows for users to be logged into multiple Twitter accounts concurrently – functionality that the website doesn’t currently offer.
  • Evernote – Allows for capture of information [text and photos] in a variety of environments – web, desktop and phone. This information accessible and searchable at any time, from anywhere. Unfortunately though, there’s no client for Symbian Series 60-based phones.
  • bubblecomment – Allows users to attach a video comment to any website, and then share this with users via a URL. Comments are limited to 90 seconds, 200 playbacks and expire in 30 days. No “Pro account” is available yet, but I can see the potential. Really useful for colleagues who want to highlight websites for their students, particularly in a distance learning context.

For those wanting a heads up on a variety of other Web 2.0 applications that I’ve come across and often recommend to colleagues, a previous blog post might be of interest.

Staff Development Away Day

Last Wednesday, I attended the University of Bath Staff Development Away Day at Bailbrook House, Bath. Attended by a number of colleagues from a wide range of departments and units from across the University, It proved to be a thoroughly enjoyable and interesting day. Notes and reflections appear below.

Facilitated by Lisa Hegan from HRD Bristol, the objectives of the day were put forward as follows:

  • Increase mutual understanding [between the different departments and units present]
  • Find common goals: what are we all here for?
  • What will success look like in the future?
  • Start looking at ways of working that will move us towards common goals/success.

The event began with a speed dating-type exercise where participants were given a couple of minutes to introduce themselves to someone else, explaining briefly what they valued or enjoyed most about their work. Only being given a few seconds to think about this before the exercise, it definitely put me on the spot. However, my answer was something along the lines of:

… being at the leading edge of learning technologies with the end goal of improving the student experience. As Moodle reaches a level of maturity and stability, it allows the team to branch out a little, to explore further items such as the mobile learning, the uses of SMS to support learning and teaching, and the use of Audience Response Systems to support face-to-face teaching (and formative assessment.

After a short break, the schedule moved onto examining some posters prepared by those present [as teams]. The posters focused on the following areas:

  • Key objectives
  • Customer/client base
  • What the department is proud of?
  • What challenges they currently face?
  • Who is in the department?

The e-Learning team poster is available as a PDF download. It was interesting learning that, whilst all teams has their own areas of expertise, there were areas of commanality across all. For examples, all units seemed to have to constantly deliver value for money. This is true of any department or business regardless of their context, except that in the context of staff developments, the benefits are not always immediate and/or tangible – the nature of the beast is more developmental.

I noted down a couple of thoughts following these presentations:

  • When it comes to marketing e-Learning seminars and workshops to the campus community, should we get in touch with the Corporate Communications Services at the University to get some tips on how to [differently] promote our courses with the intention of getting a wider reach?
  • It might be worth re-visiting our Moodle FAQs database with help from the newly appointed BUCS Information Officer to get some advice on how to make our FAQs more accessible to those colleagues who have limited or no knowledge of Moodle.

Before breaking for lunch, the group was brought together and given a view of how Staff Development could exist at the University in 2011. Whilst this was a slightly utopian view of things, it did allow some time for some blue skies thinking. The scenario revolved around a fictional department at the University that was facing a number of challenges in the coming academic year(s) – individual staff issues and wider departmental issues such as increasing student numbers, marketing, and taking in a department from another University.

This view was put forward by Dr Simon Inger, the Head of Staff Development, as there is a feeling that many are working in their own departments, and that opportunities to work together as not been explored as fully as possible. A key outcome of this view would be,

Horizons does not exist anymore. It has been replaced by one central system/portal – it doesn’t matter who or which unit is running the course. Rather than having courses listed under “e-Learning”, “Health & Safety” or “Equalities & Diversity”, colleagues would be asked questions such as “What is your job about?” and “What do you need to know to do this effectively?”. Learning outcomes would be linked to an individuals job. Indeed, this would be going down a route of an information architecture.

Breaking into groups after lunch, we explored how this apporach might work. A PDF download is available of the benefits and concerns of taking a more integrated approach to staff development, along with some of quetsions groups were given to think about. Groups were then given time to identify who key stakeholders might be in pushing some of these changes through. This, of course, depends on the type of change – it could be:

  • Exploratory – Would take the form of exploratory conversations. Individuals can do this, potentially by changing working patterns slightly.
  • Functional – The key stakeholder in this would be a Line Manager.
  • Structural – This becomes a much wider issue. Conversations would involve parties such as the Director of the LTEO or a Pro-Vice Chancellor.

Before closing, participants explored briefly the key differences of the structures and nature of groups and teams, before moving onto drawing up a list of Next Steps:

  1. Long term project plan; dates for achievement
  2. Identifying who is going to drive this [initiative] forward
  3. Meet again and review [online? Who is actually going to coordinate peoples opinions?]
  4. Pull together ideas into a consultation document for a consultation period.
  5. Identify sections that need to be included in step 4.
  6. Go ahead and build the information architecture/portal
  7. Begin to lobby senior management [if required]
  8. Talk more – liase with each other. Continue talking and working together.

Following the Away Day, I have come up with a set of thoughts/next steps that I would like to explore during semester 1 2008/2009.

  1. The e-Learning team have already begun to review the suite of seminars and workshops we offer at the campus community. Keep this review ongoing and start thinking about Semester 2 early.
  2. Are there areas of commonality between different units? Can we help/advise other staff development units to offer more flexible forms of delivery? e.g. put material online for access through Moodle.
  3. A number of people expressed interest in the upcoming pilot of Audience Response Systems (ARS) at the University. Could some of these form part of the pilot group? Would they like to use the technology in their own workshops? Might this be a way of encouraging participants to consider using the technology in their own teaching?
  4. Talk to IT Training – we both offer workshops related to wikis, for example. Explore areas of overlaps between the courses? Could there be signposting from one workshop to the other?
  5. Course feedback/evaluation – the e-Learning team are soon to move to Bristol Online Surveys (BOS) for this. What do other units do? Are they still paper based? If so, would 1-2 other units like to join us in a pilot of the technology? Are they already using something else/better?
  6. Simon mentioned  in his vision a “Staff Development Strategy Board”. How likely is this to happen? Might he be looking for participants?
  7. In terms of the portal, might it be the case that 2-3 units need to get together, workon this and pilot the approach? Ironing out processes with fewer units initially, might aid take up by others longer term.

Quick update

Just to let you all know that I’m still around! Just taking a short blogging break over the next month or so, before re-commencing in mid-September.

In the meantime, keep an eye on my Flickr Photos to see some snaps from my summer travels.

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