The EduApps Collections

The blog post is a shameless plug for one of my favourite JISC project outputs, EduApps. I hope it will direct readers to these terrific resources (if they haven’t already encountered them).

Developed by the JISC Regional Support Centre Scotland North & East , EduApps are free-to-use programs that can be run off a USB stick. Many are portable versions of existing mainstream technologies such as Skype and Firefox, or scaled-down alternatives to large, expensive packages (e.g. Portable-Artweaver instead of Photoshop).  

EduApps listing

Some of the EduApps on my USB stick

For anyone who has ever had to request a software installation from an IT department,  running programs from a stick is a fantastic idea. I’ve lost track of the number of times I have used my EduApps to make a call on Skype, quickly edit a sound file with Audacity,  or unzip an archive with 7-ZipPortable. I always include a selection of EduApps on the Media Zoo USB sticks I give to participants in our Carpe Diem workshops.

The programs are divided into eight collections that focus on specific needs. TeachApps, for example, is a collection of software specifically designed for teachers or lecturers, while the LearnApps  collection is specifically designed for learners.

A recent addition has been the Create&Convert collection for Word and OpenOffice, which “brings together in one neat package a range of open source programs that can quickly and capably translate electronic documents into an accessible alternative format, such as audio or a talking book. All of the tools are the outputs of the Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) Consortium, and are therefore completely free to use and distribute.”

All EduApps have been tested and copyright-cleared by the RSC team, and are ready to go.

So excuse this plug, and please use these wonderful tools. And let me know if there are other free (and stable!) programs not included in the EduApps collections.

Simon Kear

Keeper of the Media Zoo

Learners as learning designers at the workplace

Prof. Betty Collis, a noted consultant in technology for strategy, learning and change in corporate learning and higher education at the University of Twente in the Netherlands, gave a great keynote address at last week’s JISC programme meeting. She ended with the following ‘provocative  thought’:

Perhaps it’s time to reconsider the orientation that ‘Design for learning refers to the complex processes by which practitioners devise, structure and realise learning for others’. That does not sound to me like the way that learning is going on in organisations.

This ‘provocative thought’ was borne out by many examples  in Betty’s presentation of the way in which employees at Shell used technology – especially wikis – for knowledge sharing and informal learning. She commented on a trend from formal, structured training towards more informal, networked learning within the corporation: over time, employees preferred learning from information shared by their colleagues in a giant, company-wide wiki, than from formal, instructor-led training courses.

During the period that Betty was Leader of Shell-University of Twente Collaborative Project (2001-2005), a strong culture of knowledge sharing was generated in the organisation, with every employee understanding that they had something to teach others. Learning (and teaching) at the workplace became inseparable from getting things done (i.e. working).

This resonates well with the comment made by Jay Cross, Jane Hart et al in a recent article in eLearn magazine:

The accelerating rate of change in business forces everyone in every organization to make a choice: learn while you work or become obsolete. Nonetheless, we never use the word “learning” with a senior executive…

Companies don’t want learning—they want things done….

That’s why we talk about “working smarter.” More than knowing how to get things done, working smarter involves actually doing them.

It strikes me that the way assessment is carried out can have a powerful impact on the nature of learning, especially for work-based learners. One of Betty’s very practical recommendations for enhancing higher education courses was to gear  assessment tasks towards getting students to produce something that could be used as a learning resource by other students. One could take this idea one step further, by focusing assessment tasks on getting learners to generate something that is useful for their colleagues – this could involve sharing information, proposing a solution to a problem at the workplace, or carrying out an experiment to try to enhance workplace processes or outputs.

Those programmes that provide learners with the skills to apply their learning in innovative ways that add value to their own workplace contexts are likely to be the ones that survive the lean times ahead.

Gabi Witthaus, 20 Oct 2010

DUCKLING: The Great Exhibition

Last Tuesday, October 12 2010, Gilly, Ale and I attended JISC’s curriculum design and curriculum deliver joint programme meeting at Nottingham. The theme of the meeting was Delivering the benefits: from project to institutional enhancement.

In the afternoon, there was a one-hour demonstration session called The Great Exhibition: Enhancing Curriculum Delivery through Technology. In this session, the curriculum delivery projects had the opportunity to showcase how they have helped to transform and enhance some aspects of curriculum delivery through technology. The idea behind the exhibition was to ‘sell’ project benefits to a wider audience. As one of the curriculum delivery projects, DUCKLING presented a poster and a leaflet, both called DUCKLING in an eggshell, and highlighted key outputs and deliverables of the project. See the DUCKLING poster below:


DUCKLING also showcased other key outputs and findings in a variety of formats, including:

  1. Key findings of student experience of using DUCKLING technologies
  2. A video produced by Dr Ray Randall, showing staff experience
  3. A summary of benefits to key stakeholders
  4. The Teaching Fellow model
  5. A  guide for converting Word documents into ePub format

DUCKLING exhibition was well received by the audience. People were really interested in DUCKLING’s technology-enhanced solutions. Four projects won the exhibition award. SpringboardTV, an internet TV station, at the College of West Anglia, won first place. The Integrate project at the University of Exeter was second. Congratulations!

Ming Nie              18 October 2010

BDRA and Janus

Janus, the Roman god who gave his name to January, looked in two directions at once. The same is true, in more than one respect, of BDRA.

First, although it is a research alliance and has a particularly strong research record, BDRA is also a teaching group, through its Carpe Diem workshops and dissemination of its research findings. Its teaching activities, based in part on its research, will be very much enhanced by the MIET programme soon to be launched.

Second, BDRA faces both into the University of Leicester and outwards, well beyond it. Through its staff collaborating with other departments and units in carrying out research and teaching, BDRA has a greater impact internally than is usual for groups of its size and character. Beyond the university, BDRA has become well-known through bidding successfully for research funds from national bodies such as JISC and the HEA, as well as through conferences and publications. But it has also entered into partnerships involving other universities keen to upgrade their students’ e-learning.

As a Visiting Professor in BDRA, I’m aware of the wide range of BDRA’s activities and the heavy workload of its staff. This blog displays some of what’s going on, but there is more, much more, if you visit BDRA’s web site.

Janus is sometimes regarded as the god who looks forwards as well as backwards. BDRA staff can look back with pride at their achievements. As for the future, BDRA is at the forefront: it looks ahead, like Janus.

David Hawkridge

Can Learning Innovations be Embedded and Sustained?

On 28 April, 2010, Gabi Witthaus and Terese Bird attended a CAMEL meeting sponsored by JISC and which took place at Middlesex University, the theme of which was to examine whether the developments of the DUCKLING project can be embedded and sustained. Once the project is over, can teaching teams continue to use the technologies, findings and deliverables?

In this meeting, Gabi and Terese looked at the sustainability of each of the three technologies implented in the DUCKLING project — ebook readers, podcasting, and Second Life — as well as the pedagogy underpinning the use of each. Since the project is a joint effort amongst the Schools of Psychology and Education, and Beyond Distance, it was helpful to consider how each of the Schools implemented each innovation.

Psychology used Second Life as a forum for role-playing and simulation, to give students a taste of the experience of living and working on an oil rig with its dangers and isolation, as preparation for their assignment to write a health and safety training manual for oil rig workers. Beyond Distance techies supported this work. However, the actual role playing and leading of the sessions was done by Psychology academics and could continue that way, with some tech support. To watch a YouTube video capturing some of the action of the students’ experience on the oil rig, click here.

Education sent their students into existing language class forums in Second Life, where students observed and could participate in the classes. This was a very flexible way of making use of Second Life — students simply went in and signed up for classes already taking place pretty much 24/7. Observing language classes in Second Life has now been embedded into themodule as an optional activity. As long as there are such forums in Second Life, this activity is sustainable.

Podcasts have been fully embedded into the Psychology curriculum for the masters programme in DUCKLING — especially as part of the dissertation-writing process. These podcasts been rolled out to all cohorts on that module. Psychology academics have been making and distributing (via the University VLE, Blackboard) podcasts without any help from Beyond Distance for months now. Education has especially recently begun to record podcasts for its Masters TESOL students, and again the work of recording and posting onto the VLE is straightforward enough to continue without difficulty after DUCKLING’s conclusion.

With the ebook readers, we learned from interviews with students that using the ebook reader is changing their study habits. To quote one student: “I now study more in my workdays using the e-reader. I’ve been putting it in my bag every day and taking it to work and after lunch reading a few pages. I’ve found that way it keeps the content fresh in my mind. Before with the paper version, I’d allocate my weekends for study.”  Another student commented, “I think that the e-book reader changed my way of keeping notes and makes my study more effective. Before, I used my laptop to write a lot of notes because I felt that I would forget the whole thing if I didn’t take them down. But taking notes is time-consuming and not that effective because I never really use the notes. With the e-book reader, it’s not very inconvenient to go back to the material on the e-reader and I can remember where the material was and go back to the module on the e-reader and look through it. As a result of that, I didn’t take a lot of notes and I don’t think it (not taking notes) makes a difference to my study.”

A further aspect of the continuing use of ebook readers can be viewed from the point of view of finance. One department saw savings over printing and shipping stacks of handouts to students, by instead shipping to the students fully-loaded ebook readers. In some cases the students themselves experienced the savings, realising that they did not have to purchase hard copies of notes and choosing instead to simply read these on their ebook readers. Converting module handouts from Word format into format suitable for ebook readers (epub format in the case of the Sony ebook readers we are using) is not a very difficult process — click here for our instructions to do this. The fact that the iPad supports epub documents, public libraries are beginning to offer ebooks for download in epub format, and students are looking for reading material compatible with smartphones, presses the point that the use of this technology will only increase in future. We predict it will be sustained by popular demand.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and Assistant ZooKeeper

OTTERs at the OER10 Conference

Sahm (aka Samuel Nikoi) and I visited the beautiful city of Cambridge for the first time ever on Monday, although sadly we didn’t have time to be tourists as we were giving a paper at the UKs first big Open Educational Resources conference, OER10.  With more than 100 delegates from the UK and overseas, it was a great gathering of people with varying degrees of knowledge and experiences relating to the OER movement.

The keynote lecture from Malcolm Read, Executive Secretary of JISC, was extremely encouraging to those of us coming to the end of our one-year OER pilot projects in that it is clear JISC and the HEA wish to develop the OER agenda further, with a focus on researching the discoverability of OER, the user experience, and the attainment of a low cost, sustainable production and release model.

Sahm and I both attended a variety of sessions from the three parallel streams, and it is clear there is already some work going on which would address the issues on which JISC is proposing to focus:

Dr Momna Hejmadi from the University of Bath and Pangiota Alevizou from the Open University had both carried out some initial research into potential OER users, with Dr Hejmadi highlighting the differing viewpoints between junior and senior staff towards producing and using OER.  (The former being more enthusiastic but seeing the lack of incentives as a major barrier; the latter indicating that use of OER could be viewed as the lazy option, reducing the quality of and thereby diluting, degrees).  Pangiota’s initial results from her, admitted small, research sample, identified a distinction between Institutional and Community OER, whereby one feeds into the other, as well as six types of OER audience.  She also highlighted a developing preference for the creation of genres of learning, which linked in with Malcolm’s ‘aggregation of materials around certain themes’.

I was interested to hear Rowan Wilson reporting on the University of Oxford’s OpenSpires project, where, rather than reinvent the wheel, they had taken their iTunes U content production workflow and adapted it to create an OER workflow, whereas it is likely here at Leicester we will be going the other way.

Tom Browne from the University of Exeter struck a chord with many of us on the OER pilot projects, when he described his efforts to engage Senior Management in a discussion on creating a sustainable output of OER.

Alan Leeder from the University of Cambridge gave a great post-lunch presentation on GLO-maker 2.1 (I now know how to make a great vodka martini!) and I was interested to hear that they are working on creating a mobile front end  which will allow you to upload podcasts directly from your phone.  The technical theme was maintained by Loughborough’s Rob Pearce talking about their efforts to create an ‘OER supersearch’ facility using API’s.  They have not yet achieved perfection and feel it will be difficult to do so until ‘the internet becomes a fully global network with standardised protocols’.

And last but definitely not least, Sahm and I presented on the OTTER project’s CORRE workflow model for creating OERs. Our presentation (available at led to an interesting discussion around how quality is monitored in OER development.

The main conclusion we drew from our attendance at Day 1 of OER10 was that it is clear that the OER movement will not be allowed to wither and die.  Time and money needs to be spent on making resources more searchable, on getting feedback from the users (lecturers, students, informal learners), and on identifying the best sustainable production, output and hosting model.

Tania Rowlett

Malcolm Read visits the University of Leicester

Dr Malcolm Read, Executive Secretary of JISC, visited the University of Leicester on 25 November. He and Norman Wiseman (Head of Services and Outreach at JISC) spent some time with us at Beyond Distance, where they familiarised themselves with the work on our current and previous JISC-funded projects. Dr Read then inaugurated the new Postgraduate Media Zoo in the David Wilson Library. He also gave a very interesting presentation on the strategy and vision of the JISC, which was attended by colleagues from across the University.

JISC is one of Beyond Distance’s main funders. It was fantastic to be able to engage these senior members of JISC with our project work and share some findings with them. It was also reassuring to hear that our research is on the right track and very much in sync with JISC’s vision and strategy. The DUCKLING and the OTTER projects, which are having major institutional impact, are very good examples of this.

Dr A Armellini
26 November 2009

The Curriculum Lifecycle

A couple of days ago, my colleague Terese Bird was wondering if it was polite to tweet during lectures. Much could be said about how appropriate or desirable it is to tweet during lectures, the kind of pedagogical contracts that need to be in place for students and tutors to be comfortable with that practice, and the extent to which tweeting in class may be conducive to enhanced learning. And of course, whether or not tweeting in lectures is polite.

Conferences are a different kettle of fish. Participants normally tweet during sessions and are often encouraged to do so. For example, I am in Manchester at a two-day JISC event on Curriculum Design and Curriculum Delivery. At the start of the first session, we were told: “those of you who are twittering, please use the #jisccdd hashtag”. This has been the case at every conference I’ve attended in the last 18 months or so.

Much is being discussed in traditional face-to-face manner at this event, but interesting debates are taking place on Twitter as well. Very interesting hybrid conversations take place as a result of bringing the contents of tweets into one’s discourse during sessions (and at the bar) – and the other way round. One aspect that straddles all discussions is the proposed lifecycle diagram that attempts to capture the curriculum design-delivery processes in institutions. The draft diagram is part of the Design Studio web-based toolkit and has been included in a publication called Managing Curriculum Change that benefits from a quote by our very own Gabi Witthaus (see page 5).

As you study the lifecycle diagram in detail, you’ll realise that it has a number of strengths and weaknesses. JISC welcomes feedback on how to make the model better reflect what actually happens in curriculum design and delivery today. As the tweets suggest, much of the debate has revolved around this draft model, which may well evolve in the next few weeks and months. I invite my DUCKLING colleagues to please get involved.

Dr A Armellini
13 October 2009

Learning through off-the-wall conversations

The Open University hosted a ‘CAMEL’ workshop last week for a cluster of participants in JISC-funded projects. (CAMEL is a great community of practice model for e-learning management. See Theo’s blog for a nice succinct description or the CAMEL website for more info on this.) Ming and I attended from Beyond Distance in our capacity as researchers on the Beyond Distance DUCKLING project.

It was a hugely inspiring day for me – there was a kind of energy and warmth in this group of people who had been thrown together for the day that is usually only found amongst friends who have known each other for years. Full marks to Peter Chatterton and Steve Garner for setting up this wonderfully nourishing event. (And the Chinese dinner afterwards played no small part in the day’s success!)

Andy Bardill and Bob Fields from Middlesex University set the scene for the day by telling us about a fascinating project they are doing with their Interaction Design students. Imagine a design studio in a well-equipped university, with a lecturer and six to eight students sitting around a large table, and one student showing his or her photos or drawings to the group for critique. The conventional way to do this is to have each student projecting his or her work onto the wall using a data projector, while the rest of the students comment and take notes.

Andy and Bob are not conventional teachers, though, and they felt frustrated at the limited interaction, as most of the students sat with their heads bowed taking notes on their laptops. Their solution was to ban laptops from the classroom (an initially unpopular decision), and to project each student’s work from a ceiling-mounted projector onto the table (an accidental, but very exciting discovery, as it happened) instead of the wall… They covered the table with flipchart paper to provide a sort of screen for the projected image.

The side-effect (literally!) was that students started writing their notes on the table around the edges of the projected image, instead of typing on their disallowed laptops. This immediately had the effect of making previously private notes public, and catapulted the group into deeper conversation. At the end of each session, students started spontaneously taking photos of the conversation on the table as a record of their ‘notes’. You can see some of these intriguing photos on Andy Bardill’s Flickr page.

The next development was to video the unfolding conversation on the table with a ceiling-mounted video camera, in order to have a record for later analysis of the learning process. No doubt we’ll hear more from Andy and Bob about what they’ve learnt from this as the project progresses.

In the meantime, it is worth noting that the simple act of moving the focus from the wall (‘out there/ away from us’) to the table (‘in here/ amongst us’) resulted in a change of perspective for the whole group. It enabled people to physically move around the image. Their interactions became focused on the centre of the table, as they gestured towards the central image while discussing it. A bit like the hub of a wheel that keeps the spokes together, this central point kept the participants connected in a way that a projected image on a wall cannot easily do. The popular literature from neurolinguistic programming also tells us that when we look down, we are drawing more on the emotional part of our brain. Perhaps there’s something in that too.

Thanks, Bob and Andy, for reminding us that technology on the sidelines (and on the ceiling) can sometimes be much more effective than technology on our laps or in-our-faces. We’ll be watching this space for more off-the-wall inspiration. (Just let us know which space, so we don’t get left behind staring at the table while you’ve moved onto the floor… or underground…)

Gabi Witthaus

Implementing change: Knowing what to do and making it happen

I recently attended the JISC Conference entitled ‘Transformation: Managing and Measuring Change.’  The Conference focused on best practice in change management, and discussed strategies for implementing change.

One presentation that inspired me to think about my work within the DUCKLING project was a talk by Clive Anderson. The talk considered the ‘knowing-doing gap’. This idea was inspired by the thoughts of Pfeffer and Sutton (1999), based around the principle that moving from ignorance to knowledge is not a difficult transition: the real challenge is taking the step from knowledge to implementation, i.e. making sure that change actually happens.

Before we take action to implement any kind of change, we need to think carefully about what we are going to do and why we are going to do it.

As academics, we often (quite rightly) want to take this knowledge-gathering process as far as we can. We often strive to be experts in our field. We want to know as much as possible about what we do, drawing on existing knowledge and conducting research to gather new information. When implementing changes to our existing courses, we will naturally want to apply this same approach: we want to know details about what we are changing, why we are changing it, how these changes will take place and what they will involve.

The question is: at what point do we make that transition and move from ‘knowing’ to ‘doing’?

DUCKLING is a 2 year project in which we aim to incorporate new technologies into the delivery of our course materials. Our course team have the advantage of working with experts in the BDRA, so our interventions are informed by the extensive knowledge of the team members. This allows us to have confidence in the theoretical and empirical basis of the strategies we will implement.

Despite this, it is still easy to spend a lot of time standing on the edge of the ‘knowing-doing’ divide. However much we know, we could always know a bit more. However much we prepare ourselves for implementing changes, there will always be more preparation we could undertake; other issues we could consider.

It is also worth noting that some changes seem easier to implement than others: the course team were fairly quick to produce podcasts and to make them available to our students. We seem equally keen to distribute ebook readers for students to use within their studies. Yet with Second Life technologies, we seem less certain, perhaps because this is such  new territory, and will involve taking a step slightly further outside our ‘comfort zone’?

We have many ideas about how Second Life can be used (through various SL-tivities). A couple more weeks of planning ought to be enough time for us to begin implementing some of these ideas. Yet there is some apprehensiveness in terms of actually ‘doing’ this: in breaking that knowing-doing barrier. There are some genuine concerns over what will happen when we find our (avatar) selves in this virtual reality, with student avatars expectantly waiting for us to deliver. Perhaps these fears are preventing us from taking the steps necessary to take forward our ideas and put them into action?

I am writing this blog as much to motivate myself as to motivate others. The message I am trying to convey is that, as change agents committed to enhancing the learning experiences of our students, we need to take the leap; give it a try; make it happen. If things go wrong, we can learn from this. But if we’re not prepared to put our knowledge into action, then how can we expect anything to change for the better?

Kelly Barklamb, 19th May 2009

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