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Learning about Strategy

Submitted on 16 November 2014

How often have you heard someone speak of 'being strategic' in a meeting? Can anyone be strategic in just one meeting? This is possibly true if there is a particular turning point, but usually strategy develops and deploys over many years. One may 'think strategically' when conceptualising a future that is years ahead, but when we are about to go into an important meeting, even something we consider to be a watershed event, we are working at best at the level of tactics and not strategy. Strategy is not simply how you act towards other people in the next meeting you attend, no matter how important that individual meeting might be. Strategy is also not a simple set of mission, vision, goals, objectives and tactics.

Strategic thinking has been described as "a process of developing and evaluating every decision and action in light of current and future circumstances, the direction you want to go in and the results you want to achieve."

Strategy has as much to do with how we intelligently allocate our time and energies, as it has to how we can best serve our clients. It has a lot to do with outperforming other organisations that may have compatible access to skilled people and resources. Among the biggest enemies of working strategically is 'fire fighting' in companies (nothing to do with the essential service of putting out real fires), which is often the result of mismanagement and lack of planning.

There are thousands of books on management, leadership and strategic management that could help managers and leaders in organisations. It takes a great deal of becoming organised, having a long-term goal and galvanising the organisation toward achieving that goal to achieve 'a strategy'. Senior managers that keep coming up with different and possibly conflicting ideas that keep their middle managers and supervisors busy, sap their organisations of the energy needed to strive for the true strategic goal, and reduce the ability or managers to 'think strategically' and 'be strategic'.

Habits of strategic thinkers (adapted from an article in Inc. Magazine):

Strategic thinkers

  1. anticipate future game changers to which the organisation must respond;
  2. are able to think critically and to question the status quo and current beliefs and mind-sets;
  3. interpret ambiguity; hold steady while considering and interpreting a range of inputs;
  4. make decisions and avoid management paralysis through continuous analysis and the inability to make decisions. (Perfection can be a great excuse for managers who do not have the confidence to make up their minds.);
  5. bring people with divergent points of view together, bring issues to the surface and develop the necessary bridges to build trust and engagement between people;
  6. keep the learning process going. Not only should people and organisations learn form their own successes and failures, they should learn from others. When something is learned, strategic thinkers are able to quickly align their strategies over the years ahead.

We do need to manage meetings well - this is thinking tactically. Each tactical action contributes toward a long-term strategy.

References:

Three Keys To Improving Your Strategic Thinking

Are You A Strategic Thinker? Test Yourself

Strategic Thinking - A Task for All Employees

6 Habits of True Strategic Thinkers

To Think Strategically, First Think Critically

Books:

Elevate: The Three Disciplines of Advanced Strategic Thinking

Popular Strategic Thinking Books

MOOC 2.0

Submitted on 10 November 2014

Most of the education world is only just starting to hear about MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), getting confused with the existence of xMOOCs and cMOOCs  - and now we are hearing that MOOCs 2.0 are on their way!

For readers who are completely lost, cMOOCs are the 'connectivist MOOCs' originally conceptualised and tried out in Canada. xMOOCs are the ones that US universities conceptualised to send mass amounts of content to thousands of people around the world. One of the biggest criticisms about MOOCs is that the content has been developed in western countries, and it is then expected for people in other countries to use the content.

A growing feeling is that education should be global, come from all parts of the world and 'deliver' to all parts of the world. If academics in smaller economies and poorer communities are able to constructively create learning content and share it, people in wealthier countries may learn about more than if they only use what is created in their own countries.

The earlier notion that MOOCs would serve the uneducated have now been replaced with a realisation that MOOCs are serving a significant proportion of people who already have higher education qualifications. Rather than one group of people developing and 'pushing' content to others, a platform that is under development will focus on two-way or multi-way sharing and on people learning from other people.

References:

Move over MOOCs – Collaborative MOOC 2.0 is coming

xMOOC Communities Should Learn From cMOOCs

Social media: the essential communication component or are we going to make over the way we do email?

Submitted on 3 November 2014

Research is pointing to the necessity to incorporate social media into improving productivity, employee communication and in working with suppliers. We frequently see articles on how to cope better with the hundreds of emails we are pressured to check and respond to. It seems to have become a badge of honour to say that "I am receiving hundreds of emails a day", claiming this as a major workload. Are the hundreds of emails received of real value or do many of them represent the dozens of responses in a chain of communication, all sent by emails? Do many of these emails represent items that are immediately filed or deleted? Possibly the answer is to reconsider the ways in which we communicate rather than how to handle email better.

Online systems such as Asana and BaseCamp, if used appropriately, can help to reduce the email deluge, while still enabling users to keep track of important online discussions. The trick is to find ways to reduce the communication flow coming in via emails and to be able to quickly review a stream of communication with an online tool. Even online tools such as a closed or private group on Facebook could help to control the flow of messages. Team members can then gradually remove themselves from discussion and circulation lists to rather focus on the essential communication within the team space.

The conversion to social media has been increasing for years now with expectations of it accelerating and broadening the reach of communication. The complication may be the number of different networks that people use - one uses Facebook, while the next prefers Twitter. Messaging friends and colleagues via social networks is on the rise. "I'll facebook it to you" is not unusual to hear, nor is it odd to "tweet a conference".

With all the media platforms that are available today, email remains the most cross-platform of them all. The trend toward social media and other online systems may help drive improvement in email systems. Of particular note in recent months has been Google's attempts to sort emails automatically for its users so that they can focus on specific categories of email at a time. In the newest Google mail version being rolled out, the email inbox is treated as a to-do-list. One writer has even described Google's Inbox as "addictive" - it seems we can learn to handle our bulging email inboxes in new, more productive ways while we take on additional social media technologies.

References:

New research sheds light on how staff want to communicate

Don"t forget the back office: exploiting social and mobile to make mid-sized organisations more productive

Is Email Old News? Social Networks as the New Communications Channel

Replacing Email: Risky Business?

Will Social Media Replace Email?

Enterprise Social Networks May One Day Replace Email

An open email to Google Inbox

Is a school in the cloud possible?

Submitted on 19 October 2014

The idea of providing access to the Internet to illiterate street children to enable them to learn by themselves was popularised by Sugata Mitra, currently Professor of Educational Technology at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom. Professor Mitra installed a computer in a wall and allowed illiterate children with no prior instruction on what to do, to access the computer. In less than a day, he found children learning how to use the computer, in a language they did not speak (English), in an alphabet that they had not previously seen (The Roman alphabet). When he repeated these experiments in other places, the same occurred. In each case, children not only learned without adult assistance, but also helped other children to learn.

Professor Mitra describes the concept as 'self-organised learning'. He says it is "about sparking curiosity, about asking smart questions and then sitting back and letting kids get to the answers with the help of their peers." He says his wish is to help design a new way in which children can learn. This could help not only those children who are fortunate enough to get into a school, but also those who are not in school and have little chance of accessing  formal education.

If children who are not in school are given the opportunity to access online resources, could they do more than they might have done without access to those resources? Many children around the world have little or no chance of getting into a regular school and the current approach of providing a comprehensive school or nothing may be just the barrier that locks them in a generation-to-generation cycle of poverty. The big question is: 'can education happen without teachers?'. If we use the supportive technologies that have emerged over the last 15 years or so, such as online learning, open educational resources and massive online courses, could we face up to the challenge of providing education to many poor communities that suffer from limited or no access to education?

Professor Mitra's 2013 TED Talk about the school in the cloud and self-organised learning has attracted significant interest with over 2.1 million views. While many technology projects have focused on the delivery of technology to poor communities, few of these projects have focused on providing the enabling online environment where children can learn. The simplest way to support the project is to 'like' the Facebook page. A pragmatic way to help more children access a self-organising learning environment and have some chance of escaping illiteracy and poverty may be to support the establishment of more schools in the cloud at https://www.theschoolinthecloud.org.

References:

A School in the Cloud and the Future of Learning.

This "school in the clouds' teaches us a valuable lesson about learning.

Schools in the Cloud. Learning without teachers. It couldn't happen, could it?

Build a School in the Cloud.

Going Global? The Growing Movement to Let Kids Learn Just by Tinkering.

Sugata Mitra: Educational systems need to catch up.

What will online student demonstrations look like?

Submitted on 12 October 2014

We have recently seen pro-democracy demonstrations by students in Hong Kong. Students in other parts of the world, i.e. Mexico, South Africa and the USA, have participated in protests due to their dissatisfaction with issues, including repression, changes to curriculum, lack of access to education, and insufficient funding of education. There is nothing new to students demonstrating and many alumni who have become administrators and government officials find it surprising to now be facing student demands, similar to the demands they once had as students.

We have come to understand the placard waving, chanting and sometimes violent behaviour of student demonstrations. How will all this change as learning converts to being online? If students of a particular institution are scattered around the world or an institution does not have a traditional physical campus, does this mean that demonstrations will come to an end? 

Online versions of demonstrations have already been making their mark. Some people take to social media such as Facebook, or create a website or Twitter page, to mobilise support from fellow students in voicing grievances. Occasionally, a tech-savvy student may show his or her skills at hacking into an institutional computer system and cause damage - or just leave online notes to scare management into realising just how vulnerable the institution is. 

Online demonstrations may appear to be less violent, because there are no screaming people, no fires and no thrown projectiles. We should not be lulled into thinking that an online demonstration cannot be damaging to property and disruptive to the management of institutions. Educational institutions need to ensure that their online security is in place for all systems and that measures will protect personal identity, as well as administrative systems.

Likewise, systems and processes should be in place for student representative councils of online students, to allow them to participate in governance issues and for their voices to be heard.

POERUP: Supporting the expansion of Open Educational Resources

Submitted on 30 June 2014

The "Policies for OER Uptake" or POERUP project  was funded by the European Union and supported by institutions in North America and Europe (http://tinyurl.com/mdnf53y).

The project has provided a base for studying OER projects and policies to better understand what governments can do to expand the use of OER. POERUP to date has taken stock of over 300 projects and compiled over a dozen country reports. POERUP now has a significant basis for studying OER practices and policies from around the world. The project is currently in its closing stages and has been reporting back in various forums (http://tinyurl.com/oq7f4nf). The project released a report in 2013 that synthesizes the findings from 120 OER projects from around the world (http://tinyurl.com/o76ymyl).

The study found that OER could be categorised into open courses, open textbooks and digital assets. There is little conformity to a single format or style, with mobile apps being added to the formats that emerged from the early 2000s. Licensing (copyright) and pedagogy remain mixed and complex. Coming to the close of the project, a report outlining possible business models is expected shortly.

Particularly useful outputs from the project in its early stages already, was a registry of policies that include references to OER (http://tinyurl.com/kbo9495), and coming soon, a map of OER projects (beta test site at: http://54.72.5.74:5000/). We hope that this useful project has a second life and goes on to better clarify OER and how OER can support access to education. For more information, see the websites listed above and also a recent slide presentation on the accomplishments of the POERUP initiative (http://tinyurl.com/q3cwr95).

Gamification: putting the fun into learning

Submitted on 21 June 2014

Gamification may sound to some like educational games, because it uses gaming techniques to help to teach students new concepts. If one can connect with people effectively through games, can this make learning easier?

According to Penn State University, "gamification is the application of game elements and digital game design techniques to non-game problems, such as business and social impact challenges." They run a free course on Gamification via the Internet that introduces learners to the mechanisms of the methodology.

Some subject areas do not usually sound much like games (such as accounting, medicine and filling in tax forms) and the application of game-playing techniques can help learners to understand the material more quickly. The concept of earning badges, which has been covered previously in this blog, also plays a role in recognising learners' progress. Some have reported that gamification can help to make seemingly boring tasks appear more interesting (especially the tax forms!).

The process usually involves the transformation of something that is already in existence rather than starting from scratch. For example, a course, website or computer program already exists that people need to learn to use (but may be resistant because it appears boring or complicated to them). It is here that gamification can help to overcome the barriers to learning by making the process more engaging and fun. Users are able to learn in small bite-sized chunks, while earning recognition for their efforts at regular intervals. The person's skills are developed in a fun, yet competitive manner with comparisons being made to the progress of others or against a standard.

You could try free courses on gamification:

https://www.coursera.org/course/gamification or https://www.openlearning.com/courses/gamify

References:

http://badgeville.com/wiki/Gamification

http://www.bunchball.com/gamification

Crowdsourcing makes light work

Submitted on 2 June 2014

The term crowdsourcing was only coined in 2005 and is already in frequent daily use. We may have used the term volunteering in the past, but now in the online world we can potentially access a lot more people. Crowdsourcing can be used to access large numbers of people to raise money, brainstorm ideas, collect information or get various types of work shared out amongst a number of people. Even the term crowdvoting has emerged as the way a website may gather the opinions of large numbers of people. Many other versions of this have emerged, that are explained on sites such as Wikipedia. Crowdsourcing can help to share out mundane work to many people by paying small amounts for each task completed. Payments may be as small as a point of a (US) cent, but given enough tasks, this can help a person earn a living. Documents, such as funding proposals, can be written entirely online with many people unknown to the main writer contributing their knowledge and experience. In online chat rooms, experienced technical people often provide their knowledge free of charge to others who ask questions.

Crowdfunding refers to the collection of small amounts of money from a large number of people. Each donor only gives a small amount, but if the idea is popular and can attract a large enough number of people, the result can fund the start up of a business. It could fund a social development project like renovating a school that really needs it. Fundrise, a crowdfunding website is reported to have raised US$31 million! The company invests these funds in hotels and other developments on behalf of the investors. Not all crowdsourcing sites are therefore based on donations. There are a few websites that specialise in raising funds for small businesses and projects such as Indiegogo, RocketHub, Peerbackers and Kickstarter.

Whether looking for new ideas, a solution to a challenge or raising a small business loan, the strength of the crowd may be just what is needed.

References:

What is Crowdsourcing?

10 Top Crowdfunding Websites

Students push back on the flipped classroom

Submitted on 12 May 2014

It seemed like cinch - video record the teacher and get students to watch it in their own time, and then use the teacher more productively to facilitate discussions during classroom time. Why then would students be the ones to push back when this model is implemented?

According to Robert Talbert, students "want you to lecture to them and tell how to do everything so that they can earn a top grade in the class". (See link to article below). It is possible that the new versions of lectures have more resources than could be presented in the traditional classroom; they may be more enriched, understandable and enjoyable to watch or read. Is this what learners are looking for though or is the key: "so that they can earn a top grade in the class"? If this is the case, old examination papers with questions and answers that are regurgitated year after year may be what learners really want! The shortest route to passing the subject is still likely to be high on any learner's priority list.

Talbert recommends trying to engage the learner in longer-term thinking. He suggests asking students how they might cope with the assignment in 5 or 10 years time when the teacher is no longer around and the student needs to understand the content to perform income-generating work. It is at this time that many people will wish they had gained a better comprehension of how to resolve that 'problem', rather than merely coming up with a solution to pass an examination.

If you have started flipping your classroom by enriching it with resources, do not give up too quickly! You may be giving your learners a better chance at a productive working life, than if you only prepare them to pass the next examination.

Resources

Flipped learning skepticism: Do students want to have lectures?

Definition of flip teaching or flipped classroom.

What is a 'flipped classroom'?

Research Says / Evidence on Flipped Classrooms Is Still Coming In

Pros and Cons of The Flipped Classroom

How to protect yourself from plagiarism

Submitted on 5 May 2014

Wikipedia describes plagiarism as the "wrongful appropriation" and "stealing and publication" of another author's "language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions" and the representation of them as one's own original work. The most obvious kind of plagiarism may be when a student wilfully copies large sections of text or diagrams created by another person without attribution, but plagiarism is not always that obvious. There have been a few high profile cases in recent months of plagiarism by people one may not have expected. Why would a senior academic or politician risk copying another person's work? Is it possible that not using proper referencing techniques sometimes catches out even experienced academics? Turnitin conducted a survey of educators and identified 10 types of unoriginal work on a 'plagiarism spectrum' ranging from cloning to re-tweeting. The survey results indicate the significant impact that social media and the Internet have on academic writing and the different types of plagiarism.

If you happen to have a piece of text and want to use it in your academic work, it may be worthwhile pasting a paragraph of it into Google first to search if it can be traced to another person's work. If you have the funds to pay for using a service such as Grammarly to check your grammar, you could at the same time use it to check for possible plagiarism in your own work.

We read and hear information on our particular topics of interest every day and it may just be possible that the latest brilliant ideas you are typing up have in fact already been written about by somebody else. Testing out a few paragraphs or possibly the entire text you have written may make the difference between publishing your masterpiece and facing a major embarrassment. Since so much is now available on the Internet, if you do not run the check, someone else may do it for you!

Useful links:

Free online software for plagiarism detection: http://www.duplichecker.com/free-tools.php

List of ten free plagiarism checker tools: http://en.softonic.com/s/plagiarism-software

Review of plagiarism software: http://plagiarism-checker-review.toptenreviews.com

Bloom's taxonomy apps for iPads

Submitted on 22 April 2014

Most educators would have come across Bloom's taxonomy at some stage and use the framework when designing teaching and learning processes. In recent months, I have noticed a few postings that link Bloom's taxonomy with iPad apps. There are no doubt apps for other tablets, but the emphasis has been on the iPad.

As one progresses up the taxonomy, there are now a multitude of apps that educators can consider incorporating into the classroom. Posters, diagrams and even a wheel have been created to show how iPad tools can be used to support particular aspects of the taxonomy. Many of these tools are free, but take care when downloading an app - make sure that it really is free (or that you are willing to pay for it). Give the app a try for a few days to see that it works well and that it does in fact help you with your work. Incorporating many more apps may just add more work to your already busy schedule! 

The lists of possible apps appear long and unless you are a person who really enjoys downloading and trying out new apps, you may rather choose to restrict yourself to a few essential tools. Trying out many apps can be a risk to your computer, so another way to safely try out apps, is to ask colleagues and friends what they have used successfully. A good reference from a trusted friend can save you a lot of trouble. Remember that you are not trying out a new app just to keep up with technology trends; you are trying to connect better with your learners. Your learners themselves may also be the right people to ask about the apps that work for them. 

Bloom's taxonomy & iPad resources:

iPad apps align with Bloom's taxonomy: http://www.educatorstechnology.com/2014/04/ipad-apps-aligned-with-blooms-taxonomy.html

Bloom's taxonomy for iPads: http://www.educatorstechnology.com/2013/10/wonderful-charts-featuring-blooms.html

New taxonomy wheel: http://www.educatorstechnology.com/2014/03/a-new-fantastic-blooms-taxonomy-wheel.html

8 Posters: http://www.educatorstechnology.com/2013/12/8-wionderful-blooms-taxonomy-posters.html 

2 Posters: http://www.educatorstechnology.com/2013/09/two-awesome-blooms-taxonomy-posters-for.html

Where workplace learning and lifelong learning intersect

Submitted on 15 April 2014

Most people relate lifelong learning to taking formal courses and achieving qualifications. It is the learning we do every day that is difficult to assess and quantify. Learning and knowledge acquisition in the workplace are more likely to be gathered informally, shared and internalised, than recorded into databases. Organisations realise just how much has been learned and lost when employees leave their employment. Some managers may initially seem happy when particular staff members find 'greener pastures', to only in the months after their departure, find out what significant contributions these employees had been making. 

The developments in social networking should make it a little easier to capture the value added by knowledge workers. Informal learning in the workplace is receiving increased levels of attention. The four key behaviours noted of knowledge workers are that they consume resources and knowledge created by others; they create new knowledge by writing and enriching existing resources and capturing data about practices; they connect with people and sources of information through their own networks; and they contribute knowledge to the network.

Tools for achieving the above are written about frequently and one can find lists of popular tools that can help knowledge workers. For finding information, search engines, such as Google, have an 'Alerts' feature. This allows the knowledge worker to enter search terms and then Google will email new articles that appear anywhere in the world at the requested frequency. Gathering, creating and capturing information is accomplished with a range of notebook tools such as Evernote, MS OneNote and Circus Ponies NoteBook. Blogging and micro-blogging are easy these days with tools like ScoopIt, Wordpress and Blogger. Contributing to the wider world is also easily accomplished with tools such as Google Docs, Wikis and MS OneDrive.

Managers who are not fully familiar with the kinds of free tools mentioned in this blog would not understand what their knowledge workers are learning and sharing. A few sources of information (which were also used in this blog) are included below, in case you need to brush up on the tools your knowledge workers are already using.

http://jime.open.ac.uk/jime/issue/view/2014-ReusingResources-OpenforLearning

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knowledge_worker

http://bsix12.com/knowledge-sharing-tools/

http://tinyurl.com/phstgho

http://tinyurl.com/p2mzfoz

Do you need the help of a Technology Integrator?

Submitted on 7 April 2014

New career paths emerge as technology advances. The role of a 'technology integrator' may be one of the less familiar career options. One integrator described his job as: "I look at technology and curriculum and try to mash them together so that learning becomes more relevant and interesting." If you wonder why one would want to try to 'mash them together', observe the learners you see in class, in the shopping mall or elsewhere. Are they ever not on their smartphones? Do you struggle to hold the attention of your students in the same way as their smartphones do? You are not alone in this dilemma and there may be help at hand. 

The new career path I alluded to at the beginning of this blog is that of the 'technology integrator', or person who can help you to bring technology and learning together in ways that work well for you and your learners. The integrator will help you to identify the technologies your students are already using (or would find easy to learn). S/he will be concerned with how a technology can help the teaching and learning process - it should not feel as if the technology is being 'forced on' you and your students, or that the result will not help the learning process. Your technology integrator should have a keen understanding of what both you and your students will find useful. Your integrator should be able to easily bridge between you and others, and help to show what technologies will help to communicate a concept and support the practising of exercises in the interests of better comprehension and mastery. 

When selecting a technology integrator, be sure that the person is someone you can really get along with, and who will understand your students. S/he should also understand the teaching methodologies you use. The integrator will then be able to suggest tools to support the learning process. 

References and more reading on the topic:

http://chrisbetcher.com/2014/04/technology-integration/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology_integration

http://www.edutopia.org/technology-integration

http://fcit.usf.edu/matrix/

Social media tools for researchers

Submitted on 1 April 2014

Most of us are familiar with social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Researchers, however, have specific networking needs that are supported by social media tools. A guide published in 2011 by the International Centre for Guidance Studies of the University of Derby, provides a useful list of tools (http://tinyurl.com/4huokol). 

Using appropriate social media tools may change the way you carry out your research. Social media tools for researchers are grouped into communication, collaboration and multi-media tools. Some of the tools suggested may be new to us, while others, like Facebook, are surprisingly familiar and useful. Questions may be posed through networks like Facebook and Academia. Others researching similar topics or who have the necessary knowledge may be able to respond from around the world. Researchers no longer need to feel quite so isolated. 

One can release small amounts of one's research findings more easily through self-publishing sites, blogs and micro-blogging. This again can help to link the researcher to others around the world. It also puts a time-line on what the researcher has discovered. 

Social bookmarking citation sharing sites can be a support to locate sources and correctly cite resources. A useful tool to try for finding resources, saving citations and storage of resources is Mendeley, a free online reference manager and social network for researchers. 

The concept of registering with one institution and studying exclusively with that one institution is anchored in a centuries-old model that has changed with the introduction of social media tools. One may now be registered with one institution, but take suggestions from and network with an ever-changing global group of peers. 

When did "Open Access" become the expensive option?

Submitted on 24 March 2014

I remember a time when library staff members used to complain about the exorbitant fees they were paying for journals. The open access movement started and for a while, it seemed like a dream that there could be academic journals that would provide their articles at no cost. There are now many journals that are available to anyone free of charge. One that has been around for some time is "The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning"  A newer journal is the "Journal of Learning for Development".

What caught my attention recently, is when I heard that it costs around USD 3,000 and possibly much more, to publish in an "open access journal". More investigation found a report titled: "Costs and Benefits of Open Access - A Guide for Managers in Southern African Higher Education". This article describes how some publishers have taken to charging academics wishing to publish their articles, rather than charging the users of the articles, such as libraries. Since many academics still live in the "publish or perish" world, they are forced to publish articles on a regular basis. If institutions insist on only accepting publications in journals that charge exorbitant fees, academics may be left in a position of having to spend large amounts of their salaries just to keep their academic credentials. 

Simply moving the cost of publishing journal articles from libraries to the individual academic does not seem to improve access to knowledge. The Access to Knowledge movement (http://tinyurl.com/6kqmjx2) believes that: "everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits."  

Opening access (http://tinyurl.com/ber752) to anyone reading the content at the expense of new research not being published due to the costs seems counter-productive. Open Access journals may be fee-based or non-fee-based (http://tinyurl.com/283mov4). Whichever they are, researchers, academics and learners should not be at a disadvantage because of the costs imposed on either publishing or using the research. It is especially important that institutions do not only recognise publications in journals that charge high fees, when they do not cover the cost of these for their researchers, academics and learners. 

Lists of journals that are free to access are available at: http://africaeducation.org/books.htm

BYOD to the classroom

Submitted on 16 March 2014

We are hearing of a few classrooms that are going beyond the chalk-and-talk style of teaching. Bring your own device (BYOD) began to emerge in the workplace a few years ago, placing a new strain on IT departments. Company IT staff who had been used to directing what computers people used and what software they were allowed to use, began to give way to emails being read on Blackberries and other smartphones. Smartphones turned into smarter phones with Apple, Samsung and Nokia making much more sophisticated devices and telephoning people became only one of many things users did with their phones.

Cellphones moved to the classroom and some teachers tried banning them for a while, because they interfered with teaching. Tablet computers emerged even more quickly than cellphones did and the prices dropped rapidly after Apple opened up a new class of computer device. With these new devices, it is becoming more unusual for kids to not a cellphone or tablet in the classroom. Teachers became even more hard-pressed to find logical and meaningful ways to integrate the devices into the teaching and learning process.

Toolkits have emerged to help teachers find their way with this wave of kids bringing their own devices (http://www.k12blueprint.com/byod). There are lists of apps, many of them free, that teachers can consider for use in their classrooms (http://www.edudemic.com/byod-apps-symbaloo). New devices are helping to bring down prices, so one needs to check the media for prices and models (http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/test-centre/tablets/3412038/10-best-budget-tablets-2013-2014 and http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/test-centre/tablets/3265725/23-best-tablets-of-2014/). If being robust is important, there are tablets that will last longer (http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/buying-advice/tablets/3476321/12-best-kids-tablets-for-christmas-2013).

School districts interested in promoting quality education are finding ways to buy and provide tablet computers to kids (http://amarillo.com/news/latest-news/2014-03-05/bushland-isd-arms-kids-ipads). This is reported to be helping kids find the information they are looking for, including books that their library did not have in stock.

In addition to the wider range of available resources available to kids who have their own devices with access to the internet, further benefits include improved problem solving and creativity. Teachers can focus on helping the kids who need their attention and leave the others that need the attention less to get on with the job of learning.

Poorer schools do not need to be left behind as can be seen in projects in the USA and India (http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2013/10/28/commentary/india-designs-low-cost-computer-to-prep-poor/#.UyWdwNxvYrg and http://www.deccanherald.com/content/355833/centre-plans-give-mobiles-tablets.html). Projects like the One-Laptop-Per-Child (OLPC) that started long before tablet PCs became popular, are still working to give kids devices that can help to overcome their societal limitations (http://one.laptop.org). Millions of kids have gained computer experience and learned things they would not have, had it not been for the OLPC project.

We hear employers want entrants to the workplace to have usable skills and do not expect to have to teach new employees how to use computers and how to use the internet. Laptops, tablets and smartphones in the classroom may go a long way to helping kids to learn better, be more creative and have more of the necessary skills when they finish school. What is your school doing to increase computer literacy and improve teaching and learning?

Personalising education with learning analytics

Submitted on 4 March 2014

Learning analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimising learning and the environments in which it occurs. Learning analytics may not mean a lot to course writers and instructional designers yet and even less to online learners, but it may be a significant step toward personalising learning for large numbers of people. The 2014 Horizon Report speaks of how data is being used to personalise our experience of websites and learning. Similar to the way that companies such as Google, Amazon and others use data about us and our online behaviour to adapt the way in which they present information to us, with the intention of selling us something, online education providers are beginning to use data to customise how they present learning content to individuals. 

An example given in the Horizon report is Pearson Learning Studio, which is tracking data from millions of learners and aims to make the results available to educational leaders and policy makers. They believe that with a better knowledge of how people learn, more effective learning paths may be developed. Improved knowledge could lead to better understanding of critical thinking and memory of concepts over time. Data projects can also help to determine the reasons for the loss of students and/or student retention rates, over time. Analytics may help to improve online pedagogies. 

Not only can educators and policy makers use analytics to better understand and serve learners, learners themselves can use the available analytics in learning management systems, such as provided by the Khan Academy. Learners can monitor their own progress through daily activity reports, class goal reports, student reports, etc. Renaissance Learning is a company that has been in the news recently when it raised a $40 million investment from Google Capital. Renaissance started out with offering reading assessment tools and now provides a data-driven approach to learning to both teachers and learners, which enable teachers to use this data to help their students. The significance of the Google investment is summed up by Tom Vander Ark: "There are two implications of the big deal: personalized learning paths are rapidly becoming a reality and the big guys will play a key role in innovation".

Do you have any digital badges yet?

Submitted on 25 February 2014

Digital badges have been appearing in the news recently and you may have become curious. Educause says they are: "digital tokens that appear as icons or logos on a web page or other online venue". They can offer learners of all ages a new way to gather evidence of learning achievements. Edudemic compares digital badges to the badges of recognition that scouts and guides accumulate on their uniforms. We all like being recognised for our learning achievements, yet the existing formal systems only recognise a limited range of courses (such as completed degrees).

A simple way to look at it is - you decide to go to an online learning site to acquire a new skill. Once you have completed the course (which may take a few minutes or hours in the case of a short course), you do an online assessment and then get a digital badge, which you save in your collection. Mozilla provides a digital backpack where you can save your digital badges. You can then show your badges to others by sending them a link or publishing the badges on your website or social media site.

Digital badges seem to be an addition to a resume or curriculum vitae, rather than a replacement of anything. Many companies might not yet know what digital badges are or understand their value. That said, they provide a new way to recognise your learning achievements in a more comprehensive way.

To give digital badges a try, go to http://openbadges.org/earn/ to setup your own digital backpack. There is a quiz on the webpage that will earn you your first badge, if you answer the questions correctly. Once you have created your backpack, you can look for places where you can study online and earn badges at: http://openbadges.org/participating-issuers/. Many issuers of badges do this for free, so this may be a productive way to spend a few hours of leisure time! If you are in an institution that offers education, you may be interested in looking at how to issue badges to your clients at http://openbadges.org/issue/.

No one can be sure how this system will look in five  years from now, but it could be the difference between getting that job or just assist in presenting your skills in a more organised way. Good luck with collecting badges!

References:

Digital Badges: New Report From Alliance and Mozilla Examines How Digital Badges Can Expand Education and Workforce Opportunities:

http://tinyurl.com/pe3yj86

BadgeOS is a powerful free plugin to WordPress that lets you easily create achievements and issue sharable badges as your users succeed:

http://badgeos.org/badgestack/

The impact of social media on our lives and on institutional policy

Submitted on 18 February 2014

Most of us have a favourite social media platform, such as Facebook, Google+ or Twitter, as our way to connect with family and friends. We "go on Facebook" to catch up of births, relationships and deaths (what our parents may have called "hatches, matches and dispatches"). Families and friends are ever more spread around the world making dropping in for a cup of tea and a face-to-face chat more difficult than ever before.

The recently released Horizon report states that the most popular social media platforms together have over 6.3 billion accounts shared by the over 2.7 billion people who use them. How many social media accounts do you use? Facebook alone is reported to having over 1.2 billion accounts. This is a large proportion of the current estimate of 7.2 billion people on the planet. Also, the use of social media is no longer for the young, since the fastest growing categories are in the 45 to 54 and 55 to 64 age groups (Facebook, Google+ and Twitter).

Concerns for policy makers include the rise of cyber bullying and privacy. Since institutional staff and their students both use social media in their personal lives, what can be done to protect people when online? Policy makers at institutions need to draft and communicate guidelines that help to explain the advantages of social media along with its risks and downright dangers. The legal risks and possible measures of protection also need to be communicated.

Whatever your attitude toward social media, it is now in the mainstream and is already in your classroom (if you are a teacher), or in your institutions (if you are an administrator). It is time to get your policy in place so that you are not caught out completely unprepared. The staff position of social media specialist is no longer a luxury. If something about your institution appears in the social media, you have only hours to respond before it gets out of control. The slow response of the news media is something of the past, so you need to know what is being said about your institution as it happens!

For reasons of personal privacy, risk to staff and students, as well as reputational risk, social media policy is a priority area for 2014.

Here are links to social media toolkits and a sample policy:

Social Media Security Toolkit

Social Media Toolkit

Sample Social Media Policy

Flipping your classroom? What does this mean?

Submitted on 12 February 2014

When it comes to names that are given for new forms of teaching and learning, the 'Flipped Classroom' sounds like one of the funniest. Could we really flip a classroom on its head? 

A few links to resources are provided below, to help you decide if you want to flip your classroom, by trying out new ideas that may save you time in the classroom and help your students a lot. It can really increase the time you have available to interact with your students. 

In the traditional classroom - the one you most likely run right now - you stand in front of the classroom and do your best to lecture, teach and encourage your students to learn. When the class ends, you give them homework and hope this helps them to gain more understanding of the topic.

What if you had the full lecture period to discuss the topic with your students and spent the entire time focusing on questions, quizzes and clarifying the topic? If only I had the time, I hear you say! Doubling the available time in class would be great, but that is just not going to happen. 

There are some alternatives. You may have tried giving your students pre-reading for the class, just to find they had not looked at the text. That is not the only way of presenting your students with the course content though. Since you are a past master of giving presentations to your students, why not try video recording yourself giving a presentation to a class using a smart phone or digital camera? One of your students could assist you. Many people now own smart phones or other devices that can record your presentation and there are free apps on the Internet that you can use to edit out the blunders you make during the presentation. 

With so many people owning or having access to telephones or other devices that can play videos, it should be easy for most of your students to get to see the video. And videos are nothing as hard to watch, as reading through a long boring chapter would seem to your students. You can then spend the time in class talking about the content (not your presentation!) and making sure your students really have a better understanding of the topic. 

There are other ways you could give your students the lecture part of the course before they walk through your door. This blog is only highlighting the video option, which is so easy these days. Here are a few links to articles and resources that may help to encourage you to try out something new that could give you a lot more time for interaction in your classroom:

A Review of Flipped Learning

Teachers in Flipped Classrooms Use Open Educational Resources and Net Texts to Boost Student Learning and Performance in School and at Home

Will MOOCs Change the Way Professors Handle the Classroom?

MOOCs and the Flipped Classroom

Finding what you want on the Internet

Submitted on 5 February 2014

The Internet provides access to a wealth of information for teachers, researchers and scholars. The challenge is to quickly find relevant information and not be distracted by myriads of useless information.

While this blog focuses to some extent on using Google, there are many other search engines that can help you find information. A few are listed near the end of this blog. 

I'm sure most of us type in "Google" and then in the search field, type in a few words to search for. Provided with the little information I provide, it is quite amazing what Google can come up with! This often works to find what I need, but what am I to do when this simple method does not work? Here are a few ideas to try.

Google advanced search used to have a link on the Google search page, but it seems to have disappeared from there. Fortunately, the advanced search page still exists at: http://www.google.com/advanced_search. This page has many added options on it, such as the ability to search in just one website. If you are looking for a document on one website, you can copy or type the URL of the website into the line labeled "site or domain". Then type words that appear in the document into one of the fields labeled "Find pages with...". You can enter words that appear in the text of the document (or the title) or an exact phrase. If you have a printed copy of the document and want the digital version (pdf, doc, etc.), you could type an exact phrase from the document that would be unique to that document. If you can remember a few of the words that are unique to the document, type them into the field labeled: "all these words". This way, only documents with the exact words you want will appear. If you do not find the document on that website (the site or domain), you could search the whole Internet for the document and may find it on another website. You can also narrow your search with options such as searching by language, region or other factors. 

Another useful way to search for articles, books and documents you may need for research purposes is to use Google Scholar: http://scholar.google.co.za. This service looks for academic articles, books, etc. Many books are partially available in this service. Google has scanned these books and many, but not all, of the pages are available for viewing. The service may give you just enough access to the book to answer your questions. If not, you will be able to make a more informed choice on if it is worthwhile trying to borrow a copy via a traditional library or even buying one. Searching on Google for the book title and the words "full text" may also help to find a text version of the book or article you need. 

Open courseware is listed on many sites and this page gives an index of where to look: http://www.africaeducation.org/open_courseware.htm. Always remember to check the copyright notice of any course materials you plan to use. If it carries a Creative Commons License (like "CC-BY-SA"), it is OK to use. If it states "©" without showing the CC labels, you may be breaking a copyright law by re-using the content. For academic research, remember to always give proper references. Google Scholar has a "Cite" link under each item it finds for you. This should help a lot in creating all those citations you need for your bibliography.   

There are many search engines and I add a few to give an idea: 

http://www.bing.com 

http://www.answers.com

http://www.ask.com

http://www.yahoo.com

Here is a list of search engines provided by Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_search_engines 

Google offers a free course on advanced searching: http://www.powersearchingwithgoogle.com. This could help you develop skills that may be useful in studies, business or everyday life. 

What technology are you wearing?

Submitted on 29 January 2014

Wearable technology is all over the tech news and the 2014 trends-to-watch lists.

The most hyped wearable technology at the moment seems to be Google Glass - a slim-line (somewhat geeky) pair of glasses that incorporates a camera that can record videos or take still pictures of what you see - hands free. You give it verbal instructions and it can perform a variety of tasks such as giving you directions, sending a message, connecting with someone, taking a picture, etc. Google Glass can also show you video images. This means you can overlay a picture with information over the real thing you are seeing - great for tourists who want to know more about what they are looking at. Google Glass can record what you see while you play a musical instrument or sport, helping you to improve your technique. This is just the next step though in wearable technology; we have been using some form or another of wearable technology for a while.

The original 'Swiss watch' may have been one of the earlier forms of modern technology that was worn. Originally, it was clipped to clothing (the pocket watch) and later worn around the wrist. Digital watches then became popular and new features were added to them, including calculators and displays for multiple time zones. As the availability of clock displays increased on walls, computers, tablets, smartphones and cellphones, the need for wearable watches decreased. Have you noticed that fewer people are wearing watches these days? The cycle seems to have run its course and what resembles a watch now may also display the wearer's blood pressure, pulse rate and other health information. This can be useful in a gym, but if the device can digitally record the information over time, it can also provide a record of information throughout the day. This turns the original idea of a watch into a sophisticated health device. Google is working on a contact lens that can monitor the wearer's blood sugar levels - especially useful for people who need to test their levels regularly throughout the day. These devices are of course only really useful if they can easily transfer the information they record to a computer or website that then uses the data to provide useful information to the user. 

Other wearable technologies that are starting to be more prevalent with people who like to keep near the cutting edge, are:

bulletSmart jewellery, such as bracelets that can monitor your skin's ultraviolet exposure and earrings with a built-in bluetooth headset.
bulletBluetooth-enabled toothbrushes that can let you know if you are brushing efficiently.
bulletActivity trackers, with more advanced smartphone features.
bulletDevices that monitor athletic performance and provide immediate feedback.

The next wave of developments in wearable technology may see collaboration between technology and fashion/design experts, as many of the current available products just do not seem that 'wearable'.

How cool is it to be an artisan?

Submitted on 21 January 2014

As the new academic year begins, many school leavers find themselves at a crossroads. Family and friends may be talking about going to university, but is that the right choice for you? Do you like working with your hands? Do you like working with people and being out and about? Being an artisan is definitely not a career for you if you like being stuck behind a desk! 

There are ample career opportunities where you can demonstrate your skills to use your brain and hands. If you are in South Africa, you can call 0117364400 and ask about the kinds of available careers and how to study for one.  See the links below to Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) developments in some African countries.

Many school leavers still only consider office work as a career option, yet vacancies exist in the skilled trade sectors, such as in construction, welding, boilermaking, etc. In South Africa, the Department of Higher Education and Training acknowledges the need for artisan skills and launched the "Year of the Artisan" in 2013. Although there is still a negative perception of artisan careers in many countries, career guidance towards technical careers, study options and increased availability of funding for students in these areas, are creating greater awareness and in some countries larger enrolment in TVET programmes is already evident.

If you are a young woman, you should not be discouraged to become an artisan. Companies need women who are skilled in areas such as plumbing, electrical work, computer maintenance and many more. Participation in a practical, hands-on training programme, as opposed to a theoretical, academic programme appeals to many people. In addition to this, combining learning and work help improve the prospect of finding employment on completion of training. The skills shortages in many technical fields make an artisan career a very attractive option to consider.

Links:

Year of the artisan South Africa: http://www.gov.za/events/view.php?sid=33977

TVET in Ghana: http://www.cotvet.org/

TVET in Nigeria: http://www.unesco-nigeriatve.org

TVET in Tanzania: http://tinyurl.com/meq9mc3

TVET in Kenya: http://tinyurl.com/nnx2ywr

Free courses for a gap year

Submitted on 14 January 2014

It is January and many people are now looking for places in universities and colleges. Places are limited, especially in the public institutions and costs are high, especially in the private institutions. If you find you have really 'missed the boat' to study full-time this year and believe you will have to wait and apply to start a full-time programme next year, you may be able to do something in the meanwhile. 

Thousands of short courses are now available online that you can study at no cost other than the cost of your internet connection. So long as you have a computer, tablet or smart phone with an internet connection, you may be able to begin to study toward the field of your choice. 

Let's start with subjects that you may have been less strong on in school and may need better skills in for future studies. You may find a range of mathematics courses and self-evaluations on the Khan Academy website to be useful (http://www.khanacademy.org). These are mostly aimed at helping you to master mathematics. This may help you to better prepare yourself for when you take full-time courses next year. 

A site with over 500 courses is http://alison.com. The range is quite wide, including business, health and personal development. If you begin with one of these courses, you may be able to use the skills to find a temporary job while waiting for the opportunity to enter the college or university of your choice. 

The open courses given above are free and usually untutored - in other words, there is no one to help you through the learning material. If you would like to participate in an online course with lots of 'live people', there are also many of those. These are sometimes called "Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)" and are also free to participate in. Courses are offered by a number of institutions, including some of the 'big names' such as Udacity, Coursera, and edX. For a more comprehensive list, go to www.AfricaEducation.org/open_courseware.htm. Some of these websites offer an accreditation option as well, which means you pay to receive a certificate that proves you have completed the course. Remember to also give your technology skills a boost by doing the free advanced internet search courses using Google search - http://alison.com/courses/Understanding-Advanced-Search-Using-Google-Search.

No matter what courses you do, remember to carefully list these in your curriculum vitae or resume. This will help to show future employers how keen you were to develop your skills. Examples of formats for CVs and resumes can be found at http://www.careers.govt.nz/how-to-get-a-job/cvs-and-cover-letters/templates/#c31189. Once you have completed a few short courses online and improved the look and content of your CV or resume, you may find a job and then even begin to study part-time! This can help you to get ahead and keep the study loans down.

Is a university or college qualification still worth it?

Submitted on 7 January 2014

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal quotes "The Onion" news source as saying that a "30-year-old has earned $11 more than he would have without college education". What does this say to young people who left school in 2013? Should they now try to get into a university or college, or just look for a job and work their way up as best they can?

Some young people are fortunate and receive bursaries to pay for their studies. These can be partial or full bursaries and could still leave the learner with some level of debt, but certainly better than if she or he had to pay for everything. Debts can mount up quickly if you add up the registration fees, books, transport, as well as accommodation and meals if one is away from home too. For those who did not manage to get a bursary, bank loans may be an option. Working part-time while studying is another option, but adds more pressure to the learner's lifestyle. Parties and other learner activities just carry on adding up the costs - and the potential risks of not completing studies successfully. 

The broad alternatives are:

- go to a university (if your school marks are really good and you can get in);

- go to a community, technical, or further education and training college;

- take up a trade and combine work and learning in an apprenticeship;

- look for work where training is provided on-the-job;

- consider doing a few high-demand courses in IT, healthcare or another area where industry is looking for skilled staff and try to combine your own model of learning and work. Review what employers are looking for and train yourself specifically for one of these areas while trying to get into a 'starter' level job. 

Each of these has its costs and implications and learners need to understand what these are. Services are offered in some countries where learning and work advice are provided. Look for these opportunities on the web.  

The traditional university degree may still look like the only alternative to many, but with hard economic times, we need to consider all options that are open to us. 

References:

http://www.theonion.com/articles/30yearold-has-earned-11-more-than-he-would-have-wi,34824/ 

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303870704579298302637802002

Are MOOCs really "new"?

Submitted on 1 January 2014.

The buzz surrounding Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) has been getting louder since 2012. Few people even remember that the first MOOC was hosted in 2008, long before the hype of 2012. The original MOOCs were all about connecting people and enabling them to learn. The xMOOCs of 2012 posed challenges largely because they focused much more on delivering learning content to people rather than on networked learning. Some assessments and monitoring of progress have been incorporated into MOOCs, even into the xMOOCs of 2012, but is this really new?

The first online learning courses became visible to the public in the late 1990s when learning management systems such as WebCT were developed, but even these were also not the first online courses. Online courses were offered much earlier than this, using online technology MUDs (multi-user domains). These were mostly text-based environments where a few people could meet up at a pre-determined time to speak via text-chat. The graphics of the virtual world had to be described in words at that time, because the bandwidth and computers could not present graphics as they do today.

The biggest differences between the learning management systems (LMSs) of the 1990s and the MOOCs of the 2010s are the scale and the acceptance of larger numbers of learners. When LMSs first emerged, they tried to emulate the face-to-face classroom with 25 or so learners. Educators argued that no more than this number could be effectively taught at one time. If this is the case, one may wonder how 400 people could be taught in an auditorium!

MOOCs have broken the numbers barrier. It has been shown that thousands of people can be provided with learning content at the same time. With the advances in technology, bandwidth and computing power, thousands of people can complete questionnaires online and submit them for automated assessment. There is little new about the concept of multiple-choice assessments as these were used in classroom and traditional distance education settings decades earlier.. MOOCs are beginning to include ways to network people better, which may help to improve their reputation as viable learning environments.

It might be that the evolution of the MOOCs will increase the numbers of people who are able to access useful courses, and the emerging systems of networked learning and assessment will help many people to develop new skills. The numbers are increasing due to cleverer use of technologies that are currently available. Older, more tried technologies such as print, telecommunications and online learning have been used as far as they can and the MOOC is just one more step in the evolution towards expanding learning opportunities.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massive_open_online_course

http://www.mooc-list.com

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MUD

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