Wednesday, 20 September 2017

The move from personal to group

 As you will have noticed, my personal blog presence has died down. While I intend to try to add things here essentially by me and for me, if they are of use to anyone else that is a bonus, as a team we now have a group blog.

If you are interested in following us there it is Tel Tales.

We write things as a team that interest us and relate to all the areas covered in Technology Enhanced Learning.

So check it out. It is a better place for regular updates, that is for sure.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Revisiting Podcasts

I have written in the past about the kit you might need to produce a podcast, and I do intend to look again at setting yourself up for producing one, but this post just re-looks at what a podcast is and should you consider producing one yourself.

Podcasts are episodic audio files that can be automatically downloaded when they are publicly made available. The most familiar podcast congregator is iTunes. However, there are many other sites and apps that provide access to a vast range of podcasts. For iOS there is Overcast, Castro or paid options like Pocket Casts and iCatcher. On Android there is Podcast Republic and Player.fm both of which are free and very customisable.

Photo used under Creative Commons Licence. Taken by Kreg Steppe from Flickr

The wonderful thing about podcasts are that no matter what your interests are you are bound to find lots of podcasts that talk about them. You can listen to more common topics such as comedy, technology, sport and education to more specific podcasts that talk about the Arts and Activism!

Podcast are free but the big ones are subsidised through advertising and sponsorship. This can get annoying at times but is easily skipped or ignored until the program starts and keeps the rest of the process all free which is, I think, the key to what makes podcasts great.
Full disclosure... I have not actually listened to any of the podcasts I am about to list but using “education” as a search term using player.fm (an android and web-based podcast site) I find podcasts from named sources such as ‘Times Higher Education’ , ‘TED Talks’ and ‘The Microsoft Innovate Educator Spotlight Series’. However, there are also series produced by unknown individuals and groups who are just passionate about their subject.

Podcasts are a great source of opinion and discussion that you might not meet your normal sphere of work or study. The joy and fear of the internet reign with the ability for anyone to have a voice. Anyone can, but actually very few maintain the content but when they do it can be interesting to hear the evolution of a podcast from when they first start to what they release now.

It is also a great outlet to produce material around subjects you are passionate about. Podcasts (unlike vodcasts or video channels) can be produced on the smallest of scales. A microphone like the Snowball by Blue can be bought for £60 and used to produce high-quality audio recordings. On a Mac, the free program GarageBand allows simple quick recording and editing features, the same can be had on a Windows machine with Audacity.  The biggest commitment is that of the time to record your ideas and producing it as a continuing series. This can be daily, weekly or monthly but requires that regular input to provide content to those that might want to listen.

The choice of listener or producer is easy to start with. Start with just listening and it can give you that idea of how you want to produce or present a podcast you are planning. It may just be a passive activity providing you with ideas and thoughts to investigate that might help enhance your work.

With the relative ease that a podcast can be produced, it can easily be used to develop your learning and teaching practices. A feed from the podcast can be added as a block to a Moodle unit. This gives your site a dynamic content section that is always updating and progressing as you produce the resources for the podcast.

Working with podcasts around your subject matter could help contextualise problematic topics that slow down learning with some students. It can be used to talk broadly about your subject and bring in other areas of interest you don’t have time to cover in the traditional teaching avenues. This can then help develop the reading and activities a student has to engage with. A reading list is essential on every unit but with a potentially long list to try to get through an apathy could occur where it feels like there is too much, but through a book review section of a podcast or developing ideas citing your sources (that are all on the reading list), the student can engage with your enthusiasm towards the material and subject matter.

Considering the effort that can go into a podcast, it is a valid concern to as why should I bother producing anything at all, recent figures show that 1.7% of the time Americans spend listening to audio is devoted to podcasts. In late 2014, the BBC (a large producer of Podcasts in the UK) announced record figures for podcast downloads of its programmes. People are now able to listen on the go and are not limited by the technology anymore. With phones able to do what once expensive MP3 players could do, the limitation of where you listen has vanished. For students on a commute to university it might be a good chance for them to get into a learning mindset before they arrive, and as a podcast rather than a vodcast it can be listened to while driving as well as walking or getting public transport.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

The 12 Apps of Christmas

For the second year in a row we at the university have run The 12 Apps of Christmas within our Moodle site. (You can only get in if you have access to our Moodle site, sorry about that). However I wanted to share the list of apps from last year and to where we are today.

I also have to say I have very little to do with it, my colleague Tom (a different Tom) designed and produced the idea and while we all contribute ideas, he takes them and writes them up in his jovial style.

So back in 2015 the 12 Apps were:


There are some really fantastic tools there that you may already use, but others that you may not have heard of. Again, I have to give credit to Tom for finding and resourcing this list. 

It's always amazing to think how creative we are as a world. There are so many things that are available from every walk of life. Creative education is one of those things. There are so many things that can help your life as an academic or student that you don't know exist. It's hard to filter which are actually good and which are less useful but these are decisions you as the user will have to evaluate. 

So 2016 is here and almost over and the list so far is as follows:

A great range of tools and apps that are not all focused on your academic life, but can enhance it in different ways. 


Friday, 25 November 2016

Engaging with others

My training sessions are usually well received, and in part that is due to the size of the classes that run. I am never over subscribed, and classes are small enough to almost be individual one to one sessions (and some are).

Recently I have had a visiting scholar attend my sessions, who was almost mortified that I was running a session to just her. She felt she was wasting my time.

When I started my training sessions 5 years ago, I tried running them less frequently to increase engagement. All that happened was that I would only have 2 people attending and 25 complaining they could never get on the session they wanted. So now we run it very frequently for smaller groups but I am able to engage with each individuals needs and problems.

It may not be the most efficient of training plans, I understand this, but actually I think I am providing a service to academics that they appreciate more for the individual nature that it brings.

Engaging with people is what we do at the university, we may not be a typical customer facing service like a shop but we provide a service that benefits our customer, the student. I occasionally have student facing sessions, but my customer is the academic and at times academics are reticent to engage with the technology that is at their finger tips.

I like the fact I can engage with them on a smaller scale as it makes the transition for them easier. They are not so overwhelmed, and are able to get me to adjust the speed of the training according to their level of understanding.

Engaging with the academics who are reticent is something that I feel is a growing part of my training life as many realise (although not always agree with) is that student expectation as a customer is much higher. They are after more for their money and want to feel that the service they are receiving is valuable.

Engagement is always a goal we try to achieve, and every year we find some students that do and some that don't. It's refining our ideas and processes each year to increase the service we provide and never thinking we have it perfectly worked out because as soon as you do, that's when it goes wrong again.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

The world is changing

Today sees Donald Trump named as the President of the United States.

I'll just leave that there.

I am not a political genius or academic. I do however consider myself political. My wife would just call me opinionated, so it's two sides of the same square right?

I was very afraid of Brexit both personally and from a working perspective and while things are looking uncertain and I am sure in the next few years will unveil themselves. Today I am still here.

The same at the moment can be said for Donald Trump.

I was convinced all along that he never wanted to win, but was trying to lose, in style while putting the political elite to their own sword and being the business man he is, making money on the way. The trouble is he has now won. America voted and it appears to be as close as Brexit was.

I can't say what will happen, I am not the right person to ask. This is not really relevant to a technology skewed blog, but it is a big event in world history and blows anything else I might write out of the water.

All I will say is if he follows and succeeds with his rhetoric the world could be a little darker than it was yesterday. 4 Years is a long time in politics especially if things are going wrong. All I can say is that we are a more connected people today and technology and education to me are always going to be strong drivers in helping people to change their own future and that of others.

We are split on many things but we can agree that going forward technology can help deliver interactive and intelligent learning. All we can try to do is work together and look at what the real problems are within our own knowledge and try to fix what we are lacking.

Education is important and I hope that post Brexit and Trump people don't lose sight of that fact.

Maybe it's the fact we don't have the same monumental things like space travel to aspire to. We need to look for our next big endeavour and give everyone something to aspire to.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Preparing a new session

Tomorrow I am running a new training session to help academics look at the technology behind running a Distance Learning Course.

The main problem here is that there is such an extensive list of what you should or could use, I have to try to help narrow it down so that you buy what's best for you scenario.

A little back story to me, and that is I have "fallen" into my training role as a career. I love it. The thing is I started working in radio and through my university years and had a short time working in real radio stations. You soon find as an 18 year old though there are few positions and even less money. I then worked my way into a sixth form college (actually during the radio work) and developed my self as a media technician at college level to where I am today as a technologist at a university (there's ten years of in between but that is pretty much irrelevant).

The reason I give the back story is that I came to training through my love of talking (some would say of hearing my own voice but that is overly simplistic, I am sure other people like hearing it too!) So when I come to develop a training session, I find that I am not always doing it traditionally, but personally.  What would I like to know, what would I like to get from this session and I try to develop it from there. I guess this a natural evolution of any learning and I find that each time I do a session it evolves and adapts to each audience and as things change.

The session tomorrow will focus on the tech, but also I want to investigate how individuals may approach their own ideas and feelings about distance learning. I hope to learn from them as well and apply that to the next session. Arguably the first few sessions will be the weakest, but then confidence is a big part of any "performance" as confident people will bring the crowd along with them.

A good academic knows their material, of course, but that does not mean the lecture is engaging. A lecture is engaging because of the person doing the session and I expect the frequency they have done a session. Granted, some people are better at faking this confidence and not letting the nerves show through but when you have a full grasp of the subject it becomes easier to ride the real confidence to a good session.

As you can tell I have diverged from the title, and I am pretty good at that in person. It's how my brain makes random connections that just flow from one point to another and again that keeps a session (and this blog) spontaneous. That's fine in person, less so for a blog I should self edit on. However I like the idea of entertaining through this as well and not just having it a dry and factual blog, although I hope some of the posts do also inform about certain subjects.

To conclude, I will take tomorrows session and adapt and find what works to be useful to everyone. I will keep learning myself about what the requirements of each audience are and find the best way to structure it  to be a slick and interesting session. For tomorrow however, I have an idea of where to go, we shall see if it the correct way.