I recently went to two events hosted by Oxford University at Saïd Business School, Shock of the Old and Beyond Walls.

Shock of the Old 2009 was Oxford’s 8th annual conference on educational technologies, a day packed full of interesting sessions led by academic, technical and support staff. There were 11 sessions throughout the day including keynotes and a Q&A at the end of the day.

  • It kicked off at 9:45AM with the keynote presentation from Lynne O’Brien, Director of Instructional Technology Innovation at Duke University, USA. Duke started to give their students Apple iPods in the autumn of 2004, departments throughout the University had started to create digital content that would enable students to learn on their own terms and so the Duke Digital Initiative was born.

The Duke Digital Initiative enables staff and students to experiment with, develop and implement new and emerging technologies in support of teaching and learning. It has made available devices such as digital video cameras, high definition video cameras, video editing software, iPods, webcams, screen capture software, tablet PCs and a whole host of other devices to staff and students.

Podcasting became an overnight success at Duke, through the digital initiative staff members at Duke created media rich materials for their students and made it available to them, their languages department in particular being a very big user of the medium. However they found that each discipline used the materials very differently, languages students for example tended to methodically go through resources given to them, medical students however tended to skim through resources only visiting the parts they needed to, a handy reference guide if you like.

Duke also took the step of making much of this material available online to anyone for free. By using the iTunes U services offered by Apple, Duke has an online repository known as “Duke on iTunes U” where users can browse content uploaded by academics at the University.

The challenges faced by Duke were varied, to create rich content, to deliver materials when needed and in a format likely to be used, working with publishers on providing portable versions of their content and planning for the archiving and searching of materials. Institutional innovation was also a challenge, to energise this Duke has integrated technology in to existing work flows and pedagogy. They have kept the barrier for experimentation low to encourage adoption of the initiative and they are honest about their success and failure.

  • Tabetha Newman from Timmus Limited took the floor shortly after Lynne O’Brien, her topic was “Consequences of a Digital Literacy review”. Tabetha’s focus on digital literacy was an eye opener for me, students today need an array of knowledge of a huge number of digital tools.

Most young people have inadequate web search and evaluation skills, the use of ICT is often undirected in the classroom and exposure to ICT does not automatically mean increased competency. We are underestimating young people’s understanding of the use and breadth of digital tools and overestimating critical thinking skills.

Activities given to students should focus on re-contextualising  not recounting, Tabetha gave an example where secondary students were asked to research a subject, the majority of students turned in work that was heavily based on existing text from online sources. When asked to research a subject and direct it to a younger audience the didn’t happen as it had to be rewritten in a different context. She suggested that digital literacy should be embedded into the curriculum and could be used to bring about reform.

  • Ricardo Kompen from Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya and Richard Mobbs from the University of Leicester talked about Web 2.0 based Personal Learning Environments. Initial investigation into PLEs came about because of dissatisfaction with existing VLEs, their high infrastructure costs, poor use of provided tools and limited interaction were all factors. After talking to students they gathered that they were unhappy with institutional VLEs because the tools the students used were not under their control and they were told what they can and cannot do with them. Using the PLE approach gave the students back control over their approach to learning.

They came up with 4 routes to explore for a PLE, Wiki based, Social Network based, Start Page based and Browser based. Wiki based although named after wikis also included the use of tools such as Picasa, Google Docs, GDrive and Blogger as well as wikis. Social Network based was heavily centred on sites like Facebook and MySpace but also used tools such as YouTube, CourseFeed, GMail, Flickr, tagging, simple RSS and wikis. Start Page based took an aggregated approach like NetVibes, allowing the students to pull in data from different feeds into one page that they organised however they liked. Browser based used the Flock web browser which integrates social networking and sharing through it’s in built media tools.

The 1st phase of the project introduced students to Web 2.0 tools, Twitter was used for class communication and within 2 weeks it overtook e-mail and instant messaging. Students also started to use Twitter outside of the classroom and used it to organise their social lives. “Team Tools” such as Podcasts, screencasts and free wiki tools were then introduced along with individual tools such as Clippers, Jooce, g.ho.st and FriendFeed.

27 out of 33 students adopted Twitter as their main communications tool after 3 weeks, 25 of the students submitted Web 2.0 connectivity diagrams, almost all had the PLE centred around themselves.

  • Josie Fraser, ALT Learning Technologist of the Year presented “Digital Literacy: The new challenge for HE” explaining that Digital Literacy can easily be explored using a distributed model, the use of Web 2.0 tools creates a low cost entry point.

Most users are not concerned about the amount of information about themselves that is online. For example people often misjudged the number of people who could see images they uploaded to the Internet, especially on services such as MySpace or Facebook. A lot of the time the default privacy settings do not protect the users content, this is also the same for Twitter, users often don’t realised that anything they tweet unless specifically marked as protected is added to the public timeline which is searchable. Exploring this can yield interesting results, try searching Twitter for “Drunk” or “Stoned“.

In stark contrast having no information about yourself online can be a disadvantage. Employers now routinely search the Internet for information on candidates to see how they conduct themselves outside of work. The Internet can be a very good forum to promote work that you do and activities you take part in, but if they can’t see anything about you there will always be other candidates that do have information available online, hopefully good and not bad! Think about all the tweets, blog posts, forum posts, posts to mailing lists that are now archived online and your wikipedia edits, how much of a digital trail do you leave and should we be teaching our students about how to manage this properly?

Shock of the Old 2009
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