Online people tagging

Last week I did a keynote for the SoMobNet crew, and thoroughly enjoyed being part of the conversation on mobile social networking. As often is the case on these sort of occasions, you pick up lots of snippets of ideas and glimpse the expertise of others. So there’s plenty to follow up on. One of the ideas that might easily transplant to DeFT is Pachler & Cook’s work on online people tagging. They used this in the MATURE project, which focused on social learning in work-based knowledge networks. There’s a link to a publication on people-tagging here, but looking through this doesn’t really directly relate to our context. It’s probably best just to think about the basic idea of profiling participants, and even a wider group of experts, and generating a set of tags which might be useful in matching up interests or putting together teams with complementary areas of competence. The basic idea will be familiar to those who are into blogging or photo-sharing. Picassa illustrates this here and also introduces geo-tagging – another possibility.

Better than life …?

Why are the avatars we select for ourselves usually better looking, taller, thinner and cooler than our real selves? My own selected representation is a photograph of myself as a four-year old: I look expectant, a little hesitant, and, I like to think ready for what the world has for me. I sometimes like to animate that image using Crazy Talk and to have a conversation with that ‘me’ about what the future will be like (the present that I have now), and I find that emotional and very strange. If that earlier me could imagine a future I guess that it would be one that was formed in an imagination shaped by cultural influences in my childhood in the 1960s: Tomorrow’s World (archived), and  DoctorWho (regenerated) and more recently Red Dwarf (Better than Life episode) for example. These futures were exciting and frightening, and in many ways idealised, and in the Christmas morning of my imagination I am opening ever more exciting and useful tech. This appears more than the stuff we live by (e.g. electricity, heated homes) and I am wondering if the more prosaic view of technology is lost in our view of the learning future (as in Asimov’s ‘The fun they had‘). The programme Grand Designs projects a view of the future as one which is outlandish, and which jars with our now, as the (creative) person’s imagination made real in, or as, their own homes (the Ideal Home). Which leads me to how we might build and furnish the DeFT project. The term Open Educational Resource (OER) is one that is laden with utility, and perhaps with the mechanics of learning and teaching; it is the ugly baby in the technology beauty contest. What we might need is a parent’s love to see what it might become, to build its confidence in the gadget playground, maybe? To be continued ….

Digitally ready for the future?

I had the opportunity yesterday to participate in the HeLF (heads of e-learning forum) meeting “Driving Internal Change – institutional approaches to digital literacies”. A substantial chunk of the meeting focused on an overview of projects currently being undertaken in the context of the JISC Digital literacies programme and this alone made it worthwhile to go all the way to Bath (if there was a rail miles scheme, I would have clocked up quite a few of these already in the first month of the DeFT project!).

There are some obvious synergies between our project and the JISC Digital literacies programme, starting with the fact that they explore different meanings of the term and its applications. There is even an OER theme running through the projects, as quite a lot of them are planning to release resources openly; makes me quite hopeful for a future where OERs are pretty much the default option. Speaking of future, this was an issue that featured even more prominently as a number of the projects are trying to come up with strategies and solutions to prepare the students for a largely unknown future, with one of the projects explicitly aimed at helping students become Digitally Ready.

The theme of the future kept cropping up both during the official part of the meeting and the more informal conversations as we refuelled our depleted caffeine stores. These conversations focused mostly on future students, touching upon the level of skills of current school pupils and even toddlers. The Digitally Ready project invites its audience to imagine a university where all students and all staff are able to access all the digital resources they need now and for the future, but how will that vision be realised? And is it only about tools and resources? As part of the DeFT project, we are working with primary and secondary schools on Sheffield area, aiming to explore the implications of digital literacies for learning and teaching and hoping to tease out more nuanced understandings of issues at hand rather than the simplified vision of techno-toddlers on their ipads which have started to colonise our collective imaginations.

Ready to engage!

We’ve been working hard to line up partners for the project, and it looks like we’ve now got some very interesting people on board. The launch day on December 8th will be an exciting event and one that will be crucial in shaping up the detail of the work. It just feels like we’ve got so much talent to draw on – a great project team, some inspirational HE tutors and some real classroom innovators. When we join these up with our creative partners, there’ll be no stopping us!

There we go again…

Ladies, gentlemen and fellow OER practitioners, the DeFT – Digital Futures in Teacher Education project is ready to share its news with the world! It was conceived on the August bank holiday through a series of conversations between a small group of academics with an interest in digital literacy and all things open. For their sins, all three collaborators are now members of the core team and have been blessed/burdened with the funding to actually help their ideas materialise as an open textbook exploring digital literacy in the context of teacher education. Two of us– Anna Gruszczynska and Richard Pountney – are OER veterans (with battle scars to show…) and have been involved in OER projects undertaken by the Subject Centre for Sociology, Anthropology and Politics in the pilot and the second phase of UKOER. The third partner in crime, professor Guy Merchant, is somewhat new to the UKOER programme but very conveniently happens to be an expert on in the field of digital literacy and education. Overall, the guiding principle seems to be that the more the merrier and so we will be accompanied by ten primary and secondary schools, four PGCE tutors at participating universities (Sheffield Hallam University and University of Sheffield) and partners from the creative/digital industry sector– Learning Connections, SmartAssess, Sheffield Children’s Festival and Yorkshire and Humber Grid for Learning.

The aim of this project is to produce an open textbook “Digital Literacy (DL) for Open and Networked Learning” based upon two strands of development that are mutually reinforcing: the first is to create materials for a module accredited by the two partner HEI for trainee teachers on their PGCE courses, involving the (re)use of OERs and associated pedagogical design; and the second is to develop guidance on practice in teaching and learning in the school sector involving digital literacy. Over the next eleven months we hope to explore the meanings of digital literacy, the challenges of openness at the HE/non-HE boundary and the potential of the open textbook. It looks like we’re off on quite an exciting journey of discovery and hopefully, when we come to revisit this space in a year’s time, it will all make sense as we try and connect the dots backwards.