Festival of Learning and Teaching

serious_play

Last year we had a conference, this year it was a three day festival, run by our colleagues in Academic Development with support from ourselves in Web and Learning Technology Services. We are too cool to be involved in the main festival itself, so we had a fringe which included a Twitter treasure hunt, a stall where we enticed people in with fun stuff on the Oculus Rift and then hawked our services to them when they were captive, as well as providing live streaming of the keynotes from each day and the closing ceremony.

I was proud of the treasure hunt we put on, I thought it was very well thought out with some fun tasks for people which made them engage with our service, Tweet a selfie with a member of Academic Development for example (which we kept secret from them!), but there was little uptake unfortunately, which I think can be put down to the relatively low numbers and insularity of an internal conference. Our stall which was strategically positioned outside key sessions was more successful, attracting a decent number of people and even allowing me to connect with someone who has a project ripe for further development in virtual reality.

In spite of running various things in the background, I was still able to attend a number of sessions over the three days:

Lego Serious Play
Serious Play is an innovative and creative way to facilitate discussion about a typically difficult or abstract topic. In keeping with the theme of the conference, our discussion was focused around what it means to be a student. The foreground model shown in the photo above is a reflection on my experience as a student, thinking back to where I started from. I’m the skeleton, symbolising my lack of knowledge, and I’m leaning back slightly from an overwhelming fear of the daunting barriers in front of me – including a Stormtrooper boss level (my dissertation!) – before I can reach my goal of enlightenment and joining the educated and the successful.

Cultural Diversity and Effective Teaching
A discussion and workshop on the many meanings behind the word ‘internationalisation’, led by external guest Dr. Marita Grimwood, an educational developer. This was the keynote from day 2, and not a session I was originally attending, but due to a last minute room change we were unable to live stream this session, so I improvised a recording solution using my iMac instead of running the WaLTS stall. After the event I edited the recordings, inserted her slides as an overlay at appropriate points and then posted the resulting video to our streaming media server.

Showcasing Learning and Teaching in Arts and Design
A series of short ten minute sessions from various members of departmental staff who discussed approaches to learning and teaching in their area. This was a really interesting talk as it made me realise how many great art events are happening in and around the city of Sunderland, and how deeply involved the university is in almost all of it. A particular highlight was the session from the National Glass Centre who talked about the experience of an off campus event where students had to work with very limited resources and no access to their usual tools.

Spectral Visions Press: Engaging Students Through a ‘Real Work’ Environment
Spectral Visions is product of the university’s English and Creative Writing programmes which aims to give students real hands-on experience with all aspects of writing and publishing. In additional to the blog and a number of student-led projects, Spectral Visions Press has also now published two volumes of work which are available from Amazon – Grim Fairy Tales and The Collection: Volume 1.

Student-Generated Induction
The keynote session from day 3 was delivered by Nick Bowskill who has developed the Shared Thinking Consultancy, an off-shoot of his doctoral research at the University of Glasgow which was designed to improve student induction processes based on social psychology theory and practice.

Zapier Demonstration

Had a demonstration of Zapier today from a Pearson rep from their developers network. Zapier is a service that allows web services from different platforms to talk to each other, but in a very simple visual manner – no programming skills required. So, for example, you could set a new direct message alert from Twitter (the trigger) to send you an email to your Gmail account (the action). Triggers and actions can be chained together to create complex sets of actions. You could add a second part to my example which adds an entry to a Google Sheets spreadsheet from the Twitter DM as well for example. The possibilities are huge, and every modern web service you can probably think of is available on Zapier.

If this sounds like If This Then That that’s because it is pretty much the same, though Zapier claims to have more integrations available. Why Zapier then? Because Pearson have chosen Zapier to experiment with by linking up the web services which are available from LearningStudio to Zapier. You won’t find that advertised on Zapier though, as they are set to private at the moment, but we will be able to use them and can send them on to others. We could, for example, create a ‘Zap’ that sends an email whenever a new announcement is posted in a course site. We’re still waiting for full details of what the 17 triggers are, and there are no actions, so unfortunately this is going to be a one way thing; no possibility of setting a Facebook post to be pushed into a discussion board thread for example.

The Slow Death of Twitter?

There have been a few times recently when I’ve found myself conscious of the fact that I rarely use Twitter these days, often coupled with resolutions to tweet more. Then today when I wanted to tweet something about a problem I was having in El Capitan I fired up the app and this is what I got:

  • 1 Tweet
  • A ‘Suggested apps’ panel which filled most of the screen
  • The ‘While you were away…’ section with 5 tweets of dubious interest
  • 2 Tweets
  • The ‘Who to follow’ section with three bad suggestions
  • Then my actual Twitter feed proper.

Then I realised part of the reason why I’ve moved away from Twitter.

Coincidently I stumbled on this article in the Guardian about Twitter’s woes during my lunch break. It has given me an idea though, with a drastic trim of the accounts I’m following perhaps it could become more useful and relevant again.

SoDash Demonstration

Now that WaLTS are on Twitter, we found out on the grapevine that the University’s Marketing department had a tool called SoDash for collating all of our various accounts across different departments and social media outlets. We asked for a demonstration to see how it could be of use to us and this session was the result.

SoDash collates both incoming and outgoing social media activity on Twitter, FaceBook, Linkedin, YouTube and Instagram. The ability to include Google+ was mentioned too, but I didn’t see it in any of the dashboard and it’s dying anyway. SoDash has some really useful functionality such as the ability to tag and add notes to posts and people, create live activity dashboards, and most useful for us it can do wide-ranging searches for keywords to help catch posts which are for our attention but which don’t mention our handles directly. Many students won’t necessarily know ‘Web and Learning Technology Services’, or ‘UoS_WaLTS’, but they will tweet about SunSpace and My Sunderland problems which we may miss.

http://www.soda.sh/

WaLTS on Twitter

One pithy definition of madness is that it is the act of repeating the same action over and over and expecting different results. So it was that back in April I was asked to create a Twitter account for the team which, having done so, was promptly ignored and left to languish. To this day all six glorious tweets from that account were made by your humble author. Today, or rather spread over the past couple of days as a ‘bitty’ job, I have resurrected the old ‘LDS’* Twitter account and renamed, revamped and brought it back into use.

So, am I mad? My intention behind this is to have a more informal avenue of communication between the team and our customers, but to be a success it will require active engagement and relevant content. UoS_WaLTS has one thing going for it that NorthumbriaTEL didn’t: me, enthusiastic and not going anywhere anytime soon this time.

Another little job I’ve been doing for similar reasons of engagement is improving the announcements page on SunSpace, which was just dull black on white text, trying to make it look nice and keeping the content current so that it isn’t reduced to just annoying wallpaper which people scroll over to get to their courses, to which end I have also embedded a widget for our Twitter feed into the announcements for all users section.

* Learning Development Services, the old name for my team before merging with Web Services.

https://twitter.com/UoS_WaLTS

Twitter Account

Today I created a Twitter account for the team and styled the pages in line with the University’s new corporate blue and orange style. I got the ball rolling by posting some tweets, following some interesting TEL people and companies we have relationships with, and created a couple of widgets to post our tweets and a list into a Blackboard course site, just as a proof of concept really, to demonstrate that it can be done and looks pretty. In due course the idea is to have a public organisation for the team where we will have a blog and news, and a page for our Twitter feeds.

https://twitter.com/NorthumbriaTEL