The Learning Studio


The Learning Studio is a new community of practice that we are forming to support collaboration and peer-to-peer exchange and communication around teaching and learning in art, design and media. Initially it will focus on UAL staff from across the whole institution, but we hope to expand out into the wider community and other institutions in the future. The imitative is borne of some of the same sorts of frustrations that James Clay has voiced in his post on why the traditional model of staff development and e champions has failed to really impact on the use of learning technology and pedagogic innovation. I would echo his words,

‘it’s about practitioner taking responsibility for their own staff development, to seek out a community of practice, to build on their skills, share, collaborate and move forward. It isn’t enough now to rely on a single staff development day, week or event. Staff development is an activity that happens every day.

Community is important, local, regional, national and even international. Sharing practice, ideas and problems is a way of changing culture. Building communities of practice and personal learning networks should be the responsibility of every practitioner’

We plan to meet regularly using live web conferencing on the Wimba platform, and to use other web 2.0 environments to collaborate including the new UAL social networking and staff development platform, myCPD, which is a drupal based environment for personal and collaborative development.

The next step is to being to build the connections between staff at UAL, which as is typical in many other institutions, are doing great work but often in almost isolation. One of the main drivers of the learning studio is to act as a conduit for people to find each other to share their ideas, expertise and to collaborate.

IMG_0980Having worked a lot on both the theory and practice of communities of practice, including with the man himself, Etienne Wenger, I’m both excited and nervous about the project as it has huge potential but is also likely to be difficult and challenging to build, nurture and sustain the community.

We plan to follow Wenger’s advice on developing a CoP by firstly interviewing a group of people, already identified as leaders in teaching and learning, and brainstorming with them what the terrain we should be covering is, what kind of activities we should be developing, and who else to invite initially to the community.

One idea we have had is to carry out a ‘Go to…’ survey to find out who people identify as the ‘go to’ people when they need advice or have a problem, this is a way of using the staff themselves to identify key ‘thought leaders’, innovators, e champions, or just people who get things done. This should also help us to map the current networks of collaboration an information sharing that exist and will hopefully help build the community.

We plan to soft launch it fairly soon, with a series of web conferences and other events that lead up to a university wide launch in the new year.  At present we plan to use some of the approaches we have developed on the Masters program I teach and the OPEN-i network for photojournalism that I’ve been running for the past year or so. These include regular webinars, social bookmarking using diigo, flipbite interviews, twitter as a ‘watercooler’ to share quick bits of information, questions and useful links, as ell as the more established platforms like discussion forums and blogs etc.

(If you are interested in joining the community in the future, especially if you are involved in art, design, photography and media, mail me at and i’ll keep you updated)

What has worked at your institution in developing learning communities, and what hasn’t – tales of success and failure welcome!

The Cognitive Surplus of a conference revisited

We were offered a vision of how the academic conference might be re-imagined with the final words of the 6th Designs on E Learning conference held at Savannah College of Art and Design. Owen Kelly, from ARCADA in Helsinki, Finland, where Designs will be held in 2011, gave an outline of their plans for the next meeting, which if they come to fruition sound really interesting and a real challenge to the traditional format of papers presentations and lots of talk over lunch.


The idea is that the conference will last for 6 weeks, with a long initial period of online interaction culminating in the actual f2f event. Presenters will be asked to upload their papers and presentations well in advance of the conference, and the participants will be able to interact with them, post comments, read and absorb them etc well ahead of time. At the conference itself, the presenters will give just a short outline of their work and then lead an in-depth discussion of the issues it raises. This promises to really engage the audience, and should lead to a much deeper debate than usual.

ARCADA Helsinki

All the sessions will be webcast live – this could be tricky if they really are going to go for an interactive discussion – and will have a live feed in from the online audience to ask questions directly.

Talking to Owen afterwards they really seem committed to this vision, and we discussed that perhaps the presenters could give the traditional paper as a webinar before the event, and that we could hold other webinars after the conference to keep the discussion going. We also thought that if it was presented as a real opportunity for the presenters to get peer feedback on their work it could be sold to the management who might otherwise question the challenge to the traditional format.

I think this has real potential, and could help to bridge the gap between the ‘unconference’ style event and the more formal one.

We also had some great discussions with Keith Bailey from Penn State and the SCAD team about how to make Designs part of an ongoing process of establishing a more solid pedagogy for art and design. A key part of this was the idea for an open journal, and that we would also collaborate on a project to imagine what a ‘virtual open studio’ might be in our disciplines – rethinking the VLE/LMS with an art/design twist. We had a good breakfast brainstorm on this and started a Google doc on what it might be; more on this in another post shortly. This should link the conference to an actual open source product, and to a reification of the production of the conference too, all good stuff.

All this adds to the debate James Clay and I started on the cognitive surplus of a conference and conference formatting.

In my own small way I tried to experiment with the presentation format as well, I had a fairly long session of 45 minutes for my ‘paper’, so gave a 20 min ‘talk’ and then broke the audience up into small discussion groups to brainstorm a question that related to my talk – and a question that I wanted some answers to. I asked them to talk about what ways might web 2.0 enhance reflective practice, and to sue examples from their own experience. We made a public Google doc and allowed everyone to post their ideas to it. This worked ok; although a MAJOR bug was that the ipad does not support Google docs unless you download an app, which we only discovered during the session. And as lots of the participants had ipads not laptops, his hindered our ability to collaborate. But as a concept it worked really well, the participants really engaged with it and the discussions were really active. Proof of the pudding was that most of them stayed on after the session ended to carry on their group discussions and I had to virtually force them out to go to lunch – now that doesn’t normally happen at the end of a sessions! And of course, we created an artefact of the session, which everyone could share and contribute to.

How else might we rework the conference presentation format??

Collaborative co-creation at Designs on E learning

Collaboration, co-creation, communities of practice,the ‘virtual studio’,  mobile learning and digital literacies were the emerging themes of the 6th Designs on E Learning conference which was held this year in the stunningly beautiful city of Savannah Georgia, otherwise known as ‘Slowvannah’, and hosted by the impressive Savannah College of Art and Design, SCAD (they even have their own art deco cinema!)


The opening reception set the scene, and was held in one of the beautiful garden squares that dot the historic centre of the city; it was great to be out in the fresh air at the start of a conference for a change.

This is the only international conference focusing specifically on learning technology in art and design, and had a good attendance of around 100, mostly from the USA but with a good scattering of presenters and attendees from the UK, South Africa and New Zealand.

A major theme was that the ‘virtual studio’ can offer real advantages and affordances over the physical one, and that the potential for an ‘augmented studio’ is immense. Darrel Naylor-Johnson  of SCAD explained how art has always been affected by technology from the days of using animal fat for cave painting thru the invention of oil painting to today. He maintained, quite rightly, that the virtual studio, or at least the augmented studio, can have advantages over the traditional one. He gave examples of how repetitive activities can be better demonstrated using video recordings than ‘real’ demos – which typically only the students right at the front can see, and showed an augmented reality video that superimposed a clock face on a drawing class that made the technique much easier to visualise.

Keith Bailey of Penn State demonstrated their ‘Assignment Studio’, a drupal based interface to facilitate the sharing and managing of art works between staff and students. This has had real impact, students can curate their own digital galleries and it has saved up to 40% of tutors time in download/uploading of files for assessment purposes.

Nancy Turner of UAL argued that creating digitally literate graduates should be at the cornerstone of any university education, especially in art and design.  She saw the key drivers of e learning  being  student expectations,  diversity and declining resources of staff and space, but argued that the most significant factor was the need to provide students with arena to develop digital literacy. In this she foregrounded the idea of co –creation of projects between staff and students, citing the work of Elizabeth Saunders on the collaborative design process with non designers.  She then posed  the key question of  how often do we collaborate with our students in the curriculum design process? This is a really important issue, and its great to see someone raising it as a vital part of the curriculum and course design process. She also highlighted the work we have been doing together on developing the 5 C’s of digital literacy – curation, critique, creation, collaboration and communcation

Several presentations explored this idea of collaborative co creation in depth, and were really inspiring in terms of how they had brought together disparate groups of students to work with tutors in a non hierarchical way.

The Face Book project was was a brilliant exploration of identity and digital presence, and investigated  people’s first impressions of others in social media an how they ‘profile’ each other. It  led by Jenna Frye and Christopher Morgan, and was a collaboration between Morgan State University, which is public with predominantly African American students and mostly black and MICA, a private college that is mostly white. The project took advantage of student’s familiarity and use of facebook but critically engaged with it to investigate how profile pictures generate stereotypes. The students submitted profile pictures and then selected a collaborator by choosing from these images without any other information about the other participants-like in facebook

Each student then had to profile their collaborator solely based in their profile picture then sent it to partner, they then had to write profiles of each other again based solely on the photographs. Finally they shared their real profiles with each other. They then made a ‘poetic portrait’ of their partner, and all the collaborative ‘portraits’ were then put together in a book using blurb where they can be ordered as a book. The Face Book opened up an honest debate around race and stereotyping in Baltimore, and began to break down segregation between what were previously completely separate worlds – some of the students met up in ‘real life’ and began to build connections between the 2 colleges.

Another great project was LINKED, another co-creation between 2 institutions. it was presented by Helen Armstrong and Zvezdana Stojmirovic, both graphic design professors. Their central concern was how could co creation gain more importance in the creative process? They identified the emergence of the ‘amateur creative’ and participatory culture, and focused on how to bring the energy of this into the classroom. They had a fascinating position based on Dmitri Siegel’s idea of the ‘Templated Mind’, arguing that users today expect to contribute/interact with media in a ‘Templated way’ – flikr being a great example – where the technology provides a understandable framework into which participatory culture can emerge – a kind of formal structure into which informal content can be arranged.  They identified a real tension between proprietary market based artefacts and individual social and peer produced ones, and argued that ‘rather than endorse global universal visions we can encourage the expression of local voices’.

The also drew on Yochai Benkler’s idea of modules of work – small units of independent work that get contributed to larger project as an underlying principle for a participatory design project between Miami university and Maryland institute College of Art graphic design students. The project had 5 key concepts in that it had to be inclusive, modular, accessible, critical and type-driven. Over 4 weeks they each made their own individual ‘letter’ which fitted into the word LINKED, these 57 variations on a theme of type were then edited into a 17 second animation of the word. Here is the  the final collaborative piece on Vimeo

LINKED_FINAL_SOUND from Miami MICA on Vimeo.

What I really liked about both of these projects was that the technology was not the focus of the work but rather an enabler of it, and that both projects dealt with the issues of the social politics of technology in really interesting ways.  For me this was a real insight, and a great example of how to get students to begin to question the digital environment and think about what impact it has on social relations, but doing it in a situated way through an authentic collaborative learning experience.

Do you have any examples of this kind of project that critically engages with the social politics of the web??

The PLE as a roadmap of the landscape of practice

Can a PLE be a roadmap of a constellation of Communities of Practice?


Etienne Wenger has used the powerful metaphor of traversing a landscape of communities of practice, where our personal and professional identity is defined by our participation in a constellation of CoP’s, some of which we climb to the top of the mountain of, becoming core members and participants of that community, others, we simply skirt the foothills and pick up a flavour of the conversations going on around the base camps. As our interests and objectives in learning and knowledge management change and shift, we might shift our focus from a detailed and dynamic engagement with one CoP to a more peripheral passive interaction with several. This has certainly been my experience, as I have moved from a central engagement with a latent professional CoP in my own practice area of photojournalism and documentary photography, where I would position myself as relatively close to the top of the mountain, to new explorations of the terrains of academic higher education, photographic and media theory, and on to more recent engagements with social media, learning technology and the CoP of CoP’s by participating in workshops with the Cp square community led by Etienne , John Smith and Nancy White. Key to this traversing the landscape is the concept of transference of experiences from one domain and practice and community to another; one can bring into a new CoP a deep engagement and experience from another, brining insights and concepts that perhaps are new, challenging and energising to the new encounter; and then absorb new lessons from the core members of the new CoP and pollenate them back to one’s original home. This process of brokerage and boundary negotiation to me is central to the practice of being an active member of a variety of CoP’s, in trying to see patterns of similarity and difference, and seeing how experiences and insights from one domain can impact and transfer to another.

But how might this roadmap of interactions be visualised or reified? Perhaps conceptualising it in terms of a PLE can point a way forward. As I organise my RSS feeds in Google reader into photography, learning technology, social media, miscellaneous and so on I am organising my interactions with the various CoP’s that are represented by the bloggers that I follow. Patterns begin to emerge, as one blog references another and one bloggers comments on someone else’s post. These patterns begin to become visible to resonate as Jenny Mackness has explained, so that the CoP beings to manifest itself as a living entity in the interrelations between online activities. Add to this twitter, wikis and academic papers, and the process of knowledge formation of a CoP, whether a latent or established one, becoems apparent, and can be reified for the individual as well as the group by bookmarking, referencing and retaining links. This process of finding, filtering and filing helps to clarify these relationships, even if only in a schematic, mental way. Core members of a CoP can be identified, as the community itself selects them as the ‘thought leaders’ in that domain, and new or peripheral members who engage whether critically or supportively can be seen too. Sometimes a new member makes a crucial and controversial entry to a community by bringing in insights from another one in which they are confident enough in to be a core member.

cop ple roadmap

In my own PLE looking out for these synergies, cross over’s and amplifications has become a crucial part of my sense making about the world, by constantly scanning what a variety of different CoP’s in overlapping domains and with related practices are engaged with, interdisciplinary insights are easy to spot and then to apply to ones own core CoP.

For me, this has been the key outcome of taking a PLE based approach to my learning and research, it has greatly enhanced my ability to read and make sense of the map of the topography of the mountainous terrain around me and to navigate an interesting, if not always safe, path through it.

How do you navigate your path??


5 C’s of Building a PLE?

This is a draft of a position paper I’m writing for my university, the University of the Arts London, on digital literacy and PLE’s, any thoughts or comments welcome, especially on how useful the 5 ‘c” idea is as a way to simplify the attributes needed #PLENK2010



A UAL graduate should be digitally mature learner, equipped with the critical faculties to create their own Personal Learning Environment (PLE) that will assist them to take advantage of the affordances of technology in their professional, personal and creative lives after UAL. The best way to develop this is through a culture of collaborative inquiry that explores the potential of digital scholarship through a range of authentic situated learning experiences that are relevant to the individuals’ area of practice.

They should be able to engage in 5 core competencies of curation, critique, creation, collaboration, and communication

To produce digitally-literate graduates we need to:
• Enable students to build their own personal learning environment/network

• Provide relevant, situated online learning experiences aligned with the core competencies of curation, critique, creation, communication & collaboration

• Focus on attributes and tools that students will be able to use beyond graduation
• Make connections between the social use of digital media and its capacity for developing professional and academic identities

• Lead by example

Developing digitally mature learners

The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe. Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today. A real challenge for any learning theory is to actuate known knowledge at the point of application. When knowledge, however, is needed, but not known, the ability to plug into sources to meet the requirements becomes a vital skill. As knowledge continues to grow and evolve, access to what is needed is more important than what the learner currently possesses. George Siemens 2005

UAL gradates with the ability to harness technology to enhance their professional and personal lives are in possession of a vital attribute. The recent LLiDA report highlighted how the embedding of technology into the fabric of daily life means the nature of work in this century is going to be very different to that of the last, with an increase in contract-based, freelance and self employment, and the average worker following several careers in their lifetime. Future employment will demand working in multi-disciplinary teams within a multicultural, networked global society. As the boundaries blur between physical and virtual, public and private, work and leisure, there is an increased need to become ‘digitally engaged’. Within the HE sector the focus is currently on digital scholarship; this needs to be expanded to create what JISC identifies as ‘capable, self-aware learners with the capacity to participate in learning using technologies and approaches of their own choosing’ (LLiDA2010 p9).

Research has indicated that university students’ use of technology is not as sophisticated as we may have assumed. Many fail to make connections between social use of digital media and its capacity for developing professional and academic identities. This struggle to transfer skills between contexts is particularly evident in the application of formally learned ‘analytic’ knowledge to complex real world situations, where ‘tacit situational knowledge plays a vital role in competent performance’ (LLiDA 2010, P10).

It is the institution’s role to enhance, not impede, the process of learners creating their own learning spaces that blend physical and virtual, formal and social. BECTA defines a ‘mature e-learner’ as someone with a ‘can do‘ attitude towards identifying and selecting appropriate technologies to solve problems. Software packages change over time; we should be focused on broader conceptual ways of working in order to prepare learners for life beyond the institution. For this to happen, all the stakeholders in the process – academic staff, librarians, IT services and learning technologists, and of course the students themselves – must recognise that learners need to experiment with different projections of identity, and adopt subject positions through different social technologies and media. These opportunities can only be enhanced by academic staff who are themselves engaged in digital practice (LLiDA 2010, P70).

Don’t teach tools, use tools to teach

LLiDA suggests that digital literacies cannot be ‘bolted onto learners’ existing practices and prior conceptions: [they] must be recognised, incorporated and (if necessary) reconceptualised’ (2010 p14).  JISC agrees that, rather than being taught as discrete skills, digital literacy should be deeply embedded in course curricula through a range of situated, technology-enhanced learning opportunities.

Constructivist principles acknowledge that real-life learning is messy and complex. Classrooms which emulate the “fuzziness” of this learning will be more effective in preparing learners for life-long learning.’ George Siemens 2004

‘Literacies emerge through authentic, well-designed tasks in meaningful contexts’ (LLiDA 2010, p5); therefore we need to design situated and flexible learning opportunities where learners use their own technologies for self-direction, personal reflection, progression and planning. Empowering learners to navigate increasingly complex learning landscapes requires continuous evaluation of their techno-social practices, the practices of professional and scholarly communities, and how technologies are integrated into curriculum tasks. Assessment and feedback should reward exploration and encourage innovation in learners’ approaches to study.

HE institutions must develop the capacity to deliver flexible curriculum design processes: innovative curriculum delivery and support that exploits digital technologies wherever appropriate; and management of knowledge resources in an environment where educational content is openly available to all.(2010 p7). Student engagement in the process is vital, sadly however this is not always apparent in actual HE institutional practice:

‘Students were rarely addressed as responsible actors in these strategies and yet many of the activities mandated would not make sense, or be successful, without active student engagement’ (2010 p46)

The recommendations of the JISC report include the iterative acquisition of skills through authentic practice rather than isolated instruction. This requires authentic, digitally mediated contexts, with individual scaffolding and support that recognises and integrates learners’ prior conceptions and practices.

A UAL graduate’s digital literacy

‘The PLE is ‘all about me’ – it’s what each of us personally creates around us as a means to support our lifelong learning.’ Steve Wheeler 2010

A UAL graduate should be capable of ‘learning to learn’; to identify, access, organise, evaluate, interpret, analyse, synthesise and apply. In addition, they should have developed communication and collaboration skills including teamwork, networking, media literacy and critical reading, creative production and ICT/digital/computer literacy. We should aim to equip them with a set of competencies and understandings that they can then build on and adapt as they continue to interact with the world and build up their personal learning network (PLN) and  Personal Learning Environment (PLE). A PLE suggests that digital learning should be seen as a flow, using whatever resource is available today to learn, as something else will be along tomorrow, and that  wherever possible, activities should utilise tools that learners will be able to use beyond graduation. At the start of their academic career a student may benefit from structured institutional support such as a VLE, but as they progress they should be able to fashion their own set of tools to manage their digital learning; what Stephen Downes has called a personal learning centre (PLC).

Howard Rheingold defines literacies as ‘skills plus community’, and identifies five key literacies as attention, participation, cooperation, critical consumption (or what he calls ‘crap detection’), and network awareness. Together they generate what he calls a ‘culture of collaborative inquiry’. Essentially we should be helping graduates to develop the capacity to direct their own learning and to critically engage with digital media. To do this they need to develop ‘trust networks’ to find and validate the information they seek, and then act as what Jeff Jarvis has called curators in sharing this with others. As George Siemens argues, ‘know-how and know-what is being supplemented with know-where’; a PLN helps to find the ‘where’. Additionally, as Wes Fryer argues, they need to be able to create, communicate and collaborate in producing new artefacts online.

5 Core Competencies

We suggest that a UAL graduate should be able to critically engage with the following core competencies to create their own Personal Learning Environment (PLE), and that the development of these abilities should be developed through embedded, authentic learning experiences that are relevant to their own practices. Suggested activities and tools are outlined with each competency.


Find – Internet search, Wikipedia, Google scholar, e resources, image textbook, etc

Filter – RSS feeds, PKN

Collate/collect – social and personal bookmarking, mindmapping, online storage


Assess the validity/authenticity of sites/information

Reflect on ones own practice and that of one’s peers – blogs, forums etc


Create – make digital content Inc audio, image, text, website, blog, video, wikis

Protect – copyright, privacy, digital footprint


Collaborate – e.g. wikis, Google wave, blogs, Basecamp


Share /disseminate/ distribute – wiki, blog, discussion forum, email, wave, twitter, facebook/social networks

Promote – twitter, blog, facebook/social networks, and email


LLiDA report (2010)

Siemens, George (2005) Connectivism

Wheeler, Steve (2010) Anatomy of a PLE

The Cognitive Surplus of a Conference

New wine, old bottles was possibly the key theme of ALT-C in that much of the discussion flowed around questioning the relevance and role of traditional delivery methods of education in the digital age. From Donald Clark’s dissing of the lecture format, which he puzzlingly delivered by giving a pretty good lecture (in the sense that it was entertaining, polemical, well illustrated, he didn’t read from a paper, he engaged the audience, and he swore a lot, see Steve Wheeler , Peter Tinson and David Kernohan for more discussion on this ), to James Clay’s ending question about PLE’s that echoed last year’s clarion call that the ‘VLE is dead’, there was a lot of discussion about whether we need a new paradigm for learning that acknowledges that formal learning might need to be a preparation for informal learning rather than the other way around.

The key moment for me was when Sugata Mitra demonstrated that the key role of the educator is to set some parameters for learning then let the learner get stuck in: educators should ask the questions, he said, and let the learners find the answers. He proved the efficacy of this by telling the story of how he challenged a group of Indian schoolchildren to master the complexities of molecular biology completely on their own purely by interacting with the web; expecting the experiment to be a total failure he, and the audience, were astonished when after just a few months the group of children had collaboratively raised their understanding of the subject to close that of an undergraduate student. Mark Prensky and the Innovative educator seem to be thinking along the same lines.

But the overriding feeling for me at my first ALT-C was a sense of nagging disappointment that despite being populated with over 400 of the best practitioners of learning technology around today, what did we actually achieve in concrete terms, what artefact, statement, decision, conclusion or prediction did we build? (Although sadly this is true of most conferences whatever the subject) My disappointment was exacerbated by my expectations, I had expected that at a conference like ALT-C I would be blown away by examples of amazing ways to use learning technology to deliver ideas, presentations and collaborations; instead sadly I was blown away by how dull, boring and traditional so many of the sessions were. There is, and forgive me for shouting at this point, ABSOLUTELY NO EXCUSE FOR BULLETPOINTED POWERPOINTS THAT CANT BE READ at a conference like this, you’ve all had ages to prepare so YOU MUST DO BETTER. I’m not saying my style is perfect, but at least I show lots of pretty pictures and don’t read from my slides. Admittedly there were presentations that did something different, engaging and new – Thom Cochrane’s prezi seems to have been one although I missed it – and there were several that relied on the force of the presenter themselves – such as Dave White’s. (if you need some inspiration, see Presentation Zen for a start and follow his advice)

My disappointment was also at the traditional format of much of the conference too, lots of short and long papers, and the usual milling around at lunch and dinner. I had expected something much more creative and collaborative, along the lines of the unconference idea or barcamp for example. This lack of what we might call ‘organised informality’ is a key failure of so many conferences, and fails to exploit what we might call the ‘cognitive surplus’ of such events. Clay Shirky’s idea can easily be extended to the conference arena, just imagine if instead of answering the techies equivalent of a Sunday pub quiz, all that talent, brains and application had been harnessed for the evening to actually DO something. It doesn’t really matter what, but something. Collectively there was something in the order of 1000 work days at the conference, which if it was a research grant would have been in the order of hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of staff buy out. Even if  just a fraction of that had been harnessed in a more focused way, we could have done something amazing together. I do not doubt that there was lots of flow and exchange of ideas and experiences at the conference, and that lots of deals were done, but there is little coherent evidence of this, no artefact left to be proud of except the scatterings of blogs and tweets.

So here are some suggestions for future conferences.

One: aggregate all of the content of the conference in real time to make a live, digital publication – newspapers and magazines are published every day from scratch, so why cant a conference be reported on in real time. Take a team of volunteers – student journalists perhaps- and produce a publication that takes the twitter feeds, blog posts, conference abstracts, live interviews with flip cams whatever, to give what Dave White has suggested could be seen as a sense of ‘eventedness’ of the conference – this builds on the cool aggregation of the twitter feeds from ALT-C that Tony Hirst has done or Andy Powell’s analysis of their content

Two: Instead of a ‘pub quiz social’ make one night of the conference more like a barcamp event, except with a theme – a bit like a pub lock in – you are not leaving here until you have done something useful – really dig down and debate an issue and come up with a document or something – theme to be decided by the conference itself.

Three: organise the lunch sessions more into themed discussions, and make them longer – say 2 hours – birds of a feather tables for example, or get the keynotes/invited speakers/presenters to each sit at a table and lead off a discussion, more of a knowledge cafe format

So what ideas have you got to make use of the cognitive surplus of a conference??

Wimba connect 2010 reflections

I presented at 2 sessions at Wimba connect 2010, one about OPEN-i in a joint presentation with Phil O’Hara entitled ‘reaching over walls’, where we both focused on using Wimba web conferencing to interact with dispersed communities outside of the traditional university. Phil’s project is a continuing professional development program for pharmacists across Canada, and has over 2,000 participants distributed all over the country regularly attending live sessions to maintain the necessary professional qualifications to continue to practice. Our session went well, and there was a good synergy between the presentations, Phil focusing more on the detail of running the web conferences and mine more on the broader picture of how to build and develop a community of practice. There were some good questions, and as I am finding more often at presentations I give, some people who are really engaging with the concepts of communities of practice and many who are not familiar with it at all.

The other session I participated in as a presenter was more informal, there were a group of us who are all on the product advisory board for Wimba and we had been invited to run a session demonstrating good practice in web conferencing. We all met up in Wimbaworld before the conference, and decided – largely at my suggestion – to adopt a more ‘ideas café’ style approach to the session rather than each of us simply talking about our experiences. We therefore chose 4 general questions about the sue fo Wimba, with the idea that we would split the audience up into smaller groups and then give them the chance to decide whether to drill down into one topic for the duration of the session or to explore each question in turn. In the end, the vote was for the latter, so we allocated one member of the advisory board to each group, leaving Phil O’Hara and myself to move around from group to group and to keep the flow of discussion going. In the end this really wasn’t necessary, as each group really engaged with the questions. We got some really great user experiences and suggestions out of the session, and some great feedback on the format; people especially liked that as ours was the last session of the day it kept them engaged and awake by forcing them to interact, as opposed to a more traditional approach that may have left some dozing at the back of the room by the end of the day.

As I’m also on the advisory board for Wimba, I get invited to their ‘executive track’ sessions too, which focus on the more strategic use of the technology, with the main focus on collaboration and how to leverage the existing investment made in web conferencing outside of the obvious one of actually teaching students. There was a great line from Mike Scheuermann, AVP, Instructional Technology Support, Drexel University, who talked about the importance of platforms that are ‘LMS agnostic’, i.e. that work with any propriety or open source platform for managing students.

Again, this session had a more ‘ideas café’ format, where we broke up into groups to discuss ways Wimba can be sued across the range of academic and support areas. The big takeaway for me was that there were lots of great examples of how web conferencing is being used across the whole range of university institutions, not just the obvious ones of delivering classes to students. This was the really emerging theme of the conference, how collaboration in real time over distance is enabling all sorts of activities to be engaged in more efficiently, and often in ways that could not be done in a traditional f2f way. One big driver was the environmental impact of web conferencing replacing f2f meetings; there were lots of really clear examples where significant costs were saved in terms of travel. Obviously this was more apparent for US institutions, as many of them are dispersed with large distances between different offices and faculties. Another major influence was the threat of weather extremes and the potential problems of H1N1, in both cases web conferencing was seen as offering the potential to continue to deliver when physical meetings become impossible. Putting back up plans into place seemed to be a big concern for many institutions.

Wimba is being used increasingly to deliver staff development, often in bite sized chunks or for more informal help sessions, the University of Maryland showed a training program they have developed that is very similar to the Learn@Lunch session we initiated at UAL except more focused on e learning and technology than pedagogy.

There were plenty of great ideas about how to use web conferencing creatively as well, especially for things like student recruitment, holding virtual open days and course tours or pre enrolment orientation sessions for example.

Another increasing use that Wimba is being put to is as a simple recording studio for faculty to produce online resources, and from the noises about potential acquisitions of lecture capture and screen capture companies this seems to be a major focus for Wimba in the future.

Wimba also demonstrated their new incarnation of their user interface, which looks like a much slicker and feature rich version of the existing pronto. It was great to sit down with their new head of user engagement and go through some of the wireframes of the new interface and offer advice and ideas. Some great possibilities emerged, including using pronto to automatically reach a help desk operator, or to go straight from pronto to the live classroom.

As with last year, the conference provided lots of great ideas about how to use Wimba and web conferencing more generally, the trick now is to get my own institution to embrace it more fully.

Wimba and lecture capture

One of the main themes to emerge from the Wimba connect 2010 conference was using Wimba as a lecture capture system as well as for web conferencing. This seems to be being driven by users as much as by Wimba themselves, but they are now really beginning to realise that they potentially have a good platform for this. The main advantages to Wimba over other systems like echo 360 is that it is already in use, and that it allows the simultaneous collaboration of both real world and online participants in a session. Wimba demonstrated a set up for using the live classroom browser based platform to record a lecture, especially now that the video capture part supports any video camera/device that can be plugged into the computer, including HD video. With a simple switcher box, multiple video inputs can easily be handled, for example a room camera and a document camera, and a DVD input could all be used in turn during a session. Using  a simple video camera with an auto pan tilt zoom and an echo cancelling speaker/mic set like the Phoenix Quattro or its smaller version the duet it looks pretty simple to capture all of the action and sound in a reasonably sized room with a kit that would pack into a flight case. Wimba are considering the archiving and streaming end as well, and it looks like they might even be in the mood to acquire one of the existing lecture capture/screen capture companies.

Wimba’s strategic vision

I’ve just returned from the Wimba connect 2010 conference in Orlando. At the Executive Track Session the discussion was about how to plan for the strategic use of technology, seeing it as an enabler of collaboration and communication rather than as an end in itself.  Wimba’s CEO Carol Vallone outlined 4 main drivers that they see as key to the intelligent use of technology to support education:

1: Meeting the expectations of today’s students – studnets now expect universities to meet them where they are, rather than having to come into the faculty itself. They are increasingly Digitally literate and want to be productive in the workforce immediately on graduation

2: Increased demands for accountability – to the market, to students and to quality assurance.

3: Strategic use of technology – Successful collaboration means mapping out a strategy for the institution and then mapping collaborations against it, with a context based application of technology for collaboration – looking at costs, efficiency, productivity, and engagement. It’s key to map technology to specific initiatives e.g. retention rather than just randomly training staff in various software packages.

4: Repurposing and leveraging current investments – find ways to use systems already in place in new and innovative ways e.g. for administration and student support as well as for teaching and learning.