• Dave Foord
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‘Mobile phones are strictly prohibited’

Something that really annoys me, is signs like this:-

“The use of mobile phones in the reception area is strictly prohibited”, why do they need to put the word ‘strictly’ into the sign? – What is the difference between something being ‘prohibited’ and something being ‘strictly prohibited’ – and why was I allowed to take this photo (using my mobile phone) of my colleague using his mobile phone, right in front of the reception desk, without being challenged? Wouldn’t a sign written with more positive language been better – e.g. ‘The reception staff would prefer if people moved away from the desk when using mobile phones, as it can make it difficult to hear people on the phone. Thank you’

Strict prohibition of mobile phones

Originally uploaded by Dave Foord


Learners ‘recording’ lectures with their mobile phones!

Last week at a MoLeNET event, James Clay pulled of an impressive stunt, where he used his mobile phone to record and broadcast live to the Internet a question posted to the panel of experts, showing both how easy it would be for a learner to do the same thing, and then how many issues this raises. James’ Blog posting on this, and the video itself is on http://elearningstuff.wordpress.com/2008/09/18/live-at-the-molenet-2008-conference/

A week earlier I was running a training session on challenging behaviour and the issue of mobile phones was raised, and one attendee mentioned that he was aware of a colleague that had just been suspended because of a learner recording something on their phone (I don’t know what because he couldn’t give any details) – and this he thought was a justification for banning phones completely. Personally I don’t think banning phones completely is a sensible solution to that issue. If the tutor was doing something for which they deserved to be suspended, and a learner had the sense to capture it, then personally I think all is fair. Even if phones were banned, unless all learners are thoroughly searched on entry to the premisis, if they thought it necessary to record and report someone, then it would be very easy to do that covertly.

So looking at both scenarios mentioned above, I can foresee a lot of educational institutions, changing their policies to ‘ban’ the recording of lectures with mobile devices, but this I see will be problematic.

How do you enforce such a ban – if someone breaks it, what do you do – remove them from the course and mess up your retention data, or take them to court (I hope not).

What about learners with disabilities, there are many out there who currently legitimately record lectures so they can access them later at their own pace etc. Many use specialist sound recorders for this, but one of things that m-learning brings was the potential for them to use everyday kit (such as a phone) so they could do it more discretely, and widespread ban would damage this practice.

Which policy would such a policy go into – would it be part of the IT acceptable use policy, if it is then the problem is that this really covers the acceptable use of institution equipment and systems – with the mobile phone it is learner owned and outside of this control.

So – as James eludes to in his live broadcast – this is an issue, it is here now (only a lot of people don’t know about it yet) and it needs some considered thought across the board, and I propose that this should happen sooner, rather than waiting for problems, and having knee-jerk retrospective decision making.

“Get Ahead Event” at the University of Derby

Last week, I was back at the University of Derby running a Mind Genius training session as part of their ‘Get Ahead Event’. This is a week long induction type event that they advertise to all pre-entry students who have declared a specific learning difficulty or disability. The event is designed to give them help and support and more importantly confidence about studying at the University, and has been run for about 4 years now, and is a huge success. I was there on the last day of the process, and the students had clearly had a lot of fun, become comfortable in the environment and hopefully been familiarised with the various support faciliites and mechanisms that they will be able to access.

I think events like this are a really good idea, and hats of to Derby for identifying this and carrying it through. Yes it may cost quite a bit to organise and run, but if as a result of this some of the learners that would normally drop out in first few weeks of the course don’t,  and continue to complete their chosen courses, then financially this has to be good for the University.

And finally they employ a group of students, to support the learners, and give them a real insight into University life and the social sides that comes with it.

Excellence in Inclusivity

Today I have been at en event in York (that I organised) closing one project (called Learning for Living and Work) and opening another called “Excellence in Inclusivity”. This is a project in the Yorkshire and Humber Region, with the JISC RSC for this region, and will be a multi-facetted approach to the area of inclusivity – looking at ways of supporting learners with disabilities, but most importantly looking at tackling this issue by changing the mainstream provision, not just tackling the issue through discrete support.

As part of this project we have produced a website showing case studies from the work carried out so far, but most interestingly includes videos of the learners and how this area of work has changed their learning experience.

The website can be found at http://inclusivity.rsc-yh.ac.uk/

Using Jaiku to send text messages to learners for free

Text messaging has been used by educational establishments for quite a few years now. In the early days most people had a 1 way system set up, where the tutor could send texts to the learners, to notify them of things like room changes or reminders to turn up. Then some systems allowed for 2 way communication which opened up all sorts of learning opportunities, but either way there is a cost attached. Most services charge between 5p and 12p per text, which doesn’t sound a lot, but when sending a message to say 30 students once a week, this quickly adds up. I personally used to manage the text messaging system for 1 team in 1 college, and we were spending an average of about £6 – £7 per day, and looking at the history of messages being spent, many were either unneccessary, or really essential (and the problem with that is some learners don’t have phones want to give out their mobile number).

So back to Jaiku – Jaiku is a hybrid of micro-blogging and social networking, a bit like FaceBook but without the zombies, snowballs, various types of wall and all the other things I don’t see the point of. Jaiku is much purer – it is primarily text based, with each person created an ‘account’ and then connecting to other people. You post to the site giving an update of what you are doing, and everyone who is connected to you sees that. But the beauty of Jaiku is that it can be used in conjunction with a mobile phone. So I can send a message to Jaiku from my phone (this costs me 21p so I don’t do it very often – other people on different data plans this is less). But more interestingly I can set Jaiku up to send any messages that my contacts post, to my phone – and this is completely free.

There are then 2 ways to play this:-

1) A tutor could create a Jaiku account to support a group of learners, the learners can then create Jaiku accounts, set themselves up to receive text message alerts. They then connect to the tutor so when he/she posts a message to Jaiku (from their computer) they get the message sent to their phone – with no cost to either party.

2) A tutor could have 1 Jaiku account, and then set up something called channels – with 1 channel for each group of learners. With channels, what the tutor has to do is identify which channel they want to send a message to, so the right learners get the right message.

The thing that I like about this model, is that it puts learner in complete control of what they recieve. They choose whether to create a Jaiku account, they choose whether to connect to the tutor or not, they choose whether to get messages sent to their phone or not. When I have suggested this model at training sessions, some staff are concerned that if some learners don’t do all the steps they won’t get the messages and this is a serious problem – but in reality a learner has always had the right to not provide a mobile phone number, so wouldn’t have got messages anyway. This also makes staff think about the way they use these technologies. we need to move on from reminding learners that its a Monday and therefore they need to get to College.

And then there are the people saying that having invested so heavily into a VLE that we should be using some function in that  (just because its there), well with Jaiku you can get an RSS feed, which means if you use for example Moodle you can add an RSS block that takes that feed – this way people not accessing the messages from their phone will still be able to access them.

And when you start using Jaiku, and realising that you can add in RSS feeds from other sources (Flickr, YouTube, Veotag, Gabcast…..) you can create a very rich learning environment.

Oh and did I mention this is all free.

It is nice to be important – but it is more important to be nice!

I have spent quite a bit of time in the last few days and experienced some different methods of staff dealing with situations, which has highlighted to me the importance of humour and politeness when dealing with difficult situations with people.

One train manager who was brilliant gave an announcement along the lines of:-

“Welcome to this train going from xxxx to xxxx. I would like to make a few apologies, firstly the train is very, very busy, with lots of people standing. I would also like to point out that due to a technical failure there is only one working toilet which is at the very front of the train, (to which a few people started sniggering) I would then like to point out that we don’t appear to have anyone on the train staffing the shop, so there isn’t a shop on the train until we reach Birmingham, (in which most people in the carriage started to chuckle), however everyone on the train is being very patient, to which I offer my thanks, but then I have only managed to walk down half the train, and meet half the passengers” – which dragged everyone in the carriage into the laughter fit. I don’t think he was trying to be funny, and me transcribing it has probably lost some of the humour, but it was very effective.

And then a few minutes later a message came over – “I have some good news for you, someone has volunteered to manage the shop, so there will be a shop service running, however we will only be able to take cash, and only if you have the exact change…..”. Watching him go about his business as he battled his way up and down the train weaving in and out of the numerous standing passengers, he had a smile, was joking and making pleasant conversation with people, which in doing so reduced tensions and saved any passengers from getting shirty which to be fair one would have expected.

Compared to an incident the day before at Leeds station, where for some reason a train had been left in the wrong place, at a platform causing chaos, and the person on the platform who was trying to sort things out, was being bombarded with questions from customers asking what was going on. Unfortunately she was getting flustered, and couldn’t handle the questions – and kept just saying (in an increasingly irate manner “give me a few minutes” – this however incensed some of the passengers making them ask more questions, and the whole situation quickly descended into chaos. A simple announcement to all in ear-shot, explaining what was going on, and most importantly re-assuring people that they were on the right platform would have solved the problem.

And to finish off, why is that when lots of people are joining an already busy train, do the train managers or platform staff, think that blowing their whistles in quick shirt sharp bursts, will help people get onto the train quicker?

The advancement of technology

Recycling of VHS tapes

Originally uploaded by Dave Foord

My local tip recycles all sorts of things, and when I noticed a sign saying that they recycled video cassettes, I remembered that I had put a broken tape in the bin that day, so I retrieved the tape, and on my next visit sent it to be recycled. Now I was expecting a small container maybe a large wheelie bin, or at best an industrial bin, what I wasn’t expecting was a huge container like this, which as the photo shows has a fair quantity of said tapes within it.

I thought that this image shows how rapidly technology changes, and how a technology has come, conquered, and then left in a relatively short space of time.