The learning technology awards and winners in 2015

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A list of the awards of Learning Technology in 2015:

Don’t ignore the web design concepts in your interactive materials

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Nowadays many web-based tools are designed easy-to-use. Users can quickly deliver content through webpages. However, we notice that people may not consider the web design elements when they create interactive teaching materials online.

Questions we often come across are like below. It’s hard for people to know everything of web design and their user experience. So I list some quick resources that may help you to design online materials better.

  • I want to use an image on the page, but where can I get good free images?

There are massive image resources on the Internet. However finding a suitable image from a reliable resource and using the image legally are the key. The UK Intellectual Property Office has published an Intellectual property – guidance: Copyright notices. Before you searching images, read it first. Below are useful resources for you.

  • Why does the image look differently on other people’s machine from mine?

Your audiences view the page using different mobiles, tablets and browsers. Different web browsers that are created by different companies may not display web pages the same way. Thus, make sure you have tried on different devices if possible and make sure your webpages are cross-browser compatibility. Using some of the recommended tools to check your webpages.

  • What highlight colour on the page should I use if I want call people’s attention?

Think about what theme colours you have on your webpage. Who are the audience? Does the page or image on the page contain red/green colours combination that may affect colour blind users? Do you have more than three key colours on the page? What do you want to highlight, for instance texts or a specific area. Is it possible to call user’s attention without to use highlight colours? Ask random audience to have a look at your webpage and see how they respond to it.

Using some of the resources to improve your pages.

Notes from the Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference 2015

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The three days Teaching and Learning Conference by Blackboard was over. I wrote down some important notes based on the sessions I had attended.

  • Graham Brown-Martin’s keynote speech are based on his past two years work. He interviewed those educational leading thinkers, such as Seth Godin, Sir Ken Robinson, Keri Facer and so on. You may have a look at his website and his speech (which has similar ideas) on TED before it’s available on the Blackboard website. His new book Learning {Re}imagined is available now.
  • Dr Anne Campbell and Graham Storey from the Open University shared their course design for staff development training on Blackboard Collaborate, which is a good practice example.
  • The University of York (presented by Simon Davis) has developed their own Anonymous Assignment feature in Blackboard according to the user requirements. However, I don’t think we will do it. I would prefer to support staff by providing clear policies and demonstrating good practices. The session activity is available here.
  • The speech of Valerie Schreiner shows the focus of the Blackboard products. It includes portfolio, peer-to-peer assessment, calendar, LIS 2.0 standards, SIS (Students information systems) and grades, Blackboard Offline, Blackboard Analytics, Blackboard Grade App, Blackboard Student App. I like her emphasis on course design should consider four aspects: simple, continuous, mobile, and engagement.
  • Gilliam Fielding’s presentation shows the UCISA Digital Capabilities survey 2014. She pointed out that digital capability is role-based rather than technology-based. The executive summary was published in April 2015 and the full report will be issued in Spring 2015. You may also have a look at the results of UCISA Survey of technology enhanced learning 2014 that was published in September 2014.
  • The Blackboard Exemplary Course Program Rubric helps instructors and course designers to recognise best practices by considering four aspects: course design, interaction & collaboration, assessment, and learner support. The Blackboard exemplary course past winners are viewable here.
  • Calum Thomson presented Dr Rod Cullen and his research on webinars. We used to vote and see the vote results in the session activity. You may have a look at his presentation at the MELSIG event (which has the similar information) before it is available on the Blackboard website.

A note of the ITIL training

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I attended a 3-day ITIL foundation training last week. My department requires as many staff as possible to attend it.

ITIL is a brand owned by the AXELOS Ltd, where you can find learning materials. ITIL provides best practice guidance to IT Service Management (ITSM); it’s not a method or a standard, and it doesn’t tell you what to do.

How could we learn so much in 3 days? Well, I suppose it’s because (1) we all to some extent use IT services; (2) the work we have been involved in more or less is embedded in the ITSM process; (3) we all have taken some role somewhere that fits in ITSM.

Without touching the training materials, I jot down my thoughts here in case it’s washed off by my daily work, which is more about how to facilitate using technology in teaching/learning and actually do it.

The difficult bit in learning ITIL:

  • To some degree, we all have previous experience of ITSM. We have our own terms in the team/project/management. The tricky point is we need to understand/remember what the concepts mean in ITIL without thinking too much about our own concepts first. Then we need to link the concepts what we have used to ITIL and make sense of it. For me how well we can channel ITIL into our own experience is the challenge in the short course because first we can not get rid of our preconceptions in such short time. If our preconceptions about something in ITSM are diverge from the direction that recommended by ITIL, we can easily get confused. Second, we often think about what we need to do. Actually it’s a step farther than the ‘knowing where we are and where we want to go’.

The key things I’ve learnt:

  • It shows us what are the right direction to do things in ITSM and what we had done badly to some extent in certain aspects.
  • The RACI (Responsible-Accountable-consulted-Informed) model is crucial and essential. (see a RACI Matrix demo)
  • The service catalogue is essential. It needs to be available and to be managed by the service owner.
  • Differences between proactive and reactive (see a resource written by Neven Zitek).
  • What are ITIL functions, processes, activities and roles.
  • It’s about management, not about operation.

The key points about the exam:

  • Keep a balance between using previous experience or not in answering the exam questions. Some questions can be answered well based on my previous experience without learning ITIL. Some are simply about remembering the definition.
  • I was nervous in the real exam as earlier I was too relaxed at home to complete the mock exam paper. So do have a serious mock exam yourself!

What’s next?

  • My colleagues and I talked about it in the office. It’s not about passing the exam, rather it helps us to think things more logic and strategical.
  • I can start to use it in practice now and I had a couple of things/ideas on my to-do list for my next 2-3 months.
  • Hopefully we all speak the same ‘language’ and we can understand the terms used by different teams easily.
  • Shall I attend another ITIL exam after I put ITIL into my practice? Could it help me to see how much knowledge of ITIL I have really gained?

The Learning Technologist role

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The other day a new friend asked me what do I do. To be simple, I said “I am a learning technologist…” She answered “oh, that’s good. My nephew works in IT, like you, he fixes computer problems…”. I knew she has seen me as a “Technician”, which many people are thinking it in the same way too. However, I know I am not a technician in my area as I don’t look after computers, don’t install software for users, don’t register people’ mobile devices on the university network, don’t work at helpdesk and answer students’ requests, etc.

The vocabulary “technologist” wasn’t in the 1990s Oxford dictionary. It appeared in some of the 2000s dictionaries.

Technician (definitions in the Oxford Dictionary): 

  1. A person employed to look after technical equipment or do practical work in a laboratory.
  2. An expert in the practical application of a science.
  3. A person skilled in the technique of an art or craft.

Technologist (definition in Longman Dictionary):

  • Someone who has special knowledge of technology. (i.e. A specialist  in technology.)

There are many articles talking about the difference between the two terms, such as “Technician vs Technologist and “Usage of -ist and -ian, when to use which?“. I don’t want to argue about the use of the terms, but to make it clear, as an occupation, the duty and responsibilities of a “learning technologist” isn’t the same as the “IT technician” has. It is an emerged professional area regarding that IT acts as an agent for change to facilitate education transformation since the late 1990s. People have put effort on defining it, see some examples below:

The definitions do not help people who are not in the area to understand it easily. Sometimes I even wonder if it’s precise to call myself as a Learning Technologist, or am I just on the path towards being a Learning Technologist? With the background as a ‘software engineer’, ‘researcher’, ‘teaching assistant’, ‘developer’, ‘information specialist’, and a ‘learning technology support officer’, my current work requires broader experience and knowledge in e-learning, stated in the job descriptions of these key areas:

  • Be the point of expertise, reference, and recognised knowledgeable contact for enablement of IT services within your area of expertise, providing guidance and support to the University.
  • Work with the academic and administrative staff to provide both pedagogical and technical support (advice and guidance), for face-to-face learning and online / distance / eLearning goals, particularly with regard to enhancement of learning through the use of technology. Encourage and facilitate the dissemination of best practices in the use of learning technologies.
  • Regularly engage with service managers, customers, and end users in order to understand the current usage of IT services, including the user experience, limitations, end user capability, and understanding of the capability of service offerings.
  • Contribute to an enablement strategy for your area of expertise, liaising with end user communities to identify customer and business needs.
  • Proactively manage customer expectations pertaining to service capability, creating communication channels to advertise information on service capability and usage.
  • Identify competencies, skills, and development required to maximise the benefit from IT services, assessing the effectiveness of activities completed.
  • Plan, design and deliver demonstrations and development activities for staff across academic and professional service departments on the use of the VLE and various technologies within teaching, learning and assessment. Develop staff development plans and appropriate learning materials. Develop and facilitate technical and pedagogical demonstrations of the use of the latest content developments and teaching tools.
  • Understand new requirements and implement them to the e-Learning platform.

To be specific, I tried to draw a draft of the key activities, connections, and Input/Outcomes in my role together. Hope this first step helps me to make the role clearer.



Common Tech Terms

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I came across a list of “Top 50 Tech Terms that are Now Common Expressions“. Not sure when this list was created. There are a handful of terms I don’t hear often in work and I think terms like “https”, “3G/4G”, “HTML”, and “URL” should be included.

I prefer the following resources:

Names Pronunciation Tools

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More and more international people work in different countries, we therefore inevitably encounter the moment that we need to call someone’s name. Also if you graduated from a university, you wouldn’t ignore the moment when vice-chancellor was calling each individual’s name, especially the international student’s name. To avoid mispronunciation and to help people pronounce your name correctly, you can use some tools to assist.

Hear Names allows you to hear the pronunciation of difficult names. I checked a few Chinese names. As it’s recorded by Chinese native speakers so the pronunciation is correct. However (1) it only covers common Chinese surnames. (2) I searched my name (no matter what order I used), it showed as Thai Girl Names and the pronunciation is in Thai. (3) It doesn’t include Welsh yet.

Inogolo is a easy-to-use website that provides the English pronunciation of the names of people, places, and miscellaneous stuff. I searched my name. It has my first name, but no my surname. Its pronunciation was recorded by English native speakers so the Chinese pronunciation is not as correct as the way Chinese native speakers will say. Generally speaking it’s better than the recorded pronunciation from the VOA Pronounce website.

NameCoach allows users to voice-record their names online so others can easily learn and remember how to call them. It’s handy and the pronunciation is correct as it’s recorded by the person themselves.

Pronounce Names is a website that allows you to record your name and add it into the dictionary so that people can learn its pronounce.

The Name Engine is a website provides audio name pronunciations of athletes, entertainers, politicians, newsmakers, and more.

VOA Pronounce is the resource that helps you to find how to pronounce names correctly, quickly and easily. I checked a few Chinese names. As it’s pronounced by English native speakers, the Chinese pronunciation is still not as correct as the way Chinese native speakers will say.

Baby Names of Ireland helps you to check pronunciation of Irish Names.

Behind the Name is a website for learning about all aspects of surnames.

Nordic Names is a personal website that for people to learn first names.

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