Tag Archives: Wiki

Customise me

Don’t give it to me unless I can customise it

My first car was a 1993 Rover Mini Cooper 1.3i, in British Racing Green (obviously). I bought it second hand in ’97 from John Cooper Garages (JCG) in West Sussex, and the legendary John Cooper himself handed my the keys (and made my mum a cup of tea while I did the paperwork).

Like so many people who own a Mini it didn’t stay ‘standard’ for very long, as I read through the Mini magazines on the kinds of things I could do to personalise the car. I went to Mini events, like the London-to-Brighton Mini Run and the 40th anniversary party at Silverstone, and looked over the show cars and private cars that were parked up, as well as the stands and auto-jumble traders. I bought the whole set of JCG brushed aluminium door furniture (window winders, door pulls, etc.) and chrome accessories (bling!), as well as doing more mechanical upgrades like vented discs and four-pot calliper for both front and read brakes, and a full-length straight-through (manifold to rear ‘box) DTM-style exhaust system (ooh, that was awesome!).

This was the start of my love affair with tinkering and messing with anything that’s standard to make it personal for what and how I like it.  Continue reading


‘Anyone who doesn’t love Twitter is an idiot’

These are not my words (although I may agree with them)!

In February I wrote about my experience of Twitter and how it has changed the way I work, think, and look at myself – Where would I be without Twitter. In it I looked back over 5 years, 24,000 tweets, +7000 followers, etc. I acknowledge it’s impact on my personal and professional outlook, some good and some not so good.

Dan Snow, the presenter and historian has gone further than me and pinned his thoughts on the use of Twitter in The Guardian article
‘Anyone who doesn’t love Twitter is an idiot’. Dan explains that, for him, the use of the Internet (including Twitter and other social tools) has brought otherwise lengthy or geographically inaccessible primary sources into easy access:

“Digitisation of archives means we can search records and primary source material from the comfort of our own offices … a perk of the job used to be that you could travel abroad and work in an archive somewhere quite glamorous for weeks on end. Now we stay at home and do it online. For me, though, even more exciting is how it has allowed us to reach out to people. It’s made history collaborative and accessible. I can tweet about what I’m working on, and people will suggest ideas or come up with documents. It has opened a pipeline between geeky history people like me and the rest of the world. We used to just publish in academic journals, now we can share our research with huge numbers of people.”

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Workplace Learning

Reading: “Online learning in the workplace”

Workplace Learning

Like many of my peers I read around my ‘subject’ a lot. Sometimes I print copies out and store them, other times I save to favourites (on Twitter mainly, very rarely to a browser), or to Delicious (when I remember to use it). The Australasian Journal of Educational Technology is always worth looking at as the papers are interesting and varied.

“Online learning in the workplace: A hybrid model of participation in networked, professional learning” from Mary Thorpe and Jean Gordon covers different aspects of ‘work-based’, or rather ‘work-related’ learning, with a need to understand online participation as a “hybrid concept” that is a “reflection of offline roles, opportunities and pressures, as well as the usefulness, usability and relevance of what is online.”

Do those who develop online materials for online students fully understand the importance of support, guidance, design, engagement, collaboration, assessment, timetable, social or professional pressures? Have they ever been on the receiving  end of an expected 10-15 hours per week of study, on top of their already busy life? From my own experience it wasn’t until I took an online course in 2008 that I realised the difficulty in balancing work, home, and study – once I fell behind it was near impossible to catch-up, all due to the fast-paced activities that allowed little or no time for reflection or breathing space.

Continue reading

Blackboard Essentials for Teachers

Book Review: “Blackboard Essentials for Teachers”

Blackboard Essentials for TeachersBlackboard Essentials for Teachers” is new book written by William Rice for teachers and educators who use Blackboard. By following the examples in the book you will be guided through the process of creating your own Blackboard course, adding static material for students to view (such as pages, links, and media), adding interaction to your courses (discussion boards, blogs,  wikis, etc) and using interactions to engage students in the course through the communication channels.

Scroll down to find out how you can win a complementary copy of the paper or eBook edition of the book from the publishers …

What the book hopes to do is to get a novice or first-time Blackboard user familiar with the interface and features in a manner that they can (a) understand, and (b) use in relation to a taught course site. With the help of the book the reader should be able to:

  • create web pages using Blackboard’s test editor (note: the new content editor is not featured, therefore the book is already a little out of date),
  • organise courses using pages and modules,
  • upload files and learning materials
  • set up discussion boards, blogs, and wikis for student engagement and interaction
  • build and administer online tests
  • online assignment submission
  • manage groups
  • use announcements effectively for student information

I was one of the technical reviewers of the book while it was being written by the author, and provided feedback on the content as well as the presentation style. I’ll say now that I received a complimentary copy of the book for my time and trouble in reviewing the submitted chapters, but received no other payment for my work on the book (i.e. I don’t have to do this review, I wanted to). There, now that’s out of the way.

This review is as much about the book as the process of being involved in the reviewing process, one that I enjoyed and would happily be involved in again (given the chance).

What do I think of the book?
It’s a basic introduction to Blackboard that non-Blackboard users will welcome. There is enough here for more advanced users too but it lacks explanation (for my liking) of the more pedagogical implications and applications of the tools and features of Blackboard. I do, however, agree that the approach used in the book is appropriate for the target audience. The book is effective in its approach and the way it introduces the various features and tools, and goes further than other guides I have read on the administration tools that can help academic and support staff engage the students online.

The downside of the paper book is, as ever, the black-and-white images. I am a very visual learner and like to see examples of what the author was trying to explain – so why not put more images in? Trying to describe a web page is best done with an image of the web page (in colour)! This kind of book subject would do well in an expanded eBook format with more dynamic images (video even) showing in much more detail the process or pages in question. Even if the paper copy is black and white, could they not have created the eBook with colour images?

How is the book structured?
Each chapter is well structured and written from the authors experience, but is based on the open CourseSites and may be subject to discrepancies if the Blackboard installation you have is set up differently from the one described in the book.

With different elements of Blackboard highlighted in the book it’s easy to find your way around the often complicated processes for creating materials or assessments, bold text boxes break the content up and bring new terms, features, or ‘quick tips’ to the fore make it a good reference book.

The structure is good, starting with the basics of organising your Blackboard course and setting up/loading materials before getting into the newer tools like wikis or blogs. My personal preference would have been to leave these kinds of tools until later (after handling the assignments, tests, groups, and Grade Centre) as wikis and blogs are good collaborative and reflective tools that are underpinned from concepts dealt with in those (earlier) chapters. Putting the Announcements and communication chapter so late in the book is a mistake, and I would have this nearer the front and this is still the more underutilised area of Blackboard I see on a regular basis.

One aspect of Blackboard that the book did not cover in enough detail for me is a ‘good’ structure for a Blackboard course site – I know this will always be subjective to the individual or Institution where we/you work but a demonstration of a good structure (and why it’s good) could have made it easier to explain why some of the other features are used, when, and where (contextual).

Did my revisions/suggestions make the final edition?
I think there are a few instances where I can see my comments had an influence on the final edit, but it could easily have been a comment made by the other reviewers too. The difficulty when reviewing a book (I have done a couple now) is that I only see one-chapter-at-a-time, and not always in the order they appear in the final edition. I also had no knowledge of the chapter list so therefore no knowledge of where the chapter I was reading would appear, and what came before or was to come after it. This made it difficult to review as much of what I wanted to know in each chapter may be dealt with later, or not, I didn’t know.

What would I include that the author didn’t?
I have already said, for me, it’s the presentation of the book that is mainly at fault, and to this I can’t blame the author – he’s only working according to the publisher guidelines and requirements. When dealing with a visual topic and/or software that needs explaining and demonstrating why try and describe or explain it in words when an image or video is far easier to understand?

The use of links (even QR Codes?) could have directed the reader off to a YouTube channel with supporting screencasts of some of the more trickier set up tools ro techniques, which would have helped with explanations.

Would I buy the book?
The book is impressive and a comprehensive guide to using Blackboard, and there is something for everyone here, even advanced users.

I can see there will need to be some fairly( major?) revisions in future, or indeed another book, when Blackboard has another update or new release, but the majority of the elementary features (Announcements, Groups, etc) have not changed over the last release or so, much!

Book Review: Blackboard Essentials for Teachers

The book is available in either paper or eBook format, ‘Blackboard Essentials for Teachers’ is available online from PacktPub.

Book Give Away!

The publishers are kind enough to let me copies of the book to give away – two paper and two electronic editions. All you have to do is leave a comment below about how the book will change how you work with Blackboard (and your preference of paper or eBook).

Only comments made to this blog – www.dontwasteyourtime.co.uk – will count as an entry to the raffle and my decision on the winners is final. I will contact the winners and get the required details from you and pass these across to PacktPub where you receive your prize. Please note that paper copies can only be sent to UK, US, and European addresses.

‘Generation Y’ is dead, long live ‘Generation T’

I wasn’t aware of all the different labels that have been assigned in the past, but here is a brief overview (for those who are equally in the dark):

  • The Lost Generation: Those who fought in World War I (born pre-1900)
  • The Greatest Generation: Veterans of World War II (born 1901-1924)
  • The Silent Generation: Also known as ‘War Babies’ (born 1925-1945)
  • The Baby-Boomers: Those born in post-war boom and are generally attributed with(born 1946-1964)
  • Generation X: (born 1960’s to early 1980’s)
  • Generation Y: Also known as ‘Millennials’ or the ‘Net Generation’. This label is more about their attitude  (born between late 1970’s to early 2000’s)
  • Generation Z: Also known as the ‘Internet Generation’ (born early-mid 2000’s)

From what I can see the movement from one categorisation of generation to another has been about the enlightenment of the individuals to their surrounding based on different elements of cultural and economic influences. However, I think this only applies to the earlier classifications. Once we see the eruption of technical capabilities, and our reliance on it in our every-day lives, we can see the classifications above become entwined with technical advancement. This is why I opt to use the term ‘Generation T’ for children born post 2008/9 … the ‘Tablet Generation’. As with the classifications above I would also advocate the use of  the ‘App Generation’ in reference to the way in which we are now using and talking about technology – everything is about the App, whether it is smart phones, tablet PCs, or cloud computing (Chromebook).

Here’s a good example:

YouTube: Baby Works iPad Perfectly. Amazing Must Watch!

In this video a father gives his child a tablet for the first time, just look at how quickly she learns to use the home button to exit the app and find another …

You Tube: A 2.5 Year-Old Has A First Encounter with An iPad

There are loads of examples if you look for them, but the fact is that tablet computers are so intuitive that children of all ages can use them. Robert Thompson explains that a tablet, “with its touch interface … can help children extend their creativity using intuitive applications that allow them to color, trace letters and do simple counting exercise — the possibilities are endless.”

Please note that I am trying to stay away from identifying one tablet over any other (or even operating system) as it is the technology and how we utilise it that interests me, not brand or price (although we cannot ignore the importance that is placed on form over function and preference on iPad or Blackberry PlayBook or HP TouchPad, etc).

While the jury is out on whether tablets will replace traditional computers that use a keyboard and mouse, the children/student of the future “will still need laptops, because they’re great for doing school work and just try passing a degree without one, the same goes for many jobs” (Tablets: A backseat for creativity). This is, of course, based on the assumption that the education system will not change and we will still instruct and assess in the way we do now, which we have been doing for many decades before. But this too is changing, just look at the way in which recent Web 2.0 systems (blog, wiki, podcast, etc) have been introduced to the learning environment, and the way the students have engaged with it. If this continues then the historical framework of teach/assess will also change.

Are we ready to embrace the changes? I think we are; there are already schools around the world providing tablets for each child, game consoles are used for game-based learning, etc. While these could be viewed in isolation, don’t forget that 25/30 years ago there were only a very few schools that had a room full of computers for students to use, this is now viewed as the norm, in fact it is essential equipment.

So, how long will Generation T last? I don’t know, but I’m sure the developers at the big tech firms have already started planning for the next big ‘thing’ – but will it be a game-changer like the advert of smartphones and tablets? I welcome your input and ask you to leave a comment or thought below.

Induction Activity

Induction Activity – “in 100 words or less …”

Induction week, for campus-based students is all about getting to know each other, getting to know the programme team, and socialising. This is also true for online students, although it is not always easy to forge the same kind of understanding, relationships and outcome; but it’s not impossible.

Working online is not often a natural feeling for students, whatever their age. To this end we, the facilitators, need to carefully design the Induction programme and activities to make the students feel at home, comfortable in the online environment, and able to comment in a risk- and blame-free environment.

This makes it all the more important to carefully design and implement the introduction, the learning environment, and the online activities you expect them to participate in. Last year I wrote about five such activities in my post Online Induction: Icebreaker Activities.

Here is another one, modified from  Ryan Watkins’ book “75 eLearning Activities – making online learning interactive” (Amazon link);

Objective: This gives the students the opportunity to share their thoughts on a  topic (decided by the activity moderator) in the VLE to encourage a reflective process about themselves and their colleagues.

This can be used with either a Discussion Board or a Blog, depending on the preference and confidence of the moderator and expected technical competencies of the student cohort.

Process: The moderator provides the topic, usually something topical to current news, the programme content or learning style (eLearning), and encourages the students to initially post their responses (100 words or less). Once all students have responded the moderator encourages further posts replying to at least 3 entries made by their colleagues, also in 100 words or less.

Additional Information: If students are new to the technology (blog, discussion board) then appropriate training material is needed.

Ideally the kind of Induction Activity you use ought to be a mixture of reflective and collaborative styles in order to get the students engaged and comfortable with each other, with you (the moderator), and in working online in what many may find a new and alien environment.

What kind of activity do you use, is it specifically designed for online students or one that can be used for campus-based as well as online students?

Benefits of Collaborative Learning

What are the benefits of collaborative learning, for the students? Well, here are my selection from the 40 or so listed on the Global Development Research Centre’s website which I had not considered before;

1. Develops higher level thinking skills

4. Builds self esteem in students

9. Promotes positive race relations

14. Involves students in developing curriculum and class procedures

22. Encourages alternate student assessment techniques

25. Students are taught how to criticize ideas, not people

34. Classroom anxiety is significantly reduced

These are good, but not aspects of collaboration I had considered. The more ‘normal’ (for want of a better word) are, for me;

5. Enhances student satisfaction with the learning experience

6. Promotes a positive attitude toward the subject matter

7. Develops oral communication skills

10. Creates an environment of active, involved, exploratory learning

15. Students explore alternate problem solutions in a safe environment

20. Students develop responsibility for each other

29. Greater ability of students to view situations from others’ perspectives (development of empathy

33. Promotes innovation in teaching and classroom techniques

36. Classroom resembles real life social and employment situations

What would you add to this list (or the original list; link above)?

Moodle Tool Guide for Teachers

I recently found this awesome reference guide, created by Joyce Seitzinger, that shows a simple traffic-light system to see if the tool of choice is ‘appropriate’ for what you are trying to do (assessment, collaboration, etc).

Please look through this, it is a really simple and effective way to present the information.

I have worked on a version for the Business School at Bournemouth University, that covers the same kind of information in Blackboard, but have added a few of my own interpretations on the tools and reasons for using them. I will try and upload it here at some point.

ePortfolios: Back on the agenda again

This article from Campus Technology made me revisit some of my old posts on portfolio’s (see ‘related links’ below) and that, in the right hands and syllabus structure, “seem to improve student engagement and learning”.


“ePortfolio systems and associated portfolio practices finally are on track to become the centerpiece of educational transformation they always seemed destined to be.”

Does that mean we’ve finally worked out the best way to use them, or does it mean the developers and providers have worked out what it is we need, not what they want to give us?

“Many signs now point to a sudden explosion of electronic portfolio planning, adoption, and rapid market expansion [and] behind this market upswing is the return of academia to the learning values of portfolios based on a recognition that portfolio theory is a good guide for transformation of the academic side of the institution in this time.”

What tools are out there at the moment that are getting the coverage in articles like this:

  • Mahara: “Mahara is an open source e-portfolio system with a flexible display framework.”
  • ePortfolios.org: “ePortfolio.org is a student-centered platform.”
  • FolioSpaces: “… provides you with the tools to set up a personal learning and development environment.”
  • PebblePad: “… is a Personal Learning System being used in learning contexts as diverse as schools, colleges, universities and professional bodies.”

ePortfolio practice is:

“… as an educational process, rewarding and engaging and fits the times; student owned, stays with student over time, produces additional metrics by which to assess and evaluate students, supports high-impact learning experiences outside of the classroom, helps create a strong resume, develops reflective and integrative thinking, supports life-long learning, and so on.”

The article continues by saying traditional VLE-type environments like BlackBoard, Moodle, etc, are at the end of their ‘decade’ and that “electronic portfolio systems are more and more the new center of campus strategic thinking about learning and technology.”

The piece finishes by saying that “electronic portfolios, after seemingly running into a dead end a few years ago, are again a robust growth sector and a path to educational transformation. It’s about time.”

So, what system are you using or do you plan to use in the next few months or years, and how do you intend to implement it; fully hosted or hosted for you, integrated into your VLE / LMS or stand-alone? Please share by commenting below.

Learning Tools: what do you use?

Jane Hart (Twitter: @C4LPT) is keeping her Learning Technology Directory up to date. The Tools the directory “enable and support all kinds of learning – formal structured learning, personal learning, group learning and intra-organisational learning”.

The directory has been reorganised into the following comprehensive categories;

  • Instructional tools,
  • Live tools,
  • Document and presentation tools,
  • Blogging, web and wiki tools,
  • Image, audio and video tools,
  • Communication tools,
  • Micro-blogging tools,
  • Collaboration tools,
  • Social networking and collaboration spaces,
  • Personal productivity tools,
  • Browsers, players and readers,
  • Mobile tools.

So, get on over there and find something new to try out. Even better, see if your favourite tool is listed and, if not, ask to get it listed.