Monthly Archives: January 2014

Mobile and Social are the obvious next steps in education – but are we doing this?

I was watching Steve Wheelers video on How will we learn tomorrow? and one of the things he said leapt out at me.  In the past 10 years the major trend affecting education was every student having a smart phone and being on social media, and this has the potential to enable lots of social learning opportunities. (I have paraphrased massively).

Now this makes sense to me, the fact that we all have access to the internet whenever we need and can also connect with and share thoughts with our friends/colleagues/classmates at any time is a complete transformation compared with how the world was 10 years ago (and even more compared to 20 years ago).

My question then is are educational institutions engaging with this?

I just wrote what I thought we should be telling all students but my institution is not recommending anything yet.  A quick Google search of social media tips/advice for students pulls article after article telling them what not to do (drunk pictures etc) and a few more advanced telling them about cultivating a professional profile to help get jobs, but using social for learning?  Pretty much nothing.

How about mobile  well students are definitely using their mobiles but are we providing courses designed for them or encouraging them to use them for education?

Where mobile is used in the classroom it can generate newspaper headlines as in this one found by +James Clay  but as he subtlety points out in his post, the teacher is doing what James was recommending people do 10 years ago.

Some educators such as +Laura Gibbs are encouraging their students to go social, sharing their work and dancing across the digital spaces.  The problem then comes when the students take a different class – Laura’s institution locks the instructors into Desire2Learn and offers no social spaces.

At my own institution, we have recently added a support forum to all engineering courses. Because our VLE has a mobile app this does allow students use mobiles to post and be notified.  Ok so its discussion forums and not true social as its limited to a individual classes, but its a good precursor and because its faculty wide it does mean that when our staff get G+ (all our students have it and I have high hopes of staff getting it by summer) it should be possible to persuade a few staff to try social.

So to answer my own question – individuals certainly are, but education as a whole really isnt.

My next question is – do we just wait and hope that education adopts these trends or is there something we can do to speed up the process?

By Cartmanland (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Cartmanland (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

(the old argument of students not having access is pretty much over with smartphones available on tariffs as low as £10 a month)

Recommendations for students

Danger Educators

I have recently been thinking about the advice that should be given to students about what they should be doing with technology.  I am thinking about advice to all students (not just online students but face2face as well) something we could put on our VLE that would be useful to our entire student body.  This is my first rough draft – feel free to suggest anything I might have missed


Technology is a key part of the modern world and you will not be surprised to find that it will be a key part of your studies.  Each degree is different and so it is not easy to give advice on how to interact with the online parts of your particular course that is applicable to everyone, however here are some of the things that we feel the digital scholar should be

Hardworking – yes we know you are going to work hard while you are here but you also need to be certain that you are working online enough, the data from a number of universities around the world shows a clear (if faint) trend between number of times logging onto the VLE and degree grade.  At a minimum you should try to log on twice per lecture once before to get materials in advance and once after a lecture to get notes and handouts. You might also be interested to know there is a clear trend between books/journals taken out from the library and degree grade (Hard working students do well – who knew!)

Reflective – you are going to learn a vast amount while you are here, and reflecting on what you have learnt dramatically increases the amount you will retain.  One of the best ways to do this is to create a blog and post regularly about what you are learning, you will also find that it helps your understanding as when you write it out for your blog audience you will find yourself explaining the subject and one of the best ways to learn something is to explain it to someone else.

This post on “5 reasons your students should blog” gives some more reasons, I feel point 5 is particularly important – by the time you leave this University if your name is Googled it should point to a positive digital footprint containing your thoughtful comments on your chosen field.

Collaborative – one of the most useful resources that you will have during your time at this University is your classmates.  A group of intelligent people who are learning approximately the same thing as you at around the same time, you should be discussing what you are learning with them.  Using social media it is very easy to keep in touch with them and share your ideas and thoughts.

You can use Facebook etc but it is probably worth keeping a divide between your recreational and academic lives so we would recommend that you try G+ to form your academic learning network (not least because at our University you all have Gmail and so can join G+ with one click and have an integrated experience).

You can use this to share your blog posts and to share any interesting articles you find about the topics on your course (you should be spending time reading around your subject – when you find something useful, share it).  If a number of your classmates start sharing then you should get a steady stream of useful reading, you should also consider looking outside your peer group for other students or subject experts that you can follow – see this article on Using social media to advance your academic research goals for more ideas in this area.

Connected – your phone/laptop/tablet has access to the internet (at Uni you get free wifi access), this gives you access to all human knowledge (as well as access to your course) and it allows you to work anywhere (taking notes, pictures watching videos etc).  You should aim to have at least one internet enabled device with you at all times as this will allow you to engage with your subject at any time.  You will also find that in a lot of lectures having access to the internet allows you to more deeply engage with the lesson (such as using the Backchannel) although do try not to get distracted!

You will also find that our Blackboard has a mobile app so you can access and engage with your courses using your mobile.

My vision of a TEL team

package-36804_640Last month I was talking with someone about having a vision for your team.  Now I have discussed how individual academics should use the VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) and how institutions should use TEL (Technology Enhanced Learning).  I haven’t previously talked about my vision of what a TEL team is for, so here goes

The Why?

Having recently see this ted talk

I am going to start with “Why” (why have a team, why do these things) and because you should fit your vision into the wider vision of your organisation I will look first at the “Why” for my whole organisation.

For any educational establishment the overall “Why” should be something like – “We believe in creating and sharing knowledge

We are part of the Academic Registry and so need to fit into their vision – fortunately our Academic Registrar recently came up with a new motto “Academic Registry: enabling academic endeavour, supporting the student journey” which is pretty good and nicely maps to the overall “Why” as it is about supporting the creating and sharing of knowledge.

So for the TEL team? “We believe technology can enhance academic endeavour and improve the student journey


Support – although showing what buttons to press can be boring, any TEL team should have a key part of its role being the support of staff when they want to do something with technology.

Provide guidance (using a VLE posts) – this goes beyond support and lays out the different things staff can achieve with technology and why they would want to do this.  The guidance should look at “meta-level” ideas and show the possibilities/advantages of online

For example,
Sharing – unlike standard written works, online writing can be freely and widely distributed
Collaboration – unlike standard written work, online writing can be simultaneously and collaboratively edited
Multimedia – unlike standard written work, online expression can be enhanced with sound, images and video

Push guidance, TEL staff are experts in their narrow field (the use of technology in education) and they should have the confidence to recommend what other staff should be doing in their courses.  The key word here is “should” and I will come back to this.

Systematic engagement, historically TEL teams have been very good at building “islands of excellence” engaging in deep interactions with a small handful of staff.  This is no longer good enough, my vision would involve working with functional areas (Department/School/Faculty) to identify what is important in their practice and thus what staff in those areas should be doing and use this to provide area wide change.

Lower barrier to engagement and then a gentle persistent push, this follows on from the systematic engagement we would make the change as easy as possible (example dropping the key tools with supporting materials into all courses rather than expecting all staff to create from scratch) and then follow up with awareness, training and support to allow all staff to make those changes.

Coming back to “should” all staff “should” be using technology in the ways suggested, however some will have good reasons why not (they are doing something else/something better) and this is fantastic, however the 2 reasons “I don’t know how”, “I don’t have time” will no longer be relevant reasons because they will know how and we will have made it easy.

Google ecology – our University has given all staff and students gmail accounts.  There is a whole raft of google tools that can be accessed using these accounts.  The TEL team will become expert in this ecology and will support and encourage use of these sharing tools and networks.  As with guidance above the TEL team will show how the google tools fit into the “meta level” ideas and what advantages come from their use. 

Communities of practice(COP) (leading to Personal Learning Networks (PLNs)) the TEL team will seed communities of practice around the different areas of TEL use, this will allow staff to talk to others interested in the same things and allow them to share good practice from their own experience, think of it as crowd sourcing the training (How to get your workforce to love your LMS)

COP/PLN also has wider implications for the students as Don Arnoldy said “the role of education is to prepare the students for participation in the communities they hope to join”. By allowing our student to join and participate in these communities during their degree we are giving them additional tools they need to succeed in their chosen career.

The idea of the connected educator is important to the vision but is too big a subject to cover here – this post by Steve Wheeler would be a good place to get a starting idea of what a connected educator means and this by Helen Crump for a more wide ranging discussion and this regarding students.

Recommendations to students because a lot of TEL teams don’t directly support the students and because every single VLE course may be completely different, it has been hard to provide recommendations that make sense to all students (example – you should regularly check the discussion boards in your course and provide thoughtful replies to the posts of other students – doesnt really work if the instructor doesn’t use discussion boards).

However by taking a step back and looking at the activity rather than the tool we can make recommendations (example – you should regularly discuss the course with other students and provide thoughtful responses to their posts – this would work even if they were chatting on Facebook) particularly now cloud tools allow students to share/collaborate even if the instructor hasn’t provided a tool in the VLE.

A clear set of recommendations to students about how they can use technology to support their learning should be a key deliverable for any TEL team.

Release early and iterate, TEL is a fast moving field – however Universities can be quite slow moving beasts.  The tendency to want to make sure something is as good as it can be, sometimes results in it never happening.  My TEL team would act, releasing things as soon as they are “good enough” and then going back and improving them as many times as required.

And that, in a nutshell is my vision for a TEL team