A Better Academic Authoring Environment

I’m putting all this out there beause I’d love to hear from anyone with suggestions or experiences with something similar. If you’ve got some nifty plugins, themes or code I could use, feel free to recommend them! I’m happy to provide feedback on how it goes and share the work on this openly.

Content is still very much the infrastructure in education. in this sense Learning and teaching, the associated activities and assessments are built on and around the content. For this reason concepts like openness, OER, OEP, shareable, reusable and forkable resources are important. But too often the process of authoring and publishing these resources leaves a lot to be desired. Many people utilise the LMS as both their authoring and publishing platform but having attempted to do this recently – it’s a terrible experience.

Things you take for granted when using something like Word – styling, editing, versioning, embedding, linking – are all incredibly difficult, if not impossible to do. It’s a clunky experience equivalent to writing webpages with a typewriter. Or transcribing code from a dictation. It simply adds work to the process. And don’t get me started on reuse!

As I’ve said before:

What goes into the LMS stays there … and then gets deleted.

A number of projects I’m involved in are focussed on reuse and developing resources that make sense to be available to many students across different courses, but available in the context of their study. Something that they can access from the LMS (as the central contact point) but it doesn’t have to be in the LMS.

Blackboard’s lack of anything that resembles proper support for mobile is another issue. At the moment the best option is to not use Bb at all as a content tool if you want the content to be mobile friendly. Why responsive design isn’t a feature of Bb yet I do not understand but it’s a massive barrier to making the system truly accessible.

What I’ve started to look for is a way of creating a simple tool/system for developing resources – and not just text but rich media – as well as publishing them to students. A singular environment that is built for the web and is of the web. Some of the resources, due to content and copyright issues can’t be made available openly so we need to authenticate users who wish to view it. I don’t want to store information about the student – just for them to be authenticated for access.

So my thoughts so far:

  1. WordPress – does most of what we need in terms of authoring and publishing. I can spool an install in matter of minutes thanks to @reclaimhosting and it’s completely customisable. In this way we can have rich and mobile friendly content available quickly. It also has roles and permissions and is generally pretty extensible in terms of the types of content and configurations we might need.
  2. H5P – if you haven’t come across this go an check it out. It’s an open source library for creating HTML5 media for learning. Using it with WordPress you can author, host and share media assets via an embed code.
  3. Quiz Plugin – a number of the projects utilise quizzing as formative feedback for students. I’ve noted there are a number of quiz plugins available for WordPress, so I think that ones covered. While H5P does have quizzing a couple of resources would like to utilise randomisation and question banks to improve reuse by students.

The last piece I’m currently looking at is the authentication into the site. From a student/teachers perspective what I want to offer them is a way to generate a link from the WP site that can be added to the site in the LMS.

So how can I do this?

Well my thoughts so far are that I can setup a specific Role (or user Subscriber) in WordPress that allows Read access to the private pages in a site. I should be able to turn off the Admin menu for these users too so it doesn’t get in the way of the experience. It also means I can create a few public pages so there is something front facing incase anyone stumbles across the site.

My initial thinking was to utilise LTI – but after searching through the plugins available it looks like LTI integration does way more than I want or need. I don’t want to provision sites, just access to existing ones. I’m also not sure if I’d need to do something in our Blackboard backend to enable the WP site for LTI. Might just be overkill at this point in time.

Another (probably simpler) option could be to utilise an “Auto Login” feature. I haven’t found a maintained example yet – but there seems to be few out there. It would be nice if it was a “proper” plugin too – so that someone can set this up without modifying code, just change some settings to access the URL to cut and paste.

I want to start putting this together in the next week so I can test it out – so feel free to comment below!



The Current State: Mobile Learning

I’ve written a couple of opinion pieces over the years about the Current State. There’s this one on the The Education System, this one on Society Transitioning, and Educational Technology and my personal state. They’ve been a nice way of articulating a specific view of space and time relating to a theme. They’re interesting as markers in the sand, for wayfaring and digging around the past. They’re also a way to think more deeply about what we’re doing. So in that tradition, here’s the current state of Mobile Learning.

I’ve been working around mobile in higher education since 2010. I’ve written a few papers, done presentations, developed mobile content, systems and apps – so feel I’ve got a good handle on it as a topic. While it’s true that mobile is now part of the conversation, I still wonder if Mobile Learning is even a thing yet.

Here’s some observations:

  • Single app adoption is widespread, but that seems to be the extent of “mobile learning”. A single app for a single use in a single subject with a single purpose. That’s nice and all but is that what we would call mobile learning?
  • Students and staff are ill prepared to use their devices for learning. They lack the knowledge, practice and skill to integrate the technology into their learning and teaching. Those fresh faces out of high school have just emerged from an environment where mobiles have been contraband, so have little concept of how or why to their mobile in a learning environment. Staff and mature age students have barely got beyond mastery of text messaging (see parents that text) let a lone anything more complex. It’s an interesting dilemma as far as technology goes because for maybe the first time the issue isn’t access or event equity. The issue is cultural and what we are willing to invest in.
  • Content is still rarely mobile friendly. There’s limited use of “eBook”s – ones that go beyond text on a page and cater for on screen reading experiences and interaction with content (highlighting, notes etc). There’s also the systemic reliance on PDF which means that content is locked away in an A4 page and nothing is “mobile friendly”.
  • The administration systems we tend to use are still only designed for the desktop. They still only ever support a full and rich experience from a desktop browser. Mobile is a poor cousin and the experience shows.
  • Institutional web teams are often too small to affect the kinds of redesigns at the kind of scale that’s required. Instead the result tends to be a set of piecemeal components that shatter any hope of a coherent user experience.
  • The only system or practice that seems to have a consistent increase in use and reach is…. email. Yep, it now infects every device we own with pings and vibrations that we attempt to ignore. Email – the most un-mobile of technologies. It fundamentally fails to provide a good experience – for reading or writing – or utilise any of the amazing affordances of todays mobile devices that open up the opportunity for improvements to communication.

Yay us!

The reality is that institutions (and the entire edtech industry) have under estimated the paradigm shift required to embrace mobile. It’s still treated as just a feature, or a nice to have rather than the future of computing.

In fact it’s the failure to actually treat mobile as a legitimate computing device that is perhaps the biggest problem.

Mobile is still treated like a toy rather than a serious device.

This is despite the fact that mobile is more contextual, more powerful and packed with more affordances than any PC. Somehow if it doesn’t have a keyboard or mouse it doesn’t seem to count. Mobile just doesn’t seem to justify investment in the eyes of most IT departments. This is despite the fact that the mobile device we have in out pockets is in most cases newer and more powerful than the junky PC we, and our students, are working on. Compare working with video on your phone vs your PC. Which one struggles? Which one drops frames? Which one renders longers?

The underlying fact is that mobile represents a significant change – in the type of technology, the kinds of affordances it makes available and more importantly, in the way we interact with it.

I published this table in 2013 to illustrate the kind of shift that mobile represents. It sticks out to me because I don’t think that much of the change or transition has actally occured. I think we’re still too PC in our mindset and have yet to actually embrace the reality that mobile represents. The current state of Mobile is that we’re not there yet – we’re stuck in the PC Age. Thinking PC thoughts. Doing things the PC way.

I developed this table at the end of 2013 as a way to express the diffferences I could see between the PC and Mobile mindsets and the way the thinking defined the two Ages. The idea was to encapsulate the change in affordances that each technology bought with it.

PC Age Mobile Age
tethered location mobile
static environment dynamic
slow speed of change rapid
separate technology embedded
formal structure organic
low level of convenience high
abstracted authenticity situated
centralised resources distributed

Since I published that earlier table I’ve worked on developing a more expansive list.

Version 2 Additions
passive interaction active
broadcast communication dialogue
institutional data sovereignty personal
linear timelines polysynchronous
curated content contributed
physical storage digital
possession content communal
concealed practice shared
isolated learning connected
generic interaction personal
consumtion information creation

The Current State?

So what’s the current state of mobile learning?

We’re haven’t even started.

ascilite 2013 Conference Notes

Be aware that these are notes – not transcripts of talks. I tend to think about quite a lot during a good presentation (I don’t do “passive absorbtion” and I’m always processing and questioning as I go). The notes reflect this space that my mind operates in and should never be seen or treated as a transcript of an event

The Great Debate: The Dream of Technology-Assisted Learning Has Been Realised

I didn’t take too many notes from the debate – but I liked this line:

Technology seduces us like a medusa and pedagogically we turn to stone – Gregor Kennedy

Innovation via a thin LMS: A Middleware Alternative to the Traditional Learning Management System

Marc Wells, David Lefevre, Fotis Begklis

  • like the thin LMS concept
  • developed a hub for each “programme” – csu term = course or degree
  • first iteration was communication based
  • 2nd was integrating 3rd parties
  • 3rd fully replaced the LMS
  • thin LMS a middle ware solution
  • Integrates college systems & best in class technologies
  • student record
  • based on WordPress for the win!!!

Keynote – Learning from the Past

Professor Kay O’Halloran

  • Early definition of a computer was the person who made the calculations. Then It went on to become a tool. – Like the idea of people “being” the computer rather as a tool we use.  Performance of people becomes increasingly more important when calculating effectiveness of the technology!
  • software is a way of being
  • Computing has become about communicating, not calculating.
  • ‘World is awash with data – what’s lacking is an understanding of how we make meaning of it’
  • Technology should allows us to focus on the learning rather than the individual.
  • Side note – is there space for learning outside of research in #highered? Overwhelming focus on data & analysis – not experience
  • Edtech needs groups of experts working together. We can’t do it alone! Or is it multiple cultures rather than expertise? Kind of like cultures – it’s encompassing of a world view not just a job

Keynote – Understaing our Present

Gregor Kennedy

  • Learning is a social process. Interactions between people and artefacts.
  • Learning (regardless of theory) … results in cognitive change.
  • Current use of edtech usage matrix

  • Why teaching matters? Here some research perspectives. Bloom & Hattie

  • While teaching practice has become more student centred, #edtech usage is much more teacher centred.
  • Teachers don’t just put information in someone’s head, but based on that we emphasis Learning rather than teaching – Peter Steele
  • Interesting Model – Sage on the Stage > Guide on the Side > Plebs on the Web
  • Power of learning analytics is in improving teacher/learner and learner/learner interactions.
  • Thinking back the interactions Gregor mentioned – don’t think there was learner/data – should there be?
  • READ – Rod Sims – levels of interactivity 1994 & 1997

Symposium – How Open and Collaborative Can We Be?

–  Implementation challenges for open collaboration challenges
–  The semantic structures within institutions vary so much they are truly a language problem.
–  Do we need an academic equivalent of Esperanto to deal with collaboration?
–  Alignment and compatibility problems include credit levels and teaching periods too.
–  Institutions want to bottle content and own their students. Great point! Pity they haven’t realised theres no value in that! Value is in the ability to produce knowledge
– Openness is seen as a risky shift
– IT security is a huge issue – but perhaps open standards LTI could come to the rescue
– Openness tends to question what is valuable within an institution?
– Need to ensure you’re sharing the rationale – why are we doing this? What is the purpose?
– Another plus 1 for middleware to enable openness
– One core component of openness needs to answer the question – What is the purpose of the course? Extrinsic motivation – ie grades aren’t a good enough motivator for authentic or proactive learning.

Learning: Maˉori Advancement at AUT University

Associate Professor Pare Keiha

  • Getting the balance right in education. Balance in Education
  • The Maori notion of Ako. Ako
  • What if students produce assessments for their own communities, even their university, rather than the ephemera of a grade?
  • Awesome advice for those working in education – “start running now!”

Session – Re-imagining the university: Vibrant matters and radical research paradigms for the 21st century

Reem Al-Mahmood

  • The idea of the university ideological, specially and ethically has shrunk – Barnett
  • The holistic/relational nature is missing
  • Emerging ideas of the university Emerging Ideas
  • Utopian ideas of university Utopian Ideas
  • Ecological universities: one of one of my fav concepts Ecological Ideas
  • Would be interesting to see which of these fall into  administration, faculty and student categories or points of view.
  • equality of funding is the wrong starting point, we need to equalise access first.

Imagining the Future

Mark Pesce

  • It’s difficult to stop sharing and learning once you’ve formed that connection.
  • The new culture of shared knowledge – a good explanation of the present state
  • Sharing includes the good and the bad. That means sharing knowledge and stupidity.
  • The aakash tablet will provide a rich, connected and shared learning experience …. for $29
  • The educator is embedded in the environment. Not off to the side or in a bubble somewhere else.
  • Quality of education institutions will become dependant on the networks they can help their students build
  • Been thinking about this for a while – Student need to become a node supported by the  network they build
  • Networks tend to start from intent. They may grow and change but there is purpose and drive.
  • Connect. Share. Learn. Do.

Conference Snapshots

Some interesting ideas that came out during the conference.

Universities need to provide opportunities for academics to have informal and formal conversations about technology – @LucyArthurMQ

Can we stop lying – there is no “digital native”. There’s a skills deficiency, which can be remedied with gasp education. @timklapdor

Wonder if we can relabel this Conference Program > Conference Attendance INformation vs Knowledge

Mobile has become an appendage rather than a technology. @timklapdor

Love the idea of a senior manager being a groupie for their staff! 🙂 @debbiweaver
*about Pare Keiha’s approach to management

This was my favourite twitter exchange from the conference!


Finally links to some of my work related to the conference.

Presentation on our work on The Adaptive Digital Publishing Engine.

The related examples: COM123 web version, Proof of Concept web version  and the downloadable PDF and ePub files.

Presentation on the lessons learned from University wide iPad Trials

You can download the papers from the conference– including those related to the presentations above!

Find out more about the mLearn project and all the related documentation here: bit.ly/mlearnV2 or check out some of the [documentation on slideshare](http://www.slideshare.net/mlearn

Other Accounts of Ascilite

Sheila MacNeill has a couple of posts here and here

Andrew Spencer shared his ascilite experience here.

PC Age vs Mobile Age

I’ve used this table a couple of times over the last couple of weeks and a number of people have asked if they can use/borrow/build upon. The simple answer is yes! I’m happy to release the idea and the image under creative commons.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Feel free to use the image up on Flickr or Copy and paste the table below.

PC Age vs Mobile Age

PC Age Mobile Age
situated location mobile
static environment dynamic
slow speed of change rapid
separate technology embedded
formal structure organic
low level of convenience high
abstracted authenticity situated
centralised resources distributed

The idea behind the table was to use technology to explain the shift in thinking required to cope with the new age and environment we live, work and learn in. If you use the work I’d love to know where – so shoot me a tweet @timklapdor

Creative Commons License
PC Age vs Mobile Age by Tim Klapdor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Reading List #11

So I missed the  weekly deadline – but hey that’s why I number these posts instead, there’s no false advertising on my part. The problem with running longer though is I don’t tend to switch off – there’s just more stuff! So here’s to a bumper edition!

Bursting Bubbles and Different Perspectives

The first couple of posts have had a really positive affect on me, despite the confronting and perhaps pessimistic perspectives. Working and living in an increasingly digital environment, you often find yourself inside an echo chamber or inhabiting a bubble. A reality check that pops the bubble acts as a cleanse and a chance to re-evaluate life, my problems and what actually matters. When you feel like you’re in a rut this kind of perspective pulls you up by the ears and forces air into your lungs.

Conservative Party address, Jack Monroe

by @MsJackMonroe

I cannot image what the reaction would have been like in the room when this speech was given. I was aghast, shocked and heart broken reading it in private – seeing it delivered live from the author would have been a confronting and wrenching experience. I will always support a national social system – but this piece so eloquently bought home the plight of those who need and rely on the system. It humanised them in a such a vivid way just through these words you have to wonder why the media fails to capture it at all. Social Welfare is necessary – but it should always be seen as a failure on our behalf, particularly those in power:

Why are you not ashamed, Sir, that there are FIVE HUNDRED AND SIXTY FIVE people in your constituency who desperately cannot afford to feed themselves and their families?

The passion is evident and I salute you Jack for this astounding, thought provoking and poignant work.

Fuck pink

by @BHS_Doyle

I never gave thought to the people suffering cancer beyond the glossy images of those brave and strong cancer survivors. Yes, the stories were always harrowing but never an experience I could really relate to. This piece I could. This piece had me in tears, it left me gasping all the way through because it was visceral, hard, confronting and scary – the complete opposite of the pink movement that inevitable make cancer seem “fun” and warm and fuzzy!?!

A mistake is a moment in time

by @jasonfried

I love this:

He said the Navajo saw mistakes as moments in time. And since you can’t change time, why try to change a mistake that already happened?

It’s how we have to live – to accept what we have done, what we can change and where we can go.

The Pessimist

by @frankieboyle

Nothing matters. We’re essentially all highly evolved monkeys clinging to a rock that’s falling through space. And the rock itself is dying.
– Frankie Boyle

So fatalistic it makes the mundane problems of work and life fade into oblivion. Maybe not the best thing to end this section on – but for me it wipes the slate clean – ready for the next go.


8 Big Ideas of the Constructionist Learning Lab

by @smartinez

I really love the idea of a learning lab – wish it was how all education was structured. This summary of the 8 ideas that underlie a Constructionist Learning Lab are a great mindset to be in:

  1. Learning by doing
  2. Technology as building material
  3. Hard fun
  4. Learning to learn
  5. Taking time
  6. Do unto ourselves what we do unto our students
  7. We are entering a digital world

From Paths to Sandboxes

by @stephenanderson

The learning lab leads well into this piece which perhaps focusses more on how we design the education to create a “a learning environment that encourages exploration and discovery”. This discussion about gamification is really a breath of fresh air that moves beyond the world of incentives and simple challenges.

I love the idea of “generative” as a model for 21st century education that moves away from the current “exhaustibles” systems which has clear paths and end points.

This image (that came from twitter clearly defines the differences between the two approaches – Paths vs Sandboxed
Paths vs Sandboxes

To be honest I don’t think we need to ditch paths at all – but I think we need to adopt an approach that allows both to coexist. The only real way is to think more holistically – to see beyond a single subject or course – but as a component of a broader degree or attainment. As Dave Malouf points out “paths are just moments that connect different sandboxes & their relationship = experience”.

The perils of persuasion

by @cennydd

While this isn’t article doesn’t actually address education in any way I can see direct parallels with the current situation of educational technology. If we followed the tenets of user-centred design we put students at the heart of our decisions and practice with technology. That’s not the reality now is it?

No, what we have is something that Cennydd points to as being persuasion design – individualised, competitive and with an implicit, but undeniable judgment, that certain behaviours are preferable to others. Now that sounds like edtech and the vocal “education is broken” crew. Lines like this seem all too familiar territory –

Fear not, huddled masses – the design elite will lead you to the promised land.

This all comes together around the idea that persuasion design is marketing – user experience isn’t. Rewording this for education – the philosophy of persuasion design prioritises business goals above those of the learner, and its values are irreconcilable with empathy, the central value of education.

What can KM learn from supply chain management?

by @nickknoco

I really think one of the key problems facing universities at the moment is their failure to grasp the concept of a Knowledge Organisation and apply it to the structure, management and day-to-day operations. Instead we seem to be increasingly applying ‘industrial’ methods, processes and practices that work just fine in manufacturing – but that’s simply just not the business we are in. Therefore any analogy or vision I find to help illustrate this will make me sit up and take note.

Nick’s analogy of the analogy of the Knowledge Management supply chain is a fairly robust one (go and have a read). In this post though he highlights some of the key principles behind good supply chain management.

  1. Everyone involved must be committed – relationships must be good, be eager to share, be eager to listen and users must be keen to access the new knowledge.
  2. It must be reliable – lessons don’t get lost, things will get done, validation exists and actions are taken and changes made as a result.
  3. It must be quality-controlled – Garbage in, garbage out. Poor quality parts, poor quality product.
  4. There must be transparency – the process has to be visible and have valid metrics to provide oversight.
  5. It must add value – the motivation for people to participate has to be value.
  6. It must be efficient – cycle time for change and development needs to be as short as possible. Think smaller and more manageable actions rather than our penchant for massive, multi-year projects.
  7. It must be lean – knowledge needs to be on hand and embedded into the organisation rather than stockpiled by individuals.

Missing The Point Of EdTech

by @anotherschwab

I have to agree with the post that the power of search, social media and collaboration is severely limited in our educational institutions. There is lack of skill or literacy from staff, lack of application in course design and a lack of support by hierarchies and accreditation bodies. Why does it matter? Well…

being able to read through a predefined set of information laid out in a scripted order out of a textbook or being able to identify facts handed out on a worksheet are incredibly obsolete skills in today’s connected world. These are the skills of my past. They are not the skills she will need for the future. Unfortunately, these obsolete skills work just fine for school as it is today and therein lies one of the biggest challenges facing education.

Defining mobile learning: my take

by @mseangallagher

I’m feeling a great relief after reading this post. Part of me has been trying to articulate the real impact of mobile on our education and on our learning. I’ve been playing with the idea of contexts – I’ve heard others using spaces and environments. This is because mobile affects the more complex and broader environment, social and technical, or just simply location. Then along comes Michael’s post which introduced me to the idea of Habitus:

Habitus refers to the “the life world of the individual framed both as challenge and as an environment and a potential resource for learning” (2007). In viewing learning through habitus, every space has the potential to be a learning space when viewed appropriately. Within this transformation of space to learning space, we witness the mobility in mobile learning. In other words, “that which is mobile is not knowledge or information, but the learner’s habitus” (2007).

I like this a lot – mainly because it then frees up ‘context’ and ‘contextually’ in my vocabulary. I’ll have to mull it over some more – so expect a post sometime to try and unpack the sentiment.

Return on Intangibles

by @jaycross

Carrying on the them of the knowledge organisations:

Because knowledge has become the single most important factor of production, managing intellectual assets has become the single most important task of business.

Yet educational institutions really perform badly at recognising this fact.

In the last twenty years of the twentieth century, Wall Street investors changed the way they determined what a company was worth. That’s why Return on Intangibles is the most important metric in the CLO’s toolkit.

While in education we seek more efficient and effective ways to create tangibles to measure – there is proof we could simply bypasses the need all together. Education’s value is measure by the Banker’s evaluation of “liquidation value” rather than the Investors ability to leverage the intangibles and find the really big returns.

Andrew Hamilton deserves a booting

by @PlashingVole

Fantastic critique of the comments made by the Oxford Vice Chancellor: “Top universities that offer better outcomes for students should be allowed to charge significantly higher tuition fees than institutions that provide an inferior education”.

My university admits students from a much more diverse background. Many have poor or no qualifications. Most of them have family commitments and have to work for a living while studying. They are motivated and we motivate them further. Once in, we push them. We expect as much dedication from them as my Oxford colleague. Our curriculae may be different but it’s no less intensive or cutting edge. We offer a wide range of degrees and other qualifications and draw on the latest research, some of which we conduct.

I feel the same way about Charles Sturt University, my workplace. We take in higher percentages of students from low socio-economic status, indigenous populations and first in the family HE students. Any dismissal of the role of similar institutions only highlights the Walled Garden view of highered that is increasingly completely divorced from reality.


Take Time Off

by @cassiemarketos

There’s something beautifully disturbing about this:

In retrospect, I realize that I was suffering from a kind of mimicry. Rather than thoughtfully defining what I personally wanted, I had absorbed an arbitrary value system from my surrounding environment. Based on that, I had created a set of goals that I had no real desire to accomplish, but felt crappy nevertheless for failing to achieve. I just saw other people around me defining success and happiness as a certain thing, and thought, “Oh, that must be it.” And I had ended up working in the opposite direction of anything I had ever wanted or that made me feel good, but the further along I got on that path, the more resigned I felt to it.

I do question a lot of the accepted “wisdom” around work, life and social functions and often wonder if we are living in one mass delusion. But then I watch television and everything is ok again 🙂

Resilience and rationality

by @EskoKilpi

In two weeks, two calls for a new model of rational behaviour. Interesting.

I like a lot of these lessons because they embody and imply an organic language humans (rather than applying mechanical attributes).

  1. “The first emerging theme is that communication is in fact a process of continuous coordination and knowledge creation. Knowledge is not shared as contents, but arises in action. Knowledge is never transmitted from one mind to another. People are participating in a complex process of coordination. It is a change from movement of messages to a joint movement of thought.”
  2. “The choices people make, their buying decisions and their political views, are directly influenced by other people. That is to say that we construct our world together in communication.”
  3. “The third emerging theme is that communication creates patterns. Words become what they are through the responsive actions of the people taking part…In management, it means that there is nothing one person alone can do to be a good manager. Good ideas don’t count as good ideas, if other people don’t treat them as such.”

JOB is a four-letter word

by @hjarche

This sums up my work life at the moment:

Here’s the organizational common wisdom: I’m not faculty, therefore I can’t be involved in teaching. I don’t work in computing services therefore I can’t touch IT. I’m not in HR so I can’t help with organizational development. Stick to your knitting, is the implied message of departmental responsibilities and hierarchies. If I see an opportunity outside my job description there are few things I can do about it. I can initiate some collegial conversations, if I have the opportunity, but I’m not invited to the table.

My job, my skill set, my experience and my personality don’t lend me to the Taylorist division of labour. I don’t fit into the neat boxes that are in our institution – I’d say I am an educationalist without being a teacher, that I am a technologist without being too technical. I am a fringe dweller and occupy a space where I could weave together the disparate strands of the organisation – I just need the opportunity. For the last fortnight I’ve been asking myself this exact question:

What happens to a person’s entrepreneurial and creative spirit after they repeatedly see that they can’t do anything with it? If you’re told often enough that it’s not your job, you will start saying, sorry, but that’s not my job.

I sit at this crossroads contemplating my next move. I can keep trying to make a difference (but probably need to take a more disruptive path) or finally just opt out and concede defeat – to get on with a job – just not the one I really envisage for myself.

“I’m concerned about your ability to conform.”

by @lexsisney

I really liked this post about Conformity vs Community. Lex has a really interesting theory mapped out in his Organisational Physics concept, but I really like his definition of Community because it really resonates with what I think my organisation’s strength – diversity – and how it ultimately makes things alive, vibrant, and adaptive over time.

Wise leaders build their businesses on a different principle. Rather than allowing for conformity, they design for community. Conformity gives the illusion of control but, in the end, its focus on “monocultures” makes the system brittle, stagnant, and tired. Community takes more time and courage to build but its focus on diversity ultimately makes things alive, vibrant, and adaptive over time.

In regards to the framework Lex outlines I think we’re doing well for number one – but feel we need to work a lot harder on change to really address the others.

The inverted U – death by a thousand applications

by @sig

Great post on the need to bring effective, not just efficient, back into the conversation.

productivity is a combination of two parameters: It’s a result of both how we do things and what things we do. In single terms that would translate to efficiency and effectiveness.

Seem like we’re getting nowhere, faster.

Incorporating More Quiet Into The UX Design Process

by @DotGridDotCom & @Swan5280

I’m quite easily identifiable as an introvert and can relate to this post so much. While I’m at ease speaking in public or in conversation about topics I know, I need to recharge and retreat into my space. It doesn’t mean I don’t want social interaction or to live in isolation – I just need a balance to actually function.

This is a great post that discusses how introverts work, how that can be harnessed and how we need to understand the broad spectrum of personalities and behaviours that compliment each other when seeking to work towards our goals.


An Event Apart: Beyond Play!

by @lukew

These are just notes from a talk form Joshua Davis and they really hit home to an important mindset and way of working that encourages innovation:

industry wants to replicate rather than innovate. If you spend too much time in work, and not play – you’ll never find the next thing. To get the next idea, you have to experiment

I don’t agree that the opposite of work is play – I think play is an important component of learning – and learning is a part of work.

Enterprise crowdfunding: How an IBM experiment improved innovation and morale

by @TSLCCEvents

I thought this was a great concept for how innovation can be embedded into the organisation – and not needing to be seen as a separate identity. The trend towards distributed methods of organisation really show that when managed properly the group is always smarter.

For ideas within higher education having different kinds of project and innovations would be useful so that we could target a range of different areas – improve campus life, for DE student life, teaching areas and staff wellbeing. It actually has huge potential if the crowd were actually given some budget control – and there are some great examples around the world of this actually happening. I read one example where it was used in Brazil as a way of subverting inherent corruption. For many large organisations, while not corrupt have to deal with a range of vested interests and crowd sourcing is a way of reapplying democratic values in an age of greed, lobbying and vested interests.


Think Like (a) Git

by @geeksam

I am looking to make Git part of my working practice as the why really makes sense – I just need to actually work out how! I came across this really useful guide for anyone looking to get some Git enlightenment.

Publishing with GitHub pages

By @krisshaffer

So why Git? Well its projects like this that demonstrate the power and practicality of using Git to work in the open. In an effort to “work out loud” I haven’t quite worked it into my everyday practice – instead it’s more like “update when ready” at the moment. This is a great example of using some simple and available technologies to develop an increasingly powerful improvement to working digitally and collaboratively.

Obscurity: A Better Way to Think About Your Data Than ‘Privacy’

by @hartzog & @EvanSelinger

I did read this post when it was published earlier in the year – but I wasn’t doing the reading list then. It came up again in my Twitter feed so it was good to revisit it, it also tied in nicely to my watching of the documentary Terms and Conditions May Apply.

I really like the idea of obscurity and the original article did sum up a lot of my personal reactions to “privacy” concerns. However, after watching the film its become a bit more obvious that this is increasingly unlikely to happen. When tech companies (and involved government agencies)don’t make obscurity an option, or intentionally not work, we are heading towards a big brother state. The section of the movie that deals with the term “protect” so often used in legalese was quite terrifying and bordering on the sci-fi distopian vision of “precrime” and “thoughtcrime”.

Highly recommend watching the film – would love to hear some more thoughts on it.

If it doesn’t work on mobile, it doesn’t work

by @brianboyer

Fantastic article and really informative. The title if it doesn’t work on mobile, it doesn’t work is one of those Ten Commandment type rules of design and the web today. Simple, authoritative and packed with deep and inherent wisdom. There are some great examples, tips and resources packed in here too!

User don’t hate change. They hate you.

by @cwodtke

Great timing and great read! Summing up the article pretty succinctly is this line

Users don’t hate change. Users hate change that doesn’t make things better

It’s a neat sentiment that doesn’t seem to be incorporated into most organisations or projects. The article is full of great, simple advice of things that should be (but aren’t) evident in every change management process.It really is about putting the user experience at the heart of every decision – but also as the driver for every change!

For change to be accepted, it needs to first have real value to the user. Then it must be explained clearly in the language of that person’s values. Not the designers’, not the company’s.

Many Internets, many lives

from @RNfuturetense

Catching up on some podcasts and this one popped up. I hadn’t heard Ethan Zuckerman or Genevieve Bell speak before but was aware of some of there work. I really enjoyed listening to some of the ideas here – particularly because I share many of them. It was amazing listening to Dr Bell about how people actually use digital devices and see how closely that matched the experiences in the mLearn project.


Joshua Davis

A Wearable for Apple

This is a post purely about tech – an indulgence away from education and a chance to just imagine!

Over a coffee last week a colleague and I mulled over the possibility of a wearable device from Apple. It was after the iPhone 5S and 5C event so we were discussing it in the context of the new features that they released, namely the Touch ID thumbprint scanner, iBeacon and the new M7 coprocessor chip.

While I’m not keen on falling into the trap of trying to predict what’s next, I though we had some good ideas something worth sharing anyway – and if it pans out and they’re on the blog I can then say I told you so!

  • We don’t need another screen. An increasingly large number of the 1st world already have a phone, a tablet and a laptop/desktop. There isn’t a clear reason for another screen unless you’re bordering on the ridiculous… samsung?
  • Apple offers technology with a clear sense of purpose. This is somewhat of a design mantra at Apple so it doesn’t make sense to just make a watch at a whim. All the new features they demoed in the 5S offer some thematically interesting opportunities – security, personalisation, monitoring, streaming, context aware, co-location, distributed functionality, payments. (yep positives and negatives there)
  • Wearable needs to be fashionable. Casio calculator  watches were ‘cool’ but they never looked good. It’s hard to make a screen look anything more than a black rectangle. Apple’s focus on good design lends weight for it to be a much simpler device – a few buttons and some feedback processes (like LEDs that flash and change colour)
  • A whole array of sensors. The M7 is a reproducible low powered sensor array. By placing all these items on a single chip Apple have created something that could easily be spun off into its own device and without the reliance of a heavy-duty processor.
  • The phone could stream and connect to the net. Tethering the device to a phone allows you to take advantage of it’s “always on” connection to the net. This would allow Apple to leverage its new iTunes radio and existing Match service to allow music to be played. So it might need a headphone jack 🙂
  • The smartphone is our primary device. It makes sense for Apple to primarily tether a new peripheral to the iPhone rather than the desktop. It means they can simplify the device by using the power and processing from the iPhone to do all the heavy lifting. The phone provides all the actual ‘computing’ requirements to ensure any accessory could be kept simple and cheap. iBeacon and Touch ID though could pave the way for interesting uses with their laptop/desktop range – unlocking your MacBook using Touch ID for example.
  • Everything old is new again. Apple could use the device to provide backwards compatibility for the new Touch ID scanner making it possible to retrofit it to all iOS (and potentially MacOS) devices. This means that developers and Apple would have the market to integrate this feature more and more – and increase the differentiation between Android.
  • Capitalise on iBeacon. A wearable could make real use of the iBeacon feature to find, sync, play and interact. iBeacon could provide the handshake required to turn on the wi-fi or Bluetooth channels for the device to transfer data or connect to the web. iBeacon becomes the tool that allows essentially dumb technology to become smart and a platform for the “internet of things”.
  • Use what you have. Apple doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel – just improve on it. The iPod shuffle is my favourite form factor EVER because of its simplicity and clarity of purpose. It would make  a perfect design to work from and is incredibly suited to wearable applications – and its ripe for a reboot. It could easily be manufactured to match both plastic and aluminium form factors, is about the right size, with right control configuration and something that could easily be enhanced or evolved.
  • Batteries Not Included. The biggest drawback of any screen related wearable is battery life. It’s something that Apple are acutely aware of so if you already have a smart device then linking in a dumb device makes sense. A device with a battery life of a week or more is going to get more use than one that only gets a day.
  • Price Point. Apple would need to do all this for around the $99 mark and they are very capable of doing this. Samsung are dreaming if they think people are going to turn out $300 for a watch to connect to their phone.

Anyway that’s our 2¢. For the first time I can see some real potential for an Apple wearable – just not the one the techpress are presenting. Now it’s just a matter of wait and see what happens. There will be plenty of time to think through the issues and ramifications around wearable technologies – you could start with this lively conversation here we had at the mTech: Wearable technologies in an Educational Context meetup.

Wrap Up – HTML5 Symposium

So this week I made the trek up to Toowoomba for the HTML5 Symposium at the University of Southern Queensland. It was my first time presenting outside of CSU so it was quite daunting.

The symposium kicked off with drinks and a keynote on the Monday night. First time if encountered this structure and I must say I’m a bit of a fan. The presentation, given by Phil Whitehouse from DT Digital, was extremely helpful in setting the tone and bring a perspective from outside the education sector.

Francis Kneebone gave the keynote the next morning which introduced HTML5 and the related concepts to the masses and contextualised it for many. The presentations that followed were a real blend of tech and education and gave a variety of different perspectives and demonstrated some of the real opportunities we have available to us.

I got the pleasure/curse of being the final presentation. A pleasure in the sense that I tried to bring together some of the threads and themes, but a curse because I was the last of 4 presentations and the only thing standing between the audience and afternoon tea. Well not the only thing – we had a quick panel for questions at the end

After a quick coffee we were split into small groups to go away and discuss the symposium and bring together our thoughts and ideas to share. This was something also I really enjoyed – an interactive session to debrief and align our thinking. So here are my main takeaways:

We were asked to come up with 3 words to sum up our ideas about HTML5. Interoperability was one of them and I liked that a lot as the practical description for my other word – Seamless. To me interoperable is how the technology needs to function, but the experience of the user should be seemless. They shouldn’t be able to tell where the joins are, when technology or systems shift, when languages and functions change. My third word would be Opportunity – which I feel is what HTML5 offers in spades. The opportunity and the motivation to rethink, redefine and rediscover what it is at the heart of what we do and how we do it.

Some of the other themes and ideas I still need to unpack – but here’s a quick overview:

  • We need to prioritise the definition and start the process of questioning to get to the heart of the matter – for the student/staff and developers sake.
  • Switch to Toddler Mode. Start by asking why repeatedly – then explore concepts and ideas with a new perspective and embrace new thinking that adapts to a changed world.
  • Shared problems could be solved with shared solutions and perhaps it’s a time for collaboration rather than competition. Changes in systems don’t threaten business models, intellectual property or market share – it’s what we do with them that differentiates them.
  • Challenge assumptions and expectations – because mobile will (see Phil’s example where 89% of access to a new Vodafone campaign came via mobile).

Links to presentations:

Applying Common Sense to Technology

Over the last couple of months I have become increasingly obsessed with the field of User Experience. The main reason is that I see a growing disconnect between technology and people. There is a lot of discussion about either/or but very little about how the two interplay, interact and intersect.

One of my earliest uni assignments – over a decade ago now – was on the topic of the User Experience on the web. It’s something that has fascinated and intrigued me ever since. It has always been at the core of my design work and I have always employed a user-centred approach to my work. I’m no longer a graphic designer day to day and over the last 5 years I have moved further and further away from my traditional repertoire to transition into a completely different role.

I’m now an Innovation Technology Officer and how I would describe my area of work is at that intersection between people and technology. I come from a technical background in digital technology having had a go building and creating almost everything in a digital environment going back to 1996. This compliments well with my education and work in design which was really about people – understanding and empathising. If you wanted to get paid you had to deliver what it was clients and their customers wanted. You had to make something worth buying so you had to appeal, relate and communicate to the client AND the customer. It’s not an easy thing to do.

For the last year or so it seems the community has been focussed on technology. Mobile has been a huge disruption that every sector across the globe has had to deal with. But while there’s been a focus on the technology very little thought (and money) has been invested into the people side. That’s now starting to change, quickly and rapidly (at least on the fringes). There’s less talk about technology and more on people and what they do at most of the conferences I tap into via twitter. It’s via these conferences I stumbled upon Whitney Hess.

I will confess to having something of a professional and intellectual crush on Whitney. Her work has resonated with me and she has an ability to articulate so well some of my frustrations and embryonic thought processes that reading her work it is like consuming an epiphany.

User Experience (or to use its more awesome abbr. UX) represents a way of applying common sense to technology. It works to define the problem and pinpoint where technology and people should intersect. In an educational context it’s along the lines of what Doug Belshaw has written recently

In my experience, there’s broadly three ways to relate to any kind of educational technology: 1) Technological — decide on the technology (for whatever reason) and that determines what you do pedagogically; 2) Pedagogical — settle upon the pedagogy and then look for a technology that fits; 3) Ecological — combine pedagogies and technologies to promote certain kinds of behaviours.

It’s often difficult to bring together two different fields and their taxonomies together – education and design in this case. I suppose for people like me that straddle two separate fields it is inevitable that you need to merge and combine language, thoughts and ideas. The difficulty is in trying to articulate that merged vocabulary and thought process – and it’s where I find myself now. How do I communicate in a language clear enough? How to I communicate that UX is the same as the Ecological approach? Perhaps more importantly – how do I communicate this importance to my university that this technology AND pedagogy/technology AND people approach is the key to doing things better?  …also please can I have some money to do it?

To me UX is the way of driving the third way and giving it a voice and some practical tools that educators and technologists can use to start working together rather than against or in divergent ways. So why is this UX/3rd Way approach important? It boils down to doing things better. Better as in more efficiently, more effectively, more engagingly, more timely and with more impact. When we are talking about education it equates to developing better teachers and better students.

So how do we do it? Kindly Whitney has written a fantastic post on her blog that sums up some of the keys.

What’s Your Problem? Putting Purpose Back into Your Projects

Go and read the post itself – don’t worry I’ll wait ….


…. OK so now you’re back, take a deep breath and lets contextualise it.

The problem we face in education is the lack of design. We tend to talk a lot about strategy, vision and planning but very little about design. Maybe because its a foreign concept to most educators and management, but the reality is – it is what we do – Education = Design. If you want to understand why schools and universities are important and vital it’s because they design the learning experience. Simply broadcasting information is not education, nor is it innovative or sustainable. In essence design is problem solving, but it isn’t something that most people don’t come to naturally as it of needs developed. Design requires you to take on a broad range of thinking, understanding and emotion. However the beauty of design is that it can be broken up into different areas and roles where expertise can be shared, honed – design becomes an ecology to itself which requires cohesion and focus. I really love the Wikipedia definition of design:

a specification manifested by an agent, intended to accomplish goals, in a particular environment, using a set of primitive components, satisfying a set of requirements, subject to constraints

If you want a simple manifesto to take away to use technology better, use Whitney’s key points:

  1. Define the problem before trying to solve it
  2. Ask questions to root out the truth.
  3. Be obsessed with the problem, not the solution

I feel that far too often the whole education sector jumps ahead of itself in deploying or applying a technological solution to a non-existent or ill defined problem. Problem Setting is far more important than Problem Solving.

When we look at some of the technological trends – mobile, MOOCs, LMS – have we actually discussed what the actual problem is? Have we asked why (x5)? Have we asked is it better? Have we defined the problem as who needs what because why? If we haven’t its because of two reasons – we’ve been driven by the Technological or the Pedagogical rather than the Ecological or UX approach.

A thank you to @whitneyhess and @dajbelshaw who have given me ideas, words and wisdom. Thanks for sharing!

It’s time for Output

I’ve really enjoyed the last couple of months and the discussions going on around Educational Technology in all it’s forms and facets. The debates around the LMS, MOOCs, mobile, BYOD, social media, badges and the like have really shown that if anything the education – right through K-12 to higher ed – is in a state of flux. Through the current discussions what is becoming clear to me is that education is demonstrating a willingness to participate in the change. In the face of disruption the education sector is actually engaging change unlike the music, publishing and media sectors before it.

It’s coming up to November and its conference season for me. This year is going to be interesting as I’m actually presenting at all the conferences. For the first time I am an active participant in change, innovation and development. It is extremely satisfying personally and professionally. By the end of the year I will have project managed  a highly innovative program in mobile learning, been published three times, spoken at three conferences and through this blog and twitter had some amazing interactions with interesting and knowledgable people across the world. ( A shout out to @djplaner, @dajbelshaw, @marksmithers, @sthcrft)

Over the last couple of years my life has been heavy on the input – reading, absorbing and trying to gain an understanding. The output over the last year has been probably the defining difference professionally as I have actually been doing things rather than being passive, thinking, planning and it has filled me with a real sense of purpose that has pushed me through one of the busiest, demanding and rewarding times of my life. There is great reward coming from my professional life which is only surpassed by the satisfaction of being a dad.

It’s now output time on a grand scale and joining the dots and the threads. The conference presentations are not on airy-fairy topics – they are reflections on what has been done and what has been learnt. Over the next few weeks I will be feverishly trying to put ideas down into text and then into slides. I want to share some of those here on this blog and I welcome your feedback – so critique, comment, discuss, tweet and interrogate what you see and read!

Oh and those conferences:

CSUED (Internal Conference)

  • Speaking – “How to use mobile technology for engaging and successful learning and teaching”
  • Speaking – “mLearn: Lessons through exploration”
  • Digital Theatre Presentation – “Understanding Mobile”

HTML5 Symposium

  • Speaking – “Standing on the shoulders of giants: Improving Existing Systems With HTML5″


  • Speaking & Co-Authored Full Paper – “Knowing, Doing, Being: Conducting and Reporting on Educational Technology Research for Institutional Impact”
  • Speaking & Concise Paper – “Mobility makes us Agile and Lean: A New Paradigm for Institutional Projects”

I’ll post links to presentations/videos/papers once they’re up online.

Those Quantifying Lowercase Letters

You cannot quantify Learning with a lowercase letter because it’s a cerebral experience that has nothing to do with technology or medium

– Me, Twitter

The more I write and think about technology in learning and education, the more I feel that we are just in a state of flux and transition. Quantifying technology as desktop or mobile or learning as M or E just doesn’t make much sense. It may give us a taxonomy to work with – but in practice its a false economy.

The truth is that this is the 21st Century reality – this is the digital age and we are in the process of switching the paradigm and adopting the multichannel, multiscreen future.