PEI site tech conference – overcoming obstacles

I had a really nice time with the site techs on wednesday. I got a chance to speak to them in the morning and then participated in a few short presentations and did a few small group discussions in the afternoon. I found an energetic group of people, very open to ideas, receptive to mine (for whatever reason) and pretty passionate about learning.

Here’s a link to the synopsis i recorded today of the presentation.

There were several blogging projects running. Most on That was a big surprise to me, as i hadn’t heard of very much of it happening on the island. I also heard of one other teacher who was using blogger. I had several people ask about what I would do for a ‘blogging project’ and my answer was the same. Don’t do a blogging project, if you have a writing project that blogging makes sense for… then go ahead and use a blog. Don’t focus your project on a technology.

Wikis vs. Blogging
Lots of wiki work going on as well. The department has a pro-level pbworks (once pbwiki) account and are using it for art projects to create an eportfolio. I’m not a big fan of using the word portfolio for this, as a portfolio does suggest portability and I”m not sure how these kids will ‘port’ the folios around… but still… nice wiki work. Here’s a link Had four conversations explaining to people that i think that blogging is far preferable to wikis… Blogging makes it easier for people to feel ownership over their work, and it doesn’t get crazy messy like a wiki. Wikis are good when the project implicitly involves stucture (like a cookbook)

Koha Implementation
I saw an impressive presentation about their new library system. They’ve done a nice job integrating Koha into their existing infrastructure and getting rid of their 1980’s era library system. Best conversation i had around this is that parents could, very soon, browse through their schools library at home with their kids looking for books. How cool is that.

Other fun stuff
They are supporting a number of different tech projects (modules) but with a real focus on how they translate practically. They have some pretty serious podcasting gear that they are sending out to schools and setting them up using audacity (might even be overly complex for some, might be nice to offer two levels, a blue mic and the mini-soundboard they have) They have video planned for use with movie maker. They are using Alice for 3D and some lego robotics (planned for after the Alice) for some fun robotics stuff.

From the stuff i took in and saw, i was pretty impressed with the direction being taken. Technology… yes, but with a focus on what we are going to do with it. I left them with a suggestion of trying to create a community of practice user Yammer (or skype or something) to allow them to support each other. I saw two people sign up while i was there… i hope they do. It was a good group, and a good day.

Overcoming obstacles – a practical guide

This is the title of a presentation I’m going to be giving to the elearning support team from PEI k-12 on Wednesday. It’s my first time being asked to speak here, and I’m pretty excited about the opportunity to meet these people and get a sense of the challenges they face. My kids are 3 and 5 years away from the school system, so my interest is not merely academic. And No. this blog post isn’t the practical guide, but i think it wouldn’t hurt if we all created one. (or, better, found the one that someone is already building and added to it. I just wanted to think outloud about a few concepts and maybe ask you folks for some of your stories about obstacles you’ve met and how you overcame them.

Overcoming obstacles – being ready
I think the most important strategy for overcoming obstacles is to accept that they are coming… with a certain amount of equanimity. You will not run a web-based project without running into difficulties. It may be that people have forgotten their password, it may be, as once happened to me, that any time the students started circling each other in OpenSim the server would asplode. wipe hands. reboot. They will come, and I think a risk assessement, however informal, is critical to any web based learning project no matter how small. A default password for handing out just in case, a plan for doing your planning for the webbased project while the site isn’t working… it never hurts to have these things in the back of your mind.

Overcoming obstacles – needs and wants assessment and flexibility
Oh my. This is a bad one. On a pretty much daily basis someone says to me ” i have this plan, and I want to get students to X”. My response is usually some variation of simplicity. ‘Use wordpress’ for instance. The invariable next response i get is “that doesn’t do ‘exactly’ what i want it to do. And that is the place where you need (if you have the time) to dig in. You need to make two lists, the list of things that absolutely need to be in the project or it isn’t of interest or use to do and a list of things you would prefer for a variety of reasons. That second list is one that you have to be willing to cross things off of. Complexity is the killer of projects. The more things you cross off that second list the better the chance of actually starting the project and people actually finishing. Just send people the chart, with a line between the two questions… seriously, people love to have charts to fill in when they are interested in a project. The chart serves a secondary purpose. People unwilling to fill in a needs chart are not really interested in doing a project.

Overcoming obstacles – know thyself
You (or your client) really need to know what they are trying to accomplish. I saw clarence fisher’s idea hive video a couple of days ago when i asked him for something that represented the work that he does in his classroom. It’s the theory, the idea behind what they are trying to do. It is very difficult to feel good about success when you don’t know what you were trying to do in the first place. Getting the software to work is not success. Having kids writing get better is.

Overcoming obstacles – Finding other people
It is much, much easier to start working IN someone else’s project than it is to start another one. Far better to join youthvoices for a writing community than to try and develop, deploy and find a new community. I understand as well as anyone the temptation to be the person who starts something, to want to have the thing exactly as you like. But, and I feel pretty confident about this, no single person is going to come up with the best way to do any project. Your first draft ideas are probably not going to be anywhere near perfect. Work with the work of others, help make their work better and, if, after that, you still feel like starting your own go ahead. Your work will be much better for the time you took.

Overcoming obstacles – learning communities
You can’t collaborate alone (JM). Find learning communities. Connect with other people like you. You can all come to edtechtalk, we’d love to have you. There are tons of other great ways to communicate. Find one (or several) you like. If you are at all careful IT WILL SAVE YOU TIME. seriously.

Overcoming obstacles – be a smarty pants, be resilient, be whatever you need to be, just don’t give up.
I asked my good buddy John Schinker to do a little video talking about his experience working with Teachers without borders this summer. Some of the challenges they faces were ridiculous. How do you train people to use technology in a school without power? How do you form community with someone who needs to take A BOAT to get to the nearest internet cafe? Well… you can. you just need to want to. And you need to not give up. Here’s the youtube video. If you’re coming to the presentation… Don’t watch it! (jk. you can watch it again on wednesday)

Overcoming obstacles – please add your strategies and stories. pls pls. comments. your blog. tweets… they’ll aggregate here.

Dave’s wildly unscientific survey of technology use in Higher Education

This survey
In the late spring early summer I sent out the questions below to my twitter followers in the hopes of getting a starting point for the discussion of where universities are with technological adoption, particularly where it is supporting learning.

A word on the respondents.
The responders to this survey included their names on the understanding that their names and institutions would not be published as part of the results. I include institution because, for many of them, the responses would clearly indicate who had completed the form.

The form was sent out to the followers of my twitter account. There are any number of biases inherent in that, not the least being that the majority of them, broadly speaking, don’t mind seeing my twitter updates. I am professionally familiar with almost every respondent. We got one student respondent and the majority of the others are either edtech or educational professionals at Universities in North/South America and Europe.

All that to say this this is not a terribly scientific survey, but it does reflect the usage of educational technologies at 25 institutions of higher ed in different parts of the world. I would not use it as a guide to action, but rather one more piece of the overall context.

This piece is strewn with ‘davenote’s. These are personal reflections on the data rather than quantifiable results pulled from the data. I would regard these with suspicion if i had not written them.

Do you use E-Portfolios at your university? If so, please tell us what you use and what the uptake has been like. Does it work well? Does it help or hinder ‘learning’?
Over half of the respondents replied in the negative to this question. Of those that suggested that some use was being made pebblepad and d2l were most often cited as the Eportfolios of choice. There was some consistent commentary about lone individuals or faculties (usually Education) that were moving in this direction, but no mandatory eportfolios were mentioned.

Overall (other than the ‘No.’) respondents, the general thrust of the respondents seemed to be that they understood this to be a good idea but that there was some confusion or resistance about how this was actually going to be done.

davenote: eportfolios are a vast hidden overhead. They really only make sense if they are portable and accessible to the user. Transferring vast quantities of student held data out of the university every spring seems complicated. Better, maybe, to instruct students to use external services.

Are you doing much with so-called ‘mobile education’? Can you point us to some of the work you are doing?
Most universities that responded said they either had none or there had been ‘discussions’ but no real movement. A smaller group suggested that they had done podcasts, one iphone applications and several others had explored ways to format existing work so that material was easily readable by mobile devices.

davenote: Our new mobile infrastructure at UPEI appears to be ahead of the majority of the respondents. By far the easiest ‘mobile’ work seems to be to just make sure your websites conform to mobile standards.

Are you using anything for lecture capture? (we’re using epresence) Is this something that you would consider an advantage for instructors or learners?
Quicktime broadcaster/podcast producer. camtasia. elluminate.adobe connect. Aprevo. Sonic Foundries, MediaSite system. Lectopia. echo360. ustream. jing.

A real broad spectrum of different tools appear to be in use with most universities saying that they are using something. There are only 2 occasions where broad spectrum adoption is present, but most seem to think that this is a necessary part of the 21st century university. There was also a broad interpretation of this question, some interpreted it to mean capturing powerpoints, some video and some the audio that was being produced. There is certain an indication of broad adoption.

davenote: There are a huge number of options and they are all fit for different purposes, and most require significant support. Things like ustream, adobe connect and elluminate benefit from being supported off site and being easy to record but suffer in the accessibility portability department.

Do you have an LOR (Learning Object Repository) or OER (Open Educational Resources (thingy)) Are these collections something that ‘should’ be part of a institution of higher education?
Over half of the respondents here said they did not have an LOR to speak of. There were many of those that suggested that bands of educators worked together to share materials. Of those that responded in the affirmative the majority suggested that the ones that were in use were getting little use. A handful suggested that the use of the LOR was mandatory and that it was being used for sharing. My guess here would be that either it gets built into the system (some form of mandatory) or people will move off into whatever works for them and their colleagues.

davenote: The peers we have in our learning and teaching are more often in other universities… these are the people that we really need to share with.

What is your elearning support structure(do you have a dedicated elearning support group?) Are there specific needs that are/aren’t being satisfied? Is this considered a ‘professional curriculum position)?
One respondent in particular simply laughed at the idea that they were being supported at all. The vast majority, however, have a centralized support system (perhaps 7-8 did not) and they are usually in the ‘educational support’ division or the elearning support group or something else that suggests a group dedicate to computer assisted learning. In each of the 5 cases where the support was being done by computer services the comment was coupled with “and they don’t know anything about learning”.

davenote: the comments here seem to suggest a much higher level of satisfaction with a centralized elearning infrastructure. I am biased in this, as I have suggested the same thing, but these respondents at least, seem to agree with me.

Are you using a VLE (LMS, LCMS, CMS) for education? Which one are you using, and what percentage of faculty do you estimate actively use it? How do you feel about them?
Broadly speaking this is the question that need not have asked. Everyone said yes, many suggested that use was mandatory and that there was a universal presence for every course. It was a mixture of moodle, D2L, blackboard/webct.

davenote: yup.

Do you have a formal elearning strategy? Is it publicly available? Do you think such a thing is necessary?
Many universities seem to have an elearning strategy, for some it is included in the overall strategic plan, for others, it is a discrete document. With the exception of the respondent that suggested that it was more important that they have someone in charge of thinking about this rather than the document itself, all respondents agreed that it was necessary (if they answered that part of the question. About half of those that were spoken of were publicly available.

davenote: Strategic plans, if enforced are very good things. Even if they aren’t enforced, they at least reflect thinking at a given time.

Are you using any tools (twitter, wikis etc.) that might be considered web 2.0?
I hesitated to include this question in the first place, as it was likely that the respondents to my twitter account would be using collaborative tools. They were. Twitter, delicious, WPMU, Twitter, Plurk, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Vimeo, Ning, Chatzy, Diigo … and the like. The two themes that seem to come out is the purposeful viral spreading of these tools and the institutional support of blogging.


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