Disseminate from Day One

I recently attended the ALT-C conference “Into something rich and strange – making sense of the sea-change” (7-9 September in Nottingham). As usual, it was a really good conference; I felt that every session was packed full of information on good practice, experimentation, research, and innovation in learning technology. Although I heard a most inspiring keynote from Sugata Mitra on his life’s work beginning with the installation of ‘hole-in-the-wall’ computers for children in rural India, and although I heard the winning research paper about 5 years of data-gathering on students’ use and purchase of mobile devices, probably the most practical take-home message I received was from a ‘graveyard-shift’ session by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) on the importance of dissemination and sharing our findings. The HEA was asking us, “What else can we do to get the word out regarding some of the great work that is being done?” They pointed out that many funded projects treat dissemination as something done only at the end of the project, when a paper is written and presented at a conference. In fact, there is so much lost with that approach, so much discussion that is forfeited, so much networking and reflection which could enhance and improve and extend the reach of the study. Dissemination should be done from day one.

This resonates with the drip-drip theory of publicity — that if you often, even daily, put out little drips of information about a project or event, it is more effective than just a few big informational outputs.

I’ve had opportunity to discuss these issues with postgraduate students, especially those working on PhDs.  I often hear them say that they don’t think they should talk about their work at all with anyone outside their team. I can understand not wanting to reveal one’s research secrets in advance of publication. However, I think this reticence denies them valuable opportunities to bounce ideas off other experts and receive support from others.

I for one left ALT-C realising that I need to approach each of my projects with the willingness to ‘disseminate from day one.’ We at Beyond Distance are pretty good at disseminating our findings, with this blog and blogs for each of our research projects as well as workshops and other activities, but we can always improve. I need to be much more faithful in my blogging. A little bit, and more often is better than stressing over fewer, bigger communications. Twitter, of which I am already an avid user (I am tbirdcymru and the Beyond Distance Media Zoo is BDMediaZoo), is built for exactly this. Because the bottom line is: if we do great work but don’t effectively communicate it, have we actually completed the great work?

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and Assistant Media ZooKeeper

Beyond Distance Research Alliance

Students’ ICT literacies

Have a good look at the Proceedings* of the Association for Learning Technology’s Conference, held in Manchester this month, because the papers have much to say about our students and their learning, particularly their ICT literacies – or their lack of them.

It’s easy for us to get complacent about what students OUGHT to be able to do, but what if they can’t? Members of the Net Generation, the digital natives, may not be as skilled as we think they should be.

Of course, it’s very intriguing to read about collaborative mind mapping through Twitter and FreeMind (at the University of Bolton), but the skills required are certainly not widely distributed among our students at present. A Canadian study of problems that students have in learning online offers some suggestions for helping them, but mainly through selecting the right technologies.

For contrast, read the report of a national study by Sero Consulting of next generation user skills: what employers will need, what young people will have, what generic skills will be needed, all in 2013, not now. The study offers an overview of current skills, models the Next Generation Skillscape of activities and competencies, and maps these onto tools and awards, showing where the gaps will arise.

In plainer English, what’s it going to be like in 2013 and how can it be better than we think it will be?

You may be interested to know that at the Open University Robin Goodfellow and Mary Lea have got funding from the UK Economic and Social Research Council to run a seminar series entitled ‘Literacy in the Digital University’. This will bring together researchers and practitioners from the applied linguistics and technology-enhanced learning fields to share ideas about ‘new literacies’ and learning in higher education.

Other participants include Sian Bayne from Edinburgh University, David Barton from Lancaster, Alison Littlejohn from Glasgow Caledonian, and Helen Beetham, freelance writer and researcher.

Robin has started a blog about LiDU ideas.

The first seminar will be at Edinburgh University on October 16th 2009. Places are limited but there may still be some available: contact Robin at r.goodfellow@open.ac.uk for further details.


*Damis, H. and Creanor, L. (2009) “In dreams begins responsibility” – choice, evidence and change. 16th Association for Learning Technology Conference (ALT-C 2009). Held 8-10 September 2009, University of Manchester, England, UK.

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