29 December 2009

Moodle - the wrong tool for the job?

Moodle - the wrong tool for the job?

A very interesting reflection on Moodle in teaching/learning. I agree that Moodle has more than the most of tutors realise and use. The lack of pedagogy for the age of online and collaborative learning is the main obstacle to better and creative use of Moodle, both by tutors and learners.

24 December 2009

Lessons from last year

Someone on LinkedIn asked what processes have been affecting the information profession most recently. This is my immidiate impression shaped by the experience of working in FE.

Information professionals' presence in FE colleges is still valuable, but the accents are changing; the last year taught me quite a lot.

Students on lower level courses almost disappeared from the library - those on vocational programmes like construction, hairdressing, catering used to use the library quite a lot for textbooks and as a learning space. Now a lot of the content of their courses is delivered on-screen as video and interactive products become cheaper and easier to use. I do not really see a place for librarians in that context.

Sure, many of those students would benefit from reader development and literacy programmes – that’s where librarians could offer their expertise, but funding for FE programmes is restrictive in what learners can get from colleges. I have entertained myself with an idea of a book club in the College until the recession brought me back to reality.

On the positive side, HE provision is developing in FE colleges and HE students are heavy users of learning resource services – both for content and support. Also Access students come often, ask many questions and spend a lot of time in our library. The level of literacy in general and digital literacy in particular among many students is low. Even the younger ones, who are supposed to be digital natives, seriously struggle with ALL information sources. Most often I see myself as an educator who teaches and guides people to find their way in the fragmented information landscape.

Many FE libraries would benefit from diverting some money to employing professionally educated librarians. Arrival of e-books has already made a serious impact – I have never seen so many requests for Athens access and questions about referencing online sources as since E-Books for FE was launched. Somehow, people grasp the concept of e-books very quickly and (my evidence is anecdotal at the moment) use them well. The majority of other e-resources we are subscribing to now are not likely to be in use next year – they can’t compete either in quality of content or usability with e-books. I will not be surprised if part of our printed resources budget is diverted to e-books provision next year too.

This leads me to thinking about a pressing need for developing new (at least - new for FE) ways of offering enquiry services. Obviously, these will be online ones. All our students are entitled to using learning resources; the proportion of online ones will be growing steadily. Consequently, there will be fewer reasons for learners to come to the college for accessing them - they can be accessed from anywhere. They still will require support and guidance... which will be offered online in the future.

Image: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/493668

22 December 2009

Virtual enquiry service

Time for pupils to take screen tests, says watchdog - http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/education/article6959746.ece

It is logical to assume that on-screen tests will not be the end of the story. Why not to offer on-screen GCSE and A-Level programmes - as other highel level degrees were offered as distance courses?

This poses a question for libraries: what is the place for information professionals and learning resources services in such a world? An online enquiry service comes to my mind immediately - a chat room staffed with library staff for helping and guiding learners.

It's not exactly a new idea both for education and business (when I was buying my last computer online, a member of the Apple Store team from somewhere far away guided me through the process on a virtual chat - on deciding on configuration, warranty options, cables etc. - until my payment went through; it was the best online shopping experience I've had), but it has never been - as far as I know - tested in Further Education... while the majority of our learners are already on distance courses!

20 December 2009

Cyberbullying on YouTube - an American case

An interesting discussion about a case involving cyberbullying on YouTube is available on
Slate podcast for 18 December 2009 (the best way to listen is to download it to an mp3 player; the discussion begins after 25:19 minutes). Journalists are talking about a recent American court case not directly applicable in the UK, however the podcast presents a couple of good discussion points, e.g. how far a school may be responsible for pupils' online behaviour outside its premises. The story was publicised by The Los Angeles Times. This discussion on podcast is followed by a story about another American court case dealing with sexually explicit text messages in the workplace.

18 December 2009

Legal issues of using Web 2.0 + E-safety

Two sessions orginised by WM RSC took placce on 17 December 2009 which I attended. Both sessions were led by Jackie Milne from JISC Legal.

JISC Legal provides guidance for use of ICT in education and research.

The morning session was on LEGAL ISSUES OF USING WEB 2.0.

One of the most obvious issues in that area is IPR (Intellectual Property Rights). A good video on that is available at
http://www.jisc.ac.uk/news/stories/2008/12/web2rights.aspx. The video refers to the IPR flowchart (PDF). More useful information about IPR on the web is available at Web2Rights website.

The intellectual property law sees a creator as the primary owner of the copyright. However, this may not be the case if the creator is an employee and created a work as part of his contract (e.g. a web designer creating a website layout, style etc.). Also the College may be liable for the copyright infringement if it happened using the College network, especially if not precautions were taken, e.g. to make users aware of the Acceptable Use Policy (AUP).

The duty of care is another important issue to consider when one uses social networking in education. It's higher if the use of social networking tools and solutions is a requirement; lower if it's optional for a particular programme. If it's a requirement for the course, the necessary precautions have to be made, starting from a risk assessment.

With new technologies and information sources issue of accessibility comes too: all learners have to have a comparable experience. A long discussion about advantages/disadvantages of using mobile technology for learning from the point of view of SEN took place. Here, I was reminded about my own experience of a student with a visual impairment attending my information skills session. The session was heavily based on demonstrations - of using Heritage Online, e-resources etc. Clearly, that student did not get a "comparable experience". Perhaps a special podcast should be prepared which would guide a person with visual impairments step by step through the examples understandable by / accessible to such a person. Accessibility side of teaching must be anticipatory and proactive to enable access to the core materials in different ways. (Which means, e.g., that Power Point presentations must be backed up with something else).

Web 2.0 tools can be hosted or external. If hosted by the institution itself, there will be an issue of data protection and legitimate access to information.

Liability can take different forms: breach of contract (in terms of adequate provision of learning), negligence, copyright...

An example of YouTube videos use in classroom was looked at. The College may be liable for a secondary infringement of the author's right if a video shown in a classroom (or advised to be watched by students at home) was in fact illegally uploaded to YouTube. The content used in education must always be legal. Obviously, it would be illegal to download YouTube videos and store - either on storage devices or the network. YouTube videos can be imbedded only as a player without modifications.

On the other hand, the copyright law gives special exceptions for educational institutions and for research purposes (even more - to teachers and students on media programmes); they should be used.

It was advised that all Colleges have a Web 2.0 policy which would include procedures for staff, notices, content removal procedures, resolving external website difficulties (like fake identities, derogatory comments?), allocated responsibilities.

The afternoon session was on E-SAFETY. It's a big topic now since Ofsted made it a limiting grade, e.i. the overal inspection mark cannot be above the one for e-safety (as well as equality and diversity).

A few useful links:

Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP)

Be Safe e-Safe video from Kenttv.com - free for personal educational use (i.e. it's fine to show it in a classroom as part of teaching).

Duty of care is a statutory duty for educators. Under this umbrella, safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults (and in a broader sense, everyone, I presume) comes. It means that we obliged to provide for others the right to be and feel safe, free from victimisation and discrimination.

Some issues were given as those to consider in relation to e-safety:

  • Data protection and privacy
  • IPR and Copyright
  • Defamation
  • Harrassment
  • Sexual Offences
  • Cyberbullying

E-safety measures should include (I presume it's not an exhaustive list):

  • Security (technology side)
  • Management of data
  • Acceptable Use Policy (JANET and NEN have their specific requirements for the associated institutions which may have implications for AUP)
  • Linked policies and procedures
  • Ways of reporting incidents.

E-safety material should have a tone and language appropriate for learners.

A special point was made that proper e-safety policy and practice will always include educational elements, not just access measures. How far in restricting access or allowing it while paying more attention to promoting appropriate knowledge, skills and good practice a particular institution may go depends on the culture of this institution - how much risk it's happy to take, how safe it wants to play. Ultimately, there is no one model suitable for everyone, therefore a discussion and thinking should take place.

A wiki page has already been created for this event by West Midlands Regional Support Centre. It's available at

Image: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/498072

11 December 2009

Participatory media

Yesterday I went to Blogs, Wikis and Social Networking session organised by a local JISC (the governmental agency promoting use of technologies in education).

Already the first conversation brought a surprise - one of the participants was a HR person from one of FE colleges (I did not expect to meet there anyone but librarians and a handful of teachers). She was after ideas for developing internal communication in the College as the traditional ways like newsletters and emails are not sufficient enough any more. It was refreshing to see that not only librarians are taking the reality of fragmented information landscapes seriously.

There was a lot of discussion around threats (to safety, traditional literacy), barriers (to information as experienced by less digitally savvy people), difficulties (bandwidth, waste of time) etc.

I was left with the question whether damage to an institution from not having a blog (or not being present on, let us say, Facebook; or discouraging employees from creative use of "participatory media") is greater than from having it and dealing with a number of serious chllenges and/or unwanted consequences. It's not even the matter of allowing or blocking access. It's rather a question of institutional culture: are creativity and responsibility encouraged or anything that is "un-official" is discouraged? are staff provided with help and advice on positive engagement with the web? is learners' voice - freely expressed, not pre-selected and beautifully pre-packaged - is present in the whole picture of what the institution (College) is like?

If such participation, responsibility and trust are encouraged, the whole discourse about the institution will be quite different - not as polished as we are used to see it in glossy prospectuses, but much livelier, first-hand accounts of people's experiences. It sounds challenging and even scary, but isn't it what we actually enjoy reading and trust the most? That's why the old school editorial control on the web seems to be of limited value.

Perth College's blogging experience is very interesting from a librarians' point of view. They have two blogs, for users and for their own staff. The first one is used for sharing news. I like the idea of emphasising the new resources purchased. Pity, Heritage does not allow current awareness output in RSS feeds at the moment, otherwise it'd be easy to embed such updates into Moodle pages and Facebook. Another blog is for staff development within the team. The weak point for developing a SD blog is Outlook which - in its current incarnation - does not allow RSS feeds import along with emails. It's not clear to me how to create just one space where all the content and messages intended for the library staff could come and sit together. Will we remember to visit a blog regularly if it's been created?!

An interesting discussion took place during the lunch break. What happens to all the profiles and pages if their owner dies, especially if dies unexpectedly? There was a lot of fun discussing wills which should now include something about Facebook profile management.

One memorable quote from the day? - It's from the Tame The Web blog: "
a core value of librarianship - community building". People want to communicate, create and share, learn from each other... where other ways fail - teachers do not have time, insufficient funding, digital divide - librarians (in FE) create physical and virtual spaces for self-guided study and connecting.

One blog post that I made a note of to look at later on more carefully was
Should You Friend Your Students? The Short Answer Is No by Josie Fraser from JISC in Leicester. I am pleased that some comments were critical - I do not believe in complete separation of personal and professional life. I mean, it's possible, but rather unhelpful, in my opinion.

Wikis... we used them with Early Years learners last year and it was not as successful as I hoped. Potentially, it can be a great way for keeping library procedures up-to-date and easily editable.

A fantastic characteristic of wikis which I will constantly use when talking to students about Wikipedia: it has a fluid content. It's its strength and weakness at the same time.

Another example of people's desire and need to speak, contribute, being heard -
Write To Reply. We do need editors who would inspire learners and staff to write to bulletins, websites, Facebook pages...

A similar session will take place in Nottingham in February.

Image: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1108254

08 December 2009

Blogging boosts literacy

At last we have a strong evidence of the usefulness of blogging. The National Literacy Trust has published a research, "Young people's writing: Attitudes, behavior and the role of technology" which had involved over 3,000 young people. Those who had blogs and were engaged in social networks had more positive view of their own writing abilities and were more likely to enjoy writing. To learn more about the research, follow the links below (the shortest reports are in the beginning, but if you have time, read the third one):
  1. http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6029101
  2. http://www.thebookseller.com/news/105621-blogs-can-boost-literacy-says-nlt-research.html
  3. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/schools/dont-knock-blogging-ndash-its-the-answer-to-our-literacy-problems-1832593.html
  4. http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/research/Writing_survey_2009.pdf (PDF, report itself)

The most insightful educators and librarians have been saying for some time that information empowerment is the way ahead. This means to move away from the old style of controlling learning, reading, "information consumption" - away from broadcasting and transmitting - towards more open discovery, sharing, collaboration, trust- & skill-building. It's not good enough to create a website where only PR people can present the picture of a particular institution. It's dull, unattractive to the most of people and ultimately useless. A much better approach is to involve the "consumers" into becoming creators of content, storytellers... how great would be a story of a school told by its learners! Yes, it's more difficult than just a PR monologue, it requires imagination and a lot of networking, but this would ultimately be what we all in education - whether teachers, librarians or PR staff - are for: to empower our learners, to help them to discover their voices and individual skills.

Personally, I have not mastered that imagination yet... I am trying to imagine how I could do it. Meanwhile, everyone is welcome to comment on my post here, write "guest posts" and join the library's Facebook page, facebook.com/library.nwhc, to contribute to our shared pool of skills and knowledge.

Gosh, I love blogging! And it's getting easier and more rewarding with time.