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.

Beyond open access

October has been Open Access Week. It’s an event that I have been celebrating for the past five years. This year, my commemoration lies beyond the ivory tower.

Although I’m not an academic or a researcher, as an ed techie who is interested in evidence based practice, I value the many open contributions to scholarship that are shared by “intellectuals”. I am neither a teacher or a lecturer, but as person responsible for educational tools and resources, I am dependent on the generous sharing of ideas, manuals, images etc by peers, often enabled by Creative Commons.

This presentation has been put together post Wits. It is my attempt to articulate how “open” can straddle both research and teaching domains. Open Access is primarily about scholarship.  If we are to enable digital capability and teaching excellence in education, then we need to look beyond “access” and see a bigger OPEN picture. To do this, I suggest that we look at three broad domains.

  • Open content (OER, Open Access),
  • Open process (e.g. usually espoused by a particular open proponent ) and
  • Open infrastructure (distributed education, open universities)

If we are to understand what open enables in an education context, then we need a holistic understanding of the concept. The opposite of “open” is not necessarily closed. Binary thinking won’t help us understand what is meant by this commonly used term. To appreciate the value of a particular open initiative in an education setting, we need a broader way of looking at open.

References

Corrall, S. & Pinfield, S. (2014) Coherence of “open” initiatives in higher education and research: Framing a policy agenda. In: Breaking Down Walls: Culture-Context-Computing, 04 March 2014 – 07 March 2014, Berlin, Germany.

 

#DigitalInclusion & #FeesMustFall

Digital_Inclusion Internet access does not guarantee Digital Inclusion

E-learning has been repeatedly invoked by certain friends, colleagues and practitioners as a “solution” to the #feesmustfall campus shut down. The logic, to them, is clear. If students can’t attend lectures on campus, then let’s capture the content with a video recorder or webcam and then post them onto YouTube or the LMS. Students will then be able to watch the lectures using their cell phone, tablet or laptop (if they have one). Putting classes online (according to this line of reasoning) will allow students an alternate route to progress with their studies.

I’m feeling a bit uncomfortable with this argument. While lecturers are to be commended being proactive and offering alternate routes to teaching and learning materials, creating “Plan B” and expecting students, without the means, to access rich learning resources on the web, simply re-enforces and perpetuates certain students sense of inequity.

Initiating “Plan B” is probably not intended to provoke a reaction among students  But before putting your videos online, get to know the access constraints facing your students. Remember, you (and I) are on the connected side of the digital divide. With our uncapped WiFi in our homes, our coffices with cappuccinos and contract cell phones with data plans, video seems like an obvious solution. Students with the combination of academic ability and “wealthy” parents will probably also be able to afford access to online course materials. But not all students are on the connected side of the digital divide. For capable students that come from homes where loans have been taken and income is already stretched, only putting lectures online in a video format will not necessarily assist, it simply creates another barrier to learning.

Data is expensive for the pay-as-you-go student.  Try it yourself. Buy a pre-paid data bundle and use it instead of your contract data or home Wi-Fi. See how much you’ve got left of your bundle the next day. Putting work online with no other additional measures (zero rating, data bundles) benefits those that have the money to pay for access. Yes, there are many ways to connect. And students that have the ingenuity and gumption to make use of these different routes are to be commended. Lectures that want to reach out and use online to teach also deserve recognition. However, expecting stressed and cash strapped students to follow your Plan B may unintentionally reinforce the current inequalities that students experience daily, add another financial burden when they are cash strapped and further alienate them from the inclusive learning and teaching culture that academics intend to create.

Plan B, i.e. only putting resources on the web, without considering the costs that students have to bear, is not going to address the various issues that have been highlighted by the #feesmustfall movement. Creating a digitally inclusive learning environment requires that we go beyond simply using videos as a replacement for lectures.

Out of position and misplaced calls

Mispositions and poor callsWhen #feesmustfall began in 2015, I blogged about digital capabilities and how protesters had used social networks to spread their message. I commented that the events exposed the digital vulnerabilities of various constituents on and off campus.

I also made the suggestion that this was a unique moment to rethink the use of ICT. I made a bad call here. This was not a thoughtful statement. It is time to revisit my “mispositioning”.

#FeesMustFall was about embedded inequality and a need for social justice in higher ed. High fees are limiting the educational aspirations of poor and middle-income students. The principle of equitable access to higher education for those who qualify is a principle that I support. While I might not have agreed with the aggressive tactics that were used, unequal opportunity structures need to be highlighted and addressed. Ed technology was perceived by some protesters as a means to undermine their protests. ICT does offer an alternate route for studies and can be seen as “access for the privileged”. For those who could not afford high data costs, the use of ed-tech re-enforced the lived experiences of inequality. This was not the time to make calls about ICT and the its capacity to enable.

Unilateral decisions to deploy ICT during #Feesmustfall were taken for the “academic project” to continue. The computer network made plan B possible. These were hasty contingency plans. Management saw a need to reduce the potential impact of a ” disaster”. Their intent was to address a predicament that was not of their making. Pinning the label “blended learning” to these contingency plans was a bad idea. This was “contingency learning”. It is a mistake to blur plan B with the innovations – like blended learning – that can go alongside ICT. This was not the time for me to make calls about embracing the duality of information and communications technology.

Learning environments (whether f2f or online) work when the power dynamics are balanced. Teaching and learning in an  “equal” environment is what we strive for. The “joy of learning” is not possible for those caught up in campus crossfire. Stress and fear were a result of unbalanced power dynamics. Students had to complete degrees, pass to earn bursaries, find alternate places to stay. Staff were up all hours, were held on campus against their will, could not keep to other priorities. This was not the time to reclaim the joy of learning.

I believe in an accessible, flexible and equitable education. Technology has a place in overcoming exclusion and should add value to the teaching and learning experience. Academics, teachers, university management, students etc can harness ICT to achieve the above. But this was not the time to proclaim digital solutions. I promoted my “digital capability” message instead of acknowledging the pain points around how “digital does divide”

#Feesmustfall was a moment to acknowledge the critical perspectives that students brought to the use ICT. To unpack assumptions and acknowledge that privilege can be embedded in ICT.  Troubling the use of ed-tech (especially when the key issue is around social justice) would have been far more appropriate. This was an insensitive, jumbled and misplaced post. Sorry about the poor call.

Can tech innovations save education in S.A.?

Education & Innovation

Education & Innovation

I’m going to be facilitating a conversation today (Wed 24 August) at LeaderEx about education and innovation. Will be asking questions about high tech tools and whether they are the solution to South Africa’s education crisis. Will be chatting to Warren Hero, Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft, Enoch Thango, Deputy Principal of Sunward Park High & Mfanelo Ntsobi, Chief Director: School Support, Gauteng Department of Education (our panelists).

Our panel will also discuss the pros and cons of implementing a #paperlessclassroom.

You can expect to hear opinions about the following.
What does it mean to teach and learn is this digital age?
What are some of the threads that will weave themselves into classrooms of the future?
Why do we want to innovate with education technology?
Is ed tech having the impact on education that we hoped for?
How do we go about scaling up successful innovations?

Interested? See you at Leaderex Conference at Sandton Convention Centre at 14h30 – 15h30.

New mobile pathways to children’s stories

"Mobile reading represents a promising, if still underutilized, pathway to text"

“Mobile reading represents a promising, if still underutilized, pathway to text”

In Sub Saharan Africa, progress has been made in pursuing the goal of universal Primary Education. However, the reading literacy levels of African children are far from adequate. A key obstacle to learning to read is the shortage of appropriate stories for early reading in languages familiar to the young African child.

UNESCO’s research has found that mobile reading represents a promising, if still underutilized, pathway to literacy for children. Mobile devices offer new opportunities to access text for literacy development. Especially in Sub Saharan Africa, where millions of people do not have access to text, but do own a mobile phone

While young children do not own phones, their parents or caregivers have the opportunity to use mobile phones to read books and stories. Together with the Goethe Institut and local librarians, we are going to explore how librarians can assist their patrons to confidently harness the power of their own mobile phones and use their devices to read stories to children.

Split Happens. Goodbye

Game over

Game over. I blew the whistle.

Final whistle. Game over. Goodbye Wits. I’m a consultant now. Here’s my ‘split lit‘ tale.

I arrived in Johannesburg in 2010, just as the Soccer World Cup  was about to start. Jozi seemed golden and Wits, I thought, was ready for the change game. The Elearning, Support & Innovation Unit (eLSI) under the leadership of Prof Derek Keats, DVC of Knowledge and Information Management (KIM), had been formed. Chismaba was ready. A new “tech savvy” elearning strategy heralded a new set of tactics.

Fast forward five years, and playing field had changed. Johannesburg was parched, in the midst of a heatwave, water supplies were diminishing. Change was no longer a players game. #Feesmustfall students had taken the vice chancellor hostage and were marching their anger to the Union Buildings. Most of eLSI management (apart from me) dispatched, and merged  under the Centre for Learning Teaching and Development (CLTD) “directorate”, who had unceremoniously dropped “Support & Innovation” from the eLearning unit’s name.

Innovation, by its nature, involves both failure and success. As a team, eLSI had both. We launched Sakai, we saw growth in uptake and budding change. But were unable to sustain the momentum, mainly because of an ill advised re-deployment of the software development team. I blew the whistle but it didn’t stop the game. My departure from the field was as a result of a brutal tackle. I should have packed up my boots. Quit earlier. I’m a consultant now with many tales to share.