Thursday, 17 July 2014

BbWorld14 Day 2, Part 1

I am currently sitting in an aeroplane, high above Arizona (I suspect) looking back over day 2 at BbWorld14. I had to miss the third day, which is unfortunate, but unavoidable. 

Yesterday started with our own session, and I was joined by Darren and Fionn in Murano 3205, where we gave our presentation to a fairly full room. It was a very different audience to Dublin, but a good one all the same. Thanks to everyone who came along. We know you could have picked up a free webcam at the Respondus session, but we had no freebies to give, so we particularly appreciate your support. 

The big keynote of the day was from Jay Bhatt, CEO of Blackboard, in the Venetian Ballroom again. As we entered the room, music pounding, there was an air of expectation and excitement. The theme of the keynote was Reimagine. Redesign. Redefine. which was expanded to: Reimagine the education experience; Redesign our approach; Redefine the teaching and learning environment. 

We heard about how Blackboard has restructured in the last 12 months, all of which sounds very positive. We heard about the new vision and mission, which is focused on the learner, and how this is driving development, particularly in the areas of the new user interface and mobile developments. We heard about how Blackboard wants to be our partner, with a global network of support centres and a series of services solutions. I had heard much of this at BbTLC earlier this year, so it wasn't particularly new. 

We were given a look at the new user interface, using responsive design, and a radiant  Stephanie Weeks talked us through some of what we can expect. Again, it's something I have heard before, but I am looking forward to the release of this new user experience. Although it means we'll have to completely redevelop all our local user documentation, I do think that the majority of our users will be happy with it. 

What did come as a surprise to me (shock?) was the news that Blackboard is changing how it packages solutions. In future, the basic product will be called Learning Core, including the capabilities of Learn, Content, Community, Mobile and XPLOR. The next step up is Learning Essentials, which includes Collaborate. Learning Insight will extend this to Analytics. 

What exactly does this mean for an institution, and when it will happen? I don't know the answer to that. For NUI Galway, where we just have Learn, Mobile and Collaborate, does this mean that our Blackboard capabilities will be extended? Will we finally be able to use Portfolios, which belong in the Content system? Can we create communities beyond the formal module codes? And what effect will it have on our licence fee? If the answers to the first few questions are "yes", and the answer to the last one is "none", then this is good news indeed!

Another piece of the keynote that made an impact on me was the piece about Big Data. I had assumed this related to the provision of information back to admins, but in fact Blackboard want to use it to provide students and instructors with better information about their progress in a course. Assuming that the information to be made available to students is customisable (it may not always be helpful to compare themselves to fellow students) this does look like something that could help the learning experience. 

After BbTLC in Dublin, I noted a new customer focus for Blackboard as a company, and that certainly seems to be true. Jay also talked about wanting to celebrate and promote our success stories. In a section on Industry Citizenship, he indicated that Blackboard will support research and studies to inform (education) industry dialogue. This seems to be more than just wanting to sell a product, and a very welcome new direction. 

I think there are interesting times ahead with Blackboard. A lot has been done in the last 12 months, but there's plenty more to do. 

I will recap the parallel sessions in a separate post. 

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

BbWorld14 Day 1

The first day of BbWorld is over, and I am turning to my responsibilities as an official conference blogger. These notes will be very much from my own experience and my own point of view. 

From registration it was clear that BbWorld is unlike any conference I have been to before - it is massive! There are 2500 delegates, with lots of different backgrounds. There may be 14 sessions happening in parallel at any time. The logistics involved in moving people between rooms, up and down escalators, and organising them in the large auditorium for keynotes, is an exercise in complexity. 

With all this happening, trying to find people is impossible without using electronic communication of some kind. Luckily, the conference wifi has been fairly reliable during the day. 

The twitter stream (#BbWorld14) has been constant - with some contributions from myself - and during the keynote was more like a firehose. I found it difficult to keep up - though that might have also have something to do with my jet lag.

With such a full programme, it's inevitable that you sometimes feel you should have gone to a different session, especially if the tweets from another room appear much more interesting. In almost all time slots, I can identify at least two presentations I would like to be at. But I haven't mastered bilocation yet. 

I was at 3 quite different parallel sessions this afternoon. The first, Social Media: It's not just what you had for breakfast was given by Steven Anderson, @web20classroom. Aimed at schools, Steven gave some good reasons for using social media and some great advice about how to establish a social media presence. His main message is that it's all about storytelling, and social media gives schools the opportunity to be in control of their message, to tell their own story. I have followed @web20classroom on twitter for a number of years, so it was great for me to finally hear him present. 

My second session today was the Overview of Product Innovations for International Clients, a Blackboard led session, involving Matthew Small and Jim Hermans. In this, we were told how International clients have helped shape product development, and also how Blackboard wants to work with us as a local partner in the future. Most of the innovations I already knew about, from the Blackboard TLC in Dublin earlier this year. But I was interested to hear about the development of an app for instructors, which will include grading - I imagine a little bit like the GradeMark app. Also of interest is that Blackboard is looking at offline capabilities for mobile. Initially this will allow learners to "consume static eLearning content", but will be extended to other types of content. 

My third session was a panel session on Rethinking Student Services to meet the changing learner. This involved a distinguished panel of leaders in higher education: Scott Jaschik, founder and editor of Inside Higher Education; Joan Zanders from Northern Virginia Community College; Gloria McCall from Kentucky Community and Technical College System; and Kent Hopkins from Arizona State University. This was a tough one for me to understand without knowing the context of the US higher education system.  What is clear is that we have in common: increasing student numbers; a more diverse student population; and limited resources. 

Finally it was time for the big keynote of the conference, Joi Ito of the MIT Media Lab. We were ushered into the Venetian Ballroom with loud throbbing music. I took my place at the bloggers area, next to @skyvking, where we have our own power sockets! After a short intro from Jay Bhatt, who will speak tomorrow, we were treated to a very nicely crafted, very visual, presentation from Joi. His message wasn't particularly unique: we need to change education. But he delivered it in such an interesting way, really drawing us in. I particularly enjoyed the section on synthetic biology, which illustrated nicely his point about the need for Anti Disciplinary spaces. (Although, now it has been named, is synthetic biology a new discipline?) He finished with a point about the role of serendipity, or just good luck, in innovation. If you keep meeting the same people all the time, with the same agenda, how can you hope to be creative?

With that in mind, I will conclude day 1 with the observation that my own attendance at BbWorld is serendipitous, and I am certainly not with the same group of people. In particular I had a lovely lunch with a completely new person, who was put in touch with me via a twitter connection. 

If you are in the area tomorrow morning, do join me and my student co-presenters at 8:15 in Murano 3205 to hear about student involvement in developing a campus app. I know there are 13 other sessions you could attend - but you won't regret it!

Monday, 14 July 2014

Documenting BbWorld14

I am sitting in the airport at Philadelphia, waiting for the next stage of my journey to BbWorld14 in Las Vegas. It seems a very long time since I set off, early this morning, from Galway. I got the 5:15 CityLink bus from Galway to Dublin airport, accompanied by my 12 year old daughter, who is spending a few days with family in Dublin. 

As we sat into our seats, my daughter took out her mobile phone, connected to wifi, attached her ear buds and proceeded to ignore me for the whole 3 hour journey. As we left Galway, I was surprised that she started taking photographs out the window - it was dark - and posting them on snapchat and Instagram. Then I realised that she was starting to document her visit to Dublin, which is probably almost as exciting for her as my trip to Las Vegas. Maybe she's a future blogger?

In contrast to her single device, I am travelling with at least four (five if you count my watch - which I still use to tell the time). I have my phone and my iPad, to keep me connected. But I also have my 8 year old iPod, which I use for my music, and my kindle, for proper reading. I don't like extended reading on the iPad, although the kindle app does come in handy. And I have my whole music collection on the iPod, so why would I take up extra space on my phone? Evidently it's a generational thing - or is it?

Of these, my phone and iPad will both be used to document BbWorld14, in a variety of ways. 

During the conference, I will be tweeting my most immediate thoughts and reactions, using the conference hashtag. I will also be taking photographs, with my phone, and tweeting some of these. I haven't got comfortable using the iPad for taking photographs - it just seems too big and awkward. 

While tweeting is immediate, and can be conversational, it can also provide a useful archive after the event - the nearly now. A tool like storify can be used to collect together a more permanent record of an event. For example, I created a recent archive of the twitter feed at 6IIPC. 

But of most value, to me, and hopefully also to you, dear reader, is when I manage to reflect a little bit, and put something more connected and considered into a blog post. Sometimes this can happen quite quickly, and sometimes it takes a little longer to let the ideas take shape. But I've already had 3 hours on a bus, 7 hours on a plane, and quite a bit of time hanging round airport lounges today, so hopefully this one makes a little sense. 

In the last little while I have noticed David Hopkins, in particular, making use of sketchnotes. This is something I would love to try, and I am told you don't require artistic talents. I have gone so far as to download Mike Rohde's book The Sketchnote Handbook to my kindle, but haven't tried the techniques yet. Maybe this is the event to start. 

So, I will be interested to see the other BbWorld 14 bloggers, and what devices and techniques they use. What is your approach to documenting events?


Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Preparing for BbWorld14

Earlier this year I presented, with two student co-presenters, a session at the Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference (BBTLC), which took place in UCD in Dublin. The presentation was based on a project that I've been involved in, along with the students, to develop a campus mobile app for students, based on the Blackboard Mosaic platform. The interesting thing about the project was that the project was entirely initiated, driven and implemented by the students.

My co-presenters, Fionn Delahunty and Darren Kelly, are both first year undergraduate students at NUI Galway. Fionn intends to major in Psychology, while Darren is a student of Biomedical Science. Neither would describe themselves as particularly technical. But they are now at the point of launching the first official mobile app for NUI Galway students.

Untitled
The film crew at BBTLC
The students were excited to be going to BBTLC, which fell at an awkward time during their first year exams. Blackboard, the company, had shown some interest in the presentation, and we were able to spend some time with chatting with Alex Ackerman-Greenberg, the product manager for Mosaic. For the presentation we had a packed room, and a full film crew at the back. For two first year undergraduate students, they did amazingly well and delivered a very engaging and natural presentation. I collated the tweets from the session using storify, which give some sense of how it was received. You can find the presentation on prezi.

After the event, we got a lot of positive and useful feedback. We were very excited when we featured in a short video, embedded below, including an interview with us. From about 54 seconds in, you can see Alex Ackerman-Greenberg talking about the project.


A recording of the whole presentation then appeared on YouTube, which I still haven't managed to watch through (I hate watching myself). I am also aware that a Blackboard Whitepaper is in preparation.

But, our excitement escalated to a whole new level when we found out that our presentation received the popular vote for best session at the conference, and we were invited to take up a presentation slot at Blackboard World, to take place in Las Vegas next week. We spent some time trying to figure out if it was possible, financially, for the three of us to go. We even featured on the NUI Galway news page! But I'm really delighted to let you know that Fionn and Darren will be presenting with me next Wednesday morning at the very early hour of 8:15am in Murano 3205. If any of this blog's readers happen to be in Las Vegas, we'd love to see you there.

So, what do I hope to get out of BbWorld14? I'll only be there for a short time, and will probably be jetlagged and disorientated. From my limited knowledge, Las Vegas is a million miles from Galway (I don't mean distance, though there is a lot of travelling involved). This will be the biggest event that I have ever attended. But I do intend to make the most of every waking moment. I'm building my schedule, using the BbWorld14 app. I'm very interested to try out the new User Interface. But mostly I am looking forward to meeting a whole new set of people, including some that may already be twitter buddies.

I will certainly be tweeting lots, and also blogging about the experience - using proper English spelling, of course. Las Vegas, here we come!

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

A Fragile Trust

At the 6th International Integrity and Plagiarism conference last month there was an interesting juxtaposition of talks, some technology-related, but most not. In particular, the keynote sessions provided an array of ideas that I intend to follow up on.

Samantha Grant (right) in conversation with Teddi Fishman
Teddi Fishman (left) in conversation with Samatha Grant
On the last day of the conference, the programme opened with a keynote from Samantha Grant, a filmmaker based in San Francisco, who has made the feature length documentary A Fragile Trust, based on the serial plagiarist Jayson Blair, a journalist at the New York Times. The case, when it was discovered in 2003, was such a scandal that it brought down 2 NYT editors. The documentary features interviews with Blair, as well as with other journalists and editors who were caught up in the story.

During her keynote, Samantha played a number of clips from the film, which gave a great insight into the approach she has taken, and raises plenty of questions about ethics in journalism. I now am very keen to watch the full-length version, which may be coming to Netflix in the future.

At the very least, this documentary should be required viewing for all students of journalism. As part of the overall project, the company has also developed an online game Decisions on Deadline for journalism students, to teach ethical decision making. Lesson plans to accompany the game are coming soon.

But I think there are lessons to be learned for all of us involved in academic integrity when watching this film. The short clip below describes a scenario we are all familiar with.


I'm making a transition from the world of journalism to the world of academic, where some students use exactly the same approach as Blair. This points to a culture where we permit (perhaps even encourage) academic dishonesty. If the system does not have integrity, how can we expect it of our students?

 

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Good news for Turnitin and GradeMark users

The Sage, GatesheadEarlier this week I was at the 6th International Integrity and Plagiarism Conference (#6iipc) at the Sage in Newcastle/Gateshead. As a pre-conference activity, the Turnitin International User Group took place, where we got an opportunity to hear about the product roadmap and plans for the future. In the light of the recent acquisition of iParadigms by Insight Venture Partners, I was certainly interested in how this will affect us users of the Turnitin suite of products.

It seems the effect is that there will be increased investment in the product. This is a good thing, since apart from the iPad app (which I love) the products have not really been updated much in the last couple of years. Sure, students can now submit more file types, and rubrics can be imported from Excel, but the basic interface hasn't changed in a while.

Enter the new, Next Generation Document Viewer (DV for short). From what we saw, this looks like it will be a very nice improvment on the current one. For a start, the student paper will take up most of the screen space, allowing improved readability and better use of space. Other features of the new DV are:
  • All the tools will appear in a menu on the right, which can collapse when you are not using it.
  • Turnitin and GradeMark can be displayed within the single view in the DV, so you can grade while still having full colour similarities displayed.
  • Thumbnails on the left will allow you to navigate more easily, while providing some context about where exactly you are in the document.
  • There will be improvements to using rubrics, selecting rubrics and grading using rubrics.
  • It will be possible to add inline voice comments (not just a single overall voice comment) which can be played back by the student in context.
  • Some limited formatting of text comments will be available, including bolding, underlining and hyperlinks.
Apart from the Next Generation Document Viewer, other things we can look forward to are:
  • Multiple marking - allowing two or more markers to grade and give feedback on a piece of work. This gives an opportunity for a moderator (for example) to determine which feedback is seen by the student and which overall grade is returned.
  • It will be possible to create groups, supporting delegated marking (one marker allocated to a particular group of students), which will be very useful for large classes.
  • A student will be able to submit multiple drafts for an assignment, which won't overwrite previous versions, each of which can be marked. This will provide students and instructors with a history of feedback on each draft.
  • It will be possible to submit multiple documents for a single assignment.
  • It will be possible to give letter grades, and decimal grades.
When can we expect all this at NUI Galway? Probably not until Summer 2015. Although some users will be able to see changes from later this year, because we access Turnitin through a Blackboard Integration, it won't be available to us until early in 2015. Not wanting to make any major changes to the teaching environment during the teaching semester, this means we can't plan on upgrading the Integration until the send of semester 2.

But at least we know there's something to look forward to!


Thursday, 12 June 2014

Discover, Explore, Create 2014

Last Friday, June 6th, we held our annual CELT Symposium. This year's theme was "Discover, Explore, Create" and it really was a very interesting and eye-opening event. After our keynotes and parallel sessions we rounded off the day with a whistle stop tour of our campus which meant making our way around campus guided by a map, stopping off at organised locations and meeting with interesting and enthusiastic colleagues who filled us in on what is going on in their specific area. It is amazing how little we sometimes know about all the different and exciting things that are happening in our University. Our videos from the event will be available shortly but in the meantime here is a little photo montage of the day:



Update: the videos from the day are now available and can be found on the CELT website.

There is also a twitter archive from the day, based on the #celt14 hashtag, which can be found on storify.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference 2014

UntitledA few weeks ago I attended the Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference, which took place at University College Dublin. Both David Hopkins (day1, day2 and day3) and Sheila MacNeill (here and here) have already blogged about the event. I know I'm quite late, but I thought I'd get a few thoughts down before I forget altogether.

This was the first Blackboard Europe event that I have attended in some time. In general, I find the Durham Blackboard Users' Conference more useful and better value. This year I decided to go, for a couple of reasons:
  • It took place in University College Dublin (where I studied Science as an undergrad many years ago), which made travelling so much easier. Also, I could stay with my Mum and have a little quality time with her.
  • I had been encouraged to submit a proposal on our Explore project with Mosaic, which was accepted. So I was able to present with my two (undergraduate student) co-presenters, Fionn Delahunty and Darren Kelly. More on this soon. Take a look at our prezi for an idea of the project.
  • It was a good opportunity to network and connect with other Blackboard customers from across Europe, and also to hear from Blackboard about where the products are going. It was really good to catch up with friends, and especially to meet twitter buddy @sheilmcn for the first time.
So, what were my takeaways? New product developments, new customer focus and a few things to think about over the next couple of months.

What's new and what's in the roadmap?

UntitledThe latest Learn release (known as the April Release) contains some features that will be of immediate use to us. On day 1 of the conference, Jim Chalex spoke about the new Delegated Marking feature, which will support the common activities of double and blind marking, where an instructor can also reconcile grades and feedback over a number of markers. A lead instructor can enable delegated marking for an assessment, and choose markers from list. He/she will then have an overview of marking as it progresses.

Even more exciting, the April release finally includes a Student Preview feature. This is something that our Blackboard instructors ask about constantly, particularly when it comes to assessment and grading. I've written a short overview, including the Blackboard Quick Hit Video, over on our Blackboard blog.

Further down the line, included in the product roadmap, is the improved user interface, using responsive design. From the demos and screenshots, this looks very nice, and will definitely enhance the user experience.

Looking at Blackboard Collaborate, I was certainly happy to hear that the Irish character problem (experienced when trying to use the Irish characters á and ú) will soon be fixed. While it doesn't affect many people, the impact is significant for those it does. Even better is the news that, sometime in the future, Collaborate will be completely browser-based, and users will no longer have to download java files.

A new version of the Collaborate app (version 2.0) will be launched sometime in the summer. Version 3.0, some time away, will include moderator controls.

Finally, the Blackboard Mobile app is also being developed, to be more consistent with Learn. Hopefully this includes features for instructors.

New Customer Focus

On day 1, just before Stephen Heppell gave his wonderful keynote, Matthew Small welcomed us to the conference. He said that the conference was about sharing best practices and advised us to take time to get to know the team, and to give feedback. This appears to signal a new approach by Blackboard, which was backed up during Jay Bhatt's session later that day.

Although I was uncomfortable with some of the language used ("student as customer/consumer", "content delivery", "countrification") there was definitely a sense that the company is interested in becoming a partner, rather than simply a provider of products. Jay spoke about wanting to offer solutions, rather than just a suite of products.

Over the three days, there was also a feeling that Blackboard staff wanted to talk with us, to find out about our experiences and to get feedback on the products and how we are using them.

User Experiences

During the conference I went to a number of talks from people using Blackboard products to do various things. Among my highlights were:

UntitledTransforming Science Higher Education into Active, Blended and Online Learning: a presentation of 3 case studies from Aarhus University. Based on the SAMR model for technology integration, they demonstrated 3 levels of transformation: augmentation, modification and redefinition of courses.

Mobile in the Field: Adel Gordon from the University of Northampton spoke about an award-winning project using mobile technology to enhance the experience of students of Geography in fieldwork. I'm really pleased that Adel will be joining us for the CELT Galway Symposium next month, when she will be talking about this particular project.

UntitledUsing Blackboard to create an open, online course: Rob Farmer and Kate Littlemore (also from Northampton) spoke about the development of an open online course, entitled Study Skills for Academic Success. From a 100% face-to-face course, this was developed over about 18 months to a fully online version. The MOOC version of the course started on 5th May and can be found at northampton.coursesites.com.

Successfully Delivering Large Scale Online Summative Assessments: Ashley Wright from Newcastle University gave a very comprehensive overview of how Blackboard can be used for summative assessments. For more about OLAF (Online Assessment and Feedback) see the OLAF FAQ blog.

UntitledSo, overall, a useful event, and a good opportunity to connect. UCD was a great venue and it was lovely to be back again. Although the weather wasn't great, the view from the O'Reilly Hall across the lake to the Library was stunning, and brought back some great memories.


Thursday, 17 April 2014

NUI Galway Blackboard Collaborate April Series

CELT is delighted to invite you to participant in the NUI Galway Blackboard Collaborate April Showcase presentation series.

About the April Showcase Series

The series will feature live online presentations from NUI Galway colleagues who have utilised Blackboard Collaborate live meeting rooms to engage with their students during this academic year.

The presentations will address pedagogical, practical and logistical considerations when engaging in live synchronous teaching and learning sessions, and will offer useful advice and recommendations to colleagues interested in adopting this approach in their own practice.

These presentations will be of interest to colleagues currently using, intending to use, or wish to have an awareness of the potential of the Blackboard Collaborate platform to support live online teaching and learning.

About Blackboard Collaborate at NUI Galway

Blackboard Collaborate provides a real-time bridge to geographically distributed students and staff through online meeting rooms which can be used in a variety of ways (e.g. webinars, online tutorials, student project work, project meetings and facilitating expert presentations with live Q and A sessions).  Blackboard Collaborate sessions can be recorded for archiving and reviewing purposes.

Blackboard Collaborate is integrated into the Blackboard Learn VLE platform at NUI Galway. Meeting rooms can be created by all Blackboard instructors from within their modules for student access. It is also possible to request that the creation of non-Blackboard based meeting rooms for wider institutional or external collaboration (e.g. for international project teams) from CELT.

NUI Galway is the only higher education institution in Ireland that has invested in campus-wide access to Blackboard Collaborate for all students and staff.

The April Showcase Schedule

Using Blackboard Collaborate with Nursing & Midwifery Post-Graduate Students
Presenter            Siobhan Smyth, School of Nursing and Midwifery
Date                   Tuesday 22 April 1:00 – 2:00

Using Blackboard Collaborate in Online Italian Courses
Presenter            Laura McLoughlin, Italian Studies; Schools of Languages, Literatures and Cultures
Date                   Wednesday 23 April 1:00 – 2:00

Using Blackboard Collaborate with Advanced Language Learners
Presenters            Dorothy Ní Uigín & Éamon Ó Cofaigh, Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge
Date                   Tuesday 29 April 1:00 – 2:00

Implementing Blackboard Collaborate at NUI Galway: 2013-14 Review, Supports and Future Plans
Presenter            Paul Gormley, Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT)
Date                   Wednesday 30 April 1:00 – 2:00

Booking Your Place

Please sign-up to your preferred presentations via the following Google form:
http://tinyurl.com/signup-autumnshowcase

 

Accessing the Presentation Meeting Room

All presentations will be delivered via a Blackboard Collaborate live meeting room. Please click on the following link (or paste it into your browser address box) to access the meeting room:
http://tinyurl.com/nuig-aprilscase-participant

Preparing for Your Session

We advise that you access the meeting room 10 minutes before the official start time in order to check your audio set-up. You can do this by selecting the Blackboard Collaborate Tools menu > Audio > Audio Wizard

Technical Support

If you have any difficulties please email blackboard@nuigalway.ie before the start time of your session.

Blackboard Collaborate Information and Resources at NUI Galway

Please access the CELT Blackboard resource site for further information, videos, walkthrough guides and case studies at:
http://www.nuigalway.ie/blackboard/new_blackboard/collaborate/landing.html

We look forward to your presence at the Blackboard Collaborate April Showcase series.

 

Sunday, 9 March 2014

On being a woman in technology

Flowers for Internation Women's Day
Flowers for International Women's Day
Yesterday was International Women's Day and there was a plethora of blog posts and twitter messages identifying various inspirational women. Twenty five years ago I would have found this unnecessary, demeaning even. But now, with a pre-teenage daughter about to enter secondary school, with her whole life ahead of her, I'm increasingly concerned about the world that she is about to encounter.

I grew up with just one sister, no brothers. We were never told that there were career paths not open to us. We both ended up taking Computer Science degrees and both continue to work in technology. I went to an all-girls convent school. I took Honours Maths and Physics, because I liked them. Originally I wanted to be an accountant (like my dad) or an actuary. But then I got the CS bug, and decided that's what I wanted to do. I graduated in 1990, one of 8 girls in a class of 34 computer scientists - that's almost 25% female. I took a joint honours degree in Maths and Computer Science; of four of us to graduate with this degree, 2 were female.

When I started lecturing computer science, the first group to graduate (in 1999) had five women out of 13 (almost 40%). For the first few years, as class sizes increased, the ratio of female students remained around 35%. But then something happened. Jump forward to the final year class of 2009, the last undergraduate CS class I taught, when there was not one female in the group.

Twenty five years ago, I thought Women in Technology was an unnecessary movement and wanted nothing to do with it. Today, it's a recognised problem. Catherine Cronin has written a much more informed article about the issue. There are various articles about why we need more women in technology. We also hear that women entering the field are likely to face a difficult culture. I think it's also true to say that many women who work in technology, like myself, are bewildered by the situation. Mounia Lalmas, who did her Phd at the same time as me, in the early 1990s, and who is a brilliant computer scientist, wrote about this recently. Perhaps Mounia's post, more than any other, has inspired me to write this today.

One suggestion that keeps coming up is that young women need more (female) role models. Like Catherine Cronin (in the article mentioned above), I don't subscribe to this as the solution.

I note that many recommendations focus on role models and mentoring for girls. I believe such initiatives are powerful and necessary, but by no means sufficient in effecting the level of change that is required. - Catherine Cronin


I had no female role models. I adored and feared (in equal measure) my Maths teacher at school (Mrs Kelly), but I never wanted to be her. As an undergraduate, I had no female lecturers in either Maths or Computing. The first time I encountered a female academic in CS was after I had started my PhD. And, as Mounia writes "why do I want to be like somebody else?"

I was certainly inspired and influenced by various people, male and female, and I was lucky as an undergraduate and postgraduate student to have people who encouraged and supported me. I never noticed a gender imbalance; although clearly it did exist, it just wasn't an issue. I'd like to subscribe to Mounia's conclusions:

 listen to advices and recommendations, and decide what is RIGHT for you. Change what YOU think should change while remaining you. Take responsibility. And enjoy being you. - Mounia Lalmas


But ultimately, I do believe that there is a culture problem. I find it hard to accept that this exists in 2014, but evidence suggests that the situation is getting worse, and I fear for my daughter's future. And here is my problem with role models: no woman should have to be a role model for her gender. I don't want to push my daughter, who is clever, sociable, sassy and very much her own person, into a STEM career, just to make up the numbers.

I had a conversation last week with a bright young postgrad student. She started out, in college in the US, as a Maths student, the only female in her class. After some time, she realised that she would prefer to major in English Literature. She felt guilty in making that change, because she felt she was letting down her whole gender. It took a strong woman to choose Maths in the first place, and an even stronger woman to give it up.

So, here's to all the strong women out there - you know who you are.

 

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

BYOD4L: Communicating

Day two of BYOD4L mini course, and I'm still here, though a little late to blog about it. The theme was communicating and we had a very intense twitter chat on that topic.

The first task, which I completed over lunchtime on my iPad, was to

create a representation of yourself as a communicator in your private and professional life

The directions suggested that I find a free app that would help me with this. Some mind-mapping apps were suggested, but eventually I decided that iBrainstorm looked fairly easy. This is what I came up with.


Me, as a communicator
Me, as a communicator
Interestingly, in retrospect, I focused on me (as a communicator) rather than focusing on the tools that I use - though some are mentioned.

I also chose to reveal an aspect of my personality, that I am an introvert. This was actually the first thing I pinned to the board, because I feel that it does define the way that I prefer and choose to communicate.

The Videos
I did look at both video scenarios. I reflected a little on them, but I'm not going to write anything here, because I felt that both student and teacher needed to establish some connections (theme of day 1) before they could worry about communicating.

Communicating
The twitter chat was more interesting to me. The first question was about what does communication mean to you, and my response was about listening. This turned into a conversation about lurking and the value of lurking. Somebody asked if shy people are also shy online, and I responded that I am shy, but not so much online. A number of others admitted the same thing.

Chrissi Nerantzi (@chrissinerantzi) asked me "what helps you open up online?" and "what helped you make the first step?". I've been thinking about this for a little while. My answer is not straightforward, but is relevant to the topic of Communicating. Here goes:

People are different.And they have their own preferred ways of communicating. I don't mind chatting with people on a topic that I know - but don't ask me to make small talk. I hate the telephone. I dislike large meetings. Going to an event (conference, meeting, party) full of people I don't know is a nightmare. But online communication is fine. Email is no problem.

When I first started teaching online, 10 years ago, I realised that I quite liked discussion boards as a discussion tool. I felt that everybody had the opportunity to say their piece, unlike in a meeting. Some people may choose not to participate, and it's difficult to tell the lurkers from those who are absent. But the platform suited me.

Blogging took a while. I started with short pieces of information, but doing a lot more reflection now. It's a personal thing, but I get a great buzz when somebody comments and it might result in a conversation.

I've written previously about my identity on twitter. I still find it the most useful tool in my own professional development, and I try to share that with others.

More recently, I'm very positive about the possibilities of online collaboration tools, I regularly participate in webinars, and have presented talks by webinar. Today I had a meeting using Collaborate, and realise that I'm much happier using the chatbox than the mic.

But that's all just about my preferences. We each have our own individual preferences about how we choose to communicate. Sometimes we are forced to use tools/platforms that we don't like, and sometimes we force ourselves to use tools that we don't like - I do attend conferences full of people that I don't know (I've never minded presenting at them - strangely).

So, keeping in mind that people have their own preferences, how can we encourage them to make better use of online or mobile devices? I think all we can do is demonstrate good practice, show them the value, help them to try (in a supported environment), share our own enthusiasm. But we can't force people to use a tool they don't like or aren't comfortable with, if there is an alternative (there are lots of alternatives to the telephone, luckily, most of the time).


Monday, 27 January 2014

BYOD4L: Connecting

This week I am dipping into the open bite-size course BYOD4L: Bring Your Own Device for Learning.

I can't promise that I'll keep up, especially since the History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education MOOC also starts today. But since it's only over 5 days, I might just manage.

The first topic is that of Connecting. There was quite a bit of connecting on the twitter chat this evening, under the hashtag #BYOD4Lchat. It was fast and furious.

But, back to the task at hand. I watched both videos embedded on the Resources page and decided to reflect on the second one, from the point of view of the teacher.


This is a scenario with which I am familiar, since I work in supporting teaching staff in their use of technology. A constant refrain is "I haven't got time", which, to be fair, is usually true.

Academics are, increasingly, very busy with many demands on their time. To start using a new technology (device, app, system, tool) for teaching, they need to be convinced of its value, the return on  investment. It's only worth investing the time and effort if you can guarantee results - some benefit to the teacher and/or an improvement in the learning of the students.

When it comes to connecting, academics do this all the time in research. They connect and form research groups and clusters, they go to research meetings and conferences, they write joint papers. But many teaching staff don't feel the need to do this for their teaching practice. They just don't see the value in it.

When encouraging staff to use twitter, I often suggest that they start following people from their own research area or discipline, and any professional/research bodies or journals that are of interest. This can be a good hook to get them started.

Most teaching staff do want to connect with their students, but they may not yet have realised how mobile devices and apps can facilitate that. Perhaps that's the hook we need to use?