Guest post from David Lammy MP

Like me, more and more people are using social networking and blogs to communicate with each other as a matter of routine, and it has been great to see the work that JISC is doing to capture that enthusiasm for technology and bring it into teaching, learning and research. The innovative use of technology, including Twitter, video livestreaming, conference podcasts and blogging to broadcast the JISC Conference 2009 to people who could not be there in person, has been a great example of what the web can offer. The fact that anyone, anywhere was able to follow the conference live, or download the presentations, recordings or watch videos afterwards hopefully meant that no one missed out on the important issues being discussed. I  hope you found the conference stimulating – whether you were there in person, or ‘virtually’ from the other side of the world.

I’d like to continue the discussion. At the moment, I’m taking questions via Yoosk.com on the future of higher education. What are the key issues for HE over the next 10 – 15 years? What should government, universities and the funding council do to make sure we maintain our world class system of higher education? I look forward to your questions via: http://www.yoosk.com/dius

 

Closing keynote speech: Ewan McIntosh


Ewan McIntosh, the digital commissioner for 4iP, brought the conference to a close with a challenging and inventive keynote speech about new ways to use emerging interactive technologies in education and how to harness the educational potential of the internet rather than live in dread of it.

Incorporating tweets and suggestions he’d received throughout the day of the conference, Ewan began his talk by discussing the bleak outlook for many traditional media organisations following the recession-brought collapse in advertising revenue. We need new business models and new forms of public service media, he stated.

He also outlined the paranoia with which many institutions approach the internet, quoting James Jarvis:  “The once powerful approach the internet with dread when they realise they cannot control it.”

The body of his speech was designed to show that there is no need for this fear. If institutions can make a virtue of the openness of the internet, it should become one of their greatest allies in the quest to promote learning.

He cited The Guardian’s new datastore and the website theyworkforyou.com as impressive uses of data that has always been ‘free’ but hitherhto hard to access, before moving to the key point that “free is a hard price to beat” and making the counter-intuitve declaration that if universities were to give away their research rather than asking for payments for journals, £160million would actually be saved each year.

He called for authentic openness rather than the top-down approach most HE institutions take to the internet. They need to realise that their sites can’t compete with networking platforms like facebook and bebo – but they can use such platforms for their benefit. After all, the biggest web success stories at the moment are for applications like imob and all those facebook games that work within already established platforms rather than trying to divert users away from them. He also challenged the ingrained notion that anonymity is a bad thing, by pointing out how useful it can be to enable discourse and encourage people to open up without embarrassment or loss of privacy.

“By taking advantage of as many learning spaces as possible you stand a much greater chance of hitting people,” he said, pointing out the advantages of participation spaces like twitter, that encourage active learning from students rather than the usual experience of sitting passively in lectures.  He then asked pointedly how many universities have mobile-ready internet platforms for learning, even though nearly every student will have and constantly use a mobile phone and even though they have great potential for passing on information and creating feedback loops. He also debunked the idea of their being a separate generation of ‘digital natives’, suggesting that these technologies are open to anyone, and perhaps only require a youthful outlook.

He closed by noting that university learning technology  has hardly changed for 400 years, but that there’s no good reason for this stasis. “If we concentrate more on process of learning we’ll have ingenious outputs,” he concluded.

After leaving the podium, Ewan tweeted “Not sure i hit my points on the head at jisc09. Hard to appeal to both pedagogues and technophiles. Harrumph.” Everyone else, however, posted only positive responses. The consensus seemed to be that his assessment of his speech was the only thing he got wrong on the day.

Session: Who should preserve the web?

The internet is like the weather. It changes constantly  – and unless it’s properly archived, each old day in web history is lost forever. But archiving such an ever changing, ever growing, ever-renewing and ever-disappearing universe is a huge and difficult task. Our speakers today helped guide us over some of this rough terrain, as well as asking vital questions about what should be preserved, who should be preserving it and why it’s even important to create web history archives in the first place.

Chairing the session, Neil Grindley asked who stands to benefit from web archives, who should be making the archives, and what good practice techniques individuals and institutions can employ to ensure their web pages are properly archived. Most tellingly, he also tried to give an impression of the extent of the issue – a particularly difficult job, because, as he noted “it’s fathomless.” It’s impossible to even get a grasp the quantity of material outputted onto the internet because so much of the “deep” web is hidden behind passwords. One small measure of scale comes from the fact that 71,600,000 pages come up if you do a google search for *.ac.uk

Following on from this idea, Paul Cunnea from the National Library of Scotland described the web as the “final frontier”. He gave a historical overview of the James T Kirk’s who have been out in this ever expanding galaxy trying to keep tabs on it from web-archive projects in California in the early 1990s to more recent projects such as UKWAC and the 40+ organisations worldwide who are in the process of gathering archive material.

He then touched on the thorny legal issues relating to web archives, especially in relation to copyright and legal deposit questions and the issue of whether institutions are even entitled to harvest material from the web -  which at the moment seems to be a murky grey area in UK law.

He finished with a clarion call to join the coalition and make sure that you are preserving your material properly – and raised the interesting question of who else should be working towards creating archives. Most museums, it seems, aren’t at the moment – which has the potential to create huge gaps in their collections if they want to be complete overviews of their subject areas.

Kevin Ashley from the University of London also didn’t claim to have any definite answers about archives: but again, he had plenty of interesting questions. Mainly these related to why institutions should care about web-archiving – and how useful it can be given the poor quality of what actually ends up in these archives. He employed the telling metaphor of a library book that has been taken off the right shelf, ripped up, smeared with jam, had its cover thrown away and then jumbled back onto a new shelf. Thanks to restrictions of size, technology and the dynamic nature of “live” web product, archived pages are not the same as the pages we see when browsing through the web. Future web historians, much like today’s medievalists  will be left with fragments and broken narratives.

Joking about “a word from our sponsors” Kevin did point out that the POWR handbook does at least contain some useful information on protocol, how to archive and what it might be useful to look at.

The final speaker was Niels Brugger, an associate professor in media studies from Aahaus university, who started by calling himself a “strange Dane” and apologising for the mutilation he was about to do the English language. In fact, he spoke with eloquence and fluency, even when hacking his way through the thorny challenges faced by anyone hoping to make use of archived web pages for their research.

He pointed out that the process of deciding which areas of the web should be archived is subjective, saying “history has to be anticipated already at the point of the archive.” The archived pages too are reconstructions, subjectively created, depending on the different archiving strategies relating to the maintenance of, say, graphics, sound and images (most of which would generally be missing). He also made the fascinating point that websites can change even in the time it takes to archive them (giving the example of a page he wanted to archive previewing a sports event, which had the final result of the contest included on it by the time the archive harvesting was completed). So you can never be sure that everything is in your archive – and there’s always a danger too of getting a sample that never existed on the web.

True to the nature of the talk, when it was opened up to the floor, there were more intriguing questions – but ones which we are as yet unable to answer. Is it effort well spent to preserve old websites vs say, building a new one? What happens to archives when organisations disappear and institutions close down? What happens when individuals who have been maintainging their own records shuffle off this mortal coil? Who should be responsible for the archives? (at the moment, it just isn’t clear) What happens to all the material (like google docs) that exists in ‘the cloud’?

Big questions that will have to be answered soon if the single biggest record of our era isn’t to be lost to the historians of the future.

JISC question time: Student experiences of technology

The panel:
The student’s perspective: Sue Beck, Student, University of Northampton
The lecturer’s perspective: Rob Howe, Head of Learning Technology & Media, University of Northampton
The senior manager’s perspective: Professor Jeff Haywood, Vice Principal Knowledge Management, Chief Information Officer, Edinburgh University
The policy perspective: Sir David Melville, former VC of the University of Kent and Chairman of the Committee of Inquiry into the Changing Learner Experience

“I’m a mother of seven, a grandmother of three and I’m 50 years old,” began Sue Beck. “I only achieved Level Four CSE French. I’m now in my third year of a French language degree, I can watch French films without subtitles and watch French television and understand what’s going on.”

A question time session on student experiences of technology without a student on the panel would be missing a trick and this afternoon’s session certainly benefited from hearing Sue’s very positive experience of learning technology.

She explained how she enrolled in a beginners’ adult education French class after going over to France with her motorcycle club and feeling embarrassed at her lack of language skills. Her tutor pointed her to Friends Abroad, an online penfriends website and within an hour of creating her profile she had over 100 friend requests. Sue now corresponds with many of them by email or IM on a regular basis.

“They help me with my French, I help with their English. I write to them in French, they correct it and reply in English and I correct it. Nobody is the student, nobody is the teacher. The internet is my main form of learning now as it’s something I can do any time I want. If I can’t sleep at 2am I can go down and switch on the computer and do my learning in my jimjams.”

Read more

Demo: Web2practice

Netskills wants your help with its Web2practice guides. The guides are aimed at new users who are thinking about using Web 2.0 tools and, says Steve Boneham of Netskills, they will be partly based on other people’s experience and practice with things like blogging, podcasting, social media and RSS.

Netskills are asking everyone who has used Web 2.0 tools to fill out its online survey at http://twurl.cc/ebb

The survey will provide Netskills with information, soundbites and quotes about usage. “The more we get coming in, the more we can do with it,” evangelised Steve.

Thank you and close: Dr Malcolm Read

Malcolm closed the conference by saying thank you to all the speakers, breakout session leaders and the 780 people who attended. He asked that everyone fill in the online evaluation form, and said that comments would affect what happened at next year’s conference.

The JISC 2010 conference will be held on 13 April, in London at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre.

Session: Moving from print to digital: E-Theses highlight the issues

There’s nothing like handing out free gadgets to warm up a crowd – and the nifty pens with hidden USB drives from Electronic Theses Online Service (EThOS) certainly set the mood for this session about electronic data.

Owen Stephens from Imperial College chaired the session, beginning with an introduction about how electronic versions of PhD theses widen access and improve the dissemination of new research. Stephens explained that the topic of e-theses would be examined from three perspectives: the international level, the national level and the institutional level. Read more

Delegate interview: Mike Jackson, University of Edinburgh

It’s the end of the day and most people are keen to get away, but I manage to find someone who has time to chat about their experiences today: self-confessed ‘local boy’ Mike Jackson from EPCC at the University of Edinburgh.

Mike was here today to give a demonstration of LAQUAT, an engaged funded project to do with linking epigraphic datasets with the arts and humanities. “The demonstration went very well,” says Jackson. “We had some feedback from members who attended, and that was positive. I’ll be taking back the feedback we received on how we can improve our demonstration and presentation in future for various sorts of audiences who are not all technically minded like we are.”

Jackson thought the morning’s keynotes were particularly interesting, but he didn’t have the chance to attend any of the sessions or talks: “I admit I was preparing my demonstration!” he says, laughing.

Delegate interview: Keith Smyth, Napier University

During the afternoon coffee break, I spoke to Keith, a lecturer in higher education, running an MSc in blended learning for those who want to learn about technology and use it in their own teaching.

“I was looking for maybe some ideas and an opportunity to look around the stalls and see what projects and developments are around, and some food for thought. None have particularly caught my eye, but in a positive way – I’ve really enjoyed looking at all of them!” he said.

“I went to the session on online identity, which was really useful at helping you think about how we present ourselves online and how other people can misinterpret what we do online,” he said. “I also went to the session on student experiences and the gap between those and institutional provision.”

When he’s back in the office, he’ll be taking with him a more focused mindset on the issue of student expectation and experience. “What today’s underlined for me is just how much more we need to understand about the student experience and how we should change our own practice to accommodate that.”

Delegate interview: Karen Lawson, Stevenson College, Edinburgh

As everyone piled into the exhibitor hall to get their afternoon coffee jag, I spoke to Karen Lawson to find out what she thought of the day so far.

“I’m a teacher fellow of the college, so I’ve got responsibility for developing teaching and learning and the use of technology in pedagogy across the board.  I was looking for some ideas around social networking tools, what research is saying about how learners use technology in particular, and how institutions can think about how they respond to that,” she said.

“I found all the sessions I’ve been to incredibly useful, with a lot of the same issues coming up from many institutions,” she explained. “I was just at Mind The Gap, looking at the differences between the institution and the learner, and there were many similarities with the digital divide within institutions.  I was looking this morning at the learner experience, and that was incredibly useful – again, the same issues coming up, people don’t have the time to get themselves knowledgeable on technology, the technology students are using.”

When she gets back to work, she’s got lots of ideas. “I think we’ll be developing a strategy on taking forward technology in a meaningful way – getting learners more involved in voicing what they would like and thinking about how we can support and develop staff to use technology that’s useful to them.  It’s a tool, it shouldn’t lead the learning, but how does that actually connect with the learners’ choices and experiences?”

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