Wednesday, October 7, 2009

abbreviations - a golden opportunity

So the new arrivals and returners are mostly up and running. Each time a new BN cohort starts I try to 'promote connections' by creating a small number of discussion lists in Blackboard. This year there are three: 'General support, feedback and collaboration'; 'Profiles' and 'Set Rep'. During induction sessions I encourage students to use them by:
1. Describing how the forums are different to facebook (no-one yet has succeeded in getting all the students into a single facebook group)
2. Reading out a really useful discussion that took place some years ago about student placements.
3. Encouraging students to 'subscribe' to the forums so that they get email alerts when a new message is posted.
4. Letting go, telling them that the forums have great potential but that this will only be realised if they participate meaningfully.
After some initial buzz, the lists tend to quieten down somewhat. But I had reason to hope that some lights might have come on when a student posted up a list of common nursing abbreviations for the general good, adding that the order they were listed in made sense to them and if anyone wanted to contribute some more, they'd be welcome.
This started alarm bells ringing for me because threaded discussion is a poor tool for accumulating knowledge. Threads get lost over time and only one person can add to the original list. So I posted the abbreviations into a wiki page. This wiki has been up for years, in a place where all the students on this programme can access it, but none of them really 'get' what it's for, in spite of my attempts to seed it with useful suggestions. I've had about fifteen 'views' of this new abbreviations page now so I'm hoping it'll at least plant the idea in a few heads.
I believe that this kind of opportunism could be at least as effective, 'pound for pound', for promoting networked learning (as an element of their nascent epistemic fluency) amongst students as anything else I could say or do.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Commentary on 'blogging as a tool for reflection and learning'

Thanks to @amcunningham for RT -
great! RT @jilltxt: A video lecture I recorded for HiB about using blogging in learning is up at
I really believe in the power or writing for 'an' audience, I see that Dr Jill (Walker Rettberg) has been able to marshal a lot of factors that make her students more likely to engage and 'get' the personal benefits of blogging:
  1. The course is about digital culture (4:52). It used to be that all the 'success' stories about learning technology came out of those who taught Ed Tech MSc's. These days it's the cultural anthropologists... But the point is that the activity in question must be directly in line with the students' view of their short and long term learning trajectory. I really doubt if my nurses see themselves as bloggers, as much as I know they'd benefit from it.
  2. Jill has regular and easy access to class with computers.
  3. While the students are under Jill's pedagogic control, she gets them writing.
  4. The students have well defined well designed learning activities (write down one thing you learned today, google a term and post a link to it) giving them a meaningful reason to engage
  5. She integrates blogging tightly with her teaching (online out of class and in lectures)
  6. 'The most important thing' was when she modelled 'good' networked learning activity.
  7. A critical mass of students engage with the concept and each other.
  8. 'Experts' outwith the confines of the programme comment on student's posts which accentuates the awareness of audience, further authenticating the activity: "there, I told you Stephen Downes was real" - Do you have a ready pool of bloggers in your discipline?
The implicit theory here is cognitive apprenticeship, which I'm a big fan of. These students are being given a clear trajectory in to a learning community - small wonder if it 'works'. Beware trying this at home unless you too can tick most of the above boxes. 'Good luck'? Not really, just good alignment.
One good video link deserves another: check out Neil Selwyn at - also in Norway ;-) (ah... the land of my fathers...)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Do lecture capture systems promote connections?

Just returning from a presentation about a pilot in lecture capture using Echo360. In a traditional University setting, my hang-ups were:
  • if the best this is is a revision aid, that's an expensive revision aid.
  • if this would be useful for students who missed the lecture for some reason, cant they do what anyone else has ever done, get the summary or notes from a peer and do some reading around.
  • £ for £ there is an almost infinitely greater value for lifelong learning in a simple reference list at the back of an appropriate journal article than there is in a recorded lecture. This also goes for other suggested uses, like recording a summary instead of the whole lecture or recording a 'pre-reading'
  • if we are aiming at students' epistemic fluency, this only encourages them to rote learn - evidence the statistics that say the traffic sky-rockets at exam time.
  • how does a recorded lecture encourage them along the cognitive apprenticeship road to mastery in the given discipline?
  • if we want to keep ephemeral lecture speech lively, how much will knowing your every word is reified prevent you from doing things 'on the fly' that may afterwards seem unprofessional?
  • limiting the potential audience to just our students (who login to blackboard - assuming they can!) is naff and old hat.
  • what is a lecture good for anyway? If your lecture is the same every time then you probably shouldnt be giving it as a lecture. The students in a lecture have given ceded some level of pedagogic control over to you, they're giving their attention to what you have to show and say - will they do that at any other time (in competition with, for example, their chores or family/social time). I would not think anyone would want to review my lectures because they do not contain much raw 'content' - the objective is to stimulate them to think - for that limited time that they have volunteered their attention to what I have got to say...
If it was possible for students to interact by starting discussion threads at particular points in the lecture, that might have some promise in terms of promoting connections... but it isn't.
There is a clearer case for providing canned lectures to disparate distance students, but, even there, I would be feeling towards only making them available for a limited time.
Rant over.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Audit Based Learing (ABL)

I have always secretly wanted to come up with a new(ish) educational acronym. It's a bit like adding a stone to the top of a mountain cairn (here's Asher doin just that on top of Pen-y-Gadair Fawr, Black Mountains). Whether this is new or not... nah!!! No such thing as an original thought these days. But anyway... Audit Based Learning. First of all, I have to say that I do not like the term audit, something from my sad days trying to learn about accountancy. But In strong contrast, I have been surprised to see how misty-eyed even quite irenic nursing folk get at the mention of the word. I think the potential for this is actually quite good or I wouldnt be bothering to mention it. I mean, why on earth add to the passing fads and theorising that education is regularly slated for...!?! It came up at a meeting where we were discussing the research and informatics content of the curriculum and the need to move to something that would integrate research. We were hatching something like inquiry based learning but noting the difficulty of getting nurses and theory/research to understand each other. It was said that nursing audit is a similar activity to research in many ways, and far less grand, complex and fraught. It is research with a small 'r'. Implementing this would require more than just calling research by another name. And we would have to sit on our hands to ensure that we didnt tie down the students with masses of guidelines and red-tape (as sometimes happens with reflections, so called). It has the potential to engage students in the pursuit of knowledge, framed in terms of their practice areas but within the context of higher education. It could be a new way to promote connections across the theory-practice divide where it matters most, inside the heads of students. Delusion of grandeur moment over (for now).

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pedagogically neutral? No

I do not know what happened just then, but I suddenly saw a little fissure in my (relative) complacency about choice of VLE. Ah yes, I know what it was... I was transcribing something a student had said to me in a recent interview.
[I] don't really put anything into blackboard, it's more what I get out, out of it
Well now, I am not about to bash corporate VLE's. Of course, it's the way that we use the tools that matters most. But part of 'networked learning' ought to be the establishment of links, of all shapes and sizes and levels and types of activity.... but it struck me that they ought not to be one-way streets. In the perception of this student, a discussion list was alien to the overall thrust of blackboard. How can the whole enterprise of being a student @university be re-branded and re-engineered so that the statement above can be inverted to read:
[I - or, better, we] really put loads into blackboard, it's more what I put in, into it

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Coopman's First Monday essay about Blackboard

Sorry to pull off the cream of this one and not add much commentary but this, her last sentance, especially needs some mulling over:
Although Blackboard designers structure the course platform for efficiency and profit, instructors and students need a course environment optimized for learning and performative teaching.
First Monday, Volume 14:6 - 1st June.

Friday, May 8, 2009

too rare, but great when it happens

It may be rare, but, when it happens, it gives me quite a lift. I'm talking about "connections". In this case, a discussion list, at the extreme end of "loose coupled" instructional design, has given one student the chance to realise that there is another student on placement in the same physical area as them. Now they're planning to meet up and that has huge potential for supporting and encouraging one-another. There's a lot more than that going on on the forum too, but the virtual meeting prompted me to start writing this post.
It highlights for me that the best thing social media brings to the table is the potential for sparking or enhancing face-to-face real-time conversations.

"Loose coupling" is a term I picked up at Lancaster; you can read about it from Peter Goodyear's paper ( ) but here's a nice quote of his from that one:
The loose coupling of elements gives space within which we can be both disciplined and creative, listen to our instincts and make them accountable to others.
So this is part of my making an instinct accountable... to you. Each year I have set up "General Support, Feedback and Collaboration" discussion lists, just to give some level of interaction potential to our too one-way VLE offerings. The only staff involvement I promise is my own brand of moderation (i.e. fairly hands-off). It strikes me that, for all the attempts at cunning design to draw people out in discourse and dialogue, this loosely framed forum has produced some very special learning opportunities for those involved.
It seems strange, as I think back to a project that ran back in UWCM days, that we dont do more to make students aware of their physical proximity.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

johnson's presentation

poor johnson has not been very well recently (nasty cold + temp spikes), so made this audio recording to go with a pdf version of the presentation he is supposed to be giving this afternoon, along with the cmap, in case he really cant face turning up.
oh yes - the conference is titled, 'e for enhancement' - see

Friday, March 20, 2009

historical foundations - observations

This morning I decided to do some reading. Chose the biggest book I could find and started on page 1. I have reviewed this book actually, which is why I have a copy ;-) but reading it for the sake of it should be something I do more often.... I'm not a very fast reader though, so many thoughts come together it's cruel. Here I take the trouble to note them, for myself as much as anything...

Molenda, M., 2007. Historical Foundations. In J. M. Spector et al., eds. Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology. New York: Routledge, pp. 3-20.
"The history of organized education and training can be viewed as a long struggle to extend opportunities to more people and to devise a means of helping those people learn better than through the events of everyday life" p5
My comment: It is a real challenge in nursing education, particularly in the theory element, to compete with the richness of clinical experience.
"In classical Athens, the Sophists thought provocative, often relativistic, notions of epistemology. The works of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle in organising philosophical thought can be seen as a reaction against the Sophists' position that a good argument is one that prevails, if only through rhetorical manipulation, regardless of truth value." p5
My comment: The Sophists are alive and well in learning technology today
"Knowlton and Tilton (1929) study the use of these history films in seventh grade classrooms. One of their major conclusions was that the educational value of such films lay not only in the quality of the materials but also in how well teachers use them." P7
My comment: As Molenda, and probably many others before him, points out, these authors may have been the first to draw this conclusion but they certainly weren't the last! We will always need the pedagogue. Later on on page 7 he notes that there was "considerable resistance to sound films", adding that, "Some methodologists felt that the practice of having a classroom teacher add narration to silent films added a level of customisation and personalisation to film showings". here is the pedagogue who has adapted to the affordances of the technology, only to find the ground shifting beneath them. The technology was helping to promote connections, now that learning conduit is threatened by something that superficially looks superior - an "enhancement". Molenda adds that, "Administrators worried about their installed base, the large investment they had made in silent film projectors". by the 1930s we had a nice little standards war for projectors. What a waste of effort! just think how proficient educators would be and how much money would have been saved over the years if we had stuck with silent film! However, note:
"Producers generally chose subjects that were visual in nature" p7
My comment: no technology is a learning panacea, especially not a new technology. These "producers chose subjects that were visual in nature", and when considering the ergonomics of knowledge work we should not be surprised if video is not top of the list in preference to words-especially 'printed' words.
"The operations that prospered were the ones in which radio played an integral part in the university's mission" p8
My comment: right, everyone read Goodyear 2001 NOW!

Had been reading this chapter for a while when I suddenly realised that there was hardly a single ref to Russian research... sorry - that was a dealbreaker.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

My first (proper) conference paper

This was as the Networked Learning Conference 2008. The paper is freely available, with all the others, at:

It felt very much like a side-show at the time, but now it's there, online... This is useful as I try to build on that with some qualitative research (with the 2010 conference very much in mind).

Chris Jones mentioned to me that theory building takes time. Let's do something, even if only a fraction of my time can go towards it, worth the effort - far too much of the other sort around in e-learning. I see this recent (good) paper, in JAN by Wilkinson, While and Roberts, as a commentary on the state of things in the literature

My first book chapter

I am rather ambivalent about this, but my dissertation became a book chapter in 2008. The sheer price of the book and the amount of titles pumped out by this publisher is unnerving... I've reviewed a couple from them for BJET but tend to avoid them now... unless the title really gets under my skin...
The call for chapters came out just as I was finishing my dissertation in 2006, so the timing had that ring of 'providence' about it. I'm very grateful for this though, as publishing anything when there's so much else to do is not easy. I'm particularly grateful to Terry Kidd who argued strongly for my chapter to be included.

Johnson, M. (2008) Investigating & encouraging student nurses’ ICT engagement in Chen & Kidd Eds. (2008) Social Information Technology: Connecting Society and Cultural Issues, Hershey, PA: Idea Group Publishing, Inc.

Monday, February 23, 2009

killing connections

We've had a few experiments with inter-professional learning recently that tried to use the VLE. Unfortunately, as a tutor comes to it 'straight out of the box', the VLE is more interested in limiting connections with anyone except the select few who teach or learn on the module. This is backed, of course, from several angles by policy: marketing and targeting a module, financing it, populating it, protecting copyright of it; these are all made possible by fixing cost-centres at the module/programme level. With a will, we have found ways to circumvent the boundaries, thanks to support from the centre. But the dreamt-of viral learning, 'learning as infection', mediated through a 20th Century VLE, with its faux social network, demands the demolishing of unhelpful constraints. Yet, ironically, these constraints are they which direct my salery safely to my bank account and certificates to help students get a salery... is this vicious/virtuous circle going to be disrupted any-time soon?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

couple of points

This is worth a look.
I liked the warmth with which Mike spoke about his students and the enthusiasm for the potential represented by an audience of 400 students. How to unleash that though - keeping them all engaged in the project would be fun in our current context.
I agree that students, as savvy as they may be with facebook/flickr/whatever, are essentially not particularly good at using them for 'these kinds of things' (i.e. learning). Interesting he wants to reduce the ratio of marks given to 'tests' - assessment is everything. If the 'devices' he's talking of could actually track the collaborative activity of students then perhaps that could be assessed.
But the stuff about learning to question is not new (or shouldnt be!). And 'we-learning'? please?!!?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Compendium 3 CMAP 5

Comparing Compendium and CMAP
  • Both offer collaborative visualisation 1-1
  • Both have a web-publish option 2-2
  • Both are open source 3-3
  • Compendium would require admin rights to install at CU unless we wrote a NAL app for it. CMAP is already available on every workstation in the Uni via Networked Apps. 3-4
  • Compendium stores stuff either on your hard disk or via a MySQL database where CMAP uses a client/server attitude - i.e. sharing is better in CMAP. 3-5
Verdict: I could have gone on but, for my money, while Compendium is nicer to use than CMAP, at my institution, CMAP has the support and architecture where it counts, and it can (with a little coercion - apols to Joe) even be used for Compendium-type stuff.