Saturday 13 March 2010

A vision of students today (old but relevant)

Draft Blogger

Well done, Blogger! I have so often been tempted to move to another blog application where much smarter designs and simpler editing of the look and feel have been available. The choice of initial designs has been fixed since the year dot or shortly after until now . . .

Although still in 'draft' they say, Google have opened up some really smart developments for us bloggers with their Blogger Template Designer. Looks like I'll stick around a bit longer!

Have a look and start using this for your own blogs. Or go to Blogger in Draft and log in as usual. Have fun.

Friday 5 March 2010

When will they ever learn?

You know you're getting older when everyone in the audience appears younger than you are! Still, that helped my theme along a bit as I had an opportunity to get good minds a-thinking at Cambridge Regional College for a VLE Forum earlier today.

A last minute change of agenda meant that I got to speak earlier than expected so it was a relief to find the internet was nice and quick and my sample moodle site opened up reasonably quickly. Not as fast as my own site would have but I couldn't recall where I'd put the link on that one. I started by recalling a visit to Hertfordshire Regional College some weeks ago where the blisteringly fast speeds made web pages sort of snap at you and you seemed only to have to imagine a page and up it appeared.

Back in 2004 or thereabouts I had taken part in an end-of-event show entittled The Good the Bad and The Ugly in which I bemoaned the slow progress in getting some pretty simple ILT and e-learning ideas into the mainstream, especially with people who really should have been setting a good example.

I recalled:

VLE courses that were just lists of links to Word documents in blue text, interspersed with the occasional PowerPoint link, none of which would exactly open in a hurry or without umpteen further decision-making clicks on the way.

  • SharePoint coming on the scene but only being understood by pretty techy people who produced similarly long lists of blue text links for staff à la form for students' courses on a VLE. What was good enough for students must have been good enough for staff, I mused,
  • I recalled inboxes stuffed with huge 1MB attachments and sometimes several Word files attached to All Staff e-mails. Word documents staff were expected to complete and then save and return so that maybe 20 or 30 individual documents could then be combined in some way by some hapless secretary; Excel spreadsheets that tutors were expected to complete and return every month in order to update some central record that must have caused headaches for the ultimate recipient when he or she received 56 files with names like achievement[23].xls, achievement [22].xls and so on.
  • There were a few odd geeks like me around in 2004 who were creating web materials for students but not many and we were seen as a bit odd.
  • Portfolios were made of something called cardboard. Thick card which folder in such a way that, by placing sheets over two metal pillars stuck inside somehow, papers could be retained. The papers themselves needed to have holes punched in them by gadgets most people had somewhere other than where they looked first.

Ah, how times have changed, haven't they? Or have they?

Finally getting to the second slide of the presentation the screen changed to reveal a massive list of links to Word documents, so many on a VLE course that the complete list wouldn't fit on the screen print I'd taken. That was a current 2010 course I'd copied from a VLE I had seen. It wasn't at all unusual.

The third screen showed a staff intranet page made by IT Technicians using SharePoint. Another long, long list if tiny blue lines of underlined text, more links to hundreds of Word documents. That was a current 2010 page being used at another institution.

A fourth screen showed my own College e-mail inbox. Top of the list were files with attachments. Yes, things had changed here - the size. Two were over 7MB and several at 3 or 4MB! I recalled how I used to get messages from someone called System Administrator. System would write to tell me that I had exceeded my limit. Another click revealed yesterday's mail which included, yes, you've guessed . . Mr Administrator was still employed and still sending me the same message.

I wailed a bit about this as I tend to do when stuck for words (although I certainly couldn't have been stuck for Words). then, in the spirit of being helpful I went to slide five and illustrated how a VLE page could be a happier place altogether. Adding images would be a good start. There they were. Replacing Office documents with web documents would be a good move too. I showed people both the use of moodle web documents using text simply copied and pasted from Word and the lovely Google documents solution.

I emphasised how several people could be given permission to edit a single document using Google Docs and how the application would retain all the versions and changes and indicate who had done waht. It would be saved automatically and kept safe and sound my the mighty G team.

The multiple spreadsheet file nightmare could be solved by using an on-line spreadsheet too.

Then I showed how a presentation needn't be PowerPoint and how a mini version could be used to display ideas on a VLE, blog or web page. I was, indeed, using a Google Presentation there and then and had arrived with zero materials to plug in or worry about.

The penultimate slide was a recommendation that we should see these types of provision of materials and communication and the new 'basics'. There was nothing particularly complicated about using any of the tools now available and anyone who can find headers and footers on the Office 2007 ribbon in under 10 minutes would be able to do what I had done. The people at the meeting were those who could make a difference and help bring the new ideas to colleagues. Training programmes and staff development sessions on these topics could be fun as well as genuinely useful rather than merely ticking boxes on the latest Government educational 'initiative' compliance list.

But it isn't really our colleagues who need the real help. From what I could tell by observing a range of senior staff at work over the last few years it is the institutional leaders and even some heads of organisations supporting change who need to change the most. Because they haven't had anyone nagging them or insisting they include ILT in their 'lesson plans' for staff development, teacher training, academic board meetings, Startegic Annual reviews, statistics gathering and all the rest, or maybe just because they didn't feel comfortable with new ICT, many have fallen far behind or not moved an inch since the start of the Century.

Just as Government departments and various quangoes are now urging us to help Granny get connected, I suggested that we could do our bit by 'adopting an Executive' or 'supporting a Senior'. If we see something that can be improved by utilising the very same tools tutors are being exhorted to use then we should, as delicately and tactfully as we can, show them how they can demonstrate so much better practice.

Otherwise, now that they don't teach . . . when will they ever learn?

My thanks to JISC RSC Eastern for inviting me to speak at this event and for Cambridge Regional College for hosting such an excellent day, including a wonderful five course lunch! But that's another story.