Library – Gamebox – Hub.

The library-gamebox-hub

My girls and I attended the opening of the Goethe Institut’s newly refurbished Library – Gamebox – Hub last Saturday (29 July). The space is as beautiful as it ever was with books, magazines, films, music and children’s literature in different languages. But as the name implies, the existing library has two new additions.

The first is a “Gamebox” This room allows visitors to try out the latest from the world of video games. Currently seven computer games that won a gaming prize in Germany, as well as a variety of gaming consoles, an ultra-high definition screen and Virtual Reality equipment are available. I tried the VR set and chose a shark attack experience that put me inside a shark cage with beautiful sea creatures swimming around and also a rather scary bar biting bit

The second major addition is the ‘hot desk’ hub. Situated above the issue desk and offices, on a gallery, this area has eight fully equipped workplaces for creative entrepreneurs, who are working on tech-driven creative start-ups, to work in. Until 31 August, interested individuals and collectives can apply to move into the hub for a defined period of six months. Applications for the hub can be handed in on Deadline is 31 August 2017.

My girls and I enjoyed the opening. This refurbishment is impressive. The library has been augmented.  None of the reading and information resources have been replaced. But a clever re-arrangement of structures and better use of space has introduced the new opportunities that patrons can take advantage of when visiting the Goethe library. We are looking forward to popping in again.

Our first mLiteracy Workshop

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Last week, I spent two days on the east rand, working with Ekurhuleni librarians and running a pilot workshop about mliteracy. We set out to explore the combination of free WiFi and mobile devices. We wanted librarians to become comfortable with these two technologies in a library setting. Our focus was on accessing early reading materials. We wanted to show them how digtitized and freely available story reading materials could be accessed via mobile devices.

Working alongside this group of people was very satisfying. They were very interested in using mobile devices within their libraries. Participants seemed to enjoy the experience. Comments about the workshop included “I’ve learned a lot of things I didn’t even know about”; “the Workshop was excellent”, “liked the informal and fun way the workshop was presented” and “this workshop should be done regularly to keep us updated.”

The workshop was about introducing early reading resources that social publishers are producing. We addressed the variety of issues associated with using using mobile devices in a library setting. A large part of the programme was focused on making librarians comfortable with change. While many welcome the introduction of new technologies into a library, there are some who are wary of the unintended consequences of a mobile friendly library space.

The workshop was designed to allow space for questions, opinion and doubt. Activities like “Emoji Tracker Cards” – an ongoing feedback exercise that offered participants to express their reactions,  “Hopes and Fears” – a process of articulating both positive and negative sentiments about technology and “Shades of opinions” – a set of opinions about changes in the library, allowed participants the opportunity to become comfortable with each other and the workshop programme*.

The workshop was a pilot. I’m hoping that senior management within library services will see the value in it and offer #mLiteracy learning opportunities to more librarians. If you are interested in keeping up with the project, please mail me at mlit3racy at gmail dot com, and I’ll put you on our mailing list. If you are interested in attending, please apply.


*A participants workbook will be available to all participants.

My sister-in-law and an ed tech qualification

ed tech graduate

Looking for an ed tech qualification.

My sister-in-law asked me to recommend a few post-graduate ed tech programmes. She’s in publishing, a director of a department that straddles continents, has over 20 years of solid educational experience and lives in Cape Town. Seeking to extend her education expertise in a digital direction, she asked me for advice.

Many South Africans are doing interesting things within the digital and education space. I try to keep up-to-date with their efforts via their Tweets, blog posts, Facebook entries, conference presentations and papers. I find myself inspired by their practices, thoughts and innovations. But when it comes to tertiary ed-tech courses, I hit a blank wall.

I posted a request for assistance about ed-tech options on the Learning, Facilitation & Technology Facebook page and many replied (thanks particularly to Gerrit). Much as I thought, there are local universities that offer post graduate courses options that pertain to ed tech. Here are a few of their official pages on their university websites.

On a computer education course, there must (I assume) be online learning activities that pertain to the creation, use and re-purposing of  educational resources. Or there would be students reflecting on their own teaching practices or responding to fellow students. I don’t know. I can’t really see whats going on, check out their digital activities or examine student or recent graduates work.

Many colleagues and peers are involved in these courses. But I can’t make an informed comment about the suitability of a course because they are closed.  I’m not so bold to suggest what should go into their various courses or insist on complete open education practice. But I do think that student learning will be enriched if they are encouraged to engage with other parties beyond a course and reflect in open spaces to the challenges that they have encountered. Ed tech pedagogies and practices become better when you know that others are looking. Open courses inspire, they encourage others to experiment and innovate. Open courses also allow students / graduates to be connected with established professionals and lurk/contribute towards a COP. Post graduate ed techies should be encouraged to walk their talk and adopt elements of the read/write web to “deliver” and “share” their digital education experience.

Multimedia. Cognitive tools. Online assessment. Post graduate ed tech courses offers scope for learning by doing. Creation, collaboration, reflection. It’s probably happening within some of the course modules. A computer based course makes it possible for you to show others that you can use computers and do new things (or innovate). But you do have to be brave enough to do this out in the open. Good ed tech programmes and courses need to be more open and be brave enough to accept some scrutiny.  Ideally, I would like to see students responses, reflections, demonstrations etc. appear in a domain of ones own or an eportfolio. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Lectures, create a course hashtag, open up an embedded YouTube page or encourage students to create a curated set of resources. I’m not asking for complete access all the time. But it would be nice to see a little more than I can see at present.

I emailed my sister-in-law a few local links to programmes. I also sent her a few international leads. She connected with graduates from an international course, she checked out their work, liked what she observed, saw that it could meet her needs and enrolled in a course. Without open pedagogies and open practices here in South African courses, ed techies (like myself) remain fairly clueless and unable to sign up or recommend programmes that will meet their (and their sister-in-laws) ed tech professional development needs. It’s time for ed tech courses to become a bit more open.

Shades of Opinion

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Free Wi-Fi is no longer a novelty. Across South Africa it’s becoming easier to turn off your data in restaurants, malls, banks and petrol stations. Local governments in Gauteng still remain the most generous provider.  At 300 MB of free data per day, a committed data guzzler can save 9GB worth of data bundles every month.

In libraries, the “no phone signs” are disappearing as many realize that the combination of Wi-Fi and mobile phones are attracting new patrons. Greater visitor numbers are not the only benefit. Members of library communities, equipped with their own feature or smart phone, can learn how to make productive use of information. Many librarians recognize the need to support their local communities technology aspirations. Access to data also offers a library community a new opportunity to develop digital capacity and a route to digital inclusion.

E-books on mobile devices can be positioned as a threat to reading. My perspective is that the two compliment each other. They enable a digital reading experience. Over the last year (with generous support from the Goethe Institut), I’ve been working on a programme to enable librarians become more comfortable with working in a data rich and phone friendly library. Together, we are asking how librarians and their patrons can they take advantage of a data surplus and their own mobile devices to access e-books, audio-books, newspapers, social publishing projects and other forms of digital information.

To stimulate discussion around the changing roles of librarians and to unpack how a library user feels about these changes in a library, I’ve created a collection of cards called “shades of opinion”. Numbered 1 to 10, each card highlights a common opinion about change in a Gauteng library.  The cards offer a librarian the opportunity to gauge their colleagues or library patrons opinions. The “shades of opinion” cards can be used as the basis for engagement or discussion. There’s no right or wrong answer. If you want to take this conversation online, please do, The cards are also available on Instagram. I’d be interested to hear what the various responses are.

Free Wi-Fi in libraries , in conjunction with various local content initiatives, offer a librarian a golden opportunity to work in partnership with a ubiquitous tech – the mobile phone. Check out our #mliteracy hashtag. You’ll soon be hearing much more about this topic.

Book Dash Jozi

Book Dash aims to gather creative teams together to write, illustrate, edit and produce a children’s story, in 12 hours. These stories are licensed as creative commons works, which means that anyone can print and distribute these beautiful children’s books, for free. The intention is that the books get into the hands of those who need to access reading materials, but can’t afford to buy a children’s book.

What was I doing there? I can’t claim any great story-making skills, but I can do a bit of stuff with computers, so I got to be the tech director and made sure that scanners, printers, Wi-Fi, power and other technologies worked as they should of. Producing a book is not for the faint of heart. There were many exhausted illustrators at the end of the day. I think that they’ve almost recovered from this book creation sprint – or was it a marathon? Whatever! All enjoyed the day thoroughly. To let you get a sense of the event, I’ve created a Bookdash Storify as a record of the day.

10 Red Flags: Things to know before you go…

red flags

Warning: Consider the following 10 flags before climbing up the ed tech ladder

Some advice from below to my ed techie friends above. Career climbing involves risky routes. Without clear boundaries, an unending 24/7 passage awaits the enthusiastic networked sherpa. The online world, with all its advantages, has little respect for the traditional pathways that once characterized the standard 9-5 job.

Watch where you place your feet. Before moving anywhere, inspect the stability of the ground. In this any-time any-place world, make sure that you know the up and coming terrain. Slipping unexpectedly where the tread is uneven or unsure can be sore. Be aware. Read the warning signs. Notice the red flags before you press on upwards and apply for a new position.

The flags relate particularly to eLearning positions in an academic environment. But they might apply elsewhere. Before you fill in that application form, ask yourself these 5 questions.

  • Flag 1: Why is the position vacant?
    How long was the previous incumbent in the advertised position? Are other potential colleagues in acting positions? How long has senior management been there? Have there been unexpected departures or a high staff turnover?
  • Flag 2: Are you going to be working for a boss?
    Bureaucrat, boss or leader? Does the head of the academic unit have any credibility among his/her academic peers? What does his/her academic profile look like? Have you spotted his/her digital footprints? Don’t be confused by his/her electronic puffery. Expect at least a national leader with peer recognition and academic substance.
  • Flag 3: Does the institution understand their users?
    What’s it like from the bottom up? Pretend to be a student who has lost a password. Phone the helpdesk with a query. See how they respond. Find out what the LMS is called. Then search for mentions on Twitter. Look for support materials authored by the unit. Are there genuine attempts to communicate urgent information to all students, academics, support etc?
  • Flag 4: Does the unit make regular attempts to communicate with their stakeholders
    How transparent is the unit/department? Website? Social Media Account? What’s the balance between marketing and communication content? Any recent collaborations within the institution or beyond? Do they disclose any details or are they just releasing press statements?
  • Flag 5: Do the people that work there make attempts to reflect and research their practice?
    Can you find blog posts, academic policies, peer reviewed journal articles or conference paper pertaining to the unit’s focus? Check out the advert again. What’s the job focus? Combine the focus with the institution’s name on Google scholar. Any papers? Any substance? If they are thinking and researching their work, then they’ll be sharing it with others and glad to share with you.

My listicle consists of 10 red flags. The first five (see above) are for ed techies to consider before they take the job. And the second five (to be added later) are intended for shortlisted ed techies, considering whether they should move on up and accept the job offer.

Next five flags will follow

Bingo 2.0

Bingo - 2.0

“Bingo 2.0” is a great icebreaker activity

You’ve probably heard about the game Bingo. It’s a popular game of chance. The format is simple. A host hands out a set of printed cards, each with a square grid. Every card has random numbers printed in each square of the grid. The host then draws a number from a hat, announces it to all playing participants and if players have a corresponding number on their own grid, they mark off that matching square. This process is repeated until one lucky participant has completed a row (vertical, horizontal or diagonal) of squares on their card. With their clutch of lined random numbers, they then shout BINGO.

I’ve taken the Bingo format, and updated it for the web. I’ve removed “chance” from the game and replaced it with a grid of skills. Each participant receives the same bingo card that contains a grid of instructions or tasks. Participants read the various tasks on their cards and select certain which ones to complete. As in Bingo 1.0, the aim is for participants to fill up a line of marked tasks on their own grid. Once the skilled and quick participant has filled their row of squares on their bingo cards, they then shout BINGO.

Here are a selection of Bingo 2.0 cards that I have created.

  • Digital Footprint Bingo – intended to encourage participants to explore each other’s online presence. Good for digital literacies.
  • LMS Bingo – intended for students to show each other what they can do on the LMS. A more active way to orientate students to the LMS
  • Mobile Bingo – intended for participants who own smartphones, but are not aware of all its functionalities. Good for mobile or BYOD focused events.

These “Bingo 2.0” style activities make good workshop ice-breakers. They encourage participants to get out their huddles or comfortable zones, mingle and explore a topic that will be covered and offer the workshop facilitator informal feedback about the skills levels of participants.

You are most welcome to use them, improve and adapt them. I’d be interested to hear about how well they worked.

Predatory Conferences. Caveat Empor.

Is this a dodgy conference?

The “good deal” offered by a good conference is being sullied by predator conference companies. These conference companies have no recognised expertise in the field, have no mandate from an academic or professional body and have profit as their motivation. They are akin to scavengers , preying on inexperienced pups, not sure who to turn to, what questions to ask, or know how to frame the unknowns.

Within my field (education technology), I’ve developed a checklist that offers a spectrum of 10 questions, designed to help me determine whether the conference is a predatory event. I use it to evaluate the invitations I receive. The checklist does not make any blanket rules. Some legitimate events might even tick some of the boxes. They might be well-arranged, organised by respected people with an appropriate background. I am grateful to them for their hard work. The checklist is simply a range of red flags for me to use. You might find it helpful.

  1. Is there a conference chair? What connections do they have to academia, the ICT industry or education technology?
  2. Are the listed speakers reputable experts. Check their profile on Twitter and use Twitteraudit.com to see if their followers are fake or real
  3. Do the advertised speakers know about the programme? Contact a few and ask them whether they know about the event and if their attendance is confirmed.
  4. If this is the 3rd, 4th or 5th event, then use Google to locate the previous years conference brochure. Does the programme from the previous year have the same speakers talking about the same topics?
  5. Does the PDF attached to the invitation email have the initials or a name associated with the consultant who contacted you about the conference. For example, 3rd-international-jp. This name/initial is probably the sales representative, working on a commission basis.
  6. Check on LinkedIn. Does the LinkedIn profile of the person sending out the conference invite have any connections to the field they are promoting? Do the conference organizers have a reputable LinkedIn profile?
  7. Does the organisation associated with the conference have a website, does the website mention the conference? Follow up on links. Where do they take you?
  8. Is the layout and design of the programme a little patchy, amateur or contradictory. Google the first paragraph. Has the text been plagiarised? Read the programme. Are there obvious errors.
  9.  What indexing and storage service does the conference offer for the previous year’s presentations?
  10. Finally, are the terms and conditions associated with the conference fair?
    • Does the organiser reserve the right to change the venue?
    • Does the organiser reserve the right to change speaker/facilitator?
    • Does the organiser reserve the right to change programme content?
    • Does the organiser offer refunds, or do they offer a credit voucher?
    • Is the conference fee realistic? Do you believe that you will get value for your money?

This is my list. You are welcome to use it. For ed techies (and other professionals within this field), if you are going to participate in a conference, then  these events need to be arranged by people with a history. Speakers should have a critical/informed position on the subject, not just an impressive title. Presentations should be shared freely afterwards with those who were not able to make it.

Don’t get involved in predatory conferences,  they do not deliver the value they promise. These “dodgy” and opportunistic operators out there are bogus. They are sometimes difficult to spot. Don’t feed their growth. Check the quality and suitability of their “goods” before spending a lot of money on an inflated fee.  Let the conference attendee and speaker beware.