Friday, 31 December 2010

About those podcasts.....

I have had a horrid cold this last week and so, confined to my sofa with lemsip and laptop, I have been catching up on some reading (well, browsing Twitter).

An article about the growing interest in podcasting in HE took me to a video presentation from Gilly Salmon on the subject, and eventually to ipadio.

Gilly's talk about pedagogical podcasting ended by convincing me of two things: 1)that "podcast" does not have to mean lecture capture and 2) that there is value in the human voice supplementing written or visual material to encourage and support even on-campus students.

I have long been averse to podcasting precisely because I didn't want to offer recordings of lectures. I don't really DO lectures, so maybe that's why. I HAVE however used audio instructions to supplement written ones for students - on preparing assignments, for example - and I have had positive feedback from students about how they do indeed value that "human touch".

I am a big fan of screencapture and I still intend to do more of this - particularly in giving students feedback on assignments. There are times when the audio and the visual need to come together - to (literally) illustrate a key point, perhaps - but Gilly had evidence to show that pedagogical audio podcasting also has a place.

Where audio wins out over screencapture/video is in file size, downloadability, speed and simplicity. The almost universal provision of voicerecorders and mp3 players in mobile phones makes audio podcasting a very efficient way of getting information to students on the move.

So now we come to ipadio (rhyming with i-radio). This is a website hosting "phlogs" - voice based blogs that you phone in. It is also an iphone (and android) app that allows you to record high quality audio using "voice memo" and upload it to your phlog. You can also download the phlog post for editing or upload an mp3 file you have already created. There are one-click links to Facebook, Twitter, and many other blogging sites, codes to allow you to embed the phlog on your own website, upload it to iTunes or provide an RSS feed. One absolutely astounding feature is the incorporation of Spinvox speech to text software which provides a transcript of the phlog. This really adds to the application's accessibility. And you can add images and location data if needed. In fact there is so much going on here that the possibilities are endless.

My own modest ambition is to embed a regular phlog within the VLE Learning Room (I have already successfully done this in a test) as a means of supplementing the module I am teaching. As I have already abandoned the lecture format, my aim is to give the students online and printable material together with audio podcasts which direct them in key activities such as discussion board topics and further self-organised study. Our face to face time can then be used for more in depth discussion of the material and work on group projects.

I have embedded a phlog below, with a photo for illustrative purposes. Enjoy!

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Accessible Learning

I foolishly volunteered to present a workshop at our School Teaching and Learning Conference on the theme of accessible learning. I am thinking about doing some sort of show and tell about the way I have set up my learning rooms. It's not world changing stuff and its not rocket science, but I am trying to make the material more accessible.

Firstly I have written all my notes in Wimba Create so that the material can be accessed via the learning room, read on screen and with links to other material and sites live and instantly available. I like Wimba create and certainly prefer it to endless copies of Powerpoint slides which have to be downloaded. More information can be given on a page than is possible or even desirable on a single slide and illustrations can be included where this would increase the size of a Powerpoint file to several Mb.

Reading on screen isn't everyone's favourite activity so I keep the pages short, include illustrations and focus an key points and, importantly, links to more interactive or audio/visual sites.

Like I said, this isn't rocket science (Wimba Create is a Word add on that is pretty easy to learn), but I already see benefits for the students.

Many of them are off on placement at the moment and unable to make every lecture; some mature students have children and so have been missing this week (which is the schools' half term but not our university's) and ill health, physical disabilities, family bereavements and a variety of other issues do sometimes prevent students attending in person. But I have evidence from the Learning Room usage reports that many of them are looking at the material and even reading ahead to the next week's lectures.

Having the material available to read ahead is particularly useful for students with specific learning difficulties who often find it difficult to keep up with note taking during live lectures.
In addition, for those who do not want to keep on accessing the Learning Rooms via the Internet, I have reproduced the material as a PDF document which the student can download - to their own PC, laptop or smart phone - or even, heaven forfend! - print off. A document in this format can be easier and cheaper for the student to print - my "lectures" are on average 5 or 6 pages long compared to the, say, 50 or more slides that would be needed to give the same amount of information.
OK - I confess, my approach to producing materials has been influenced by my early training in e-learning and a personal dislike of actually standing up and lecturing people. By having the materials, a variety of links and reading recommendations already set up on the Learning Room, my "lectures" can instead be places for discussion, group work, exercises, watching clips from "Avatar" (yes really) and Q&As about important issues (like the next assignment - *sigh*).
Finally, I also base my approach on a desire to provide not only a variety but also a multiplicity of formats in order to make it accessible to an audience potentially comprising a variety of learning styles. I suppose I should add audio podcasts to be wholly consistent ... but that's a project for another day.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

New beginnings

I am actually quite excited about the start of the new term. For me as Programme Leader and Lecturer this is a new University, new programme, new VLE - and all the students are new to me too.

I should also mention that I am simultaneously beginning as a student of the University myself as I have just enrolled on a language programme. This has already given me a great insight into the student view of the VLE, how it is used to support learning and simple stuff like how student email works, which as a tutor, I couldn't have known.

As for the VLE, well, from the tutor's perspective, I can say that like all VLEs it has its clunky aspects and its bugs but on the whole I think it has a pleasing element of "customisability" and I quite like the ability to use colour and images - even a Twitter feed and some YouTube videos - to brighten up the Home Page.

It still functions largely as a depository - of announcements, documents, web links, assignments,
module guides - and of course has no option for the student to really interact with it or customise it to their tastes and needs. But there are a couple of useful tools which I hope might encourage some student involvement.

I am going to be promoting the blog tool, for one thing - as reflection will be a large part of all the modules I am teaching. I also plan to use the Discussion Boards, though I have had mixed success with these in the past with distance learning students.

But along side these "institutional" elements, we will also be exploring Twitter, Blogger, Google sites and Facebook as arenas for student collaboration and communication - not just for the sake of it, but because these tools and others like them - are a key part of any organisation's communications strategy these days. Learning to use them is as much about enhancing "employability" as it is about developing general information literacy skills.

With my dual identities as new lecturer and new student at this university, I expect it to be an interesting few months ahead - watch this space.....

Friday, 27 August 2010


I have spent much of the last few weeks designing and developing e-portfolios for our new students, using Google Sites. (The template is entitled PLR2010 if you want to have a look: it is designed for a specific module, though, so not suitable as a generic portfolio).

There is a portfolio widget available within the VLE, but as with all such platforms, it is only valid for the length of the programme and what I hope is that students will enjoy the idea of regular blogging and creating personal online spaces where they can keep track of their personal and professional development.

Ongoing professional development and personal reflection is important for everyone but particularly so in the human services and I am hoping the eportfolio will be a useful aid for individual supervison as well as career management and recording further professional training.

So I hope the e-portfolios will prove popular and easy to use -and even better - that the students will go beyond the simple templates I have set up to develop really creative learning spaces of their own.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

NHS spends more than £300m on consultancy services

Nigel Edwards, acting chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: "Any spending of taxpayers' money has to be justified, and the NHS has been asked by successive governments to perform tasks for which internal expertise was not present or needed to be developed. Dismissing all this spending as wasteful is unfounded."

IT and Human Resources were the biggest spend areas - the NHS Chief Executive argues that there isn't the specialist knowledge in the service to meet the needs, and that it would also be wasteful to employ people permanently for "one off" specialist roles.  The RCN reply with "shocking waste" etc etc whilstthe opposition retort:

the NHS needs good managers. By wiping away the expertise currently in primary care trusts, [Lansley] is opening the door to consultancy firms

Is spending on consultancy a necessary evil? a clever way of hiding staffing costs in a service beset by targets and spending cuts? a sensible way of bringing in the staffing and expertise needed at the right time? Lazy management? all of the above. Discuss.....

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Use of Social Media in Health Care - Report by Deloitte in U.S.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Some time ago I blogged about how reluctant the NHS is to let its staff use social media but also how so many NHS organisations are beginning to appear on Twitter and Facebook, etc.

Interesting then to see this report from Deloitte in the US about how social media is gaining respectability and more widespread use in health care there.

I am particularly interested as I am very keen on teaching Health and Social Care students how to use these tools - Twitter, Google Sites, Wikis and Blogs are all going to feature in my leadership and management modules this year. So now I can justify this as more than just "technology for its own sake" - students hoping to be employed in the health and social care sectors need to be social media literate.

A Practical Guide to using Social Media in your Job - an overview presentation

Sunday, 4 July 2010

PLE BCN July 2010

PLEBCN: a conference with a difference:

What's it all about?

Jordi Adell's introduction

Ismael Peña-López'

Alec Couros'

and finally from Graham Atwell

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Partnership working: policy and practice - Google Books

Partnership working: policy and practice - Google Books

A useful resource for the session on Collaboration across organisations and interagency working

Demos | Publications

Demos | Publications

A Collection of Essays on the need for collaboration across the public sector

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Personality profile

Who are you? How does your personality impact on your leadership style?

BBC/OU - Child of Our Time 2010 - Personality profile

Friday, 28 May 2010

Responding to Employers - Moving into the Mainstream

These are the papers and slides from my presentation at the Employer Engagament Conference at DMU on June 11th. Please feel free to explore the rest of this blog for more discussion about e-learning and virtual teams.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Adventures in social learning

As my weekly Spanish class comes to an end this week, I have been looking around for new, flexible, (cheap!) and effective ways to continue my language learning. has great resources for learning new vocabulary but I need to practice speaking and listening and with a new, full-time job looming where will I find the time or the right sort of class?

I have used before to locate native Spanish speaking tutors with whom I can connect on line at times to suit me, but it can be expensive if you need regular, say weekly, conversation.

At this point in my deliberations I was contacted on busuu by a young woman from Bilbao who wants to improve her rusty English and so we have set up a regular session to chat on line.

This has highlighted for me the power of combining e-learning with social networking. Busuu has a rudimentary but effective (and unobtrusive) social networking element which simply involves "friending" other learners, occasionally messaging one another, correcting each others' posts and sending virtual tokens or gifts. And it has certainly enabled my Spanish friend and I to make this connection which benefits us both.

What I am learning too is how really helpful this peer to peer teaching is. We each choose a topic and we divide up our sessions into half English and half Spanish so we both get the chance to practise our language skills. The fact that we are both learners as well as "teachers" means that, for me at least, I feel less self-conscious about mistakes.

Of course, a less sympathetic partner or one with considerably better skills (or considerably worse ones) might make for a difficult co-teaching relationship: but then it would be easy enough to make one's excuses and leave.

Now I have tried out this form of learning I know I would feel far more confident in contacting other busuu members for voice and text chats.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

A Virtual Revolution

I'd obviously be remiss in my devotion to all things virtual (well nearly all) if I didn't offer some reflections on BBC Two's The Virtual Revolution

I would recommend anyone with a passing interest in the Internet, e-learning, social networking - or even anyone with kids! - to take a look at this three part series.

I found it fascinating to understand the origins of the Internet and of the world wide web (and to understand the difference between the two) - and this in turn helped to explain something of the anti-authority, collaborative culture of the web.

The programme - and the website - also take a look at the generational differences in web-usage and there is an online test you can take to discover more about your web habits - which also contributes to research on the subject. I found out I was a web Bear

This could be a really useful test to offer new e-learning students as a way of understanding their own preferences and behaviours on line, and for e-tutors to assess the potential pace of an online activity....

However, I digress: the web behaviour test aims to provide data on what is happening to our brains as we surf, multi task, etc and to compare different age-groups' behaviours. I am looking forward to hearing about the results.

In the meantime, the programme explored myths and fears about the Internet (wheeling out Susan Greenfield- inevitably) but was equally optimistic about its potential benefits: for example, many South Korean children are afflicted by a new disease of Internet addiction but the country also has outstanding school results (South Korea was cited as the "most wired" country in the world).

The programmes have certainly made me think about my own web behaviours, the connections I make there, the "reality" of on line friendships, the authority, or otherwise of information to be found (Wikipedia was discussed) but also what all of this is going to mean for succeeding generations. Those of us who have come late in life to the web have a particular view of it based on our own paradigms of learning, knowledge, connection, etc. Those born with the web as their natural environment will inevitably be growing up immersed in entirely new paradigms.

This isn't necessarily the nightmare scenario that Greenfield suggests (infantilising etc). I think that inevitably there are difficulties and dangers involved in web use but we are in the learning and developing stage of a new-ish tool: our children, their children, may actually grow to be far more adept at managing not just the technology but also their online identities and relationships than we can currently envisage.

I always remember an edition of Radio 4's "The Long View" discussing video games that compared our current fears about their growth with 18th century moralist's horror at the vogue for reading novels.

It is unthinkable now that we would attempt to stop our kids from reading, but the Baroness Greenfields of the day were advocating just such remedies if parents were to save their children from intellectual and physical laziness, moral turpitude and a life immersed in unhealthy fantasy.....

something to ponder on!

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Informal Learning: Part Dos

Four weeks in and the Spanish class is settling down to some good work. Our tutor is continuing to bring written material for us to work on and the combination of reading outloud, translating on the hoof, chatting and discussing topics is going quite well. Most people seem to feel that we are actually learning more than we did previously (I certainly am)!

There has however been some discussion via email about the topics and format of the classes and whether they were suitable for everyone, and so last week we had a quick review to check everyone was getting what they needed from the process.

We have subsequently agreed to do more "every day" chat topics - to give those with a more limited vocabulary a chance to join in - and each person is going to bring an article or other piece of writing to share and discuss alongside the material that the tutor prepares.

It is no small feat really that we managed to work out all the costs, find a room, a tutor, get everyone to pay up front without major disagreements amongst nine very strong minded individuals and the very slight note of dissent about what we were doing in class has resulted in everyone getting more of a say in what we do in future.

********************************************************** also continues to be a great source of fun and learning. It provides a huge amount of vocabulary and subtle encouragement to explore grammar at the same time.

I really love the "gaming" feel of the site - right and wrong answers are signified by sound effects, points are awarded for completing sections of work and the learner's "homepage" is a garden where your trees grow and gifts are added as you progress.

You are encouraged to network by the award of a gold heart if you get lots of friends. Online chat is still a daunting prospect for me but I enjoyed a discussion in two languages with a young man from Mallorca the other day - he wrote in English and I in Spanish, and we corrected each other as we went along. Another time, I chatted in English to an Italian housewife who is trying to learn the language whilst her kids are at school.

I think the reward aspect is very powerful: even the element of competition (similar to Farmville I suspect). My partner , my son and I are all competing to get the highest number of points,(or busberries!) for example. The fact that this is encouraging my son to study French alongside his normal homework and revision is an astounding achievement. And even more amazing is the way it has completely hooked my normally technophobe partner who has never been on Facebook or any other social networking site.

It has made me start to think about how I could introduce more elements of gaming, competition, reward, networking and fun into the distance/e-learning programmes I manage - I am sure with some creative thinking it must be possible to liven up the VLE and make people want to log on for another dose of learning?

One of the other really good things about the site is the way you get instant feedback - not just automated right/wrong on the multiple choice vocabulary tests but in the form of corrections from native speakers (other learners who happen to be on line) - bringing peer feedback into the equation too! This has two effects - for the person being corrected, you get speedy feedback from an expert or experts (in the sense that they are native speakers of the language you are learning) - sometimes you might get two or more options for translating a particular phrase. Secondly, as you are also required to correct another learner's posts you get the feeling yourself of being an expert and of being able to contribute to someone else's development. Oh and those all important 5 busberries!

Monday, 8 February 2010

Work Shifting

ahhh - a blog after my own heart!

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Informal Learning

As my devoted reader(s) will know, I have been studying Spanish for a few years now and have used a variety of means for improving my vocabulary, grammar, speaking etc. I have had one to one sessions with personal tutors, both face to face and using Skype (see I have attended cosy WEA classes and I have followed BBC online, CD and TV-based courses.

Last week our lovely WEA class in Nottingham came to an end as our teacher has returned to Argentina. So as a group we have come to the decision that we will carry on - meeting weekly, preparing exercises and practising together. We have hired ourselves a native Spanish speaking tutor and a room in a church hall and are combining our many resources - and cash - to continue making the learning happen. Our plan is to decide together what it is we want to learn or practice, find our own resources and rely on the Spanish speaking tutor as a resource to correct our grammar and pronunciation.

I am excited and a little nervous about what will happen so I will continue to blog about our experiment.

I also Tweeted this week about a site I had been directed to called This has the usual range of quite well done screen based language exercises but the real fun of it is in the interaction between students.

You can befriend others who are learning the same language as you - or who want to learn your native tongue - and the site provides a facility to text chat with one another and even to connect by video/audio link for live conversation.

As you progress through the exercises, you are asked to post your written answers and to correct those of other students who are studying your native tongue. In this way, work is corrected by a native speaker. Your activity is rewarded by "busuuberries" and your progress marked with little stars and diamonds.

I think it's a brilliant concept - social networking meets e-learning - and really good fun to get involved in. So if you have ever wanted to learn a language - give it a go!

Thursday, 14 January 2010

No tweets please, we're British health workers

This blog post pretty much sums up the experience I - and my NHS based students - have had in trying to explore social networking sites for learning, newtworking, team communication and even health promotion. I agree that the potential threats to a hospital's vital information systems are not to be taken lightly, but the draconian tone taken in the forbidding of such networking sites does really demonstrate how little actual experience and understanding there is of their potential benefits.....

see my previous post about NHS and social media - clearly some people are using it (officially that is) and to good effect

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and Twitter

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and Twitter

I really enjoyed this blog post linking Twitter with Malsow's Hierarchy of Needs. Twitter certainly fulfills certain belonging needs for me as a teleworker (see my previous post) and I admit to a spurious(?) increase in my self esteem when I discover I have been "listed", "retweeted" or "favourited"....

As an interesting follow through of this concept, you could think about how using Twitter with a work team might increase motivation....

Friday, 8 January 2010

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.......

oh the weather outside IS frightful and has resulted in me spending an entire week marooned at home: too nervous of the wintry weather to venture onto the treacherous roads and even more treacherous pavements.

Has this affected my ability to do my job? Added to the several £billions lost in productivity during the cold snap? No! of course not... I am a teleworker!

This week I have:
  • followed up a marketing lead for a new post graduate course (by phone & email)
  • conducted an informal appraisal of a new member of the tutor team and provided him with a number of resources to support his teaching (phone and email)
  • checked with the team on progress with the marking of the programme's final module (Blackboard, phone, email)
  • held tutorials with a student (via Skype)
  • collaborated with colleagues on documentation for the validation of a new Module (email)
  • found out about a really interesting up and coming conference and booked onto it (via Twitter and Eventbrite)
  • organised some appointments for next week (Outlook calendar)
  • read the current edition of a great journal about e-learning (on line)
  • discovered a fantastic file transfer site (via postingon Twitter) and used it to send some huge files to a colleague whose email provider kept on rejecting them
  • taken part in a research study conducted by an academic based in Brazil (via Twitter and Googledocs)
  • started to write up the findings from some research of my own (conducted with distance learning students via Googledocs)
  • used the rest of the time to re-work the Virtual Teams module based on that feedback, students' assignments and a personal review of what has and hasn't worked this time.
  • taken part in many fun and thoughtful conversations on Twitter and through reading others' blogs

I have also been giving some thought to what the Virtual Leader should be focusing on in times of inclement weather. For the most part, it's the same as usual, but more so.

Making sure the team members are safe and well and not taking unnecessary risks - maybe even issuing some guidance about home working/travel safety and ensuring those who have to be out and about, because of the nature of their jobs, check in regularly.

Keeping in touch - not to check up that those stranded at home are being properly productive, but to discuss with them what they are able to do, what they could be catching up on, checking what support they might need in rearranging commitments, and even just being a friendly ear if they are going stir crazy after a few days stuck behind a wall of snow!

Even more importantly, if just one or two team members are stranded whilst others have made it into the team meeting, look at how you can involve those who have become temporarily disconnected - with teleconferences, Skype or even just an email to fill them in on what is happening. Encouraging team members to buddy up and chat on the phone to keep each other up to date is also a good idea: it's not just the boss who should be oiling the social wheels of the team but all members can share this responsibility.

The great thing about Yammer, Twitter, even Facebook contact with my colleagues this week is that it has given me a sense of continuing to be part of the work community and afforded a few classic "water cooler" moments where we share news and a joke. Continuing to feel included is important for teleworkers.

An "out of sight, out of mind" attitude is just plain lazy leadership, whatever the weather!

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Motivation and New Years' Resolutions

Take a look at this blog for some ideas on motivating yourself and others......make your New Year's Resolutions work!