24 February 2009

FINAL WEEK - Brief, Initial Thoughts on Good Practice

Good practice during online tutoring is an essential element. We have been asked to list our own goals (briefly) in this area:

BE FRIENDLY: The personality and enthusiasm of the online tutor is an important ingredient when interacting with students. Hopefully, no amount of cold technology can stifle the human dimension,

LEARNING STYLES: Respect that everyone is different and absorbs information differently. Online design must provide a variety of approaches.

K.I.S.S. = Keep It Short & Simple: Clarity is key. Online activities must be explained clearly, goal-achievable, deadlines meet-able and assessment consistent.

RAPID RESPONSE: Asynchronous does not make it easy to be quick, but an effort has to be made to quickly follow up student requests. This aside, positive feedback is a key element - the 'back-patting' patter is a must.

FOLLOW-UP OPTION: Online students perhaps need to have the option to come back to the course - to clarify any points when the 'penny dropped' later.

21 February 2009

WEEK THREE - Reflexions

Expectations can be both a blessing and a burden. Good or bad, we bring and unpack them into many life situations: a new date, house, job, or VLE computing course.

The major expectation I brought to this online experience was that I hoped to be shown how to organise and present - to our Hull University students - a brief [say, 90-minute] VLE workshop. I wanted to gain knowledge, for example, on how to:
  • devise and try out online quizzes;
  • structure activities that would engage our students in an educational and entertaining manner;
  • invite them to raise specific questions and issues;
  • get tips on the effective use of academic video clips online [say, via YouTube, with advice about how to get the best of this facility];
  • debate important topics relevant to the subject of the workshops I plan to set up;
  • search out specific academic material - either on the web or more traditional sources; and
  • draft out a plan for a specific essay, assignment, report, etc.
These are some of my immediate goals that I must fulfil for my current campus computing work before this year is out. Although I did not have any of these specific 'great expectations' satisfied, I have ended up with something else. As John Lennon once sang, "Life is what happens whilst you are busy making other plans".

My eyes, instead, have been opened to a whole galaxy of useful social networking software (Web 2.0) that I had never encountered or used before. And, having been exposed to this dynamic material and been 'forced' to use it to achieve pre-set goals, I can see possibilities of how these applications might be useful for my current webwork and how they might be applied to a future academic context for our students.

The new software I have enjoyed using include:
  • Delicious Bookmarking of websites - highly recommended;
  • Google Documents for creating and storing useful material on the internet;
  • Forum Discussions;
  • FLICKR - this was used to answer the course question: "Who Am I?". Being a photographer [with 20 solo photo exhibitions in the UK and US], I took to the idea of trying a new venture to display my pictures. I need to get back to this website and improve the rushed work I did - lots of scope for growth. It is located at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/34788179@N03/;
  • Checking Who's Online - call me nosey, but I often liked to check which of my fellow students were also online;
  • Chat Room option - I found this useful from time to time (but soon realized that the chats were not as private as I at first assumed they should be - so I gradually ceased to use this facility here);
  • PBWiki - this seemed a bit limited, but perhaps I still have aspects to discover (I need to check the web for tutorials about this application - YouTube can be good in this regard). Actually, thinking back, I seem to recall that there is a section dedicated for 'Educators' - something else I must explore - if I have time and remember all these things to explore; and
  • Blogger.com - I have already reflected upon the value of this option in an earlier reflexion. The potential of using a blog with our students, however, is another multi-media area that needs to be investigated at some future time.

GREEN TEAM Collaboration - it continued to be a positive experience this week with the rest of the gang. There feels to be a high degree of warmth and helpfulness between us - even though we are spread out (as far as Australia in one case). It feels like what the military call the 'buddy' system - whereby we look out for each other. The main thing, as far as I am concerned, is that we just 'get the job done and move on'. We are not out to win the Noble Peace Prize, it is simply an online exercise and I feel we performed well and did what was asked of us. From a brief glance at next week's tasks, it seems that the teams will no longer be necessary. On one hand, I will miss that aspect, but on the other, I am looking forward to completing the course because I have two immediate goals I wish to complete (outside my paid academic work): (1) an article about referencing academic sources and (2) complete the final of seven modules (Excel) for the ECDL [European Computer Driving Licence] before the three-year deadline in August this year.

SET READINGS - later in the week than planned, I got my teeth into the set readings (added to this, there seemed more of them this week). Nevertheless, they are very interesting and will prove useful once I get back to my university work (proper) and start to put some of the 'theoretical' material into 'practice'.

AT WORK - we began our tentative steps to introduce Skype-to-Skype for the future benefit of our students. That is, we will direct most of our students - with what we call 'quick queries' [mainly about how to reference academic work] - to contact us via Skype. Further, it will be an option for our Overseas and Distant Learners (ODL) to contact us for study advice. It is all very exciting and should be great once all the technical hurdles are overcome.

That is all for this week...

15 February 2009

WEEK TWO - Final Reflexions

During this second week online I had an interesting dialogue with Lindsey Fulker. In essence, it was about 'academics verse computer techno-types' within the same university. A summary of our discussion went:

"...our university is the same as yours, especially the computer people when they say things like 'we do not support this or that application / software'. They issue an implied 'threat' that if you do something outside THEIR control, then 'upon your head be it'! For example, my boss and I are keen for us to use Skype as a means of contacting our students (especially if they have, say, a quick query about referencing). But, just to cover ourselves, she suggested I email the computer service to get their opinion on this new situation. I know the bloke who replied (and he is OK), nevertheless, he came back with computer-jargon: intranet or internet, and wittered on about some proxy server addresses and post IDs - without explaining what these things meant in plain English. My boss was angry and said 'they like to make us feel small' by using techno-speak. Anyway, as you say, institutions have this thing about 'SUPPORT', but it really results in our multi-media creativity being SMOTHERED. The computer buffs prefer to deal with their machines / equipment / objects / software - and rarely come f2f with students. Also reflecting upon what you said, the present online experience is refreshing in that sense of diving into the Web 2.0 experience and encouraging us to use the new packages out there."

Therefore, academics should be able to shake off the straight-jacket and regulations of having to use strictly controlled software (institutionally-approved VLEs), be truly 'supported' by our computer colleagues, and be allowed to engage with our students in their own Web 2.0 environments where they feel comfortable.
Overall, though, the Green Team did extremely well, we collaborated in many areas and completed our tasks before the deadline. It was fun. Bring on Week Three...

14 February 2009

WEEK TWO - More Reflexions

Blogs are a bit like diaries. Apart from my Outlook Calendar for future appointments (mainly centred around my University work), I do not keep a diary or record of what I do - I just get on with it and move on. Indeed, I dislike diary-keeping. Nevertheless, since doing this VLE course, I feel fairly comfortable about doing a blog - indeed, I was eager to start this one!

The second week is drawing to an end now. I have just finished doing the proof-reading and tidying up of the Green Team's Google Document Presentation. Geli has done most of the actual work and structuring. As reported in the previous posting, I did my bit on Friday 13th and that contribution seemed to have some constructive benefit to the team effort - see more details later.

Actually, talking about Friday the 13th, I commented to Katy (my boss) that "this has been the first year for ages that no one from the media has been in touch with me to talk on radio or TV about Superstitions". Then, as I was making a pot of tea for my lunch, she dashed into the office kitchen and urgently informed me that LBC (a London radio station) was on the phone and wanted me to do an interview. It turned out that a presenter called Jeni Barnett was doing her show and wanted me on at 2 pm. Katy kindly blocked out any potential student appointments on our booking system to free my time for the call. Anyway, it was a great interview and she gave me lots of time to speak. Most interviewers set out to make fun of superstitions, but she was genuinely interested, gave me more time on air than usual and said I had made a positive contribution to the afternoon on the topic.

Anyway, back to these academic reflexions. I have learnt a lot and am happy with the team interaction. I was keen to agree with the view that we should argue that "online participation should be compulsory". In one discussion I stated: "Yes, I fully agree that we should push the FOR argument. My premise was: "The very fact that someone has joined / subscribed to an online course implies a compulsion to partake in the required activities". ANALOGY: The very fact that a passenger buys a train ticket strongly implies that s/he will join and travel on the train."

I also proposed an Outline as follows:
WHO: "Who We Are" as the Green Team - perhaps we could each insert a photo and one-line blurb (if we have time)
WHAT: The Purpose of our Presentation - keep it short, sweet and simple (Less is More). That is, we are FOR the motion...
HOW: Structure (80% of our slides)
WHY: The Benefits when students part-take online

By chance, I read an article in The Times which had a bearing on the course. It was an article in Times 2 by Matt Symonds (2009 - Wed 11th Feb 8-9) 'How to Connect to Generation Y'. He puts forward the view that "Students live their lives on FaceBook and the colleges are finally starting to get the idea".

Therefore, although the Green Team are adopting a tough FOR line, we also state that university VLEs are boring [because they like to keep CONTROL] and tutors / institutions have to devise ways to increase online participation so that students want to part-take. That is, follow the Oxford VLE course approach, embrace Web 2.0 and establish themselves on FaceBook, Flickr, My Space, Blogger, etc. The mountain has to come to Mohamed - or something like that? I stated that 'VLE = Very Limited Experience' because academics are obsessed with control. The classroom / lecture model has to go. Given this approach, the students will be keen to part-take on the online course and not feel any pressure upon them.

I will end here and post this blog. If any more thoughts come to me it is easy to add them. That is a beautiful aspect of blogging...

13 February 2009

WEEK TWO - Reflexions

Now coming to the end of another 'hectic' week with the Oxford online VLE computer course. This week we have been allocated into three different groups: RED, GREEN and BLUE. I am in the GREEN TEAM. It turns out that we are the smallest group with six members (the other two each have seven). Nevertheless, being 'physically-challenged' myself, I am of the firm opinion that "small is beautiful".
The team are a great set of people. Lindsey started the ball rolling by suggesting we used Google Documents [Docs]. I confirmed that I was also a gmail user; however, I knew nothing of this aspect of Google, but was keen to learn.
Geli then stepped in because he had used this facility before and he took it upon himself to get us all registered - he did this fairly promptly.
Jenny then pitched in quickly [and did a good job inserting useful slides to the presentation] because she is off ski-ing for a break on Friday for a week. This will bring our number down to five - but the Green Team will soldier on.
John had some problems due to being busy at work and home, etc. Actually, I had previously checked his blog and left a comment about how busy his life seemed. He left messages on our Discussion board apologizing, and promised to get into things this coming weekend - I am sure he will.
Maxine in Australia input some brilliant ideas and slides to our presentation (despite a visit to her dentist).
I, in the meantime, inserted a logo (Robin Hood) and really, really wanted the team to use a Green Template from within Docs, but failed to get to grips with this application. It did not 'behave' as I expected it to do. I am a fan of PowerPoint 2007 [having recently passed my ECDL - European Computer Driving Licence - in that module] and tried some techniques from that software, but they did not work. I got very frustrated and felt that my contribution (and team effort) was being wasted.
Another delaying factor for me was that my partner was taking off to France for a week via EuroStar to improve her French. Therefore, that took a necessary priority during the earlier part of the week. Audrey departed on Thursday morning and I got down to things properly after that.
After catching up with a backlog of reading from Discussion boards and drafting out some ideas, I was then in a position to add something more tangible to our Google Docs presentation. I set my alarm clock for 0530 on Friday 13th, got up early, logged on and put my ideas down for the rest of the team to consider.
I will return to this blog later...

05 February 2009

WEEK ONE - Reflexions

For this task each student has to put down his/her thoughts on the course so far. These are mine in no particular order:

1. I am slowly getting used to some of the chit-chat that goes on within these online courses. Personally, I prefer to 'hold back' and not start spouting about anything until I have weighed up the situation. I do this in face-to-face (F2F) meetings most of the time. I never was one for small talk. Perhaps it comes from being a Psychologist and Historian [I prefer to observe rather than get involved and change the situation under observation]; my parents were not loud mouths; and a boss from my Export Manager days (Alan Webster from Gentransco) always used to say "keep your powder dry". So that is my style with these gatherings - and now I have transferred it to online groups too. However, I feel that this will change as the month-long course progresses.

2. I am looking forward to next week when, I assume, we will begin to learn about more specific aspects of teaching online, etc. I want to end this course armed with a set of multi-media tools that I can put to good use for the benefit of our students.

3. One of the things I have felt concerns feedback. It is essential that an online student receives fairly quick feedback after they have made a comment or entered into a discussion. Obviously, Patsy at Oxford is fully aware of this and she is good at responding - in a positive manner - fairly rapidly. It is a full-time job monitoring such a course. It needs more than one person doing such a task. I express this feeling because, until I have got used to navigating around the system, I thought that one of my contributions was being ignored.

4. I enjoyed putting into effect both the Delicious Bookmarking system and Flickr photo website. Added to this, now that I am 'forced' to use it again (after an absence of four years), I now fully appreciate the Blogger.com website. It has many useful features, the help system is 'helpful', and the appearance can be altered in such a variety of ways. It is fun. Equally, I failed to realize, all those years ago and until the other day, that anybody could have as many blogs as they wished. For some stupid reason I believed that each person was only allowed one blog and, if you needed another, you had to apply separately. Added to this, I somehow lost my old password and found it extremely difficult to get back into my old (2005) blog. This resulted in me thinking that I would perhaps need a new email address in order to 'trick' my way back into the blog system! Needless to say, after some head-banging-against-the-wall moments, I got back into the Google/Blogger system. All's Well that Ends Well.

5. Next week I need to read through more of the tips provided by the other contributors - otherwise, I will limit my learning opportunities. Some good points are being made, especially by the tutors.

6. Oxford Brookes webpage layout / design: I feel there is an over burden of boxes. For me, the whole feel is too box-y and in the style of an early 1990s layout [perhaps based upon tables rather than CSS]. I am not a Cascading Style Sheet expert (I know nothing), but feel that your website or BlackBoard layout will have to have a complete re-design sooner than later.

7. I know three of us (Robyn, myself and, perhaps, Judith) are on this course because we wish to implement short one-hour workshops for our students. Our VLEs will not be intensive, month- or semester-long, "let's-have-a-party" and form a 'social network' courses. What we want primarily is ideas, techniques and tools for courses that are short, sweet and simple.

That brings me to the end of my 'academic reflexions' for this first week. Bye for now, Alec in Hull.

"Who Am I?" - Part II

After my previous ramblings about the above topic [sometimes there is a need to 'get things off your chest'], I now wish to revert to an earlier thought on how I would tackle this topic. That is, to simply point anyone who is interested to other aspects of my current web / real life. This can be presented under the following four weblinks:

1. This is my own website (via the University of Hull) that I established in 1997. I constructed this in the 'olden days' - long before any of the modern web authoring software was available - as part of a teacher-training course (HETC - Higher Education Teaching Certificate). The website was part of my final-year project called "Teaching Topics on the World Wide Web". It is ancient by today's standards and is desperate for a complete update. Added to this, I must insert some interesting images. Anyway, here it is and I am still proud of it and its content: http://www.hull.ac.uk/php/cesag.

2. Part of my academic work at the Study Advice Service at Hull University includes my role as a multi-media developer. In 2007, we began to compile a set of educational video clips giving academic advice about writing and study skills. Due to lack of storage space within our computing system, it was decided to place these on YouTube. The total now is 18 video clips and these can be found at: http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=SAStudyadvice&view=videos
If you wish to 'Add to Favourites' or leave a 'Comment', then please do so - the more the merrier. A series of other interviews are planned for later this year.

3. As part of this Oxford Online course we were encouraged to use the Flickr website. As a photographer, and following the positive remarks of our university photographer (Mike Park), I really took to this website. Obviously, like many websites, there is tons of work yet to do. Anyway, another aspect of "Who I Am?" can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/34788179@N03/
Again, please leave comments if you wish.

4. Here, within Blogger, I have another weblink. This was created back in April 2005 as part of another university course I was attending. This was with Cascade on a multi-media course and we were introduced to the fairly new concept of blogging. I was quickly produced the following blog about my local history research:
After the course was over, I quickly forgot about this blog and it was dormant until now. I seem to spend my life going from one academic course to another - not really!

Anyway, that is that for now - four strands of my life. I have one more blog entry to do to complete Week One of this current course...

"Who Am I?" - Part I

One of the 'Icebreaker' Exercises we have to complete on this course is to answer the existential question: "Who am I?"

It is, of course, the oldest question since the dawn of time (or humanity) - and unanswerable.

There are perhaps two avenues when it comes to answering this question: external or internal. The former route I would see as those people 'running away from themselves'. This technique creates lots of noise, is a smoke-screen and avoids facing up to the actual question. They are deeply [shit] scared to even look inside themselves.

Should the external group ever begin to gaze inwardly, they again avoid answering the question directly by tending to blame their parents "for fucking you up". This Larkinesque approach or slight-of-hand firmly puts blame on the father and/or mother (or another). These people conclude that they never will know who they are. Their "I am" has been distorted and disturbed; their heart, soul and life will never be right as a result of the actions of others. Perhaps long-term psycho-analysis will put them on the right track and then they will be OK and get on with life - in their dreams.
My present 'internal' conclusion about "who am I" is not to be found in the past or the future nor at the end of some inner or outward journey.
It is here and now.
I am NOW. Now is all there is.
I am the sum total of all my past thoughts and actions. They have brought me here and now.
Some of this current thinking is based upon my recent reading of The Secret by Rhonda Byrne (2006) - a Christmas gift - and some Kristnamurti books [these especially kept me going during my bleak, depressive Cardiff years 1978-84].
Anyway, back to the now and let me end this serious blog with a joke by George Burns. It was perhaps during his last public appearance as an after-dinner speaker in the States. He was in a tuxedo (not sure if he had his big cigar or not), but he stood up and came out with the usual opening line: "I'm really glad to be here tonight". Then he paused for a moment to look around the room at his audience. Then he added, "At 98 you're glad to be anywhere!".

03 February 2009

VLE: Virtual Learning Environment - online course

As part of my intensive, one-month long, online computer course with the Oxford Brookes College, I have to keep a learning log to reflect upon my experience during this time. This is it.
Today I have set it up. That is enough for now - after all the aggro I have had trying to re-establish myself with this ancient (2005) blogsite - so I am going away to think about it.