digital detective #playlearn16

This week I’m at the Birley Campus of MMU attending the Playful Learning Conference #playlearn16. Thank you @UCISA for the bursary which made this amazing experience possible.  I say amazing because playing games takes me right out of my comfort zone.

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Youngest son works here at Birley and while we were chatting about the conference, he reminded me how playing board games was an integral part of his childhood. Before this week I can’t remember the last time I opened a board game box. There’s lots of them here  week but now – as then  – computers are competing for attention.

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We used to have a ZX Spectrum when that was cutting edge – and a shoe-box full of games. Today eldest son still plays WarHammer but youngest is a digital gamer. Thanks to him I can talk about Grand Theft Auto, Heavy Rain and Witcher. Love the graphics but still much to learn about the multitasking demands of an Xbox console! I’m more of a vicarious game-player rather than a real one and with regard to play it’s more the creativity aspects which interest me. I’m part of the #creativeHE network and we’ve just finished another open online week. With the conversations still fresh in my mind, of the questions I arrived with on Wednesday was how play and games might link up with creative approaches to HE. In particular, could I find ways to be more creative with introducing staff to TEL and developing digital capabilities.  The conference isn’t over yet so there’ll be blog posts to follow which try and answer this. In the meantime I’m reflecting on the power of crowd sourcing to find things forgotten things.

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This week I was defeated by Google. It started with a poet and the title of a book of poems. I couldn’t remember either. All I knew was male with a cancer diagnosis, northern England, something to do with a year spent in a sheep pen or shepherd shelter, within the last decade and I thought I’d read about him in the Guardian.  I didn’t expect it to be a problem. After all you can find anything with Google – can’t you?

But it was and I couldn’t. On and off for a couple of days I tried variations of all the bits I could I could remember, confident Google would pick up something which would trigger what I needed.  It didn’t. Instead it was an lesson in how Google makes overt decisions based on popularity and how this can prevent any covert, deeper connections from taking place. William Wordsworth and James Rebanks  came up again and again. I learned some interesting asides like Yan Tan Thethera, an old english counting method, but could not discover my poet.

Then I thought – Library!

So I sent a tweet to @HullUni_Library who shared it with @hull_libraries from where it was picked up by @BookjacketsHQ who gave me the answer – all within minutes. Could it be Glyn Hughes ‘A Year in the Bull Box’. Not sheep but cattle. Yes – it could and it was!

image of a tweet with correct answer Glyn Hughes

Wrong beast but I’m not convinced it would have made much difference. When I briefly tried the same search terms, substituting cattle for sheep, still no luck. So thank you Lyn Fenby. I have the book of poems I needed for the final year of my creative writing course as well as discovering the rest of the work of Glyn Hughes who died in 2011 The Guardian Glyn Hughes Obituary.

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With hindsight the library (shown above reconstructed in Minecraft) may have been the most obvious place to start but turning digital detective was an automatic conditioned behaviour.

The implications for learning and teaching are reassuring. One of the affordances of VLE is alleged to be supporting student independence so using search engines is part of induction processes while a core element of digital literacy is the authentication and validation of online resources. Of course, the internet doesn’t have the answers. It’s how we use it that counts. With regards to my poet, it was people who made the difference and, like reliving the value of playing board games at this Playful Learning event, it’s good to be reminded how being human in the digital age is what matters most of all.

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emoticon https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.emojiworld.sademojis 

On innovative pedagogy; looking behind as well as forwards #lthechat

Simon Rae’s illustration from the #lthechat Innovative Pedagogy

What does pedagogical innovation look like? Q2 from this weeks #lthechat on Twitter has stayed with me. Share an example of pedagogic innovation you experienced as a learner. I don’t remember many individual lessons or lectures but what does come back is learning by doing. Making butter in milk bottles. Spinning frames of honeycomb. Growing crystals in Chemistry. The effect of alcohol on individual response times in Psychology.  Visits to factories and fishing docks. Geology on the coast and Geography on the Wolds. Then I look at VLE and think how can pedagogic innovation be experienced via a laptop or other mobile device? While digital media offers useful alternatives to plain text, virtual learning experiences continue to risk being flat and isolating which in turn means they are too often ignored.

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image from https://pixabay.com/en/false-worse-off-shield-note-98375/

The phrase pedagogic innovation reminded me of the annual Innovating Pedagogies reports produced by the OU   These suggest ways digital technology can extend and enhance learning. After this week’s tweetchat I revisited them looking for inspiration. It’s always interesting to look back with hindsight. Badges, MOOC, BYOD, ebooks, gaming and big data all make appearances. The word ‘learning’ is prefaced with seamless, crowd, event based, flipped, storytelling, context, computational, incidental, embodied and rhizomatic; all presented as examples of innovation. I’m looking for ways to transfer repository models of VLE use to more interactive learning opportunities but while there is theory in abundance the practice is less easy to achieve. I set up a discussion forum but no one used it so I didn’t bother again is an often-heard phrase. It’s a familiar scenario yet social media and mobile devices are making digital communication common and every year more of our lives are being lived out online so why does effective pedagogic use VLE remain so challenging?

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image from https://pixabay.com/en/matterhorn-switzerland-mountain-918442/

When it comes to barriers to digital engagement, VLE are high on the list. They’re not always attractive and, like it or not, appearance matters. Many resemble digital depository dumps when long lists of links can be a deterrent. Most staff are not learning technologists or designers so the expectation they will create interesting, interactive sites may be unrealistic. Too often VLE themselves are presented as solutions to student diversity, retention, access and attainment when they are simply content containers. It’s how they’re used which makes the difference and this not only requires pedagogic knowledge and experience, it demands higher levels of digital capabilities than are too frequently assumed to exist.

Mark Styles 2007 paper Death of the VLE has not aged. It remains relevant today and maybe more so, as social media offer alternatives. Likewise Oleg Liber’s Framework for Pedagogical Evaluation of eLearning Environments which is usefully read alongside Jisc’s Review of e-learning theories, frameworks and models by Mayes and de Freitas.  Meanwhile the monolithic VLE rampages on. Blackboard grows larger, Moodle continues to hold its own and Canvas is emerging as a serious contender. VLE remain centre stage of most institutional digital education strategies whereas it should be pedagogy at the top. VLE useage mirrors existing practice and so long as this continues to follow traditional transmission and knowledge replication  models, online environments are unlikely to be anything different.

The questions asked on this weeks #lthechat would be a useful basis for any education development workshop but as they showed, innovative pedagogy is about looking behind as well as to the future. When it comes to technology enhanced learning, innovation is good but the advantage of hindsight means looking to what’s already happened can be even better.

Tweetroot of #lthechat
Tweetroot of #lthechat

#lthechat pedagogic innovation questions asked by Professor Ale Armellini (@alejandroa) 01/06/16

  • Q1: What does “pedagogic innovation” mean to you?
  • Q2: Share an example of pedagogic innovation, which you experienced as a learner.
  • Q3: Share one criterion that, in your view, innovative pedagogic practice in HE should meet or exceed (for example innovation should enable x or make y possible)
  • Q4: Share 1 example (initiative, trend, new concept) hailed as pedagogically innovative. Does it meet the criterion identified in Q3?
  • Q5: Do you agree with the message conveyed in the attached slide? What is that message, exactly?

two column table comparing past and present approaches to learning and teaching

  • Q6: What will your next pedagogic innovation be? (Please be uber creative here! no pressure…)

Time to flex your hashtags

image from https://pixabay.com/en/twitter-tweet-bird-funny-cute-117595/

If you’re new to social media, Twitter is a useful starting point. Ignore the negative hype around celebrities and breakfasts. Twitter works because it’s what you make it. You choose who to follow and can block unwanted followers. On Twitter you’re in control, not only of your own Twittersphere but who you want to share it with. Hashtags make useful aggregators while additional tools like Buffer and Pocket help manage tweeting times as well as offering a handy curation service. Twitter’s 140 character limit is conducive to preciseness which is a valuable skill for all. The limit keeps tweets neat. You can also include an image to extend or emphasise the message. At the moment this takes up extra characters but maybe not for much longer ‘Twitter to stop counting photos and links in character limit’

Yet Twitter can be divisive. Not everyone likes it. An excellent blog post from @KerryPinny I am rubbish at Twitter highlights some of this ambivalence, in particular around life balance and TMI (too much information), but on reflection I wonder how much Twitter-resistance is about the wider issues associated with putting yourself online in the first place. After all, it can be a scary thing to do. While the nuances of a face-to-face conversation are soon forgotten, tweets stick and this stickiness is a justifiable worry, in particular where deleting texts is no guarantee of their demise. Yet there are definite benefits to feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Twitter networks can become valuable sources of information. Like attracts like and this can be useful for a range of educational topics. Also, just when you thought you were the only person in the world with a particular problem, Twitter leads you to those with similar issues and becomes a great source of shared comfort and advice.

When Kerry tweeted her blog post, @jamesclay responded with a list of Things people say about using twitter but really you shouldn’t Number one on the list is an wry ‘Never write a blog post telling people how they should use Twitter!’ but in reality, there’s value in offering advice for Twitter newbies who might be unsure what it’s all about. At the risk of tipping the balance between self-promotion and collective wisdom, here’s a link to my own ‘Ten Tips for Neat Tweets’ this was posted prior to my #LTHEchat session on accessibility. These weekly chats take place 8.00-9.00 p.m. on Wednesdays and are Storified afterwards. https://lthechat.com has a record of the sessions and offers valuable insight into how Twitter brings people together to share information and practice.For those new to Twitter, the hashtag #LTHEchat is a great place to begin.

Twitter also ticks all the elements of the Jisc digital capabilities model. Using Twitter requires confidence with the inner circle of ICT proficiency and the outer circle of digital identity and reputation as well as showcasing professional learning, developing a range of literacies, artefacts and practices plus demonstrating effective online communication and collaboration. It’s  a great example of technology enhanced learning too.

Phew! Let’s get Twitterate. Go forth and Tweet.

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An extended version of this post first appeared on the UCISA Training Community in relation to the UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities Conference 25/26 May 2016 #udigcap.  

ten tips for neat tweets

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Wednesday  17th February 20.00 – 21.00 I’ll be hosting #LTHEchat on digital inclusion and accessibility. With tweeting on my mind, this blog post feels appropriate 🙂

As rumours of changes in tweet length continue, the art of the ‘neat tweet’ may be under threat. This would be a shame. Good tweets are like poetry. Crafted to a sharp point. Lexical limits should be welcomed. There are enough blurred boundaries as it is. 140 characters is a useful restriction when some digital voices go on….and on….and on……. If Twitter limits change I hope another platform is waiting, one which enables the ability to say something worthwhile quickly and with style. As well as a guide to succinctness, this post is also a plea to leave our tweets alone.

Ten Tips for saying more with less in twitter-speak.

  • Don’t use a long word if a lesser one will do. A Thesaurus will list synonyms http://www.thesaurus.com/ Pick the shortest one possible.
  • Make use of symbols. Take out linking words and use ampersands (&) or the plus (+) sign. Punctuation such as exclamation or question marks, can say more for less while nose-less emoticons : ) or : ( add meaning for just two additional characters.
  • Ditch pronouns like That and The. They’re over-used anyway. Trimming them from tweets may improve writing overall. Take out personal pronouns too. It’s usually safe to drop the I and you might get away with dropping They, He, She etc. Try it and see.
  • Avoid full URLs. Shorter ones save space and look neater. Tiny URL  http://tinyurl.com/ has a quick button you can add to your browser. BitLy https://bitly.com/ claims to create the shortest links and supports the additional of a plus sign to the end of the shortened URL; this creates a preview of the destination page so users can check it’s safe.
  • Forget the rule of using numbers 1-10 and words thereafter.  Where every character counts, numbers rule. Unless the meaning is critical, it might be safe to drop the commas in larger numbers too.
  • Contractions are in! As a rule, contractions are frowned upon in academic writing but it would be a waste of character space not to use them in tweets. Instead of ‘’it is’, ‘you have’, ‘they will’ etc. you can brush the dust off your apostrophes and go for ‘it’s’, ‘you’ve’ and ‘they’ll’ instead.
  • Take advantage of the growing number of acceptable tweet abbreviations e.g. RT (retweet), DM (direct message), BTW (by the way), TBH (to be honest) and IMO (in my opinion). Know the difference between abbreviations for professional communication e.g. x (extra), b/c (because) and text-talk e.g. U, UR, M8, GR8, etc
  • Images say more than words. They can be useful additions to text tweets but they take up characters. Upload the image to the tweet editor box before writing the tweet.
  • Wherever, possible substitute initial letters for names, in particular if it’s someone well known within the context of the tweet.
  • Craft your tweet in Word (or other word processing software). Not only can you can apply the spelling and grammar check, it preserves work in progress. There’s nothing worse than crafting the perfect tweet when the internet connection blips and you’ve lost it all. The same applies for any direct work in an online text editor.

Happy tweeting.

image of a blue twitter bird

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images from https://pixabay.com/en/twitter-bird-fat-tweet-turquoise-152404/ and https://pixabay.com/en/tweeting-twitter-bird-blue-peep-150413/