Wednesday, February 28, 2007

non, je ne regrette rien...

(except, possibly, not paying a hitman to take out Alison "Paparazzi" Purvis last Sunday.)

this is a very un-me-like statement, but i've had an excellent conference. i was going to do the traditional "highs and lows" post (with possibly the highest thing being the excited voice...and the lowest thing being...erm, me) but there really haven't been any lows from a conference perspective. yes, not everything has been stretching or progressive (don't worry, the old Sheffield Hallam smugness is still intact), but the standard of presentations, the atmosphere, the conversations with people during the breaks, the organisation, have been really good*.

so, here are some of the things that stand out for one reason or another:

  • the keynotes - particularly the world bank keynote, but the standard of keynotes here has been in a different class to the usual uninspiring, same-old-same-old drivel about planets, zoos, what dead or fictitious people would think about e-learning, etc. and no one wearing a freaky hat or ceremonial costume. which was nice.
  • scholar - i know there's a certain level of scepticism (sp?) about this amongst the team at SHU, but from what i saw, and the conversations with Bb staff (who, yes, are bound to be a little bit biased) in my very focussed focus group, and at the stand yesterday, this looks like a v promising development - familiar interface, flexible, and something that might just encourage academics to begin engaging with ways that many of their students' will be living their lives.
  • following paul's link to the chipmunks site just now, and absolutely killing myself laughing. brittany, eleanor, jeanette - they're all here, but i'll let you decide for yourself who's who.
  • not spending the whole time listening to the usual suspects - there's been quite a diverse group of people presenting here - not everything's been relevant, but the vast majority has been thought provoking in some way, and people seem to be very willing to share.
  • the very high standard of presentations from Sheffield Hallam...
  • Helen inventing the Boardman Shuffle (do do do do do de de de do do...).
  • oh, and not once being dragged into a conversation that involved the words "Blackboard" and "patent" in the same sentence.
*not to mention the sheer volume of free bombay sapphire on offer throughout the trip. truly, truly excellent.

notre presentation...

Angie & I did our "Evolving staff support" presentation this afternoon. Despite it being in the big scary main hall (the one that made Mickey Chasen look smaller than Richard Parsons' ear) it went well. We had around 25 people (spread out among the seating for 5000 people) but everyone seemed very engaged. Of course, they could have been writing their shopping lists and we were clearly not up to the standard of Helen Rodger (Sheffield Hallam Helen Rodger, that is) but we got some really good informal feedback from people in the audience, and some good questions too.

The focus of the presentation was some of the impacts of the Presidium support on on-campus support mechanisms, etc, particularly focussing on the Info Services and pedagogical advice, some of the things that the additional Tier 1 support and reporting info are allowing us to do. Seems like 24/7 and/or out of hours support is something that a number of UK institutions are contemplating at the moment. Must dash, need to ask Presidium what kind of commission they offer for new business generation...

a votre sante!

Baluchon! Baluchon!

(that's Backpack Backpack for those who care..)

Corks! that went rather well, I had about 30 victims in my session, all of whom were thinking about but not actually using Backpack yet. All the usual UK crew were there along with a healthy amount of new faces, and despite hideous ulcerated tonsillitis, I didn't screw up. Anyway I was ace* - told them about the pilot, why, when and how and what our little darlings said in their initial feedback. Good discussion at the end too, though some technical - all good.

I spent some quality time yesterday with our man on the ground Thomas Collette from Agilix (the most lovely man in Nice), among other things, he was tickled by feedback from one of ours who said something along the lines of "I would rather saw my own head off with a blunt knife than listen to the Backpack tutorials.." (here here!), as a result of which they've promised to do some UK voice overs. We are currently considering whether dick van dyke or rough northern lass would be best...

Some of you may be aware that we are having a few (not insignificant) problems with the new version of Bp, he's been prioritising getting it sorted to us, as ever responsive and constructive. More when I get back.

*my aceness is official, 95% of my feedback forms said so, and one even said that I was the "best so far, and by far" So HA! I'm going to milk that for as long as humanly possible, or till liz sorts me out with a brick to the back of the head.

le keynote numero 3

just to prove that we are going to sessions, and not just making short people feel good about themselves by being shorter than them...

this morning's keynote was by Serge Goldstein (Princeton) who talked about their use of Bb, and the evolution from Course Management System (CMS) through Learning Management System (LMS) to Academic Management System (yes, you've guessed it, AMS). it was an interesting talk, and it made everyone very jealous - they have a faculty:student ratio of 1:4.5...and their professors teach only one course per semester.

one thing that was quite interesting was that they use Bb to deliver tests to languages students before they start, so they can place them in the correct level class when they begin. this also has the benefit, i guess, of getting new students accustomed to the Bb system before they start.

picture to follow later...

"je m'appelle helen rodger"..."non, je m'appelle helen rodger!"

mon dieu! there are two helen rodgers here. in case you don't believe me:

ok, caption competition time...we've started you off with a couple of suggestions:

"I'm helen rodger, and so's my wife..."

"Pick a helen rodger, any helen rodger..."

now it's over to you! and just in case you're not sure which one is our ("best in show") helen rodger, here's a picture of her in mischievous mode:

the night before her session was nominated best of the conference so far. and by far.

je suis tres desole...

Sheffield Hallam's reputation in the e-learning world now appears to be based largely on the fact that we're enthusiastic disco dancing pixies (helen's phrase). you may see a lot of incriminating evidence about a certain member of the team dancing wildly. but we were all at it. alot. well, someone had to appreciate the fact that blackboard was appreciating their clients...

Feeling appreciated

We went to the client appreciation event last night. We were entertained by ladies playing electric violins.


We got glowsticks and masks...


Liz chatted up Michael Chasen (Bb CEO) and we have video evidence of Liz dancing with (and scaring) Mr Chasen. We will save that for later.


By the end of the night, we were feeling very appreciated.


Louise, the star of the show

We feel that we are being watched...

From the moment we registered,

Louise Thorpe

to the first keynote by Michael and Jessica,


and pretty much everywhere when we're in the exhibition hall...


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Digital Divide

At the keynote this morning there was talk of the digital divide. I feel that divide. As a pseudo-LTI member, I am not the recipient of an LTI standard issue laptop. I have been disadvantaged. But not to fear, after a long trek through Nice trying to find a shop that sells electronic goods, I now have a card reader, and photographic evidence is now available to hold against my LTI colleagues.

The next session is just beginning though, so I will leave you with a safe shot of 3 of us arriving on Monday morning.


ist hier in der nahe ein fussgangerzone?

no, i haven't lost my grip on what country i'm in (though my grip on reality is as tenous as ever), but the next presentation today was by 2 people from bavaria and, in the spirit of european conferences, it seems rude to use exclusively french and english. and anyone out there who did german at school (oh, that'll be about 2 of you then...) will remember fussgangerzones and their importance to asking for directions.

anyway, this one was called Learning Scenario Design and Implementation in Blackboard. The presenters were from a tiny institution with 2000 students, but some of the things they were discussing were quite interesting. Because of the nature of the courses they offer, their teaching staff are really subject experts, with little prior engagement with pedagogy (or didactics) so it's difficult for them to engage with this, and with technological innovations. So a couple of things they've done to try and help with this process:

  • Firstly, they offer 4 scenarios of what using Blackboard could look like in learning and teaching (quite similar to the engagement models we were discussing in AI a few weeks ago) - these go from Basic (which is sort of administration plus - content focussed, with little online interaction - to help ease those staff who are very uncertain about technology into using Bb) through Standard Communications, Enhanced Communications, then onto Online (which is either fully online, or heavy online use/presence). From what I could gather they have had these scenarios in place for less than a year, but are gradually hoping to see more people moving through the scenarios once they become comfortable - at the moment, 80/90% of staff are within the Basic/Standard Comms scenarios. But these help demonstrate quick wins for staff, thereby adding value to their experience, and encouraging them through.

  • Secondly, they showed a course/module development template, which was populated with examples of how a learning approach (eg, group focussed) might be presented at different stages of the learning process (eg, Application & Analysis) to make use of Blackboard. It would probably be worth revisiting the taxonomy stuff that we started last year with Melissa and Demetra to see if we could expand the use of that with some case studies of use? (thinking out loud here...sorry...)

Anyway, I'm very concerned, as I've obviously forgotten to take my cynical pills today. 2 sessions that were worthwhile, 1 straight after the other? Nah, can't be happening. Maybe my head is just so full of nutella and pain au chocolat, and it's dulling my senses. Luckily, normality started to return during the next session...I was presenting part of it, so naturally it wasn't anywhere near as good. Ask Alison, she's the brainy one as she so kindly pointed out last night :)

Damn, no photo for this session. Here, have a random picture of Washington instead (well it is a Blackboard Conference, so it's not totally random):

le globalisation, l'education, et...l'amour entre deux oranges?

This morning's keynote was excellent - I was in two minds whether to go or not, but it was definitely worth the sprint to the convention centre and getting drenched by the sprinklers in the park. There's far too much to cover here, but Bruno Lanvin (The World Bank) - look, here he is in a sub-standard picture:

gave a talk about Knowledge Societies and the Global Education Challenge. Yes, quite, that's exactly why I was in two minds about whether to go - not my kind of thing at all. But it was an incredibly engaging talk and he covered a lot of complicated concepts in very accessible ways. A lot of the talk was focussed on the knowledge economy, the value of information, the rapid outdating of information (eg, in a 3 year degree, by your final year the information you learned in the first year will be outdated; we're currently educating people for jobs that don't yet exist, and preparing them to work with tools, technologies that haven't been invented yet; for advanced and technical skills, lifelong learning will be the rule, and the best thing that anyone can learn is how to learn).

It might be the sort of stuff you've heard before, but it really helped me to focus on some of the conversations we've been having in AI recently, about the need for fluency, adaptability, changing patterns of learning, etc (hint: AI Forum future of learning wiki. get it while it's hot!).

There was a bit about measuring and statistics - about the fact that the digital divide has always existed, but it's just the focus that is shifting; and about the fact the people try to measure economies based on what is measurable rather than what is strategic. Anyway, like I say, too much to cover (and I've probably done the poor man some terrible injustice with this rambling post) but the presentation should be available online. So just two more things...

1) Apparently, when the US VicePresident went to Argentina to deliver a speach about the Global Knowledge Infrastructure (in the 1990s, i think), the initial focus of the speech was going to be termed International Information Infrastructure. Until he got on the plane, and someone pointed out that the acronym was III, and it probably wouldn't go down too well in a spanish speaking country...

2) If anyone can find out firstly, what the "Love of 2 oranges" (or "Love between 2 oranges", or something similar) is, there's a prize in it for you (share your solution as a comment); and secondly, if you can guess what it might have had to do with the presentation, there's an even bigger and better prize.

Right, I'm off to finally engage with globalisation and the knowledge economy. More book shopping at the airport on the way home, methinks...

Bb Scholar - the development partner's view

This is Bb's social bookmarking tool. Teeside Uni Bb people and Henk van Rijssen from ROC Midden Nederland have been working with Bb to test the product prior to release. The overwhelming message seems to be that it will need a lot more promotion to users before people recognise the purpose and value of it. Surveys at Teeside show that there is currently very little use of social bookmarking. Given it's still a new concept to many academic staff, when asked, they can't say how they're going to use it. Their lack of enthusiasm is probably more related to their lack of understanding of it. At the moment this is a disadvantage, but it could work to Bb Scholar's advantage as it may become their preferred social bookmark tool.

It did strike me that more consultation with library staff could save some agonising, eg the difference between controlled vocabularies and folksonomies ... and their relative merits in the social bookmarking world. There are still people suggesting (albeit in the audience, not so much from the developers or beta testers) that the social bookmarking tagging should be organised and controlled in some way. Teeside feel the lessons they learned were that tagging is not as simple as it first seems and takes time to learn. I'm not sure about this - it's a technology/concept to pick up for sure, but it's not like people will be expected people to learn the Library of Congress subheadings.

There were the often heard concerns over the potential loss of control if students can just tag what they like. Fortunately the developers and testers seemed relaxed about this and felt that it would regulate itself given the purpose of it. My thoughts are that this gives more opportunities for library staff to get involved to stress the importance of developing skills for evaluating information.

There seemed to be some disbelief that this is a technology that Bb are offering to Bb users with the commitment that they will be able to continue using it when they are no longer enrolled in any Bb courses. In a world where everything associated with Bb comes with a price tag on it this seemed too good to be true.

Bonjour! Je m'appelle Michael Chasen!

...and look! I'm smaller than Richard Parsons' head!

Michael was very excited to be here. He kept telling us how excited he was to be here. Even if you missed the word excited, you could tell he was very excited to be here, and talking to us. And d'you know what? I was excited for him! Seriously, there was some infectious excitement in the room.

He was very, very excited to talk about some of the success stories...including one from someone called Louise Thorpe, from Sheffield Hallam (or possibly Sheffield Halem?). Jessica Finnefrock (who was also there, and possibly almost as excited to be here as Michael Chasen was) namechecked Richard Parsons (pictured) but he didn't get much attention, and she was nowhere near as excited about that particular aspect of it. You could just tell.

They both (Michael and Jessica, that is, not Jessica and Richard) talked about the product roadmap, priorities for development, etc, which you might have heard elsewhere before. These included, but not limited to:

  • quality and stability key to development, combining the best of both products
  • enhancing the Discussion Board (including bringing back some old features - they accepted they had screwed up by removing these in the first place - as well as adding new ones, such as e-mail digests of Discussion Boards I think)
  • enhancing the Gradebook - particularly to help management for large class sizes, the ability to lock/freeze views
  • alerts/subscription model for areas in Content System - eg, "so-and-so has added new content to x area"
  • enhancing the social connection/networking stuff that can be facilitated through Bb

Jessica said they had to be reminded frequently that non-Bb staff aren't quite as excited about using and developing the product as Bb-staff are (bless) and that a key win for them was to get Bb to help academics do the less interesting aspects of their job, freeing up more time for the fun stuff. Another key thing was that making the transititions from one version of the product to the next generation shouldn't involve huge migration issues.

And then there was some talk about the product roadmap being built on 4 x 2.0s - Blackboard 2.0; Web 2.0; e-learning 2.0; and education 2.0.

And i'm going to be really really late for this morning's keynote if i don't leg it now...

Monday, February 26, 2007

Mon dieu!

Apparantly being in france does not make me immune from the usual technical nightmares that beset me at home.. My lovely little laptop takes half an hour - that's REALLY half an hour to boot up (consequently, I'm NEVER going to switch it off), also its typically incompatible with the hotel internet service; not to be put off from posting to the blog - I used the stupid tv internet servic, posted and to my delight only the title showed up and it lost the rest. So I gave up when ali dragged me kicking and screaming for lunch and coffee on the beach.. (ali has the photographic evidence so you'll have to wait).

Annnyway, I could ramble on about gin (liz's free gin challenge), views (its jolly nice here), food (yum), work (?) but I've hijacked a machine in the speaker ready room and I'm getting pressure to get off and let people do some real work. I'm off to hound my Mr Backpack now, wish me luck..

le focus group numero deux: le social bookmarking

you know, there was one focus group participant in this who just rattled on and on and on for 30 minutes even though she clearly had very little idea what she was talking about and was making it all up as she was going along. i think she was from sheffield hallam, none of the other participants got a look in.

well, to be fair, that's because none of the other participants turned up, so it was just me and 2 people from Bb. not exactly the most dynamic focus group...but on the bright side, they did tell me i knew more about social bookmarking and its potential applications than anyone else in the room! oh, hang on a minute...

well, i won't take up any room by recounting what i said...i'm going to go and check out scholar at the stand tomorrow, it sounds v cool, so will post more then...

1 hour to go until the Michael Chasen experience...

le focus group numero un: le gradebook

6 people walk into a room: 2 welsh, 1 irish, 1 dutch, 1 slovakian, and 1 english...

no, it's not the start of a bad joke, but a description of the focus group i went to this morning. here's a brief overview of the main points that were discussed:

  • don't disappear any existing functionality from the gradebook! but if new features are introduced, let individual users choose their own default views/features to use rather than having a cluttered gradebook for all
  • there's a need for users to be able to access different views of the gradebook (eg, formative vs. summative results) and for individuals to be able to select their default view
  • a couple of the institutions present mentioned the need on their campuses (campi?) for anonymous views of the gradebook - i'm not sure whether that's something we'd need/want or not?
  • their should be a 'basic' version of the gradebook for those instructors who just want to add and view grades - with the option to switch on advanced features at the site level (the example used here was weighting, which scares the bejesus out of people who don't want to use it...i'm paraphrasing here, obviously)
  • it would be really good if students could have the option to export their grades and feedback, either to the content system or in another format that would enable them to integrate it with their portfolios, etc
  • students should also be able to distinguish between formative and summative grades in the gradebook
  • finally, their should be a robust audit history/tracking of changes - so that it would be possible to view the gradebook at different points in time in case changes were made accidentally, or if grades were changed for a legitimate reason

ok, clearly that's a shorthand version of what was discussed - comments, questions, or punchlines for the joke welcome...

sacre bleu!

English tourist in mediocre-photo-opportunity-hotel-balcony-death-plunge shock!

"Ah, lovely sunny day, concrete building with no windows - this will be the conference centre, no doubt?"

"Eck-skew-zay mwah, oooo se trewve le BbWorldEurope, sieve ooo play?"

"Are you absolutely sure we're in the right place? I'd have expected more of a clue..."

nb: je suis tres desole que le qualite des photos n'est pas professional (???). But Alison "my photos will be much better than yours, aspden, after all i'm the creative one" Purvis neglected to bring her camera-to-computer connecty stuff. i, on the other hand, while being photographically challenged (not to mention phobic) at least have the technology.

Bonjour la classe...

Apologies for the lack of the traditional "view from my hotel" posting - just risked life and limb leaning out over a v french, not particularly safe balcony railing to get a shot down the street of blue skies, palm trees, french appartements, and a giant blow up Jacques Chirac - but alas, the lighting was all wrong, and it's not a stretching exercise i wish to repeat in a hurry. Maybe later.

it's all tres francais at the moment - Gerard Depardieu keeps appearing (on the telly, not at the hotel) promoting his new film and last night you could just hear the distant sirens of an Inspector Clouseau police wagon. just off for le petit dejeuner, before trying to figure out where the hell the conference centre is in time for the 10 o'clock gradebook focus group. why, lord, why...

a bientot

Thursday, February 22, 2007

oh no ...

the wind speed's gone up 2mph today!