How security management and investigation professionals use online learning environments

Now in the third year, part-time, toward my PhD at the University of Leicester, I am about to embark on my main study. This is likely a good time to give a brief report on the pilot study that I conducted in the latter part of 2012. The purpose was to study how security management and investigation professionals use online learning environments for their work-based learning and continuing professional development. I was also interested in the digital literacy skills that may be possessed or required by these professionals.

There were two phases in the study: a questionnaire followed by personal interviews. I initially posted a request for study participants in 14 discussion groups. Sixty-seven people in 17 different countries completed the questionnaire, and 35 indicated they would participate in an interview. I conducted 10 interviews by Skype or telephone, as well as 1 by email. These interviews involved participants in Canada, the USA, the UK, Lithuania, and South Africa. The response was encouraging, and it permitted me to gain a view of the field and what might be expected in the main study.

My early findings have been that, beyond face-to-face, using the telephone and email were the most common ways to connect with contacts for learning-related questions, although online discussion groups or forums are a popular way to collaborate for problem-solving and learning. However, many more participants tend to read (consume) the resources than actively engage in discussions on a regular basis. The reasons for not being more involved included concerns with sharing publicly and the need to determine the credibility of information posted.

I am preparing a paper about the pilot study that I hope to present in July in Berlin. This report will provide more analysis of the findings. The main study will include observations of online learning activities along with interviews. I hope to complete the thesis by December 2014.

A.E. (Tony) Ratcliffe
PhD Student, Institute of Learning Innovation
University of Leicester

DAY 6 at LFF2010

… with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore and Marcus Bentley

T’was the day after Monday, and all over town –
Many noses were frozen, and much snow fluttered down…

Good thing this is an online conference, because getting in to Leicester for 9 am on this Tuesday would have been a nightmare…

The day began  with Gilly’s daily address which through pre-recorded, went rather well. I found the idea – suggested by Gilly, that each educational institution was an enterprise that needs to evolve – to be quite interesting. Considering the different parts of the world that participants have been joining sessions from, the discussions, questions and comments related to experiences and observations from a range of varying contexts. An energetic debate focussed on an emerging trend of a more pronounced consumer mentality of educational ‘shoppers’ (students and parents) and that this might force forces HEIs to adopt adversarial business models because they have to compete more and more with each other.

Following this was Tessa Welch’s keynote address which suggested that the main value of OERs (open educational resources) in Africa’s context is that they provide momentum for the surfacing of good quality existing resources as OERs, which would otherwise remain undiscovered or remain locked within institutions or publishers. She drew extensively on SAIDE’s experience in a pilot OER project resulting in the adaptation and use of a module in the teaching and learning of mathematics in six South African institutions, and also on the lessons of experience in taking this to scale for a teacher education space on the OER Africa platform. The discussion sessions for this keynote followed later in the day.

At 1100 GMT, five bravehearts joined Simon, Terese and Paul (aka Johnson, Aallyah and PD Alchemi) in Second Life for the Oil rig evacuation, and though this was only the second time that this session was run in SL. Attendees found it to be most enjoyable. Some of them admitted to be scared by the ‘fire’ that led to the evacuation scenario.

The OTTER team led 22 attendees through the Open Wide workshop at 12 noon, which focussed on reward and recognition for academic staff for making teaching materials freely available as OERs. The presenters suggested that despite the recent, dramatic increase in the number of OER repositories in the UK HE sector and some altruistically motivated academics making their teaching materials freely available for re-use, concerns remain regarding appropriate reward and recognition for staff contributions of OERs.

The afternoon sessions began with Emma Kimberley’s presentation on the University of Leicester’s Graduate School Media Zoo initiative that supports postgraduate researchers. This paper took an overview of the challenges of supporting and connecting postgraduate researchers at UoL through the development of a physical and virtual ‘research forum’ based within the University  Library. An interesting discussion ensued, with reflections from several participants on their own experiences of support that they had as postgraduate students.

At 1500 GMT, David Wolfson’s (an independent education consultant) paper titled ‘Eight Years Old and Already Collaborating Online’ focussed on what the future holds for HE (considering that today’s 8-year olds will be entering HE in about a decade), describing a stepped approach to successful online teacher- and student-led learning in schools. Practical evidence  – from senior leaders and learners at over 100 schools of all types and sizes as they set out to use learning platforms – was brought to bear on the proceedings.

Later, Stuart Johnson, David Morgan and Matthew Mobbs from the University of Leicester shared their experiences of using social media (especially  Facebook and Twitter) to engage with students about issues deemed important for Student Development and the Students’ Union at the university of Leicester’s Student Support Service and Students’ Union. A lively discussion followed with a range of practitioners contributing their experiences from different aspects of providing and receiving pastoral and learning support for students.

Following the Second Life Campfire, the last paper of the day was from Dr Richard Mobbs, which challenged listeners to put the ‘PLE in to the VLE’. VLEs being more often than not designed to meet the needs of the institution, rather than the learner, the time – Richard claimed – had come to integrate new developments like online social networks, mobile technologies, widely-used social software applications and others to provide ‘more PLE’ within the context of the main VLE provision.

This is a screen-grab from Twitter on what people were saying about LFF2010 on Tuesday evening. One keynote from a previous day has proven inspirational and the attendees of the SL Oil Rig Evacuation from earlier in the day sound happy!!

That Was The Day 6 That Was … now Day 7 awaits. Enjoy!

– Jai Mukherjee / 13 January 2010

Day 5 at the LFF and still going strong…

Monday 11 January saw another series of extremely stimulating discussions at the Beyond Distance online Learning Futures Festival (Registration still open for late adopters who haven’t got on board yet!) We were privileged to have Professor Ian Jamieson, recently retired VC of the University of Bath, and recipient of an OBE in December, as our keynote speaker. He made a heartfelt plea for speeding up the pace of change in the higher education sector, to keep pace with students’ expectations and changing approaches to learning. An interesting side issue for me in this session was the back channel conversation about student satisfaction surveys, and the point that many students express dissatisfaction when they are being challenged or stretched in their studies, but on later reflection may state that exactly those moments were the most transformational for them.

PD Alchemy and Aallyah then led our intrepid Second Life delegates into the virtual Genetics Lab which is being developed by the SWIFT project at Beyond Distance. Unfortunately my avatar (Daffodil Moonwall) had some connectivity problems and so was unable to join in, but according to a couple of cryptic twitter posts, it seems that certain avatars underwent a spontaneous genetic modification during this session. Indeed in the Second Life Campfire session later in the day, Daff noticed that the general level of whackiness of the conversation had reached unprecedented heights – a possible result of whatever experimentation took place earlier in the day?

Returning to the mainstream programme: at noon Alejandro Armellini and Gilly Salmon led a session on “The Carpe Diem journey: designing for learning transformation”. Carpe Diem is the tried and tested workshop process developed by Beyond Distance at Leicester to support academics in using their VLE (virtual learning environment) effectively. Discussion here centred around the ways in which academics had responded to the training, and the transferability of this process to a range of educational contexts.

We were then treated to a fascinating description by Magdalena de Stefani from Uruguay of a blended teacher development project using Moodle for language teachers in provincial and rural areas of her country. Magdalena shared with us a dilemma she faced in terms of whether to view her students as “customers”, with the concomitant notion that “the customer is always right”. She felt that she had perhaps been too “respectful” of her students in this regard, thereby depriving them of some potentially transformational challenges. (This resonated nicely with the issues arising during the keynote address.)

Shiv Rajendran, a co-founder of, stayed within the theme of English language teaching by sharing his experiences in the use of Second Life as an EFL teaching environment. (See Shiv’s blog here.) The trigger for the establishment of in Second Life was Shiv’s online meeting with a German who could not speak a word of English, but learnt sufficient English within two weeks to be able to participate in online games. How did he do it? By playing online games… Some discussion ensued in the session about whether Second Life is a game or not (Daffodil thinks not, but that’s for another blog post), and this conversation continued almost seamlessly around the campfire in Second Life a couple of hours later.

Alan Cann then led a thought-provoking session on Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) and lifelong learning. He described how he and colleagues had taught students to use some basic Web 2.0 tools such as citeulike and delicious for social bookmarking, as well as Google docs for collaborative writing. This fitted in nicely with Stephen Downes’ Sunday keynote on pedagogical foundations for personal learning and Kathreen Riel and Tami Saj’s presentation, Survive and Thrive in a Social Media Workplace – as well as giving us another opportunity to use the great term coined by Matt Mobbs – the “Social Media Brain“.

The final session of the day was about learning support for mobile learning by Beyond Distance’s Samuel Nikoi and Palitha Edirisingha, with reference to the WOLF project. Sahm made sure we ended the day with a bang, culminating his presentation with a rousing call for 24/7 mobile learning support for learners.

Elluminate recordings of all the sessions are currently available to conference delegates in the conference environment (as mentioned earlier – it’s not too late to enrol!) and selected recordings will shortly also be available in the public domain.

Finally, thanks to our conference delegates who have been blogging about the festival:

Ignatia Webs – on Phil Candy’s keynote address last Friday (“Any Useful Statement about the Future Should At First Appear Ridiculous”: Discuss):, and on Nick Short’s presentation (“Androids in Africa”)

Brendan’s blog on his journey through the labyrinthine google-opoly task:

And mickelous who mentions the LFF in his post about Technology in the snow.

Last but not least, thanks to suchprettyeyes for creating a twapperkeeper archive of the tweets:

Please do post comments here or tweet to let us know if you have blogged about the Festival 🙂

By Gabi Witthaus, 12 Jan 2010


Inspired by Scott Leslie’s PLE Diagrams wiki, I just had a bash at illustrating my own PLE, organised according to the things I want to do in it:

My personal learning environment (Click on the image for better resolution.)

My personal learning environment (Click on the image for better resolution.)

Then I asked myself:

How many of the functions listed in red, that I currently carry out using the Web 2.0 tools noted in green, could I carry out as effectively in a VLE using the VLE tools? (I was thinking particularly of the virtual learning environment used at our institution – Blackboard 7.)

The answer? Strictly speaking, none – although with a more generous definition of “effectively”, the networking and sharing ones might be addressed. That’s two out of 14, at a stretch.

PLE or VLE? No contest.

Gabi Witthaus

GTD in my PLE

Before I read David Allen’s book ‘Getting Things Done’ (or GTD as it is often called), my ‘system’ for managing my workflow was about as orderly and predictable as the traffic in an Indian city. And, just like Indian traffic, the system sort of worked, but as my best friend remarked while we were lurching through the streets of Jaipur on the back seat of a sideless rickshaw driven by the fearless driver-cum-tour-guide Ali (or John Travolta, as he preferred to be called) at only about 30km per hour, but still narrowly missing camels, scooters, cars and manic, overloaded buses which were all (apart from the camels) going faster than us, the biggest danger was that one could be half-killed. And so it was with my system for managing my day-to-day work routine…

Enter GTD and things began to change. I reorganised my home and office. My brain felt like it had been reorganised. While the ‘reorganisation’ process involved learning several new habits, the one that probably made the most difference was that I stopped arranging my ‘stuff’ in piles according to subject matter, and started arranging it in piles according to ‘Next actions’, for example, ‘To phone’, ‘Next @ computer’, etc.  It’s amazing what a difference this little shift made in my ability to be productive. (While at the same time increasing the sophistication of my procrastination techniques, but we won’t go down that road…)

Of course GTD is not the panacea to all productivity problems, and it’s had its share of rightful criticism, but I think its core principles are useful when practised judiciously.

Soon after implementing the GTD system, my whole life moved onto the computer, and when you start organising your stuff on a computer you get into the realm of what is increasingly referred to as a PLE (personal learning environment). My PLE is my browser. Personal living environment might be a more accurate description in my case… I pretty much live in FireFox. My whole GTD system is in there. So, if I ever found myself on a desert island with no Internet connection, I wouldn’t be able to get anything done. (But that would be the whole point of being on the desert island, right?)

I’m not going to bore you with all the gory details of how I organise my PLE, but I do want to tell you about two tools that I would be totally lost without – iGoogle and Diigo.

iGoogle is set to my home page in FireFox. Apart from being the launching pad for some obvious things like my Gmail account, my Google Reader feeds, Google news feeds, weather reports and maps, it also contains all my projects lists and to-do-lists, which I created by going into “Add Stuff” in iGoogle, and then selecting (surprise surprise) the To-Do List. You can load this great little gadget as many times as you like into iGoogle – as long as you put each list into a separate tab. Resulting in GTD paradise – a tab for ‘Goals’, a tab for ‘Projects’, a tab for ‘Next actions @ work’, or whatever headings you want – each with its own list. (By the way, I tried EverNote and RememberTheMilk, but for this purpose both of them – especially EverNote – felt like trying to drive a ten-ton truck through the centre of Bangalore. People do it. But give me a little zippy scooter any day.)

Now for Diigo. Diigo is my repository for all the reference material out there on the Web that I want to be able to find again with just a quick tag search. It’s a brilliant way to do the following things:

  • Save your bookmarks in a non browser-specific place on the Web
  • Share bookmarks with colleagues and friends – and you can configure Diigo so that all your links also go automatically to Delicious if you have a network there
  • And… this is the killer feature if you happen to be a researcher… you can highlight selected text in web pages and add annotations in sticky notes. You can also share your annotations, and choose whether to read the public annotations of other, selected Diigo users.

If you go into my Diigo bookmarks, you’ll find everything from how to potty-train your kitten, to where to find the best hotel in Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown. Oh, and a handful of links to blogs and discussions about GTD, PLEs and social bookmarking, some of which informed this blog entry. And a whole bunch of stuff about using technology to enhance learning and teaching.

With iGoogle and Diigo as the drivers in my PLE-GTD system, my working day now feels a lot less like trying to get around an Indian roundabout, and a bit more like this fantastic representation of traffic flow in Tokyo based on GPS signals. (On second thoughts, maybe the back seat of John Travolta’s rickshaw would be a safer bet…)

By Gabi Witthaus

Uninstitutionalising Institutions

The numbers of years undergraduates spend in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are relatively short compared to their entire careers throughout which they will carry-out lifelong learning. This leads to the question: ‘do institutions need to change the way they deliver learning and manage their learners?’

To explore this question further, it means, in these times of Cloud Computing and large amounts personal data being stored in the Web Cloud, should institutions continue locking learning and personal development processes behind institutional passwords which expire when students leave the institution. Do HEIs need to adapt their delivery to enable students to continue using their learning (materials) after graduation?

This question isn’t just related to post HEI learning, but also learning and online activities students are involve in before and during University. When students arrive at an institution it is likely they have an email account on Hotmail, Gmail or Yahoo (other services are available), that are attached to online services such as social networks. Therefore this provokes the question: ‘should students be asked about a preferred email address?’ This will not only make it easier for their course tutors and alike to make contact, but also ensure students are receiving their learning where they want it to be delivered.

This approach will also enable learners to organise their learning in a way that suits them. Instead of delivering learning via institutionally structured, formal Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), student can organise their learning within Personalised Learning Environment (PLEs). These environments can then be integrated with other online activities outside of the institution structures and systems.

Furthermore, if institutions were encouraging students to carryout Personal Development Planning (PDP) in non-institutional environments are students are more likely to continue the process post-university?

This became more evident to me whilst at the Centre for Recording Achievement Residential 2008. During the Residential there was a question and answer session with a recent graduate, she described how she carried PDP activities in an institutional VLE. When I asked the question “what has happened to all that information now?” she answered “I don’t know” and went on to say how she can no longer access the materials because her account had expired. I found this shocking – valuable developmental material was lost due to institutional processes. This could be easily resolved by allowing her to manage the process herself by using tools that are familiar.

To come back to the original question, I can only conclude, for students to get the most value out of their learning, institutions are going have to become more flexible in the use of Cloud Computing to accommodate the way which learners manage their online materials.

Matthew Mobbs

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