You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone – RIP Jorum 

Typcial! The day I on holiday is the day that the announcement about the retirement and refresh of our national open learning repository, Jorum, is announced. I think the news came as a surprise to many, partly because it’s not quite clear just what the refreshed version will actually be, and just what kind of open it will be.

Unlike some of my former Cetis colleagues like Lorna, I haven’t had any direct involvement with the development of Jorum. However, I have always had a bit of a soft spot for it. Mainly because I felt it got an lot of unfair press in its early days, and that was due it being an idea just a little bit ahead of its time in terms of easy implementation and adoption. I remember the struggles trying to get instituitions to sign up to use it – legal-ese heaven for some; the struggles with content packages, the metadata, the federated searche engines – happy days😉

Back in the day, there was always a bit of eye rolling and sighing from certain quarters whenever JORUM ( and at that time it was upper case) was mentioned. I think many of those people forgot that any system at that time would have had to contend with the early licence issues, the technical issues of uploading content etc. Despite all of this, Jorum kept going, growing and developing. Its transition form into an open repository was a testament to all who worked on it, and also to Jisc in terms of supporting open education. Like many others, the news this week has surprised me and made me feel a little bit sad.

This is where I have to “fess up”. I have never put anything into Jorum, and can’t actually remember the last time I looked at it. But, and of course there has to be a but, I have always encouraged others to use it whenever and wherever I could. It was like Elvis said, always on my mind, when taking about OERs and indeed educational resources in general. 

So, maybe a new app/refresh approach might actually help me and others like me to share my stuff in/on whatever the new Jorum might be. It could be another step forward in the cultural and practice issues around sharing “stuff” which is at the heart of opened education.

In the meantime tho’, it does feel a bit like that Joni Mitchell song  . . . You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone . . . And maybe in this case it’s a bit orange taxi . . . 

Students, customers, service user?  What’s in a name?

image (image : CC0 Public Domain)

The thorny issue of students as customers has been raised a notch over the past month. Firstly at the Jisc Student Experience Creativity Workshop  and in matters closer to home that I will expand on later in this post.  Due to undergraduate fees, my colleagues in Universities south of the border are probably slightly more comfortable with the term, it does still irk me a bit. However we do have fee paying students at my institution, we need more to survive, and whatever way fees are paid, we certainly all need to be meeting and exceeding our students expectations of their university experience.

Last week I was lucky enough to meet and spend some time with Jim Groom along with some of my favourite ed tech commentators including Audrey Watters and Martin Weller at the Eden conference. Not surprisingly, lots of our conversations centred around, APIs, the domain of one’s own project and Jim’s new venture reclaim hosting.

A couple of years ago whilst doing some work for the OER Research Hub , I used the API analogy for researchers within the project.  Just like APIs, researchers provide hooks into research and its applicability in the real world. Or in the case of any educational research, the classroom.

Of course we can think of the university in a similar way. It could be seen as a massive API providing links between numerous services including learning and teaching, research, support, administration and many more.

Just now at GCU our new CIO is starting work on developing our Digital Strategy. Unsurprisingly there are many references to the “customer journey” usually preceded by words like  “improving” and  “transformation”.  Ensuring our student facing customer journeys are aligned with our establishing and constantly evolving learning journeys and curriculum development journeys is going to be crucial. This is where I think the term service user may be more appropriate.

Much of the work that needs to be done in our context is around our technical infrastructure and improving the integration and interoperability of our existing systems – our basic service provision if you like.

At this stage, the focus is very much on the “digital ” too. As we still have to come to consensus about what being a “digital university” means in our context ( I have one or two thoughts on that as you, dear reader will know and that was the reason I was at the Eden conference), why not be a bit more up front and talk about “service users” just now instead of customers?

I think that would be more meaningful and help us frame some of the conversations around just what being a digital university means in our context.

As part of the research that Evelyn McElhinney and I did last year around students use of technology, highlighted that we need to be thinking more about how we interact with what we called boundary spaces – the spaces we all find useful (e.g. youtube) – but don’t own and our bounded spaces (e.g. VLEs) in terms of learning activity. You can read more in our final case study.

If the first step on this journey is to improve our technical service offerings, get the quick wins to our essential service then why not make the shift to thinking of our IT infrastructure as an API?

Once that first layer is in place, then we can start to think about the more complex learning and teaching, research, administration journeys in the wider context of digital transformation through  digital participation and our mission for the common good.  Just like with software, the Universiy API provides the basic connections that allow the really exciting stuff to happen.

At the ALT Scotland SIG meeting this week, it was interesting to hear that GLOW (the Scottish Schools digital environment) is taken the API approach too.

I realise this isn’t ground breaking stuff, and it’s one of the reasons I like Mark Stubb’s tube map. I think that pretty much sums up the journeys most universities need to be thinking about.

“Customer” or “service user” may appeal or oppose in equal measure. But just now, I think the latter might be more appealing and engaging for where we are at in GCU.  It might also help separate the technical infrastructure from the people driven transformation that we aspire to.

Dave White has also written another take on this, the student as product. Even more food for thought.

Digital Participation and the Digital Common Good (#scotinfolit)

Last week I attended the Scottish Government’s Digital Participation Advisory Group at Holyrood.  The Group advises the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Fiona Hyslop who chairs the group.  I was there  as part of a mini delegation (well there were 3 of us, Bill Johnston, John Crawford and me)  from the Information Skills for a 21st Century Scotland Community of Practice.

We were fortunate to have been allocated quite a bit of the meeting to discuss information and digital literacy and the potential for closer links between this Advisory Group and the CoP. You can read our briefing paper Scotland’s Information Culture briefing paper (feel free to add any comments too).

There were a number of updates from other projects including the Let’s Get On campaign which has been traveling the length and breadth of the country and encouraging people to get online.  Whilst listening to the update  from the Wheatley Group on their pilot project offering low cost broad band access to their tenants in a Kirkton project in Glasgow.

The findings of the evaluation are showing that if you provide low cost access and in some cases devices, people will go online and start reaping benefits. These include saving money in taxi bills by doing online grocery shopping and using comparison websites. The requirement for online searching as part of job seekers allowance is also more easily fulfilled.

I was humbled whilst listening to  the difference having access to a reliable and low cost wireless connection can make to peoples lives.  I was reminded just how privileged a life I lead.  Wifi is ubiquitous in my life, both at home and work. I don’t have to make a choice about eating or getting online. Comparison websites are more a game than a necessity for me.

It seems though, that there is still a disconnect between interactions with other key public services. The next steps are to explore that more fully. It might be due to the fact that many government services aren’t fully useable with mobile devices.

So whilst it is great to see these initiatives and the confidence and opportunities they are bringing people (particularly children who in the project come out as very much being digital champions) there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of sustaining greater digital participation and the developing of peoples confidence and ergo their digital capabilities.

Digital participation is where Universities can play a pivotal role in the digital agenda.  Particularly a university like my own, GCU, whose mission is “for the common good” or  as it was originally stated ‘the common weal”. We should be a key part or digital hub if you like, looking for more ways to link initiatives like the ones mentioned above with our own work in widening participation for example the Caledonian Club and GCU College Connect far deeper into our formal and informal curriculum.

Last year I proposed this model of engagement for us, pitching us as a digital agora, or hub

 screen shot of diagram

In the week when UNESCO released its Rethinking Education: Towards a Global Common Good? report, embracing digital participation could be a crucial way forward for all of us.

I’ll be exploring the understandings of the digital university later this week at the EDEN conference where I look forward to extending this discussion more.

Open Data Glasgow #5 (#opendatagla)

The Open Data Glasgow meet ups are now back on track, and last night saw the 5th meet up of the group. Thanks to the UBDC for hosting the event and providing refreshments.

I really enjoyed the mix of speakers at the event, and the focus from them all on how open data can help communities and people. That makes a nice change from the big data, big money commercial focus of many data conversations. It also raises key issues about data literacy and how we need to ensure the everyone can access and keep getting access to public data and in turn be more aware and empowered about how their own data is being used.

Thanks to Graham Steel not only for doing much of the co-ordination for the meeting but also for live streaming the event.

I’ve  collated tweets from the evening into this storify, and you below is the recording of all the speakers.

Storyboards: flipping storify and the classroom

Screen shot of storyboardIt’s a common plea within HE, can’t we just get rid of the lecture?  But there is safety and comfort in the lecture so getting rid of them is easier said than done. I was delighted then to hear from the mental health nursing team here at GCU this week who have actually taken a unanimous decision to ban lectures in their models and move to a more directed study, reflective, workshop approach.

Starting from wanting to create an learning experience that really engaged students, and just as importantly worked to the strengths of the team in sharing their experiences of actual practice, the team now create weekly “storyboards” which provide resources, readings, videos, guidance and questions for students. Lectures have been replaced by workshops. These start with a  debrief of the week’s study board following by small group work focusing on key areas of knowledge for that week.

The students have individual learning logs (using the campus pack blogs within our VLE) and are encouraged to reflect on their own learning/experiences and resources they have found during their pre-workshop activities.  The module has a #hashtag, and students are encouraged to tweet through out the module.

The team are using Storify to create the storyboards.  Mainly because they find it is easy to use, and students can access it in and outwith the VLE. It also does look a tad nicer than a page within the VLE!  The team can easily update the boards, and update resource/tweets.

I’m a big fan of storify but I hadn’t thought about using it this way. Until I saw this I had it boxed in my mind as synthesis/ after event tool.  But of course it works just as well, if not better, in this way. Another really neat flip!  You can check out the team storyboard dashboard here.

The team have found that this change has really increased engagement in the workshops. The enjoy the workshops much more as they feel it allows them to facilitate learning far more effectively. The can see more engagement, vicarious and peer learning.  The team did admit that it did take time to “let go” and adjust to this new way delivery, but now they would never go back.

Each storyboard is carefully planned, and is very explicit about the time, topic, resources and most importantly questions for students to consider and reflect on each week.  It has taken time to develop the storyboards, but the effort has been worth it.  The storyboards can easily be updated for each new cohort, so the initial effort pays back with time saved in the longer term. The team have also found that this approach allows them to provide more personalised guidance, particularly when dealing with some of the very challenges issues involved in mental health.

Although the team haven’t done used it yet, the embed functionality in storify means that boards/stories can be embedded within the VLE, as can #hashtagged twitter widgets.

In terms of open practice this is also a fantastic example of sharing approaches to learning and teaching with the wider community.

The revolution is mobile? A few thoughts from Jisc Creativity event #jisccreativity



I can remember at the turn of this century ( always wanted to start something with that sentence – not sure if it makes me wise or just old! ) there was a person, who will remain nameless, who kept popping up at events and conferences I attended. I used to get a bit fed as in every presentation this person did, and they did a lot, they used to bring out their mobile phone, wave it about,  and say “this is going to revolutionize everything in education.”

“Yadda, yadda”,  said I and others, and we went back to our desks, our metadata, our content packages, our baby VLEs and websites.  15 years on, and it turns out that mobile technology (not just phones) are actually incredibly important in all our lives – not just in education.

For me the I think the change has been evolutionary, each handset I’ve had has been allowed me to do just that little bit more, be it take a decent picture or video conference.  There have of course been a couple of revolutionary moments. Thank you Steve Job and co for ipods/pads/phones.  Although I hate to admit it, I do feel slightly lost without my phone. Without it, I feel just that little bit less connected to my world, my family and friends and not just work.

Last week I was at a Jisc event where we were asked to develop some radical ideas, things that would be revolutionary not evolutionary – and of course be able to be sustainable potential funding ideas for Jisc.  Peter Reed has already written a  great summary of the event.  Whilst I’m still not sure if any of the ideas were actually that revolutionary or radical, one thing that did strike me was that a lot of the ideas were dependent on mobile technology. Many of the ideas built on geo-location services like Yik Yak or extending personalised notifications on phones.

It was also pretty easy to get not to far away from a not to shabby mock up of apps, and have confidence that the backend technology to make them happen was pretty much available already and we were all confident that things would work.  As someone said in the room, if this had been 10 years ago at a Jisc meeting, the technology would have been central to the discussion. We would have spent 2 days designing the database, not what anyone was going to do with it.  At this event, it was really the ideas, people and processes that were top of the agenda, and amen for that.

One of the delegates was head of estates, and I found the perspective of “the voice of the estate” fascinating. Intelligent, dynamic room booking based on real time pre attendance information; that probably is the not too distant future.

That said, it was also noticeable that there was focus on services to make the wider student experience better for students, and there wasn’t as much focus on learning and teaching itself.

I was in one of the groups that did focus on learning and teaching. We started with the idea of “what if?” What if you didn’t have to go to meetings, give one hour lectures, mark essays, what if you could actually  get more time to “do stuff”?  That evolved from something that blocked out time for staff to experiment, to the google 25% idea, to what we called the “total curriculum” where everything from 1st year to PhD, was based on real world projects.

Of course, there is a lot of project based curriculum already happening across all levels of education from primary schools to universities, but what if we extended it more? Of course there would need to be radical changes to our learning and teaching structures (like timetables and exams) to more meaningful self directed learning with negotiated assessments. Perhaps we could start with more evolutionary steps like 1 week  learning festivals, maker fests and building up to one month, one semester, one year, three (four) years.

Would that bring about a revolution or just another step in our evolution?  I don’t know, but it was fun talking about it and realising that just like with some of the technology for the other ideas, it isn’t too difficult to image actually happening.

My digital day – digital reality, digital futures and potential passivity

Last week along with some colleagues I was shown this Microsoft promotional video of the, not too distant, future.

You’ll probably have seen several similar things. It’s full of lovely shiny, images and lots of swooshy-ness with images and “stuff” moving seamlessly from walls to watches to tablets to shared boards. Now whilst I put my hands up to liking a nice bit of shiny swooshy-ness as much as the next geek, these types of videos always make me slightly uneasy, and do bring out my inner dystopian fears about the role of technology in the future.

Although full of shiny, happy people I can’t help but want to scream “who is in control? how is this all paid for? ” They all seem to be working with – aka moving stuff around on various devices/surfaces – and contributing ( in very small ways) to just one set of data. Everything is coming from and going to the one place. And of course in this case, it’s Microsoft.

They are not alone, every technology company has a similar videos and visions.  In terms of education shouldn’t we be creating videos that show our students and staff working with and contributing to multiple data sets? Making decisions about what data to use and how to analyse and present it?  Ensuring that we are  creating shiny, swooshy stuff that everyone can benefit from?  This video and others like it seem to be alluding to a very digitally passive future.

The day after seeing the video I was still thinking about it as my day unfolded. I was going to Edinburgh to the Jisc Learning Analytics Network meeting. My day started with a Skype call which I took on my phone as I walked to the station. As I was buying my ticked, holding my bag, trying to get my card in and out of the machine whilst muting and un-muting my phone, I couldn’t help thinking that a few of those contactless, swooshy features would have been very handy.

Once on the train I thought I would check my slides for my presentation. Obviously I had them stored in the cloud. However the free wifi on the train was a bit slow to get onto and actually wouldn’t let me look at anything as image heavy as my Haiku deck slides. I had also forgotten my phone charger so after the Skype call my battery was a bit low so I didn’t want to use it all up on the train.  Again in the future tech video power seems unlimtedless wherever you are, be that underwater, in the jungle, in Shiny Towers, power is limitless. Even if I had remembered my phone charger there weren’t any power points in my train carriage.

When I got to the Jisc meeting – the train was late but I tweeted I was on my way to the organisers – I got online instantly via eduroam, listened, tweeted, did my presentation (from the backup copy on my data stick), retweeted a link to it and by the end of the day over 200 people had viewed it.

After the meeting I met an old friend and had some posh cocktails in a swanky bar, so of course pictures were shared via Instagram. There were a few quite funny comments which I was able to respond to on my way home on the train as my phone battery slipped further and further into the red.

My day wasn’t quite as shiny as the video, but there were shiny elements to it. But more importantly to me, was it as passive? I hope not, but I am not so sure.  As well as having very useful face to face conversations, which will be very helpful in terms of things we are planning to do at work, I also had several useful exchanges via twitter both with people in the room and further afield. The constant thing throughout the day though was connectivity (or lack of) and communication. Was I though just moving things around like in the video?

As we march to our seemingly inevitable digital future and developing digital strategies and universities (whatever ‘digital’ in those context actually means), I do fear we may be creating new forms of digital passivity disguised by seemingly meaningful connectivity and communication. Is digital passivity our future?