Digi Domi

Sharing my passion for technology and learning.

Education, not exclusion.

I was going to write a reply as a comment to the BBC article I’m about to talk about, however, I found myself rapidly heading towards the character limit without having actually made my point. That was partially because I’m not a very direct communicator, but also because I had too much to say, hence this blog post.

So, this article shows that in a recent survey Instagram came up as the most dangerous social network for young people’s mental health. Cut to the comments with lots of people posting along the lines of, “Aha! I told you social media was bad. Back in my day….” and of course, “You should just see people in ‘real life’….”. Both of these sentiments make me so annoyed it’s all I can do not to start waving my arms around (which is fine at home, but in a public space might cause some alarm). Let me now take the time to address my problems with these sentiments.

Social media is bad – and this is evidence

This first one annoys me because it is wrong, but also because I feel it is the wrong conclusion to draw. I don’t think this shows that social media (Instagram in particular) is bad. The article talks about how Instagram has a negative impact on young people’s mental health for the reasons you might expect, anxiety, loneliness, bullying and body image.  It is easy to conclude that this means they should get off social media, but that isn’t necessarily the ideal solution in my mind. The article also talks about some of the positive impacts of social media, on self-express for example. I truly believe that it would be better if we could educate young people (and let’s be honest ourselves as well) to understand how to interact with social media better. To understand that it is not healthy to compare yourself to others, that just because someone is different does not make them better or worse. You can appreciate someone else’s beauty (say an Instagram post of a model or makeup artists work) without comparing it to yourself – just learn to accept that you are different and have your own strengths. It is also important to learn the amount of work that goes into making people look amazing. This is something I myself have had to learn when I would often feel sad looking in the mirror because my hair just looked boring and rubbish. I then started to learn that it takes a long time to create the amazing hair I was comparing myself to, rather than the quick wash and brush I had as my routine. After that I was able to stop comparing myself, and also decided to make a little more effort on my own hair.

In terms of addressing loneliness, social media is a double-edged sword. It can help people feel less lonely in some cases, by connecting them with like-minded people who may not be located in their geographical area. I find this useful as a vegan without many vegan friends. I can join groups and follow certain people who talk about veganism, share tips, and just generally make me feel like I’m not the only person who feels like I do, I’m not a freak. On the flip side, it can also make people feel very lonely by always showing others out enjoying life. It is easy to conclude by looking at your social media feed that everyone else you know is constantly out, partying, going to gigs and other events, and just generally enjoying life. Whereas here you are, sat on the sofa/ in bed, looking a mess in sweatpants and just being a loser. This naturally raises two questions in your mind, firstly why is everyone having more fun than me, and secondly, why didn’t they invite me? It is important to note (and again, I say this as someone who has had this as part of their own personal journey) that most people are not constantly out partying and having the best lives ever. Social media tends to show the best of people’s lives because this is how we chose to present ourselves. It is understandable, people are often looked down upon for showing weakness and so we show the happy times. We also want to be able to look back on our own timelines and see how great our lives have been. It doesn’t show the in-between times (which might be long or short) and it doesn’t show what is going on in people’s minds – those people themselves may be suffering from mental health issues and just not showing it. This again is why it’s important to have education about how we interact with social media and try not to be comparative.

Real life

I might just be being pedantic here, but when people refer to real life they should actually be talking about physical life or the physical world. What happens online is very much part of our real lives, to suggest otherwise is not only incorrect it is also dismissive and demeaning to anyone who has mental health issues impacted by social media. If what happened online was part of some non-real life then it wouldn’t have such a profound effect on our lives. Our online and offline lives are becoming increasingly blended, and are both very much real. The relationships I have formed and/or maintain online are just as meaningful to me as those that I have physical contact with. In a global society, it is not always possible to have physical contact with those we love – my own parents are separated from me by the seas and so emailing, texted and Facebook helps us keep in touch and stay connected. The same is true for many of my friends and family who are on the same land-mass but the geographical distance and the financial implication of travel mean we don’t get to maintain as much physical contact as we’d like and have to rely on social media. None of these relationships are diminished by this. In fact, I don’t think it would be unreasonable to argue social media allows people to have better relationships, by allowing them to communicate with people they want to, when they want to, rather than forcing them to interact only with those in physical range.

I get it. Technology is always seen as scary and threatening. Everyone wants to go back to the good old days, but only to when they were a kid. I’m not sure there are many boomers who are arguing cars or telephones corrupt our experiences of the world and we should go back to travel by horse, or even to drawings on cave walls to communicate. Change means change, it forces us to adapt and to come up with new ways of understanding and interacting with the world around us – but that is often the way with progress.

So I don’t think shutting the door, or logging off, are the solution. I think understanding and education are a much better way to keep moving forward.

Final thought

All of the above also comes with one last caveat, which is that as a society we need to get better at understanding mental health. We need to be more sensitive to it and understand that it is not always visible. We need to understand this and we need to recognise it not as a weakness but as an illness. Better awareness and facilities can make it easier for people to get professional help and that can save lives.

Link to the article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-39955295

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Trello!

Trello is a useful and powerful tool for many things including tracking and organisation of tasks.

Generally speaking in Trello you have boards, lists and cards. Boards will be associated with a particular project or concept, for example, ‘My Work’. Within the board, you will have many lists such as ‘Pending Work’, ‘Work in Progress’ and ‘Completed Work’. These lists are then comprised of individual cards; normally these are tasks. Below is an example of a ‘To Do’ style board – this is not a dictation of exactly how you should use Trello, but an illustration of one possible way:

trello2

 

You’ll notice in this example that each of the cards contain other annotations:

  • The coloured bars are labels – which can be used to easily denote a service or other association between cards.
  • The little bubble indicated the number of comments on the card – these are a nice way of adding notes to a task.
  • The tick box indicates there is a checklist and displayed how many items are checked – this can be helpful for breaking down a task into sub-parts

It is also possible to add members to a task, associating the task with a particular person, to add attachments and a due date; which can be a useful way of sticking to a deadline or just organising your time.

There is also much more that Trello can do and it would be advisable to visit their website, they even have a dedicated inspiration section.

Domi’s Tips

How you choose to use Trello is up to you and entirely personal choice. I like to use boards in Trello in different ways of varying purposes, but my predominant board setup is:

  •  1 list of tasks that need to be done.
  • 1 for tasks in progress.
  • 1 for tasks that have been completed (this will be periodically archived).

I have boards to keep track of my personal to-dos, work to-dos, DIY planning, keeping track of blog ideas and tattoo ideas.

If you’d like to try Trello then it’s free so please enjoy.

https://trello.com/domisinclair/recommend

 

 

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Women in Technology

A few years ago I went to the Future of Technology in Education (FOTE) conference, in London. It featured a morning filled with presentations, a panel and lots of discussions on the topic of women in technology; it prompted me to have lots of thoughts about the matter. So I diligently took to this blog, drafted a post….and then abandoned it. The thing is, I still have lots of thoughts about women in technology, and as yesterday was International Women’s Day I thought it the perfect time to dust off this old blog post and publish some thoughts.

First of all, I would like to note I think it is extremely important we avoid positive discrimination; that is employing more women in technology simply to make the numbers look better. Hiring should always be based on the best person for that job; it should be fair and competency based. Having said that, I do think we need to make changes,  mostly small ones, to ensure women have the same opportunities as men (and vice versa in other jobs). In this post, I will discuss some of the reason I think there aren’t more women in tech, despite there being talent out there.

Masculinity misconception

I’m not going to talk about sexism or chauvinistic men here, instead what I what to explore is the perception of technology-based jobs being more masculine than other jobs. This isn’t true for all roles but I do think there is a stereotype of the t-shirt and jeans clad tech geek. No one really wants to be crawling around in a cupboard or under a desk for network cables in a nice dress and heels. Indeed I have been faced with this exact dilemma and it has practicality issues (both in not wishing to ruin your outfit and not wanting to expose yourself). However, this isn’t all tech is about. When it comes to less physical technology jobs there is nothing to stop you coding in a wiggle dress, 5-inch heels, and pin curls if you really wanted to. I’m not trying to say that women can’t wear t-shirt and jeans, they absolutely can, I’m just saying that despite the stereotypes there is no reason someone in a tech job can’t rock whatever they want. In fact, that is one of the reasons I’ve always loved working in technology-related fields, the dress codes are so much laxer than say working in finance; you can have fun playing around with outfits from smart and feminine to more relaxed looks. So being in technology does not mean abandoning your feminity (I type this with painted nails whilst wearing a dress, lipstick, and sipping from my pink drinking cup!)

The language we use also has a significant role here. Just think, if your computers broke, and you’re at work, who you gunna call? The IT guy. Now maybe you know the specific person, or you’d just say call the IT department, but you see my point. Culturally we are used to thinking of and referring to ‘the IT guy’ rather than any female or non-gendered term.

Media misrepresentation

Linked to the above is how those in technology roles are portrayed in the media. As always there are exceptions to the rule, but it is likely in any fictional media representations you are going to see men being more technologically competent than women. If a woman is good with technology then there is a strong chance that a) she grew up in a male environment or with strong male role models (somehow her achievements are the product of men), b) she is shown as breaking the stereotype (maybe the protagonist that meets her is a little surprised that a woman is the IT person). So we can do better there, we can be more casual about showing women in technology roles.

Positive role models

Connected to the representation in the media is the presentation of female tech role models. Now there are a bunch of women who have done great things in technology, just look at Ada Lovelace – considered as some to be the first computer programmer. If that isn’t enough you can move forward in time to Grace Hopper who did revolutionary work with computer programming languages, even inventing the first compiler. Yet, when you think of great historical tech figures the names that most likely come to mind are; Alan Turning, Tim Berners-Lee, Bill Gates….a lot of men basically. But there have been so many women involved in technology, and there still is. I’m currently in the process of reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book (she’s the COO of Facebook) – and it’s great; both inspirational and accessible. So when I talk about role models it’s not a lack of them, there are plenty to chose from, it’s exposure to them, highlighting them in school and at home.

Final thoughts

In conclusion, I think that women can absolutely work well in tech – although I’m not saying that it is always easy and I’m not saying that there might not be some resistance – but if we show children at a young age that women have and can succeed then we are in the right place. Just to emphasise, I did say children. I don’t think we do ourselves much good if we just expose young girls to all these positive female role models, we need to show them off to boys as well. Everything becomes much easier if both boys and girls are taught and shown that gender doesn’t limit your ability – and shown a positive example of both men and women succeeding. At the end of the day, gender shouldn’t be an issue here, this is about talented people working in exciting and challenging technology jobs and helping the world move forward.

 

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#SocMedHE16

Last week was the Social Media in Higher Education 2016 conference, which I was fortunate enough to attend. This was the second year of the conference which took place at Sheffield Hallam University, as it did last year also. The first thing that struck me about this conference was both the variety of different skills and usage levels that the various attendees and presenters had with social media.  Some people where slightly more advanced in their usage of social media, whereas others were just beginning.

During the conference itself there were 3 key themes that struck me, which I will talk about in more detail in this post. The things that struck me most where;

  1. The importance of students as co-creators
  2. An interesting debate about ‘lurkers’
  3. Discussions about Professionalism

Let’s start by looking at the first key theme, students as co-creators in more detail.

1.The importance of students as co-creators

One of the benefits of social media is that it’s interactive and so anyone can be a content creator. This makes it a powerful tool when used with learners, as they can learn by doing, creating content and even sharing it with the wider world and external subject experts. By engaging in this way student are raising their personal professional profile in their chosen industry and gaining experience. There is also another interesting side-effect of this, especially in relation to projects that are co-run with students, and that is the equalising of staff and students.

Although there may still be a slight hierarchy on social media, it does tend to place all those using it on a more even platform. Connecting celebrities with fans, and experts with learners whilst enabling them to ask questions or engage in conversation they could not normally have. This idea of students as ‘co’-creators can be really empowering for learners and help develop a confidence and passion for enhancing their learning. Social media as a platform for learning has been seen to encourage heutagogy as it put the learner in a more powerful position of control over their connections and output.

2. An interesting debate about ‘lurkers’

One of the discussions I found more interesting was a discussion about ‘lurkers’ on social media platforms, that is learners/ participants who do not actively participate in discussion or other activities but instead only view content. There were three main talking points around this topic; terminology, definition and impact.

The first discussion is one of terminology, should we use the term lurkers or does this have pejorative connotations? Is a better term, ‘silent participants’ or ‘passive learners’? Does it really matter what we call them? Personally, although I don’t mind the term ‘lurkers’ I do see why some would see it in a negative light and I think maybe ‘silent participant’ is a better term. Although the words we use do have significance, it is also important not to become too distracted by talking semantics at the determent of promoting good pedagogy.

The next point to consider is what counts as lurking? This seemed obvious to me, but as we moved into a group discussion on the topic it seemed that there are varying opinions on this. Some consider complete inactivity to be lurking, as in someone who reads conversations and consumes other content but does not themselves produce anything to share. This was more my view of what silent participation was before the session, and remains so after. However, I was slightly surprised to hear some proposing that those who ‘like’ content but do not offer content are lurkers. The level of engagement that is required to be shown for someone to be considered active, seemed to be something that everyone did not agree on, but it is a valuable conversation to continue having.

Finally, it is important to reflect on whether lurking is a bad thing. Do we need to consider ways to ‘lure’ those who lurk into the conversation and encourage them to actively engage? Would this enhance their learning, or are there some people who are happier and just as effective when they are consuming content, rather than producing it. If everyone where producing content, then is there a limit on how many people can be in a class? Surely at a certain class size not everyone can talk at once without diluting the conversation. How do we strike a balance in this case? Personally, I think that all participants should feel they have the opportunity to contribute and engage. For those who are hesitant or resistant we should investigate more closely what is holding them back.

3.Discussions about Professionalism

The final thing I want to talk about is the many discussions and presentations that focused on professionalism in the use of social media. This is a very natural topic to be considering in this sort of setting as social media puts learners in the public eye, and what they post could have effects long past their degree.

The main takeaway here was to avoid simply scaremongering. There are potential risks, and plenty of horror stories but if these are focused on too much in guidelines or workshops it puts social media in a very negative light and can understandably make students resistant or hesitant about using online tools.

Instead of focusing on the risk, it is good to present students with a realistic balance between the potential risk, so they are aware, and the positive impact social media can have. There are many success stories of students getting job offers and securing careers through their use of social media to share examples of work and connect with employers.

Overall it was an interesting conference, although it did not add a great deal to my personal understanding of social media, it did prompt me to reconsider some topics that I had not been as actively thinking about (such as the ‘lurker’ debate). If anyone is interested in exploring the use of social media in education then I would recommend looking one of the many excellent books produced on the subject.

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AAEEBL/ CRA Conference 2016

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the first ever joint AAEEBL and CRA conference, hosted in Edinburgh between 6th – 8th June 2016. For those who don’t already know AAEEBL is a US based global portfolio organisation, it stands for the Association for Authentic, Experiential and Evidence Based Learning. CRA is a very similar UK based organisation, with it’s name standing for the Centre for Recording Achievement. So, as you can imagine this was a portfolio conference.

I must pause here to note that one of the nicest things was that this was a portfolio conference and not a tool specific conference. That will be reiterated when I start to look at some of the key themes.

It was a wonderful three day event, that had an unusual but very beneficial structure to it. The first day everyone was together, with a single strand and there were lots of session that focused on getting us to talk in small groups or rotate around the room going to different discussions and making notes on table cloths. The second day was a more conventional conference day, with a joint keynote in the morning and then multiple strands (5 strands in fact) running through the day. The third and final day then brought us all together again in a single strand with more opportunities for collaboration. This meant that everyone had a different conference experience and so we could contribute different things to discussions on the last day, based on the sessions we had seen the day before. It was a very conversational conference, and although there was not much time to chat in between sessions the workshops and even presentation were delivered in such a way that it facilitated further discussions and thoughts.

To avoid this post being too long, I am going to move swiftly into the key themes that came out of the conference for me, so that I can then explore each of these in some more detail. For me there were 3 key themes, that kept popping up in presentations and discussion and these were:

Structure/ scaffolding/ frameworks
Process not product
Cultural shift/ change

Let’s dive in and look at these in a bit more detail, starting with Structure/ scaffolding/ frameworks. When talking about portfolios it can be easy to get carried away in their potential for creativity and exploration. However it is important not to forget, that anecdotally at least, students can find this openness very overwhelming. Indeed staff might also need some guidance in how to utilise this learning format. Therefore it is very important to provide some scaffolding, to at least get people started with using portfolios. At the conference there was some talk about templates, as well as frameworks for developing effective portfolios both for single assignments and for on-going holistic learning.

The next one might be my biggest take away from the event, and that is the idea of ‘process not product’. By this I mean that it is important we focus on the process of portfolios and not which product we might be using the facilitate them. In my experience it is all too easy to become distracted by making sure you are using the best possible system. But whether it is Mahara, PebblePad, WordPress or Weebly, the important thing is the process of creating a portfolio and all of it’s learning benefits. Moving forward I intend to take this as good advice and start work on a framework for portfolios that looks at practice and just refers to tools guidance in the footnotes when required. At the end of the day, most of the tools do very similar things and it is about ensuring the pedagogy and practice are applied effectively.

The final theme, but perhaps the hardest thing to tackle is the need for a cultural shift, for a change. This is hard to achieve. It struck me whilst discussing this at the conference that portfolios can often surface a lot of  insecurities, both on the path of the students (having to be so open and conscious about their learning) and the staff (changing their practice and possibly highlighting weaknesses). Therefore it would seem that a possible step towards this change would be by surfacing and recognising existing practice. It is easy for us to get carried away with the potential for portfolios, especially when we have been talking about them for so long, but it is important to remember that although the conversation is old for us it is new for some others. We should not run into academic’s offices and tell them they have to change the way they work. This is scary, intimidating and quite frankly off-putting. Instead we might want to go in and highlight stuff they are already doing that is ‘portfolio-like’ or maybe even just informal portfolio work. By highlighting and praising this existing good practice you are more likely to make people feel positive and encourage them to expand upon that existing practice. It might be easier to teardown a building and start again, but that can take a lot of work and often isn’t practical. Instead you need to work with what you have, but eventually you can completely transform a space, without having the tear it down.

I will finish this post with a last analogy, and this one is not mine. This analogy was used by Trent Batson at the conference and I think it is helpful. He was talking about the American automobile and how it took 35 years to become fully part of US culture. First they invented the automobile and it opened up a lot of possibilities, such as people being able to commute more easily for work. But even after this it still took time to build all the roads, parking spaces and petrol stations needed. The idea was proven but it took a lot longer for the infrastructure to become part of daily culture.

I use Twitter to take my notes and then archive them, and all the Twitter interaction I had afterwards via Storify. So if you’d like to see what I was thinking and sharing during the conference please see my AAEEBL/ CRA 2016 Storify.

 

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MoodleMoot UK & Ireland 2016

Last week was MoodleMoot UK & Ireland, an annual conference which sees the sharing of ideas and inspiration, that was on this occasion hosted in London.

There was a lot to take away from this conference, and you’ll find some useful links at the end of this post. This includes a link to a Storify of all my Tweets, which is my new note-taking method. I simply find it more useful to Tweet what I would otherwise note, and then gather them together afterwards, then to keep isolated notes in Evernote or OneNote. If you would like to seek out more from the Twitter conversation that took place then you can search with the hashtag #mootieuk16.

In this blog post I want to focus on the key theme I noticed from the conference and also talk a little bit about some of the cool uses for Moodle tools that I saw demonstrated.

So, what was the biggest take away, the key theme that kept popping up in presentations and keynotes? Analytics, consult, refine, improve, repeat! Over and over again I heard about the importance of using analytics to highlight areas we can improve upon, be they system analytics on which Moodle features as most (or least) used at our institutions, or learning analytics to identify how we might put in technological or human solutions to help improve the learning experience of our students. Once we have identified the areas to target, it is then all about consulting with users, which could mean staff and/or students, to find out exactly what they want from the system. This all then leads to the need to refine what is feasible (within the limits of technology, resources and budget) before carrying out improvements. Perhaps though, it is the repeat part of this equation that is most important to remember. It is no good to carry out improvements of our systems and then sit back feeling happy with a job well done. It is about reflecting on what we have done before starting the cycle over again. With the rapid pace of technology it is important to always be honing what we offer, and reviewing how we use it. What can be done more efficiently?  What can be replaced? Of course this is all much easier said then done, in reality there are a couple of major restraints on all of this (budget and resources, which in turn are limited by budget). However, it was clear from the conference and talking to those present that this need to review and improve is key to a happier use of not just Moodle, but any technology. I think it is also important to remember that the message isn’t just about enhancing what you have, it is about evaluating first then based on that information carrying our required improvements. Change for a purpose, not for its own sake.

Moving on from the key theme I’d like to quickly looks at some of the clever use of tools I saw at MoodleMoot. Perhaps one of the simplest aspects of the conference, but often one of the most valuable, is just the ability to see alternate ways other people are using common Moodle tools. My favourites from this year include the Moodle lesson tool and forums.

For the Moodle lesson tool I was really inspired by Lewis Carr’s (@lewiscarr) talk on using the lesson tool instead of creating SCORM packages. By using a tool built into Moodle you are reducing the complications and the room for error. I also thought this could be a really useful tool to use to help teach storyboarding as a pedagogic approach. By getting tutors to sit down and plan out a Moodle lesson in a storyboard format, you could encourage them to think more creatively about the lesson, and to visualise it in a more holistic way. I have always found when using the Moodle lesson activity that sitting down and planning out the structure of the lesson, (quizzes, branching, pages etc) on paper before doing anything in Moodle to be really helpful. So why not expand upon this idea to run a workshop on storyboarding from a pedagogical perspective? If you’d like to see more of Lewis Carr’s presentation, ‘How I learned to stop worrying about SCORM and love the Moodle Lesson Activity’, you can do some on the MoodleMoot IE UK site.

Another presentation that excited me was by Rx Islam from Floream (@floreamedtech), and her presentation about, ‘Using Core Moodle Tools for Collaborative Learning‘ (also available from the MoodleMoot IE UK site). I really liked the creative ways that she described using the Moodle forum tool for peer assessment (all protected and arranged by the clever use of Moodle groups) and as a glossary. Despite the fact that Moodle has a dedicated glossary tool, by using the Moodle forum it was easily searchable (Moodle has a forum search tool) and it also utilised a tool that students were already familiar with. The Moodle forum is also a good tool to use because it is fairly straightforward and easy to understand, which can be a benefit over other tools, that may be more tailored but could also involve more of a learning curve. Personally I found it enlightening to think about using the tool that students were already familiar with rather than the tool most designed for the task. It makes sense and I feel slightly embarrassed for not thinking in those terms sooner, however I will be considering tools students have already been using more often when making recommendation in Moodle.

 

More information on all of the presentations, including recording can be found from the MoodleMoot IE UK site.

My notes, in the form of all of my tweets, re-tweets and interactions can be found on Storify.

 

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Learning Technologist or learning technologies?

My husband has a little joke he likes to make when I don’t instantly pick up a new technology or know how to operate a new piece of AV equipment in our home. He likes to ask me, if I’m really a ‘Learning Technologist or am I just learning technology?’. This obviously then leads to him chuckling to himself and often to me rolling my eyes or getting defensive, depending on what mood I’m in.

Sometimes however it does give me cause for pause. What is my role as a Learning Technologist? Am I expected to be a person who instantly knows how to use any technology placed in front of me? Is it okay that this isn’t always the case?

Although it might be possible for some to just get running with new technology, this isn’t always how I operate. However, what I would say makes me a good Learning Technologist is that I am willing to play around with new technology, and to quickly get to grips with most of it. Although I may not always instantly know how to work a new online service or piece of AV equipment I have honed and refined my ability to figure it out, paired with an almost instinctive understand of how different tools work. In the modern world I feel the superior skill is not the retention of knowledge, which may soon become obsolete, but the ability to find and filter new knowledge as it is required. This is something I am very good at, and if I don’t know the answer I can always quickly find it and pass it on to whomever is asking.

What do you think, is there a time limit in which a Learning Technologist should be able to figure out how to use a new piece of technology (software or hardware) when it is put in front of them? Is that time limit, seconds, minutes or hours? Let me know in the comments.

 

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Together we better: User groups whys and hows

Here you can find the poster I presented at Mahara Hui UK 2015. You can find a video version of this poster on YouTube – which was created for AAEEBL 2015 in Boston.

ENJOY!

Together We Are Better Poster A3

Creative Commons License
Together we are better: user groups why and how by Domi Sinclair is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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Thoughts from AAEEBBL conference 2015

Recently I was fortunate enough to attend and present at AAEEBL 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. You might be wondering what AAEEBL stands for and what this event was all about, especially if you have never heard of it before. The Association for Authentic, Experiential and Evidence-Based Learning focuses on the usage of portfolios at their annual conference. In fact one of the key points to come out of the conference was a consensus that as a community we should stop referring to e-portflios (or eportfolios depending on your preference), which is distracting and in many cases superfluous. Instead it is time we just talk about portfolios and focus on the pedagogy. This conference was very much aimed at focusing on the pedagogy, and in most cases the tool used was almost irrelevant to the presentation. In education it is far too easy to get caught up in our own silos, whether that is a department based silo or a tool based silo. When we stop and look to the outside we can often find valuable input we would have otherwise missed.

Collaboration was also a key theme from the conference. To make a portfolio effective involves everyone working together. It involves tutors and students having a clear dialogue about what is expected in the portfolio. It also can benefit from peer-to-peer collaboration, whether that is academics helping one another out with creative ideas/support or students giving each other tips and feedback. It can also involve working with your local learning technologies support team (e-learning support) to combine their technology and pedagogical knowledge with a tutor’s subject expertise and student experience.

The final key theme I’d like to highlight is badges. There were a number of presentations and a keynote on the use of badges with portfolios. This seems like a natural fit as portfolios are a great way of collecting evidence for a badge. A badge in turn is a nice way to recognise competencies or skills that might not otherwise be acknowledge by assessment criteria or formal credit. The McArthur Foundation have produced a video which explains the basics of what a badge is, if you are still unsure.

If you’d like to get a wider overview of the conversations from AAEEBL then please see my Storify, collecting my tweets and all the best other tweets from the event.

You can also see my presentation on utilizing the (portfolio) community: https://youtu.be/wcFBsON_-6Q.

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MUGSE 3: Royal Veterinary College (RVC)

The third meeting of MUGSE was held on Friday and kindly hosted by Ben at RVC. This was the first meeting in London and there was a nice mix of experienced and new users. We were also very lucky to have Don Christie from Catalyst IT in attendance.

The session kicked off with a round table of questions and issues. Everyone got to ask a Mahara question or describe a problem they are having. We then worked through the list and crowd-sourced answers and solutions from the mixed experience at the group. This was showed just why user groups are so powerful and useful, as we were able to prove that many minds are better than one.  Some of the questions and problems that came up included:

  • Wanting to see examples of practice
  • How to Auto create groups?
  • Moodle integration
  • If anyone else was using Institutions
  • Open badging in Mahara
  • Who will be moving to the new version in April?

Most of these had answers, some of which will be touched on in the rest of this post, and as for those that aren’t, well that is why you need to come along to a user group meeting.

After our group discussions, we had a short break before moving into the presentation half of the session. This began with Roger and Sam from Southampton Solent University (SSU) telling us about their Mahara help, which is integrated into the ‘i’ information buttons. They have come up with a system so that each ‘i’ button provides three key areas of information, what is this, how do you use it, and a link to examples. Roger kindly informed the group that SSU’s help pages are open and publicly accessible via: http://mahara.solent.ac.uk/ Sam then took over from Roger to share some case study videos she had made with staff and student’s at SSU who have used Mahara as part of their course. Although we only watched clips of the videos, these are also available for anyone to access online, though Sam did add the caveat that they need a little more editing, they are very helpful: http://mahara.solent.ac.uk/casestudies

Following on from the SSU presentation was Don Christie from Catalyst IT who explained the Mahara release cycle and then gave an overview of the upcoming version. He told the group that the April release has some small changes to the UX, such as the ability to comment on artefacts (not just pages). more importantly is the introduction of web services, which will allow many new functions to be carried out and plugged in. Don also gave us a sneaky peak to the future and said that they have been working on bootstrap for an upcoming version of Mahara (not the April one but possibly the October release). He then wrapped up his section by asking if anyone in the community could send Catalyst wire-frames of ideal workflows in Mahara to improve the way the system works, as we have more experience of using the system in the real world. This might include being able to share from the files area instead of having to put stuff on a page or anything else you think would make Mahara easier to use.

Last, but hopefully not least, I finished the session by talking about the importance of utilising the community through various channels, including:

It was pointed out that I missed out contributing code, and of course this is very important as well, although might be less accessible for some people, but if you can then this is always a valuable contribution. In regards to making the best use of MUGSE and the Mahara Tracker, I also suggested that we could pool our resources and target particular bugs or feature requests, either by all voting for them or by pulling together funding if multiple institutions are willing to contribute a small amount. It is worth a try.

If you would like to attend a future MUGSE then please keep an eye on the Twitter account @mugseUK or direct message it or me if you would be willing to host a session. The next meeting will likely be after the MaharaHui.

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