Plans for Open Access Week at Wits

Denise Nicholason and I have been working together to create a programme to celebrate Open Access week (18 – 22 October) here at Wits University, with a series of lunchtime seminars promoting openness – including Open Access, Open Educational Resources (OER), Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) and Open Data.

The seminars include the following themes:

18 Oct –  Openness – the key to creating a culture of innovation at Wits
19 Oct  – Publishing Smart – Tools that maximize scholarly impact
20 Oct  – Open Education  –  Openness and educational resources
21 Oct  – The Right to Research – an activists guide to Open Access
22 Oct  – What are you doing about Open Access?

Presentations and discussions will take place during the lunch hour and will be aimed at raising awareness about the concept of openness.

  • We want to promote participation in a local, national and international communities of practice that share an open attitude
  • We also want to help local academics and students here at Wits to realise that they can make open choices when publishing research, creating or using digital media.
  • We want to give participants the opportunity to familiarise themselves with a range of teaching techniques often associated with open resources (podcasts, blogs, web video etc).

If you want to show case some  open initiatives here at WITS please notify me and we’ll be very happy to demonstrate your project, research or work.

How do you do

For me it started with a diagram. After a decades worth of dulling down, the horizons of my educational web landscape suddenly broadened with Scott Wilsons’ Future VLE illustration. While I struggled to understand the ramifications of this shift from the funnel model for my teaching, I saw in these diagrams,  the possibility of re-creating a new owned but distributed space where we were all learner, encouraged to take responsibility for the configuration and direction.

After starting my blog, creating my image gallery, selecting my bookmarks etc … I posted and collected and started to wonder if this was what learning was.  While my online environment stopped being centralized, my learning remained solitary and much like the zen question about hearing trees falling in forests, I started wondering if I posted on my latest web 2.0 platform nobody read it, would it exist?

At the end of 2008, while attempting to put a PGCE course, I stumbled upon Alec Couros blog and his research and teaching materials from University of Regina. Here he demonstrated the PLE in action, but linked it strongly with networked communities, participation and collaboration. Excited about this idea, I reactivated my Twitter account and started building a network.   Steve Wheeler (aka @timbuckteeth) helped me gel the two concepts together and articulated the Personal Space concept and I was lucky enough to be able to engage with him and Alec, who both walked their talk and connected with me as I took my time about putting the concepts together.

Now, I’m trying out my learning paramaters and have joined George Siemens, Stephen Downes et al at #PLENK2010. This is my attempt to say hello to fellow learners. Look forward to learning together

Supporting learning in unexpected spaces.


I’m in the business of assisting academics and teachers to electronically develop their courses. I work alongside them and systematically we design learning experiences. The ideas that I tout are often responsible for reshaping or traversing classroom walls. By installing new technologies into existing classrooms or introducing new virtual environments, I may be transforming traditional teaching practices. While it’s unlikely that any of my technological interventions will cause the university to dispense with the traditional classroom, it is likely that my work will allow academics and students to better engage with each other in the educational process.

Recently we’ve been asked to give some thought to the development of a new learning space (see the photo). While researching the possibilities I’ve wondered whether we are missing a large learning opportunity. All of our attention is focused on real and virtual classrooms and we often neglect the space between the lecture theater and the LMS. Attention, I think, needs to be given to unacknowledged learning and teaching places. Around the water cooler, between computer terminals, seated in the cafetaria, texting on mobile phones, waiting on strategically placed benches, posted on signboards, relaxing in a residence hall etc. If we claim to know how people learn and have ideas on how to help them learn better, then we should also be investigating the interesting and unexpected situations that students and faculty lurk around in. Learning designers need to think between the corridors and computers, and ask how can these spaces be used to support learning.

When data projectors were installed in classrooms, these new fangled slide projector re-framed the way that visual information (a graph, chart, diagram, poster etc) was accessed and distributed. A teacher with a data projector did not need to find in a book, photocopy the diagram and distribute it to the class. At a mouse click, the educator could open a series of images that illustrated the concept and immediately project those image for students. Students were then at liberty to retrieve the illustration, electronically.
Or when journals stopped being printed and distributed digitally, librarians found (for the first time) that they didn’t need to find more shelf space. Their users were now needing space and place to discover information resources, engage in peer to peer learning and explore new ideas within networked group. Libraries responded by creating Information Commons, where students and faculty can make sense of what they were reading.
Before learning went virtual, a teacher’s had to hand around a class register and match submitted assignments to student numbers to ensure lecture attendance and assignment submission. Now the grade book within the LMS automatically performs this function.

When technologies were introduced in a classroom or library or the virtual classroom, new functionalities were acquired and traditional practices were reshaped. Now, as it becomes the norm for students to own their mobile, wireless, connected computing devices and for the university to offer wireless access, we must ask, what new functionalities will be a result of this these technological innovations

The first implication is that real time communication between students and faculty will be possible. Where discussions and clarification took place either in the lecture / tutorial / virtual room, teachers and students that use networked digital devices can conduct their teaching and learning seamlessly across both physical and virtual spaces, synchronously and asynchronously.

A second implication is that we may come to re-appreciate the importance of ‘physical situatedness’ for community and collaboration. Although the concept of an alternate constantly connected virtual learning space has gained some traction, the novelty value of being online is wearing thin. Students will always want to explore new learning opportunities that lie beyond the confines of the physical classroom. But the don’t necessarily want to do it behind a computer.

The third implication is that learning designers also need to find a way to support the creation of informal learning space between the virtual world and the classroom place.

Computer networks may have opened the world’s knowledge bases, enhanced our storage capacity and granted unexpected access to scholars and their work. The scope of data, information and expertise available will however not by itself enrich our learning landscapes. Neither will new real time functionalities within available technologies necessarily make a big difference to practice. Although it may be possible for questions about content to be posed within the lecture theatre, within the virtual learning environment or between these spaces, the instructional designer needs to insert themselves into the places where these clarifications questions are being made. Once we understand what’s happening there, then we may discover interesting ways to support students learning in these inbetween spaces. This information can help focus our planning discussions as we decide how to go about designing new spaces that can support the curriculum.

If universities are only seeing the installations of wireless access and static free carpets as another round of technological interventions, we won’t be able to assist teachers teach and students learn best in the inbetween places. If our attention is focused only between the real and virtual classrooms then it’s likely that we’ll fail in our attempt to use these new spaces constructively. Learning designers have used the functionalities of emerging technology to create new practices in the classroom, in libraries and the virtual world. We also need to articulate a vision for real time networked technologies that works in tandem to support our institutions overall teaching and learning objectives. Yes, focus on the virtual and face to face classrooms but don’t forget about the inbetween spaces and ask how you can support students freedom to engage in self-directed and independent learning outside the formally planned and tutor-directed activities.

New Learning Spaces

Mobile phones are transforming the way the world connects. Over 4 billion people have mobile cellular subscriptions, 450 million of these users have access to the mobile Web. Facebook (as of July 2010), has officially admitted that it has has a staggering 500 million plus  members, each with an average of 130 friends. 150 million of Facebook’s active users choose to access the site via their mobile phones (and confirm the suspicion that mobile web users tend to be twice as active on their mobiles as their tethered counterparts).  Globally, individuals are connecting to each other and  data in startling new way and places. Morgan Staley (p22) argue that Five trends are converging

  1. 3G +
  2. Social Networking +
  3. Video +
  4. VoIP +
  5. Impressive Mobile Devices

In our first colloquium,  I have suggested that ELSI invite a panel of academics to talk about their research on the effects, if any, of these new connected spaces, on teaching and learning, students and their lecturers and the way that we are being educated. To echo Michael Wesch “ a new communication paradigm is being constructed through community interaction and participation, which enables the formation of loosely connected groups with relative ease.”  I would, however, like to give the colloquium a local demonstration of  the “networked communications ” and ask you to use any combination of the five trends to comment on how these connected spaces are transforming your teaching and learning.

Unleashing Student’s Inner DJ

VOW is about to be relaunched

Joburg has about 40 community radio stations, and on Monday 12 July, another station is going to be added to the eclectic sound mix that keeps our Jozi airwaves jam packed. The VOW (Voice of Wits) is about to return to campus after a long absence. Its launch has been timed to coincide with the return of student to ‘varsity.

Strangely, for a set of an aspiring DJ’s, the launch from the ninth floor of University Corner will pretty subdued. Mike Smurthwaite, the Station Manager, has had his hands full turning a derelict office space into a funky top notch studio. Things are underground at the moment. Marketing budgets are limited. His main task is to identify student talent, and so aspiring voice artists (preferably with a thick skin) can either project their voice around Braamfontein & Melville.

If you do tune in, programming may be a bit raw or rough at times. Remember, it is a student radio station. Neither can Mike guarantee smooth dulcet tones. Dead air, crashed lyrics and other duff ups are likely as another aspiring disc jockey realizes that fame and fortune are more likely if they pay attention to their studies. But, if you are willing to risk authentic and energetic radio, turn your dial in their direction. You’ll find them at 90.5 FM.

Generating ambient intimacy


Maybe it sounds a bit too touchy feely, but I’ve been thinking more and more that there’s a need for a place in an educational setting where there are opportunities for students and faculty to create a feeling of connectedness, a spot for sharing and belonging.

The hyper public world has created such places. Intimate strangers from diverse backgrounds and locations are frequently (and cosily) talking to each other on a variety of platforms about their life experiences without the normal time and space constraints that come with direct engagement or interaction.

In University courses, many VLE’s offer tools (blogs, chat, forums etc) , that could create feelings of connection and interaction between students. From what I’ve seen, such engagement is rare. Distributed and personal relationships seem to develop, not because of the tools but because people have elected to “expose more surface area” and add their everyday facts, places, comments, feelings, significant others, etc to their own micro-blogs, social networking sites, media sharing sites. Connections have happened because people have wanted to develop “an understanding of the activities of others, which provides a context for your own activity”. A sense of awareness of the presence of an interaction partner is what creates “ambient intimacy”  – Leisa Reichelt

Students could start to feel connected when the medium that they are using allows its users interpersonal interactions. Conversely, class members feel isolated and group dynamics suffer when social connections are not encouraged. Social (co)-presence is explored more formally by Short, Williams and Christie in their book, The Social Psychology of Telecommunications. Although I have not got access to their book, Steve Wheeler and Ruth Rettie’s research have helped me understand that social presence essentilly the ability to project yourself via another medium” (Justin M. Bonzo describes Ruth’s work better than I can). Essentially social presence is a process by which person comes to know and think about other persons, their characteristics, qualities and inner states. Increased social presence leads to a better person perception. Within education, this capacity to be “real” has become a significant factor for creating a sense of community within a course.

Getting back to the point. My original intention behind this post is to get my collegues to start to think about their social presence. While I’m not sure how you start making people aware of the possible presence of an interaction partner, I thought that this exercise for social workers by Barry Cooper & Maggie Pickering from the PPBL PIVOT Project from the Open University had possibilities and I have adapted it so that they may start thinking about developing their professional identity. If you are interested, please take a look at The Commemorative Trophy for Amazing Knowledge Work. As always, comments would be appreciated.

Where in the world is Witsy

This weekend, I thought I’d entertain myself with telling my weekends story to ..umm… well to myself. You know the the theory – location based social networking allows you to share your real-time location with those in your network. And since it’s geting harder and harder to stay disconnected, I decided to take out my new mobile phone, installed Google Maps, and Geolocate myself during my explorations to the Constitutional Court, a booklaunch of Inside Joburg by Nechama Brodie at the Boekehuis bookstore and a short little visit to O.R. Tambo Airport to pick up tickets. While the recent launch of Google streetview has prompted concerns about privacy, I ignored the issues and mapped my location using the phone’s GPS system, took photos with the 2 mega pixel camera and uploaded comments about the location and image to Buzz.

Geolocation is certainly not exclusive to Google.  Foursquare, an application that combines city-guides and social networking, has turned location based social networking into a game. Repeated users of Foursquare get rewards for doing interesting things. They earn points  by checking in at their current location, discovering new places and sharing tips. Those that make repeated use of the service earn badges and if you’ve been to a place more than anyone else, you’ll be crowned the “The Mayor” of that place.

I’ve been looking at how we can use mobile phones to introduce new students into knowledge resources on campus (the library, the LAN) and encourage them to  make this corner of Jozi their new home. After my weekends solitary fun, I am looking at the possibilities of using Foursquare to help new students to explore their campus, its facilities and surrounding places of interest. The idea, I’m afraid, is not mine. Kyle James introduces the concept,  Harvard has included this platform along with Twitter and Facebook, Indiana University Library is exploring foursquare in certain weeks. Since its launch, Foursquare has accumulated over 1 Million users in one year (Twitter took 2 years to this reach this point ). While orientation my be our initial intention, an interconnected community of people, ideas, and experiences could result if the students take to the concept. Sounds like a bit more fun than my solidary weekend with my phone for company.

My first week in Jozi

Welcome to Wits

With the sound of afternoon traffic, an amplified African guitar and the evening sun inviting me to knock off from work, I thought I’d take a breath and reflect on the memorable, exciting and sad moments since being appointed to the eLearning, Support and Innovation Unit at Wits University on June 1.

With the 2010 Soccer World Cup round the corner, the excitement is palpable. Car flags wave, buildings are plastered with adverts, lampposts hold banners and soccer T shirts loudly proclaim their wearers loyalty to various national teams. Conversations around me are peppered with who has tickets for what, whether Bennie was really fat and where will you be watching the games from.

I’ve also been wonderfully welcomed, orientated, introduced, processed etc by people within the University and up in the city. Opportunities to connect with people and their work are welcomed occasions and I relish fresh collaboration prospects that may (to use a terrible phrase) “add value” to the universities work. Already there are three possible initiatives that I might be involved in:
• QR codes on University signage
• E Learning and Digital literacy resources for the library
• The curricular possibilities of ‘One Computing Device Per Student’

The memorable and stimulating moments have to share some space with a poignant loss of intimacy between Jean, Anna, Cara and myself. Despite the alleged glamour of a bachelor life in Jozi, sometimes I find myself choked up with longing as l miss my daughters and partner.

It is, however, with gratitude that I pack up for the week. My appreciation for friends that have made me feel welcome, colleagues that have invited me to participate with them on their projects and Wits University for employing me to learn work and get paid in an exciting and dynamic field is heartfelt. I’m looking forward to Monday.

An inspiring knight in Cape Town

Sir John Daniel -Photographed from my crummy web camera

Schoolnet and the Commonwealth of Learning invited me (and a variety of highups in Education)  to a day long seminar in Cape Town around the topic of  ICT integration and teacher training. The key note speaker was the inspiring knight, Sir John Daniel. Not only did he take 25 years to complete a part-time Master’s degree in Educational Technology at Concordia University, but he’s also the president and CEO of the Commonwealth of Learning since 2004 after previous appointments as assistant director-general of UNESCO and vice-chancellor of the UK Open University and that’s only a summary of the last 10 years of his career.

At the seminar, Sir John chatted about the Second United Nations Millennium Development Goal – Universal Primary Education – and argued that these goals were well on their way to being achieved. As of 2008, over 570 million children were now able to complete a full course of primary schooling and only 50 million children were not primary schooled. The success of the campaign however, has created a new problem, that of Universal Secondary Education. The scale of the challenge is vast. 400 million children aged 12-17 are not in secondary school and 10 million more teachers are required by 2015 if this problem is to be addressed.

Sir John then went ahead to explore some interesting ideas to train more teachers and effectively retrain and motivate those in the profession. He suggested that countries should be recruiting people and sending them into the classroom within minimal training. Then, while they are teaching, they should receive in-service training that is in the schools and that addresses classroom realities. In order for this to happen, institutions will have to use open & distance learning and ICT.

His latest book – Mega-Schools, Technology and Teachers: Achieving Education for All – he explores the implications of using ICT for open and distance learning. The publicity blurb says that the book covers:

  • the creation and expansion of Mega-Schools, which combine distance learning and community support and have a proven track record of increasing access at scale
  • how to prepare the 10 million new teachers that are required to achieve Education for All by 2015 by focusing on classroom-based in-service training.
  • strategies for using technology to scale up distance education cost-effectively.
  • the creation of a 21st century educational ecosystem that integrates open schooling and teacher education with communities and their school systems.
  • successful examples of open schools and teacher education programmes operating at scale around the world.

Sir John is an amazing person. He has a global vision for education and an appreciation of how educational technology can provide secondary education to tens of millions of young people around the world. If the book is as good as his engaging presentation, then it’s certainly another must read for my bookshelf.

Passing nodes on a network

What would make a normally sane person leave their secure and predictable routine, fly to another city (or country) and voluntary sit for days in meeting after meeting? A good meal, a legitimate excuse to duck family responsibility or the possibility that you might meet a person that could revolutionise your life.  For me, probably none of the above. What takes me away from home is the opportunity to meet a bunch of similarly minded delegates, to talk, share ideas and practice. Strangers at conference are less strange because they share the same interests as you do. It’s an optical delusion though. This  atmosphere of ambient intimacy that has been created around this temporary community will probably vanish, until we meet again at another conference. It does not have to be this way though. Conference organisers, caught in the rush of the urgent, sometimes neglect to include in the programme networking opportunities.  Below are 12 points to consider when organising a conference that would enhance nodes (like me) networking capacity.

Before the conference
1. You have a hidden audience.
Remember to include people that could not physically attend the event. Think about ways in which they could participate
2. Like and Retweet
Create a Facebook and/or Twitter account for the conference and ensure that a Facebook “like” button or a Twitter “retweet” button appears on your conference web page.
3. Let’s play tag
Select a conference tag and ask that when speakers post resources that pertain to their presentation on their blog, Twitter, Delicious, YouTube, Facebook that they also use this tag.
4. TweetUp
Number the tables and suggest that delegates arrange a Tweetup – put real faces to avatars – at a selected table number at a certain time
5. Network Weaving
Supply delegates with speakers Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook profiles

During the conference
6. Expand the four walls of your conference venue
Take and upload photos to a conference page, live blog the proceedings, record or stream the keynote presentation
7. Get them talking
Ensure that the key note speaker’s presentation has a tea break scheduled right after so that the delegates can discuss what was said.
8. Ride the backchannel
Delegates are passing notes electronically, probably using the conference tag as a hashtag (if they are on Twwitter). Project the backchannel onto a screen during the conference
9. Hotspots Help
Ensure that WiFi is available and that delegates can login without too many hurdles

After the conference
10. Delegates Directory
Send an email to all delegates thanking them for attending and informing them of a conference attendees directory
11. Sharing is caring
If speakers presentations were not available on the web before the conference, ensure that they are available after the conference
12. Continue the conversation
A conference Facebook account or Twitter account need to fade into oblivion immediately after the conference. Use these tools to elicit thoughts, ideas etc from speakers and delegates.