ALT-Conference, Edinburgh

The ALT-C (Association for Learning Technology Conference) starts for me tomorrow. I’m really looking forward to it – I wasn’t very well in Manchester last year, so couldn’t do as much networking as I would have wanted to.

Already this year I’ve had a chance to meet some people whose work and writing I admire – at the Curverider conference at the University of Edinburgh today.

My ALT-C presentation is tomorrow afternoon. It’s called “Next Generation Learners: do they speak the language? Non-traditional students and their engagement with e-portfolios”, and it was written with my colleagues Hamish Macleod and John Davis, with some very valuable advice from Steve Farrier at the University of Northumbria. I’ll be arguing a few things: that non-traditional, part-time, mature students constitute an important next generation of learners in Higher Education; that the notion of ‘digital immigrants’ often applied to these learners can obscure both a range of attitudes to technology and legitimate dissent and criticism of our ICT implementations; and that embracing the level of flexibilty that the diversity of this group of students requires may force us into taking more radical positions than our institutions can easily accommodate.

I hope I’ll be able to make my case adequately in the short time available, but in any case a longer paper is due to be written, so I’m going to try to be reasonably relaxed and just enjoy the experience.

ideas cyberspace education 3 symposium

ideas. cyberspace. education 3: ‘digital difference’
21-23 March 2007 Ross Priory, Loch Lomond, Scotland.
Keynote Speaker: Professor Gunter Kress, Institute of Education,
University of London.

The third ICE symposium is being held on the shores of Loch Lomond in
Scotland. ICE3 – the last of the series –
will address the question of ‘digital difference’, and the call for
abstracts is now open.

The�symposium will give lecturers, developers, researchers and theorists an
opportunity to discuss the culture, theory and politics of learning and
teaching in digital spaces.Details of the symposium, including more about its key themes, are
available from the website:

As in previous years, the symposium will be for a maximum of 40 people
to keep the event intimate and allow a high degree of interchange and
discussion. Papers will be presented in a single stream to allow a
shared experience of the event. The deadline for extended abstracts of
1000 words is the end of November 2006.

ICE3 is jointly organised by the University of Strathclyde and the
University of Edinburgh.

local wiki for project management

I used to keep my project ‘to do’ list in the body of an email in my mailbox (FirstClass works strangely such that outgoing email sits in alongside incoming … don’t ask) – I have my email open all the time and it was a fairly convenient place to keep it.

But it was always full of things which weren’t exactly ‘to do’ – some were things to think about, or read, or do later, or maybe do (I haven’t read the ubiquitous “Getting Things Done”, but I do read some of the offshoot blogs and stuff, so I know this is one of the central concepts of the book). Also, I was starting to lose track of things I’d read and bookmarked or saved in a folder somewhere on my laptop.

So, I read a post somewhere about this local wiki-type program (Voodoopad, for the Mac, if you’re interested) and decided to try it out. It’s quickly superseded not only my project to do list, but also my browser bookmarks, and a plethora of separate word files which used to sit, unconnected to each other or anything else, in folders on the hard drive. I also use it to do things I haven’t done before, and make explicit information which was only in my head – really important, I think, since it’s mainly me working on my project and if I get hit by a bus… well, you know.

It’s evolved, and I now use it as a convenient central place to link to a bunch of important project files and URLs. I also have the following categories linked from my main page:

This Week (my new to do list)

Diary (a record of all my project activities – will be fantastic come report-writing time)

events (forthcoming and recent, with links to presentations I’ve given, venue and programme details, travel info, etc.)

3 categories of contacts, with a page for each person/organisation

programmes (information about the programmes I’m working with to develop e-portfolios)

professional development (nothing in either of these categories yet -maybe they need to go. Or maybe I’m not doing enough PD!)

OSPI (info about the e-portfolio tool the University is developing, training materials, etc)

to read (getting enormous – need to subdivide, i guess. or actually read some of the stuff. links to documents on my computer and on the web, with notes about what they are if needed)

links to check out (as above, but for sites rather than articles/papers etc)

ideas (things I’m thinking about or want to explore further)

resources (key resources for the project – some things get moved here from the ‘to read’ category)

when all you have is a hammer…

I was reminded of that saying – “when all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail” today. Obviously I notice because of the work I’m doing, but doesn’t it seem like e-portfolios are being sold as the best thing since sliced bread for just about everything? Disaffected youth, postgraduate researchers, trainee teachers… professional development, cv building, reflection…

Okay, so maybe the concept of an e-portfolio is sufficiently broad and flexible to accomodate all of these people and processes. But I keep coming back to Helen Barrett’s article about conflicting paradigms and wonder if this is dangerous for learning technologists and e-portfolio ‘champions’ as well as for learners/users of the technology.

E-portfolio excitement

I’ve been in my post for a few months now and it’s continuing to amaze me: a) how much understanding there is of the point of portfolios within my School. Education courses have been using them for years, of course, for trainee teachers out on placement, but there are just so many reflective writing, evidence-gathering and professional development activities going on here. You just scratch the surface and it all comes flooding out, under many different names, but essentially exactly what I want my project to support and enhance. b) how quick people here are to appreciate the potential of doing portfolios electronically. Few have heard the word ‘e-portfolio’ before, and so I’m asked all the time what one is, but as soon as I start to talk about reflecting on learning, selecting evidence, making connections… they’re there. It’s making some aspects of my job really easy. I haven’t had to sell the idea of e-portfolios at all, or do much in the way of explaining the thinking behind them. Colleagues are jumping right into questions about support, implementation, portability… the hard questions, in some respects, since the e-portfolio infrastructure within the University is new and still evolving. Maybe this isn’t surprising to others doing work in this area. But it’s freeing me up to make connections with other resources in the University – careers, transferable skills, continuing professional development. There’s a lot of good work already being done for postgraduate students and researchers in these areas here, and I’m trying to think more broadly about how it might all hang together. Exciting stuff for a Monday!

spontaneous gathering of orange

Just Letters – a whole bunch of people trying to play with one set of fridge magnets. All at once. It looked completely random at first, but after a minute all of the orange letters started moving to one side of the screen. So I moved an orange one as well, and it was really, stupidly elating. Then back to randomness (well, non-collective purposefulness, I guess). And despite the fact that you’ve got a whole screen full of letters, there’s no way to communicate in words because in the time it takes to find letters to spell something, someone else will move one of your letters. And yet, this spontaneous gathering of orange did feel like a conversation. Which is related (oh yes, it is) in my head to two things:

1. I’m reading Sherry Turkle’s book “Life on the Screen” and she’s talking about emergence and artificial life and how a bunch of creatures or cells or whatever following simple rules can together create complex and unpredictable behaviours, and that this might be where science meets ‘god’ in some way.

2. “The Wisdom of Crowds” (Jen’s handy hint – get someone else to read things and tell you the interesting bits, if you trust them to know what interesting is, and then you can know twice as much stuff. Which is to say, I haven’t read this, but I trust my ‘someone else’): the premise that, weirdly enough, large groups are better than even ‘expert’ individuals at predicting things and making good decisions. I went back to “Just Letters” just now and in the middle of the screen it said JOY JOY J Y.

So I found another O.